Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
[Does that clickbait-y title warrant an Unsubscribe? On that, you, dear reader, can decide.]
Today my friend Jemima and my ‘school daughter’ Rehab came over to my house, for catch-ups and conversations. These are… formative times, as these times always are. The makings of us. What has changed since, and what is still the same.
Jemima is Nigerian, and the daughter of two Pentecostal pastors. The “jollof rice” to my “Biryani spice” [one of the titles she has given me]. She currently attends Princeton University (yes, Masha Allah, the big Ivy League one in America) and we had met during a summer scheme we had both taken part in, in that bridge-summer between Year Eleven and sixth form. We had our first proper conversation at a Nando’s: a big (mismatched, arguably disorganised) group of us had decided to go out to eat. We ended up visiting, I think, two different Nando’s branches that day, before finding one with enough seating capacity and all.
That day, I had been sitting in the waiting area [the interior design at Nando’ses: I so love. Portuguese-African-y, with bursts of colour and character here and there]. And Jemima had come and sat next to me, holding in her hands a book about Economics, no less (‘Freakonomics’).
Well, today (some four years after meeting Jemima, that Qadric day) I found out… that she had been pretending to read that book, and I find this kind of hilarious. She recalls how, apparently, I thought she was so smart back then. All it really takes to ‘look smart’, apparently: hold a book in your hands.
As Qadr would have it, we didn’t know, but we were also actually going to be attending the same sixth form as one another, after that summer. We were going to be in no classes together, save for…
Economics (Subhan Allah. Qadr never fails to amaze me).
And then, we had both met Rehab during our time at sixth form: she had been the third person in a debate competition trio we had formed. Rehab: my ‘school daughter’, and… I am so proud of her, Masha Allah. She is ethnically Palestinian, and an aspiring medic (Insha Allah) and, after completing one ‘gap year’, she is planning to embark on another [I, too, have taken two ‘gap years’. But I see them less as ‘gaps’, and more like… real life, continued, really. Investing in real life might entail: developing bonds with one’s family, learning how to take care of one’s, say, hair better. ‘Self-work’. Learning how to cook. These things happen, Masha Allah, when there is adequate space allowed for them].
It really is wherever and to whomever Allah takes you, and whatever and whomever He brings to you, too. It is all so profoundly, subtly, delicately and beautifully, perhaps-at-present-incomprehensibly, intentional and meaningful. One day you’ll understand.
And some people come, and then they have to go: there are other stories for them to experience and to shape with their (God-created) hands. And your story is going to continue too. Like it always has. Some people stay, in whatever (interesting, in how things develop, over time) ways. Some people come for a determined time, and then go.
A friend who had much to teach me, through her being. She was security, and humour, joy, and calmness and peace. And now, I see her about twice every year: once during Summers, it seems. And once again, during Winters. She matters to me, and she is experiencing her life, and I mine, and then sometimes we come together again, as part of each other’s.
A ‘school daughter’, who has grown up a little; changed, in subtly noticeable ways. Still, though, I think her essence has remained the same. She’s a wise little one. Do I have the right to infantilise her? Probably not. But today they’d pointed out how I, by contrast to them, am ‘old’, now. Since I am (strangely enough) already in my twenties. While Jem is still nineteen, and I think Rehab[ilitation] is eighteen.
Naturally, we ate biryani and roti together. Asian household: I had to give them Asian food. A random double-occurrence from today: when I left the room to do things, I re-entered right when they mentioned ‘South Asians’, and then, the second time, later: ‘South Asian girls’. Walking in, right on cue, as if to say, “yep, that’s me”.
And Rehab, who has had time and space to think (and, there, to grow a little more) taught me some things, I think. What is it, to, for instance, love a person? To not love, per se, what they can give you: a momentary cure to loneliness and/or fear of silences, and/or financially, or in terms of attention, or material things, which can come and go.
