Alhamdulillah.

Bismillah.

Today, I would like to write about someone I have been meaning to write about, for a while. I came into her acquaintance this academic year; she inspires me so.

There is something about her, which is so undeniably radiant. Not solely in appearance, though in the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that when a person’s soul is beautiful, it – the light (Noor) – often reveals itself atop their faces, also.

She is somebody who likes her neutral-coloured designer clothes and premium-quality skincare products and perfumes – some of which, she says she sources from an Emirati friend of hers. She helps people with carrying their bags; helps them staple their papers; makes sure to ask everybody around her if they, too, would like (for her to get) anything (for them,) from Uber Eats [teachers and food. At once a most beautiful love story, and a thoroughly toxic relationship.].

I must say, teachers – and students – do seem to be exceptionally generous at Islamic schools: last December, before we broke up for the Winter holidays, Ms. M brought in little baklava plates… for every single colleague of hers, and for every single student she teaches, also. And so we all left school, that day, with our own little plates of baklava.

Undeniably, I felt inspired by this colleague-of-mine as soon as I met her. Her humility, her gentleness of speech, and her demeanour. She tries to busy herself in ‘Khidma’ – a term I learnt this year. It means ‘service’ – being in service of people. And something that I find so deeply admirable is that, in response to good happenings – and less-favourable ones, alike – she is known to say a heartfelt and assured, “Alhamdulillah”. Repeatedly, and sincerely. 

Alhamdulillah for everything that happened in ways that brought us instantaneous joy, and Alhamdulillah for the calamities that softened our hearts, over and again, and reminded us of what is true, here.

When I told her that I would really like to become literate in the Arabic language, Insha Allah, Ms. M told me she would happily teach me, for free: that it would be her honour. I later found out that to get to the school at which we work, she has to leave her house at 05:30AM; it takes her almost two hours to drive there.

But she loves teaching Arabic; she loves to help her students to overcome the language barrier between themselves and the book she loves the most: the Qur’an.

She quoted the Qur’an – in Arabic: the part about how Allah created this world in order to test which of us is best in deed – after telling us a little about her story, after we asked her about Syria, and about the Assad regime. But as she spoke, her eyes began to well up a little with tears.

She had lost her father when she had been quite young. He had been killed by Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father’s) men, on account of his practising Sunni Islam. They had reported him for praying, and for refusing to attend parties and clubs and such. They mocked his religion: “Who are you even praying to?” And a female soldier, who had invasively entered the family home, told Ms. M to just stop observing the Hijab: to reveal her youth and her beauty to the world.

Ms. M arrived here, from Syria, in 2005. She has not been able to see home again, since.

I have learnt a lot about life, I think, from sitting in that staffroom. From women of varying ethnic/cultural backgrounds, age groups, marital statuses, academic interests. Ms. M has taught me, not didactically, but merely through the nature of her being, how to be Muslim.

 

She speaks about the other job she has – also teaching Arabic. And about her days off, which she spends at home, with her three children. They are all of university age (and are all thoroughly resenting online learning). One, she says – her daughter – doubles as a close friend of hers. Her daughter makes mistakes, as everybody – in particular, we, the young and naïve – does, and they work through problems together, mother and daughter. Her two sons: one (sounds like he) is more outgoing, the other very reserved.

One day they – all three of them – decided to ‘surprise’ Ms. M by cooking her a big dinner to come home to, after work. Oven-made shawarma and all. Apparently, the mess they ended up making took her hours to clean…

 

One story she told us, about the advice she had given one of her sons, about Sadaqah, I found particularly endearing. When he acquired his first part-time job – working on weekends for a local Syrian community group or something – he put some money aside for charity (Sadaqah). In Islam, there is this idea that if you give Sadaqah, you never lose wealth. It always ends up coming back to you somehow, and your wealth also consequently comes to hold a lot of Barakah. I have heard many remarkable stories pertaining to this: donating to charity, getting surprise money returned to you – whether in the form of tax returns, bonuses from work, gifts. In addition to the Ajr (spiritual reward) you get from it, anyway. Subhan Allah.

 

“Mama!” her son had exclaimed. I think it had been the case that he had received a bonus shortly after allocating some of his wages to charity. To paraphrase what he had said: “I really did come to feel the Barakah in my money!”

 

Sigh. Some people are beautiful souls indeed, Masha Allah Tabarak Allah. And I guess I have chosen to write this particular article on this particular evening because…

 

I find myself wondering if I am doing things ‘right’, again. In this mind of mine, past mistakes, for instance, are placed beneath a magnifying glass, and I worry that I am doing things especially ‘wrong’, somehow. We all make choices, all the time, about how we are living these lives of ours; spending our time. By trying to enter fully into my Deen, am I… doing something wrong?

And then I realise: what a silly, silly question. I know why I am here, and I know that as far as mistakes and shortcomings and such go, every single human being alive is essentially susceptible to them.

