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All these feelings grown ups have

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I love this picture of my husband when he was a kid. He was only 4 years young and he just got discharged from the hospital as he broke him arm and scratched his chin (he had stitches) when he fell three levels down while trying to slide down the rails of the stairs (oh my god, such a naughty kid!).  But with a bag of chips in his hand, and a “like-a-boss” swagger, he had the biggest grin on his face! He had the cast on for two months and I asked him if he ever cried or regretted anything and he said, “I was a kid. I didn’t have feelings then!”

I laughed and kind of agreed how carefree we were when we were kids and when we “did not have feelings” – everything was so much simpler then! We forgive in a second and we forget we ever had an argument by lunch. We made friends with everyone as long as they do not pull our hair. We share things, we whisper secrets and we laugh more than we cry. It was quite simply, awesome!

And then we grew up, and suddenly we have all these feelings. There is that annoying one, called envy. And the one that is always lurking around, insecurity. Then there’s the whole family that constitute of Father Ungratefulness, Mother Anxious, Daughter Bitterness and Son Anger. We always throw the blame on our “circumstances” and our “responsibilities” when we find ourselves having these negative reactions. But we forget that we have the capability to balance all these emotions with positivity, to have fearlessness, courage and a huge dose of emphaty when the going gets tough (and trust me, it will get tough).

Do not get me wrong. I do realise the importance of having a plethora of feelings instead of just being constantly happy and jovial (that just gives me a picture of someone who is extra hyper, like an Energiser bunny – wow it must be tiring to always be that perky) because that is what makes us whole. I do not encourage feigning happiness if we are not feeling good because of certain reasons but what I do advocate and believe in is that no matter what happens in life, to always fall back on Allah and trust in His Love and Plans for us because that will always re-assure and comfort us. So even if we do feel vulnerable and small, we do not feel hopeless. Instead, we will be in the company of the beautiful teacher that is humility. And even if we have lost something or someone was taken away from us, we are not chained by remorse,  instead we will feel grateful for what we presently have and we learn to depend on Allah, and we surrender.

I believe feelings are good – even the not-so happy, but equally necessary feelings – like vulnerability, humility, the courage to resist to be “perfect” and to accept yourself for who you are. To just be. But be mindful and aware of which feelings you give strength to, and which emotions you allow to reign.

I have this photo of my husband right smack in front of me in my studio because this photo taught me that every one of us can be a trooper and to smile after a big fall (it also proves that having a bag of chips also helps the healing process, or ice-cream!). But I also have it up there as a reminder that unfortunate circumstances are going to happen in life – we just have to balance it out with equal doses of positivity, courage and reliance on Allah. If we do that, In Sha Allah, we will go through this journey in this world, just fine.

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How do you take care of yourself?

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My grandmother is 90 and she has forgotten a lot of things, including her own children’s names. Every day, she shrinks smaller and smaller, but never into oblivion as she still is quite charming and beautiful at her age, Ma Sha Allah. But you know what my grandmother never forgets? Her prayers and the Quran. During her younger days, she taught Quran to the children in the neighbourhood. I’ve always admired this about her. She taught my mother and in turn my mother has taught me – I can only pray that one day I will be half as good as them and to be able to teach my kids the Quran.

Recently, my mother told me a rather hilarious story about my grandmother that at the same time made my heart breaks. My mother told me that she went to visit my grandmother the past weekend, and as usual, she was not able to recognise my mom. Their conversation went like this:

Nenek to my mother (in malay): Oh, I have not seen you in such a long time! Where are you currently living?
My mother (who goes to visit her regularly): I live in Singapore now!
Nenek: Oh yeah? I heard you went to jail! You are out now?
My mother (extremely tickled, and a little confused, decided to go along with this notion): Yes, I am!
Nenek: Well, do you have a bed to sleep on? Weren’t you scared? If I were you, I would have run away!
My mother: But you can’t run away because the walls are high! And no, we slept on the floor! We had to do everything in a tiny room!
Nenek: Oh! But most importantly, can you pray in there? Did they let you perform your solat?

When my mother told me the story, we burst out laughing but after the euphoria has died down, I said, “I cannot imagine you not remembering me.” And my mother said, “yeah, I wonder how I would be when I get older…”, her voice trailing off.

