It seems to be big news right now to find your purpose, discover your joy and drop everything that’s making you miserable in your day to day life and head to Europe, or Bali or India and hang out in ashrams or outdoor cafes (if the title of this post doesn't make sense it refers to the best-selling book Eat Pray Loveby Elizabeth Gilbert which seems to have inspired women all over the world to make their own journeys to find themselves).
I am a big believer in doing things each day that make you happy. I also believe that we all have natural strengths and we find ourselves naturally suited to some roles in life and will chafe when stuck doing work or living a life that doesn't suit those natural strengths and inclinations. I think I would quite enjoy an Eat, Pray, Love trip too (
for the “Eat”, Makkah and Madinah for the “Pray” and for the “Love” I think). Lahore
But in real life, you can’t just walk out of your job, drop everything and head for that perfect South American beach where self-discovery and fulfilment are just waiting. The baby’s nappy needs changing for starters. One of the boy’s have lost their sports kit, hubby is suffering from that nasty virus the kids brought home for the school holidays. Your mum hasn’t been feeling very well recently and your daughter has discovered that teenager attitude, three years before she actually turns into a teenager. Oh and the bathroom needs a clean and the loo roll has run out again. Plus does the perfect beach with built-in fulfilment and discovery of self-purpose have somewhere to pray? What do you do when you get there and everyone else is in a bikini and you are sweating in your abayah?
The point being, that much as some of us would love to jet off, the responsibilities of life, the expectations of our loved ones and the boundaries set by our faith means its very hard to live our lives exactly as we want and the idea of following our dreams can seem impossible. This means that as Muslim women we often make massive sacrifices and spend out lives trying to do the best for others. We give up our careers, play small and turn down opportunities that come our way and set aside what we want for what our spouse, parents or in-laws want or what our children need.
So really, we should give up our dreams, put them to the back of our minds and never think of them again. It’s too hard, too uncomfortable and will upset the apple cart. Your husband might be a bit uncomfortable, it’s not the way your in-laws do things and your parents might just tell you to stop getting silly ideas and carry on doing what you have always done. Now step back and ask yourself. How does that feel? To never try that one thing you’ve always wanted to do, to never take a step towards that secret vocation or that childhood dream? Or take a step sideways and think about what you would say if your sister or friend or daughter was in this position?
I know how much I love my sisters, sisters-in-Islam, friends and especially my daughters. I might have days when I think something I want to do is too hard, but for the women I love? Heck no, no chance, I would never want them to accept that it’s okay to feel this way and to just give up. If I can feel this way when to comes to them, why should we feel any less strongly for ourselves?
As Muslim women it can be hard to do the things we want. We have an advantage though, that not everyone with a lot more freedom that us has. We all play our inner purpose out in different ways; we are all pulled in our directions by our own internal compass. Yet, we all have one, single purpose that our individual purpose has to link back to in order to have genuine power and worth. As Muslim’s we know that Allah (SWT) created us with a clear purpose to worship Him, to call others to His message and to act as a source of khair (good) in this world :
“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” ~ Quran 51:56
“You are the best nation raised up for humankind. You enjoin righteousness, forbid corruption and you believe in Allah.” ~ Quran 3:110
“[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving.” ~ Quran, 67:2
“Behold, your Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” ~ Quran 2:30
So whatever we do, big or small, we do it with the intention of pleasing Allah (SWT) and using our natural skills, strengths and purpose to please him, serve his creation and benefit our wonderful Ummah insh’Allah.
So those dreams you have – to create art, to write poetry, to further your education, to teach, to learn, to cook, to organise (that’s me, I love order), to break out, to look inwards – whatever is individual and meaningful to you, don’t belittle them. Don’t feel that they are less important than all the million other things you have to do. Don’t put them in the pecking order below the dreams and needs of every other person around you. Give them value. Ask yourself how you can put your dream in the service of people and Islam. It may not be possible, but if you think about it, there will certainly be some way. Want to be great at henna? Maybe learn it with the intention to help adorn sisters, to offer a service to help charities, to create henna candles or note-books for charity auctions or sales? Want to get your post-graduate qualification in counselling? Maybe undertake work with Muslim sisters – there is real suffering in our communities behind closed doors, with sisters that have no-one to talk to. Want to be the best at basketball? Create a halal environment for sisters to get fit and be a trailblazer for other sisters to try something different.
These are very random examples, but you get the idea. You don’t suddenly have to stop what you are doing, drop all of your chores and start bouncing a basketball round (your kids might not be impressed if you take over their hoop in the garden and your hubby will wonder when his dinner is going to be ready). But you can start by writing the impossible down. Then you can note down a few simple steps that will set you in the right direction. Want to be a world class calligrapher? Borrow a library book, buy a pen and a notebook, set pen to paper for five minutes a day when no one is around.
Find small, simple, do-able steps that don’t scare the pants off of you. When we make time to do things for ourselves, that we love and that get us excited, we find ourselves in a place where everything else is so much bearable – the piles of laundry, the demanding family, the meddling relatives, the 9-5 grind, it all becomes that bit more bearable. Because we do thing for ourselves, we don’t begrudge doing things for others in the way we do when we do everything for others and have no time or energy left for ourselves. When we become creative in small doses – whether through artistic endeavour, through educations or trying to gain skills or trying to find new ways to find time and money to do what we love, very soon that creativity brims over into other parts of our life – we start being more creative in our relationships, in the way we raise our children, manage our household, organise our home and in the way we do our jobs. When this starts to happen, even the mundane suddenly becomes more interesting. To do our work and our chores and fulfil our relationships in a way that becomes fascinating – how wonderful would that be?
So for our Eat Pray Love journey, we can’t all abandon our lives and travel the world (although if you can and want to, why not? I’d love to find out what happened if you did). We can however take small steps that start a great journey. I believe that fulfilment and an amazing life do not come from looking all over the world, but from looking inwards, from exploring the endless world of our hearts and minds and having the courage to take small steps, stick up for our dreams as we would do if they were the dreams of our beloved sisters and daughters and prepare to be creative and look at things in a way that is different than the usual way they are done.
Saying that, I love the idea of travelling and seeing amazing places all over Allah’s (SWT) beautiful earth. There are a hundred reasons not to – no money, the voice at the back of my mind that says it is a frivolous waste of money and a woman should not leave her home without reason, my children being so small, the fear of racism and prejudice that I might find at my destination, the fear of setting foot outside my oh-so-comfy comfort zone. But the world’s wonders and the beauty and majesty of Allah’s (SWT) amazing mountains and valleys and oceans calls. So for me there are baby steps. Taking small trips in
trying new places, staying away from home for two or three days, finding places
that are child friendly, making the most of my budget, planning ahead and
trying to create a learning experience for my children. Slowly the fears start to drop away and you
start to get more audacious and slowly get everyone around you on board. Britain
What tiny step can you take towards a dream you have? How can you fulfil your purpose by serving your faith and this ummah?