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

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

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

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

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

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

Favourite car? “Red.”

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

“Which country are you from?”

“The blue one.”

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

“I doooo.”

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

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

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

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

And, “what do you do at the masjid?”

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

“Does your dad [do ‘Allah baak’]?”

“He do.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another key Islamic principle: that of balance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Khayr — good/goodness.

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

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

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

*Insha Allah — God-Willing.

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

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

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

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

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

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and give people glad tidings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re aliiive!

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

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

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

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

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

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

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

Something that intrigues me, also:

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

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

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

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

“Come to success.

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

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

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

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

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

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

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

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

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

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

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

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

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

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

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

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

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of Islam: ع

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

“We are neither Sunni, Shia nor Ibadi (the third intellectual branch of Islam that is often overlooked).

Just Muslim.

Instead, our parents raised us to use the Qur’an only and form our own ideas in regards to faith from there.”

There is so much within Islamic History (arguably, also, there is a distinction to be made between ‘Islamic’ history and ‘Muslim’ history) and within the Islamic sciences that I, at present, am not so well-acquainted with. Oceans of knowledge to explore, Masha Allah. ‘Ibadis’: according to a quick Google search, they are an intellectual branch of Islam dominant in Oman, and also present in parts of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and East Africa, and they emerged within the first century of Islam (Islam in this case i.e. the Muhammadan confirmation, and not the primordial, Adāmic-and-onwards Hanif tradition).

So, so much to learn, Insha Allah: who are, for example, the ‘Ash’aris? What makes the Shafi’is different from the… Hanafis? Mālikis? Hanbalis? What do Atharis think? The Mu’tazilites? Etc.

How syncretic in nature, for instance, is Sufism? What makes a person ‘Salafi’? And so on.

ع [an Arabic letter. There is no equivalent in the English alphabet, but it denotes a unique guttural ‘a’ sound] is quite interested in Islamic history. Born in Chelmsford, Essex, to Pakistani parents who encouraged an attitude of respectful intellectual exploration within the Deen, ع’s family moved to Bromley in London some sixteen years ago, since they had found a home there with suitable facilities for his sibling who has a disability.

Over the years, he explains, ع’s current area of residence has become more ethnically diverse, yet when they had first moved in there, they had been the only BAME family around. ع has faced several incidents of racial prejudice (he can recall about twelve explicitly racist incidents that have occurred over the time his family has been living there, from one set of neighbours…).

The second Muslim, BAME family to have moved into the area (through Qadr) had been ع’s neighbour Shabbir’s family. ع and he had essentially grown up together: although they had attended different schools and such, they are very close friends (Masha Allah) and ع considers Shabbir’s family to be “amazing and you couldn’t ask for better neighbours even if you wanted to”; “his family (mum, dad and 5 sons) are the most kind and well-mannered people you will ever meet”*.

But: “Being a minority in a predominantly white area has meant that I never really connected with my endz”.

ع’s parents encouraged their children to also study other religious scriptures such as the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita, the Avesta, and so on.

In my studies I’ve found that pretty much all these books are derived from one eternal source of truth.

You can find the Qur’anic essence in many religious scriptures (evidence that Allah did indeed send prophets to all people).

The Muslim belief is that the ‘Hanif’ (Pure Monotheistic) tradition has been here since the time of Ādam (AS), the first human being. And yet, over time, and as a result of different people’s choices and actions, other scriptures have since been distorted, with some things added, and maybe with some things taken away, altered, over time.

“They [his parents] just wanted me to have conviction in what ever it was I do believe in and to never follow anyone or anything blindly (yes, including the Qur’an too). This has pretty much been their approach to most things other than faith.” He adds:

“Of course, cleaning my room is non-negotiable.”

ع initially questioned things, including whether God is there or not. Something that did not really quite help: a visiting relative who decided to scream at him over it. To encourage a person towards Islam necessitates understanding of them, emotional/interpersonal awareness, as well as the understanding that human beings do not guide: Allah does.

ع began to become more spiritually-inclined over time, just as a lot of people (know to) do. ‘Spirituality’: it’s interesting, sometimes, when you ask someone to try to define it. They might sometimes might say they can’t, exactly, yet we do have an intrinsic knowing of what it is. To be… connected. To Greater than ourselves.

“I then dug deeper into the Qur’an. I looked at it honestly, but also critically.

I eventually accepted that the Qur’an was sent to us by Allah, and said my Shahada* with conviction for the first time in my life at the age of 17.

I remember that day vividly. I was alone in my room at around 01:00.” He recalls feeling, in that moment:

“A joyful happiness knowing that Allah is there for me.”

