What I have learnt, Episode Thirty: I think it’s crazy // how we finish each other’s (sandwiches). Concluding remarks.
Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
Today I got some organic honey from Tesco and mixed some of it into my water. Makes for a good, organic, energy drink. The benefits of honey: it is Sunnah to have it in warm water, I think. And honey as a remedy is mentioned, specifically, in the Qur’an.
And, to cheer myself up a little (a somewhat gloomy morning, this morning) I got some of dat ‘Little Pots’ salted caramel ganache from Tesco. So delicious skfhsjkghrgh! Made my mood go up. [I also got some for Mushfikah. And… I knew it! She loved it. It really did beat her pudding in dis fight]. And ’twas a busy day today, and a tiring one (with a lil helping of social awkwardness, massively magnified in this mind of mine, as per yush) but ‘t’had also been a day of sunshine nonetheless.
I looked around, like an egg-and-cress junkie, for an egg-and-cress sandwich at Tesco. But… they were gone! So I decided to try out the vegan version of the sandwich. And… it was not great! They managed to get it to kind of smell and taste like egg… but 0.8 out of 10, would not eat again.
So, it is the last day of this thirty-day thing. Today is Wednesday: my busiest weekday at work. Form times two, and four different classes. Alhamdulillah. It is a blessing to have a job like this, for me. Sometimes, though, I find I must drag my feet a lil, to the next place I have to be at. But then I forget any prior negative emotions like that when I, for example, have a conversation with Ar–sa, Fa-za, Ma–am F–toni.
[Yes! Siedd has made a vocals-only cover of Shawn Mendes’ In my Blood. Yeeeees]
Fortunate I am, to be alive, and to be Muslim, and to be me, and to have this life of mine. Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah. Sometimes, I might feel as though I know what is best for me. The truth is, I do not. To paraphrase something that Hamza Tzortzis (Muslim scholar) has said, fairly often, we only have a pixel, while only God has access to the entirety of the picture.
Pixels versus pictures. Appearances versus reality. Appearances: a glimpse. Forgetting, or not paying much attention to, all that is behind this image. Deliberate snip-outs, very deliberate ways of presenting things, editing; of presenting oneself, even.
Today I held a copy of the recently-published Young Writers’ book in my hand: some of my students have been published in it, Alhamdulillah! I’d received packs from the competitions’ organisers in the post, at work. And quite a few of them signed up for them [there were two different competitions]. All of them received a commendation and a certificate, and an invitation to be published (save for one, who’d… plagiarised a random poem). The organisers said that this had been quite a rare thing, for any school to be invited by them to get (almost) all entrants published.
But that’s the thing: these girls are not just any students. So many of them are (Wallahi, without exaggeration on my part here) quite talented. They write very well, some of them [there is this one girl, in Year Ten, whose class I covered the other day. And I think she… could easily get a very interesting and well-written book published now]. Some of them: their Mendhi skills… professional levels. Masha Allah, Masha Allah. They even offer their artistic services to teachers, free of charge.
Baking and cooking: wow. That brownie-cake from the Eid event, which a student had made: wowowowow. Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. The painted/calligraphy arts: so many of the Year Sevens have their own calligraphy sets. Their brush-pens, the colours. Origami, too: the swans, the Ramadan advent calendar on 8S’ wall. Their senses of humour. Sharpnesses, brightnesses. And, most importantly, their Akhlaaq and Adab (morality and manners). These girls are amazing, Masha Allah Tabarak Allah. Just… all their colours.
And, yet, to many external eyes: they might just be… black-and-white. Black abaya, white scarf. Nothing else. No afforded humanness; no fairness. Just… images. Things onto which to project:
Project what you think Muslim women are, onto them. Voiceless, shapeless… whatever you choose for us to be, really, in your minds. Forgettable, or despicable. Boring, bored, or whatever else. Or, even: you feel yourself to be impure, and a Muslim girl must be faultless, and your ‘saving grace’; do the job of ‘purifying’ you, while you do little. What you might have gleaned from the media. One particular girl from Tower Hamlets stands out, for me, in particular: she had been groomed into joining a certain group, abroad. And she is probably the only Muslim girl from Tower Hamlets that many Brits have ever come across.
