Dreary-Gorgeous Whitechapel

Every term-time weekday, on my way to work, I walk – or sometimes cycle – past what had been my grandparents’ first home in this country: a one-bedroom flat that had been shared (contentedly, as their determined nostalgia, perhaps, would have us believe) by six kids, two parents, and frequent night-staying flows of familial guests, even. Communal waste-bins, and washing-lines. Its local masjid, marking the end of that road, which had been visited daily by my late grandfather. His characteristic sandals, and the sweets he would bring for us, upon returning. [Recently, I have learned from my Nanu that he would also bring her – his wife – her favourite sweets. Ice-like sugar cubes, and hiding them away from we mischievous, ever-grasping grandchildren. But we managed to find them, somehow, put not-discreetly-enough away, in those little metal canisters. Twist those lids off: a sugar rush…] And now, when my uncle comes down from his new cottage-like (Masha Allah) place in the suburbs, he likes to go to the same mosque.

Twenty-minute walk or so away: past glass buildings, a strange and intriguing flower garden (which my friend warns me against visiting: she says she’s seen a dead rat there, before), past an outdoor Brazilian ‘food garden’, and then across the road from rows of sleepy-seeming wholesale fashion shops. And tucked away, modestly: an Islamic secondary school for girls – a Madraasah – in half-infamous, albeit half-intentionally-overlooked, Whitechapel: the beating heart of East London. The bustling market; the forever-in-use hospital buildings, lofty and quite unmissable. These somewhat-Dickensian streets; in Winter, the orange glow of streetlights, seemingly seeking to burn out all that dullness.

            The grey blanket of sadnesses ‘seasonal’. Somewhat ‘decrepit’, arguably, and, yet, somewhat ‘poetic’ too, actually. Babies’ shrieks emanating from flats upon flats, stacked, one on top of the other; the quiet lullabies of their mothers, exhausted from the day’s work. Laa ilaaha illallah. Seven people living in homes really only made for two.

            Outside: sweeping. A man in a green high-vis jacket, speaking on the phone, in Arabic. The sporadic sounds of brush, against pavement. Brush, brush, brush: onomatopoeic, almost, soothing. The low thrum from the nearby truck. Two opposing rows of old council flats, and they lead to a block of apartments, complete with its own concierge, its walls of glass. And then: the spillage of a box of chips, which you find you must now sort of hop over.

            The wreckage of that old shutter-secured shed. Somebody has attempted to paint ‘art’ atop that side of things: flowers; something meant to be a little obscure, ‘politically edgy’, maybe, somehow.

            Women in headscarves – Bengali, Arab, Somali – half-concealed within their own private worlds, walking past, slowed down in speed by blue plastic bags bulging with fruit and veg from the local market. A bowl of tomatoes for a pound; a box of honey mangoes for ten. And sometimes: their sons, trailing along, after them, themselves carrying a bag or two. And daughters, glasses rested on heads, their eyes surgically attached to their phones, though looking up in intervals, if only in order to cross some roads, or to accidentally glare at those cigarette-drinking men who apishly cat-call them.

            And it is that precise feeling, when the bus finally, finally, arrives. The woman with the wiry hair, who will not cease from her tutting. Grumbling, sighing. She has somewhere to be.

“Babe. Could you check when the next bus might be coming, please?” she asks, voice coated in strong Cockney accent, her cigarette-stained smile. And then: the bus finally glides into view. Trundles lazily, its wheels sloshing the rainwater about; it stops outside the hospital. Nearby, there is a man who stands there, almost every day, in business attire. Smoking something, and with his bag hanging from the tall iron fence. There is a functioning speaker inside, playing something out loud. And upon each of the tall fence’s numerous little iron spires, there are metal bottle caps.

Whitechapel, we find, is a place that can quite easily be ‘taken for granted’. What, truly, catches the eye, in some glittering way, save for these colourful café signs? The contrast between purple and yellow, of that new ‘Naan’ place: ‘fusion food’, one might call it — between Londoni and Lahori.

The doctors and suited professionals very much seem to prefer this place, to satisfy their Desi food wants, over that old place: run-down monochrome sign, small hexagonal half-glasses, upside-down, metal plates of salad (tomatoes, cucumber, onions, lettuce, sometimes, and khassa morriss), and mango lassi in recycled plastic milk bottles, blue lids. The newer place has warmer lights, ‘cultural’ wall art, and an electronic till, which works. The old place finds itself frequented by Pakistani men who find slices of ‘home’, there. A small bathroom sink, attached to the side, on the wall, a classic bottle of Carex handwash.

            Around the corner, also: two schoolgirls, in white headscarves, and otherwise cloaked in black, attempt to hide from their teacher, who is walking on the other side of the road. Backpacks worn on only one shoulder – it’s… ‘cooler’ this way, of course – and watches which tell the time, but, then again… who’s counting?! 8:00, school opens, but they can push their luck, as they often do; make that 8:15.

Today’s lunch is from the local supermarket. The ‘popular’ girls come in, also, with tall cups of bubble tea, cans of energy drinks, even, placed on their tables, on display. They’re told off, over and again, warned of the nutritional dangers of such choices. But it tends to be in one ear, and out the other, with them.

            And, after school, the cleaner sister goes to the assistant head, to complain about the atrocious state of that one classroom. That particular form class: the food left everywhere; the leftovers from various academic-artistic endeavours. At the nearby state school – almost militaryindustrial, in how it is run – the students do not sweep, nor clean in these same ways. They barely even pick things up, off the ground, and there is an army of cleaners, uniformed and systematic. [According to my cousin Moosa, that school – the one he currently attends, and which I also went to – had been designed, initially, to be a prison. “Can’t you tell? That’s why it looks like H.M.P down there“.] Here, though, the best we have is a broom against a wall, which sort of goes missing sometimes, and a plastic dustpan-and-brush set, in each classroom. Two cleaning sisters who go around, maintaining the place.

            Outside the school: a little flower-bed. It is nearing summer now, and there are white roses blooming. They seem like they belong there; like it is their home. But, equally, such beauty seems a little out-of-place here, maybe. This is a Victorian building – originally designed to be a primary school – whose bricks find themselves to be completely laden with age, and must, and experience. And outside:

            A small mess of rubble, and tarmac. Flood-like puddles, also, whenever it rains: there is construction work, seemingly forever being done. A new extension to the school building. Only a five-minute walk away, also, there is a purple-and-white themed girls’ school, far bigger, and government-funded, than this one. That one’s headteacher holds the title of being a ‘CEO’. This one’s headteacher is a Mufti. Our colour code is green, and, while it is true that we do not have streams of funding flooding in: on Fridays, for example, we walk into school while Surah Kahf plays, melodiously, from the tannoys. And friends who pray together, stay together.

A wonderful thing to witness, especially while it rains: black umbrellas, and cobbled roads. Daughters waiting in their fathers’ nice cars, windows tinted with a bit of steam. And that heart-soothing recitation, its sacred and comforting meanings, flowing into our ears. Friday, the most blessed one of the week.

            Inside: the distinctive smell of toast. First, coming from the sixth form’s common room. And then, of course, from the staff one. Mugs out, spoons chucked in, kettles flipped on. Before one of the teachers had left for maternity, she had gifted her colleagues a coffee machine: there it sits, now, on the counter, a kind gesture, legacy.

            And everywhere: there are books, and pens. Stamps, to use for marking. Biscuits and doughnuts; mini buffets, on foil and plastic trays, put together celebrating no particular occasion, save for that of being here, alive.

            One of the cleaner sisters says that she has been having trouble sleeping lately. She goes for days, these days, without a blink of shuteye: she does not know why. She says she lives about twenty minutes away: a nine-floor block of flats, wearied by use, which stands opposing no place other than glass, shiny and metallic Canary Wharf. This, and that: only a few streets away from one another.

            Here, at her home, she has displayed her orchid plant outside her portion of the building. Walking in, the tower smells like drugs. And then like curry, probably. A woman whose countenance seems to be addled with stress, desolation, maybe; her son leaving her behind, racing ahead, across the narrow walkway, on his scooter. And then a group of people by the lifts, commending a little girl on something to do with acting school or something: their heavy Cockney accents, and those promises, pinned to her, of ‘fame’ and ‘success’. Make it ‘big’, make it big. Make it out of here.

