Day Five

What I have learnt.

Today, I woke up feeling a little sick – I had accidentally slept with the window open, wore four layers of clothes to sort of say sorry to myself – and went to a protest. My second protest ever, and, most probably, also my last [protests are not really ideal for women. At least, not the main bodies of them: you end up getting shoved about quite a bit, and you sink into crowds of people]. I did not know that I would be going to this protest, today. It had been for the Palestinian cause.

My aunt (dad’s cousin) – who is also my friend, and whom we now just tell people is my ‘cousin’ – lives in Kent. She goes to uni in London. Bangla Soc President of SOAS and that. She is a very cool, ‘political’ person. She came all the way here for this protest, and invited me to go with… because she didn’t have anybody else to go with. Sigh. Nice to know that I had been her first choice(!)

I am glad I went today. The Palestinian issue is one that I had grown up knowing about: another aunt of mine had taught me much about it, when I was young. A few years ago, my friend Tamanna and I had also attended ‘PalExpo’ in Westminster, where we learned more about it. There, a white British woman sporting a kefiyyeh told us that we must visit Palestine someday: to see it, and what is happening there, for ourselves. She said that it will change our lives.

Today, I woke up, got ready in about twenty minutes, and opened up an Amazon package to find that my new bike lock had arrived. Sometimes… you’ve gotta buy Eid gifts for yourself, also… No other human being knows exactly what you need, but you.

I decided to cycle to the first train station: it took me about five minutes, as opposed to about twenty or more, by bus. I discovered that whoever had serviced my bike [my dad had taken it to get it serviced somewhere, after yet another dress of mine had become caught in the chains, yet again] had left a container of Chinese food in its basket [???] I used to be quite self-conscious about riding my bike while wearing hijāb. People – like aunties – stare, sometimes. But, hmmm: courage isn’t the absence of fear, and all. It’s the commitment to things that we deem to be more important, more valuable, greater. I locked her onto a bike stand outside the DLR station. Took me a minute or so to figure out how this new lock works. Such a sleek and clever design.

Onto the DLR; went to the next station. I made it there early… which is a big thing for me. It’s something that I had to work on, but… I’ve been known to have a little bit of a, in Farhana’s words, “punctuality deficiency”. But today I was early and baby girl was late, yay. ‘Tis called… character development.

Something that I also need to work on: I have a habit of not having a charged phone with me. I tend to leave my phone on between 1-and-3-%. Accidentally. I did charge my phone this morning, but somehow…

My dad has tried, with portable chargers, and with changing my phone battery. But… to no avail. Today, I made sure to check where Farhana and I were meeting, and to tell her when I was there, and then… phone death. Luckily, the man at the information booth kindly offered to charge my phone for me.

Farhana arrived: she had been wearing a mint green jumper, and a mint green cap-visor thing. It had a cannabis icon on it, but she insisted that that is not what it was: that it was just some brand’s logo.

We sat on the train; everywhere, we saw people going towards the protest. On the train, a woman who had also been going there informed us that Marble Arch station was closed today. We got off at a different station, then walked for around fifteen minutes. When we arrived at the scene of the demonstration, we found the atmosphere to have been electric:

Smoke bombs, fireworks, duff drums. Chants of “Free free! Palestine!”

“One, two, three, four!

Occupation no more!

Five, six, seven, eight!

Israel is a terror state!

I’d never seen myself as a properly ‘protesty’ person. [I wonder about the effectiveness of marches like this one. I guess they’re meant to be – and are – empowering, inspiring. People leave feeling motivated about the cause, and more educated]. Today, I shouted louder than I have ever heard myself shout before, I think.

I love, love, love, love, to the power of infinity, being Muslim [can you tell?] Of course, the majority of protesters today had been Muslim. With some dottings of non-Muslim socialists, Irish people, etc.

Some people shouted, “Takbeer!”

There were powerful responses of “Allahu Akbar!”

And I can’t lie: at first, I was wary of saying it. Which is pathetic of me. The association of the declaration of Allah being the Greatest – the truest thing that one could possibly say – with ‘terror’.

‘Terror’ and ‘terrorism’. And how words shape meaning; how the language we choose to use shapes realities. ‘Terrorism’ refers to violence used towards political ends. ‘Political’: an adjective that means ‘to do with power relations’.

