Rugged Charm

This blog article is based on some important conversations that I have had this week.

I find I am quite mentally exhausted after a very full week, so please do excuse the possibly rather shoddy writing quality of this one!


Dear friend,

Most are known to spend

their evenings in search, searching,

For some other life.

Sometimes, it seems, the more we come to think about, or are made to think about, the overarching reality (and its manifestations, the ancillary realities) of these worldly existences of ours… the more we seek to escape from them. Act. Deny certain things; plunge ourselves into certain other things, instead.

And then, we may start comparing ourselves and what we are doing – and, thus, what we are ‘being’ – to what others may be doing; how they may be living; feel the weight of ‘societal pressures’ atop our shoulders. Our peers. Some of them seem like they are so very ‘put together’. Like they could not possibly be struggling in the same ways as we find we are.

But if anything, this pandemic period in particular has exposed to us the essential sharedness of human truth[s]. That it does not matter if you live in the suburbs of London, or in a quaint little seaside town in Kent:

The truth is, to be human, upon this planet, is to suffer. The essence of humanity is essentially the same between one man and the next. But these essences may be expressed in varying ways. We each have eyes, for example, as well as these large organs that we refer to as our skins. Same things, between us, but in varying ways (hazels, gingers, blues, ‘peachy browns’ [this is what my brother, when he had been a baby, enthusiastically used to say his own skin colour was. To this day, we have no idea where he had picked this description up from]).

To be human is to feel fundamentally incomplete. To suffer, and to feel bored, and to experience moments of happiness, and heart aches and sadnesses. To be susceptible to disease — physical, and mind-related. It is also: to look for warmth, and for nourishment, in mind, body, and soul. And to search for eyes that…understand.

Furthermore, you know where our true homes are? They await us, Insha Allah, in a place that has been designed with our innermost desires and longings in mind. The destination: its fullness, its finality. Finally, after however many years of sustained dynamism, struggle, fragmentation: there shall be stillness, a destination where complete goodness lasts.

Nobody here feels complete. Nobody here feels completely settled, at home, either. It is simply, absolutely, not in our natures to warm to the totality of this Dunya so much.

We each walk atop rugged paths, try to muse at all the little flowers, which are interspersed along the way, and which sprout from between some of these cracks in the mud; we can call it… rugged charm.

We try, somehow, to account for, for example, how Van Gogh’s starry skies were the products of his very humanness: an expression of hope from somewhere within the depths of his depression. Try to paint things like these into alternative truths, use alternative lenses to look at what is there; ones we find satisfactorily cheerful, for us: we viewers. We let the difficult-to-accept things fester, as untouched as possible, beneath polished shells. Admire picture frames and works of art. Touch the surfaces, the canvases, and satisfy ourselves with illusions of, yes, this is all there is.

Most of us lie, or succumb frictionlessly to lies. Lies are often more convenient, can be more effective, easier than truths. And, whether in these ways or in those ones, all of us are suffering.

To be human, human, human. To allow ourselves to be. Breathe. What a concept.

Reality can be difficult to accept. This much, I know, is true. And Islam tells us, and reminds us, of the truths of this transitory experience. People drowning themselves in vanities and amusements; decorating outer shells; competing with, and boasting to, one another. Subtly, strongly, fairly obsessively. And, competing with regard to the collection of wealth and possessions; competing with others through their children, too.

We were created in struggle. This world is but an arena: an abode of trials.

وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ.

The final, ultimate, lasting life is better for us than this first (present) one.

Your life, without a doubt, dear reader, is a bundle of difficult things (personalised trials) which are complemented by some nicer ones. There are the things that scare you, disappoint you, bring about ache in your heart. And there are the things that soothe you, and hold you, bring you small springs of joy, delight, and comfort.

It is cold outside. But rather than pretending it is not, I suppose we must learn how to dress most appropriately for the weather.

The state of naïveté is known to bring about all of these ‘expectations’, conceptualisations of some sorts of (actually, currently impossible) worldly utopias. But our ‘futures’, when we arrive at them: when time renders them real, for us… they do not necessarily ‘rescue’ us. And neither does anything else ‘worldly’, for that matter…

This life: this one. What is it? I promise you. It was only ever meant to be a journey [back to] home. We are not meant to feel entirely settled, at ease, here. And it is quite impossible to do so, anyway.

The only legitimate, substantial, and lasting means of being ‘rescued’ from the essence of this life (that is, ongoing struggle, and peppered with some elements of ease) is through – you guessed it – death. Acceptance, finding a way to live, while being centred upon reality. And then, we pass on.

Do you feel quite lonely, sometimes? I think the world, right now, is pretty much collectively experiencing a crisis of most things good. Crises of family structures, and of true friendship [arguably, this is a key reason as to why the psychological counselling/talk therapy profession is proliferating in both demand and supply, these days]. And of nutrition, and of faith, and of mental health. And all these crises are inextricably linked to one another, let’s face it.

