Welcoming Ramadan

Bismillah.

This week, at work (our final week before a two-week Easter break. But as we are a Muslim school, ’tis, de facto, a Ramadan break) we enjoyed – and, many of us ended up becoming thoroughly exhausted by – a rather eventful ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day — during which we had probably collectively amassed enough food to feed a small country, followed by an INSET day — at which we took part in some ‘spiritual meditation’ exercises, so as to recover from a hectic (and somewhat chaotically COVID-tinged) term, and an even more hectic end to it. [Personally, I found the ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day really fun. One of my students made me my own paper crown to go with my outfit, and I (with the benefit of being a little… vertically challenged…) just blended in with the students for a while, and was invited to join in with some of their activities!]

We had workshops on: fruitfulness during the blessed month; another one on improving and maintaining our physical wellbeing; a third, on self-purification. The students got to make their own samosas, followed by chocolate truffles. They decorated their classrooms – with class advent calendars, paper lanterns and the like. They had an extended lunchtime, during which Nasheeds were played, and food was shared [and drinks were spilled, and slices of cake went splat! onto the floor]. There were different (fun and reflective) exercises for the different year groups to enjoy. One that I found thoroughly useful and enjoyable was the Ramadan bullet-journal workshop:

Each student in the class was given a black book. On the board, the instructor of the workshop (an older ‘Alimiyyah – Islamic knowledge – student) put up some pictures of some of the ‘Alimiyyah students’ own bullet-journal pages, for inspiration. They were absolutely gorgeous: calligraphy, colours, such neatness and creativity.

The idea was that each student would design a book that was personal, and hopefully useful for them. Personal religious goals; personal health goals; Qur’anic Ayahs and Hadiths that speak most to them; personal Ramadan timetable ideas, and the like.

Moreover, an important thing that one of my colleagues had been talking about, in the staffroom, had been, essentially, the danger of running into the ‘productivity trap’ way of thinking, in our considerations surrounding Ramadan. Asking, for instance, what others’ ‘goals‘ are, for the month, and feeling inclined to respond to such questions with a burdensome-sounding string of quantitative goals: “I want to read four books about Islam, and make food for my neighbours four times, and read the entire Qur’an twice, and…”

Ramadan, fundamentally, is about three things: praying (our five daily prayers, with some additions during the holy month); fasting (from dawn until dusk; fasting from food and drink, and from bad or time-wasting habits, and from intimacy, for people who are married); giving (Zakah and Sadaqah. Giving from one’s money/material wealth, as well as from the other forms of wealth that we have been given. Knowledge, acts of service for family members, and for strangers, even, alike. Even a smile is an act of Sadaqah!)

There are other things that can be done: little additions that we can learn about and practise, along the way. These are fruitful, but not compulsory. And, ultimately, Islam is fundamentally (meant to be) a religion of moderation. “All things in moderation. Including moderation.” [— Socrates]. Doing ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’, and we believe that (holism is important, and that) it is the spiritual value of things, which count.

Religion is easy; whoever overburdens himself in religion will be overpowered by it (i.e. he will not be able to continue in that way.)

So pursue what is good moderately; try to be near to perfection, and receive the good tidings (that you will be rewarded, for trying).

— Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Al-Bukhari]

In Islam, we are taught that Allah certainly has supreme rights over us. Our bodies have rights over us, too: they need to be cared for; we need to sleep, and to take things relatively easy, as much as possible. Our families have rights over us, also. And then come our other social responsibilities: towards extended family, other acquaintances, and our neighbours.

In close connection with the ‘productivity trap’ mode of thinking (and this is something that I must stop myself from doing!) is the reliance on ‘aesthetics’ for a sense of spiritual value. Fairy lights, Arabesque lanterns, plants, Turkish rugs… It is nice to try to create a nice Ramadan-themed atmosphere, but… the point of this month is neither consumerism nor materialism. It should be more about gratitude: for appreciating what we have, and not splurging on food and décor to ‘augment’ the experience.

Ramadan is for those three core things, mentioned above. And it is for personal reflection, and for family, and for gratitude. As much as I do wish to ‘make the most of’ this (upcoming) month, I know I cannot do everything: there is no comprehensive checklist for how Ramadan ‘should’ be done, and each individual will spend and celebrate this blessed period differently.

There are, for instance, some new Muslims, who live alone. Maybe they will be attending a weekly class, or watching some videos on YouTube, to learn more about the Deen. Maybe they will open the fast after enjoying a bowl of cereal and a plate of fruit; perhaps they are going to close the fast with a sandwich or two.

