I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…
I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…
The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.
And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.
Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]
Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.
I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.
I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.
The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.
As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.
Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.
In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.
Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.
School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?
When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!
And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.
The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.
And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]
These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]
I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.
I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.
The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-drivenways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.
The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.
And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.
I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.
The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.
In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.
I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.
I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.
Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.
The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This has all been a time of mighty upheaval for us, has it not? We grieved; we really felt the weight of our losses, of our fundamental uncertainties. Things half-made sense. Things half-did not make quite much sense at all. And, yet, here we are.
Allah (SWT) gives us, in every new moment, a chance. To begin, right from where we are. To continue, (and yet, to do just this) anew.
Upheaval. Demolition. Those castles we had been trying to build. The Earth is strong enough to swallow such ambitions whole. In a matter of milliseconds. You see,
It does not matter. If, at age fifty-three, even: you wake up and decide to start anew. Build. Today, you say, is my Day One. Even if it be your hundredth, or thousandth, Day One. Allah is Al-Ghafoor; He is, above all things, Mighty and Competent.
Will this matter in ninety years; in a century’s time? It will. Is all this without meaning? It is not.
Say, “O Allah, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honour whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things [Mighty and] Competent.” [Qur’an, (3:26)]
Right where and when you are, now: it is not without Reason. To quote that student-of-mine’s gorgeous poem: “Don’t let faith go, this season”. Some leaves fall, and then, spring arrives. New leaves emerge; make themselves known. Roses unwrap themselves; unfurl, right before our very eyes.
Some scholars maintain that Yusuf (AS) had been imprisoned for twelve years. Thrown into a well; sold into slavery. Then, in due time, he had been given authority in Egypt. Consistent throughout, however, had been his utmost Trust in God.
And, what about Ayyub (AS)’s (estimated-seven-year-long) illness? There are more stories like this one.
Du’as (made sincerely) get answered: I promise you, they do. Indeed, your Lord is Near to you, and Responsive. [Qur’an, (11:61)]
For the most part, you know, I do not know a thing. But Allah does. And I know that some things were not meant for me; I am not meant for some things.
I know that my Lord knows me Best. I know that His Promise is True. That some will necessarily find the concept of Īmān ridiculous. I should not mind. I renounce that feeling of responsibility — of having to dwell within ‘Defensives’. It is tiring; it is depleting, without good reason. It has made me feel… hollow, more so than whole. Whole, as I should feel.
Do I live merely to impress others? Who are they? What makes them worthy, in such ways?
I should know whom I am trying to aspire to be more like, by now. I should know to make peace with those things that do not concern me; so, too, with those very things that do.
I do not know the ins nor the outs of your story. Neither past, nor present, and certainly not future. But may this time in these lives of ours be a time of high Īmān, and of good health. Good understanding: wisdom, and so, so much love. May we get whatever is Good – Better, Best – for us.
Friday (the 18th) had been, for me, my last day of being nineteen years old – and thus, of being a nominal ‘teenager’ – and it also happened to have been the last day of my first term of being a teacher. Subhan Allah. I have much to write (type) about, in this article. Reflections, random thoughts: about teaching; about what I have learnt; about the art of ‘learning’, in general.
Usually, I scribble in my journal quite frequently; doing so has been, for a long time, a favourite hobby of mine, in addition to being an ‘outlet’ thing. For a while, I would write in my journal multiple times a day. On the train; by the river (Thames, of course. London-born, London-raised!); at school, in class [leading some classmates of mine, at sixth form, to, in earnest, ask me if I were actually some sort of undercover journalist or a spy or something!] But, wow: during term-time now as a teacher, this had been rendered practically impossible. I cannot, of course, simply sit and journal while delivering lessons… and, much of my ‘PPA time’ (the teaching equivalent of ‘free periods’) is taken up by a seemingly endless list of things to do. During my breaks, I tend to sit down for a while, and rest, often with a book. Actually, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks a little more, lately [Sponsor me, Audible! I’m basically a YouTuber, but written version]
Alhamdulillah times a million, though: this whole experience has been wonderful; a true gift from Allah. But, since starting at this job, I have scarcely been able to sit in peace, and with the necessary energy levels – which are a prerequisite for that crucial feeling of ‘inspiration’ – to simply do nothing but write, to my heart’s (and, to my mind’s) content.
Teaching has been: waking up quite early, even though the beautiful wintry months make me really, really want to remain blissfully in bed; cycling or walking (and, admittedly, occasionally – when I am feeling especially lazy or have too much to carry – taking an Über) to work; getting there before the sun has even risen [I am not, by nature, a ‘morning person’]. What a lovely thing to witness, though: the stillness of an empty classroom; the pinkish, purplish glows of nascent sunrise, glinting off of the nearby high-rise buildings. The light, creeping into gorgeous wintry gloom. And all this, just before that incrementally increasing rush of students walking through the door. Subhan Allah.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum, Miss!”
Teaching has also been: going over things I myself had learnt in Year Seven and Eight and thereafter; it has been learning quite a few additional things, too. Planning, and then some more planning. And lots and lots of (submitting requests for) printing. Also: marking, administrative activities, among other things. Oh, and a lot of eating. Just prior to beginning this job, my aunt had remarked that if there is one thing I ought to know about being a teacher, it is that teaching makes you hungry. And, yes: it really, really does.
[Ah, food. How I love thee, food. Thy sugar and thy spice, and thy goodness and comfort. Healthful foods, and how they are known to nourish, but also some doses of indulgence and chocolate.
Making food; breaking bread and sharing food. Connection. Good stuff.]
At my workplace, there is this lovely ‘middle-of-the-table’ tradition: individual staff members often bring foodstuffs to share with everybody else. Doughnuts, falafel, soup, Turkish food, some good-good (Masha Allah) chicken karahi, once. And anything that is for anyone is placed in the middle of the long staffroom table.
The start, to now
This has all been one of those things: I could never have seen any of this coming. But, oh, how I love these very things. The ones that arrive kind of quietly, and then they show you how powerful they really are. The ones that can, quite quickly, take over significant parts of these lives of ours by storm. This year alone: we moved houses; I stopped wearing makeup to go outside [just a personal preference thing. I really do think it is a problem that most women wear it every day since we have been led to believe that we look “ugly” or “dead” without it. We do not, though. And Allah is the Best of Creators]; we got a cat [the most unexpected happening of them all: my mum has been known to absolutely hate the idea of having pets. And now, this cat is her third child!]; this whole pandemic took place – it has been approximately ten months since the start of all this; I started this job.
