Garments

“I don’t think I can do this,” he muttered, his head bowed, face hiding. Cloaked in something that spoke much of self-consciousness and shame: these undeniable, though often conveniently concealed, parts of what it is to be human. She smiled at him. Neither pityingly, nor panderingly. Simply her hand rested upon his: a partnership. He tensed briefly, and then let go. Release.

“Hey,” she said, quietly. The others in the room became curious observers of the conversation, and, still, not fully privy to it. “Hey, look at me.”

His face could not help but let out a smile. She reassured him.

“I’m here, okay?

I’m here.”

Even more quietly: “We can do it together.”

Her love reached out and climbed onto him, almost; it tickled him on his cheek. Then, the two of them grew a little giddy, and then broke out into quiet fits of laughter: first him, and then her, and then the two of them together. And nobody else at all had been in on the joke.

“What would your ideal partner be like?” had been the question. And a sweet smile had spilled from her; she looked over at him, holding him as he came and sat down, at exactly the right time.

(Inspired by something really cute I saw yesterday. So cute, so beautiful, it makes my heart ache and I am going to die)

“Cover me,”

said Muhammad ﷺ, having rushed home to his wife Khadijah (RA) after receiving the first part of the Qur’anic revelation. He wrapped himself in her arms; he thanked Allah for the repose that he found, right there. In his own words, he had felt “nourished by her love”.

When Khadijah died, Muhammad (SAW) never really got over her death. The entire year after her passing is known as the Year of Grief, in his biography: it was deeply painful for him to look at, for example, pieces of jewellery that she had once worn. He kept sending food over to the people that she had loved – her friends and relatives – years and years after her passing.

In these things, in matters of love, and protected within the cloaks of soul-baring privacy: there is no room for feelings of shame or inadequacy. On the human level: you become the fulcrum of your beloved’s world. Completely, and as you are. And where there is real love, there is honesty. Openness. Trust, and much nourishment and comfort.

“And among His signs is that He created for you from [among] yourselves partners that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy/nourishment. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [Qur’an, (30:21)]

Even though I know I can be somewhat cynical at times, I am quite prone to also romanticising the heck out of things. And this – the spousal – form of love is something that indubitably deserves to be romanticised.

The whole concept of ‘yin and yang’, for instance: on the human level, we were created, also, ‘for’ another person. And they have been created ‘for’ us. There will be parts of you, within your person. And parts of them, within you. And when the two of you, and all your parts, come together, Insha Allah (whether you meet them in this world or the next one) it will be beautiful.

“Cover me.”

In the Qur’an, also:

“They [your spouses] are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” [Qur’an, (2:187)]

The feeling of being embraced by your favourite jumper: a most welcome repose, so fittingly within, and yet so very far away from (the rest of) this world. Our garments – our clothes – are known to cover us. Nakedness and all: sans all of these social masks of ours, no attempted performances of those ‘ideal selves’. No makeup, no filters: nothing through which we seek ‘liberation’ from hidden truths via. Clothes, and how they are known to

beautify and cover; they tell the rest of the world a little about whom we are. Embrace. Warmth, and comfort. Protection. A burst of colour, here and there.

They hide things, also, and get to see what nobody else can: scars and such. Birthmarks. Bruises. The lines that might show you where you have grown, stretched, made space for development. They hide what we are ashamed of. Fears, insecurities, and what everybody else might scarily perceive as being our ‘flaws’: pigmentation, tummies tucked in, and all the rest. And only your clothes see the hidden beautiful parts of your being (which Allah, by His grace, has fitted you with) too. Nothing – nobody – else.

Love, when it is real, gets to see and know all of it. Intricately, intimately, perfectly well. When it comes to love: ‘flaws’ are these countless little things that make you love another – your Other – even more.

Somewhere in all that exists, there is a person whose name had been Written beside yours, even before the dawn of time. You fit into one another’s beings like you were made for one another. All the checks, all the balances; the fierce challenges and all of the things we have, to learn. Exactly as the two of you are: because, Subhan Allah, you were quite literally made for one another. And if/when it is meant to happen, in this life, it will. Like the best garment you have ever worn. Custom-made by the One who knows you best. In your size, in your style: Divinely-planned, profoundly beyond ourselves, and

fitting just right.

