The [Crocodile] Tears for Afghanistan’s Women — Zimarina Sarwar

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.


“Vowing to save Afghan women

While bombing them.”

“The issues central to their lives did not revolve around the Western obsession of whether or how much they cover, but harsh realities much more foundational. The loss of husbands, brothers, and fathers due to the fighting not only generates complex psychological trauma, but also fundamentally jeopardizes their economic survival and ability to function in everyday life. Widows and their children are thus highly vulnerable to an array of debilitating disruptions due to the loss of male family members.”

To many people, it seems, the matter at hand is reducible to… what women wear. As ‘simple’ as: covered woman, terribly ‘oppressed’ by Shari’ah law. Woman in ‘Western liberal’ clothing, liberated! Huzzah! Even when this is done forcefully, like it is in France.

A very recent memory of the day we heard that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban: so many people talking about it. A woman putting her phone against a wall/bush or something, in order to video call someone. Something like: “Oh, it’s awful, isn’t it?” And, yet again, the way that hijabi Muslim women are looked at. Either: why on Earth would you?! or: you need rescuing. A mixture of ‘pity’ and disdain, and I wonder if women in Afghanistan are looked upon in rather the same sort of vein.

“Where were the tears for Afghan women and girls when reports of Western war crimes were being suppressed? Reports of British soldiers killing children and proven cases of deaths in custody, beatings, torture, and sexual abuse of Afghan civilians are all extremely alarming incidents which have received little attention (let alone tears) thus far.”

“Or consider when Australian Elite troops had 400 people witness prisoners, farmers, and civilians be killed, with even more egregious crimes committed, including:

  • – Junior soldiers were told to get their first kill by shooting prisoners, in a practice known as “blooding”.
  • – Weapons and other items were planted near Afghan bodies to dress them up as militants and cover up crimes.
  • – Additional incidents that constitute war crimes and fall under the rubric of “cruel treatment” were committed.”

“Only when the rage and concern for Afghan civilians remains strong and consistent for all injustices – no matter who the perpetrators are – then the flowing liberal tears for Afghanistan’s people might be worth their salt.”

For example, what might ‘justify’ this:

Where are those similar tears for these, of Afghani men?

Who determines what the ‘ideals’ of ‘civilisation’ are, and do their (ironically quite ‘uncivilised’) means justify their ‘ends’?

I want to learn more about the situation in Afghanistan, Insha Allah. If anybody could direct me towards any resources pertaining to the pre-2000s Taliban, the 2001 invasion and American presence there, the Taliban of today, links between these conflicts and the Crusades, maybe: please do.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

A Seaside, a Cottage, Tea, and a Garden

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Yesterday* we took a trip, in my dad’s mini-van to Durdle Door beach in Dorset. A long journey, and one that comprised two men at the front (my dad and Mama, Sweetie’s husband) and at the back we had myself, my uncle (Ranga Mama), Sweetie (my aunt: her nickname that we seem to use more than… her actual name), Suto Mami (my uncle’s wife. Another honorific name, as per Bengali tradition) and three kids: my brother, my other little brother (who is actually my cousin) Dawud, and Siyana (my cousin sister) too. Kids: not only are they adorable (Masha Allah). They are (endearingly bizarre and) hilarious, and I don’t think they even know it, much of the time.

I love road trips: there is something about them. When there is good food, good company, the rolling good views, Masha Allah. Between excessive activity/intensity, and excessive… indolence. And all the unpredictable things you’ll witness: places and people. The spots on which you’ll pray. The sporadic stops at service stations, maybe for coffee, and/or egg-and-cress sandwiches and muffins and the like. This time, on the way there, my dad bought lots of salted nuts and things for us to snack on. And sunglasses for me, also, for some reason. In our bags, also: we had chilled drinks with ice blocks (courtesy of Ranga Mama and Suto Mami), homemade cake (Sweetie, of course), pastries and pizza slices from Lidl (Sweetie and Mama), and a big flask of tea [from my mum. A very Asian and Muslim and British thing: tea. Some people seem to have alcohol for everything: weddings, difficult moments, picnics, celebratory meals. We: tea.

If you ever go to Saudi, to Masjid Al-Haram: try the tea/coffee from the stalls there if you can. I think they make it with evaporated milk, and with the Lipton Yellow Label tea-bags. Delicious, too good to not have, Masha Allah, and 5 Riyal a cup I believe (about a pound, in GBP terms)].

Cue another random but fascinating tangent: Michael Pollan, a writer who tends to write about where nature and human culture intersect [spot the ‘nominative determinism’ in his surname] credits caffeine with giving rise to the modern world:

“If alcohol fuels our Dionysian [i.e. irrational, sensuous, chaotic, hedonistic and destructive] tendencies,

caffeine nurtures the Apollonian [disciplined, calm, reasonable, ordered].”

“Coffee was consumed across the Arab world in the sixteenth century, just as tea was consumed across China during the Tang dynasty, and both periods produced arguably more advanced societies than contemporary alcohol-quaffing Europe; Charles II moved to close down English coffeehouses in 1675 on the grounds that they were fomenting revolution.

“A couple of centuries later, corporations woke up to paid coffee [slash tea] breaks making workers more productive. But there is no such thing as a thermodynamic free lunch; any non-calorific boost in energy must be paid for.

The quarter-life of caffeine is twelve hours, so we pay for our daytime focus with poor sleep, which we then counter with more caffeine the following day. […] [Coffee seems to have advanced] from a corner of Ethiopia [likely through to Yemen, then to Turkey, then Italy, and to the UK] to occupy 27 million acres — and [many people] can’t get out of bed without it.”

Adding to this aptly-caffeine-fuelled tangent of crucial importance, arguably caffeine sharpens the mind ‘as is’, while alcohol ‘dulls’ it [in the Qur’an, the word Allah has used for ‘intoxicants’ is ‘Al-Khamru’, from the trilateral root word ‘KH-M-R’ (خمر) which means ‘to cover’. Intoxicants cover one’s rational and reasoning faculties]. Psychedelic substances, which also tamper with one’s reasoning faculties so are also forbidden for Muslims, arguably function by countering the mind’s function as a ‘funnel’, a filter, and they can allow us to see the world ‘as it really is’. Without said filters, the world, it seems, really is too overwhelming, impossibly ‘trippy’, for the human being. It all reminds me of that theory of ‘limited latent inhibition’. Perhaps the (God-given) highly creative/intelligent mind resembles, at least somewhat, that of a mind on… psychedelics.

My baby brother [nicknames for him from me have ranged from ‘Ishkum Bishkum’ to ‘Soopaf McDoopaf’] turns nine tomorrow, Allahummabārik, and I cannot believe that he had been as small as Dawud and Siyana once. And Dawud and Siyana: how fortunate I am, to be able to see them grow before my eyes. Siyana, currently, would appear to be going through a period of… feistiness (more so than usual). Dawud’s politeness (Masha Allah) coupled with his developing sense of humour, also: does he get the humorous meanness from…us, his cousins?!

I forgot what we had talked about on the way there, but it was just… good vibes, you know? Masha Allah. Just the type that… happens and you don’t even think about how nice it is, because you’re simply ‘absorbed in the moment’, ‘organically’.

‘Organic’: on the way there, we had come across a small business on the side of a motorway. Some farmers selling punnets of fresh strawberries, plums, cherries, and jams. My dad bought some for us, and so did Mama. Mama had been interested in the jams (selling at £8.50 a pop) and thought aloud, I think, about making some himself. I’m pretty sure I’ve made jam myself once, or maybe twice. Nanu[my nan’s]’s house: I think it had been ‘plum jam’ in a saucepan. We (my cousins and I) used to do (and perhaps, still do) all sorts of stuff at Nanu’s. Sometimes: simply creative and stuff. Sometimes: a bit (or very) strange.

When we arrived, we had to walk a bit. A mini hike trail of sorts. And then you have to go down some steps, and you see it: the rocky structure that is rather famously known as Durdle Door. My mum said she’s always wanted to come here: she’d seen this place in pictures before. My other uncle (Lal Mama) has come here before: he’s also been to places like the Great Wall of China, and he did Salaah (the Muslim prayer, at least five times daily) on it too, I believe.

Suto Mami said that parts of ‘Nanny McPhee’ had been filmed there too.

We prayed on the beach, mainly right by where we’d been sitting, and in turns. The people around had seemed like a mixture of ‘countryfolk’, tourists. Muslim families too, of course. Little [I think they’d been striped: white and baby-blue, as you’d sort of expect for them to be] huts as a souvenir shop, an information point, and a wooden trailer or something as a café. Picnic tables, cliffs. Reminded me of… the more ‘Victorian’ idea of the seaside, if that makes any sense at all.

On one end of the beach, by one of the rock formations, I also noticed a group of Muslim men praying there too. They looked like a friend group, doing Wudhu together, wearing matching black t-shirts I think, and praying. If I were a man, I would want friends like that, I think. And instead, I’m a woman (Alhamdulillah) and oh wait… I have friends like that, Masha Allah Allahummabārik. Parts of my Paradise, Insha Allah.

