Category Archives: marriage

6 pitfalls of genre movies

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum!

How goes it, friends?

I watched a movie last week that infuriated me.

So much so that I pretty much gave up screenwriting.

Thankfully that only lasted a day.

The movie I watched was I Give It  A Year.  Watch it on Netflix here.

After much thought, I realize that it infuriated me because it could have been GREAT. But was content to be GOOD. And instead came out BAD.

In trying to figure out why it didn’t work, I learned some common pitfalls of genre movies.

  1. The conclusion cannot be inevitable.

The characters’ fate has to be in real jeopardy.

In an action movie, it’s particularly hard because we’ve seen heroes escape all kinds of peril and our expectations have inflated. But I’m sure it can be done. Don’t ask me, I write comedy.

In romantic comedies, the central question is “Will the main characters find true love?” The answer to that question CANNOT be easy. The obstacles CANNOT be easy to overcome.

In I Give It A Year, however, the answer to that question was very easy. The filmmakers set up the ending far too obviously with soundtrack choices and weak plot choices. The obstacle (there was really only one) was, in my view, non-existent. At one point, a supporting character even challenges the main character as to why he can’t reach out and grab happiness. Tellingly, he is unable to answer. The obstacle in this movie was a straw man.

That’s no fun. I want to care. I want to be gripped by a movie by characters I care about in real peril. If I already know the ending, what’s the point in watching?

The only reason I did honestly was because I’m a comedy writer. And I regret that because I made myself rather upset.

2. The characters have to be real and interesting.

In I Give It A Year, a ‘lovable loser’ marries an ‘uptight career woman’.

And that’s as much characterization as either character is given in the entire movie. I’m not even joking.

The comedy came mostly from the supporting characters, who were miles more interesting, had gallons more depth, yet infuriatingly were obviously given less screen-time.

Again, if I don’t like the main characters and/or if I’m not interested in them, why should I watch this movie?

More importantly, why should I care if they are happy or sad, alive or dead, in the end?

3. The characters have to be consistent.

At one point in the movie, the ‘lovable loser’ turns to his ‘uptight’ wife and chides her for getting the words to popular songs wrong.

Now if he was such a ‘loser’, why would he care? His best friend, and best man at his wedding, never gets anything right. Why should his wife?

And come to think of it, if she is really such a perfectionist, why is she getting the words wrong in the first place?

But I laughed out loud – and I’m still laughing – at this moment because I thought, finally, we’re getting some depth from these characters. We’ve all got contradictions, so that moment made the characters seem more real.

But that was as far as reality went with this movie.

4. Please, God, please write some real women! And give them something fun to do!

The ‘lovable loser’, by dint of his ‘lovable-ness’, got some pretty funny moments in the movie.

The wife however was uptight and continued to be so the whole movie. She didn’t get to cut loose, break out, be the butt of a joke or tell one.

The two main female characters were so so boring in this movie. And unrecognizable as human beings.

Anna Faris’ character? “Badly dressed social justice type.”  Stuck on the ‘lovable loser’, of course.  Since why would any woman want to be with someone worth her while?

5. Completely useless interstitial element.

The film is framed by the couple going to a number of therapy sessions (with a bonkers Olivia Colman) when their marriage hits the rocks at 9 months.

The sessions don’t show us anything other than the fact that the therapist is bonkers. It sets up the pointless Act 3 struggle. Pointless because we, and the filmmakers, already know the ending. So the characters’ struggle is a waste of time and energy.

6. Don’t just string together set-pieces with no connecting tissue.

It felt like the script was made out of someone’s ‘spilt jam’ notebook. Like someone just thought about all the funny things that could happen to a couple and made a script out of them. Regardless of whether those situations could arise organically from the characters or the story the filmmakers set out to tell.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie was hysterically funny. But the funny bits often seemed completely out of character.

And ultimately, the movie didn’t have any emotional DNA. There was no theme. A string of events unfolding before us with no meaning.

Frustrating. Infuriating.

I wanted to like this movie. It’s just up my alley. But I hated it.

I was super upset. Simon Baker! Rose Byrne (from Bridesmaids)! How’d they get such great stars with such mediocre characters?

Time to write some real comedy.

And friends, if I go to production with a script that’s anything less than stellar, you have my full permission to shoot me. Or at least, tell me what the matter is.

If I don’t listen, then you can shoot me.

Lots of love,

Sabina, The Happy Muslimah.

