Announcement: New Blog

14 Mar

Dear readers,

I’m leaving WordPress and I’m moving to Blogger.

Here is the link to my new blog:




Is this not discrimination?!

8 Mar

I read in an article that Hema, a shop in Genk, Belgium, fired one of its staff members today. The sole reason for this decision? The woman in question wears a headscarf. The management of the shop received a number of complaints from (narrow-minded) customers about her headscarf, and decided to get rid of her.

The woman is Belgian, and when she first started to work there, she didn’t wear a headscarf yet. Then she decided to wear it (i.e nobody obliged her). She did ask the management of the shop first if she would be allowed to work there with a headscarf, and they gave their permission. But apparently some narrow-minded people took offence and complained. The management changed their mind and asked her to take it off. She refused. Then they fired her.

I read the comments on the article, and they were almost all in favor of the decision that the shop made. What kind of society are we living in? Is this not paternalistic and discriminating? Is this not other people deciding what a woman can and cannot wear? And all this happened on international woman’s day! Or is this day only to promote respect for Western, non-Muslim women?

Since she’s Belgian, it’s not a case of “racism”, and no organisation is really bothered by it. But wait until a woman gets fired because she wears a mini-skirt, then the public will scream and protest that we are living in the 21st century and that a woman can now decide for herself what she wants to wear.
It’s not because you don’t understand why a woman would want to wear a headscarf, that it’s impossible that she does it out of her own free will. It seems that Belgian, or should I say Flemish society is moving away from being tolerant and open-minded, to a place where it’s perfectly acceptable to fire a person based on his/her religion. It scares me, and on the other hand, it makes me more determined than ever to wear headscarf myself and to fight for my rights as a Belgian citizen and human being!


Beautiful Call to Prayer

3 Mar


الله أكبر
God is the most great
أشهد أن لا اله إلا الله
I testify that there is no god except God
أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
I testify that Mohammed is the messenger of God
حي على الصلاة
Come to prayer
حي على الفلاح
Come to success
الله أكبر
God is the most great
لا إله إلا الله
There is no god except God

We have a voice!

2 Mar

I watched “The King’s Speech” yesterday, and felt inspired by it. I’m sure most of you know the story. It’s about King George VI of Britain, who has a stammering problem. He feels very unsure about speaking in public, and about finding his voice really. Luckily he meets a man, Lionel Logue, who can help him with his problem and who becomes a true friend.

Maybe the same can be said about us Muslim women. Some of us are still stammering too, as in that we feel unsure about speaking up. So many decisions are made over our head. So many people claim to know what’s best for us. Enforcing the veil, banning the veil, locking us up in the house, trying to westernise us and making us appear half-naked on the street,…
But we are not dumb creatures who can’t look after ourselves. We have a voice and we can look after ourselves! No need to restrict us or to pity us.
We know exactly what Islam is about, and it’s not about being a prisoner or being oppressed! So stop trying to tell us what to do, and let us make our own decisions. Most of us WANT to wear the veil, because we believe it guards our modesty and dignity, and we are NOT forced.  Some of us are treated unfairly, but that’s despite of Islam and not because of it. We feel the injustice of that as much as you do, and we want a change!
And do you think the West is so much better? My friend who’s a convert got a lot of job offers, until they discovered she wore headscarf, then all of a sudden they weren’t interested anymore. Is that not discrimination or unfair? They say they want to liberate us, but instead they force us to stay at home or to take on lesser jobs just as much! In most schools in my country, the veil is now forbidden, while miniskirts are all over the place. Why can’t we wear what we want? We don’t have a bomb hidden underneath our veil. Who do we hurt with wearing a veil, except the narrow-minded racists?
We have a voice, and we will use it more and more. We know how the Prophet (p.b.u.h) instructed Muslim men to treat their women, and we will not accept anything less! Not from our fellow Muslims, and not from the West! You don’t have to agree with us, and we are not here to force you to become Muslim too. All we want is respect and freedom to let us be who we want to be, and to let us develop ourselves in the best way possible.
Maybe we are still stammering now, but like King George VI, we will find our voice and we will resist all the hostile forces surrounding us.

The Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, said, “Women are the twin halves of men”

Once a woman came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, with a complaint against her husband. He told her: “There is no woman who removes something to replace it in its proper place, with a view to tidying her husband’s house, but that God sets it down as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand-in-hand, but that God sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he puts his arm round her shoulder in love, his virtue is increased tenfold.”