I know, also, that Ms. M’s father must have been such a great and noble man, Allahummabārik; I know that she – a legacy of his – is, Masha Allah, an amazing woman, and I know that the way she lives her life deeply inspires me.

 

I know that, in a similar vein to Ms. M, Muhammad (SAW) had been somebody who had faced relentless trials and tribulations; it ought to be in the anatomy of a Muslim to try to be vessels of Good – towards Truth, and in Beauty – irrespective of how difficult any particular part of the Test becomes. “A Beautiful Patience” is what it is of great desire for us to come to exhibit. 

 

Even a smile, in our tradition, is an act of Sadaqah. And giving Sadaqah never diminishes one’s wealth: so maybe it is the case that if we smile at others, we shall be given more reasons to smile for. Even if everybody we see, on any particular day, refuses to smile back. It is okay: for, don’t you see? There are millions of fellow Muslims, and there is an entirety of a Universe, complete with its gorgeous Jupiters, and its goldenly-ratioed flowers, and its dragon-breath sunset clouds, smiling right back, and standing right there with you, in complete and content, firm and unwavering – no-matter-what – submission to Allah. So,

Alhamdulillah. 

 


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Intelligence, Sensitivity, Pain, and Meaning

TW: a bit-very dark, in places

The first thing to truly acknowledge – to understand – then, is that this is not the Good Place. That many have tried – have tried to wage their wars for gold; have tried to build their castles and set up their kingdoms, empires –

In an abode, which, in terms of all the tangible, and/or ‘shiny’, things it contains – are false and fleeting promises, and will perish. Undoubtedly. The only things which will last – which are flavoured with eternity, whatever that means, and however it feels – are: love, and the things we do.

I want to write a bit about ‘intelligence’ and what I think it truly means. I think intelligent people are able to see things for what they are – are literate in varying forms of language (mathematical/scientific/geometric, lexical/emotional/interpersonal, logical/intrapersonal/visual…) and therefore can notice truths, and patterns: seeing things for what they are. As products of their parts, and as stemming from some particular essence.

Intelligent people might be well-acquainted with both the ‘paintbrush’ and the ‘painting’, so to speak. Albert Einstein, for instance, had mastered the laws – the patterns, the tendencies – of nature, of physics. He could see what many others could not; viewed the world via his own very eyes, and filtered and processed through his own brilliant (Masha Allah) mind.

Sylvia Plath, also. Master – or, mistress, but this just sounds a little strange, no? – of words. Of how they can sound, and what they can mean. What we can be told, through them, and of what we can tell others, through them. She, like Einstein, had used her particular forms of receptivity, literacy — intelligence — in order to generate her own phenomenal works.

Ernest Hemingway – another brilliant writer – once said that “happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing [he knows]”.

People who are, gifted by God to be, very intelligent do tend to be placed, rather easily, under the ‘neurodivergent’ category. One’s mind must work ‘differently’, in order to see things, and to be able to do things differently. Einstein is believed to have been on the autism spectrum; Plath, too perhaps. I know someone, who is seen as having Asperger’s, and who is prodigiously good at architecture – at the ‘understanding’ parts, and at the more ‘creative’ parts, Masha Allah. [Maybe intelligence is the ability to comprehend beauty – harmony, unity, and proportion – and, secondarily, to be able to create things that are themselves beautiful.]. I could write more about what I have come to learn about ‘neurodivergence’, and about individuals whom I think fit somewhere within the category, but that is not the point of this article. Also, perhaps it could be said that the term ‘neurodivergent’ itself has some negative undertones. Therefore, henceforth, I shall use the terms ‘neuro-ordinary’ and… ‘neuro-extraordinary’!

Intelligence and (emotional, intellectual, and maybe even physical etc.) sensitivity go hand in hand, without a doubt. The true reason as to why I am writing this particular article is because my uncle – with whom I love to discuss random things, including ‘philosophical’ and psychological ones – sent me the strange, straightforward, and overall quite chilling suicide note, which had been left by one Farhan Towhid, a young man who had, premeditatively and with the aid of his brother, murdered his family, and then himself.

His lengthy suicide note, replete with ways of expressing things that could evoke empathy, coupled with non sequiturs and sinister things expressed in chillingly matter-of-fact ways, can be read here.

I am no forensic psychological analyst, but judging by the way this letter is written, it sounds like the man in question had been sane, and yet utterly convinced of the moral justifiability of his actions.

Moreover, it sounds like he had been very intelligent. If a mind is intelligent enough to comprehend, for instance, computer programming languages so well, it is almost necessarily also intelligent enough to be deeply aware of its own shortcomings, inadequacies, the nature of the world, and how much reality falls short of the ‘super-realities’ that are forcefully, and without question, placed upon it.

