‘Making It’: Happiness

Last week I had posed to thee (readers) on this blog of mine, the following question: ‘What does ‘making it’ mean, for you?’

I think this response to the question (above) had been my most favourite one.

Yes, in the grander scheme of things, we are on this ever-dynamic journey, en route (Insha Allah) to Jannah, to a ‘happiness’ that is substantial, and which shall last…

In the ‘here and now’, though… Being genuinely ‘happy’. I had been thinking about this concept recently, especially after having come across a particular article about attaining happiness, from a Sufi perspective.

I admit, for a while early last year, I had looked further into Sufi teachings. ‘The inward dimensions of Islam’, of worship. Interesting. These ideas about spiritual ‘transcendence’, notions about how ‘true happiness’ can be obtained via the securing of a personal connection with the Divine.

But neither Islam nor human life in general are about acquiring and maintaining some longstanding feeling of ‘pure, untainted happiness’, euphoria. Islam is not about feeling all fuzzy and/or happy and/or… ‘transcendent’ all the time.

Life (and I am not disagreeing with you, here, dear esteemed respondent. I am just trying to process and express my own thoughts on ‘happiness’) is not – and, Islam is not – about detaching oneself from reality, so as to whirl like dervishes, into some narrow unsustainable view of what ‘happiness’ is.

The ‘happiness’ that we seek. It is not in denial of the ebbs and the edges: the moments of anger, of sadness, or of confusion and befuddlement. The jealousy, the regret, the longing, the disappointment, pain and sickness. The ‘happiness’ that we seek, in Dunya, Insha Allah, takes a more…holistic view of things.

The ‘bigger picture’, the ‘grander scheme of things’. The view from the window of a moving aeroplane. We are relatively attached to it all, and we are also relatively…detached from it all. The sort of optimism – rooted in ‘realism’: what is really there – that a Muslim ought to employ and embody, then… We know that things do get difficult, sometimes. There are the roses of our lives, and there are certainly also the thorns.

Our individualised tests. May we be ‘happy’ – though we will likely not always be gleeful – within them. Grateful, choosing to focus on the Khayr we can extract from each situation we find ourselves in.

“The true measure of success is the number of lives you have positively influenced.” May Allah empower both you and I, dear (I am going to name you ‘Person’) Person, to be a truly positive influence on others. My only potential contention with this quote would be: it is not about ‘the number’ of lives we are able to have a good impact on. Ultimately, our deeds will be weighed, won’t they? It is about the ‘quality’ of our deeds; the weight of the intentions behind them. Is it not better to have a deep and positive impact on just one or two people, with the sincerest of intentions behind our actions, than to have a positive impact on a million people, with our intentions rooted in things like…ego-based considerations?

Whether we are able to influence people in their hundreds and thousands… or if one good home and a small community is what we end up being able to successfully, in a good way, nurture and contribute to… As the Hadith informs us, actions are but by intention. And this is how we ought to live, right?

Guided, Insha Allah, by our intentions, and by checking them, reflecting on them.

Moreover, money certainly is only a means to an end. How silly would it be, to act like it is some End itself… Paper, and coins. Numbers in a bank account. Just what do they show? How will it all benefit our souls, on That Day, especially?

I certainly do agree that sharing the wealth that we have been blessed with, with those who may be in need, brings about some happiness. Goodness. But, in terms of our more immediate interpersonal connections, it is time – our company, our presence, our love – that is truly of the essence, no?

Finally, I agree: we are driven by those good old Pain and Pleasure principles. Towards pleasure, and away from pain. And also, we have been given these faculties of reasoning through which to process our thoughts before they solidify into intentions, and then into action. There are some ‘base’ ‘pleasures’, which have been made Harām to us. We use our intellect[s]; we reason, benefits against costs. We have been given knowledge – as well as the capacity for it – about how to obtain Lasting Pleasure. We are responsible for ourselves, and, in fact, while Jannah is surrounded by obstacles and hardships, Jahannam is surrounded by fleeting pleasures, our succumbing to our base desires and modes of behaving.

(Am I waffling, here, Person? You bet I am!)

We yearn for Happiness; we yearn for Home. The journey to these very places… it is laced, often, with difficulty [think about the life experiences of the Most Beloved to Allah…]

Muhammad (SAW) had not always been… ‘happy’, here, had he been? Grief, fear. Hardship. He had been tested with such intensity, this most beloved man. His is guaranteed ultimate success; it had been his hope in and reliance upon Allah that had resulted in his strength, his realistic-optimism.

It is clear that he had experienced, in this life, moments of joy. Glimpses of paradise. His ‘happiness’ had been shared, with the people whom he had loved. Loves that he had nurtured. What a concept. For the connections of our hearts to be tethered to Allah. To truth, to ultimate reality, to what is lasting. And, in Jannah, Insha Allah, we will be with whom we love [Sahih Hadith].

‘Making it’. There is no specific point, I do not think, no golden and distinctive ‘cut-off point’ from the rest of our time here, amid these Dunya realities of ours, at which we can say we have fully, totally, completely ‘made it’. Love is a blessing; so are good careers and such. We walk along, with these things in tow.

Happiness does feel most ‘real’ when it is shared, doesn’t it? And, in beginning to conclude this fairly lengthy response to your response: as Allah informs us in the Qur’an, in Dunya, فَإِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرً

“Verily with hardship, there is ease.”

Much of the ‘ease’ we have been blessed with, in Dunya, I think, comes to us in the form of the people we love. Home, and Goodness, via Love.

May Allah reunite us and our loved ones, by the end of these difficult-blessed journeys of ours, in those Gardens beneath which Rivers flow, Āmeen.

(And thank you very much for your response, dear Person!)

We are ‘realistically-happy’ upon these paths of ours, en route to Happiness.

We seek, in the ‘happy’ and the ‘sad’, in both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ what is… Good;

We seek out the Light.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Winter

Autumn and Winter. What gorgeous times of the year these, time and time again, prove to be. Just the idea of being cosied up in a couple of layers – or six – and the way the sky falls to dark blue, even hours before night-time is actually due… There is something that is so enchanting and mysterious, so uplifting inasmuch as it is nose-freezing, about this most beautiful time of the year.

Christmastime comes around, and so do all the jumpers. And the endearing little decorated mugs of hot chocolate. Lights and festivities, and all else. I cannot believe that we have now officially reached Winter 2020. These past two years, at least, have felt like they had just arrived, tipped their hats off to us, and left.

Winter is cold, and she is often storm-like. Impels us, through forceful gusts, to appreciate the warm homes that we do have; the safety. The newly-warmed dips on duvets; atop cushions and rugs. Feet blanketed in wool-soled boots, and

Although now is the time that the goblins of consumerism do come out to play a bit more, [think: Black Friday. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Year’s. Sales that compel mankind to obsessively buy, buy, buy. New, new, new. Through creating false ‘needs’, for us, through making us believe that without having these ‘new things’, we ought to feel so very dissatisfiedSigh…]

now is also very much a time during which we can look inwards. Learn to patch things up. A small tear in a top? Why not employ some of our Year Seven D.T. skills and go ahead and mend it, instead? Why won’t we love what we have: it is enough. And when we are grateful — look inwards and commit to truly appreciating these blessings of ours — we are granted Barakah within these very things.

These bodies, and these souls, of ours are the only ones we will have (the former, in this life, at least. The latter, in both this world and Ākhirah…) They are not ‘perfect’; may we love them. Friends, family, school/work. Texture, edges, unpolished, and uniquely yours.

In my opinion, it is far better to live in a warm-enough camper van, for example, which finds itself suffused with Barakah, than in some stone-cold stone castle, in which material possessions may be ornate and many, but where there is no Barakah.

And what are the ingredients that may lead to a guarantee of our having this Barakah? I think it is about sitting on the floor, sometimes, and acknowledging what we really are. Outside, and irrespective of, titles and roles and any of these ever-present delusions of grandeur. Of us, it is our souls that matter, and is this not what Winter does:

It sings to our souls, while our bodies stay at least somewhat cold. Warmth, like most desired and delightful things, is only truly known when juxtaposed with its opposite: cold. And maybe the same could be said, for love: outside, it is cold. The trees look more bare, things look sort of lonely. Inside, however,

a hand upon a hand may be all it takes. Forehead pressed upon ground – on decade-old (though intermittently washed!) prayer rug, a letter of gratitude to your Creator. A heart, which you, its keeper, can silently witness, when it says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I think I have always loved Winter. She had been the first season I had ever known: I had been born amid her, and she feels like home. Sometimes her rains are furious, and sometimes her snowfalls are more graceful, elegant. Winter sun can be ever so bright, spilling across dew-dropped grass, sending spirals of icy breaths outward and upward. Deceptive, though, for Winter Sun is not usually warm, as it is ‘meant’ to be…

Winter moon often appears when we least expect him to. 4PM and there he is already, all eerie and nonchalant. Silently brilliant: not begging for our awe, for our attentions, and yet receiving them, very much deserving them, anyway. The way he is known to glow – luminescent, and not angry, defensive, or ‘fierce’ – but only when the sky has become dark enough for him to do so.