“Ultimately, my journey to Islam wasn’t the most conventional but I got there in the end. In many ways I’m glad it happened this way because I can say with certainty that everything I do is honest and true to myself.”

Being Muslim is a lifelong journey of learning.

“There are still many things that I’m trying to work out but now I have no doubts about the existence of Allah. It’s the one thing I can say with absolute certainty. I know for a fact Allah’s got my back and that Allah will never forsake me. Allah’s been there since day one.”

“Most people tend to think I’m weird when I tell them I only recognise the Qur’an as the sole spiritual authority in my Islam.”

Personally, I can understand this sentiment, and my view is that the Qur’an is the main spiritual authority. And, yet, I also believe that Muhammad (SAW) had been sent not only as a transmitter of the Word through speech, but also through action, an elucidator of what is meant, for example, by ‘establish the Salāh’, and ‘observe fasting’. His wife ‘A’isha (RA) had described him as being a “walking Qur’an”, and so I adhere to the belief that we should seek to follow the Qur’an and (by extension, perhaps) the Sunnah*.

‘Hadīth’ are sayings, narrations, historical recordings of this Sunnah. Some are weak, sure. But I think that we can often forget that the sources of guidance in Islam are: Reason, Revelation (the Qur’an, and the Prophet (SAW), who embodied Allah’s directions), and… Al-Hayy (the Ever-Living), Al-Mujeeb (The One who Responds). I genuinely do think that questions can, and perhaps should, be referred to, asked to, Allah: Du’a, and maintaining that connection (“You we ask for help”, from Surah Fātihah) is a form of worship, and integral to faith.

ع writes about, for example, his interactions with a person who is half-Czech, half-Assyrian, with ancestry from the Jacobites (one of the earliest communities of Christians) and a conversation that took place between them, while they had been out for lunch, pertaining to the Halal food he had ordered. “A beautiful moment of cross-cultural harmony. A redneck and a Muslim learning about each others’ lifestyles and breaking down barriers.”

The chef had also asked for ع’s social media; ع writes that he frequently finds that people he comes across in public seem to want to become friends with him (Masha Allah).

He is grateful to his parents for giving him not only guidance, but also love and space for him to grow and develop (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik).

“I’m still learning everyday. Ultimately only Allah has the full picture. But what I can say is that I strive to be honest in my beliefs and my approach.

  • After taking a gap year [i.e. time away from formal schooling], he is going to study Policy, Politics, and Economics at university, Insha Allah.

*Excerpts from an email submission for this series, written by ع.

*Shahādah — the Islamic declaration of faith. Bearing witness that there is none worthy of worship but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His Prophet, servant and Messenger.

*Sunnah the Way shown to us by Muhammad (SAW).

Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard-hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you.” — Qur’an (3:159)

If you would like for your own story to be featured in this series, or to perhaps put forward a suggestion of somebody with an interesting journey to/within/in relation to Islam, please email, or use this link:

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of Islam: ز

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

“My aunts call me an extremist. Because I wear the hijāb and support Palestine.”*

ز [an Arabic letter. ‘Z’] lives in South-East London. Born to a white British mother and an Egyptian (Muslim, but not practising) father, 17-year-old she accepted Islam earlier this year, in January. She would watch Islamic YouTube videos, and her eyes – indicative of a pure and sincere heart, Masha Allah – would start welling up with tears. The change had come as a little bit of a shock to her family members.

ز had attended a secondary school at which the majority of the populace is of Irish/traveller origin; there are also many students there who are EDL-supporters. Apparently, many of the traveller students have themselves become EDL-supporters: it is, unfortunately, frequently the case that minority groups ‘turn’ on other minority groups, if it means gaining acceptance, and having a scapegoat outside of themselves to debase.

These days, she often visits the London Central Masjid (Regent’s Park) in order to worship, talk to people, and to peruse the little bookshop on the ground floor there. She has connected with other revert sisters (via social media) and finds a lot of love and comfort at her paternal auntie (Hana)’s home; her auntie’s husband, she says, treats her as though he is her real uncle too.

ز visited Egypt once, at a young age, but has not returned since. An auntie from the Masjid (who is of Moroccan origin) has also approached her to see if she would be interested in marrying her (the auntie’s) son… ز has, however, politely declined this proposal.

To get her questions answered, ز sees the mosque’s Shaykh. She has a strong belief in the importance of compassion in Islam [after all, this is the Muhammadan way] and also believes in taking Deen seriously. For example, although her friends may casually talk to boys, she does not. She loves to pray Salāh; I think she finds much peace and joy in it.