It had been a bit too cold to play in the water. But my mum had brought her inflatable little sea-boat from their last trip (staying at a caravan in Kent, which I didn’t go to. I find I am… a [social] introvert in a family of extroverts. Sometimes I go; sometimes I more prefer not to). Ranga Mama sat on my dad’s back, in return for when my dad tried to sit on Ranga Mama. We ate, talked, and it was just… ‘in the moment’, and although normally I guess I have a tendency to be in my own head quite a lot, yesterday I think I had been so less than usual. The company you are with defines so much of the essence of any trip.

“Verily, Allah is with us.” — Qur’an, (9:40)

Saif bought a boomerang from the souvenir shop. At one point, he ended up getting it stuck on one of the cliff-sides looming over us. Cue a nice moment of Saif, my dad, Mama and Ranga Mama throwing rocks onto it, trying to get it to fall down. Muslim Asian Dads (plus Saif) Assemble. It did, eventually, come down.

I, for some reason, decided to climb onto one of the rock structures going into the sea [in my head, sometimes I’m an ‘adventurer’ I suppose] and actually managed to get onto it. I sat there for a while, and had a decent view of things, and I think the others had been calling me to get down, but I couldn’t really hear them properly. Then, I… struggled with getting down: I couldn’t find a way, and I think the tide had been rising, so…

I just hoped my brother, especially, hadn’t been watching me. But then I’m pretty sure I heard an uproar of his laughter, so I think he saw the little debacle. The word ‘debacle’ also reminds me of… barnacles. While sitting on the rock thing, a father swimming in the sea had been teaching his (kind of shivering, maybe) little daughter, I think she had been, about barnacles, and about how their presence on the rocks, formed from tectonic plates, indicates how high the tide can rise.

Anyway. Ranga Mama sort of came running (briskly jogging), and had to carry me on his shoulder to get me down. [How embarrassing. And yet the embarrassing stories tend to end up making for… some of the best ones, no?] I find I am no… independent ‘adventurer’ woman…

On the way back, an old woman — whom we later discovered had been of Brazilian origin, and who did not speak English — came and sat at the wooden picnic table we had been sitting at. It was nice: it was as if she already knew us. [As my friend Rania once (i.e. today, at the time of writing) said: we’re all from the same tree of humanity.] Ranga Mama offered her a Fruit Shoot (a juice drink) and she took it: she must have been exhausted from that walk. Using Google Translate, I asked her if she’s waiting for her family, and she said, Sim, she is.

After this, we had been hungry. My dad usually knows, and finds, the best spots to eat at/from. Random roadside Indian restaurants, and steakhouses, and Jamaican places, and the rest. Yesterday we ate at a place I so loved. Its interior: what I just love so, so much. Quaint-seeming, ‘rustic’, darkened and illuminated by warmth and humming conversations and candlelight, cottage-like. One ‘India Cottage’ in Ringwood. Going in, a humorous moment because we all felt pretty… underdressed compared to what we saw, looking in. I, for instance, had gotten wet sand all over my shoes, and on my long coat. So my dad gave me a spare shirt of his – checkered, I think it had been – to wear over my dress [I could see myself as being a ‘Canadian mountain Muslim’, if it is fated for me, Insha Allah. It also reminded me of my old ‘style’ as a kid: checker shirts and jeans. And… flower headbands over my headscarf, admittedly]. I wore my mum’s trainers too. Sweetie had brought an extra Abaya with her, so Suto Mami had worn that.

Candles. I just so love candles. And cobblestone. Plants and comfort. Warm glows. I love, love, love, the interior decor of pubs sometimes, but I wish they didn’t serve alcohol. I hope someone, Insha Allah, buys an English pub one day, and turns it into a teahouse. Maybe the EDL, for example, wouldn’t be too happy with that, but that is okay, because culture is a living, dynamic thing, and what better way to acknowledge a big part of British history (and consequent present times), than with a pub building that serves masala chai from its taps? [I won’t gate-keep/patent this business plan of mine. Because I’d be happy to be a customer at this imagined teahouse, also happy to be its owner. Insha Allah Khayr.]

I loved that this restaurant had real candles. Fire, which my brother tried to blow out, in between talking. A little character, my Ishkum Bishkum, and he pretty much always has been (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik). Antiquated wooden tables, tartan blankets here and there. A garden, lots of plants. A fireplace. More… ‘Desi-seeming’ decor, also: a lantern or two, a nice mirror. And I ordered a ginger and orange chicken curry for myself, with lemonade and white rice. I loved that place so much: what a concept. My dad (who seems to know a lot, lot of people) knew the owner’s father, it turned out. The owner is Bengali, and he was really nice, and he came to speak to us at the end.

They had also made space for us to pray outside, in their garden area. Sometimes it can feel a tad daunting to ask if there might be any space in which to pray. But don’t ask, don’t get, usually. They had kindly laid down tartan blankets: three in three different colours. Maghrib in the half-dark, aglow.

My dad and Mama had strong coffees to top off the day, and I never quite understand how people can drink coffee at night and then… manage to sleep after that.

Alhamdulillah for a beautiful day, and for the conversations we had in the car afterwards: Ranga Mama had suggested a game that he had played before…

You say something like: “Most Powerful Memory”, and then everyone goes around and reveals the most powerful memory that comes into mind when they think about the person whose turn it is. “Foremost characteristic”. And so forth. And I suppose I learnt more things about myself, and about these people I love, that I had not known before [“I don’t think she even realises this, but…”]. If cars had not been invented, this would likely have been… a trundling wooden cart/carriage, with my dad at the front as the ‘horse-driver’. I suspect this is where the word ‘driver’ comes from. And maybe ‘car’ is short for ‘carriage’. And also: Victorian/Georgian Brits, and Muslims… How many similarities there likely are, between us, and those erstwhile people who had been meant for that time…

‘Social distancing’, also, especially between non-Mahram men and women: Georgian/Victorian British, and Muslim, and now with this virus: generally-modern British also.

When it had been my turn to speak about my ‘most powerful memory’ of Ranga Mama, I talked about that one conversation I had, at his old house, some two years ago. Suto Mami and Ranga Mama spoke about the same thing, when it came to me. That conversation from two years ago had been the most open and ‘real’ conversation I’d had with my uncle, and it had marked a turning point, Masha Allah. We’d, to paraphrase Ranga Mama, somehow “crossed twenty different bridges” with that conversation, and with the spirit of Islam, and for me it had also sort of marked a secondary shift: from my being… a child, an extension of my parents, to more of an independent and separate person within my family, if that makes sense, with more ‘autonomy’ and realised personhood within my familial relationships. Masha Allah.

Another ‘powerful memory’ I’d mentioned, concerning Ranga Mama: when… we had been on a family trip together, and I sillily decided to climb something. And then… I sort of embarrassingly later required rescuing

*I often schedule for articles to be uploaded days — or even weeks — after writing them.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

[Very] Human Error

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

What if I slip up? What if I do something wrong? What does that say about me?

What if somebody’s currently-blurred, rose-tinted, lens changes somehow, and suddenly, they see me for what I ‘really’ am? What if I do not ‘deserve’ their friendship; their love?

Irrespective of what we see of things, from the outside; how our minds are known to take the ‘quick route’, and to simplify, become negligent of all the various complexities that are at play, and, for example, to decide that we might be somehow uniquely, terribly flawed, while others are… ‘normal’. ‘Okay’, and ‘acceptable’. You think you want to be like them: ‘secure’ and all the rest of [how] it [seems], while you, a lot of the time, know you are not.

But then again: nobody is, really. ‘Mistakes’ run through our blood. This is whom we are, as beings. Our father, Ādam, and the fruit. And the slip from grace. Something seemed, in that moment, desirable, though it had been forbidden.

Deeply remorseful, our ancestors Ādam and Eve (Hawaa) said, 

“Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers.” — Qur’an, (7:23)

Iblīs, by contrast, had been instructed to do something, by Allah. Prostrate before Ādam: like the aforementioned tree, a test for him. Would he obey the commands of his Lord?

Iblīs wilfully rejected. And he behaved with Kibr, in both senses of the concept: he behaved arrogantly with Allah (denying a direct command) and behaved arrogantly with a human being, looking down upon him, claiming that he (Iblīs) is ‘better‘ than Ādam, on account of the material he is made from [i.e. based on something material. Sometimes, people behave arrogantly with other human beings on account of material factors including skin colour, wealth possession, academic/professional titles, and otherwise. Yet, in Islam, we know that, to paraphrase some sayings of Muhammad (SAW), no man is ‘better’ than another, except when it concerns piety and good action: the states of our hearts]. Iblīs did not feel remorse: instead, he sought to ‘logically’ justify his actions. He had full knowledge of the consequences of his actions, and made the conscious decision to choose his version of the forbidden tree’s fruit: pride, rejecting a direct directive from Allah, on account of his personal, emotionally-charged reluctance.

Ādam (upon him be peace) and Hawaa (upon her be peace) erred. Allah told them not to eat from the tree. Yet, they experienced a moment of heedlessness, forgetfulness. Shaytān’s whisperings made the prohibited action enticing and fair-seeming to them: he’d acted like a sincere friend to them, promising them angelic status, and immortality. They erred; they fell from grace. And then, realising the weight of their misdeeds, they made the aforementioned Du’a. They accepted that they had done wrong; they relied on the merciful forgiveness of Allah. They were remorseful; they felt guilt. And they had hope in Allah’s Mercy.

