One of the most vivid memories of my childhood is when I was about 8 years old: my father and I were driving down a dangerous and tortuous road over a mountain pass on our way home. It was springtime and the weather was known to change at any moment. Suddenly, out of my silent contemplation of pines and meadows, my dad said to me: “Tara, always be on the lookout for signs. Not just road signs, but the hidden signs all around you.”
My dad was a geologist and an atheist, a man of science and modernity with a strong conviction that science and logic could provide the solution to all of life’s problems, that religion was a tool of mass manipulation, and the two were certainly not ever compatible. These were the ideas that I grew up with and yet, in an ironic way, this first lesson in observation and deduction planted the first seed that would later become the tree of Islam in my heart.
I was intrigued; I admired him enormously and was eager to hear his advice. “Look at these cars passing us,” he said. “They have their lights on even though it’s not raining. That means that it’s probably raining somewhere up ahead.” I was so impressed that from that day forward, I made a promise to myself that I would always be on the lookout for hidden signs.
Years later, when I was desperately searching for a life with a higher purpose than the one of relative truth and relative morality that I had led throughout my teens, I remembered what my dad had said. I couldn’t get it out of my head, in fact. I started looking at my life as a sign. Thus I embarked on the long journey of self-analysis called Islam, scrutinising my most basic assumptions and comparing my life, my thoughts, and the way I acted with my inadequate yet ever-expanding knowledge of the Islamic ideal. Through this process, I came to realise not only the truth of Laa ilaaha illAllah, Muhammad Rasulullah, but the incredible way in which Allah (SWT) had guided my entire life, even through unexpected channels, such as my dad, that could only be described as the most un-Islamic.
The same advice, the same journey, initiated on that ordinary spring day so many years ago which distanced me from my father initially, eventually also led me back to him with even deeper love and respect. There was a time in my life where our differences had pushed us so far apart it seemed we would never reconcile. Yet, Alhamdulillah, I can now look back on that time with the wisdom of hindsight and see how Allah (SWT) guided me away from, and back to, my father and know that there is hope for everyone.
The truths that this single lesson, this single memory, has imparted on me are manifold, offering up an endless source of wisdom. For one, I have learned to seek truth wherever it may be found, and to be open to wisdom from unexpected, even unorthodox sources. I have also learned that science and religion can be complementary rather than exclusive and that not everybody interprets the signs of life in the same way, nor has Allah (SWT) meant for us to. I have learned that when you start off on a path, it will lead you to places in the world and in yourself that no one could ever have predicted. And most of all, I have learned that anything can be a sign, a confirmation of the ultimate truth and a guide to bring us back to it.