You are not a factory machine or a computer or a robot, and nor should you be sanded down, your mentality rendered antithetical to the callings, the sayings, the deep-down knowings, of your own soul.

The ways of the ‘modern world’ are centred on such a travesty of… call it, spirituality, and of the things we, truthfully, know to associate with Khayr, goodness.

I know it is often quite hard. And it is quite scary too. You may feel so alone here, and quite alone in thinking along those very lines that you often do. But, no: alone is something that you certainly are not.

So many – the majority, I would say – of human beings living under the Western, liberal, capitalist model are fundamentally in conflict with their own selves. Intrapsychic, or soul-based, conflicts: arguably (according to Ustadh Freud) the very basis of all neuroses.

Doing what you are ‘meant’ to. But… why are you ‘meant’ to?

I guess it must have had all begun with the dawn of popular secularism. An ‘Enlightenment’ period whose premises had been, a) a rejection of God, and b) ensuing cancerous obsessions with growth and gains, for the sake of growth and gains, for the sake of growth, ‘progress’, and… Essentially, much of the world had been left with all these humans with nothing, actually, to live for. And they had all this time on their hands. So: at the crux of all everything, human beings had been left with two real options. Suicide, or creating and religiously adhering to pseudo-truths, cyclical reasoning, false gods to worship. The ‘worshipping’ impulse is, without a doubt, one that is ingrained in our natures.

Leaking buckets.

The capitalist model very much exploits these inclinations. Beliefs on which to stand. That the value of a human being depends on its economic activity; ‘productivity’; how efficient it can be in producing things. Things that are visible and palpable, most usually, somehow. False gods: worshipping materialism. An alternative way to organise one’s time. Associated values: competition, with regard to the fundamentals of the capitalist faith, with one’s peers, in particular. Fuelled, sinisterly, effectively, by these ballooning virtual worlds. The projections of shells; the denying of, or determined reconstructions of, truths.

That is what we are: in denial. Of Truth, of truths, of the truths of ourselves. We accept what we are presented with. That here are some notions of how to exist in the ‘right’ way, here. And if you fail to meet these ridiculous, immoderate, conducive-of-societal-disease expectations, then it is you who is wrong.

Are these societies (urban, hyper-‘productive’, solipsistic, and all the rest of it) not… characterised by neurosis?! We look at people who ‘procrastinate’; who become sick under these sickly models. And we are meant to say that it is they who are defective, ‘wrong’. But no. They are neither: they simply do not, from their cores, blindly subscribe to whatever pseudo-god of capitalism and industry that they have incessantly been propagandised to believe in, worship, devote their existences to. Idols: things that people may worship, but, see, these things have no capacities for seeing, listening, or knowing. These abstract models cannot save you.

Some people spend the entireties of their lives in submission before idols – both physical and abstract ones, imagined. In the end, these things only take and take from you and your time, and they cannot give you anything Khayr in return.

How do other people live? Many people root their lives, almost without question, in the capitalistic model. The meanings of their lives are in pursuit of their career aspirations, and their careers are, whether they will actively admit this or not, what give their lives ‘meaning’, for them. They attach their worth as human beings, fundamentally, to the work that they are able to carry out, and how much of it.

Let’s face it, these ideas, we are very much inculcated with within the state education system. After all, why on Earth wouldn’t we be? These are difficult things to unlearn: they really are.

In your life, dear reader, what is the centrepiece? For some, everything comes back to their professional occupations and such, or to ‘impressing’ others. For others, everything comes back to Divinity, and to submission to God, rather than to abstract gods. Both of these streams of ‘religion’ entail their observers and adherents seeking a sense of self, and self-worth, and meaning, and purpose, a feeling that their time is being spent most fruitfully, through Whom or what they worship. Both streams necessitate some sense of conviction, and belief, in addition to much trust.

You are walking a certain way, towards something. And you will find that some people are walking in the same direction as you. Parallel journeys; arms linked, perhaps.

We need to surround ourselves with good company. Like the young People of the Cave did. They found brotherhood in one another, and shelter away from the heavy toxicities that had been prevalent within their society at that time. We need to re-educate ourselves; with Haqq in mind, as opposed to the invented truths of the current model, which, perhaps, holds the mighty and abstract ‘Economy’ as being the most sacred thing, more sacred than the holism of the human being, more sacred than religion: than submitting to God.

And, yes, it will likely take a whole lot of bravery. Nobody wants to feel like an ‘outcast’, ‘different’ in some strange, alien way. Outsider. And, yet, is this not what, for example, Ibrahim (AS) had to face? A sense of being exiled: because the people of his society, including his own father, were so busy with, so utterly deluded by and caught up in, idol worship. But to them, he had been the deluded one, the madman.