The Qur’an, and our Deen, is replete with metaphors: stories and images that convey meanings and ideas. This is how we humans understand things: we learn things best, perhaps, through stories. Metaphor (as well as manners) maketh man.

Shaytān’s misdeeds:

  • Insolently disregarding a direct command from Allah (SWT)
  • Arrogance. “I am better [greater, bigger] than him [and than the direct command of Allah]”.
  • Relied on his own emotionally-charged ‘logical’ conclusion: sought to ‘logically’ and proudly justify his disobedience. Acted ‘self-sufficient’, and not in submission to Allah

The first human beings, by contrast:

  • Shaytān whispered to them (gave them suggestions) that Allah had been preventing them from goodness, by forbidding them from eating from the tree. He (Iblīs) also lied to them in order to convince them that he is a sincere friend of theirs; tried to implant, in their minds, negative thoughts about God.
  • They were led to the tree by deceit.
  • They were disgraced. Allah had ennobled them, yet they ate from the tree, and their shame had been exposed: a symbol of their fall from human ennoblement, to animalistic debasement.
  • Allah reminded them of His command, and of how He had informed them that Shaytān is an enemy to them.
  • The human pair accepted that they had done wrong; they emotionally sought forgiveness from Allah, beseeching Him, relying on His Mercy and Forgiveness.
  • They were humble [accepted their humble status before Allah. For us, this is also shown in how we are towards fellow human beings].

As a descendant of Ādam and Hawaa, I know that I have done wrong, and that I will continue to do so, throughout my life. I care about behaving in goodness, and about improving. Also, I am deeply flawed. Shaytānic whisperings may convince me that certain actually-bad things are ‘good’ for me; perhaps I will idealise some things, and seek to have things through illegitimate avenues. I’ll get angry; I’ll wrong people; I’ll be inadequate in certain domains of life, on particular days; in particular roles and responsibilities, I’ll slip up and err from time to time. Sometimes I will not know that I am doing wrong. But, so long as I am not wilfully and arrogantly doing so, and disobeying Allah.

We’re ‘allowed’ to err: it’s an intrinsic, inextricable part of us. So long as, when we learn of our faults, we accept that we have done wrong; sincerely seek forgiveness (from people and from Allah) and learn to rely on Allah exclusively.

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you. And perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” — Qur’an, (2:216)

As Muslims, we seek to root ourselves, and our hopes and deeds, in Truths, and not in all of these things around us that function as contemporary versions of that fruit. Our eyes, and thoughts, can be quite deceptive. Allah is Perfect, and while we are far from. And our Rabb Knows, while we are limited and often [think we ‘know’, but] know not.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Fountain

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

“Youth is the spring of life. It can either be a time of hedonistic enjoyment and self-satisfying fulfilment or it can be a time of self-discovery, growing enlightenment and increasing perfection. These examples from history across the Islamic world highlight a shared culture of contribution, service and a concern for the continuity of tradition that was embedded even within young minds. In all of these anecdotes, a young mind put forward a contribution with sincere effort to serve and benefit others. In doing so, these contributions have outlasted generations and centuries later their legacy is still alive. They weaved forward the fabric of scholarship and thought that enshrouds time, space and fleeting concerns. This note from history should serve as a reminder for us to think of how we can take advantage of our youth before our old age. The past can serve to motivate our present so that we can be mindful of how we continue to weave forward the future.”

Full article, with references to several figures from Muslim history:

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Muslim Women Working: I found this interesting

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

The ‘stricter-than-Muhammad (SAW)’ mentality, which seems to plague some adherences to Islam. I want to know more. For example: Muslim women, and work? Inter-gender (non-Mahram) interactions? The rights of the parents, and of the husband, and/or the wife? Requirements for female modesty? I seek the truths of these things, and in the spirit of what Muhammad (SAW) taught. For example, an email from the Al-Maghrib Institute:

It is simply inaccurate to depict the Medinan society of the Prophet  ﷺ as one where the men worked and the women were exclusively supported by them. 

Al-Rabī‘ bint Mu‘awwadh and al-Ḥawlā’ used to make perfumes in Madīnah and sell them. (Ibn Sa‘d in al-Ṭabaqāt and Ibn Ḥajar in al-Iṣābah respectively)

The Prophet’s wife Zaynab used to sew and embroider things for sale and give from her earnings in charity. (Muslim) 

The Prophet ﷺ entered the date farm of Umm Bishr al-Anṣāriyyah. (Muslim) 

Umm Sulayṭ used to make leather water skins. (al-Bukhāri) 

Umm Shurayk used to own and run a guesthouse. (Ibn ‘Abdul-Barr in Alistī‘āb) 

The Prophet’s ﷺ minbar was made by a woman’s carpentry business. (Muslim) 

Ibn Mas‘ūd’s wife used to work and support him. (Aḥmad)

Jābir narrates,

“My aunt was divorced and she wanted to go out to collect the dates from her farm. A man told her to go back to her home. She went to the Prophet ﷺ and he said, ‘No, go collect your dates. Perhaps you may give in charity or do something good with them.’” (Muslim)

 [I also want to learn more about Khadijah (RA) as a director of trade, Insha Allah]

There are important guidelines however that any sister must be careful to abide by:

  1. The work must be permissible in its nature.
  2. It will not cause fitnah in her religion. [A former colleague of mine, for example had quit a job she had (well-paid, respectable, Masha Allah) because it interfered with her ability to pray on time.]
  3. It does not conflict with the rights of others like the husband and children.
  4. The permission of the walī.

*End email, complete with my ‘[asides]’*

This religion: the rights of your Creator, and the rights of those who have rights over you. Personal health is important too. Trying to sleep well, eat well, and all the rest. If a job, even if it is ‘super shiny’ and such, interferes with these sacred rights… as Muslims, we do believe in carrying out our responsibilities with (intended) excellence, and yet… the rights of an organisation/corporation over you are far smaller in comparison to those other ones.

It is not that women cannot partake in economic work. It is not, either, that they ‘must’, and that their worth is somehow contingent on having a 9-5 across the weekdays. We do not invent the rules; we do not exaggerate them either. We are not the rule-makers. Interesting stuff, Masha Allah.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of Islam: Football, Family, and the “blue” country

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Two of my little brothers are currently playing foosball. I have one biological brother, and then two of my little cousins: among British-Bengalis, it is quite normal for us to refer to our cousins as cousin-sisters and cousin-brothers. It often feels this way too: like although we did not share a womb, and do not share two parents…

Sometimes uncles are father figures (giving guidance, reassurance, help, stability and support) and aunts are mothers (nurture, love, affection, amazing food and comfort), Masha Allah.

I love the notion of pure Islamic, Abrahamic, revivalism. Notions of community networks; to revive the soul of any community, to combat these forces of atomisation and hyper-individuality, perhaps it is integral that we begin with… family.

د is four years old, and he (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik) is a beautiful, adorable child. His favourite superhero, apparently, is… himself. “Me.” He points to the Spider-Man T-shirt he is wearing.

Favourite car? “Red.”

“Black Mer-say-dee car,” he talks about, sometimes. “BMW.”

“Which country are you from?”

“The blue one.”

“Do you do Nomaz? [prayer, also known as Salāh]”

“I doooo.”

The most important thing in his world? Me, [himself]” he says, again. He values family too, Masha Allah. Hugging both his parents, and sometimes inviting others to join: he calls this “family”.

I ask د if he knows who Allah is. Fascinating, how kids tend to conceptualise God, sometimes. د mentions something about the “masjid” (‘place of prostration’, in Arabic. The Anglicised version of this word is ‘mosque’. See here for its theorised etymological journey).

د mentions something, in relation to Allah and the masjid, about the colour purple, specifically. I believe his mum, my aunt, has a purple prayer mat (a nice fluffy one) at their house, so perhaps this response is in reference to that.

د has also started school recently. His teacher’s name is “Kelly”.

And, “what do you do at the masjid?”

“Um, I do Allah baak.” [He’s trying to say ‘Allahu Akbar’, which means God is Great, God is the Greatest.]

“Does your dad [do ‘Allah baak’]?”

“He do.”

Today I sat with him outside, while he jumped energetically on the trampoline. I went inside to get some water and asked him if he wants some too. He said no, because his “heart’s bleeding!” [i.e. beating. Is it not just the most adorable thing ever, when children employ… (the word here is,) ‘malapropisms‘?!]

د apologises for something small. He generally likes it when people are “happy” with him. “That’s okay,” I say. “Welcome,” says he, and then, I think he says “thank you”.

The other two boys, earlier, played Scrabble together. I suppose this is a less direct way of getting them to practise their spelling, and to love English. They love playing football (and basketball. “But no! I like football the best,” says ten-year-old ع. Football is the best sport, according to them).

Man-U won a match today. Ronaldo scored for them or something, and as usual, my uncle is overjoyed. We’re treated to dessert as a result, from him and his wife, my aunt. Personally, I’m not a major fan of football, but if a match results in some chocolate cookie dough for me, then I am not one to complain. [‘The beautiful game’].

[Here, I wonder about the Islamic guidelines for eating. ‘Moderation’ is the way, I know. Do whatever is Khayr*, I suppose. Sharing food with family must be Khayr: eating what they are. I think ‘social eating’ sugary/otherwise food might be alright, at least sometimes, but I know that physical health is important too.]