“You can only know something when you know it. Not a minute before.”
— Gilbert Blythe, ‘Anne with an E’
It is true that I had been tutoring for a fairly long time, but I had never before been given the responsibility of teaching thirty students at a time. Tutoring involves sitting with between one to about, maybe, six, students at once, once or twice a week. There is some preparation that goes into it, sure, as well as some marking to do. But teaching is, altogether, something quite different. Greater responsibility, no doubt. An honour, and, certainly, an Amānah, too.
It had been my aunt who had encouraged me to apply for this post, actually. She works at the same school as I do – part-time – and teaches A-level Biology there. We tend to walk home together on her workdays. Roughly two weeks ago, I had some PPA time and found I could not concentrate nor do much in the staff room. I went all the way upstairs [the sixth form and ‘Alimiyyah faculties of the school are located, rather interestingly, on its roof!] and sat comfortably at the back of her classroom.
She had started her lesson off by asking her students what the term ‘gametogenesis’ might mean. She then asked me if I could explain what ‘genesis’ means. This made me smile. Biology teacher aunt, and her now-English-teacher niece. A nice moment. But then she proceeded to talk about puberty, and my ‘inner child’ re-emerged, and I wanted to laugh. [Thankfully, I did not.] Anyway.
There had been something quite nice about that particular sixth form classroom. The floors – unlike those of the secondary school ones on the floor levels below – are carpeted. You leave your shoes at the door. Moreover (if I recall correctly) there had been a lot of natural light flooding in, as opposed to glaring and sharp artificial ones. Also, her students had been sitting on the floor, with floor desks before them. Sunnah vibes. Teacher and slideshow at the front; students really paying attention, albeit in a calm sort of way. It had all felt quite serene, (connected, and meaningful) and not at all stressful, sort of reminiscent of some mosque classes I had taken in my early adolescent years:
Spatial escapes from the ever-‘busy’, the autopilot-modes, the grimy, the dizzying, the confusing, the relentless ‘grinds’, searching for things that might, in the end, be so far away from peace. And into carpeted-floor room, all clean. A glow of sorts; frosted windows, softened voices.
There is something about sitting on the floor, don’t you think? It makes you feel more… grounded. Connected. Learning, eating – even sleeping – on the floor, at least sometimes. There is something that is essentially quite lovely about it.
This ‘modern world’. It is fast-paced, rat race, relentless. Dog chase, altogether so industrial. All in the name of ‘progress’, of uncurbed growths. People just do not know where they are headed, but we find ourselves chasing all these abstract uncertainties, regardless. “We are surrounded by all of these lies, and people who talk too much.” [E.S.]. Maybe I am too sensitive, in this sense. But it all makes me ache and feel drained.
A personal preference, maybe: but I far prefer the presences of plants, and of warm lighting. An emphasis on connection, on good mannerisms. Moderation, and not ‘too much’. Places in which to deeply connect (with places, people, the contents of good curricula), and to learn – via mind, heart, and soul – and not merely in which to ‘work hard’: all that stuff of harsh lighting, caffeine-driven sleeplessness, desk-chair, desk-chair, desk-chair, unquestioning obedience. I so believe in holistic humanity being nurtured within places such as schools and hospitals. And, with the former in mind at least, it should not be about the incubation of mere ‘workforce robots’: obedient slaves to some deified ‘Economy’.
Schools should be houses of wisdom, and not factories or… prisons. Warm and inclusive; not cold and steel-gazed, wolf-like. Places in which mind, heart, and soul, are truly, deeply, nurtured: all three.
What I have learnt
As far as ‘learning’ goes, I have learnt oh-so-much, Subhan Allah, from all of this.
My first day at the school had been my observation/interview day. Prior to walking in, I admit I had envisioned Madrassa secondary schools in general as being… stern, serious, sad places. Draconian. No colour: just rules, rules, rules. Scarcely a student laughing, or having fun.
It was like I had (perhaps in part as a consequence of having been away from distinctively Islamic places of learning such as this one, for a while) rather shamefully internalised a particular sort of prejudice. And I had been wrong.
When I first walked in, I noticed the nice colourful displays on the walls. Basketball hoops, martial arts, for PE. The lovely scene – and sound – of a group of students sitting in a circle, on the floor of the hall, reading Qur’an together. The lovely light; how bright and energetic the Year Seven students were. Our first lesson together had gone well, Alhamdulillah [We had discussed how to use different punctuation marks so as to make our writing more effective, and wrote short imaginative stories about going on hot-air balloon rides in Turkey]. And it was thanks to them: my first class. What a funny, ambitious, clever, often downright melodramatic, bunch they are, Allahummabārik.
The art of learning is about discovering new things – information, stories, ideas. It is about piecing things together; making/finding connections between things. And it is also truly about being reminded about certain things that you may already, somewhere in your mind, already know. And you are granted the ability to come across them again, albeit in different, and unexpected, ways. As I have spoken about in a previous article, life is an adventure; a story, and – it is a school.
I have learnt that sunshine is always nice. But storms are what tend to leave us with the best stories, at the end of the day, aren’t they? They are known to bring us something that is altogether more than just ‘nice’. Sure, they can bring up, in us, feelings of fear. Unpredictable, and unknown. And, yet, how woefully, tragically straightforward and bland these lives of ours would be, without them.
One of my Year Seven (English) students had penned – for a competition – the following poem. Its message deeply inspires me [Everyone say Allahummabārik laha!]:
I have learnt things: new and previously-known alike, at this school. From students, and from staff members, alike. From books; from videos. Textbooks, podcasts, sometimes, and from outside of them. But mainly: from people. We humans learn (best) from other humans. We are fundamentally needy, imitative, receptive of and responsive to the subtleties of human connections, relationships.
Like about the temporality of life. It just keeps on moving: one moment, straight to the next, and then to the next, and so on. There is no ‘preparation time’, then ‘practice time’; no clear-cut delineation at all between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’. There is only life. And here we are, living it. No dress rehearsals: these are our lives.