Resistance is not terrorism. Colonialism is terrorism. And “Allahu Akbar” is not a ‘terrorist’ chant: it’s a Muslim one.

Massacres of babies as they sleep in their cots is not mere ‘conflict’. ‘Conflict’ implies a relative equalness of power. Terms such as those to describe this are blind to all the happenings that have preceded this one.

And some people are so ready, so quick, to turn a blind eye to the plight of Palestinians because they perceive it as a ‘Muslim issue’. And Muslims don’t really deserve people to defend them, do they? “Peace,” they say. “Forgive.”

Yesterday, during a casual discussion with my uncle and aunts, we had learned of a child who had passed away after a car accident. We had all been in shock. And then, I think we had started talking about Palestine. And my uncle – who has a three-year-old son – explained that it is in the nature of fathers to want to burn the entire world down, if somebody were to attack – let alone murder – their child. Look at what happens, on a daily basis, in Palestine.

To have to witness one’s children being shot and bombed to death by men who sneer haughtily at them, taunt them; who have money and power on their side. Houses demolished. Trees planted, lives built, blown away, and then they are mocked, and brandished ‘terrorists’ for throwing rocks at monstrous tanks.

Farhana and I walked with the crowds. Encountered all sorts of people. There had been Albanian flags, Algerian ones, Turkish, Pakistani. People standing on bus-stops, climbing lampposts, climbing scaffolding. I told Farhana I knew I’d see at least one person I know, from somewhere. And, yep: a boy I know from secondary school… sitting on a lamppost.

We all – swathes and swathes of people, thousands – walked down roads, past greenery, past willow trees beneath which lines of people had been engaged in Salāh.

The protest was awesome, Masha Allah. And very, very inspiring. It reminded me, kind of, of Umrah. Muslims (mainly), in our thousands, all different, and all together. There for something greater than us.

‘Spirituality’: the commitment to something Greater than ourselves. In losing ourselves – among crowds and crowds of people, noise, horns, sometimes. In Salāh, in nature, in Qur’an. Where we lose ourselves, and sink right into the flowers, or turn upwards and lose ourselves deeply, in the night sky, look outwards and try to focus on giving rather than getting: this is where, paradoxically perhaps, the self is most realised, too. Everything is Allah’s, and here is where we come to life.

Farhana held my hand [we have this habit of acting really moist in public.] and claimed that she is the “alpha” one in our friend-cousin-aunt relationship. Alpha female. She is barely five feet tall. And she is so, so cool, Masha Allah.

Yesterday, when I had replied to her text telling her I’d go with her, she told me she would buy me food today, as my ‘Eidi’. [“Non-negotiable. It’s your Eidi. Bring a raincoat.”] I said I’d buy drinks.

Protests make you hungry. Today, it had been between Pizza Express, Nando’s, and a little Middle-Eastern fish-and-chip place. We chose Middle Eastern fish and chips: I learnt that Farhana is kind of going off of Nando’s chicken. Which is tragic, because Nando’s – as well as the planetarium – used to be our place. Oh, and that she really loves the idea of goat’s-cheese-and-spinach pizza. Next time, Insha Allah.

While passing an Italian eatery, I told her that I find Italian restaurant-food kind of bland. “Yeah,” she said, in her usual flatly-sarcastic way. “But sometimes the pasta just hits, you know?”

Protesters everywhere, and, due to corona, nowhere to eat-in. We waited for one of the outdoor tables to be made free. But, alas, as soon as people got up, a new set of people would sit down. People had been eating at bus stops, on street corners, and more.

As well as fish and chips, this restaurant also did dishes like Biryani [who invented Biryani? Desi Muslims, or Arabs?] and mango lassi. And döner kebabs. And herbal teas. Just… the works. And for some reason, there had also been a dinosaur figurine standing on the shelf of teas… [Eccentric owner? A toy that reminds him of his son? A ‘good luck’ thing? Who knows?]

While waiting for our food, we played the ‘Freshly Grounded’ game [Jazakillah Khayr, Aatqa!] and learned some more things about one another. And then Farhana added some questions to the mix: like, who, out of Jeremy Corbyn, Ross Lynch, and Corey Fogelmanis, would I want to marry.

We found a random block of apartments to sit outside. Very ‘Girl-Meets-World’-esque. [“Bay window? Bay window right now.”] An ardent love for this show is one of the things that Farhoona and I have in common: something that connects us. This, along with astronomy, and chicken, and sociology. And how we both used to have hamsters. Once, I took mine to her house, and mine and hers started fighting. Pretty sure I started crying about that.