Maybe this is their first time praying Salāh. Maybe they are going to try to wear a headscarf for the first time. Crucially, it is not about the external considerations, but about the essences and the intentions guiding them. That is the thing: we never know who is actually ‘doing Islam ‘right” because, fundamentally, religion is about the connection between a man or a woman, and their Creator. It is not necessarily about who knows Arabic the best, or who has the most Du’as memorised.

The experience is not about what makes for the most ‘aesthetic’ or ‘Instagrammable’ Ifthar, either. It is not about cooking the most food, or about memorising the greatest amount of information. It is more about the internal: the patience, the gratitude, the love, the effort.

Personal journeys, varying situations and circumstances. Effort: no human being alive is ‘perfect’. And, something that I had been reminded of during that aforementioned ‘self-purification’ workshop: each and every one of us has a thing or two, within us, that needs to be fought against, and curbed. Anger, and/or envy, and/or greed and gluttony, and/or pride, and/or lust, and/or laziness, and/or otherwise.

“The [real] Mujāhid is one who strives against his own soul [Nafs].” [Sahih Hadith]

And a random addendum [we love a half-rhyme, in this house]: within and against [parts of] our souls, we struggle. We can feel, sometimes, (for instance, on the religious front) like we are ‘too much’, or, at times, like we are ‘not enough’. At times, I have felt like an… ‘inside-outsider’, within Islam. This is because I had internalised some warped ideas about this whole thing. That to be a Muslim (in addition to the actual requirements of faith) one must be a certain way, ‘culturally’, and otherwise: like… a Saudi sheikh, or like an Arab-Muslim vlogger, or something. But, genuinely: Islam can be (or is) yours as much as it is anybody else’s (and vice versa). Everywhere, there is inspiration, and ultimately Deen is very much a ‘together’ thing.

It is this beautiful ongoing conversation between you, and the One who created you. And then, in an ancillary manner, it is also, very importantly, about your comportment with fellow human beings.

And, in Ramadan, that very ongoing conversation becomes a little more blessed, while our hearts and souls, in conversation with the people in our lives, become a little more nourished.

May we all have a wonderfully restful, spiritually rewarding, relatively easy, and fun(!!!) Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem!


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Having Versus Wanting

Bismillah.

The consumption of fiction, and the significant effects it has, upon our psyches, and on all these ideas surrounding what we want to be, and what we want to have, and what we expect of life. That school is, or ‘should’ be, like a Disney series; travelling is a vlog on YouTube; summer is a poem. Fiction: filtering out the ‘mundane’, the ‘undesirable’, the ennui, the unevennesses, frictions. Taking singular moments, which ‘real life’ may exhale, at certain given moments, unpredictable, un-plan-able. Marketing people, relationships, institutions, experiences… as being fundamentally ‘shiny’. ‘More than’ reality, and thus quite ‘liberating’.

Allah created Dunya in a certain way, and this, we all, after a certain age, truly come to know. And it might feel like consuming fiction, or imagining life in light of it [I am tres guilty of doing this. And hence this blog article.] is relief. But I want to take a (metaphorical) axe, and rid myself of these: my ‘super-Dunya’ expectations. They come about spontaneously, sure, but they can often be… entertained, in this mind of mine.

Yesterday I came across a podcast about ‘bringing blessings (Barakah) to one’s life’. The central matter being discussed was gratitude. A cosmic law, emphasised in the Qur’an: if we are grateful – thankful, using what we have towards goodness and making the most of it – Allah increases us in favour(s).

And I have noticed: when I have abstract expectations, or when I find myself wanting… I feel restless, and dissatisfied, and lost. But when I look down at my feet (m e t a p h o r i c a l l y) and really ‘deep’ what I have, and just live, and do what ought to be done, sans against-fiction expectations… Good things happen!

When I do not want, I know I receive [note: the word ‘want’ has two separate-but-connected meanings. To desire something (that you do not, at present, have) and to be deficient, lacking, in something]. Good, quietly – but deeply – lovely, things, from sources unexpected, but which Allah has given to me. [Ref: a colleague whom I sometimes speak with – I, struggling, in Bengali, embarrassing myself – randomly got me a box of sushi for lunch <3. And then, not to show off, because this was entirely a one-sided thing: my baby brother got me a book, from school (World Book Day). My heart melted, and I asked him how come (I had lowkey been fishing for him to say something extremely sweet) and he just said, unemotionally, in classic Saif fashion: “I had two book tokens and I already got myself the one I wanted so I just got you one too.” Eh. Good enough.]

