An undeniable and universal Truth, since Allah has informed us of it, through the Qur’an: we, humankind, have been created in a state of hardship: كبد (Kabad). Toil, worries, uphill struggle. That is what this is.
I am scared, and I am worried. And I have a lot to do. Pretty much everybody, as soon as we come into maturity —bāligh (in Arabic: بالغ, adult) age — we meet this Truth properly. Always errands to be run – difficult ones, excruciatingly tedious ones, at times. Always various sources of worry, uncertainty. Anger, grief, want. Thankfully, though, never more than we, individually, can bear.
This is going to sound extremely random (as many aspects of my blog articles, I do realise, do) but… I started thinking about the particular Āyah above after… thinking about ‘June 21st’ [2021. Dear future readers, if you exist: this has been a rather wild, chaotic, time in recent history. The 21st of June is, apparently, when things go back to ‘normal’, here in the UK. Corona].
I was thinking about what I would like to do if/when this lockdown ends. I would like to go to the planetarium, to stare in wonder and amazement at some of the magnificent things that hide beyond our atmosphere. Tangent: how awesome is it, that the sky is deep blue during the day, and then a curtain falls, to reveal a sublime darkness and is pulled away, to reveal those diamond stars, later on? Subhan Allah.
I kind of also want to go to the farm. And I also miss the mosque. I started thinking: is the sum of these places and things I love, not ‘lame’? Is enjoying Scrabble ‘lame’? Is it ‘lame’ to thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy a nice cup of chai and a hearty conversation?
That age-old attempted delineation between ‘cool’/carefree/exciting and ‘boring’/’over-thinking’/’sad’. I guess, ultimately, it means different things to different people. But the most popular and widespread view, perhaps, is that ‘cool’ has a very particular look to it, a particular attitude; earns a particular type of admiration from people. ‘Cool’ is meant to be: emotionally closed-off, ‘does not care’; self-certain-seeming, and sensually enticing. ‘Bad’.
Its opposite is: when you ‘care too much’ about things. Are uncertain about many things, as though you… realise you are upon this Earth for the first, and last, time.
Definitions of ‘fun’ are an interesting thing to consider. There are numerous supremely insightful things that Allah alludes to, on this topic, via His Qur’an. For many people who are not Muslim, ‘Cool™’ is the sum of, perhaps, three primary ingredients: sex/sex appeal; drugs/intoxication (including alcohol); rock-‘n’-roll (music and the culture surrounding it). I seek not, here, to look down upon people who enjoy these things. My point is simply that, yes, if this is what ‘Cool’ [and I acknowledge that even my usage of this word renders me, evidently, its opposite…] is, then I am not it, and I cannot be it.
What I wish to do, here, is to accept what Al-Qur’an says, and I guess I have, Alhamdulillah, been raised this way, also. I have learnt, primarily, perhaps, from my wonderfully generous and creative aunt, and my adventurous, interesting-outing-loving uncle, how to have such ‘clean’ fun in this world. Painting canvases; climbing mountains; horse-riding; driving a speedboat, even: I have them to thank for much.
To seek to live a life that is ‘Halāl and Tayyibāt’, meaning: lawful, and good/pure/wholesome. And rejecting certain inner-desires, for now.
Planetariums are pretty Halāl, no? And farms tend to be essentially wholesome. Baby animals, man. I could cry.
Shameless oversharing, once again, maybe. But I suppose it is a bit of a ‘double-whammy’, being quite Islamically-inclined and quite academically-so. But in line with what I have learnt about Dunya, maybe this is not a bad way to be at all. In fact, I hope I can continue like this, come into the acquaintance of people who view things in a similar manner; I hope that I will not ever compromise on Halāl and Tayyibāt things merely because someone else disapproves, and/or wants to live their lives in a different way.
In a world in which we are essentially swimming through Kabad… it is not necessarily ‘happiness’, which I ought to chase after, here. For as long as I am alive, within this first life of mine, I will not really be able to locate it. I mean, at times, I have managed to convince myself that ‘happiness’ does exist here, in some other-than-here-and-now, which I am yet to meet. But, no: I know Dunya. I look down at my boots. I walk forth, and seek, instead, contentment.
Islām: the word’s trilateral root means commitment, surrender, submission. And it means peace. These concepts are unquestionably interrelated.
This is my Dunya: abode of trials, replete with the stuff of illusion, delusion. My Jannah, Insha Allah, awaits: ten flying horses with golden wings, a castle surrounded by gorgeous climbing roses, rivers of wine. Whatever I want, and all the rest of it. For now though, I feel as though things like certain museums, boardgames, food, people, masjids and breathtaking natural views are more than merely ‘enough’. They are forms of enjoyment – goodness, even – which are rooted in Truth, here, and not in ‘escaping’ it, or seeking things that are other than it. I do not want to lose the stuff of Truth, and my experience of Eternity, for whatever is false, and fleeting.
Why on Earth – why in Dunya – would I want to gamble away the entire ocean, for but a mere drop of it?
Why should the opinions of fellow fallible, mortal men matter so much, when I know that I am on an inevitable road towards meeting my Lord?
I don’t know quite how to say this, but: to be liked is one thing. And to be loved is something wholly different. Something more hardy, more substantial.
