When you think of paradise, what sort of images come to your mind?
Palm trees, soft white sandy beaches and a tepid azure blue sea. A clear soft blue sky and shapely beauties smiling coyly as they offer you a cocktail of delicious fruits with a hint of something else underneath the shade of a palm tree gently moving in the warm soft breeze? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the idea of that either but when I had a dream of paradise it was a beautiful house over a rocky crag in a forest of pine trees that once you clear them leads to miles of nearly empty untouched snow down mountains and hills….and then I ski and ski and ski…..
You can ski something like that here in this life, but mostly you’ll need a helicopter and it’ll cost you thousands. The closest most of us will come are a few powder days in a commercial ski resort. Anyway carving groomed pistes and pushing your limits on the black runs and jumps, ramps and half pipes of the “snow parks” has a thrill of its own.
The truth is though it’s all dunya and this dunya really is crap. I’ll give you one reason why its so crap and anyone who has understanding will comprehend, and whoever has insight will perceive. The one reason is that it always has to end. I mean how crap is that! The downside of having “the best time in your life” is that whatever comes after can’t be that good. However much fun your having it has to end. Now how crap is that? How can you take any real pleasure in a life every moment of which is drawing to its end? You see those drunk on the world get caught, like any addict, in chasing the high. I need another "best time of my life", 'cause now I'm so sad the last one ended...
so off you go chasing a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,
and then just when you think you've got there,
off it goes!
This was the jist of one of the many discussion that Imran and I had during our trip to Sweden. He didn’t see it that way. We were going skiing to have a break. If we did it with the intention to go back refreshed and work harder for Allah, and feel renewed for our ibada then this itself would be ibada. Of course he was right, in fact I was to say exactly the same thing in one of my nightly lectures, and its one of the reasons I like trips like this, but the truth is that it always just ends up reminding me how futile it is to run after the world and its glitter. After all, as the Prophet (saws) told us, that if the world and all that is in it was worth the wing of a mosquito in the sight of Allah then He would not have given those who disbelieve in Him even a drink of water!
So if you want to work, work for that which is eternal and will never end. That’s the path of the wise.
Imran calls me with an invitation that’s hard to refuse.
A Muslim group in Sweden are going on an annual ski trip and are looking for a speaker to give a few lectures. All expenses paid, naturally.
Now if I had just got an invite to go skiing I would have said that I’d love to but I can’t, and if it was just a Dawa trip the same…..family, commitments in the mosque bla de bla. But stick the two together, and that’s a virtually irresistible combination. Plus point, I’ve never been to Sweden.
Some of you might wonder about skiing. I mean isn’t that a waste of time and money? Should we spending our hard earned cash lining the pockets of the kuffar entertainment industry? Anyway, don’t you end up breaking your legs?
OK, here’s the spin on me and skiing.
Mama and Papa followed the pattern of all good middle class parents and took me and my brother for regular skiing trips during the winter holidays. So from the ages of nine to seventeen, we make quite a few trips. In fact on our second trip to Andermat I did nearly break my leg. I took a bad fall on day one inches away from a massive cliff and ended up in plaster. For the rest of the week it snowed so much we couldn’t even ski anyway. It can get like that sometimes.
Me and my brother entertained ourselves “bird watching” as we called it. This involved climbing outside our bedroom window and walking along a ledge to the window that looked into the communal showers, where we would observe the birds bathing., until we got spotted! OK, I know, but I was only ten, and not raised in the akhlak of the Muslim!
Nearly all the rest of our ski trips were spent in St Moritz, glitziest and poshest of all the ski resorts, with great descents from Piz Nair, and the famous Cresta run, where bob sleigh racing was born.
When I became Muslim that all come to end.
There is no blessing in play except three. Shooting arrows, horse riding and a man playing with his wife.