I am not sympathising with a cold-blooded killer, here. Ultimately, I think it was selfish – and narcissistic, even – for the man in question to have also taken the lives of his family members, since he decided that they would have been ‘miserable’ for the rest of their lives without he and his brother.

But I am able to recognise, by evidence of how he writes and what he has written about, the presence, perhaps, of high intelligence and sensitivity, and… ensuing pain. He was a man in pain, and nothing at all seemed to help. No medication, no external ‘success’ factor, such as excellent grades or the presence of a loving family.

Most importantly, what his suicide note indicates that his life had been in glaringly-obvious lack of, is any sort of ‘spiritual tether’. He alludes to the human mind, consciousness – and, by extension, also his own mind’s ‘biological failure’ – to “nothing but a byproduct of evolutionary luck”. According to him, “neurons are just the biological equivalent of transistors in computers”.

So, in Towhid’s eyes, he had not been callously ending the lives of beloved human beings — encased with, entwined with, their own sempiternal souls. He had instead… merely been doing something ‘evolutionary’, merely prematurely switching off some biological computers, which had come about by pure chance, and without any higher meaning, anyway.

So morality, ‘spiritual value’, and all the rest of it, had probably just been… yet another hiccup of (itself ‘accidental’) biological functionality, anyway. ‘Survival and reproduction’, but if you are not ‘happy’, there is no point at all.

How can people live, without (reasoned) belief in the fact that they came from somewhere, and were designed and created, and that our lives ultimately do have Meaning?

How do people ‘just live’? Simply ‘chase a bag’ – make money, chase material indicators of material ‘success’, and proceed to show off with them: the designer clothes and bags, the cars, the mansion-like homes, of which they can only really occupy, with their beings, a small corner?   

Do what ‘ought’ to be done, but who, what, determines this ‘ought’? Traditions, values, which have stemmed from ‘nowhere’ and ‘nothing’? What gives anything any real weight at all?

A kind-of-while-ago, I had come across a snippet from a podcast, in which a university lecturer talks about how to live. ‘Just do the next thing’ had been the crux of her defence. She said she wakes up, is called by her biological need to eat, and then to use the toilet. Do what needs to be done, for work. And don’t think ‘too much’. Definitely, as New Atheists tend to instruct us to do, try not to ask ‘Why?’…

And when the ’big picture’ is deliberately, or subconsciously, blotted out – with the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll: still, all the little details are obsessed over. Wealth, ‘prestige’, lust. And people cry over spilt milk, over scratched cars, and skin serums that go out of sale. Everything is about boasting, and about competition, and about collecting things; decorating outsides, and allowing ourselves to be desperately distracted. How do they do it?

Without intent to bring about a bout of existential depression in anybody, it is like that line in Joker (2019) – without belief in ultimate Purpose, Meaning, true Connection and Direction: everybody simply has to “put on a happy face”, and get on with it. Acknowledging Reality, somewhere, maybe deep within. But the mask is what matters, isn’t it?

The most intelligent people I know also seem to be the most sensitive. And this can open up the floodgates for a whole lot of sadness: a range of it, the very depths. When you see what this world, sans Objective Meaning, actually holds for the human being, and how people can hurt each other, and how bad things can get. ‘Over-thinking’? Or, seeing things closer to how they truly are?

Still: “Indeed, with [every] hardship, there is ease” [94:6]. Maybe, in the form of a loving family, and/or shelter and warmth, food, a beautiful masjid to frequent. And “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” [2:286].

Dunya is not ‘the Good Place’. Investing in this world, without due consideration of what it is really all about, and about what – the eternity that – comes after it… is delusion. And it makes for a dark, dark place in which to be, really.

And if we maintain that this world is all there really is, and that “happiness”, here, is the ultimate goal… we are setting ourselves up for deep, deep disappointment. While contentment is desirable, and more-than-possible, here, and while moments of happiness do come — and go…

“What is the Life of Dunya (i.e. this fleeting, material world) except the enjoyment of vanity?”

— Qur’an, (3:185)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life: Project[s], and Adventure[s]. With Purpose and with Passion, and a focus on what is Khayr.

[Probably my lengthiest blog-article-title to date…]

Bismillah.

Maybe a good way to get through it all – muddy, craggy, parts: swamp-ish and thoroughly pleasant parts alike – is by thinking of the parts that constitute these lives of ours, in terms of ‘projects’.

I really like this word, and the meaning it holds. When I think of projects, I think of papers and marker-pens out, pencil-planning, brainstorming. Generating ideas, neatening them up into checklists and plans. Teamwork: consulting others, who can help. Attentions and energies focused, and we can plan and generate smart outlines, but ultimately there is such uncertainty in everything that happens

between idea-conception, and -execution/realisation, and everything that takes place afterwards.

Event-planning – for the ‘bigger’ ones, and the ‘smaller’ ones alike (weddings, Aqeeqahs, graduation parties, and also for picnics with friends, Eid parties, a kid’s birthday). Home renovations, garden-care and skincare, health and fitness.

