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

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