Things Could Be Better. And then: a Tuna Sandwich

Things could be better. We know they could. And: the burdens that you are shouldering, currently… How are you doing, with that heaviness?

Things could be better: what we see, and thus think we know. The expectations, ideals, and how mundanity — the very stuff of this world — falls short. That upcoming outing is not going to ‘save’ you somehow, and nor will any ‘future happening’ in this world, or any excessively-romanticised conceptualisation of ‘romance’, for example, anyhow. It is customary for the Muslim to respond, when we’re asked how things are, with words of thanks and gratitude. There are good things, to be focused on. And, still… things could be better:

‘The Theory of Forms’: a Platonic idea I came across, a recent while ago. The notion that this physical world is not the ‘real’ one, and that there is an Ultimate Reality beyond this one. [What a Muslim idea, right?!*] So when we find our hearts and minds filled with all these… expectations, ideals, which ‘should’ be the case…

What if they are our souls’ way of explaining to us that, yes, there is something far better than this. And, yes, of course you want it: it’s Jannah, wherein we will (we hope,) abide eternally, faultlessly, happily, and where nothing, including our own selves, ‘falls short’. We find we are Earthly beings, with these innate understandings that this is not our Home. You’re homesick, and heartbroken, afraid, and:

Dear reader, I am not personally acquainted with the sadnesses, worries, and such which might sometimes, or these days, keep you up at night. But this much I know for sure:

Allah does not let you shoulder a burden that is more than you can bear. After this, you’ll see how strong you are (Masha Allah, Tabarak Allah) and why it happened the way it did. For now: I hope you’re comfortable. I don’t know what your current battles are: maybe you’re struggling to eat or rest much at all.

There is no (fair) comparison between your realities, and the images you may see, or think you know, of others and their lives. We all have our own burdens: boulders, the dark parts of the icebergs; we could all do with a hug, a kind word or two, things like this. In Allah’s Eyes, you are precious, dear reader. Perhaps He guided you right here, because He wanted you to know.

*’Wisdom’ is Islam. Thus, a lot of what we find in western (secular) psychological/philosophical discourse matches up well with what Islam says. Recently I found out that a colleague of mine from this year — who teaches Arabic at the school — did her degree in Clinical Psychology, back in her home country (Lebanon). She notes, and tells her students, how much the Muhammadan Way validates modern understandings of social psychology and such.

Well, Subhan Allah, I was feeling kind of sad today: I can’t quite touch upon why. And I’d also been craving… a tuna sandwich for the past couple of days. Today I went to the shop (Best One) and didn’t find any tuna sandwiches there [I got a chicken one instead]. But my dad (who just came back from work… so he couldn’t really have known) randomly called me from downstairs, and then came up and knocked on my door to give me, specifically and out of the blue, a… tuna sandwich…?

This… tuna sandwich… teaches me, again, that I believe that Allah Knows. And that things do not necessarily happen how we want for them to happen. That there is Khayr in the waits for things: we plan, but Allah plans better. Can’t wait to eat this sandwich. Alhamdulillah.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Loving Being Yourself

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

To love being ourselves. Not necessarily ‘loving ourselves’, as that classic modern dictum goes: as though we can act as separate entities from our own selves, able to ‘give ourselves’ the love that we, by nature, need, from others. But to love being ourselves.

How can we love being us?

I want to talk about who we really are, again. And how, over time, various groups, settings, have expected, demanded different things of us. Praised certain attributes, may-haps, and while criticising others. Who are we originally? What (within the constraints of Objective Morality) speaks to us the most, irrespective of how ‘attractive’ or ‘stylish’ various external parties might consider it all?

What do you love? What do you love doing? What do you love learning about? Who are you, in truth?

I want to talk, again, about that whole ‘Cool’ vs. ‘Sad’ dichotomy. And how false and untrue it is: allow me to explain…

‘Cool’ [it’s kind of ‘un-cool’ to even use the word ‘cool’ these days. When I was much younger, the ‘cool’ olders even used words like ‘nang’. Does anyone remember that? ‘Piff’ as well. The wonderful[ly weird] world of… BBM [wAGWAN piff ting, can I get your BBM?]. Super ‘cool’, back then. Wearing bright blue eyeshadow, even. Certain hairstyles. ‘Low-bats’. Now: cringe, cringe, cringe]. ‘Cool’ necessitates a grand covering up: seem strong, kind of unbreakable [self-protection. If you show ‘weakness’, openness, ‘vulnerability’: well, what if you break?]. Being neutral with most things, and apathetic-seeming in regard to others. Keep up with ‘trends’, and fit in, and don’t let anything ‘stand out’, ‘stick out’, lest your arms and legs get hurt on… the rollercoaster that is social life.

Don’t be too expressive. Cancel out those exclamation marks. Act like you are ‘above’ caring… about each and every of those ‘small’ things that… you do care about. ‘Cool’ is speaking in a certain way. Measured, ‘edgy’. Pique some attentions, but… not too much. It’s caring much about what people think [we all do. All humans, except, perhaps, the clinically insane of us]… so much so that you do anything to act like you don’t care.

I tell you: have you ever seen how dramatic a creature a child is? Loving cars so much, he wants them everywhere. The colour pink so much: almost everything she has, she asks for it in pink. He wants a black dot printed on his new cap: nobody really understands why.

She starts muttering to herself, beneath her breath, like she is far away from here, imagining all sorts of other things. He likes examining insects. Sees new people: hides behind his mum. She says that she is a princess: the plastic tiara on her head is made up of diamonds, in her head. A sparkly wand, a fighting stance: he’s quite into karate, we find, now.

Suddenly, theme parks are ‘cool’, and so is… doing Sheesha. Boasting about [apparently doing] it, to the others, at school. Designers are ‘cool’, and so is… never tripping up. Walls, defences, high. Phone in hand, makeup on. It’s self-protection. Act like you don’t care. ‘Cool’ is a thing about social hierarchy, no? Social ‘popularity’: power.

