Day Two

What I have learnt.

Bismillah.

Security. I like the idea. Security in one’s own self. Secure people are not necessarily those who do not have doubts, fears, and such, I don’t think. Maybe it is like how ‘courage is not the absence of fear’… Maybe this sense of secureness that I seek to have, and to maintain, is not the absence of uncertainties and insecurities. These things are about the choices we make.

Today is Day Two of this thing. Today I learned that Muslim women are wonderful. In the Islamic tradition, we believe that we are technically adults as soon as we hit puberty. We are not, at that point, as mature as we can be. But, still, we are mature.

Some of my Year Sevens are growing into such wisdom, Masha Allah. Responsible, strong, and strongly kind. My Year Eights: some of them, I could speak to for hours. They have all these ideas, all these clever, and funny, and insightful things to say.

I know for a fact that I cannot easily converse with everybody. I have tried to fight my way out of this truth, at times. Some people can speak for ages about designer makeup that has gone on sale and such. And I can respect differences. But I do not appreciate it when people make comments or ask questions like, “Why are you so quiet?”

“Why are you being antisocial?

And, you know, when they outright mention that they think you’re ‘weird’. Oh, and when people comment on weight. This one person I know: every single time I see her she must say that I’ve “lost so much weight”. And she looks at me as though I am sick.

Dear Reader, I have not “lost so much weight”. Maybe between right now and, like, many years ago. But she says it every time. Yet, if I were to point out to the ‘skinny’-saying people that they’ve “gained so much weight!” and looked at them as though they were sick… that would not be alright at all. Understandably.

And if I were to ask the ‘quiet’-saying ones why they talk so much… that would not be okay either. The ‘weird’-saying ones: if I were to point out that they are (or, rather, I find them) boring… Hmm…

“Even Sadia finds that weird.” This is something that someone whom I do not even know like that, said. I wonder what would have happened if, instead, I had said something like: “Even _______ finds that boring!”

I have been thinking about the ‘weird’ label again. And if I am it, then my brother, in his own ways, is probably it as well. But I would never call him ‘weird’, except as a joke, because that is a charged word. My brother is something alright, and I know I would not trade him for the world and everything in it. If my brother is weird, then I certainly have relatives and such who are around his age who are not weird. I love them for whom they are. But Allah chose this little boy to be my brother, and I know that I would have been so bored if I did not have a sibling with his sort of personality.

My eight-year-old brother is, Allahummabārik, the sort to experiment with new words. To say the weirdest, (deliberately-) funniest things ever [once, for example, at a quiet and serious Ifthar table, for instance, he whispered to me that he’s pregnant. I could not help but burst out laughing]. He is a passionate and spirited kid, and sometimes his passions get him into a bit of trouble. He asks questions: lots and lots of them. He is the type of little brother to… give me detentions [???] and debate with me on things to no end, if he feels passionately about them. But there is plenty of time for him to mature, in the future. For now, however, this is his sacred childhood.

And sometimes, for example when… people who make unsavoury comments about his weight get similar comments returned to them… I have to tell him off a little, but… I actually find it hilarious.

‘Weird’ is what… orchids are: the way their roots claw out of the soil and such. And cacti. ‘Alien-like’ things. Like they are from other worlds. They are bizarre; unlike what we instinctively perceive as ‘usual’.

‘Weird’ is… Farkle Minkus. A fictional character whom – if I were a guy – I would give my left kidney away, in order to be friends with. His ‘thing’ is what (could be labelled as) weird. ‘Weird’ sticks out a little… or a lot. Intriguing, to the right eyes. Threatening, and an easy target for others. ‘Weird’ says things you would not ‘expect’ for him to say.

‘Weird’ is what you find that you cannot easily – for whatever reason – understand very well, or it is what you yourself would not do. But… that’s just you. ‘Weird’ is when a ‘should’ has been created. And it is when something does not exactly fit into the schemas created in light of these ‘shoulds’, in an active sort of way.