Depression as descent: part I

1 Mar

Our world can seem so cold at times. We feel that life is one big chore, and that there is no one to relief us from our burden. We cry during the dark hours of the night, desperately wishing there was someone to comfort us, but everyone is asleep and minding their own business. And this isn’t only the case during the night. No matter how many close friends or relatives we have, we are often left to our own devices, since they have their own life and problems too.
Although affection and love from others is an integral part of recovering from feeling down or depressed, we can’t expect others to do the healing process for us. Sometimes there is no one else there either, unfortunately.
Depression is a call from your soul, to look within instead of around you. You are the one who must travel the road down into the underworld of your being, and unfortunately you can’t bring any earthly companions.

The descent

Depression is without a doubt a call downwards. We might feel it gentle tugs when we are still cheery and going strong, but if we don’t pay attention to our inner life, what we are really thinking and going through, the tugs will cease to be gentle, and we will find ourselves on our knees before we know it.

Camille Maurine writes in her book “Meditation secrets for women”:

There are times in a woman’s life when the call downward is a transformative journey, a summon to the depths of the soul.
People tend to think of spirituality as rising upwards into the sky. In the traditional (male) teachings, enlightenment is often described as a flight from the lower centers of the body, the instinctive and sexual places, to the upper centers in the head and then out. By contrast, a woman’s spiritual quest at some points leads to a soulful sinking down into herself. Everyone fears this descent, this sinking down. Yet sinking down connects us with the earth, with our personal ground, with our foundation. There is a secret in “endarkenment”.
The realm of the soul is not light and airy, but more like mud: messy, wet and fertile. Soul processes go on down there with the moss and worms, down there with the decaying leaves, down there where death turns into life. Deepening into soul requires the courage to go underground, to stretch our roots into the dark, to writhe and curl and meander through rich, moist soil. In this darkness we find wisdom, not through the glaring beam of will, but by following a wild, blind yet unfailing instinct that senses the essence in things, that finds nourishment to suck back into growth.(1)

It’s not about getting out of this mess as soon as possible. It’s about having the courage to truly stand what you see down there, and to transform it into something new. We mustn’t use religion and spirituality as a mean to completely ignore ourselves and only concentrate on the heavens above, hoping to be saved. Instead, I think it’s wiser if we use it as a close companion to which we can constantly turn when we are going through this painful descent. There is no need to pretend to be fine when you are praying or meditating. There is no need to be anyone else but yourself.

Hidden treasures

It’s important that when our soul calls for us, we listen, and that we don’t desperately try to cling to our life as we know it. The period in our lives in which we feel our inner pain so acutely, is a very special one. Daily life loses its meaning, and reaching out to others is not enough to cheer us up. We feel that only spending time with ourselves, being gentle and caring towards ourselves, and retreating from the outer world, will help us heal.
Of course we are afraid, because we fear the unknown. We don’t know yet what we will see when we dive, and it might be more severe than we first thought. We don’t know how it will affect our lives, and we also fear change.
But we have no choice, we are already in the water, and there is no turning back. Let’s be strong, and find the hidden treasures of this difficult period, in which we feel so cut off from others and the world around us.

Camille Maurine continues: The down-ward moving emotions, such as regret, grief, and loneliness, lead you into your depths. Everyone experiences these at times during meditation, and they are not to be resisted. If you have undergone the loss of a loved one, a way of life, a self-image, or a dream, there may be grief in your heart. Enter the grief and let it release its healing gift.
When we are in solitude or in sorrow, we are sitting by the sacred well of life. Although we may be crying, we will emerge renewed.  Though we fear we could cry forever, the more we yield to this process, the more quickly it can resolve itself. Many meditators say there are times when they die and are reborn in a heartbeat because they have learned to surrender.
In opening to our own suffering, we share in the poignancy of the human condition. We become aware of others who suffer, tuning in to the morphogenetic field of humanity. Linking to the rest of humanity through our shared suffering can be a conscious prayer and transformation. In meditation we can open our hearts to breathe in the suffering of the world and to breathe out with compassion and healing for the self and others.
Grief and love are intertwined. If you love, you risk inevitable loss-and choose to love regardless. We lose each other one way or another, through separation or death. To bear this grief is to live with an open heart. (2)

(1) C.MAURINE, Meditation secrets for women, HarperOne, p.210
(2)C.MAURINE, Meditation secrets for women, HarperOne,p.212

Solitude & Silence: forgotten values?

