Tag Archives: angel

If Music be the Food of Love

…Then I am glutton and I want it all. I look at my little nephew loving music and it melts my heart. Where it not for music, I would not be where I am today. Music of all kinds. Music that is live or recorded. Current or retro. Played through headphones or on speakers. Walkman, discman to iPod. Music punctuates the story of my life.

I have 2 cousins in the US of A. The older of the two, the girl who shares my grandmother’s name with me, plays the violin to a good standard. She probably isn’t Vanessa Mae standard but the effect her music had on me was electric. She played a piece of music I wasn’t familiar with in my room in London and it changed that room for me forever. As she coaxed the strings into song, the tune struck a chord deep within me. It was as if everything came alive. My senses turbo-charged. I wanted to lie down and close my eyes and for it never to end. I must have had a very foolish smile on my face by the time she played the last note. It was the first time I had seen her in over a decade and I didn’t know her all that well. All it took for me to love her was a piece of music that she insisted wasn’t very good. All the shyness, the reserve, the uncertainty of my relationship with her was wiped away and in its place, I felt love, kinship and trust.

I will never forget the first time I heard the flute being played live. I was in JSS2 (equivalent of year 8) in QC Lagos when one of the senior girls was called on stage to play some music. There must have been nearly 4000 girls crammed into the Hall and despite all effort throughout the rest of the special assembly, there was steady background chatter. She came on stage and as she assembled her flute, the silence began to wash across the room. She played the theme song to Disney’s Pocahontas. Have you ever listened to the score on that song? It is so beautiful. And the words amazing in their simplicity. As she played, I could feel the tears gather in the back of my throat. All the other girls must have felt the same because the silence was absolute halfway through and at the end of it all, there was a stunned silence before we all erupted into applause and hooting. From then on every time I saw her, it felt like there was a magical halo around her for me. She glowed blue to me. And although I have forgotten the names of some of the girls I sat with for years, I remember her name as clear as daylight. Talking about Disney music – I get a similar awe when I listen to ‘When you believe’ from Prince of Egypt and ‘The cycle of life’ from Lion King. Spell binding.

I had a friend in QC who used to be just a classmate. Then one day, she opened her mouth and sang in class and we were all in awe. I guess you could call me the original fan. Although I have since forgotten what the first song Esther sang in public was, I will never forget how I felt about her from that day forward. Of course it helped that she was a lovely girl anyway but in my appreciation for her talent, we became fast friends. The song I will associate with Esther for the rest of my days is ‘I love you Mummy’ which was a hit in Nigeria in the 1990s. Every time she sang that song, all the hairs on my body would stand up and all my worries and stress and unhappiness and negative thoughts would simply disappear. There was once a special assembly only a select few attended and Esther sang that song there. Apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Even our Principal had tears in her eyes. I saw her as an angel. She had a golden yellow halo. She was quiet, unassuming and her smile could light up a stadium full of people. Little did I know that when I left QC in 2000, it would be the last time I would see her. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I left and she died a couple of years later. Like they say, the best of us die young. R.I.P Esther. What a loss to the world and especially to those who never got to experience the magical voice Esther had.

I love musicals and I have the utmost respect for the incredible talent of theatre actors and actresses who sing their hearts out night after night. My favourite musical is Catz but my absolute ever performance was back in 2001 when I went to see ‘Notre dame de Paris’ in London. The narrator man with his long blond hair and colourful blue coat looked just like all the other stars but he overshadowed them all so that by the end of the show, I was more focused on his bits than on the lead actor and actress. What made it more amazing was that his voice outshone all the female vocalists on stage and I think that is a rare quality. The tone in his voice was pure. It was like crystal in its clarity and every word resonated in my soul. The power was like no other I have seen in theatre and I literally cannot comprehend how he could work his vocal cords so hard for so long and retain its beauty. When the show was over, I did not want to leave. I felt like if I didn’t move, I could remain wrapped up in the magic of his voice forever.

Last year, my then fiancé and I went to the Stephen Lawrence memorial concert at the O2 arena and the line-up was epic. I was mostly looking forward to Emile Sande but there were numerous others I was excited about. The revelation of the night for me was the lovely Beverly Knight from Wolverhampton (which is down the road from me). I have always liked her songs and loved her personality but when she sang ‘Fallen Soldier’ on stage, I fell in love with her. It is by far the best live performance I have ever heard. I have heard the song before and thought it was ok but when dear old Bev sang it, she elevated it to new heights. Every word struck chord in my soul and I felt the tears come as I remembered all my fallen soldiers. The pitch was perfect. The sentiment suited so well to the theme of the evening. She sang her heart out and she won a fan for life. I now realise that she is probably one of the most underrated British stars. It must be because she is so understated in her manner, so personable and so approachable. She is the ultimate girl-next-door except she is more than that. She has been blessed with the most gorgeous voice. What a star!