My friend Fear and 2013

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb!

Man, it’s been a wild year huh?

Early January this year, I went to a cousin’s engagement. On our way back to Colombo, my family’s car got hit by two buses. That’s right. Not one. TWO.

Isn’t that wild?

Alhamdulillah, everyone walked away from that accident.

I got a good knock on the head, though, which resulted in a dramatic swelling of my face as the blood from my head injury fell down into my eye sockets.

The effect my face had on people was hilarious. I scared children and made women cry.

I look back on that incident and I have to say, not only am I grateful, I am terrifically happy.

As odd as it sounds, we couldn’t have chosen better timing and a better location to have a disaster. Our entire family was on that same road home.  From wherever they were, they all turned around and came back to aid my mom and dad.  I can say with utmost certainty; there are far worse places to have a mild concussion.

I can’t remember much of the 12 hours or so after the accident and even in the weeks after, as my brain recuperated, my short term memory was a bit wonky. My big brother (who specializes in emergency medicine) said there’s nothing to worry about; I probably felt drowsy.  Thinking back, waking up in the middle of conversations just adds to that hilarity of the situation.

But my parents were not that amused. They were fully conscious, terrified and anxious.

The capital-F Fear has lasted a bit too long. It’s been almost a year now. My father is still frightened to drive, thinking he fell asleep at the wheel that day. He tells me, “I’m too old to drive. I am too tired. I am too distracted. ” The Fear cripples him.

Why was I capital-H Happy? Why was he Afraid? Was it because I was unconscious? Was it because I was naive? Was it because I simply didn’t care?

Recently I have been quite fearful myself. A recent social engagement left me crabby and shaking.

I have been watching my ‘I am’ statements recently and found there is a shocking prevalence of a kind of self-smack talk. “I don’t like new people. I am not good with new people. I am not good with unfamiliar situations. I am a nervous person. I am a shy person.”

I thought of something else I’d learned recently.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become. My father always said that. And I think I am fine.

I’ve heard this many times, but honestly it’s only made sense now.

These fearful thoughts have probably become my character. A photographer once told me she was surprised that I am a comedian because I was so timid.

“Like a mouse?” I thought at the time. I wasn’t angry; I was just sad that my Fear was so evident. Still I managed to have a kick-butt photo shoot.

On the morning of that social gathering, I sat very still and quiet and listened to my thoughts.

I was frightened of other people. I thought they would hurt me. I thought they would prey on my vulnerability. I thought they would bully me.

Good Lord, where did these horrid thoughts come from?

I’m not going to blame anyone else. I’m not going to blame some monolithic culture for branding a tiny South East Asian woman with stereotypical qualities.

Wherever they came from, they must be stopped. Because I don’t want to ‘become’ frightened. I don’t want my destiny to be shrinking away in the corners of rooms, waiting for someone to notice me and being scared when they do.  Allah Subhaana Wa Ta’aala is my Protector and His world is too big and too beautiful Mashallah.

I’ve learned that my friend Fear doesn’t leave when asked. He doesn’t leave when yelled at. And he doesn’t budge, even if you tell him to go back where he came from.

I have started changing my thoughts consciously. I’ve started to turn “I am shy” to “I am hopeful”, “I am thoughtful”, “I am observant”, “I am peaceful”. Nothing wrong with not talking. When you listen you learn so much about so many new things. When you consciously listen, it takes a bit of hard work. You have to shelve your ego and give the other person the space to express themselves. I’m still trying but Alhamdulillah it’s a richly rewarding experience.

The day of the accident, I was happy because I wasn’t alone. That day and all the days after that, every time I woke up someone I loved was there. It was like the world’s best Facebook picture slideshow.

And the only person who was hurt was me and I knew it wasn’t that bad. You know when something inside you is changed forever and Alhamdulillah that didn’t happen that day.

That particular week, I was just grateful for every single silly little thing, from my parents to TV, from boiled eggs to pain medication, from hugs to the wind, to beautiful confusing Sri Lanka to lovely and infuriating Dubai.

Hopefully insha Allah in changing my thoughts, I will change my character. Hopefully insha Allah I will nurture peace, whether my friend Fear is with me or not.

That, more than anything, is my intention for 2013 insha Allah.

Have a blessed year. Have a blessed life insha Allah!

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah.

The Happy (and fully healed) Muslimah.

The root of all evil

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb,

I hate money.

I hate it because I want it and need it so badly.