Inside: some deflated old Eid balloons come together, around the main light in the living room, to form a sort of multi-coloured chandelier. Two notebooks on a table, which is set against a balcony window. Here, an exchange of languages is set to take place:

My English, for her Bengali. And bowls of watermelon; plates of Bazi with rice. Today, also, a packet of fried peas: quite a nice snack, actually. Miss D apologises, more than once, for the “mess” her place is in, although it is really not. Today, after work at the school, she has picked up and bathed her little children; cooked; cleaned, with the aid of her husband, who works as a restaurant chef. She offers me a cup of tea, like she frequently does at our workplace – or a glass of milk, perhaps, since she thinks I will have found the Bazi a bit too spicy – and asks me, in passing, how many bedrooms my house has. Now, we have, Alhamdulillah, four in total; this, for this past year-and-a-bit, has been my first time having a garden and a garage. [Main difficulties here, in terms of the unprecedented lifestyle changes: having to actually go down some stairs, in order to eat, or to get some water up]. And before: my first two homes (outside of my Nan’s) had closely resembled Miss D’s one. ‘Studio flat’, and then ‘maisonette’. From them, I remember going to the local corner shop for glass bottles of milk, graffitied walls, and learning how to use the microwave (to warm up glasses of milk) fairly young.

Our gold – and our little box TV, actually – had been stolen from one of these places. Window smashed, broken into, while we had been away, in Bangladesh. And, like Miss D’s two daughters, (alongside fighting, and being a ‘tomboy’) I loved playing with dolls back then. Unlike them, however, I had no siblings there – neither to boss around, nor to be governed by. Only my pink tent, which often broke down into its individual pieces, and that TV; the imagined feeling of spiders, also, crawling all over my pillows, and all up and down those walls. [I had scarcely really ever felt ‘at home’, there, in that place.] And then: my ‘real home’, so it has always felt (my cousins, my school, and my friends) had been only a train or two away: in somewhat-grimy, but mostly-inescapably-comforting, Whitechapel. And these most undisciplined skylines. And in all that, of dreary-gorgeousness (and those conflicting forces of brutish-beauty tough-and-earthy-as-old-brick ‘working-class’, and increasing shiny-and-sharp-and-sleek-as-new-glass ‘gentrification’) which immediately surrounds it.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

A Good Friend

is not merely circumstantial; is not only bound to talking about one, or maybe three, things. Here one day, and not the next. A good friend stays. And you are human, so things will necessarily fall apart, sometimes. A good friend is a companion-traveller. Helps you unravel problems; helps you mend and embroider things back together again. A good friend is comfortable, honest and open in their humannesses. Why should there be pride, when it comes to matters of friendship? To be loved, and to be loved in truth. You, and all that this means, and them, and all that this means, too.
Encouraging, committed, seeks to understand you. Is not self-absorbed: in a friendship, there are two complete beings. A good friend respects; honours you, in public and in private.
With a good friend, you can do all sorts — errands, adventures. The various parts of life: a good friend will help to colour in beauty, somehow.

Ups, downs, and all the rest of it. We are in crying, heart-yearning need of good friends for this journey.



With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Cute’ and ‘Cool’. I would like a sword. Goodbye Navy Blue Colour Scheme.

Bismillah.

Miss Kulsuma and Miss Doli both are, towards me, so very nurturing and maternal. Miss Kulsuma brought in a container of food for me the other day. She came to me and whispered, with a smile, “Have you eaten lunch?” I told her I had. I think she waited for the staff-room to become a little emptier, before saying, “I made you some! That’s why I asked.”

Two pitta breads, and a spicy tuna filling. And, truth be told, I often find myself wondering what I have done, in order to deserve such beautiful treatment. My mind is notoriously known to jump to: it’s because I’m small, isn’t it? Their subconscious maternal impulses are probably being activated by my inescapable diminutiveness. But maybe I should give all that cynicism a rest, sometimes.

I love, for example, the way that Mushfikah refers to everybody as “babe”… but sometimes, she accidentally has impulses to call the senior male staff the same thing, she says. And when I text her to let her know that I’ll probably be a couple of minutes late, in — I’ve been feeling a tad overwhelmed, lately, beneath the surface. Somewhat distracted, exhausted — she texts back, “Wasalam no its ok babe”. And, whenever I see her in the distance, and we smile at one another, she is known to smile this particular smile: nose all crinkled up, like how we know to smile at… babies.

Some of my anxieties are as follows: I don’t deserve to be smiled at, like that! I’m not ‘cute’ like how a baby is. I’m not extremely ‘pleasant’.

When I was younger, I had been the type to get mud all over my shoes; grass in my hair [Mazhar and Safwan rolled down a hill. I felt I had to join them] and rips upon my clothes. Trouble (but things… were interesting that way). Once, my Nana (grandfather, Allahu Yerhamuhu) took Mazhar and Safwan to the park, in the evening. The boys had been wearing their pyjamas. I rushed to join them, also in my pyjamas. The trouble I got into, upon returning, wow.

This is me: I’ve always been quite academically-inclined, and I would always get into trouble as a result of my little schemes and adventures.

Everybody is the same, but grown, today. How should I be associated with ‘cute’, when that has scarcely ever really been me?

It also reminds me of when, at sixth form, a particular girl in my English class, whenever she would see me, would wiggle her finger at me, call me “so cute”, and make a similar “awwww” face. Like I am a child, who requires, warrants, babying. And maybe! I shouldn’t mind so much; should not find it patronising, infantilising in a bad way. Consistently, though, it has been “so cute!”

“Adorable.” Meanwhile, Isa, at home, keeps saying I’m just like this particular TV character, since I’m so “violent and annoying”.

Me trying to convince myself: it’s not a bad thing, to be seen as being ‘cute’ by people! It doesn’t mean that I can’t also be the other things that I am, too. Doesn’t mean, also, that your… views, for example, are not respected, or that you are seen as being incapable. Miss Doli and Miss K do, for instance, ask me for my thoughts on things — on their kids, on which activities they should organise, for the upcoming summer scheme.

But, also, let me tell you who is actually adorable:

Miss Doli’s two little daughters. Aneesa and Zaynab. And her little son, Saiful, who barely really speaks to me. But when he does, Masha Allah, he comes across as being so very noble. ‘Bodroh’, as we would say, in Bengali. Recently, he’s been saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to me, and hanging about a little more.

Aneesa and Zaynab’s smiles are, Masha Allah, glittery, somehow: totally unforgettable. And, what did you do at school today? They are, I believe, four and six years old. “Work,” they return, almost always-beaming. One of their dolls: they have named her ‘Elsa’. No: ‘Anna’. The doll’s hair is more… bright orange, and so she actually resembles neither Disney sister. The girls took the doll outside, held her up to the balcony window-glass; gave her a hair-wash with a bubble-gun.

Doli Khala tells her daughters to call me ‘Afa’, since I am older than them. But they want to call me ‘Sadia’, because, as they tell their mum, they know me: I’m their friend. Doli Khala keeps apologising about this, but I tell her I genuinely love it so much.

Khala says she has been meaning to make Biryani for me. Already, she has brought me, to work, sushi, and cornflakes, and chocolates. She’s made me tuna sandwiches, and fita (baked dough, with onions and other things) and pasta. Mixed with chips: a surprisingly tasty combination. Bazi, too (a sort of vegetable stir-fry) with rice. And I heard, from someone else, that at first, one of the reasons as to why she started talking to me so frequently was because she found the way I spoke Bengali “maya laggeh”: endearing. An alternative way, I suppose, of choosing to look at… ‘atrociously bad‘.

Since befriending Miss Doli, I think my Bengali-speaking skills have improved considerably, Masha Allah. But back then, I would get stuck on, perhaps, the most basic of expressions. I would also think I’m being inordinately awkward and alien. Can I even… keep up a good conversation? I’ve slipped up so many times already!

My biggest concern: am I making other people feel… uncomfortable, somehow? Relax, relax, relax. Let good things happen; say thank you to them, and to Allah, for them, always.

A self-centric over-analysing reflexive mechanism, in this mind of mine. Maybe ‘cute’ is: a little… bleddy helpless. Like when I picked up that sandwich I had bought from that Italian bistro, and… the tomatoes suddenly fell out, and Miss F called me “Miskeenaaa”.

After I’d first come into Kulsuma’s acquaintance, and she saw me walking to work, about five minutes away, she stopped by me and told me to jump into her car. And when she heard that I am really trying to gosh-darn undo all this damage from eating quite a bit of bad food for so long, she brought me a container of homemade guacamole, and I shared some with Mominah and Miss Maisoun, on the roof.

Doli Khala says that she is not learning English in order to “become a doctor” or anything. She is content, in her current role, as a cleaner at the school, she says. “Whatever kismet – from Allah – gives [her], [she] is happy”. She comes into work content; offers to make me tea. But she is older than me: she deserves such respect, not me.

