Thursday, July 26, 2012

Muslim Girl Problems: Destiny vs. Choice

Here's the thing: say one day you got a sign that led you to believe something about yourself. Like for example - imagine if someone had a dream that they were on a beach in Mexico. Then, sometime after that dream, they made the resolution and actually went to a beach in Mexico... is that Destiny i.e. meant to be or is it a Choice i.e. the seed of the thought planted by the dream that led that person to take the steps necessary to get to the beach in Mexico?

If that person hadn't had the dream, would they have ever gone to Mexico? Or was the dream just a fore-warning, a premonition of sorts that they would find themselves on a beach in Mexico?

As a Muslim, I believe in Destiny. I have learned from a young age that it is He who determines everything, even before it is borne in the human mind. However, I was also taught that being human has afforded us the privilege of Choice. We choose our actions. But where do we draw the line? This is an argument I've had with myself and just about everyone else I know for the better part of two decades.

There is a beautiful Arab Proverb on Destiny that goes something like this:
If it is meant for you, you will receive it, even if it's beneath two mountains;
And if it's not meant for you, you will not receive it, even if it's between your lips.

The first time I was offered the job at The Bank, I turned it down because I didn't want to work for an institution founded on Usury (Interest). Usury or Riba is a great sin in Islam and the issue goes into great depth, linking it to oppression. Authentic Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammed SAW) have stated that when one deals with Interest, The Almighty Himself will wage war against that person on the Day of Judgement. And really, I am in NO position to go to war with The Lord Almighty.

In any case, I was dismissive and turned it down, even after they said that they were really keen to hire me and I was perfect for the job. Then some time later, when I was about to sign another contract, it fell through unexpectedly and through a twist of events, I found myself accepting the initial offer to work at The Bank, but not before speaking to my Dad about it.

I asked him what he thought and he said, "Well, when you get to the core of it, you can't even make glass"
"Glass? Why Glass?" I said, somewhat confused. 
"Because that's what they use to drink and store wine in", he replied (alcohol is forbidden in Islam). 
He then said "Look, it's not like you're the one who started this business from Usury, you're not enforcing it and you don't have a say in it when it comes to this business. And this job is just a means to an end".

And here's the thing (again): When I was 5 years old, I really wanted to become a police officer. There was something about law enforcement that appealed to me even at that young age - until I found out that you could get shot in the bum. Then I promptly changed my mind and wanted to become a CEO.

When I graduated from school, my first and one of my longest stints in employment, was with a Private Investigative Firm... working with ex-cops, detectives, SWAT, ex-FBI, Intepol... you name it. And completely unintentional or unplanned on my part, every other job I've ever had since then (the teaching stint a short-lived exception) was in Corporate Governance, Compliance or Quality Management - positions that required me to enforce the law and hold other's accountable for their actions. And here I am today, not a police officer or a CEO, but working as a corporate-police-woman of sorts, in Compliance and Anti-Money Laundering.

So was that a Choice or Destiny? Considering that I didn't even want some of the jobs I ended up working in, I'm inclined to believe the latter. But I've come to view the Destiny vs. Choice conundrum as a journey to a specific destination. The road you choose is your choice. But the destination, that's your destiny.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The human element

There is something to be said about the importance of the human element. It was this realisation that helped me relate to my students when I taught them, and it's something that I continue to use now that I'm back in the corporate world.

It seems that a theme runs through my life. It's as if The Almighty knows that I can't see the world right now, and so He brings the world to me. It felt like that when I taught English and I was the only South African in a class full of foreign nationals from 16 different countries.

And it's much the same these days on my way to the office, where stepping into a lift/elevator with colleagues from at least 7 different countries, speaking 12 languages between us, is quite the norm. In fact, there are only 2 people in my department who speak English as a first language, and that's me and The Bald Headed Texan.

Anyway, back to the human element. It helps to know what makes people tick. Not to control or manipulate them - but to better understand and respect where they come from, what they stand for, what they value and how you can fit into their lives in a way that can yield good results on a personal and professional level.

When I taught those 18 students at the Institute, the common thread in those exotic fibres was the overwhelming need for a connection. It was more than just obvious that they were all very lonely beings - in their respective ways longing for a sense of home, coming from very far, and many of them not having any family or friends in this new country.