Like everything I read in the Quran or heard from the Prophet I took this hadith at face value. I gave up everything; tennis, golf, football, windsurfing, skiing…the lot. I swam and walked. This in a family where we can rightly call ourselves a sporting family. I turned my nose up at the mere suggestion from my parents of a game of tennis. I had better, more superior things to do. I didn’t think that playing tennis with them to soften their hearts and make them happy would be a rewardable action, but my knowledge was little. As my understanding increased and I began to understand the difference between haram, the forbidden, the mustahab, recommended, the mubah, allowed, and how good intentions can make an allowed action rewardable…like playing tennis to make my parents happy, or even just to keep fit.
Well then, back to skiing.
One day (about eight years ago) my mum suggested that I take my sons Abdullah and Bilal skiing.
One thing you need to know about skiing is that its not cheap, although it’s more affordable now than ever, you still have to kit yourself out. You need a waterproof jacket, trousers and gloves, and decent ski socks. Don’t scrimp on these! If you TK Max it, you can get the lot and quality stuff for around £100. Then you have travel to and stay in the ski resort. Then there’s the hiring boots and skis, and don’t forget a helmet. You could ski for years without one like me and nothing happens, but if it does a head injury can be very serious as we learnt from three accidents on this very skiing trip! As the Doctor pointed out to me concerning a concussed member of our group: “God gave us a scull, but its not enough”… for skiing it needs some help. So Allah guided some smart people to make helmets. Tie your camel and use ’em. Whilst on the issue of accidents, if you are skiing in the EU don’t not forget to get a European Health Insurance Card before you leave, or like us you may well end up having to fork out for medical bills! If you don’t know how to ski you’ll need lessons. I’ll say it again and again and again…pay the money and get lessons. It’s a false economy not to. Join a ski school, meet people and let them know about Islam, and learn properly. If you don’t you’ll get into terrible habits that will be hard to get rid of. If your young and mad, you might even get to go fast on your own, but you’ll be a danger to yourself and others and also you’ll only ever be able to get to a certain basic level beyond which you wont be able to go. Then there’s the lift pass. All in all your talking about £600-£700 for a week, on the cheap, self catering, low season (begin Jan, March-April), other wise add another £100+. If you want to stay in a hotel or chalet and be pampered then that’s what your talking just for the food and accommodation.
Well there was no way I could afford that, but mum said she’d pay for it. The accommodation, travel, clothes…the lot.
Well, as they say, never look a gift horse in the mouth. So with wide eyed wonder I agreed, and it was really the one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. It was Easter holidays, end of season and we went to Avoriaz. It’s ideal for families because the beginners slope runs right through the middle of the resort. You step out of the apartments onto the slopes. True “walk-in-walk-out”. Leave the kids at the excellent ski school and off you go.
The sun was out, and it was warm. I only needed a fleece on top, and the views of the alps is awesome. It was dhikr.
For one week I skied and skied with a big grin on my face. Physically, mentally and spiritually I was high, and kids were loving it.
I’ve skied every year since, mostly France, also Scotland, Canada and Switzerland, and now Sweden.
Now the trip.
I guess we could divide this all into three sections:
Ok, the trip there. First off is Ryan air from Luton airport. I’ve never flown Ryan Air and never flown from Luton. The flight is 6:30am, which means a 4:30am check in. This all induces in me a mild panic, but we stay over night at a friends house so the whole group can leave together 3am. We drive my Estima from Ladbrooke Grove to Luton without hitch. Alhamdullah, and the airport is easy to find. Car is left at long term parking booked on line as are the flights….all is smooth and were left with lots of time in the airport. The flights just under two hours, and we arrive at Vasteras, which is about as much Stockholm as Luton is London. Snow is everywhere, and Sohaib meets us at the airport with a nine seater VW caravel. A superb vehicle with loads of luggage space.