What inspires me about ز is her (gentle-but-determined) determination, Masha Allah, and her keen generosity of spirit. She, this seventeen-year-old woman, found Islam ― or, rather, Allah had chosen her specifically. At home, for example, it must be hard: ز’s parents do not live together, and she lives with her (non-Muslim) mother, and with her mother’s partner, and with her (ز’s) sister, who is also not Muslim. In front of her mother’s partner, ز wears her headscarf. She takes Islam seriously; she is finding her place in it, Alhamdulillah.

We visited an Islamic charity shop together, and she had picked out a book of Islamic names and their meanings to buy. She also found some very nice headscarves to get, from good old Whitechapel Market. We had eaten lunch together at a Halal Korean (at least, I think it had been Korean) restaurant, and then ز had insisted on getting me some headscarves, in return for the food [a cultural thing I seem to have inherited: if you invite someone somewhere, you pay. Little battles to pay the bill tend to ensue]. I mean, she insisted-insisted on getting me those scarves. I wore one of them (blue in colour) on my mountain hike this month. I make Du’a that ز is, and becomes, one of the best of us Muslims.

In the future, ز would like to work at an Islamic Montessori school, Insha Allah. I reckon children would love her, Masha Allah. Like her little cousin Ibrahim: the clever little four-year-old (Allahummabārik) who watches shows like Catchphrase, at this age, and who seems to like… astutely questioning things (rather like the Prophet Ibrahim AS, who had a tendency to intelligently question things, even from a very young age, Masha Allah).

Recently, ز attended an event on the specific topic of ‘Prophetic and Productive’ mornings, where she learnt about how Muhammad (SAW) would spend his mornings, and about Salat ud-Duha.

• ز’s current status on WhatsApp: “Say Alhamdulillah <3″

*Quotations may be slightly paraphrased and not 100% verbatim, since I am writing them from memory.

Indeed, [O Muhammad], you do not guide whom you like, but Allah guides whom He wills. And He is Most Knowing of the [rightly] guided.” — Qur’an (28:56)

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of London / Islam

Yesterday I took myself on a long walk, from my home in East London (well, more specifically: where East begins to coalesce into Central. Literally: one side council flats, the other side yachts and such) all the way to London Central Mosque: a gorgeously-designed (Masha Allah) masjid on the corner of Regent’s — one of the larger (complete with its own quintessentially Bri’ish backstory) parks that make up part of this blooming wonderful city.

Recently, I have been trying to walk (far) more. If there is a longer route that can be taken from a certain place to a destination, I have been trying to favour it. Stairs, also. Generally, by nature, I am somewhat ‘lazy’ though.

Yesterday I went by myself. Without Tamanna, for example, since her Nasir Biyya (elder cousin Nasir) had just gotten married. In Bengali tradition, the day after weddings, the bride’s side tends to take food over to the groom’s, for breakfast (‘Nasta’). And yesterday, I had worn my hiking boots: I am trying to wear them in more, in preparation for the mountain-hiking trip I am going on (Insha Allah) in T-minus six days. These boots are laced on the inside with wool; they are sort of camel-coloured.

I walked through Wapping, and by the river. Thames, that is, of course. Tower Bridge. And then it had begun to rain and rain, as it does. Past scores of sightseers; tourists, visiting families. Concrete buildings, decorated with carvings; professionals in fitting Central-London-style attire. Car-after-car roads: like abacus beads. And passing all these Monopoly streets, just like I’d done while walking with Tamanna the other day [approximately 18km in one day, that day, I think. Masha Allah: a record for me, probably]. Fleet Street. Marylebone. Strand. Past sites that have known, and have been the sites for, all sorts of stories; the circular blue plaques affixed onto the fronts of some buildings, for example, saying that ‘the first ______ to have _________’ or similar had lived here at some point.

It is amazing to think that, while many marvel at the landmark that is Tower Bridge, as a singular example, for example; how it is such a famous symbol of London: it is only a matter of footsteps away from me, and I do think I often take such facts for granted. Sometimes, I have found myself wondering if I would prefer to live in a place like, say, Edinburgh in Scotland. But such an impulse would be rooted in lust: in a fundamental unknowing, mystery, distance and distraction, a narrowing to mere snapshots and aesthetics in opposition to the (holistic and true) love I know I have for (especially this part of) London, Masha Allah.

London is a city in which, even in its current, ‘modern’, post-Dickensian form: it is almost easy to find a rat or two, here or there. Dead or alive. Spillages, including of the… acidic upthrow variety. Overly-fancy signs showing the ways to… underground toilets, no less, in the middles of frenetic streets. Things like this, you know?

To get to the masjid, I used Google Maps. And on the way, I listened to a handful of (informative YouTube videos as) podcasts; I thought about random things — ‘over’-thought, even, by some definitions, understandings. And I realise how much of a blessing it is, Masha Allah, to be able to be comfortable in one’s own solitude.