The truth is, we are all getting older. And one day, the youth and the health that we take for granted now will slowly slip through the hands of time.

My grandmother worked really hard. She was up early every single day and she would get ready and prepare her kuihs so that she can sell them out on the streets in order to put food on the table for her family. On top of all the household chores and having to take care of her children (she had 6), she was also a wife. But my grandmother had her “me-time” when she spent those precious few hours teaching the children Quran. She was in her zone, it was what she was good at, and it was what she truly enjoyed. And after all these years, those re-assuring words of the Quran are still being uttered between her lips as she quietly sits in the corner of the room, unfazed by the bustling around her.

You know, I always want to help girls. It is something that I live for. The very thought of Allah using me as a mediator to help a Sister in need, warms me up so much. A simple “thank you” from a Sister that I’ve never had the chance to meet in real life, never fails to remind me why I do what I do every day and to put every single difficulty that I face into perspective. It fills me up – this act of service. It is something bigger than myself and it is something that I would love to do till my dying breath.

I also know many among us that loves to help. Many among us who wish to inspire and encourage others. But we cannot help anyone, if we don’t take care of ourselves first. We can’t give, if we are not whole ourselves first. Think about this. Why do you think airline safety videos always tells us to put the oxygen mask for ourselves first before helping others? Because we cant help, if we ourselves are not okay.

It’s that simple.

A few years back, I once asked a friend who was much older than I was how she kept herself happy despite playing so many roles that carries distinct and heavy responsibilties. She told me, “Aida, always remember the No. 1.” I asked, “Who is No. 1?” She said, “You. You must always be No.1″. I always kinda thought that it was a bit selfish. But today, I remember her words, and I realised, she’s right.

So today, I am going to ask myself, how am I going to start taking care of myself? Will I stinge on my “me-time” just so I can fuss over and work longer on another product launch? Will I sacrifice more sleeping time to watch crappy YouTube videos? Will I hasten reading my Quran just so I can make it for the next Skype meeting?

My grandmother’s centre was the Quran and now, when she forgets how vivid her life was, and what a remarkable and strong woman she was, the Quran remains as her only true companion in her golden years. The Quran is taking care of her now, because she took the time to take care of her relationship with Him and His Book when she was younger. She took the time to take care of the one thing that would make her happy.

And that’s where I think I will begin, to start taking better care of myself. What about you?

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Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

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I remembered when I was fifteen, I was flipping through a magazine and it had a small column on boys and their preferred hairstyle for girls. I remembered touching my short hair and feeling a little unworthy when every single one of them answered “definitely long hair”. I remembered being asked, “are you really applying for art school for University?” and remembered excitedly answering “yes” and the response I got was “but you have no artistic talent whatsoever”. I remembered a few concerned friends who told me that it is not wise to marry a man who is younger, and that really, I should find someone at least three years older. I remembered a bunch of overzealously concerned relatives as they fire questions after questions about my financial stability when I told them that I run my own business – and how my confidence plummeted after all these seemingly innocent incidents.

But the most significant one, and the one that I finally put my foot down and firmly said, “enough is enough” is when people start stereotyping me just because I wear the Hijab. They either think ladies who wear the veil are rigid, weak, traditional and uncool or deeply religious, stoic and an extremist.

I refuse to say anything in retaliation.

Enough is for me that Allah knows what is in my heart. And it is better for me to ovecrcome and break these assumptions through my actions and my doings than to be defensive through words and proses.

Now, I have never been as comfortable as I am with my own skin than I was ever before. And yes, I do remember who I am now, thank you very much. I am Aida Azlin, a Muslimah, a Wife, a Daughter, a Sister and a Friend above all else. And I will carry out these roles, with honour, compassion and with a fierceness and fearlessness that nobody in this world can diminish and question through their nonchalant and careless preconceived assumptions.

I urge all of you to remember who you are and to leave behind every other redundant labels that the world has slapped on you. Because then, no one can break you and no one can dim the brightness that is your light. Shine on, ladies.

