A Prayer of Remeberance

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

We are honored to share a post from our former intern, Nermine, whose prayer about remembering her mother offers grace and wisdom. Her prayer seeks blessings for those living with loss, just as our prayer for the dead sought blessings for those who have died. 

It’s hard to put in words what we feel about a person who is long gone; a person who is no longer a part of our life and who never got to know what we’ve become, who we are now…They say time heals and that’s true. Our own frail human memory makes loss bearable. But do we really want to forget or is it simply inevitable?

From all that I’ve lost, all the memories I can no longer recall, all the photographs that captured a moment I don’t remember living or even how it felt being there, I know that what hurts even more than the loss is the inability to remember what we once had.

Today my mother would have been 54 years old. I sometimes think what my life would
have been like if she was still alive. I get angry sometimes that I can’t remember much.There’s nothing but emptiness; a void of something that has left without leaving me any traces to hold on to. So, I pray for me and everyone who suffered loss that we can be healed by remembrance.

Dear God,

Today I pray for remembrance of the mother.
I wish I had a little bit more time to know her better.

Help me remember her by being even just a tiny bit like her,
for everyone speaks of her strength, her honesty, her generous and loving heart.

Help me remember her by living up to her memory
and being be the best person I can be.

Help me remember her every time I feel lost or alone
and help me remember that I never really was lost or alone,
for I’ve always had support and found people who love me
even when I thought there’s nothing to love in myself.

Help me remember her by cherishing every living moment,
by keeping every memory solid,
by not taking life for granted, by loving,
by staying true to who I am and what I believe in.

Help me and all those who have lost a loved one.

Help us remember those who are gone,
even when our memories fade and there’s nothing to recall.

Help us remember them in little acts of kindness,
and by showing those who are grieving
that pain can be healed and that nothing is ever lost forever.

Help us remember them in You,
in Your boundless generosity and Your mercy
and how You always give way more than you take.

Help us remember them in Your kindness,
for despite our loss and the pain that seemed at the time intolerable,
You helped us heal.

Love and peace made their way into our hearts again
and now we know that You don’t really put us through what we can’t endure.

Help us remember with patience, with gratitude, and with faith that there’ll be another chance to see those we’ve lost, where we’ll hold on to them for all the time we couldn’t have and all the memories we wished they were a part of, and finally there will be no letting go.

Amen.

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Safety in the Unknown

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015Venice, Interfaith, Safety

On a foggy and cloudy day, it becomes hard to see what’s ahead of us. We start to think about all the awful possibilities that could happen. I can see the gloom on everyone’s face. Where is the sun? Is it going to rain? How dangerous it is to go out in such an unclear and gloomy weather, full of hazards and risks? The unknown, the unclear makes us afraid; almost anything that we cannot predict or anticipate; darkness makes our bones creak with fear; roads and paths that we are not used to taking, that are unfamiliar to us make us panic. What if we stumbled and fell and broke our necks? What if we got lost and never found our way back? What if we were confronted – out of nowhere – with our greatest fears? What if we lost on this unclear path the important things that define who we are, the important people that make our lives worth living? What if the sun never came out? What if the pictures remained blurry? It is an endless and nerve-racking labyrinth of questions that blocks our vision and trips our steps up.

I have been on this unclear and foggy path for quite some time now. I still don’t know where I am going. I still cannot see the end of the road, only the mist and netted clouds that reach from high above; melting down to earth- that sometimes I cannot even see where I am stepping my foot. But I find safety in the unknown, in the foggy weather and its mysteries and the solitary and abandoned roads, even if my steps are slow, wobbly and unsure; even if I stop sometimes: out of fear of falling into a dark and bottomless pitfall; out of regret that I might have left and lost irreplaceable things behind; and out of shock at how the journey transformed me into a person I hardly know; a person that I’m still not sure whether I like or hate.

