Life, Death, Happiness, Meaning, Purpose, etc.

TW: Some people simply cannot bear to think about, or talk about, death — and that is understandable. But if this is you, dear reader, then… you may wish to stop reading, here. I think about, and talk about, and write about, death — and life in relation to it — quite a lot.

[Truly: if talking about death makes you uncomfortable and/or anxious, please don’t continue reading]

Death scares us because it is the necessary point at which certain worldly things that we may have cared much about – or, had invested much of our time and energies into, obsessed over, perhaps – come to an end. The unwinding miracle of life, and it is constantly coming undone. It is inescapable and inevitable:

“Every soul shall taste death” [Qur’an, (3:185)]

The more one explores the Qur’an, the more one comes to understand. The life of this Dunya really is little more than “play and amusement and decoration/adornment and boasting to one another, and competition in increase in wealth and [in terms of your] children, amongst you”. [Qur’an, (57:20)]

Some of us are known to (attempt to) invest so deeply in an abode in which we are – and we know we are – only passing travellers.

Are you prepared for death? If you were to die right now, would you have any regrets? Do you think you are worthy of Jannah?

Death. Sometimes it is a mere ‘theme’, which often finds itself being trivialised in works of fiction. We also hear of deaths as numbers: statistics. When one hears of passings-away in the news, we hear of mere numerical figures, in the dozens, hundreds, thousands. Anonymised. [We are a little desensitised.]

You, also, dear reader, are going to die. If Allah has decreed that you, for example, are going to die of ‘natural causes’, then… if, like me, you are in your twenties, you have already lived through about a[n entire] quarter of the time that Allah has allocated to you. And that is only if you are to die of senescent causes. People can go, though, in so many different, and unexpected, ways. Accidents, viruses, aneurysms… Here one day, and gone, the next.

The Truth is, we were created; we were born. We live: we have some time. And these bodies and minds and hearts and souls of ours. How do you make life count, then? Well, it depends on what you come to accept that life – or, if you are an existentialist, perhaps: ‘your life’ – is for. And what death is. A passing-on? Or are our cells, collectively, our respective existences, in and of themselves?

The different parts of you that make up you. We know that we are brilliantly complex in nature; we know that the different (material) parts of ourselves are in constant (awe-inspiring) communication with each other. You either believe in One God. Or, in billions and billions of them: little atoms, with self-sovereignty and intelligence and will and ability, coming together to produce you.

“But, I’ve got time,” we think. We plan for our ‘futures’. Dream of beautiful things; dream of them lasting. Give the majority of our lives to certain things, without due consideration of the Divine. Yes, you might get those beautiful things you may be seeking. An excellent job, a wonderful family, lovely group of friends. Social prestige, maybe, and other things. But you, as well as every other human being upon this Earth, must – and will – die. You will have to part from those things. This is not Home. This is… we are… camping, for a while – for a given time.

The things that remain: your deeds (what you have done with your time — with your life) as well as the fellow sempiternal souls of your loved ones. In life, you make choices. There are the forces and influences of environment, upbringing, circumstance: all these other things at play. And there is you, intelligent and capable of choosing from a given range of options. Do this, or do that? Take this person as a close friend/role model, or that person? Carry on with this particular vice, or work on it, in tandem with making Du’a?

The following video is one that I had come across after seeing the ‘Happiness’ video come up a number of times, on my YouTube homepage. This is a reaction video to it, by the Deen Show [I’m not sure what his actual name is, but his videos are truly engaging and insightful] [Update: his name is Eddie]

Life, death, happiness, meaning, purpose. Time, reality. And more of all that good stuff. Earlier today, I had come across this snippet of Qur’anic recitation (with translation) which links to these themes.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

The Here and Now

And if I told you that every single moment does indeed matter — every single interpersonal interaction of yours, every decision you have made. It all matters. Why? Because of the finitude of this first life of ours, simply. Life (this one, that is) is coloured by — defined by — its opposite: its end. Like how we come to know of light — because darkness is there: this is how we come to know of life. What it really is; what it really means.

[This evening, I have a pile of roughly one-hundred-and-twenty English assessment papers to mark. And, whenever I have a gargantuan pile or list of work to do, I tend to start thinking about reasons and ‘the point’ and meaning, and all the rest of it. I call it existential procrastination… (I reason: so long as the work gets done in time, and to a good standard, a helpful dose of ‘procrastination’ – especially when it comes to things like taking a nap when one is tired, or… sitting in the dark and staring at a clock in order to facilitate one’s more existential ruminations – can actually be rather h e a l t h y)]

The following video is, in my opinion, quite excellent. It had popped up on my YouTube ‘Recommended’ page, at right about the right time, and I think it aptly encapsulates much of what I had been thinking about.

Interesting. So we are going to die: this is a reality we must come to terms with, and (as Muslims) remember, be heedful of. Even if you currently have the entire world, seemingly in the palms of your hands. You are going to die. Much of it falls to dust, in the inevitable end.

I suppose my ‘existential thinking’ had been amplified by my having entered the teaching profession this year — and, actually, I reckon these modes of thinking are, on the whole, a good thing. I have come to the realisation that I would much rather have these thoughts, accept, and struggle with, them (and, in turn, be comforted by them) from time to time, than… live some life of blind, ‘busy’, comfort. Distraction and delusion. Only working, eating, sleeping, playing, and then… eating some more. Until death do us — this life of mine, and I — apart.

Because we spend so much of our youths planning, don’t we? Creating these grand schemes for, our ‘futures’. Careers: future routes. Planning, preparing for things. I had written this article just over four years ago, on the subject (more specifically, on the subject of my former ongoing ‘career crisis’). In the modern world, where religion is not always at the forefront of the existential considerations of we humans: most of us seek nests and incubators for our identities – as well as a means of self-definition – via the ‘work’ we do. And, these, coupled with the search for some core ‘meaning’ for our lives. It is, I believe, these things that we fundamentally look for, through our careers.

And I have been wondering. Questions about what makes things ‘meaningful’. ‘Spiritually’, ‘work’ is meaningful if one is working towards alleviating the suffering of people, or contributing towards their health and happiness: if it is towards goodness. For self, for others, for the world. Some detach these ‘spiritual’ considerations from more ‘religious’ ones, however as Muslims, we know to view them as one and the same. For, doing good for and towards others is an act of ‘Ibadah (worshipping Allah).

What are we currently living for, dear reader? And, for whom? Do we find ourselves, for example, living to work? Living, perhaps, for the validation of, among others, our academic and/or professional superiors?

I think a good life is genuinely about love. Life is this (at least, for the time being,) ongoing thing. And it is between oneself, and God. And there are other people, other human beings, like us, too: some of them, we love. Some of them, we may seek the approval and/or the admiration of. Pseudo- forms of love, really. But I think, ultimately, seeking to love the stuff of – the components that make up, adorn, and/or give character to – these lives of ours, and in turn feeling loved by them: this seems a worthwhile thing to strive towards.

Every moment of; every interpersonal interaction within, these days of our lives (which, in turn, become weeks. And months. Years, decades. And in a century’s time, you and I will most likely have materially perished). They all matter, these moments: they really do. And I certainly believe in making certain ‘small’ moments ‘big’: in “arrest[ing] a moment that might ordinarily be lost and lend[ing] it weight and dignity” [source, (a brilliant, useful and necessary article on dealing with long-term mental health conditions)]. Because all the ‘big’ things, including the entireties of our lives, are made up entirely of every single one of these ‘small’ moments, and only through the individual moments, the ‘small’, do we experience them. So, then… a cake to celebrate the coming of wintertime? Wearing that new dress of yours to work because it is Monday, and Alhamdulillah? Yessirree to both.

You know what I need to learn to truly do? I need to learn to invest, fully, in my personal, current, reality. The ‘here and now’: the people who are here, the responsibilities and tasks I am currently met with. I am not responsible for the entirety of this big, spinning world, and even doing too much for others is not good at all. All good things in moderation: calmer, and slower.

I am, however, responsible for my own small (but, on the experiential level: big) world. That is — at least, to a certain extent — I am responsible for my own self, and for my immediate family, and for my extended family (a well-chosen selection of them, at least…) and for my friends. Oh, and for my students, and for my colleagues. So, home, outside-of-home-loved-ones, work. Bish, bash, bosh: my interpersonal responsibilities. And then, there is myself and the natural world, and ultimately and most importantly, there is my relationship with my Creator, which ought to be rendered the basis of everything.

Silly, anxious me. Sometimes fooling myself into thinking I ought to be responsible for everyone and everything, at times. It is comforting, however, to know that I am not. That I will not ultimately be judged, necessarily, on mere numbers and statistics. Rather, my deeds shall be weighed, and, for example:

“Your family’s right upon you is greater than [that of] all other seven billion members of the world population combined.

The admiration of a million people pales in comparison to the smile you put on the face of a parent, spouse, or child.”