To know that you love another — be they a friend, a family member, or a person whom you like romantically — is to know that you love them. Separately, even, to you. These days, I worry. People can say they care for you, yet:
Some people nurture ‘bonds’ with others, merely for the sakes of themselves. Just to avoid loneliness; things like this. It can hurt, but perhaps it is better to be without these, than with. While still being nice about it; while still caring about them, as human beings. How can you tell, though?
To love someone’s being; their soul, heart, mind, and character. To want goodness for them. To (try to) feel what they feel. And, yes, I think it is the people whom your heart knows to make Du’a for. In their absences, without them knowing. Perhaps at Tahajjud time in particular: I think you will just know. Goodness for them, even in the absence of you. A willingness to value precisely whom they are, and to overlook the faults and flaws they necessarily have, hoping that they will offer the same sort of Rahma to you.
To love people, as people, and not merely what they can do for you. The truth is, I don’t know. Yet, those clichés are likely true: a true friend’s goldenness is shown, most strongly, during your worst times. This is when the majority will up and leave: they only ‘liked’ you on account of x, y, and z anyway. Maybe something shinier, in their eyes, came along, and that is okay too.
A true man, to a woman: his colours may be shown in, say, her times of sickness, and/or self-doubt. A true woman: in his times of, say, financial difficulty, and/or acute mental distress. When they cannot give you things. Will you stay? Whom have you stayed for? Who has stayed for you?
Who has left? What did they leave on account of? A change of… circumstances? A change in jobs or schools? What evidently matters to people, and what matters to you?
It’s true what Rehab said today: you can be different to others, and disagree on certain things. But what matters is that you share… values. What is valuable, to you? Neither insecurity nor unknowingness nor ‘settling’ should be the things through which we make our decisions.
Furthermore, the things people say are pretty much always ‘projection’. Something from within themselves. People who… immediately comment on your weight for example: are likely insecure about theirs. People who immediately see ‘uglinesses’ and faults in people and in things: what does that say, about the states of their selves?
[Very proud of adoptive daughter mine, for being so wise, Masha Allah. Perhaps this is prep (a Harris Westminster Sixth Form trigger word: we had to do ‘prep’ work for lessons, on top of homework) for the half-Arab kids I just may end up having someday, Insha Allah. Today I learned that cake rusks with tea are an ‘Arab thing’ too. And that Rehab has a white cat: his name is Phil.]
Anyway, without any irony in what I am saying: I think I am ready to be a trad wife. One was not made to be any sort of ‘high-flying career woman’. I am a Muslim, and a woman, and someone with my own interests (‘intellectual’ and ‘creative’ and whatever else) and family-and-community-based pursuits. And things to be done, always, at home: a home to be made, primarily, by the feminine soul that nurtures it; guests, family, a self to be taken care of, Insha Allah, inside and out. My values, as I hope, are not about pride, or about meaninglessness and vanity. I don’t believe that the monetary/economic numbers of things is what earns them value. And there is an ardent longing, in me, from my core, to love, and to be, in return. As and how me; as and how they, and can we begin from right there. I seek the beauty of Deen and good character, and beauty, and nobility as firm and cragged-with-character as the mountains are. Not as a ‘place-holder’ or ‘casual’ anything of any kind. What many of the norms of ‘modernity’ will, perhaps, refuse to value: that’s okay, because as Muslims, we have Islam.
For you, dear reader: I hope, for you, wishes come true, in the form of people, perhaps which you didn’t even know you had been making. And Āmeen, Āmeen, Āmeen. A girl who comes and sits next to you at Nando’s, for example. And then something similar, albeit developed, some four years later, at your house. All the Signs. I’m telling you right now: whether it is concerning your academic/professional journey, or a friendship, or a man/woman you ‘like’… Allah Knows, and we do not. That is, until the time comes when we do. Until (it will make sense. Because: have you noticed yet? It’s by Design) another piece of the puzzle clicks (more perfectly than we can even comprehend) right into
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.