‘Weird’ coupled with security, though… wow. What a concept.

‘Security’, and the fear of what others might think. Pandering to others. It is all about that golden balance. Not forfeiting the truths of we, in order to earn their approval. And, yet, not always indulging in our own ‘truths’, before the people, if it leads to their deep discomfort. If it leads to complete unrelate-ability.

Today I received chocolates from some of my students. And Eid cards that I hope to cherish forever. I think, what some may call ‘weird’, in me, they call other things — things that they have written to me about, in these cards. Super adorable. And perspective, baby. Their approvals are what should matter more!

My students are so unpredictable, sometimes. One of them was annoyed with something, today, I think, so she referred to it, angrily and dramatically, as witchcraft. Yesterday, one of them absent-mindedly raised her hand and said, “Pardon, Miss” in a Cockney accent. Lots of things like this.

I like it when people laugh, and when they smile. Not the polite ones. Not the fake laughter at jokes that are really not funny. Those genuine ones: the ones that spill. “I like it when you smile”. What a cute thing to say to someone. [My colleague said this to me, but my overthink-y mind jumped to thinking that I must look sad all the time, so maybe she likes it when I actually smile? A baseless thought, probably. But, sigh.]

You know how life is constant struggle and all… a big part of the struggle, it would seem, for many people is that choice we have to make: is it better and more valuable to be widely and immediately liked… or is it better to seek to be deeply, and over time, loved?

And is it better to fight to be heard, or to relax, and to sink in to whom we already know we are? In life, I have learnt that all of it matters. And that love will find you, hear you, and see you, in all its various forms, as and how you are. From exactly where you are. It is worth waiting for.

I do not find it easy to have conversations with everybody, all of the time. Sometimes, I really must exert myself, and I don’t enjoy what I am saying, or what is being said. And some people label me, therefore, as being ‘antisocial’. And then everything I have ever been told gets flipped onto its head when I encounter people with whom I always have really enjoyable exchanges. It feels like something glistens. That whole value-being-augmented-as-a-result-of-rarity thing. Like a bite of a buffalo wing after a long day of fasting. Unmatchable, dang.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Day One

What I have learnt.

Day One had actually been yesterday. But I had been far too drained to write.

The night before: I had only managed to get in, like, two-and-a-half hours of sleep. Why, you may ask? Long story. Involving a lot of Amazon cardboard boxes, ribbons, postcards, scrunchies, and hot chocolate sachets. Short-term buzz. Long term: bad idea, bad idea, bad idea.

Alhamdulillah… Eid-ul-Fitr 2021 tomorrow. I love Eid. But when I was younger, I thought it always had to be inundated with events and ‘official’ things to do, in order to be enjoyable. Eid – like Ramadan, and like most other things, I now think – is about its essence.

The essence of Eid is: Takbeer, family (including friends), food(!!!!!!!!!!) and celebration! You hug, give gifts, make memories. The feast after the fasting. You drop your worries and such for a day: Eid is meant to be somewhat larger-than-life.

Recently I have been trying to do more of that thing that I know I really should do… Realise that I will only ever be twenty years old, here on Earth, once. And I might not ever be a secondary school teacher again. May not ever live in this area again. And so on, and so on.

“Everything is more beautiful

because we are doomed.

You will never be lovelier

than you are now.

We will never be here again. [— Homer. Not Simpson though.]

Never again.

How everything looks right now. And when we go to capture these things, which we find we will never again be able to return to, except as they are, relative to those futures that we find we are yet to meet. Man.

Yesterday I learned, again, that clothes, for example, look awful-cool underneath a microscope. From the outside, things can appear so solid-seeming. Look a little closer: you can see all those little fibres, piece by piece, intertwined. From a different perspective, things can really take you by surprise. They can seem so alien-like: unfamiliar. It is amazing.

I learned, as aforementioned, that sleep deprivation leads to catastrophe. Not the life-destroying kind, generally… but the humorous kind that makes life feel more like a sitcom. Alhamdulillah: these things add colour, don’t they?