I want to say, to those of you, dear readers, who have Depression and/or Anxiety, or anything else of the sort, that… I know it tends to get more difficult around wintertime. These seemingly implacable tirednesses, wisps of sadness.

I hope you learn not to feel guilty when the ‘work’ you have to do is not your first priority. Work itself, I think, ought to be for the sake of – for the good of – the soul. Your value as a being is not determined by ‘how many hours of work you have managed to complete today’ and, truly, nor is it about comparing ourselves to others and what they may be doing. Your circumstances are different; your journey is your own. Your needs: sleep, rest, comfort. They matter far more.

The difficult days: may they strengthen us, and may we be strong enough to get through them, always, Āmeen. And I also wanted to say:

As cliché as these words do sound, over time, it does get better, Bi’ithnillah. Seasonal Affective Disorder: the sun eventually does come back up, doesn’t it? These things work in cycles…

Generalised Anxiety: it is there. At times it makes you quiver and quake, but you know what it is. It is powerful, but it will not win, Bi’ithnillah.

When you are tired, dear friend, please do let yourself sleep. And when you are sad, do cry, even if it means that your whole body sobs with crying. It really is okay sometimes. And when you are in prayer, do thank Allah over and over again. When you are reciting Qur’an, recite with melody; feel your heart become still, become calm: recollected, reconnected.

Social anxiety: that uncontrollable feeling of terror, of being seized. But at just what, though? What are your fears? That you will be disliked? Why have such thoughts, over time, solidified into beliefs, in your mind? Are you loved? Of course you are… Then, the extent of your fears is fundamentally unfounded. This may be difficult to hear, but…

Maybe, new seasons within our lives ask for new versions of ourselves, to come through. To meet the present challenge; to embrace present blessings, too. Maybe this season requires of us some newer ways of thinking. Maybe the world had been one thing, to us, then. Maybe – most likely – it is something altogether quite different, now.

You had been afraid then, maybe. Perhaps with good reason. But you do not require those same modes of thinking in order to survive and/or ‘thrive’, now. Look around you. Things have changed, haven’t they. Sometimes, what it takes, is to say to these erstwhile, obsolete thoughts of ours, a simple but strong:

Nope.”

You belong here, I promise you. And, atop this Earth, you walk along as a person who is loved. Beloved. It is truly a blessing.

Depression, though: what a thing. Albeit often misunderstood. On some winter mornings, you will feel the heaviness a little more acutely than on some other days. But looking inwards rather than unfairly, unrealistically, unhelpfully outwards… really does help, I think. Make Du’a, and when you are ready, you will get up again, Insha Allah.

To quote a Moroccan proverb I have recently come across:

Drop by drop,

the river rises.

Dear friend, give a little time to yourself. Some more space, some more depth of understanding. Winter can be hard. Anxiety and Depression: the Winters – the less favourable parts of it, I mean – of these minds of ours. We must trust, though, that the sun is about to come up again. It usually, and sometimes when you least expect it, does.

Your personal journey may look rather different to my own one, but they are likely to be fairly similar, in terms of essence. This is what happens: time goes on, and things change. We adapt, and we learn and we grow. Step by step, we come to overcome certain things. And, drop by drop, drop by drop, the river rises, becomes.

There will be some more difficult days; sometimes it may feel as though things are rapidly, and right before our very eyes, becoming undone. But we trust our Lord, do we not? We take care of our tasks – put our effort in – and we leave it all to Him.

When I think of strength, and when I wish to be reminded of the sort of progress that due trust and reliance upon Allah can bring about, I think of my infant cousin, Siyana. Born prematurely, two-and-a-half years ago, and placed in the ICU. Her fingernails had been as tiny as short grains of rice; her clothes smaller than the ones that little children are known to put on their little dolls.

How fragile and how strong this child is. We now see her running around, strong and spreading such joy, that characteristically quizzical expression on her face, frequently sending my nan and we into fits of laughter. Trying to lift her father’s weights. It has taken some time, though. From those early months, during which her parents would mostly take it in turns to be with her at the hospital. Get her milk ready; those sleepless nights of theirs. Over time, though, things, in this regard, got easier. Siyana grew in strength. Seeing pictures of her from 2018, in comparison to the animated character we know her to be now… Oh, how she has grown. And from her story, I do take quite some inspiration.

As well as from the stories of some other individuals I have had the fortune of having been acquainted with, this year. Ms N and Ms Z stand out. What kind people; what (quietly, secretly) strong individuals they are. They have told me about (parts of) their own journeys. Exceptional. Embodiments of how Allah rewards As-Sabiroon (the patient/steadfast ones).

We begin from somewhere; drop by drop, or millimetre by millimetre, we grow. Through time, via experience, and as a result of our choices. We adapt, and we fall, sometimes; we get up again.

[What counts is what you do [now]]. ‘Philosophical presentism’ and all [Thank you Tas, for teaching me about this…]

Khayr, khayr, khayr. May we learn to focus on it, and give it and receive it.

And may we realise that when we give it – the good – due love:

it does grow.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

An Important Email from a Friend

Sometimes someone says something, and I want to frame what they have said, and keep it forever. Copied and pasted below is one of those frame-worthy utterances, (or, writings. Typings, even, to be even more precise). An important excerpt from an email my amiga Tasnim wrote to me (in response to one of my emails, to her).

[Follow her art account on Instagram: @Nimartistry. Her artistic abilities are simply amazing, Allahummabārik!]

“Final time I am going to think outside of the ‘here and now’, Insha Allah.”

When I read this bit of your email, it honestly summed up what I wanted to say regarding everything you’ve written. There is a video I saw on Instagram; you may have seen it already. A Somali Muslim guy, visibly blind, quoted the Qur’an and then said,

“Allah promised me, all I have to do is be patient, and I’ll be granted Jannah. I have to deal with blindness for about 80 years, and then be guaranteed paradise permanently? No problem; this is nothing!”

And seeing him act so nonchalant about being blind just truly diminished any sense of struggle and worry I had in that moment. Alhamdullilah we have all our senses, but we are tested in other ways. However, the principle still applies. Be patient, and you will be granted Jannah. That’s literally all it is! 


So Sadia, try to take one day at a time, with each […] emotion, deal with them as they come. Each test, is just an opportunity to stack them rewards boi. Imagine if life went the way we wanted it to: how could we be tested? How would we deserve any blessings given to us? Our Lord is Just. Whatever pain and worry you feel, you will be recompensed. Never doubt that there is a purpose to every twist and turn, to every calamity, to every stress. (A reminder to myself as well). It is simply an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and
that is the greatest blessing we could ever receive in this life.”

[I (Sadia, that is) will add, here, that the life of this world is, ultimately, a struggle. An oft arduous journey, up a mountain. Or, on an aeroplane of sorts, to Somewhere. To meeting our Creator, and to our ultimate Homes, Insha Allah. Here, we must not allow ourselves to be deluded. There are no utopias on Earth, you will find, “and what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?” [Qur’an, (57:20)]]

“When I ride in an airplane [sic], I enjoy looking at how small the world seems from a distance. Yet when you zoom in, what seemed so small and insignificant turns out to be very important and major for most of us. The size of the house, the kind of car, the amount of money, and the lifestyle we want. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of day to day life thinking that it will never end. Each day we wake up, go to work, wait for Friday, and enjoy the weekend. Rinse and repeat. It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to stop, pause, and reflect on what is happening and where we are going. We often escape from the thought of our end. Death is a reality every single living creature will experience. No one’s health, wealth, status, or riches ever saved them from dying and being buried with nothing.” — Fatima Karim

“The root of all diseases of the heart is our love and attachment to this materialistic world. We know this world is temporary, yet we find it so hard to disengage from it. May the Almighty guide our hearts into desiring what is lasting — the Hereafter.” — Mufti Ismail Menk

This is certainly something that I need to remember. That, on the flip-side of this more fleeting existence, I am already ‘dead’, departed from this Dunya. In that atemporal realm, I am either somewhere in Jannah, or I am in Jahannam. My current experience, here, is retrospective knowledge for me, over There: a string of reasons as to why I am wherever it is that I may be.