[May we all find and get married to our actual Other-Halves in this lifetime! Āmeen, āmeen, āmeen]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Family

Today, I am thinking about family. Yesterday, after Ifthar, my uncle and aunt had made plans to visit the charity dessert stall behind the mosque: one of my aunts (my mum’s cousin Jeba) works for a Muslim charity — Human Aid. And, another one of my aunts (Jeba Khala’s, and my mum’s, cousin) runs her own chocolatier business. She (my chocolate-making aunt) volunteered to put up a stall with Human Aid, to raise some money for charity, post-Taraweeh prayers.

My cousin Moosa, also, volunteers for this charity. Undeniably lovable chap, he is. Before I was blessed with a little brother of my own — who shares the same parents as me, that is — Moosa had been my little brother. An ardent lover of Ben Ten and, a little later, of Spider-Man, as a child. He had been such a smily little sweetheart. And he had been my (late) grandfather’s absolute favourite. Sometimes, Moosa would come around to my house, to stay, and I loved it when he would. My dad would treat him like he were his own son — and the two of them still share such a unique and beautiful bond [the centrepiece of that bond being, probably: a shared passion for food]. My mum would be in charge of cleaning up after the little-kid-in-question’s… accidents.

So Moosa had been my first little brother. Then came Isa. Saif is the brother with whom I share a home and our parents. And now, there is Dawud. Dawud the sweet, eccentric [well, all children are ‘eccentric’, actually] car-obsessed one. The gentle and soft: the one who does not immediately go in for hugs. But if he likes you, he’ll randomly give you a little kiss from time to time, and tell you that he loves you “big much!”

My friend Tamanna has a little car-obsessed cousin too. He is called Danyal [I hope I spelled that right] and he is quite the outgoing, exuberant little charmer. His teachers adore him; he is the type of kid to act extraordinarily familiar with you as soon as you meet him. Tells you he’ll buy you, casually, a Lamborghini among other things. And much like Dawud’s “I love you big much!”, Danyal is known to say, “I love you a hundred million fousand!”

Dawud does not like it at all when there is anything sticky on his hands. Randomly, in the middle of nothing-much-happening, he… ‘collapses’ on the kitchen floor and loudly announces, “I’m deaad!”

Danyal’s uncle wanted to get some personalised Adidas clothes for him. Danyal requested that his hat (I think it was a hat, at least) be made with… a big round black dot on the back. Why? Nobody knows but young Danny, and Allah. But his uncle obliged with this unique request.

I can’t lie: in some ways, Danyal reminds me quite a bit of Tamanna, while Dawud reminds me a bit of myself. Tamanna is, technically, a ‘family-friend’ of mine: her nan lives at Number Fifteen, and my Nan used to live right here, at Number Seven. On a random day in July 2010, we had declared our official ‘best-friendship’ together. [But now the title ‘best friend’ sounds too childish. ‘Mortal enemy’ sounds far more mature]. She, the adorable one who would (literally) in public, pick up litter off of the ground, to put in the bin; collect leaves and flowers in a little tin box in order to ‘make perfume’ out of them; greet random passersby with a joyful “good morning”. And! She has always had this remarkable and unique ability to play. ‘Army game’ under the table at Islamic school. A soap opera character at my aunt’s friend’s wedding in Wales (in a Southern belle accent, holding, if I recall correctly, a wine glass filled with fruit juice: “Don’t liiie to me sugar, don’t lie to me!”) A little more recently – well, four years ago now, roughly: we walk into a fancy-looking place, and she is Queen Victoria. At IKEA, she is a hairdresser or a shop owner or some such. She has this joie de vivre about her, this larger-than-life personality, and I love her for it. The best mortal enemy I have ever had.

It is Allah who decides that it is necessary for one person to be in another person’s life: these things just happen, but they do not ‘just happen’.

Both Moosa and Tamanna are pretty much the same, today, but in more developed-over-time ways. Moosa — when his father had worked weekends at his friend’s restaurant in Sudbury — worked there, too, for a while (over summer, I think it had been). He got on with his coworkers and the customers so effortlessly well. It is all down to his smile, and his humorous and unassuming, unaffected nature (Masha Allah), methinks. These qualities benefit him very well when it comes to the whole fundraising thing. And I can’t say that I am not deeply proud of him. He is fifteen years old, now, and so he is no longer my Mahram. We ‘air-spud’, now, instead of hug. He manages to fully convince me that he’s secretly been doing drugs. Cracks [pun not intended, but still sort of there] a few dark jokes, from time to time. Yep, super proud of him, I am.