I like the notion of adventure. And yesterday and the day before, two separate people I know have told me that I seem like I am quite an “adventurous” person: a colleague, and, later, a student. I see myself as quite a ‘homebody’. But I realise now that the two are not mutually exclusive.

I do not desire to travel all the time. I think travel is cool sometimes: a shake-up of usualness, learning journeys. And, yet, I am glad I do not rely on notions of ‘getting away’ in order to experience ‘adventure’. ‘Adventure’ is everywhere, and it is every day!

Well, I tried to take a nap yesterday. Sometimes I rejoice in the fact that I am short: it means that I am able to sleep comfortably in cars, on planes, on chairs.

And… I was awoken from my nap by someone who wanted to talk. Sigh. Yes, as a twenty-year-old grandma, I can now completely sympathise with Squidward Tentacles’ plight.

I went with a colleague to the shop that I used to work at: the Islamic bookstore. They sell perfumes – Atr – there, too, and she wanted to get some Eid gifts for her dad and for her father-in-law. I came out of the shop with my hands smelling like men’s perfume — of the Bengali grandad kind.

Inhaled those aromas as I tried, once again, to nap… but to no avail.

Sleep deprivation is delirium. I feel like I exist in some other world.

I also learned, yesterday, that Amazon boxes are not always the best choice for in-school transportation of things. After emptying one of my boxes in one of my Year Eight classes, I had accidentally left the box there, on the desk… forgetting that it had my full address on it! Ran back, before the girls (some of whom have proudly and openly stalked me online…) could find out where I live.

After school: a most peculiar occurrence at the Post Office. Involving one of my little cousins, who had lost his way, and who had decided to go on a little adventure of his own. I saw him at the door of the shop, alarmingly unaccompanied, his parents nowhere to be seen, while I had been writing addresses at the window-side table. ‘Lucky’. No: Qadr-ic.

Sometimes, when I am Hijābbed up, and when I have four things to process and do at once – a panicked call from my aunt, and stamps to give the money for, and a (kind) stranger who stopped to speak about my cousin (whom she had seen earlier, and felt concerned for), and a little fidgety boy at one hand… I think I look quite like a stressed Asian mother. That might just be my public face: the stressed Bengali Tower Hamlets mother. The aforementioned stranger actually first assumed that my cousin was my son. Someone else had also mistaken me for my brother’s mother, at the park… when I was twelve years old. Love that for us, we do, we really do.

The next thing I learned, yesterday: learning is not always solely about novelty. It can be about reminders too. Learning the same thing again, albeit in a necessarily varying way. Like how some people, sometimes, are excessively pedantic about things. It is like they look for reasons to not be grateful, and instead desperately find faults in others. Bet it makes ’em feel powerful, by contrast.

Also, I learned that… you know how oranges, in English, are named thusly because of their colour? Well, actually, today I learned – in doing some quick Google research for this very article – that it was the other way around: the name of the fruit had come first!

Yesterday: due to the seeming obsession among Bengalis (Sylhetis in London, at least, so it would seem) with ‘Boingon Boras’ (aubergine fritters) this year, my Nan had sent me to the grocery shop to get an aubergine. £1 for an aubergine. Carried the lil baby home in a brown paper bag. It turns out, in Bengali – in ‘proper’ Bengali (Shuddho) at least – the word for ‘aubergine’ is ‘Begun’, which means ‘purple’. I wonder which came first: the name of the colour, or the name of the fruit.

Sigh. What the heck is in a name?

[An aubergine by any other name would taste as aubergine-y.]

Another obsession that many of our households had been witnessing throughout Ramadan is the one with Roshmalai cake: milk cake. ‘Roshmalai’ actually means ‘milk juice’. And, well, I do like ma milk-juice cakes… especially the ones made with dried rose petals! Delicious.