Our relationships with the past (i.e. before we were born, and also the past[s] of our own personal histories) and our experiences of the present moment, and… notions of ‘the future’. We will meet those (the latter) moments, Insha Allah, as and when they come.
A number of things have forced me to give notions concerning the past some more thought, this term. Teaching History for the first time, for one thing. And, also: back in October (I had started in the middle of the first academic half-term. Hectic!) I had been taking a particular route to and from work. That is, until, I had stumbled upon an alternative route: a shorter, simpler one. And en route this route, I came across a building that my mother, uncle, and aunt sometimes speak about. A quite old-looking tower block: the first home they had dwelled in, actually, upon having migrated to this country.
‘History’ – including our own personal ones – is filled with events, happenings, which we can truly fascinate ourselves by interrogating the following, of them: what if this particular thing had not taken place? What if my grandfather (Allahu Yerhamu) had never made the decision to move here (alone, no less, and as an adolescent!)? And what if my grandmother had rejected his proposal for marriage? Or, what if they had chosen to settle in, say, Kent, or in New York (as some of my other relatives had done) as opposed to in this very part of East London? [What if I had been born a boy?!] And so on, and so on.
So many potential questions. But here we are, in the present (a gift). Much of it: a summation of the consequences of a series of individual decisions. The rest… remains to be seen.
[I am accidentally-on-purpose including quite a few ‘AWAE’ references in this article. You are a certified awesome person if you have managed to pick up on them…]
I think it is very easy to become ungrateful, though, and to take things for granted. But knowledge: one of its key purposes, I believe, is to cultivate and foster deep appreciation within our hearts, gratitude. I, and my family, Alhamdulillah, live in a state of economic stability. But my grandfather had to work hard for this: back when East London (which is now increasingly becoming gentrified) had still been a centre for the British textile industry, he had worked at a coat-manufacturing warehouse. The building is still there: it stands on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop I used to wait at almost every day, after secondary school. Over time, I watched it – the warehouse, that is – be converted into a ‘hipster’-style hotel, all painted white.
And maybe it is true that we humans learn best through experience: I never could have told you what teaching is actually like, until doing it. The strangest of feelings, particularly right at the start: being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Having to be this responsible, for the first time. I was quite worried, right at the start: What if they won’t like me? What if I don’t do a good job? What if I’m really awkward and they’ll find it off-putting? Worries done away with, Alhamdulillah, as a result of experience. The barrages of (repeated) personal questions, too [“Miss, where are you from?” “Miss, what are your plans for the weekend?” “Miss, are you married?”]; ten students attempting to speak to you, at once; the “Miss, have you marked them yet?” the literal day after they have all sat the assessment. The classic borderline-frustrated response of, “Teachers have their own lives too, you know!”
I think, another thing that has significantly changed – for the better, Alhamdulillah – has been my relationship with ‘work’. It is good, insofar as it is good, in good amounts. But it is no ‘saviour’, no deity to be worshipped, slaved after. I have my responsibilities; I will try to fulfil them. But aside from that, ‘work’ itself does not give me selfhood nor meaning. It… is not my master.
It seemed almost as though different weeks had different overarching ‘themes’ for them, in terms of what they had in store, to teach me. During one week in particular, I believe, I began really thinking about how on Earth other people live. How do some mothers, especially, manage to work for forty hours during the week, and carry out all of their household/family responsibilities, without collapsing as a result of exhaustion?! I remember thinking about this, on my way to work, one day, and I had passed by a (most probably, at least) working mother. Bulging backpack on back, coffee flask in hand, 07:30AM. And she had been on the phone to her (by the sounds of it) young daughter, likely providing some moral support as her husband had shouldered the burden of breakfast duties.
At work, in the staffroom, I am surrounded by some young and unmarried women; some who are newly married; there had been some expectant-mother teachers; some who have a child; some who have a handful of children. Older mothers who are teachers, too: speaking about their children-in-law as well as about their grandchildren. Discussing childminders; speaking on the phone to their kids, at the end of long school days, about homework, and about matters pertaining to ‘playground politics’, and some of the other things that matter deeply, to children. Teachers who are also mothers. How do they do it?! Subhan Allah. The (joys and) stresses that these screaming, energetic children give rise to. Exchanged, at the end of the long academic day, for… those ones (the ones that look half-like them, and call them “Mum” in lieu of “Miss”) …
We are watching, witnessing, as time moves [us] on and on and on. As relatives of ours grow and grow older; as we, ourselves, do much the same thing, too. Our relationships with different places – and with different people – are ever-changing. Sometimes, for the better: development, evolution, we may term it. And sometimes, we find that some leaves simply have to fall, in order to allow for new growth to take place.
Take heart, dear one. Some things will be somewhat (very) hard, some of the time, perhaps the whole way through. But you are more than well-equipped enough to face it, and to get through it all. In a beautiful way, I hope.
We crave permanence, don’t we? This sense of… feeling entirely at home. But I regret to inform you (both you and myself, dear reader) that that is not what this world is for. This whole experience – this maybe eighty-odd-years-long one – is an essentially dynamic one, and it will take you by surprise, over and again. The best thing to do is to locate Earthly home in Sujood: this is what stays. Your soul, in conversation with its Author, Creator. Everything else, you see, is etched only in sand. A gust of wind, or two, and then it is gone.
Here for a time, and then it falls, to dust.
Here, I have learnt (been aptly reminded) about how actions are but by intention [it is the intention behind an action that counts. So we ought not to concern ourselves too much with the outcomes of things. Even with regard to numbers and such… the Qur’an tells us that saving one life is equal to saving the whole of humanity (5:32). The weight of a deed is derived from the intention(s) underlying it]; about the art (the beauty, the tender humanness) of sincereapology; about the rich complexities that individual minds can house. Sometimes, even eleven-year-olds are quite ‘mature’ in demeanour: they have been through so much.
I have learned that we often learn things best as a result of stumbling and falling. That when it comes to deeply difficult things: Healing and Patience are lovers. That it is good to take rest when it is good to; you can then begin again, at a good pace, when the time is right. When you are ready.
