My Florida Experience (and knowledge and travels in general)

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I recently came back from a 5-day trip to Florida. It was completely unexpected because my family rarely travels in the winter. I knew we weren’t going to Disney World because it’s a waste of time and money and is mainly comprised of the useless attractions of the cartoon world. What I was looking forward to were the oranges, the orange juice, the orange trees and the orange farms. I love road trips and travelling in general, because it allows me to escape the mundane routines of life. I also love scenery and nature, so this was my kind of trip. I think travel also makes me more connected to Allah, and gives me time to reflect on my life. But as we made our way down towards Georgia, I started feeling somewhat lonely. I was there with my whole family, but I feel like something was missing. I missed my mom, yeah, and also my two best friends. On this vacation, everything was finally right. Everyone was getting along better than ever, but I still wasn’t truly at peace.  I thought and thought about what could be the cause of my fluctuating misery. I remembered IlmSummit. I remembered how I had made du’a and done Istikharah for IlmSummit. I counted the days remaining till Dec 31st when IlmSummit would end, and I compared my situation with those blessed students sitting in Houston. I was “vacationing” and they were learning, but why did I feel like they were the ones having fun? I kept asking my dad for his cell phone to check Facebook because my friend was regularly updating her status with what she was learning at IlmSummit. I felt so happy reading those few snippets of ‘ilm and advice. I was so sad, so heartbroken for myself, but so happy for her at the same time. Seeing similar posts from people about what they were learning at IlmSummit all over my Newsfeed kind of made me feel like I was sharing in their joy and their experiences. Considering how much I talk about IlmSummit online and in real life, I’m sure people start to wonder why I make such a big deal out of it. Why is IlmSummit so special when there are a gazillion Islamic programs out there? The answer is simple. It starts with a process. My *only* consistent source of Islamic knowledge is Al-Maghrib Institute at the moment. The classes are full of ‘ilm, advice,and enthusiasm, and my life takes positive turns with the end of each one, by the Grace of Allah. IlmSummit is the intensive, 10-day program for intermediate-advanced level students of Al-Maghrib who wish to take their knowledge and understanding to the next level. It doesn’t require a long-term commitment and is fairly affordable. Now, my academic/Islamic dream was to attend Umm al-Qura University. I wanted to become a shaykha. I was dedicated. I was motivated. I even got my documents ready. But then my entire world fell apart as the reality that I had been trying to ignore hit me like a glacier and caused me to sink to a place from which I’m still trying to get out. I need a mahram to live in Saudi Arabia with me. When I told friends and family about why my “Islamic Uni” plan was cancelled, some of them joked, “Why don’t you get married to a guy who wants to study Islam abroad?” Easier said than done. That made me wonder. A woman moves to wherever her husband lives. If his job is in another state, they move there. If it’s in another country, they move there. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but sometimes I really think that what if a woman wanted to move to a certain place for her education or work? Would her husband move with her? I have never heard of something like this happening, but I think it would be a miracle if it did (considering it was for Islamic or other legit reasons, of course). So I make du’a to Allah that He grant me a righteous spouse who is dedicated to attaining Islamic knowledge and would support me in my path to Islamic education. After that, I started exploring more options for Islamic knowledge (this time, in the U.S. alone). I thought about the Bayyinah DREAM Program. If I got accepted, I would leave everything and go. But I realized that it’s way too expensive. So for now, that’s also off the list. And I think my mom would never allow it, even if my dad would. So after that, I thought about Tooba University. Even if I can’t commute to Maryland everyday, I can still take classes online. But I’m already taking so many credits for college that I’d never be able to successfully complete the classes, so Tooba has to wait until I finish my Bachelor’s degree (because that’s when I’m officially taking a break from secular studies for a long time inshaAllah). So after all these awesome options were closed to me, I came to IlmSummit. It’s perfect in every way. Every year, I try to go and I even come so close to going, but then something gets in the way. The only reason that I was able to be patient with this was that I did Istikharah. Now that I think about it, my mom probably wouldn’t have allowed me to go to Texas alone, even if only for 10 days. I know my dad would say yes if he could afford it, but he can’t. Since Allah has ordained that obeying your parents is more important than seeking knowledge, I know I wouldn’t have been able to go even if my dad had been able to afford it. It takes a lot of patience on my part to see all the doors of higher Islamic knowledge being closed to me, after knowing that I have the potential to do all this study and then say “Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli haal; my day will come inshaAllah.” All the teachers in my life have told me that, and I feel like every second that I am not involved in some Islamic knowledge pursuit, is wasted. When I go to the Al-Qalam library on Fridays, I see all the books and I sit down to read them, but then I feel like crying cause I think, “Now if only I had a teacher to teach these to me.” What keeps me going now is that I’m taking advantage of the Al-Huda eCampus online Ta’leemul-Qur’an Program that’s based in Canada. It’s a Tafseer program for the whole Qur’an and you can earn a certificate in it by the end of it which enables you to teach it to others. Ever since I started that program, understanding the Qur’an is so easy and I feel like Allah opens up new doors every time I sit down for a lesson. It’s hard to stay committed, though because I procrastinate a lot. I guess Allah wanted to teach me patience and commitment. It’s only what you work for that you value, and Islamic knowledge is not free.

Now that I’ve ended the sad IlmSummit/Islamic knowledge rant, I can go back to travels. I thought some more about my sad travel feelings and I realized that I was thinking about the times I went to India and Saudi. When I went to India, I felt at home because of the warm hospitality of my relatives. In Saudi, well, obviously, there is Makkah and Madinah, the two most peaceful places on earth. I realized that the places I wanted to be were places where there were a lot of Muslims; places where I would feel welcome and at home. I guess it was just Florida. I wasn’t having a very good masjid experience there, either. We went to a masjid in Orlando for Jumu’ah prayer and it was as if no one knew each other. The masjid was packed, but the smiles exchanged were few. There was a janazah later on and the man who died had a young daughter who was crying outside the masjid entrance while aunties were hugging her. It was depressing. I stood there for the longest time in the middle of the sidewalk, not knowing how to react. Others were doing the same. Meanwhile, in the area of the parking lot where our car was, the men were hugging each other like it was ‘Eid. I wished the sisters could have also shared salams and sisterly love like that. I went to the masjid a happy person and left feeling homesick. I was homesick for my house, for my local masajid, for all the Muslims I know here and for the warm smiles you give and receive in the masajid here.

Overall, this Florida trip made me realize several things: I don’t like any place too far from home, unless I’m going there purely for the Sake of Allah, cause I easily get homesick, but India is an exception, just because I feel somewhat connected to it. I love the Muslim community I live in, and it’s truly like no other; the Muslims here are like family. Something else I realized is that I like spending time with my family even if I feel like I don’t belong. Allahu A’lam if this will ever change, but I make du’a to Allah and hope for the best.

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