There is so much more that I found I had learnt, yesterday, just as there is so, so much that we learn every single day that we are alive, even when we do not give those little things – those individual twisted fibres that make up the entirety of the fabric – much thought.

The cute – and shocking, and unexpected – happening with Dawud, and the phone, and the girl called Aaminah. More about how people in other countries – this time, women from the upper-classes, in Egypt – tend to spend their time. A reminder as to how much I love buffalo wings: they would definitely make up part of my Last Meal, if I had to choose one. A Zoom meeting with a Dominican friar, which took place at 11:30 PM [my bad entirely. He had given me a series of time slots to choose from, and made sure to point out in his email that he, in America, goes by Pacific Daylight Time, not British Standard. But this key piece of information seemed to have gone right over my head…].

Awkwardness, some adventure, and a good helping of c h a o s: these would appear to be some of the ingredients that, Alhamdulillah for the ‘good’ and [what my limited mind can drive me to perceive as being] ‘bad’, make up this life of mine. And I love these things for all that they are. Although I do cherish the calm, too. The compressions: chaos, chaos, chaos, and then the Calm… which is made all the more valuable by its rarity.

Today, Insha Allah, when I go home, and as we welcome the eve of Eid, I hope to tidy things up more, again. Mentally, and in my physical space. I know that things will get messy again, and I also know that both the ‘messy’ and the ‘tidy’ come together to form the entirety of the Point of this whole thing.

Life: we are made up of all of these things, which fill our moments, and our days,

and our minds, and our veins.

And call me Squidward – or… Sad-ward? – because sleep is actually a deeply cherished hobby of mine, and I want for the world to know it.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Quiet

Bismillāhir Rahmānir Raheem.

Today, after the final bell rang — after those seas of white-headscarfed, black-coated students had dispersed through the door to the stairs – on one side, at the back of the hall — all that had been left had been the wooden floors, the motivational displays plastered across the walls. The three large Victorian sash windows, lined up: a row. A single Qur’an on each sill. Stillness. And a good amount of sunlight — not too much, and just enough — streaming right through.

02:55 PM is home-time (for now, during Ramadān, at least). Freneticism, the joys of final release. Magnetically joining each of their own friend groups. Ridiculous fun, under heavy bags, and at least a hundred different conversations going on at once. Buzzing, humming. And then, roughly 03:03… stillness.

Quiet. I tend to do it unintentionally, but I prefer to leave my last classroom of the day once the noise dies down, and there is no one left. Nobody to bump into; no groups to sidle through. A penchant for silence. And for all that I can learn, through its noble presence.

Today, as I left the D.T. classroom on the middle floor, I met that sacred silence once again. And all had been still, save for… two students standing at the third window. One of them: a gentle and protective arm locked around the other. The other: she had been crying, her eyes red, her face all puffy.

I don’t know their names: I only teach Year Sevens and Eights at this school, and these girls are in Year Nine, I think. But the comforting friend — she taught me much about friendship, today. And about the value of quiet: something I have found myself thinking about quite a lot, lately.

I asked the girl who had been crying if she wanted to talk about it, or if she just wanted to sit in a classroom for a while, before rejoining the masses of people exiting the school. She decided to go to a classroom. The comforting friend, so gently and determinedly, asked me if she could sit with her friend.

They sat together, at the back of the classroom. One friend, crying helplessly, but silently: tears just rolling from her eyes, one by one. The other friend did not ask her “what’s wrong”. Did not ask for an explanation; offering ‘solutions’ seemed such a non-consideration for her, for now. The comforting friend simply sat there, in stillness, a gentle and concerned look across her face, and facing her friend completely, being there, (subtly,) entirely. And here is the part that caused my heart to melt: as the upset girl’s tears fell, and as she sniffled and tried to collect herself, the other friend, part of her hand concealed beneath the sleeve of her black puffer jacket, softly wiped each tear away, as they did. One, by one, by one. Wordlessly. Until her friend felt ready to leave.