A face is put on, to meet the world outside. But come home, close the door, and hide.

‘Mature’. You seem ‘cool’: like… you’ve ‘outgrown‘ yourself, somehow. But I don’t think we ever do. And if we ever could: well then, what a tragedy that would be.

It’s strange how the whole thing works, and how it pretty much always has. ‘Cool’ kids stopped bringing in… their Hannah Montana packed lunch bags to school. Stopped showing an interest, perhaps, in many things (save for… in the opposite gender). And then it seems like that is the standard to meet, in the eyes of others. Hiding things, to appear ‘admirable’, ‘enviable’, acceptable, ‘popular‘.

[But don’t you miss yourself?! The ‘simple pleasures’ of waking up early, to see your room flooded with orange light? Designing paper aeroplanes to glide well, or to boomerang? Researching different breeds of birds; playing Power Rangers? Sitting on the circular swing, at the park, in order to read a book, sort of upside-down?]

‘Cool’ may make others look and think they, too, want to be it. But: when we love people, we are endeared not to the images they may put up of themselves, but… to their very humanities.

Maybe one reason as to why I speak so much on this topic is because I have been there, in Year Seven. New school, and suddenly I was ‘cool’. I had to do everything to maintain it. Act like I don’t care pretty much at all about school-related things. Facebook. Spend time with certain people: they seem to exude ‘self-confidence’, don’t they? And then I parted with the fakeness, meanness, vanity of that whole scene, for… its polar opposite.

I, for some reason, decided to try to become a ‘full-on nerd’ in Year Eight. [This, in retrospect, was probably not the most healthy thing either. A desire to work on one’s intellect and hobbies and such does not necessarily need to translate to… copying established ‘tropes’ to feel accepted into the ‘scene’]. ‘Big Bang Theory’, chess competitions, Maths Club, and the rest. Still, maybe, not being entirely authentic to myself. But: a necessary step on the journey (to balance), methinks.

I remember, once, one of the ‘cool’ friends I once had: I’d seen her at a shop near our secondary school, after she’d left as a student there. I told her I’d just come out of Maths Club — and she seemed… so disappointed in me, like I’d done something wrong somehow. I guess, back then, the prevalent mentality had been (and, in the eyes of some, still is!): anything that impresses boys is ‘good’. Anything else: that expression I vaguely recall her looking at me with…

Similar to another thing that happened, with a girl from that same ‘friendship’ group: back then, I felt the pressure to dress to ‘impress’, or, at least, to evade criticism. One day, I had worn something — to some summer scheme thing — that had not been particularly ‘stylish’ in their eyes. And, there and then, the vain mentality of ‘coolness™’ showed me how truly untrue, precarious, it is: she looked at me in a look of what I could only really call disdain. “I thought you were stylish, Sadia.” Like I’d done something so terribly… wrong.

But a true friend is, actually, somebody who sees you, and smiles upon you, in truth. And not solely when you are coming across as being particularly ‘stylish’/’attractive’/entertaining/upbeat or whatever else.

How much we are known to do, so as to try to escape criticism, the feeling of ‘social rejection’. The faces, masks we put on; hide beneath, decorate, for whatever egoic/self-protective purposes.

And when I had pinned myself to expectations of being ‘cool’: I’d essentially been staring up in adulation at what is actually, by nature, a mirage. And if ‘cool’ is does not care: I think, by now, I know I’d rather have its complete opposite.

Some more anecdotal things by way of processing my thoughts, and explaining them: consistent readers of this blog of mine will likely be aware that… I am in acquaintance with quite a lot of people (Alhamdulillah). Family, friends, family-friends, former schoolmates, neighbours’ brothers’ families, and the rest. I know people who remind me of the girls I had wanted to ‘be like’, in Year Seven. Looks can, and very often do, deceive:

Like when people find they cannot face the world, without makeup on. Even in the comfort of their own homes: if guests (even just one or two) are coming around, eyebrows need to be filled, under-eyes concealed, forehead powdered. I say this, I hope, not in a mean way. Just:

Once, I went to a somebody’s house, and she put a member of her own household (perhaps jokingly, but it seemed to be somewhat in-earnest too) into the box of being a ”sad’, weird nerd’. By someone wearing makeup, seemingly to welcome only one, or two, guests. I sort of wanted to know more. What makes passionately talking about… the wonders of the human body, for instance… ‘sad’?

I know for a fact that secure people feel no need to make other people feel bad about themselves. I also know that this happens time and time again: if a person feels like they cannot join in on ‘intellectual’ conversations; if others have the intelligence (Masha Allah) that they so desire, sometimes the defensive mechanism that is projected

(like projectile vomit) is… “Boring, sad, weird. Nerd!

But then, after a while of witnessing this ‘lighthearted’ bullying, I asked the ‘nerd’-saying person why… she presents herself differently to the outside world, versus when she is at home. [At home: she feels comfortable enough to do and say ‘weird’ things. She’s intelligent too, Masha Allah]. She admitted that she does stop herself from saying things that could be seen as being ‘intellectual’, for example. She does tend to behave differently, when outside of home. Many of us learn to be afraid, almost, of being ourselves, outside. Put up an act; get validated, on account of it. I’m pretty sure she’s into reading too.

Maybe: as a defence [since, deep down, you know what you are doing] put others down as well [becoming what you, yourself, fear, actually…] for… being themselves.

Like when somebody else I have known, who spoke intelligently, Masha Allah, and had a good vocabulary, sort of made me feel like I’m a little ‘weird’ for… being whom I am, loving what I love. The classic: acted like she did not care; makeup, designer things. Where did her vocabulary come from? She said that, when she was younger, she used to read a dictionary before going to bed or something. How “sad,” she said. She knows.