I write about love so much because our love-painted relationships are the most important things, in our worlds. We come into knowing it: the maternal embrace, which soothes the intensity of our anxieties, our wailing with fear. The (sometimes rivalrous) love that is shared betwixt siblings. Grandma, granddad. Aunties, uncles. Teachers and friends, at school.
There are so many questions that arise, as soon as you consider this topic ‘too much’. Which people love you, and why? Is it on account of whom your mother is, or your father? Is it because they had considered you to have been particularly cute, as a child? Do they feel a sense of duty towards you?
Can you trust it? Does it feel real?
To be ‘liked’, perhaps, means: to be looked upon, and heard a little. A smile, an exchange of pleasantries. But it is not quite the same as being truly seen, and listened to.
So many factors enter these considerations. Sometimes, children are ‘loved’, or the opposite, primarily on account of whom their parents are. In Bengali tradition, for instance, there are always, always, always, politics at play: the eldest son tends to be favoured. And the children who have lighter skins. The children of ‘nobility’, somehow. The children of the eldest son, or of, say, the daughter who had become thoroughly used to being ‘popular’ her entire life; came to mistake high levels of ‘popularity’ for high levels of… love, maybe. Tragically.
The children of the eccentric, sensitive, one, by contrast to those of her siblings, also. It would appear as though a big part of this whole ‘adulthood’ thing is… understanding, and processing, oneself in relation to the big wide world, away from how we come into this world, looked upon as being extensions of those whom we had been entrusted to.
So many things at play. But I see it a lot: how people’s children – eldest sons, especially, when it comes to men, and eldest daughters, when it comes to women – come to be iterations of whom they, themselves, had been, to the world, or… are. ‘Miss Popularity/Designer’s’ daughter could be seen to hold the same label. ‘Tomboy-Intellectual’, also. ‘Adventurous-ladies’-man’.
How much of it is ‘natural’? How much of it is because they had seen us as extensions of themselves; projected their own (often-unrealised) dreams and expectations upon us; dressed us in certain ways, and were certain that they, best, ‘knew’ us?
Adulthood seems to be about this fragile, fledgling individuality. A whole lot of processing, unlearning, learning. Growing pains. Seeking to be loved – on account of everything that we may be – as opposed to merely ‘liked’. On account of where, it had been decided, without our own active inputs, we were meant to fit into the world.
“It is not about what the world holds for you –
It is about what you bring to it.”
— Cole, Anne with an E
Everybody seeks to be liked, approved of, validated. It is such a fundamental motivating impulse, in our lives. Good grades at school: your parents are meant to like you more, for it. Nice clothes: we like the compliments we get as a result of them, the feeling of being ‘stylish’. Wealth and occupational status: to feel more ‘respected’. More likeable, through the eyes and minds of those whom we, for whatever reason, seek to be liked by.
But love is deeper, truer, and more holistic than this. It begins, shockingly, alarmingly, even: right from where we are. To be massively ‘liked’, we pursue idealised images of ourselves, constructed through our consumptions of various media, images. To be ‘more likeable’, we must be smarter, ‘cooler’, more interesting, more stylish in appearance. Wittier, smoother and more elegant in what we do and say.
But love says, reassuringly, in her idiosyncratic aggressively-loving manner, and in a racist-towards-her-own-kind accent: “Don’t be silly”, promptly before trying to shove you into moving traffic. She is younger than me – and her brother and I used to bully her a little (just a little), when we were younger [she was extremely annoying. And would cry extremely dramatically for the littlest things, constantly threatening to snitch to the adults about us] – but now she is far bigger than I am. Sigh. She could probably easily kill me by succeeding in the whole impulsively-pushing-me-into-moving-traffic business. And the best I have, in retaliation, are… my w o r d s.
Her name is Maryam, and she is my sister, and I feel a love for her that runs deeply. I met her when I was two years old. As the story goes, when she had been born, only close-close family members had been allowed to go in and see her. I was not allowed in. So I started to cry and cry; sobbing, I explained to the nurses, “but that’s my Mami!”
So I was allowed in to see her. The nurses thought I meant that Maryam’s mother is mymother, also. But actually, in Bengali, ‘Mami’ means (maternal) uncle’s wife.
She is half her mother: at once tough as nails, stone-cold, and unbelievably warm and loving. And she is half her father: extremely popular (but she doesn’t seem to really know what to do with it) and socially-oriented.
She also has three brothers (and no sisters); she is kind of a roadman, while I am kind of a geek. We share a bond that is, Masha Allah, uniquely close, and yet unquestionably… interesting. Making the same lame joke at the same time, sometimes. Uniting in order to (fake-)bully our aunt, over something extremely stupid [ref: her ‘other’ niece and nephews]. Randomly bursting out into singing the same (extremely moist) songs. And I think, if we had not been introduced to one another as a result of sharing a ‘connection of the womb’… if we had, for instance, come into one another’s acquaintances at school… I think external factors may have prevented me from ever coming to know, and love, her the way I know I do.
A little illustration of my baby sister, and the strange capacity in which I am blessed to know her: last Ramadan, I had stayed over at her house for a while. [Normally, our ‘cousin sleepovers’ take place at our grandma’s house, where we get drunk on oxygen]. That had been an interesting time: we would wake up – at stupidly late hours (which would make me feel icky, but it had been worth it, because Maryam’s house, especially during Ramadan, tends to light up with life, in the later hours). We would sit outside with her pet rabbits (who have since…been released into the wild) in the calm of the garden, the glass-sharp towers of Aldgate looming over us, in the near distance. Help out with the Ifthar cooking [my disastrous stir-fry and churros. My defence is that I can only properly cook in my own kitchen, when nobody else is there.]. She would do her skincare while watching ‘Prison Break’. I would be… on Twitter, and watching Zaytuna lectures.