That there is no use in ‘crying over spilt milk’ [or spilt Coke, to make reference to something that actually, for some reason, took place] as the aphorism goes. These things happen. Mistakes are made; you will also likely have done and said (and will continue to do and say) some utterly cringeworthy things, during this lifetime of yours. But it is okay. We grow from them; look back and laugh at them, even. Time and other considerations move us on.
That staple-gunning can prove to be an excellent way of releasing aggression. That ‘Resource Rooms’ are, to stationery lovers, what drug dens are to drug addicts. [My gosh, I sound like Amy Santiago here…]
My Bengali-speaking skills have improved, too, Alhamdulillah, as a result of some conversations with a particular colleague of mine, in Bengali. At first, I was not too confident in speaking with her: my Bengali skills had been rather rocky, disjointed. Altogether, in my own head at least, quite embarrassing a thing to behold. ‘Benglish‘. But my gradual improvements in this regard have not gone unnoticed!
A key word, that one: gradual. Trial and error; some things work, some things do not. We learn, and we develop, and this all happens over time. Reflection, then effort. Some courage, maybe, and then patience. God’s Command.
I think, yes, learning is illumination.
And “اللهُ نورُ السماواتِ و الأرضِ” [Qur’an, (24:35)]. Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Truth is Light, and in truth’s absence, there is darkness.
“What is school for, do you think?”
“…to get a good job, innit.”
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do,
— Lord Alfred Tennyson,‘Charge of the Light Brigade’
Work is only meaningful when it has real meaning. Otherwise we (ultimately) find ourselves doing for the sake of doing. Work for the sake of work. ‘Growth’ for the sake of itself: the ideology of the cancer cell [E.A.]
Do we learn solely towards economic-benefit, and/or social-status-related ends? [A good job, in order to earn good money. To provide for my family. To give back to society.]
Fair enough. Economic and social considerations are all well and good — they are deeply important, actually. But, as Muslims, we know that the absolute queen of all these considerations ought to be: our relationships with Allah. Helping people is a noble thing to do; providing for one’s family is also a noble thing to do. Social connections are wonderful, but some of them may come to fray, or be lost. Money, beyond what is needed for survival and to fund for necessities, is not everything. The way of God ought to be the path we seek to always be traversing; the consideration that all other ones are tethered to. This is Light; this is Truth; this is true Purpose and Meaning. This is concerning your Origin, and your place of Return, and this is concerning every single moment,
after moment, in-between.
And in the absence of truth, what is there? There is only darkness and delusion. Looking for these things where they cannot ever truly be found.
Some things that we encounter will seem quite a challenge, at least at the start. But we learn through experience; we [pardon the cheese. A little statement, that one, which ought to extend over the entirety of this blog of mine…] grow through what we go through.
It is quite nice, at times, to look back on things, and to see how we – and our circumstances – have changed, progressed. When, at the start, in conjunction with the hectic novelty, I had been given an actual form class [whom I now, thankfully, share with a colleague, so I now only have them for certain days of the week. We joke that we are like a divorced couple: we have shared custody over the kids] I had found myself feeling quite overwhelmed. I thought it would be a sign of ‘strength of character’ if I just continued, grinned and bore it. But my aunt had noticed how stressed I had seemed that week; she persuaded me to go and speak with the Assistant Principals. Then, the aforementioned changes were made. ‘More’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’!
Kind of linked to the above: a certain family member had remarked that he thinks I should become a headteacher someday. Which had been a nice thing to say. But, firstly, I have realised that in order to do ‘good’, and to do it well, you do not always need to have a ‘big’ official role. And, secondly, I am really trying not to think too much about ‘the future’, while here. Where I am now is where I am now, Alhamdulillah, and I do not want to fall prey to ‘destination addiction’ or idealising, again [looking at other than who and where – and, when, and why – I find myself]. Over-contemplating secondary school while at primary school; thinking so much about sixth form while at secondary school; university, while at sixth form. Being married, while being single. Always obsessing over ‘the Next Thing’. Besides… once, in Year Eight, I had shadowed my school’s headteacher. What a gargantuan, stressful, role, Subhan Allah. Meeting after meeting; I do not think it is for me. I do not know where I will be, this time next year; I do not know what Allah has planned for me, for the rest of my Dunya-based existence…
For now, here I am, as I am. The ‘here and now’. I want to honour it, as best as I can. Very soon, this moment will be gone. The next one arrives; takes its place.
This is a big one. For we are crucially, essentially, undeniably, social beings.
Your family, and then, your friends (i.e. the family you come to choose for yourself). The people you love; your sources of joy, goodness, comfort, security.
The love of your life, too (Insha Allah). If it is in your kismet to find them, you will find them. All you have to do is… be exactly who you are (not anything ‘more’, not anything ‘less’) and you shall be loved precisely for it: for you!
Other people are other people. Allah (SWT) is Allah (SWT). Other people have no ‘power’, of nor from, their own selves.
اِنَّ اللّٰہ علیٰ کل شی ءٍ قدیر
[Perhaps best translated as: “Indeed Allah is, above allthings, Powerful and competent”. Qur’an, (2:109)]
We do need other people, though. We need to love, and to feel loved in return. And in these very endeavours, there is a great amount of ‘vulnerability’ (openness) that has to go into it. Maybe we need to speak our minds and explain our hearts better and a little more often, to those whom we wish to share love with. Maybe we need to also do a better job at listening, understanding. Stopping; turning our hearts toward them. Giving our loved ones, whom we have been blessed with, the time of day. Chasing whatever it is we may find ourselves chasing: that all can wait.
We absolutely need to make time for ‘the boyz’ (this is a non-gender-specific term). Surround ourselves with good company, which, as a particular Hadith explains, can leave us with the mark of its good fragrance. (Just as unfavourable company can leave us with the mark of its stench).
And our Salāh, Du’a (the weapon of the believer), Adkhār, and so on. The relationships we servants have with the Almighty. This ought to be the fundamental consideration, for us.
What is the point of ‘learning’?
I would like to continue to be both a teacher and a student, Insha Allah, in this life of mine. I have to think about what my learning is to be ‘for’.
I want to be a good Muslim, Insha Allah. To improve; to develop. I want for the awe and the wonder that learning often exposes me to, to bring me closer to my Creator. I want it to help me in serving people (my wonderful students, for instance) for the sake of Allah.