Maybe, also, working, slowly-but-surely, on one’s time-management tendencies. Mental/spiritual wellbeing, recovery; healing from, and/or growing from, all the very things that these lives of ours are known to contain. Overcoming misplaced emotional dependencies: addictions. Adventures abroad. GCSEs, A-levels, a degree, a business. Friendships, cousin-ships, marriage.

These are all projects that we work on, if even only for a given short time.

Problem-solving, and established principles; due presence, and time, and effort. The seeds, and how we tend to their growing; how they bloom, and for how long. Seasonal: between Perfection, and where we find ourselves, there are always things to be done. Without them, things would not move — would be stagnant, would be all done, pointless.

Commitments to a certain club/society. Hamper-making. Babysitting. Making a meal.

[I still think about a particular meal that a friend of mine decided on, together, last year. Korean fried chicken. Inspiration from Pinterest, no less. We went to the local supermarket, picked up the ingredients, added some intuitive/experimental twists while making it. Unmatchable. Unforgettable. Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. Dear reader, what a project: what a process, and what an outcome!]

A self-administered haircut is a project, also. As is a new job, or a blog article; a book you are reading, Deen-related knowledge you are trying to accrue [I so love this word]. Or the thorough tidying of one’s living space; the welcoming of spatial clarity, maybe the introduction of a couple of much-welcome novelties. Trial, and error. The things that work, and the things that, in the end, do not, necessarily.

All these little – and the larger ones, composed of the little – things we work towards. One thing, or many. And then the next one(s). Wherever there is purpose, and passion, there is quite everything.

Projects. And, in the unexpected midsts of them: adventures! Spontaneous, unfore-tell-able, and energising: putting one’s trust into things over which, mostly, we have very little control. And to each, all of our own ones. At different times; on different days, caught between the time-stamps of different years.

In lockdown, things have been hard — for all of us, so it would seem. Some are struggling deeply with the demands of uni; others, more financially; others, with the messes of ‘overthinking’ that silences and stillnesses would seem to deeply, thoroughly facilitate. Stress, depressions. Struggling with the tasks we have, to get done. And with (metaphorical) walls, which find themselves peeling, and with (metaphorical) windows that will not let the fresh air in.

Maybe, your project(s) for right now do not sound particularly… glamorous. Maybe, they are more to do with survival, and to make sure you are eating enough, and allowing your being to catch up on the rest it deserves. I am very glad that you are alive, dear reader.

Also, there is a particular video that I came across recently, and its message really spoke to me. It was, I suppose, about becoming absorbed lost, and found – in one’s own reality. Not necessarily in a selfish or solipsistic manner — for we are in utter, eternal, and undeniable need of the One who created us; we are in perpetual need, also, of fellow hearts to love, and hands to hold. But there is reality (what is ours, and what is here-and-now), and what we can make of it (in terms of, and towards, Truth and Beauty and Goodness)

and there are falsehoods and dead, unfruitful, weights to hopefully free ourselves of: [mere images of] other people, for instance, other lives and realities, to compare ours to; pasts to ruminate obsessively over, false and idealised ideas of ‘future’ to cling, with these inescapably passing lives of ours, to. The (sigh. Necessarily existent) ones who ‘nay-say’, in response to our personal choices within existence. But there is what is Khayr: what is Better and Best. And then, there is what is not.

Life. Purpose, and Passion, and our people. And our projects, and our (‘littler’ and ‘larger’) adventures. Bismillah!

“And seek help through Sabr and Salāh”

Qur’an, (2:153)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Struggle / Essence

All is not lost, and yet:

all is not yet found.

You have struggled with your self, and with your doings, and with yourself in relation to other people, and with some of the goings-on within this world, and within your own. This pretty much goes without saying.

You had hopes and expectations, searched for it in certain people, and in fleeting pictures, and in structured races. Then, poetry and debate; embroidered cotton shirts, dried flower petals, and clay pots. Until suit-and-tie, and dangling summer scarf, and strides towards ‘professionalism’ and ‘propriety’. Checklists of items to get done; plates of veggie patties and such to eat, by sunshine-framing big window. The ‘aesthetics’. There was the makeup-and-new-adventure part, too; messing-around; ‘vlog’-style, attentions, and then the realisation that

None of this had ever really been sustainable. Or that meaningful, anyway.

[Nostalgia is known to dispense with the ‘lesser-than’ parts of things, I know, but] I so miss those days when I had been, maybe ten or eleven. I would pray Fajr – late, pretty much always. A cup of tea with breakfast. Wear checker shirts and floral headbands; play football, and then go to Maths Club, and then to Journalism. Reading Qur’an made me feel grown up, and centred. And Ilaahi heard every single little thing that I had made Du’a for.