Shaykh Omar Suleiman

A ‘big’ life, or a ‘small’ one? An ‘exciting’ one, or a ‘quiet’ one? One more centred on order (fixed mealtimes, routines, etc.) or more on creativity and such? I now believe it is not all a case of ‘either-or’. It is: ‘quiet’ does not necessarily mean ‘boring’, while golden and ‘shiny’ and ‘loud’ do not tend to be reflective of inner, deep and true, goodness (read: the train track suicide statistics for Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street stations… and, how, in the case of the Golden Gate Bridge – USA – the higher suicide rate comes from the more economically prosperous side of the bridge, and not from the comparatively far less economically prosperous side…) On the ‘macro’ level, in my opinion, ‘small’ lives are better, though. Because they are ‘big’ for the right people, aren’t they? For oneself, for example, and for one’s little brother, for one’s friends. The people who deserve the best of us.

What other people may see, of thee and thine own life: they will see the entirety of your reality neatly packaged within a label or two. They do not hold the keys to the truths of neither you, nor your life. So may we live more… ‘organically’, and in line with the fullness of reality. The reality, and, secondarily, your one. With the latter: you know, you are the only person who is with you all the time, experiencing every moment of this reality of yours with you. So forfeit not your individual experiences of goodness for the sake of pleasing or placating others. And focus on looking inwards; on tending to your actual responsibilities.

A palliative nurse described one of the major regrets of the dying as the wish that they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

one of the cards from the ‘School of Life’ ‘Career Crisis’ Prompt Cards

You must plan and organise and exercise routines: insomuch as they are useful, and truly beneficial, and aligned with the realities of life, though. Morning routines, and evening routines, and relatively particular ways of doing things. But: do make room for some adaptability, too, for the seas of life are oft fairly stormy. Yes. Too much ‘order’ can prove to be rather boring and stifling and, on the whole, unrepresentative of reality: stubbornness and frustration may ensue. On the other hand, too much ‘creativity’ can very much bring about chaos, anxiety, a loss of direction. The ‘upside’ of the former might be… stability, while its downside might be… boredom. Of the latter: upside, excitement. Downside: anxiety [someone quite well-known, I believe, had famously remarked that “anxiety is the intolerance of uncertainty/ambiguity”. But I forget just who, though. Sigh]. We need both; in balance, and together, both order (sameness, routines, planning) and creativity (novelty, adaptability, colour) are good for us. When each works to both enhance and temper the other…

I often find myself questioning: am I more of a ‘planning’ person, or an ‘improvising’ one? Itineraries, ‘or’ free-spirited adventures? Both, my friend. Definitely, both. You prepare and you plan, and then when the active moment arrives, you also demonstrate adaptability. This is what good lessons (at work) are made of, for example. A good plan, research, revision. But in the delivery: things may come up, which you had not ‘accounted for’ in your planning, anticipated. Good things, and sort of difficult things. So do make space for those things, too.

Actually (and I acknowledge that I am now absolutely waffling) the commitment to both ‘order’ and ‘creativity’ is what makes for the best holiday adventures, for example. Planning: packing lists, itinerary, looking into the sights and sceneries beforehand, in preparation. And, also: some spontaneity, a willingness to explore, demonstrating creativity — and a good degree of adaptability, should things go wrong. The truth is: they can go wrong; they often do. We plan, and then… things happen. But it can all make for some really good stories. [Travelling certainly has much to teach us, about life.]

We have come a long way, dear friend, have we not? And may we love things for what they are, embrace the active moment — this one, right here and now. [Even if we are currently planning – say, for a lesson, or for a holiday: we are using this active moment, in preparation for another string of active moments.

It is only the present moment that is real. Discuss. (25 marks)]

May we put our trust in Allah, and keep going.

Being, in the ‘most good’ ways.

Learn to trust ourselves, as well as ‘the process’. Deeply and organically; lean into the active moment more, too.

May we learn to live in a way that is good – for us, and for those around us – and true, and beautiful. Āmeen.

1. We must live right now

2. When the time is right / if it is in your Qadr

3. You are going to die.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

An Important Email from a Friend

Sometimes someone says something, and I want to frame what they have said, and keep it forever. Copied and pasted below is one of those frame-worthy utterances, (or, writings. Typings, even, to be even more precise). An important excerpt from an email my amiga Tasnim wrote to me (in response to one of my emails, to her).

[Follow her art account on Instagram: @Nimartistry. Her artistic abilities are simply amazing, Allahummabārik!]

“Final time I am going to think outside of the ‘here and now’, Insha Allah.”

When I read this bit of your email, it honestly summed up what I wanted to say regarding everything you’ve written. There is a video I saw on Instagram; you may have seen it already. A Somali Muslim guy, visibly blind, quoted the Qur’an and then said,

“Allah promised me, all I have to do is be patient, and I’ll be granted Jannah. I have to deal with blindness for about 80 years, and then be guaranteed paradise permanently? No problem; this is nothing!”

And seeing him act so nonchalant about being blind just truly diminished any sense of struggle and worry I had in that moment. Alhamdullilah we have all our senses, but we are tested in other ways. However, the principle still applies. Be patient, and you will be granted Jannah. That’s literally all it is! 


So Sadia, try to take one day at a time, with each […] emotion, deal with them as they come. Each test, is just an opportunity to stack them rewards boi. Imagine if life went the way we wanted it to: how could we be tested? How would we deserve any blessings given to us? Our Lord is Just. Whatever pain and worry you feel, you will be recompensed. Never doubt that there is a purpose to every twist and turn, to every calamity, to every stress. (A reminder to myself as well). It is simply an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and
that is the greatest blessing we could ever receive in this life.”

[I (Sadia, that is) will add, here, that the life of this world is, ultimately, a struggle. An oft arduous journey, up a mountain. Or, on an aeroplane of sorts, to Somewhere. To meeting our Creator, and to our ultimate Homes, Insha Allah. Here, we must not allow ourselves to be deluded. There are no utopias on Earth, you will find, “and what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?” [Qur’an, (57:20)]]

“When I ride in an airplane [sic], I enjoy looking at how small the world seems from a distance. Yet when you zoom in, what seemed so small and insignificant turns out to be very important and major for most of us. The size of the house, the kind of car, the amount of money, and the lifestyle we want. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of day to day life thinking that it will never end. Each day we wake up, go to work, wait for Friday, and enjoy the weekend. Rinse and repeat. It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to stop, pause, and reflect on what is happening and where we are going. We often escape from the thought of our end. Death is a reality every single living creature will experience. No one’s health, wealth, status, or riches ever saved them from dying and being buried with nothing.” — Fatima Karim

“The root of all diseases of the heart is our love and attachment to this materialistic world. We know this world is temporary, yet we find it so hard to disengage from it. May the Almighty guide our hearts into desiring what is lasting — the Hereafter.” — Mufti Ismail Menk

This is certainly something that I need to remember. That, on the flip-side of this more fleeting existence, I am already ‘dead’, departed from this Dunya. In that atemporal realm, I am either somewhere in Jannah, or I am in Jahannam. My current experience, here, is retrospective knowledge for me, over There: a string of reasons as to why I am wherever it is that I may be.

This life is a test. My life is an individualised ‘test paper’, so to speak. I am being tested in particular ways, and you are being tested in different particular ways. Through, to paraphrase that ‘Meaning of Life’ spoken word poem I am so obsessed with, our wealth, our health, and everything we have been blessed with.

And we will surely be resurrected.

Here, I have Salaah. I have the Qur’an. I have all these added blessings, such as food and warmth, good people, and these constant opportunities to learn, and to grow, and to work on bettering myself. Most else… these are supplementary blessings that I do not necessarily ‘need’ in order to fulfil my purpose, here. I must be duly thankful for all of it, Shakoor.

“Everything other than Allah is vanity” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

In your grave, nothing of the vanities of this life will remain. Just you, alone, and your deeds: the stuff of the soul (presently seemingly invisible, intangible. But, soon: the only things that are real, that remain).

And, see, death is absolutely certain, while the things of this life are absolutely not.

So where are you going?” [Qur’an, (81:26)]


Sadia Ahmed J. and Tasnim K. Ali, 2020

‘Self-love’ (?)

“Love yourself.”

This contemporary concept of ‘self-love’. Admittedly, an idea that had sat fairly well with me, in the past. I did not really think much of it at first: I mean, what, exactly, about the notion of ‘loving oneself’ (and not relying on another to ‘give [you] love’) could be faulted?

Well — the truth is, as much as we can find ourselves in denial about our true natures and how it is we actually operate — we do, from the very onsets of our social developments (i.e. during infancy) rely on those around us (those whom we come to trust, and instinctively look towards, for validation) to tell us who we are, and to inform us about such things as how we fit into the world. To love us: to look at us, in our truths and in our entireties, and to smile upon us, through and for it all.

Of course, the onus of this process is initially (thrust) upon our primary caregivers, and then the responsibility begins to branch outwards, towards our extended family members, followed by our teachers, and the friends we make at school. The friends we make later on in life; our other peers, our romantic partners, our bosses at work. Through these bonds, we seek out validation, personal orientation, comfort, belonging. And what we may term ‘self-esteem’ (defined as: being content with, having faith in, one’s own worth, character, and abilities) is something that is very much socially informed, in us. It is, essentially, an ‘inside’ thing instilled in us by ‘outside’ people and factors; it is simply not something that we can genuinely self-generate, and subsequently ‘give’ to ourselves.