The process of learning illuminates. Our hearts and minds. Places. We learn; use our intelligence and knowledge, pass it on.
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.“
— Sahih Hadith
We learn for good; to make us better. Towards beauty, too. Truth. A Muslim – a human being – is, at his or her very core, a learner. And may it all drive us to say “Subhan Allah” and “Alhamdulillah” and “Allahu Akbar“, over and over again, Āmeen.
[Below, I have included a list of some ridiculously awesome facts, taken from this article. How astonishing are the creations of the Creator!]
– The journey which the sperm makes in order to get to the egg is equivalent to us sprinting for 150 kilometres nonstop. The journey is not straightforward. Many obstacles and hurdles await it, yet it overcomes them without losing direction. [Subhan Allah!]
– Your heart weighs around 321 grams. Its size is around that of your fist and beats around 60 to 80 times per minute. On a yearly basis, it beats around 40 million times and pumps around 2200 gallons of blood per day, and approximately 56 million gallons of blood per lifetime.
– The blood which the heart pumps to the brain returns back to the heart within 8 seconds, and the blood which it pumps to your toes – the furthest distance from the heart – returns back to the heart within 18 seconds.
– The blood is home to around 5 million red blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. If red blood cells from one human were to be placed side by side, they could cover the surface of the Earth 6 to 7 times over.
– Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognise damaged blood vessels. A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood.
– The human body is home to over 600 muscles, and the average sized muscle is comprised of approximately 10 million muscle fibres.
– The human body has around 2 to 5 million sweat secreting glands to regulate our body temperatures.
– The brain is home to approximately 100 billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections.
– Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
– The human retina contains about 120 million photoreceptor cells. How it communicates this information to the brain, and how the brain then processes this information bringing about love, hate, hope, despair, fear, security and so on, is a completely separate and highly sophisticated discussion.
– The tongue has a role to play during the process of chewing, swallowing and tasting food as well as for speech and sounds. It has 17 muscles to allow it to move in any direction. The surface of the tongue has 9000 taste receptors to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
– One kidney weighs around 150 grams and is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each hour, it filters 1800 litres of blood and about 1 and ½ litres are extracted in the form of urine. Consider the difficulty experienced by those who are undergoing dialysis treatment. They are required to spend around 12 hours a week connected to 150kg worth of machinery, let alone the side-effects, in order to carry out what your 150 gram kidney is able to carry out within moments.
– Your outer layer of skin, the epidermis, replaces itself every 35 days. You are given a new liver every six weeks. Your stomach lining replaces itself entirely every 4 days, and the stomach cells that are involved in digesting food are replaced every 5 minutes. Our entire skeletal structures are regenerated every 3 months. Your entire brain replaces itself every two months. In fact, the entire human body, right down to the last atom, is replaced every 5-7 years.
How is it, then, that if one’s brain replaces itself every two months, they can still retain long term memories? The nerve cells in the human body are the only exception to regeneration. If they did regenerate, say, once every six months, you would need to relearn your language every time.
Consider also the sounds from within the digestive system following the consumption of an apple, the sounds of a real factory at work. Consider how matters would have been if people were able to hear such sounds from each other, whether at interviews, marriage meetings, circles of knowledge, communal prayers or around the dinner table. One would need to escape to a remote corner to eat and drink in dignifying solitude. This dilemma has been, by divine design, overcome.
The briefest moments of reflection on creation are sufficient to leave one lost for words, and such bewilderment will only ever intensify as time progresses and discoveries are made. Our only words are therefore:
فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ … So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators” [Qur’an, (23:14)]
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (67:14)
Of course, He who created you knows you better than you know yourself. Thus everything He commands, prohibits, or sends your way is, as the āyah above alluded to, out of His Subtlety towards you, and out of Him being Acquainted with you.
Trust Him, […] and watch how you will live in [true contentment] with Him.
This year. Did you feel it too? When our world felt itself grind to a halt. We had to stop. Turn back. Grief took over. It was hard. Hard to get out of bed; hard to do much at all. Hard to not question and question and question things. Hard to escape.
It had not happened without reason. A number of reasons. And it was – and is – so difficult.
The acute feelings of entrapment, loneliness. Uncertainty: that anxiety. Heavy, and at the same time: minds whirring, whirring away, feeling almost detached from our bodies. The disruption, and the difficulty. That terrifying sense of stagnation… and nobody really knew what on Earth to do.
Did you feel it too?
Mental unwell-ness. Not feeling particularly mentally ‘healthy’. Anxiety, depression, and all the rest of it. These things do not signify ‘character failures’. It need not be some ‘shameful’ secret, which you carry: which you pretend is not there, does not exist. It is something very real; something we can go through. And it might take years. Maybe we will never completely be rid of it: maybe depression will continue to dawn on us on those days on which we may least expect it. Anxiety often takes us by surprise too; turns our very nerves into jelly. But, over time, things do get better. And Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear [Qur’an, (2:286)]. You are strong enough.
A few articles, by ‘The School of Life’, which I have loved and benefitted from:
I want to be open and honest with the people I love; I would hope they feel they can be open and honest with me, too. And I will love them no matter what. Sometimes up close; sometimes from afar. In light of the texture, and never ‘in spite’ of it.
It might feel as though you are quite alone in this. While others go ahead and just ‘live’. ‘Nobody gets it’? But people do. Many of us are pretending. Depression, for example, is a fairly widespread reality. It often results in people taking their own lives: suicide, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
Why is it important to better understand mental health conditions? So many of us suffer as a result of them.
So many people are hiding, because they feel they need to. And, I get it: you do not want to be seen as being ‘broken’ or ‘defective’. But you are not. We are all fundamentally imperfect; we are our essential ‘upsides’ and we are our ‘downsides’, and you are neither somehow ‘evil’ nor some sort of ‘failure’ by consequence of this. Pardon my cheese again; this ongoing cliché. But, you know what we are? We are human beings. Not shiny robots; not filtered pictures, carrying ourselves around; not made of porcelain. Insān. Allah is closer to us than our own jugular veins are, and He knows, even while others may not know. Other people do not somehow hold the keys to the truth(s) of you, anyway. And we can get through this, together, Bi’ithnillah: it will (likely) not be easy — but it will be worthwhile.