But: it’s not ‘sad‘. What makes that sad? Why ought it be some cause of ‘sorrow’? Why did she… stop doing things like this, in the end? Or, does she still, but while hiding it before others, whose opinions of her matter to her so greatly? [And would it, by contrast, have been not-‘sad’ if she had spent her time… talking to boys, whom she would never again speak to in the future?] I think, if somebody loved words when they were younger, how on Earth does one outgrow true love for something? I don’t think it’s quite possible. See how complex and self-protective and yet -contradictory all this is: renounce something like this as being “sad”, indicative of a person having ‘no life’. But… it’s you. You’re afraid. But you need to act like you are beyond this: mightier, now, somehow. We’re not, though; we never are.

We’re warm-blooded creatures, and with beating hearts. Insecure, clumsy: ‘imperfections’ would appear to be embedded in our skins, when we peer into ourselves, in the looking glass.

How could we be… ice-cold, tough, ‘unbreakable’, ‘cool’?

[Also, any time someone is excessively defensive/destructive towards another person, I think it’s a huge indication of personal insecurity. Projection, coupled with some need to feel superior.]

And if it’s ‘sad’ to, for example, love learning new words; send emails to professors whose works we find we are fond of; care deeply about the things we have pretty much always cared deeply about, and show that we care about them… then what is its opposite? What is… ‘happy’? What is, in opposition to ‘not having a life’, having one?! Is it just… ‘drugs, sex [appeal] and rock ‘n’ roll’? How image-based, how fake and shallow, and how… sad. [There’s More to life…]

You know, it’s okay for us to laugh at ourselves, sometimes. To attend to the mundane: we all have to, don’t we? To not want to be around other people all the time. So long as we do not allow ourselves to fester within prison walls that so many people build around their souls, in order to be (or, seem) ‘cool’. [We’re going to die, sometime soon. So is this lying worth it?]

We’re so busy ‘protecting ourselves’, and our truths, from criticism, and from others enacting ‘social superiority’ over us. Maybe we are instead actually harming ourselves in the process.

It is [more than] okay for you to be you; to love being yourself. You being you allows others to put their masks down a little more; to feel more comfortable being them, too… Break the ice a little; let flowers grow.

Home is where we are real. Who are you, at home? Is there, for example, a particular outfit you have, which screams [Your Name + Surname here]? Dear reader, I dare you to wear it. Even if it is the most ‘unstylish’ thing in the world. Home (in terms of places and people) ought to be where you are real: and I hope you feel comfortable, remember whom you are, and feel real. You: it’s beautiful, but, still, not everyone in the world has to agree. [They’ve got their own troubles to be dealing with, attending to, to be honest].

“Loneliness doesn’t stop when we are surrounded by people. It stops when we are seen (and smiled at. Loved) for whom we truly are.”

‘Whom we truly are’. Nothing else, really, will satisfy these souls of ours. One of the biggest cliché statements in existence, maybe. It is of so much value: be yourself. Love being yourself. What a worthy thing to do. The disapprovals, criticisms, will most likely continue to come. You are going to, I hope, continue to love being you, and not everyone is going to agree with you. Surely, though, who we are, and the things that we love, are [more than] worth it, though?!

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

A Slice of Cake

“I come from a land of desire and destruction. I’m a real son of Ādam.” — a random poetic line that my cousin Moosa came up with.

A slice of cake when a new baby is born. Blue soft icing shells might say: boy. Pink, and a splash of edible glitter: girl. A slice of cake on Eid day. A bite of it when you’re feeling bored. Cake between colleagues, dipped lovingly in coffee. A cake stashed away: gateau, to eat in instalments. Cake when a knot is tied; when two, and more, hearts come together.

Cake: the centrepiece of a picnic. On a platter, a small wooden table. Cake-knife. Slice: someone is retiring from their job, or has just been promoted. A treat for breakfast; after-school-lunch.

Custard, sprinkles. Upside-down, pineapples. A welcome to new neighbours; goodbye: the end of school. Cake: it’s just something you make, when there is some space for something sweet to be done. Graduations. Charity bakes. From a friend, for you to break your fast with. The believers: we make Du’a for each other too. How sweet, and

How special

We say things best, I think, through our eyes, and through our smiles. All that we say, and all that we do not; things that seem to spill from us, beforehand unexpected. Slices of cake, and flowers, and all the ‘small things’: iceberg gestures, and things that mean things. Though so much here is ugly, I know that beauty runs deep.

And that the most accurate slices of someone might be shown in: whom they are, in Salāh. And: whom they are, say, to people who are ‘subordinates’ to, or in service of, them. Who are we, when nobody else is watching? When there will not be negative social consequences? Who are we, when we have ‘power’, and others do not? These things will tell us everything.

A spoonful of cake: makes for an aeroplane. A conveyance of thanks. ‘Shukr’, in Arabic, sounds a lot like the English ‘sugar’, no?

Like when the newborn tastes that first lick of honey that first time. [Thank you Allah]. Fix someone’s coat before they leave, to make sure they don’t get cold outside. [Thank you Allah]. Pinch their nose; a reassuring pat on the back. Know that they are there, and you are here; the maps point to these people, and these places, as springs of Home [Thank you Allah]. Remember that they like the corner bits; prefer the spongier parts, actually. Eat with a fork, maybe, instead of a spoon. And: give them their slice first.

Shukr lillah. For all that I have, and for all that is not mine. You, surely, know best. Thank you Allah.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Eid: A City Farm, Football, and Some Hints of Egypt

The lead-up to Eid-ul-Adha 2021 had been one marred a little by some state of seemingly indefatigable fatigue, for me. Friday, after school, the end of term. We (my aunt — whose ever-used nickname is ‘Sweetie’ — and I) met my cousin Moosa, brother Saif, and my mum, in the market, and walked home together. Saif determinedly pulling my suitcase; Moosa and Saif walking off, far ahead, and me, rushing to keep up with them.

That day, Sweetie had made lunch for us all: fish and chips. And I had been in a state of simultaneous inspiration (what with those doses of reminders of what my purpose here is, and all, at the INSET day that day) and… exhaustion. Then came Saturday: an at-home day of ‘recovery’. Sunday: outside with the neighbourhood kids, and then my friend Tasnim had come around, to do our Mendhi. When I say that this woman is talented, I mean… Masha Allah, Allahummabārik.

