The Required Grace of Khidma

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This Sunday marked two weeks since I left my residence in Oxon Hill, Maryland to travel to a place I only visited once in order to work in complete servitude to 250+ guests. Hesitantly. And this Monday marked exactly one week since I left that week-long residence. Bittersweet and relieved, yet longing. I imagine that inshAllah a year from today I shall be calling that residence in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania my summer home. My dear friends, I know my sandal has been quiet…seemingly stuck in mud and unable to move. But I was waiting for a sign. And clarity on my lesson from this year. And permission from my Rabb, my Educator, my Upbringer, my Growth-Inspector, to publish it. Believe me, I wanted to write to you so many times…but the words failed me. I didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t the right time. The time ordained. I wanted to publish this post in Ramadan, but I was called to do something else. Called to do what took me to Pennsylvania in the first place. I was called to co-coordinate Al Maqasid’s Reviving Remembrance Retreat with my husband. And though I knew I had the skill set to do it, I didn’t know if I actually could do it.

And right until the very third day of the retreat, I felt like I was jumping off the deep end.

I mean what in the world was I doing? I left the hustle and bustle of the career world four years ago when Noora was born. My daily life until months ago could be considered pretty predictable. Get the children up. Feed them. Wash clothes. Wash dishes. Clean floors. Teach the children a lesson or two. Spend time with hubby. Feed him. Remember to pray and do something for yourself. Check emails and if inspiration allowed, write a little or make something. Smile. Sleep. And when it was Ramadan, work reading the Qur’an into that routine.

Oh my goodness, I never saw my life this way until this year. I was a robot. And I needed an intervention. My Educator nudged me a couple of times…maybe nudged isn’t the right word. He pushed me. Because I’m a hard head. And sometimes I need to learn lessons the hard way to get it. So I did my routine…but there were things that I couldn’t ignore. Things and people who were out of place. I’d clean the floors and see my husband working with every cell of his body to pull off a humungous task of a retreat. He’d be eating, but the phone was always in use. We’d be through with dinner and he’d still be working on the retreat. We’d be driving, but there were always emails to be responded to. Where was this man’s secretary? Where was his help and team? This was not a part of the routine!

I looked at him. I looked at me. And it all became apparent.  My husband was working on an enormous project with every fiber of his being…alone. There was a team in place months before, but the majority of folks lay dormant and MIA at the present time. And now it was too close to the deadline to round them all up again. There was too much information for them to catch up on. They didn’t have all the knowledge he had on the progress he made in organizing the retreat. They weren’t close enough to him. They weren’t behind the scenes all these months. But I was. I saw him every day as I mopped the floors and washed the dishes, and ran after the kids. I overheard his conversations. I knew exactly where he needed help. And so I broke out of my steel plates to be a different kind of machine, and do a different kind of ibadah:  Khidma. Service. to others. The kind that interrupts your ibadah and awrad.

Honestly, I wasn’t really feeling the khidma all too much at first. It was easy to smile enough through it, but then it became harder. I mean, this wasn’t my regular routine of washing-cleaning-feeding-teaching-talking. This was my family asking of me my regular routine, then asking more of me, then other people asking more of me. I wasn’t dealing solely with a nuclear family anymore. I was in constant contact with more and more people each day that wanted something from me, that needed something.

This Ramadan was different than previous Ramadans. I was different than in previous Ramadans. And my whole year has had the trend of  things bubbling up onto the surface…forced out of the boiling pot of my soul to be dealt with. It has honestly been downright scary. And this Ramadan was like a purging for me–different than any other.

First of all, on top of the daily tasks of organizing the retreat, it took me til the 15th of Ramadan to get my head on right. To control my thoughts, my appetite. That was pretty normal–it usually takes me til the middle of Ramadan to get my head on straight, right? 😉

Secondly, I kept getting interrupted by various “natural” phenomena that happen to women and make them stop fasting. Even more abnormal: I got interrupted by unnatural phenomena that happen to women when they are stressed.