“Love yourself,” as we are habitually instructed to do. And, more often than not, this, in a distinctively consumerist manner. ‘Love yourself’ enough to… splurge on dresses, on jewellery, on a new car. “Treat yourself,” in such ways, thereby proving, making known, the abundant amounts of ‘self-love’ you possess. Whisper those ‘affirmations’ to yourself in the mirror every morning.

“I am beautiful. And intelligent. And awesome!

Somewhere in the distant background, wedding bells are ringing. A bride, all dressed in white, emerges from the place of her recent espousal. But, oh… there is no bridegroom to be seen, here.

Nay, for this has been a ‘sologamous’ marriage: the woman in question has married none other than… herself. Believe it or not, ‘sologamy’ is a practice that has been carried out by many across the West. And, indeed, the ‘self-marriage’ industry is one that is growing; the practice of ‘officialising self-love’ in such a manner is becoming increasingly popular, in particular among more affluent women.

These ‘self-partnered’ brides are known to dress themselves up, invite over their friends and family members (sometimes to a hired venue, and sometimes to their own homes), and then vow to themselves, that they will ‘love theirselves‘ eternally; that no man needs to ‘give’ them something they are purportedly adequately equipped to ‘self-administer’.

A rather ‘twenty-first century’ sort of matrimony, this. With some noble underlying intentions, perhaps. And, yet… the whole practice is arguably somewhat… narcissistic, no?

One ‘sologamous’ bride, New York-based performance artist Gabrielle Penabaz, claims that these symbolic self-wedding ceremonies are “usually very cathartic” and are “all about self-love”.

Indeed, many of the people (especially women) who have chosen to undergo these ceremonies had, unfortunately, been victims of abuse in previous relationships. And so, these functions may be perceived, by them, as being a means, or a symbolic statement, of self-empowerment: a bold, ‘feminist’ declaration of sorts. Many ‘self-brides’ promise, in the presence of their wedding guests, to ‘forgive [themselves]’, and to stop thinking of themselves as being “ugly” or otherwise ‘unworthy’.

But, at what point do such strides towards ‘self-love’ (or, perhaps, repairing otherwise compromised levels of self-esteem) deliquesce into what we might look upon as being… narcissistic?

‘Narcissism’: vanity. Excessive pride in one’s own image — in one’s physical appearance, abilities, and/or ‘worth’ [but, just what should the parameters be, for what is to be seen as being ‘excessive’?].

Some theorise that narcissistic tendencies always, ironically, stem from places of insecurity: if a person thinks himself inadequate in a particular regard, he may seek to ‘overcompensate’ somehow, whether in the very area in question, or within some alternative area.

Some (Freudian) theorists maintain that, for example, those who demonstrate distinctively arrogant tendencies at school or work (e.g. rudeness towards others; speaking ‘down’ on their peers) tend to be, whether consciously or not, behaving in such ways so as to defend their egos; they are, according to this line of thought, attempting to ‘overcompensate’ for, usually, personal feelings of sexual inadequacy…

What do you think? Do narcissistic tendencies always stem from places of perceived inadequacy… or do some people truly, from their cores, believe that they are ‘special’, and inherently ‘better than’ others?

Almost inarguably, we do all seek to have good levels of confidence — self-esteem. But, as previously indicated, the parameters we have collectively put in place with regard to these definitions can oft prove to actually be rather… blurry, messy. A key reason for this is because, as with many things in the field of (the more ‘philosophical’, theoretical, social sides of) Psychology, whatever may be seen as being more desirable (or the opposite) is very much contingent on the underlying world-views we choose to adopt, and their associated considerations.

For example, the philosophies of ‘modernity’ (which, generally, is yoked to a secular, a-spiritual, materialistic world-view) may include things like moderately sustained, direct eye contact, and speaking ‘assertively’, in its own parameters of how we may be able to assess desirable levels of self-esteem in ourselves and in others. But the Islamic view is more so that authentic self-esteem is to be found in the acceptance of one’s own humanity, as well as this of others. We Muslims are encouraged to observe modesty; to look down, more, and to speak with humility, gentleness. To wholly accept our intrinsic worth, but to not be ‘loud’, exultant, arrogant, with it.

And, for example, while, in ‘modernity’, a woman who shows more skin and who walks in a certain way is seen as being more ‘confident’ and those who cover themselves up are seen as being relatively more ‘insecure’, the argument could well be inverted: it could be argued that ‘true confidence’ does not necessitate beautifying oneself for as many people as possible to see. Indeed, it would appear to be a real issue among women — young and old — today: the inability to go outside without any makeup on, courtesy of such things as the insidious messages that the cosmetic industry inculcate us with on a daily basis. Some women now cannot even go outside without false lashes and other makeup products on; they are convinced that they look ‘ugly’ without them…

The principles underlying the Islamic view on feminine beauty can be broadened to explain the entirety of how we Muslims ought to look upon matters of self-esteem and such, methinks. Makeup, jewellery, and nice clothes are certainly not disallowed in Islam, but we are told to only display our ‘ornaments’ in the presence of women and male relatives (with some exceptions), while maintaining physical modesty whenever we are in public.

Validation and love should be — and must be (if we are to ensure and cultivate their emotional wellbeing) — actively and copiously granted to our girls (and, yes, boys) by family members. Because we do and will seek such things out, from fellow human beings. And, yes, when we fail to adequately validate our family members, our friends, our ‘wards’, with regard to the things that humans generally seek out validation for (beauty, intelligence, character and such) they will come to feel inadequate, and will likely look for validation in other places, through other avenues.

I think some Muslim families do get it rather wrong. They seem to be operating under the impression that, simply because there are these particular boundaries on things like cosmetics and feminine beauty, that their daughters and such should be prevented from using makeup products altogether. But, no: it is generally in the essence of a woman to enjoy adorning herself with beautiful things. A similar thing with Muslim men: it is generally in the nature of a man to enjoy gazing upon feminine beauty. But they must observe certain Islamic boundaries when it comes to this, in line with the Test of Life: to ‘lower [their] gaze[s]’ when it comes to women whom they are not married to.

In any case, blessings like physical beauty, intellectual capacities, material wealth and professional success: we Muslims do not — or, should not — look upon them as being wholly ‘personal’ achievements. These blessings are from Allah; the acknowledgement of this fact should aid us in being more confident in our self-worth, and more humble, too. And we ask of Him from His bounty; we ask for protection for our present blessings, too.

Now, a key facet of contemporary views on confidence would appear to be that if you are in possession of something good, you must make some sort of display of it before people: make it known. If you do not show it, make a show of it, do you really even have it, in the first place?

Although we are becoming increasingly desensitised to these things, I really think that the rap lyrics, the social media norms, of today are quite shameless, and they truly do much to bolster such attitudes. Boasting, filtering, directing the spotlight onto certain things: how much money one has, how many people one has slept with. Being sure to make these particular things known; sometimes insolence is peddled as being a merit — some sort of ‘right’ that the more ‘successful’ can exercise, over the less ‘successful’. At what point does ‘sharing’ shift into becoming ‘showing off’? My own view is that it is all about intention. One’s intentions can either be towards developing sincere (equal) connections, or… towards portraying oneself as being on some superior plane to others.

Of course, these days, many people are known to seek out an experience of love — or, a simulation of it — via the avenue of ‘fame’. Having as many people as possible see you, and give you — your talents and abilities, your physical beauty, your levels of ‘success’ — a series of standing ovations.

Earlier this year, I had carried out a survey asking a handful of questions to as many different people from as many different backgrounds and such as possible. One of the questions had been in relation to self-esteem. “What do you think most people dislike about themselves [and that acts as a barrier to their acquisition of the ‘Good Life’]?”

Most people had responded to this question with the theme of body image. Feeling like they are physically inadequate – ‘ugly’ – which can significantly affect one’s social confidence and subsequent wellbeing. ‘Modernity’ values ‘looks’ so much: and not just default (naturally human) looks. But how well we can manage to (through, yet again, our consumption of certain products) adhere to certain given ‘standards’. Particular ideas, popularised via powerful propaganda… Postcolonial conceptualisations of ‘what beauty (or, ideal masculine or feminine appearances) must be’, in addition to the power wielded by the multibillion pound cosmetic and ‘fitness’ industries today, have drastically affected the ways in which we have come to look at ourselves. We equate illusory cyborg snapshots and airbrushed constructions with looking ‘good’. And we absolutely also equate this (these versions of) looking ‘good’ with… intrinsic worth, unfortunately.

Second to considerations of outer appearances, in response to this particular survey question, most people commented on their perceived inadequacies in terms of their own abilities and talents. Academically, professionally. This is what modern mass-popularised hyper-competitive models inject us with: the idea that, in order to be worth something – worth anything at all, one must a) produce, or contribute to the production of, as much (economic) ‘output’ as possible and, b) do (and, therefore, ‘be’) better than others. The grand modern rat race: inextricably linked to highly individualistic, economic, (materialistic) notions of ‘success’. And ‘modernity’ tells us that if you are not ‘successful’ in the ways that they have outlined for you, well then, you are not really ‘worth’ much at all, are you?