Acceptance can be hard: that first step. I have certainly found it to be liberating, though.
Rejecting hyper-individualism, hyper-‘productivity’, hyper-competition; these obsessions with images. Depression, for instance, is a reality, and one whose numerous (dumb) stigmas require some doing away with. So that some of the ridiculous pressure might be taken off from the shoulders of those of us who experience it.
1. We must live right now. As Muslims.
2. When the time is right / if it is in your Qadr. (When Allah decides.)
3. You are going to die. And you will return to Allah.
We are Muslim in the morning, when we open our eyes. Muslim before we start eating; Muslim after eating, too. Muslim, first and foremost, when we choose to don additional titles. Doctor, lawyer, engineer [I am very Asian indeed for instinctively listing these three occupations…]. Muslim in the courtroom; Muslim when in scrubs. Muslim when young and healthy; when older, when sick, when out-of-work, for a while, perhaps, too. Muslim when driving our cars; Muslim when riding our bikes. When standing on stages before thousands; when all alone, in the dark. At 5am, at 5pm. In Winter, in Summer, in the less-easily-definable bits in-between. Muslim when it might feel like the entire world is at our feet; Muslim, still, when it feels like the entire dark sky weighs somewhat heavy upon our chests.
We are Muslim. And may we be so, first, last and always.
There is so much to (possibly) do, here, in this big world, and so little time. This fundamental conflict can bring about quite a lot of… worry, ache. So many things that can potentially be known; done; written about. But so little time. So we must focus on essences; we have to be quite selective. And if we focus on the Why of things, all will be well – swell, even, in the present and in the end, Insha Allah.
I think, for me, the essence of this general time is captured very well by Siedd’s [whose works my students seem obsessed with] song, ‘God Knows’:
Back when I was eighteen We used to live in daydreams Then woke up in our twenties Life passed us by so quickly
Said I’d put You above me But been so busy lately Out all these hours daily Been driving myself crazy
I’ve been losing myself each day Losing my rest each day All these things I want for me Oh I’ve been Caught in distractions Oh lost in my passions I don’t know where this road will lead
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows Oh God knows, God knows, I’m trying Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying
Been soul-searching for purpose Is there more to life than this? Been carrying these burdens Hoping this will be worth it
It’s not as I imagined I’m losing all my balance Take me from all this madness I just don’t understand this
All these bills and burdens A jester in this circus From midnight till the morning Can someone save me from this
I know I’ll be buried ‘neath the same ground No matter rich or without a pound The only things that matter now Is finding You somehow
I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
‘Cause I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying.
I am not perfect; life is not perfect. And nor will I, or this life of mine, ever be. That is what I need to let go of: these ideas that I must be ‘smooth’ and sort of perfect. No. I am so anxious, at times, and I am quite awkward. I get socially drained, quite quickly. Sometimes I find myself feeling inexplicably, profoundly, sad. Sometimes I am very quiet; sometimes I talk far too much. And it shocks me that my loved ones can still love me this much, even with all of this.
But, then again, what on Earth would I be without all of this? I would be… character-less. Smooth, and shiny. No texture, to allow for authentic love’s grips to grip onto.
I have held, in my head, all these unrealistic, over-simplistic, standards and ideals for myself. I cannot live up to them. Today, I (metaphorically) burn them all. They are not fair. Besides, these fancies of simple perfection are quite boring [nothing to learn, no challenge, no storms nor surprises!], in reality, aren’t they?
I worry, sometimes, that I do not deserve patience, or chances. But this, too, is so untrue. All humans deserve these things, don’t we? God knows I am not perfect. But sometimes parts of my mind tell me that I am crucially, fundamentally, terrible. This is… not true.
God knows, I’m trying. Learning, developing. And this is what matters.
Things can change a lot, as they do. And, they should be allowed to. The present moment, also, is beautiful. And I am thankful for every historical twist and turn that has led me to this here, this now.
For both you and I, dear reader: may Allah grant us so many answers to our questions. And may some things take us completely by storm and by surprise. May they cause our skins to quietly fire up with awe, sometimes [have you ever felt that? When something is so lovely and/or amazing that you feel (what feels like) light wash over your entire being, somehow?] and wonder. May they make us say, over and over again, “Subhan Allah”. Āmeen.
May it be true wisdom that we seek; may it all make us more human – better Muslims – and not less so. Haqq-rooted, Deen-rooted, learning. And not merely towards ‘the life of this world’ (الحیاة الدنیا) which, as the Qur’an clarifies, is “only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children” [Qur’an, (57:20)]. Things of illusion, and then they just up and wither away. And I think: our learning ought not to simply be for amusement, nor for the collection of titles and ‘glory’. We should not perceive it as being ‘wealth’ – stuff we can ‘own’, and through which we readily compete with others. May our learning be truly and everlastingly meaningful, dear reader. And may it benefit us on Yawm-ud-Deen: Āmeen.
وَقُلْ رَّبِّ زِدۡنِىۡ عِلۡمًا
“And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in [beneficial] knowledge'”
From our Lord, Allah, did we come. He sustains us, every breathing moment of every living day. And to Him shall we return, at the end of this journey; after the final full-stops of these stories of ours; at the end of these school days:
when the lights are turned off; when the tables and floors are cleaned; when the boards are wiped blank. After all the learning; the fun. The structure and the unpredictability. The getting-into-trouble here and there, as well as those feelings-of-triumph. The time we are given for eating; for chilling. The streams and streams of things to do. At the end of the school day, we pack up; say goodbye to our friends, and then we make our (own) ways home.
Jannah, dear reader. For you, and for me. Good, and better, and the best.Eternally. Āmeen.
The chaos of a ‘modern’ world that has parted with God. The detrimental impacts it all has on our psyches; on our souls. What we were truly created for. Where is the world headed? Who has the answers? Which of the favours of your Rabb do you deny? [My YouTube homepage – the recommended videos part – is on fire this month! So much wisdom, Subhan Allah]
I speak from no higher place. I am human, and therefore also (oh so) susceptible. To forgetting. That I have no Master but Allah; that whatever is not tethered to Allah is simply vanity. That things fall to dust. That my role model ought to be Muhammad (SAW), my Deen (my way of life) Islam. Not economic ‘productivity’; not the glitter of the life of this world. None of that should govern me. And it is scary. Because when the stuff of delusion is worshipped en masse, by the many, it suddenly becomes a little harder to resist. And it is going to be okay. If you have your Lord, be gentle and be strong; live your life in close circumambulation of Truth, worship of Allah, and not of any false deity. Be it materialism, or economic productivity, or people. No. Worship your Lord who created you; which of His favours do we deny?
