‘Self-love’ (?)

“Love yourself.”

This contemporary concept of ‘self-love’. Admittedly, an idea that had sat fairly well with me, in the past. I did not really think much of it at first: I mean, what, exactly, about the notion of ‘loving oneself’ (and not relying on another to ‘give [you] love’) could be faulted?

Well — the truth is, as much as we can find ourselves in denial about our true natures and how it is we actually operate — we do, from the very onsets of our social developments (i.e. during infancy) rely on those around us (those whom we come to trust, and instinctively look towards, for validation) to tell us who we are, and to inform us about such things as how we fit into the world. To love us: to look at us, in our truths and in our entireties, and to smile upon us, through and for it all.

Of course, the onus of this process is initially (thrust) upon our primary caregivers, and then the responsibility begins to branch outwards, towards our extended family members, followed by our teachers, and the friends we make at school. The friends we make later on in life; our other peers, our romantic partners, our bosses at work. Through these bonds, we seek out validation, personal orientation, comfort, belonging. And what we may term ‘self-esteem’ (defined as: being content with, having faith in, one’s own worth, character, and abilities) is something that is very much socially informed, in us. It is, essentially, an ‘inside’ thing instilled in us by ‘outside’ people and factors; it is simply not something that we can genuinely self-generate, and subsequently ‘give’ to ourselves.

“Love yourself,” as we are habitually instructed to do. And, more often than not, this, in a distinctively consumerist manner. ‘Love yourself’ enough to… splurge on dresses, on jewellery, on a new car. “Treat yourself,” in such ways, thereby proving, making known, the abundant amounts of ‘self-love’ you possess. Whisper those ‘affirmations’ to yourself in the mirror every morning.

“I am beautiful. And intelligent. And awesome!

Somewhere in the distant background, wedding bells are ringing. A bride, all dressed in white, emerges from the place of her recent espousal. But, oh… there is no bridegroom to be seen, here.

Nay, for this has been a ‘sologamous’ marriage: the woman in question has married none other than… herself. Believe it or not, ‘sologamy’ is a practice that has been carried out by many across the West. And, indeed, the ‘self-marriage’ industry is one that is growing; the practice of ‘officialising self-love’ in such a manner is becoming increasingly popular, in particular among more affluent women.

These ‘self-partnered’ brides are known to dress themselves up, invite over their friends and family members (sometimes to a hired venue, and sometimes to their own homes), and then vow to themselves, that they will ‘love theirselves‘ eternally; that no man needs to ‘give’ them something they are purportedly adequately equipped to ‘self-administer’.

A rather ‘twenty-first century’ sort of matrimony, this. With some noble underlying intentions, perhaps. And, yet… the whole practice is arguably somewhat… narcissistic, no?

One ‘sologamous’ bride, New York-based performance artist Gabrielle Penabaz, claims that these symbolic self-wedding ceremonies are “usually very cathartic” and are “all about self-love”.

Indeed, many of the people (especially women) who have chosen to undergo these ceremonies had, unfortunately, been victims of abuse in previous relationships. And so, these functions may be perceived, by them, as being a means, or a symbolic statement, of self-empowerment: a bold, ‘feminist’ declaration of sorts. Many ‘self-brides’ promise, in the presence of their wedding guests, to ‘forgive [themselves]’, and to stop thinking of themselves as being “ugly” or otherwise ‘unworthy’.

But, at what point do such strides towards ‘self-love’ (or, perhaps, repairing otherwise compromised levels of self-esteem) deliquesce into what we might look upon as being… narcissistic?

‘Narcissism’: vanity. Excessive pride in one’s own image — in one’s physical appearance, abilities, and/or ‘worth’ [but, just what should the parameters be, for what is to be seen as being ‘excessive’?].

Some theorise that narcissistic tendencies always, ironically, stem from places of insecurity: if a person thinks himself inadequate in a particular regard, he may seek to ‘overcompensate’ somehow, whether in the very area in question, or within some alternative area.

Some (Freudian) theorists maintain that, for example, those who demonstrate distinctively arrogant tendencies at school or work (e.g. rudeness towards others; speaking ‘down’ on their peers) tend to be, whether consciously or not, behaving in such ways so as to defend their egos; they are, according to this line of thought, attempting to ‘overcompensate’ for, usually, personal feelings of sexual inadequacy…

What do you think? Do narcissistic tendencies always stem from places of perceived inadequacy… or do some people truly, from their cores, believe that they are ‘special’, and inherently ‘better than’ others?

Almost inarguably, we do all seek to have good levels of confidence — self-esteem. But, as previously indicated, the parameters we have collectively put in place with regard to these definitions can oft prove to actually be rather… blurry, messy. A key reason for this is because, as with many things in the field of (the more ‘philosophical’, theoretical, social sides of) Psychology, whatever may be seen as being more desirable (or the opposite) is very much contingent on the underlying world-views we choose to adopt, and their associated considerations.

For example, the philosophies of ‘modernity’ (which, generally, is yoked to a secular, a-spiritual, materialistic world-view) may include things like moderately sustained, direct eye contact, and speaking ‘assertively’, in its own parameters of how we may be able to assess desirable levels of self-esteem in ourselves and in others. But the Islamic view is more so that authentic self-esteem is to be found in the acceptance of one’s own humanity, as well as this of others. We Muslims are encouraged to observe modesty; to look down, more, and to speak with humility, gentleness. To wholly accept our intrinsic worth, but to not be ‘loud’, exultant, arrogant, with it.

And, for example, while, in ‘modernity’, a woman who shows more skin and who walks in a certain way is seen as being more ‘confident’ and those who cover themselves up are seen as being relatively more ‘insecure’, the argument could well be inverted: it could be argued that ‘true confidence’ does not necessitate beautifying oneself for as many people as possible to see. Indeed, it would appear to be a real issue among women — young and old — today: the inability to go outside without any makeup on, courtesy of such things as the insidious messages that the cosmetic industry inculcate us with on a daily basis. Some women now cannot even go outside without false lashes and other makeup products on; they are convinced that they look ‘ugly’ without them…

The principles underlying the Islamic view on feminine beauty can be broadened to explain the entirety of how we Muslims ought to look upon matters of self-esteem and such, methinks. Makeup, jewellery, and nice clothes are certainly not disallowed in Islam, but we are told to only display our ‘ornaments’ in the presence of women and male relatives (with some exceptions), while maintaining physical modesty whenever we are in public.