I know some Muslims believe that modern music is on the scale of evil but I honestly could not disagree more. How could I not appreciate beauty that I believe is a gift from God? How could music which inspires me to be pure and to be kind be bad in any way? How can music which erases my sadness and stress be anything but good? How can music which promotes happiness and positivity be anything but encouraged? Life is hard enough I think so I simply cannot accept that something that makes it all better can be a bad thing. I love music and I celebrate its existence. And most of all, I thank God for music because it has been life’s saving grace more times than I can count.

Silence is the Residue of Fear

…Says Clint Smith (find him on YouTube) on the topic of ‘the dangers of silence’. I am sure we all have had things that we have been afraid of and that we have sometimes let those fears get the better of us. I know I have but as I have got older, I have learnt to deal with it better. The way I see it: either we let fear rule us and it limits our lives or we rule our fears and find ways of neutralising them and despite them make progress in life.

I used to be scared of heights, snakes and spiders. Many children are frightened by these things too. I guess one reason is that these things are potentially dangerous so we are physiologically and psychologically programmed to have a healthy fear of them. Secondly, children listen to their parents and siblings and as these phobias are the commonest in the world, we tend to feel that if mum/dad/older sister/brother is scared of them, there must be a good reason so we copy them.

I know personally that my fear of heights came from the fact that whenever I have gone higher than 4 metres off the ground, I feel this irresistible pull to jump off the edge and that scares me. Over the years, I know that the urge to jump is weaker than my desire to live so I am not so scared anymore but honestly, there is still a seed of fear in there somewhere when I am in a glass elevator over 10 floors high.

With snakes, it is simple. My mama is scared stiff of snakes. She will not wear anything with the image of a snake on it. She doesn’t want to see snakeskin shoes or bags. She can’t stand jewellery in the form of snakes. She doesn’t even like harmless cartoon snakes like the ones in Jungle Boy and Aladdin. So I was scared of them. Despite that, I loved the 2 cartoon snakes I have mentioned and I am happy to look through a glass wall in a zoo at the prettily coloured snakes and watch a documentary on them. Plus I would not turn down a ring or earrings shaped like a snake. However, I draw a line at having to handle one (God forbid someone tries to drape it over me) and I would never buy anything made up of snakeskin.

Icky spiders – I just don’t like the rough fuzzy texture of their skinny fragile legs. And they are a little stupid aren’t they? Because when you try to lead them out or catch them gently and release them outside, they run at you, try to climb all over you or cling to you and then in your irrational fear, you squash them. Oh dear!

A fear that was harder for me to deal with was my fear of commitment. My parents were divorced before I was born and I didn’t know very much about the reasons why until more recently. What I knew back then was that he must have been bad because my mama is an angel and he hurt her. Also through my mama’s feminist work and from attending feminist conferences with my mama, I heard a lot about the bad things that men do to women. Naturally I thought it was crazy that any woman would subject herself to a committed relationship with a man.

I didn’t have a proper boyfriend until I was 18 and that didn’t last long because he, rightly, wanted a girl who would keep in touch regularly (it was a little long distance, he lived about 2 hours away from London) and I resisted his requests because it felt like too much commitment to me at that stage. My next relationship was nearly 3 years later and this time, he was keen on being more intimate and yet was happy to be non-committal. I guess at 21 years, I had matured a little bit more and wanted some commitment. My fear then became that he wanted to use me and that I would fall in love with him then I would have my heart broken. So I broke it off.

I met George, my husband, when I was nearly 25 years old and he is the first to tell anyone who would listen that he knew he wanted to marry me within 48 hours of meeting me. Well, I embroider slightly. He insists he knew in the first hour of us meeting that he wanted to marry me but I think he is being rather dramatic. He did tell me on our 2nd date, 5 days after we met, that he liked me and he thought I was potentially the one he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Wow! Honestly I wanted to run away as far as my little legs could carry me. Instead, I sat in the reception of our favourite Chinese restaurant and tried to shush him because I didn’t want anyone to hear. I also told him that he was lucky I was leaving for a year abroad in the next week because if I hadn’t been, the fear his words had struck in my heart would have sent me into self-destruct mode and I would have sabotaged that relationship too.

The time and distance made me realise that here was a man who made me laugh, who loved me for me and whose heart is good. Here was a guy with whom the chemistry was just right. Here was a man who I could be myself with. So I meditated about it for many months whilst I was away. I talked to my mama, my sister and my friends. I prayed for guidance and I realised that although I was scared, petrified even, of committing to George, I was more afraid that I would throw away the chance to be happy. So I took a leap of faith and 3 years later, I am married to him.