She had sat there, with her friend, without question. No rush for answers; no rush to go home. Just a gentleness, and an unwavering presence. And I think this is what love reminds me of: those three Victorian sash windows, and the golden light streaming in. Quietly – seemingly just blending in with all other things – and powerfully. Strongly, and subtly. The best things, I think, reveal themselves in the Quiet. Silent, and unassuming, profundities.

Sometimes, when we speak, it is more like noise. And other times, it is more like melody, like song. Muhammad (SAW) had advised us to “Speak a good word. Or remain

Silent”. [Sahih Hadith]

Good words are beautiful, and they are virtuous. And silence can also be a thing of beauty, and of virtue. Sometimes, speech is not really needed. Sometimes, the grounding weight of silence is what holds our words together. And love is a thing of presence.

I think, also, when we find ourselves at the mercy of more negative emotions: resentment, bitterness, anger. It is probably better to be still. And silent. And to know: the ‘upper hand’ is not everything. And rage can drive us to say the worst of things to another person: carving, in them, wounds that may never heal. Silence is probably the better option. If they are right, then they are right. If they are wrong, then although they may have injured you a little, with incendiary insults and exaggerated blame: Allah will sew your heart right back together, Insha Allah, and you will have lost nothing. The other person may have to deal with the consequences of their actions for a lifetime, and then for an eternity.

In silence, there is so much power. There is space enough, to reason, and to reflect. And to decide on one’s options, and on what is more valuable.

And what about Maryam (AS)’s silence, when she had been accused of that dire crime, and when Allah directed her towards merely pointing at her son – baby Isa (AS) – and the justice that her Sabr and her silence had surely earned her, in the end? What about Ibrahim (AS), when his own father had sent him into a blazing fire? He showed no rage; no indignation. Uttered words of peace, to his father, and then Allah made the fire “bardun wa saleem”: cool, and tranquil, for him.

Our words hold so much weight: for better, or for worse. And, what is there to lose, in not speaking, sometimes? An explanation, so as to appease our egocentric curiosities? A moment or two, of self-contented pride, the upper hand?

With our words, and with all of these necessary spaces in between them: we can beautify, or we can ruin. On an undeniable day on which there will be no shade but His: these words, and these silences, will either stand for us, or against us. Like a series of mountainous and destructive flames. Or, like a beautiful friend, with her arm locked around our shoulders: a sign of Divine love. And the rest of the world, even when it burns with the stuff of intense intolerance and hatred, falls bardun wa saleem.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Lord of the Flies’ and Life

Discuss a book from the Western tradition that has had particular significance for you. What makes this book great in your view? What impact has this book had on how you think?

‘Lord of the Flies’ by William Golding is a novel that holds particular significance for me. A beloved friend of mine had gifted me a copy of the book two years ago, and this academic year, I had been asked to teach it to one of my classes, during my first half-term as a teacher at an Islamic secondary school.

            In my view, what makes this book great is its inherently discursive nature. It allows the reader to explore a handful of fascinating philosophical dichotomies – Good Vs. Evil, Nobleness Vs. Savagery, Appearances Vs. Reality, and more – in addition to other considerations surrounding human nature, social organisation, and, from a Muslim reading of the novel: Dunya-based realities.

            ‘LOTF’ is a fundamentally allegorical text (whose contents have come to serve as a good metaphorical reminder, for me, regarding the truth of this world) in which a group of schoolboys who find themselves stranded on a ‘paradisiacal’ island must now decide on how to live; what to do: they must consider survival-based needs, as well as those pertaining to social organisation and cooperation. And while, for instance, frolicking and light-hearted entertainment would appear to be the foremost consideration for certain characters (namely, for Ralph, at the start at least), shelter, survival, and being in a good position to be rescued would appear to be the main consideration for others (in particular, for Piggy, the character whose defining trait is clearly made to be intelligence). Rather tellingly, Piggy’s “specs” (symbolic, perhaps, of his unique capacity for Baseera – insight) are what is used in order to ignite fire, in the story.