Validation and love should be — and must be (if we are to ensure and cultivate their emotional wellbeing) — actively and copiously granted to our girls (and, yes, boys) by family members. Because we do and will seek such things out, from fellow human beings. And, yes, when we fail to adequately validate our family members, our friends, our ‘wards’, with regard to the things that humans generally seek out validation for (beauty, intelligence, character and such) they will come to feel inadequate, and will likely look for validation in other places, through other avenues.

I think some Muslim families do get it rather wrong. They seem to be operating under the impression that, simply because there are these particular boundaries on things like cosmetics and feminine beauty, that their daughters and such should be prevented from using makeup products altogether. But, no: it is generally in the essence of a woman to enjoy adorning herself with beautiful things. A similar thing with Muslim men: it is generally in the nature of a man to enjoy gazing upon feminine beauty. But they must observe certain Islamic boundaries when it comes to this, in line with the Test of Life: to ‘lower [their] gaze[s]’ when it comes to women whom they are not married to.

In any case, blessings like physical beauty, intellectual capacities, material wealth and professional success: we Muslims do not — or, should not — look upon them as being wholly ‘personal’ achievements. These blessings are from Allah; the acknowledgement of this fact should aid us in being more confident in our self-worth, and more humble, too. And we ask of Him from His bounty; we ask for protection for our present blessings, too.

Now, a key facet of contemporary views on confidence would appear to be that if you are in possession of something good, you must make some sort of display of it before people: make it known. If you do not show it, make a show of it, do you really even have it, in the first place?

Although we are becoming increasingly desensitised to these things, I really think that the rap lyrics, the social media norms, of today are quite shameless, and they truly do much to bolster such attitudes. Boasting, filtering, directing the spotlight onto certain things: how much money one has, how many people one has slept with. Being sure to make these particular things known; sometimes insolence is peddled as being a merit — some sort of ‘right’ that the more ‘successful’ can exercise, over the less ‘successful’. At what point does ‘sharing’ shift into becoming ‘showing off’? My own view is that it is all about intention. One’s intentions can either be towards developing sincere (equal) connections, or… towards portraying oneself as being on some superior plane to others.

Of course, these days, many people are known to seek out an experience of love — or, a simulation of it — via the avenue of ‘fame’. Having as many people as possible see you, and give you — your talents and abilities, your physical beauty, your levels of ‘success’ — a series of standing ovations.

Earlier this year, I had carried out a survey asking a handful of questions to as many different people from as many different backgrounds and such as possible. One of the questions had been in relation to self-esteem. “What do you think most people dislike about themselves [and that acts as a barrier to their acquisition of the ‘Good Life’]?”

Most people had responded to this question with the theme of body image. Feeling like they are physically inadequate – ‘ugly’ – which can significantly affect one’s social confidence and subsequent wellbeing. ‘Modernity’ values ‘looks’ so much: and not just default (naturally human) looks. But how well we can manage to (through, yet again, our consumption of certain products) adhere to certain given ‘standards’. Particular ideas, popularised via powerful propaganda… Postcolonial conceptualisations of ‘what beauty (or, ideal masculine or feminine appearances) must be’, in addition to the power wielded by the multibillion pound cosmetic and ‘fitness’ industries today, have drastically affected the ways in which we have come to look at ourselves. We equate illusory cyborg snapshots and airbrushed constructions with looking ‘good’. And we absolutely also equate this (these versions of) looking ‘good’ with… intrinsic worth, unfortunately.

Second to considerations of outer appearances, in response to this particular survey question, most people commented on their perceived inadequacies in terms of their own abilities and talents. Academically, professionally. This is what modern mass-popularised hyper-competitive models inject us with: the idea that, in order to be worth something – worth anything at all, one must a) produce, or contribute to the production of, as much (economic) ‘output’ as possible and, b) do (and, therefore, ‘be’) better than others. The grand modern rat race: inextricably linked to highly individualistic, economic, (materialistic) notions of ‘success’. And ‘modernity’ tells us that if you are not ‘successful’ in the ways that they have outlined for you, well then, you are not really ‘worth’ much at all, are you?

Now, back to how we Muslims ought to view ‘self-worth’. When new babies are born, don’t we just know, instinctively, to cherish them, to honour their existences, purely on the bases of their… existences?! Self-explanatory, innate worth. They are alive, and human beings. Created, and not in vain, by our Supreme Creator. Fashioned in… awesomeness.

And, just like those former child versions of yourself, dear reader, in all that you are,

You matter immeasurably.

A living, breathing, moving, loving, thinking human being. What a thing!

I think we should learn to look upon fellow human beings – and ourselves – in such a vein. Looking upon ‘being’ as being the fountainhead of ‘worth’, value, as opposed to ‘doing’ (economic output, ‘productivity’, hyper-competition). Sometimes we humans do get sick; many of us will eventually become old and frail, too. Will our ‘worth’ as human beings decay as and when our abilities to ‘do’, do?

The core(s) of our level(s) of self-esteem should be… the core of we. Man: a brilliantly complex, gorgeously delicate, strong, athletic, sentient thing. The second layer of self-esteem, I personally think, ought to come from two things: one’s Deen (connection to Allah) and one’s personal character. May these be our constants, throughout life. All else should be tertiary considerations; they are susceptible to change. One can lose all of one’s money overnight; youthful beauty and strength begin to fade as old age arrives. If we attempt to root the core(s) of our levels of self-esteem in these particular variables, well then, how vulnerable to crumbling we are allowing our worth(s) as human beings to be.

Absolutely, I think we need to be far more open and giving, when it comes to offering love. And far less (pridefully) ‘unemotional’, resolute, avaricious. To get into the habit of truly treating others how we wish to be treated; to speak the beauty in others, which we see.

We do instinctively grow towards love. It is a responsibility upon us, to love others, and, yes, to trust in love when it is returned to you.

When you offer a fellow human being a loving word, a smile —

you help them bloom at least a tiny bit more. And the gravity of these particular social responsibilities upon us increases when it comes to people who may be suffering from low levels of self-esteem, which typically occurs when a person feels socially rejected, outcast somehow.

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames.

— Qur’an, (49:11)

We need to, I think, exercise great care in our social interactions with, for example, ‘revert’ Muslims — new Muslims who may be struggling with feeling orientated and integrated within their new faith-based community; who are often disowned by their own family members as a result of making the decision to revert. And, towards people with severe disabilities (who tend to be, as my cousin puts it, “people of Jannah, walking on Earth”).

Muhammad (SAW), whom his wife ‘Aisha (RA) had referred to as being the walking embodiment of the Qur’an, had been in the habit of treating people — irrespective of whether they had been rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy — with such importance. [He would, for example, travel to the furthest parts of Madinah to visit the sick, and sit with people to listen to their woes and worries.]