As we eat dessert, the two older boys are teaching د how to say “Wassup, my G?” د’s nuclear family has moved out of Tower Hamlets (East London), however this is still (part of) home for him (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik, Āmeen), and from his older brothers, he gets this… gradual initiation. An education.

د copies a lot of the things that they do. We tend to naturally, in our minds, latch onto ‘role models’, don’t we: people who appear to be further along developmental curves than we ourselves are. Boys to friends who are older, age-wise and in terms of maturity, and to older brothers, and to uncles and fathers; people who are what we want to be more like. To historical figures, prophets, and to sportsmen, even:

س’s favourite footballer is one Mohamed Salah. He’s “a very good Muslim, and a very good football player”. I, and س’s friends at school (separately, coincidentally) started to call him ‘Saif Salah’. While س supports Liverpool (like many if not most of the men on our dad’s side), and while our mum’s side is mostly Man-U, د looks at the foosball table, and says that he supports the “yellow” team. No wait, the “red” one, since he is wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt.

د is named after the prophet Dawud (AS), whose Biblical name is David. And nine-year-old س’s name in Arabic means ‘sword’, and I got to name him myself (Masha Allah) those nine years ago. Today we discovered that if spelt with a ‘ص’, (which is still an ‘s’ sound in Arabic, but in a slightly different way) then the meaning changes to… ‘summer’. I asked my brother if he would like to be named ‘sword’, or ‘summer’. And he said ‘sword’, since his best friend, our neighbour Faaris, is called ‘knight’ in Arabic. The sword and the knight: a best-friend match made… by Allah [Masha Allah, Allahummabārik*].

I find it amazing how Allah has created us, and the things within our lives and around us. Our stories. Like how the younger, perhaps purer, versions of us — children — know, and show us what they love, and are perhaps likely going to love, and be like. د loves cars. س and ع were interested in dinosaurs and animals.

“Robot transformation VW [Volkswagen]” is what د wants to see on YouTube. And then his eyes are quite transfixed on a video about super-cars. I have a little theory, here. I don’t subscribe to notions of ‘Arab supremacy’ or anything, but an early part of our family’s ancestry is said to be Yemeni, and Arabs are known to love their horses. And cars are practically mechanised horses. Personally, I love both horses and [super-]cars. What gorgeous creatures; what gorgeous machines (always, Masha Allah*).

The desire to have nice cars, nice horses, nice clothes. A key Islamic principle is that of humility — before the Creator, and this should translate into humility among creation. Yet, a Muslim is allowed to wear nice, expensive clothes. Drive nice, expensive cars (or horses, still, in certain fortunate parts of the world).

I came across a Hadīth (saying attributed to the Prophet (SAW)) about a man having asked him about nice clothes, wondering, I think, if loving to wear nice clothes and shoes, and wanting them to be the best, conflicts with the Islamic directive to be humble, and not arrogant.

Muhammad (SAW)’s response is said to have been that God is Beautiful, and loves beauty. Rather, arrogance is “one who disregards [is boastful, rude, and ungrateful towards] the truth and looks down upon [despises, treats disrespectfully and contemptuously] people.” [Source].

ع learns Islamic Studies by attending a mosque class every week. س has two Islamic Studies / Qur’an teachers. He (س) has very recently progressed onto reading the Qur’an (on from the ‘preparatory books’, which are known, at least by us, as the Qa’ida and the Sifaarah). Our nan and some other family members want to get some gifts for him: my aunt paid for Minecraft for him yesterday, as a gift.

The boys enjoy playing Minecraft and Fifa. د knows how to play (Masha Allah) and our little three-year-old cousin-sister (who is starting preschool in the coming week, Insha Allah. An Islamic one in East London. Her teacher’s name is “Haleema”) likes to play Mario-Kart with them sometimes, too. I think she’s managed to beat them all at least once.

Soon, Insha Allah*, س’s friend will join him in his Arabic classes. ر – his friend – is half-Turkish, half-English, I believe. From what I know, his mum isn’t Muslim, but would like for her son to take after his father in that regard. She, for example, also ensures that her children eat Halāl food only.

On reflecting upon things like the upbringing of these boys [it takes a village / It takes a family…] I suppose I am thinking about gender again. [Paternal/masculine, and maternal/feminine influences]. The difference[s] exist[s], and we exist as a dimorphic species. Yet, it is not a simple, concrete separation. Men, I think, (often) have something significant of the ‘feminine essence’ within them, and I think the same is true for women and ‘masculine essence’.

Sometimes people try to conflate modern ‘masculinity’ movements with Islam. And although Islam is a patriarchal Deen [men are ‘Qawwamoon’ upon women (see Qur’an, (4:34)). The root word for this stems from ‘to stand’, ‘to establish’. It arguably also means ‘care-takers’, ‘guardians’] I don’t think it is the case that all men ‘should’ only love sports, and cars, and other very ‘masculine’ things. What about elements of poetry, and taking care of children, and gentleness? Perhaps a man’s (balanced) ‘inner feminine’ is important to be nurtured, like how a woman’s ‘inner masculine’ is (in balance). [Too much ‘strength’ becomes weakness, perhaps. Too much ‘softness’ is not always ideal either].

Another key Islamic principle: that of balance.

Yesterday, I also thought about ‘love’. And I think love is… an encompassing. Complex, and yet so very simple and effortless; presence, and understandings. Encompassing, like when somebody feels cold, and/or tired, and another knows to place a blanket over and around them. Or, chucks them one: still love, depending on intention. Yesterday I had come across a post on a neighbourhood app, about a woman who feels ‘liked’ — when she is ‘fun’ and ‘outgoing’ and all. But all human beings have further needs, which love just caters for. Our existences are certainly not only pleasantries and ‘good times’. Love is like a lovely mustard-yellow blanket, and it encompasses. Allah’s love for us, and family, and good friends who are family (Masha Allah).

ع loves football, animals, and nature, he says. When he is older, Insha Allah, he would like to be an “explorer” or a “scientist” or, of course, a “footballer“.

س says he loves nature (and here, the boys tell me about the time my comedian brother kissed a tree, and called it a ‘Muslim tree’. All elements of nature are indeed in submission to God) and football, and running. He used to love fish (and loved visiting the aquarium, but has since forgotten “everything about it”). He also quite likes maths (Masha Allah).

ع has loved going to the aquarium too, and to the zoo/the Safari park, and to Scotland, and to Legoland.

I ask the boys what they might like most about being Muslim. ع gives a relatively more mature response, about Halāl and Harām (lawful, and unlawful). س likes that, as a Muslim, he doesn’t eat pork.

I ask ع if he knows whom he is named after. The Prophet Jesus (may God’s peace be upon him), in Arabic. ع reflects upon the notion of the trinity: if Jesus were (Astaghfirullah) ‘God’, “how can he be alive, and then he… died?” He mentions something about Islamic eschatology (a part of theology concerned with the final events of history, or the ultimate destiny of humanity). About the coming of the Dajjāl (otherwise known as the antichrist).

But the Prophetic story that ع says he loves the most is that of Nuh (Noah, peace be upon him). Of course the animal-lover would love the story about the animals and the ark…

I ask them which country they are ‘from’. While د says that he is from the “blue” country, ع says he is from “England”. I wonder if, over time, British-Bengalis will begin to identify far less with ‘being Bengali’. س also says that he’s from England. Earlier that day (yesterday) he had been chanting, “It’s coming home”. This, in retrospect: it [football] has not ‘come home’.

And on the anniversary of 9/11 (which was yesterday, and which sometimes boys/men who look like my brothers find themselves on the unfair and unnecessary receiving end of abuse as a result of) س thinks that the word ‘terrorist’ means… to tear something up.

When س grows up, Insha Allah, he would like to be a footballer, or a basketball player, or a runner. “‘Cause he is pretty fast,” supportively says ع.

I ask the boys to reflect on Ramadān earlier this year: a month of Muslims fasting from dusk until dawn. The boys did not fast, although I think ع had completed a ‘half-fast’ or a few.

ع recalls eating ‘Papa John’s’ (pizza). The two lovingly recall the food. ع’s mum would make mango lassi, among other things, pretty much daily, I think. ع’s two older brothers can also cook: one can make meat curry. One makes a sort of signature shepherd’s pie.

The two boys fondly remember eating all day, as normal, and then still joining everybody for Ifthaar (the meal where we break our fast), even though they themselves hadn’t been fasting. ع remembers sometimes wondering “why nobody’s eating,” during the day. And then: oh yeah…

They seem to quite love playing Scrabble (Masha Allah). And when ع grows older, he would like to pray more (Insha Allah) and read more Islamic books. س (whom ع is very protective of, and supportive towards, Masha Allah, as an older brother) would also like to pray “a lot, every time”. He would also like to finish [reading] the Qur’an.

Some things about each other, then: س says that ع is “weird and funny”, and likes these traits about him, while ع thinks that س is “funny, fast [running], and fun to be friends with”.

I ask them what they think about me: ع says, “kind of funny, fun to do games and things with, smart”. But then I am positively humbled by my little brother, who prevents my ego from becoming inflated by adding that I am “annoying, nerdy, and weird”.

[ع comments that calling someone “nerdy” means that you think they’re smart.]