Ibrahim (AS)’s life story, I find very interesting indeed. He had grown up within a family, and a wider society, of idol-worshippers. But, from a very young age, he had been full of questions — ‘philosophical’ ones; would challenge his father, family, his people, and even the Emperor (Nimrood) on their beliefs. A man – a prophet – of sharp wits, and of deep faith and bravery. [Notably, also, Ibrahim (AS) had asked for signs from Allah, so as to strengthen his faith. ‘Asking for signs’ is permissible, in Islam, and Allah (SWT) will respond to you, in phenomenal ways, so long as you are deeply sincere, humble, and patient; so long as you do not speak from a place of arrogance and/or in a manner that shows hastiness.]

These widespread ‘modern’ ideas, after all this time, after all these mass media- and education system-emanating reinforcements: they do necessarily find themselves quite deeply ingrained in our psyches, by now. Produce, and produce. And work, for the sake of work, (for the sake of…) work and be worried about work, in immoderation. For what? Though, like all things when indulged in in immoderation, work becomes unhealthy, bad for us, when not delicately balanced with all of the other things that our souls need: this widespread ideology manages to convince us that if the purpose, meaning, the very crux of your life is not devoted to occupational and economic production, you must be lazy, unaccomplished, and you are fundamentally ‘wrong’.

Is it not scary how, nowadays, we seem to have internalised the idea that if you are not always at least a little ‘stressed out’, that you are not doing things correctly, somehow? The absurd things, that in this world, under these notions of capitalism and modernity, have been normalised! The ‘Protestant Work Ethic’, but on steroids…

The Muslim model, in contrast, in retaliation, then. The value of you is already there. As a fundamental fact of your existence. You require and deserve good, nourishing food. And good, nourishing social relationships. Opportunities to connect with your Creator. The natural world: for healing, too. And whatever work we engage in: it is to benefit our own souls, and other people, and our own lives. We are to work (and eat, and sleep, and even pray) in moderation.

So, at present, what unrealistic expectations do you find yourself holding yourself to? What are the downsides to those lifestyles that you may find yourself working, obsessively, within and towards?

Who, in the world, has got this life thing quite ‘right’?

The ones whose lives are centred, in a stable and steadfast manner, upon Truth, of course. Who are firm; who are able to accept that some people will necessarily think differently, think you are the one consumed within falsehoods. One must have enough Yaqeen (conviction) and enough trust to say goodbye to some things, and to be okay with it.

Oh, and also: we must, somehow, come to fully be at peace with the fact – yes, the fact – that every single individual that exists will have some who likes, approves of, loves, even, him or her. For exactly who they are. And we will each also have at least a handful of people who disapprove. May even dislike us; hate our ways of seeing things, our ways of being. This is okay. Just as you have a right to have your opinions of others, so too do they have a right to make personal judgements of you. Take what is good (Khayr) and balanced. From your beloved friends and from your ardent supporters, and from your critics, too. Disapprovals from others need not result in personal crises, within ourselves, not at all. See, there are usually always at least two ways of looking at things – at elements of different personalities, etc. You are fine, and you bring such beauty to the world, you do.

Some people, you will connect with. Organically, quietly-powerfully, almost effortlessly. And some other people… not so much. And this is okay. There are so many complexities, when it comes to human interactions and relationships, that we must consider. Individual circumstances, daily happenings. And simple incompatibilities, for this reason, or the other. And this need not be a reason to feel stressed or disheartened. These are only well-known and unalterable facts of life.

Here, you will walk. Sometimes solitarily, sometimes with people who are walking the same way as you are. But even when the beings you love feel so very far away, you are never alone. The forces of the soul: these are more powerful, more fascinating, more enduring, than even gravity, you know. Sometimes, undoubtedly, you will slip up and fall. Trip up, find some parts difficult to climb, to overcome. But you will not be alone, and you are also strong – and well-equipped – enough to get through this.

Here, there will be rainy days spent indoors. There will be cups of tea and intoxicated-with-laughter moments galore. Chills and surprises, comfortingly charming little things.

As for our day-to-day, moment-to-moment, experiential realities, a wise friend of mine once (i.e., earlier today) said:

“There is no ‘right’ way to live. All we can do is make the most of what we have in the moment, do what seems the most natural in that moment, and continue to live”.

I know the past is important. And so, too is the future. One has shaped you; has been your reality. The other is an unknown that you are forever walking into. Both are, at least somewhat, significant. But to behave in real terms: we must behave as though this moment is all there is. This is (temporal) truth, for us, right now. Look around: this is your life.