Unfortunately, these days people often resort to carrying out social calculations to determine which people are most ‘worth’ being good to, and which people are ‘not’. Some people are simply dismissed, seemingly invisible.

We, each of us, have at least some power in affecting another individual’s levels of self-esteem. People change people, whether for better, or for worse.

As Muslims, we are told that even a smile is an act of Sadaqah – charity. And, that we should express active, conscious kindness: to children, to our parents (especially when they reach old age), to our neighbours, to strangers. And, in a similar manner to Muhammad (SAW)’s, this should be in a sincere and conscious manner, and irrespective of factors such as class or race.

“Speak good [words], or remain silent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

A substantial part of the character of a Muslim should be ‘Rahma’. Typically translated into English as ‘mercy’, the word ‘Rahm’ is actually derived from the word used to refer to a mother’s womb. ‘Rahma’: the way in which a mother cares for a child. The way in which a mother instinctively, freely, delicately and powerfully, loves and expresses her love for even her unborn child: a child that does not even really know her yet.

“Whoever is not caring/compassionate to others will not be treated with care/compassion [by Allah].” 

— Muhammad (SAW)

Muslims do not exactly subscribe to popular conceptualisations of ‘Karma’ (as, for example, a bad thing happening to a person does not necessarily mean that it is the eventual result of something bad that they themselves had done)… however, we do believe in ‘Ajr’.

“Is the reward for goodness anything but goodness?”

Qur’an, 55:60

There is no shame at all in accepting how social, dependent-on-others, we are. A man is not rendered any less ‘manly’ through his yearning, say, for a female companion; mutandis mutatis, women with men.

Yet another term in ‘social psychology’ whose parameters would appear to actually be quite muddy: the notion of ‘codependency’. ‘Excessive’ reliance on another, for validation. In offering love and goodness to our partners, friends and such — at what point can we safely say that their emotional needs from us are ‘too much’?

I guess it is understandable from both sides. On the one hand, it can prove to be quite emotionally draining, to be a person from whom high levels of emotional support are constantly sought. And, on the other hand, these ‘codependent’ individuals: it is rarely ever their own faults that they are deficient, on the love front.

And here is where the Islamic concept of ‘Sadaqah’ may come, strongly, into play. For us, we are essentially encouraged to live lives in which we seek to give (far) more than we seek to take. The term ‘Sadaqah’ (‘charity’ or ‘benevolence’) is derived from the Arabic term meaning, “he has spoken the truth”. Meaning, when we give, generously (from our time, our words, our wealth), to others without expecting anything in return from them, we are implicitly acknowledging the truth that Allah (SWT) is all-aware of our deeds. He will recompense us, in some way or another, whether in this world, or the other (more lasting) one.

“One does not attain [true] faith until one prefers for others what one chooses for oneself”

— Muhammad (SAW)

Some undeniable human truths, here: Adam needed Eve. Companionship, tranquility, and love, from her. And perhaps, by some ‘modern’ yardsticks, he may be seen as having been somewhat ‘codependent’. Some say that reliance on others for self-esteem is ‘pathetic’, perhaps. But to claim this would be to be in utter denial of what human nature really entails. Maternal love, paternal love, brotherly and sisterly love, love through friendship. Communal love, spousal love. We seek it out; we need it. Without it, or when given to us in non-nourishing forms, we find ourselves hungry. Feeling empty. And low in ‘self-esteem’, perhaps.

So if there comes to you, say: a relative or a friend whose wings are a little broken, as a result of being a victim of ongoing abuse… give them love. Generously, openly, outwardly, and without complaint (if you are able to). And know that your Ajr is with Allah (SWT). Know that you will never lose, by giving: Sadaqah does not decrease your wealth [Sahih Hadith]. Even from the secular perspective, we already know that volunteering tends to be encouraged, as a means of boosting feelings of positive self-regard and contentment, by giving to others.

We are wired to like ourselves (more) when we feel others — in particular, those closest to us — like us. This is a strong psychological need of ours, and also explains why fall-outs and such can result in such significant damage to our emotional wellbeing.

And we, each of us, are also in need of some sort of main secure base. ‘Home’. A particular individual who forms the crux of our social world. Without them, we are extremely prone to experiencing high levels of distress. In childhood, our ‘secure bases’ tend to be offered to us in the form of our mothers. In adulthood, this role tends to shift towards our romantic partners. We require close contact with them; affection, the allaying of our (inevitable) distresses.

It is typically when a person feels cut off from their ‘secure bases’ that they may begin to experience self-harming tendencies and suicidal inclinations…

And you are absolutely not weak if, say, your experiences of having been a victim of abuse (and, yes, even sustained indifference can be a form of abuse) have rendered your self-esteem — your cup of (to self-contradictorily utilise the term I have, multiple times in this article, already expressed a disdain towards) ‘self-love’ — lower than it should otherwise be, at present. This simply means that others — in particular, people you had strong bonds with, and thus deeply trusted, and who should have played, for you, the role of your ‘secure base’ — have failed to love you enough; have not done so in the right way. Perhaps, with you, they had been shockingly indifferent, negligent. Or, maybe, they had sought to belittle you, to make you easier to control and manipulate; perhaps in order to help themselves feel ‘bigger’, and ‘better’.

If this is you: if you find you have suffered at the hands of those who should have, really, watered you, I just want you to know that hope is absolutely not lost, for you; that you can certainly be re-watered; you may re-bloom… much like how rose plants do. Sometimes their buds and leaves wither and wilt for a while. But you, like they, can be revived. Through Allah’s Rahma, and through the vessels of his Rahma that may be with you, and/or await you, among creation.

True self-worth (or ‘self-love’, or whatever. Indeed, the labels we might ascribe to are far less important than what we are attaching it to) is reliant on those external sources of love that are deeply entwined with our souls. Divine love — Rahma — is what had brought you into being, in the first place. And the love(s) of our loved ones is what sustains us. Ultimately, it should be on the Divine category of love that we rely on the most, for it is He who is the supreme constant, while most else upon this Earth is fleeting and fundamentally changeable.

And true self-worth/-esteem/-love is rooted in just that: truth. Sincerity. Not in being taken by mere image-based projections, reflections, of ourselves (nor in how we may compare to others’ similar image-based projections). Nay, true acceptance and love may only be found when we come to accept the truths of we: Who it is who had created us, and why. How we are human: complete with our merits, and our flaws.

“You should be sincere to your brother in faith, be he present or absent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

No human being is a mountain, although the people whom we might come to term as being ‘narcissists’ may think of themselves as — or, simply present themselves as being — such. Truthfully, we are not ditches, nor valleys, either, although abusive individuals, and the powerful forces of consumerist and hyper-competitive propaganda, may lead to your believing this.