Fourteen years, in total, in this country. And: a very sheltered life. First: under the protection and the maintenance of her father. And then she got married, and she basically says that the time just went, somehow. She worries there is not enough time for her to become fluent. I tell her about something I had come across on Twitter (back when I still had it), about an eighty-something-year-old woman, who didn’t even know how to type and send an email… and then she became, at that noble age, a published author.

We’re born not even knowing how to crawl or read. And now look at us: we can run and debate… matters of Islamic Law and everything. Masha Allah, Masha Allah, Masha Allah.

Yesterday, in the staff-room, Miss F made that Du’a again. She is sixty-something years old, but seems very strong for her age, Masha Allah. And she has this thing of going up to we twenty-something-year-old staff members, asking us if we are married, and making lengthy (and, within that room, pretty universally audible) Du’as, whose entireties I cannot quite understand. But two particular words tell me exactly what their basis is: “Zawjun Saaliha”. In Arabic, meaning: righteous spouses. So I just say, “Āmeen”.

Yesterday, Miss F made that Du’a towards two of my colleagues, and then towards me. This time, instead of immediately saying “Āmeen” in response, I added, to “Zawjun Saaliha”, using my limited Arabic-speaking ability, “wa jameelun!” [“and beautiful!” In the Islamic tradition, both men and women can be called ‘beautiful’ without it being weird.]

That staff room, Masha Allah, is amazing, on account of who it is made up of: all these intelligent and kind Muslim women. The science specialists; the nutrition enthusiasts. The Islamic Sciences ones; the ones currently studying for degrees in Psychology, on the side. One of yesterday’s staff-room discussions, after this exchange between myself and Miss F had been on the topic of:

Mahr. 6k? 10k? Six-hundred-and-fifty pounds? I told them that I’m going to, Insha Allah [where is my future husband, Insha Allah? Where is my dork?] ask for a sword. Like, a really nice antique one. Gem-stones, engravings, maybe. A reaaally nice sword. A lot of my colleagues were curious to know why. The whole staff-room went silent.

“To play with,” I told them. And then they all burst out laughing. But it’s true: I want a real sword so bad. Perhaps this want of mine is closely linked to how I used to love playing Power Rangers sword-fighting with my cousin. We’re still the same old us: everybody absolutely is, at heart.

I have such longings in me. To have a nurturing, fun and intelligent (and yeah, let’s face it, handsome as heck) best friend to live this life of mine with. And then to enjoy Jannah with, I hope. And to do stuff like race with. And ‘accidentally’ shove a bit, while running, so that I win. But then I’ll explain that it was “feminism” all along. Can’t argue against it, homie.

In any case, I know there is supreme wisdom behind Mahr in terms of monetary gifts. As some of my ‘Alimiyyah colleagues had elucidated yesterday, it is generally expected that the man will be the primary earner in the relationship. So, what happens if the two of you separate for a while, or divorce? Mahr is sometimes just gift, just to make the woman happy [hence: sword. *cry*, I want to be happy.] but it is also, often, security. In case anything goes a little awry: the woman should still be looked-after, and should not have to go back to her parents for that support.

Okkkkk. If/when the time comes, for me, I’ll still be too embarrassed. I find it hard, and embarrassing, even, to ask my dad for money. No! How could I ever ask for money. I’ll ask for a sword, hope that he’ll be able to comprehend and enjoy my ‘weirdness’, make Du’a that my marriage works out – eternally – and… be (more than) content with whatever is in my kismet, Insha Allah.

Dear Reader: I know it may seem like I talk about marriage so, so much. But, I figure: it’s okay. It’s natural for people to seek this companionship; we were literally designed to have it, and to seek love and comfort through it. For it to be of massive benefit, to us. But I suppose some people, who consider themselves ‘liberated’ from these needs, consider themselves to be quite ‘free’: a phony desirable-seeming-sometimes ‘value’. Some are known to put everything related to ‘careers’ first.

I would like to be the sort of person who puts everything to do with family first. The cornerstone of a healthy family, which then translates into being able to serve the wider community better, through a ‘career’ or otherwise: the marital relationship. In Jannah, Insha Allah, we will be with those whom we love.

Today I’m a bit mad though: my cousin Mazhar just announced that he would like for his Nikkah ceremony’s colour to be… navy blue. I wanted to keep this colour for me. Navy blue with touches of bronze… starry-night theme. If Mazhar Alam Jilany steals the name ‘Jameel’ for his first son, too, I’ll… there’s nothing really that I can do.

The truth is that in today’s world, ‘liberated’ – what Western ‘feminism’, for example, touts – actually means… lonely. Empty and shallow, though, perhaps, shiny-seeming on the outside. You don’t ‘need‘ anybody; also, nobody really ‘needs’ you, or really remembers you, for any of the right reasons.

The truth is, I am weak: I know I am. And so is everyone. I know I need other people: emotionally/spiritually, and for help with things. Thus, I know I am not ‘cool’, i.e. completely independent, immune to wealths of mistakes and such. So: do I pretend, in order to earn the admirations of my peers and such? Or do I accept and be awight with it? I feel, in my heart, that it is better to be deeply loved by those who truly matter to me, than to be, based on shallow things, ‘respected’ by any masses of anybody. And this love that I so seek: it takes a lot of time. Any time that I am not spending with those whom I love: necessarily, I am losing out on the chance to nurture our bonds better. And: any time I am choosing to spend on nurturing these sacred, important bonds more, I am necessarily losing out on the chance to be ‘cooler’ before ‘society’.

What is very interesting, to me, is that two of the friends of mine whom I ended up becoming very close with: they told me that, upon first seeing me, they thought I was “too cool” to befriend. This had been back when I started dressing in a certain way. I guess I didn’t even speak much, then: stillnesses are far easier to project upon. Solid-seeming: maybe I walked around with some air of seeming self-certainty. At one of these particular friends, I would only smile, and we would not talk more. But nobody is self-certain or ‘independent’ or without (the sheer broadness and complexity of) human feeling.

The other day, this same friend: we could not stop laughing at the fact that her new nickname from me is ‘Psychology Queen’, and I can’t stop calling her it, randomly. To really connect with this beautiful human being, ‘cool’ (which is better for the ego, since it makes people ‘envy’ you or whatever) had to be dropped. To make room for ‘real’: the stuff of the mind, heart, and soul! ‘Body’, too, is ‘cool’ and all. And ‘body’ will also decay, in the ground, while only our deeds – the good and the bad, as well as the wasted, wasted time – will remain, for us to take account of it all. You had all this stuff given to you, including time. Just what did you do with it?

Yesterday, I felt somewhat insecure in my brothership with my brother, again. Sometimes he says things like that he wishes he had a brother instead of a me. I told him, fine, if I’m that unimportant to you, could you go for a while without talking to me?

Forty-eight hours, we decided on. No communication: a challenge. Saif said that if either of us breaks it, we would have to… eat a whole spoonful of sauce. Challenge accepted, little boi. We pinky-promised on this. He broke it within the first five minutes of the challenge, talking to me about something.

Something else to be deeply cherished from this week: Siyana. What a hilariously adorable little kid. I whispered in her ear, “Siyana, you’re a girl”. She, this three-year-old, returned, also whispering, “you’re a boy”, and my brother commended the fact that she has a sense of humour.

I think I have arrived at the conclusion that I am not, and nobody is, merely ‘one’ thing or ‘another’. ‘Cute’ or… a bit wild and annoying at times. Academically-inclined ‘or’ loves people. ‘Sunshine’ or kinda gothic, actually. Generally, people who first meet me tend to say that I seem “cute”, and “bookish”. Like I have no friends, even, on account of being quiet, sometimes. It is true that I only really want to be around people if it feels like the value of their company is greater than that of solitude. And it is true that I tend to choose my words a little carefully, before speaking. Recently, I came across a Hadith which states that this is how it ought to be.

If I did have no friends: well, having no friends is far better than being a *strong word here. Will not use*. Inspired by a blog article I have recently read, maybe I should speak up when people – and it usually is… non-Mahram men though – say things like this. But I need to find that right balance. Some of these comebacks, I feel, would get to their egos very much: gives me a lil adrenaline rush, it does. But, equally, I cannot just let things pass, so that they feel free to treat other people however they want. “Speak a good word, or remain silent”.

I don’t think near-strangers know me at all. I don’t think near-strangers to anybody actually know them at all: because (only) home – in terms of places, and in terms of people – is where we are true.

