On Jealousy

Jealousy, envy, covetousness. Feeling (perhaps fiercely) protective over one’s own possessions, or, indeed, over one’s perceived possessions – such as social statuses and particular positive characteristics that are heightened, relatively, when compared to those of others. Or, resentfully yearning for the things – or the particular hues and degrees of these things – that others may have. Beauty, wealth, intelligence, material achievements, personality, attention from a particular individual, perceived likability. These are all things one can feel rather jealously protective of in oneself, and/or covetous for, in our perceptions of others. 

Almost indubitably, we have all come under the Green-Eyed Monster’s cunning clutch at some point in our lives, becoming either a tad obsessively territorial (maybe following the birth of a new baby sibling, whose newness, whose effortlessly adorable countenance threatened to steal away the parental doting that we had previously held a monopoly over), or feeling rather helplessly inadequate, perhaps when witnessing a crush seemingly flirtatiously conversing with (gasp!) somebody who isn’t you! 

Insecurity – that is the word (especially when it comes immoderate levels of jealousy/envy) here. And protectiveness – that is the other word. Feelings of jealousy and/or envy are not, in and of themselves, the worst things in the world. They are actually rather ‘natural’, instinctive, a fairly universal human emotional phenomenon. And, as a matter of fact, such feelings can actually prove fairly useful at times: a jealous protectiveness over one’s academic status at school, for example, can really motivate an individual to work very industriously indeed. Envy can also inspire a little, can motivate people to realise their desires to be better in various ways.

In Islam, for instance, men are indeed encouraged to have Gheerah – a kind of protective jealousy – over their womenfolk. This is not to say that they should be oppressive nor abusive in any way. The term encompasses a sense of earnest care and concern, combined with a certain degree of protective zeal. We should want to protect the things we have rights over and/or responsibilities towards. We should also take inspiration from people who have the things we ourselves wish to have: a good work ethic, a certain professional position…

But these things can, and often do, quickly slip into such uglinesses. Men, for example, can become quite abusive and obsessive under the guise of Gheerah. People can work themselves up into ongoing furies as a result of envy and envy-related ruminations. Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. It can be a rather suffocating ordeal to be the object of it; it can be a potentially equally torturous thing to be the one whose mind generates it.

In Islam, we accept that all blessings are from God, and that no person is superior to another (not in terms of race, nor ancestry, wealth, gender, or other factors) except as a result of piety and good action. The ultimate objective – Heaven – is open for everyone, non-finite in this regard. This is the ultimate goal, the lasting Peace and Happiness. Everything good in this world (according to a Hadith, is either an adornment or a provision and) can be a tool to getting there; on the flip side, these things can lead to us becoming arrogant, and to our losing sight of what is truly important.

On this Earth, youthful beauty does fade, and intelligence can just become a dormant and futile thing if not used. Wealth does not buy lasting happiness: it can quickly just be wasted, and the super-wealthy can be overcome by intense boredom and restlessness. We can find ourselves piling these things up, spending our time being jealous and envious. But eventually, all of it goes away. In the case of wealth, for example, it all may go to those who come after you, while your corpse rots in its grave [apologies for the morbidity here, but hashtag reality].

“If you are grateful to me, I will surely increase you [in favour]”

– Holy Qur’an, (14:7)

Maybe it is true that we all want to be unique, special, somehow. And when the perceived ‘things that make us special’ come, in our eyes, under attack as a result of competition (or, indeed, if we long to be ‘special’ in a particular way, but feel inadequate, and feel a heightened sense of this inadequacy when we juxtapose ourselves with people who have what we wish we could have had) we become a little hyper-competitive, aggressive, maybe a tad unreasonable.

But if this is a fear of yours (losing your ‘uniqueness’, your ‘specialness’) fear less, for you are you. To quote Dr. Seuss, “There is no one alive who is you-er than you”.

You are entirely unique – in terms of all your experiences, thoughts, the daily reality of being you. It is futile to compare you to another (although it could, at times, be useful to isolate a particular habit or behavioural trait, and look to others’ expressions of the same thing as a source of inspiration).

You must be easier on yourself, and fairer on any person who may be the object of your jealous or envious tendencies, too. Humanity certainly has its good parts – its golden, shinier parts. But all human beings also trip up and fall; must use the toilet on a daily basis; eventually… die. In honouring our humanness, we must know that we – and they – are not computers, nor dolls, nor anything else that is materially possess-able, manufactured via machines, or quite predictable. We are never-ending projects. There is good and bad in you, and the same (but expressed differently) in them.

God has decreed for you to have certain challenges and certain blessings; other people too – irrespective of who they may be – have their blessings and their challenges. Allah (SWT) is the granter of blessings, and He is also the one who is testing us – through our blessings and our challenges: through our intentions and actions. 

Ultimately, the only real competition you have in this life is… yourself. Your own bad habits, your own limiting beliefs, perhaps some of your own delusional ways of thinking [e.g. the quality of my life would be so much better if I just looked like him, or if I were as photogenic as her]. We all want to improve our personal experiences of Life; we are all in this pursuit of Happiness. But drastic changes – like suddenly coming into the possession of much wealth, or becoming the most academically adept person, or beginning to look like an Insta-model: in reality, these things might bring you a high or two. And then, perhaps, some secondary highs from the external validation you may receive. But eventually, our minds seek to normalise all novelties. It all just becomes ‘daily life’, nothing special, to you. You can observe this phenomenon in many people you may admire or envy because they are very beautiful, or very intelligent, or very materially successful. Many of these people just become used to themselves and their lives; what we see as enviable and special in them, they may simply overlook. And likewise, there may be some very wonderful, externally very admirable or enviable things in you that you are prone to overlooking as a result of familiarity with yourself.

Jealousy and envy can push a man – or a woman – to do crazy, heinous things: things like repeatedly violating a partner’s right to privacy by rummaging through their personal belongings; displaying otherwise obsessive and stalker-ish tendencies; displaying abusive behaviours; torrentially slandering the objects of one’s envy, thus leveraging social power over them in their absence, seeking ways to belittle them, to make yourself seem ‘better’ than them, in some respects, by comparison. And, of course, there is that timelessly obnoxious habit that can arise when one becomes a little too intrigued by another person’s being and achievements: interrogation, excessive questioning, wanting to find out about them and their lives, as much as you can…

There is a fine line between sentiments of admiration and those of envy. This line, so it would seem, is remarkably easy to cross. Even when it comes to ostensibly harmless feelings of admiration for a person, one finds oneself treading on dangerous ground. Why? Because when you put human beings upon imaginative pedestals, you essentially dehumanise them. The human imagination is an exceptionally creative thing. You may begin to ascribe features and ideas to this person that are not necessarily true. In doing so, you are not being very fair to them [for they are a fellow human being, and are thus flawed, unbelievably complex, multifaceted] nor are you being very fair to yourself, seeing yourself as being ‘far less’ than they are.

