I lived in four different states over the last ten years. My first two children were born a few miles from the Pacific Ocean, the next two near the Gulf of Mexico, and now we’re settled an hour’s drive from the Great Lakes, always near open water alhamdulillah. All of my family members have lived a long drive or expensive plane trip away. The various phases of life, getting married, leaving family, having children, evolving in my activism and identity, feel like they all happened on the move. The places I’ve been shaped me, but more so the transience of never expecting to be in one place for very long.
Frequent moving means adventures and new people, but it also has its deep ruts. It means walking in and out of a crowded mosque week after week, not exchanging anything beyond superficial greetings. It means rarely getting invited to dinners or weddings or parties, because you simply haven’t known people that long. It means meeting people you would love to be close friends with, but who already have a lifetime worth of friends and family and are all set with their “people.” It means never being the person someone would call when they were in a jam, and maybe that means not having someone you could call in a jam. It means that you and your spouse have to be each other’s bottom line, best friend, lean-on-me body, with all the simultaneous solidarity and stress that brings to a marriage. It means sometimes the only people you can have deep relationships with are people who are just as disconnected as you are–transient newcomers and strangers passing through.
Still, when Allah swt puts us in a time and place, we can trust fully that the grass is greener under our own feet. To be a wanderer is the plan that Allah (swt) has for millions of people, as lonely as it may feel at times. As a scholar so aptly said, “If Allah swt takes something away from you that you never expected to lose, it’s because He will give you something you never expected to receive.” Search for and enjoy the advantages of having temporary attachments to places and people.
- You rely less on people, emotionally and materially. You adjust your expectations of friends. In my experience, it takes at least two years in a new place to make meaningful friendships and at least four years to feel at home. It’s nobody’s fault. You try to become hardened and self-reliant, until things happens and you realize all along the only constant handhold is the help of Allah. He is Al-Lateef and Al-Wadud, taking care of you in ways you did not expect, doing things for you that make you increase in love for Him.
- There are always a few moving boxes in the back of the closet, so it is not as easy to fall for the illusion that we have settled into this world for the long haul. We do not know when we will pack and unpack those boxes again. Life is a series of moves, the last of which is to the grave. Wandering provides perspective that is more difficult for the well-settled soul to attain.
- You may have fewer friendships and connections, but those you possess survive the wear and tear of distance and time. It is easier to love purely and freely for the sake of Allah when friends can offer you nothing but a phone call and dua. The friendships formed in the earliest days of my wandering, bonding with women who were also away from their familiar environments, traveling together in the early years of marriage, pregnancy, and having our first children, will last into the Hereafter insha’allah. Within a marriage, those years of relying on your spouse instead of parents or friends, throughout sickness, having children, and the stresses of life, can either cripple the relationship or build deep trust and marital resilience.
- If you allow your self to reflect and be humbled, it is easier to be less preoccupied with image. If you are seen as a foreigner, so be it. “…You elevate whom you will and you humble whom you will, all that is good lies in your hand…” Whatever Allah has written for you, in terms of friendships and acceptance and warmth, will come to you, no more no less. You don’t get caught up in the drama, you aren’t privy to the politics and dynamics of people and communities. You have fewer social obligations so you are more free to choose what to do with your time and who to spend time with. It is less complicated to set your priorities and stick with them–enjoy it for as long as it lasts.
The biggest pitfall in my experience of wandering is getting too comfortable in your travel clothes. The cocoon in which you travel, your home, spouse, and children, if you are so blessed accompany you wherever you go. If you stay inside, no need to ever feel lonely. One could devote a lifetime’s work just to that tiny space and achieve great things, if that is your intention. But most likely it was never your intention, but a way to brush off the frustration of human relationships. It requires treating and retreating your heart and soothing your heart with the guardianship of Allah. Muster the steadfastness to do what Allah swt created us for, even when we are new on the block–being a force of goodness. Worship Him not only in the quiet of our homes but in the bustle of our neighborhoods and community.
A few last tips to help the lonely person reach out:
- Keep smiling and trying. Be patient and know that it will get better.
- Join a project or organization in the community. The local MAS chapter has been my lifeline in every city, and the key to being in the company of amazing people.
- Be genuine, think well of people, and accept their gestures of friendship without conditions, even if they are not as grand as you would have liked.
- Do not belittle the friendliness of anyone, and do not fixate on making friends who are like you. If the person who smiles and asks your name in the masjid is someone of a different age, ethnicity, or background, embrace the kindness, respond with like or more, and open your heart to them.
Although this ramble was written for the wanderers, I’ve met in every city a special kind of well-settled person. Comfortably nestled themselves in history, family, and old friendships, they still have the compassion and insight to actively seek out the strangers, bypass the niceties of getting to know one another, and give freely from their bottomless hearts. Jazakumullah khairan- May God reward you. I have met some of these people in every city I have lived and their kindness is etched into my heart. If one day I cease being a wanderer, I hope to have the honor of following their example.
Maha is a homeschooling mother of four children (6, 4, 2, and 1) and lives in Michigan. She is an active MAS worker and loves being in nature, writing, and working for Islam.