Well, it never quite is true, pure solitude. Because Allah is always with us. And the people we love, and are loved by: there are forces that, though not quite visible, are as real as gravity, perhaps, is. They tether our hearts to others’. Inextricable, practically. And, on the way to my destination yesterday, I had been in the process of sending a voice note or two to my friend Tasnim. When: an old woman whom I had just walked past… blurted out a swear.

I wondered if she had meant to direct it towards me. But I looked at her, and at her raincoat (I think it was) and her trolley (you know: those tall rectangular ones with the waterproof covers. Memories of going to the frozen fish shop in Shadwell with my nan) and excused her on the potentiality of… senility or some such.

A little later on, past eateries (London’s Prets, and Eats, and Leons, probably, and some more Mediterranean-style ones, and cafés with their characteristic antiquated wooden tables, and all the rest) and the theatres that make up Drury Lane: a man — a grown man — angrily shouted some things in my face, in some other language. Unprovoked; just barking, and I greatly suspect that it had been on account of my apparent Muslim-ness. Some eight years ago or so, perhaps (my first steps into early adulthood; a time of all-time high, so it very much felt, in terms of anti-Islamic sentiment here) I very much used to fear incidents like this. I: half-hypersensitive, probably, and half-quite its opposite, I think. The truth is, as a visible Muslim, even in big, diverse London: you may get looked upon, and shouted at (and, in some cases, even physically attacked, unfortunately) as though you are some sort of monster. Indecipherable, undesirable, uncannily ‘human-but-also-not’, and a threat. However, I will not apologise. I’m willing to engage in discourse; I do love conversations, even challenging ones. Yet… there’s something kind of quite… off-putting, maybe[…?] about being yelled at by a complete stranger, out of the blue.

‘Oppressed’, also. The scarf atop your head, perhaps: an emblem of their notions of ‘backwardness’; a reason for their fear, and some challenge, maybe, to their ‘values’. So much so that… it might warrant a forty-year-old-looking man approaching a twenty-year-old woman in order to angrily and aggressively shout in her face. I’m telling you, though: yesterday, and I am not sure if it had been because I had been distracted by the (gorgeous, Masha Allah) rain, and by the ‘podcast’ I had been listening to… I just did not care. Didn’t even flinch. This thing happened, and I mentally acknowledged it, and then walked away from it like nothing really had. No anxiety; no urge to argue or respond. I am trying to be a better Muslim, Insha Allah, and today I came across the following Qur’anic Ayah again:

“The true servants of the Most Compassionate are those who walk on the earth humbly,

and when the foolish address them improperly, they only respond with ‘peace’”. — Qur’an, (25:63)

I think it took me around two hours to get to the masjid. Past Temple, and Bank; souvenir shops, and supermarkets. The Indian High Commission building. All the ‘bigger’ things, and the ‘smaller’ things, which, by no means, are less ‘important’. Into Regent’s Park, and past flocks and flocks of geese and birds. Prim patches of flowers, here and there, and something of sunshine, and activity, almost everywhere. And, at this point: this wannabe-adventurer had been hungry. And so I went to the little light-blue-coloured café that sits on the side of the lake. ‘The Boathouse Café’.

Much to my surprise, [time seems to be going irrevocably quickly, these days… or months…] it has been roughly a-whole-year-and-a-half since the onset of the Corona crisis. And these days, when I walk into cafés or shops, it is not always immediately clear as to how stringently they are upholding the rules pertaining to face-covering and QR-code-checking-in and all.

I walked into the café, and I, being the socially awkward person I (often think I, even though my friends tell me otherwise) am, had been unsure as to which side of the canteen to stand on. Even in spite of the arrows (stickers) on the ground, providing those answers.

The last baguette that had been waiting for me on the tray: egg-and-cress. Get yer protein; get some greens. Cress tends to remind me of the earlier stages of Primary School: planting cress in transparent plastic cups, using cotton wool instead of soil. Good times, good times, as the colours of nostalgia would have me quite ardently believe.

Drink: it had been between (‘organic’, ‘farm-pressed’, I believe) apple juice, and hot chocolate. I went with hot chocolate. The two baristas at the counter had been so very friendly. Just like the two women, the other day, at the new quiet (just how I like it, a lot of the time) ‘Chocolate Ice Café’ near where I live: they had referred to me as “darling”, and in my view, anybody (i.e. women) who habitually calls other people “darling” or “sweetheart” or “babe” or “my love” is… good vibes, Masha Allah.