Now, back to how we Muslims ought to view ‘self-worth’. When new babies are born, don’t we just know, instinctively, to cherish them, to honour their existences, purely on the bases of their… existences?! Self-explanatory, innate worth. They are alive, and human beings. Created, and not in vain, by our Supreme Creator. Fashioned in… awesomeness.

And, just like those former child versions of yourself, dear reader, in all that you are,

You matter immeasurably.

A living, breathing, moving, loving, thinking human being. What a thing!

I think we should learn to look upon fellow human beings – and ourselves – in such a vein. Looking upon ‘being’ as being the fountainhead of ‘worth’, value, as opposed to ‘doing’ (economic output, ‘productivity’, hyper-competition). Sometimes we humans do get sick; many of us will eventually become old and frail, too. Will our ‘worth’ as human beings decay as and when our abilities to ‘do’, do?

The core(s) of our level(s) of self-esteem should be… the core of we. Man: a brilliantly complex, gorgeously delicate, strong, athletic, sentient thing. The second layer of self-esteem, I personally think, ought to come from two things: one’s Deen (connection to Allah) and one’s personal character. May these be our constants, throughout life. All else should be tertiary considerations; they are susceptible to change. One can lose all of one’s money overnight; youthful beauty and strength begin to fade as old age arrives. If we attempt to root the core(s) of our levels of self-esteem in these particular variables, well then, how vulnerable to crumbling we are allowing our worth(s) as human beings to be.

Absolutely, I think we need to be far more open and giving, when it comes to offering love. And far less (pridefully) ‘unemotional’, resolute, avaricious. To get into the habit of truly treating others how we wish to be treated; to speak the beauty in others, which we see.

We do instinctively grow towards love. It is a responsibility upon us, to love others, and, yes, to trust in love when it is returned to you.

When you offer a fellow human being a loving word, a smile —

you help them bloom at least a tiny bit more. And the gravity of these particular social responsibilities upon us increases when it comes to people who may be suffering from low levels of self-esteem, which typically occurs when a person feels socially rejected, outcast somehow.

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames.

— Qur’an, (49:11)

We need to, I think, exercise great care in our social interactions with, for example, ‘revert’ Muslims — new Muslims who may be struggling with feeling orientated and integrated within their new faith-based community; who are often disowned by their own family members as a result of making the decision to revert. And, towards people with severe disabilities (who tend to be, as my cousin puts it, “people of Jannah, walking on Earth”).

Muhammad (SAW), whom his wife ‘Aisha (RA) had referred to as being the walking embodiment of the Qur’an, had been in the habit of treating people — irrespective of whether they had been rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy — with such importance. [He would, for example, travel to the furthest parts of Madinah to visit the sick, and sit with people to listen to their woes and worries.]

Unfortunately, these days people often resort to carrying out social calculations to determine which people are most ‘worth’ being good to, and which people are ‘not’. Some people are simply dismissed, seemingly invisible.

We, each of us, have at least some power in affecting another individual’s levels of self-esteem. People change people, whether for better, or for worse.

As Muslims, we are told that even a smile is an act of Sadaqah – charity. And, that we should express active, conscious kindness: to children, to our parents (especially when they reach old age), to our neighbours, to strangers. And, in a similar manner to Muhammad (SAW)’s, this should be in a sincere and conscious manner, and irrespective of factors such as class or race.

“Speak good [words], or remain silent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

A substantial part of the character of a Muslim should be ‘Rahma’. Typically translated into English as ‘mercy’, the word ‘Rahm’ is actually derived from the word used to refer to a mother’s womb. ‘Rahma’: the way in which a mother cares for a child. The way in which a mother instinctively, freely, delicately and powerfully, loves and expresses her love for even her unborn child: a child that does not even really know her yet.

“Whoever is not caring/compassionate to others will not be treated with care/compassion [by Allah].” 

— Muhammad (SAW)

Muslims do not exactly subscribe to popular conceptualisations of ‘Karma’ (as, for example, a bad thing happening to a person does not necessarily mean that it is the eventual result of something bad that they themselves had done)… however, we do believe in ‘Ajr’.

“Is the reward for goodness anything but goodness?”

Qur’an, 55:60

There is no shame at all in accepting how social, dependent-on-others, we are. A man is not rendered any less ‘manly’ through his yearning, say, for a female companion; mutandis mutatis, women with men.

Yet another term in ‘social psychology’ whose parameters would appear to actually be quite muddy: the notion of ‘codependency’. ‘Excessive’ reliance on another, for validation. In offering love and goodness to our partners, friends and such — at what point can we safely say that their emotional needs from us are ‘too much’?

I guess it is understandable from both sides. On the one hand, it can prove to be quite emotionally draining, to be a person from whom high levels of emotional support are constantly sought. And, on the other hand, these ‘codependent’ individuals: it is rarely ever their own faults that they are deficient, on the love front.

And here is where the Islamic concept of ‘Sadaqah’ may come, strongly, into play. For us, we are essentially encouraged to live lives in which we seek to give (far) more than we seek to take. The term ‘Sadaqah’ (‘charity’ or ‘benevolence’) is derived from the Arabic term meaning, “he has spoken the truth”. Meaning, when we give, generously (from our time, our words, our wealth), to others without expecting anything in return from them, we are implicitly acknowledging the truth that Allah (SWT) is all-aware of our deeds. He will recompense us, in some way or another, whether in this world, or the other (more lasting) one.

“One does not attain [true] faith until one prefers for others what one chooses for oneself”

— Muhammad (SAW)

Some undeniable human truths, here: Adam needed Eve. Companionship, tranquility, and love, from her. And perhaps, by some ‘modern’ yardsticks, he may be seen as having been somewhat ‘codependent’. Some say that reliance on others for self-esteem is ‘pathetic’, perhaps. But to claim this would be to be in utter denial of what human nature really entails. Maternal love, paternal love, brotherly and sisterly love, love through friendship. Communal love, spousal love. We seek it out; we need it. Without it, or when given to us in non-nourishing forms, we find ourselves hungry. Feeling empty. And low in ‘self-esteem’, perhaps.

So if there comes to you, say: a relative or a friend whose wings are a little broken, as a result of being a victim of ongoing abuse… give them love. Generously, openly, outwardly, and without complaint (if you are able to). And know that your Ajr is with Allah (SWT). Know that you will never lose, by giving: Sadaqah does not decrease your wealth [Sahih Hadith]. Even from the secular perspective, we already know that volunteering tends to be encouraged, as a means of boosting feelings of positive self-regard and contentment, by giving to others.

We are wired to like ourselves (more) when we feel others — in particular, those closest to us — like us. This is a strong psychological need of ours, and also explains why fall-outs and such can result in such significant damage to our emotional wellbeing.

And we, each of us, are also in need of some sort of main secure base. ‘Home’. A particular individual who forms the crux of our social world. Without them, we are extremely prone to experiencing high levels of distress. In childhood, our ‘secure bases’ tend to be offered to us in the form of our mothers. In adulthood, this role tends to shift towards our romantic partners. We require close contact with them; affection, the allaying of our (inevitable) distresses.

It is typically when a person feels cut off from their ‘secure bases’ that they may begin to experience self-harming tendencies and suicidal inclinations…

And you are absolutely not weak if, say, your experiences of having been a victim of abuse (and, yes, even sustained indifference can be a form of abuse) have rendered your self-esteem — your cup of (to self-contradictorily utilise the term I have, multiple times in this article, already expressed a disdain towards) ‘self-love’ — lower than it should otherwise be, at present. This simply means that others — in particular, people you had strong bonds with, and thus deeply trusted, and who should have played, for you, the role of your ‘secure base’ — have failed to love you enough; have not done so in the right way. Perhaps, with you, they had been shockingly indifferent, negligent. Or, maybe, they had sought to belittle you, to make you easier to control and manipulate; perhaps in order to help themselves feel ‘bigger’, and ‘better’.

If this is you: if you find you have suffered at the hands of those who should have, really, watered you, I just want you to know that hope is absolutely not lost, for you; that you can certainly be re-watered; you may re-bloom… much like how rose plants do. Sometimes their buds and leaves wither and wilt for a while. But you, like they, can be revived. Through Allah’s Rahma, and through the vessels of his Rahma that may be with you, and/or await you, among creation.

True self-worth (or ‘self-love’, or whatever. Indeed, the labels we might ascribe to are far less important than what we are attaching it to) is reliant on those external sources of love that are deeply entwined with our souls. Divine love — Rahma — is what had brought you into being, in the first place. And the love(s) of our loved ones is what sustains us. Ultimately, it should be on the Divine category of love that we rely on the most, for it is He who is the supreme constant, while most else upon this Earth is fleeting and fundamentally changeable.

And true self-worth/-esteem/-love is rooted in just that: truth. Sincerity. Not in being taken by mere image-based projections, reflections, of ourselves (nor in how we may compare to others’ similar image-based projections). Nay, true acceptance and love may only be found when we come to accept the truths of we: Who it is who had created us, and why. How we are human: complete with our merits, and our flaws.

