“Only fools believe that silence is emptiness. Silence is never empty. And sometimes, the best way to communicate is by being quiet.”
It is late and dark outside. The house is silent, almost painfully so. The candles are lit, and shadows move from one wall to the other. The sheikha inaudibly steps from one room to the next carrying prayer mats, tasbeeh beads and incense burners. She does not let me help. I have been told to sit back and relax. She has not asked me why am I there. She never does… she is good that way.
Her husband makes his way into the living room carrying tea. “Here.” He offers me the tea, then sits on the floor and starts burning oud as he starts reciting a nasheed. I stay still and quiet. They just do their thing, as always.
It is time to pray al-Isha. I have not done this in a while. Many years after my conversion I continue to struggle with prayer, especially when I am alone… I guess I just lack the discipline… but sometimes it is also a fear-inducing process… as if I suddenly became accountable to that which I cannot see or hear; something innately silent, but omnipresent.
I have never done well with silence, since I was a kid, quietness meant chaos. That has yet to change for me… I know that sometimes there is nothing to say; or sometimes it is too painful to say it, but the silence makes me anxious, it makes me nervous.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with the sheikha and let her husband lead us in prayer, something that many of my feminist friends would frown upon, but you know what? This is not the time to have such debates about Islamic liturgy… I do not care, right now, who is leading me in prayer. I just want to feel at peace for a second.
We finish prayer and, as we move towards the du’a, she holds my wrist, as if she wanted to pass down her strength. I do not even know what to do du’a for… Is it for healing? Is it for guidance? Is it for mercy?
Neither the sheikha nor her husband have asked questions, but there is so much that I am trying to bury deep down. They do not know that a week ago I broke down and sent one of those nasty mid-night letters to the person I love. As much as I do not want to admit it, I felt it was the only way I could get my anger out of the way, and I ended up pushing him away. I regretted it deeply and, even when there was some truth in my words, I wish I had never used such a medium to express my anger, fear and insecurity.
They also cannot possibly imagine, that I have not been able to get my feelings in order, after him and I had the most honest conversation we have ever had, followed by an “I love you” and an imminent sense of defeat because we have yet to figure out what loving each other and being with each other really mean. I am also concealing the fact that I spent more than 24 hours crying, without being able to eat, or to get myself out of bed, until the pain became so unbearable that I had to go elsewhere.
I have not said a word about the weeks I have spent worrying about being a “real” adult based on a very twisted sense of accomplishment that has been pushed onto me since I was a kid. I have told no one about the eight different writing pieces that need endings, and have none because I cannot get myself to sit straight for even an hour while at home. I have also not come to terms with the fact that I have been avoiding all contact with my family because, how can I ever tell them, that the world is falling apart and that despite everything I have been taught throughout my entire life, and the opportunities and privilege that I have always had, I just have not been able to become what has always being expected of me?
How can I tell the people around me, those who have always thought well of me, that I am just too exhausted… that I am tired of fighting good fights, thinking critically and putting my efforts into something bigger than me? How can I tell everyone that the more I learn from feminists, anti-racism activists, Indigenous warriors and the very strong and amazing people who surround me, the more jaded and disillusioned I become?
How can I ever admit that my soul is a little broken these days?
The sheikha’s husband looks at me in the eye, “You know… when your thoughts are scattered, prayer collects them; when your heart has been shattered into a million pieces, prayer helps find them.” I look at my feet, trying not to break down, but then the sheikha sits beside me and holds my wrist again… I just cannot help but feel chocked.
I spend the next three days with them. Things are put into perspective. I have lost my path. I forgot to talk to Allah. I put too much effort into trying to get rid of my feelings rather than trying to make sense of them. I lost my cool and my patience. I let the world around me take over my life. I became a time bomb… exploding on the people who I love the most. I also lost my sense of simplicity… the “Good Life…” living well, rather than living better… and being accountable to those before me, those around me and those after me.
My sheikha instructs me to pray istikhara for seven days, not because it is some kind of “magical cure,” but because it is the only way I will truly make time for me and Allah. I am advised to give zakah, not because it is “right,” but because it is a practice of “detachment…” letting go of things that are useful but that should not run one’s life. I am instructed to be mindful; to do things in steps and one by one; to try to overcome the idea that I have to be a particular kind of “successful.” And I am advised to be humble; to apologize; to seek forgiveness; to be accountable to the people I love and who love me; to be patient; and to understand that my desires cannot be imposed on others…
And before I am sent home, I am reminded that “simple and happy” exist, but that, first, “simple” needs to be mastered by focusing on living well rather than living better, being accountable and seeking forgiveness and connection when necessary.