            The motif of fire is of central importance in this text: it is closely associated with goodness – in terms of community, cohesion, hope, and direction (in opposition to chaos, disunity, alienation and violence) and, quite literally, with warmth and illumination, and with survival — the ultimate goal of being rescued. In the Qur’an, also, Allah (SWT) analogises Īmān with a fire that must be kindled and maintained; if we do not actively tend to and nurture it, we may be left in darkness: “deaf, dumb, and blind,” and with severely diminished hope of ultimately being saved.

As Ralph comes to realise: “The fire’s the most important thing […] Without the fire we can’t be rescued. I’d like to put on war-paint and be a savage. But we must keep the fire burning […] So we must stay by the fire.”

            Dunya, in contrast to Jannah, is, undoubtedly, a difficult place. It is, essentially, less of a paradisiacal island, and more of an arena – an abode of continual tests and tribulations. Here, we have been imbued with great Purpose. To worship our Lord; to be as excellent as we can bring ourselves, by His grace, to be; to make good – and even excellent – choices with the various forms of wealth that we have been given (beginning with that of Time). We ought to do all we can to prevent the fire’s extinction; to keep it burning, in awe, fear, and gratitude before our Creator.

            In ‘LOTF’, a number of thoroughly interesting ideas surrounding human nature are interrogated, for example: how hierarchies – legitimate structures of authority – and rule systems are necessary in order to ensure stability – to prevent devolution into anomie and immorality; how the human being is known to don and hide behind masks, which liberate us from “shame and self-consciousness” – how we thus come to look “no longer at [ourselves]”, but at “awesome stranger[s]”; the dangers of attempting to democratise truth, as well as those of coming to favour fleeting sensory pleasures – self-serving thrills – over seeking out, and living in alignment with, Goodness.

“And what is the life of the Dunya, except the enjoyment of vanity?” [Qur’an, (3:185)]

In the novel, when Beelzebub – the titular ‘Lord of the Flies’ – attempts to divert Simon away from his tendencies towards contemplation and more intentional behaviour, and towards what Beelzebub euphemistically refers to as “fun”, he (Beelzebub – who is known in the Islamic tradition as ‘Iblīs’) exclaims:

“We are going to have fun on this island. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island!”

Thus, to the innocent young characters, gradually, significant immoralities are made fair-seeming. Characters who initially (seemingly ‘innocently’) attack tree trunks become increasingly desensitised to the moral weights of senseless and violent acts, and amass enough bloodlust with which to kill a pig. Simon and Piggy are also later murdered, in cold blood:

Even our ‘small’-seeming misdeeds can be – or become – significant.   

I also thoroughly enjoyed thinking about – and discussing, with my students – the theme of leadership in the novel. In the novel, and in the Islamic tradition, the concept of a good leader is presented as one who exercises deep care for each of their constituents, including those of perceived lesser social status: the “littluns”. They instate the rules – and embody the ethos of what they represent – and also follow them; they are strong and confident, and also exercise gentleness, humility and patience. In matters of leadership, (to follow Muhammad (SAW)’s example) the emphasis ought to be on serving God and on serving the people, in lieu of our own egos. Stature is of importance, and so too, critically, is intelligence – but not when it is bereft of spiritual morality.

            Like unwitting schoolboys on an island, we are human beings in Dunya. We are here for a while, and we have these fundamental yearnings to go Home. Here, we have a world that is decorated with vegetation, and with seas; rock formations, and stars. We have been given the gifts of Time, and of our intellects (which, if we use them properly, form the key distinguishing feature between true nobleness, and true savagery) as well as our individual strengths and weaknesses: personalised blessings, and tests. Here, perhaps, our goal ought to be to keep the fire – of Baseera, rationality and morality – alive: aflame.

[To quote Ralph once more,]

After all we aren’t savages really and being rescued isn’t a game”.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Projections

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem

Dear Reader,

‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.