My Didi and her sister-in-law assumed that Tasnim is Egyptian, on account of her (tall) height and stuff, apparently. Why is that relevant to this post? Well, ‘being Egyptian’ is likely to come up again, soon.

On that day, incidentally, I learned again that… appearances can be the most deceptive thing in the world (and, while, closer-to-the-truths of things, perhaps, can be… quite shocking, actually). You do not know someone until you live with them. [Or, do business with them, or travel with them (presumably, for a long time)]. How much social appearances can hide; how much they can feign to show. ‘Social media’, and simple fleeting discussions at dinner tables. A person is not merely how we can present ourselves to be, before various social groups. Each person: like an iceberg, and parts of us, often, hidden beneath waters murky and deep.

Inspired by something I heard from Jordan Peterson [I consider him to be very wise, Masha Allah, although I think a lot of people I know would likely disagree with me on that]: the truth is, all of us are deeply complex and multifaceted creatures. There might be parts of us that we are reluctant to let another soul be witness to; parts that we are known to deliberately ‘polish’ and present, when there are people around.

An ongoing theme, so it would seem, this year: that rift between what things seem, and what they are. I think it is an apt reminder for us to not be afraid. Don’t be afraid: what you see is not necessarily what is. What about all the things that are hidden? What about all those things that Allah may be protecting you from? What about the fact that two snippets, compressions, are never enough to tell the entire picture of anything?

Maybe: a great Du’a to make. “Oh Allah, please may you reveal to me the fuller pictures of things. May I know truths, and may the deceptions show themselves to be such”.

Who you really are, and whom you are presenting yourself as. How big is the gap between the two, do you think? And… why?

Compressions blur out ‘imperfections’. Hide weaknesses and flaws. Lighting, angles, the right sort of camera lens. What, for example, do our closest family members know about us, which others might not? Whom might we be, when we are alone; before Allah, the Alone?

Monday: I don’t quite know what it was, but it felt like depression. Coupled with the heat; nobody else had been here, at home. I think, what helped, in the end, was getting out and walking. Seeing Tamanna the chocolate-lover (or, addict? Here, again, those questions on the difference between the two?!) for those few seconds. Seeing Doli Khala for a short while; her children. She did not let me leave without filling my bag with snacks, a container of Biryani, and a lovely Eid present.

Well, that day I discovered that Aneesa loves Rapunzel. Shaiful does not like football [I just assumed… ten-year-old boy. Football, ‘of course’]. For Eid, I got him a football magazine. He took it, super politely Masha Allah, but he’s not really a fan of football, and, I mean, nor does he ‘have’ to be. “I’ve never really tried it.” He said something along this line. At break-time at school, he just likes hanging out with his friends.

School and structure: now it is summer, and the academic year has ended. We really do depend on structure to motivate us; for a sense of continuity, novelty, the impetus to do many things, and such.

On Monday, it had been the Day of Arafah. I had been fasting, Alhamdulillah, and I had broken my fast with… Biryani! Sadiqul Mama from next door asked me if I were fasting, gave me part of a mini watermelon. Farris, our neighbour and my brother’s friend, gave me two boxes of chocolate for our family, and said “Eid Mubarak”. When I say I love being Muslim…

Another thing: on Monday evening, right before Maghrib, I came outside, and was about to (in my characteristically annoying way) say, “HEY BEST FRIENDS!” to the kids. But then I saw Catherine (Farris’ mum) there, and so I presented myself as being a little more… civilised. Catherine and I had a nice conversation together, though I forget the exact details.

When Sadiqul Mama came outside, I ran inside to get my headscarf. And then I had to pray. Catherine understood: after all, she’s been married into a Muslim family for over a decade. I’m not entirely sure if she herself is a Muslim. She might be: she did want Farris to go inside before Maghrib. Sadiqul Mama took his daughters in; I took Saif in. [Saif: I asked him what his ‘Spanish name’ would be. He thinks it would be: Soyf].

I also visited the new little grocery shop: ‘Fresh Foods’, which had been there for years, has now been renamed, and rebranded. ‘OneFoods’ or something. I think I have this new thing of maybe preferably only buying from shops that do not sell alcohol: supporting Muslim-Muslim businesses, more. From the outside, it seemed like there had been a window sticker on the shop advertising alcohol, but, upon closer look: Halāl non-alcoholic ‘wine’ drinks. I bought a bottle, as well as some snacks for my former neighbour, Des.

I had something to return to Des, on Monday. Des is a priest, currently. He had initially started out, in his early twenties, I believe, as a radiographer. Moved onto midwifery (and served the Saudi Arabian royal family). Also became very interested in theology in his twenties; pursued that too. He had ended up doing missionary work with Mother Teresa in India; had become the patron of a family or two, in India, and brought them here, actually. One of the families has, in it, two little girls, and they see Des as a grandfather. He has, framed, pictures that they have drawn for him, in his house (if I recall correctly. I know: I sound like an old woman in saying this, but still).

Yesterday, I went to return an old document of his, which he had let me borrow, on the condition that I bring it back. A paper about radiography, published in 1977. And: you can tell. In it, ‘W. D. Payne-Jeremiah’ talks about dietary recommendations and such. Custard, Hovis bread, and other ‘quintessentially British’ things.

Inside his flat: a small TV in the kitchen, and bibles in the living room. A big iMac screen in one corner; the most ‘quintessentially British’ of food items. The stews, the puddings and such. I wanted to take some pictures of the paper, to keep, but my phone had run out of charge, and Des said that he would scan them for me. Soon, he is to return to his hometown in Wales. There is no-one, really, here, left for him. Just Mick, a man who Des is always here for [Des basically watched him grow up, I think]: he lives upstairs. My parents too. And a cousin in Wales.

Des said Eid Mubarak to me, and Mick did too. And, upon seeing Des’ radiography paper, Mick turned to Des, and jokingly remarked: “not just a pretty face, are ya?”