I know I am a bit of a … romanticiser, at the best of times. I like looking up at the stars; I like it when words sound and feel beautiful; I like to feel the golden glow of things, when I am with people whom I love. But this is not necessarily idealism: the stars do exist, and so does the beauty of words; so, too, does the Divine gift that is family (even with its ups and downs, and little knife-wound betrayals… like when I no longer seem to be Dawud’s favourite cousin anymore. Sigh.) I think I can be quite prone to romanticising things… and I think this is okay, so long as it is all rooted in reality, and not in things that are not real, or real at present, or which I do not know, fully and deeply and fundamentally.

My muddied boots are mine: my reality. The craggy, the uneventful and the mundane. The errands, and the times when things get a little tough — and these gorgeous skies overhead are mine, also, and everybody’s. I need to manage my expectations, and focus on doing what is fruitful. These are the realities with which we are presented, and all fictions are inspired by reality’s best parts.

Reality is a fuller experience, though. Unscripted, and not engineered for the eyes of those of us who, at times, seek escape.

And the opposite of ‘escape’ is… being here, and facing it all. No (or, re-managed) expectations; no comparing my reality with others’. Futile. [To have their blessings, I would have to have their lives’ difficulties/tests. To lose my difficulties/tests, I would have to lose my blessings, also…]

These are the stuff of our lives. And now, what to do with them, or about them… The good, and the bad, and the… greys, the neutrals, also.

I need to focus, truly, on what is there, and not on actually-nonexistent things, like what ‘could’ or… ‘should’ (according to the fictions that we have digested, and/or concocted) be there. Loving what one has, and focusing on here-and-now considerations, and on giving/engaging in acts of acts of service as opposed to receiving, leads to Barakah: to an unmatchable, though quiet, goldenness, which is present even in times of acute difficulty. And Allah Azawwajal takes care of the rest: the outcomes, the Future, and all the rest of it.

[Some Biblical quotes, I find extremely beautiful. So, to quote the Bible:]

“I shall not want.” [Psalms, (23:1)]

Instead, I shall try to say: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen” [Qur’an, (1:2)].

All praise/gratitude is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds: Lord of every single thing that exists, including [existential moment, here] me…


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Dunya and Gratitude and Barakah

In the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that one is to be considered a ‘youth’ – a young person – until one reaches the age of forty.

Forty may therefore be seen as the ‘noontime’ of one’s life, so to speak. Before then, we are ‘young’: we are coming into being, into brightness. And after then, generally, (if we are permitted to live that long, that is) we come into ‘wisdom’. Our hair becomes grey; our faces marked with lines of experience: story-lines.

I am, at present, twenty years old. In temporal terms, I have an entire ‘nother lifetime to live, before I arrive at my ‘age of wisdom’. Until then, I must really think about how to spend this time, and the other resources, I have.

Recently I have been thinking much about the art of ‘making do’. The ‘Blitz Spirit’. Opening the cupboards; seeing what is there. And then, after a process of reasoning and of engaging one’s creative capacities: making the best of it. Make it beautiful, somehow.

This is a game my cousins and I used to play, when we were younger: the ‘Masterchef’ Game. Collecting a handful of ingredients that are already there, in the kitchen. Preferably, ingredients that are likely to otherwise go unused, to waste. Make it a little competition, to see who can produce the most tasty plate of food, and the one that is presented in the best, most aesthetic, way – under timed conditions.

An important Islamic principle to consider, in life, is the following: that, as humans, we are wanting creatures. But Allah promises to ‘increase in favour’ those of us who are grateful. Who love what they have; whatever is there. And I think this is the essence of ‘Barakah’. If you are from a Muslim country, have you ever come across a particular person, or a family of people, who live in such a way that may seem to be responded to with pity from those of us who live here in the West, but who actually, upon looking a little closer, seem to lead such Barakah-infused lives?

I know of a particular family who are like this, in Bangladesh. Here in London, very few people, I think, would aspire to live that kind of lifestyle. Tending to cows [sigh. I actually quite miss even the pungent stench of the cows!]; fishing in the village’s pond. Making soup over an open clay oven; going to work, during the day, ‘in town’; playing boardgames at night; dancing in delight under monsoon rains. What, to us, does it seem like they may be lacking?