Ifthar. Salāh, all together, led sometimes by my uncle, sometimes by either of my two male cousins. And then! A movie [last year we had all died over ‘Extraction’. Namely, because ‘twas filmed in the ol’ motherland, you see] and/or chai around the campfire, and/or a late-night Santander-bike-ride through the dystopian-looking streets of London, and around Tower Bridge. Empty roads, burning off several kebabs, and my beloved cousins lovingly calling me ‘Georgie’ from ‘It’, on account of my yellow jacket.
On one particular evening during Ramadan 2020, my uncle and aunt had gone out. I made some snacks (masala sweetcorn. Not to massively compliment my own work of art, here, but wow. Masha Allah sisطa) and Maryam casually set up her own ‘Roadman School’, to teach Moosa (who is currently fifteen years old) and I how to be roadmen. She started threatening us with a butterknife. Meanwhile, Moosa (rather zeitgeist-ily) decided to set fire to rings of handsanitiser on a plate. And the responsible adult left in charge of these hooligans? Why that, ma’am, would be me. Thankfully, no stabbings or burn incidents had taken place there, that night. So, a job well done, methinks.
Maryam Bint Alam. I love her for the sum of everything she is, and she is my little (big. Arguably a little abusive. Someone help me) sister. When I think about love (and she will likely cringe while reading this) I think about her. Effortlessly, no question. And I also think about Farhana, and Priya. And I think about my friend-whom-people-tend-to-mistake-as-being-my-cousin: Tamanna [but more on her in a later article, Insha Allah].
I thought, for a while, that I wanted to be ‘liked’ by people, and that being ‘liked’ is valuable, and meaningful, somehow. Yet, when people are ‘liked’, what they are ‘liked for’ tends to be too isolable. I like you because you are Bengali also; similar age; we can joke about the same things. I like that you are kind, and have a calming presence. I like that you can comfortably do your own thing; that you, too, enjoy writing. And so on, and so on.
Still, love is bigger. More encompassing. A massive hug of sorts – the soothing embrace that the human soul needs, here in agitating, incomprehensible, dizzying Dunya. And love is holistic. More (albeit undefinably so) than merely the sum of its parts.
“A painting is more than the sum of its parts […] the cow by itself is just a cow, and the meadow by itself is just grass and flowers, and the sun peeking through the trees is just a beam of light, but put them all together and you’ve got magic.”
— Wendelin Van Draanen, Flipped.
I have been there; I have had it. ‘Liked’ on account of the grades I would obtain; ‘liked’ on account of what I would wear and such. Being ‘liked’, I feel, does not really fulfil. Sometimes, it is a bit like eating cardboard. ‘Filling’, maybe, and yet… why on Earth are you doing it? And it leaves some people chasing after more and more of it, on the mistaken assumption that ‘more’ might make things ‘better’, somehow.
I must know to never again confuse ‘like’ for ‘love’. Or a lack of the former, in whatever situation, for a lack of the latter, which glues me to certain people and things like gravity. Maybe the critical distinguishing factors, between ‘like’ and ‘love’ are (something essential, and also) presence. Presence not merely in physical terms, but in terms of the heart and spirit, also.
I think a big part of what ‘maturity’ might constitute is… being okay with being ‘disliked’ or… less liked. By direct consequence of people seeing – or, choosing to see – one or two things about you, and proceeding to (metaphorically) brand you across the forehead with a giant ‘yep’(I approve) or ‘no’. I do not want to fall for mere symbols; I do not want for people to like me based on them, either. Anything worthwhile takes time and effort, to learn, and to know, and to build. And not to sound mean here, but basic things impress basic people. Surface-level things are known to impress shallow surface-level-inclined people.
I know that, over the last two years, I asked Allah to show me who is mine, and whom I am also to love, in return. Allah showed me that, contingent on a particular and limited set of factors, ‘like’ can come and go, as if it were never really anything at all. While ‘love’ passes those tests without question, and stays, and even grows stronger from wherever it is (pretty much necessarily) frayed, because it is everything.
This is sort of me… processing things, and externalising, once again, but I should be happy to let go of what is ice-cold ‘cool’, widely and shallowly ‘impressive’. Whatever might earn a string of ‘yes’, ‘yes’, ‘yes’, from every Tom, Dick and Harry [or, in Asian terms, from every Abdullah, Bilkis and Bushra] in favour of what is iridescent. Incandescent. Full, and real. Sparkling, and alight — with what it takes to be human! Not merely ‘pleasant’, with all such passions rendering us increasingly… hollow. Though ‘impressive’, somehow. There is so much that people necessarily have to trim down, reconfigure, lose, in order to be ‘admired’. But love is eternal; it does not die. And love is what I ought to be concerned with, all of the time.
‘Like’ is something that must smile, and wave. Always ‘pleasant’, and dainty. Is excessively concerned about images; will drop everything, simply to follow the next trend, desperate to be ‘liked’. One thing before the people, and something completely different when she is away from them.