And you know, I used to fear when little bits of my intrinsic humanity would show. The tomatoes falling out of the sandwich; the awkward Wudhu thing, when I first met Ms M. But: humannesses. Everybody has them, in some way or others. I think I’m okay with my ‘awkwardness’ (which, admittedly, my friends insist I don’t have at all. Is it just all in my head?!) since it makes for good stories afterwards, generally.

Fears, perceived inadequacies, grief. Stress. Addictions, loneliness, a feeling of lostness. Uncertainty, traumas. Fears of being forgettable, undesirable; ageing, illness. Universal human tingz. We all go Home, finally [the increasingly-evident norm of ‘existential depression’: Homesickness, is it not?] in the end, too: I hope we go Home, eternally, to good ones. It all depends on all that we are doing here.

And if ‘cool’ means deliberately and always hiding the subtler quirks, the idiocies, the lamenesses, the shed tears and the thunder, the wonders and surprises that are part-and-parcel of being alive here (in order to come across as being a little ‘super-human’, for any while) then: how the flip am I ever going to engage in a sword-fight in this world (me with a real one, and him, Insha Allah, with a fake one. Because f e m i n i s m) ever again? I simply can’t be ‘cool’! I would have to shed so much! Just so people – near-strangers, actually – look at me, fleetingly, and manage to think, “she’s so ‘fly'” or whatever. [Look how ‘uncool‘ I am, dear reader. Who says ‘fly’ anymore?]

But it’s that beautiful line from that beautiful poem, which [and I feel terribly obnoxious for doing this, but feel it’s somewhat necessary] I have decided to edit a little:

Rage, [with grace] against the dying of the light”.

What matters to me? What will I stand, and hopefully never sit down, for? Islam; family; authenticity. ‘Cool’ is no worthy value to hold to: it’d necessarily betray me, because look how shallow, vain, and untrustworthy it is. Give me noble; give me truth and what is deep[ly] beautiful, and maybe even amazingly surprising, sometimes. And fudge this ‘need’ to compete in these battles of egos; these clawings for vanity, and this life-consuming, soul-destroying, connection-preventing, want

to be ‘approved of’ by everybody outside. ‘Cool’. Is it really worth it, for the sacrifices it necessitates?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Problem With ‘Mental Health’ — Imam Abdullah Hasan on Unscripted

This podcast episode. This podcast episode. Dear Reader, you must. Brilliant.

“Psychology is Philosophy in action. Psychology is practical Philosophy, and counselling is practical psychology.”

‘Philosophy’ and ‘Psychology’. Relatedly, but for some reason, separately: Political Science, Sociology, Anthropology. Literature and Linguistics. Religious Studies. The ‘Humanities’, which I so love. And we cannot artificially separate each of them, from one another, and nor can we artificially separate them from Islam: Truth.

Definitions, indubitably, are of central-most importance. When separated from Islam, for example, ‘self-actualisation’ – idiocracy, ‘liberalism’, surrendering to the Nafs – become the goals of these sacred human lives of ours. Moreover, notions like… ‘codependency’; ‘confidence’; ‘people-pleasing’. Who sets these standards? Who decides on what is ‘right’, and what is ‘wrong’? What is ‘desirable’, and what is to be avoided at all costs?

Muhammad (SAW), our greatest Example, for example, likely would have been labelled as being ‘codependent’, ‘not confident’, and a ‘people-pleaser’ by these ‘modern’ definitions. Our Islamic definitions tell us that, for example, we are deeply dependent, weak creatures; we should be very humble before Allah and before fellow aspects of creation. We are not here to be chest-puffing feet-stomping ‘hustlers’ and ‘influencers’ and whatever else. We are here to gain, Insha Allah, oceans of beneficial knowledge; love, love, love in sacred, serious, beautiful ways; enjoy and seek to understand the depths and the widenesses of humanity. We are children of Ādam, and from here ought our ‘Philosophical and Psychological’ paradigms begin.

To know God is to know all things. Humanity, and our various parts, and our places in this world. To know ‘all things’ is to come closer to knowing God, also. The Creator. Our purpose here is two, and they are linked: being the best we can be before God; being the best we can be, before other human beings. Islam and ‘the humanities’: one and the same.

For the sciences, too: the supreme leader of these subjects is… La Philosophia. What is life? What is its meaning? What connects all things? Why are we doing all this? So: what is wisdom? The queen of all intellectual pursuits, if we are to root ourselves in Truth, is Islam, and everything, we find, is connected beneath it.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Cover

Bismillah.

Dear Reader,

I don’t know, again, where to begin with this one. Or, where to end. But, we shall see what happens, Insha Allah.

As we know, this life is, ultimately, a test; we either pay heed and listen to our Maker, or we do not. And we can talk about how hard certain things are. But they are not impossible; they are not to be discarded, simply because we think they’re ‘hard’.

The requirement upon Muslim women – physically and in terms of behaviour – to cover, in public, for example. I know that many fellow Muslim women struggle with this one. I have my own struggles in regards to it. Namely, consciously covering the very things that would earn you more validation. And you know it would, because it has.

People do look better with their hair out, and with makeup on. And in certain clothes. And this is a big, big test for we women, whose self-regard tends to be heavily contingent upon (physical and behavioural) beauty [men, by contrast, more: strength].

I am really enjoying exploring, here and there, masculine ways of viewing the world, versus feminine ones. And, of course, we Muslims believe that to Allah belongs everything. And so, the different (where they are different) rules pertaining to men and women are supported with such great wisdom.

For men, I think I have really realised: they really are visual creatures [not dehumanising men, there. Please don’t cancel me: we’re all c r e a t u r e s.] Women have an ‘inner masculine’ part of us, too: physiologically reflected in how we ‘contain’ small[er] amounts of testosterone, within us. We, too, are ‘physical’ creatures. But certainly not to the same degree that men would appear to be. It really is strange but fascinating to come to understand that… we are different. We perceive the world through different lenses.

For men: a particular test is, to employ a Qur’anic expression, lowering their gazes. Because they are particularly sensitive to aspects of physical femininity. I think it’s how we women might recognise that a man is good-looking, but… it seems to be far more intense and frequent for men. High, high receptivity.

We women have also been instructed to ‘lower [our] gazes’, via the Qur’an. And: before non-Mahram men, we have been told to cover. Of course, it can be hard. Knowing that uncovering, more, and beautifying, more, in public (physically and in terms of behaviour) will earn you more positive attentions.

And I wonder if this is quite a shared thing, but: sometimes, in wearing the headscarf and more modest clothing outside [it really is my honour, and also:] I can feel a little insecure. Like… an old woman. Or a ‘frump’. Not stylish. In fact, relatively recently, my aunt gifted me a long, loose-fitting coat. And someone – a fellow Muslim woman, actually – looked at it disapprovingly and told me I really must get it more fitted around my waist.

My own personal journey hasn’t necessarily been going from no headscarf, to headscarf, from the dawn of adolescence. As early as Year Two, it was seeing a close friend of mine, wearing her pull-on headscarf. And I just really wanted to. And then it had been a very on-again, off-again thing. Lots of colours, clips. Netted headscarves, too, through which… my hair could be seen. So… why???

Makeup, turban-style headscarves. Now, in retrospect, I understand that these cannot really go with the actual requirements of hijāb. On this particular journey, as expected, I have erred, and I have (since) learned.

And, now: here I am. I do feel I look kind of plain when I am outside. That’s kind of the point. At the last family event[s] (my cousin-sister’s post-Nikkah party) I decided I would not wear any makeup [one of my aunts basically forced me to at least wear some]. Most of the other women there were wearing makeup – lots of it. And they probably looked far better in all the pictures, as a result, too.

Eid: just family. But my older male cousins are not my Mahrams. So: no makeup, again. And modest apparel. But I felt more comfortable in my skin that day, Alhamdulillah. I guess the most important thing to remember is that, physically and in terms of behaviour, home is where we are true. Everywhere else, we choose how we are going to present ourselves before various groups of people: everywhere else really is masks. And, ultimately, the thing I need to keep remembering [especially since my other cousin’s Nikkah ceremony is coming up; I’m meeting his in-laws-to-be tomorrow, Insha Allah] is that I ought to fear Allah more than I fear the people. Any people.

Dumb (no offence) boys who make dumb comments, also. As for the women who comment that I look “tired” or “dead” without makeup: ya look the same without makeup, homies. Or have you forgotten what your true faces look like? [That was mean. Allow me. I like to vent via writing, quite a bit].

Ultimately, ultimately, I much like that notion of ‘attracting what we are, and expect‘. You do you; the wrong people will respond how one would expect them to respond. The right people will prove themselves to be the right people.

