Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
Am I ‘okay’? Am I doing things ‘right’? [SADIA BEGUM. My brother typed this while I went downstairs and I think I am going to keep it here. “Say ‘my little brother has a sense of humour’. You’re gonna write ‘my brother wanted me to say that.’ I bet you’re gonna say that” — Saif Ahmed, age 8]
[While reading this article aloud, to proofread, I read the first two lines out. “Am I okay…”. Saif and Isa, who are currently playing Fortnite, said, in unison, not even looking away from their screens, “No.”]
Yesterday, my friend Aatqa (who is ethnically of Pakistani origin) came to visit me: we walked around my locale together, and then went to Little Bangladesh (sans luscious lakes and fields, Masha Allah) — i.e. Whitechapel. And then, after Aatqa had gone home, flip: I (who am Bengali) had to go to Little Pakistan (sans amazing mountains and mosques, Masha Allah) — i.e. Green Street, in order to (for my cousin’s upcoming Nikkah ceremony) buy Sherwanis for the boys [I didn’t get to see the exact ones they ended up choosing, but… I hope they chose some simple ones. Sherwanis, I think, can be a bit too feminine in appearance at times. Practically indistinguishable from what women wear] and dresses for we women. [The dresses we ended up choosing have capes on them! Superhero-princess vibes, the best kind].
Am I doing things ‘right’? Am I ‘enough’ – ‘right’ – as a Muslim/friend/teacher/man/woman/mother/med student [which Aatqa is. At Cambridge University, no less, Masha Allah Allahummabārik]? How do I know?
Whom may I be looking to, for inspiration? Whom might I be (quite unfairly, perhaps) comparing myself to, here?
What are my expectations?
I think, the way to really tell that I am doing things ‘right’ is this: do I care? Am I trying my (with due consideration granted to holism) best? And, in a related way: am I learning?
Am I willing to learn? What is this teaching me? How will I move forward?
Yesterday, after drinking some karak chai (brown-people-weakness, Kryptonite chai) we went and fed some ducks some rocket. Ducks are not meant to eat white bread: it’s actually junk food for them; they (should) eat nuts, berries, seeds, and lettuce. [The ducks in my area: it’s like they’ve reverse-evolved to… prefer white bread. I feel like putting posters up about all this, at the acknowledged risk of seeming a little strange to strangers]. Back when I would feed these ducks and birds bread, though: had I been doing things ‘right’, then? Well, yes and no:
In Islam, what matters is intention. And: what you know. What you. Know.
“Actions are but by intention.” [Sahih Hadith]. If my intentions had been to feed birds that might have been hungry, then this is what counts. And, since I know now that I shouldn’t be feeding them white bread, what matters is what I know now.
Are you doing this ‘right’? Well, is what you are doing in line with what Islam teaches? That, for example, if you are given responsibilities, trusts [‘trust’ in Arabic: Amānah. One of my students is named this. How very beautiful] you must (try to) uphold them with excellence. And you will make mistakes, and if we commit to caring, and to learning, we move with life, and we grow through it.
“Actions are but by intention”. On one side: a very comforting thought. We know that some deep sinners have been admitted into Allah’s mercy as a result of giving water to thirsty animals. And, on the other side: a dire, scary thought. I learned from some of my colleagues the other day that, apparently, some of the first people to be made to enter Jahannam (Hell) will be: martyrs, scholars, and voluntary-charity-givers. If their intentions had been: to show off to the people; for ‘status’ before the people, and not before Allah.
In terms of Islam, I know that I am fortunate, Alhamdulillah, in that I know things. First: from having attended weekend Islamic schools and such, and from having knowledgable family members (who, themselves had to go through, in their own individual ways, their own journeys [back] to Islam). And, second: from having the resources around me, to learn more; to learn better. I know, for example, that… wearing the Hijāb is not that hard for me, since I have grown up with it. Yet, for some other people, this is a big struggle for them. For me, for example, one of my struggles is… waking up for Fajr. I am not, I don’t think, by nature, a morning person. But I still have to do it.
I also still don’t know what the Witr du’a is. Basic knowledge for some; not for me, though, and that is (breathe) okay. Individual journeys, though (with the right people) together. To quote Aatqa: we are “different humans trying to be humans together.“
And that’s the thing with matters of Religion. Islam is all about moderation; the middle. To try to not be people who do whatever we want; follow our desires, and then say, “it’s okay, we’ll be forgiven. Everybody goes to Jannah. We don’t even need to try. Do drugs, even. It gets you closer to the Divine!” Flip-side, equally terrible: “OI, YOU. I CAN SEE THREE STRANDS OF HAIR COMING OUT OF YOUR HEADSCARF. YOU ARE GOING TO HELL! There is no hope for you. No hope, I tell thee! Get OUTTA here. I HATE YOU.”
There are our intentions, and there are others’. We don’t know of others, always. But we know of our own, and this is what we can, to a great extent, actually control.
And something – one of the things – Aatqa and I had talked about yesterday [something I love about people like Aatqa is that they can talk about all sorts. Smoothly, ‘organically’: nutrition, to gender dynamics, to Islam, to questions of finance] had been the ”More-‘Religious’-than-Muhammad (SAW)’ Syndrome’. When our Prophet, our greatest example, had actually been known to say things like:
“Give glad tidings [to the people] and do not frighten [them] away,
and create ease and do not create difficulty.” [Sahih Hadith]
So it’s in that good place between negligence, and extravagance. I’m not sure about the ‘religious’ label, insofar as the meaning of ‘the most religious’ is: does not smile, wears black all the time, scolds everybody for being ‘inadequate’.
‘The most religious’ man to have ever lived had been Muhammad (SAW), a man who had advised against standing in prayer so much that you stop sleeping, or fasting so much that you stop eating.