So why don’t we learn to ground our levels of self-worth to a place beyond the skies?

A good amount of self-worth and self-esteem would, perhaps, entail our deep recognition of the fact that we, each of us, walk upon level ground. Beneath sky, and above earth. Created by the very same Creator. All from One.

“Behave like servants of Allah and as brethren in faith”

— Muhammad (SAW)

‘Narcissism’ is rooted in delusion. Arrogance, and coldness, a detachment from soul-centric warmth, while humility entails an acceptance of Truth, and of all its associated truths. Humility gives rise to warmth, and to flow states (internally, and between people) — and thus, to sincerity, and true connection.

Humankind. We are, undoubtedly, capable of magnificent feats – like the inventions of such things as aircraft and the internet, by the permission and the Rahma of our Creator. And also, each of us, princes and paupers alike, are susceptible to embarrassment. And to illness. Chained to biological callings; hooked to where it is that Time, by Allah’s commands, is taking us: death. And what will follow.

“In a world torn by rivalries and conflicts, polluted by discrimination and dehumanisation and tormented by terror and wars, the healing touch can come only from [the] re-establishment of the supremacy of [our] moral values [and the] promotion of compassion, brotherhood, fellow feeling, tolerance and graceful acceptance of each other as members of human fraternity. Hatred can only beget hatred. It is [only] love and grace that can heal [our] wounds and mend the fences.” 

— Khurshid Ahmad, Foreword to ‘Interpersonal Relations: An Islamic Perspective’

Concerning feelings of ‘worth’, there exists a spectrum, perhaps: from delusional over-confidence (which makes one feel they are superior to others, and behave accordingly) through to healthy levels of self-esteem, humility. But these may quickly descend into undesirably low levels of self-worth: the key defining feature of such maladies of self-esteem is when one thinks oneself unworthy of love.

And maybe you seek to attach ‘reasons’ to this feeling, brought on by, or at least intensified by, (current, or former) outer social circles and peer groups, ideas that are constantly (stealthily) touted by the media, etc. You are… ‘too weird’, or ‘too boring’. Not ‘handsome enough’; not ‘smart enough’; not ‘strong enough’. Something, this or that, perhaps ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity’: you are not doing right at all. And this, in turn, somehow renders you, perhaps in a particular area, or maybe in all of them, ‘less worthy of love’.

If this happens to be the case with you, please know that you are worthy of love, exactly how you are. Sans comparing you to whomever you may find yourself comparing yourself to — be they siblings of yours, or celebrities — and in spite of what anyone may have said to you, to the contrary of this truth. Beginning from you, and ending there, too.

“And let not their speech grieve you. Indeed, [all] honour [due to power] belongs to Allah entirely. He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”

— Qur’an, 10:65

Here, I will rather shamelessly include (yet) another ‘Anne with an E’ reference. In the show, Anne absolutely despises her own “horrible hideous horrible” red hair. But why? Why does she hate such a… harmless (actually rather beautiful) feature of hers, with such fiery passion? Because she has been taught to do so, over time. First by the jeers of the girls at the orphanage; later by the subtle (and, sometimes openly insolent) insinuations and remarks of the adults around her. Red hair, according to them, is ‘ugly’, and quite undesirable, somehow; this is clearly a strongly culturally-ingrained idea of theirs, one they have seemingly passively accepted, and one they now actively contribute to the perpetuation of.

And yet, when Mr. Blythe opens the door to Anne and meets her for the first time, one of the first things he says to her, in earnest, is,

“What wonderful red hair!”

Same thing in question. But looked upon with fresh eyes, an alternative (better) perspective.

Not a person exists who will have some who will love her, and some who will dislike her. Everything about you that some (the wrong ones, for you) may perceive as being negative traits: the way you do things, how you speak, your interests, your thoughts… some others (the right ones, for you) will perceive as being absolutely, undeniably, wonderful. And these, the latter, will not stifle you: rather, they will, Insha Allah, help you to bloom, blossom, grow.  

I can promise you this much: with your ‘right’ people, you do not have to try to be anything else, other than what you are. And they will love you precisely for it.

So may Allah bless you, dear reader, in this lifetime, with people who are your ‘right ones’, and may you find you are very right for them, too; Ameen!

To submit a topic or a question that you would like to see an article based on, please click here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Gossip / The Game

“Paint your own picture, Enola. Don’t be thrown off course by other people”

Eudoria Holmes, ‘Enola Holmes’

Mother’s mother. And her six siblings. And their children. And mother’s father. And his siblings, and his half-siblings. And their children. And cousins. And cousins’ cousins. Family friends. Oh, and he ended up marrying her. And, let’s not forget dad’s side of the family, either. And his siblings. And his sister-in-law’s nephews and nieces… And all the rest of them.

            Too many people to know; to have, at some point, to some extent, known. And too much talk of other people, too. You hear of their names, their accomplishments, their struggles. You get to know… basic projections of them. One day, your family seems to be quite close with them. A few months later, not so much.

            I so wonder whom I would have been, if I had ended up being what this ‘society’ I had grown up in the midst of had wanted, expected, of me. Without really knowing me, in the first place, in any case. I was meant to dress a certain way. ‘Respectably’, how they had expected me to. And to be able to talk to all of these women, for hours on end, about cooking, about clothes and makeup, about how to be a good wife in the future. Boys, and other people’s drama.

            To learn how to cook and clean. Keep the place spotless. Be excellent with babies, from the age of, say, eleven. A dramatic shift from whom I had become quite used to being. Good with children, yes: but in a way that meant playing with them, connecting with them. Not being a detached and Selwar-Kameez-wearing Bengali woman. Docile, ‘good’, a meek “yes” and “no”-uttering serving tray on legs, let’s face it.

            And, being on your phone a lot is fine, to them. But certain other hobbies, passions… not so much. If it, a) will not attract a good future husband, for you, and b) does not provide an adequate springboard for your parents to compete with other parents over… what, really, is the value of it? Oh, and, wearing makeup is not fine. Oh, but it is. And it is also not. Cover every single strand of hair that you can — or there will surely be consequences. And, use some makeup to cover up, too. You look tired. Despicable.

            Shame. Wrong behaviour.

But what I have learnt, by now, is that by these standards, ‘wrong’ is ever so volatile, so susceptible to change. And if you root who you are in what they ‘expect’ of you, you will never come to value nor appreciate yourself. You will never quite be… whole.