Tamanna, just the other day, got visibly very frustrated when someone threw a bit of litter out of their car. She is (still) the type to, for example, colourfully tell the (apathetic-seeming) shopkeeper to “Have a good day!” Came to my workplace, recently, to pick me up. Offered some of my colleagues some sweets, as though she knew them already.

I, by contrast, had been the school-loving kind to plan random (‘spirited’. Crazy.) projects. I had been the type to: give myself a really bad haircut in the depths of one Ramadan night [I had decided that I really wanted bangs. When my mum took me to the hairdresser’s to get that abomination corrected, Tee had been in the seat next to mine, herself also getting a haircut, which she ended up secretly detesting]; get a splinter the length of my index finger, lodged into my leg [Asian dress – Selwar Kameez – and a wooden climbing frame. An ominous combination]. Khala, Tee’s mum, had tried to extract the painful specimen using a tweezer back at her house, but to no avail. We ended up having to go A&E, and Tamanna sat in the room while they took it out. I was deeply mortified by everything about this incident]; convince Tamanna, who had learnt to make her own food pretty early, to cook her eggs without oil, because it would be ‘much healthier’. And what else had ensued, but catastrophe?  

[We also made a club, at Islamic School, which I had come up with the name for. ‘The Salvation Army’. Back then, we had no idea what this name actually meant: I had just seen it on the side of a building, and rather liked the sound of it…]

The point of this article had been to talk about family. In the Qur’an, Allah instructs for us to be good towards our ‘relatives’/’kin’ [this is how the word ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’ – Al-Qurbaa – tends to be translated]. The root word of this, the Arabic, word is: ‘قرب’, which means ‘close’, or ‘near’. Another word for ‘relatives’, in the Qur’an, is ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’, whose root word is ‘رحم’, meaning ‘compassion/nourishment’, ‘womb/uterus’, and (in a connected way,) ‘blood-relationships’. ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’, I believe, refers to those who are ‘close/near’ to us: family, friends, neighbours, coworkers; while ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’ is likely to refer specifically to blood-ties, even if you are not particularly ‘close’ with them [they still have rights over you].

In terms of ‘Qurbaa’, some of our friends become exceptionally close to us. And, in terms of ‘Arhaam’, some of our blood-relations are not particularly close with us, sometimes as a result of familial tensions and disputes and such, and sometimes simply as a result of distance: a lack of (true) presence in one another’s lives.

Yesterday, after Dawud and I hung out on the trampoline, and after he suddenly betrayed me, for a while (siding with Saif and Isa to call me “yucky” — and, later, when the other boys were not there, he outright denied that he had ever done such a thing) I asked his parents if I could go with them to the charity dessert stall. I really wanted to see everyone. Whomever I could see, of the clan, the tribe.

So, post-Ifthar, we all went there. My uncle (Ranga Mama), my aunt, and my aunt’s sister. And Dawud, and Faldi (what he calls me, since he can’t pronounce ‘Fuldi’  — a cute honorific title that my cousin Maryam had given me, a long time ago. It means ‘flower sister’, and now all my little cousins call me it).

I had been a little tired and overfed, but it was quite nice nonetheless, Alhamdulillah. It was nice to see Jannah Khala (Suto Mami’s sister) after so long. “All of Dawud’s favourite people are here now!” Suto Mami remarked (and this made my day).

When we got there: my aunts whom I had not seen for ages greeted me so very lovingly. Shibu Khala, Jeba Khala, Babli Khala, Koli Khala. And the ‘young adults’: Moosa, Maryam, Ibby (Ibrahim), Jammy (Jamilah), Lia, Kayaan. And the kids: Ayat, Shayan, Jinaan, Hana, Milly (Amelia), Dalia and Daneen. All helping out on the stall.

The last time I had seen everyone had been at a family wedding, (Sunia Khala’s) two years ago. Two years ago. The kids have all grown up and changed – developed – so much. The babies of back then are no longer babies. But, in such an interesting way, each of their essences remain, quite beautifully, the same. Their cheeky and insanely adorable smiles, and/or their quiet, contemplative, headstrong natures. Ibby and Moosa are pretty much exactly the same as one another, as I discovered yesterday: they kept bursting out into laughter for no good reason, exchanging side-spuds, finding it hilarious that Ibby (who is half-Arab) is ‘more Bengali’ than I am (because ‘Bengali banter’ and I would appear to simply not go very well with each other).