And Love, instead, (too-)comfortably invades your personal space. Refers to you, unironically at this point, as her “brodie” and her “drilla”. Gets a weird kick out of making you feel really uncomfortable. Randomly kisses you on the forehead from time to time (probably mainly to flex that she is taller than you) and Love, without telling you beforehand, goes and donates to charity in your name. It is a fleecy embrace; an unmatchable comfort of being, defined by contrasts. There is dark, and tired, and lonely – Dunya – but then we come home, close the door, to love.
‘Like’ is a thing of exteriors, facades; would go away in two seconds, say, if your father were somebody else; if they did not perceive you as fitting their ideal beauty standard; if you did not smile at them all the time. And love is a thing of space – place-ness – and time. Love is walking right into another’s life, and vice versa. It is strong, and stays; bursts at its seams, refusing to be contained; arrives quietly, powerfully, and remains; paints your entire life with each of her weird and wonderful colours. Augmented, in value, by her rarity [as things are. One of the few useful things I seem to have learnt from A-level Economics] in your world.
Beginning from you, then, and from them: the ‘mundane’ aspects, the idiosyncratic, ridiculous, tremendouslyirritating. And everything that is ‘effortless’, stemming from precisely whom we are, have always been, are coming to become.
Dear reader, I hope, for you, a life coloured with (not necessarily ‘like’, but with what we all seek, and want and need…) love. Āmeen.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.
Is it worth it, to be liked for the sake of itself?
Today, I would like to write about someone I have been meaning to write about, for a while. I came into her acquaintance this academic year; she inspires me so.
There is something about her, which is so undeniably radiant. Not solely in appearance, though in the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that when a person’s soul is beautiful, it – the light (Noor) – often reveals itself atop their faces, also.
She is somebody who likes her neutral-coloured designer clothes and premium-quality skincare products and perfumes – some of which, she says she sources from an Emirati friend of hers. She helps people with carrying their bags; helps them staple their papers; makes sure to ask everybody around her if they, too, would like (for her to get) anything (for them,) from Uber Eats [teachers and food. At once a most beautiful love story, and a thoroughly toxic relationship.].
I must say, teachers – and students – do seem to be exceptionally generous at Islamic schools: last December, before we broke up for the Winter holidays, Ms. M brought in little baklava plates… for every single colleague of hers, and for every single student she teaches, also. And so we all left school, that day, with our own little plates of baklava.
Undeniably, I felt inspired by this colleague-of-mine as soon as I met her. Her humility, her gentleness of speech, and her demeanour. She tries to busy herself in ‘Khidma’ – a term I learnt this year. It means ‘service’ – being in service of people. And something that I find so deeply admirable is that, in response to good happenings – and less-favourable ones, alike – she is known to say a heartfelt and assured, “Alhamdulillah”. Repeatedly, and sincerely.
Alhamdulillah for everything that happened in ways that brought us instantaneous joy, and Alhamdulillah for the calamities that softened our hearts, over and again, and reminded us of what is true, here.
When I told her that I would really like to become literate in the Arabic language, Insha Allah, Ms. M told me she would happily teach me, for free: that it would be her honour. I later found out that to get to the school at which we work, she has to leave her house at 05:30AM; it takes her almost two hours to drive there.
But she loves teaching Arabic; she loves to help her students to overcome the language barrier between themselves and the book she loves the most: the Qur’an.
She quoted the Qur’an – in Arabic: the part about how Allah created this world in order to test which of us is best in deed – after telling us a little about her story, after we asked her about Syria, and about the Assad regime. But as she spoke, her eyes began to well up a little with tears.
She had lost her father when she had been quite young. He had been killed by Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father’s) men, on account of his practising Sunni Islam. They had reported him for praying, and for refusing to attend parties and clubs and such. They mocked his religion: “Who are you even praying to?” And a female soldier, who had invasively entered the family home, told Ms. M to just stop observing the Hijab: to reveal her youth and her beauty to the world.
Ms. M arrived here, from Syria, in 2005. She has not been able to see home again, since.
I have learnt a lot about life, I think, from sitting in that staffroom. From women of varying ethnic/cultural backgrounds, age groups, marital statuses, academic interests. Ms. M has taught me, not didactically, but merely through the nature of her being, how to be Muslim.
She speaks about the other job she has – also teaching Arabic. And about her days off, which she spends at home, with her three children. They are all of university age (and are all thoroughly resenting online learning). One, she says – her daughter – doubles as a close friend of hers. Her daughter makes mistakes, as everybody – in particular, we, the young and naïve – does, and they work through problems together, mother and daughter. Her two sons: one (sounds like he) is more outgoing, the other very reserved.
One day they – all three of them – decided to ‘surprise’ Ms. M by cooking her a big dinner to come home to, after work. Oven-made shawarma and all. Apparently, the mess they ended up making took her hours to clean…
One story she told us, about the advice she had given one of her sons, about Sadaqah, I found particularly endearing. When he acquired his first part-time job – working on weekends for a local Syrian community group or something – he put some money aside for charity (Sadaqah). In Islam, there is this idea that if you give Sadaqah, you never lose wealth. It always ends up coming back to you somehow, and your wealth also consequently comes to hold a lot of Barakah. I have heard many remarkable stories pertaining to this: donating to charity, getting surprise money returned to you – whether in the form of tax returns, bonuses from work, gifts. In addition to the Ajr (spiritual reward) you get from it, anyway. Subhan Allah.