Today’s celebrity culture certainly unabashedly promotes things like the idolisation of people, and envy, and focusing on things like others’ beauty, relationship statuses, and levels of wealth. Audiences wait with bated breath, sharklike, waiting for a person to slip up. Media outlets forever find themselves gathering evidence – reasons to place certain people on some sort of spectacular angelic plane – while also seeking reasons to debase them – perhaps partially as a result of collective envy, to demolish the pillars that might hold these people’s pedestals up. All this happens on this wider scale, and it can tend to happen on far smaller interpersonal ones, too.

“One is not a Muslim until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

And, of course, demonstrating the above can be hard at times. If you pride yourself on being the funniest or the prettiest or the smartest in the room (or whatever else) for instance, jealousy can overcome you. You may end up displaying some hostility towards someone else who happens to also be rather funny or beautiful or academically competent. But we need to have faith and trust in Allah. We must seek to overcome our egos and to support others; indeed, according to the Qur’an, the reward for excellence (and of related self-overcoming) is “nothing but excellence”. And we must seek to be good to the people and to be grateful to God; verily, He multiplies blessings.

Interestingly, another Hadith tells us that when we pray for good for others, an angel within our proximity says, “And for you, the same.” 

Remember, firstly, that there is more than enough beauty, enough wisdom and intelligence, enough positive character traits, to go around! 

And, secondly, know you are the custodian of your own life; spending your time attempting to peer into others’ lives does not really do anything good for yours.

So, the jealousy cure, then: a tranquility-giving concoction of trust; acceptance of Divine Decree; remembrance of the nature of life as being a test (both in terms of our tribulations, and in terms of [what we do as a result of] our blessings); expressing gratitude to God and asking Him for His protection over the blessings we have; accepting that we can be prone to cognitive distortions (e.g. when, as a result of distance, we come to believe that some people’s lives are pretty much perfect; that appearances are more substantial than substance itself); praying for and working towards the things we would like to have (while knowing that we are indeed each unique. One person’s beauty or intelligence will naturally look rather different to another’s); accept that it is okay to take inspiration from others, but you are you:

focus on yourself. 

 

Addendum: I do believe that many jealousy and envy issues can stem from childhood. This is just an observation, but it would appear as though many only children and first children are more territorial – more jealous – than others. This may be because they are more used to ‘not sharing’ things, and to being ‘special’.

Moreover, it may be true that those with envy issues want what others have a lot of the time because they were compared to other children by caregivers in childhood; made to feel inadequate – like they were lacking, while others were not.

Of course, this ties into what I speak about a lot – questions of Free Will and Blameworthiness. Envy is seen as a ‘destroyer of deeds’ [Hadith] in Islam. But to what extent does he or she have agency over such sentiments? Insha Allah I hope to delve further into such questions in a (near) future article.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Through Time

Dear friend,

Life is a period (relatively long and relatively short)

of continued striving. It is a thing of comedy, and

it is a thing of tragedy.

 

I know that, on some nights, there are certain things that mercilessly rip your heart apart, without you ever asking them to.

And I know how you hide. It’s so hard to ‘open up’ when, in the past, doing so has led to your spirit being thrown onto the ground, stomped on, thrown to hungry wolves,

over and over again.

It’s okay if you need some more time to heal; I’ll wait for you here while you do.

There’s a nice sunflower outside I want to try and sketch. It is undeniable, and

it reminds me of you.

 

Dear friend,

How real is the smile on your face, and how often is it so?

How frequently do you forget who you truly are, when your heart feels numb and its love feels this low?

 

Dear friend,

It feels quite like we are alone in this world, doesn’t it? Like it is terribly easy to become this cold;

To reach for anything that might shield our souls from the elements – walls, perhaps; to be a little quieter, more defensive, less bold.

 

It feels like forever missing something you can’t quite put your finger on, and nothing else on Earth can ever fill its space.

You cry and you mourn and yet nothing comes. How is the thing to know it is being called,

If you can’t even recall its name, not even the first letter, not even at all.

 

Dear friend,

Yes, you are simultaneously blooming and you are fading, here.

We are on this Earth like mere travellers. But oh, the things we will see; the stories we will tell.

And there is a great promise of Something Else beyond here, a beckon to an ocean through vessel of seashell.

All life, on a spinning planet, inches forward every hour. And someday, there will be no hours left.

 

Dear friend,

Perhaps on your bad days, we could sit here together and attempt to imagine what timelessness might be like. Someday we will exist in that state, you know.

Nothing from the past really matters (except, of course, everything. It has all led us here, it is everything that might have helped us to grow.)

Some days, I am so scared and I feel like almost everything is out of reach, beyond me.

Going through the motions, almost unreal; is there any other way to be?

 

Dear friend,

I think you are wonderful. Nobody else can quite do the whole ‘you’ thing the way you do:

Your funny tales, catchphrases, forever doing the opposite of what you’ve been told.

I think the ends of your smile sing of beauty, your hair of genius, your heart of gold.

And I think we must be brave here. Nobody knows of the pain that floods your entire mind from time to time;

few know of the terrible notions you were made to believe, and which have replayed themselves in your head over and over in your mind.

See, on a bodily wound, one may kneel and place a bandage, grace and hope.

But the soul, you see, tends to sing of a different kind of pain.

Dull, amorphous, insidious. There would appear to be no escaping it.

 

Dear friend,

What do we do? We tie our camels and we trust Allah. Helplessness is not in our vocabularies: indeed, the help of your Lord is near. 

You have to make a choice. You are the custodian of this life, and when you take certain chances, good things will appear.

Roses really bloom when you choose to really trust God; you will witness your Du’as unfurl, one by one.

 

Dear friend,

Today, we forget everything that we have known,

And we remember all that we have learned.

You know, I have always wondered if there will come a time in our lives when we will be able to say that “we made it.”

Good things will come; be patient. But, no: here in Life, things do not stay still, and time is always in a bit of a hurry.

 

Dear friend,

We humans were not designed for black and white, nor do we find ourselves having been programmed by binary.

Humanness is amorphous, colours, often not neat.

 

It does not really matter where you’re from. You might want to keep the good and forget the bad – a justified price.

It will all be of value, but it will not matter – not when you take that first step into Jannah – to Paradise.

 

Dear friend,

Nobody will ever know you

The way only your Creator can do.

People do not create Truth, and so it is okay if people look right through your eyes without understanding you.

 

God Himself chose to create you: a thing of beauty, wonderful. The entire world could end up hating you and still it would not matter:

 

You are not better than anybody, and nobody at all is better than you –

That is, not except by piety and good action.

 

Dear friend,

Maybe I do not know you personally, but I do so believe in you.

May the loudness, for you, quieten. May your journey through be filled with little lantern Du’as that all come true

 

one by one. Even in the belly of a whale; at the bottom of a well

Allah surely loves the one who puts their trust in Him;

so, dear friend, tonight we tie our camels, and through Time, Allah will tell.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

 

“We are surrounded by all of these lies and people who talk too much.”

– Ed Sheeran 

God is

What comes from nothing, but nothingness? And what moves unless something first moves before it? Nothing at all. 

We know that the Universe began: and most probably through a ‘Big Bang’. But did it spark this Bang by itself? Did this Universe give birth to itself?

What moved first? A series of atoms, was it? Did they just guide themselves to the creation of everything, and eventually to every single astonishing process that has led to this world, our being, our bodily systems, our capacities for consciousness? 