I would say that places are made up, for the most part, by people. And both places and people are defined mostly by their essences/’ethos’. This café had been quite a nice one, Masha Allah. A nice scattering of picnic tables outside. A nicely, welcomingly, simple arrangement of places to sit inside, too, overlooking the tranquil beauty of the lake. And I quite like it when sunlight trickles, at once serenely, and brilliantly, into places. The essence of this place… content-seeming, with its baristas interacting with their customers very… humanly, you know?

My hot chocolate had been made almost instantly. And one of the baristas had seemed very proud of, and excited by, his creation. He said I would have to let him know how it was, and reassured me once or twice about how good it would be.

A napkin and a metal plate ensued, and the (endearingly) proud barista (jokingly) boasted about how quick and amazing his service had been, in contrast with his colleague, who had, in his eyes, ‘promised [me] something, but didn’t deliver’. It’s true that she had been taking her time, but good things (like those brown napkins, which I ended up quite needing) come to those who wait. I sat by the window, and ate [and I think I am something of a rather awkward eater, when I am alone in public. And/or with people I just feel quite self-conscious around, for whatever reason. But I’m probably ‘over-thinking’, yet again… ‘Over-thinking’ about my ‘over-thinking’, coming up with problems, perhaps, where there might actually be… none. Maybe I ‘over-think’ about acting awkwardly, when I’m not actually acting awkwardly. And then… perhaps I ironically make myself act awkwardly as a result. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon… self-fulfilling prophecy, or something similar].

Nearby, a family, ostensibly from some Arab country, had been sitting together, conversing in Arabic. Oh, I can’t wait to learn more Arabic, Insha Allah. What a gorgeous, gorgeous language, Masha Allah. The one that had been chosen by Allah, and with such excellent reason, without a shadow of a doubt, to be the lingua franca of Islam. I love how people with tinges of Arabic in their accents say things, in English. Like:

“What’s the طiime?” and how they might say “Hyde Park,” for example. I didn’t quite mean to ‘eavesdrop’ on this family’s conversation yesterday, however my phone had been on about 1%, I think. So I settled on… just eating. No listening to/watching things on my phone. And, although the bulk of their conversations had been (at present, though such things do give me little bits of motivation to learn further, Masha Allah) indecipherable to me, I understood some words: ‘arooz’, which means ‘rice’ [and the Spanish word for ‘rice’ is practically the same as the Arabic!]. ‘Lahm’, which means ‘meat’. ‘Dajjaaj’, which means ‘chicken’.

It was an excellent cup of hot chocolate, Masha Allah. In a white paper cup. Delightfully frothy, and I could see the delicate and artistic little chocolate swirls sitting nicely on the milk. [One of my favourite things to do with my eight-year-old brother Saif, these days, is sitting, with cups of hot chocolate together, while it rains outside. It’s nice when it feels like there’s less to be distracted by; I feel it makes the more valuable stuff appear far more prominently, in our hearts and minds, as it should. Like the other day, when we used the ‘Gorillas’ app (since it had been pouring outside, that day) to order some chocolate, in order to make some hot choc. I would say that my ‘baby’ brother is one of my most beloved, and closest, companions in the universe, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik, and I would not have it any other way. He does, apparently, as he has said, love the cat more than he loves me, though. I seem to be… raising a little savage over here.]

While walking to the mosque (whose minaret I noticed, standing tall in the near distance) I did not know where the entrance might be. I’d been to this particular masjid probably… four times, roughly, in my life. Once: with an Islamic summer school, at age seven or so, on a trip. I think I’d lost my gold bracelet or something there, then: I think I put it on some side, before doing Wudhu.

And then, again, after a day out, with my family, and my nan, and my uncle’s family. Boating, I think it had been. And something has tended to pull my heart towards mosques, and towards certain ones in particular. Mosques in Turkey: the elegantly hidden-away ones, with the simple beauty, and the calligraphies, and all that of ‘rugged’ cobblestone charm. There is something so undeniably beautiful about simplicity. Elegance. Remove whatever does not matter, and then the important things are made to stand out far more, Masha Allah.

And I visited this masjid some years later: again, and then again, during some particularly difficult times, in this life of mine. Just to sit, and to feel things, and to contemplate, and to talk to Allah. And to read a little, and maybe to talk (not ‘serendipitously’ per se, but Qadric-ally) to some other people who might also be there. Yesterday, I asked two fellow Muslim women (who looked like they’d been around my age) where the entrance is. They showed me the way; we walked together.

Homelessness is a major issue in this city; if you go to Central London, you can truly tell. Outside the mosque, somebody had been begging. And one of the women I had been walking with – Zaynah is her name, as I later learned – gave the woman some money, in such earnest. Zaynah seemed very passionate about the masjid, and about being Muslim; during our conversation on the (short) way there, she brought up something her uncle had taught her, from Surah Nisaa’ in the Qur’an.