These are members of my ‘Arhaam’: the daughters’ daughters, and also their daughters, of my great-grandmother (who passed away in 2016, I think it had been) Bibi Noor. She had lived with her son – and his seven daughters – in a big house in Shadwell. Quite a nucleic home, it had been, frequented by various family members, so much of the time. The kids, all upstairs. The adults, all downstairs. The classic Nutella sandwiches as snacks. Big vats of rice and curry made for everyone: the hustle and bustle. Mayhem and fun. All these relatives of mine had been such a welcome part of my childhood, Alhamdulillah: something that I, the only child from the very quiet household, very much needed, actually.

I feel close to these people in a special way. In a, ‘Allah-has-decreed-for-you-and-I-to-be-of-this-same-clan’ way. And, yet, I have felt a little far away, too. Like back when school had been my foremost priority. GCSEs had been all-consuming, for me, but then I got to see everybody over the summer, what with Sweetie’s wedding. All the preparations that had come along with it; all the gatherings. The time of my life that had (on an academic/professional-structural-level) been about A-levels, for me, had been, overall, quite an alienating experience. Extraordinarily stressful: personal struggles with academic perfectionism, may-haps. The pressure I had put on myself to ‘do’ so much. How many family gatherings I had missed, for the sake of exams. Exhaustion. And other familial, and (otherwise) personal things.

I had been conditioned, and yes I had also conditioned myself, to view exams and ‘work’ as being, perhaps, the foremost parts of life. As a result, maybe, things frayed, and things were hard. But, over time, my way of viewing things developed.

Allah comes first, and what He has commanded for me, and what He has told me is good for me. Family: my Qurbaa, including friends. Or, soul sisters (and one Mortal Enemy, for good measure). And anything else I do is only good insomuch as it is good for my Deen, and for them, and for me. Any other recipe for ‘success’ and contentment, in this life, is, to me, woefully illusive.

So, post-A-level-alienation, and amid a lockdown-warranting pandemic (which has truly forced and facilitated, Alhamdulillah, my ‘looking inwards’  — including, at the portions of Dunya which are actually mine. Home and such) I find myself here. For Suhoor, last night (this morning) I had two marshmallow-and-strawberry skewers (dipped in chocolate) from the dessert stall: one, I had paid for. And one, Koli Khala had insisted on my taking for free.

ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَالَمِينَ.

I spent yesterday evening shivering awkwardly, in the cold. Talking to Dawud, and then to (three-year-old) Dalia. Dalia is, Masha Allah Allahummabārik, one of the cutest kids I have ever come across. We had a long conversation together, about how her red drink is making her tongue all red. And how her favourite colour is green. “Green?!”

She has this way of nodding her head once and, with excitement, saying, “Yeaah!” as if you are meant to already know these things.

Some very funny things took place, yesterday, also. Me mistaking a Niqabi helper at the stall for one of my cousins.

“Is that Jammy?!”

“No”

Getting a chocolate skewer for Milly. Her older sister asked her if she even knows who I am. “No,” she said, turning around to look at me again, with a smile. “But thank you!”

Shayan, quiet and reflective. Worrying over how well his side of the stall was doing. Carries around him an air that is quite… noble-seeming, for his age. And seems to really consider what he is about to say, before he says it. Ayat and Jinaan, the clever girls (Masha Allah). The former: decisive, strong-willed. The latter: gentler, more easygoing.

Shibu Khala going for a little cruise, in her Jilbāb, (outside the mosque, at midnight). Oh, and on a mobility scooter, no less, which had been donated to the charity, for auction. Everybody around her almost shrieking with laughter. The strangest thought: Shibu Khala’s siblings refer to her as their ‘Fuldi’. She is currently in her mid-thirties. What am I going to be like (Insha Allah) as my cousin-siblings’ Fuldi, in my mid-thirties?!

Moosa picking Kayaan up to make a human flag out of him, on a lamppost. Koli Khala taking Dawud for a drive around the block, in her BMW [he loves cars so much. That one cruise might just make him love her forever].

Everybody has some sort of role, here. What’s mine? In big social settings like these, I do tend to be relatively quieter. I prefer my one-on-one conversations; it feels more comfortable for me to be a bit of a wallflower in larger settings. And, still, I belong. Even with my fears about myself (am I being too awkward? Too strange?) I should be thoroughly, thoroughly grateful that these people are of me, and I, too, am of them. I look so forward to future family events and such. Carving out my own role, more, in these things: I am no longer only an extension of my parents. But I have things from him, and things from her. I have things of them, too. And I bring something to them (I hope, at least,) also.