And it was then that I introduced the concept of a family. In a class where people ranged from adolescence to middle age - I'd appoint the most senior from the males and females and would call them Mamma and Pappa. Then I'd appoint the emotionally bereft and silently needy from the younger crowd and christen them the sons and daughters of Mamma and Pappa - and their peers their brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins.

Essentially, what we were left with was one huge family... the parents and each of their siblings, cousins and family friends, and then all their kids. It began in the name of fun - something to break the ice and make people more comfortable around each other.

And then, somehow, it became something more...

They were family in name, but those names made them act like a real family. The power of labelling. Suddenly, "Mamma" was looking out for her "kids". And the "kids" kept tabs on their "parents". And "Pappa" would take care of his "sisters" and so it continued. 

The family bickered, laughed, had fun, cried - they shared stories, meals, study time - all of it both inside AND outside the classroom. Some of them kept their roles long after the class ended. My part in it was always as The Grandmother. The Mother figure they came to in times of distress or joy - personal or class related.

And just like that, they were no longer alone, sad or lonely in a foreign place. And such is the power of the human element. No man is an island.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The spirit of things

It seems like Ramadan just sneaked up on me this year. I knew it was coming, but it just didn't register until I found myself waking up at 04:45am this morning for Suhur - the recommended breakfast before the fast. It's not easy eating at that time of the morning, but experience has taught me that it's better to try to eat something than not to.

So the holy month of Ramadan officially commenced in Johannesburg today from 05:27am this morning, until we broke the fast at 17:39pm this evening, at sunset. It's not that bad considering that my relatives in Copenhagen, Denmark will be fasting for like 21 hours, from dawn until dusk.

And thus, the next few weeks will bring about a more subdued version of me. In addition, this Ramadan, (a one time special only) I'd like to relay my own (very) personal experiences on what it means to be a Muslim living and working in the 21st century and what this month means to me - as well as dispelling the myths around that.

With that, I'd like to wish everyone observing this auspicious month a blessed Ramadan. May The Almighty SWT accept all our duas and efforts during this month.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In a crazy world, only morons outlive the roaches...

So, I have been busier than usual lately. Work has fired up since Barclays and HSBC's misdemeanors have come into the spotlight and basically, we're all under intense scrutiny because when something big happens in an industry that affects other people, someone's got to pay.

It's like the whole sinking Cruise Liner Incident all over again. Ship hit a rock off the coast off Italy because the Captain was too busy snogging his mistress to pay attention to the co-ordinates, and then suddenly every other Cruise Liner was put on red alert to ensure they don't fall victim to the same mistake.

On top of that, I have an aunt, great aunt and great uncle who are gravely ill... all different ailments, different hospitals. Add a recently diagnosed cousin and another close cousin with swelling on the brain and you have a family running around like headless chickens, in desperate need of VIP parking at every hospital in Johannesburg - that or free shares in the Healthcare Industry. Everyone is handling this surprisingly well. Just this evening my aunt offered me a cigarette - said she's only doing it coz she's dying.

And as if that's not enough, throw in a couple of weddings, pending divorce, family arguments and bickering and suddenly just being in this family is a full time job with it's own toxic stress levels.

So yeah, I've been busy.

And when I'm this busy, I don't have time for shit which, through nature's law of Murphy, always comes at the most inappropriate time. And this time, it came through Facebook. 

See, I was minding my own business as I'm prone to do and I thought I could escape for a few minutes into the mindlessness that is Social Media, when I got the friendship invitation. It was from a guy I don't know and have never spoken to. Now, ordinarily I don't mind who befriends me on Facebook because I like interacting and socialising with many different people. Read PEOPLE, not FREAKS.

Anyways, 3 days later I get a message from this guy and in this message he tells me that he was very intrigued by my profile at first but that after befriending me he was left unimpressed. He called himself Norman (an English version of his real name). Then he emphatically stated that the only reason he added me was because he thought I was a Pakistani and then went on to complain that there weren't enough photos of me and not enough details about my life. And then he went further, accusing me of "collecting people on Facebook" as someone "who feels good about how many people they have as friends". And then he kindly ended the message with "Wanted to know u but not anymore. Take care".

