First Principles

Dear friend,

I have often wondered what the popular Islamic concept of ‘Sabr’ (meaning ‘patience’) truly encompasses. Why are the human adherents of it praised so much in Qur’an and Sunnah?

According to Islamic tradition, Sabr is beautiful, and it also beautifies. It is a kind of Islamic stoicism, I guess.

To have Sabr means to be, within oneself, constant – as much as possible – in one’s faith and good actions, irrespective of whether one happens to be, at a certain point, a king living within a royal tower, or whether you find, at a different point, the entire world – and your personal one too – up in lofty and destructive flames all around you.

Linguistically, the word implies a sort of binding, a preservation, a beautiful endurance: some kind of active, faith-based restraint against manifestations of agitation, impatience and despair. Steadily holding fast to reason, and to God’s Law.

See, part of me wants to stop writing this article right here; to just throw this draft away. It already feels a little too … uninspired. But that, my friend, is probably because I am just so very tired. And I am waiting for things to change. I know they will, Insha Allah. I am trying to have Sabr, while trying not to risk slipping back into those confining grey waters of defensive apathy, that I now know too well.

Sometimes I am concerned that the nature of many of my blog articles is centred on little more than a type of typewritten histrionics. That is pretty much the brand of this blog of mine, is it not? Poeticised neuroticism. Through these writings, though, I wish to process my own thoughts a little better; I know that some of you find what I write about to be fairly relatable, too.

Maybe this is just me screaming into the void again, hoping to be heard. Or, understood? Sounds awfully selfish, I know. The world is on fire right now, and I am just here, writing this blog article.

Something I am trying to do a little better is this: writing, but with the door closed. Privately, as if nobody else on Earth will ever read my writings. This modo scribere is what constitutes the bulk of many of my private journals, I suppose. But sometimes, I feel like typing things up and … releasing them into the void – which, in actual fact, sometimes turns out to be rather friendly, and which sometimes returns a handful or two of some very nice people who express agreement and positivity towards these somewhat psyche-exposing scribbles.

I am so fed up of people who talk too much, and about nothing at all. Am I being a little hypocritical here? I am so fed up of emptiness, and of this obsession with favouring appearances over substance, and of trying to piece together puzzles that are currently showing no real signs of wanting to be pieced together, at all. Or maybe this is just me being impatient and impatiently neurotic once again.

I am grown painfully weary of people who live through life as though all of it is but a mere photo opp; sometimes they are prone to expressing wishes that I simply do the same as them. Who cares if you are in pain; if your heart hurts and your cheeks are tear-stained? Go and stand over there, and smile. And watch what happens if you do not. 

One thing is for sure: I am not afraid anymore. I am only tired. I find myself here, almost ready to just move forward, having come to know so much, and choosing to simply forget about a lot of it, as well. To step into my own skin; to feel real again. Perhaps I seek some sort of catharsis that I might not even be destined to get.

So what is there to do here, but to learn to be beautifully patient? The only direction to move in, in these dizzyingly quick, torturously slow, days of our lives is forwards.

All life tends towards necessary endings. Thinking about death really puts things into perspective. Have you ever had a near-death experience? Have you ever felt your soul almost be pulled out of its chest? A terrifying thought, and, yet, one of the only things in this life that is actually real.

I think a lot about how I might have been if X, Y and Z had not have happened. If she hadn’t said and done those very things. If I had done some things a little differently. Futile ways of thinking, in truth. Time-wasting. All of those things did happen – facilitated by human intentions, solidified by Allah (SWT)’s supreme decree. There is no escaping this. And, as cliché as it doth sound, without all those happenings throughout this life of mine, perhaps I would never have grown into being this: into being me. 

I think about wasted time. I think about time spent inside, in mind-fuelled prison. About all the things I have done wrong [well, what about all the things you have actually done really right?]. I think, I wish I could feel a little more solid, and more real, in my own skin, upon my own two feet. Perhaps this is precisely where all the stuff about lists and timelines comes into play.

A few years ago, most disruptions would have been framed, in this mind of mine, as some of the worst things to ever happen. You are trundling down some path, in some sort of flow state. And then comes along some disruption, and then another one. You end up having to cancel many of your plans, making way for others. People walk out of your life unexpectedly; big family weddings take over a couple of months of yours by storm; people get their lives and entangle them with yours, sometimes without even thinking to knock on the door first.

You find yourself wondering, questioning, what is real, and what is not. Whether all pictures and promises are mere mirages… or not. Who will stay, and who will not. There are some people whom I really miss; I sometimes wish they could still be here, with me. Myself included, actually: whom I might have been without all of this.

Imagine if I had ‘done more’, ‘maximised efficiency’. Would I have been, in any way, better off? Happier? No – probably not. This human negativity bias thing: you could find an adequate number of flaws in any place, in any time, any person, any way of living, if you looked for them. I would get bored; I would yearn for adventure.

Adventures rely on disruption. We cannot expect things to always happen in a linear manner, even if this would have granted us a much-longed-for consistent sense of solidity. Clarity, flow. We sometimes find ourselves existing in such a deeply troubled state, partly as a result of this paradox. We want for our feet to be firmly attached to the ground. We fear all the disruptions – but we also need them. We need, also, to look up at the stars, from time to time.

I think I must have had fallen asleep to all such thoughts. What if I had managed to put my life more ‘together’, back then? What on earth would that even have looked like? An unperturbed linearity, some sort of a more tangible sense of progress, a –

02:17 AM, I am abruptly awoken by the blare of Maryam’s ringtone. Yet another disruption. Slightly confused, yet strangely energised, I sit up. Mazhar and Moosa on the phone. “Come outside!” they tell us. “And look up!”

