Quiet

Bismillāhir Rahmānir Raheem.

Today, after the final bell rang — after those seas of white-headscarfed, black-coated students had dispersed through the door to the stairs – on one side, at the back of the hall — all that had been left had been the wooden floors, the motivational displays plastered across the walls. The three large Victorian sash windows, lined up: a row. A single Qur’an on each sill. Stillness. And a good amount of sunlight — not too much, and just enough — streaming right through.

02:55 PM is home-time (for now, during Ramadān, at least). Freneticism, the joys of final release. Magnetically joining each of their own friend groups. Ridiculous fun, under heavy bags, and at least a hundred different conversations going on at once. Buzzing, humming. And then, roughly 03:03… stillness.

Quiet. I tend to do it unintentionally, but I prefer to leave my last classroom of the day once the noise dies down, and there is no one left. Nobody to bump into; no groups to sidle through. A penchant for silence. And for all that I can learn, through its noble presence.

Today, as I left the D.T. classroom on the middle floor, I met that sacred silence once again. And all had been still, save for… two students standing at the third window. One of them: a gentle and protective arm locked around the other. The other: she had been crying, her eyes red, her face all puffy.

I don’t know their names: I only teach Year Sevens and Eights at this school, and these girls are in Year Nine, I think. But the comforting friend — she taught me much about friendship, today. And about the value of quiet: something I have found myself thinking about quite a lot, lately.

I asked the girl who had been crying if she wanted to talk about it, or if she just wanted to sit in a classroom for a while, before rejoining the masses of people exiting the school. She decided to go to a classroom. The comforting friend, so gently and determinedly, asked me if she could sit with her friend.

They sat together, at the back of the classroom. One friend, crying helplessly, but silently: tears just rolling from her eyes, one by one. The other friend did not ask her “what’s wrong”. Did not ask for an explanation; offering ‘solutions’ seemed such a non-consideration for her, for now. The comforting friend simply sat there, in stillness, a gentle and concerned look across her face, and facing her friend completely, being there, (subtly,) entirely. And here is the part that caused my heart to melt: as the upset girl’s tears fell, and as she sniffled and tried to collect herself, the other friend, part of her hand concealed beneath the sleeve of her black puffer jacket, softly wiped each tear away, as they did. One, by one, by one. Wordlessly. Until her friend felt ready to leave.

She had sat there, with her friend, without question. No rush for answers; no rush to go home. Just a gentleness, and an unwavering presence. And I think this is what love reminds me of: those three Victorian sash windows, and the golden light streaming in. Quietly – seemingly just blending in with all other things – and powerfully. Strongly, and subtly. The best things, I think, reveal themselves in the Quiet. Silent, and unassuming, profundities.

Sometimes, when we speak, it is more like noise. And other times, it is more like melody, like song. Muhammad (SAW) had advised us to “Speak a good word. Or remain

Silent”. [Sahih Hadith]

Good words are beautiful, and they are virtuous. And silence can also be a thing of beauty, and of virtue. Sometimes, speech is not really needed. Sometimes, the grounding weight of silence is what holds our words together. And love is a thing of presence.

I think, also, when we find ourselves at the mercy of more negative emotions: resentment, bitterness, anger. It is probably better to be still. And silent. And to know: the ‘upper hand’ is not everything. And rage can drive us to say the worst of things to another person: carving, in them, wounds that may never heal. Silence is probably the better option. If they are right, then they are right. If they are wrong, then although they may have injured you a little, with incendiary insults and exaggerated blame: Allah will sew your heart right back together, Insha Allah, and you will have lost nothing. The other person may have to deal with the consequences of their actions for a lifetime, and then for an eternity.

In silence, there is so much power. There is space enough, to reason, and to reflect. And to decide on one’s options, and on what is more valuable.

And what about Maryam (AS)’s silence, when she had been accused of that dire crime, and when Allah directed her towards merely pointing at her son – baby Isa (AS) – and the justice that her Sabr and her silence had surely earned her, in the end? What about Ibrahim (AS), when his own father had sent him into a blazing fire? He showed no rage; no indignation. Uttered words of peace, to his father, and then Allah made the fire “bardun wa saleem”: cool, and tranquil, for him.