Thirdly, there was a stretch of a few days when my daughters weren’t eating any my food. Totally abnormal. At iftar time, I’d taste it. Tasted good to me! How come 1 year old Safiyya wanted to throw it on the floor then? at EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL? I just wanted to eat it off the floor and break my fast then and there. It didn’t seem like I was fasting. I was stressed out to the max. And hardly able to control a temper that seldom shows itself except through stress. I needed to be locked up and put in time out. I feared the worst. That I had become the vessel of jinn. But it was Ramadan. There were no jinn around. This was me. And I had to deal with me.

It was frustrating. I yelled. I screamed. I should’ve just cried. Yeah, I did some of that, too.

I felt like I totally blew Ramadan and prayed that I wasn’t one of the people the Angel Jibrail (as) referred to in this hadith when The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: “When I was climbing up the pulpit, Jibreel (as) came to me and told me: O Muhammad (saws)! Anyone in your nation who manages to be alive when Ramadan comes and yet cannot get his sins forgiven, then may he perish in the fire of Hell. Say Ameen.” So the Prophet (saws) said Ameen. (Ibn Hibban)

But then a light. Every month in our local community, we have an event entitled Tranquil Hearts. In it, we sit in the good company of Shaykh Yahya Rhodus, who leads us in dhikr and gives us some lesson on purifying our hearts to achieve tranquility. Want to know something funny? The retreat my husband and I were working on was for Shaykh Yahya Rhodus, and his new organization entitled Al Maqasid. The Objective. Or better yet, The Purpose and Meaning behind The Objective. And what truly was my objective? What truly was my intent in taking on these new non-robotic tasks? What was my purpose and meaning in all of this? Why was I here? And what was I supposed to learn throughout all this stress? The slogan of Al Maqasid is “Knowledge, Devotion, Service.” Until I internalized this particular lesson in Ramadan, you could’ve said that I was attempting and intending to please Allah by pleasing my husband and making things easy for him in his tasks, but I was going about it all the wrong way. I was a dark cloud hovering over the earth, trying to pour down mercy, but I needed mercy myself. I needed the load to be lightened. To be squeezed. To be released. And this is what Shaykh Yahya said this Ramadan during this event, unaware that at least one of his retreat workers was spazzing out:

“When you feel that Allah is near, there are certain etiquettes to be followed. The first is to make du’a. The second is to respond to the call of Allah–it’s an action that will bring you to life. The third is to believe in Him, and increase in faith.”

And then my answer, “The greatest sign your ibadah and your fasting has been accepted in Ramadan is your changed state–a softness of heart.”

On Eid day, I felt this softness of heart. My ibadah…my khidma…inshAllah wasn’t rejected…inshAllah.

Shaykh Yahya Rhodus then gave advice, “You have to put yourself in environments and do certain actions where your iman will increase. There’s no neutrality in iman–you have to always put positive energy in or your iman will decrease. Your vehicle isn’t going to move unless you press the gas. Your nafs is dragging you down. Your have to put your heart in particular conditions to be able to receive the rain–the mercy.”  I then questioned myself, Was my heart fertile enough soil to soak up the rain, or was my heart a concrete stone wherein the rain was just rolling off?

Shaykh Yahya then said that particular time in Ramadan was the time of forgiveness. And the key for us is to ease into things and be gentle with ourselves and others. I added to myself, When we are harsh with ourselves, we run on exhaust…on fumes. How far can your vehicle take you like that?

It was pretty evident to me that I was running on fumes. A memory joggled me back. Habib Kadhim was asked during a women’s session in his November 2012 Canadian tour, “Which should we [women] prefer–khidma or ibadah?” He replied, “khidma” because it is better to serve other people than it is to serve one’s self and desires. He emphasized that khidma and the service of the deen was the best act that anyone can do–man or woman. And the first principle in that is having a heart that wants to serve the people, followed by noble intentions and du’a. As for the outward manifestation of khidma, it could be done from your home or any place, and knowledge and other acts of ibadah should be sought in a way that does not take away from you living your life.