“Mama!” her son had exclaimed. I think it had been the case that he had received a bonus shortly after allocating some of his wages to charity. To paraphrase what he had said: “I really did come to feel the Barakah in my money!”
Sigh. Some people are beautiful souls indeed, Masha Allah Tabarak Allah. And I guess I have chosen to write this particular article on this particular evening because…
I find myself wondering if I am doing things ‘right’, again. In this mind of mine, past mistakes, for instance, are placed beneath a magnifying glass, and I worry that I am doing things especially ‘wrong’, somehow. We all make choices, all the time, about how we are living these lives of ours; spending our time. By trying to enter fully into my Deen, am I… doing something wrong?
And then I realise: what a silly, silly question. I know why I am here, and I know that as far as mistakes and shortcomings and such go, every single human being alive is essentially susceptible to them.
I know, also, that Ms. M’s father must have been such a great and noble man, Allahummabārik; I know that she – a legacy of his – is, Masha Allah, an amazing woman, and I know that the way she lives her life deeply inspires me.
I know that, in a similar vein to Ms. M, Muhammad (SAW) had been somebody who had faced relentless trials and tribulations; it ought to be in the anatomy of a Muslim to try to be vessels of Good – towards Truth, and in Beauty – irrespective of how difficult any particular part of the Test becomes. “A Beautiful Patience” is what it is of great desire for us to come to exhibit.
Even a smile, in our tradition, is an act of Sadaqah. And giving Sadaqah never diminishes one’s wealth: so maybe it is the case that if we smile at others, we shall be given more reasons to smile for. Even if everybody we see, on any particular day, refuses to smile back. It is okay: for, don’t you see? There are millions of fellow Muslims, and there is an entirety of a Universe, complete with its gorgeous Jupiters, and its goldenly-ratioed flowers, and its dragon-breath sunset clouds, smiling right back, and standing right there with you, in complete and content, firm and unwavering – no-matter-what – submission to Allah. So,
The first thing to truly acknowledge – to understand – then, is that this is not the Good Place. That many have tried – have tried to wage their wars for gold; have tried to build their castles and set up their kingdoms, empires –
In an abode, which, in terms of all the tangible, and/or ‘shiny’, things it contains – are false and fleeting promises, and will perish. Undoubtedly. The only things which will last – which are flavoured with eternity, whatever that means, and however it feels – are: love, and the things we do.
I want to write a bit about ‘intelligence’ and what I think it truly means. I think intelligent people are able to see things for what they are – are literate in varying forms of language (mathematical/scientific/geometric, lexical/emotional/interpersonal, logical/intrapersonal/visual…) and therefore can notice truths, and patterns: seeing things for what they are. As products of their parts, and as stemming from some particular essence.
Intelligent people might be well-acquainted with both the ‘paintbrush’ and the ‘painting’, so to speak. Albert Einstein, for instance, had mastered the laws – the patterns, the tendencies – of nature, of physics. He could see what many others could not; viewed the world via his own very eyes, and filtered and processed through his own brilliant (Masha Allah) mind.
Sylvia Plath, also. Master – or, mistress, but this just sounds a little strange, no? – of words. Of how they can sound, and what they can mean. What we can be told, through them, and of what we can tell others, through them. She, like Einstein, had used her particular forms of receptivity, literacy — intelligence — in order to generate her own phenomenal works.
Ernest Hemingway – another brilliant writer – once said that “happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing [he knows]”.
People who are, gifted by God to be, very intelligent do tend to be placed, rather easily, under the ‘neurodivergent’ category. One’s mind must work ‘differently’, in order to see things, and to be able to do things differently. Einstein is believed to have been on the autism spectrum; Plath, too perhaps. I know someone, who is seen as having Asperger’s, and who is prodigiously good at architecture – at the ‘understanding’ parts, and at the more ‘creative’ parts, Masha Allah. [Maybe intelligence is the ability to comprehend beauty – harmony, unity, and proportion – and, secondarily, to be able to create things that are themselves beautiful.]. I could write more about what I have come to learn about ‘neurodivergence’, and about individuals whom I think fit somewhere within the category, but that is not the point of this article. Also, perhaps it could be said that the term ‘neurodivergent’ itself has some negative undertones. Therefore, henceforth, I shall use the terms ‘neuro-ordinary’ and… ‘neuro-extraordinary’!
His lengthy suicide note, replete with ways of expressing things that could evoke empathy, coupled with non sequiturs and sinister things expressed in chillingly matter-of-fact ways, can be read here.
I am no forensic psychological analyst, but judging by the way this letter is written, it sounds like the man in question had been sane, and yet utterly convinced of the moral justifiability of his actions.
Moreover, it sounds like he had been very intelligent. If a mind is intelligent enough to comprehend, for instance, computer programming languages so well, it is almost necessarily also intelligent enough to be deeply aware of its own shortcomings, inadequacies, the nature of the world, and how much reality falls short of the ‘super-realities’ that are forcefully, and without question, placed upon it.
I am not sympathising with a cold-blooded killer, here. Ultimately, I think it was selfish – and narcissistic, even – for the man in question to have also taken the lives of his family members, since he decided that they would have been ‘miserable’ for the rest of their lives without he and his brother.
But I am able to recognise, by evidence of how he writes and what he has written about, the presence, perhaps, of high intelligence and sensitivity, and… ensuing pain. He was a man in pain, and nothing at all seemed to help. No medication, no external ‘success’ factor, such as excellent grades or the presence of a loving family.
