“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It’s there all the time” -Anna Freud
I dedicate this post to a very special person whose suffering from an Eating Disorder and has lost hope of recovery. This post is also a request from a reader, who bravely attended the ED treatment centre for her eating problems. I wish her a speedy recovery and a beautiful life. I promised I’ll share my travels to Holy Land with her. Please do bear in mind this is my personal experience.
Back in Shere
We are back in Shere, a sleepy little village in the Surrey Hills. It’s a month of June and the weather is surprisingly cold. This year summer refuses to come to UK. I look at her, she has deteriorated so much in past few weeks. People are worried and she knows it, but it’s becoming more and more difficult for her to pull out of this illness. The deep deep depression has entered her mind, soul and heart. She know struggles to sit in one place for more than few minutes. Everything in her body hurts. This is a price you have to pay for listening to the Demon of Eating Disorder. “Did you know Choices have Consequences?” She asks me. “I knew there were consequences but I had no idea how much it will hurt my body and mind”, she tells me. We look at small pond or is it a stream? we have no idea.”I hope you understand, I can’t make it this time.”
She blinks back tears she no longer wishes to shed. I know she’s going through cycle of self recrimination. There’s life in her eyes, but she has no will to go on. We walk to a local shop and stare at array of treats. None of us are interested in eating.
We drive to other destination, other coffee shop, where she will be warm.
While we sit there with our array of hot drinks, I tell her a simple story of how dreams can come true, how miracles happen. Last time, I told her story of a Miraculous Journey of Ascension to Heavens, it gave her hope, I hope this will also uplift her.
The Miracle of Al Aqsa
I traveled to Holy Land in the summer of 2013. As I previously mentioned, it wasn’t an easy decision for my family to make. With my illness came the reluctance to leave the security of my home and my bedroom. From 2007-2012, I really struggled being with people. Safest thing to do was retreat back to your bedroom and try to make sense of your place in this quickly-evolving society.
Not in a Million years had I thought Al Aqsa would happen. I wouldn’t even dare to dream about this trip. During my last holiday trip to Barcelona and Seville in September 2009, I nearly died; it was by the sheer will power not to die in a foreign country and lots of prayers that enabled me survive that trip.
When the opportunity came to visit the Holy Land, and my mother consented, it was indeed a miracle I made it to Jerusalem and back.
Those that have time and search for a better time will lose time – Sufi Proverb
Now two years later, I reflect on my journey. I wouldn’t change a thing about my travels. My public fear of eating subsidized with no amount of therapy ever succeeding in this area. I also learned never to take life and people for granted; in the words of Imam Ali,
“How strange and foolish is man. He loses his health in gaining wealth. Then, to regain his health he wastes his wealth. He ruins his present while worrying about his future, but weeps in the future by recalling his past. He lives as though death shall never come to him, but dies in a way as if he were never born”
Al Aqsa was just the beginning of my new life journey, it changed me into a new person – a person I myself respect.
I lost two people from that trip: Both Maria and Jeanette were soon after diagnosed with cancer, and it was their time to leave our world. Nothing could have prevented that from happening, no medicine, no treatment and no doctor. I also dedicate this post to their memory. Rest in Peace.
Importance of Al Aqsa
We all know about the significance of Al Aqsa to the three Abrahamic faiths – Muslims, Jews and Christians. But one reason why Al Aqsa is so important to Muslims is that it’s a place from where Prophet Muhammad’s Miraculous Night Journey to Heaven began. It’s called الإسراء والمعراج
You can read about the Miraculous Journey here.
The miracle of al-Isra‘ is confirmed in the Qur’an.
The Holy Qur’an was the evident miracle which sufficed all mankind as proof testifying to the truth of the message brought by Muhammed (s.a.a.w). Consider the miracle of the ‘Isra’ the night journey (from Mecca to Jerusalem) and mi’raj (ascension to the heavens). It is one of the most glorious of all miracles, one whereby Muhammad (s.a.a.w) became the only human being ever to be raised so high. How could the Messenger of God travel, all alone and during part of the evening, the lengthy distance from Mecca to Jerusalem without any means of the transportation? How could he traverse the domains of the heavens and physically go through all these barriers and distances, leaving the earth without a plane, a spaceship, or without a rocket? Actually, even the spaceships launched nowadays to relatively limited distances, can’t compare to the distance the Messenger of God (s.a.a.w) reached when he went through the seven heaven strata; they are also liable to develop malfunctions. How then could this Messenger (s.a.a.w) describe, in minute details all what he had seen in the seven heavens in one single night, his observations, and the places he had reached? Is there any human being who can refute his description or contest his documented statements? Even his contemporary opponents could not disprove his statements.
Muslims are encouraged to visit Al Aqsa.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: ‘set out deliberately on a journey only to three mosques: this mosque of mine (in Medina), the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) and the Masjid al Aqsa (in Jerusalem)’ (Bukhari & Muslim).
In Jerusalem on a Retreat
We know the tragedy that surrounds Al Aqsa. The fact that clashes can break out anytime and the mosque can be raided anytime, does not stop worshipers from visiting this sacred domain. Such is the pull and allure of Al Aqsa and the blessed land around it.
After ten hours at Allenby Border, where my mind simply shut down and my sugar levels hit rock bottom, we were finally allowed to enter the walled city of Jerusalem (I will talk about my experience in Allenby Border some other time). Here I had to bear in mind, a retreat is not a holiday. The point of a retreat is to get away from the distractions and attachments of everyday life.