As it had turned out: Zaynah and her friend Davina (whose Muslim name, she told me, is ‘Aafiyah’, which means something like ‘health’ and ‘security’ in Arabic) are fairly new Muslims. [However, this does not mean that Islam is any less theirs too. We had talked a bit, about things like this, yesterday. Davina thought that born-Muslims are ‘luckier’, for example because we’re less likely to have experienced much of Harām. Reverting Muslims, though: they begin on a fresh, clean slate, in terms of sins/unfavourable pasts].

I think Zaynah had said that she’d reverted in January: born to a white British mother and an Egyptian (nominally Muslim, but not practising) father, she’d started watching videos about Islam, and her eyes, she said, would start flooding with tears. There was something so pure and sincere about Zaynah, Masha Allah. A gentle but determined determination; a softness of heart, a rather strong Cockney accent (and accents are always cool) and she is seventeen years old. She had made plans, also, to take Davina to a Shaykh that day (yesterday) in order to acquire some sort of certificate of new Muslim-ness. Having good friends with pure hearts and good intentions for you: absolutely an unmatchable blessing.

Davina (seemingly more introverted than Zaynah. And there is value to this, Masha Allah, no doubt) is of Jamaican origin. She accepted Islam on Eid-ul-Adha day, this year (so, only about three weeks ago). I think Zaynah’s journey into Islam had been fuelled by curiosity, perhaps. Davina’s story in this regard really took flight when something major, and majorly difficult, had taken place in her life. Something that distractions could not fix for her, or grant relief from. Her brother and sister-in-law had already reverted. And I think it had been the inherent appeal, the pure simplicity, of Pure Monotheism that had brought her here, Masha Allah.

Zaynah said that she feels at home in the masjid. You can easily just… nap, in mosques, for example. And there is something about Islam that always feels like ‘coming home’ after a long and difficult day. Putting your head down on the ground, before your Creator, and there you find peace. [And direction, and purpose. Structure, hope, meaning and virtue, and all the other abstract and necessary things that we, as beings, seek]. Davina and I talked about the difference between, say, many Catholic buildings [I’d passed by St. Paul’s, for example, on the way there. And I’ve seen other Cathedrals, including the Sacré-Cœur (‘Sacred Heart’) in Paris] and… mosques. Something that is uniquely appealing about Islam is this profound simplicity, clarity. The ability to have an unobstructed bond with your Creator; unpolluted, unmuddied. Carpet, ground, a few inspired wall designs here and there. And hearts at peace.

Talking to Zaynah and Davina inspired me. Davina has already memorised Surah Fatiha, she said (Masha Allah). And Zaynah: Surah Fatiha, Nās, Falaq and Ikhlās, I think she said. “Allah SWT defo made us meet intentionally”, as Davina said in our conversation over text, today. I agree: these things do not happen ‘by chance’; not at all. And I would like to introduce both of them to chicken tikka biryani (and the mosque and its surroundings in Whitechapel – a big part of what constitutes ‘my endz’) sometime soon, Insha Allah.  

Zaynah, and her purity of heart, sincerity and outgoingness, Masha Allah. An ability to engage with others practically seamlessly; she went to the bookshop within the mosque, and bought a prayer mat, and a travel one, and some Qur’ans, for her friend. She told me about another time she had come to the mosque; the love she has, for Salāh, and the guilt she feels, whenever she slips into sin (as all humans, by nature, do from time to time). She told me about a certain difficulty she had faced, and about how she thinks she should be more grateful, regardless.

And Davina: I also rather like it when people have a certain kind of calmness to them, a demonstrable… groundedness that tells me that they probably have interesting and ‘deep’ minds, Masha Allah. An evident (relative) lack of… feeling intimidated by silence, for example. Different hearts, and their manifestations in the forms of smiles, are beautiful and valuable in their own unique ways, Masha Allah.

Less of the less important stuff; more stuff of value. Like chicken tikka biryani, and how good things come to those who… work on exercising noble restraint, and: go without, for a while. And wait. And rely on Allah on these journeys of ours, like there is absolutely no other way to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (because there isn’t).

Yesterday, a Moroccan sister who had been sitting near us asked me if I, too, am a revert Muslim. This is an interesting question for me. I was born into a Muslim family, with religious (Masha Allah) grandparents. On my mum’s side [I don’t believe that piety/character-based goodness is necessarily lineage-based but] I come from a ‘clan’ of ‘Pirs’, i.e. ‘important-in-a-religious-sense’ people, apparently. Apparently, on my mum’s side, our ancestors are from Yemen. My nana’s mother used to teach Qur’an; she had been a woman of devotion, Masha Allah. On my dad’s side: my grandfather worked in Saudi Arabia for a while. My eldest maternal uncle really came to Islam, I think, in his twenties. He started reading, and researching; I think one of his favourite speakers had been Dr. Zakir Naik.