So I do. I walk out onto the balcony [Mazhar and Moosa are standing on the pavement below, taking pictures of one another]. The world is freezing, frozen: it all seems quite still. And I look up to find a scattered array of some of my most favourite things: the stars. A clear, starry night, witnessed from a balcony that is not my own, somewhere in Essex.

Some of them had bluish hues; some were more orange. The moon, on one side, looked as brilliant as ever, half-cloaked, and all the darkness looked, as it tends to do, so gorgeously terrifying. The night sky: it is so much more than we could ever be. And, yet, by the decree of the Almighty, it is also, in its lack of humanness, so much less. 

Disruptions: here is where, perhaps, the distinctively wonderful story-telling part of our humanity might lie. The adventures, the wisdom, the art, the important part that prevents us from being soulless work robots. But too much of this freedom, of course, is insurmountably dizzying. We also very much need the parts that hold our feet to the ground: the gravity. Some routines, some material goals, the checks and balances.

We find ourselves walking, walking. Confused. And destined to die. Stop being so fake-deep, Sadia. 

No! Make me. 

What I need, right now, is a good in-between approach. See, if I do let myself look down at my feet too much, I will get caught up in worldly notions of success, solidity, popularity, chronic stress, draining comforts, efficiency. A put-together-ness enabled by chains, an altogether soulless way of doing things. And, of course, if I look up at the stars too much, though I am made to feel, at once, more real and more alive, I may, yet, come to feel quite the opposite.

A starry-eyed slumber is what I may risk falling into. This world might be a road to the stuff of idealism, but it cannot be a wholly idealistic thing in and of itself.

I need change; I also worry about it happening, a little too much. But I need to know that some things stay the same [I think, in my life, Insha Allah, I am likely to have three consistent friends. And I will also have my cousins. Will this be okay with me?] and some things will change, change, change. I am an active force within all this, a generator of thoughts and of intentions. But, see, I am not the supreme storyteller: nay, but I do make du’a to Him. I put my trust in Him.

I tell myself, if it is real, I will just know. The things that are real have a tendency to feel quite so, on some distinctively wingéd, spiritual level.

The people in my life, Subhan Allah, all occupy a necessary space. Do you sometimes worry that you don’t really mean much to people? I entreat you, dear friend, to ask Allah (SWT) to show you the nature(s) of the space(s) you take up in your loved ones’ lives. You will come to know. You are so important, so loved, and so needed, here.

You might even want to ask Him to show you who is worth making an effort with and for; who might be destined to stay with you, and to walk this road beside you. Ask, my friend, and He will surely answer.

I think too much, yes, and too often, about a whole mess of things, but I must learn to leave alone the things that are uncontrollable – the things I really do not have much business thinking about, anyway. There is no use in uncovering sowed seeds to ‘check on their progress’ so often, no use to such agitated impatiences at all.

The connections will come; so will the answers, in due time, Insha Allah. And so will all the adventures! 

You anxiously ask yourself if you are sufficiently a good part of the world. I tell you, the world is almost too big, and we are almost too small. People, so it would seem, are desperately seeking connectivity through numbers, popularity. I tell you, the human world is a thing that is experienced only subjectively. Personal worlds. The one you personally wake up to each morning:

this is your world. This one right here. Right now, there is nothing more, and nothing less.

May your world become so beautiful, dear friend. May Allah (SWT) bless you with the best of companions within it, too. On social media, they may be three hundred, or three thousand in number. In ‘real life’, however, they might just be three. 

And I really hope that this will prove to be more than enough for thee.

Life is not some ongoing photo opp, though some people do manage to treat it all as such. Image curation, and then image protection. And nor is life just some fleeting phenomenon of you-are-certainly-going-to-perish-forever-but-just-incredulously-work-your-way-into-ill-health-anyway, all-while-trying-to-‘make something of yourself’. God’s Will is the definitive giver of Purpose, and here on Earth,

all kingdoms do fall. People’s phones are ostensibly glued to their hands; some spend all their days trying to capture a happiness that is rarely even there for them, in the first place. Trying to make something out of all this adornment and delusion – the bulk of the stuff of this world.

Life: a test. A fleeting phantasmagoria [I love that word], a daydream. That is, until you necessarily wake up. 

You are certainly here right now; someday soon, you are certainly going to die – but this only in order to go on to truly live. Real Life, somewhere out there, exists in a state of gorgeous timelessness. And there are surely some indicators towards what is real, here on Earth:

Love. The stars, mountains, ghostly forests. The sky, true Beauty: that which is elemental. We attempt to befriend these things, and they inspire poetry in us; they point us towards the only real Real – our Creator, that is. These things are necessary constants, in a world that can quickly seem so very chaotic, and that can pretty easily make us feel so very inadequate.

It’s obvious, isn’t it? This world really is but a means to an End. We all yearn for Meaning, and for immortality, don’t we? Happiness, Love. But for the highest attainable level of contentment here, we are to live upon this Earth as though we are travellers. And there will be pain and there will be beauty, upon this road, upon this journey.

We shall surely know Home when we see it, Insha Allah.

And if you are one of the ones who are destined to be on this journey with me, welcome. I prayed to God to know whom you might be. May we be wonderful companions to one another; may we never forget about what may await us; about what is really Real.

So let us respect all that has happened – all the things that are long gone; all the things, the ups, the downs, the level plains, that have been permitted to happen, through Allah (SWT)’s Will. Verily, it has all brought us here: to what we know now, and to what we are going to come to know. So may we forever respect the God-given beauty of We; forgive ourselves for that which we knew not, that which we did not do, way back then;

let us begin, right here, from pain, from confusion, from whatever else –

and from Tawhid, and from Beauty, and Love:

Let us begin, all over again, (but then again, not really) from these first principles.

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

“If you build it, they will come.” 

6 thoughts on “First Principles

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