This life is a test. My life is an individualised ‘test paper’, so to speak. I am being tested in particular ways, and you are being tested in different particular ways. Through, to paraphrase that ‘Meaning of Life’ spoken word poem I am so obsessed with, our wealth, our health, and everything we have been blessed with.

And we will surely be resurrected.

Here, I have Salaah. I have the Qur’an. I have all these added blessings, such as food and warmth, good people, and these constant opportunities to learn, and to grow, and to work on bettering myself. Most else… these are supplementary blessings that I do not necessarily ‘need’ in order to fulfil my purpose, here. I must be duly thankful for all of it, Shakoor.

“Everything other than Allah is vanity” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

In your grave, nothing of the vanities of this life will remain. Just you, alone, and your deeds: the stuff of the soul (presently seemingly invisible, intangible. But, soon: the only things that are real, that remain).

And, see, death is absolutely certain, while the things of this life are absolutely not.

So where are you going?” [Qur’an, (81:26)]


Sadia Ahmed J. and Tasnim K. Ali, 2020

A Quick Question

(Your details will not be submitted to me — only what you have written)

“Everybody knows that money cannot buy happiness, but everybody wants to find out for themselves” (Z.Z.)

Returning

People find, or re-find, Islam in different ways. In fact, from my observations, it would certainly seem as though every ‘born-Muslim’ does undergo a distinct period in their lives during which they are presented with a distinguishable opportunity to ‘come back’ to Islam, and as if for the first time.

The latter half of the year 2019 had very much been this sort of period for me. Returning. Coming home to Deen, and yet, things had felt quite new. I knew things, and yet I was ‘re-learning’. I also learnt about a lot of additional things to do with Islam, courtesy of some great conversations with people; YouTube videos/lectures; working part-time at an Islamic bookshop (hashtag free library, basically). And now, teaching at an Islamic school: Alhamdulillah. What an exceptional bank of resources Allah has blessed me with. Even to have access to the internet: the entire world at our very fingertips [but, do remember that Sheikh Google is not qualified enough to answer all our Deen-related questions. Misleading information on the web is, shock horror, very much a thing!]

It is true: as one of my History students pointed out (in one of our class discussions, during which I try with some exertion to make some rather boring parts of History relevant and engaging, somehow, to these young Muslim girls in East London) converts (or, reverts) do tend to be more enthusiastic and ‘strong’ in their faith than people who had simply been born into religion: i.e. those of us who are merely going through the motions.

“So Miss, Henry VIII had basically been a Munāfiq, but Catholic version, right?”

Okay, sure… yes, [student’s name]. Why, yes he had been.”

We like finding things for ourselves; when our love for things has grown; when we have watched and overseen their growing. We love it when things speak to us personally, somehow. To be instructed to do something is one thing; to be truly passionate about doing that thing – to love it out of personal choice, and through personal effort – is really something else.

Now I am going to go ahead and analogise religion with… marriage. Some marriages are entirely ‘arranged’; in some ‘arranged marriages’, love does not grow. Everything is ‘obligation’; ‘spirituality’ is suppressed. Things are rote, and without genuine feeling, love. On the other extreme end of the spectrum, perhaps, there are intense, passionate ‘love marriages’, in which everything is guided by infatuation and ‘passion’. And sometimes, these are quite short-lived, as the ‘fire’ can quickly result in… burn-out.

In some ‘arranged marriages’, though, over time, and with some individual effort towards nurturing the connection, love can grow. With some effort, with some greater commitment to love – through a lens based on reality – one can return to it, over and over again. Inter-marital conflicts do arise, all the time. But it is about what spouses do afterwards, towards resolution (or, in some cases, towards mere escape). Are these arranged marriages not comparable with people who had been ‘born into’ Islam? Some people stay. Some people’s arranged marriages grow in love: sometimes it takes a mere week; sometimes it takes years. And sometimes, people leave.

‘Love marriages’, then. One must learn not to confuse zealousness with ‘love’. Love, I think, sits in some moderate and ‘good’ place between intense and fiery passion, and mere black-and-white rules and obligation. It is like water. Often quiet, often powerful. Deeply nourishing. And dams and other obstacles can be overcome, Insha Allah. If one is truly committed: things can be made realistic and sustainable. Fine balances between ‘materialism’ and ‘spiritualism’ (with the latter remaining the objective) and between ‘Dunya’ and ‘Deen’.

Marriage is about a mutual ‘officialised’ connection between husband and wife. Religion is about an officialised connection between oneself and one’s Creator. With both types of connection, you will likely experience fluctuations in pure ‘passionate’ feeling. In marriage, one may refer to this as ‘romantic’ emotion. In religion, one may refer to this as ‘Īmān’. To make things sustainable and good, we must learn to be moderate; commit ourselves to the ‘Greater Good’ of things, so to speak. Even when we feel too proud to apologise, or when we feel ‘too tired’ to wake up for Fajr. Put Allah first, and you will ultimately be Successful.

Let love grow; be patient with its growing. Patient when (when, not if) it falls short. It requires nurturing. Often, some of its petals brown and fall, and this is okay. If you tend to it properly, new petals will grow: so long as its roots are sturdy, healthful.

[Also, very often: short-term pain, long-term (True) gain!]

The exact way that Allah had brought me back to Islam, and to conviction: I prefer to reserve the details and the steps of this process for a far smaller audience. But, Subhan Allah. It had all been quite… divine, hadn’t it. My doubts, over a certain period, had been driving me a little crazy. But my Rabb guided me. One thing, and then another. All these signs. Incidents, so perfectly placed. I had prayed and prayed for more than mere ‘faith’: it had been conviction that I had so longed for. And Allah did bless me with it, Alhamdulillah. And may it be preserved within me, Āmeen.

‘The Religious One’. I speak about Islam a lot, I suppose, and thus I seem to have earned the label, from some, of being ‘The Religious One’. For some, I know this is as a result of my being, at once, a Hijabi, and an introvert. Therefore ‘serious’ and/or ‘reserved’, and ‘religious’. Boring, not very amicable, and whatever else… Hmmm… Okay. But ultimately,

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ [Qur’an, (109:6)]

For you, your way of life/religion. And for me, mine.

Admittedly, I used to see certain individuals within my greater extended family (my mother’s grandmother had seven children; each of them had between four to seven children. And then most of them each had two or three children. Big, big extended family. Alhamdulillah) as being really ‘religious’. Based on fairly ‘outside’ factors: because some of them wore Niqab, for example. One of them, I believe, chose to not have a TV in his house, and would sit all his children down to read Qur’an for hours a day, after school. And one of them would let her son do some fun things (like taking horse-riding lessons) but refused to let him watch ‘Horrid Henry’. I found this a little extreme, at the time.

But now, I am able to sympathise with such choices more and more. I am not of the opinion that children should not be allowed to, you know… have childhoods… however it would be wholly untruthful of me to claim that all movies and cartoons and such tend to have a net positive influence on children (or, indeed, on we adults, even) …

‘Peppa Pig’, for example, as many Muslim parents I am acquainted with have pointed out: one of the underlying messages of the show would appear to be that it is ‘okay’ to belittle and humiliate one’s own father, on account of his eating habits and such… [This is just an isolated, ‘basic’ example]

Movies and films and books and every societal ill that has been normalised, over time, through them. We now find ourselves so desensitised to immorality — it is ‘innocent fun’; so heedless and in loss. Throughout history: one group of people having diverted from the True Path, busying theirselves in greed and immorality and delusion. Gaining power, and then having the ability to deeply, insidiously, affect others. And, oh, the ease with which these false realities are then accepted, devoured, as though people are hungry for exactly them.

The mass media, and the education system, are powerful mouthpieces indeed. They fill us with information and with ideas; can truly pollute our hearts, minds, souls, and corrupt our Fitrahs. About whom we are; whom we ought to be; what we ought to desire; what we ought to live for. What a powerful hold these outlets can have, over us!

Money, consumerism, exaggerated conceptualisations of romantic love, idealisations of ‘travelling the world’…

These things are meant to ‘rescue’ us, somehow. But they cannot. These things cannot ‘do’ things for us, neither in nor of nor from themselves. Things can only ‘help’ us, in any way, by the Will and the permission of the Almighty. It is He whom we ought to rely on, and He whom we ask for help.

And we must be careful with what we are consuming – via our eyes and our ears – all of the time. Our very limbs, our organs: they may end up testifying against us, on the Day of Judgement. It is not about what ‘everybody else is doing’. Just because everybody else is indulging in massively inappropriate series shows on Netflix, does not mean we can justify doing the same. We, for our own selves, are responsible. And our moral compasses are either aligned with the whims and desires of the masses of people, or they rely on objective Truth for… truth.