In Jerusalem, things became relatively easier, I think we all forgot those ten hours of wait as we made our way to our Hotel.
I allowed myself to feel free, and grateful for the wisdom and reward attained. Commodore Hotel in East Jerusalem was going to be our home for the next few days.
On the First Night, we prayed at a local mosque; walking down those steep streets towards the corner mosque was a struggle. My legs hurt so badly that I stumbled with the crowd going to mosque. I was exhausted, tired and famished by days of little eating. The retreat is also about exploring your inner awareness, and practicing your spiritual beliefs. We prayed at a mosque which reminded me of mosques in Pakistan but in much run down condition. I was so touched by a local lady and her beautiful gesture; she wanted to bring us some tea from home.
We did our night prayers, we meditated and made our way back to our hotel. I was suffering from insomnia and I was grateful to have a room all to myself. From my bedroom window I had a faint view of the Golden Dome of Al Aqsa. How lucky was I?
Time for Self-Reflection: The hardest thing about a retreat are not the 3am starts, but the inner journey – looking in the mirror at your inner self, and this is not a pretty reflection. People like me struggle in such settings, because our attachments to our illness and behaviours travel with us and we are reluctant to make the sacrifice.
I was hoping that my illness would fully disappear on this trip, but sadly the part of illness inside my brain traveled with me. I was sad with Jordan, where I was completely blind to things that were happening around me. I couldn’t engage in many spiritual exercises. My mind was too numb. It’s a common nature not to want to feel bad, and I have a tendency to run away from distress and focus on my ED. Mistake I made here was I set expectations; as much as I’d like to feel brilliant and perfect all the time, it’s just not realistic. We are born to experience a full spectrum of emotions.
I then decided to focus on the present.
What makes you think, you’ll come back to Jerusalem? I asked my self this Question. Enter Jerusalem as if this is your last trip to Jerusalem, and you’ll never come back; pray in Al-Aqsa, as if it’s your last prayer. Don’t miss a minute of it. It was this simple thinking that carried me through my days in Jerusalem.
Day One at Al Aqsa
O Allah! Thank you for blessing thy servant with such gift.
We all gather in Hotel Lobby to go to Al-Aqsa to perform Tahajjud Prayer, a voluntary and most merited prayer, before the dawn prayer. Someone once told me that tahajjud time is a blessed time of night, when Angels descend to earth and smile at those faithful ones who pull themselves out of deep slumber of sleep and pray to Allah.
Together we walk across steep roads towards Al-Aqsa. I try to figure out how the Sheikh walks so fast. I am right at the back. We go through Alleyways and then we reach our destination.
Physically I’m shattered and then hunger, insomnia, anxiety, nostalgia, and everything else takes a back seat, as I gaze at one of the most blessed places of Islam.
A shiver runs down my spine as I try to comprehend, to really make sense of where I really was. We entered the mosque, the only site where all the Prophets prayed together at one given time.
We perform Tahajjud and then we meditate. We offer our morning prayers in congregation, pray more and then make our way back to Hotel, sun rises.
I have to eat, if I want to make most of my time in Al-Aqsa, as simple as that. I run to a local shop and purchase milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts and bread.
Imam Al Aqsa
Next Morning it’s Friday, at Fajr, the Imam of Al-Aqsa took us around the Mosque and gave us a tour of one of the most historical and disputed places of Islam.
That Day We as a group performed our Friday prayer at Al-Aqsa with thousands of other worshipers.
This is a Holy Mosque where Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) prayed in congregation on the glorious night of Miraj with other Prophets. And here in Al-Aqsa, I just focused on praying and doing what I had to do. And miraculously the demon was no longer there. His whispers were no longer in my mind. Physically I was tired, but mentally I was fine. I just prayed and left the rest to God.
And when we left Jerusalem to go back to Amman, I cried. I can’t forget my last prayer in Al Aqsa. I have a limited Arabic, but when the Imam of Aqsa, prayed for peace for Muslims from East to West, I broke down. The week before (this was in 2013), we lost over 1200 people in Egypt; a week later hundreds died in Iraq’s sectarian violence; and who can forget the cold and calculated murder of thousands in Syria, which had prompted a swift response from certain members of the Security Council to go into Syria. This time in Al Aqsa made me realize that human spirit is stronger than any illness in the world. I had to fight for my time in Al Aqsa, but it happened. It was one step at a time and not giving in. I fell many times, but I kept on getting up with renewed intentions and at the end it all paid off. Verily with hardship there’s ease.
Lessons learned from Al Aqsa
Each moment is an opportunity for growth. You are okay in this moment, that’s all that matters. The more you focus on this, the more the fears subside and you can be the person you were put here to be.
Don’t allow your fears about what people will think of you to dictate your life. Staying alone by yourself when your suffering from ED simply breeds insecurity, because you’re alone with your thoughts.
In Jordan, the mistake I made was being self-depreciating. It’s very easy to spend every moment stuck in your own head, so you enjoy nothing and engage with nothing, because you’re not present. Your thoughts colour everything you do. In Jerusalem, I learned how to manage my emotions and now two years later, I realise I am more self assured and confident.
This video was made by Alin Cretu from Romania; thank you for such Kindness, God Bless you.