Then, ع, when asked about what’s difficult in life, talks about “people”: how they can be “annoying”, or “bad”, sometimes, and how sometimes people mistreat animals. He talks about an incident he witnessed, about someone mistreating a dog.

س begins to make up fake Scrabble words, and finds it funny; then he wants to arrange the tiles in alphabetical order. The boys talk about an Islamic summer school they had attended, at which they would do sports [one of their teachers had been a black-belt in Tae-kwondo, while the other had been a pro badminton player or something similar], as well as Islamic learning.

They talk about their favourite YouTubers too: there is a list, and it has changed over time.

س talks about one of his Qur’an teachers, whom he feels is a ‘good Muslim’, and who recently gifted him (س) his first own copy of the Qur’an. It is pretty and patterned in appearance.

I ask س what makes someone a good big brother/sister, then.

“Not you,” comes his response. The end.

*Khayr — good/goodness.

*Allahummabārik — “May God bless [it/him/her]”

*Masha Allah — “God has Willed it.” i.e. whatever is good/beautiful is from Allah.

*(SAW) — “Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” A way of honouring the Prophet (SAW).

*Insha Allah — God-Willing.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of Islam: ر , ح and ت

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Curiosity. Like many Muslims, ر demonstrates a particular sort of curiosity towards learning about ‘Ahlul Kitaab’: the People of the Book. At my favourite bookshop (‘Blackstone’ on Whitechapel Road) there is a section dedicated to the Abrahamic faiths, I believe: the Hanif tradition (that of uprightness, Pure Monotheism).

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

I mean, they were giving out free first-aid kits, so I thought, why not?

And ر had also tried to join her university’s Catholic Society, however they, apparently, did not want any Muslims to join. She reported them on the grounds of exclusionary practices, and they… ended up being disbanded.

The Qur’an exists as a manual for we Muslims, and it contains references to Biblical stories that had already been known to many people in pre-Islamic Arabia and its surrounding regions. The Qur’an had been revealed as a confirmation of that original Hanif message, and through it Allah also highlighted some corrections to be made, to the corruptions that had been introduced over time. Yet, still:

“Indeed, those who believe/trust and those who are Jews or Christians [‘Nasaaraa’] or Sabeans – those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and do works of righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” — Qur’an (2:62)

This makes me want to look further into the scriptures of the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, Insha Allah*.

Yesterday, I sat with ر , ح and ت. We, being ‘postcolonial [second-gen immigrant] Brits’, enjoyed some fish and chips together, no less. And, seeing as this had been a gathering of (interesting and unique) Muslims, I felt I had to bring out my notebook and pen. I told them to blink twice if they had been feeling exploited. I believe ت had blinked around ten times. [The price of friendship.]

ح explains that Islam is a belief system: it provides us with standards, examples on how to live our lives. This does not mean that the experience of the Deen* is monochromatic; certainly, it does not look the same for everybody.

If one accepts Islam in one’s heart, it necessarily follows that we believe that Allah created us, and this universe. How our faces know to look different; the cadences of our languages. Our different experiences, what is in our (individual) Rizq*. We are all the same ‘thing’: human, and yet in various configurations.

Different versions of the same thing, and no two Muslims are ever fully alike. Generally, the differences may be put down to variations in terms of age/generation, gender, life experiences, (which are linked to) socioeconomic class, ethnic culture, and so forth. Yet, when it comes down to it, as ر explains: we are all leaves of the same tree.

“A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky.” — Qur’an (14:24)

When I asked what the non-negotiables, then, are, in Islam: belief in the Ghayb (the metaphysical, the Unseen), i.e. the Jinn*, the angels (and not in the anthropomorphised, feminised way that is sometimes depicted, for example in churches. But in a way that is – at least at present – unknown to the limited human mind), the Day of Judgement. Prayer (the five daily Salāh) also, we agreed. And the Qur’an. Fasting, Hajj, the Prophets, Heaven and Hell; respect, and love and kindness. Giving, I would add, and not exclusively in terms of financial wealth, but also in terms of time and acts of service for others. And the belief in Pure Monotheism, undoubtedly. This is Islam.

Some people merely ‘abide by the rules’, and strongly enforce them, but Islam is not merely ‘rules’: it is a matter of the heart and the soul:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but

[true] righteousness is one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakāh; fulfil their promise when they promise, and are patient [and steadfast] in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — Qur’an (2:177)

ح’s parents had come to the UK from Lebanon, some thirty years ago. She is currently studying English at university (Masha Allah). We talked about women’s rights and feminism, and ح made it clear that she identifies as a feminist.

She says that “Islam is an inherently feminist religion.”

My current view is that the term ‘feminism’ now finds itself, in popular understanding, inextricable with notions of ‘liberalism’. I think that just as Islamic teachings advocate for the sharing of wealth, we need not advertise ourselves as being, say, ‘communists’ in order to demonstrate this belief. [Islam advocates for the sharing of wealth, and for the taking-care of the weak and poor in society, and for good treatment of people. And, yet, people have a right to be wealthy, own their own things, generate profit. Indeed, Allah made us different, blessed some of us, in certain regards, above others, and designed the ‘economic ways of the world’ so that some people work for others. Demand – wants – and supply – haves.]

ح argues that communism and feminism are distinctively different, since communism is closely associated with its own philosophy, history, and politics. She believes that simply ‘to believe that women deserve rights’ is to be a feminist. But I suppose the issue at hand, as is often the case with these things, is a matter of words, and definitions and associations. Nowadays, ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’ might often be in primary reference to… clothes and to ‘economic freedoms’, i.e. the encouragement towards partaking in more economic (paid) labour. [But is this ‘liberation’?]

I ask ر if she identifies as a feminist. She is more focused on the fact that she’s just seen a spider in the bathroom, and finds herself subtly traumatised by this ordeal.

In terms of women in Islam, this is a long-term, deep-rooted passion of mine. And I agree that often we women do not understand our rights in Islam, as a result of… men who ‘gate-keep’.

Impressions of ‘authority’. What grants them weight and legitimacy? A uniform, a label? A lengthy beard and the knowledge of numerous particular terms? I cannot forget about the time I had witnessed a fairly ‘learned’ man speak ill of a known Muslim scholar, who is a woman. While speaking freely, arguably casually… with women.

As another friend of mine advises, don’t necessarily (blindly) trust the ‘showman sheikhs’, and especially not the ones who… talk too much about women, especially in an unfavourable way.

This is why female Muslim scholarship is of such high importance. The legacy of ‘Aisha (RA), arguably the most important scholar in human history (Masha Allah).

ح tells me about the presence of a line of female scholars in Lebanon. They are integral to their communities, and they are educated in Deen, and they teach. They are known as ‘Anisāt’. By contrast:

There is also a strong culture of Western influence – especially from France – in Lebanon (and the same in Syria. Britain in Jordan and Palestine). Secularism, notions of liberation from a ‘Western ‘liberalist’’ worldview. This, unfortunately, is coupled with a seeming obsession with conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards: cosmetic surgery is widespread there.

This reminds me of when I went with my family to Saudi in 2015, I think it had been. We had been going in order to do Umrah (the ‘semi-pilgrimage’, so to speak), and had to spend a day or something in Beirut, Lebanon. The plane had barely even landed, I think, before advert after advert on the behind-seat screens had been blaring information about cosmetic surgeons, cosmetic surgery, are you unhappy with the shape of your nose? And so forth.

Almost dystopian, I would say. Deeply normalised: entrenched. And, the contrast: between the simple white-and-black of this group on our way to Makkah, and the more… ‘Parisian-seeming’, rouged, potently-fragranced and shiny, Beirut, Lebanon.

ح continues by explaining that these encroaching attitudes of ‘modernism’ (by Western ‘liberalist’ standards, deeply entwined with economic ‘liberalism’) are connected to a culture among many modern-day Arabs of looking distastefully at whatever is ‘old-fashioned’: ‘Adeem’ (or, ‘Qadeem’, in Fus’ha – that is, ‘classical’, or ‘proper’ – Arabic).

To many, the Hijāb is ‘Adeem’. I sort of recently saw a video of an Egyptian woman explaining to a white non-Muslim journalist, I think it had been, that she “hates the hijāb”. She does not have to wear it, but she seems to hate it, with a passion. I believe this had come about after a Muslim woman – in Egypt, nominally a ‘Muslim country’ – had been ordered to exchange her ‘Burkini’ (modest swimwear) for something more revealing. She cried; she felt defeated and so upset.

This, ‘in the name of ‘liberation’’. In whose eyes, and for whose gain?

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

the men who guard their private parts/chastity and the women who do so,

 and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so:

for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” — Qur’an (33:35)

I ask ح about her views on male-female segregation: the general separation of ‘spheres’. This would appear to be a point of contention for many, including a Christian person I know, whose belief seems to be that such a notion ‘belongs in erstwhile times’. [‘Get with the times!’]

ح explains that ‘free-mixing’, in her view, is disallowed in Islam. Non-Mahram* men shouldn’t freely, casually interact with non-Mahram women. In her household, for instance, at dinner parties, the men and women eat in different parts of her home. At the same time, and the same food, but in different places.