I have pretty much always sought to better understand myself, I suppose. But the truth, as I have found it, is that we are not ‘independent’ beings. We require our Qurbaa around us, always, as people to love, and be loved by; as mirrors to tell us whom we are, and whom we are trying to be, and all the rest of it.

I love the ways through which Allah teaches us things, and how things happen. Even if things are difficult – maybe even extremely so, for some times at a time: the darknesses are known only to push the light into greater relief.

On our way back home from the dessert stand yesterday (or, was it on the way there? My short-term memory tends to be terrible) my uncle shared with me some lines of poetry he had come up with, a while ago:

“Too fine

Are the perfect lines

Of the human mind

To comprehend the rugged canvases

Of all these plans Divine”

[I forgot what the last parts had actually been, so I invented a new final line]

I had found out about this little event (which basically turned into a big – and, yet, little, when compared to the vastness, Masha Allah, of our tribe – family reunion) because: I work in Whitechapel. I tend to go to the local Tesco to get things, here and there. A few weeks ago, I went there and bumped into Jeba Khala. I had not seen her in… maybe two years. She lives miles away, but, as it had turned out, she had acquired a job at the local Human Aid office (alongside her two other ones: Hijāmah – cupping – and doing research at a lab, Allahummabārik). We exchanged numbers. I saw the details re the stall, on her WhatsApp status. Found out Moosa was going. Found out Ranga Mama, Suto Mami and Dawud were going, too. Alhamdulillah.

Too fine are the lines of my mind, Subhan Allah. These beautiful things are not in my hands. Nothing, and nobody, is ‘perfect’, here, although certain presentations of ‘super-normal’ realities may delude us into thinking so. But those things are only distractions.

I wonder about those things that are, [at present,] beyond my comprehension. I know that they are there, but I do not, [at present,] know them. Mad.

I so wonder about the capacities to which I will get to know all these gorgeous family members; how my friendships will develop over time, too. Whether or not I get married, in this lifetime. Whom I marry. What our future homes will look like. How this family, and the individual families it is comprised of, will grow larger, grow smaller over time. New additions to love: through marriages, through births. And, beloved members to know we have loved: to mourn over, and also to count on our eventual reunions with, Insha Allah.

I know that, if I Believe, then I believe in the beauty – sometimes aching, sometimes joy-infused – of all of these things. Past, and present, and (the present moments that will make up the) future.

And Perfectly, though not-always-so-neatly-comprehensibly, are Drawn all of these lines. What is ours is ours. May we meet them so very beautifully, each and every time. And may we know how to love them most truly, and most ardently.

Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Tradition and ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Pictured: Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

‘Appropriation’. The term refers to taking something for one’s own use, usually without first obtaining permission from whomever the thing in question ‘belongs’ to.

Recently, on Twitter, the conversation surrounding the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ would appear to have been re-ignited: this time, from certain (online-presented) corners of the Muslim world. White reverts* being accused of the crime, as a result of, for example, wearing thobes to the masjid.

            These are just my own personal views on the subject, but frankly I think that such accusations are absurd. I find it especially uncomfortable – ridiculous – that some individuals are childish enough to treat individual white people as though they are guilty for some of their ancestors’, perhaps, misdeeds.

Firstly, in Islam, we are reminded (through the words of the Qur’an) that those who have lived and passed on have lived and passed on: the people who are alive today “will not be asked about what they used to do.”

“That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.” [Qur’an, (2:141)]

Accusing somebody of ‘fetishising’ a ‘culture’, because they have donned a scarf or a dress or a coat or something that tends to be associated with that ‘culture’ is quite unfair, and it would appear to be rooted in a mentality that is quite… ahistorical. This attempted ‘reification’ of culture; this (quite modern) idea that ‘nations’ and ‘cultures’ are these solid, solidly consistent, entities. That these food items, artistic tendencies, clothing styles ‘belong’ to these cultures; those ones ‘belong’ to those.

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” [Qur’an, (49:13)]

There is a clear difference between mocking what is associated with a group of people, and with appreciating something that may be common among them. ‘Blackface’ belongs to the former category. A white revert wearing a Moroccan-style thobe… is, most likely, of the latter.