Next: Eid day. I woke up, and did not want to get up. Got ready. Eid texts: friends and family. Had some breakfast [using some pears that had quickly been going out-of-date, I made ‘pear bread’: mushed-up pears, egg, honey, and some butter/olive oil. Mix it up, dip bread in it, and oven-bake] with some… ‘wine’. Crackers and dip too. And I ate popcorn on the stairs, while Farris and Saif flipped bottles out on the porch. Flip, flip, flip. [Saif likes to get a very particular brand of water bottle, since they’re better for bottle-flipping, apparently].

Saif and Farris then played some Fortnite together, and, at 12:20 (almost) precisely [Saif told Alexa to set an alarm], Farris had to leave, since he and his parents had plans to go to his grandma’s house, as they tend to do, on Eid. Farris’ grandparents are next-door neighbours with his aunt (I think it was). And so: Eid gatherings at theirs tend to be fun.

Yesterday, I had taken Saif to the farm. Our dad had dropped us off there, and I… had accidentally left my phone in the car, on charge [I think I might be one of the most irresponsible-responsible people alive]. We traipsed through the farm. Bought feed from the little ‘Welcome shed’. Fed the goats. [At first, I had been somewhat apprehensive. But then I remembered, some eight years ago, when I used to volunteer there on weekends, that I had been quite scared, then, too. But then I went ahead and did it, and it was okay, actually.]

I put my hand out flat, with food on it. The goats ate away. They don’t bite: not even the big, aggressive one with the horns. They’re… grazing creatures. Gentle… until the big, aggressive one started pushing the others away. And: baby goats. Masha Allah, how cute!

Eid day, and I had hay on my sleeves. Saif loves animals (and so does Isa) and I love this about them. Saif said his ideal pets are: cats [he has a cat already] and goats, and… a black panther. He would like, apparently, to have a zoo in his garden someday. Insha Allah.

We did see some other Muslims at the farm. In Eid-y clothes. Including a Muslim sister called Fabiha: she had been there with her nine-year-old nephew, Adyan, and her little niece, Noori. She had not been familiar with this farm, and asked if we could walk around together. Adyan asked her if we were friends of hers. I said that all Muslims are friends.

Adyan and Noori joined us in feeding the goats. Noori: practically fearless, not even scared of the big goats. And Adyan: more cautious-seeming. Eventually, he braved himself to leave some food on the top of one of the wooden bars that make up the fences. Noori: rushing to have adventures. On the small field near the farm, my brother ran to climb onto the spider-web climbing-frame. Noori, in her dress, followed him, and then struggled with getting down.

Adyan, as we walked around the pond area, cleared the way of grass, with his hands, for us to walk. Such a gentlemanly little boy, Masha Allah. And Adyan and Fabiha kept encouraging us to go to Fabiha’s brother’s home, nearby, for Eid snacks. And now, Masha Allah, it seems as though Fabiha and Adyan’s mum want for me to tutor Adyan sometimes.

“I don’t care how much poo they do. I’m getting goats.

— Saif Ahmed, also known to me as ‘Soopaf McDoopaf’

Like how my Didi’s in-laws assumed my friend Tasnim is Egyptian, and not Bengali, Fabiha told me that she had assumed the same about me, yesterday. I think the headscarf style I’ve been going with the most lately (wrap around the head, and then a clip on the side) does tend to be worn by many Arab women (like Wedyan, who used to be my manager at a café I used to work at. She’s from Saudi). Plus, I know I seem quite ‘ethnically ambiguous’ to many, and I have grown to quite like it, because I think it tends to lead to some nice conversations. Plus, I feel like… it helps me to connect with various people, fairly easily. [Am I from your country? Am I not? It’s a mystery, ma’am, and will remain as such, until we have a convo-sation about it].

Farm: goats, donkeys. Buying some plants for Sweetie’s mother-in-law. Donkeys: sometimes, when Moosa wears ‘Arab-style’ clothes, he likes to walk around (jokingly) saying things in Arabic, including… HIMAAR (which means ‘donkey’).

After circulating the farm [I love that my brother and I both love animals, Masha Allah] and hanging out with Fabiha and her family [Masha Allah, I just love people whose essence seems to be… Islam], Saif and I headed off, on a long(-ish) trek, in the blazing heat, to Nando’s: our local go-to water hole. The waiters had been especially lovely, and, on the way there, a white British lady started up a conversation with us, on account of the plants I had been holding. [Three people, yesterday, first at the farm, then on the way to Nando’s, then at Nando’s, sort of marvelled at the cute little tomato plant]. The lady said “Eid Mubarak” to us, and, like Fabiha, had assumed that… my eight-year-old brother is my son. [Fabiha also said that I look like I am eighteen or nineteen…]

Kind hearts, beautiful souls. They really are everywhere, Masha Allah. And that handful of unkind people who will put you into (metaphorical) boxes, and reject you without even knowing you… they don’t matter!

Saif and I ate the usual: quarter chicken, with chips (mine: peri peri). We sat at one of the outside tables. And I love the fact that… this had been such a wish of mine. Before I had a brother, and while he had been a baby, I used to sort of dream about taking him out, when we are older. For Nando’s, for car drives [I mean, we bike-ride together. And I am very much considering getting a Vespa sometime soon, Insha Allah, so perhaps there will also be that] and for slushies [we did have slushies, yesterday, to top our outing off]. And there we were: twenty-year-old sister, eight-year-old brother. I love talking to my brother, although sometimes we annoy one another so, SO much.

Yesterday Saif asked me who my top four favourite football players are. I… hate watching football: I find it one of the most boring and pointless things in existence to watch. Tribalism, men in knee-high socks kickin’ a ball around, and getting very (to employ an archaic literary term, here) vexed about it. But I said Mo Salah [he’s Egyptian and Muslim and thus looks like he could be… my cousin?], Ronaldo, Messi, and… Marcus Rashford [free school meals campaign]. I think sometimes my brother thinks I’m ‘cool’ and stuff: he said we have the same ‘Top Three’, but his fourth would be ‘Virgil’ or ‘Maine’ or ‘Alexander’ or something.