You know, I so admire men, for example, who know they are quite intersubjectively good-looking. And they put conscious effort into lowering their gazes; speaking with modesty, with non-Mahram women. Even if some of said women, or others, come to think they’re “lame” or whatever else. They pray, they work, they eat, they learn, they have their hobbies and their friends and family; they know what the Meaning of Life is. Taqwa: cognisance of Ilaahi.

I much admire those men who put Allah first, and their families: they are certainly giving up certain things, in order to demonstrate their truenesses: it really is the definition of honourable. A real war against the Nafs. It is good, and it is beautiful, though those self-proclaimed ‘cool’ ones might disagree. But, then again: who are they? Human beings who shed tears, and who are weak, and who are living in this very Dunya reality, too. Might as well pick Truth, over all these lies, which leave. It does take a lot of restraining the ego, the Nafs, though. And this is, absolutely, what true strength is. I guess I am, Insha Allah, trying to be a female version of this.

To paraphrase something a reader of this blog had written in an email: you don’t need to renege on your principles, in order to have fun. In order to have friends. In order to live a good life. In fact, if you sacrifice for your Lord, He will return you with better. Even if you have to wait for it, for some time.

Dear Reader,

My own struggles might look considerably different to your own. We will never be ‘perfect’. But as long as we consciously work on managing our intentions: the blessing comes from the trying.

And the sacrifices – whatever they are, in your case – are (more than) worth it. For Dunya, and in Ākhirah.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Be Still, and Know, I am.

Bismillah.

I never knew //

I never knew that everything was falling through,

That everyone I knew was waiting on a cue //

To turn and run when all I needed was the truth.

But that’s how it’s got to be:

It’s coming down to nothing more than apathy;

I’d rather run the other way than stay and see //

The smoke, and //

who’s still standing when it clears.” [T.F.]

Life is not ‘easy’. How could this life ever, really, be? Maybe:

You have stress on your chest. Maybe: depression has come next. Maybe: loneliness, ache, and lostness. Maybe you currently find them leaking out of your eyes.

Maybe you think you have to ‘man up’. Maybe you’re convinced that it’s summer, so why can’t you emulate what you see on Instagram? The ‘fun’, the smiles. Outings and laughter.

But in fact, you are looking, in adulation, at what is a mirage. Don’t we know, already, what this Dunya is?

Dear Reader,

You have got to stay. Your dad loves you. Your brother does too. And if you ever forget: remember

that they would not be able to handle a life, without you in it. Maybe, at present, you don’t feel like you are really anything, or anybody, at all. Depression can do this to you. It’s like wearing black-painted glasses, and you think that the world must look like this. You cannot see the arms of sunlight, stretching into your room. They’re waiting for you; Insha Allah, you’ll see them again soon.

Dear Reader,

When Allah created the entire universe, with such great, heavy, powerful reason, He decreed that His creations would have been incomplete without a you, here, in it.

I don’t know what, precisely, it is about you. But you make people’s hearts smile: whether your sister’s, or your grandma’s, or your wife’s. Maybe: it is your gentleness. Or, how headstrong you are. What you do when you are nervous; the ‘little’ things that you don’t even really know you say, all the time.

Allah loves you. Sinner, broken, we all are. Even if you find you have wronged your own soul one hundred million times. All it takes is a heart that cares. Maybe Allah’s way of reminding you that (to quote the Qur’an) He is Near, and Responsive, is by… guiding you to this article. It was Written for you, to be here.

There are many apt metaphors through which to describe the Life of this Dunya. Journey: adventure; camping, mostly in the dark, until it is time to go Home. Airport. Mountain-climbing. War, battle, struggle, fight.

Sometimes, fighting looks like: knuckles dusted. Knees skinned. Bruises; heart aching. Of course, it hurts.

Perhaps this moment in time — maybe it will take you two weeks; maybe, even, three months — maybe this is your time for metamorphosis. A painful process, this real growth stuff. Just wait, Insha Allah, until you reach the other side. And you have got to stay, no matter what. Allah’s universe requires a you, right here within it.

Sometimes, fighting looks like resting. If your mind and body are telling you, you need rest, then, please, rest. Two extra hours in bed, maybe. A walk of a couple of kilometres. Whatever it takes: fighting does not always look like racing, and rage.

Dunya breaks hearts: this is what it does. Home, though, stitches them right back up again. Home. Where is home, for you? Who is home, for you? Which activities (e.g. writing, cooking), too?

And have you tried, also, putting your forehead on the ground, while facing the Qibla, and talking to your Lord? Indeed, He is always Near; always Responsive.

I also dare you to think about who – on the human level – is home, for you. And give them a call today. Fudge ‘busy’ or what if I’m being a ‘burden’? These times will show you who is true; who, Masha Allah, is with you.

“Show me all your flaws,

Show me your bear claws.” [T.A.]

You are strong. And strong does not really mean… emotionless. We’re human: even when we hide them, we have them. So, what to do about them, now?

Dip, turn. Fall; grow. Fall again; grow, even better. Your scars make perfect spaces, places, from which beautiful things will grow, Insha Allah, in due time. This burden is not too big for you.

You make people’s hearts smile, even if you do not know it today. Someone — maybe, even, the man who lives three doors down from you — would stop eating, for months, if he were to learn of your death. And do you think your brother would ever be able to sleep, comfortably, ever again? What about when your scent begins to fade, from your clothes? When people have to walk through the rest of their lives, without a you, and your voice, and your laughter, and your mind? You occupy spaces, in this world, which nobody else could ever fill; you are not only an academic/professional ‘occupation’. You are everything that you are; paradoxical. Beyond belief, and you escape definition. And if you ever need reminding of why you absolutely must stay, then: call home.

Be still and know //

that I’m with you
Be still and know that I am here
Be still and know that I’m with you
Be still, be still and know

When darkness comes upon you
And covers you with fear and shame
Be still and know that I’m with you
And I will say your name

If terror falls upon your bed
And sleep no longer comes
Remember all the words I said,


Be still, be still and know [I am.]

And when you go through the valley
And shadow comes down from the hill
If morning never comes to be
Be still, be still, be still.

If you forget the way to go
And lose where you came from
If no one is standing beside you:
Be still and know //

I am.

Be still and know that I’m with you
Be still and know //

I am.

[T.F., with references to Psalm 46:10 and 23:4.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Allah Knows. Indeed with hardship there is ease.

Bismillah.

I don’t know how to begin describing it. It is paradoxical; escapes words, almost. ‘Almost’: what a word. Standing on the brink of something, and then it escapes you: the effortless dissipation of a mirage. Your Lord Knows Best, you know. So here, maybe, is the part where I am meant to part with some of my previously-held convictions. I’m still not entirely sure on the Islamic rulings on animations, but (from when I used to watch them) it’s like that perfect part of Spiderverse when Spidey jumps. Leap of faith. He’s falling. The $ickest perspective shift I have ever seen: he’s flying.

I think I was lied to, for the longest time. You will not be named; you gave me the wrong perspectives on so many things. I absorbed those dishonesties as though they were truths: your filter, my world. And I am meant to forgive, but I don’t really know how. There is just so much. And all I am left with is a lump in my throat, and it grows, and then it shrinks. And I forget for a while, and then I am reminded of who I am, here: a human being, here in Dunya. Lots of things hurt, here. Look at me: I think my hands are trembling. And we’re all half-weak, here. Half-so strong: we’re built this way.

Though sometimes my Īmān wavers: a horse that must be bridled, tamed… If I have prayed for only the best, then everything that leaves, has left. Fallen like the paper leaves of autumn, but you want to believe that they are (still?) green. And everything that arrives, enters, seemingly out of nowhere: Qadr. So Bismillah.

These are difficult times, and we find that fire is washing over our minds: yesterday, I think, I’d come across an expression that describes water as being “liquid fire”. And I quite love this idea. Liquid fire: wash, burn, things off. Make room; make space for the new. Adapt; make room; be prepared to grow. Do not grieve, or worry, even when you do. We’ll do this together; Bismillah.

I’ve been uncertain; everybody has been. I’ve been wrong; I’ve been wrong; I’ve been wrong. How much we hide; what, and how much of it, do we ever really show?

Forgiving is not forgetting. It’s discipline, in the face of truths. Sabr: taste what is bitter, and be strong in the face of it. And the ensuing sweetnesses will be yours, Insha Allah.

I’m just glad that I’m not ‘in charge’ of things, here. How foolish I can be; how wrong and naïve.

Indeed, though, Allah is with us. And: Allah Knows, Allah Knows, Allah Knows.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

In Defence of Introversion

Bismillah.