The more I seek, though, the more I do find that Islam really is a way of life that is centred upon the principle of balance. We are meant to demonstrate balance in all things, from how much food we consume, to, even, how much we pray. We are not meant to withdraw from society, or force children to read and read, and relate to the Deen in a way that does not speak personally to them. We are meant to steer clear from excess, and from the states of ingratitude and heedless ness that ‘excess’ tends to foster.

The stories of our lives are made up of choices. This thing, or that. And then there are those varying degrees of evil and goodness, from extremely evil, to Ihsān: goodness, excellence.

And when I write about life and religion, I am mainly trying to process my own views on it all. It is an honour, actually, to be seen as a ‘religious person’ on account of my speaking about and writing about Islamic matters. But religion is about one’s relationship with Allah: an affair of not only the mind, but crucially also of the heart, and of the soul.

I am trying, and that is all we humans can do. Comfortingly, Allah does not expect perfection from us; we will all necessarily make mistakes and fall short, and in our religion, monasticism and excessive asceticism are both forbidden. There is beauty in balance, and the best that we can do is: try. Self-reflect. Change some of our habits. Ask Allah, over and over again, for guidance and for help,

“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly, even if they are few.”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

and try to be more grateful. I have been thinking more about gratitude, lately. Dunya. Consistently, throughout, albeit in varying configurations of this universal truth: all our glasses are half full, and they are half empty. ‘Common folk’ yearn for the riches of the rich, whilst the rich long for the camaraderie and gaiety of common folk. Young people race to start a family and become ‘settled’ already, while ‘settled’ people wish to be young and single, again. And so on, and so on. If only we could bring ourselves to accept this ‘here’ and this ‘now’, as well as whom and where we happen to be in this moment. Recognise that these forms of idealisation only occur as a result of being far away from [the truths of] things. Dunya is Dunya, all around Dunya — no matter where you look.

This was never meant to be ‘home’ for us, and we can either choose to focus on the good that we do have (every bite of chocolate, every new day that we are permitted to meet, every meeting with a dear friend [remembering, each time, that this may well be the last time you see them. So declare your love for them, and speak the beauty in them, which you see; make it known!] every sip of water, every obstacle that provides an opportunity to return to Allah) or we can instead obsess over what we do not have. And Allah promises in the Qur’an that those of us who choose to be grateful: He will “increase” us. This is a truth I had really come to know this year.

Finally, I know: it can be awfully hard to be a ‘practising Muslim’ these days. Even merely performing the basics of… Salāh, for example, are enough to earn one the label of ‘The Religious One’, with all of its unfavourable connotations.

“I bet he doesn’t even know how to have fun. He’s so religious!”

Hmmm… Maybe your ideas of ‘fun’ involve clubbing and speaking flirtatiously with ten girls/boys at any given time. [Someone I know says that “clubbing is for cavemen”. A valueless virtual merit for anyone who can identify and explain the double entendre in that statement…] And perhaps you are preventing others from fully being themselves, in your presence, through blocky labels of ‘religious’ or ‘fun’ and whatnot. But, fair enough; think what you wish to think:

.لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

Muslim males who, for instance, are ‘waiting for marriage’ are not ‘losers’, in any way. Not at all. It is indeed tragic that the diseased ways of ‘modernity’ can fool us into thinking along these lines. And Muslim females who cover up and practise modesty are not ‘prudes’ or ‘boring’ or ‘unconfident’.

The people I love the most are gorgeous Muslims (and one, a Christian) who are fun, and interesting, and lovely. And they do not, for example, need to get a little ‘tipsy’ or ‘high’ in order to be these very things! Blessed, blessed, blessed (according to a Hadith) are the غريب, the strangers/outlandish people!

“Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers/outlandish ones.”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Muslim

An interesting video by the Yaqeen Institute:


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

In Sujood

It is about adaptability.

Though our to-do lists and routines do help us in some ways: they provide for us at least some mental clarity, the alleviation of at least some uncertainties [What to do now? And what to do next?] …

We have come to learn that life is very much about adaptability. There is no rigid manual that tells us what to do in every moment; there are no guarantees about what any coming moment shall bring with it.

There is this rainfall. There are those unexpected happenings; those people you happen to come by, cross paths with, even briefly.

There are each of these days of ours. And yes, though some of our lines are straighter than some of our other ones, there are all of these twists and these turns within our lives that we shall necessarily encounter. Inevitable. You do not get to build your steadfast castles here, and time is made to ceaselessly move on.

What if I told you that the stuff of this first life of ours is essentially cluttered and cumbersome? Things change; get swept away with little gusts of wind. You attempt to simplify, simplify, and all the while: new dilemmas, problems, struggles, are made to arise.

Sand-like, these worldly attempts at permanence, constancy, faultlessness, immortality, power over our own selves. We find we are fundamentally mistaken. And that we must learnt to focus on those things that are a little more substantial (i.e. what our souls are earning,) instead. Bring it all back to Truth, to what we know, at least five times a day: only these things (and one day we will come to know this) are made of materials that are truly fulfilling, for us: that last.

First life, to last. Journey and destination.

I think, at times, I have tried to control things a little too much. ‘Write things down’, make lists, neaten certain things up, plan and idealise. But then: global pandemics happen, sometimes, or I did not manage, for this reason or the other, to catch a good night’s sleep that night, so now this morning is being spent in a hurry… I plan, but I find I do not know much at all. I am only a visitor, here. Temporary, and a traveller.

There are, interspersed throughout our days, little obstacles, as well as little opportunities. Things that sort of stay the same; things that change and change and change. We are not in control, here. Not sufficient in and of and for ourselves. It is Ar-Razzaq who is our Sustainer, our Ultimate Provider.

So how ought we to learn to live, here? We must accept the reality of Dunya: the reality that we already, deep down, know. Glass half full, and half empty. And we must learn to ‘flow’, and move with it all. Pick up the good, know the bad. Seek the Khayr in it all – all of it – somehow. It is always there.

We fall, and we get up. And we make these plans, but they are penned in impermanent inks, through fundamentally unknowing nibs. Erase that, scrap that, try again. Look at the resources we have access to; try to, in a way centred on ‘rugged charm’, make do, carry on. Make it beautiful. We live, experience, we get through. Adaptability, we find, is already a key element of our human constitutions.

Witness the flurries of our days, and sit amid those moments of calm. Meet new situations in life – unforeseeable ones – and adapt to them. Take life as it comes: our plans and such are only rough outlines. Drawings in sand – somewhat useful – as opposed to carvings in stone.

What is Dunya, but dirt — first within our skin, and then beneath our feet. And then we are buried in it; we stay there for a while.

While we have the ability to, we must return to Allah, over and over again: however many tries it takes to really feel like we are there. Make all these choices; choose to walk this way, or that. Here, we are campers. Our main concerns ought to be survival: ‘enough’, materially, and as much as we can, spiritually. Look up at the sky for reminders; remember Time, from time to time, and we come to locate Earthly peace and home, right here,

in Sujood.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Donate to Yemen

If you have ever learnt something beneficial from, or have simply enjoyed reading, any of these blog articles of mine, please go and donate to my JustGiving page for Yemen. I am part of the FreshlyGrounded (podcast) team, fundraising specifically for Winter kits for vulnerable families in Yemen.

Our brothers and sisters in humanity and in faith need our help. They are suffering deeply, and in the millions, as a result of a lack of those things we habitually take for granted, like water and warmth.

So please do donate, and may Allah (SWT) reward you and make us more grateful; Ameen.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sadiaspageforyemen

Concise Compositions: Work

Work, work, work, work, work [ad infinitum]. Today I am thinking about ‘work’. This week I have been ‘blessed’ with the task of having to mark one hundred and eighty-odd books. Spelling, grammar, PEE paragraphs, and all. And this, amid preparing for and delivering lessons. And all of those additional[ly numerous] pastoral considerations.

Alhamdulillah, though. ‘Work’ is truly a blessing. To be able to be concerned not with things like whether or not I will be able to eat tonight or have access to fresh water (etc.), but about things like whether or not I have printed out the Year Eights’ worksheets for tomorrow. To be financially secure, and to have this structure to my days, reminiscent precisely of all of my own former school days. [Teaching is definitely a befitting career path for stationery addicts and school-lovers!]

I have so much to do… I really like it, though sometimes it feels like the stress is enough to give me a stomach ulcer or something. There are always ‘pay-offs’ at play when it comes to work (and, indeed, when it comes to all things in life!) I can either make that History lesson as wonderful as it could possibly be: carry out some more research for it, tick all the boxes, every single one of the statutory ‘criteria for success’. Or I can focus more on those English lessons, instead. I cannot ‘do it all’, and I cannot do things ‘perfectly’. I can only assess the circumstances with which I am presented, and do my (realistic) best, given them.