Playing football, however: sometimes I see a football, and ten/eleven-year-old me goes to kick it. [When Saif was younger, I used to make him tackle me. Now, he actually can…] Once, I saw a ball, kicked it really hard, and then noticed Farris looking at me, in what looked like simultaneous shock and amusement.

Yesterday, one of the waiters at Nando’s had been very kind, and showed Saif the way, to go and wash his hands [they let him use the staff sink]. Another waiter called me ‘sister’: he and his friend had been discussing the two Eids. His friend assumed that all Eids are after Ramadan, I think.

As we ate, Saif was his usual self. He saw a fly, on the side, and exclaimed, “STOP LOOKING AT MY FOOD!”

I think a woman who had been walking past maybe assumed he had been talking to her, so I had to… clarify… that my brother had been talking to… a fly.

Walking back: we took the train. I had to put Saif in front of me, at the turnstiles, like how my mum would do with me, when I was younger. We got some sweets from ‘OneFoods’, for later, and went home, to relax a little. [We tried to go to Nanu’s house, which is about five minutes away from ours, but nobody had been home, it seemed].

I tried to have a nap, but we had to go to Sweetie’s. There, she had prepared for us some lovely food, some (Halāl) piña coladas. Black-and-gold decorations. A whole table/fireplace area filled with gifts. Personalised gifts: from Siyana, I received a makeup bag that says, ‘I love my Fuldhi [sic]’ on it. [‘Fuldi’ is an honorific name that means ‘flower sister’, and this is what my younger cousins call me].

At Sweetie’s, Maryam taught me a ‘trick’ that supposedly ‘gets people to fall in love with you’, by the way you look at them. Very… ‘Bollywood’ (another thing I do not like, in general. You want real Bollywood? Have an Asian habee gushtee: you’ve got it in 4D). Maryam tried it on me. She… failed. Then I tried it on her, from afar. Did not work. Scam.

When you are not married, Halāl bromance has got to suffice for you. And… it’s lovely (and hilarious), it really is [outsiders probably look at us and think we’re very, very weird, but… that’s okay!].

At night, my parents, Saif, and I went to a random Indian restaurant for dinner. I really believe that all personality types have a certain unique sort of value to them. My brother loves to mess around, say hilarious things, question things. He describes himself, these days, as something of an “animal nerd”, and I love him very much for the whom that he is.

More quiet, introverted types certainly have their value too. Doli Khala’s daughters, for example: Zaynab is quite outgoing, while Aneesa appears to be more reserved. Their friendship (the type that biological sisters can tend to have) is so beautiful, Masha Allah. They balance each other out: they are both little flowers, Masha Allah. Distinctive, and of value, how they each, respectively, are. I hope I get to see them grow up, over the years, Insha Allah.

Today, Farris (who is basically my cousin, at this point) and Saif and I had our own little outing. I love their friendship too, bringing out different things in one another. Like how (again, to draw on something that I learned from listening to Jordan Peterson) younger kids tend to attach themselves to people further along the developmental curve, and look to them for inspiration; we adults do this too! These boys even look like one another, and Allah has designed these lives of ours, with all the necessary people in it: it’s Qadr, it’s Rizq.

We fed the ducks: grapes, lettuces, nuts [we are advocates against feeding wildlife junk food!] and went to the park, where Saif used his new purple basketball (Eid gift). Saif’s catchphrase while playing basketball: “Kobe”. Farris’: “YEET.” Cycling, we took the long route back. And, as a sister/guardian to them, I know I am half-kinda ‘cool’ you know. And half-very ‘uncool’, since I made them wear sunscreen and stuff.

Farris’ pun, from today, while I Googled whether or not ducks should eat grapes: “That’s grape.” And, seeing the geese: “‘Sup my geese“.

And then, when Saif ‘jinxed’ me, and I was supposed to stop talking until they said my name three times, I said:

“I don’t believe in that stuff. OOOOOOHHHHHH!”

To which Farris said: “We just got outplayed.”

As a big sister/guardian/person-in-general, I know I can be, at times, so “annoying” and “weird”. I don’t know, though: everything here is part-upside, part-downside. I see my ‘annoying’ and ‘weird’ as… interesting, sometimes, amusing (like when Isa and Saif try not to laugh… but they start smiling, and then they do) and spirited. My ‘nerdy’ is… yeah, I care about certain things, and about learning about them. ‘Crazy’… well I’m afraid there’s no helping that

Finally, ‘The Religious One’. My greatest honour in this world.

We, and our experiences, are not (ever!) mere images. We’re moving, and real, and messy, at times. Unsure, sad sometimes, and all the rest. Love, as I have realised, is not only the mere ‘pleasantries’ of what lust might be. Love is the complete experience: the necessary positives and negatives. And here we are, in Dunya, trying to make it through, in the best way, we hope, equipped (like these boys and their Nerf guns and katanas and such) with


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Inspiration — Moosa Alam

My cousin Moosa’s speech for his GCSE English Speaking assessment. Masha Allah, it really inspired me. Edited a little, at his request, by sincerelysadia dot WordPress dot com.

When Miss announced to us that we were going to do speeches, I, like many others here, had been shocked. Speechless, even, [pause] especially upon hearing that it was going to be for our actual GCSEs.

So there I was, surfing through the internet, reading some examples of speeches, stressing out a little. Then I thought: why don’t I just talk about inspiration and what inspires me, since I’d been reading many great speeches, trying to find inspiration. When people are inspired, things – like words – just seem to flow.

The Oxford dictionary defines inspiration as:

“The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something”. So what do I find to be mentally, and spiritually, stimulating?

There are numerous people who inspire me, and I’d like to talk about some of them today.

