Me and Amina used to be the best of friends, partners in crime and we were sisters. Our bond was deep and it was something I cherished. Not many people can be as blessed as I was to say that they got on so well with their younger siblings as I was. We were only 2 years apart and people commented that we looked like twins. OK , that is pushing it a little but we were CLOSE !
With the passage of time things changed: changing priorities, career choices and different lifestyles. Our paths separated and our once close bond became a thing of the past. Amina decided to go into fashion designing she worked really hard to be able to get admission in one of the prestigious Art schools in England. If anyone was passionate about fashion it was Aminah, she was up to date about the latest trends, upcoming designers, famous brands. She was an avid bargain hunter and your go- to girl for everything related to fashion. She was good at what she did and hoped to own her own clothing line some day.
Me the older sister decided to become an accountant, and hoped to work for a multi- national firm someday. There was something about large oak wood desks, shiny marble tiles and the spacious office cabin that made me feel as if I was born to work in such a place. I too worked hard to get into the top business school but had to settle for the second best option when my application to my dream university got rejected. Naturally, I was heart- broken but my parents encouraged me that it was too early to give up on my dream .
We both moved to different cities to pursue our education and while we still managed to meet up during the holidays , I would miss her dearly and many weekends would be spent chatting over the phone. Though we both had chosen separate career paths, we supported each other's decision. I thought nothing could come between us but I was wrong:
In her final year Aminah, joined Quran classes at the local masjid near her university. She would often call me and tell me what she learnt and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience which she described as :eye opening, tear - jerking and beautiful. Slowly and gradually the changes began to take place: now on her visits home Aminah would appear more subdued, sometimes she would finish reading the Quran and her facial expression would gave the look of someone who had just seen a ghost .
I would tell her that she was shutting herself out from the real world and she needed to concentrate on her studies but she would calmly tell that she concentrated as much as she needed to. The vivacious hijabi fashionista , who once took pride in her glamorous silk scarves, ultra chic modest wardrobe and make up was gone, she was replaced by someone who became more serious, took to dressing in loose robes and maxi dresses and eventually replacing her whole look for an abayah and a simple hijab.She would refuse to go out with me for window shopping or movies and most of her time was spend discussing things she learnt at the class with our parents, attending lectures, organizing charity events etc.
We were close so she never felt hesitant discussing anything with me and would often tell me if she felt something I was doing was wrong. These new changes in her were welcomed by many but I wasn't one of them. While she repeatedly told me that she had no intention to demean me or degrade me but quoting ahadith and Quranic Ayaat she had learnt in class but only to remind me as she was reminding herself. I would fiercely argue back and this resulted in repeated fights till finally we barely spoke to one another other then the usual salam and small talk.
It made me upset that my younger sister should try and correct me , who did she think she was. If she would just come down from her pedestal of self righteousness she would see that we were not in need of her "reminders" which sounded more like lectures or taunts to me. Religion is every one's personal matter and no one and I mean NO ONE has the right to shove it down your throat. Huh... I would fume every time she would start talking in that manner. I distanced myself from her as much as I could . I too longed to have the closeness she felt to Islam but I just didn't think that her approach to attaining that closeness was right. I wanted to prove to her that life is something worth living and you can't spend it sitting in a corner praying to God all the time , it doesn't work like that.
I decided to just give up on my sister altogether and concentrate on my life. I worked hard and graduated with a good score and landed my first job at a prestigious multi national company. I, Noura was their star accountant, I believed I was the reason the company was running smoothly. I don't know how they were functioning before I came along.... lucky for them I would say. While the job had its perks and the salary was something to gloat about. My parents had insisted I find something closer to home , they worried for my safety saying that a single Muslim girl should live close to her home where he family is.
Oh please... what is this? The 18th century? Who thinks like that? And besides even if my living away from home was bending the rules, rules are .... well meant to be bent and broken even if a little... right? I thought I would be living the dream while it made me sad to see that my younger sister who finally graduated and decided to do a degree in Islamic Studies online and turned down the offer to work with the most prestigious designers. I went ahead and bought my own studio apartment in central London the heart of all the hustle and bustle and not for one second looking back and what I felt behind. An estranged sister and two parents who missed me dearly. I was living it up... I could never imagine getting tired of my lifestyle back then, that was two years ago...
Now I found myself struggling through the entire week, with long working hours, looming deadlines and board meetings I didn't even have time to sit back and enjoy the benefits that I could afford with my salary. I would long for the weekend and finally it did come along I wish it would never end. Two years of hard work had certainly paid off: I got my dream job, dream bachlorette pad and a hefty salary but at what cost? I barely ever saw my family, friends... life seemed like all work and no play.
I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, like someone running in a marathon and the end was no where in sight. I couldn't understand why I felt the way I did but I decided that it was time to take some time off and go back to my roots and reconnect with my family, kick back and relax.. I felt a little guilty for ignoring them for all this time. Truth be told they were the ones who made an effort to keep in touch with me: when I was busy and couldn't spare time to come see them, they would come see me. My trips home were short and brisk I would always be dying to get back in the office, I didn't enjoy being with them I enjoying being with my office friends more.I could be myself around them and they wouldn't lecture me about what is right and wrong.
I think in these two years the worst mistake I made was when Amina got married. My family expected me to be with them and help with the arrangements. Aminah had insisted that they have a small affair at the nearby Islamic center, inviting only the nearest and dearest. She had personally called me and asked for help choosing her wedding dress and shoes and all the last minute shopping she needed to do. I had turned down her offer for a very "important" business meeting, OK there was no business meeting in fact I didn't even have work that day. I knew she was trying to make up for all the time lost and bond with me but I didn't want any of it. So I reluctantly attended my own sister's wedding and valima. Despite being a terrible sister to her, Amina still wrote to me, send hand made cards on both Eids and I too would reply but only mine would be the company's official holiday cards impersonally signed with a flourish to wish all and sundry "happy holidays" I mean "happy eid"
OK so, I feel very guilty I need to make amends but where do I start?
(stay tuned for part 2 :) Insha'Allah)