Our words hold so much weight: for better, or for worse. And, what is there to lose, in not speaking, sometimes? An explanation, so as to appease our egocentric curiosities? A moment or two, of self-contented pride, the upper hand?

With our words, and with all of these necessary spaces in between them: we can beautify, or we can ruin. On an undeniable day on which there will be no shade but His: these words, and these silences, will either stand for us, or against us. Like a series of mountainous and destructive flames. Or, like a beautiful friend, with her arm locked around our shoulders: a sign of Divine love. And the rest of the world, even when it burns with the stuff of intense intolerance and hatred, falls bardun wa saleem.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Lord of the Flies’ and Life

Discuss a book from the Western tradition that has had particular significance for you. What makes this book great in your view? What impact has this book had on how you think?

‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding is a novel that holds particular significance for me. A beloved friend of mine had gifted me a copy of the book two years ago, and this academic year, I had been asked to teach it to one of my classes, during my first half-term as a teacher at an Islamic secondary school.

            In my view, what makes this book great is its inherently discursive nature. It allows the reader to explore a handful of fascinating philosophical dichotomies – Good Vs. Evil, Nobleness Vs. Savagery, Appearances Vs. Reality, and more – in addition to other considerations surrounding human nature, social organisation, and, from a Muslim reading of the novel: Dunya-based realities.

            ‘LOTF’ is a fundamentally allegorical text (whose contents have come to serve as a good metaphorical reminder, for me, regarding the truth of this world) in which a group of schoolboys who find themselves stranded on a ‘paradisiacal’ island must now decide on how to live; what to do: they must consider survival-based needs, as well as those pertaining to social organisation and cooperation. And while, for instance, frolicking and light-hearted entertainment would appear to be the foremost consideration for certain characters (namely, for Ralph, at the start at least), shelter, survival, and being in a good position to be rescued would appear to be the main consideration for others (in particular, for Piggy, the character whose defining trait is clearly made to be intelligence). Rather tellingly, Piggy’s “specs” (symbolic, perhaps, of his unique capacity for Baseera – insight) are what is used in order to ignite fire, in the story.

            The motif of fire is of central importance in this text: it is closely associated with goodness – in terms of community, cohesion, hope, and direction (in opposition to chaos, disunity, alienation and violence) and, quite literally, with warmth and illumination, and with survival — the ultimate goal of being rescued. In the Qur’an, also, Allah (SWT) analogises Īmān with a fire that must be kindled and maintained; if we do not actively tend to and nurture it, we may be left in darkness: “deaf, dumb, and blind,” and with severely diminished hope of ultimately being saved.

As Ralph comes to realise: “The fire’s the most important thing […] Without the fire we can’t be rescued. I’d like to put on war-paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning […] So we must stay by the fire.”

            Dunya, in contrast to Jannah, is, undoubtedly, a difficult place. It is, essentially, less of a paradisiacal island, and more of an arena – an abode of continual tests and tribulations. Here, we have been imbued with great Purpose. To worship our Lord; to be as excellent as we can bring ourselves, by His grace, to be; to make good – and even excellent – choices with the various forms of wealth that we have been given (beginning with that of Time). We ought to do all we can to prevent the fire’s extinction; to keep it burning, in awe, fear, and gratitude before our Creator.

            In ‘LOTF’, a number of thoroughly interesting ideas surrounding human nature are interrogated, for example: how hierarchies – legitimate structures of authority – and rule systems are necessary in order to ensure stability – to prevent devolution into anomie and immorality; how the human being is known to don and hide behind masks, which liberate us from “shame and self-consciousness” – how we thus come to look “no longer at [ourselves]”, but at “awesome stranger[s]”; the dangers of attempting to democratise truth, as well as those of coming to favour fleeting sensory pleasures – self-serving thrills – over seeking out, and living in alignment with, Goodness.

“And what is the life of the Dunya, except the enjoyment of vanity?” [Qur’an, (3:185)]

In the novel, when Beelzebub – the titular ‘Lord of the Flies’ – attempts to divert Simon away from his tendencies towards contemplation and more intentional behaviour, and towards what Beelzebub euphemistically refers to as “fun”, he (Beelzebub – who is known in the Islamic tradition as ‘Iblīs’) exclaims:

“We are going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island!”