The Muslim idea is that every human being in existence had been born of, by Allah’s decree, a single male, and a single female: Adam and Eve. Every single group of people – every nation, every tribe – had eventuated as a result of this primal partnership. We were made into various “nations and tribes”, in order to recognise one another; in order to learn from one another; in order to interact and converse with one another.

In conversations between people, we become inspired by what others do. We learn from them. We often proceed to (sometimes subconsciously) imitate what we like, of them. Some of the things they may say; some of the ‘life hacks’ that they may swear by; some elements of their clothing styles.

And this phenomenon of conversation and exchange is precisely what takes place on the macro level, also. Like the way that ‘Karak chai’ – a cardamom tea beverage that is extremely popular across the Arab world – had come about as a result of South Asian expats drinking their masala chai in the Khaleeji nations. ‘Vimto’, also, a drink commonly associated with ‘Pakistani culture’, apparently (as I learned this week) had actually originated in Manchester, England. What we, here in the West, refer to as night robes (or, as ‘housecoats’) had actually been inspired by robes that are commonly worn in ‘East Asian cultures’. Things – and new styles, developed ways of doing things – come about as a result of being inspired by other things; through people’s, and nations’, and tribes’, interactions with one another.

The vast collection of stories that make up human history. Some of these subtle tales find themselves woven into our languages. Another random example: the word ‘camiseta’ in Spanish, which means ‘shirt’. ‘Shirt’ in Arabic is ‘قميص’ (‘qamees’). In Urdu, one of the words for ‘shirt’ is ‘kameez’. And then, in Bengali, we also say ‘kameez’. Fascinatingly, the word ‘camisia’ is ‘shirt’ in Late Latin. Awesome sauce. The links between parts of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Nations and tribes, getting to know one another: through trade, through friendships, through marriage, (through bloody wars). Taking on the things they have liked, of one another.

Tea, also. Tea ‘is’ Indian, and it is Chinese. British, and Arab. ‘Tea’ is ‘té’ en español, ‘te’ in Danish, and ‘tee’ in Afrikaans. ‘Chai’ in Hindi; ‘shai’ in Arabic; ‘cha’ (or ‘sa’) in Bangla; ‘tsaa’ in Tagalog. The result of different nations and tribes, coming to know [parts of] one another. Sharing tea; sharing words, and more.

Am I ‘appropriating’ – taking something that is not mine, and without permission from whomever it ‘belongs’ to, if, say, I wear the clothes I had bought while on holiday in Turkey? Am I ‘appropriating’ if I enjoy some mint tea in a ‘Moroccan-style’ cup? What if I had a bag with some Japanese floral artwork on it? If no, then would the rules have to somehow be different for me, if, say, I were white?

Is ‘cultural appropriation’ only a thing of clothes? Or is it meant to extend to other things – like food, recreational activities and art – also?

Human personalities are certainly not solid, reified entities that are set in stone. As time goes on, we are ever-changing, ever-learning and -developing. The same thing is true for what humans are on larger scales: nations, tribes, societies, ‘cultures’.

Identities are living, breathing things, almost. [‘Culture’ is defined as ‘the complete way of life of a particular group of people’, and so therefore:] Our ‘cultures’: micro (e.g. the nuclear families that we belong to) and macro (e.g. ‘Desi culture’). We are theirs, and they are ours, and none of it is set in stone! We, past and present (and ‘future’) are constantly in active conversation with, affecting, one another.

I know that I, for instance, as a second-generation Bengali (Sylheti) immigrant, here in East London do not speak, nor think, nor even eat, the same (things) as my grandmother does. So what is ‘Bengali culture’, then? Well, it is my lived – living – experience, and it is also her own; it is millions of others’, too. It is the age-old traditions that we accept and follow, and it is also the things we change, and/or introduce, as a result of our interactions, our conversations, with various other people(s).

What is important, for us, is our conscious adherence to Objective Morality. Everything else is not really set in stone. There is so much room for discovery, and for creativity, and for individuality; for learning, inspiration, and development. [Islam is not ‘the Arab man’s religion’. You can keep whatever is yours, granted it fits into Islam’s moral frameworks, and be 100% Muslim. If you are a revert, you can keep your name, also!]

Some white British Muslims, perhaps, like to wear thobes sometimes, and classic tweed jackets at other times. Some Bengalis love the taste of ‘Korean-style’ chicken; find it so fascinating that some Bengalis have the (generally-associated-with-Portuguese-people) surname ‘Pereira’, as a result of certain historical interactions between the two places, and so on.