And how much comfort and joy I find in the fact that, Subhan Allah, I am not alone. My ‘people’ are here, though they may not always be most physically proximate. Gorgeous beings with whom to have interesting, wisdom-seeking conversations; who, by simple virtue of their beautiful characters, remind me of Haqq. And to fantasise about Korean chicken with. To share the intricacies of these days of ours with: the goodness, the difficulties, awkwardnesses, and all the rest of it. And to pray beside. [After all, friends who pray together, stay together.] We find we are walking the same way.

When your feet become blistered, and when walking starts to hurt,

Remember, remember, the graceful tenacity of the birds:

How they swoop and loop and fly their own flights, one beside the other,

Find a fellow bird, or two, flying the same way as you are; call this man your brother.

And in a moment – however long this may take – or two,

The aureate sun, morning light, will surely break through.

Welcome to Dunya. Abandon hope[fully] all ye who enter here. This first world of ours is difficult; it is not [ever] without its frictions. But, comfortingly, in this Dunya at least, to be without frictions — to be completely ‘polished’ and ‘smooth’ — is also to be quite… character-less. Bored, and boring. On these journeys of ours, we have quite come to love the things of ‘rugged charm’, have we not?

.إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

With difficulty, there is also ease. And so may we relax, dear reader, and may we lean into what is True.

(Oh, and know that nobody — nobody at all — makes it out of this place alive...)

“My prayer, my sacrifices, my living and dying are all for the Lord of the universe”

— Surah An’am, Holy Qur’an

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

If — by Rudyard Kipling

A poem I would like to remember. It reminds me of great men like Muhammad (SAW), Ibrahim (AS), and Malcolm X.

[To be read extremely dramatically. I have adapted the original poem somewhat; most of my modifications are in square brackets]


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming [] you,   


If you can trust yourself when all [other] men [may] doubt you,
    But [—

do] make allowance for their doubting, too;   


If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about (don’t deal in lies),


Or being hated (don’t give way to hating),
    And

yet [—] don’t [try] to look too good, nor, [try] talk too

wise:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;   


If you can meet with [both] Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the

same; 

  
If you can bear to hear the [T]ruth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make [convincing] trap[s] for fools,


Or watch the things you [once] gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up [again,] with [new]

worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,


And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never [feel you have truly lost – been deprived – through]

loss;


If you can force your [mind and heart and soul]
    To serve your turn [even] long after [you] are gone, 

  
And so hold on [even after the Earth swallows you whole]
    [Like trees that bear such fruit, on and on and on]

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings — nor lose the [human] touch,


If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;


If you can fill [forthcoming] minute[s]
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run:

[You, you will be okay, my friend; eventually you’ll see: you will have won.]

[If you can accept and embrace; tie your camels and trust in what is True,]


[Then] yours is [more than] the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And [yours is Sabr, and life; yours eternally is Firdaus, too]


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

The Roaring Twenties

The autumnal season always seems to bring along with it this potent impression of… renewal, does it not? Life, continuing just as it does, and yet, also starting all over again. A Janus season, this one: this sense of beginning and ending, at precisely the same time. Subtly electrifying, comfortingly poignant. The way the trees suddenly, both modestly and in a way that demands our attention, burn up into all these shades of red and orange, interspersed between fading, yellowing, greens. Autumn, I think, very much epitomises what this first life of ours, for us, is like; it powerfully demonstrates the states in which we, in this Dunya, exist. Half-sad, and yet, equally, half-ablaze with the quietly brilliant stuff of aliveness. Wonder and mundanity, dreariness and colour. And we find that things can be more than one thing  — can even be a thing as well as its very opposite, at the very same time — at any given time. 

Autumn is filled both with the sighs of tiredness, of nostalgia, and all the rest of it — and with sharp inhalations of excitement, novelty. What a perfect season in which to consciously savour the old, to reflect upon what has gone. It is also an apt time for regeneration: an emergent shoot upon an otherwise dying rose plant. Dark greens, browned, and then: lime green, all new and hopeful. So the plant is, at once, dying, dwindling, and reborn, anew. A new spring in its step, even amid, birthed from between, autumn’s rainy gusts, its approaching winters.

 

Two months left, for me, before the period of my life that shall be hailed as my ‘twenties’, arrives — the roaring twenties, these reputedly momentous years. And foundational, apical ones, too. Years of matured youthfulness, of lots of important decision-making, apparently. [According to the Islamic tradition, one is considered to be ‘young’, a ‘youth’, until the time of one’s fortieth birthday…]

 

Some people I know, or know of, who are in their twenties, are already investing in anti-ageing creams and serums and such. Taking their health — and ‘Beauty’, which is arguably Health’s main medium of manifestation — very seriously indeed. Gym days and Keto. And, also, ‘hustling’, and money-making. A need to make as much money as one can, with such ‘entrepreneurial zeal’, and to then save it up. 