Before I started working here at this school (as a result of Qadr. I absolutely cannot put it down to anything else) my aunt, of course, had been here. And she would tell me about work; I would make fun of her when she had loads of marking to do [oh, how the tables have turned]. She’d told me about some anti-Muslim incidents that had taken place, while taking some of her girls on school trips. People getting their phones out, and freely taking pictures and videos of these girls, for example. Quiet though it may be, this is an act of aggression. Especially against innocent young women.
People often perceive Muslims, and Muslim women in particular, as a ‘free-for-all’ of sorts. Spat at, punched. Headscarves pulled off. Pregnant women attacked. Pushed down stairs. Go back home and
You terrorist. You’re a threat and a nuisance and oh, heh, you’re also oppressed.
And because… I think you’re oppressed… here, let me just… add to the struggles of oppression that I perceive you as being subjected to???? ‘Islamophobic’ bullies are very stupid indeed.
In their eyes, we are not granted our humanity. We are not allowed to be human. But that doesn’t stop our humanness from being true. And, very often, all one must do, in order to come to better know the truths of things is: move closer.
See the fact that one of them wants to be a structural engineer/architect in the future [this is the Italian-Bengali one, with the -oni surname!] She is determined, and she is extremely kind. She likes to read; she writes really well, Masha Allah. Books about engineering, here in Year Eight. She told me about this one time in Year Two when her teacher (whom I want to fight) told her, at Parents’ Evening, that she should… probably just aspire to be a chef, instead of an engineer. Because she hadn’t been that good at Maths, apparently. [There is nothing wrong with being a chef, but… this teacher?????] Ma–am F—oni has dyslexia. She is an incredibly intelligent girl, Masha Allah, and pretty much everybody in the staff room (passionately) agrees. Like a gifted sixth form student, sitting there in a Year Eight class. When she reads, she uses a special pink sheet thing, which assists her reading ability. And our presentations, as teachers, when teaching her class, need to have pink backgrounds. [Very often, I sillily forget… and she reminds me in a gentle and cheerful way. This girl is just… good vibes, Masha Allah.]
And this is just one student, of so many of them. You zoom in, and only then do you exchange the view[s] of mere images of them, for truths and humannesses. Muslim women are not a monolith. We are different people, with different styles, different minds, different inclinations and vocations, different senses of humour, and all the rest of it. In the staff room, by the shoe rack: shiny, heeled professional shoes. Trainers, also: some muddy, some pristine. Wellies of sorts. Clogs. Summery shoes.
But it can be easy for external eyes to come to think we are just walking black cloaks, with nothing much human about us: the media, the lack of true recognition. You don’t really see us. You might see: what the (intrinsically untrustworthy) media touts. Netflix and such too: the cool Muslim girls are the ones who… drop everything to run away with a white man. Her liberation lies with the white man; her ‘liberation’ lies in Dunya, seemingly, and in whatever is not Islam. But, prior to meeting him, and what he represents: she is made to seem… personality-less. Only a quietness, passiveness, latency. And no anything else. And have we forgotten about who our role models are: the Khadijah (RA) – wealthy and successful business-owner, who sacrificed so much of her wealth for her relatives, and for Islam; the ‘Aisha (RA) – witty genius who would race with our Prophet (SAW), the Fatima Al-Fihri, the Nusayba bint Al-Ansariyya (woman-turned-warrior, who also assisted wounded soldiers in battle)?! The Queen Bilqiis of Sheba, mentioned in the Qur’an, who ran her nation; consulted her men; humbly submitted to Allah, when she learned of the truth. Maryam (AS) who, most likely, had been beautiful (Masha Allah). But Allah was, determinedly, more important to her than mere men.