I must always adapt. And try my best. عمل and تَوَكُّل‎. Work, and Trust.

Put the work in, and then put my Trust in my Ultimate Provider, Governor of all outcomes.

Gosh, today I am tired. My work day had begun approximately twelve hours ago. It is nice there: I like the environment. A group of lovely Muslim women, a nucleic, rather comfortable, staffroom. We are a rather ‘homogenous’ group, maybe, to outside eyes. But how different these personalities are, how various and multifaceted, when one is able to look a little closer.

That is a very important thing, in matters of work: the people, ‘work family’. Community, environment. Places – edifices and such – and the people that inhabit them, shape them, make them. I so enjoy working in a Muslim environment; I feel like my Deen is being nurtured well here, Alhamdulillah.

Also, the nature of the work you undertake is important. Sometimes, it will just be you and your work, alone. And that state of ‘flow’ that ensues, at the best of times [although marking feels like painful hackwork, at the worst of times]. You, feeling fulfilled and challenged. Like you are ‘good’ for the work, and like it, too, is good for you.

Khayr. We seek the Khayr in things. And know that we do not ‘work’ merely for the sake of work. We must take a balanced approach. Ultimately, the supreme consideration in our lives ought to be our submission to Allah.

That is another nice thing about working in a Muslim environment: when it is prayer time, you can simply pray. There are Wudhu facilities, and prayer mats.

My official time is up now, but I feel I must carry on. I want to write about ‘work’ some more, in a future article, perhaps. How important a thing it is, to talk about.

It is the thing most people in the ‘modern world’ find themselves centring the majorities of their days on – devoting their existences to, in both ‘direct’ ways, and indeed in ‘less direct’ ways (e.g. planning for family holidays around work demands). Our identities – who we are – are largely defined by what we do.

“Who are you?”

“I am [a firefighter / an accountant / the CEO of a salsa dip company].”

People are known to define themselves, almost instinctively, through their professional (or academic) titles. People are known to attach purpose and meaning, intrinsically, to these very things, too; ‘work’ finds its way to the very core of their existences.

As Muslims, we are told to partake in society; ours is not a tradition of any sort of sustained monasticism. Study, work, mingle with others. But ‘work’ in and of itself need not define us, nor give us ‘meaning’, nor be the ‘be all’ or the ‘end all’ of it all.

Because, first and foremost, we are Muslimeen. We are privileged enough to be acquainted with Haqq. The foremost consideration in our lives ought to be Deen: serving Allah. Everything else – including ‘serving’ our superiors at work – is subsidiary, and we must link everything else to our ultimate purposes. And the ‘workaholic’ ways of the ‘modern world’ around us had come about as a direct consequence of some of our fellow People of the Book having come to favour Dunya and materialism over Deen and spirituality. Trying (futilely) to satisfy the yearnings of the soul with… ‘work’, and with material ‘success’, which they had looked upon as being indicative of God’s grace and favour upon them.

“Hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy” [The Guardian], and running after profits and material indicators of ‘success’, so as to (attempt to) fill gaps in meaning, and towards objectives of personal status and existential ‘legitimacy’. Do these phenomena sound familiar to you? Of course they do! Just take a look at the ways of the world around us!

As Muslims, though, we must learn to be Muslims. Our purpose, meaning, honour, and success come from Allah, as a direct consequence of bowing before Him, and not before the abstract idols of any of these capitalistic ‘workaholic’ models.

Within our considerations of work, I think we must ask ourselves: is this occupation Khayr for me? Is it Deen-friendly? Is it something I truly enjoy? Am I working in moderation; am I balancing it well with my other responsibilities and such, e.g. with giving time to my loved ones (who are constantly, with time, growing older/old), and with nurturing a good home?

It is true that working forty hours a week (and this is just a nominal number. Because I do often have to take work home with me, too) is not for everybody. And this is okay. I do not know if it will always be for me. Maybe, in the future, I will work ‘part-time’, at least at certain points in my life.

The key lies in seeking and pursuing whatever is most Khayr (good) at the time. For example, if work becomes a little too stressful one week, it is okay to take some time off and away from it all. This adage is something I have, for a while, known, but two weeks (I believe?) ago I was reminded of it, when I came home from work, more tired than is normal for me, on Mondays, and I left everything I had ‘to do’ downstairs, and simply went upstairs and relaxed, away from it all. For, what is the point of ‘work’ if it is not Khayr for me? If it eats away at goodness; if it, as a different example, begins to negatively affect my relationships with my loved ones?

And, ultimately, these well-needed rests result in better long-term relationships with our work. [The next day, I had been able to complete my tasks more happily and efficiently.]

I do not want to be a person who is ever simply ‘busy’ for the sake of being busy. And, for my work to have true ‘meaning’, I must always consider it against the backdrop of life at large. I already know what the purpose of my life is. In my work, there shall be Khayr, if I turn towards Allah throughout it all, far more so than to any considerations of salary [that age-old remark about how teachers do not get paid enough, here!] or of societal praise and recognition.

Remember Allah, and remember your Divinely-ordained rights and responsibilities (including those you have with regard to your family). Remember that ‘work’ ought not to be the beating heart of your life, and that Deen, family, health, are far more important. Let work be ancillary to them.

And explore; [come to] know yourself. What is good for you; what is not so good for you.

An example of a rather interesting academic/professional journey, I think, is YouTuber Subhi Taha’s one:

The ‘work’ part of life is not, in actuality, experienced as a series of tick-box accomplishments and such. From your (the experiencer’s) point of view, ‘work’ will not be a trail of LinkedIn updates. And ‘career stages’ are not merely transitory experiences, whose sole significance is to get you from A to B. This is life, and these are, at present, true parts of it!

You will wake up in the morning, do what you do, have breakfast (hopefully with a loved one or two), travel to work (whether by car, by train, by bike, or – if you work in Greenwich, for example, or in certain parts of Bangladesh – by boat). You will sit, surrounded by your colleagues. Talk about the news, or about your home life, or about the work you all have in common. Follow your work timetable: a meeting here, a lesson there, your lunch hour. But timetables certainly do not account for everything: they are only outlines, inherently liable to change. You do not know what each day will bring.

You do your job; try to impart Khayr onto others, and upon yourself. Our relationships with Allah, and with others (our work ‘superiors’; the people whom we serve – students, or patients, etc.; our colleagues) and with our own selves (being challenged, learning, developing, enjoying). This is what work ought to be more deeply considered in the context of. Oh, and nature! No place is a good place without some incorporation of the natural world. An orchid plant, or a bonsai tree. Or a tree to sit beneath, during your lunch hour, sometimes. Or maybe, just maybe, if you are fortunate enough, you have access to an actual cave. Sigh. A girl can dream.

This life is a test and the life of Muhammad (SAW) is our ‘exemplar paper’ to follow. He had been a statesman, a prophet. Muslim, father, husband, friend. Human being: he would tend to his own household duties, such as mending his own sandals and garments. He would climb that mountain, sit within that cave, and he would reflect.

Also, there may come some points in your life when you need to, or decide to, take some time off working. Maybe, to spend some more time with your children. Or maybe, you get a bit sick. You take a ‘year out’ to travel. Who knows? Life is, at once, so vast and so small.

What is the core of your life? Why is your work Khayr and important? And are you beginning things with ‘Bismillah’?

“Like sands passing through the hourglass, look around you: these are the days of our lives.”

The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Have fun writing! 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Azwājā

“You’re either worrying, or you’re enjoying

[Interesting, isn’t it, how dopamine is strongly believed to be the neurotransmitter that is responsible for both high levels of stress and fear, and for high levels of excitement and energy… So, between ongoing states of worry and those of (positive) excitement [both are centred on some sort of motivation, to do something]… is it all just a matter of being able to channel what would appear to be responsible for both states alike, into one mode of being or the other? Perhaps, perhaps!

Bipolar disorder is another deeply fascinating thing to think about, here. When ‘stress’ brings about a state of hyper-‘excitement’ (otherwise known as ‘mania’). And how these tend to be accompanied, at different points in time, by states of depression. Depressive disorders also tend to be co-morbid with anxiety ones. So perhaps ‘depression’ comes about whenever our dopamine levels become ‘burnt out’?]

