ص: “Like, yeah, that’s my mum”.

Journey to the Heart of Islam

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

“My Islamic journey started with ح [a friend of hers].”

In Year Thirteen — the second year of ‘sixth form’ here in the UK, equivalent to being a ‘senior’ in US high schools — and with roughly twenty minutes remaining before a mock exam, ص and ح thought about how they could spend that time.

One of them suggested that they “meditate”. And then they both looked at each other, apparently, somewhat incredulously [are we for real?], and thought, why meditate, when they could do Salāh instead?

This had been a ‘turning point’: a volta [‘turn’, in Italian] moment for her. She has not given up on her Salāh ever since. The two friends had made Wudhu* and prayed Dhuhr together.

Volta: ص feels as though when she started praying, she started ‘seeking more’. Over time, she started putting in conscious effort towards building…

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‏وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا ٱلْإِنسَنَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِۦ نَفْسُهُۥ ۖ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ ٱلْوَرِيدِ 

“And We have created mankind and We know what his inner-self whispers to him. And We are closer to him than [his own] jugular vein.” — Qur’an (50:16)

Face-to-face, and up close. How many, and how much, do people truly see you? For the beautiful (and beautifully pathetic, tragic, comic) and noble being whom you are?

When there is scarcely a camera around, or a person who is easily impressed. No makeup, no sustained ability to misdirect. Whom are we then?

When there are those considerations of… spider in the bathroom; where to buy milk, orange juice, and toothpaste from. We all have to eat,

And all the rest, and cry. Be bored, sometimes. Hear the irritating buzzing of a fly.

That tasted a little off. Why did that person just look at me like that? Something was hilarious, a welcome shock to the system. Solace: a comfort away from all that which is grief-giving, anxiety-inducing. In the middle of our sadnesses and our fears:

There is a you. And she is alive, with every single little cell, atom, synapse, hair-on-end that this means.

And when the mosquito bites, and the mood dips and old metaphorical monsters emerge, to play around. When every façade is swept away. Everybody is living this human reality.

No human being at all knows you like you do. And no anything, any construction of matter, any sempiternal soul encased in organic flesh

knows you like Allah — your, and our Creator — does.

“Tension reveals whom you think you ‘should’ be. Relaxation reveals whom you really are.” — a Chinese (I think) proverb

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Musk, Good Food/Media, Good Company

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Desire. When the Nafs — the self — wants. An animalistic insistence on ‘having’ might ensue. The ‘rat-races’ towards wealth, or the doggish pursuits of opposite-gender attentions, the apish and hedonistic arguments, the overeating, the all-the-rest-of-it.

Today I am thinking about the virtual existences that we have the ability to construct of ourselves, online. I’m thinking about clothes, too. The ability to construct an image, a representation. Something about ‘whom we are’; even more so, perhaps, about whom we want to be.

The virtual landscape is a uniquely interesting phenomenon. A world upon which we can project and enact whomever we want to be. With lessened restrictions. The awkwardnesses of the life that happens off-screen; the apprehensions and the inhibitions. The more… unfavourable truths. Snipped away, and cut, and filtered. Interesting, sometimes, how ‘limitations’ can actually function as guard-rails for us, and not as oppressive restrictive walls.

The ‘internet troll’ who can ‘bravely’ say whatever he wants now, and without consequences. Enacting a ‘power’, a ‘confidence’, which he scarcely, or perhaps not at all, has in real life. How we can present our faces. How we can provide a filtered picture or two, and ‘let people know’ that this ‘is’ us.

When choosing our clothes, or indeed, for some individuals, having them chosen for us: thought might go into it. It might just be: the cheapest, most convenient thing. ‘Does the job’. Pragmatic, functional. And that says something about the chooser of the clothes. It might be: extremely neat, neutral colours. Or, a pop of colour, here and there. Colour psychology, adherences to different subcultures, and the rest.

What we consume has an effect on us: sugar might provide a rush of energy, E-numbers might propel us into less-than good health. What we choose to view with our eyes, and hear with our ears: certainly, the human mind is sensitive to incoming informations. Sometimes, a single word. Somebody might say: “tea“. And then, in spite of your more-adult-than-childish intelligence, you might start really craving a cuppa.

Clothes: a school uniform might make you feel more… ‘restricted’, more formal. ‘Casual clothes’ for when you will act more casually. I think the relationship between outward apparel and behaviour is bidirectional.

A religious man might sport a beard and care much about maintaining physical purity because he has Taqwa — cognisance of Allah — and this, in turn, serves to strengthen said Taqwa. What we wear, and what we present ourselves as being, and what we choose to consume, through our stomachs and eyes and ears…

Muslim women are told to cover before non-Mahram men, and I think, acting against our desires, perhaps, to beautify and attract attention, this can serve as a symbol of Taqwa. I think it guards us from acting immodestly, also. In the Qur’an, Allah also tells worshippers to wear good clothing when coming to worship. Muslim men going to the masjid are encouraged to put on good fragrance: putting in this effort shows that they care about meeting with their Maker. And it cyclically makes them care more too.

Inextricable from our identities. Whom we are, whom we are in different contexts and with different people; whom we want to be.

We feel desires; we are being tested on whether we will control them, and have Taqwa, or not. And each time we make a particular choice, towards some habit, or away from it, something within our identity gets strengthened, or weakened. The bidirectional ‘psychophysical’ link: how, for example, a tidy room both gives rise to (Masha Allah) a tidy mind, and is also typically indicative of one. The lyrics that we might choose to consume on a daily basis; the TV we watch; the clothes we wear; the friends we choose to spend lots of time with; what we post online (and what we necessarily don’t). Influences whom we are; influences our wants and desires; influences whom we are becoming; influences whom we will be, on That Day. Inextricably, inevitably.

There is something of truth in everything that people wear/say/do. Each and every thing we wear/say/do reveals something about us; everything we consume affects us, often in a deeper and more elusive way than we can easily point out, too.

The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one is like that of the musk-seller and the blacksmith’s bellows; from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your body or your clothes or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.”  [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

And (remember) the Day when the wrong-doer (oppressor, polytheist etc.) will bite at his hand; he will say: ‘Oh! Would that I had taken a path with the Messenger. Ah! Woe to me! Would that I had never taken so-and-so as a friend! He indeed led me astray from the Reminder (the Quran) after it had come to me…— Qur’an (25:27-29)

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

From Islam21c.com.

“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 the drinks with evaporated milk, and the tea 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 three 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 “Hameeda”) 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.