If there’s one thing I came to be sure of is that our fears and worries will never go away; that it’s okay to be afraid sometimes of getting hurt, of falling, of failing, of losing. It’s okay even if we just sometimes want to play it safe or not play at all. But we should also learn how to find safety elsewhere: by moving beyond what’s expected of us– outside of our comfort zone and into the unknown and slippery roads, in shoes that are twice bigger than our size and with nothing to guide us but faith and a dream that might seem at the time out of reach…We can find safety in there; in the unknown, in the dark as being there in the first place is a proof that we’re fighting, that we’re not settling, that we’re pushing ourselves to the extreme of fear in order to reach to the extreme of safety, that lies in the simple fact that we’re still here, still breathing and fighting and still have a shot buried somewhere out there in the unknown.

Forgiving The World

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Blue ruffles; light blue just like the sea, dancing up and down so smoothly and so playfully just like the waves. I could still hear her voice; a girl in a ruffled blue skirt I met on a vaporetto in Venice on my way home. She was singing at the top of her lungs, laughing, giggling; covering the noise of the engine, all to blue girl italyherself. I kept on watching her, envying her a bit and I wondered from where all this could  possibly come from; all this unrestrained joy and happiness, this peacefulness, not worrying about a thing, and tuning out the world’s noise and living in your own song.

As I watched her carefree dancing, I found myself thinking about forgiveness. She gave me a reason today to start forgiving. To start forgiving the world I’ve been angry at for a long time now. The restlessness, the closed doors, the circle that gets tighter every day, how I got to be so lost and confused, all the thinking and worrying, all this must stop, must be forgiven and forgotten, because only forgiveness can make us lighter, freer, happier, like blue ruffles!

So it is okay; to have lost people, to have been hurt and disappointed. It is okay not to know who we are or what we want. It is okay to change our minds, to change course, to go back to where we started or to stop all together, take a break and think it all over again, because sometimes all that we need is simply to flow with life’s streams, without worrying where we will end up.

Blue ruffles taught me today that I should start forgiving: forgiving myself for giving up, for not trying harder, for losing hope, but more importantly I should start forgiving the world as it is—regardless of every hardship—finding on my way beautiful things to explore and beautiful people to know. In order to flow, to sing and dance around like blue ruffles, I must forgive.

I followed her after we got dropped off and she was still singing and dancing around while holding her granny’s hand (who was all the time attempting to control her to no avail thankfully) and I could not resist snapping a shot of her as I wanted to keep this memory for when I need a reason to hope, to forgive and to start afresh.

Hijabs and Modesty

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

11090958_10153701787980278_1405256105756384901_oI never like to talk about why I wear “Hijab”, even back in my own country, although it was not a big deal as I belonged to the majority. What’s uncommon is not wearing it. But after moving to a Western country, I become the uncommon, the different as I look and dress differently than others. It never bothered me being the “outcast”; on the contrary I feel more comfortable and at ease with myself here than back in my own country. But what does bother me is that I always get asked a lot of questions which always make me feel uncomfortable. Being a very private person, I don’t really like people asking me questions about my personal life or my beliefs, unless we are in a very close relationship to allow for such discussions. I understand that some people simply ask out of curiosity or interest to know more about a different culture and religion.

Although I know that this is not normal and religion questions are a red line for many people, yet a friend of mine once told me that by wearing a veil, I explicitly identify myself as a Muslim, which means I am open to discussing my religion and my beliefs. It is a valid argument, yet it completely ignores the other side who certainly would not like being asked these kinds of questions by random strangers or people I have just met or people who have no business prying into my personal life, my wardrobe or what parts of my body I am to cover or uncover.

Yet, I always know how to adapt and go with the flow and apart from the silly questions of whether I sleep or shower in it; mostly people ask me why I wear it. I always try to cut the conversation short and just give the standardized answer without going deep into the subject: It is out of modesty. One other time, my manager suddenly and quite out of the blue while working, came to me and asked me whether those who don’t wear the “Hijab” are considered bad and I am ultimately better than them. I was startled by the question and I told him definitely not and that it is a personal decision and has nothing to do with who’s better and who is not. This is why I decided to write about Hijab and modesty.

