Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
Today is my fiance, Priya's, birthday. God-willing, we will be getting married in 48 days. I am pretty nervous, but am confident in the way that I feel about her. She is an amazingly thoughtful person who gives me a renewed sense of strength and hope each day and I am lucky to be able to spend my life with her. It was about a year ago that she and I first talked about marriage but all in all our meeting each other was by chance. Every day people ask me how she and I met but they don't want to know our "love story". They are looking for advice on how they too can find their life partner.
It's kind of confusing how the marriage process works at times in the Muslim community. Cultural norms that conflict with religious norms make it difficult for men and women who are very compatible with each other to even meet. For those who are fortunate enough to find each other, they are told they can't be together because the race, ethnicity, or socio-economic background of their potential other isn't suitable by their parents' subjective standard. The same culturally hegemonic attitude then encourages marriage for the wrong reason where compatibility and communication are not its primary concerns, but rather an approval by a condescending community rooted in that culture.
There is also a growing trend of young men and women remaining unmarried, but we don't deeply analyze everything that comes along with that. If a person stays unmarried as they get older, there is probably a good chance that they have tried to get married or had some type of relationship before, and didn't necessarily get the chance to reconcile the emotions that came out of the failed relationship. It's not to justify or get into a conversation of religious appropriateness, but to acknowledge that broken engagements, break ups from dating, and divorce all do exist in the Muslim community, and they have deep impact on individuals who experience them. Being close to someone emotionally and/or physically makes us feel good. We like to feel appreciated. We like to feel special. Where it becomes too hard to deal with is not feeling it after it has already been felt.
It's really hard to forget a feeling once you've experienced it. There have been many instances where men and women have come to see me who weren't necessarily looking for someone who would make them feel loved, they were looking for someone who would make them feel loved and allow for them to love exactly as they once did before. And when they couldn't find that same feeling again, it just didn't feel right.
Love is the kind of feeling that can make you feel on top of the world when you have it or believe you have it, and can make you feel like the entire world is against you when you have lost it or believe you have lost it. When there are loose ends, seemingly everything reminds you of the feeling that is no longer there. The solution lies in tying up those loose ends, primarily for your own sake and then, perhaps even more importantly, for the sake of the person that you are going to end up with. Otherwise you will just keep comparing them to what you "had" and never really enable yourself to see what they can fully offer. Aside from our physical habits and spiritual habits, Ramadan becomes a good time to take on and develop emotional habits such as these.
Many of us try to use time as a tool to overcome these type of issues. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work. A lot of feelings stay dormant within us and at the slightest of reminders, our hearts are reignited with the memory of what we once felt. A smell, a sound, a certain place, any variety of things can remind you of your past regardless of how many years have passed in between. Your heart becomes reignited and along with that a frustration ensues because your heart wants something that you can't give to it.
The soul is a temptress and loves to look at beautiful forms
and the eye is the guide of the heart.
The heart commissions its guide to go and look to see what is there
and when the eye informs it of a beautiful image it shudders out of love and desire for it.
Frequently such inter-relations tire and wear down both the heart and the eye as is said:
When you sent your eye as a guide for your heart one day,
the object of sight fatigued you
For you saw one over whom you had no power
Neither a portion or in totality,
instead you had to be patient
~ Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah
That patience needs to be a productive patience and an honest one. One that says I acknowledge who I am and try to approach the betterment of myself through a positive and honest criticism, not a dejected one. Here it becomes helpful to talk things out with someone you trust, perhaps even a professional. Over time the heaviness of the emotions will just become heavier and heavier. Letting them out in some way can be helpful. In the absence of a person to speak with, writing things out can work as well. Once you've written it, get rid of it completely.
In some instances, you might find that the feeling you are missing is still linked directly to a person. It then becomes important to realize that the person from your past is not the only person in the world. You have to remove them from the pedestal, whether you are doing it consciously or subconsciously, that they are on to the extant that they are no longer seen as being the standard for comparison and that it is very likely that someone else can take that spot if you are willing to take that chance.
In those instances where you are not missing the person but just the feeling itself, allow yourself the room to develop new feelings. It may very well be hard to deal with, and in those instances surround yourself with people who uplift your spirits. Those who will tell you not what you want to hear, but will both listen to you and then tell you what you need to hear. And use the opportunity to begin to better understand yourself. Take an objective step back in order to see why I am the way I am and pushing myself to move forward as best at I can. Because this one feeling that I am missing is ultimately just one feeling. And as an emotional being, I am made up of an abundance of feelings. At no point will I ever be able to directly control any of them. I'm not a robot that has an on-and-off switch that controls whether I am happy or I am sad. But I do have direct control over the actions and decisions that yield those emotions and this Ramadan, that's where I can start from.