In truth, they have Allah. And they have family, and fruits, and books, and rain. This is how they are living their temporary, directly-determining-of-how-they-will-spend-their-forthcoming-eternities, Dunya-based lives. They may not have all of those ‘shininesses’ that may immediately catch our eyes, here in this part of the world – and nor would they appear to care much for those things, anyway. But they sure do have that Barakah; that soul.

When my grandfather first arrived in this country, he lived in the same area that we still (Alhamdulillah) live in, today. I went to [secondary] school right near where he used to work. I currently work right near where he used to live, and near the mosque he used to attend. Recently, I believe the Imām of that masjid passed away. My uncle shared the following bit of writing, with me, which he had included as a caption under a post about the mosque, some five years ago:

“Prayed salat at my father’s masjid (mosque) after so long. Much has changed but the unconditional attachment of a small group of men to the masjid has not. Theirs is a silent and sincere yearning for the beauty of worship and the comfort of Allah’s home. Masjid, Salat, Qur’an, Du’ah. […] At one time I thought this meant so much else was missing, but only later did I realise this simplicity is what paves their short, unobstructed route to Allah. Their world extends little beyond the walls that call to worship. What space is there in that small world for anything other than what pleases Allah?”

— M.A.

I think: to be a Muslim means to care. Deeply, tirelessly, truly. About trying. About speaking to, and calling upon, one’s Creator, for help, and for guidance. Giving charity, and helping others. Fasting. Qur’an. Family. Thanking Allah for rain. And for soup. And for our eyes, and our siblings, and our friends. Being Muslim means being given responsibilities: motherhood or fatherhood, a family member with a learning disability, a brother or a sister, marriage, a masjid, a student, a school. And honouring them with our lives.

Life, sin duda, is a test. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, in Surah Kahf:

“Verily, We have made that which is on Earth as an adornment (decoration, beautification) for it, in order that We may test them (mankind) as to which of them are best in deeds (works, actions)” [Qur’an, (18:7)]

In each of our metaphorical ‘cupboards’, we find there are different ingredients. Circumstances, blessings, difficulties. Daily struggles, daily blessings. And it is our job to use these lifetimes of ours to make something of them. Something beautiful, hopefully. But, necessarily, what we make of them will look and be different from what those around us make of them. We begin from different places and things; make different resulting choices; end up with different products, in the end.

What matters, at the end of these limited stretches of day, is… what we have done, with these lives of ours. And the intentions underlying our actions.

The majority of people may be living life in a particular way. They may perceive that the purpose, the point, of life, is this or that. What do you perceive the purpose of this life of yours, to be? And does the mentality you are currently, primarily operating under, align well with this life-view? Are certain things particularly difficult, for you, while others might feel like deep, quietly-flowing blessings?

Recently I shared, on this blog of mine, an article authored by my most favourite scholar ever: ‘Suffering as Surrender’, by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. While reading it, I felt like I was shrouded with this unique sense of peace, Alhamdulillah. Sabr and Shukr: these are integral elements in the anatomy of the Muslim. The Muslim struggles; is tested, through his or her health, wealth, through other people, etc.

The Muslim is blessed. Lungs, limbs, water, chai, pillows, plants, and more. Still, though: the very point is to not get too comfortable here. What is it that we take, when we go?

Right now, it may feel like there is this great amount of social pressure on us. Here, in our twenties. To ‘be’ this, and this, and this, and that. To have this, and also that; to focus so much on collecting wealth, and to become super ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ in a particular set of ways, physically brilliant, and more. Fair: as Muslims, we are not meant to extricate ourselves entirely from what is termed, in Al-Quran, as ‘The Life of Dunya’. However, at the same time, that is certainly not ‘all there is’. Nor is all that stuff the very point of life.

I guess, there is this more private-facing life we must tend to. Taking care of our relationships with our Creator; taking care of ourselves; taking care of our families. Yes, there are our more ‘public-facing’ considerations, too. There might be some pressure; some fear. But remember: many of these things are momentary. Tips of the iceberg, that some may see fleeting glimpses of. Your reality, and what comes after it, are what are truly True. What can either fulfil, or leave hungry, spiritually starving. What endures.

For some people, billionaires and tech moguls and such serve, in their minds, as their ultimate human role models. For others, individuals like Muhammad (SAW), Ibrahim (AS), Yusuf (AS), more so, are. Muhammad (SAW) lived in a very modest way. I cannot seem to find the exact Hadith right now, but, when asked why he lived in such a manner – sleeping, for instance, on mere palm leaves on the floor, sometimes – while Byzantine rulers, for example, enjoyed their palaces and worldly riches, Muhammad (SAW)’s response had been something along the lines of: their riches and such are theirs now, here in this world. Ours may not be here now, but wait for us, in the life after this one.