Money buys things I couldn’t possibly get otherwise. Money causes decades-long rifts between family members. Money buys freedom and education. Money enslaves everyone.

But let’s not get metaphysical. Let’s get real. What is this blog post really about?

Simply put – I need a job. I don’t need a job. I’m skiving off my dear husband’s brilliance. I actually want a job. I feel like a waste of space and a waste of a college education.

Sure, I’m screenwriting. But I am wondering in real terms how much I’m benefiting people in this here initial stages between dream and cinematic dream.

I’m talking to people online. I’m making connections and giving support. I’m putting my energy into writing the very best screenplay I can, but I’m letting go of the outcome anyway. It’s okay if it’s horrible.  I’ll even be happy if it is, because a) I’ll know that I have the humility and the brains enough to recognize when something is bad and b) learning is fun.

It’s better than doing. Doing is terrifying.

This is why job applications are terrifying.

It’s the judgment thing. As someone recovering from social anxiety, the thought of a job interview is terrifying.

This is perhaps the only reason why I don’t want to apply for jobs. I don’t want to be judged and found wanting. I guess because I already find myself wanting. I would not like to have that opinion confirmed.

But this is part of being an adult. Being rejected. Over. And over. And over. Again. This part of life. This is part of my learning curve for failure.

This is part of faking it till I become it.

I care about the work I do, even if it isn’t screenwriting. I care about telling a good story, writing a good article, doing better than I did before.

That’s why it doesn’t work, it hurts so very bad.

I don’t think this is about money at all. I’ve written a couple of screenplays and am getting very excited about the feature I’m working on. But I’ve done nothing for money in the past 10 months.

That statement is sitting now in my chest and in my gut. With no emotional charge around it at all.

I feel fine about that.

Why then do I want a job? Why then do I need a job?

  1. Getting a salary or getting paid, like it or not, is a great psychological security blanket. It can only make my writing better.
  2. In this peculiar world economy, all our futures are uncertain. I want to be able to have an income if we find ourselves in a crisis.
  3. Working challenged me to think outside my own box. I met some weird and wonderful people and found I had a taste for weird and wonderful things. Educational and youth activism. Women’s rights. Art as emotional release. God knows what I’ll discover while doing my next job.
  4. If I’m not contributing to humanity, I am quite right in thinking myself useless. I want to give back to my community with my skills.

Is that reason enough? I think it is.

God’s love, peace and protection with you.

The Happy (and constantly searching) Muslimah

P.S. Happy birthday to me. I’m 26 today. Now to find a job. If you know anyone who needs an online writer, I’m your woman!

Ramadan reflections: On Time

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem


Assalam alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatahu, brothers and sisters.

Ramadan Mubarak!

My sincere apologies for letting this blog lapse. My wedding was a whirlwind and thereafter, I was too blissed out to even look at my laptop. I kid you not – I survived without Internet for DAYS.

Which segues quite nicely into what should be on all our minds and hearts (and not in our stomachs) these past 3 weeks.

Where I am in Colombo, it’s the 18th day of Ramadan, the Month of Mercy.

The last ten days are coming up very quickly. In one of their nights is hidden Allah’s Mercy, the Night of Power. That night, if spent in worship, are equal to a thousand months of worship. That’s 83.3 years. A life-time. Almost.

Our life-times seem to be getting longer due to modern medicine. Though frankly, I’m not sure we are any healthier in mind, body or spirit.

I know that I am considered young and that my life stretches ahead of me. That apparently, I have ‘lots’ of time. Yet my most frequent complaint is that I don’t have enough time.

I have been meaning to put away my nafs and study hijaab and stand-up comedy. Really figure out whether I am doing the right thing in those two areas.

But I have not had the time.

What has stolen my time?

Unexpected blessings

Until a couple of days ago, my sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) and her three children were also living with us. Little kids can be REALLY energetic and playful. The fact that they aren’t fasting and I am widened the energy gulf between us. Somehow the two youngest took a shine to me – maybe because my slight frame and round face make me look like a child that by some miracle has adult privileges. A worth ally indeed. So some of my day was spent playing and talking and listening to them.

Truth be told, I didn’t realize what a blessing they were until they were gone. It’s amazing how honest and imaginative and unconditionally loving children can be.

I have also decided to try taking my freelance writing career online. Man, that’s exciting work. I never was very good at closing a sale in person but online, somehow there’s a fire lit in me.  I am chasing and vetting clients and working out pricing strategies like I’ve been doing it all my life.