And now, at times, I worry that I might be ‘too religious’ for some people; ‘too ‘academically’-inclined’ for others. ‘Too quiet’, in many situations. ‘Weird’. ‘Too much’ of this; ‘not enough’ of that. Everybody has their particular insecurities: physical, personality-based. And even these things: they fluctuate. Enter as loves and strengths, perhaps. Flash on and off, vacillate between sureties and their very opposites, from time to time.

Ten years later: I know that I love certain things. My Deen, my people, writing and reading and teaching, and ‘observing’ and wanting – and coming – to know. I love hearty meals and electric conversations and the (muddy and celestial) wonders of the natural world, and stupid little forms of fun, and I know that everything that I am, will be, in varying ways, ‘too much’ for some, and ‘too little’ for others.

I cannot act like I do not care. Everybody cares: caring makes a human, human. And, still:

The essence of faith is this: it is not unreasonable or irrational. It is not wholly immunising, against grief and/or fear. But there are more than a million and one reasons to believe: more reasons than there are stars in the sky, even. Faith is about knowing that all of those steps that we had hazarded before… ended up working, if even in ways that we had truly not expected them to.

Right now, and as usual, some things are good and okay, while others (perhaps deeply) do not feel quite so.

Many things, frayed threads, do not seem so neat: and I am writing this article to say that

I suppose it is absolutely inevitable that each of our stories are at least a little ridden with pain. Losses, and betrayals of trust, and feeling less-than. ‘Wasted time’, and feeling so, so, far away from home.

And you know that some days are thoroughly more difficult than others. You know that each moment is a flower-bed, and that while we have control over our intentions and actions… the bigger picture, the garden, is not ours to inspire to grow.

(Flourish. Even invisibly.)

Dear reader, whomever you are, and wherever (and whenever) you may be reading this from: a Du’a for you, and a Du’a for me. To be able to see through paper things and illusions, and to be able to choose what is Better – and what is Best – over and over again, as many times as it will take, necessarily, to get There; Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Breaking the Idol of Mockery — Tamim Faruk

https://www.safinasociety.org/post/breaking-the-idol-of-mockery

Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:

You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.

If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.

Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.

In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.

The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.

Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.

And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?

The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.

I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?

Liberalism. Liberalism for whom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Watch Out for ‘Brand Ramadan” — Zimarina Sarwar

While the tills ring up in appreciation for Ramadan, how have we ignored the gaping irony that everything this month stands for flies in the face of indulgence, spending, excess, and the material world?


Be vocal and firm in preserving the essence of Ramadan. The core of the month is to dim the carnival vibes, lower the volume, detach from electronic devices, put a break on hyper-stimulation, and drastically simplify and bring silence to ourselves. This must be fiercely guarded, because surely a bigger victory for Shayṭān would not be that Muslims abandon Ramadan altogether, but that we morph it into a month that is unrecognisable from its original aim: to attain Taqwa (God-consciousness).

I loike it. I loike it a lot. I need to internalise its message. Full article:


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Trying to give shape to amorphous things; trying to put wordless things into words.

When the sun shows her face, here in cold and cloudy England, people flock to parks, and to their rooftops and balconies, like summer flowers, newly-blossomed, opening themselves up to absorb as much of it as they can. Sunglasses, picnics. The golden, invisible stuff, which cuts through expansive dullness. Brightens up our days.

Sitting on the roof of [redacted, because she wanna be m y s t e r i o u s] School, sitting on our coats or on the bare ground. The enclosing walls are tall: the rest of the world cannot see us there. Nachos and homemade guac. And one of my colleagues, explaining what she has learnt regarding the Four Temperaments, using her phone-screen as a whiteboard. An outdoor sixth form lesson is going on, in one general corner. And then a somewhat extreme game of collective skipping. And that laziness, contrasted by the sporadic slaps of the rope, onto the tarmac.

You know those days, during which Time feels a little more… suspended… than usual? Tight-rope temporality. Things are moving, moving. Things are staying… awfully (and wonderfully) still. Still, we need both, I suppose: that sense that things are happening, developing, and moving. And a comforting sense of stillness: of some things, at least, remaining the same.

Things to look forward to. But we cannot account for all that will or will not happen. Not at present, anyway.

Somebody says something. Reveals a hard-hitting element of her own life-story, though she says it somewhat casually. And we all go silent for a little while. We sit with the words, and with the heaviness. And there is only about a minute left, until we need to go downstairs again, for the next lesson.

Words, and writing, and story-telling. I know that, when I come to write about happenings within my own life[‘s story,], what I am really doing is… a whole lot of processing, and filtering. And I am ascribing – or, finding – meaning in these things.

When people say that words are powerful, they are not wrong: words are not detachable from meaning, and meaning is not detachable from our words. We think through words. We convey our thoughts through words. [And I find it very strange but fascinating: the fact that some people claim not to have a running inner monologue. So, does that mean that they can only really think externally, through conversation with others?!]

