When was the last time you found the perfect apple in the bag. You know the one I mean, that bright red skin, not a blemish on it. No soft spots or brown corners it even smells like a dream. You can’t wait to bite into it. Taste that sweet goodness on the tip of your tongue and dance that little jig we all do when the first bite of something is everything we imagine it will be. Knowing that the juice will splash around to the back of your tongue and then dip forward for just a second to see the smile it gave you before sliding down and bringing equal amounts of goodness to the rest of your body. So you dive in, take the bite and suddenly your mouth is full of bitterness.
So what causes an otherwise divine fruit to be bitter? The primary reason given is often that the fruit has not been allowed to ripen properly. As fruit ripens the amount of sugar it contains increases which then increases its overall sweetness. Ripening is a complicated process that is controlled by hormones that interact with the growing environment and other natural occurring events to create the sweetness in the fruit. Ripening is dependent on the chemical process and also on timing. The right amount of time necessary for each piece of fruit differs as does the effect of various environments. Some grow best if housed in a closed-in shelter while many need to be in as much sunlight as possible. There are still others that need to be held up their entire lives, either growing along sturdy walls or the foundations created to act as supports by loving caretakers. If any part of this process is interrupted it can interrupt the maturing process of the fruit including stunting its growth and causing the fruit to be bitter, even if on the outside the fruit appears to be perfect in every way.
Consider that, women too, are a divine fruit. And just like fruit there is a process and a time for maturing. A time when the conditions of environment and interaction with others causes a maturing of the inner woman. Given the right amount of time, love, protection and care taking a woman grows to become a refreshing, palatable, nourishing being. One that is sought after for both the comfort she lends and the health she promotes in those whom she impacts. A maturing that begins slowly, heightens to near perfection, decreases a bit but continues throughout her life. Not every womans maturing time is the same nor does it ever really end completely. The amount of sweet goodness ebbs and flows determined by the conditions encountered by this precious creation.
Unlike fresh fruit however, much of a womans maturing is within her own control. And for each of us there comes a time in our maturing and development when we are one hundred percent responsible for the effect that ripening has on us. Either consciously or unconsciously we decide if we will be sweet to the taste or twisted and inedible to those we attempt to be nourished by us.
We often miss the first sign that we are in control of our own flavor, particularly if there is not a fully matured, incredibly sweet woman available to nurture our growth. Fruit begets the same fruit so a bitter apple is hard pressed to give sweet fruit from its tree. That first sign almost always comes in the form of an unrequited, unimaginable, never gonna love this way again why is that white horse trampling on my roses kinda romance. It is in that moment we decide we are not princesses, there are no Prince Charmings and horses can be very scary when too close to your heart. So instead of ensuring the lighting is right to better nurture our fruit, we often add shutters to keep out the pruning that is so necessary to grow sweet, health fruit.
In that moment we relinquish our control. Sometimes to a man, sometimes to an image of beauty, and sometimes we just relinquish and give up. Being more willing to allow our fruit vines and trees to be covered over than to risk being hurt again. We begin to become bitter. We call course, harsh speeches independence, unattractive, aggressive attitudes strength. These are not the characteristics any of us wanted. We wanted to be independent with a purpose, strong with a direction. We wanted to share in that secret something special, that sly glance that passed between lovers when they thought we weren’t watching, that elusive feeling of safety when hang gliding, the trust that the pruner of our leaves is also the lover of our fruit.
But I venture to say that it is never too late to save our fruit. Much like we continue to water, to feed, to talk to, to coax our vines to produce ruby-red berries and our trees to smile the sweet smile of blooming blood oranges so to can we sweeten our inner woman. It is never to late to nurture her. It is never to late to tell her how beautiful she is. It is never to late to stop begging strangers to tend to our gardens. After all, no one wants to be bitter fruit.
From the moment I took shahada 17 years ago I have been reminded over and over that this religion called Islam was made easy.
Yet I struggled to learn how to properly offer salat. Initially finding it nearly impossible to remember the number of Fard rakats or Sunnah rakats, the appropriate time to make each. Or the subtle nuances of proper annunciation of the arabic recitation. Whether I should or shouldn’t learn the transliteration, and the dua’a’s to be made. Learning salat was not easy.
And then there was my first Ramadan. Rising even earlier than Fajr to eat a filling and hearty breakfast (suhoor) and drinking a lot of water and then nothing. No food, no water, no gum, no toothpaste, for hours. Fasting my first Ramadan was not easy.
Then of course there were the lifestyle changes. Accepting that my moral/religious beliefs could not be in contradiction with my political beliefs. Throwing off what I had always been taught was beautiful and replacing it with modest clothing. Wearing hijab. Changing my life was not easy.
Finding someone to share my life with, without dating and getting to know each other. Spending only “chaperoned” time together. No intimate contact, no kissing, no holding hands, not even sitting too close together at dinner. Getting married was not easy.
I often hear myself telling new Muslims what I was told, “Alhamdullah, Allah has made our religion easy” and I realize now I should qualify that statement. The ease of the religion of Islam is conditional. It requires something from us.
For many who come into Islam it is with all the joy and expectation of a small child who comes in from school to smell fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven. We know this is going to be good. We can almost envision how wonderful our lives will now be. We see ourselves attending Arabic classes at our local masjid, or becoming entrepreneurs with booths at the next big conference. Expending our knowledge and having spirited debates about schools of thought, figh or fatwa’s. Better yet we envision a life of harmony with our Creator, speared on with the burgeoning knowledge that this Ummah is one brotherhood, that people will now see me and rush from across a crowded parking lot just to give me the salaams. We are Muslims.
But this knowledge, I humbly submit, is not what makes our religion easy. Nor is our religion made easy by strict adherence to the five pillars, or works of charity, or hours spent offering dawah. All things we strive for as Muslims but not what makes our religion easy. So what is it, what has prompted our Lord and Creator to deem a religion that requires much, easy. The answer is so simple and yet of such great significance I am cautious to say it.
The answer is submission.
Now I know that is obvious, “of course we have to be submitted”, will come back the reply. But I am not talking about the value found in the submission to offer our prayers, pay zakat, fast during the month of Ramadan or make Hajj. I am talking about the type of submission that causes every thought, every action, every emotion to begin and end with Allah subhana wa ta alla honestly. And of course many of us believe that when we take shahada we are in fact submitting. But I challenge you to consider the following.
Submission is not a singular act. It is not something we accomplish once and then move on to the next step. It is not something we achieve or possess. Submission is an interactive movement. One for which we must constantly and continually be in training. It must precede everything we do, say and feel. Submission to Allah (swt) must be the single driving force for every accomplishment, the motivation from every failure, the sought after feeling of every emotion.
Submission to our Lord means that EVERYTHING is about Allah (swt). How I style my hair, where I spend my time, the words I chose to express my discontent. When I speak to someone it is with the conscious knowledge that I will answer for every word I utter and not only will I answer for the words but I will answer for the condition of my heart and the intention behind each word as well. When I dress in the morning to leave the house, I am far more concerned with what Allah will say on the day of judgement about my clothing than what anyone who sees me will think.
Submission to Allah (swt) means that I am supremely cautious when discussing someone who is not present, lest anything I say or feel be deemed fitna (not to the ones I’m talking to but to Allah). It means that my heart is always filled with joy at the sight and/or thought of my husband not because of what he provides but because he was provided to me by Allah (swt). And if by chance an event, a person or circumstance leaves me less then joyful it is my submission that is a refuge for me because with submission comes trust, comes faith, comes unbridled love.
And who can deny that when you are in love everything seems easy.