Thus, to the innocent young characters, gradually, significant immoralities are made fair-seeming. Characters who initially (seemingly ‘innocently’) attack tree trunks become increasingly desensitised to the moral weights of senseless and violent acts, and amass enough bloodlust with which to kill a pig. Simon and Piggy are also later murdered, in cold blood:

Even our ‘small’-seeming misdeeds can be – or become – significant.   

I also thoroughly enjoyed thinking about – and discussing, with my students – the theme of leadership in the novel. In the novel, and in the Islamic tradition, the concept of a good leader is presented as one who exercises deep care for each of their constituents, including those of perceived lesser social status: the “littluns”. They instate the rules – and embody the ethos of what they represent – and also follow them; they are strong and confident, and also exercise gentleness, humility and patience. In matters of leadership, (to follow Muhammad (SAW)’s example) the emphasis ought to be on serving God and on serving the people, in lieu of our own egos. Stature is of importance, and so too, critically, is intelligence – but not when it is bereft of spiritual morality.

            Like unwitting schoolboys on an island, we are human beings in Dunya. We are here for a while, and we have these fundamental yearnings to go Home. Here, we have a world that is decorated with vegetation, and with seas; rock formations, and stars. We have been given the gifts of Time, and of our intellects (which, if we use them properly, form the key distinguishing feature between true nobleness, and true savagery) as well as our individual strengths and weaknesses: personalised blessings, and tests. Here, perhaps, our goal ought to be to keep the fire – of Baseera, rationality and morality – alive: aflame.

[To quote Ralph once more,]

After all we aren’t savages really and being rescued isn’t a game”.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Projections

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem

Dear Reader,

‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.

In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.

‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?

Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.

[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]

Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.  

Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.

Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]

One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.

Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?

May-haps, may-haps.

How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!

I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?

What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!

Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.

Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.

Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.   

And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.

‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.

[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]

‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.

Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar

Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.

Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.

So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.

And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.

Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.

And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.

In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.  

[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Appearances Versus Reality

Today, my friend Tasnim came all the way to my area, and we went on a nice walk, which had been coupled with a conversation that, Alhamdulillah, brought me such comfort; gave me an insightful, wise, alternative perspective on things. We spoke about our lives, and about our thoughts, and about our ideas pertaining to ourselves, and to other people and such.

            A key theme in today’s conversation would appear to have been that of ‘irony’: as a teacher of ours had taught us a couple of years ago, this term, in Literature at least, refers to “the contrast between appearances and reality” [Sidgwick]. A crucial theme in English Literature, because it is a crucial theme in almost everything, when it comes to this human, Dunya-based, existence.

            Irony: between what appears to be, and what actually is. When one character – person – is convinced of something, for example. And life is a collection of various journeys that tend towards the actual truths of things. The images, the stuff of outsides, and of projections and such. Holographs; assumptions; mirages. The temptation of the harmless-seeming apple whose poisons seem impossible, from here. And… when we get closer to their cores.

My little cousin Dawud, for instance, is utterly convinced that the moon glows white because it has batteries in it. I, on the other hand, sort of arrogantly believe that it does so because it is reflecting some of the sun’s light. And in reality, I am only a grown-up (somewhat-knowing, but mostly not-) child. I concede; I accept my weaknesses and fallibilities. I guess I don’t really know much at all.

But, yes, I look for what is true. I want to try to part with all of my currently-held convictions: all save for One. There is, after all, constantly: all these things that we think we know. Maybe they are not true; maybe they never were. Or, maybe they were true once, but are no longer so. You know: how we can be proven wrong about these exact things, over and over and over again. To awe-inspiring (positively surprising) ends, sometimes, or to ‘disappointing’ ones, (on our limited-and-human level, at least) other times.

But I make Du’a for whatever is best for me, which may not seem always quite so obvious here in the ‘now’. I see only a pixel of the (what seems to me, to be a) puzzle, while only Allah has power over the entirety of the picture. And my heart, I suppose, always feels far more at ease when I fall for what is real, and, in a connected manner, focus on what is True.

So maybe, like, say, a headstrong baby being guided away from eating those poisonous household things that seem, to them, most ‘exciting and colourful’: maybe I simply, at present at least, do not know much at all.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.