My mum started observing the Hijāb. She started attending mosque circles. She gave me Islamic books. I went to a (really fun, actually) summer scheme, in Shadwell: they took us to the park, and to Regent’s Mosque, among other activities. Another summer school at the East London Mosque, where we would paint canvases, and print T-shirts, and learn lots. Weekend classes; trips, with them, to the farm, and to museums. What else, what else?

What the month of Ramadān brings with it; spending time at Nanu’s, and talks by Nouman Ali Khan. Taraweeh, sometimes, at ELM, and what the streets of this part of town feel like, then: so peaceful, and so alive with heart and soul, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. Ranga Mama, and our ‘philosophical’ conversations, over Ifthar tables, for instance. [“They’re debating again!” although now we… actually seem to agree on things. What a change.]

My aunt (‘Sweetie’ is her ever-used nickname from us) might have been the first one, after her father, to really come to Islam ‘for herself’, inspiring her siblings by example. She started taking Mazhar and me to events run at her secondary school in Whitechapel (which would later become our secondary school too, as Allah’s Qadr would have it). We went to… an Eid event or two, at Trafalgar Square [‘Eid in the Square’]. The ‘Global Peace and Unity’ events, at the Excel Centre (where I saw Zain Bhikha, and one of my role models, Yvonne Ridley. But I had been too shy to speak to them) among others. Dinners and Bazaars and the like.

It has to speak to your mind and heart, for it to feel vitalised, activated. Sweetie became really involved with the mosque; I grew up with her friends as my aunties. A lovely bunch. Like Habiba Khala, the Scouts’ leader, and Zubaydah Khala, and Munira Khala, the funny one (who once, I remember, had fastened her headscarf with a paperclip, no less).

My nan’s mother had seven kids, Masha Allah: six girls, and one boy. Then they had their kids. Like… Sunia and Tania Khala, who came here as teenagers, from Italy. Jeba Khala (who does work at a lab, and as a fundraising coordinator at Human Aid, Masha Allah). Habi Khala (a beautiful person, Masha Allah, who passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Unexpected, as many turns of life are, and a shock to our systems; it forced many of us to rethink things). Gulshan and Gulraj and Guljar Mama, whom and whose families I don’t (at present, at least) know that well. Nishat Khala, who I thought was fun and interesting, and who encouraged me to pray with her those times. Babli Khala, who married a Palestinian man, and who sometimes speaks to her kids in Arabic. Shibu Khala, and one of her kids’ friends’ parents, who had asked her about Islam. And much more.

When I was about five years old, I went to Saudi (Umrah) for the first time. Mazhar, Safwan and I wore Islamic attire. Playing with Beyblades we’d gotten, out of crisp packets, there. We played with plastic cups, and with other children, even if we did not quite speak the same language. Toys from the markets, like car games and Barbie heelies. I got myself locked into the toilet somehow [classic me]. Safwan and I had also been too lazy to walk, so… the adults had hired a wheelchair for us to sit on, while they wheeled us around [classic me, yet again]. Things like this.

And I think this is why I always come back to listening to (Surah Rahman in particular, by) Sheikh Sudais. It reminds me of that time, in Saudi.

Lima Fufu, in Bangladesh, who inspired me in terms of religion too, Masha Allah. We would cook over fire together; love the animals, and the rain. I very much love the stars too (hence how much I love the planetarium in good old Greenwich). My friend Tamanna, who would invite me to Islamic events and circles; her mum (Rufia Khala) giving us black messenger ‘Madrasah bags’. Qur’ans, and index tabs, and pound shop stationery [pound shops are great]. Tee’s Mahmuda Khala, and how she’d taught me how ‘Īmān is something that tends to fluctuate’. Mahmud and Hasanat, and their family: the four cousins, at school. Hadi, ‘the religious one’ (Masha Allah) at primary school, and Naymur, the same thing, in his own way, at secondary. Miss Shamima. Foyzul’s sisters from next door. Sumaiya Soni (who lived four doors down from me, and who had inspired me to start wearing a headscarf). I miss her; she still lives there; we should have Biryani together sometime. She is Gujarati, and she would bring her mum’s Biryani in to our primary school, on food-sharing party days. Delicious to the power of ten, Masha Allah.