Jesus was not – is not – God. Why pray to a man, when you can pray to the One who created men? Jesus had indeed been a special human being, endowed with unique qualities by God Himself. It was not by mere fluke that he had managed to amass such devoted followers; he had indubitably been much more than a mere rabbit-and-hat magical illusionist.

A prophet of God, just like Muhammad (SAW) had later been. Accused of being a poet, a soothsayer, a magician. His abilities, too, had absolutely astounded people.

The Qur’an and its words had absolutely amazed the people of the time, in Arabia. ‘Twas a society fuelled by poetry, and even the most revered poet of the region had conceded to the Qur’an’s linguistic prowess and superiority.

Let us think about this realistically. Muhammad (SAW) had been extremely beloved; none of his friends and family members had thought of him as being insane. In fact, he had been known as an extremely wise and trustworthy person – even by his own enemies. If he had indeed been sane, what could he have wanted through the acceptance and spread of revelation, of Islam?

Expansion for the sake of expansion, even though it had resulted in family members turning away from him, periods of extreme poverty (during which, at one point, he had had to tie rocks to his stomach to quell the intensity of his hunger)? Muhammad (SAW) did not reach for hoards of wealth (he lived simply, slept on the floor, ate moderately, asked that people looked after the poor) nor for women (after his beloved wife Khadija RA – who had been fifteen years his senior – had passed away, he married A’isha RA, and multiple others – but these other wives had been divorcees, married for their own protection, typically for diplomatic purposes).

How many nights had Muhammad SAW spent in prayer, weeping? Once, A’isha RA had woken up in the middle of the night to find him absent from their home. Concerned, she went out to search for him, and found him at the Masjid, in quiet prayer, alone with the Alone.

How many times had his enemies attempted to ridicule him, by taunting, by slandering him, and once even by throwing sheep innards onto his back while he had been in prayer, in front of his young daughter.

What does Islam say? It says that God is One. It tells us that we did not come about by mere chance, and that human consciousness is not just another happy mistake. Our rich inner worlds matter much; we are not just biological robots.

Islam tells us that God had sent His prophets – men, purified servants of His – to every human nation and tribe. In some of these communities, the message had been honoured through time; in others, the message had become eroded and distorted, until people started confusing messengers for God Himself; until people began to draw all sorts of weird creatures, calling their artistic abominations… God.

Why do some find it so remarkably difficult to believe in Him? Well, for starters, many traditions have, in their ‘artistic portrayals’ of Him, attempted to anthropomorphise God. An old white man in the sky, perhaps, or some blue person with many arms [Astaghfirullah].

These things do not really make sense. But Islam maintains that, try as we might, we cannot conceive of what God ‘looks like’ – not yet, at least. Why? Because He is completely unlike His creation, unlike anything we currently know.

One can only conceive of things that are at least linked to other things one has seen before. We cannot imagine things that are beyond our existing frames of reference.

There is Beauty in our world: unity, proportion, harmony. Things – from the sub-atomic level and upwards – do not simply ‘know what to do’, without any external guidance. They are not the supreme intelligence, which know, for example, how to come together to create the human eye… nor do they know how to make one side of the face mirror the other. They are not intelligent, in and of themselves.

We need God; of course we do. We have always needed Him. And ‘God-less’ places are the most lost ones. We look for God even in ‘post-religious’ notions of spirituality, in searching for something ‘greater than ourselves’.

God is wholly Unique, the Unmoved Mover, the Most Wise. Al-Baari’, the Originator, Al-‘Aleem, the Omniscient. Al-Lateef, the most subtle. Al-Kabeer, the Greatest. Al-Muhyee, Giver of life. Al-Ra’oof, the Most Kind.

And He is also Al-Mujeeb: the Respondent One, here to listen to the prayers of both me and you, granted we call upon Him with sincerity.

Call upon Me, I will respond to you.” 

– Holy Qur’an, (40:60) 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Quite Missed Home

[Allahummabārik]

Today’s sunset had seemed quite urgent, a tiger-like shade of orange. Absolutely remarkable, and its light had managed to find its way right into our car, without losing any of its aureate urgency. Mazhar in the driver’s seat, singing along to his ‘sad boi hours’ tunes. Maryam screaming impatiently at poor reluctant Moosa, trying to get him to photograph the sunset from his window for her.

As the car ascended up the hill, the sun (and with such grace) began to dip its head beneath this vastness of greenery. The trees, in all their rugged glory, their winding bones, coiled in some parts, outstretched this way and that, in others. And the fields, expansive, bucolic, majestic, interrupted only by emerald pool of water, an iridescent-seeming lake.

We found ourselves racing past all of it, the wind pouring into the car, beating against the sides of it, and against our eardrums. Meanwhile all else remained still; the flies looked golden, like little flower bits, tumbling to the ground beneath shade of enchanted shrubbery, at a most leisurely pace. I do so love this part of the year – when spring tickles the next part – summer, and all finds itself being in this state of golden stillness. And yes, it did all look quite still – that was, until London’s more recognisable skyline increasingly came into view. The Shard and his friends, I mean.

“Fuldi, did you know that Mazhar can drive with his knees?”

“Um… I do believe you. But please don’t show me. I don’t really feel like dying today”

Mazhar released the steering wheel from his hands in a hasty instant, and proceeded to demonstrate his unique skill to me. He sped down the road, faster than he probably (legally) should have done, making all the necessary turns…with just his knees. I put my seatbelt on in a hurry and instinctively grabbed the roof handle. My cousins are so crazy; I love them so; still, I did not really fancy dying in a car with them today, while listening to James Arthur through the Aux.

You’re not in every window I look through,” we all sang uproariously, attempting to harmonise, me still clinging to the handle. And then, we all looked out of the window – on the left side – to find a middle-aged man sat in his car, staring, looking at us through his window, a puzzled and gaping expression painted across his face.

 

For a long time, it is true: I had quite missed home. But now, from time to time, I stay the night at home’s house. We talk – about the world, our lives, things we saw on Twitter the other day –  all until the sky turns orange, and then pink, and then blue. Home is her, my (de facto) sister, and it is them, my brothers (one blood-, one a cousin), who habitually talk to me about all things Fortnite. And I do try to share their enthusiasm for something I do not understand at all…

Home is this: it is come exactly as you are. We’ll order some take-away today. Maybe we’ll lounge around in the garden for a while. Trust me, it’ll feel just like poetry, the best kind, as it usually does. Lal Mama will probably suggest that we all go for a midnight bike ride or something. My dad will make Mami laugh-laugh (and anyone who can make Mami laugh-laugh is actually funny, it must be known). Ranga Mama and I will probably talk about something that will make Sweetie roll her eyes out of annoyance (“ugh, they’re debating again”). Khalamoni might tell us all about something scandalous that happened a decade ago or something, and Nanu will eventually get sick of Saif and Isa’s playful nonsense.