Tres cool, tres cool indeed. And instead of closing our eyes to these truths, and defensively seeking to present our identities as being solid, untouchable entities that somehow ‘belong’ to us and only us (probably out of insecurity, fear of losing them, somehow), perhaps we ought to act more in line with our belief that… everything in existence is from Allah. Some things we do, we have learnt from what our ancestors have done, perhaps for centuries. And some things we do are newer.

(So let the man wear his jubbah and Converses to the masjid in peace!)

“This story has not happened before. […]

Let the future begin.

Anne Carson

*We tend to use the term ‘revert’ to describe people who have come to Islam from other faiths. This is because we believe that every human being is born upon Fitrah – the innate disposition – naturally, as a Pure Monotheist.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Belonging

“I’m not entirely sure if I feel like I ‘belong’,” she wrote. “And I’m not sure if I really… ever have.”

And maybe there is value in this. To ‘belong’, in the most common sense of the word, perhaps, might mean: to take for granted. One’s given, established, place[s] in the world. Easy acceptance: when people know to, and are easily able to, hold a space for you. “These are my people. This is my place.

And I (effortlessly) belong, here: there is no doubt about it.”

Does ‘belonging’ necessarily imply an effortless ‘conformity’, a seamless, frictionless ‘fitting in’? Or… is it more about that sense of… comfort of being — that sort that makes it easier to ‘be (more fully) oneself’, and to organically bloom?

To ‘belong’, maybe, feels like having a space held for you. And you are able to fill it as though you were made to do so. Niches, maybe, in family units; clubs and such, at school. Whom are you with, when you feel more ‘real’ and realistically appreciated; like you ‘belong’?

It is about some things being the same, between you, and another person (or another place). And it is about a process of carving out: about some things being different, challenging, bringing something to the whole experience, which feels more than solely comfort. At once, deep comfort and challenge; Home and Adventure. To be deeply affected by certain people, and places.

Like it was – or they were – made for you, and you were made for it (or, them). You bring something to them; they bring things, also, to you: there is much to learn, and, perhaps even without our conscious forethought, there is much to teach, also.

Always, always, always: we are affecting, and we are being affected.

I suppose I ought not to confuse this sense of ‘belonging’ that I seem to have deemed to be desirable, with only a sort of feet-up, cushions-everywhere feeling of comfort (and stagnation). Like: yes, this is your space, your place. You are so thoroughly ‘Enough’, for it, and More. It is perfectly yours, and you fit into your surroundings ‘perfectly’.

Such a sense of comfort does sound nice. But is it not better to also maybe ‘stick out’ a little, so that we can seek to bring something to the table? A couple of flowers in a rose-tinged vase; a handful of nice napkins, emerald green; a somewhat hodgepodge-y mixture of quaint-looking cutlery. You belong to each and every place, in this world, which you inhabit. And you bring things, whether you know it or not, to each person, and to each place, you come to meet. Why? Merely because you are there, as you are. Masha Allah. Which literally means: as God has willed.

The family you have belonged to: mum’s side, and dad’s. You belong within both: Masha Allah. Your neighbourhood. You belong: Masha Allah. The schools you have attended; where you have worked, and/or where you will work. A hundred percent: sin duda, you belong. Because Masha Allah!

‘Belonging’ is not necessarily about sharing the exact same attitudes, inclinations, preferences and such as your surroundings. Without a doubt, Allah has created you as an individual (who is part of greater things), complete with your countless particularities. Maybe you don’t quite see them all of the time. But, you know:

The way you sit, by yourself, in the same spot, over and over again, with the cat on your lap, to play your games and watch YouTube videos about them (somehow at the same time) and scream at me to “StoooOOooP” if I dare even come within a metre of your space [Saif]. The way you encourage me so very much with my endeavours to ‘eat healthily’, the lovingly over-the-top words of positivity and affirmation; the beams and laughter with which you greet me, no matter what [Nanu]. I have always loved that I look forward to our walks together like nothing else: they are always so subtly life-changing, so filled with something quite (quietly) untouchably beautiful; so coloured with that unmatchable attitude of mature-immaturity,

Belonging, complete with all of its silently significant changes, over time, and with its wonderful continuities [Tammay]. I love that I feel like I can call you any time, or pen you a letter, about whatever fragment of idiocy I feel the urge to discuss with you this time [Miss Twin]. I love it so much when – and that – you have things to tell, to share, with me, specifically. Out of everyone else in the world, Allah has chosen for us, specifically, to belong, in these particular ways, to one another! As my brother; as my beloved friend; as my cousins; students; aunts and uncles; grandma. And I, as your sister/friend/cousin/teacher/niece/granddaughter, also. [Extraordinarily cool beans].