“You should be sincere to your brother in faith, be he present or absent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

No human being is a mountain, although the people whom we might come to term as being ‘narcissists’ may think of themselves as — or, simply present themselves as being — such. Truthfully, we are not ditches, nor valleys, either, although abusive individuals, and the powerful forces of consumerist and hyper-competitive propaganda, may lead to your believing this.

So why don’t we learn to ground our levels of self-worth to a place beyond the skies?

A good amount of self-worth and self-esteem would, perhaps, entail our deep recognition of the fact that we, each of us, walk upon level ground. Beneath sky, and above earth. Created by the very same Creator. All from One.

“Behave like servants of Allah and as brethren in faith”

— Muhammad (SAW)

‘Narcissism’ is rooted in delusion. Arrogance, and coldness, a detachment from soul-centric warmth, while humility entails an acceptance of Truth, and of all its associated truths. Humility gives rise to warmth, and to flow states (internally, and between people) — and thus, to sincerity, and true connection.

Humankind. We are, undoubtedly, capable of magnificent feats – like the inventions of such things as aircraft and the internet, by the permission and the Rahma of our Creator. And also, each of us, princes and paupers alike, are susceptible to embarrassment. And to illness. Chained to biological callings; hooked to where it is that Time, by Allah’s commands, is taking us: death. And what will follow.

“In a world torn by rivalries and conflicts, polluted by discrimination and dehumanisation and tormented by terror and wars, the healing touch can come only from [the] re-establishment of the supremacy of [our] moral values [and the] promotion of compassion, brotherhood, fellow feeling, tolerance and graceful acceptance of each other as members of human fraternity. Hatred can only beget hatred. It is [only] love and grace that can heal [our] wounds and mend the fences.” 

— Khurshid Ahmad, Foreword to ‘Interpersonal Relations: An Islamic Perspective’

Concerning feelings of ‘worth’, there exists a spectrum, perhaps: from delusional over-confidence (which makes one feel they are superior to others, and behave accordingly) through to healthy levels of self-esteem, humility. But these may quickly descend into undesirably low levels of self-worth: the key defining feature of such maladies of self-esteem is when one thinks oneself unworthy of love.

And maybe you seek to attach ‘reasons’ to this feeling, brought on by, or at least intensified by, (current, or former) outer social circles and peer groups, ideas that are constantly (stealthily) touted by the media, etc. You are… ‘too weird’, or ‘too boring’. Not ‘handsome enough’; not ‘smart enough’; not ‘strong enough’. Something, this or that, perhaps ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity’: you are not doing right at all. And this, in turn, somehow renders you, perhaps in a particular area, or maybe in all of them, ‘less worthy of love’.

If this happens to be the case with you, please know that you are worthy of love, exactly how you are. Sans comparing you to whomever you may find yourself comparing yourself to — be they siblings of yours, or celebrities — and in spite of what anyone may have said to you, to the contrary of this truth. Beginning from you, and ending there, too.

“And let not their speech grieve you. Indeed, [all] honour [due to power] belongs to Allah entirely. He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”

— Qur’an, 10:65

Here, I will rather shamelessly include (yet) another ‘Anne with an E’ reference. In the show, Anne absolutely despises her own “horrible hideous horrible” red hair. But why? Why does she hate such a… harmless (actually rather beautiful) feature of hers, with such fiery passion? Because she has been taught to do so, over time. First by the jeers of the girls at the orphanage; later by the subtle (and, sometimes openly insolent) insinuations and remarks of the adults around her. Red hair, according to them, is ‘ugly’, and quite undesirable, somehow; this is clearly a strongly culturally-ingrained idea of theirs, one they have seemingly passively accepted, and one they now actively contribute to the perpetuation of.

And yet, when Mr. Blythe opens the door to Anne and meets her for the first time, one of the first things he says to her, in earnest, is,

“What wonderful red hair!”

Same thing in question. But looked upon with fresh eyes, an alternative (better) perspective.

Not a person exists who will have some who will love her, and some who will dislike her. Everything about you that some (the wrong ones, for you) may perceive as being negative traits: the way you do things, how you speak, your interests, your thoughts… some others (the right ones, for you) will perceive as being absolutely, undeniably, wonderful. And these, the latter, will not stifle you: rather, they will, Insha Allah, help you to bloom, blossom, grow.  

I can promise you this much: with your ‘right’ people, you do not have to try to be anything else, other than what you are. And they will love you precisely for it.

So may Allah bless you, dear reader, in this lifetime, with people who are your ‘right ones’, and may you find you are very right for them, too; Ameen!

To submit a topic or a question that you would like to see an article based on, please click here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

5 and 95

If you were to sit down with a past version of yourself – five-year-old you, let’s say – would he or she be impressed, pleased with, whom you find that you are today? And what about (theoretical) ninety-five-year-old you? What would they have to say, about the you of today?

Five-year-old you presumably had big plans for whom he or she wanted to be by the age that you currently are. Their ways of looking at the world must have been rather different to your ways of doing so, now. What had they been like? Do you remember much from then?

Five-year-old you knows a thing or two about your essence. As vague and trite and irritating as the phrase may be, he or she knows, to a good degree, ‘who you really are’. You, minus the ladening of you, under others’ expectations. The one that presumably did not think twice before playing, before exploring, before almost effortlessly making friends.

And then, of course, there is also ninety-five-year-old you to impress. Sit with him or her for a while, why don’t you; have a cup of coffee. Tell her about your current worries, plans, daily happenings, adventures. She will say (granted that her memory is still relatively intact…) that yes, she knows — she has been there before. She knows all about your takes and your mistakes; the things that worked out, in the end, and the things that did not.

And what, do you reckon, might matter to her? Do you think she would mind all that much, that you slipped up that one time? Do you think that she, from her retrospective perspective, cares much for most of these worries of yours?

Pandering to the expectations of people. If you are a member of Desi society like I am (and involuntarily so, one might add!) or, perhaps worse still, if you happen to be a female member of Desi society, you may know all too well about some of the societal pressures that we are made to face all the time. There is always this person and that one that you must appease, and that person who is constantly speaking ill of you without even knowing you. There are spiralling talks about your character, your actions, your education, your marriage. And, yes, maybe it is true that talks of complete self-autonomy are only emblematic of liberal delusions; we are an intrinsically interdependent species, but

Please don’t let them decide for you. What a recipe for unhappiness, and for personal disaster. And it is okay if they say that you are too headstrong or that you are enacting womanhood in a way that they have deemed to be ‘wrong’.

The one question you must ask yourself is this: [with all due respect,] Do I wish to become like them? And if the answer is no, well then, you have your answer, don’t you?

You do not wish to become like them? Good. Then they can never tell you who you are, and you must try not to care too much about their incessant and tiresome streams of criticism. Five-year-old you certainly did not care much for them. And ninety-five-year-old you (granted that she is alive and well!) probably – hopefully – scoffs at the idea of whom you may have turned out to be, if you took the words of most of these Desi aunties seriously. Puppet on legs, for example, lipstick and sweeping brush. 

You know, there are two Lights that you have been blessed with by God Almighty, to illuminate the way for you; to help you to make all these crucial decisions. They are: Reason, and Revelation. And yes, they do go hand-in-hand. The two most significant tools for living these lives of ours. I hope that you will not ever let go of either of them.

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

– The Gestalt Prayer


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

On Jealousy

Jealousy, envy, covetousness. Feeling (perhaps fiercely) protective over one’s own possessions, or, indeed, over one’s perceived possessions – such as social statuses and particular positive characteristics that are heightened, relatively, when compared to those of others. Or, resentfully yearning for the things – or the particular hues and degrees of these things – that others may have. Beauty, wealth, intelligence, material achievements, personality, attention from a particular individual, perceived likability. These are all things one can feel rather jealously protective of in oneself, and/or covetous for, in our perceptions of others. 

Almost indubitably, we have all come under the Green-Eyed Monster’s cunning clutch at some point in our lives, becoming either a tad obsessively territorial (maybe following the birth of a new baby sibling, whose newness, whose effortlessly adorable countenance threatened to steal away the parental doting that we had previously held a monopoly over), or feeling rather helplessly inadequate, perhaps when witnessing a crush seemingly flirtatiously conversing with (gasp!) somebody who isn’t you! 

Insecurity – that is the word (especially when it comes immoderate levels of jealousy/envy) here. And protectiveness – that is the other word. Feelings of jealousy and/or envy are not, in and of themselves, the worst things in the world. They are actually rather ‘natural’, instinctive, a fairly universal human emotional phenomenon. And, as a matter of fact, such feelings can actually prove fairly useful at times: a jealous protectiveness over one’s academic status at school, for example, can really motivate an individual to work very industriously indeed. Envy can also inspire a little, can motivate people to realise their desires to be better in various ways.

In Islam, for instance, men are indeed encouraged to have Gheerah – a kind of protective jealousy – over their womenfolk. This is not to say that they should be oppressive nor abusive in any way. The term encompasses a sense of earnest care and concern, combined with a certain degree of protective zeal. We should want to protect the things we have rights over and/or responsibilities towards. We should also take inspiration from people who have the things we ourselves wish to have: a good work ethic, a certain professional position…

But these things can, and often do, quickly slip into such uglinesses. Men, for example, can become quite abusive and obsessive under the guise of Gheerah. People can work themselves up into ongoing furies as a result of envy and envy-related ruminations. Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. It can be a rather suffocating ordeal to be the object of it; it can be a potentially equally torturous thing to be the one whose mind generates it.