Of course, now we have Siyana and Dawud. They hadn’t been here before, to see what home looked like then. They only know what it looks like now, with them here, stomping around, being carried around by this cousin and then that one. The world is their playground, and they already know that

Home is a place that is warm; it is where the sun shines endlessly through the windows. And nobody here is the exact same person they had been five years ago, but we manage to recall most former versions of everyone, through our respective lenses, with such tender fondness. We had all been children who were never raised by just two parents, but by everyone who is a part of home: these uncles, these aunts, and Nanu.

When you choose to love a person, you choose to love the space they are encompassed by; you hold a space for them. And inside this space exists an ever-changing entity, and one with its own wonders and goldennesses, complete with its own flaws.

Sometimes home is candle-lit, with plants on the window-sill, chicken-and-mushroom pie on the table – help yourselves, have as much as you want! And sometimes it is a campfire in the garden, a tray full of chai cups, a sky full of stars.

We are all growing up too quickly, aren’t we? Forever too young to be certain about anything at all, and yet always too old to be too stubborn and selfish.

Lal Mama is perhaps the most open and vocal about his fear of ageing. Forty-four years old already, as he keeps on reminding us. But we’re all, undoubtedly, so afraid of things changing, here. A scary prospect indeed, that of things changing to the point of eventually being beyond current We’s recognition.

But I must not fear: much of my home is in the spaces that they all hold for me. My heart is there, right there. It does not, will not, budge very much at all… that is, save for when Mazhar decides to drive at 85 mph down a road with a 30 mph limit and my heart almost falls right to the ground and my entire life is made to flash itself before my eyes, a sort of spontaneously appearing photo album.

Ah, nostalgia that is borne as a result of underlying terror, sheer bloody terror. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

On Debating

“Point of information!”

“No thank you,” accompanied by a simple ‘sit right back down’ gesture. 

 

Debating is, undoubtedly (and when done properly!) an art form – the art form that concerns facts, figures, rhetorical devices, humanity, logic galore. Impassioned speeches, appeals to the…humanness… of humans (to all three – logos, pathos, and ethos – components). Witty comebacks, tensions, a heightened sense of intellectualism, coupled with a (deliberately) heightened sense of its seeming opposite, emotion. Disagreements and/or discovery, with a necessary helping of civility and perhaps a touch of theatricalism. 

Recently I came across what would appear to be an ongoing post-debate debate – an  intellectual back-and-forth – between two of my most favourite debaters. And it really got me thinking about what the point of debates might be, as well as the foolishness of the use of personal attacks, among other things.

Honestly (and my apologies if I sound glib and condescending here but) I do pity those who have never been part of a debate club before, or who have not taken part in a debate before. Of course, some debates take place ‘informally’ (i.e. without formal adjudicators and/or hosts and moderators) – at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park (London), over dinner tables [I have this one uncle who has always, since my childhood, initiated ‘deep conversations’ and debates with me – on topics ranging from time and space, to the properties of water. I have him to thank for so much – insert cheese – of who I am and for how I think, today] and indeed while with friends, talking about certain things.

Something that is not fun, in my humble opinion, is constant argument – bickering. Arguing for the sake of arguing; tendencies that tend towards utter solipsism. Indubitably, the point of debating should not be the surrender to, nor the ardent nurture of, the ego.

Ah, formal debating, how I miss thee. The unparalleled joys – the motion being set; things being set in motion. Moments of inspiration under timed constraints, rushing to brainstorm various things on paper, trying to get your team to agree on things and to complement one another. You will forgive me, dear reader, for my shameless displays of nerdiness here, but the rush. Knowing how to win over the audience; knowing how – and when – to expose perceived faults in the opponents’ lines of reasoning.

But, thinking bigger here, the point of debating is not to commit to consistently being right. Something that I love about traditional debate clubs and competitions is that sometimes one is forced to assume a place on the opposite side of the table – to argue for something that normally, one disagrees with. What does this do – what benefits could come from this? These particular challenges do much to boost a person’s cognitive skills, as well as one’s capacities for empathy – for appreciating a range of perspectives.

The person representing the view or idea being debated is undoubtedly important. I must stress the aforementioned point that we are human, centrally emotional creatures. We love humour and narratives and imagery, among other things. And any debate would just be… fleshless, robotic … without all of the things that render it a potentially brain-stimulating, mind-expanding art form.

Rhetorical questions, lists, statistics, anecdotes. Points of information, rebuttals. Anacoluthon, analogies, apophasis, anadiplosis, litotes. And in bigger debates, the unique opportunity to witness the power of your words in action, (potentially) shaping the atmosphere of the entire hall.

And then, some of the things to steer clear of: ipsedixitisms [I love that word], shouting and heckling [you’d think that the folks who sit on those infamous green benches over at Parliament would be above all this puerile stuff, at their ages and in their positions. But, alas… the House of Commons might as well be renamed ‘the House of Heckles’. Many MPs, with all due respect, often debate in a completely uninspired manner, sometimes just reciting statistics from a piece of paper, sometimes not even including any facts in their addresses at all. Some even take naps on those very benches while debates go on. But I digress. Order! Order!] And then, of course, there’s the ever-prevalent tendency of things to sometimes be taken a little bit too far… thus leading to things descending into hyper-emotionality, irrationality, and ad hominems – personal attacks, which do nothing to bolster or undermine any actual arguments. In general, these signify a pathetic attempt to divert attention away from the actual topic at hand, and more towards a (pathetic) battle between egos.

Something I need to constantly remember, in any debate-resembling situation (that is not an actual formal debate where the very point is to stubbornly stick to a view even if I myself do not agree with it – though even then, my ultimate purpose should be to learn something, no?) is that intentions are paramount. What is my intention here? To prove that I am ‘right’, at any cost, even if I am actually wrong? And, are they attacking me or just a view of mine that I may sometimes mistake as being an unchangeable part of my identity? And, am I being fair to them? Am I truly listening to what they are saying? Do I really, truly agree with these views I have chosen to be a spokesperson for, or am I simply being unproductively stubborn, deploying ego defence mechanisms where, perhaps, they are unneeded? 

I love that debates can easily become awfully – tremendously – conceptual, abstract. You put some sort of ideology or view – all these intangible things, figuratives, potentials – on a metal plate, under surgical lighting. And you proceed to poke and jab at them; attempt to dissect it from a a range of different perspectives. What might the economic implications be? And the political ones? How would this motion affect…women? What might the physical sciences have to say, on the matter [oof, pun not intended, but what a pun indeed, right]? All in all, I have learnt so much from partaking in, and from watching, debates – both formal and informal ones. I have learnt about Islam, about Philosophy, about abortion, the education system… Knowledge in action, interdisciplinary considerations, and all this (hopefully,) with a fine helping of humanness and enjoyability: this all makes the learning component so easy!

Usually, with these things, there is no single ‘right’ answer. And perhaps this is one of the things that makes such oratory duels so interesting. No two people are the same; people’s perspectives – the bases of their speeches – tend to be wholly unique, too.