“The closest that a person may be to his Lord is when he is prostrating, so say a great deal of du’a in prostration (Sujood).”
In T-minus less than a week, I shall turn twenty years old, Insha Allah. That sounds strange. Twenty. And what a fascinating, peculiar, gentle and gruelling decade this one has been – and this life can be – huh?
We tend to analogise it (Dunya life, that is) to journeys – travels, adventures – and to stories, and to a school of sorts. In which lessons are learned; in which we are reminded of certain things; in which we are tested. A journey it is, at its very core. Time is ever a-moving.
A solidified story it will be, for certain, on Yawm-ud-Deen: the Day of Resurrection. A book, handed to us, in either our right, or our left, hands. A day on which we will stand alone; on which truth will make itself known. Deserted by all those whom we had tried to impress, perhaps. Tried to be like; be accepted by. Gone. They, too, were all only human.
Human when sat on the curb of a pavement, hands outstretched, and hungry. Human, too, when sat with kings, around table, luxuries galore, world seemingly at their feet, music playing. We humans are only human, no matter what. Dunya is only Dunya, too.
And: a school. In which you learn your lessons; make your mistakes [and cringe at some of them]. Grow, and have space in which to prove that you have internalised, digested, and embodied, what you have learnt.
Be gentle, oh human being, traversing this Earth. Be gentle with your feet upon the ground, and be strong enough to bear the weights of some heavy things upon your shoulders, too. You
Are heart and mind and soul. And this world is one of ‘plenty’: too much. It can quickly convince us that our masters ought to be such abstract idols as ‘work’ and the economy and consumerism. Where God had once come first, and, in an ancillary manner, goodness between people second: ‘economic’ considerations are what now hold sway, rule over, the hearts of the many. A false god, and yet one whom so many prostrate to; fall for.
The Qur’an, I promise you, holds all of the answers. It informs us about the realities of Dunya; all we must do is pay heed. And you
Must not become so attached to things that may not be good for you.
What has come and gone, has come and gone. We say Alhamdulillah for the good and the bad. What is presently yours is presently yours. And, what will be for you shall indeed be for you. I, however, have been known to become quite attached
To certain people, and to particular places and such. To mere images of them, from the outside, trying to look in
and to those of the past, and of the future. But oh, to just let go. To hold Dunya in my hands, and Deen in my heart; to love whom and what I love, through Truth. To not be afraid. And still, to wonder: what might happen next? To become more gentle, and, in this, to become strong.
“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.“
If porcelain, then only the kind you won’t miss under the shoe of a mover or the tread of a tank; if a chair, then not too comfortable, lest there be regret in getting up and leaving; if clothing, then just so much as can fit in a suitcase, if books, then those which can be carried in the memory, if plans, then those which can be overlooked when the time comes for the next move to another street, continent, historical period or world:
who told you that you were permitted to settle in? who told you that this or that would last forever? Did no one ever tell you that you will never in [this] world [be quite] at home?
(Translated from the original Polish by Frank Kujawinski)
And if I told you that every single moment does indeed matter — every single interpersonal interaction of yours, every decision you have made. It all matters. Why? Because of the finitude of this first life of ours, simply. Life (this one, that is) is coloured by — defined by — its opposite: its end. Like how we come to know of light — because darkness is there: this is how we come to know of life. What it really is; what it really means.
[This evening, I have a pile of roughly one-hundred-and-twenty English assessment papers to mark. And, whenever I have a gargantuan pile or list of work to do, I tend to start thinking about reasons and ‘the point’ and meaning, and all the rest of it. I call it existential procrastination… (I reason: so long as the work gets done in time, and to a good standard, a helpful dose of ‘procrastination’ – especially when it comes to things like taking a nap when one is tired, or… sitting in the dark and staring at a clock in order to facilitate one’s more existential ruminations – can actually be rather h e a l t h y)]
The following video is, in my opinion, quite excellent. It had popped up on my YouTube ‘Recommended’ page, at right about the right time, and I think it aptly encapsulates much of what I had been thinking about.
Interesting. So we are going to die: this is a reality we must come to terms with, and (as Muslims) remember, be heedful of. Even if you currently have the entire world, seemingly in the palms of your hands. You are going to die. Much of it falls to dust, in the inevitable end.
I suppose my ‘existential thinking’ had been amplified by my having entered the teaching profession this year — and, actually, I reckon these modes of thinking are, on the whole, a good thing. I have come to the realisation that I would much rather have these thoughts, accept, and struggle with, them (and, in turn, be comforted by them) from time to time, than… live some life of blind, ‘busy’, comfort. Distraction and delusion. Only working, eating, sleeping, playing, and then… eating some more. Until death do us — this life of mine, and I — apart.
Because we spend so much of our youths planning, don’t we? Creating these grand schemes for, our ‘futures’. Careers: future routes. Planning, preparing for things. I had written this article just over four years ago, on the subject (more specifically, on the subject of my former ongoing ‘career crisis’). In the modern world, where religion is not always at the forefront of the existential considerations of we humans: most of us seek nests and incubators for our identities – as well as a means of self-definition – via the ‘work’ we do. And, these, coupled with the search for some core ‘meaning’ for our lives. It is, I believe, these things that we fundamentally look for, through our careers.
And I have been wondering. Questions about what makes things ‘meaningful’. ‘Spiritually’, ‘work’ is meaningful if one is working towards alleviating the suffering of people, or contributing towards their health and happiness: if it is towards goodness. For self, for others, for the world. Some detach these ‘spiritual’ considerations from more ‘religious’ ones, however as Muslims, we know to view them as one and the same. For, doing good for and towards others is an act of ‘Ibadah (worshipping Allah).
What are we currently living for, dear reader? And, for whom? Do we find ourselves, for example, living to work? Living, perhaps, for the validation of, among others, our academic and/or professional superiors?