            On the one hand, you had once been too adventurous, too playful. Too ‘colourful’. ‘Grow up’, immediately. The uniform of ‘respectability’, it beckons you. And all that you are is what they say you are. All that matters is what they can bring themselves to say, of you. A simple word, discarded from a mind that evidently does not consider the probable severity of its consequences too often. Or, that simply does not care enough to.

And later, used against you like a dagger.

And be quiet, and do well at school. So that they might say good things about you. Competitions and comparisons. Never quite looking at the things themselves. Images, projections. Reflections, and repercussions. So far away from the hearts; their cores.

And then, they say, they much prefer the ones with personality. Who get messy in the kitchen, making trifles. And, who paint. Who study Qur’an. But then they change their minds yet again. And you come to realise that you will never be enough, not for them. What is it that they want from you?

            Will they ever look back at you, and tell you that they like you?

You may come to find yourself always walking on egg-shells. Afraid it has almost broken you, entirely. Like oceans, surrounding you, though this might seem silly for you to admit, now. This is what our daughters are made to go through. And the women whom our uncles marry. And our mothers, and even our grandmothers. But if we are to submissively pander to what they say of us, we will become…

Empty. Only here to have people say good words of us. Good words from, perhaps, muddied hearts. To them, you are, one day, too opinionated, colourful. The next, once they are obeyed, too drab, monochromatic.

There is no pleasing people who are committed to being displeased. They are not opinions of substance, that they hold. Only this fidelity to drama; to belittling others. They would not appear to care very much, about who is made to pay the price. Harmless discourses, they claim. Lies, exaggerations, and with intent to cause injury.

            The value of a human being comes directly from our Creator. And Whom is it that we worship: the prying eyes of these middle-aged women, who spend their hours bemoaning the affairs of others, over the phone… or, Allah?

            I have learnt that this is what they do: they create terrifying Somethings over mundanities, sweet nothings. This cousin is a whore, and that one is a boring work robot. It is only if you commit to saying and doing and being nothing that they will cease. No, even then: they will find something, I am sure.

            I really admire a particular aunt of mine. Strong woman, she. When people comment on her children, she responds sarcastically. Not even so defensively. Accepting the good of her children, from her own perspective, while calmly chiding the bad parts. Loving them, in truth, and not the images that others might construct, of them. Questioning the nature of outsiders’ comments, too. Are they being excessive in praise? Why? Or, excessive in criticism? Why? These things can either come from a place of sincerity and care (or, perhaps, from a genuine desire for justice, in some cases) or from a place of haughtiness, excess, and jealousy. I have learnt that, more often than not, you can really detect the differences between these two lines of thinking, when it comes to malicious gossip. All actions are but by intention…

This particular aunt of mine does not appear to allow hyper-emotionality (for example, allowing the perceived ‘seniority’ of certain individuals to delude her into believing that they must therefore have some sort of monopoly over the truth) cloud her judgements. She takes a balanced approach towards these things, and I for one consider this to be a very respectable trait to have indeed. Certainly, if you overreact, this is simply indicative of your allowing people to have undue amounts of power and influence over you. Like their approval is somehow a key determinant of the amount of value you, and/or your family, have. And then, such people are known to prey upon your vulnerabilities.

Through nothing but mere words dispensed from the mouths of fellow Children of Adam, for the rest of your life, you may become enslaved to their commentaries on you; you slowly become a mere puppet upon their strings.

And so, to my fellow Bengali Muslim girls (or anybody else) who may find themselves struggling with matters of identity, while, and/or as a result of facing opposition from relative outsiders who may claim authority, by such means, over you, I say: cut off those strings. Sans shame, sans apology. The strings from those particular people whom you know do not care about you. And accept that this is actually a happy truth: they do not know you well enough to know nor care about you, i.e. the relative entirety, the reality of you. What they are instead doing is collecting snippets of information about you. Belittling ‘you’ (images that they, in their minds, have chosen to construct) in order to make themselves feel superior, by contrast. Naturally, to achieve such ends, some lies must be generated: that, for example, you are uniquely flawed and problematic. While they, and their own children, are not. Engineering facades. An ordinary shirt on a washing line will look far better by comparison, if its surrounding garments come to be stained with dirt, no?

            And if they speak ill of you, based on some (objectively neutral) titbit of information on your life or about you, perhaps [“Oh! She’s married and wears jeans?” “What?! She doesn’t want to live with her mother-in-law?!”] know that they, for you, are not determinants of truth, nor value, and nor are they to be the sources of some ensuing moral compass, for you. When they are speaking poorly of you – and especially if their claims are not at all true – know that they are only harming their own souls, in the process; please do not allow them to harm your soul, too.

“It’s always there. The truth. You just need to look for it.”

Sherlock Holmes, ‘Enola Holmes

May our senses of value be firmly grounded in the innate — God-given — merits of we. In the ways in which diversities of experience and personality, for example, oft give rise to such value, such beauty. Why attempt to uproot or crop certain parts of certain flowers, purely on account of their… looking different to the ones you are used to?

Look [at] what’s there; not for what you want, to be there.”

Sherlock

And may we find that our moral compasses are derived from the One who had created us, too. These are actual truths: clear, timeless, and unobscured by fog. Most else, like… the manifestations of whatever may fester within the fallible, changeable hearts of certain fellow mortals… may the weight that our communities have granted to them, and have allowed to become deeply entrenched, solidified, over time — may they be reduced (insomuch as they hurt our girls in particular) to what they truly ought to be: dust.

To unlearn some things, and to then learn some (other, better) things. To outgrow some things, and to then grow, in better ways. To be exactly whom you, somewhere, already know yourself to be. The game, my friend, is afoot. The adventure. The flowing waters.

“There are two paths you can take, Enola. Yours, or the path others choose for you.”

Eudoria

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

By the passage of Time

The day is waning, and,

“By the passage of Time,

Surely mankind is in great loss.

Except those who have Īman (trust/faith in Allah), do good works,

And urge each other towards Truth, and urge each other towards Sabr (patience/steadfastness)”

— Surah ‘Asr, Holy Qur’an

Neither you nor I are going to live forever. Time, it is chasing after us, so hot on our heels. And, perhaps we are going to live to live through another few decades. Or, maybe one of us is going to die in the coming year. But this is undeniable truth: that we are each on this Earth with a given amount of time. Time is our ultimate form of wealth. And we spend this time in different ways. And, towards what are most of our efforts directed: the short-lived, or the everlasting?

The past: it will always be a part of you. But the active moment is this one: the present. Delicately (dynamically) wedged between ‘past’ and ‘future’. And all roads — every single one of them — have led you right to this Now. Life is about every little decision that one makes.