One can – and should – always try to respect a debating ‘opponent’ (partner) and their humanity. Ad hominem attacks ought to be avoided at all costs – and, actually, from my observations, it is clear that the use of these personal attack tools (falsely) promise a quick and easy way out – and to ‘victory’. It is easy – and quite pathetic – to state or insinuate that a Muslim dialectical partner is being… threatening or ‘terroristic’, or that a woman who identifies as a feminist is being ‘whingey’, or that someone who is a supporter of the political right is, by default, a ‘Nazi’. Ad hominems – insults – can be effective in causing offence to, perhaps disgruntling, one’s opponents. But they do nothing to fortify one’s own arguments; if anything, they only perceptively undermine one’s integrity and authority in the given dialectical situation. So, respecting human beings is paramount [- that is, if you buy into the whole ‘innate value’ thing. If you are, instead, of the opinion that this is a wholly indifferent universe, in which we are happy accidents and biological robots with no objective morality or purpose, then… you… do your thing.]

But also, the merits of freedom of speech should certainly never be overlooked! We (only, really) become more learned and wise through discussing things with others; in the process, we may grow in security in terms of sticking with certain views of ours. Or, we may find ourselves outgrowing certain views.

Anecdote time: before beginning my time at sixth form (which was almost three years ago, now – wow!) I had always staunchly identified myself as a feminist and as a leftist- in terms of everything. And, it is true what they [who is ‘they’? And is it the same ‘they’ that DJ Khaled constantly expresses remonstrances with?] say – about how the issue with definitions is that they tend to result in us overlooking the capacity for change, and sometimes, for nuance. This notion had certainly held true for me, during the majority of my pre-Year Twelve days. And what did it result in? An inability to truly see and listen to the other side.

It can be so easy to dehumanise, in our minds, people who share very different views from us – and to create false dichotomies. Us versus them, us versus them, us versus them.

But, at sixth form, I met a friend who also loves debating. And we would debate all the time. I must admit, I began to take things a little too personally when we began to discuss topics like racism, sexism, and Islam, respectively. But this friend – who is different to me in terms of race, religion, gender, political leanings – truly challenged some of my established ways of thinking. He remained respectful throughout all of these discussions of ours, even when it would have been easy for him to resort to actual personal attacks; props to him for this.

I ended up learning a lot from him. I ended up developing my critical thinking skills, through these debates, and as a result of them, some of my views certainly changed.

Now, another random tangent [which makes sense, because this friend and I used to debate in our Maths class, the most] – I used to love debating with Twitter trolls, back when I was fourteen years old. Why? I don’t really know. I probably just wanted to debate more, but Debate Club (which I had acted like it had been a personality trait of mine that I had been President of. Weird, weird flex) had unfortunately come to an end. So I debated topics like politics and Hadiths on Twitter, and learnt much through researching to take part in these arguments, along the way. And insults like the P-word (something I had been called a couple of times, when I was younger, by random strangers), insults pertaining to my being Muslim, and a Muslim woman, at that… they were all hurled at me, left, right and centre.

Now, this aforementioned friend of mine – he had experienced his fair share of ad hominem insults, too. Labelled a Nazi, for stupid reasons, when his own grandparents had campaigned against the Nazis during the War.

These labels are not helpful. They prevent us from being able to really see people, and their humanness. Echo chambers are not helpful. Bad manners in debates simply just have the adverse effect of pushing people further away from what you want them to come to understand. And, surely, every person you meet has something – at least one thing – that you can learn from them. So (I hope you will) debate. And, welcome debate.

Some pet hates of mine, though: that… academic arrogance that can often be brought into such discussions. Stubbornness, mocking others, those ice-cold glares, at times. Seeking leverage through means of big words and sophism. If your views are defendable, I entreat you to defend them! Your views need not be permanent; your mind need not be in a state of closed-ness and stagnation.

Debating: I think it is wonderful, and, when done well, is one of the greatest skills a person can have. Enjoyable, a potentially hugely educational thing to do, facilitating discovery and connections between communities.

Words can indeed change worlds; debating is one of the very cornerstones of democracy and of intellectualism. But it can all become extremely ugly when what should be a battle of ideas – the things we ought to place on that dialectical silver plate [main course: discourse!] – devolves into a senseless exchange of personal attacks, or indeed, when people gratuitously take things too personally [e.g. “I love to debate. But I hate it when people want to debate about Christianity, since I am a Christian and these are my views and I don’t want to hear opposing views”] or when irrationalism, along the same lines, is allowed to take centre-stage: “I believe in this thing because I believe in it. Because… I believe in it. And that is all.”

Put the thing on the plate – first. And let this be the focus, the centre, the point, of it all.

Also, argumentation for the sake of argumentation is futile and foolish. It’s like that quote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” [Edward Abbey]. I find myself being deeply sceptical of (most) things being done for the sake of… themselves. In debating, this is precisely what provides the perfect breeding ground for ego-based bickering, arrogance, irrationality, the counter-productive encouragement of close-minded behaviours.

Intentions and intentionality, maintaining good Adab – decorum, decency, humanness – and having a purpose, there and then, which is perhaps greater than the lodging of your flag into someone else’s ego. These are certainly some debate-related principles that I seek to go forward with.

And oh, how I long to be in a debate club again. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

After All

“life is almost magical, after all”

– Vincent Van Gogh 

What have I been waiting for, all this time? To what things have I been pinning the declining value of my youth? 

Maybe it is true that I (think about and) talk about my own confusion – these inner turbulences – a little too much. I have, for a long time, often felt like a walking collection of ‘too much’s and ‘too little’s. But for what purpose? What do these thoughts add to my life, and to my growth?

A long time ago, I stopped being afraid of the dark. And perhaps that is part of the problem. But it is impossible to become fully comfortable with heaviness; the most one can do is try one’s best to adapt to it; to alter one’s posture a little, to manage. I suppose I ended up speaking about it too much: I made my own ears bleed, and I managed to exhaust myself. But, also, I spoke about it too little: it was like I had forgotten how to speak, how to assign words to things that effortlessly overwhelm. Sadness is a sea: sometimes its people swim within it, and other times, they drown.

What do I await? A new experience, or a new person? A sudden change of scenery?

I so wish that enough could truly be enough. There is only this, only today; there is no more. There is nothing to make up for, and nothing of me and mine to shed.

I know not if I am more a ‘realist’, or an ‘idealist’. Sometimes cynical, a little on the pessimistic side. And yet, at the same time, I want to believe that everything is infused with love and hope: such are the things that illuminate the human universe.

What will idealism do for me? It will boost my spirits, for sure. Poetry is a form of idealism, is it not? But this idealism cannot be tethered to some imaginative machinations my mind comes up with, for the future. It cannot be contingent on any series of dramatic shifts: not in a change of the people I am around, nor in a change in who I am.

Perspective, and the present day. The red carpet before me; what lies beyond is a little foggy. But the red carpet is here today. And tomorrow shall be a new today. And all is swell, where realism meets a healthy dose of its counterpart: beautification, idealism.

“Things are just things. They don’t make you who you are.” Macklemore was right when he said this. Neither the value of I, nor the quality of my life – a series of expressions of this ‘I’ – are dependent on the things I have, or might come to have. What I do, however, is important. Habits and identity are inextricably connected to one another.

A day is a day: but how will I spend it? All those yesterdays are no longer with us. We should not mourn their going, though. Back then, we were not yet who we are now. And those yesterdays did teach us so much.

