Reflections on love & faith //

Alternative title(s) : Musings on love and fulfillment; The pursuit of inner peace; and A cautious tale of ignoring your heart

A few months ago, in the middle of an especially emotional conversation with my best friend I wondered out loud whether I have ever experienced love. The logical part of me would rush to say “Of course I’ve experienced love! I have a good family and great friends that show me they love me each and every day” but in that moment, it didn’t feel enough. The love I found myself craving and longing for wasn’t exactly familial or romantic love, I knew that much. But I didn’t know what exactly to call it.

After taking an honest look at myself, I came to one conclusion: the love I was looking for was unconditional love. This was the type of love that would always be there even when I wasn’t entirely deserving of it. This love would uplift me, encourage me, support me, envelop me, and carry me from where I am now to a better place, forever and always. I was looking for a type of love I couldn’t receive from other people, not because they are flawed, but because they are human just like I am. When I realized this, I felt broken but not because I thought this was impossible. I felt broken because I knew this type of love was entirely possible. I had experienced it before but left it for reasons I couldn’t exactly remember. I needed to find my way back.

Thankfully, the month of Ramadan (a spiritual month that Muslims all around the world celebrate once a year) was just around the corner. Finally, I thought, this was my chance to fill the emptiness that had become all too familiar. While I was excited to experience this month in all of its glory, I was also worried. Had I strayed too far? Had I been so caught up in the deadlines and the frustrations of the day to day that I had lost sight of nurturing my relationship with the one that is the most loving? Faith and my connection to God, is the lens I see this world through so naturally it was here I would begin my self-reflection.

In the almost three weeks since Ramadan started, I’ve been reading the Qur’an, listening to beautiful reminders, and generally becoming more aware of Allah’s miracles in my life. I’ve also been thinking more and more about who I am and the kind of person I want to become. In Islamic tradition, there is a large emphasis placed on self-improvement. From a young age I was taught that each day, I should strive to be better in terms of my level of closeness to God and my relationships with others. If I remembered to thank Allah after one prayer today, I should strive to thank Him after two prayers, and if I gave charity a bit hesitantly today, I should continue to give until I could give freely. It wasn’t until recently that I learned the word for this continuous self-improvement in Arabic – Tazkiyah.

The word Tazkiyah originally meant “to prune a plant”, that is to remove what is harmful or inhibiting its growth. Islamically, this means that the believer should look inwards regularly, cleanse their soul, and work towards improvement for as long as we are on this Earth. This may not sound new – I know others have called this the Growth Mindset or generally categorize it under self improvement – but what resonates with me is that this reflection and commitment to beneficial change isn’t done for tangible gains. It is done for the ultimate Creator and for Him and Him alone. In this way, everything that I do to improve is an act of worship. With this realization, it finally dawned in me: the love I was looking for was the peace I felt when I was most connected to Allah.

Most nights last year, I found myself at a loss for words to describe how I was feeling. Through tears and with cramped hands from writing too much too desperately, my soul cried out to my Creator, begging for peace. It’s the feeling I desire most in this world but the one that feels the furthest out of my reach. But this month has taught me that each day I carry peace within me. In my search for this ever elusive feeling, I failed to remember that my heart is the one in control. It knows where to go for peace because it will always call out for it’s maker. While I pushed aside my heart in order to follow my brain around in circles, exhausting both my body and soul, my heart quietly grew small. As I commit to embody this concept of Tazkiyah, I also commit to listen to my heart. After years of ignoring its well-intentioned voice, what will it tell me now?

This reflection was inspired by some of my favourite books including, “Don’t Be Sad” by Aaidh Ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni & “All About Love” by bell hooks.

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