Someone I know has discussed with me her desire to freeze her eggs in the near future. Fertility concerns: apparently half of the eggs we are born with are gone by the age of twenty-one… Another girl I once knew is now married, has already had children of her own. Many others are currently at university, will then begin job-seeking, or… -‘hunting’ (for it can all prove to be a rather difficult and aggressive endeavour, so it seems: this deciding on, and subsequently finding, an occupational role). Many twenty-somethings ‘get work done’ on their outer selves, too — on their lips, their skin, the curvatures of their bodies. Some go out to party quite a lot; ‘live it up’ outside of, so far away from, theirselves. Some young men will find that their hairlines are already beginning to recede; some will start to grow out their beards very soon. Many find that they are surgically attached to their phones, to social media. Most are fundamentally confused. Many are in quiet, intense competition with the next man, or woman; they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, of always getting something out of ‘impressing’ others: standing out, being ‘extraordinary’ through titles and possessions and such. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation [H.D.T]. And most are fundamentally confused. Cannot slow down, and nor can they quell all these distractions, for even a small while. Terrified of what might just bubble up to the surface, should they ever choose to ‘deep’ their lives, if even just a little. And so they favour whatever is ‘safe’, more ‘shallow’. Life’s short, they say. Live a little! YOLO!

 

In 1999, it had been the case that roughly 17% of all British women had tried to kill themselves before their twenty-fifth birthday. Now, with proliferating rates of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (intensified by all this filtered imagery that social media encourages and gives rise to), work-related stress conditions, a culture centred on hyper-productivity and -competition, ensuing self-comparisons and deep dissatisfactions, and more, it is almost undoubtable that this figure has, in the eventful two decades since, risen dramatically.

Quietly, secretly, so many of us are hurting as a result of all these unplumbed mismatches between appearances and reality. Profound ironies. But that is okay, because we have drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll, don’t we? We have noise. As well as all these expectations and ideals to live up to, which had never been conceptualised with… truth in mind, in the first place. Nay, for they are, at their very centres, hollow: at their very cores, they breed only the stuff of delusion. Fleeting fancies, hot air. But we can think about all that when we are ‘older’, can’t we?

 

Our twenties will likely be, at least somewhat, a time of existential-everything. Questions, dread. Some people cannot bear to sit alone with themselves, in silence, for even half an hour, you know. Cry whenever they are alone in the bathtub; cannot bear to be home by themselves, either; drown in their own darknesses in the depths of each night. Not even the most ‘stoic’ or ‘macho’ of men can escape nor surmount essential human nature. And, you see, accepting the things that are true about ourselves, and about life, is… okay. Should be okay. It is okay.

 

Most twenty-somethings are dealing with at least one thing that is really rather heavy, for them. Many are recovering from unfavourable childhoods. And it is okay to accept and embrace the truths of these things; it should be okay to speak about them, too. See, the only alternative way is… busying, intoxicating, ourselves with and in delusion. Hiding. But the truth will always gnaw away at us; it is always there. It has a way of always catching up to us, and of doing away with all falsehoods, in the end. Light, by nature, illuminates darkness.

We must come to accept that we are weak and we are strong; we are both, at precisely the same time. 

And so, these urgent invented needs to be filthy rich; to obsessively adhere to a very narrow construction of what it means to be ‘beautiful’ and/or ‘strong’; to have so many things to show [off with] to others. To ‘satisfy’, somehow, prying eyes; to ‘impress’ and ‘outshine’ other people… with mere image-based things, impressions. Excessive focuses on imagined futures, ‘super-‘realities. (Often) furtive addictions, through which the pain is momentarily benumbed; through which to take the edges off, from the truths of these passing days of ours.

 

Oh, what is it all for; towards?

Some moments of praise, applause? — to convince other people through our making the shells look shiny? Do other people hold the keys to the truths of you, to your day-to-day experiences, anyway? Should they ever be granted such power?  

 

Reality, essence, passed through layers of filtering, creating alternative ‘realities’ into which we might quietly slip into, escape. Is everything only… what we can bring it to seem it is? Small talk, deliberate omissions, heavily edited excerpts, simply ‘keeping busy’. Inebriation and suppression. Truth is uncomfortable to face… so why let ourselves think about it ‘too much’, in any case?

Polished surfaces, only, and all these… waxy ventriloquies. Our willingness to, and the ease with which we, accept… ‘not-accepting’… perturbs me. And we will find that, no, we can never actually escape Truth, especially not in the End. 

 

Very recently, a family friend of mine (who is aged twenty-something) got married. A period of celebration: a sacred union, a joyous occasion, a ‘milestone’. She moved into her husband’s home.

Five weeks after their wedding, her spouse passed away, tragically and unexpectedly, as a result of having experienced a haemorrhage in his brain. Five weeks ago, she had been a new wife. And now, she is a new widow. The tinges of orange from her wedding Mendhi had still been on the tips of her fingers at the time of his passing. On the inside of her wedding ring, her late husband had had engraved, in Arabic:

My wife — in Dunya and Ākhirah”. 