Recently, my uncle (R.M.) sent the link for the 16personalities test, on our family group chat. [Dear reader: https://www.16personalities.com/. You must.] Previously, I’d been trying to get him to take the test: certain people’s personalities can be intriguing; you find you want to know more.

This test (otherwise known as the ‘Myers-Briggs’ personality type test), I had come across maybe in Year Nine… or Ten? But when I discovered what my type had been, and that my aunt/cousin/friend Farhana is the same type as me, I became a 16personalities enthusiast, and got some of my friends, form class members, family members, onto it too. It is not the same as, or even comparable with, ‘astrology’, as some people would appear to mistakenly think at first. The Myers-Briggs system is awesome. And never had I felt so well-…understood, seen, until that time, when I had received those results.

Personally, I am an ‘INFJ’: more introverted than extroverted; more ‘intuitive’ than ‘sensing’; more ‘feeling’ than ‘thinking’; more ‘judging’ than ‘perceiving’. To understand the letters and what they stand for, better: https://www.mbtionline.com/en-US/Articles/2017/July/What-do-the-letters-in-the-Myers-Briggs-test-stand-for.

Introversion and extroversion, though: we had a lengthy (virtual) family discussion about this. I think I talked (typed) the most, then. Because as soon as somebody brings up something I am passionate about, in conversation, *cartoon sword-slice sound effect here. KHATISHHH or something like that* I can tend to talk quite a lot. Introverts are like that, I think, generally. And I find it quite wonderful.

Fourteen-year-old Samiha, for example (my Didi’s sister-in-law. Sister of my sister.) kind of reminds me of me, in many respects. The first time she’d come to my house, she’d been a little quiet. ‘Awkward’, even, as we’d both likely describe ourselves as being. She said she can get like that whenever there are so many people around. Especially lots of loud people, in one place: stimuli from every direction. So we both went and sat upstairs, in my room. I put my warm-light lamp on. And we just talked and talked. Samiha: the way she started talking, as soon as I brought up astronomy. I often hate when people use the C-word (c*te) for me, but I’m a hypocrite and I would definitely use the word, on steroids, to describe her. I showed her my astronomy-themed box of postcards. And I wrote her an Eid message on one of them. She looked at the picture on the other side, got really excited, and told me the exact (to me: confusing, alien-to-me) scientific name of what the picture was of [I, by contrast, am a very pretentious astronomy fan. I don’t know the exact names of many things. But… poetry, you know? Aestheticz].

That whole time with Samiha, to me, felt so… organic. Effortless, and wonderful, Masha Allah. Even though I am six years her senior, I felt quite ‘seen’ by her. We just… talked. Relaxedly. Moments of excitement. And she said that this had been “the longest conversation [she’d] had in a long time”. We talked about school; about science; about Islam. She, that evening, had encouraged me to go and pray Witr [a particular prayer which we are meant to close the day with]. That day, I had been really tired. But she encouraged me to overcome myself, in such a (firm but) gentle way: just do it, come on. I’ll stand right here and wait for you! So I did it, because: how could I not have done it? And now, when I pray Witr, I tend to think of Samiha sometimes: I hope she gets part of the Ajr for each time I pray it.

I really like Samiha, and Didi told me that Samiha really likes me too: apparently she’d gone home and put that Eid postcard on their fridge afterwards. I’m on her fridge! Yeeeee.

I would say, organically, authentically, I have these particular affinities towards people like Ranga Mama, his son Dawud, and Samiha. Also, in line with what the Myers-Briggs system says, the people outside of my familial networks, whom I have gotten on with relatively effortlessly, have turned out to be either fellow INFJs, or our (i.e. INFJs’) supposed ‘equal-and-opposites’: ENFPs. Very interesting stuff. Especially considering the fact that INFJs are said to be the ‘rarest type in the world’ [is that us yeah]… I’m just drawn, somehow, to fellow INFJs, and I think the same is quite often true, vice versa.

But we have to consider ‘opportunity costs’, here, too. I would say that I am someone who is very drawn to conceptual things. Themes and such, ‘the bigger picture’, instead of complete particularities. I (for some reason. Why, past me? For what?) studied Economics at A-level. A few things, I have found to have been useful from that whole course: the concept of ‘opportunity costs’ is one of them. The following line, I had to memorise. For exams.

Opportunity cost: the benefit lost as a result of foregoing the next best alternative.

The opportunity cost, then, of being an introvert: not being an extrovert. Which benefits do I necessarily lose, as a result of this? I think I lose: an ability to effortlessly be, with far more (relative) ease, before lots of (unfamiliar) people. I gain: my own ways of viewing, perceiving, the world, among other things. I think being an introvert is what helps me much with being a writer. [I’ve struggled with that word a lil, before. Do I call myself a ‘writer’? And… yeah, I write quite a lot, and I love to, therefore I think I can call myself a writer.]

The thing is, the way the world would appear to be decorated: extroversion would appear to be far more… universally valued, than introversion, no? It’s ‘exciting’ for one’s ideas of fun to be… clubbing, and being the centre of attention at parties, and loving going shopping for lots of designer makeup and clothes. Oh. But: it’s ‘boring’ for a person to love sitting with a book; with a journal and a pen, by the canal. It’s ‘boring’, also, to love, love, love, sitting with some food, and having a really good conversation with one other person, or two.

I think, what I have realised the most is that: introverts tend to have creative minds. Which means that things that others may seem as ‘small’: we — just look at that solidarity, there. We our minds, can make into ‘big’ things! Painters, writers, ‘homebodies’, little tidbits of intellectual stimuli: you take something ‘small’, a fleeting bit of inspiration, may-haps. And it becomes big in our minds.

And, as with all things in this here Dunya: there are upsides to this, and downsides. Upside: all we need to have a really, or decently, good time might be a bit of food; the right company; a place of some natural beauty. We don’t even need people: could be, a book, a YouTube video. Cleaning tasks (which I really enjoy. When I don’t feel swamped by them) with the right podcast, maybe. A few things, made big, in these ‘introverted’ minds of ours, which (by nature) magnify. We need less, to do – and feel – more.

But guess what also tends to get magnified, in these here minds of ours? The bad things. The little perceptively ‘stupid’ thing we did last February. A comment that someone passingly made. Oh no! Dread. Things like that.

This is, in a way, my love letter to introversion. A thing of opportunity costs, and yes, do also remember all that stuff about images. You know what it is like to be you. Of most other people, we see only glimpses — images — onto which it is easy to project: for better, or for worse. Whatever it feels like we, and our lives, may be ‘lacking’: they ‘so evidently’ must have, somehow.

And then you get closer, and you see (closer to the) truths of things. I think I’ve realised that, yes, I struggle in certain big social situations. And, oh my goodness, ‘small talk’. Quite often, I accidentally zone out of conversations based on this stuff, and then I try to latch onto the last thing I heard the other person say, to not seem super rude. It’s a skill I seem to have honed by now.

I come from a family, (big, big extended-extended network) dominated, numerically and in terms of recognition, by extroverts. Or, maybe there are more introverts, but… they stay at home for a lot of things: who knows. What I have learned is that, yes, extroverts tend to excel in terms of how much fun they are able to have in big places, with lots of people. Lots of noise, lots of stimuli, sustained bouts of laughter at ‘most everything. And, also:

Quite a few of my relatives whom I would find myself comparing myself to, at times, in terms of certain social abilities: have told me that they are unable to be alone, at home, without being on the verge of a panic attack. They need to be online, talking to lots of people; they need people around them, to feel good. Things like this.

And then I realised: everywhere, in Dunya, there is tyranny. Sometimes, more evident, and sometimes: more subtle. The only true liberation that can be found is here: in submission to the Almighty.

‘Confidence’ before masses of people is actually… dependency. I’ve seen how many extroverts are before lots of people, and when they are, at home, in the presence of just family. Their ‘outer selves’ are contingent on others’ eyes; others do still hold social power over them.

Opportunity cost of me being the way I am: not easily being understood, accepted, socially valued, in many extroverts’ eyes. For them, shopping for bags, big parties and things might be ‘fun’. For me, let’s face it: iz torture. To many of them, I would not want to make them feel bad by pointing out that… talking about men’s heights, for example, for two whole hours is… kinda lame [and I have been given a very limited amount of time on this Earth, in this Dunya…]. But some of them feel super comfortable in pointing out that, for them, writing a poem or reading the ‘TLS’ is boring or weird.