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Thoughts On Writing

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Writing drains me. That’s the truth. I wish I can write for hours on out, beautiful words tumbling out from my fingertips, all ready, aligned. But I can’t. Writing, I realised, is like an old, ultra-sensitive friend, that if you have not put any effort to visit or say “hello” every once in a while, will just slowly disappear, forgetting you or any of the beautiful memories you once shared. She will take you back in, but only, only, after you have made considerable effort to charm her, sit with her and to profess every single secret that you have kept since the last visit. She demands attention, rightfully so.

I usually spend hours writing a blog post and after every post, I would feel so consumed, like every single ounce of energy that I have in me would slowly, but achingly, leave. And yet at the same time, I would feel like a huge burden has been lifted after I penned down my thoughts – Ma Sha Allah, how beautifully strange…

Today, I am trying to re-connect with my old friend. I braved myself to sit myself down, to block out every single distractions, and to write. And to be honest, it has not been all that scary like I have imagined. I am breathing easy. I am enjoying the solitude, and I feel ready to engage and share what’s in my heart.

Comfortable. Like two old friends, just having tea.

Some people write with brutal honesty and you can really sense the raw emotions, it’s somewhat cathartic for them. Some people write to please their readers, some do it more than others – I likened these to “playing pretend”. I write because that is the only way I could be the best possible version of myself. When I write, I feel like I’m giving away a part of me and throwing it out there, unsure if it would ever be recognised, or accepted so I present myself in the most fitting way – still true to myself, but requires more effort on my part. More thought. More aware. More mindful. Something I fail to do in the comforts and privacy in my own home.

Therefore I have challenged myself to be more conscious of my speech and actions in private first, in the presence of my family and my closest friends, instead of placing too much emphasis on seeking acceptance through my public persona. Because my best should be for them first, just like how our Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “the best of you are those who are best to their families”.

So instead of writing for other people or writing for myself, I should always write to seek Allah’s pleasure and I should write to constantly remind myself to serve my family better.

Maybe then writing wouldn’t be so difficult for me anymore, In Sha Allah.

 

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(Might Be A Tad Strange But) What The FIFA World Cup Has Taught Me

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My dad is (yes, is, even at 52 years of age) a footballer, so I grew up with soccer largely embedded into my DNA. When I was a baby, every single Sunday would be spent on the pitch, and for the whole 90 minutes of the game, I would be passed around and would be in the arms of different footballers’ wives. I honestly have no recollection of that memory but my parents swore by it. I asked if I ever cried when another stranger would pick me up, my mother said “oh no, actually, you are one of the easiest baby to care for!” (oh yeah! I was so cool and flexible even when I was a kid, heh!)

My dad is a Goalkeeper – he never played any other positions. I always thought (but never had the courage to tell him) that being the Goalkeeper is like the worst position ever. I mean, doesn’t every one aim to be the forward/striker? Anyways, I thought that being the Goalkeeper has no special merit – if the team won, no credit will be given to the Goalie (only to the scorers); and if the team lost, everyone would blame the Keeper. And that sucks. But when I saw, at the end of every single game how each and every one of the players would go to my dad and give him a big (manly) hug and a high-5 and the respect that they give to him (plus he’s the Captain of the team), I realised it’s really not so much about your ‘position’ in the team, but how much of a team-player you are and how much value you can bring to the game.

After a while I realised, although being a Goalkeeper is not as glamorous as being a Striker, the team cannot play without a Goalie and the game cannot go on without the Keeper as well.

Now, on to what the World Cup Has Taught Me About Life:

Champions Don’t Always Stay Champions; Losers Don’t Always Stay Losers.

The only constant thing in this life is change and the teams playing for the World Cup can definitely testify to this. France won the World Cup in 1998, but at the next World Cup (2002), they were eliminated at the preliminary group stage. So did Italy (champions of the 2006 World Cup, eliminated at the 2010 preliminary stage) and more recently Spain (champions at the 2010 World Cup, eliminated at the 2014 preliminary stage)! This proves that it doesn’t mean you were once a winner, you will always stay at the top.

Additionally, more and more Underdog teams have made it to the next round of the World Cup. This year, we saw Costa Rica, Algeria, USA and Nigeria, all beating the likes of Spain, Portugal, Italy and England to make it to the Round of 16. And they deserved to be in the next round as they all played well, it wasn’t just by sheer luck or chance.