Fātima (RA) would, as a young girl, courageously go and remove the guts and meat scraps from her father’s back (which his detractors would put on him) while he prayed. She would stand up, kiss him, take him by the hand, and offer her seat to him, whenever he had come to visit her. Because this had been him as a father: this is what had been modelled to her, what he would do for her! A big part of Islam is honouring women: this theme had been a strong one, in Muhammad (SAW)’s final sermon to his people.
So what, really, is a Muslim woman? Who gets to decide who we are?
We cannot let for anybody else, in particular those who have decided that they hate us, tell us who we are. This thing is between Allah and ourselves.
Today, in the staff room, the KS4 History teacher (who is really smart, Masha Allah) started up some great discussions. And then, they veered into a discussion about… pregnancy/giving birth, again. And about how one of them needed twelve epidurals, and blerrrrrgh. How physically toiling it is to be the vessel through which another beating heart is brought into the world. Blood, (pool births), tears (in both senses of the word), and everything else.
Someone joked that one of the senior staff members would probably make for a really great birthing-partner, actually. And then we made a joke imagining her in her lanyard, doing an o b s e r v a t i o n while someone else gave birth. She – the senior staff member – also added, about giving birth, that “it’s easy”. “Just enjoy it”.
Another interjected: “Don’t listen to her!” and basically confirmed my fears that it is the most excruciating thing to ever go through; traumatic and gory and ewwwwwwww. What are the pros of this thing? What are its cons?!!!!
Something we had also spoken about today had been… mental health. Definitions, and how they are important. How much I hate the word ‘toxic’. Ultimately, this Dunya has not been designed for man’s ‘happiness’. But, when there is excessive sadness, then we need to undergo measures (considering holism) to reset the balances.
As ‘[completely] clinical’ as this stuff is sometimes made out to be, and as not-religious-but-‘s p i r i t u a l’ are proffered its solutions: ‘mental’ and religious considerations tend to go hand in hand. That is not to say that depression is a sign of low Īmān. And nor is it to say that there are no Muslims who are suffering from depressive conditions. But religion helps with understanding the entirety of this life, and what it is for. This life is not to achieve realities that look like Instagram images: this is impossible. Religion helps with the balancing act; helps with managing our expectations. Helps with giving us the avenue through which to be conversant with the One who made us, who Knows us best; helps us with being grateful.
Man, sometimes I feel like such a baby and impostor in that staff room. I’m… not a graduate (yet, Insha Allah) and apparently I look like a kid, to some. But das okay: I get free chocolate and stuff sometimes [I think some of my colleagues have taken on very maternal roles towards me], just for being alive, so I don’t mind that much.
Today I asked one of my classes who, here, enjoys writing, and quite a few hands went up. I told them that I really think they should become authors in the future, Insha Allah, and give me copies of their books to read! We need more of their voices; we need to listen to them. Maybe they won’t end up being so loud, in the face of those blaring media voices. But that’s okay: beauty is beauty, and strength is strength, even when they may appear ‘small’ in the face of loud and angry things.
What is Islam? And what do people frequently mistake it as being?
A few things: there are some who seem to sort of take the heart out of it. Make it something that is harsh, and not gentle. And, yes, a certain degree of firmness is important here: Islam is not just those parts of it that make us feel instantaneously ‘fuzzy’ and all. But, just as Muhammad (SAW) told us, gentleness beautifies, while harshness makes ugly. If a person’s religion is making them arrogant, then it is not Islam, but a failed attempt at it. Irrespective of how many fresh-white thobes one owns; irrespective of the length of someone’s beard. Islam begins from the heart (the mind, the soul) and it extends outwards, a rose tree [like the one that Faris had refused to climb the other day].
An equal but different version of such a monochromatic understanding of Islam: those who put the Deen beneath a microscope, a sort of divorced-from-heart and soul ‘academic’ lens. Without really knowing it. Investigative pursuits… but they’ve already decided on what they are looking for.
