A Valentine for Everyone

I walk into the department store looking for gloves. Suddenly I’m surrounded by a sea of pink, red, and all shades in between.

Everywhere I look there are heart shaped chocolates. I prefer my chocolates to be square, they just feel more sophisticated. But to each his or her own.

Some hundreds of years ago, so goes the legend, there was a saint by the name of Valentine, who was imprisoned and fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. He became a martyr and this day was created to celebrate him. By the 1800’s, February 14 became an occasion for those in love to express their feelings to each other. Fast forward to 2014, it has become the most romantic day of the year…right?

Let’s put aside the usual criticism and cynicism directed at this (highly marketable) day. Take a good look at love and appreciate it for what it is. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
1. a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties;
2. a warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion.
These are just two ways it is explained, but the ways love is interpreted, displayed, practiced around the world are infinite.

When love comes to mind, it triggers precious memories for each of us. Some feel strong and passionate emotions towards God, neighbors, their country, children, parents or soul mates. Others may feel a deep affection for the universe, it’s  skies, trees, mountains and all things beautiful.

The Quran so gracefully speaks to mankind on this topic, reminding us that it is a blessing given to us from God:
And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. (Chapter 30)

I was blessed to be raised in a household where I saw this love played out between my parents, and bestowed upon myself and my siblings.  And although sometimes we did not understand the many different expressions of love, even questioning some decisions and thinking them to be lacking in love, I can now look back and appreciate it. It only took over three decades for me to get to this place.

As a Muslim, the most important love we can possibly aspire for is the love and mercy of God.  He has laid out the path to Him for us in the Quran:
And spend of your substance in the cause of God, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for God loves those who do good. (Chapter 2)

How easy for us. By loving the things we are already attached to and taking care of them, doing right by them, He bestows His love on us. I want to share a few things I have seen or experienced recently that have touched me, and I pray that the men and women performing these acts are rewarded for their goodness.

Recently, we  travelled to sunny  California for vacation, while our home state was under a blanket of snow.  I planned to hire someone from Craigslist to clean the driveway and sidewalk in our absence. When I called my mother in law back home, she informed me that I was too late; our Muslim neighbor, a young father of two, came by with his snowblower and cleaned the entire driveway. If you live in the Northeast, you know that this has been one of the most brutal winter in years, so this was no easy feat. It’s kind acts like this that draw neighbors closer to our inner circles. Is an act of kindness also an act of love? I certainly think so.

MIT-educated Saba Gul left a high paying job in the United States to move back to her native Pakistan and started a handbag company. But she wasn’t pulled in by the cheap material and labor costs overseas. Her company, Popinjay, has become a beautiful example, producing fair-wage jobs for Pakistani women. Gul said in a recent CNN interview, “I not only want to help the women, I want to create a brand that represents the values of justice and equality and opportunity for underprivileged artisans.” Saba’s love and sacrifice for humanity is deeply touching and inspiring.

I see compassion, endearment, courage and selflessness in families around me every day. Where I find unspeakable strength and mercy is in parents of children that are less than perfect. Two families from my community stand out in my mind, and I find myself constantly praying for these parents. The first is a mother who buried her grown son less than two years ago, a son who was handicapped and physically dependent on her for nearly two decades. He passed away in his sleep, and all the mother could be heard saying at his funeral was “Alhamdulilah” (all praises for God). The second family is raising two twin boys, both mentally and physically disabled. They turn 34 years old this year. Both mother and father are in constant service of these two boys, their whole lives are devoted to them. The word love transcends such relationships, and no Valentine’s Day card could ever capture it.

This Valentines, let’s reflect on the ones who showed us how to love. Encircled us with tenderness, compassion, strength of character, sacrifice, sweet kisses, comfort and warmth. Let us thank them, and above all, let us thank God for blessing us with their presence in our lives.

Sameera Iqbal

Sameera is a part-time journalist, part-time blogger, and full time wife & mom. Every day is a party in her house, thanks to her two toddler girls. She occasionally blogs at sameeraiqbal.blogspot.com, and hopes to home school one day in the near future.

The author gratefully acknowledges help from Sharda Mohammad in writing this piece.  You can check out the business mentioned above at www.popinjay.co

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