Its another hour to Stockholm which must be one of cleanest cities I have ever seen, with and undeniable old Europe charm. The central mosque is a listed building that used to be an electricity generation plant. I has been tastefully converted to a Mosque and the Stockholm Muslims are justifiably proud of it. We pray dhuhr and asr combined, eat some seriously tasty food in the mosque restaurant, which is also nicely decorated. Its all clean and efficient like Sweden in general. We spend the afternoon shopping for ski stuff for those who don’t have it yet, but everything is closing for New Years Eve, which is a big event in Sweden. We’re taken to a flat that’s in a government estate. No graffiti and urine in the lifts like UK. The Amir of New Moon, our hosts settles us in. We eat Pizza’s and sleep, only to be woken briefly by the midnight firework explosions. The next morning we take the underground to the main train station for an epic eight hour train journey. There’s confusion about the actual number of our carriage, and there’s a delay of an hour while we wait for the restaurant car to be attached to the main train. Its a breakdown in Swedish efficiency, but like a Swede said, what you expect, its New Years day.
We arrive at Åre, Sweden’s biggest and only truly international size ski resort, about 9pm and are designated Chalets.
Are is cold. In the nights were talking -15 and the days maybe just above zero.
We’re up for fajir and gather in one of the Chalets. Sheikh Yasir, goes through the morning dua’s and we head back to our Chalets for porrigde!
The whole group meets outside the ski hire shop at 8:30 where we queue for ages to get boots, skis and lift passes, but it doesn’t really get light until about 9:30.The sun sets just after 3:00pm, and starts to get dark an hour after that. There is couple of hours of night skiing from 6-8pm to compensate.
Åre is divided into three ski areas joined by infrequent bus services. Its better with you own car. We’re located in the middle, called Duved. It’s fine for beginners, and has a few harder runs, and that's where I skied for the first few days, mostly because I ended up giving lessons to the beginners. Knowing about something and knowing how to teach it are two quite different things!
About half the runs were closed due to insufficient snow, but there were plenty of quality runs, especially the Olympic run, which is a classic, and some seriously good jumps and a serious half pipe, onto which we only adventured on the last day, and it was the most fun.
Jumps and icy black runs at speed are the two areas that still scare me enough to get me really tense. Getting tense is almost always a prelude to wipping out. Not that I mind a good wipe out, but not down a black run where once you’ve started to fall there’s virtually no way to stop until you hit the bottom. That, and having to recover various bits of ski equipment scattered all over the slopes!
Now when I say jumps, I mean of course serious jumps where you get like 10-20 feet of air. Less than that I can manage, just. There were some jumps in Åre that were perfect transitions from just “lifting-off” to getting serious air. I was petrified. I mean that type of scarred when you chest tightens and your body freezes. But my son Abdullah cleared it easy, Sohail with a fall..Imran with a classic wipeout. I managed to stay on my feet on landing,but that was about it! I was amazed that I had persuaded my body to go for it. There's always an amazing sense of satisfaction that comes when you overcome a fear. Making the jump look elegant and adding some tricks can come later!
The day ended too soon and the last lift had already closed.
It was a great end to a good trip.
That only left the epic drive back to Stockholm via Norway to pick up one of our party who had been helilifted to a hospital there. 1100km through icy. snow covered roads in the pitch dark in nine hours. A logistically virtually impossible feat. Ryan Air are merciless if you are late. We’d already had to fork out for two extra nights in the Chalet, and the idea of having to get new air tickets was horrifying. I was ready to give up hope when we arrived at Olso and saw that we still had to cover just under 600km in four hours, but Imran, an man of steely calm said that from his experience when you’ve got nothing to loose one might as well go for it! Well I was thinking that we do have something to loose, our lives! “Let’s go for it bro, against the odds, like the Chechens” he said. That was inspiration enough. Imran was in the zone, eyes fixed to road and driving the VW Caravel like a rally car. No breaks on the ice, gear down, low revs. These were impossible speeds on impossible roads, and once, he lost it, skidding into a side barrier, behind which lurked unknown darkness. “Sorry everyone!” he said, revving off into the gloom again. The seven passengers didn’t hear a word, they stayed fast asleep! We arrived at the airport with twenty minutes of check in time to go. I put it down to the dua of the traveller being accepted, and I had been making plenty of it! It was truly an epic drive…and believe me I’ve been on a few!