I ask her about weddings, then, in her ethnic/religious culture. She said that it depends on the individuals, the families. Sometimes, the men and women celebrate on different days. A Muslim wedding is two parts: the Nikkah declaration, and the Walīma (feast). Sometimes, ح explains, they are segregated events, and without music, but with Nasheeds (Islamic devotional songs) instead. Sometimes, the groom will drop his wife off to the venue, while she is in hijāb (modestly dressed), and while her (female) guests are too. When he leaves, the guests can relax and enjoy themselves. I like this idea.

In line with the topic of ‘free-mixing’ and segregation [an Islamic teacher at the school I worked at for a year taught me about the guidelines that ought to be exercised with non-Mahram men: keeping it public, purposeful, and professional. The three Ps.] I explained to my friends that one of my class groups from the sixth form we had attended had invited me to go out with them to eat. Because it is going to be a mixed thing, I declined the invitation (as politely as I could) but also worried – as I sometimes do – that people would come to perceive me as being this or that: in particular, those of the group who are not Muslim.

But I think they get it. Because two of the non-Muslims in the group made sure to look for Halāl restaurants, for the members of the group who are Muslim. One of my non-Muslim friends from that class is from Albania, and she understands Islamic terminology and such, since members of her family use them. And, also: as I learned yesterday…

Someone from this former class of mine – ethnically Italian, class joker – has taken his Shahādah*. When I heard this, I felt something quite deep: my heart felt something, and I kind of wanted to cry. How amazing, Masha Allah. [It usually is the ‘class clown’, nice type that are actually rather serious and deep thinkers. ‘Behind-the-scenes’.] How exceptional, Masha Allah.

It is amazing because: Allah chose him specifically. How special he must be, in the Eyes of Allah.

Is it patronising of me to write, here, how deeply proud I am? [In Jannah, Insha Allah, we can eat some otherworldly-good cake together. And everyone’s invited].

I ask ح about her views on music. Her view is that it is okay so long as the lyrics are not bad. ر adds that, like many, she found herself listening to music that had a good beat. But actually, the lyrics had been sort of shameless. ‘Hayaa’ (shyness, self-respect in the form of humility, a sensitivity to shame and dishonour) is a part of being Muslim.

These conversations on music remind me of something I have read fairly recently, about linguistics. Humanity is inextricable from linguistics: words carry weight, and they are emotionally heavy, also, and the nature of mankind is emotional. Words mean things that is their point and linguistics can be summarised as the relationships between sounds and meaning.

The Qur’an was revealed in words, and we say ‘I love you’, in words. A human baby comes into human autonomy with the introduction of words into its vocabulary: a shift from guttural and confused babbles and cries. Into meaning, and not solely sound. We express wants, thought processes, our ideals, our selves, through… words.

And words can be violent, too: they make us feel things, and do things, even ‘subliminally’ and/or gradually, over time. They affect how we think about things, and indeed we think through… words.

A lot of modern-day music – even if we argue that we are clever enough to filter away what we do not actually agree with – contains meanings of… misogyny, promiscuity, the advocation of certain lifestyles whose very proponents victims, even are testament to how soul-destroying they are. The drugs, merely to ‘feel something’. The using-women-as-objects, to ‘feel something’. The mindless materialism. And so forth.

As with (perhaps all) Muslims who are mature in terms of age, there are questions that I have. Pertaining, for example, to the nature of Hadīth, and to music, and so forth. Islam is a way of life, and it is a way of life that encourages ongoing renewal, discovery, facing challenges, and learning.

When ر first met ت, she had seen… a South Asian wearing a headscarf. She admits that she had come to the initial conclusions that ت might have been “boring, judgemental, and annoying”. None of us are quite immune from the tendency to make quick judgements of such natures.

But then she got to know her better: the time-and-time-again realisation that there is so, so, much that makes up a human being (Masha Allah. How exceptionally, wonderfully well we have been made). Now, ر and ت are very close, Masha Allah.

ر had been the type of person, at our school, to randomly stop people in the corridors, to hug and compliment them. She also seems to have this strange obsession with… ‘head shapes’, able to discern who has a good, or even ‘perfect’, one.

And it is hard to tell what people are actually going through, ‘behind-the-scenes’, but everybody is. ر’s story is a very difficult one, and this is the person she chooses to be (Masha Allah). Sunshine for others, even when she might not quite feel like it inside. She does not, for example, want to turn out “miserable and hollow” like certain people who really mistreated her. Instead, she would like to do things like help kids in Egypt – her family’s home country.

Islam is something that ر began to navigate ‘on her own’. She talks about the effect of some people who seek to ‘attract’ people to the Deen by being… quite inherently repulsive in their actions. A ‘strangling’ effect, she calls it. Islam, however, is something that must be accepted ‘in the heart’, she explains.

You have to open your heart, and allow the Qur’an to “proper speak” to you.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

“Oh Turner of hearts, make my heart steadfast upon Your Deen.”

Certainly, ours is a ‘proselytising’ faith, in that we are meant to do works of ‘Da’wah’ (‘calling’ people to the faith). We explain the principles of our belief, we are meant to embody said principles in our actions. But, at the same time, to paraphrase ح, “you keep your business to your business.”

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

“For you is your way of life and for me is mine.” — Qur’an (109:6)

ر talks about the Muslim’s relationship with the Qur’an. It is about, to paraphrase her, taking the words, understanding them (and their linguistic subtleties, for example, and their historical contexts), putting them into your heart, and acting upon them. In ‘spirit’ (essences, principles, intention) and in ‘letter’ (laws, commands, directives). The heart/soul and the body.

We talk about the ‘LGBT’ movement too, and about the reactions of some Muslims. A very ‘reactionary’ way of addressing the issue at hand, in that the ‘rainbow movement’ seems to function as yet another symbol of encroaching ‘Western ‘liberal’ modernism’.

Some resort to verbal and physical abuse against proponents of the views of non-heterosexuality being okay in practice. ح states that this abuse is un-Islamic.

Here, I remember seeing a man dressed in a certain way – effeminately – walking past a group of young men (who are Muslim, I assume). They jeered at him, made him feel very uncomfortable. Would they have done the same to, say, a man walking with his girlfriend who hadn’t been wearing a headscarf? I think not, and it isn’t right either.

ح argues that these same seeming ‘ardent Muslims’ who sometimes violently oppose these individuals do not seem to harbour or demonstrate the same energy against… adulterers and such. ت comments on the major sins that have seemingly become quite normalised, even among Muslims: backbiting, people cheating on their spouses. So to cling inordinately to this singular issue might be indicative of… a ‘pick-and-choose’ version of practising Islam, and not necessarily one rooted in… sincerity, perhaps.

How can one attract to Islam by being inherently repellent in nature? By having an altogether-‘strangling’ effect?

“Make matters easy (for people) and do not make them difficult,

and give people glad tidings

and do not repulse them.” — Hadīth* (Sahih Muslim and Bukhāri)

ح is a ‘Sayyida’. Her lineage can be traced back to Muhammad (SAW)*. Some people are known to truly honour Sayyids and Sayyidas, but ح does not hold the view that it makes her ‘special’ in any way.

It is interesting how I met these beautiful people (Masha Allah) and others. Secondary school was one thing: at times, a day-in-day out, monochromatic uniform, conveyor belt into exams. People mainly from ‘my’ particular community, and then into a pocket of Central London we had all respectively, from our different secondary schools and parts of London and backgrounds, been plunged. The places and the people we have, and will, come across: Allah’s Divine Plan for us.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.

Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-cognisant of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” — Qur’an (49:13)

Yesterday, I learned a new word from ح: ‘Ikhtilaaf’. It means ‘differing of opinion’. I ask something along the lines of: what is truth?

And: there is Objective Truth, and part of it, perhaps, is subjective experience. The Islamic view is that this life is a test. Each of us is being tested, based on what we, individually know. At various stages in our lives, in accordance with our individual circumstances. What we have access to, how sincere we are, in relation to Truth.

Sensitivity Warning from here onwards: themes of animal meat and slaughter

ر is a passionate environmentalist (Masha Allah). She feels that Alhamdulillah, we’ve been given these amazing, beautiful things that we’ve been given. We should embrace them, and take care of what Allah has given us.

“And it is He who has made you successors/vicegerents upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” — Qur’an (6:165)

I’m not quite sure how our conversation had arrived at… animal welfare, but it did. ر talks about the Halal method of slaughtering an animal for food. The animal must be raised in a clean space, where it is allowed to move around freely. She talks about the “way the human dies” too – animal! She means animal! [Freudian slip?]

The animal is not allowed to see the blade. It must be a sharp blade. Other animals cannot witness the slaughter. If it is done right, and with the right, calming prayers uttered: the animal tends to submit.

Sometimes, the animal twitches after its death. ح, an English student, talks about the theory of ‘galvanisation’, which had been prevalent around the time when Mary Shelley had written ‘Frankenstein’. [I also know about this because I had to teach about this book last academic year]. ر adds that twitching doesn’t necessarily mean:

You’re aliiive!

And I forget if it had been ح or ر who had said this, but:

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

To be Muslim: to know that we are being tested. What is Halāl is Halāl and what is its opposite is its opposite. To know that Allah made humans, and made this Deen for us too. There is room for humour, and for personal inclinations and such. It is not about being ‘free’ in terms of beckoning to every whim and fleeting fancy, inner desire we might have. It is also not about feeling spiritually ‘strangled’.