So are you fearless now? I hear you ask. No, not quite! I have many small fears. I have one big irrational fear and I have one proper grown up fear. The grown up fear is my fear of failure. I have been lucky never to have failed at anything I set out to do until I failed my specialist paediatric (the dreaded 1b) exam last year in June. That failure threw me for six. I knew I had to retake the exam because I cannot progress beyond ST2 year (level 1 of specialist paediatric training). But I hated every minute of it. The fear crippled me. I couldn’t sleep, eat or work properly for many months in the lead up to the repeat. My ability to deal with the normal stresses of my relationship and work was at its lowest level ever. I even got to the point that I was thinking of giving up on the career I love because I was so scared I would fail again.

I got over that fear by thinking up a plan B. There are so many things I could be. I might want to be a paediatrician first and foremost but actually the underlying love is of children. So what else could I be that would allow me to work with children? As soon as I gave myself the permission to imagine, the list of alternatives was extensive. Top was human rights activist, academic teaching medical students, author of children’s books and even babysitter. The last one was particularly tempting especially because I know from my doctor colleagues that a babysitter taking care of 2 young children full time can earn as much as I do without any of the stress of being a doctor. Food for thought.

The last fear I will confess to is my irrational fear of mice/rats. I love Tom & Jerry – and as a child, I would always root for Jerry the mouse over Tom the cat. However, in reality, I hate those rodents. It comes from the time we cornered a mouse in our kitchen and tried to capture it. it poked its head into the drain hole of the kitchen sink and then squeezed through that tiny aperture. That was the freakiest thing to me! How can a round mouse do that? Bleurgh!!! So now I am petrified of them. A decade ago, I was in an uncle’s house in Nigeria and went into the guest bedroom to grab something. As I turned round to leave, I spotted a tiny mouse flash past the doorway and it must have been behind the chest of drawers beside the door. I jumped onto the centre of the bed and tried to work out a route of escape. My 2 year old cousin came to find me and joined me on the bed. We tried to shout for my sister and friend to come and save us but we were too far or too quiet to be heard. My sister finally came to find us about 30 minutes after we disappeared. She still laughs about it because when she came, I could barely speak in my fear as I tried to warn her that the mouse was there. She had to coax me off the bed after proving to me that the mouse was not laying in wait. That is one I still grapple with and I am not sure I will ever outgrow my fear of mice but luckily, I rarely have the misfortune of tangling with one.

Allah (swt) is Al-Jabbar: The Mender of broken hearts

The words that follow were written by a lady called Asmaa Hussein who lost her love and reflects on how her relationship with God is helping her through it all. It struck a cord with me because this is the Allah I believe in and worship. The loving, merciful incredible God who promotes peace and love, not war and violence.

 

It has been a year since I got that most-hated phone call, a year since I stood over Amr’s body at the morgue and tried to memorize every feature of his face before I would have to let him go, a year since we were attacked in the graveyard by people who hated the truth and righteousness that Amr stood for.

People wonder how I was able to hold myself together. They wonder why I haven’t collapsed or given up hope in Allah or in the goodness of people.

I don’t have an explanation from myself, but the answer can be found in the story of Prophet Musa’s mother in the Quran. She was instructed to place him in the water if she feared for his life at the hands of Pharaoh’s army:

“And We inspired to the mother of Moses, ‘Suckle him; but when you fear for him, cast him into the river and do not fear and do not grieve. Indeed, We will return him to you and will make him [one] of the messengers'” (28:7).

I often wonder about what kind of strength she must have possessed when she placed her infant child into a basket, and pushed him into the water without knowing where he would end up, or whether she would see him again. She did one of the most difficult things a mother could do. But she held herself together with the help and guidance of her Lord, and watched him drift away.

Musa was accepted into the house of Aasiya, but he refused to breastfeed from any woman and his sister who had been following him, led them to take the baby back to his mother.

What was the purpose of Allah (swt) returning Musa to his mother? Musa could have breastfed from any woman without returning to his mother and still grown up to be the messenger of Allah, not decreasing anything from his righteousness or his remarkable journey and story.

But there was a reason Musa had to come home to his mother:

“So We restored him to his mother that she might be content and not grieve and that she would know that the promise of Allah is true. But most of the people do not know” (28:13).

Allah caused Musa to return to his mother simply so that she wouldn’t grieve, so that her heart would be at ease and that her faith would not waiver.

Allah (swt) cared about this woman. He mended her heart, not so that the course of history could change or some big momentous event could take place. He mended it because He is Merciful and Loving to the believers. And so that when we read her story, we can know the extent of His Love and Mercy. That is all. And that is enough of a reason.