That entire process has brought up another frightening truth. Money. The possibility of making, losing or spending money drives me crazy.

I am not going to try and justify it by saying I’ve inherited emotional baggage from my parents who had poor childhoods. The fact of the matter is, money has a very strong emotional charge for me.

That needs to change. Yeah, we need money, but making it our ‘ilah’ (God) will alienate our friends and family and give us a hernia. And buy us a one-way ticket to hell.

Unexpected trials

Our maid has left for a week to attend a family gathering, so here we are, saddled with cooking and housework in the Month of Mercy.

Still it’s a good opportunity for me to learn to make the kanji, rolls and patties that everyone loves here and that my husband is so homesick for when he is out of Sri Lanka.

I’ve never been a fan of Sri Lankan cuisine. But I’m growing to quite like it now, oddly enough.

Being away from my mother has been an unexpected trial too. Unlike before, when I was living with her, I have no real-time update on her condition. I have to call and ask her, and like all good mothers, her reports are often only half-truths.

I visit her often but not often enough. I hate being in the dark, but I need to relinquish control and trust that Allah (subhaana wa ta’aala) is taking care of her.

Good old-fashioned distraction

My husband and I watched 3 episodes of Dexter last night.

I just Googled Galadriel for no good reason. Well, actually, the trailer for the new Hobbit movie seems to insinuate that she and Gandalf were having it off. Wanted to check if there was any precedent for that in the books.

There isn’t, in case you were wondering.

Still not really the most urgent matter in the world. Sigh.

There are still 12 more days. I can turn this around insha Allah.

Hope your Ramadans are fruitful and blessed insha Allah. Will see you after Eid.
Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and fasting) Muslimah.

Happily married, unhappily wedding planning

Photo from

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, my friends, married and single and in-between.

It has occurred to me that weddings are a lot like filmmaking. Except one is a complete and utter waste of time and one isn’t.

Guess which one.

When planning both, you have a checklist that just keeps on giving. Once you cross one item off, ten items seem to sprout in its place. Until the day of the great event – or shoot – it would seem that ‘stuff’ just keeps needing to be done. And the only person to do it is you.

Even though of course, time and time again, everyone professes that they will help, in reality, it’s all you. The bride. Or the director.

Of course, there are obnoxious overbearing personalities in both scenarios. Meddlesome relatives and producers have so much in common.

Planning my wedding has thrown up challenges I didn’t expect to face. I never thought that I had any – I mean any! – expectations of my wedding at all. I wasn’t ever someone that spent hours in my girlhood dreaming about my wedding. Dreaming about the love of my life and our beautiful happy marriage, yes. Definitely not the wedding. Unless I’m telling jokes, I really don’t like being the center of attention.

But here I am, attacked on all sides with tradition, some verging on Shirk, some blatant shirk, and other people’s expectations, and I find myself becoming a bride-zilla.

I’ve worked hard on controlling my rather horrific temper. But lately my patience and my defenses have been weakened.

It is because Shaitan is using the element of surprise on me.

Going back to the filmmaking analogy I used earlier, my husband and I are both directors on this project. We agreed a long time ago on one thing – marriage is a test, a commitment, a responsibility, a fulfillment of half our deen but not for free. We need to work hard to protect it, as with all things that are precious

But we’ve recently discovered that we have been on different even conflicting spiritual quests. This has surprised and upset me a great deal.

Suffice to say, I’ve lost my temper far too many times at far too many people.

I have also learned some shocking things about myself. I think fun is wrong. I find it really hard to ask for what I want or even fight for what I want. Anger seems to be my default emotion. I find it really hard to conduct a constructive conversation.

My mother being ill has made planning this wedding all the more difficult. You see, I’m not very good at planning and secondly, I really don’t care very much about my wedding. I’d rather get it over with and be married already.

My mother however was the human organizer. And she has spent a good long time fantasizing about my wedding, so she has the enthusiasm to push through the mire. She should be the one at the helm of this project.

But she isn’t. It’s all me. And as much as I’m trying not to hate every minute of it, to try and have fun with this ridiculous process, I do hate it. I do hate what people become around family weddings. I do hate the lack of agency the bride is allowed to have at her own wedding. I hate the lack of respect for the couple’s wishes. I hate the obscene wastage of money and the arrogance.