Firstly: Khalid bin Walīd. A great warrior who had fought alongside the Prophet (PBUH). And also: Muhammad Ali, Khabib Nurmagamedov, and many more. Notice a pattern there? Great Muslim fighters who inspire me to keep pushing the limits, just as they did.

And let me also tell you about someone who inspires me greatly, whom I didn’t mention in that list.

My name is Moosa, and I was named after the Prophet Musa (or Moses). A great prophet, who, through God’s grace and favour, had been very powerful. Even though he had to overcome many hard challenges but he did not let this hinder his belief in God. He did not let any of these challenges put him down. We all know the story: he went to the pharaoh with the message of God, but the pharaoh challenged him, refused to believe him, and behaved arrogantly: he was a tyrannical abuser. Then came the ‘days of suffering’, and the Pharoah remained arrogant. However, Musa had been successful in leading the people to freedom, and in helping to end their suffering.

If Musa had simply resigned to his circumstances, ‘accepting’ that the pharaoh and his army would outnumber him and his people, or that the pharaoh was simply a hard person to make change their mind; if Musa (AS) had allowed this to diminish his faith, would he have saved all those people; would he have been such a great prophet?

He exhibited, despite all the seeming ‘odds’ against him, due trust in God. And God made the sea split for him. The Qur’an is filled with metaphorical messages for us: even when, to human eyes, there had been ‘no way out’, God made for him a way.

This story teaches me and reminds me to not have fear of those who might ridicule or persecute me and to not let what other people say bring me down. It also reminds me that whatever happens, God is always with me and is always watching over me. This just gives me more confidence that I can do whatever I put my mind to because I will always have God by my side.

The Quran states in Surah 20, Verse 46:

Qaala laa takhaafaaa innanee ma’akumaa asma’u wa araa

This translates to: He (God) said: “Fear not: for I am with you: I hear and see (everything)”.

So what does this mean for me? What do I aspire to be? Personally, I want to use the strength and power I have, to help people somehow. I want to be there and save lives just as the prophet Musa and all those who inspire me did. So what can I do? What can I be? I want to put myself out there, even in the face of danger, to save lives, using the strength and power that I (by God’s grace) have and that I hope to build upon. I want to be a good role model, and lastly I want to inspire.

Life is quite often a struggle, but usually, what it takes to ultimately emerge victorious is inspiration. So: I leave you with the following questions. What or who inspires you? Why do you think this is the case? And, in light of this, what, who, are you inspired to become?

Most of All

And, most of all, this world is one of darkness. Most of all, I know I am afraid. Most of all, I had all these ideas I thought I adhered to. Most of all, stormy weathers came and ravaged most of them all away.

And, most of all, I know I have been foolish. Most of all, I know I have been headstrong. Most of all, I don’t know the full picture[s] of things. Most of all, I know I meet them, truly, and once and once again, I am proven wrong.

Most of all, people are grown up versions of the worried little child. The lonely one; the one who did not like to share.

The fist-clenched little furious one; the show-off; the one who hurts because she cared.

Most of all, there is a certain sort of poetry to all this pain and all this loss. This is humanity; what we love and are aiming for, truly, comes at a cost. Darkness falls, a blanket, everywhere. I’ve been in a state of losing my trust in many things; still, in blindness, I will care.

I hope, dear readers, that we can make the most of this Arafah day. May Allah grant us whatever is best for us, in Dunya and Ākhirah, Āmeen.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

An Islamic School for Young Women, in the Heart of East London

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Who am I; who am I trying to be; where am I going? What am I doing? Yesterday had been my last day as a teacher at Madani Girls School: an Islamic secondary school (and sixth form, and ‘Alimiyyah school) for young women, in Whitechapel. Yesterday had been our final INSET day of the academic year [the day before had been our sports day. Stand-out features: races on the roof, plates and crates of fruit, a bit of conflict and the firm grace with which it had been dealt, by Miss Masuma. Oh, and me: eating a full (veggie) English breakfast in the empty classroom downstairs, finishing off some piles of last-minute book-marking…]

Goodbyes. But: I don’t know. If there is still some place for me there, in the future, then Insha Allah, I will be back. The ‘goodbyes’ of the last couple of days did not really feel like permanent goodbyes at all: just temporary farewells… until the next time, whenever that will be. Now, I am somebody who, a) enjoys spending time at home, and b) loves receiving cards and gifts [I hope this doesn’t render me a materialist!]. On Wednesday and Thursday, my students surprised me with flowers (including a potted flower-plant!) and painted things, and written ones, Masha Allah. Chocolates, tea and coffee sachets, stationery, spa materials and such [things to enjoy on home days]. One of my students, for example, asked me, towards the end of term, what my favourite colours are. Days later: she gifted me a hand-knitted navy-and-mustard-yellow pouch… for me to put my glasses into! [I’d been having to use a suitcase to transport marked/for-marking books into the school, and for lugging gifts and such out. (Is dat me yeaa)

[Year Sevens have my heart and mind, Masha Allah. Year Eights too. Year Nines… I think I currently look like I am in Year Nine]

[Incidentally, yesterday, on the way home, my brother took my suitcase and pulled it for me. Such openly kind gestures tend to be rare, from young Saif-Jaan, towards me. So I cherish that moment, and seek to honour it, right here.] Teachers and going off on tangents, amirite?]

When I say I love my colleagues at the school, and my students, and the place: I don’t quite know how to properly explain it. It’s like… I had been waiting for just this, my entire life. I, whom many had associated with being ‘teacher material’ over the years [as a child I would sit my cousins down, make a register, play school-game] and who (I hope) love my religion. But over the years: I often did not know. It felt like — and feels like — there had been so many expectations placed upon me. To do ‘more’. And: people looking down on teaching, and I’d absorbed some of that, unfortunately. Why… would I want to be a teacher?

I think I have realised, by now, that the answers are always there, even if they are not always at the forefronts of our conscious minds. Allah has plans for us: I think my [academic] story, up until now, makes sense, in retrospect. Even the [not one, but two] Oxbridge offers, whose grade requirements I failed to meet (2019: Cambridge, 2020: Oxford). I know that Allah has planned my life for me Perfectly. My only fear is: is there a possibility that I, myself, could slip up somewhere, thus barring myself from meeting some of the goodnesses that could have otherwise been mine? A big question, for me, in this mind of mine.