27 Feb

Modern life seems so focused on work and social activities that we often forget the value of taking time for ourselves. It’s considered weird or even sad if you go out on your own, or rather stay home with a book than go to that fabulous party everyone is talking about. The paradox here, however, is that we are more lonely than ever. Superficial contacts are becoming the norm, and there is hardly time for in-depth conversations. Life is so hasty that we even become strangers to ourselves. We rush through the day, working, cooking, cleaning, doing the groceries, taking care of others, … and then when all the tiresome chores are over, we collapse in front of the TV.
We might have gained material comfort, but we are losing our inner lives, and that is a big loss indeed!

The importance of balancing

Humans are social creatures, and there is nothing wrong with that. Most of us feel great when we have our friends around us, with who we can share our life’s tribulations, but also our joy and happiness.
It’s important that we see ourselves as a friend too though, and we need to nourish that friendship. We need to find a balance between spending time with others, and spending time with ourselves. If we don’t nourish our inner lives, we won’t be able to nourish the life of others.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes in her book “Women who run with the Wolves” very beautifully about this issue:
A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.
For many women, this task requires that they clear a time each day for contemplation, for a space to live in that is clearly their own with paper, pens, paints, tools, conversations, time, freedoms that are for this work only. For many, psychoanalysis, contemplation, mediation, the taking of solitude, and other experiences of descent and transformation provide this special time and place for the work. Each woman has her own preferences, her own way.(…)
To sweep the premises means not only to begin to value the nonsuperficial life but to care for its orderliness. Sometimes women become confused about soulful work, and neglect its architecture till it is taken back by the forest. Gradually the structures of the psyche are overgrown until they finally are but a hidden archeologic ruin in the psyche’s unconscious. A cyclical and critical sweeping will prevent this from occurring. When women have cleared space, the wild nature will better thrive.(1)
An excuse I often use myself too is that I don’t have time for all this. This is simply not true. A better and more honest way to put it would be that we are not in the mood to make time for it, because it’s not very high on our list of priorities. However, the importance of meditation, prayer, journaling, giving attention to our inner life, can hardly be overlooked. If we don’t make time for it, our inner life will be overgrown like a garden that isn’t kept, and we will forget about who we really are. Our inner life is just as important as the steps we take in the outer world, maybe even more important. Our actions start from how we feel inside, and we can only take the right kind of actions if we are in touch with what we really need in life.

The benefits of silence

Silence and solitude go together. When we are alone, we don’t speak. Our mind is rather directed towards deeper issues we need to deal with.
Nowadays we talk a lot, without really saying something. People who are talkative are by far preferred over people who are silent. Of course talking is a great way to strengthen the bonds with others, but it can also be used as a dangerous weapon, to hurt people and to gossip behind their backs.

“If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything” seems a very positive rule to me, although a lot of people have forgotten the value of not talking bad about others. All too often, they see it as a mean of conversation, to have something to talk about, and don’t realise the damage they are doing. If you make friends by talking bad about others, what kind of friends are they in the first place?
My advice is: always speak about someone as if he/she were there too.

Silence was considered a virtue by all the great men and women from the past. Gandhi said: In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.
In Islam, silence is considered even more than gold. Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said: Salat (prayer) is the main pillar of Islam, however remaining silent is better.
Sadaqa (charity) will extinguish the anger of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Sawm (fasting) is a shield against the fire of hell, however remaining silent is better.
Jihad (fighting against temptation&defending Islam) occupies a high position in the deen of Allah, however remaining silent is better.
Excessive talking can be harmful towards someone’s soul, especially if one uses his tongue to lie, hurt others, and gossip. Only constructive talk is allowed in Islam, where one advises the other to do good, where one talks kindly to the other, where one remembers God with his tongue.

To end, I want to stress that silence can also be harmful, when it’s used in the face of injustice. We must not remain silent when we see something bad happening, but speak up for ourselves and others. Everything can be used in a good and bad way, so let’s make sure we use silence only in a positive way!

(1) C.P.ESTES, Women Who Run With The Wolves, 2008, Rider, p.92-93

Wisdom Hides Behind a Broken Heart

25 Feb

I once read a reply from an Islamic scholar to a question from a Muslim, and I was torn between laughing and feeling sad. The question was a very practical one. “What to do when your heart gets broken?” To be honest, that’s not the kind of question I would ask a sheikh, but this Muslim took his chances. The answer from the sheikh was “A broken heart doesn’t exist in Islam, because relationships outside of marriage are not allowed.” Then he went on explaining why relationships are not allowed, completely beside the point.
Well, mr. Sheikh, I’m glad that you are so happy in marriage that you never experienced the pains of losing a lover, but for the rest of us mere mortals, this experience does actually exist. I think a broken heart is universal, and doesn’t only come from extramarital relationships. Your spouse can hurt you too, cheat on you, leave you, divorce you and tear the ground under your feet away, until you’re left in ruins.

