[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]
Justin Bieber. Selena Gomez. Russell Brand. Angelina Jolie. Albert Einstein. Sylvia Plath. What do all these individuals have in common with one another? Well, it is true that they share in common the fact that we have come to collectively celebrate them as being ‘great’ personalities – as being hugely inspirational and ‘successful’ in their fields. But there is another crucial thing that would appear to unite them – and it is a common denominator between most human beings alive today, in actual fact. And this unifying force can be summarised as follows: they – and we – all complain (or, used to complain) of some seemingly insurmountable, unshakeable ‘void within’.
Selena Gomez suffers from anxiety and depression. Shawn Mendes has crippling anxiety. Angelina Jolie, and countless other renowned models and actresses and writers (and so on) have suffered from intense exogenous depression. Some famous comedians have gone on to take their own lives; not even chronically making-light-of-things was enough to remedy the darkness, for them. The void calls to them, to all of us, and often, it is impossible for us not to beckon to it – to answer.
I have an aunt who, when void-related or existentially-angsty matters float uninvitedly into her mind, is prone to making strange noises and shaking her head so as to distract herself, and to rid herself of that potent and incoming feeling of darkness. I, on the other hand, prefer to stare right into it: I figure, if the void makes itself apparent to so many of us and so much of the time, it clearly wants to be acknowledged. Surely it has some kind of purpose here; surely there is something beyond this heavy, petrifying realisation that we exist; that we occupy the bodies we do, and look at the entire world through the eyes we do. And surely this is a cognitive phenomenon that is unique to we sons and daughters of Adam and Eve: the urgent questioning after who we might be and what we might be and why we might be.
I think people are funny; I, as a person, am no exception to this funniness. I, like my fellow brethren in homo sapien-ism, have futilely sought to fill or to conceal the void with things like excellent academic grades; with things I have bought; with romantic crushes; with gym-fuelled attempts at bodily ‘glow ups’; with hobbies and projects and so forth. I suppose some other people also seek to do away with it through the acquisition of wealth, and of titles, and of pretty wives, and through the securement of job promotions and business deals.
But look at all the people who have seemingly ‘made it’ in life. What have they really made? Find me a single one of these people who finds him- or herself content in life as a result of coming to the end of the arduous journeys towards success that they have designed for themselves. Logan Paul. Cara Delevigne. Lewis Hamilton. JK Rowling. The list is terrifyingly extensive; it just goes on and on and on.
How do humans often go about distracting ourselves from facing the darkness? Well, we do this through various addictions, of course. Most of us – if not all of us – are addicted to something. And the substances we are addicted to create for us new idealistic planes, which we plaster onto the mundane and void-inducing plane of reality. We refer to our goals as ‘dreams’ because we perceive them to be otherworldly; to be so pleasantly far away from where we find ourselves right now. Of course, some people are taken to drowning their existential thoughts in alcohol, in social media, in recreational drugs, in women, in awards and trophies, in food, in video-games, in seeking the praise and validation of the masses… But which of these individuals actually end up with a deep sense of inner success and contentment?
All these things, I think, just make us more restless. They are built atop the inescapable void just as houses often (inadvertently) are, upon sinkholes. One little shift in things – one accidental step taken towards the bleakness of the reality of this world – and it all might come crumbling down; it might all be consumed by the ravenous void below.
But what might be able to truly fill this cavernous cavity, this internal restlessness, this addiction-seeker, this addict that is addicted to all things material and superficial and empty, rather like itself? What could heal us, liberate us, from the tyranny of our own selves?
I say, in truth, the titular cavity is more like a puzzle-piece-shaped gap, which yearns for its own completion by the recognition of Truth. And we can certainly make the void our friend rather than our existential foe; it is undoubtedly just another name we have attributed to the Fitrah – the natural human constitution, the intuitive inclination towards what this life truly is. This Dunya – this world – is simply a sojourn, an arena, a preliminary existence that precedes a more permanent one. Of course we will feel an enduring sense of emptiness here: this is not home. And nothing can fill the giant gap – and I would bet much money on this, if betting were Halal – save for our submitting to the One who created us.
“Verily through the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” – Qur’an (13:28)
Sadia Ahmed, 2020