The truth is that Islam, in its true Muhammadan form, liberates. This Dunya is enslavement, attaching our hopes and desires to various things. But everything (material) leaves, and only One remains. And He is promising you the best – the most truly excellent things – in this world, and in the Hereafter, if you obey His instructions. You either accept, or you reject: your choice.
A note to myself: if Allah is making you wait for something, then wait for it. Wait for it in the best ways possible; always remember to praise Allah in the hallway. How much blessing there is, in the wait: in the opportunity to make much Du’a for it, while it approaches you. If Allah is telling you that something is not for you, then it is not for you. Don’t you know Whom your Lord is? He’s the One who gave you… Saif. And this job, here at this school. Your entire life. Your beating, beating heart. And you can pray for Hasana (excellence) for this (transient, worldly, travelling) life of yours; you can pray for Hasana for your eternity after here, also. When we chase Ākhirah (and our bond with Allah, and good bonds with the people) then Dunya… falls right at our feet, too.
[Phew, man. I thought the cat just passed away or something. He’s okay. He’s just… sitting really still, by the window, behind the blinds]
More random notes, on general health and (thus) skin: stress affects skin badly. So does bad food. Lack of sleep. Remember to apply sun-cream [according to Anteayer and Ms Maisoun: about every 2-3 hours!] Also, Balmonds’ Intensive Facial Oil (with rosehip and lavender) from Holland and Barrett: this is the one (for me, at least) Masha Allah. Drink a lot o’ water. And keep not letting anyone touch your face: bacteria affects skin badly.
Today, after work, I walked home with Sweetie again. Me, pulling my bike along [super uncomfortable. I really should stop bringing Maserati in on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays]. I’ve forgotten what we talked about today, but I always love walking home with Sweetz. Today she also gave me the other half of her chicken tikka sammich. Such an important part of my childhood: chicken tikka sammiches from F. Foods [which has very recently been renamed! Gasp! Scandal!] She asked me if I wanted to come into Nanu’s, for the Thai green and red curries she was planning on making. But this time, I just came home instead.
My dad just told me to take the electric bike instead of my own one to work… This might just be what I use, to work my way up to that imagined Vespa (Insha Allah).
“I need You, I trust You. My love is just for You.
[I can’t do without You].
My Lord I,
will ne-ver //
Put anything above You.” [Siedd]
Keep going, keep going, keep going. Keep traversing this Dunya, as a traveller, this beautiful Earth; keep finding. Projects, adventures: seek out the Khayr. Keep trying. Keep failing; keep trying again, but better. [This world is, comparatively, a prison for the believer; a paradise for those who do not believe. And:] your Lord is with you, and therefore you’ve got this. You’ve just got to really, really, focus on all that is beneficial (she boutta say it again. True, and Good, and Beautiful). And lower your gaze [your glaze. Remember that? It just doesn’t have the same buzz anymore, does it?] from a lot of other things; what is not so good for you; what does not concern you. [Priya’s voice, here, when she says, “I don’t care”. And Zahra’s too. “Just don’t care.”].
“Don’t let your food get cold watching someone else’s plate.” You take your plate, add your Nando’s sauces, put a little coriander leaf on the top, for decoration purposes. Dis be your plate: it is from Allah, designed specifically for you. What will you make of it?
God Knows, by Siedd (whose songs, quite a few of my students love. Or, perhaps, used to: one academic year, in Year Seven terms, is actually a lot–lot of time).
Back when I was eighteen
We used to live in daydreams
Then woke up in our twenties
Life passed us by so quickly
Said I’d put You above me
But been so busy lately
Out all these hours daily
Been driving myself crazy
I’ve been losing myself each day
Losing my rest each day
All these things I want for me
Oh I’ve been
Caught in distractions
Oh lost in my passions
I don’t know where this road will lead
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows
Oh God knows, God knows, I’m trying
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows
God knows I’m trying.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.