Where are we going?

Perhaps we shall live to see these faces of ours become plastered with wrinkles; our hair, all silver and snow-like. Or maybe, we will simply not.

A weird thought indeed: that one day, these material envelopes of ours will be cold. Washed by strangers at the mosque, Insha Allah. Prayed for, and cried over, and gone. 

In this Dunya, we get one life: this one. And no ‘superfood’, no exercise regime, nothing can prevent the ways in which Time moves, and, indeed, how we have been designed to move along with it.

And a recurring thought that never fails to strike me: that… a year, or two years, or eighty years. What are these, when compared with eternity? Less than a drop of water in all of the Earth’s oceans. What a loss this would be: sacrificing the lives of our eternities, for but a drop


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Freedom

Freedom is not about being completely untethered to anything at all. We are human beings; we cannot be wholly self-sufficient. We rely on things like gravity to keep us grounded, and food to keep us going. Being independent of all other things is not what freedom — in the sense of the word that is actually good for us — is.

I think freedom is about being tethered to what is Khayr — good. Everything else — whatever is not good for the soul — we are held hostage under. We are all subjugated beneath at least one thing. This fact in and of itself is not something we can run from. The key question is: under what? 

The unquestioning obedience to authority that schools sometimes teach. Others’ judging eyes. Systems and people that do not actually love us. Mistruths. These can weigh us down.

But in true religion, one finds honour in what one submits to.

The best, probably most-used, metaphor for freedom is the imagery of birds. They use their wings, and they fly. But… notice these white-tailed eagles, taking their places in flight, between mountain peaks. Notice how they are not wholly self-reliant. They extend and contract their wings over and again, for a while. And then, gracefully and with such trust, they know to also rely on the wind for a while.

Freedom is flying, but it does not mean ‘independence’. If we expect the bird to only rely on its own flapping wings, it will become exhausted; it may continue to fly for a while, but ultimately to the detriment of its own self.

In life, we will have our wings. And the natures we are bound by. And, for true — what we may term, ‘freedom’ —

who and what will our wind be?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Dear Moon,

Dear Moon,

You are still you, even when the sky renders you ‘half’-seeming, sometimes, and not entirely ‘whole’.

Spinning world. The ease with which, you find, it can dizzy you, tire out completely your very soul. And

maybe in five years (or less, or more) you will find yourself still there, yet overlooking some different world:

still the same one, but some things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Or maybe in a decade or less, you will find yourself over there instead:

in that place you will necessarily meet before standing at the gates of Eternity: your earthly bed.

One small push, and into a whole new world we go.

But before that time, maybe, there are some things that you and I must do, some new people and places that we must come to know.

Dear you,

There are some undeniable elements of radiance in you. Maybe bringing them up and out will require an excavation of sorts, but I have complete faith in you;

with certainty, I do. Even in every single wrong turn you have ever taken; in every single ‘blunder’ you have ever made.

Far from home, as you have been. Trying and trying.

Still, do not fret too much. No more. I think it’s completely okay; wherever you are going, it will all be understood retrospectively, at some point, some day.

You make your own efforts; exert yourself. Tie your camels, and then remember to have hope, trust, faith. There is a fine balance between all this trying, and then it is this grand old waiting game.

Right now, it confuses, doesn’t it? It burns, then stagnates; it is tremendously elusive.

The truth is, your mind simply cannot fathom something it has never (yet) known. And though the imagination may seek to do exactly what it tends to — it cannot, at present, tell you exactly what.

Your state of mind finds itself in a rush, sometimes, doesn’t it? To get there. Where? Somewhere. That tyrannous abstract timeline of yours.

And to actually listen to all that others might have, to say about you. To worry about their receptions, perceptions. Those ones who put you on some unfair pedestal, and the ones who may do the exact opposite. Praise and criticism: people are excessive, biased, and unfair in both. Do they hold the keys to the full picture, anyway?

And, what? Is it they whom you exist for, Moon mine?

Divine Plan, I promise you. And the knowledge that you were fashioned by the very same supreme Being whom you pray to. So keep going; trust that the destinations are worth this extra mile.

Allah is closer to you than your own jugular vein is, and there is not a single tear that has fallen from your eye that He has not heard fall; accounted for.

So doubt the intentions of others, sometimes. Doubt the veracity of their words, but of Divine mercy, at least, always be sure.

It is He who cures; who, even better than you, at present, are able to: understands your hurt.

“Indeed, I am near,” He tells you, while you are struggling to emerge, a little seedling being brought forth, right through all this dirt.

And come, the rain will, too, won’t she? See, even if you can’t quite say what it looks like just yet, grow towards pure light, I so hope, will you.

It honestly matters not what others see or hear of it — or don’t. But always, at least, “To thine own self, be true.” [W.S]

And so, be there for yourself. In all your own colours, every single one. Maybe those seven or so years of mostly-greys will only be preparatory, for gliding steps towards a whole different experience. New knowledge, a new place.

And Jannah. For some people, such a place is already promised.

Another thing that is promised: that the life of this world gets intensely hard, at times. To each, their own individualised set of tests. And it will all tear at your soul, and at times, you will fall. Some of those moments, alone, when it feels like nothing but the entire sky is pushing you down. Have faith in those moments, too.

The word for trials, tribulations, and obstacles, in Islam is ‘Fitnah’. Imagery-wise, based on the process of separating gold from its ores. But first, a necessary melting process. It may threaten to tear you down to your very core. And here, I think, something, perhaps, quietly shines.

Perhaps they will be seven harder years, marred by all those thoughts and such. Same old silences, absences, aggressions. But be still. And know.

Then, perhaps, seven easier ones. This is what life does: it works in cycles, it ebbs and flows. And, dear Moon,

Maybe you cannot put words to it all now. There is seemingly no preciseness at all, not here. These current experiences of ours. No fences with which to neatly encase everything that has happened. But I can promise you this much: it is with purpose — all of it.

When Moosa (AS)’s mother lay her baby son into that basket atop that river, it had been her heart that bore the brunt of that pain. An entire heart made “empty”. And it was Allah who had then mended it for her. Brought it all back together; everything in place.

And it was Allah who brought you, dear Moon, into being. And the sun. Conception, and life. Everything necessary to bring us here, and to keep us going. As well as everything that we share this planet with. It is not at all beyond our Creator to change things completely, for you. And every ‘Fitnah’ that you experience is with noble reason; without a doubt, this much is true. Jannah is reserved for those of mankind who will choose to, and struggle to, become Pure Gold, at the end of it all.