Most importantly, what his suicide note indicates that his life had been in glaringly-obvious lack of, is any sort of ‘spiritual tether’. He alludes to the human mind, consciousness – and, by extension, also his own mind’s ‘biological failure’ – to “nothing but a byproduct of evolutionary luck”. According to him, “neurons are just the biological equivalent of transistors in computers”.
So, in Towhid’s eyes, he had not been callously ending the lives of beloved human beings — encased with, entwined with, their own sempiternal souls. He had instead… merely been doing something ‘evolutionary’, merely prematurely switching off some biological computers, which had come about by pure chance, and without any higher meaning, anyway.
So morality, ‘spiritual value’, and all the rest of it, had probably just been… yet another hiccup of (itself ‘accidental’) biological functionality, anyway. ‘Survival and reproduction’, but if you are not ‘happy’, there is no point at all.
How can people live, without (reasoned) belief in the fact that they came from somewhere, and were designed and created, and that our lives ultimately do have Meaning?
How do people ‘just live’? Simply ‘chase a bag’ – make money, chase material indicators of material ‘success’, and proceed to show off with them: the designer clothes and bags, the cars, the mansion-like homes, of which they can only really occupy, with their beings, a small corner?
Do what ‘ought’ to be done, but who, what, determines this ‘ought’? Traditions, values, which have stemmed from ‘nowhere’ and ‘nothing’? What gives anything any real weight at all?
A kind-of-while-ago, I had come across a snippet from a podcast, in which a university lecturer talks about how to live. ‘Just do the next thing’ had been the crux of her defence. She said she wakes up, is called by her biological need to eat, and then to use the toilet. Do what needs to be done, for work. And don’t think ‘too much’. Definitely, as New Atheists tend to instruct us to do, try not to ask ‘Why?’…
And when the ’big picture’ is deliberately, or subconsciously, blotted out – with the sex, the drugs, the rock ‘n’ roll: still, all the little details are obsessed over. Wealth, ‘prestige’, lust. And people cry over spilt milk, over scratched cars, and skin serums that go out of sale. Everything is about boasting, and about competition, and about collecting things; decorating outsides, and allowing ourselves to be desperately distracted. How do they do it?
Without intent to bring about a bout of existential depression in anybody, it is like that line in Joker (2019) – without belief in ultimate Purpose, Meaning, true Connection and Direction: everybody simply has to “put on a happy face”, and get on with it. Acknowledging Reality, somewhere, maybe deep within. But the mask is what matters, isn’t it?
The most intelligent people I know also seem to be the most sensitive. And this can open up the floodgates for a whole lot of sadness: a range of it, the very depths. When you see what this world, sans Objective Meaning, actually holds for the human being, and how people can hurt each other, and how bad things can get. ‘Over-thinking’? Or, seeing things closer to how they truly are?
Still: “Indeed, with [every] hardship, there is ease” [94:6]. Maybe, in the form of a loving family, and/or shelter and warmth, food, a beautiful masjid to frequent. And “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear.” [2:286].
Dunya is not ‘the Good Place’. Investing in this world, without due consideration of what it is really all about, and about what – the eternity that – comes after it… is delusion. And it makes for a dark, dark place in which to be, really.
And if we maintain that this world is all there really is, and that “happiness”, here, is the ultimate goal… we are setting ourselves up for deep, deep disappointment. While contentment is desirable, and more-than-possible, here, and while moments of happiness do come — and go…
“What is the Life of Dunya (i.e. this fleeting, material world) except the enjoyment of vanity?”
[Probably my lengthiest blog-article-title to date…]
Maybe a good way to get through it all – muddy, craggy, parts: swamp-ish and thoroughly pleasant parts alike – is by thinking of the parts that constitute these lives of ours, in terms of ‘projects’.
I really like this word, and the meaning it holds. When I think of projects, I think of papers and marker-pens out, pencil-planning, brainstorming. Generating ideas, neatening them up into checklists and plans. Teamwork: consulting others, who can help. Attentions and energies focused, and we can plan and generate smart outlines, but ultimately there is such uncertainty in everything that happens
between idea-conception, and -execution/realisation, and everything that takes place afterwards.
Event-planning – for the ‘bigger’ ones, and the ‘smaller’ ones alike (weddings, Aqeeqahs, graduation parties, and also for picnics with friends, Eid parties, a kid’s birthday). Home renovations, garden-care and skincare, health and fitness.
Maybe, also, working, slowly-but-surely, on one’s time-management tendencies. Mental/spiritual wellbeing, recovery; healing from, and/or growing from, all the very things that these lives of ours are known to contain. Overcoming misplaced emotional dependencies: addictions. Adventures abroad. GCSEs, A-levels, a degree, a business. Friendships, cousin-ships, marriage.
These are all projects that we work on, if even only for a given short time.
Problem-solving, and established principles; due presence, and time, and effort. The seeds, and how we tend to their growing; how they bloom, and for how long. Seasonal: between Perfection, and where we find ourselves, there are always things to be done. Without them, things would not move — would be stagnant, would be all done, pointless.
Commitments to a certain club/society. Hamper-making. Babysitting. Making a meal.
[I still think about a particular meal that a friend of mine decided on, together, last year. Korean fried chicken. Inspiration from Pinterest, no less. We went to the local supermarket, picked up the ingredients, added some intuitive/experimental twists while making it. Unmatchable. Unforgettable. Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. Dear reader, what a project: what a process, and what an outcome!]