 

[May Allah (SWT) reunite the two of them in Jannah, Ameen.]

 

True things, by nature, can withstand even trials by fire. They exist outside of the realm of things that are prone to decay; true things are the opposite of those ones that are rooted in delusion, hot airs. They are, by nature, evergreen. And therefore, it is okay. True love, for example, is essentially strong and everlasting. It is not at all fragile. It will prove itself, time and time again. 

 

“And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?”

— Qur’an, [3:185]

The Reality (and the derivative realities) of Dunya can be rather unsettling to think about — to ‘deep’. But I find comfort in reminders of what is substantial, true. That here is life, here in the Now. That all of (this) life is a series of breaths, and of sighs — a string of ‘imperfect’ moments, Nows. [And… therein lies the charm, no? The character, the meatier stuff that one can actually enjoy really talking about. In the ‘flaws’, the unpredictabilities, the texture, the edges…]

 

Here, we are surely being tested, and everything we do does count.

And every soul shall taste death, this necessary passing on. Through the gates of eternity, and into the lasting world of Home. That Home that our souls are always yearning for, just as they cry not, in this world, for bags of money and such, but for people to share love with, and alongside whom to walk. And for a connection to the natural world, too: with the crumbly earth between one’s fingers, and with spiralling sunflowers — with all these beautiful and unmissable emissaries of truth.

 

How do I fully come to make peace with it all, though? With the fact that I am, at present, quite alive, and that someday I will be dead? With how I am, by nature, quite an idealist; that there will always be a deep yearning for something, from within the very depths of my soul? [Well, of course, I must be, from the core of me, longing after the very abode of idealism — Jannah. “We dance round in a ring and suppose, // But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” [R.F.]]

 

And this worldly life is only pastime and play, and the abode of the hereafter is the real life, if only they knew.”

— Qur’an, [29:64]

How do I reconcile, in my own self, the truths of, for example, impermanence? Of instability, confusion, of how it often does not (yet) all make sense to me? That some people will stay; that others will go? That some interpersonal connections truly are bonds of the soul; that they are immutable; that they will not die, even when one of us do? How do I know which ones are rooted in Truth, and which ones may not truly be so? 

 

“Know that the life of this world is only play and pastime and adornment and mutual boasting amongst you and [the] amassing of wealth and children. Like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris.”

— Qur’an, [57:20]

 

And just what will my twenties be for? 

 

They will be for me, navigating my way through this Dunya, just as the decade preceding them has been for. We find we like to think of life in terms of neat stages, phases. Clear-cut periods: decades and such. The modern state education system, for instance, is centred on the idea that ‘life’ exists in some future; some… nothere, notnow. But, actually, this is all we find we have: a series of yes-heres, and yes-nows. Nothing else. Only these souls of ours, and all this sand-like time we have been gifted with.

 

A month ago, my cousin (twenty-something, too) also got married. While being a student of Law at university; while working, for lengthy hours each week, in retail; while mothering her two siblings who have special needs. Indubitably, she is one of the strongest, most incredible, and kind-hearted, people I have ever come across. Her life, thus far, has been riddled with difficulties. But despite — and, yes, in light of — it all, you see, her soul shines right through. She is a woman whose strength, goodness, and beauty, are True.

Allahummabārik. 

 

I do somehow always find it surprising when things like marriages and graduations take place. Witnessing all the preparatory efforts and such, which precede them [my cousin had been planning her future wedding since around the age of ten!] and then… they simply take place. They finally arrive, and then they go. Just another day. Not ‘underwhelming’, necessarily, no. Just… evidence for how we really ought not to live our lives within daydreams of the ‘future’. The ‘big day’, the new job: all these things, will come. And you will get out of bed, as you do, and you will eat and pray, and all the rest of it. By the end of the day, (just) another day of your life will have passed, as all these days that constitute our lives do…

 

I find I am very interested in education: in how children are taught, and in how — and just what — they learn, from it all. The halcyon days of primary school: when school had been a little community, a mini village of sorts. Where the focus had been, to a great extent, on the present tense: on nurture and development, enjoyment and true learning, far more so than on ‘future careers’ and such. Appreciating children for being alive, just as they are. A home outside of home, primary school had been, just as school really always ought to be. 

And then, secondary school. Where the building and the atmosphere it had accommodated resembled those of… a prison, more so than a ‘small village’. With these new emphases on institutionalised discipline, on sanding personalities, humanity, down. On work, and work, and on even more work, to then take home. People started coming into school sleep-deprived, often sad. But that’s okay, as the new message of school had now become. If you endure all this, you’ll be rich, ‘successful’, and ‘happy’ in the future, someday.