I so love these random staff room conversations. Each different personality here brings something a little different to the table — to the literal wooden table, that is. The Psychology teacher, the other English ones, the teachers of Biology…

Ms. N, one of the Maths teachers, is telling me about how she has, over time, amassed the courage and the ability to, with ease, and regularly, dine alone, outside. Even at biryani restaurants whose tables find themselves crowded with large groups of hungry men. She is okay with finding a nice little corner for herself, ordering her meals with confidence, truly enjoying her meals in her own company. Ms. N is able to find peace in alone-ness, even when surrounded by all these strangers. “You’re either worrying, or you’re enjoying,” she explains.

We are talking about riding bikes. I do love riding my bike, but I have been hesitant to start cycling to this present workplace. In certain pockets of East London in particular, people are known to… stare. But ‘different’, attention-catching – both negative and positive – though it may be, is not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, and I need to always remember this.

This morning, I did ride my bike to work. Channeling those ‘Call the Midwife’ vibes, as much as possible, as well as those of one of the best fictional teachers, at least in my opinion: Miss Muriel Stacey, from (you guessed it…) ‘Anne with an E’. I know it is seemingly no outrageous thing: I am simply cycling to work. But, trust me. Some people here are so deeply accustomed to one thing, so rooted in their own convictions, conventions: that, often, anything done a little differently is deemed ‘wrong’. A hijabi?! In a bright jacket? Riding a bike? How very unbecoming!

I truly love people, though, whose minds and hearts are open and active. And I also so admire those who are authentically confident in their ‘weird’. These people have won the entire game, I think. This is what I need to do, a bit more. Believe; have faith in the value of ‘strange’. To beckon not to ‘norms’, always, solely for the sake of doing so.

Yes, what stops people from being open in their ‘weird’? What are we afraid of? People disapproving. Not accepting us; not warming to us. Because there is something about us that, perhaps, they are unable to understand. But the ‘right’ ones always do. Their hearts are open – so they are able to be deeply endeared by, appreciative of, difference. And their minds are open – so they try to understand who you are, and where it is you may be coming from.

Some people have… more closed minds, don’t they? Solipsism may be the word. And, more closed hearts. A tragic coldness: these may just be the other words. We can outgrow these people, though; refuse to grant them power over us. Respect the fact of their being older than us, and related to us, perhaps, in certain ways. But we can also question their authority over us – their abilities to influence our hearts and minds and ways of doing things, and being. What are these norms that they have collectively decided on? And, what is the actual value of them?

‘Call the Midwife’. But, instead of midwife-nuns in East London, we are instead teacher-Muslims, here. We sit at a long central table, in the staff room, just like those fictional midwife-nuns do. We eat together, speak to one another about our work days, and about our lives, little random things, some ‘academic’ topics. There are the older, more ‘matronly’ teachers, who sometimes make soup for the rest of us, and whose strong sense of humour frequently makes all of us cackle. And there are the expectant mother teachers, and the ones with infant children whose humorous personalities and doings we are frequently told about. The ones who love talking about Politics, and about nutrition, and the ones who are good friends with one another. I want to say that ‘sorority’ is the word, here. Sisterhood. Sans the Haraam partying and stuff, of course.     

Throughout this second lockdown of ours, schools are remaining open. Personally, I am unsure as to how I feel about this governmental decision. If there ever was a space in which a catching illness would find it quite easy to spread, secondary schools would be it! However, I am also glad that I will not have to stay at home for a month. With the ability to physically go into work, the world does feel a little bigger, for me.

I will continue to cycle into here, Insha Allah, maybe on some (blissfully!) emptier roads. We – the teachers – each have to wear visors here, at all times. And, preferably, disposable gloves, too. I feel like a beekeeper, at times.

Truth be told, I do love this. Not only does it all add to the aforementioned beloved-TV-series-of-mine vibes… it all also speaks deeply to my hygiene [some may call them:] obsessions. I would simply call them ‘inclinations’, though. These are something I have pretty much always had: I would always carry hand sanitiser and wipes with me, wherever I went. People (namely, my cousins) would tease me for this, at times – for how much of a ‘germaphobe’ I had been… or, am. So I suppose I tried to temper it all, as much as possible, at least when with others.

But, oh how the times have changed, and how the tables have turned! I am very glad that my loved ones in particular now share my… enthusiasms… for these things. Ms. N is quite like me, in these regards. Our first conversation had taken place when I noticed how she carries a little travel bottle of disinfectant with her, at work.

We started talking about the (perhaps slightly) ‘odd’ things we do so as to ensure good hygiene. A slightly peculiar thing to ‘bond’ over, perhaps. We got a little too excited, [the feeling of disinfecting our work materials at the end of the day brings about quite an inimitable feeling of goodness!] thus earning a certain amount of side-eye from the teacher who had been trimming worksheets, next to us.

Yes, I very much love being able to talk about all these things. Random things, particular things, and important ones. Bonding with fellow human beings, and not merely with the ‘outer shells’, mere images, of them.

It is also interesting that some of the things that are commonly, quickly, ‘pathologised’, these days, also carry with them a fullness of experience.

Some people who may, quickly and easily, be diagnosed as having social anxiety, for example: one person’s fullness of their personal experience will dramatically differ from another’s. And, ultimately, for instance, people who have some degree of ‘social anxiety’, I think, also tend to be the ones who are able to love most deeply. Likewise, have you ever noticed how those who tend to be collectivised as having what is termed bipolar disorder, often have the most magnificent and creative minds? Some people who are on the autism spectrum are extremely clever and interesting. I think we ought to see people first: their fullnesses, their complex truths. And labels are only for convenience; they ought to be used, only insofar as they are useful for explaining. But they should not be relied on. Not at all. What is a mere word or two, when compared with the unique and un-fully-graspable complexities of an entire human being?!

We are more than black and white; we are a series of all those greys, complexities, in-betweens. Throughout my adolescent years, for example, I have lived with what may be categorised as anxiety and depression. And I am a full human being; more than what may come into mind when one thinks of these words, these diagnostic labels, in isolation. “No man is an island,”(J.D.) and these things never do occur in ‘isolation’.

“وَخَلَقْنَاكُمْ أَزْوَاجًا”

[Qur’an, (78:8)]

Crucially, in the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He created us as a series of counterparts (Azwājā). Some people only focus on the more ‘marital’ implications of this verse. However, the word ‘Zawj’ literally means ‘counterpart’, in Arabic. The day is Zawj to the night, and vice versa; man is Zawj to woman, and vice versa. One partner, with the other, makes for a completion, a fullness. Everything in creation exists within some sort of dichotomy, at least from our points of view, of experience.

I firmly believe that every ‘good’ thing has some sort of unique downside to it. Maybe it is also true that every ‘bad’ thing also has a unique ‘good’ side. I think every single one of the great (‘classic’) writers whose writings I have thoroughly enjoyed, for example, had suffered from depression, or from severe alcoholism.

An up-side, a downside. Things, and their counterparts.

Every way of living life, too: you will necessarily find a unique ‘good’ side to it, and a unique and particular ‘bad’ side. Dunya; these universal human-experiential laws.

One thing I had quite liked about ‘Call the Midwife’ was how the show gently, in a truthful and compassionate way, depicts things like addiction. Alcoholism, addictions to medications. The drama is ‘soul-ful’: sentimental, heartwarming. And also, the characters are imbued with a human fullness, an authenticity.

It shows how — the ways in which — life is often quite beautiful. Often in the places, and the moments, that are the least expected ones. Unplanned, ‘imperfect’. Tender moments, and heart-touching ones, and poignant ones. And there is also sisterhood, and joyous times; inside jokes amid long and tiring work hours, and there are all of these individual journeys. And yes, there is a great deal of suffering, too. An intrinsic and undeniable part of being human is suffering. Losses, anxieties, traumas, addictions: both of a somatic nature, and those of a more psychological kind.

When we speak about what is often, these days, collectively stamped with the term ‘mental health’ (how many entire worlds these mere two words are forced to contain!) my experiences will necessarily be different from yours. But there will likely be some ‘common ground’ too. Sameness and difference, as ‘Zawjayn’ to one another. They are different, but they are also inextricably united, deeply linked. Partners, counterparts.

‘Mental health’ experiences are always a good thing to talk about, I think. The fullness of all these experiences can often make for some very interesting conversations, you will find. And, heart-soothing ones. Necessary reminders that you are not alone: not at all. As a human being, the ‘bad’ of your experiences is deeply partnered with the ‘good’ of them. And here, you will necessarily have to face some feelings of grief, and some of fear. So why don’t we be braver; talk about them a bit more?