Slip: this whole coronavirus period. For a while, with the school, I taught online. Slip: I did not know what had been waiting for me, around the corner. Qadr is a deeply testing thing, and it is also a most brilliant and beautiful one, if we commit to waiting and seeing. What Allah has Written for you can never miss you; what He has not Written for you always will.

Madani Girls School is a school filled with exceptional people, beautiful souls, Allahummabārik. Not only are these students, and staff members, very intelligent, wise, and bright: they are kind, and contemplative, and Muslimahs. Not merely ‘in-the-making’. They pray Salāh now, and read Qur’an now, and explore the sciences now. They make du’a for you [how special!] Each day, at the school, new things happen: trite but true, schools really are ‘microcosms of society’. You get illnesses, anxiety attacks, experiences of grief. Events and celebrations [Eid, Ramadān, multi-cultural days and the like; the various happenings within each person’s individual life]. A confluence of various personalities, and events; circumstances, and tests. Exams, there, are important.

And every single day – moment – forms part of the Grander Test.

It would be an understatement to say that I have learnt a lot, while at this school. I think any person, any place, is defined ‘most entirely by its ethos. I think the ethos of the (wonderful) primary school I had attended been centred upon nurture and community; secondary school: academic achievement, and seeking to make ‘working-class’ students more ‘middle-class’; sixth form: ‘ambition’, ‘perseverance’ and ‘legacy’, and in such Dunya-orientated ways. I know I love knowledge and academia, and seeking enlightenment, and yet I have often found myself in the midst of some ongoing crisis of meaning, in the midst of it. Is all this… for titles? Is it all about what people might see? What would make my efforts, here, meaningful?

In the (secular) West: the notion of ‘enlightenment’ has been attached to leaving religion (namely, Christianity) and, perhaps, focusing more on the self, and on the value of knowledge as an ‘end’ in and of itself. For the Muslim, however, everything is a means to The End; every day, moment, thus counts, and not merely some notions of some ‘future’ ones.

Perhaps: in ‘secular’ academia, the emphasis is placed on the mind, and its being challenged and expanded. In Islam, we also know to give due consideration to holism: we are not only ‘minds’. A human being is mind, and heart (emotions, and… how we remember things that made us feel things!) and body [and hence: the PE teachers at the school, who think about how many steps they’ve done in a day and such] and soul [hence: Qur’an rooms, du’as, Salāh].

Yesterday, towards the end of our INSET day [featuring: breakfast spread. And a potted flower plant, Masha Allah. Faith, food, flowers, and family. *Russian accent, here* I… like it a lot] we heard speeches from the headteacher, and associate headteacher, of the school. Stand-out ideas, for me:

We have got to try to be great women; great Muslimahs. Like the mothers of our Deen: Maryam (AS) and Fātimah (RA) and ‘A’isha (RA). Khadijah (RA) and ‘Asiyah (RA). For their forbearance, steadfastness and continuity in faith, chastity, reliance on God, courage, qualities of maternity and beauty and nurture, loyalty, deep intelligence, and how they used it. Taqwa (God-consciousness, piety).

Many of us, as we become more mature, start to think about marrying a good – or, great, even, Insha Allah – man. But the important thing is for us to seek to be great women: we are parts of wholes (families and such) and we also count, deeply, as individuals. Inspired by the great Muslim men and women in our lives, and, hopefully, inspiring them (and our sons, and brothers, and daughters Insha Allah) too.

Many of us always seek to be ‘special’, somehow: a natural human impulse, probably. To be special before Allah, and in the hearts of good people, even if this does not necessarily also translate into being ‘special’ in the fleeting (and sometimes massively inaccurate) opinions of masses of people…

The headteacher closed his speech by referring to (I think it is) a quote about how we come into this world crying, while others around us are smiling. We seek to exit this world (which we inevitably will have to do, whenever our respective times are) smiling (“well-pleased and pleasing”) while others are… crying [friends and family who read my blog… you’d better cry for me, yeah, when I go…].

I have learnt so, so much about being Muslim, and a Muslim woman, specifically. Being a student, also. Teaching, and Muhammad (SAW) had been a teacher, and mothers, by nature, are teachers too. Due consideration, I have learned, over and over again, needs to be given to both the fences (government guidelines, curricula, accreditations, planning and timetables. Constancy: clear aims, constancy, the backbones) and to the nurture of the flowers (individuality, creativity, enjoyment and comfort. Novelty: the stuff that cannot be foretold or ‘planned-for’, too).

Who am I trying to be? What am I seeking to do, here? I think my love for this school, and its people, tells me a great deal in response to such questions. And if, in the future, I occupy some other roles (maybe, in Dunya terms, ‘bigger’ ones — or, ‘smaller’ ones…) then… that will be okay, too, but as long as the right essences of things remain the same within me, the entire way through, Insha Allah.

To try to live like Muhammad (SAW). And in a Fitrah-orientated manner: in a way that will grant us admission into Allah’s Mercy, and into Jannah. “The believers are but brothers” [Qur’an, (49:10)]. And perhaps the most beautiful thing about Madani School is its evident and well-embodied emphasis on sisterhood.

Probably one of the biggest things I have learned, through experience, is that life is going to keep moving, just as it has been doing, all this time. And we have got to keep moving, and growing, learning, with it. We know, better, what the [oft-arduous nature of the] life of this world is. Certainly, it is essential for us to have good people – and places – to walk along with us, on this journey.

[To quote a display poster on the top floor hall: What’s your journey to Jannah looking like?]

(And, Alhamdulillah for everything, and for what what things are, present tense.)

In line with the idea that everything in Dunya is part-‘upsides’ and part-‘downsides’:

Pages from the summer publication by the ‘Alimiyyah department:

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.