A self-administered haircut is a project, also. As is a new job, or a blog article; a book you are reading, Deen-related knowledge you are trying to accrue [I so love this word]. Or the thorough tidying of one’s living space; the welcoming of spatial clarity, maybe the introduction of a couple of much-welcome novelties. Trial, and error. The things that work, and the things that, in the end, do not, necessarily.
All these little – and the larger ones, composed of the little – things we work towards. One thing, or many. And then the next one(s). Wherever there is purpose, and passion, there is quite everything.
Projects. And, in the unexpected midsts of them: adventures! Spontaneous, unfore-tell-able, and energising: putting one’s trust into things over which, mostly, we have very little control. And to each, all of our own ones. At different times; on different days, caught between the time-stamps of different years.
In lockdown, things have been hard — for all of us, so it would seem. Some are struggling deeply with the demands of uni; others, more financially; others, with the messes of ‘overthinking’ that silences and stillnesses would seem to deeply, thoroughly facilitate. Stress, depressions. Struggling with the tasks we have, to get done. And with (metaphorical) walls, which find themselves peeling, and with (metaphorical) windows that will not let the fresh air in.
Maybe, your project(s) for right now do not sound particularly… glamorous. Maybe, they are more to do with survival, and to make sure you are eating enough, and allowing your being to catch up on the rest it deserves. I am very glad that you are alive, dear reader.
Also, there is a particular video that I came across recently, and its message really spoke to me. It was, I suppose, about becoming absorbed – lost, and found – in one’s own reality. Not necessarily in a selfish or solipsistic manner — for we are in utter, eternal, and undeniable need of the One who created us; we are in perpetual need, also, of fellow hearts to love, and hands to hold. But there is reality (what is ours, and what is here-and-now), and what we can make of it (in terms of, and towards, Truth and Beauty and Goodness)
and there are falsehoods and dead, unfruitful, weights to hopefully free ourselves of: [mere images of] other people, for instance, other lives and realities, to compare ours to; pasts to ruminate obsessively over, false and idealised ideas of ‘future’ to cling, with these inescapably passing lives of ours, to. The (sigh. Necessarily existent) ones who ‘nay-say’, in response to our personal choices within existence. But there is what is Khayr: what is Better and Best. And then, there is what is not.
Life. Purpose, and Passion, and our people. And our projects, and our (‘littler’ and ‘larger’) adventures. Bismillah!
You have struggled with your self, and with your doings, and with yourself in relation to other people, and with some of the goings-on within this world, and within your own. This pretty much goes without saying.
You had hopes and expectations, searched for it in certain people, and in fleeting pictures, and in structured races. Then, poetry and debate; embroidered cotton shirts, dried flower petals, and clay pots. Until suit-and-tie, and dangling summer scarf, and strides towards ‘professionalism’ and ‘propriety’. Checklists of items to get done; plates of veggie patties and such to eat, by sunshine-framing big window. The ‘aesthetics’. There was the makeup-and-new-adventure part, too; messing-around; ‘vlog’-style, attentions, and then the realisation that
None of this had ever really been sustainable. Or that meaningful, anyway.
[Nostalgia is known to dispense with the ‘lesser-than’ parts of things, I know, but] I so miss those days when I had been, maybe ten or eleven. I would pray Fajr – late, pretty much always. A cup of tea with breakfast. Wear checker shirts and floral headbands; play football, and then go to Maths Club, and then to Journalism. Reading Qur’an made me feel grown up, and centred. And Ilaahi heard every single little thing that I had made Du’a for.
And now, at times, I worry that I might be ‘too religious’ for some people; ‘too ‘academically’-inclined’ for others. ‘Too quiet’, in many situations. ‘Weird’. ‘Too much’ of this; ‘not enough’ of that. Everybody has their particular insecurities: physical, personality-based. And even these things: they fluctuate. Enter as loves and strengths, perhaps. Flash on and off, vacillate between sureties and their very opposites, from time to time.
Ten years later: I know that I love certain things. My Deen, my people, writing and reading and teaching, and ‘observing’ and wanting – and coming – to know. I love hearty meals and electric conversations and the (muddy and celestial) wonders of the natural world, and stupid little forms of fun, and I know that everything that I am, will be, in varying ways, ‘too much’ for some, and ‘too little’ for others.
I cannot act like I do not care. Everybody cares: caring makes a human, human. And, still:
The essence of faith is this: it is not unreasonable or irrational. It is not wholly immunising, against grief and/or fear. But there are more than a million and one reasons to believe: more reasons than there are stars in the sky, even. Faith is about knowing that all of those steps that we had hazarded before… ended up working, if even in ways that we had truly not expected them to.
Right now, and as usual, some things are good and okay, while others (perhaps deeply) do not feel quite so.
Many things, frayed threads, do not seem so neat: and I am writing this article to say that
I suppose it is absolutely inevitable that each of our stories are at least a little ridden with pain. Losses, and betrayals of trust, and feeling less-than. ‘Wasted time’, and feeling so, so, far away from home.
And you know that some days are thoroughly more difficult than others. You know that each moment is a flower-bed, and that while we have control over our intentions and actions… the bigger picture, the garden, is not ours to inspire to grow.
(Flourish. Even invisibly.)