It made me realise that life is fair. Very fair. If you work hard, you succeed. Its very simple. It might take days to see this “success”, it might take months, and in the case of the World Cup, 4 years, but if you work and train hard, and you hustle, you will succeed. If you are complacent, smug, self-satisfied and you lack humility, you will be trampled by other much, much deserving individuals/team.

Don’t Just Keep Chasing Balls, You Have To Score Goals.

In every match, teams have 90 minutes to score as many goals as they can within that period to win the game. It doesn’t matter if your team has the higher possession rate or if your players can kick the ball at a much further distance; the main aim of the game is to score goals. Life is similar. We do not have an infinite amount of time in this world, so we have to stop chasing unnecessary things and instead focus on “scoring goals”.

Also, theres a million and one ways to net a goal: sometimes you have to take risks, sometimes you have to run harder for the ball, sometimes you have to use your head or your chest or your knees – whatever it is you need to do to score that goal, you do it. Similarly, when it comes to life, if there is something that needs to be done to achieve your aim or your dreams, do it. Just do it. Don’t just keep forming plans and schemes in your head without putting those ideas into actions!

Choose Your Best Players For The Team. No Ego-Personalities Please.

Like football, you need a solid, reliable and formidable team to win at life. So choose amazing, positive, like-minded friends and company. Choose the best spouse – a partner who can not only cheer you on but who can also shake you out of your ego when you are getting too conceited. Choose amazing collaborators and colleagues, work with the best craftsmen and artisans and study under the wisest teachers and leaders.

Every single individual that you allow in to your life has to add value to your being. And likewise, we should give to the people around us more than we receive. Avoid anyone who is too pessimistic, or calculative or self-absorbed – they will just drain all your energy!

(Notice that I did not include family. Our family members are special as God has chosen them to be our family for a reason. Cherish and serve our family more than anyone else in this world, especially our Parents!)

Stellar Sportsmanship + Consistency = True Champions

It doesn’t matter if you are the top footballer in the world and getting at least £20,000 / week and having $5 million in endorsements. If you play dirty, or spout vulgarities, or bite your opponents, you will be sent off or be banned from the game. How will you be a Champion when you can’t even play? Similarly, if our characteristic sucks and we are just plain mean to the people around us, it doesn’t matter if we make big bucks when at the end of the day we have no one we can share the joy and “success” with.

Consistency is another vital factor. Ive seen so many games where a team will be leading by 2-0 by the end of the first half, but because they got complacent, their opponentns can very easily turn the table and steal their lead by 3-2. Also, do you know that only if a team/country has won the World Cup thrice would they be able to keep the Cup for good? There has been 19 World Cups held so far, but there is only one World Cup Trophy (it belongs to Brazil) in the world! This shows that you not only have to win, but you have to win consistently to keep the prize, to be Champions!

In life, we got to be consistent too. Consistency is key. This always reminds me of my favourite Hadith where Rasulullah (peace be upn him) said: “The deeds most loved by Allah SWT are those done regularly, even if they are small”. (Bukhari/Muslim)

So here’s a quick re-cap: Change is the only constant so don’t be too complacent or too dejected. Stop chasing unnecessary things, aim to score at bigger, more important things in life instead. Always work and play hard, choose the best players to be on your team and be super nice and consistent!

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The Only Thing You Need To Be Happy

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This morning, I sat myself down by the window, slowly eating my breakfast. K was still sleeping and I was enjoying my space. The weather was beautiful, Summer has wrapped her arms around us here in Tangier and as we live really close to the beach, the whiff of seabreeze gently kissed my skin. My favourite instrumental was playing in the background and as I watched the birds circling around in the air, soaring, and lifting, I thought, “Ma Sha Allah, this quiet feels really nice. I’m at ease, I’m healthy and I’m happy.” I took out my pen and paper and decided to list down things that makes my soul and my being, happy:

  • When I pray Tahajjud in the mornings, when I feel closest to Allah.
  • When I read and learn about the wonderful miracles of the Quran.
  • When I pray. Persistently.
  • When I give back, to family and friends, to Sisters, to strangers.
  • When I pursue knowledge, when I create, when I write.
  • When I listen, when  I emphatise.
  • When I simplify and take a day at a time. Life is not complitcated. But we make it to be. 
  • When I am productive, and when I am of use to my family, to my community. 
  • When I do yoga and I take note of my breathing.
  • When I forgive. 