From abuaminaelias.com: Aisha reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, sent for Uthman ibn Mazh’un and he came. The Prophet said, “O Uthman, do you not desire my practice?” Uthman said, “O Messenger of Allah, no by Allah. I seek your practice.” The Prophet said, “Verily, I sleep and I pray, I fast and I break my fast, and I marry women. Fear Allah, O Uthman, for your family has rights over you and your guest has rights over you. Verily, your own self has rights over you, so fast and break your fast, pray and sleep.”
And, he had been, for example, a man who: when a companion of his and he had come across a very beautiful (Masha Allah) woman on a horse. Muhammad (SAW) – as opposed to some consistently harsh rebukers – noticed his companion staring unrestrainedly at the woman. And so he, this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful (Masha Allah) man (SAW)… turned his friend’s face away. He did not perceive that the woman had been doing anything wrong for… having a radiant face. But his friend: staring unrestrainedly. Gently, the Prophet (SAW) turned his face.
The mark of true Religion, thus, ought not to be pinned to… how superior a person feels in comparison with others, on account of how ‘religious’ they feel they are. The mark of true Religion is… how firm-and-gentle, in strength and in beauty, we can be: how much we can follow Muhammad (SAW), including when it comes to everything about moderation.
Currently, I am coming to the end of my (Qadr-ic, completely unexpected) year as a teacher, Masha Allah. And, admittedly, along the way, I found myself thinking I was not doing a good job at all. Exaggeratedly harsh, here in my own head, perhaps. I should not be comparing myself to… say, teachers who have thirty years of experience, although if I care and am committed to learning and trying, betterment, then I can ‘take what is good’ from them, and carry on. Try to do better next time. Do what I can do, today. Same with everything, perhaps. Me, as a Muslim, as a sister, friend, and the rest. I should be curious to know how I’ll be, in say, a year’s time, Insha Allah.
This all reminds me of when, nearly two years ago, maybe, a particular beloved relative of mine and I got into a bit of conflict. On account of… the fact that she had been upset that I didn’t go with my family to her house quite a few times. That time, I had been going through depression, pretty badly. I would say both of our points of view had been pretty valid. But I think I had been too defensive. Maybe if I had just listened, I would have heard: this became an argument because we both cared. She cared about spending time with me; I cared about my standing with her. We both care much about one another. After this incident, I catastrophised, thinking I had compromised our entire relationship. But: conflicts are the most natural thing ever. We are different human beings, after all, trying to be humans together. [Some great things I have learnt, since: try to be constructive, make this fruitful, rather than defensive/destructive.
It is you and them against the issue at hand, not against one another.
Try not to speak, or act, while at the mercy of strong emotions. Control your Nafs: you are a daughter of Ādam, not an ape.]
Am I doing things ‘right’, in this life of mine? Am I doing things ‘right’ before my Creator, before my people, for myself? To them, and to me, am I being true?
My heart, I think and hope, is filled with the knowledge that I care. All this is not about mere ‘aesthetics’, and looking at others from the outside, thinking I must be precisely like them. This is me; this is my journey. I already know who I am, and what I care about. These things are in-built: things speak to our hearts, and we just know. This takes a lot of the pressure off, for me. I don’t even have to think about the fact that I love, say, Aatqa’s company, or spending my money at bookshops (making money from teaching about books, in order to… buy books. Beautiful cycle.) or chicken biryani (<<<333) to know, very well, that I do.
Other things may speak to other people, and that is okay: other people are cool (Masha Allah) too. But what is mine, and what I am for, concerns me.
“I just think
You are what you love.” What you love (instinctually, ‘effortlessly’, ‘organically’) says a lot about you.
And: “there is telepathy between hearts,” to employ a Persian expression that I’d found on Twitter (when I still had it. I o r g a n i c a l l y love[d] Twitter. And I am what I love. Or had that merely been an addiction? Is all love ‘addiction’? What is the difference between the two concepts?)
I just asked my cousin Moosa (age 15) what the difference might be, between ‘love’ and addiction. I think his response is kind of genius, Masha Allah.
Moosa said that the difference is probably in “craving”. He told me about him and his “boi“, whom he loves — his best friend. He doesn’t need to speak to him all the time; can go for a day or two without talking to him, but still always cares. Doesn’t even take pictures with him for social media: they just spend time with one another, enjoy each other’s company, and it does not matter so much, what others may see/may not see, of it. They don’t rely on short-lived ‘hits’ of one-another’s presence, and call that ‘love’: it’s stronger than this, and deeper. Maybe love, when it is real, and not lust or an addiction, is a thing of middles. Between negligence, and extravagance. ‘Organic’, ‘effortless’, true, good, and beautiful. Between you and the other person or thing, and not too focused on either one of you.
“Me and him don’t even have pictures together. We’ve only got like one, but that was us two on a ride.”
And Moosa (whom I nickamed ‘Moses’. Bring that right back) just told me that the other day, he went to his boi‘s house. No plans, ‘just chillin”. Moosa helped his friend build his desk. They had, in extrovert-y Londoner terms, no ‘motive’. Just chillin’. And they really enjoyed one another’s company, Masha Allah. Not always dependent on ‘thrills’ and such, but… if/when they come, they do. I so love the word ‘organic’, and I’m proud of my brother for being a good friend.
Doing it ‘Right’, even when they (as humans) do things a little ‘wrong’, from time to time.
Because they care, and because they are trying, and learning on the job [best way to learn. Textbooks are beneficial – preparatory, a taster of sorts – but… how does one, for example, know how to be a mother or a teacher or a brother, without experience? Experience – including the necessary slip-ups – is everything].
Learning on the ol’ journey. Bismillah.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.