And, do you not yet understand? Everything created, for us, exists in dichotomous states. To love a thing fully – to have the ‘day’ of a thing, one must learn also to love its night, in a similar but different, different but similar, manner. Every single personal characteristic, every way of being, and of doing things. Every space, every place in time, every other patch of grass… is composed of dichotomies. This is Dunya; there are no Jannahs on Earth.

And, here, to come to know, and love, a thing: one must come to know, and love, it in its fullness. Including the Zawjayn of it.

If you are to accept the praises and acceptances of people, for instance, you must also come to accept that there will be some criticism and intolerance, from their Azwaaja. The ‘right’ people, as well as some ‘wrong’ ones.

To focus exclusively on the exteriors of things: the appearances, the shells. And on the ‘day’ – on one potential Zawj – of things. To let one side dramatically outweigh – or to completely outshine, make us forget about the presence of, even – the other side. To let one’s imaginations run wild, while not being tethered to reality; its fullness. This is the nature of idealism: a type of naivete. When we idealise other times in our lives (be they past or future) or other places – away from here, or other people’s lives, because we have not (yet?) experienced them. Naivete is foolishness, essentially, that comes about as a result of lack of experience: the absence of knowledge of the fullness, the reality, the Zawjayn, of things. So stop idealising; stop focusing on one Zawj only, and allowing your imagination to grossly magnify it. In the same vein, do not overly focus on the negative, and be neither overly cynical nor defeatist.

What a world, what a life, this is. In which we should try to seek to accept the fullness of things — one side, and the other; locate Haqq in balances, in the middles of things, and between them. And walk on, young traveller. The grass is green, and it is also necessarily straw-like in some places, no matter where you walk. For there is no ‘essentially greener grass’, except in Jannah. [I travelled to work through some splendid autumnal scenery, today, and, later on in the day, saw another coffin being transported, just outside the Masjid. So, naturally, I am thinking about the goodness that is present in my life, Alhamdulillah. And I am also thinking about reality, and about my ultimate destination.]

You are human, and I am, too. Our selves and our experiences are full, and they are also intrinsically dichotomous. You know what it is like, to be human. And so too, do I. This is your first time doing this thing: living this life as a human being. And this is my first time being here and doing this, too. We are similar in these ways, though we may be quite ‘different’ in many others. We have been created in ‘pairs’, in dichotomous states. Won’t we pay attention to both sides of things; to these true fullnesses of ours?

I am human; I consider nothing human alien to me”

Terence

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Mind and Heart

I had accidentally published this prematurely (i.e. without having edited it) earlier today; some of you may have read that draft version via email. Here is the edited version! Some paragraphs have been added, at the end.

I thought I would not be writing here, (at least not) for a while. My time and mental energies are being taken up, mainly, by my first full-time job. I am, by the Will and Grace of Allah, teaching English, and now History, too (to Year Sevens and Eights) at an Islamic secondary school. On the titular level at least, though, I am not a ‘qualified’ teacher (…yet?)  

But I love writing, and I love writing for this blog of mine. I love teaching, too. English has always been my favourite subject: the one for which ‘work’ had never quite felt like ‘work’. And I love it, and I love how, through this subject, one is able to gain or exercise a unique sense of… ‘emotional literacy’. The most important ‘type’ of intelligence, in my opinion. Through this subject, one comes across and is made to grapple with various ideas: political, philosophical, sociological, psychological. You get to explore others’ words, and thus, parts of their minds, their worlds. And their hearts, and their souls. And these are the very things that make a human being; that shape humanity as a whole.

As is the case with most of these articles of mine that I write on a whim and in random places [I am currently at work. Hashtag just staffroom things. I am such a dweeb.] and without prior planning, this one will likely make for a seemingly structure-lacking read. I do not mind. Not even I know what I am going to include in it, for the most part, and nor do I know, just yet, what its conclusion[s] shall be.  

Well, I love learning (and how great is it that being a teacher also necessitates being a learner, at the same time. Just like how being a ‘writer’ necessitates being a reader, at the same time). I love coming to ‘know’ – to the extents to which I am able to come to ‘know’, that is.

We walk through this world, and we, by nature, seek. And we seek to ‘know’, to understand.

But sometimes, ‘knowing’ so much – all these facts and figures and such – is not necessarily conducive to nor connected with understanding so much. I think this phenomenon – of ‘minds’ being tragically detached from ‘hearts’, let’s call it – is quite symptomatic of the unfortunate and unfavourable ways in which we are often taught to do things, these days. We are encouraged to chronically consume so much; how much of it all is actually really nourishing us?

One of the most intelligent people I know is my uncle. Let’s call him R.M. [not the same uncle that I have previously mentioned in my blog articles. I have two maternal uncles. ‘L.M.’ is the very extroverted, ‘popular’, adventurous one. R.M. is the super smart, cool one whom I can speak to for hours on end without getting bored].

When I received the phone call informing me that I had been given this job, I had been quite happy; overall, I felt a much-awaited sense of relief. I knew that Allah (SWT) had provided me with this wonderful opportunity: a time-perfect fusion of all the things I had been looking for, Alhamdulillah.

Some relatives and acquaintances of mine had been somewhat derisive, though, in response. They had known me as the girl who had been ‘destined’ for Oxbridge; from my time at secondary school, onwards, it is like many of them refused to see me as being anything more or other than my academic occupations and statuses. Not a holistic human being; just a thing of images, a picture frame onto which some people ‘projected’ things. Excessive praise, sometimes, and some (perhaps) excessive criticism, too. They compared their children to me, and also sometimes (paradoxically) talked about me behind my back.

I suppose I became quite… maybe ‘befuddled’ is the right word to use, here. Befuddled. An understanding of myself that had now begun to be dramatically interrogated, by many people. [Sylheti-Londoni society, let’s call it. R.M. is right: sometimes this community is so very easily comparable with Austenian ones (i.e. the ones that Jane Austen penned, in her novels, those biting social commentaries on!)]

Labels and comments from people who did not really even know me. I felt they were only seeing a shell of me: school grades, ‘achievements’ and whatnot. Building resentments: pitting their own children in competition against me. And, as a result of their more negative sayings and negative constructions of me, I admit I became somewhat scared. Some of their sayings had slipped through my defences, I think. Frozen in headlights, I, at times, admittedly felt. And, questioning. Who did I want to be? What did I want?

Now: some smirking inquisitions of the following nature. [My parents are acquainted with too many people… some of whom have made it their primary occupations to ‘concern themselves’ over the lives of others…] “So you’re not at uni?” Expressing ostensible shock and horror. Or, to my parents: “Yallah, she isn’t even at uni yet? What a shame. Well, my son is at [insert uni name here] doing [insert course name]” [Lady, with all due respect, I do not care about what your son is doing. By the way, he also detests his course and is doing drugs behind your back, so…] 

A frequent case of: I should not care. You do not even know me, in truth. Do you even care about me? I should not care. I should not care. But I do. But I do. But, for some reason… I do.

When I got this job, R.M. and his wife, my auntie, had been so genuine and heartfelt in congratulation. My auntie has been, to me, the type of aunt to always take me out for meals; to go out of her way to make me feel comfortable at her house. As though we – my cousins and I – are her nieces and nephews ‘by blood’. But, see, what is stronger than ‘blood’ is this: the strength of the connections of the soul. Hearts, minds, and souls, bonded with love. Frankly, mere ‘blood relations’ that are empty of these truly pale in comparison to these truer connections.

R.M. had decided to send a very unique and thoughtful gift to my house. Attached to it, a riddle, no less! A very characteristically my-uncle thing to do. How very lovely indeed.

What I admire most about R.M. (the initials for the title of address I refer to him with also happen to be the same initials for the term ‘role model’) is not his strong intellectual faculties in isolation. No, I admire his character mostly for the fact of his great mind being connected, Allahummabārik, to such a great heart, and which are both orientated towards Al-Haqq.

When darkness had truly dawned upon me: at the very peak – or, rather, the trough – of everything. At a point in my life when it had become impossible to distract myself, and when, psychologically, I had felt so alone, so entrapped in the depths, the valleys…

R.M. (and his wife, my auntie) had been there for me. In a much-needed, heart-warmingly sincere way. I went to their house, and I spoke my heart and mind out, and they had listened with their hearts, seeking to understand, with their minds.

And we spoke, for ages on end, about Psychology, and about Philosophy. This has always been mine and my uncle’s ‘thing’, ever since I was quite young. Debating. Back then, we disagreed with one another on pretty much everything. But that had been okay: a good discussion would always be born of it. At the Ifthar table, every Ramadan, most notably.

Oh no… They’re debating again,” my aunt would always remark.