Allah (swt) doesn’t wish for the believers to grieve, and He wants them to know that His promise is true. I’ve lived it this past year. Every time I was about to reach a breaking point in my despair, or to fall into the darkness of losing hope, I would receive some news that would lift my heart. Someone would have a beautiful dream of Amr, someone would perform ummrah on his behalf, or establish some charity on his behalf. I would receive words of support from people I love and respect, or encounter some verses in the Quran that would take me by the hand and hold me steady.

I remember a few months ago sitting one day after I had prayed Asr. Tears were streaming down my cheeks, my heart was aching and I didn’t know how to rid myself of the immense pain. I raised my hands to ask Allah (swt) to help me be able to somehow visit His sacred house to come closer to Him and for that to be a part of my healing. Before I was able to even make the dua, my phone rang. It was Amr’s parents calling me to tell me they were just at the Ka’bah making dua for me to be able to visit it. And I thought – how strange that this dua has yet to come from my lips, and Allah (swt) has put the same dua on the lips of people beloved to me in such a blessed place.

My heart was lifted so much in that moment that the tears of sadness turned into tears of joy.

None of these things are coincidences. And none of these things happened because I am particularly good or worthy. They happen because Allah (swt) cares about the hearts of His slaves. I know that He cares about me and about my daughter because I’ve lived in the realm of this immense Mercy this past year…every ounce of pain was met with some inexplicable beauty and serenity that no human effort could produce. And it was from Him. All of it.

If you believe in Allah alone with no partners or intermediaries, and you worship Him alone, and you sacrifice that which you love in order to come closer to Him alone, you will see wonders in your life. Your difficulties will become blessings. Your heartaches will become healing. Your duas will be answered in ways that you could have never imagined. He doesn’t want you to grieve, and He wants you to know that His promise to the believers is true.

It’s not any more complicated than that. It happened to me, and it’s still happening.

Alhamdulillah.

My Big Sis Loves Me

Dedicated to my adda manga (big sister to non-fulfulde speakers) who was there through thick and thin.

 Cue ‘of course she does’, ‘why wouldn’t she? You are so lovable’ and ‘so?’

Well, first of all, as you read my stories you will come to realise that I was a mass of contradiction as a child and not always so lovable. Secondly, it wasn’t always obvious to me that my sister loved me. Because as sisters do, we had our share of fights. More of that in the future. Finally, the so what. The realisation was beautiful and taught me a great life lesson…the people you love and who love you can be mean or make you cry sometimes but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

It all happened in the setting of Qur’anic school. I think I was 5 or 6 years old. My sister and I toddled off to Qur’anic school on this fateful Saturday morning, no doubt grumbling about having to wake up early on a Saturday after insisting on staying up because it was the weekend. Every weekend, we conveniently ‘forgot’ and grumbled afresh. My mama turned a deaf ear to all the moaning and off we went, generally the stragglers on the weekends.

The morning started out normal. Our Mallum (Fulfulde word for teacher) must have been called away for something important because she disappeared. We, the children, all continued to practise reading our Qur’anic passages but as the minutes ticked away, we grew restless and wooden slates were propped aside. Soon, none of us was studying anymore and a few even got up and started to play. Being the restless sort, up I popped. I was in a pretty white dress – I wonder why white looking back because I was always up to mischief. I needed the loo so I left the group to go to the back of the house. Traditional toilets in Northern Nigeria tend to be literally named ‘the back of the house or room’ in the many languages. In Hausa, it is called ‘bayan daki’ meaning back of the room. In Fulfulde, it is called ‘gada suudu’ also meaning back of the room.

I did my business into the pit (yes, it was old school) and instead of walking out like you’d expect, I decided to sprint out. Unfortunately, the door to the gada suudu made up of steel sheets stapled to a wooden frame had a bit of twisted ragged steel pointing out and in my haste, I didn’t see it. As I sprinted out, my knee was caught by this steel and it took a small chunk out of me. It didn’t hurt then but I knew it was bad because bright red blood started to stream down my leg. I put a hand over it and ran straight to my sister. She took one look, whipped off her headscarf and tied it around the gash as all the kids excitedly looked on. Without a word to anyone, she swept me onto her back and told me to hang on. Then she ran the 20 minute journey home, across the busy main street in Yola without pause. She didn’t stop until she found my mum and deposited me in her arms.

I remember my whole thinking was transformed. I looked at her worried face and how she ran around the whole day, not letting me move my dressed wounded knee. I was amazed at how she knew exactly what to do when I hadn’t a clue. Amazed by the stamina as she ran with me on her back all the way home. Amazed that she, who would always try to order me around, was running around doing things for me even after my mama took care of the wound and said I would be ok. I looked at my sister and I swear I saw a halo round her. She must be some sort of angel I thought. That is love! My eyes misted at this realisation and it still does today, 23 years later as I recall the day. Every time I look at the scar just above my knee, I think ‘my sister loves me’. And I can forgive her anything because she does.