A house is a house, whether it is a palace or a council flat. What is important is its essence, and its success of functionality. Things are just things. It would, however, appear as though most of the things we concern ourselves with so much are rather illusive. And the days just continue to happen and pass, exactly as they do.

So, with which aphorisms, with which useful concepts, do I know I must equip myself with, going forward?

Well, firstly, making poetry of things is pretty much never a bad shout. I don’t necessarily mean the type that is typically bound by iambic pentameter, and which must follow a rhyme scheme. I mean poetry: perceptive synthesis, but make it beautiful, infuse it with light, hope and wonder. Somehow.

All that nostalgia, sometimes dark, sometimes brilliant and spring-like, always bittersweet. What is it that I miss so much? And, when it comes to considerations of the future, what is it that I truly long for?

Good things tend to happen unexpectedly. And then, when one goes to write about them somewhere, it feels rather like penning a novel. Sometimes, the best things happen in those infantile hours which occur after midnight and before dawn. Like the time I stayed over at my cousins’, and the way that nostalgia – all those childhood memories coming back to me at once – enveloped me. But this was a new experience, truly a thing to behold, in and of itself:

The conversations that took place, connection. Reminders: that you are not alone in this. And you come from a [extended] family of deeply caring clowns. There will be unplanned sleepovers, during which you and your beloved cousin lay awake, unable to sleep, trying to think about ways that humans might have slept, if the usual way had not been a thing.

Staring at the ceiling, reciting, “I am asleep. I am asleep,” robotically, over and over again.

Bellies filled with laughter on the days you had been fasting from food and drink. Your auntie’s cooking on the table, and the distinctive personalities that then surround it, each bringing something a little different. We are beings that contain life, witnessed and lived through different eyes, and different minds. And we are reminded of these facts, time and time again, and we can know life’s poetry when we see it, granted we make the effort to seek it out a little more.

Some ways of living, I consider so very soul-draining and boring. Excessive industry, and wasting one’s time and breath criticising things. How does anyone manage to endure such violence against the human spirit?

Yes, there is work I need to do. But the point of my work cannot be the work itself: somehow, it must all enrich my experience of this wonderful gift of Life. And I always take inspiration from

myself and my cousins and my friends: who we were when we were younger. All those adventures, the conversations, the laughter. This was life, pure, mostly unbridled. We would make mosques out of our living rooms, and a playground out of our grandma’s bedroom. What else is there to do here, but to nurture our bodies, minds, and souls?

Good food, good company, the fostering of meaningful thoughts. Doing away with the things that will not serve us and our humanity. Overthinking is the stuff of people who live outside of today, and thus outside of life. It’s good to pray in one’s garden, sometimes, and to read books under blanket forts.

I must also stop digging. Seeds need time to sprout; unearthing them so as to ‘check their progress’ results in their uprooting. One must simply let the growth happen, even if so much of it does so away from clear sight, underground.

There have been certain points in my life, at which I have managed to think myself into oblivion. Life is not experienced passively; our minds do not simply represent things. Human perception, subjectivity, define our very (individual) realities. So I think a thing; it thus becomes real.

So why on earth don’t I focus on mentally composing sonnets for the moon? Or on writing odes to the chocolate cake I intend to break my fast with tomorrow? For is it not true that

life is almost magical, after all?


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Fences and Flowers

I have a weird thing about, an affinity for – perhaps an obsession with – lists. I seem to have longings, in me, to create lists on every topic. Favourite movies, cool places to travel to, things to pack in my bag whenever I go on these adventures. I generate numerous lists of numerous things. I suppose they (are meant to) give me a sense of control over my life. I also have a list of the names of my ‘loved ones’. Of course, love and good friendships tend to be (and should be) fairly organic affairs. However, in my mind’s own view at least, keeping lists of such things grants me  a sense of structure; ensures that I will not accidentally forget to, say, keep in touch with those who are truly worth keeping in touch with.

At times I wonder if my list-making tendencies are a tad unhealthy. They certainly do function, in my life, as tools of stress relief. But then I also worry about forgetting to add important things to my lists; I worry about including too many things. What truly motivates me to write them up in the first place? Why are sensations of stress so effective in driving me to put pen to paper and list things in such a way?

I am so afraid of forgetting important things. Like who I am, and how ‘best to live my life’. I am afraid (even though I know that a human being cannot be concisely defined through things like sentences and lists) of being wholly undefined, amorphous, personality-wise.

I love that I am ‘naturally inclined’ towards certain things; I love being driven by passion and inspiration. And maybe it is because I have been, for so long, such an ardent lover of writing, but I almost feel like things are not real until they are written down. If left unwritten, things just float around aimlessly in the air. They disappear; we rely on our own memory functions to preserve any of their realness.

I do seem to tend to underestimate the sheer brilliance of the human capacity to remember things. But I do also know that writing things down has its own unique benefits. For instance, I find I experience a particular sense of joy whenever I come across an old journal of mine from a few years back. In them, I have recorded many of the minute details of what my life looked like back then – things that had been hidden somewhere in the recesses of my mind, deemed unimportant by it, until I revisited those words, which I had formerly immortalised on paper.

I do long for my life to be governed by certain systems, things that can be written down, and which I can hold myself accountable to and for. But – and this has been a huge point of inner conflict for me – I am also so very drawn to the opposite of this ideal life governed by systems, and by efficiency, and by never forgetting who I am and the habits that make ‘me’, me. I love the concept of adventure, and of spontaneity, and of dynamism, and of stories that I live through, which I could never have been able to foretell.

The lists and structures I have in place (which I have been trying to reify, though their contents do seem to change rather often) will likely continue to be the source of much stress relief, efficiency, and perceived virtue via discipline and ritual, for me. But they will not – can not – define my experiences of life. I might be able to use lists to generate ideas about what I, say, hope to do when I am older. But these lists and structures will never be able to account for the complex completeness of my experiences. I might be able to write down the names of the countries I hope to visit, for example, but I will never be able to write detailed plans about the actual human experiences I will have in those places, if I even end up visiting them at all.

I cannot leave everything to ‘chance’ and to the inclinations of my own whims. I fear the unknown. I fear utter chaos and goal-lessness; I fear completely ‘not knowing’ – both about what will happen, and about who I am.

But I cannot account for all of it; I cannot predict things, nor can I control everything. My lists are just skeletons, in truth. They might provide guidelines, outlines, for how I do things, and for how my days might be planned. But the flesh of these occurrences and days will be determined by many other factors.

Maybe it is time for me to get over this seemingly ingrained need to ‘write everything down’. I am fond of the notion of focusing on ‘this day’s daily bread’. Eating enough for today, doing enough ‘work’ for today, nurturing my soul enough for today. I must stop thinking of life as a series of things attained, or places travelled to, or books read, or whatnot. Ultimately, I only have this day to reasonably think about: life is a series of days – of todays. In a single day, I may be able to cook and eat a delicious meal; read two chapters of a good book; sleep well. As long as an activity that is good for me gets done, it is okay if it does not stem, say, from the criteria of any list, or if it does not contribute to the generation of yet another one.

