Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
Who am I; who am I trying to be; where am I going? What am I doing? Yesterday had been my last day as a teacher at Madani Girls School: an Islamic secondary school (and sixth form, and ‘Alimiyyah school) for young women, in Whitechapel. Yesterday had been our final INSET day of the academic year [the day before had been our sports day. Stand-out features: races on the roof, plates and crates of fruit, a bit of conflict and the firm grace with which it had been dealt, by Miss Masuma. Oh, and me: eating a full (veggie) English breakfast in the empty classroom downstairs, finishing off some piles of last-minute book-marking…]
Goodbyes. But: I don’t know. If there is still some place for me there, in the future, then Insha Allah, I will be back. The ‘goodbyes’ of the last couple of days did not really feel like permanent goodbyes at all: just temporary farewells… until the next time, whenever that will be. Now, I am somebody who, a) enjoys spending time at home, and b) loves receiving cards and gifts [I hope this doesn’t render me a materialist!]. On Wednesday and Thursday, my students surprised me with flowers (including a potted flower-plant!) and painted things, and written ones, Masha Allah. Chocolates, tea and coffee sachets, stationery, spa materials and such [things to enjoy on home days]. One of my students, for example, asked me, towards the end of term, what my favourite colours are. Days later: she gifted me a hand-knitted navy-and-mustard-yellow pouch… for me to put my glasses into! [I’d been having to use a suitcase to transport marked/for-marking books into the school, and for lugging gifts and such out. (Is dat me yeaa)
[Year Sevens have my heart and mind, Masha Allah. Year Eights too. Year Nines… I think I currently look like I am in Year Nine]
[Incidentally, yesterday, on the way home, my brother took my suitcase and pulled it for me. Such openly kind gestures tend to be rare, from young Saif-Jaan, towards me. So I cherish that moment, and seek to honour it, right here.] Teachers and going off on tangents, amirite?]
When I say I love my colleagues at the school, and my students, and the place: I don’t quite know how to properly explain it. It’s like… I had been waiting for just this, my entire life. I, whom many had associated with being ‘teacher material’ over the years [as a child I would sit my cousins down, make a register, play school-game] and who (I hope) love my religion. But over the years: I often did not know. It felt like — and feels like — there had been so many expectations placed upon me. To do ‘more’. And: people looking down on teaching, and I’d absorbed some of that, unfortunately. Why… would I want to be a teacher?
I think I have realised, by now, that the answers are always there, even if they are not always at the forefronts of our conscious minds. Allah has plans for us: I think my [academic] story, up until now, makes sense, in retrospect. Even the [not one, but two] Oxbridge offers, whose grade requirements I failed to meet (2019: Cambridge, 2020: Oxford). I know that Allah has planned my life for me Perfectly. My only fear is: is there a possibility that I, myself, could slip up somewhere, thus barring myself from meeting some of the goodnesses that could have otherwise been mine? A big question, for me, in this mind of mine.
Slip: this whole coronavirus period. For a while, with the school, I taught online. Slip: I did not know what had been waiting for me, around the corner. Qadr is a deeply testing thing, and it is also a most brilliant and beautiful one, if we commit to waiting and seeing. What Allah has Written for you can never miss you; what He has not Written for you always will.
Madani Girls School is a school filled with exceptional people, beautiful souls, Allahummabārik. Not only are these students, and staff members, very intelligent, wise, and bright: they are kind, and contemplative, and Muslimahs. Not merely ‘in-the-making’. They pray Salāh now, and read Qur’an now, and explore the sciences now. They make du’a for you [how special!] Each day, at the school, new things happen: trite but true, schools really are ‘microcosms of society’. You get illnesses, anxiety attacks, experiences of grief. Events and celebrations [Eid, Ramadān, multi-cultural days and the like; the various happenings within each person’s individual life]. A confluence of various personalities, and events; circumstances, and tests. Exams, there, are important.
And every single day – moment – forms part of the Grander Test.
It would be an understatement to say that I have learnt a lot, while at this school. I think any person, any place, is defined ‘most entirely by its ethos. I think the ethos of the (wonderful) primary school I had attended been centred upon nurture and community; secondary school: academic achievement, and seeking to make ‘working-class’ students more ‘middle-class’; sixth form: ‘ambition’, ‘perseverance’ and ‘legacy’, and in such Dunya-orientated ways. I know I love knowledge and academia, and seeking enlightenment, and yet I have often found myself in the midst of some ongoing crisis of meaning, in the midst of it. Is all this… for titles? Is it all about what people might see? What would make my efforts, here, meaningful?