We come to know, and to understand, through words. The Qur’an, also, is filled with words; it is filled with meaning.

I am not entirely sure where I am going with this particular piece, but ‘free-writing’ really is a nice thing to do.

Some people (in accordance with the general ideas behind the ‘Four Temperament’ method of categorisation) are more choleric. Take charge, decisive, their way or the highway. Some are more phlegmatic. Laid-back, go-with-the-flow, slow to anger. And then, some people are more ‘sanguine’: effortlessly social, highly pleasant to be around; they can light up an entire room with just their smiles. And some people are more ‘melancholic’: quiet, mystical, sensitive and reflective.

But then again, nobody is just one thing. Nobody is a particular thing all of the time, either. I guess the human being [sounding like an alien anthropologist, here, again, I am aware] is so deeply complex and widely multi-faceted that words are useful, in coming to understand one another. But it is awfully difficult to seek to define things that are moving, and changing, developing and adapting. Counting the seconds, and the hours. Loving the taste of something, one day, and not liking it at all, the very next.

Words are useful, with us. The narratives we allow them to make up, for us, also. But labels are cerebral boxes. And definitions exclude the possibility for change.

With us, and with our selves, and with our ways of seeing things, and with our relationships, and with the shapes of these lives of ours: we need the things that stay still. Or there would be chaos, and a complete lack of understanding. Wordlessness: wholly unintelligible. And also, we need things to move and to move, and to change, and to change. And maybe, to come back to all of these things, and to try to ascribe meaning to them. Not too solid and constrictive that it becomes spirit-destroying, and yet, not too dizzyingly, anxiety-inducingly ‘free’ that it becomes devoid of any consistency; of things to hold onto.

This article is unlikely to make very much sense to you, at all, dear reader. But it holds quite a bit of meaning, for me. Here, in the depths of reality, and what it is for me. As I keep saying (and telling myself) Dunya is a difficult place. But, as Allah tells us, “with difficulty, there is ease”. This world is not without its beauty, and its comforts, and its more interesting parts. Sometimes, these come to us in the form of cherry blossom trees and cake. Sometimes, they come in the form of people.

I guess I am somebody who wants to know what – and who – is mine, and for me. I do thoroughly believe in connections of the soul, for what else is there? And these connections of the soul, I want to give them, (and not, as I unfortunately quite frequently do, things that do not concern me) my everything. [Yet how strange is it, that I have little control over what any of these efforts will return?]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Kebabs and Conversations

Bismillah.

Dear Reader,

This may not make much sense to you at all, but… I seem to have friendshipped into a Pakistani family. I, myself, am Bengali. And, at least among the older generations, there can often be… some tensions between Pakistanis and Bengalis. These tensions can often – and, do often – trickle down into the attitudes held by younger generations, too: I have heard some awful stories pertaining to this. But, I digress. A beloved friend of mine happens to be Pakistani, and today, I went to her house and met her family. So I have friendshipped my way into a Pakistani family.

Her name is Aatqa, and she is wonderful. Her mother, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik, is a (fellow plant lover! And a) wonderful person too. [And, frankly, I live for the validation of my friends’ mums. My friends can dislike me — whatever, me da igual. But I have this little need for their mums to approve of me!]

Fundamentally, the basis of all relationships is conversation. Etymologically, the word implies (from the Latin) ‘turning towards’ one another. And I really think that good, true, and close friendships necessitate enough sameness to make it comfortable – to feel, mutually, seen, and heard, and understood – as well as enough difference (of personality, of life experience: past and present, etc.) to make it interesting, and learnable-from.

From Aatqa, I have, and always do, learn so much. We are both girls of South Asian backgrounds; INFJs; (existentialist overthinkers!); we like to talk, quite a lot, about things like religion, humanity, growth [sigh. Not the physical kind, unfortunately.] and Literature. And she lives in suburbia, while I live closer to the centre of the city. She is Pakistani; I am (now an honorary Pakistani-) Bengali. Her career inclinations are (at present) towards medicine; mine are towards teaching. And so on, and so on.

Today, Khala (‘auntie’ in Bengali) made us some d e l i c i o u s kebabs, and put together a nice burger bar, for us to make our own burgers. We sat outside, in Aatqa’s garden – on a Barbie picnic mat, no less – and ate our burgers (and drank our Vimto), and talked about little nothings and everythings, under pendulum sunshine. This is definitely a day that I wish to remember, and (clearly) blog about. Both my mind and heart feel nourished as a result of our conversations today: on everything from ‘neurodivergence’ to the criteria that might be necessary for ‘spiritual architecture’ .

It is such a blessing to have people in one’s life, with whom one can be, and it feels thoroughly authentic and beneficial and interesting.

And I like that, in true friendships, one enters another’s world, and becomes a living, breathing part of it. It does not feel… performative. Not an intricately-planned event, and not a boring and overlooked thing either. Today has been lovely: planned a little, but also unplanned and serendipitous. The ‘fences’ and the ‘flowers’.