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

Meanwhile, what we refer to as ‘science’ is “ever-developing”. Empiricism: relying on observation, sensory experience. But we also know, perhaps even empirically, that our minds are quite limited.

 ح explains that we ‘know’ that the moon is a circle. “Sphere,” ر corrects. ‘Science’ is a thing of theories and disproving theories. We could find out, at some point in the future, that, contrary to our previously-held convictions based on observation: the moon is actually… a square. [“Cube,” I imagine ر correcting, here.]

Islam and Science. I’d like to find out more about ‘scientific’ and knowledge-related developments under the Golden Age, Insha Allah. Under Islam, we have an epistemological grounding, a framework. That Allah Knows, while we can know, but still, in limited ways, and only by His Will.

ت adds that part of being Muslim is being comfortable in this ignorance. We have to live by that, in terms of understanding the world, the universe, our own lives. We have to put our trust in Allah.

We are fundamentally unsure about things. We’re tested through matters pertaining to knowledge, too, arguably. But we can ask our Creator, regarding them. And then we have to be patient.

“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” — Qur’an (2:186)

Branching off from the topic of galvanisation, we talk about that age-old ‘dichotomy’ between ‘science’ and ‘rationality’, and romanticism. ‘Sense’ versus ‘sensibility’: a key topic of thought in the 19th Century, and it still is, today.

Oh, stop being so irrational!” might effortlessly say the ‘rationalist’, to the ‘religious ones’. But, sure, there are numbers, and science, and logical trails. Things that happen ‘instantly’, and things that ‘click into place’ without resistance. Allah has designed this world of ours so that there is also such beauty (Masha Allah) and poetry, and harmony. Stories, and complexity; so many variables, perspectives. How could one side of the world (‘male’: ‘rational’, ‘logical’, ‘scientific’, precise and ‘numerical’, strategy and decisiveness) be isolable from its other? [‘Female’: intuitive, beautiful, spiritual, flowers and complexity, emotional and poetic, colour and culture]. By the Design of Allah, the world is made up of, and in need of, both.

We touch on the topic of ‘mental health’, also. People truly are iceberg-like. Everybody knows to hide certain things; people are fighting harder battles. Even the one who seems ‘happy and outgoing’ all the time. We show different ‘faces’ to different people. Many seemingly ‘effortlessly social’ people actually have “massive social anxiety”. Perhaps a rephrase is in order, however: the most ‘anxious’ of us usually care the most.

‘Depression’ is widespread, also, though not always apparent. Allah does say in the Qur’an that, in accordance with the Islamic view of this Dunya (this world) being a place of test: we will be tested in our own selves too.

ر spoke about the things that people do, in order to ‘escape’, and/or to ‘feel something’. These are often the basis of many of the images that it is easy to look to, thinking that those things might show what ‘truly living’ must be like.

The deepest depressions, too: in the Catholic spiritual tradition, there is a phenomenon known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. I think I have been through mine already (2019, perhaps). It describes a time of… enhanced, amplified, feelings of ‘lostness’, depression, hollowness. It tends to be extremely hard – like ‘rock bottom’, perhaps, and then even further. But: what is actually happening is, perhaps, that “the egoic sense of self” is dying:

“The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time.  Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies. Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before.  Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.  But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain.  Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind.  A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life […]  It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized [sic] that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process,

the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.” — Eckhart Tolle

The ‘phoenix falling [deeply], the phoenix flying [Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah*]’. I think, if this really is a somewhat-universal (though, of course, very individually experienced) experience, then: this is when we really come to realise what… the life of this Dunya* is:

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” — Qur’an (57:20)

For more on this Āyah*, including a closer linguistic look at the words employed:

ر goes on to talk about one of her Science classes back at sixth form [I am the only one in this group who hasn’t been to university. Yet, Insha Allah, and] the others agree that they found their ‘people’ neither at secondary school nor at university. But, there: at our sixth form. [What a unique experience, Masha Allah, being at that school. So stressful, yet very special indeed.] In this class, ر’s teacher had managed to convince everybody that bananas are painted yellow. She (ر) might have been the only one who disagreed.

“What? Do elves come and colour them brown or something [when brown spots start to appear]?”

The conversational emphasis is on critical thinking. Trusting ‘authority figures’. Even teachers can be challenged (respectfully). Public figures, ‘famous Islamic scholars’. ح says that some of these bearded ‘part-of-a-mosque’ figures use religion as a tool – a weapon – to justify their ‘misogyny’.

She does not think that complete ‘obedience to one’s husband’ is a part of Islam, like how some make it out to be. This is also something that I would like to look more closely at, Insha Allah.

Cross-culturally, in general, there are four different ‘schools of thought’ in terms of how Islam is, on the whole, practised: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali, and Māliki. In the subcontinent (which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and arguably parts of certain other countries too, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka) the Hanafi school seems to be the most popularly-followed one.

Personally, I am yet to come to a conclusion on which school I follow, but Insha Allah, I’ll know more about that as time (and my life, and learning) goes on.

Islam points to the Oneness of God. It is not robotic, monochromatic and homogenous. It is not an absolutely-homogenising factory. We have been made into nations and tribes, to come to know one another. With our own individual stories, journeys, cultures and experiences.

ح argues that the attitude of strict ‘homogenisation’ is prevalent among Wahhabis [an Islamic revivalist movement and doctrine that started within Sunni Islam and it is associated with the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 18th Century]. She thinks that this movement is one of ‘rules, rules, rules’, and adds somewhat vehemently that the movement is one about ‘living by hate’.

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

She thinks that the opposite of ‘Wahhabism’ is ‘Sufism’: believing in, living by, love. Her view is that if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, he would have been labelled a ‘Sufi‘, perhaps.

We go on to talk about more sometimes-controversial topics, and some more that are often ‘brushed under the rug’. Sexuality, for example. A Muslim is meant to have Hayaa’, and yet matters pertaining to sexuality should be discussed. These things are inextricable from humanity, reality. Heavy-handed and in-denial ‘repression‘ in these regards is more… Victorian than anything. [The early Muslims, I believe, quite-‘openly‘ discussed these things. This Deen is Designed with… humanity in Mind]

‘Slavery’, also. Islam advocates for the freeing of slaves. And ح explains how important context is. That there are rules outlining how ‘slaves’ should be treated… because it had been a part of the socioeconomic reality, the cultural fabric, then. With Islam having been introduced to pre-Islamic Arabia, where there had still been slaves living with families, they had to be clothed, fed, and treated well.

Nowadays, ح argues, people trying to reinstate practices of slavery (whose definition and associations have seemingly changed over time) have got it wrong, and there are all sorts of moral issues with the practice. In 2017, for example, details about the slave trade in Libya had become publicised: people being treated like cattle, trafficked. The Qur’anic directive is not to instate the practice, and especially not in these ways. But, instead: to liberate enslaved people from bondage.

Another ‘controversial’ issue that would appear to come up, again and again, in discourses pertaining to Islam, is that of war. ح says that Muslims in war, especially in contrast to European combatants, had displayed good conduct. ‘Honour’ is an important word in Islam, and to cultures with strong Islamic influences.

Meanwhile, says ح, the Europeans had been killing mercilessly, destroying culture, raping, murdering, forcing Christianity onto people, and while depicting Muslim civilisation as being the “barbaric” one. ‘Saracens’, and the like. It could be argued that such narratives are continued today: the present moment is a continuation of all those ones that have preceded it.

She says that, for example, when the Muslims had entered Spain, culture had been allowed to be retained. But with the introduction of Islamic principles. Numerous people had come to Islam of their own accord and will, after witnessing the Deen in action. [I do want to learn much more about Islamic history, Insha Allah].

The ‘modern world’ is one that is built on war. And war, like many things, is driven by… economics. Profit. The Taliban, for instance, had been funded by the Israelis and the Americans. When the ‘enemy’ had been… the Soviets. Written as clearly as day, even in British history textbooks. [The Taliban: another thing I want to learn much more about, Insha Allah]. The US: exploiting Middle Eastern lands and peoples for… economic gain. Power.

Afghanistan, through Western-political eyes: less people and human/environmental care. And, more: oil. Minerals. War. For money. ح and ر argue that the Taliban have been, and are being, used as a mere puppet. And as an excuse for intervention, and for further (profit-generating) interventions and conflicts.

An effective way to justify forcefully taking control of a region: look at these women! We need to ‘save’ them! ‘Liberate’ them!

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

And so, where is the Western ‘sympathy’, the interventions, for… the Uyghurs in China, for example?

I ask ح and ر if they think the Taliban’s intentions might be in the right place.

“I mean, I don’t speak to them,” comes ر’s response.

Something that intrigues me, also:

ح says something along the lines of them (the Taliban) being ‘pawns’ in a giant geopolitical chess game. Or, even less significant than a pawn: “truly” so.

And it is all connected, without a doubt: colonialism, orientalism, notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘reform’ and ‘education’, even. Economic ideals of ‘development’, the manipulations of narratives towards particular end goals.

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

Even our Holy Book, the Qur’an: I forget where I had come across this idea, but it has been authored for the fisherman and the philosopher alike. Different eyes and minds look upon the same message, and understand it relatively differently. Some: perhaps, more literally. Some: more abstractly.