And so we had been indoctrinated with these new ideas of some hallowed ‘future’; with the notion that the days of these ‘futures’ meant far more than those of the present. Attitudes of materialism were heavily inculcated within us, too. You tell a teacher you would like to be a teacher, when you are older. “You can do way more than that!” they, rather ironically, tell you. But just what does ‘more’ even mean

These unfavourable ways of thinking that we are drip-fed through our formal schoolings are both symptomatic of, and actively serve, a society that evidently cares far more about the ‘economy’ and about how we ought to fit into it, (and which buys into foolish fantasies of ‘American Dreams’) than about humanity, about Truth, our souls… 

 

One boy whom I had attended the same secondary school as had passed away in Year Eight, as a result of terminal illness. And so he never even got to see this ‘future’ he had purportedly been in school every day, from 8:30 to 15:15, and which he had purportedly been doing all that homework, for. 

 

In terms of time, the Truth lies very much in the present. We do not know when it will be, that we go. The least schools can do, for all of us, is embrace and embody these facts; encourage attitudes of realism, present contentment, teach us how to navigate through life’s many (inevitable, inevitably ongoing) struggles. They should operate on the bases of kindness, and nurture. Call me idealistic, unrealistic, here, but I really do think schools should continue to be, for students, homes outside of home, even after primary school. School is where young people are made to spend the majority of their time, and thus, of their youths, at; school is where, for instance, children who live in abusive households, both seek, and deserve, much comfort, individual appreciation, an organic sense of belonging. It should not all be about sacrificing present contentment for some mythical ‘glorious futures’. But I digress, I guess. 

 

I just do not want for my twenties to be all about… running for a train I will never quite be able to catch. This would appear to be what many people do, and this is quite an alarming phenomenon, in my opinion. 

 

As well as all those more ‘spiritual’, existential-type questions that one’s twenties may traditionally be characterised by, there are also the other rather pressing ones, surrounding what to do. What, whom, to ‘be’. I really do believe that the best decisions, in these regards, are made when we put considerations of Purpose and Passion(s) right at the forefront. And, also, through following the maxim of ‘being whom [we] needed when [we] were younger’ — whom we ‘needed’, in both senses of the word. Who had been there, in our lives, if only briefly, and whose presence(s) we had really valued. And/or, who had not been there, but whose presence(s) we would have had really valued. 

A very encouraging older sibling, perhaps. A youth worker who had been there for us. A teacher who had taught us something about life, or about ourselves, that we would never, from then on, forget. A lawyer, perhaps, who had spoken to us reassuringly during, say, a parental divorce. A doctor who had displayed, towards us, a great level of care and compassion. An uncle or aunt whose home had always been open to us. A movie character — or a handful of them — whom we had been drawn to, and whose occupations and such, and their own individual ways of carrying out their roles, had inspired us deeply. 

I wish to emulate, in terms of their noble characteristics and actions, the people (including the fictional ones!) whose presence(s) had meant something to me. Who had taught me something important, or who had instilled some hope within me; who had told me something I really needed to hear: valuable presences. 

 

Recently, I had been fortunate enough to meet a fellow teacher who really inspires me. The good energy she seems to radiate; her evident love of and passion for learning. The good humour through which she connects with her students. And, crucially, her centred-ness. Khayr is usually found in the middle of things: through balance, through being centred, as she reminded me.

She seems to be rooted in Deen; does not seem to be always-in-a-rush. When she is here, she is here. She grew up between Algeria, (a mountainous region in) Spain, and Egypt; in Algeria, she had witnessed the bloodied brutalities of the Civil War. In Spain, she would go hiking with her grandfather almost every day. She cares an awful lot about nutrition; her mother is a naturopath. And her idea of worldly success — as she is courageous enough to deeply embrace, in spite of all these strong forces that may encourage her to think otherwise — is what she already has. Her job as a teacher, her family, and gardening. In a society that is so hell-bent on notions of ‘outdoing’ others, being (in terms of our shells, what we can most concisely, conveniently present before others) ‘extraordinary’ and ‘exceptional’… Perhaps being so centred is quite revolutionary, really. Being ‘special’ really is an ‘inside’ thing, in truth; a soul-based one. She — this awesome and radiant teacher who would appear to be just a tad obsessed with going to Tesco so as to purchase snacks — just longs to eventually get out of and away from the city, really [the city is designed with mainly industry, and with the ‘economy’, in mind. It can very easily, and often does, make soulless, tired, workaholic robots out of human men and women. I find I very much agree with these views of hers… Offices are like animal cages, drenched in lifelessness and misery. Harsh lighting, caffeination. A potted orchid plant — a measly attempt to make up for the callousness against the human soul that the office fundamentally embodies.] 

 

I now know that, throughout this life of mine, I will be faced with tests, and I will also encounter new blessings, Insha Allah. But actually, they are one and the same, are they not? For we are tested through our blessings, too; we are, though we may not currently know just how, also blessed through our tests. 