In both a deen (religious) and dunya (worldly) sense, it would seem that my wedding is a bust.

Still, unlike when I was looking for a groom, I have lowered my expectations at least in the dunya sense. I’ve asked my hubby to fight some of my battles because he is better at confrontation.

All in all, I am celebrating my little successes. Being conscious of my blood boiling. Holding my tongue. Being conscious that I have much to work on and insha Allah and Alhamdulillah, the energy to work on it. Alhamdulillah, this attitude is definitely an improvement on spontaneous combustion.

Remember me in your prayers.

Peace, love and God’s protection,

The (almost happily married and) Happy Muslimah.

The spaces between


Picture by Danilo Rizutti

Assalam alaikum wr wb, sisters and brothers,

So I’m on my way out of the city of my birth, never to call it my home ever again. My husband is happy and excited, well, because he loves me, bless his heart.

Me, I’m caught between excitement and fear. Sometimes, even anger.

I’ve been wondering why I feel so powerless. I wonder where the tide of life has taken me as if I were so much driftwood.

And anger fools me into thinking that I will gain power again, by rage and intimidation.

But that’s not true.

The fact of the matter is, I made a choice – and a truly blessed one it was too Mashallah. As with most choices, there are changes. I always knew these changes would come. I just didn’t think it would come so quickly and they might even hurt a little.

After some reflection and prayer, I’m at peace with my choice now. I‘ve started to notice things about my beautiful city – the tall buildings, the hundreds of different kinds of people.  This afternoon, I watched the patrons of a roadside cafeteria with fascination for a good half hour, making up stories about the uncommonly well-dressed delivery boy and the smoking colleagues.

I’ll miss these winding streets, so familiar I could drive through them with my eyes closed (I won’t, I promise). I’ll miss these strange but familiar people, from all over the world, just as confused and in-between as I am.

I’ll miss my mama in the morning, grinning so wide her drenches almost fall out, standing in the yard waving my dad goodbye.

I’ll miss my silly older brother and his Xbox and obsessive TV watching.

I’ll miss daddy, bionic eyes, slow driving and all.

When I’ve finally learned to love you as you are, it is time for me to leave.

So long, Dubai. I’ve loved you since I was a child. And I always will.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (though tearful) Muslimah.

7 Things I loved About Crazy Stupid Love

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb and howdy.

There are some movies that just get you. That crawl into your skin and stay there. That touches a nerve. And you keep returning to them over and over again trying to figure out how it works.

I didn’t expect Crazy Stupid Love to be one of them. I expected it to be a star vehicle for Ryan Gosling’s abs.

But it was a surprisingly vulnerable, sweet, non-cynical movie. About, oddly enough, crazy stupid love. I got the product advertised AND I wasn’t disappointed. Score for the Hollywood star machine!

I am personally sick of one-note female characters that are about as deep as a puddle. Many people however fail to realize that, as the foils to their male counterparts, these flimsy characters simultaneously cheapen the male character who romances them.

Now I’ll admit the women in this film didn’t have much to do. This movie failed the Bechdel Test resoundingly (though frankly I have my reservations about that test). They were, as always, the receptacles of male desire and nothing more. We only hear the men’s side of the story and not much else.

But somehow there was a little more at stake here. Cal was Emily’s soul-mate.  As Jacob may well be Hannah’s. Call me love-struck, but that’s hugely different. Even if it wasn’t alluded in film time, that gives the impression of a shared history, a shared LIFE. That’s no small thing to share. Even if the women were simply plot devices, in the ‘real’ world, they would have been much more.


Okay, let me get into what I really love about Crazy Stupid Love and leave the complicated stuff aside for now.

  1. A man was treated like a piece of meat and hated it.

Throughout the movie, the camera lingers lovingly on Ryan Gosling, tracking slowly up to him in a very well-cut suit as he munches on pizza.

I’ve only ever seen that kind of shot used on women.

At one point in the film, Hannah orders Jacob to take off his shirt. Jacob is distinctly uncomfortable; he even asks whether he can put it back on again.

Now he knows what the women feel like.

  1. The same man was treated like a complete human being and loved it.

Moments after this scene….well, I don’t want to give anything away. There was a strong emotional  connection between Jacob and Hannah that moved well beyond the physical. It was so refreshing to see something other than ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ between two people under 30 on screen.

  1. A man became a womanizer and hated it.
  2. A man admitted desperate unhappiness.

And it wasn’t an emo support group moment. It was simply a change from being lonely to not. And everything that he’d missed became clear.

