Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
Change has been something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately, as I have been thinking back on the past few years of my life, and look ahead to what the future may bring.
Specifically I am thinking about getting my husband’s visa to the USA, in shaa Allah. Change tends to be one of those things that you either love or hate; I know people who can’t deal with change and need strict stability and “sameness,” and I know people who thrive on change and get antsy sticking around in one place or doing one thing for too long. I definitely fall into the latter group.
Just to take the example of location: looking back on my life since I turned 18 and began studying at university, I have moved back and forth between cities and even continents almost continually. From my home-town to Santa Cruz then back again in the summer. London my third year, back home, back to Santa Cruz. Back home for the summer, London again in the fall. A year and some months later I am living in Algeria.
And alhamdulillah it has been good. There is a steep learning curve when you travel and live abroad, and I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. Heck, travel is what introduced me to Islam. But in thinking about my future, and especially when we have this visa in-hand (in shaa Allah!!!) I’m beginning to feel that all I want to do is go to my grandpa’s house, roll myself up in a blanket next to the fireplace and hibernate and recuperate there for around a year. And then I want to find my own place and “set up housekeeping” as Louisa May Alcott would put it.
Just writing that, however, makes my brain say, “whoah there, cool it! Sedentary life isn’t what you do; you have always loved travelling so you best stick with it! That’s your thing. You never wanted anything to do with any housekeeping nonsense, so don’t start now.”
Where I run into a wall with change isn’t in the transience of all things in this life or changes in time, season, location, people, possessions, or worldly concerns, but where it comes to changing my own mind.
I like things neatly compartmentalized, even my personality. I like to be able to say I am A, B, and C and I like X, Y and Z. So I think when it comes to allowing myself to change my mind on an idea or a thought, a dream or goal, that has become such an ingrained part of me, I have a bit more of a difficult time.
This was a challenge for me when I officially decided to convert to Islam. For a very long time I had been a staunch don’t-talk-about-religion-I-am-not-interested type of person, and I was known for being highly unemotional. Like, my own mother has only seen me cry a handful of times. So how could I now show people, who knew me like that, how completely submitted I was to this new religion? And scarier yet, even as I write this blog, how could I even begin to show all of the emotions and softness now bubbling up to the surface?
Maybe I could just be secretly in love with Islam….
It’s interesting to look back at that time now, and see how far I have come. And it is interesting to see that those things, those changes in mindset that I had to make over time as I came to understand and practice this religion, were not actually as monumental as I had assumed they were when I was trying to get through them. Of course everything seems perfectly planned in hindsight, and when I look back now I can see that everything that has changed in my life was leading to something better.
I guess that’s just how life works though. If you had told me as a twelve-year-old aspiring traveller that I would someday live in the United Kingdom, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me as an overweight 17-year-old that in just a few short years I would lose 100 pounds and look stellar in a pixie-cut and short dresses, I would have laughed at you. If you told me as an easy-going 20-year old, living the life and making big plans, that in the space of a year I would convert to Islam (a religion I knew nothing about, and was uneasy about at best), begin to wear hijab, and get married, I would have been shocked.
If you told me when I first converted that some day I would not only come to understand, but embrace and love some of the rulings I was uneasy about as far as women’s issues, war, and crime and punishment were concerned, I would have heartily denied it.
When I look at myself today and look at who I was three years ago, I find I am radically different, in a lot of big ways. My perspective on the world has changed, my ideas on certain topics have changed, even some of my dreams and aspirations have changed. I am definitely kinder and softer and I find myself moving through life with a new sense of ease that I have never before experienced. But fundamentally, at the very core of me, I am the exact same person I have always been.
With time comes understanding. Perhaps all of the changes I can see in myself over the years are just changes in the way I understand and filter that core set of values and quirks that makes me who I am. Maybe it is not me who is changing, but the way I manifest myself in the world.
And whether you don’t like change or you crave it, you have to admit that that kind of change is good. That is one of the things I love about Islam is there is no “done,” no “good enough.” It is a lifetime journey, always striving to open your mind to new possibilities, learn more, change something for the better, and always take that next step. Change in life in inevitable, so why not embrace it, lean into it, and learn from it?