I remembered writing the exact same list a few years back on what were the things that made me happy, it was filled with material possessions, or jobs that I wanted to land, or places that I needed to travel, or people that I needed to impress.

I attatched my happiness to everyone and everything else other than myself and that was, to put it bluntly, stupid.

K always reminds me how we are not going to be on this world forever, so we should not even be too attached to each other. What if one of us leaves this world, would that mean the other should stop living? How unjust would that be. And if you truly love someone for Allah’s sake, you would want to see them happy, with or without you.

Happiness, I learned, is a form of courage. Happiness happens when we are brave enough to choose ourselves, to fight for ourselves, to strive to be the best version of ourselves. When I looked at my “happy list” that I wrote this morning, I realised a common thread running through, one recurrent factor that I needed, and that integral element, was me. I do not need anyone or anything else, just me and Allah and that realisation, that affirmation, just made me all the more happier.

Alhamdulillah.

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Go The Extra Mile, It’s Never Crowded There

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There has been a lot written about how one can make money easily just by (insert any random online gimmick) or how one can enjoy a no-sweat, 4 hour work-week, and still afford a lavish lifestyle. And every time I come across these articles/stories, I cringe. Even if these tales of success are remotely true, and you do get immensely rich, I see no joy in reaching success if these friends of mine – “hard work”, “commitment”, “discipline”, “faith” and “patience” – are not present. Because you can never really taste the sweetness, the satisfaction, of success if you have not had the honour to be in the company of these five friends I mentioned earlier.

Argue with me all you want, but great things take time. Take Nature for example: we needed 9 months of nurturing in our mother’s womb to be ready to take on the world. A tree that shades the land and its inhabitants takes an average time of 10 years to grow to its full stature. An ocean was definitely not created in a day and the fresh fruits and vegatables that you get to enjoy had to be grown and harvested, with some only growing during certain seasons. It’s not easy, but Allah created this world so beautifully and everything works so seamlessly, that sometimes we take this clockwork efficiency for granted rather nonchalantly.

Great things take time and to live a life that is extraordinary, a life that you are proud to leave a legacy behind, and a life that truly reflect the principles and values that our Deen is strongly centred on, you have to go the extra mile. And not many are willing to commit, to sacrifice, to put in the time and effort, so if we actually do, we will be the special ones. Why choose mediocrity if you can be magnificent? Why follow the crowd who hides behind normalcy, when Allah has chosen you to be Ambassadors of Islam – meaning to excel in your field of expertise, to be the best, kindest, fairest, most generous, and most charitable among people?

Granted, that’s hard work but there is no rest in this Dunia. We only, truly, fully rest in Jannah – and that is the ultimate destination, the ultimate success.

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Steady: Everything You Go Through, Grows You

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“If my life is a mountain, what will be my peak?” 
“Jannah” – I knew my answer. And in the rare occassion that my soul and my mind agreed with one another, I said it more firmly this time, “Jannah”.

There is a principle that we all have to learn, especially if we are on the path of self-betterment and that is the principle of gradualism. To understand that things, or we, for that matter, cannot change in an instance. Steady. Unhurried. Consistent. With time.

I remember, always having to rush. For something, for someone. Datelines. Plans. Demands. So much chaos, mistaken for being productive. It was embedded in my head that “fast” is the way to go. Until I decided to find Allah.

For a long while, I knew something was missing. No matter how bright the lights were flashing, and no matter how many people I was surrounded with, there was a big, gaping hole in my heart that I just cannot fill. Something was not right. And that feeling was nagging at me, louder during the night, as I toss and turn in bed, screaming to me, “What is your purpose in this life, Aida?”

Allah.

I found Him, but it did not take me a few days. It did not take me weeks, it took me a long while. But I was consistent. I was steady. And I had a lot of faith, and a lot of guidance from Him. I realised, as long as I am making progress, as long as I am taking a step forward, even if it’s just a millimeter each day, I am on my way. I am closer.