We spoke about how Allah plans things for us, and the beauty and undeniable genius of it all. This is a friendship that had been borne of… a peculiar set of little circumstances; it is also a friendship that I really could not have done without. And oh, how much has happened in the space of a mere year-and-a-bit: it is quite awesome.

Conversations with certain people deeply energise me. They make me excited, and want to talk and talk, and listen and listen. I think the conversations Aatqa and I tend to have with one another are weird and w o n d e r f u l.

‘Weird’. A concept that the two of us have struggled with. In Spanish, the word for it is ‘raro’. To be ‘weird’ is… to be rare! I know for a fact that the relationship I am able to have with this friend of mine is extremely rare. I cannot speak like this with everybody; I certainly do not feel authentically at-ease with everybody. And the rarity of her being [you listen to mey, young lady] boosts her, immensely, in value.

A conversation with just anyone:

“So would you ever want pets, in the future?”

“Yeah. A dog.”

A conversation with an Aatqa Arham:

(She brings out her pet moss ball called Peezo and lets me stroke him.)

“So would you ever want pet animals, in the future?”

“Well, actually, I have ethical issues with that.” *She proceeds to talk about obedience and power plays and a bunch of other things*

In any experience, one must necessarily witness and experience the upsides of it, and the downsides. To feel like… an outsider. To not effortlessly connect with everybody. Wondering if you are… existing in the ‘right’ sort of way. And then, the diamond friendships (and sitcom-like experiences) and such, which are forged against the backdrop of it all. Brokenness, blooming, and breakthroughs!

Here is something that I need to hear, myself, and which I also feel I need to say: that there is value to you, being exactly whom and how you are. Though you may, at times, fixate on the unique downsides of it all — necessarily, you have what you have, and you lack what you lack — … nobody alive can take your particular space. The spaces you occupy: within your home; in the hearts and minds of your closest friends; in the rest of your (and the big wide) world: from the very first thud that your heart produced, to everything you have ever done, learnt, and said, up until now. [You might not be able to see it so easily: you have grown tremendously used to your own self; to the untouchable beauty of your own being. But it is all still there…]

And, I don’t know. I love words so much; I love considering the nature of language, and the human mind, and how the former fits into and informs the latter. But, as Aatqa and I realised more today, things like identity and personality and ‘culture’ cannot sit neatly behind the walls of mere words. Everything we are is everything we are, and not merely… a ‘smart girl’ label, or a preference for kebabs and Vimto, or some lines of poetry, or the clothes we choose to wear, or what we choose to post online.

Things like beauty and brilliance (both of which, this girl has. I sound like such a moist groveller right now, but oh well) often escape easy definition. And, yes, there may be some (remarkable, along-the-way) difficulty in that. And there is goodness and value unspeakable and unmatchable in that, also.

[Young Aatqa Arham also has her own blog. You can check it out here.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Welcoming Ramadan

Bismillah.

This week, at work (our final week before a two-week Easter break. But as we are a Muslim school, ’tis, de facto, a Ramadan break) we enjoyed – and, many of us ended up becoming thoroughly exhausted by – a rather eventful ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day — during which we had probably collectively amassed enough food to feed a small country, followed by an INSET day — at which we took part in some ‘spiritual meditation’ exercises, so as to recover from a hectic (and somewhat chaotically COVID-tinged) term, and an even more hectic end to it. [Personally, I found the ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day really fun. One of my students made me my own paper crown to go with my outfit, and I (with the benefit of being a little… vertically challenged…) just blended in with the students for a while, and was invited to join in with some of their activities!]

We had workshops on: fruitfulness during the blessed month; another one on improving and maintaining our physical wellbeing; a third, on self-purification. The students got to make their own samosas, followed by chocolate truffles. They decorated their classrooms – with class advent calendars, paper lanterns and the like. They had an extended lunchtime, during which Nasheeds were played, and food was shared [and drinks were spilled, and slices of cake went splat! onto the floor]. There were different (fun and reflective) exercises for the different year groups to enjoy. One that I found thoroughly useful and enjoyable was the Ramadan bullet-journal workshop:

Each student in the class was given a black book. On the board, the instructor of the workshop (an older ‘Alimiyyah – Islamic knowledge – student) put up some pictures of some of the ‘Alimiyyah students’ own bullet-journal pages, for inspiration. They were absolutely gorgeous: calligraphy, colours, such neatness and creativity.

The idea was that each student would design a book that was personal, and hopefully useful for them. Personal religious goals; personal health goals; Qur’anic Ayahs and Hadiths that speak most to them; personal Ramadan timetable ideas, and the like.