And, yes, it can sometimes get mighty hard. Seemingly impossible. All these things that it feels like nobody else will ever understand.

Just know that, even in darkness, your light still sings, dear Moon. Some will hear your songs; they understand. The ways of its ebbs, and all of its flows. And they have complete faith in you.

So doubt that things have been that ‘good’ thus far. If you so wish, doubt this well.

But do not doubt in hope. In all the good stuff that is yet to come. In the hard bits that you will, Insha Allah, get right through.

Doubt most things about yourself, sometimes, but do not doubt that I believe in you.

The clock is ticking now. It always has been. So, with due knowledge of all that has taken place, do remember, do forget.

And worry not too much for whenever night, once more, begins to set.

No more. Shed old skins, farewells and hellos, and on new adventures, allow yourself to freely embark.

For is it not true that you have always loved the stars too fondly, to ever again be afraid of the dark?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Friends

We live in a world that would appear to be characterised by — nay, marred by — this widespread sense of anxious individualism. We are known to focus so much on ourselves, eagerly rush to decorate our own egos, find ourselves caught up in all these — what some may term, — ‘rat races’. But, for what?

I think the truth is, we are all seeking love, that mysterious, sometimes elusive (yet profoundly well-known) active and flowing force. Real love. And not just that often over-romanticised ‘romantic’ sort. [Indeed, some theorise that a key reason as to why Western media and society seem obsessed with ‘romantic’ love is because of this drastic lack of far-reaching communal love. A strong, and true, sense of community. The feeling of truly being held by the people around us.]

Living the way most people would appear to live, today, can have its challenges, on the ‘love’ front. Some live alone, in small city apartments. Some live with others, yet feel equally atomised, are equally alone. Where our needs for love (which are so completely ingrained within us; they are fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health) remain unmet, a void is left, unchecked, in their place. It longs for true company; not just a type that is limited to exchanging pleasantries, discussing how bad the traffic has been all day…

Almost unconditional. The knowledge that one can lean back, and love is there. A simple, perhaps even unsaid, promise. That I am for you; will you be for me, too?

Today, we find, so many of us try desperately to ‘protect’ ourselves, and to glorify our own images, through the use of egoic shields. We try not to discuss any of our difficulties, but are fine with subtly announcing some of our ‘better’ achievements and qualities; we demonstrate hyper-competitive tendencies; we can often be very wary when it comes to trusting others. This is, without a doubt, an age of pandemic aloneness, of paranoia, of sovereign egos.

And this is precisely what many of the ways of ‘modernity’ do: they take these (Fitrah-aligned) ‘pure gazes’ of ours, the original, sincere ones, and they try to make us swap them for snake eyes. We find we are hungry [but for what?]; our egos are writhing, restless.

Undoubtedly, this can all get in the way of our being able to truly experience deep connections.

Throughout the courses of these lives of ours, our souls will (Insha Allah) incline strongly towards, and come to love, other souls. Love is just that: the non-finite, immaterial, often inexplicable, currency, or messenger, or fruit, of the human soul.

For this — love — to be allowed to truly take hold between us and others, one must be willing to let those egoic defences come down, quite a bit. The pride, the fear, the excessive Othering. Our fictions, too, like those pertaining to ‘perfection’. And, one must allow oneself to be what modernity might term, ‘vulnerable’. But this is a somewhat…lugubrious term, is it not?

As if the base state should be one thing, and then whenever we allow ourselves to be a bit more… true, we are being ‘vulnerable’. The term is redolent of… someone sitting outside in the cold, without a coat on, maybe. Vulnerable. Like exposing oneself, an embarrassing nakedness: shame.

We can safely and easily exchange the term ‘vulnerable’ for ‘sincere’, methinks. And, in fact, in reference to the aforesaid analogy, sincerity [a good dose of it, without allowing ourselves to slip into…excessive and uncurbed honesties…] actually brings warmth. It is when we are not in denial of what we are; when we allow others to be beautifully human, and are enough at peace within ourselves, to allow ourselves to be so, too.

The soul simply does not fall in love with egoic decorations. It does not fall in love with pretence, nor with fraudulent human beings who are sometimes in denial that sometimes the sky does give rain; in doubt that, at a certain time, death will come. The soul recognises truth — though sometimes the glass through which it can look, is rather muddied.

No human being alive is lesser than you; no one is better than you, either. One might find a ‘soulmate’ in someone who looks completely different to you; whose general egoic labels might be radically different to the ones that might be ascribed to you. We all find ourselves upon this Earth, slightly existentially disconcerted, perhaps. Requiring water to hydrate our skins, and sleep to restore our energies. Food with which to fill our stomachs, and love with which to fill our hearts; to energise our souls.

In a world that is not centred on love, our souls become tired. We require the stuff of the soul to energise us; we find that nothing else will do.

I believe in the critical value of family: in the ‘connections of the womb’, the ‘relationships of mercy’. Perhaps even more so than this, I so believe in friendship. The true kind.

The English word — friend — has its roots in an old Indo-European word that means, ‘to love’. A deep affection; truly seeing (knowing, understanding), and smiling upon, others. Interestingly, the word ‘free’ also shares this same root.

In tandem with our more ‘physical’ selves, we human beings are also, at our very cores, an emotional kind. So many ‘mental’ ailments that plague us today would appear to be, at least in part, caused by a lack of love. And I do genuinely believe that so many of our ills can ultimately be cured through it, too. Even if our faculties that are primed to receive and return it become a bit dusty here and there, over time. Perhaps due to a lack of our exercising them, or maybe due to some traumatic injuries to them. I believe that love can heal us; it is the only thing that can allow us to flourish, like roses coming into bloom. Right through the dirt: a Divine gift. Like how sunflowers are known to grow towards the sun, does the human being not grow towards love?

The general Arabic word for ‘friend’ is ‘Sadīq’. This word finds its roots in the word for ‘sincerity’. One cannot have a true friendship without sincerity. Sincere friendships are the ones that are sans deceit, sans lies and delusional ways of thinking (e.g. thinking oneself ‘better’ than another), sans that egoic pride, springing from glitter. Friendship is a connection of equal-but-differents, a golden bridge from one soul to another.

And, in Arabic, there is a different word that describes a particularly close friend: a ‘Khalīl’. In terms of imagery, this word is linked to the action of ‘Khilāl’: when one interweaves the fingers on one hand, with those on the other. A special kind of intimacy, and you are a fortunate person indeed if you have, in your life, at least one Khalīl.