This is not to say that Muslims are barred, in Islam, from acquiring expensive possessions and such. A nice house, if you are able; a nice car. The point is: as Muslims, we are Muslim no matter what. If owning a Lamborghini and two hundred Gucci belts leads to your sinking so deeply into the temporary comforts of Dunya that you come to forget the life of your eternity: what have you really won?

Yusuf (AS), for example. Once thrown into a well, sold as a slave, in Egypt. Later, appointed as Egypt’s Minister of Finance. Consistent throughout, though: his recognition and remembrance of Truth.

These prophets had been human. They had families; specific difficulties – health issues, interpersonal conflicts and problems, and more. Examples for us to remember, and be comforted through the remembrance of. Examples for us to, in our own ways and in line with who we are and what our own present circumstances may be, follow. They had not, for example, been utterly ‘fearless’ individuals. The point is: at times, they had been deeply afraid, uncertain, upset by the maliciousness of certain people in their lives. They had felt the dark immensities of grief, heartbreak, worry in terms of how they would provide for their families, or about what ‘people’ had been saying about them.

Fear, grief. Deep, and human. You are not alone. Triumph, peace, friendship, and Īmān.

We’ll get there, Bi’ithnillah Ta’aala [with the permission of Allah, the Almighty].

The point is that our blessings lead us to thank our Lord, while our suffering makes us surrender to Him, more. We are always dependent on Him, and a truth we must never forget – until we die and meet the truth, unobstructed, for ourselves:

To our Lord we belong, [and He has Power and Control over all matters,] and to Him we shall return.

“Know that the life of Dunya is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children.”

Qur’an, (57:20)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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

‘Asr

Surah ‘Asr. There are, in total, 114 chapters in Al-Qur’an-il-Kareem: the Noble Qur’an. Each of these Surahs are of varying lengths, and explore different topics.

Surah ‘Asr is one of the shorter Surahs. Composed of three Ayahs (meaning verses, and otherwise translatable as ‘signs’) in contrast with Surah Baqarah’s 286, Surah ‘Asr is succinct, yet strong. Small and mighty, hard-hitting and enlightening.

As with many words in the Arabic language, so it would seem: the word ‘Asr has a number of contemporaneous meanings. ‘Asr (عصر) means Time. A period of time, whether this be a century, a season, a day, or a night. Another meaning this triliteral root word has is one that is related to the action of pressing. Squeezing, wringing, things out. Extracting the juice from a fruit. Indeed, one cognate form of the word ‘Asr is ‘Aseer (عصير) which means ‘juice‘.

We Muslims also refer to one of our five daily prayers as the ‘Asr prayer. It occurs right before the end of the day: when the sun begins to wane. The day loses its vitality, its عصير.

Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic is so fascinating, Subhan Allah. I love, love, love it.

Surah ‘Asr, then [an English translation]:

By [the passage of] Time. (1) Indeed, mankind is [certainly] in loss. (2) Except those who believe/have trust (have Īmān) and carry out righteous deeds/actions/work, enjoin [with one another] in Truth, and enjoin [with one another] in Patience (3)

Time. Like when you go to juice a fruit. You begin with a complete fruit: full and ‘youthful’. The juice gets squeezed out, until there is but a carcass form of the fruit left. Human beings. What do we have? Our wealth, our main concern, is Time. It is being wrung, juiced, out. Every second that elapses is another second

Lost. Another drip of juice, extracted from the fruit.

When it comes to Time – this wealth that each of us has been bestowed with… Are we spending it fruitfully?

[I much prefer the word ‘fruitful’ over the word ‘productive’ when it comes to reflecting upon whether or not we are using our time well. ‘Productivity’ as a value implies that time is spent well – or, best – when something is being produced. But that is not all we are: we are not merely, solely ‘producers’. I mean, I could spend all my time constructing… a toothpaste factory model. That, for instance, would be time spent ‘productively’, but not necessarily…

Fruitfully. The imagery of a fruit being juiced. Gradually, perhaps, but truly and undeniably, still. Drip, drip, drip.]