In Islam, we accept that all blessings are from God, and that no person is superior to another (not in terms of race, nor ancestry, wealth, gender, or other factors) except as a result of piety and good action. The ultimate objective – Heaven – is open for everyone, non-finite in this regard. This is the ultimate goal, the lasting Peace and Happiness. Everything good in this world (according to a Hadith, is either an adornment or a provision and) can be a tool to getting there; on the flip side, these things can lead to us becoming arrogant, and to our losing sight of what is truly important.

On this Earth, youthful beauty does fade, and intelligence can just become a dormant and futile thing if not used. Wealth does not buy lasting happiness: it can quickly just be wasted, and the super-wealthy can be overcome by intense boredom and restlessness. We can find ourselves piling these things up, spending our time being jealous and envious. But eventually, all of it goes away. In the case of wealth, for example, it all may go to those who come after you, while your corpse rots in its grave [apologies for the morbidity here, but hashtag reality].

“If you are grateful to me, I will surely increase you [in favour]”

– Holy Qur’an, (14:7)

Maybe it is true that we all want to be unique, special, somehow. And when the perceived ‘things that make us special’ come, in our eyes, under attack as a result of competition (or, indeed, if we long to be ‘special’ in a particular way, but feel inadequate, and feel a heightened sense of this inadequacy when we juxtapose ourselves with people who have what we wish we could have had) we become a little hyper-competitive, aggressive, maybe a tad unreasonable.

But if this is a fear of yours (losing your ‘uniqueness’, your ‘specialness’) fear less, for you are you. To quote Dr. Seuss, “There is no one alive who is you-er than you”.

You are entirely unique – in terms of all your experiences, thoughts, the daily reality of being you. It is futile to compare you to another (although it could, at times, be useful to isolate a particular habit or behavioural trait, and look to others’ expressions of the same thing as a source of inspiration).

You must be easier on yourself, and fairer on any person who may be the object of your jealous or envious tendencies, too. Humanity certainly has its good parts – its golden, shinier parts. But all human beings also trip up and fall; must use the toilet on a daily basis; eventually… die. In honouring our humanness, we must know that we – and they – are not computers, nor dolls, nor anything else that is materially possess-able, manufactured via machines, or quite predictable. We are never-ending projects. There is good and bad in you, and the same (but expressed differently) in them.

God has decreed for you to have certain challenges and certain blessings; other people too – irrespective of who they may be – have their blessings and their challenges. Allah (SWT) is the granter of blessings, and He is also the one who is testing us – through our blessings and our challenges: through our intentions and actions. 

Ultimately, the only real competition you have in this life is… yourself. Your own bad habits, your own limiting beliefs, perhaps some of your own delusional ways of thinking [e.g. the quality of my life would be so much better if I just looked like him, or if I were as photogenic as her]. We all want to improve our personal experiences of Life; we are all in this pursuit of Happiness. But drastic changes – like suddenly coming into the possession of much wealth, or becoming the most academically adept person, or beginning to look like an Insta-model: in reality, these things might bring you a high or two. And then, perhaps, some secondary highs from the external validation you may receive. But eventually, our minds seek to normalise all novelties. It all just becomes ‘daily life’, nothing special, to you. You can observe this phenomenon in many people you may admire or envy because they are very beautiful, or very intelligent, or very materially successful. Many of these people just become used to themselves and their lives; what we see as enviable and special in them, they may simply overlook. And likewise, there may be some very wonderful, externally very admirable or enviable things in you that you are prone to overlooking as a result of familiarity with yourself.

Jealousy and envy can push a man – or a woman – to do crazy, heinous things: things like repeatedly violating a partner’s right to privacy by rummaging through their personal belongings; displaying otherwise obsessive and stalker-ish tendencies; displaying abusive behaviours; torrentially slandering the objects of one’s envy, thus leveraging social power over them in their absence, seeking ways to belittle them, to make yourself seem ‘better’ than them, in some respects, by comparison. And, of course, there is that timelessly obnoxious habit that can arise when one becomes a little too intrigued by another person’s being and achievements: interrogation, excessive questioning, wanting to find out about them and their lives, as much as you can…

There is a fine line between sentiments of admiration and those of envy. This line, so it would seem, is remarkably easy to cross. Even when it comes to ostensibly harmless feelings of admiration for a person, one finds oneself treading on dangerous ground. Why? Because when you put human beings upon imaginative pedestals, you essentially dehumanise them. The human imagination is an exceptionally creative thing. You may begin to ascribe features and ideas to this person that are not necessarily true. In doing so, you are not being very fair to them [for they are a fellow human being, and are thus flawed, unbelievably complex, multifaceted] nor are you being very fair to yourself, seeing yourself as being ‘far less’ than they are.

Today’s celebrity culture certainly unabashedly promotes things like the idolisation of people, and envy, and focusing on things like others’ beauty, relationship statuses, and levels of wealth. Audiences wait with bated breath, sharklike, waiting for a person to slip up. Media outlets forever find themselves gathering evidence – reasons to place certain people on some sort of spectacular angelic plane – while also seeking reasons to debase them – perhaps partially as a result of collective envy, to demolish the pillars that might hold these people’s pedestals up. All this happens on this wider scale, and it can tend to happen on far smaller interpersonal ones, too.

“One is not a Muslim until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

And, of course, demonstrating the above can be hard at times. If you pride yourself on being the funniest or the prettiest or the smartest in the room (or whatever else) for instance, jealousy can overcome you. You may end up displaying some hostility towards someone else who happens to also be rather funny or beautiful or academically competent. But we need to have faith and trust in Allah. We must seek to overcome our egos and to support others; indeed, according to the Qur’an, the reward for excellence (and of related self-overcoming) is “nothing but excellence”. And we must seek to be good to the people and to be grateful to God; verily, He multiplies blessings.

Interestingly, another Hadith tells us that when we pray for good for others, an angel within our proximity says, “And for you, the same.” 

Remember, firstly, that there is more than enough beauty, enough wisdom and intelligence, enough positive character traits, to go around! 

And, secondly, know you are the custodian of your own life; spending your time attempting to peer into others’ lives does not really do anything good for yours.

So, the jealousy cure, then: a tranquility-giving concoction of trust; acceptance of Divine Decree; remembrance of the nature of life as being a test (both in terms of our tribulations, and in terms of [what we do as a result of] our blessings); expressing gratitude to God and asking Him for His protection over the blessings we have; accepting that we can be prone to cognitive distortions (e.g. when, as a result of distance, we come to believe that some people’s lives are pretty much perfect; that appearances are more substantial than substance itself); praying for and working towards the things we would like to have (while knowing that we are indeed each unique. One person’s beauty or intelligence will naturally look rather different to another’s); accept that it is okay to take inspiration from others, but you are you:

focus on yourself. 

 

Addendum: I do believe that many jealousy and envy issues can stem from childhood. This is just an observation, but it would appear as though many only children and first children are more territorial – more jealous – than others. This may be because they are more used to ‘not sharing’ things, and to being ‘special’.

Moreover, it may be true that those with envy issues want what others have a lot of the time because they were compared to other children by caregivers in childhood; made to feel inadequate – like they were lacking, while others were not.

Of course, this ties into what I speak about a lot – questions of Free Will and Blameworthiness. Envy is seen as a ‘destroyer of deeds’ [Hadith] in Islam. But to what extent does he or she have agency over such sentiments? Insha Allah I hope to delve further into such questions in a (near) future article.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

You’re Weird.

According to the OED, the term ‘weird’ refers to something “very strange; bizarre”. This is its informal definition. The definition of ‘strange’ is as follows: “unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain.” Now, with regard to a more formal definition of the adjective ‘weird’, it actually means “suggesting something supernatural or unearthly”. Thus, if you are weird, the chances are that you are, a) different from the norm – and that you are therefore rare; b) as a result of your numerical rarity, you are also difficult to understand, by the general populace. Finally, c) there is a high chance that you also have about you a ‘supernatural’ quality; some sort of ‘unearthly’ mystique. 

In general, human beings tend to seek out a stable sense of belonging, via validation from those around us. Firstly, we need to feel like we belong within our nuclear family units, and then, in our extended family units; our workplaces, our schools. And, of course, we yearn for a sense of belonging within the wider construct of society. Without these feelings of authentic belonging, we become susceptible to some of the most unpleasant and unfavourable sentiments – those of feeling like societal rejects; like abnormalities; like weirdos. 

And we try, so desperately hard, to run away from this label. “You’re weird“. “Freak!” is what we hear. “Societal mistake”; “cultural anomaly”; “reject”. We crave not to be outcast in such a way; we need to feel like we belong. And we often find ourselves under the impression that to belong is to be exactly like those around us. 