Moreover, an important thing that one of my colleagues had been talking about, in the staffroom, had been, essentially, the danger of running into the ‘productivity trap’ way of thinking, in our considerations surrounding Ramadan. Asking, for instance, what others’ ‘goals‘ are, for the month, and feeling inclined to respond to such questions with a burdensome-sounding string of quantitative goals: “I want to read four books about Islam, and make food for my neighbours four times, and read the entire Qur’an twice, and…”

Ramadan, fundamentally, is about three things: praying (our five daily prayers, with some additions during the holy month); fasting (from dawn until dusk; fasting from food and drink, and from bad or time-wasting habits, and from intimacy, for people who are married); giving (Zakah and Sadaqah. Giving from one’s money/material wealth, as well as from the other forms of wealth that we have been given. Knowledge, acts of service for family members, and for strangers, even, alike. Even a smile is an act of Sadaqah!)

There are other things that can be done: little additions that we can learn about and practise, along the way. These are fruitful, but not compulsory. And, ultimately, Islam is fundamentally (meant to be) a religion of moderation. “All things in moderation. Including moderation.” [— Socrates]. Doing ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’, and we believe that (holism is important, and that) it is the spiritual value of things, which count.

Religion is easy; whoever overburdens himself in religion will be overpowered by it (i.e. he will not be able to continue in that way.)

So pursue what is good moderately; try to be near to perfection, and receive the good tidings (that you will be rewarded, for trying).

— Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Al-Bukhari]

In Islam, we are taught that Allah certainly has supreme rights over us. Our bodies have rights over us, too: they need to be cared for; we need to sleep, and to take things relatively easy, as much as possible. Our families have rights over us, also. And then come our other social responsibilities: towards extended family, other acquaintances, and our neighbours.

In close connection with the ‘productivity trap’ mode of thinking (and this is something that I must stop myself from doing!) is the reliance on ‘aesthetics’ for a sense of spiritual value. Fairy lights, Arabesque lanterns, plants, Turkish rugs… It is nice to try to create a nice Ramadan-themed atmosphere, but… the point of this month is neither consumerism nor materialism. It should be more about gratitude: for appreciating what we have, and not splurging on food and décor to ‘augment’ the experience.

Ramadan is for those three core things, mentioned above. And it is for personal reflection, and for family, and for gratitude. As much as I do wish to ‘make the most of’ this (upcoming) month, I know I cannot do everything: there is no comprehensive checklist for how Ramadan ‘should’ be done, and each individual will spend and celebrate this blessed period differently.

There are, for instance, some new Muslims, who live alone. Maybe they will be attending a weekly class, or watching some videos on YouTube, to learn more about the Deen. Maybe they will open the fast after enjoying a bowl of cereal and a plate of fruit; perhaps they are going to close the fast with a sandwich or two.

Maybe this is their first time praying Salāh. Maybe they are going to try to wear a headscarf for the first time. Crucially, it is not about the external considerations, but about the essences and the intentions guiding them. That is the thing: we never know who is actually ‘doing Islam ‘right” because, fundamentally, religion is about the connection between a man or a woman, and their Creator. It is not necessarily about who knows Arabic the best, or who has the most Du’as memorised.

The experience is not about what makes for the most ‘aesthetic’ or ‘Instagrammable’ Ifthar, either. It is not about cooking the most food, or about memorising the greatest amount of information. It is more about the internal: the patience, the gratitude, the love, the effort.

Personal journeys, varying situations and circumstances. Effort: no human being alive is ‘perfect’. And, something that I had been reminded of during that aforementioned ‘self-purification’ workshop: each and every one of us has a thing or two, within us, that needs to be fought against, and curbed. Anger, and/or envy, and/or greed and gluttony, and/or pride, and/or lust, and/or laziness, and/or otherwise.

“The [real] Mujāhid is one who strives against his own soul [Nafs].” [Sahih Hadith]

And a random addendum [we love a half-rhyme, in this house]: within and against [parts of] our souls, we struggle. We can feel, sometimes, (for instance, on the religious front) like we are ‘too much’, or, at times, like we are ‘not enough’. At times, I have felt like an… ‘inside-outsider’, within Islam. This is because I had internalised some warped ideas about this whole thing. That to be a Muslim (in addition to the actual requirements of faith) one must be a certain way, ‘culturally’, and otherwise: like… a Saudi sheikh, or like an Arab-Muslim vlogger, or something. But, genuinely: Islam can be (or is) yours as much as it is anybody else’s (and vice versa). Everywhere, there is inspiration, and ultimately Deen is very much a ‘together’ thing.

It is this beautiful ongoing conversation between you, and the One who created you. And then, in an ancillary manner, it is also, very importantly, about your comportment with fellow human beings.

And, in Ramadan, that very ongoing conversation becomes a little more blessed, while our hearts and souls, in conversation with the people in our lives, become a little more nourished.

May we all have a wonderfully restful, spiritually rewarding, relatively easy, and fun(!!!) Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem!


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.