Qur’an in the morning; a post-Fajr du’a, in Year Six, that Allah grants me a good day today. Things like this. The coming-into-understanding that this life is struggle; seeking ‘spirituality’, which people intuitively know to do. Yet, many do not quite know even how to define this ‘spirituality’ that they seek. Something ‘larger than ourselves’? Something – someOne – greater: the One who created us.

‘Intellectual’ and ‘academic’ journeys, too, and the realisation that… sometimes, merely collecting ‘knowledge’ as though it is merely some ‘collector’s item’… deadens the heart, and threatens to remove from it light, and life, and, perhaps even love.

Oak Education, and Al-Azhar Academy, behind East London Mosque, and then there was also ‘Aspire’. When Sweetie had taken me to Black Stone (the bookshop) that time, when I was twelve. And I chose that book to buy. In times of difficulty, also (exams, and other emotional difficulties) we Muslims tend to rely on Allah, and ask Him for help. Like what Sitra I think it had been (someone I met at sixth form, and who is a friend from our Khayr Circle) said the other day: these times are when our Īmān seems to grow. Muslim YouTubers, like Dina Tokio, Adam Saleh, Subhi Taha. And now: Saajid Lipham, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Abdal Hakim Murad, and the like.

Questions, questions, questions. And the incomings of answers. Naajiyah, Aya (who is from Morocco and Spain) and Aissatou (who is from Senegal). When Nazma changed, and so did Samme, I think. Miss Ahmed, and our almost-daily Wudhu-room conversations. Dr. Shah. Faaizah, and coming to learn more about Sufism [I believe Islam had come to Bangladesh, mainly perhaps, in the form of Sufism: at times this seemingly becomes kind of syncretic, I think, with elements of Islam, and of pre-existing South Asian religious traditions… I would simply say that I am a Sunni Muslim. And/or just Muslim].

When Sweetie had accompanied my friend Zulaika and I to the sixth form I was going to attend, which is in Westminster, right near St. James’s Park. And she prayed in one of the language classrooms, where there had been a prayer mat. Just like how she had prayed on that mountain, in Switzerland. And then I met Safiya. And a lot of Arab people [in my head, I thought a lot of them look Bengali. Because we Bengalis are a diverse-looking kind… So when people say that I look Middle Eastern/North African… I have kind of been thinking the opposite. Certain Iraqis, Moroccans, etc.: ‘they just look so Bengali!’] and such. Fatema. Tasnim. A girl from a Hindu family, who had converted. White British people who were very interested in the Middle East, and by extension, in Islam. Umamah. Zaynah. The girl who had walked into the school library wearing a Jilbāb: sagacious-seeming, Masha Allah. And trusting in God, and fearless. Muslims who were (and are) very knowledgeable, Masha Allah. And kind, and uniquely interesting. Challenges to faith, also, and how they had been overcome. Crises of mental health, an Islamic bookshop. A period of gradual reconnection with my ‘endz’ and people. Coinciding with a period of pandemic. Madani School, and all these teachers (Masha Allah). Like Miss Maryam, and Ma’suma, and Samaiya, whom I so love (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik). Social media, YouTube. Various people, and what it had been Qadr, and in my Rizq, for them to teach me. And still, the journey continues… to continue. My road has led to… right here: where I am right now.

And now I’m adulting and everything, Allahummabārik.

So many people; so many stories, and subtleties and complexities and uniquenesses to them; so many ways of sharing goodness, and of being influenced by and inspired through knowing them. In whatever way, and for whatever while. An amazing thing about Islam is its vitality, and how it speaks to the mind and heart, and invigorates the soul, Masha Allah. It is alive, and well, and a sacred flame that will illuminate darkness, and which will be passed on, to whom God Wills, and which will refuse to be burned out.

Hey: did you know that this life is hard: have you noticed this yet? That there are no heavens, here on Earth? Moments of rest and/or satisfaction and ease. Yet, most of it is… toil and incompleteness, and continual struggle.

Still, you are capable, and you are not, by any means, ‘alone’ever and we’ll get through this together, Insha Allah. Looking for something; we’ve finally found it, right here.

And it’s true that through Allah’s Wisdom,

people change people. Secret of life.

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path. [Hadith, (Bukhari)]

Some questions for you:

What is it like, to live where you live? Has this place always been ‘home’, for you [i.e. ‘endz’]?

What is your story, in terms of Islam [even if you are not a Muslim yourself]?

What is a random happening from your week, this week, which meant something to you [however ‘small’]?

Is there something that happened in your life, which made you reconsider how you look at things?

Who has been important, on your Islamic journey?

What is something that you are struggling with, at this moment in time?

Please do comment below, or send me an email at: If you’d like to remain anonymous, you can write to me here. I’m really interested in hearing (reading) these stories…

With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.