This is a valid idea: many of the values, ways of doing things (etc.) that we acquire over the courses of our lives do come from the people around us – in particular, from those in senior authority positions, relative to ourselves. Parents, teachers, bosses at work, the ‘role models’ we place upon perceptive idealistic planes…

But who decides what is normal, and what is not? Is it merely a game of numbers? The majority of the population does this, and is like this, therefore this is the norm, i.e. what is normal. Does that mean that everyone and everything that strays from what is numerically most popular is to be deemed weird? 

What if the majority of the world’s inhabitants were to suddenly find themselves plagued by some sort of neurodegenerative disease that rendered them all prone to seeing hallucinations? What if they all were to start walking around barefoot, and hugging every tree they saw, and poking each other’s noses by way of greeting one another? According to our earlier definitions of normal and weird, this would all, by default, become the new normal. And anything and anyone who were to stray from this – what has become the most popular way of doing things – would be labelled as weird. 

The fact of the matter is, most of us fear being weird. We think the concept of being different naturally means that we are like science experiments gone wrong; like physical abnormalities in abstract cages, self-criticising, while the rest of the world gawks at and laughs at us.

But, and in reality, people laugh at what is different; at what causes them some discomfort. And what causes discomfort tends to be what is unfamiliar. This is why people often laugh at politically incorrect jokes; these jokes cause some degree of discomfort in people, which can be released via the outlet of laughter. Furthermore, with regard to criticism, people always display inclinations towards commenting on what is different; unfamiliar; discomfort-inducing.

If you were to walk along beside a line of pine trees, and if you then came across a single cherry blossom tree, the cherry blossom tree is likely to immediately catch your attention. And, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, the cherry blossom tree remains objectively beautiful. Her beauty is only accentuated by the fact that there are few like her, in her vicinity. Few pine trees could ever possibly understand her. But she is there, and she is weird. And ‘weird’ is not an inherently bad thing; this is surely all a matter of perspective.

And, besides, what are we, all of us, but grown-up children? Do we not all trip up sometimes on pavements; spill food; go to use the potty? We still have tantrums – whether we choose to show these to the world or not. We feel unmitigated rage; we feel jealous; we show off. Pretty much all of the things that children – these beings that hold mirrors up to our true core selves – do, adults do, too. Adulthood is but a game of seasoned childhood, with some additional moral frameworks in the mix…

All the things you do; all the things you perhaps dislike about yourself are probably pretty normal. It’s just that some things, as we have all implicitly decided within greater society, can be shown. Other things must be kept hidden.

Interestingly, and in light of the fact that we are all merely overgrown children, human babies are born having only two ‘built-in’ fears: that of falling, and that of loud noises. Every other fear and insecurity that we may have is gained along the way, via ‘nurture’ – via experience.

We have learnt (from the adults who were in charge of our care back then) what is to be seen as normal, and what is to be regarded – dismissed – as being weird. See, if you were to give a young child the chance to dress him- or herself, chances are, they will appear before you, minutes later, clad in wellington boots in the middle of the summer; animal-print tops that do not match their tracksuit trousers; raincoats on days where rain does not look like a probable occurrence at all…

Children are the weirdest of creatures. And this is what makes them so intrinsically wonderful. Their intrinsic human creative faculties have not yet been curbed; rather, these are nurtured every single day by a general fearlessness of being labelled as strange.

Children see almost every fellow child in the entire world as a potential fellow playmate. They point at random squirrels, name them ‘Alison’ or ‘Percy’, and call them their “pets”. They get tubs of face cream and smear it all over their hair. They invent weird languages, and handshakes, and make pointless devices out of cardboard. Weird is precisely how they learn. 

And if you were to force a young child into modern accepted brackets of normality (e.g. forcing them to sit on a swivel chair in a sparsely-decorated office, filling out piles of paperwork, with a twenty-minute coffee break in between all their hours) they would, to put it succinctly, freak out. Such things – such notions that we gradually imbue children with as they grow up – that this is how you are meant to end up – are wholly unnatural to the unaffected child. These things run antithetical to the weird essence of the young human.

Do we truly outgrow our own selves, after childhood? Is that truly the case? Or is it more so a case of plastering atop our essential selves affectations of ‘adulthood’, and of ‘propriety’, and of blunted weirdness, and curbed creativity?

Weird is necessary for progress. If you try the same things over and over again, you will end up with the very same results, over and over again. This is true both on an individual, and on a wider societal, scale. The iPhone was invented because a certain man decided to be a bit weird. Frida Kahlo’s legendary works of art are intrinsically weird. “Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain,” she once said. Only one weird person can know the wonderful core of another weird person. 

How else did Barack Obama become the first black president of the USA? Was it a normal decision that he made – to run in the election? No – it was weird – it was unheard of to have an African-American person in such a noble and important position, back then. But weird is necessary for change, until the virtuous elements of weird become the new normal. Marie Curie; Prophet Muhammad (SAW); Virginia Woolf; the Buddha. Though widely celebrated individuals now, back then, they were utter weirdos. And this was precisely their collective superpower: they could be weird, and they could thus see things differently. This allowed them to do things differently – weirdly, albeit, in the direction of much good.

If you are weird, congratulations! Though you may be acutely self-conscious, self-critical, and numerically few, you are of extremely high value. And almost every single thing you frown upon yourself for doing or being can be either flipped or neutralised; it is all a matter of mindset and interpretation.

“I’m awkward.” No – you’re adorable, and your actions are so very endearing. 

“I’m too much of an introvert.” Your mind must be beautiful; you actively nurture it by being outwardly silent. Your words have more weight – more value – whenever you do speak. 

“I do x and y. I’m such a freak.” Millions of other human beings probably do – and have, throughout history done – exactly whatever you do. You’re not a freak at all. Every human action is borne from a universal human motivation… whether this be the motivation to play and to enjoy the world; to learn and explore; to experience platonic and romantic love… 

“I embarrass myself, over and over again.” Good. That means you are alive and human. And it means you are tryingKeep trying, please! 

Some of my most favourite fictional characters are ‘weird’, and, for the most part, this is exactly why I love them. Rudy from ‘the Book Thief’. How adorable and endearing is he? It is safe to say, I had the biggest crush on him when I was younger. Sadly, he does not exist.

Jessica Day from ‘New Girl’. Polka dots, wide-frame glasses, saying weird things, and at all the wrong times. Sweet, funny, super unique, interesting, unpredictable. Who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Riley from ‘Girl Meets World’. What a weirdo. She has stars in her eyes; gets excited at the smallest of things. She is a tad naive, but, and like Jessica Day, who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Farkle from ‘GMW’, too. Initially, he sported a bowl-cut hairstyle. He would wear turtlenecks, and he had a whole host of strange idiosyncratic behaviours. He was funny, and very strange, and such a sensitive and loyal friend. Fictional crush the second, who unfortunately does not exist.

Then, there’s Topanga from ‘Boy Meets World’, and, later, ‘Girl Meets World’. One of my (fictional) role models. Topanga starts out as the definition of ‘weird’. She is… a hippie. ‘Child of the universe’, glassy eyes that just gaze into distances. She spontaneously performs rain dances and applies lipstick, as warpaint, to her face. When she is younger, she is one of the most sensitive, intelligent, loyal, and beautifully different souls out there. And she grows up to be a lawyer and a cafe-owner, with a wonderful (rather weird) family. Adulthood catches up with the great Topanga in the end, sure, but the beauty of her weirdness remains.

Hermione from Harry Potter. “Mental, that one,” Ron (ironically, her future husband) remarks, upon watching her sit beneath the Sorting Hat. Hermione is proudly weird; Luna Lovegood, too. Sometimes they are both mocked by those around them. But people throw rocks at things that shine. And, oh, how Hermione and Luna shine. 

And, finally, one of the best (fictional, unfortunately) couples in existence: the legendary Jake and Amy from ‘Brooklyn-99’What utter weirdos! Jake, the joker: jumps on grown men, is forever making childish jokes, always embarrasses himself. And, Amy, whom Rosa and Gina initially deem “a loser”. Stationery advocate; crossword aficionado; she has one friend outside of the precinct. But – nay, and – she is so very loved, and she is one of the greatest sergeants of her time.

Of course, fiction does not wholly represent human reality. But, often, it can give an acceptably good indication of it. Both in fictional worlds and in the real world, weird is what gives rise to adventure, and to greatness, and to fun. So here’s to your weirdnesses, dear reader – to all of them, even to the ones you cannot bring yourself to love, just yet.

See, weird is the very thing that makes small children fall in love with the world, in the first place. And weird might just be what it may take for us to stay there, in that childishly blissful state we have all, at some point, had the pleasure of experiencing.

Ask Sadia: A-levels, Second Year

Claire asked: “Hey Sadia! Love your blog… it’s so insightful and aesthetically pleasing I’m currently in my second year of A-Levels and I didn’t do so well last year. I was wondering whether you had any tips on how I could get my act together before the big A-Levels themselves. Thanks x”

Hi Claire! Thank you for visiting my blog, and for leaving such a lovely comment.

As you might already know, I’m also in my second year of A-levels, and if I’m being completely honest with you, I feel a bit lost myself this year- I feel overwhelmed, both with my intense academic workload, and with life’s goings-on in general.

But I do have some tips that, hopefully, we might both be able to benefit from. 