Sigh. ‘To-do’ lists are important and are usually very useful, yes. But sometimes I would appear to magnify their importance, in my mind, a little too much. The value of the entirety of a day is not to be measured by how many specific predetermined activities I managed to complete. It is contingent on a combination of factors. Did I sleep well, did I eat well? Did I pray on time and with due concentration? Did I manage to go for a nice walk or something? It is true that school-related to-dos do always seem to loom on the anticipated dawn of a new day. I do need to get those things done. But to act as though my life is to just be a series of lists – of anything – would be extremely unfair to (the complex completeness of) my own humanity.

But, as afore-implied, there is some significant virtue to be found in moderate, well-chosen lists and structures – routines and rituals and the like. They help to govern things; they can be like fences, assisting us with the limitation of some negative habits, and with the encouragement of useful and good ones (through discipline, where our own inclinations and whims are known to fail us). But they are just fences: whichever flowers bloom amid them must be celebrated, somehow, too. These are the tokens of the soulful part of humanity, a thing of passions and inspiration.

I do need my fences, but not too many, and not to the detriment of beauty. And I yearn to also have my flowers – not hindered by the fences, but helped by them, and indeed virtuously contained by them.

Okay, 03:30 AM rant over. Fajr time. Adios!


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Nebulae

I am in awe of my Creators’ creations. Pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope: nebulae, glorious, majestic, terrifying, and whose sizes are far too much for the human mind to wrap itself around. It is all so very dizzying: the moon in orbit around this gorgeous planet of ours, where life can spring into fruition with the aid of a bit of sunlight and water. Galactic purples, universal darknesses, sunflower-y yellows. Swathes of water, oceans of blood. From nothingness, two cells are brought forth from male and from female. Dualities and contrasts, jigsaw pieces. Earth encircles sun – and we call this a year. A few days later, a heart begins to beat. 60 to 100 beats per minute, perfectly accommodated by womb, electricity sent rushing through muscles, arms flexed. Reflex actions, laughter. And what on earth is Time? What’s in a number?

Everything that exists is perceived by us, via these magnificent minds of ours. They represent reality, for us, in terms of language and visuals. But what about all that is simply beyond us? What do we know that we are simply unable to know, from our rather human points of view?

Dark matter, somatic cells, fireflies. The way the leaves sprout green, grow, become mustard, auburn, crimson. Words are a thing of wonder and beauty too: products of these, our minds. It is so very dizzying, bewildering, all of it. The human eye, perception, thought. The ability to remind your best friend that you love her; memory faculties that facilitate the storage of certain scents and sounds, somewhere up in that brain of yours [but where?]. Feeling the flickers of fire upon your palm; they certainly inspire something deep within you. Incandescence – what a beautiful word. Pardon me for sounding like a Romantic, here, but look at it, all of it. Look at you, all of you, in the mirror: symmetry, organs functioning in such harmony. Eyelashes that are of one length, the hairs upon your head that are of another. A child learning to pronounce her own name, the development of baby babbles into eloquence. A mushroom rising somewhere deep within damp woodland, the majesty of a blue whale beneath a rocking wooden boat. The names we are given, and the vocal propensities we have to utter them, which follow us through all of it: through microscope lenses, as we peer into the happenings of bacteria; through pen ink spilling over journal paper. Telescopes gazing upwards, inspiring awe. Forehead down on prayer mat, in humility, awe, and submission, to Al-Khaliq (the Creator), Al-Baari’, the Unmoved Mover. The master, the owner, the maker of everything. See, nothing moves without first being moved; things are not this harmonious, functional, as a result of ‘nothing’, nor as a result of ‘chance’. Undoubtedly, all praise and thanks are to Him, Lord of the Worlds.


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Little Sister

The little girl who tries so hard to smile through all her tears.

But then she thinks, for a moment, a little bit too much,

Hides her face and wipes it with the back of her hand.

You can witness the sadness slowly enveloping her. See, somebody, at some point in time, somewhere, had taught this little girl to carry, on her back

The bulk of somebody else’s shame.

 

I so wish I could exchange those tears of yours for laughter, if even for only a minute;

Tell you that flowers ought to bloom from whichever grounds atop which you walk,

and that every part of you is in complete harmony with all that is good in here.

 

Everything that could ever possibly be beautiful about humanity

Is contained in the eye of a child. And slowly, their skins stretch.

Their minds, once almost wholly impressionable, become rather powerful. 

Meaty ‘frog legs’ grow into ones that can astutely kick footballs around.

 

Truth, beauty, goodness: our primary colours, perhaps.

 

You know, I can remember, as clear as day, the first time I held you in my arms; bated breaths,

Those sunshine-infused moments before you opened your eyes and took a good look at our world for the first time.

I prayed those lights wouldn’t hurt you; wished time would grind to a halt when you wrapped the entirety of your tiny hand around my finger,

Wished time would also just get over itself and show me what you might look like, aged ten.

Your eyes were jet black, as promised by nature, I suppose. Your expression was at once receptive and puzzled.

And the first time you cried, there were four people around you to listen, to watch your face struggle to let out your first sound,

Red cheeks, dampened mittens. And then, an uproarious introduction:

you made your voice known to all of us, a job very well done.

 

From this time onwards, I simply knew that I could not let you ever cry by yourself. I am always scared, afraid that you are still too small to handle such sadnesses.

And you know, seven months before your birth, I was allowed to catch a glimpse of you before most other people got to:

Ultrasound pictures tucked away in a little envelope. I saw your nose; you, the image of serenity, tucked away like that, not quite ready yet, to say hello to us.

Hello. I hope you know how loved you are, how loved you have been from the exact moment that divinely-commanded spirit blew Life into you.

When life gets heavy, know that I am here. I cannot physically carry you any more, no,

But you must know this:

red-faced newborn you is a picture that is forever emblazoned into my memory.

And I know it very well – the face you make when there is something in you that needs to be said; when, in absolute silence, you find yourself kicking the air, trying to shriek from the top of your lungs,

trying to let something, whatever it is, be known.


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Frameworks

We each look at the world through our own eyes – through our own subjective perspectives. The way we view others, how we process things that happen to us and around us, the ways in which we examine the beings of the very humans whose eyes meet our own when we look into the mirror. All this, we witness through lenses of varying colours and tones, which may change with time, and which are determined by the cognitive frameworks that lie in place, in our minds. 

Many of us were imbued with certain ideas when we were younger, whose psychological and behavioural repercussions may be quite evident now, in adulthood, but some of which we are now wise enough to recognise as having been quite… detrimental. They were never really necessary in the first place, and we find, now, that we can actually happily do without them.

One of these unhelpful cognitive frameworks, for example, may well be the one that focuses excessively on appearances in lieu of substance. This insidious, suffocating, anxiety-ridden ‘What will people think?’ mentality. In childhood, its beginnings may have come about as a result of excessive scolding from caregivers, for (things that are retrospectively identifiable as having been) pretty harmless things. Outrage and ensuing fear, and the laying-down of certain cognitive frameworks.