I first wore my Hijab when I was really young about 13-14, but not out of religious reasons or anything. I just wanted to look different as it was not that common back then. Being a childish decision, I took it off shortly after for more than a year. I wore it again, but this time was me trying to be more religious. I wore it this time longer for 3 or 4 years and then I started to feel uncomfortable, burdened, shackled. I could not do it anymore. Part of me kept on saying that I would be happier and freer once I take it off. And I did. I took the decision and told my family who was not really happy about it, but did not force me to do anything against my will. It was only for a day and actually no one really knew about it as I wore it again the next day. All I remember is that I felt uncomfortable and did not feel like myself. Now I am pretty much at ease with it. I decided to stick with my decision, to see it as something I am doing to be closer to my faith.

But, looking back at that time when I took off my Hijab for this one day and then decided against it, I know that part of me was afraid and not quite ready to face all the jaw-dropping stares, the whys questions, the go back to God-preaching and the you will go to hell-threats, which any woman who takes it off is subjected to. I know that while I had the freedom to decide for myself, others don’t have this leisure, and are being forced or pressured by society to wear what is seen as a sign of modesty and are being judged and measured by this scale of modesty that only a simple scarf on the head defines.

I decided to wear something that defines my faith and who I am, but faith never means the absence of doubt. As any human being, I have my own doubts. My mind is buzzing every minute of every day with so many questions that I don’t have any answers to and a continuous struggle to reconcile between my worldly views and my spirituality. And I cannot reconcile with how Hijab is seen as a sign of modesty, because all these labels and definitions always tend to single out something as the modest, the right, the good, the worthy and leave the rest behind or implicitly taunt and criticize all that’s different from the prescribed definition or image.  I know that my faith is not and should not be measured by what I wear. I know that what I wear is not by any means the ultimate definition of modesty. I know that a woman should be free to dress as she feels like, and people have no right to ask a woman why she is wearing or not wearing something.

That’s why I’d like to think of modesty (of any kind) as a decision. And there is never a clear-cut formula for a decision. Decisions are personal, a part of who we are and our personal journey. We should have the freedom to make our own decisions. We should have the right to doubt them, to change them without needing to explain or to justify our reasons. And we should never ever be judged or measured by others’ decisions.

Lessons Learned from Starting Over

Today we a proud to feature a post from our writing intern, Nermine Mohamed.

I was never afraid of change or starting over. I love beginnings; the fresh, blank page ready to be filled, the glowing eyes, the perky heart, anticipation of what the new road holds for me, the chance to do it again and to do it differently, the hope and faith in a better tomorrow. I live with the “start over” button always ready to be pressed at a whim, on a hunch or simply out of boredom. I don’t settle or compromise in how I want to live my life, so I’ve hopped between different jobs, changed careers, learned new things, with different people coming in and out of my life, and I, personally, have changed quite a few times in the process. But with each new experience, I felt I’m getting a tiny bit closer to finding who I am, what I want to do, and the person I want to become.

Almost four months ago, I’ve decided I need a drastic start over, so I packed my bags and moved to a different continent and started school. Away from the life I’m used to and the people I love, I began to look at starting over differently. I’ve learned a lot about myself; my flaws, my strengths.

I’ve also learned that starting over can be hard and exhausting. Some days I go to bed weary and beaten up by everything that’s not working, by everything I thought would happen but did not. I ache from the bumps in the road, the disappointments, the losses, and I yearn for any sign to assure me that this is the right track. That’s why starting over means doing it every single day. With every morning, I must start over and I should never give up.

Starting over has also taught me to appreciate not only what lies ahead, but also what I’ve left behind; the little things I’ve always taken for granted, the family and friends who always have my back, the people with whom I’ll probably never cross paths again. Everything matters and every person I left behind was a part of shaping who I am now. Starting over means appreciating the “here” and the “now”, and the moments that led me here. I means telling people how much they mean to me, as I might not have another chance.