Firstly, I think it’s important to choose to focus on the here and now. Past failures should not be dwelt upon too much; what matters is what you do from this point onwards. I guess you could come to see it as quite comforting that AS-levels are no longer a thing, as first year doesn’t really count for much anymore.

You might have moments where you worry that you will not have enough time. You might regret not ‘starting’ earlier, but it might be comforting to remember that, ultimately, the examiners who mark your papers won’t know how much time you spent revising. All they will pay attention to is the marks you pick up.

So how can you make sure you pick up the right marks? In my opinion, the art of studying (which I definitely need to re-master, mainly by following my own advice) can be simplified and seen as the product of three things: understanding the content, creating good notes, and then doing exam practice.

Understanding the content would, obviously, entail paying attention in class… but if you’re anything like me, you might find that a lot of the things that teachers say simply do not get registered in your brain. I, for one, definitely have a habit of zoning out in lessons whenever the teacher happens to be saying something very important. Thankfully, the internet is at hand to help with this: YouTube videos can prove immensely useful for helping you teach yourself certain things.

As for the notes part of it all, I know that a lot of people try to make their notes as aesthetically pleasing as possible. If this helps you make your studying enjoyable, then by all means, do this. But ultimately, the goal is to ensure that your notes cover all the content (use subject specifications as checklists to ensure this!) in the most concise and comprehensible way possible. And once your notes are all done, you are ready to move onto practice papers.

(My personal goal – if I can overcome this winter study rut – is to have all my notes done by January, and then I will move onto constantly reviewing them, and completing past papers)

Practice papers should be completed under timed conditions, and then marked and reviewed. Pay attention to what you’ve done well, and what you might need to revise a bit more. And as for essay-based subjects, making essay plans and writing them out under timed conditions would be the way to go.

Finally, don’t worry too much: a lot of people are in the same boat as you. I would definitely recommend buying new stationery, making a study plan (allocating different topics and different past papers to different days, and spacing out your revision), and then getting stuck in with making notes, and practising under timed conditions. Panicking and overworking yourself at this point in the school year would probably only lead us to be burnt-out and less productive when it comes to exam season, so I would really advise you to take things slow and steady for now.

Make a plan, stick to it, and know that if anybody can succeed with their A-levels, YOU can!

Sincerely,

Sadia


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

To our future selves,

Trigger warning: this article features a lot of sentences that begin with the words “I hope…”

We probably don’t have everything figured out yet. When we were younger, we were always under the impression that the messiness of our minds would somehow morph into the butterfly of ‘adulthood’ someday. But adulthood doesn’t suddenly appear as a messianic figure or a profound realisation: we will never have everything figured out, and life will always be a little bit messy. 

I hope we have developed the strength and courage to accept and be ourselves, even in the face of intolerance or adversity. As the cliche saying goes, happiness comes from within. I hope that we have finally come to accept our flaws, and to understand that we are not any more flawed than anybody else: we are simply more exposed to our own faults and perceived inadequacies. Confidence is key in life, even if we ‘fake it’ at first. We lay out the foundations for how other people perceive us and treat us, and when we truly accept and love ourselves, beautiful things happen, and life feels more ‘right’.

I cannot hope that our lives are now problem-free; problems are an integral part of the human condition. But I hope that we take the time to realise that we can overcome these obstacles, just as we have overcome every other obstacle we have faced. But even when life is riddled with problems and stress, things can still be framed in a positive manner. Excessive ‘positivity’ isn’t helpful nor maintanable, but the ability to reframe our circumstances certainly is. I know that we will still have our bad days, but I hope that even on these days, we give ourselves the patience and care that we deserve. 

I hope that we are free to fully embrace our own styles – that our clothes are comfortable and (mostly) reflective of who we are, and that our homes are truly our ‘homes’, where we feel most at ease. I hope that we are surrounded by mutual love – oceans of it. 

I hope we never give in to the pressure of being ‘cool’, especially at the expense of being our true selves. We are messy, imperfect, a bit crap at times, but that is okay. It is better to be real than to be popular, and the loudest voices are not necessarily the best ones. I hope that we don’t base our self-worth on the approval of others or our abilities to conform to their expectations and stereotypes, moulding ourselves to fit into boxes for others’ comfort. I hope that we are living for ourselves, instead. I hope that we accept help and advice from others, but not to the extent where others’ opinions of ourselves supersede and dictate our own.

I hope that, as adults, we are grateful for the blessings in our lives – for our journeys to wherever we may be now, for the people who are currently in our lives, the people we once knew and perhaps still love, and for the people we are yet to meet. I hope we are grateful for the smaller things, like the smell of coffee in the morning, the splendour of the city at night, and the laughter of our children (or of our friends’ children, depending on the paths we choose to take).

I hope that life is full of travel, little (and big) spontaneous adventures, and beautiful moments that we try to capture in photographs and pictures, but find that we simply can’t. I hope that these moments take us by surprise and that we find ourselves lost in different places and with different people, as we try to find ourselves.

Most of all, I hope that we are living fulfilling lives – not necessarily the most lavish or ‘Instagrammable’ ones. I hope that our own small worlds are filled with both structure and unpredictability – and with love, laughter, and, of course, good food. I hope that we accept that we are just as deserving of peace, contentment and joy as anybody else and that we have the same right as anybody else to exist just as we are, wherever we may be. I hope we’re not too harsh on ourselves, and don’t feel the need to prove anything to anybody but ourselves, and that we don’t compare ourselves to (our perceptions of) others.

Finally, I hope that we make peace with ourselves and our pasts, and accept that aiming for perfection will always be futile. I hope that we are living medium lives (not too ‘small’ and private or idle, nor too ‘big’ and public or robot-workaholic-y) and ‘in the moment’ more. I hope we know that we are doing just fine, and that our past selves would be proud of us. 

From,

17-year-old me.

Man as Machines

It has long been thought that man is in prolonged conflict with machines- they are stealing our jobs, our talents, and our livelihoods. It seems that, whilst machines are becoming increasingly anthropomorphized, humans are starting to resemble robots, too. Sullen-faced, square-eyed, and excessively concerned with productivity and efficiency, it is almost as if we are sculpting ourselves to become economic goods on conveyer belts; everything is about maximising output and minimising procrastination, and schools with liberal and creative outward appearances are on the brink of becoming de facto exam factories. Students are becoming the unsuspecting victims of an academic dystopia, and our souls are paying the price for it.

Constantly being occupied with something of prudence to do has become the new norm for students; we tend to be inundated by tasks to complete, goals to strive for, and guilt to be absorbed by when our bodies insist that we need a break. With incessant advancements in technology, as well as the growing accessibility of education, the world is progressively becoming more fast-paced and frenetic, resulting in restlessness and overall dissatisfaction amongst pupils. Excuse this cliché statement, but it seems as though we are gradually declining into human doings instead of human beings.

In this game of academic and professional ‘survival of the fittest’, we are told that lacking in ambition will get us nowhere in life, which is, no doubt, true, however the present moment is not just a seed of the future, nor is it exclusively a culmination of the past. Life, believe it or not, is short. Time passes. Although, in modern society, it is highly advisable (necessary, even) to invest in the future, it is also important to focus on your own wellbeing and enjoyment, in the present. Not everything should be done with a future objective in mind; unlike with machines, the value of people is not derived from the value of what we can produce, in a given period of time.

Formal education is very demanding; every student is aware of this. We are forever drowning in oceans of to-do lists, assignments, deadlines, and worries about the future. It is essential that we are willing to let ourselves relax and have fun, from time to time. Self-improvement is dependent on the maintenance of every component of the self: the mind, and also the body.

In my view, although it has come to be a dirty word in academics, procrastination can often be beneficial. It comes from the Latin word procrastinat, which means ‘deferred till the morning’. Sometimes it is necessary to defer things until the morning, to just step away from the monsters of scholastic stress. Chronic anxiety can lead to burnout and depression- hence, as an example of situational irony, immoderate ‘productivity’ can lead to academic fruitlessness. The majority of us are living, sentient beings, not metal, unfeeling ones: we require adequate time to sleep, socialize, and rejoice in our capacity to feel things.

The obsession with efficiency and getting things done in the least amount of time possible is accompanied by an unhealthy obsession with the future, in terms of academia, careers, and other goals. An apt analogy can be drawn from this: students and career-minded individuals are climbing a gargantuan mountain, chasing one marker point after another, never quite stopping to appreciate the gifts- the remarkable view- of the present, for fear of being labelled ‘procrastinators’. They forget that there is beauty around them, not just in front of them, and they also forget that the summit itself is an illusion. The harsh reality of the matter is that we climb this mountain, and then we drop dead somewhere along the way.

As with many things, the solution is simply to strike a balance- the flowers of productivity can be nurtured alongside the flowers of enjoying a soulful and content life (yes, I enjoy using metaphors to convey my ideas). As the saying goes, work hard, but also play hard: time is a finite resource, and it is constantly slipping from beneath our fingertips, like loose grains of sand. Men will never be machines, and it is futile to place such pressure on ourselves, pretending to be something we are not.

Though we may not rust like machines, our cells are always ageing, and soon we will grow old; we will grow up, and we will yearn for our youth and its many joys to return to us, but it never will.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017