  1. Women recognized what they wanted and went after it.

Both women in the film did precisely what they intended to do. They didn’t doubt their power for a second.

  1. They later realized they made a huge mistake.

Women are always under pressure to be perfect in every single way. Sometimes what you want isn’t what you need. You find that out in a strange twisted way. Fate’s funny like that.

  1. Genuine good humor and affection in the war of the sexes.

Where’d the love go? Seriously. I thought we were all in this human boat together. Cal and Emily didn’t treat each other like enemies, even though they didn’t always get along. They were always vulnerable with each others. Tears welled. Voices shook. There were never any secrets between them.

*sigh* Now that’s love.

Godspeed and protection.

Peace out.

The Happy Muslimah.

Class of ’03

Assalam alaikum wr  , people.

It’s a time of great transition for me Mashallah, as I prepare to leave behind the city I grew up in and move to a new life with a new person Insha Allah.

It reminds me of a poem I wrote, oh, seven years ago now, when I graduated from high school and said goodbye to my classmates. We’re all scattered around the world now and I often wonder if we’ve ever got as close to the friends we’ve made in our adult life.

Class of ’03

We would live forever.

Claws, wits, tongues

ephemeral feminine muscles

a forest of thorns

the infinite depth of a melted-steel ocean

all the cartoon heroes

Bring your own super-power.

They collided like

muddy monster trucks.

Desire, dismay, the debris of a shattered childhood

prerogative, post-male syndrome, pre-marital relations

muggers and the lack of spiritual mace.

Smell the soggy pillows

the petulant chemicals.

We shared years of unlearning.

the vestiges of broken pedestals

swept into corners and under rugs

bleeding for the last time

We staggered out

As the sunrise began to dry.

Perhaps as the shadows lengthen in an old Spanish port,

As the sun begins to fall in Manhattan,

As the walls begin to sweat in Mumbai,

As the streets begin to empty in Moscow…

We will catch a glimpse of the faded blue rapture

of fleeting immortality

Art is worship Part II: 3 cumulative ways to maintain consistency as a writer

Bismillah ir rahman ir Raheem

Assalam alaikum wr wb, everybody!!

It’s so easy for me to get side-tracked from writing. With wedding planning reaching hysterical levels, Mashallah, I’ve given myself a holiday from my work. But! I shouldn’t! That’s why it’s called my work!

Do you know the Hadith about small consistent acts being greater than big inconsistent ones?

“The Prophet (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said, “The dearest of actions to Allah is that which is done regularly, even if it is small.”

I have been thinking about that and how easily and beautifully the Sunnah about traditional Ibadah can apply to our work as well.

How do we make something consistent?

The same way we consistently do our prayers or read Qur’an.

The actions build on each other. Each step magnifies the benefits of the one that preceded it before we finally give our salaams to the angels that protect us, having done our duty to our Creator (SWT).

The same approach could be taken with our work.

  1. Pick an iron-clad time you will worship Allah through your art.

Is it in the morning before your family wakes up? In the night-time after they go to sleep? In the bus/train/car-pool on your way to work/school?

All we need is quietude, time and a readiness to work. What’s the best slot in your day for that?

For me, it’s crazy early in the morning after Fajr, Qur’an reading and 20 minutes of aerobics – well before my parents wake up. I can do my work a good few hours before my mother’s shriek sunders me from my concentration.  I love her, but the woman has a voice that would make the dead moonwalk.

If that isn’t possible for any reason, I make maximum use of the few hours my parents aren’t at home to get some solid work done.

  1. Prepare yourself mentally, physically and spiritually.

In Salah, this might translate to making Wudhu, setting an intention or learning new du’as to recite in prostation.

In writing or the making of art, this might translate into setting a goal and envisioning the joy of reaching that goal daily. It could mean saying a small prayer to the One that Gives all provision. It could mean writing morning pages, sharpening a skill, exercising to get blood flowing to your brain and eating a healthy breakfast. Most important of all is preparing yourself for the ups and downs of the business of art – the writer’s block, the networking (that’s my LEAST favorite part) and the rejection (over and over again).

  1. Subordinate all resources to achieving that goal at that time.

My goal during Salah is to worship Allah (SWT), Insha Allah. That means no distractions. Phones go off, doors are closed or a quiet corner is found. Parents, children, spouses and colleagues are told what prayer looks like and what we need to achieve it – that means no talking.