To quote the Moana song:

I know,

Every-body on this island

Has a – role, on this island:

Everything is by design.

[and if you didn’t sing that in your head, while reading, then I really do not know for you]

‘Belonging’ can sometimes feel like a difficult thing to have/feel. That unique, rare (augmented-in-value-by-its-rarity) acceptance – love – for exactly, and entirely, whom you are, and as you are: (more than) the sum of all your parts. How you (here, specifically, I mean I) sometimes foolishly trip over inanimate objects… and then reflexively proceed to apologise to them. Your terribly awkward social experiences (yikes!) but… they tend to end up making for good stories (once the embarrassment subsides, at least,) no?

We: past, present, and whom we are, individually and together, (Insha Allah) always growing into. Maybe you… are known to become anxious, sometimes, and go on to ‘people-please’. Maybe you always need for someone to interact with the shopkeeper for you. Maybe your mood sometimes dips markedly, perhaps, from sunny skies, to the deepest of greys. Maybe you blurt out the wrong thing, sometimes, at the wrong times. You tend to reflexively cover your mouth, whenever you laugh; have a phobia (complete with its own interesting backstory) of red meat. Maybe, you are known to go completely quiet, and for lengthy periods, sometimes. Are struggling, perhaps, with being a responsible big brother. Who knows (but Allah, and you yourself, and the people whom you trust the most)? There are some things – parts of ourselves – which we are sometimes a little afraid to share. But know that it has been Divinely Intentional: the exact way that Allah has fashioned your being, and the very way in which others’ (people and places, that is) beings are meant to be, with and beside yours. From the precise colours of your eyes to whether you prefer the summery season, or her opposite; your favourite Meal Deal combinations from Tesco; your unique passions: the things that, quite evidently, seem to set your very mind on fire. The inside jokes you share with one another, and how much can change, quite evidently, in all but a year. And every single quiet, mundanely important thing in-between.

Do you sometimes wonder if you would, perhaps, ‘belong’ better, someplace, sometime else?

Well, what utter Hogwash! [It is Hagrid who says that, right?] Having, perhaps, practical clones of ourselves around us might assist us, somehow, on the feeling-completely-and-effortlessly-affirmed front. But we require challenge, don’t we, (to make things exciting, and) in order to learn things, and to grow. There are these entireties of we to get to know, and develop — in contrast, and in interaction and conversation with every single thing, person, and place, which and whom has been Divinely ordained both for us to (in a particular capacity) belong to, and for them to belong to us, also. These very realities are what is ours: past, present, and future; there is nothing ‘better’, out there, for us: this, and these, are what have been Chosen.

I am I, and they are they, and we are in conversation with each another, affecting one another. And these places and these people: they come to form, whether in memory or in present presence, inextricable parts of our beings.

And with every single beat that our hearts make, beautifully and with Divine Plan in mind, whomever we may be, and wherever/whenever we may be, upon these Dunya-based journeys of ours:

We belong, we belong, we belong.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Acceptance / Escape

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Source: qurano.com

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.

Etc.

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?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Love is

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 my mother, 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, tremendously irritating. 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?

Alhamdulillah.

Bismillah.

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,

Alhamdulillah. 

 


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Intelligence, Sensitivity, Pain, and Meaning

TW: a bit-very dark, in places

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’!

Intelligence and (emotional, intellectual, and maybe even physical etc.) sensitivity go hand in hand, without a doubt. The true reason as to why I am writing this particular article is because my uncle – with whom I love to discuss random things, including ‘philosophical’ and psychological ones – sent me the strange, straightforward, and overall quite chilling suicide note, which had been left by one Farhan Towhid, a young man who had, premeditatively and with the aid of his brother, murdered his family, and then himself.

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?”

— Qur’an, (3:185)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life: Project[s], and Adventure[s]. With Purpose and with Passion, and a focus on what is Khayr.

[Probably my lengthiest blog-article-title to date…]

Bismillah.

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!

“And seek help through Sabr and Salāh”

Qur’an, (2:153)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Struggle / Essence

All is not lost, and yet:

all is not yet found.

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.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.