The Winding Road of Life by Jameelah X. Medina

Jameelah MedinaA while back my family and I went up to the mountains to Lake Arrowhead Village. My metaphorical thinking took me on a fantastic mental voyage replicating our way up the mountain. I give thanks to Allah for the power of thought and imagery.

As we ascended the mountain getting closer and closer to Lake Arrowhead Village, that winding road mirrored the road of life, the life of a Muslim, my life.

Our lives are like winding roads, bending left and right, vacillating between high and low levels of faith , right and wrong, sin and repentance, over-consumption and charity, animalistic and angelic, ignorance and knowledge, pride and humility, blessings and trials, and the small and large defeats and victories in battles with our nafs [ego].

Yes, yes, I know; that road we took was just a road, but the symbolism cannot be denied. That road is like the road of belief, the road of knowledge, the road of love, the road of sabr [patient perseverance], the road of success, essentially, the sirat al-mustaqim, the straight path, though there is nothing physically straight about it.

I remember that about 2/3 of the way to Arrowhead, we stopped at a turnout for a vista of the valley below. While looking down at the desert valley below, I looked to my right and saw the winding road we had conquered so far. I look back now and think about how the turnout was like those moments in life where we stop and reflect on the past trials we’ve conquered. It also made me wonder about being on my deathbed and if I my thoughts will travel the winding road of my life. Will I be content with how I lived? Will I have regrets? Will I still have a song in my heart that refused to sing?

I distinctly recall while ascending the mountain that the road seemed to be never-ending while we traveled it, but it all seemed to have passed so quickly once we had arrived. We live life like it will last forever, but toward the end of our lives, if we are blessed enough to know when that is, we realize that the duration of our life was really only the time span of an eye blink and the length of an eyelash, at best.

Every time we go up the mountain to the village, my vertigo kicks in. Each time, I know the reward for the temporary discomfort leads me to a beautiful day at the lake village with family. So, I endure it in pursuit of the reward of a nice picnic or lunch and playtime in the mountains. Through the vertigo, all I see in my mind’s eye is the deep blue lake water, the trees, the ducks, the birds, and the clean air. My vertigo usually pales in comparison to the wonderful visions in my mind. All of this makes me think about life’s road, the road to liqa’Allah [meeting with Allah], the road to the Jannah [Paradise], and how we may suffer and have trials along the way. Nevertheless, if we keep our eyes on the ultimate prize, we will make it through anything and suffer through anything to achieve it. I mean, do we really think the road to our dreams will be a road of abundant ease? Well, not with us being how we are: a blend of earth and heaven, evil and divine, soul and clay. Whether physical or metaphorical when we are in the Gardens of Paradise enjoying the real qurb ‘ila Allah (nearness to Allah), the struggles of life will be like so minute in the grand scheme of things…just like I never think about my dizziness on the road once I step out of the car in the village parking lot, regain my balance, and take a few breaths. Though Allah’s “Face” is reflected in the ubiquitous mirrors of all existence, won’t we endure all the oscillating events of this life’s journey seeking Wajh Allah (Allah’s “Face”)?

Jameelah X. Medina, Ph.D., is an educator, author, orator, and business owner residing in southern California with her husband and daughter. She is also a contributor to I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 personal essays written by American Muslim women under the age of 40.

Categories: General, Islam, Spirituality

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18 replies

  1. As a Christian woma, this post blessed me. Your observation that the “straight path” is anything but straight is packed with truth. I needed to be reminded that I’m still on the path, though the road is a winding one. Thanks for this.


  2. The mountain path is surely rugged, I agree — but like you, Jameelah, I see those bends in the road as divine wisdom gradually revealing our calling and life’s hidden meanings. It’s all mystery, all magical. On the willingness to open oneself up to such a perception, Emily Dickinson once said:

    The pedigree of Honey
    Does not concern the Bee,
    Nor lineage of Ecstasy
    Delay the Butterfly
    On spangle journeys to the peak
    Of some perceiveless thing —
    The right of way to Tripoli
    A more essential thing.


  3. I was captured by the image of “Arrowhead”! An arrow flies straight to it’s destination – I think of it as “single minded”. Even when the road if bumpy or curvy, we keep heading toward our goal. Thank you for sharing your journey with us Jameela.


  4. Nice metaphor. You’re right, too: our lives are anything but straight and narrow. And, gee, I haven’t been to Arrowhead since 1976. I remember being up in the clouds. Some people say educated people like us walk around all the time with our heads in the clouds. We’re just walking our paths.


    • Thanks, Barbara. Yes, so you know the road of which I speak. :-) I love finding myself on the other side of the clouds up there. Let’s walk on and rock on!


  5. The Arabic root of “mustaqim” is qaf-waw-mim, with the connotations of “stood up, stand upright, establish, raise up”. Translators use “straight” as in standing up straight, but for me, it is more helpful to think of the word in the context of someone who stands up for what they believe in, takes action, takes responsibility, trustworthy (like the Mafia’s ‘stand up kinda guy’).

    Nice post.


    • Oooh, I like that! How did I not know this? Mustaquim not as only horizontal like a path but also something physically and politically vertical as in an uprising or standing up! Thanks for giving me homework. Peace to you.


  6. I titled one of my books A Serpentine Path, and I have never forgiven the publisher for insisting on changing it.


  7. This resonates with me….In my life I have been grateful for both the blessings and the trials for I have learned much through these experiences. Though the circumstances (blessings and trials) have been a learning experience, it is the people, of all ages, with whom I have interacted, received or given help and/or advice that have taught me the most. It makes me wonder if in some small way we are all messengers of God, for as we interact with others, deeply or superficially, intentionally or unintentionally, for good or bad, we learn and teach God’s will and in the process come closer to God. An awareness opens of God’s great care, compassion, mercy and justice for all humanity. If life did not have these components of trials, blessings, and people—its depth, meaning , richness would diminish considerably………such contemplation makes me grateful to be a Muslim and of having the Quran.


    • I absolutely agree! We are all Allah’s messengers and Allah makes sure we experience certain things to prepare us. I also like to think that we each are Allah’s deeds on foot.


  8. This post resonated with me so deeply in part because I used to go up to Lake Arrowhead with my family when we were all so much younger and in part because it so beautifully expressed the journey of being alive consciously.

    One year, we went up in separate cars. I was with one of my sisters and my mom. At a certain point after driving what seemed like hours up the mountain, we started going down…down the other side! I had been napping in the back seat and woke up to find we were in the desert. Oh! I was angry! They thought this was all very funny. As I got angrier my mom and sister laughed more and more. As I remember it, they even refused to ask for directions to get back where we needed to go. Eventually. Eventually we made it to Lake Arrowhead and met up with everyone else. The frustration…and fear…I felt that day has always stayed with me (even as we laugh at my reaction now).

    I understood it eventually when I heard about Sufi wayfaring, in this sense meaning literally traveling, for the express purpose of raising your hackles and fears so that you can struggle with them and let them go. Anger driven by fear was a long time in letting go but it eased eventually.


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