So honestly, I’m still working on the the joy of khidma. You know what I mean. The khidma you are forced to do when you really are in an ibadah state of mind…like in Ramadan when the spiritual sails are high and you just want to soar and fly. Because you’re a woman. Or because you’re a wife. Or because you’re a mother. And that seems like the only chance you’ll get.

Or because you’re actually a robot, and have programmed yourself to believe that lie.

But what I learned is that sometimes you just have to raise the white flag of surrender. And just say, Oh Allah, take me for what I am, broken vessel and all, and help me to please you with all I have to give, whether in khidma or in the regular ibadah, cuz khidma is a special kind of ibadah. Do whatever you want with me. I love you unconditionally any way. You’ve always loved me unconditionally. Who am I to feign to think that I know what acts of service please you the most? And you know what? That’s when everything became easier. When I gave up control…without giving up hope in a goal. And now I’m left begging for more khidma. I made du’a that Allah would forgive me and that I wouldn’t be among those that the Angel Jibrail (as) cursed in his du’a. I responded to the call of Allah, and I was given an action that brought me to life. Brought me out of Stepfordville or whatever weird toxic metallic world I was living in. Or perhaps dying in.

And I did that third thing that Shaykh Yahya mentioned. I believed in Allah. I believed He would help me complete my task, and He did. SubhanAllah! And then He lit up my vehicle, and transported my family and I to an environment where our faith increased. Azza wa jal is He.

So, no I didn’t read the Qur’an, one juz a day, like a normally do.

I didn’t even finish the Qur’an this year as I did for the past two Ramadans.

I read one surah. Al Fatiha. The Mother of the Qur’an. The chapter that sums it all up.

Oh, and I practiced one surah–Al Fajr. Alhamdulillah! It could’ve been worse. I could’ve not read anything…

And no, I didn’t pray 20 rakats of taraweeh every night.

I actually almost missed Eid, but my dear husband reminded me that I needed to pick out something to wear…

I didn’t even prepare the Eid dinner that became a tradition in our family for the past years. But my in-laws had that covered. Much more brilliantly than I would’ve ever done at that! My food might’ve still had some burnt metallic residue. Literally.

But I did forget how to be a robot.

And instead opted to be a loose cannon firing off at will…

I have my glitches.

And I saved the day before the day before Eid as a night of ibadah to make up for what I thought wasn’t ibadah during the day in working on the retreat.

Though now I know better.

I intended to do my regular routine, while almost completely disregarding it to inshAllah do something better…

not just for me, or for my family, but for a couple of folks that trusted my husband and I with their money and livelihoods for a week.

I learned to accept my own ibadah in its entirety and whole as something that I could proudly offer up, without regard for quantity of nawafil salah or fasts.

Yes, that’s it. I learned about quality.

This 2013 I learned to live, and to forgive and to be merciful…to myself and others. There is no mercy for those who aren’t merciful.

And we must start with ourselves and our own homes.

I’ve learned that khidma requires grace and since then, I’ve been khidma-ing my fears away.

I’m not perfect. I’m not half as graceful as I’d like to be with khidma, but I’m doing better than I ever thought I could do.

I’m still learning the art of khidma with a smile.

But the point is that I’m smiling (again).

And I did help organize a spiritual retreat for 250+ of my brothers and sisters, young and old…

my husband, our family, and the few volunteers we had share in that beautiful reward….

and we’ve all become closer

And I never did that before

something of that magnitude

meanwhile still cleaning house, cleaning snot, and cleaning my own two feet…

to the best of my abilities at the time.

Alhamdulillah.

Maybe next year I can help organize a retreat while still reading one juz a day and praying 20 rakats of taraweeh at night

since the path has now been laid by one fiery, rickety ole’ cannon.

But for now

Watch me dive into the water…

And inshAllah not rust.

The lake at the retreat site in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Nadia El Khatib.

The lake at the retreat site in the Poconos, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Nadia El Khatib.

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4 thoughts on “The Required Grace of Khidma

    • Jazaki Allahu khair Umm Fatima! The blessing was in being able to work for all of the attendees so closely with you and your family that you all became a part of my extended family. 😀

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