Tasbih phiree ta dil na phiriya
Ki lena tasbih phar ke hu
[You have been turning your prayer beads, but without turning your heart (for the better). What do you wish to gain from such a practice?]
I was in my teens when my granddad introduced me to Kalam Sultan Bahu. Despite being from a Punjabi household, my parents had taught us to speak Urdu and being a child of the diaspora meant the extent of my desi vocab was quite limited. So, an epic poem by Hazrat Sultan Bahu wasn’t going to easily integrate with my lexicon but my granddad persevered and translated it on many occasions as we sat together listening to its melodious renditions. I remember hearing the above-mentioned verse and it having a really profound affect on me: the idea that our heart has the ability to turn, to gravitate back towards the source of contentment, but without the desire to return to the One who created it, it’s nothing more than a beating entity without a higher purpose.
We now find ourselves in an unprecedented time due to the current pandemic and at first the lockdown left me feeling extremely anxious. The thought of being stuck at home, having to work as well as homeschool my children, and not seeing relatives and friends was very overwhelming and watching the daily government updates in the news started to take its toll.
I realised very quickly that I needed to do something to ease the turbulence so I took two steps: 1. I reduced the amount of news I was consuming and 2. I increased the time spent doing dhikr (rhythmic remembrance of God). The effects of these two actions brought immediate results. The latter though had a deep impact on my state of mind. Feeling the smooth, spherical ebony beads between my fingers as I recited la illaha ilallah (there is no god but God) injected into my heart a huge sense of contentment and I felt more accepting of the situation. Though the first jummah (Friday) of lockdown felt extremely strange, I had a heightened sense of gratitude for all the blessings I have: a safe home; a beautiful family; fridge and cupboards stocked full of food; a lovely garden in which to play badminton; shelves stacked with books; WiFi access to help stay connected to relatives; and the list goes on and on. Alhumdulillah (praise be to God).
Now, the blessed month of Ramadan is upon us and it is an experience like no other. It is usually a time of communal gatherings including family iftaris (breaking of the fast) and night congregations at the mosque, but having been thrown into a huge global crisis means Ramadan serves as a beautiful reminder that isolation need not equate to loneliness but rather a pathway for spiritual retreat, and being disconnected from one another physically is an opportunity to reconnect emotionally. Though we are having to practice social distancing, the time for self-reflection might be the key in actualising our hopes and dreams for the future.
Spending Ramadan in lockdown may be challenging for a multitude of reasons, but the lack of external pressures on how we spend our time is truly a blessing like no other. The opportunity to reconnect with our inner selves and transcend the materialistic nature of our current worldly sphere might very well be the catalyst in finally gaining the spiritual nourishment we need, otherwise what indeed is the purpose of life except the (re)turning of our hearts to the Divine.
Imrana Mahmood, Creative Producer