I’ve realized how blessed I am, and how I should be thankful every moment of every day, for all the second chances God has given me, for the new experiences and the new people coming into my life. It is important to be thankful for the hard times when the world was tight and doors were closed, and for how suddenly everything change and how generous and unexpected God’s blessings are. But mostly I have learned to be thankful for the little hints that appear every once and awhile that assure me that it’s going to be alright, that it’s all worth it, that starting over was the right decision.

Re-kindling The Magic In The Ritual

Today’s post comes from Nermine Mohamed, who like John Smith in his post on the prayer in ritual, and like Jenni in her post on the ritual of prayer, looks for the meaning behind rituals. Nermine gives us all great insights on how we must never take our rituals for granted, for they offer us a special kind peace and love.

I am a Muslim. “Ṣalāt” or Prayers are a cardinal doctrine in my religion; the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is a daily ritual that I am required to do five times. All my life I have been taught that I should pray, without knowing why I should. I would pray because I had to, I am obliged to, thus often I would just do it nonchalantly, absentmindedly, just to take it off my shoulders. I would recite the verses which had become meaningless because they have been said countless times without ever pausing to reflect on the meanings behind these words. My mouth would say them, but my heart never felt them. I would stand in prayer while my heart and mind are elsewhere.

Now I am trying to look at my daily prayers in a different way. It is true that prayers are a duty, an obligation you have to perform as a Muslim, but it is only for my sake, not a pressure or a burden, but a relief, a time-out from the big and stressful game of life. As Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has always referred to Ṣalāt as a relief from all the pain and worries of the world. Now I feel that I need to pray. I need to stand looking down humbly, for I am full of sins, full of flaws, yet God never pushes me away, God is always eager to hear me out, eager to direct me if I am lost or confused, and ready to forgive if I only ask for forgiveness.

I need to glorify God and give thanks for my countless blessings which are benevolently and bountifully bestowed upon me every single moment, even though I so rarely appreciate them and so often take them for granted.I need to kneel down with my nose on the ground, for I am always holding it up high, letting my human ego consume me, thinking I am smarter, I am better, that I do not need help. Thus it is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable, smart, or successful I become, I owe it all to God.

I am constantly looking for peace, for guidance. I want to be more humble, more thankful and more compassionate. I found out that all of this is part of one single ritual that I was doing out of obligation without letting it affect and change me. That’s why rituals can be tricky. Sometimes, without even noticing, something very special, unique and spiritual can turn into a mundane habit, which often loses its meaning, its uniqueness, because it has been repeated countless times.

I am daily trying to re-kindle my spiritual connection with God through my daily prayers. It is not always that easy. It is a constant battle between the sounds of the world buzzing inside my ears and trying to listen to that voice within. Sometimes that voice fades away amidst all the noise, and sometimes it is not even there, but some other times I feel it, I hear it. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder, sometimes as low as a murmur. But when it is there, I find the magic in the ritual.

Hunger For Feeling

We are pleased to share another guest post from Nermine Mohamed, who previously wrote about the fear of liking loneliness too much.  Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, and she currently lives in Germany. Today she shares with us how she hungers for deep emotional experiences and ways to express them. 

Have you ever laughed, truly laughed? The stomach-aching, tears-rolling-down the face, cannot catch your breath kind of laugh.

Have you ever cried, truly cried? Cried your whole heart out, shouted out your pain at the top of your lungs.

What about love? Have you ever felt it, taken it all in? Do you say it “I love you” whenever you feel like it, without over thinking it, without second-guessing it?

Well, I have not, but I hunger for it. I’ve never known how to voice emotions, how to truly live emotions. I have been walking on egg shells all my life, tiptoeing around feelings as if they are a beast I’m afraid to stir.

When I was 12, I lost my mum. She was sick and I was young and I was not supposed to know she was dying until she did. Sometimes people think it is best to protect their children from pain, but I wish I was given the chance to grieve, to fully experience the slipping away of someone dear, to know how precious the little time I had left with her was.

Instead, I cried for a few days and I did not want anyone to comfort me. I did not want to share my grief. And then it was all over, locked-up and thrown away.