I imagine to truly pour yourself into your work, you would need to do something similar; channel all of your resources into achieving your goal.

What are your mental, physical and spiritual resources?

Once you’ve listed them, how can you best channel them into making the best art you can?

Since art is a social product and meant to be consumed by the community at large, perhaps engaging those social resources becomes exponentially important.

Here are some suggestions:

Ask your family to leave you alone when you’re in a corner with your laptop, when you have a sign on your door or on your forehead, when you’re in your garage messing around with wood.

Ask the most critical member in your family/friend/professional circle to look at your work and give you their worst (at the very least, it’ll humble you. At the very most, it will let you know what emotions are actually induced by your surrealist expressionist papier mache sculpture.)

(That’s actually really cool. If a sculptor is reading this, please consider doing that.)

Ask an Imam if the art you’re making is worthy of a Muslim.

  1. Remember to thank Allah (SWT) for the gift of another day at work.

If art is truly Ibadah, we will never know if our good deeds are accepted till Judgment day and the Dunya is a poor indicator of Allah (SWT)’s pleasure with us. Hence, it is best to leave the outcome to Allah (SWT).  The only way we can guarantee fulfillment is taking pride in the work itself and our mindset as we approach the work.

If it’s good, if it’s bad, if it’s ugly – remember to thank Allah (SWT). Just because it came out.

Making art seems a lot like what I imagine giving birth is like – a struggle but also a great joy, a great gift from Allah. Like children, our art will try us in every possible way – before, during and, for many long years, after their birth.

(As you might have guessed, I’m rethinking that 7 kids thing.)

All of this ties down to fighting Shaitan who causes us to despair, what Steven Pressfield would call resistance (The War of Art is an incredible book which I would recommend to anyone who’s ever tried to tackle a challenge.)

If we are the stage of our Iman where we would accept no excuse for missing our Salah, if we truly think our  art is what Allah (SWT) has destined for us, perhaps we should apply the same rigor to it.

Today, right now, I make a commitment to write at least an hour a day. It’s the least I can do to get things done.

Wassalam and Fee Amanillah,

The Happy (and Insha Allah, productive) Muslimah.

A Bride-to-be’s Prayer

I seek refuge in You, Allah, from the accursed Devil.

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Especially Merciful,

I ask You, oh Allah (SWT)….

Save me from my wedding!* It’s driving me crazy!

Why, why, why, why? Why do I need so many clothes? I have only one body!

Why is the agony of choosing my wedding dress greater than the agony of choosing my husband?

Why, why, why, have I now spent more time with Meena Bazaar clothiers than I have with my husband-to-be? Daggummit!

I’m trying so hard not to curse, God…please bless me for my efforts.

In fact, God…please, oh most Patient One, bless me with patience.

With the mother who recites a to-do list in my bedroom at the crack of dawn every morning.

With the father torn between mourning my loss and practicing the wedding playlist. Oh Allah (SWT), please save me from my father’s singing and my uncle’s dancing.

(Don’t really do that. It wouldn’t be a wedding if my father didn’t sing I Married a Female Wrestler and my uncles unintentionally do the twist.)

With the relatives that ask embarrassing immaterial questions about my fiance’s wealth or looks. Allah (SWT), give me patience and grace as they micro-analyse my clothes, my weight or lack of, the gifts exchanged, the food, the hall, the décor. Oh most Patient One, give me the suboor not to clock them like Muhammad Ali.  Oh most Patient One, give me the strength not to cry – my mascara will run and my false eyelashes will fall off.

Forgive my sharp tongue and my resentment– it is my parents’ wedding really, more than it is mine.

Oh Allah (SWT), oh Giver of Tranquility, give me stillness to let this beautiful change sink in. In my moments of anxiety – am I doing the right thing, is this the right guy, am I good enough for him, will we always be happy, will I always love him and will he always love me? – Allah (SWT), give me an answer from unexpected places, as You always have. I am only human. I know only what is now – I don’t know the future and I can’t change my past. Allah (SWT), have mercy on us, guide us to repentance and put love and mercy between our hearts. Only You can protect us from Shaitan. Only You can show me just how stupid my fears were by making our life together more wonderful than I could have expected. Allah (SWT), I surrender my will, my destiny and my marriage to You.

Ameen, summa Ameen!

*Not my marriage. Just my wedding.

The Happy (and a little bit stressed out) Muslimah