I urge you, dear reader, to remember that HE added ME.

So naturally, I was kinda peeved. I mean, who the hell does this guy think he is... acting like he has done me a favour by adding me to his list of friends and then criticising when he knows absolutely NOTHING about me or my life. And so I had to respond:

You're a Pakistani that calls himself Norman? Now who's the hypocrite?

FYI ( but not that it's any of your business) - I know most of the people on my profile. At least one third of them I went to school and university with, and two thirds are family members, friends, colleagues or part of my social network.

Sorry if I don't parade my life on Facebook, I don't spend ALL my time posing in front of mirrors, taking photos of myself like most of the girls you know. I actually HAVE a life.

This is why the world has such a low opinion of Pakistani's. I pity you. Right, now go and call someone who gives a shit about your retarded opinions - or better yet go cry on your Mother's shoulder and tell her that she should have taught you better manners - and then you can go and fuck off to whatever shit-hole you came from, you fucking good-for-nothing maggot. Goodbye.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

On living in the eye of the storm...

I always make a point of remembering people. And it doesn't matter who they are - whether they're the cleaners or execs and it doesn't where I am - whether it's at work and sometimes even on this blog. I remember faces, names and snippets of information about total strangers' lives. Sometimes I wonder if I do this because perhaps some part of me always felt forgotten. In any case, it pleases me to acknowledge people in whatever capacity they're in.

I've been recovering from this demonic flu, getting there slowly. And for some reason I've been feeling very philosophical lately. In many ways, I find myself in the eye of a storm that's been brewing for some time. And of course, this has led to many useful and pointless ruminations:

1. A man who cheats on his wife because he wants to prove he is still man enough doesn't cheat on her as much as he cheats himself out of the love of a good woman. Assuming she is a good woman of course. And in much the same way, a Pathological liar only lies to himself.

2. For some reason, there seem to be more and more people who define success by quantifying their assets. Now, I like money too. But having a shit load of it won't necessarily mean that you're successful. It just means you're lucky. I wish I could explain this in more simple terms to some ignorant people I've had the displeasure of encountering.

3. I'm learning something new everyday in my new vocation. What's green and blue and hates Bankers? The Whole World.

4. I've read Paulo Coelho's The Witch of Portobello. And for lack of a better word wow. If there was ever someone who took lines from my soul and put it on paper, it's him. I even told Mother that if she ever wanted to understand me, that she'd better read the book - page 96 of the hard cover version in particular. It's everything I am and have experienced minus the Paganism and Rituals.

And here is where I deviate from Coelho's take on life. I find that most people don't live in the real world, when they should be. We use everything from social media, TV, Music, Movies, Books - whatever we can get our hands on to distract ourselves - permanently distracting ourselves to escape from our realities instead of living and embracing the here and now. People spend so much time searching and yearning for something better... something greater... if only they put in as much effort and thought into the present and making the most of it.

5. Some people are Cursed. Others are Blessed. Most confuse the two. And some don't know the difference.

6. I've said previously on this blog that we are no different from each other; that we are all subject to the same spectrum of emotions no matter how good or evil they may be; that the only thing that separates us are our circumstances; that to judge each other because of those circumstances is foolish because circumstances change for everyone; that everyone has their own lessons to learn and their own path to walk - in their own time...
And then I came across this today which encapsulates its nicely. We can never judge the lives of others, because each person only knows their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path ~ Paulo Coelho

7. And the Jackpot for me is this:

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Time out

I've been away for a bit... been ill as usual for this time of the year. It began on Monday with an earache and bleeding inner ear, a fever, dramatic weight loss and laboured breathing. I wasn't too concerned because my sister had the same symptoms a few weeks earlier, nonetheless my bald headed Texan boss insisted I go to the Doctor. And so I did.

And I've been recovering ever since.

These past few weeks have been turbulent to say the least. Nothing to do with me - thank The Lord for that. But everyone else around me. Anyways, it has affected all of us around the situation and subsequent reflection and introspection has elicited a fountain of epiphanies, most of which I will share on this medium in due time.

For now, I need to rest. Hope everyone in Blogland is well! Here are some of my favourite e-cards (from Facebook and other mediums):

Must thank Angie for this one :)