Dear reader, whomever you are, and wherever (and whenever) you may be reading this from: a Du’a for you, and a Du’a for me. To be able to see through paper things and illusions, and to be able to choose what is Better – and what is Best – over and over again, as many times as it will take, necessarily, to get There; Āmeen.
Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:
You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.
If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.
Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.
In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.
The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.
Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.
And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?
The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.
I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?
Liberalism. Liberalism forwhom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.
“While the tills ring up in appreciation for Ramadan, how have we ignored the gaping irony that everything this month stands for flies in the face of indulgence, spending, excess, and the material world?“
“Be vocal and firm in preserving the essence of Ramadan. The core of the month is to dim the carnival vibes, lower the volume, detach from electronic devices, put a break on hyper-stimulation, and drastically simplify and bring silence to ourselves. This must be fiercely guarded, because surely a bigger victory for Shayṭān would not be that Muslims abandon Ramadan altogether, but that we morph it into a month that is unrecognisable from its original aim: to attain Taqwa (God-consciousness).“
I loike it. I loike it a lot. I need to internalise its message. Full article:
When the sun shows her face, here in cold and cloudy England, people flock to parks, and to their rooftops and balconies, like summer flowers, newly-blossomed, opening themselves up to absorb as much of it as they can. Sunglasses, picnics. The golden, invisible stuff, which cuts through expansive dullness. Brightens up our days.
Sitting on the roof of [redacted, because she wanna be m y s t e r i o u s] School, sitting on our coats or on the bare ground. The enclosing walls are tall: the rest of the world cannot see us there. Nachos and homemade guac. And one of my colleagues, explaining what she has learnt regarding the Four Temperaments, using her phone-screen as a whiteboard. An outdoor sixth form lesson is going on, in one general corner. And then a somewhat extreme game of collective skipping. And that laziness, contrasted by the sporadic slaps of the rope, onto the tarmac.
You know those days, during which Time feels a little more… suspended… than usual? Tight-rope temporality. Things are moving, moving. Things are staying… awfully (and wonderfully) still. Still, we need both, I suppose: that sense that things are happening, developing, and moving. And a comforting sense of stillness: of some things, at least, remaining the same.
Things to look forward to. But we cannot account for all that will or will not happen. Not at present, anyway.
Somebody says something. Reveals a hard-hitting element of her own life-story, though she says it somewhat casually. And we all go silent for a little while. We sit with the words, and with the heaviness. And there is only about a minute left, until we need to go downstairs again, for the next lesson.
Words, and writing, and story-telling. I know that, when I come to write about happenings within my own life[‘s story,], what I am really doing is… a whole lot of processing, and filtering. And I am ascribing – or, finding – meaning in these things.
When people say that words are powerful, they are not wrong: words are not detachable from meaning, and meaning is not detachable from our words. We think through words. We convey our thoughts through words. [And I find it very strange but fascinating: the fact that some people claim not to have a running inner monologue. So, does that mean that they can only really think externally, through conversation with others?!]
We come to know, and to understand, through words. The Qur’an, also, is filled with words; it is filled with meaning.
I am not entirely sure where I am going with this particular piece, but ‘free-writing’ really is a nice thing to do.
Some people (in accordance with the general ideas behind the ‘Four Temperament’ method of categorisation) are more choleric. Take charge, decisive, their way or the highway. Some are more phlegmatic. Laid-back, go-with-the-flow, slow to anger. And then, some people are more ‘sanguine’: effortlessly social, highly pleasant to be around; they can light up an entire room with just their smiles. And some people are more ‘melancholic’: quiet, mystical, sensitive and reflective.
But then again, nobody is just one thing. Nobody is a particular thing all of the time, either. I guess the human being [sounding like an alien anthropologist, here, again, I am aware] is so deeply complex and widely multi-faceted that words are useful, in coming to understand one another. But it is awfully difficult to seek to define things that are moving, and changing, developing and adapting. Counting the seconds, and the hours. Loving the taste of something, one day, and not liking it at all, the very next.
Words are useful, with us. The narratives we allow them to make up, for us, also. But labels are cerebral boxes. And definitions exclude the possibility for change.
With us, and with our selves, and with our ways of seeing things, and with our relationships, and with the shapes of these lives of ours: we need the things that stay still. Or there would be chaos, and a complete lack of understanding. Wordlessness: wholly unintelligible. And also, we need things to move and to move, and to change, and to change. And maybe, to come back to all of these things, and to try to ascribe meaning to them. Not too solid and constrictive that it becomes spirit-destroying, and yet, not too dizzyingly, anxiety-inducingly ‘free’ that it becomes devoid of any consistency; of things to hold onto.
This article is unlikely to make very much sense to you, at all, dear reader. But it holds quite a bit of meaning, for me. Here, in the depths of reality, and what it is for me. As I keep saying (and telling myself) Dunya is a difficult place. But, as Allah tells us, “with difficulty, there is ease”. This world is not without its beauty, and its comforts, and its more interesting parts. Sometimes, these come to us in the form of cherry blossom trees and cake. Sometimes, they come in the form of people.
I guess I am somebody who wants to know what – and who – is mine, and for me. I do thoroughly believe in connections of the soul, for what else is there? And these connections of the soul, I want to give them, (and not, as I unfortunately quite frequently do, things that do not concern me) my everything. [Yet how strange is it, that I have little control over what any of these efforts will return?]