Ruin is not always bad, however. Sometimes everything needs to be wiped away in order to be able to start over. You might even feel relieved after the worst pain is over, because you realise that your partner didn’t make you happy after all.
So what are some things you can do after your world fell apart?

1. Stay away from your ex for at least 6 months

This might sound harsh and impossible to do, but it’s very important in order to get over someone. No matter how sad and lost you feel, do not contact him/her. Your ex-partner can’t comfort you, no matter how much you want everything to be all right again.
You need a clear head, and you need to avoid being consumed by the hope that everything might be ok again. If you keep on speaking with him/her you might stay stuck in this phase for a very long time, hoping and waiting.
Keep your dignity and self-respect, and don’t show your ex-partner your suffering. You’ll be glad about this later, trust me.

2. Keep a journal

Express your feelings, and try to write daily in a journal that no one else is able to read. It will not judge you for yet again writing that you miss him/her, that you are still sad even after all this time, and that you still want him/her back. You can also follow up on the progress that you made this way. Don’t let your grief stay inside, pour it out over the pages, knowing that there is nothing you can’t write about, because there’s no one there to judge you.

3. Seek support from around you

You don’t have to go through this alone. Confide in your closest friends and family and cry on their shoulders. You would do the same for them, so don’t feel guilty. Their views and comforting words might change your perspective on things, and give you hope for a new start. This is also a period in which you can discover who your real friends are. If they aren’t there for you now, you need to draw your conclusions.

3. Give yourself time

Don’t be hasty. Give yourself time to mourn over the loss of your loved one. Give yourself time to create new habits that don’t include him/her. Mostly we miss someone because we were used to spending time with him/her. They were ingrained in our habits, and they left an aching emptiness that needs to be filled. This will take time. You might feel you’ll never be able to live without your ex, but time will tell a different story. You were fine before he/she came into your life, and you will be fine again.
In an episode from Sex&the City one of the characters, Charlotte, said that it takes half the time you dated someone to get over him/her. While this is a very simplistic view to be sure, it does indicate that this pain will not pass in a week. Do not ask of yourself to be over him/her in a couple of days. Be gentle with your heart, and give yourself all the time you need, even if it seems longer than “normal”. What’s normal anyway?

4. Do things for yourself

This is the time to come back to yourself. Focus on you. Do things that you like and that make you feel good. Broaden your horizon and make the best of your extra free time. You might have been so caught up in the relationship that you completely forgot about yourself and your needs. This is the perfect time to make up for it, and to get to know yourself better. The overall message is to be kind and gentle to yourself. Don’t push yourself into things you don’t feel ready for, but do strive to not stay stuck in the feeling of loss and unhappiness.

5. Pray

Seek comfort in your faith, and let your heart be filled with a higher kind of love and peace, the kind that comes from God. Personally I believe that this is essential to rebuild your life. Stay close to God, and take every day as it comes. Pray for your ex. This is the best way to let go of any angry and revengeful feelings you might have towards him/her. Trust me, it might feel good to hate your ex-partner, but the only person you are hurting with this is yourself. Try to forgive your ex by praying for his/her well-being, so you can let go and move on with your life. Forgiving him/her doesn’t mean that you have to let him/her back into your life. Not at all. It just means that you let go of all the resentment and anger that’s eating you up inside, and go back to a healthy way of living.

6. Learn your lesson

Use this time to figure out what went wrong in your relationship (without putting the blame on yourself or him/her). What did you endure from your partner that you shouldn’t have and why? Do you see a pattern? What are some things that you can work on to improve yourself?
Don’t go rushing into another relationship/marriage before you thought these things through. Make sure you learned from your mistakes. Maybe you need to adjust the type of partner you are looking for in order to not experience the same hurt again. Take your time. It’s not a shame to be single, but a great opportunity to learn new things about yourself.

6. See the blessings behind the suffering

Try to be aware of the good things coming from this change. A painful experience like this will certainly make you wiser. Try to keep track of your insights by writing them down. Be proud of yourself for how much stronger you have become.
Maybe, when all this is over, you might even be grateful for what you went through, because it gave you the gift of wisdom and strength.
Don’t forget to thank God for all the blessings He gave you, even if there seem to be very few.

7. Look for inspiration

There are a lot of works of art out there that might give your heart some rest.
I will end this post with a poem that deals very beautifully with the concept of being alone again.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

– Derek Walcott