I firmly believe that every human being has a ‘core’ in terms of individual personality. We can seek to categorise them (MBTI tests, Enneagram tests, Temperament types, Harry Potter houses, and the like) while also being fully cognisant of the fact that our personalities, in truth, are too complex to be wholly contained by such concise definitions. I do think our ‘core’ personalities were imbued in us by God; I also acknowledge that ‘who we are’ is ever-changing… though the core does tend to remain intact. When we were children – when we were little tabula rasas (relatively speaking; not entirely so) – we were almost undoubtedly closest to our ‘core selves’. Some of us were curious and outgoing and loved playing in the mud; others of us were shy and bookish and neat. And (hopefully) nobody really told us that it was not okay to be like this – to be who we are/were…

Until (presumably) somebody did. Some of us may have faced this phenomenon of personality-based antagonism earlier on in childhood. Maybe some of us never faced it directly, but did so as a result of insidious media influences during fragile points in our development. And, bullying. Maybe from people at school, maybe from siblings, or even from our parents.

What are three – or more, or less – negative attributes that you believe you have?

1.

2.

3.

Some of our self-reproachful conceptions may be founded in some truth. We are undeniably each flawed creatures. But said conceptions become an issue when they are not really founded in reality; when they are a cause of ongoing anxieties; when they hold us back and make us feel like we are, in those respects, far worse than our fellow human beings.

Maybe you have believed, for years and years and years, that you are insurmountably socially awkward and strange. Or not clever at all. Or not ‘masculine’ enough, or ‘feminine’ enough. Maybe when it comes to certain things, you perpetually feel ‘too much’, and for others, you deeply feel ‘not enough’.

Where did these ideas come from? And how, in light of these origins, are we going to find a way to quiet these thoughts, and to put an end to them altogether?

If these ideas have come from another, or from a group of ‘anothers’, it must be known that, just as you view the world through your own cognitive frameworks, others view the world through theirs. People are often quite prone to, for example, projecting their personal insecurities in the form of hurtful statements against others, particularly against those whom they are either envious of, or whom they have deemed to be less powerful than they are.

Moreover, with the benefit of hindsight, we must acknowledge that hefty criticisms (whether they were explicitly transmitted, or done so more implicitly, for example through backbiting) should only really be given any validity by us if we truly respect the people dishing them out. If you do not want to ever become like a certain person, why should their analyses of your being even matter? If anything, disapproval from somebody you want to be rather unlike is a good thing!

People look at you relative to how they look, both at and through, themselves. So if there is an ongoing ‘problem’ with you, it is more likely that there is an ongoing problem with you relative to them. I am not advocating for the display of unreflective and obnoxious behaviour, here. All I am saying is that sometimes ‘issues’ are made into – reified into -issues, quite gratuitously [yes, I very much love this word].

We cannot leave the custody of Truth to people; we cannot democratise it, for this can often lead to the championing of falsehood. It is rather telling that some of the best men to have ever lived had scores of opponents and ardent critics who were obsessed with them. In the same vein, some of the worst men to have ever lived had been surrounded by ardent admirers and supporters. We do not leave the determining of truths to the people: we leave this to God, the source of objectivity.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they’ll be excessive in both.”

– Malik ibn Dinar 

Are you okay as a person? Is who you are fully ‘okay’? Well, a good way to determine this would be to think about those who are actually worthwhile seeking to please or emulate. What is your current relationship with God like? If you are a Muslim, how do you think Muhammad (SAW) would respond to who you are, and to what your behavioural tendencies might be? If you are Christian, what would Jesus say? [If you are atheist, what would… Keanu Reeves…say?]

Granted that your perceived deep, dark, exceptional, all-encompassing negative traits are not…actual deeply negative traits that harm others, I am sure we can find ways to almost poeticise all of them. Books and movies are replete with characters whom some may deem ‘unintelligent’ because they don’t necessarily flourish at school (but who are intelligent, for instance, ‘street-wise’); characters who may be misconstrued by other characters as being ‘annoying’ because they are very curious and outgoing, or ‘boring’ because they are quite quiet a lot of the time. But fiction certainly teaches us this: the way we come to define people is a matter of perspective. Often, the protagonist of a tale is presented as the ‘good one’, and it does not matter what he or she does: the commitment to seeing and presenting them as the ‘good one’ has already been solidified. Confirmation bias ensues, and this is also true for those characters who are ‘villains’. There is a certain ‘unchangeability’ that is associated with them, for instance through their ‘villainous’ tattoos and facial structures and such. Some real-life people are known to construct heroic and villainous characters out of other people, in a similar regard; we can tend to be rather obstinate with our perceptive definitions of others. Although everyone is deeply complex and ever-changing, we seem to like to cling to stubborn categorisations.

And, we also often see in fiction (which does not entirely represent human reality, granted, but it can certainly be helpfully reflective of it) that certain evidently ‘good’ individuals are not appreciated by those who form major parts of their immediate environments. Take Matilda for example: relative to those around her, she is seen as a show-off, and as an abnormality, among other things. But a change of her environment demonstrates that oftentimes people can only really flourish when given a true chance to; when they are loved.

To love (oneself and others) authentically is to take a balanced approach when it comes to matters of personality. It is to know that we each have our flaws and our unique traits – whether good or bad. It is to commit to self-improvement, without being too harsh on oneself, or on others. If you and another human being are not compatible in terms of who you both are, this is okay. Nothing wrong with them per se (unless there really is, e.g. if they are a narcissist) and nothing wrong with you (unless you are a mean narcissist). We must concern ourselves with that which concerns us: admitting to our weaknesses but in moderate ways, and to our strengths, also in moderate ways. We must not seek out the opinions and the validation of the masses: we should tend to the opinions of those whose opinions are truly worth caring about. And even then, our loved ones (can only) see us from their own perspectives: no other human being will ever be able to hand you a holistic definition of ‘who you are’ on a plate.

To a very high extent, you decide who you are. Who your friends are, how you spend your time. The thoughts that you dismiss, the feelings you nurture or work your way through, the books you read. These things all determine the colours and tones of your personal reality.

See, humanity – both wider, and our own – is merely a collection of stories. The stories that others may tell us, and also the stories that we tell others and ourselves. At a certain point, we come to realise that others do not hold the pens through which our own stories are authored. (After God’s supreme authority) we hold our own pens.

It may be hard to stray from certain modes of writing that our stories have become a little accustomed to, over time. Other authors may have had power over our tales in childhood, and perhaps later on, in cases where one’s personal boundaries were not respected. But we can go back in time, with red pens. We can realise that these people had been influencing our narratives in such ways through their own eyes, their own pens – and projecting much, all the while, perhaps.

When it comes to human experience, we often find that reality is very much what we make of it. But this fact should not function as a cheap way of telling people to simply “Get over” certain things. Let the author of the story dictate what hurt him or her; let him or her decide how to go about making the necessary corrections, moving forward.

Maybe it is true that the past backwards is ‘set in stone’ – in ink on paper. But the past informs everything: the past forwards is what we refer to as the future. Once we make the decision to claim authorship and autonomy over our stories, we can make poetry of it all; fight duels with our pens with anybody who seeks to forcefully impose their own voices over ours. And, we can choose to invite those who truly love us, in.  


Sadia Ahmed, 2020