My ‘extroverty’ friends and cousins are very, very active on Snapchat and Instagram. And… I suppose I used to be, too. But I would often feel over-stimulated, restless and stuff, as a result of notifications, and from all that s c r o l l i n g. To them (my extrovert-y cousins) the idea of staying at home for three days in a row sounds abysmally terrible. To me: my gosh. I love the idea of, for instance, cleaning my space; reading; annoying my brother; making food; eating food; doing Islamic things; sleeping. Bonus times ten if it rains. And some people hate their jobs. I think, although this gets tiring and stressful at times, I love designing lessons; marking, even. Making dad jokes; going to Tesco for lunch. With the right people around; in the right places and such. Everybody has to live through the ‘mundanity’ of this mundane world. Why not choose to locate the beauty in it, rather than making one’s enjoyment always contingent on [notions of] escape?

IKEA: the wonderful everyday. Beautiful mundanity.

So, who is living this life ‘right’, and who is ‘wrong’? Who should aspire to be more like whom? I think, there are merits to each way of being, of living. There are always other things to learn from other people. A lot of things I know about being, in social situations, for example, I would say I have learnt from my friend Tamanna.

‘Introversion’ and ‘extroversion’: to explain these concepts better, on my family gc, I told them about the ‘X-box analogy’. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. Extroverts can be extremely shy. Introverts can be quite socially confident [I would say, Alhamdulillah, I can be. Whenever my ‘social battery’ is fully charged.] It is all about where you get the majority of your ‘energy’ from.

Introverts are more like wireless X-box controllers. You charge them; you use them for a while. Then: they need charging again! Introverts tend to ‘recharge’ through ‘alone time’: sitting in nature; reading; Googling lots of random things, feeling ‘travelled’ and stimulated, in these ways, with a cup of tea on the side. Extroverts, by contrast, are more like original X-box controllers: for them, socialising is being charged. This is where they get their energy from: they don’t need ‘time out’ from people to recharge, in the same way. People and lots of stimulation are their ‘time out’, a lot of the time, so it would seem.

The other day, I saw my friend Tasnim [again. Why do I keep seeing her? Why?! Jk.] and she reminded me of the story of how she realised that extroversion isn’t necessarily freedom in the same way that it might, prima facie, seem like it is. Tasnim and I had attended the same sixth form together, although we didn’t have any classes together. And at our school, there was a particular girl whom we both (i.e. Tas and I) knew to have been quite an ‘extroverted’ person; very ‘socially confident’. But one day, this girl had explained that, no. She isn’t actually ‘confident’ like that: she feels she needs attention from people like this. In fact, in her eyes, introverts are the ‘freer’, ‘lucky’ ones: more secure-seeming and all.

Also reminds me of when, when I had first started at sixth form, how terrible I would make myself feel about myself when… in my History class, I saw how seemingly-effortlessly everyone was, towards one another, from the get-go. Laughing so much with one another; jumping on each other’s backs. I thought, gosh, I must either be really… boring, or… not confident? In truth, I think, the answer had been neither. They were (seemingly) very extroverted in that sense. I… can only be like that with, say, three people in this entire world.

At this school, I had also been the editor for this school’s Journalism Club: I would receive submissions for the school paper/blog. Once, a girl whom I had seen as being a very socially confident ‘party-goer’ randomly sent in a feelings-piece, about how she ‘really felt’ about things. Super duper ‘appearances versus reality’. And experiences like this, hearing about others’ realer thoughts, have been eye-opening for me, to say the least.

P e r s p e c t i v e s.

See, you might be under the impression that ‘quiet’ people are… the ‘boring’ ones; ‘no life’, or whatever. Or, that the always-‘louder’ ones… have ‘more’, and ‘better’, to say; ‘what a life‘, admirable and want-able. Not necessarily always true: remember this much.

And why should I deny myself of who I am? Looking back on the ol’ teen years, the truth is that my best memories are not from things like school trips to Thorpe Park and stuff. I can’t help it, and why should I? They really are things like, when I got a sandwich, some crisps, and a drink, and sat down to watch something I liked watching. And, when a book I had reserved at the library right near my secondary school had come through. Getting my ideas down for writing competitions: pencil on notepad, by candlelight. Things like that. ‘Twas… enough, Alhamdulillah. So why should I deny myself of myself?

Just because of these comments, comments, comments. [Downside of having a massive Habee Gushtee (Bengali expression to describe everyone you know): the comments, comments, comments. “Why is she like that?” “Boring” “Come on, live a little.” “Old lady.” “You intellectualise things too much.” Etc. Value judgements. That feeling of actively, vocally, being put into a box. And what do you even do, in response to this? The thing is, this mind of mine frequently comes up with some pretty-good-I-cannae-lie comebacks. But I tend to leave a lot of those things unsaid: bite my tongue, bite my tongue. Because why would I say them (except for my own ego’s satisfaction, in the moment)? Ultimately, they have their values, schemas, ideas on what a ‘good life’ is; I am allowed to retain my own! I’m… not a child anymore. I need not look upon myself and this life of mine via how they have chosen to look upon me.]

Today, as an introvert, I want to say that the best parts of my day have been: finding the tuna pasta at Tesco. Some guy had taken the (seeming) last one, and he proudly told someone working there that yes! He’s got the last one. And I’d been on the side, looking at it, waiting to get it, actually. But then! A bit further into the shelf: another one, waiting for me to buy it! Does it make me a ‘boring’ person, to have loved this moment so darn much? I don’t, at all, think so.

[When I told some of my colleagues in the staff room about this, they, at first, had thought that the guy had celebrated his taking of the pasta to me. To be mean. But, no. And I know that if he’d done this, I would’ve said “good for you, I bet you’re proud of yourself” or something like that. Sometimes, I speak before I think, and the meanness just comes out.]

Sweetie had brought in a homemade lemon drizzle cake today. She sat next to me, and I had some of it, while the staff meeting went on. And, today: outside one of the school’s Qur’an rooms, I’d seen a big cardboard box filled with books, a couple of times. Today I asked one of the Islamic Studies teachers what they’re for. She said, the school is looking to get rid of them. I could take them if I wanted. I could take them if I wanted! I now have a stack of good books, Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah, beside me. Summer reading, Insha Allah. I just don’t know how I’m gonna take them all home today.

Summer reading: summer. Quite a few people have asked me what my plans are, for this summer. I don’t really like having ‘plans’ for summer. But I know that my time gets filled, one way or another. Some of the members of my extended family are quite spontaneous, adventurous in that sense. Randomly: get packed, we’re going to Scotland next week [after hearing about it, over and over again, from me] Camping in Kent. Things like that. And I know that this is the stuff that people expect to hear about, when they ask about ‘plans’. Truly, though, I really want a homebody type of summer this year, Insha Allah. Running all these various errands I need to get done, seeing a friend once or twice a week. Sitting outside on the steps, to eat and/or read, while that whole ongoing theatre play of Faris, Saif, Sara, Sadika, and Safia goes on, on the stage. How do I explain this, though? Do I tell the truth, and let them think I’m ‘boring’, as a result?

Hmmmmm. Yes. Let others’ eyes be others’ eyes; let my own be my own. And I want to always respect other people, Insha Allah. But I am not living for them!

And even when we do go travelling and stuff: my favourite parts tend to be arriving at the hotels/apartments/such, going to cafés, going to museums, drives through cities. ‘Boring’ to some, because their minds need ‘more’. And they are they; I am I. Wherever we go, we take ourselves with us; introversion/extroversion, included. *’Spiritual hippie’ moment, here. You find yourself, suddenly, dear reader, wearing a white cotton tunic shirt, standing on a mountain. Welcome to the tribe.*

I think I have tried this before, though: having a very jam-packed summer or two. Saying yes to lots of things: night-time rendezvous[es] down the river; meet-up after meet-up; stays with family; things like this every day. Wasn’t really good for me, though it made my Instagram gallery pop for a while.

The things that I know I find great joy in: others are looking upon from their own eyes, and what they like/dislike. And what they think they want for their lives. To a lot of people, domestic chores are absolute tyranny all the time. Being at home with just family: unbearable. Sitting by yourself in a park: why would yeh? How could yeh? Having two close friends you see sometimes, in lieu of ten friends you see all the time? Why?! We’re just all different, I guess.

I love putting my earphones in, in the morning, ready for my bike ride to work. I do love those moments of speed; I’m glad I’m not overly concerned with looking ‘pretty’ in these moments. This joy from putting hand-cream on, after doing Wudhu. And! Writing blog articles in the staff room, when I have other things to be doing. Productive procrastination!