In the (secular) West: the notion of ‘enlightenment’ has been attached to leaving religion (namely, Christianity) and, perhaps, focusing more on the self, and on the value of knowledge as an ‘end’ in and of itself. For the Muslim, however, everything is a means to The End; every day, moment, thus counts, and not merely some notions of some ‘future’ ones.
Perhaps: in ‘secular’ academia, the emphasis is placed on the mind, and its being challenged and expanded. In Islam, we also know to give due consideration to holism: we are not only ‘minds’. A human being is mind, and heart (emotions, and… how we remember things that made us feel things!) and body [and hence: the PE teachers at the school, who think about how many steps they’ve done in a day and such] and soul [hence: Qur’an rooms, du’as, Salāh].
Yesterday, towards the end of our INSET day [featuring: breakfast spread. And a potted flower plant, Masha Allah. Faith, food, flowers, and family. *Russian accent, here* I… like it a lot] we heard speeches from the headteacher, and associate headteacher, of the school. Stand-out ideas, for me:
We have got to try to be great women; great Muslimahs. Like the mothers of our Deen: Maryam (AS) and Fātimah (RA) and ‘A’isha (RA). Khadijah (RA) and ‘Asiyah (RA). For their forbearance, steadfastness and continuity in faith, chastity, reliance on God, courage, qualities of maternity and beauty and nurture, loyalty, deep intelligence, and how they used it. Taqwa (God-consciousness, piety).
Many of us, as we become more mature, start to think about marrying a good – or, great, even, Insha Allah – man. But the important thing is for us to seek to be great women: we are parts of wholes (families and such) and we also count, deeply, as individuals. Inspired by the great Muslim men and women in our lives, and, hopefully, inspiring them (and our sons, and brothers, and daughters Insha Allah) too.
Many of us always seek to be ‘special’, somehow: a natural human impulse, probably. To be special before Allah, and in the hearts of good people, even if this does not necessarily also translate into being ‘special’ in the fleeting (and sometimes massively inaccurate) opinions of masses of people…
The headteacher closed his speech by referring to (I think it is) a quote about how we come into this world crying, while others around us are smiling. We seek to exit this world (which we inevitably will have to do, whenever our respective times are) smiling (“well-pleased and pleasing”) while others are… crying [friends and family who read my blog… you’d better cry for me, yeah, when I go…].
I have learnt so, so much about being Muslim, and a Muslim woman, specifically. Being a student, also. Teaching, and Muhammad (SAW) had been a teacher, and mothers, by nature, are teachers too. Due consideration, I have learned, over and over again, needs to be given to both the fences (government guidelines, curricula, accreditations, planning and timetables. Constancy: clear aims, constancy, the backbones) and to the nurture of the flowers (individuality, creativity, enjoyment and comfort. Novelty: the stuff that cannot be foretold or ‘planned-for’, too).
Who am I trying to be? What am I seeking to do, here? I think my love for this school, and its people, tells me a great deal in response to such questions. And if, in the future, I occupy some other roles (maybe, in Dunya terms, ‘bigger’ ones — or, ‘smaller’ ones…) then… that will be okay, too, but as long as the right essences of things remain the same within me, the entire way through, Insha Allah.
To try to live like Muhammad (SAW). And in a Fitrah-orientated manner: in a way that will grant us admission into Allah’s Mercy, and into Jannah. “The believers are but brothers” [Qur’an, (49:10)]. And perhaps the most beautiful thing about Madani School is its evident and well-embodied emphasis on sisterhood.
Probably one of the biggest things I have learned, through experience, is that life is going to keep moving, just as it has been doing, all this time. And we have got to keep moving, and growing, learning, with it. We know, better, what the [oft-arduous nature of the] life of this world is. Certainly, it is essential for us to have good people – and places – to walk along with us, on this journey.
[To quote a display poster on the top floor hall: What’s your journey to Jannah looking like?]
(And, Alhamdulillah for everything, and for what what things are, present tense.)
In line with the idea that everything in Dunya is part-‘upsides’ and part-‘downsides’:
Pages from the summer publication by the ‘Alimiyyah department:
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.