More recently, a relatively new addition to our extended family commented on how R.M. and I tend to just have our own “intense intellectual conversations” away from everybody else. He added that I seem like I am someone who “intellectualise[s]” everything. I know that this is how I may be perceived, by some. And at times I would worry: are the conversations I tend to have, often ‘cold’? Am I speaking from some mind that is detached from heart? But, no: I do not think so. This new family member perceives me from his own perspective. For each thing, there tends to be at least two differing ways of viewing it. Good, or bad, and entire spectrums replete with variations and complexities, between them. There can be as many differing perspectives on you, or on I, or on anything, for that matter, as there are different human minds upon this Earth! Same thing in question, and just a range of differing perspectives on it…

R.M. thinks our discussions are always “heartfelt” and interesting, and I agree. From now on, I wish to internalise the fact that those who understand me, and whose hearts and minds (and, thus, whose souls) mine feel an affinity for: these are the people who know me best, and these are the people who really matter to me.

And when I was twelve and identified (retrospectively, rather naively) as an agnostic feminist, nobody could answer my inquiries about religion. Nobody really wanted to address them. But R.M. understood, rather uniquely, that my questions did not need to be, in any way, a reason for outrage. Infinite regress, the nature and the limitations of language, logic, and more. I have never formally studied Philosophy. But I know I love the subject, especially since the topics it comprises have much to do with the sorts of things I would always learn about and discuss with my uncle.

R.M. studied Law at university. And so I, as an overzealous adolescent, would be very pleased with myself indeed whenever I felt I had ‘won’ a debate with him. More recently, however, our renowned ‘debates’ are no longer debates. They are more… discussions. I still learn much from him, but now I do find I agree with him on most things.

His is the sort of teaching style that involves stating, “Here is the answer I personally agree with, and here is why. Now you can go and explore the topic independently, and you can come to your own conclusions.”

And R.M. keeps saying that the most important thing he would like to have instilled in his son – my baby cousin, Dawud – is emotional intelligence. Empathy, a willingness to listen and to understand. A strong caring instinct, towards others, above all else. [But I imagine Dawud would absolutely have to be a Man-U fan, too. R.M. is a Man-U fan(atic) — of the type whose mood for an entire day will be contingent on – if a match had taken place that day – whether Man-U had won, or lost]

Unfortunately, nowadays many pockets of our communities seemingly find themselves far from this willingness to refine their minds and cultivate their hearts, and this results in manifold issues, for many of us. Problems arising from the initial problem of… these disconnects, a lack of empathic understanding. But maybe we need to work on realising that these disharmonies may not be due to anything that is objectively ‘wrong’ about us.

We need change, don’t we, with regard to these very things. For, for example, our ‘elders’ and whatnot to understand that we are not mere picture frames who need to be forced into bored homogeneity only to avoid ‘talk’ about us; that these [trite though the term may be] toxic ways do harm us all.

People ‘talk’ so much about ‘different’ things when they are used to being bored, and when their minds and hearts have been dulled. When things are, frankly, colourless: a pop of colour here and there is going to turn heads. [Dare I say, here: it is ironic how some Asians are unable to handle unique ‘flavours’ from among people, spices. They are so used to the ‘comfort’ of the ways that they are used to. Anything else, to them, is ‘wrong’, simply intolerable.] But these differences can either be perceived, by the beholder’s own volitions, as ‘good’ things, or ‘bad’ ones. If people are committed to criticising others (so as to quieten their own boredoms, their own dissatisfactions, more often than not), the things that stand out, somehow, in this way or the other, tend to be the easiest targets, for them. Wherever you seek out flaws and problems, you will find mostly them.

I think we urgently need change, within a number of different ‘cultural’ aspects, and that we (this current generation) need to be the ones who enact it.

If there is one thing that I have come to know about myself, it is that I am rather ‘weird’. [I find I much prefer the Arabic word for ‘weird’. ‘Ghareeb’ (غريب). ‘Strange’, or ‘stranger’. Like a traveller, one mysterious and unknown, if I am to romanticise it.] I suppose some people perceive it in a quite positive light: they say it is “cute”, and that it is a thing that they very much like. But maybe others frame ‘weird’ in a more negative light. I know that some are unable to immediately approve of things they are not used to. I know that some people will ‘disapprove’ of me, because there is something about me that they are not quite able to ‘understand’. But I also know that I am liked by all the ‘right’ people, for me. If anything, partly as a result of what makes me ‘weird’, and not ‘in spite of it’.

I must always remember that morality – that is, what ‘ought’ to be done, and what is objectively ‘right’ – is a separate thing from convention: from intersubjective agreements on what ‘should’ be done, that is. At times, they do overlap, but not always. And thus, doing things differently does not necessarily mean that you are doing things ‘wrong’. In fact, if you examine the very things that you are trying to be ‘different’ from, perhaps, by doing things differently, you are doing things quite ‘right’!

 So long as you are still adhering to objective morality (that is, moral frameworks that exist outside of the fluctuating, at least somewhat fluid tastes, fancies, preferences and whatnot of human beings) your way is not ‘wrong’. And, likewise, just because everyone else within your ‘community’ is doing something, or believing in something, or whatever else, does not make all of those things ‘right’. With all due respect, do you seek to emulate them? Or do you seek to emulate and be ‘accepted’ by people like R.M., more so?

Objective morality is derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah; if you are embodying what is within them, then your way is by nature ‘right’. All else – expected academic/professional timelines, included – can be questioned, played around with. And it is so okay! Have fun with it, chica!

Sometimes I wonder whom I am writing these articles for. I write them for my close friends to read, and for strangers, alike — all in all, people I am okay with, knowing these things about me. And I certainly also write for myself: for past versions of me, for my present self, and for the same-but-different versions of me who are yet to come, Insha Allah. Oh, and for a future daughter, perhaps: that is, if I am ever fortunate enough to have one, Bi’ithnillah. To each party who reads these pieces, they will all necessarily mean different things.

I want for my blog to be about encouraging people to Truth. For Muslims, and for non-Muslims. I want for it to be about thinking – about humanity, about random abstract things – and, certainly, about feeling, at the same time, also. And to bring about some hope and some comfort for some of its readers, Insha Allah. So, yes: my blog is/shall be about gardening my main ‘academic loves’: Islam, Philosophy, Psychology, and English. All four of them, as we find, are deeply interlinked, intertwined.

This world, this world. It is certainly not ‘all there is’. But, even still: it is so much. Here, there is, to quote the ‘Lion King’ song, “more to find than can ever be found”. Do you know how amazing your ears, for instance, are? Do you know how ridiculously awesome your mind is? Or about the sheer strength of a blue whale’s beating heart? Why is all this knowledge important? Should we think about all these things without feeling anything? Is ‘knowledge’ important for the mere sake of itself? Or are these bits of knowledge significant in bringing about, in our hearts, awe and wonder and fascination; in allowing us to come to know about the Truth of our Ilah?

“Verily in these things there are Signs for those who consider/reflect!”

— Qur’an, (13:4)

I think the most valuable thing worth striving for, on the personal level, is this: a well-gardened mind, inextricably connected with a well-gardened soul. Open, full, and alive. And, to get here, one must learn to not align oneself with the projections of (no offence but) heart-diseased (not the ones who are physically, but the ones who are metaphorically so) ignoramuses, but (more so) with those whom you seek to be like. R.M. is somebody whom I seek to be like. [I just need for my older cousins to have children as soon as possible, so I can try to be the ‘cool aunt’ – just as R.M. has undoubtedly been the ‘cool uncle’, for me].

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding”

— Qur’an, (3:190)

Now, in returning to this article so as to edit it, I feel I must include the following, in it. Recently, I told R.M. about something a friend of mine had told me: that there is an Islamic scholar who carries around her own white shrouds — i.e. the cloths she wishes to ultimately be buried in — wherever she goes. A true sort of ‘memento mori’, if there ever was one…

R.M. told me, in response, about how he had been one of the ones who had lowered his late father – my late grandfather – into the Qibr (the grave) after my grandfather’s passing, roughly a decade ago. I asked him what that experience had been like. He replied that it had been:

“A moment of overwhelming truth. I stopped seeing the world and the hereafter as two distinct things. At that moment, I felt like I was in both. Each breath here, was an echo There.

Subhan Allah. One must never forget the reality, and the point, of this life. And seek to cultivate one’s soul (mind and heart included) in line with Truth, before the Inevitable takes place. This world is this world. As we have always known it to be: this journey. Most of the vanities that we indulge in, here, will necessarily fall to the ground, to dust, and to nothing, while our souls, and what they had ‘earned’, will remain. I hope, as we are walking through this world, and while Time is taking us to our Creator, that we are making them (our souls, that is) as beautiful as they can possibly be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020