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient/steadfast”

— Qur’an, [2:155]

Perhaps, Bi’ithnillah, I will die in the coming year. Or maybe I will remain alive throughout this newly dawning decade. Some days I will experience a little more sadness than on other days, and maybe on some days I will be more scared or confused. Throughout these years, though, there will be moments of joy, of peace, of happiness, Insha Allah. All will be well, in the present and in the end, so long as I hold on to all that is true (and good, and beautiful). And, in a way that, I hope, does not sound too narcissistic, in response to those ceaseless questions of what I wish to be in the future… I want to be whom and what I already am. The fabric of the worldly life will remain the same throughout, too. Always a set of blessings, and always a filled space for problems, issues, frictions, worries. And to find peace and centred-ness in Truth, and in my own truths (without feeling a need to anxiously accommodate for, nor internalising, others’ responses to it all) — this is what I want for myself. 

 

These autumnal months are the ones that the soul, I think, instinctively warms towards. These striking, undeniably (though sometimes quietly) gorgeous months of warmth, of reminding oneself of what truly matters; of what this life truly is. Its very fabric: brushstrokes of happy, tinges of sad, often at precisely the same time. Fading away just as it all comes alive. Is this not what it is, also, to be human?

 

That evening, even though we felt cold and were bleary-eyed: we came outside, and we got to see the stars again. Fingertips freezing, but there our souls had been, in full force, subtly ablaze. We were reminded of those smaller — and larger — facts of our existence. The deep blessings that begin, perhaps, with our capacities for breathing: and the flower-like structures that line our lungs. The knowledge of how water is known to connect us with everything else, upon this planet, that is alive. And how these souls of ours: these immaterial, unifying, experience-and-reason-facilitating vessels of ours… How they are eternal, and undeniable. And how they are true.  

How, even on those nights in which we might forget to pay much heed to those celestial bodies overhead — and even when the leaves, rather like secret stories penned upon little crinkled coloured pieces of paper — when they begin to fall… What will remain, and what actually carries meaning, are our souls. And, of course, their connections: to other sempiternal souls, and indeed, most crucially, to sempiternal Truth.

Money will enter our pockets, but at some point, we find, we must part from it. The praises of others may bring a wisp — or a hundred — of satisfaction. But this fades too. So may our focuses be on what ultimately remains, matters. 

 

I want for my life to be about tending to whatever is ever-true. The things that, when these presently tangible, quantifiable, material Dunya things fall to dust, will come to reveal the truths of their weightiness, significance. Substantiality. For what is presently untouchable is not necessarily presently unknowable: the soul has its own ‘eyes’ through which it sees, too. Sabr, Taqwa, ‘Ilm, Salāh, love, and all else that is true. I hope these twenties — if I am to be permitted to live through them — will be years of centring myself on reality, essence, Truth. 

 

Every soul must taste death, and they will be receiving their rewards on the Day of Resurrection, so whomever is removed from the fire and entered into the garden is successful, and the life of this world is only a passing provision.” 

— Qur’an, [3:185]

“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient/steadfast and fear/are conscious of Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.”

 

Oneness, in recognition of, and thus in submission to, the One. May my twenties be a period of using what I have, over these years, learnt; a period of synthesis, of accepting and embodying what is real (and all of Truth’s derivative truths — quiet beauty, true goodnesses — also). 

 

Your soul, dear reader, is absolutely, undeniably, your core: the Truth of you. And the life of this world, complete with its mystifying ablaze-with-auburn trees, has its own soul, a non-visible yet all-encompassing truth, too. We speak of notions of meaning, of purpose, of direction and success; each of these concepts… they do not come from nothing, and nor is it to nothing they return. 

Throughout this life, in this impermanent abode of ours, we will always have things to be grateful for: the stuff of the soul, in particular. But this world is not Home, for us, although some of the people we come to love, here, may (Insha Allah) be segments of it, for here, and also, later, for There. With them, we walk along these (sometimes rather rugged) paths of ours. And here, we also have our capacities for patience, the capacities through which to maintain our relationships with our Creator, via prayer and other forms of remembrance. 

We will always, in this world, experience difficulty: mankind has certainly been created in hardship: Kabad. An ongoing state of incompleteness, experiences of grief, and of fear, and of sorrows and regret. Longing, longing, pangs of pain. Here, as you will find, you will need to be brave. And honest, I think. Loving, and hopeful.

Because the aforesaid displeasures, obstacles, are only facets of the worldly life through which we must walk, in order to get to the Lasting Attainment. Here, in this world, lies the means — dynamism, a journey — not the end.

 

And so, with all this in mind, dear reader, I ask you:

What is your journey — your adventure, your quest — to Jannah looking like? 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020