A true friend is someone who one feels entirely comfortable with. Enough to let the walls come down; enough to be true, in your relative entirety. Someone with whom one can speak to in the later hours; someone to experience significant, and small, parts of one’s life with. Between true friends, there is true care, and trust, and openness. A fine balance, with neither pity nor envy, nor any such similar things that may threaten to tip this balance, in the mix.

In a video by ‘The School of Life’, Alain De Boitton outlines four criteria for a truly good friendship. They are as follows:

  1. Reassurance

The life of this world can often be hard. We are frequently met with individual trials and tribulations. Sometimes we feel tremendously lonely; sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, or about our places in the world. Confused, and so tiny, especially beneath all those exceptional stars.

Good friends give one another comfort and reassurance. Hands to hold, loving listeners to speak with.

2. Fun. Positive ways of spending time.

A friend is someone whom one enjoys spending time with. And this, of course, will depend on one’s own subjective ideas of fun. Sports, watching movies, simply going for walks. Good friends inspire in their friends, authentically positive feelings.

3. Knowledge. Better understanding oneself, and the world

A good friend helps you to understand yourself, and various aspects of the world at large, better. A ‘Sadīq’ will thus share with you ideas, things that they have come across or learnt, as well as tips on such things as improving your diet, or perhaps on particular topics that are relevant to your specific current situation. Such as things to do with childcare, if you are a new mother.

With a true friend, one can explore through self and other. Without losing oneself to the other, nor burying considerations of other beneath self. Equals.

4. ‘Networking’

Every human life has a general ultimate direction towards which they turn. For some people, the highest attainment lies somewhere along a certain career path. For others, Jannah is the ultimate goal, while other worldly objectives are considered as being only ancillary or secondary. This fourth component of friendship-based excellence refers to the ability of one’s friends, and the ability of one to help one’s friends, in developing towards our life objectives; good friends certainly inspire us to do, and be, better. They genuinely want for you what they want (i.e. the good, the Khayr they want) for themselves.  

Do you find you share the same purpose[s] and values as your friends? Your decisions on who your friends are absolutely crucial things to think about, for they will naturally, and deeply, come to influence your values, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of doing things.

Very fascinatingly, one of the bases of the successes of friendship-group-based sitcoms, like ‘Friends’ and ‘New Girl’ is the fact that viewers often connect with (or, to — since the phenomenon is evidently rather one-way) on-screen characters, as a result of the human emotions and such they (the characters) portray. A bond that mimics friendship begins to form, and people can become extremely invested in their favourite friendship-based TV shows. We may begin to identify very deeply with their (fictional, on-screen) woes; we may find ourselves imitating certain small things that they do. Subconsciously, we feel like those are our friends [we may thus find ourselves entangled in ‘para-social relationships’]… and friends, as aforesaid, tend to come to have some very powerful (emotional, ideological, behavioural) influences over one another.

With your favourite TV show characters, you can become very familiar. The process of growing in perceived familiarity, with fictional characters just as with real people, necessitates a lot of time spent with them; a feeling that you ‘know’ them, and/or ‘understand’ them.

Perhaps one can tell quite a lot about the sorts of people — the types of personalities and such — that we are more intrinsically inclined towards, by examining the TV characters we have been most fond of.  Perhaps these particular personalities offer us reassurance, through ‘relatability’ (our ability to identify with them and their experiences, etc.) or simply as a result of ‘tuning in’ to these characters’ shows when we are feeling a little down. Or, maybe their personalities are fun; we find that it is enjoyable to spend time with (or, watching [that sounds creepy]) them. Maybe they have knowledge to offer us — about the world, or about ourselves. Or, perhaps they (in line with the ‘networking’ criterion) occupy a certain social or professional role that we may seek for ourselves, and thus inspire us in this regard…

Something that is actually rather alarming about the norms of ‘modernity’ is that so many of us would now appear to be spending far more time — emotionally, and in terms of our presence — investing in those ‘para-social relationships’ of ours, than in our actual (two-way) social ones!

I think a particular, particularly important, form of friendship is, perhaps, the type that is (or, should be,) shared between spouses. Marital friendship. For what good is a marriage, without friendship as its fundamental basis? I maintain (though, at present, I find I am quite experientially unqualified to have an opinion on this) that the best of marital relationships are the ones in which a person truly feels like he or she is married to his or her best friend; in which marital life might feel like one big on-going sleepover with one’s closest companion. In Islam, the Qur’an states that the purpose of a marriage is so that one may find tranquility and affectionate love in a significant other. Ideally, as well as this, one’s husband or wife should, I think, be someone whom we can learn from, and have a good time with — in a truly comfortable way. They are, I think, friends, with that added facet of what we may term ‘romance’. [Dear reader, if you are to get married in the future, may you end up with a husband or wife who is also your Khalīl; Ameen!]

It is true that you will not manage to find friendship in everyone. You may not end up feeling that connection of the soul with certain people with whom you might have pre-imagined it. And, see, when it happens, it just does, and your soul just knows. There is no use in forcing it with anybody.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is true: with most human social dispositions (think: ambition, work, friendship) there are ultimately two paths that one can take: the path towards the ego, or the ‘spiritual’ path — the path that is greater than oneself (one’s ‘Nafs’). Some may say this, the latter path, is towards ‘love’ itself. Others would say that this is the path towards Allah. [I would personally argue that what is generally termed ‘spirituality’ today is simply the name we give to ‘secularised religion’. I think (‘modern’ notions of) ‘spirituality’ is very much interchangeable with the idea of ‘a connection to the Divine, without explicit mention of Him’.]

Yes, I do think that the best friendships possible are rooted in a mutual love for Allah (SWT). Such friendships tend to accommodate a uniquely top-down experience; when done right, a decidedly more… ‘sincere’ and (sincerely) spiritual one. True adherence to Islam, for instance, can prevent or deeply regulate such threats to authentic friendship as hyper-competition, a reluctance to forgive and overlook small faults, etc.

And so, on these very notes do I challenge myself to love more openly, outwardly, and sincerely. I must apologise for any mistakes I may have made along the way; try to be better, Insha Allah. I should remember that it is only sincerity that brings about, and allows the maintenance of, true love: love for Allah, and for others, and for fellow components of creation, and indeed for oneself.

Love accepts and forgives. It nurtures and helps heal. It grows; it allows us to grow along with it. It is kind and true; appreciates the good, is understanding when it comes to some of the ‘less good’ bits, too.

And I must have great trust in love, and trust that herein is where great change — mighty good change – oft happens. In loving the fact that one never loses, by giving love: this is not how the stuff of the soul works.

Say it is all too abstract, call it fairy dust.

But, oh how real and powerful and necessary-for-life we (innately) know love to be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020