The nights , at least a few hours of them, was when the groups met up for a small lecture (that’s me folks) and on one night a poetry completion and on the other a cooking completion. We also had a film crew from SVT following us around the ski slopes and filming us skiing and praying. They also filmed my lecture. It was a simple “What being a Muslim Really means” type talk, with a few poignant questions as to the difference between culture and religion, and what it means to be a Muslim living in the West. Inshallah, I’ll be dedicating some space to these important issues later on in this blog.
If you’re wondering how I managed all of this in Swedish, or through a translator, there was no need because just about everone speaks near perfect English. Still, their poems and most of the rest of the stuff was in Swedish, which was kindly translated…although I think some things got lost in translation. Especially the poems. Anyway we heard about the poem competition on the train and Abdullah and myself put this together:
The Gangsta and da Poet
Blap! Blap! I’m reloading! Beware this a Mac 10 I’m holding!
He used to wax lyrical and make the crowds hysterical
His words were like knives
Opening people’s eyes
Gunshots! You wouldn’t like those sounds.
I’ll leave your clapped up body on the ground
Looking like a dog that just got put down!
The poet’s words were soothing
Nothing foolish or confusing
His message was clear and straight
Don’t kill, do drugs, act like an ape!
Leave those gangster’s alone!
Now that I’ve filled you full of lead
Your bleeding lying dead!
My body dies, my soul is passing
From this world ain’t everlasting.
You, your guns and drugs will go
Fade in memories like melting snow!
But the poet’s words go on and on
It’s message clear, right and strong!
The message here for everyone:
The pen is mightier than the gun!
We came second.
Our cooking was less impressive. We came last. Sohail, the ameer, took the top prize with three courses, the main dish being boiled potatoes with crème fresh and caviar and pickled seal. The judges couldn’t stop eating it! I have to admit, it looked good and tasted as good as it looked.
In general I was very impressed with New Moon, and the brothers and sisters we met from Sweden. I don’t think that I heard a heated argument once. Everything was dealt with in a cool and controlled manner. Issues were discussed over in a shura that included almost everyone. It was all very touchy feely, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. Imran joked a couple of times that there was too much love in those rooms. So un-stiff upper lip British! Virtually none of the biting sarcasm we Brits can’t help dishing out so generously. The other thing to note was the amazing maturity with which the whole trip was organised and handled. Sohail, the ameer is 17 years old! The biggest regret was that I didn’t get to spend more time and share some more knowledge and experience with our brothers and sisters in Sweden. Next year were planning to take a bigger group here from UK, or even meet up in France. If your interested, add your name to the list and we’ll let you know the plans!
To finish, an incident!
Imran and I are on a chair lift to the top of the mountain. It can carry about five, and since the ride takes about ten to fifteen minuets there’s always a chance to start a conversation and give some dawa. Well we had one companion from Latvia (Åre has a lot of visitors from the former Soviet Union). He had obviously heard us saying some words in Arabic and mentioned that he was studying Arabic as he thought it might be useful. I asked if he know anything about Islam, because he could hardly understand Arabs without understanding Islam. No, he said, he knew very little about Islam, only two words. What are they asked I. Fire and Sword he replied. Imran and I looked at each other with mouths aghast! Well I had about four minutes to explain to him what Islam was really about and suggested he get hold of a copy of the Quran.
I was so shaken by this on the next lift up which we were sharing with four young ladies I straight away asked if they minded if I ask them a question for which I wanted a completely honest answer. They looked very suspicious, but concurred. “What do you know about Islam?” Well at least two of them knew something more than “fire” and “sword.” Alahmdulillah. We had a good chat about Islam and the New Moon annual skiing trip.
That’s another thing I like about skiing. Lots of chances to let others know something about this wonderful way of life that Allah has in His mercy sent down for the benefit of all humanity.
May He guide us all to the paths of His good pleasure., and may His peace and blessing be upon His Messenger Mohammed, his family and followers until the last day. Ameen.