Today, we spoke about ‘deep’ things, and very ‘light’ things, as we do. We laughed about the dumbest things. Then I ‘knighted’ her, using her cardboard sign.

Somebody who lives in the block of apartments we had been sitting outside of, arrived at her house with a bunch of Waitrose shopping bags. We fully expected her to be a bit irritated at the fact that we had been there. But she had been very, very nice. Expressed solidarity for the people of Palestine; we had a little chat together. We ‘shouldn’t’ assume things about people, but it is quite natural to. And it is quite nice when these ideas are surprisingly disproven for the better.

Incidentally, I have learned – as a result of a strange conversation in the staff room – that people genuinely think that only ‘bougie’ people shop at Waitrose. Tamanna and I do, though: probably because it happens to be our local supermarket. Their bakery section is amazing: I remember that Tee used to be obsessed with buying things from there, if only to use the cool do-it-yourself label maker…

I (treacherously) went to Nando’s, to wash my hands. I hate the feeling of having grease on my hands. And I hate the fact that some people can just wipe their hands with a tissue after eating greasy food. That does not get rid of the grease! Even for this three-minutes-in-total trip to Nando’s… I had to write down my name and phone number in their corona-tracking list-of-people directory thing.

The rain poured down today. I love the rain, with a passion. It is Rahma, and it is fun. And it is the idea of going home, and being clean, and being warm again.

Farhana and I got on the same train, and then we had to part. A gorgeous day with her, all in all, Masha Allah.

On the train journey home (on the Jubilee Line, a Tube line that is known to give me PTSD from my sixth form days…) I opened and read a card from Aatqa. It made me smile a lot.

Then, back at the DLR station, when I went to retrieve my bike, a random man commented on how “lovely” it is. “Thank you”. He added that it is “very lovely… like [me]”. I said ‘thank you’ again, but then skedaddled as quickly as I could go, because although this could have just been a kind and innocent compliment, strange middle-aged men and I have a weird history, unfortunately. Certainly, the non-Mahram rules in Islam exist for a reason: you can strongly assume that a compliment from them is only a kind compliment. But from what I have learnt, things can very quickly get very weird: other people do not always see things the way that you do.

And, in any case, I hate it when people use words like ‘lovely’ or ‘cute’ to describe me. Those words remind me of things like perfectly-manicured nails, and pretty and pleasant words, and delicateness, sustained palatability, and a benign smoothness. These things are great and all, but they are not me; they are just false assumptions that people seem to have, about me, sometimes.

[I want to be… subtly terrifying, and messy, and muddy, and strange. “Nice bike. It’s very subtly terrifying… like you.” I like the sound of that much better.]

Today I learned from a text from my aunt (Sweetz) that my brother – who had been tasked with fundraising for a hospital in Gaza, as part of a little competition – said, after learning about the situation, that “all this time [he had been] raising money to win a prize. Now I want to do it for the children of Gaza”.

We also saw our next-door neighbours. Husband, wife, and four daughters. The daughters: I currently teach one of their cousins. They gave us a lovely cake today. And their dad, on account of my teaching position I guess, told me that he sees me as an “excellent role model” for the girls. I don’t think I deserve that label, but I find myself feeling quite honoured about it, nonetheless [he should probably find out that I slept with the window open last night, and then decide on the whole ‘role model’ thing]. His daughters are so cool. I like all kids, but I have a particular affinity for the girls who aren’t merely focused on being and behaving ‘pretty’: the ones who want to dress up like pirates (Inaya) and paint cool pictures (Amelia, No.8) and, with cheeky smiles, and without a care in the world, go out to collect specimens of good flowers and leaves (Sara).

Tomorrow, Insha Allah, I hope to have a ‘GYST’ (‘Get Yo Shiz Together’) day. I have so. much. to. do.

Allahu Akbar, though. Allah is far Greater than tyrants: large-scale ones (e.g. genocidal enablers) and ‘small-scale’ ones (e.g. domestic abusers). Allah is far Greater than our worries; Greater than our tests. And He has blessed us with the fact that we are sempiternal, spiritual beings. Here for a while, and then we must leave, and only love, and the products of our deeds, remain with us, in the end.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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