But internalising those words necessitates a sincere, open and humble heart.

The key words, here: Pure Monotheism. Sincerity. Heart. Context. Soul, and not merely some cold ‘body’ without one. Critical thinking.

Here, time goes on, and each ‘leaf’ that makes up this ‘tree’ is distinct. Still, the words and meanings of the Qur’an, and the essence of primordial religion, remain timeless.

“We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed.

But only as a reminder/remembrance for those who fear [Allah].” — Qur’an (20:2-3)

We ended the day by sitting on my brother’s trampoline and gazing up at the sky [and later on – in the evening – the stars looked pretty amazing too, Subhan Allah*], and by playing a game my uncle had introduced me to:

‘Most Powerful Memory’ or ‘Foremost Characteristics’ or ‘A likely flaw’. Depending on the title of that round, you stop at each person, and the others go around and share their thoughts of, for example, the most powerful memory that comes to mind of the person whose turn it is. Well, what I had been reminded of yesterday is that… people remember how you made them feel. The human being is not only body, but: mind, heart, and soul. The company we surround ourselves with is integral to our experience of Īmān, and life. People are always going through things that we have no idea about: the faces we present do not show everything – not at all.

Finally, in the struggle to understand religion, and self, and world: it is not… so simple. Mental illness, for example, happens. We’re anxious. We’re not perfect. But how wonderful is it, that others will remember little things that you did, and said, and are? Things that might be ‘first-nature’ – not even just ‘second-’ – for you: the people who love you, know.

[And sometimes they ‘exploit’ you a little, so as to post something on their blog.]

In any case, life happens, in all the ways in which it does. ‘Your world’ can break, come undone, right before your very eyes, or even in the hiddenness, the privacy, of your very mind. Islam, and with the right places, and people, and

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

Like one of the statements in the Adhaan*… drop what doesn’t actually really matter. And:

“Come to success.

Things I would like to learn more about, Insha Allah:

  • Christianity; the stories of the Prophets, the Bible
  • Hadīth verification
  • The Taliban: past [going back to the time of the Crusades, even], and present.

*Insha Allah — ‘God-Willing’, in Arabic.

*Hadīth sayings attributed to/about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

*Dunya this current, transient world, before the eternal one (which is known as Ākhirah).

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

*Masha Allah ‘God has Willed it’. To express that good, beautiful things are from and by Allah.

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

*Jinn — beings that cannot be seen by human eyes. While humans are made of clay, they are made of smokeless fire.

*Mahram — for a woman: her husband, father, direct maternal and paternal uncles, sons, direct nephews, father-in-law, etc. and with her women. With these people, a woman can show her beauty and be more casual and close.

*Shahādah — declaration of faith in Islam. Bearing witness to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His servant and Messenger.

* (SAW) —  an abbreviation for, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in Arabic.

*Āyah —  Qur’anic Verse, and/or ‘Sign’ [of Allah]

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

* Subhan Allah — Glory is Allah’s; God is Perfect.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Muslims… Assemble!

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Fiction, and its links with the sub-facets of timeless, primordial, universal Pure Monotheism. Allow me to explain:

Inspired by an article I came across on, regarding the links that can be found between Islam and… the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Values such as justice, comradeship, saving and defending the weak and helpless…

Today I am thinking about fiction. And how much of it I have consumed over time, and how it functions: a sort of vicarious experiencing. And how I think ‘real life’ has now taken precedence instead (Alhamdulillah). But, looking back, for example, at my love for the world of Harry Potter (minus the strong, strong themes of Sihr): Hermione’s smarts, and her courage, and the friends’ loyalty, and their teamwork to overcome evil, and to instate and encourage good.

The Avengers are not dissimilar, are they? Persevering, to overcome trials; holding dearly to moral principles. The falling, the… flying. Fiction has taught me more about myself as a human being. What it is my soul knows to seek.

Personal backstories; deep and complex emotions, human nature. Bruce Wayne, and the rest. Master Shifu’s wisdom, and teaching his students… the Way. Discipline, mind over matter.

Princess Merida, and being brave. Elegance, beauty, and nobility. Action, decisiveness, and adventure. Challenging situations, and characters’ strengths, and the poignancies of their weaknesses, and flaws. Character arcs: development. Princesses going ‘against the grain’, if they must, in order to reach their goals. Potential (Moana, staring at the ocean, wondering ‘how far she’ll go’), and inspiration. Loving what they love, and whom they love; what they will go to great lengths to protect. Princesses, superheroes, warriors: their journeys. Their teachers, their trials. The friends, the lovers, they meet along the way. It’s just… concentrated humanity, and human impulses, and ideals, in moving pictures.

All of it is here, certainly, also, in real life. Always things to be overcome; always lofty Qur’anic, Islamic principles of justice, goodness, truth, and the rest, to pursue and uphold. Fiction is designed by… real people, living real lives. It’s inspired by the stuff of reality, albeit with… a lot of (the more mundane, ‘messier’, etc.) parts snipped away, to make for an at least somewhat-sustainedly riveting two-hour-or-so cinematic experience.

Superheroes and warriors are cool and all. Princesses and clan leaders and Hermione Grangers too.

But Maryam (AS), mother of Jesus (AS). Moosa (AS), for whom the sea split (Masha Allah). And brave and astute Ibrahim (AS), and the rest: they were real. Really real, and not only in a screen-designed, manufactured-in-that-sense sort of way. And we’re (fortunate enough to be) real like this too. What have our stories been, thus far? And what are they going to – Insha Allah – be?

Is there a fictional character/story that you’ve really admired? Why do you think this is?

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Sacrifices, Introversion, Extroversion

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

‘Sacrifice’ is a big part of Islam. It is inextricable, maybe, from ‘submission’, which is Islam, and which is also peace. Sacrifices can be rather difficult. Think: Ibrahim (AS), being asked to give up a person his heart had held so dearly. And:

“We hear and we obey.” — Qur’an (2:285)

“[We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination.”

Of course it is difficult, and that is precisely the point. And Allah returns you with better. Somehow, and in extraordinary ways, at times.

Money, sometimes. Time. Inner desires. The ‘approvals’ of many people, who may come to deem you too ________ and not _________ enough. To part with some of these things, trusting in Allah; investing in Better.

We’re alive right now. There is all that time that has elapsed, and there is now, and there is what is to come, by Allah’s Will.

Who are we choosing to be?

Are our hearts at ease?

I have also been thinking about introversion and extroversion again today. I came across an informational video about how the more extroverted of us tend to rely on bigger and more frequent hits of dopamine, maybe, for their experiences of enjoyment. Meanwhile, there is a separate neurochemical (‘acetylcholine’) which is also linked to pleasurable feelings, but in more ‘slow-burning’ ways: less like a sudden burst of joy, and more like… a more sustained experience of relaxation, alertness, and contentment. I think this is quite often how I feel when I am writing, doing the other things I enjoy.

And, yes: I have had the… more extroverted/arguably ‘dopamine-driven’ people look at me, thinking (sometimes aloud) that I ‘don’t know how to have fun’ or similar. That I’m behaving ‘like a grandma’. I mean, I could easily return that they’re acting a little… attention-seeking and perhaps sort of infantile, sometimes, but I won’t.

My ‘hits of dopamine’, so to speak, occur when they do. For me, I prefer the sustained stuff: less overstimulating, less anxiety-inducing for me. I’m introverted and I’m social, and even in my social interactions, I continue to be me.

Being loud is often confused as being more confident and happy. As time goes on, and as I live through the things that Allah has planned and designed for me, I come to understand things, and myself, better. That, necessarily, there are some things that are uniquely good about me, and about my life. And there are also challenges present, here.

Īmān seems to tend to be something that wavers at least a little, here and there. But I trust that my Lord has designed me and my life phenomenally well.

That I have tried, for example, to take part in what I have seen, of more ‘extroverted’ forms of enjoyment; that they have often left me feeling disappointed, depleted, irritated: sort of empty. [Was there… ‘something wrong with me’?] Could not wait to get home and… light a candle or something. Write. This is how Allah has designed me, and I content myself in the knowledge that: a) I don’t actually want to be ‘like’ anybody else, especially when I come closer to the truths of others’ lives. Different configurations of the same sometimes-good, rather-arduous human experience.

Introverts: it’s not that we’re just ‘boring’. It’s just that others are often… bored. What works for others may not work for you.

I suppose we’re often (perhaps a cringe-inspiring term, but) misunderstood. And this is okay because it just means that the way you live simply does not align very well with another’s ideas on how best to live. Look a little closely though: would you really give up whom you are, and how you do things, to be more like… them, instead? And I mean, not just their ‘good’ experiences, but you’d have to take their unique Dunya-based struggles, and give up your own strengths, also…

b) I am just trying to make the most of my this experience. Myself, my life. If I were more extroverted, I would have the same Purpose, and I would pursue it, I think, just in different ways. Instead, here I am, and here are the chances I have. Minute by minute, and every marker of time that is ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’, with my name, and who I am, and what I am doing, moment-to-moment.

And, where I am going.

This world, and people, are often really… loud. In terms of moments of comfort and enjoyment, people have different preferences. And Dunya is Dunya for everybody; to Allah is the Ultimate Return for us all.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.