I think a good life is genuinely about love. Life is this (at least, for the time being,) ongoing thing. And it is between oneself, and God. And there are other people, other human beings, like us, too: some of them, we love. Some of them, we may seek the approval and/or the admiration of. Pseudo- forms of love, really. But I think, ultimately, seeking to love the stuff of – the components that make up, adorn, and/or give character to – these lives of ours, and in turn feeling loved by them: this seems a worthwhile thing to strive towards.
Every moment of; every interpersonal interaction within, these days of our lives (which, in turn, become weeks. And months. Years, decades. And in a century’s time, you and I will most likely have materially perished). They all matter, these moments: they really do. And I certainly believe in making certain ‘small’ moments ‘big’: in “arrest[ing] a moment that might ordinarily be lost and lend[ing] it weight and dignity” [source, (a brilliant, useful and necessary article on dealing with long-term mental health conditions)]. Because all the ‘big’ things, including the entireties of our lives, are made up entirely of every single one of these ‘small’ moments, and only through the individual moments, the ‘small’, do we experience them. So, then… a cake to celebrate the coming of wintertime? Wearing that new dress of yours to work because it is Monday, and Alhamdulillah? Yessirreeto both.
You know what I need to learn to truly do? I need to learn to invest, fully, in my personal, current, reality. The ‘here and now’: the people who are here, the responsibilities and tasks I am currently met with. I am not responsible for the entirety of this big, spinning world, and even doing too much for others is not good at all. All good things in moderation: calmer, and slower.
I am, however, responsible for my own small (but, on the experiential level: big) world. That is — at least, to a certain extent — I am responsible for my own self, and for my immediate family, and for my extended family (a well-chosen selection of them, at least…) and for my friends. Oh, and for my students, and for my colleagues. So, home, outside-of-home-loved-ones, work. Bish, bash, bosh: my interpersonal responsibilities. And then, there is myself and the natural world, and ultimately and most importantly, there is my relationship with my Creator, which ought to be rendered the basis of everything.
Silly, anxious me. Sometimes fooling myself into thinking I ought to be responsible for everyone and everything, at times. It is comforting, however, to know that I am not. That I will not ultimately be judged, necessarily, on mere numbers and statistics. Rather, my deeds shall be weighed, and, for example:
“Your family’s right upon you is greater than [that of] all other seven billion members of the world population combined.
The admiration of a million people pales in comparison to the smile you put on the face of a parent, spouse, or child.”
— Shaykh Omar Suleiman
A ‘big’ life, or a ‘small’ one? An ‘exciting’ one, or a ‘quiet’ one? One more centred on order (fixed mealtimes, routines, etc.) or more on creativity and such? I now believe it is not all a case of ‘either-or’. It is: ‘quiet’ does not necessarily mean ‘boring’, while golden and ‘shiny’ and ‘loud’ do not tend to be reflective of inner, deep and true, goodness (read: the train track suicide statistics for Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street stations… and, how, in the case of the Golden Gate Bridge – USA – the higher suicide rate comes from the more economically prosperous side of the bridge, and not from the comparatively far less economically prosperous side…) On the ‘macro’ level, in my opinion, ‘small’ lives are better, though. Because they are ‘big’ for the right people, aren’t they? For oneself, for example, and for one’s little brother, for one’s friends. The people who deserve the best of us.
What other people may see, of thee and thine own life: they will see the entirety of your reality neatly packaged within a label or two. They do not hold the keys to the truths of neither you, nor your life. So may we live more… ‘organically’, and in line with the fullness of reality. The reality, and, secondarily, your one. With the latter: you know, you are the only person who is with you all the time, experiencing every moment of this reality of yours with you. So forfeit not your individual experiences of goodness for the sake of pleasing or placating others. And focus on looking inwards; on tending to your actual responsibilities.
“A palliative nurse described one of the major regrets of the dying as the wish that they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.“
You must plan and organise and exercise routines: insomuch as they are useful, and truly beneficial, and aligned with the realities of life, though. Morning routines, and evening routines, and relatively particular ways of doing things. But: do make room for some adaptability, too, for the seas of life are oft fairly stormy. Yes. Too much ‘order’ can prove to be rather boring and stifling and, on the whole, unrepresentative of reality: stubbornness and frustration may ensue. On the other hand, too much ‘creativity’ can very much bring about chaos, anxiety, a loss of direction. The ‘upside’ of the former might be… stability, while its downside might be… boredom. Of the latter: upside, excitement. Downside: anxiety [someone quite well-known, I believe, had famously remarked that “anxiety is the intolerance of uncertainty/ambiguity”. But I forget just who, though. Sigh]. We need both; in balance, and together, both order (sameness, routines, planning) and creativity (novelty, adaptability, colour) are good for us. When each works to both enhance and temper the other…
I often find myself questioning: am I more of a ‘planning’ person, or an ‘improvising’ one? Itineraries, ‘or’ free-spirited adventures? Both, my friend. Definitely, both. You prepare and you plan, and then when the active moment arrives, you also demonstrate adaptability. This is what good lessons (at work) are made of, for example. A good plan, research, revision. But in the delivery: things may come up, which you had not ‘accounted for’ in your planning, anticipated. Good things, and sort of difficult things. So do make space for those things, too.
Actually (and I acknowledge that I am now absolutely waffling) the commitment to both ‘order’ and ‘creativity’ is what makes for the best holiday adventures, for example. Planning: packing lists, itinerary, looking into the sights and sceneries beforehand, in preparation. And, also: some spontaneity, a willingness to explore, demonstrating creativity — and a good degree of adaptability, should things go wrong. The truth is: they can go wrong; they often do. We plan, and then… things happen. But it can all make for some really good stories. [Travelling certainly has much to teach us, about life.]
We have come a long way, dear friend, have we not? And may we love things for what they are, embrace the active moment — this one, right here and now. [Even if we are currently planning – say, for a lesson, or for a holiday: we are using this active moment, in preparation for another string of active moments.
It is only the present moment that is real. Discuss. (25 marks)]
May we put our trust in Allah, and keep going.
Being, in the ‘most good’ ways.
Learn to trust ourselves, as well as ‘the process’. Deeply and organically; lean into the active moment more, too.
May we learn to live in a way that is good – for us, and for those around us – and true, and beautiful. Āmeen.