Even now, it is not only grief and pain that I don’t allow myself to feel. I do not allow myself to be happy when I achieve something I’ve longed for. Nothing is permanent. Don’t get too excited, it might not work after all!

I’m always stuck midway; a trapeze dancer, swinging back and forth, but never falling, never jumping, never letting go.

But I’m tired of this numbness. I’m yearning, I’m aching, I’m hungry for emotions; raw, deep, acute, soul-shattering emotions. With writing that I can sometimes speak of such things, but I still hunger more.

I want the butterflies-in-my-stomach kind of excitement. I want to be able to get mad. I want to be able to cry. I want to allow myself to love insanely, uncontrollably. I want to have my heart broken, mended and broken again. I want to be able to shout out my feelings.

So, I’ll pray for myself and everyone else out there who feels the same:

May we get swept off our feet by joy, by laughter, by love. May we let go. May we allow ourselves to fall, to get bumped on the head by living every moment, every feeling and emotion to the fullest. May we always have the strength to endure pain, but may we also use it to be more caring, more loving. Finally may we have the courage to seek love, to accept it and to share it in return.

Amen.

Afraid Of Liking Loneliness Too Much

 Last week Author in Chief, Jenni Taylor, wrote a post about not being afraid to be alone. Today, our guest post from Nermine Mohamed focuses on fear of liking loneliness too much. Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, although today she is living in Germany. In her post, Nermine shares her wisdom on loving herself while having fears she might be alone too much.

Loneliness is one of the greatest fears of our era. People commit suicide, settle for less, and throw themselves in unhappy relationships just to give themselves the illusion of conquering loneliness. On the other hand, some people are not afraid of loneliness and it is quite hard for them to picture their life with others in it. So, there are actually two sides of this coin: the fear of loneliness and the fear of too much solitude.

I was once a people person. I loved to be around people all the time. It made me feel safe. It made me feel protected. People gave me a sense of identity, a sense of worthiness. I’m no longer that person.

Now, I know who I am and I won’t be afraid to say that I love and enjoy my own company. I never get bored when I’m alone. I think clearly in solitude. I like the sound of my own breathing; I find it soothing; it unlocks my mind; it unwinds my soul. I stopped giving justifications for my thoughts, beliefs or worldviews.

I’m happy with what I’ve become, yet I cannot help but feeling afraid. Yes, I’m afraid of this drastic and ultimate independence and lonesomeness and where it will lead me. Although lots of people fear loneliness, for me it is easy to be alone. It is safe and trouble-free. But is this the way things should be? Are not we made into this world to help one another grow and thrive?

I keep pondering the reasons why I turned into this lonesome soul… There are probably many reasons and fears still buried in my unconscious mind that took part in reshaping who I am. But I know the fear of being rejected, or being caste-out just because I think differently caused me to change. Maybe it is also the intense mental pain I feel when I try so hard to make myself understood and miserably fail at it. Maybe it is my need to justify myself to the expectations of others, no matter how unfair or unreasonable they might be.

Yes, it is healthy to learn to love our own company. Loneliness can make us appreciate good company more; it can unleash our creative nature and make us learn about ourselves in an unusual way. It can help us explore our capabilities, potentials, new talents, and new sides of our personality. It can enrich our soul and make us better people.

Yet, loneliness can also lead to a dingy path and that’s what I dread. I’m afraid too much loneliness might taint my soul and obscure my vision. I’m afraid I’ve been deluding myself thinking that I do not need anyone, because I do need other people. My life can’t be full without others who actually give it meaning and sense.

We cannot go it alone all the time, the road can be long, tiresome and full of stumbles and that’s why we need company; we need people to help us back up when we fall, to slow us down when we go too far, to put us back on the right path when we are lost and confused.

I’m not afraid of loneliness, but I am afraid of liking loneliness just a little bit too much.

I think it is good not to fear our own company, but now I also know that as much as I like my own solo song, every now and then I have to let in some other tunes and just listen to the sound of it all together. Only then I will surprise myself, only when I find harmony in the most unexpected of places, only when I am not afraid to listen to more than my own voice…