You know life: it is hard. It is ups and downs and squiggles and jagged lines. It is loss and gain; pleasure and pain. It is necessarily challenging. And, as Muslims, we know:

We begin with Īmān. Faith, recognition of our Creator. Next:

Righteous deeds and works. These may include, according to Qur’an and Hadith [I am just going to list some that I know of, off the top of my head…]

  • Offering our five daily Salah, with due attention and respect
  • Doing Dhikr (active remembrance of God)
  • Smiling [It counts as Sadaqah!]
  • Making Du’a
  • Helping someone in need
  • Saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to people
  • Seeking forgiveness from Allah
  • Reciting Qur’an
  • Expressing gratitude to Allah
  • Seeking beneficial knowledge
  • Passing on beneficial knowledge
  • Being good to one’s neighbour
  • Reconnecting with family members with whom the ties of kinship had been cut
  • Walking on the Earth in a humble manner
  • Responding to ignorance with words of peace
  • Maintaining good personal and spatial hygiene
  • Restraining anger
  • Being good to animals [e.g. an example from a Hadith: giving water to a thirsty dog]
  • Fasting
  • Visiting people who are unwell
  • Accepting invitations to others’ houses; inviting them to your house, too, and being a good host [post-Corona, Insha Allah]
  • Planting a tree [even if it does not end up growing]
  • Serving our parents
  • Can you think of any more examples of good works ( الأعمال الصالحة)? Please do drop them in the comments section, below!

Finally: Truth and Patience. Being bonded with others, in Truth (and encouraging one another toward it, and toward remembering Him). And, encouraging one another toward, engaging in, Patience: Sabr – which is otherwise translatable as: discipline, self-restraint, steadfastness, perseverance. Because life is a thing of struggle.

So, the four things that render our ‘spending’ of Time fruitful, and not, ultimately, a grave loss:

Belief. Good actions. Enjoining in Truth. Enjoining in Patience.

A good video about Surah ‘Asr, by Nouman Ali Khan. I would certainly recommend viewing his lectures on YouTube, if you are looking to (more deeply) explore the Qur’an and its contents.

May we all have a fruitful week, dear reader. And may we all have a fruitful Dunya-based life. Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Qadr

Dear friend,

This has all been a time of mighty upheaval for us, has it not? We grieved; we really felt the weight of our losses, of our fundamental uncertainties. Things half-made sense. Things half-did not make quite much sense at all. And, yet, here we are.

Allah (SWT) gives us, in every new moment, a chance. To begin, right from where we are. To continue, (and yet, to do just this) anew.

Upheaval. Demolition. Those castles we had been trying to build. The Earth is strong enough to swallow such ambitions whole. In a matter of milliseconds. You see,

It does not matter. If, at age fifty-three, even: you wake up and decide to start anew. Build. Today, you say, is my Day One. Even if it be your hundredth, or thousandth, Day One. Allah is Al-Ghafoor; He is, above all things, Mighty and Competent.

Will this matter in ninety years; in a century’s time? It will. Is all this without meaning? It is not.

Say, “O Allah, Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honour whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things [Mighty and] Competent.” [Qur’an, (3:26)]

Right where and when you are, now: it is not without Reason. To quote that student-of-mine’s gorgeous poem: “Don’t let faith go, this season”. Some leaves fall, and then, spring arrives. New leaves emerge; make themselves known. Roses unwrap themselves; unfurl, right before our very eyes.

Some scholars maintain that Yusuf (AS) had been imprisoned for twelve years. Thrown into a well; sold into slavery. Then, in due time, he had been given authority in Egypt. Consistent throughout, however, had been his utmost Trust in God.

And, what about Ayyub (AS)’s (estimated-seven-year-long) illness? There are more stories like this one.

Du’as (made sincerely) get answered: I promise you, they do. Indeed, your Lord is Near to you, and Responsive. [Qur’an, (11:61)]

For the most part, you know, I do not know a thing. But Allah does. And I know that some things were not meant for me; I am not meant for some things.

I know that my Lord knows me Best. I know that His Promise is True. That some will necessarily find the concept of Īmān ridiculous. I should not mind. I renounce that feeling of responsibility — of having to dwell within ‘Defensives’. It is tiring; it is depleting, without good reason. It has made me feel… hollow, more so than whole. Whole, as I should feel.

Do I live merely to impress others? Who are they? What makes them worthy, in such ways?

I should know whom I am trying to aspire to be more like, by now. I should know to make peace with those things that do not concern me; so, too, with those very things that do.

Dear friend,

I do not know the ins nor the outs of your story. Neither past, nor present, and certainly not future. But may this time in these lives of ours be a time of high Īmān, and of good health. Good understanding: wisdom, and so, so much love. May we get whatever is Good – Better, Best – for us.

Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020