Do not frustrate yourself on the quest to seek Allah, because He never asked for perfection, He asked for our best. Be firm with your intentions to change, and comfort yourself with the fact that everything you go through, good or bad, grows you. And go easy on yourself, no rush. No one said you have to be perfect in a day – remember, Allah Himself brought down the Quran, bit by bit, and it took 24 years for Jibril to bring down the Revelations to our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Allah did not do it in a day, and we all know He can, but He did not.

Everything happens at its own pace, at its own time, when Allah deems fit, because Allah knows best. So, be steady. There is nothing to rush for, because Allah has always been there. We just have to want to see Him, to speak to Him, to listen to Him. He has never left, it was us that did.

“I’m trekking. And I’m steady. My strength, my stamina, my air, my health, my ability to navigate, the rope I’m holding firmly to – they are all from Allah. And every day I will take one step forward towards the top, and with every step, I remember my purpose, my end, my peak: Jannah.

Breathe. I’m trekking. And I’m steady. Alhamdulillah.”

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The Wound Is Where The Light Enters You

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With the arrival of June officially marking the start of the second phase of the year, I cannot help but take a little time to take stock of what has transpired this first half of the year. I remember starting 2014 with a certain sense of calm, and still finding myself pleasantly surprised that I am now married and living in Morocco. Its a huge blessing to be alive, to have a better half to depend on, to be living in one of the most picturesque country in the world but I cannot deny that sometimes life can throw really hard punches at you.

I realised that often times we get too preoccupied with finding a solution; to get the answers as quickly as possible and how we rush to find a quick way out of our predicaments. But I urge you, do not make haste, for the remedy to the problem might actually be found in the process of healing itself. I know pain is uncomfortable and grief can overwhelm, but when you really take the time to mend yourself, to heal, to get better, and most importantly, to go back to Allah, you will shine brighter than before. Because like Rumi said, “the wound is where the Light enters you”.

But. I also believe that we have to choose our battles. We don’t have to fight every single one of them. Life is simply too short and there are just some things in life that are not worthy of your time, of your attention, of your energy. So let go. That doesn’t mean you are giving up, it just means you are acknowledging and embracing the fact that your time deserves to be spent on something better, something meaningful, something more worthy of you.

So slow down, magnificent one. Take a deep breath, take a moment to step back, and always remember, “Allah, I am exactly where I am at this moment because You have willed for it and if I can’t, I trust fully that You can”.

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Let’s Be Our Own Heroes & Lovers

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For the longest time, I’ve always thought that “love” has to be strong, passionate, and fierce – you either love fully, or you do not love at all. So I wanted to love everybody and I give and I give and I loved relentlessly. For a while, it felt really good. I thought I was being selfless, magananimous. But I began to tire, and people started to leave, and thus it began, the whirlwind of emotions: self-doubt, unworthiness, hopelessness. Feelings I pray that nobody will ever have to experience; emotions that I wish never exist.

And then I started to carve out more time for silence, for reflection, for myself. And I actually enjoyed my own company. With the solitude, I could hear Allah. There was no more noise, no more distractions. I had clarity. I started getting to know more about myself. I breathed easy. I learned to be patient, and the best thing was, I forgot how it felt like to be disappointed. Nobody had the opportunity to let me down anymore, simply because I relied solely on Allah, and I depended on myself.

The day I started falling in love with myself, I started to fall in love with Islam. I felt the peacefulness that the Deen brings to my heart, I saw how my body was comforted by prayers, I tasted the sweetness of being in constant remembrance of Allah. For the first time in my life, I knew why my heart is beating, and I knew who my heart is for.

The day I started falling in love with myself, I gave myself a chance. I saved myself, and for that I am my own hero. Never wait for someone else to rescue you, to give you love, to give you purpose, because Allah has blessed us with that special capability ourselves. So find it in you, and use it.

And only after your heart has been immersed with the beauty of Allah’s love, illuminated by His light, and guarded by His Mercy, will you know what love is. And only after you have built a solid foundation in your own little heart to love yourself first, you will then realise how much more love you have that you can give to the people around you.

But start with being your own hero, and being your own lover. For the day we start falling in love with ourselves will be the very day that beautiful, magnificent things will start rolling in into our lives. The day you start falling in love with yourself will be the day you realised that you are worthy and if you know you are worthy, ain’t nobody can do anything to take that away from you.

And with Allah in your heart always, you will be invincible. In Sha Allah.

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