Just must accept truths, and find the good and beauty in them. Dunya remains Dunya, the whole entire way through. What I think we frequently do is this: mistake images as being truths. Like when celebrities – actors, musicians – are admired so much. They’ve got fame, money, realised talent, attentions from their opposite genders. And the thing is, we also know of their experiences’ downsides: all the myriad mental/spiritual health issues and such, which are part-and-parcel of such lifestyles. And, yet, we continue to think we want holistic life experiences that more mirror theirs.

It reminds me of a particular scene in ‘HIMYM’ (How I Met Your Mother) when Lily is lamenting the fact that she isn’t, can’t be, like Robin: ‘free’, beautiful in the same way, ‘cool’ in the same way. At the bar, flocks of men seem to approach Robin, but not her. Lily begins to feel bad about herself, and about her life. But then, Robin explains: can’t you see? Women like us want what you already have. A lifelong partner who loves us deeply and dearly: that security, that truth. Each woman had been seeing the other from afar, and thus not focusing their energies on the blessings that they, themselves, (necessarily already) have! [Okay, they’re fictional characters from a TV show. But, still. Life lessons that fifteen-year-old I had extracted from it.]

The other (other) day, also, at Nando’s, Tasnim had asked me the following question: do you know anybody who’s really, actually, confident? And… no. I don’t think it’s possible to be extremely self-certain, always, unless one is a… narcissist. How can we trust ourselves entirely, when things are always so entirely unpredictable, for example? I have learned this time and time again: that some people think me to be super confident. That I, instead, have looked at some others and thought: that must be ‘confidence’. And then these very people tell me about how, for example, they cannot walk outside alone, or without makeup: they feel too insecure. I have my own particular insecurities; they have theirs. Strengths, we both, all, have, in our own varying ways, also. Alhamdulillah.

Dear Reader,

What are the unique upsides of your particular Dunya-based existence? And, what are your downsides?

Who is someone you do, or have, compare[d] yourself to, wanted to be (‘most entirely) like? What might their upsides be? And, do you know, (yet, perhaps) of their downsides? [Some of their downsides, for example, might truly be a lack of whatever some of your upsides are. You might entirely just be taking your upsides for granted!]

Whatever is good about your experience: some, or perhaps even many, may choose to frame as being a ‘bad’ thing. Whether out of their personal insecurities, boredoms, ignorances, or whatever else. This does not make their judgements true. Truth is between Allah, and you.

I think I have more to say, but I find I don’t have the time or the energy, right now, to say them. But ultimately: Surah ‘Asr, and what it says. “Indeed, mankind [in terms of Time] is in loss. Except for those who have believed, and have done righteous deeds, and have encouraged others towards Truth, and have encouraged others towards patience/perseverance”. Our purpose[s] here are to be in submission to Allah; to be excellent, Insha Allah. Neither introverts nor extroverts ‘have it all’, and we are surely being tested.

Introversion, extroversion, and everything else: blessing. And test. Time, also, as well as everything else, here. Tools. What will we do with them?

Introverts, though: we do not need ‘saving’. We are… Dunya-traversers, just like you… who can handle, and enjoy, solitude [I recently read something about how many people cannot handle any solitude at all. Apparently, some see it as being indicative of you being a ‘very deep thinker’ if you are able to handle solitude without going crazy?!]. Introverts can make entire canvases, in our minds, of just a couple, or trio, of colours; some people need far more for those same mental artistic effects. Introverts are like superheroes. I’m not sure if this analogy makes sense, or how, or why, but:

Introverts Assemble!!!!!! [Six exclamation marks there, because six is my favourite number below ten. Above ten: it’s probably 42. I should just be quiet now. 6 x 7 is just so perfect though.

Why am I still typing?]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

How Things Happen.

Recently my friend Aatqa, over FaceTime, told me the story of how a friend of hers met her current husband-to-be. It is an endearing and interesting story, and one that shows me that Allah rewards those who put their trust in Him. You sacrifice: you are returned with better. You exhibit good character, Hayaa’, follow Islamic rules: you win. In Dunya and in Ākhirah. And indeed, the promise of Allah is true.

Boy meets girl. They are family friends. They often go on holidays and such together. They are both religious. The girl feels in her head that perhaps she is a little shy; a little ‘bland’. The boy is known as being very handsome, intelligent, and good in religion and in character; he attends a highly prestigious university.

The boy liked the girl – deeply – all along! He makes plans to go ahead and speak to her father. All along, she had no idea: in her eyes, why would he like her?!

He maintains Hayaa’ (modesty) when it comes to speaking to other women. Others want him, but he only wanted her. He came to her and explained that he wanted to be the first to propose to her, before anybody else did. Currently, they are still maintaining those respectful boundaries prior to the Nikkah. They only communicate via letters; they’re in their official courtship phase. Imagine how much Barakah this marriage will (Insha Allah) come to have. Whew.

I believe it is the case that Allah makes inevitable the best, for whoever exhibits due trust and faith in Him. Who shows this, in their speech and in their actions. And He matches certain hearts and souls, with other hearts and souls, with incomprehensibly

beautiful,

brilliant reason.

Even if you had no idea that it would be him [him?!]; you could not have seen these Divine plans coming.

So: whatever you do, do not compromise on your principles. Ya hear me? Do not.

Allah’s Plans for you are surely, surely better. And Islam will save you from the decaying (though, at times, shiny-seeming) things of this world. Only Islam, and nothing else.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

At the Florist’s

Words say so much, don’t they? and

flowers – Earth’s own little penned poems, everywhere – do too.

The yellowest of sunflowers, happy and unmissable, might say: hello. I’m very happy that you are in my life. Sunflowers’ petals make sense, though their centres are somewhat… confusing. A great big pit of brown seeds. Spirals, spirals.

The purplest of hyacinths, wrapped in light bronze sheets, and a deep purple ribbon. To say: friend, this flower might seem a little strange upon first glance. And I will always, Bi’ithnillah, be here.

And for when you cry, and you feel less-than, and lost, and lonely: a bundle of beautiful white tulips, neatly-cut. It will take time, dear friend, and it will get better: in ways, at present, unknowable to you. It’s okay to cry alone, in your room, sometimes. “Behind every tear is a cleansing of the eyes”. And I hope that you will not feel alone, what with these tulips standing in a nice vase somewhere, in a corner.

You are not alone. You are never alone:

Purple aster, bursting forth: things will be okay again, in some new kind of way. And there is intrinsic good in you, and there are always downsides here too. Aster will remind you of what is more worth focusing on.

Vibrant pink azaleas: bloom, bloom in the Spring. Forget your troubles for a minute or two, and

get lost in this one blanket colour.

If you forget, I’ll get you a Basket of Gold: a flurry of yellow pom-poms. Forget-me-nots. Bellflowers: all fairy-tale-like. Royal blue little lanterns; veins filled with blood black.

Bloodroot, white petals. As much as it hurts, sometimes, or confuses. Perplexes, makes heart swell with sweetness. Tender. Aches, makes blissful. Perhaps a flower might just say it best.

Their different colours, and shapes, and sizes. The ways in which they each grow towards the sun… but in such varying, and fascinating, ways.

It is so easy, for me at least, to idealise working at a florist’s. With a spectrum of dim lights, hanging overhead. Small groups of people entering, each different, at a time. Seas, basket-fulls, of twisted-up purple flowers; blue ones; pink hues, ombre. New conversations to be had; new things to be learnt.

The interactions with each bunch: the cutting of stems and leaves. Neat and prolonged slices through brown paper, and silkier ones. Ribbons of all sorts, and tags.

“I’m looking for a bunch of flowers to say congratulations: my cousin is getting married!”

“What’s his favourite colour? What is he like, as a person?”

“My friend is going through a particularly hard time right now.”

Ten white tulips, their stems neatly-cut at the bottom?

“My heart hurts. I feel left behind, and in a way, I feel I always deserve to be here.”

Yo. That’s dark. Here’s some sunflowers!

Flowers for the young man who feels himself to be in love. He is working extensively on his body, he says, and on his mind. To quote him to the best of my ability: “Not because I think she’s shallow like that or anything. But because the best of women deserve the best of men.”

“When I talk to her I feel like the rest of the world stops moving and everything is still and peaceful when I hear her voice.”

Flowers for the little boys outside, who now find themselves to be good friends. “Faris lives in Paris! Hahahaha.” And flowers for things like football,

and food, and flowers. Cups of tea, and Salāh, shoulder-to-shoulder. The universality of a smile, and our shared tears:

Which, by Allah’s Will and grace, make these beautiful, and true, and good, things possible.

I promise you, you are more than ‘good enough’, dear reader. And if you do not believe me yet, then, here, a (virtual) red rose for you. The most cliché, perhaps: and, also, the most beloved, blood-red, of them all.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.