In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.

‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?

Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.

[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]

Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.  

Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.

Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]

One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.

Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?

May-haps, may-haps.

How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!

I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?

What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!

Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.

Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.

Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.   

And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.

‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.

[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]

‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.

Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar

Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.

Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.

So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.

And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.

Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.

And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.

In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.  

[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Garments

“I don’t think I can do this,” he muttered, his head bowed, face hiding. Cloaked in something that spoke much of self-consciousness and shame: these undeniable, though often conveniently concealed, parts of what it is to be human. She smiled at him. Neither pityingly, nor panderingly. Simply her hand rested upon his: a partnership. He tensed briefly, and then let go. Release.

“Hey,” she said, quietly. The others in the room became curious observers of the conversation, and, still, not fully privy to it. “Hey, look at me.”

His face could not help but let out a smile. She reassured him.

“I’m here, okay?

I’m here.”

Even more quietly: “We can do it together.”

Her love reached out and climbed onto him, almost; it tickled him on his cheek. Then, the two of them grew a little giddy, and then broke out into quiet fits of laughter: first him, and then her, and then the two of them together. And nobody else at all had been in on the joke.

“What would your ideal partner be like?” had been the question. And a sweet smile had spilled from her; she looked over at him, holding him as he came and sat down, at exactly the right time.

(Inspired by something really cute I saw yesterday. So cute, so beautiful, it makes my heart ache and I am going to die)

“Cover me,”

said Muhammad ﷺ, having rushed home to his wife Khadijah (RA) after receiving the first part of the Qur’anic revelation. He wrapped himself in her arms; he thanked Allah for the repose that he found, right there. In his own words, he had felt “nourished by her love”.

When Khadijah died, Muhammad (SAW) never really got over her death. The entire year after her passing is known as the Year of Grief, in his biography: it was deeply painful for him to look at, for example, pieces of jewellery that she had once worn. He kept sending food over to the people that she had loved – her friends and relatives – years and years after her passing.

In these things, in matters of love, and protected within the cloaks of soul-baring privacy: there is no room for feelings of shame or inadequacy. On the human level: you become the fulcrum of your beloved’s world. Completely, and as you are. And where there is real love, there is honesty. Openness. Trust, and much nourishment and comfort.

“And among His signs is that He created for you from [among] yourselves partners that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy/nourishment. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [Qur’an, (30:21)]

Even though I know I can be somewhat cynical at times, I am quite prone to also romanticising the heck out of things. And this – the spousal – form of love is something that indubitably deserves to be romanticised.

The whole concept of ‘yin and yang’, for instance: on the human level, we were created, also, ‘for’ another person. And they have been created ‘for’ us. There will be parts of you, within your person. And parts of them, within you. And when the two of you, and all your parts, come together, Insha Allah (whether you meet them in this world or the next one) it will be beautiful.

“Cover me.”

In the Qur’an, also:

“They [your spouses] are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” [Qur’an, (2:187)]

The feeling of being embraced by your favourite jumper: a most welcome repose, so fittingly within, and yet so very far away from (the rest of) this world. Our garments – our clothes – are known to cover us. Nakedness and all: sans all of these social masks of ours, no attempted performances of those ‘ideal selves’. No makeup, no filters: nothing through which we seek ‘liberation’ from hidden truths via. Clothes, and how they are known to

beautify and cover; they tell the rest of the world a little about whom we are. Embrace. Warmth, and comfort. Protection. A burst of colour, here and there.

They hide things, also, and get to see what nobody else can: scars and such. Birthmarks. Bruises. The lines that might show you where you have grown, stretched, made space for development. They hide what we are ashamed of. Fears, insecurities, and what everybody else might scarily perceive as being our ‘flaws’: pigmentation, tummies tucked in, and all the rest. And only your clothes see the hidden beautiful parts of your being (which Allah, by His grace, has fitted you with) too. Nothing – nobody – else.

Love, when it is real, gets to see and know all of it. Intricately, intimately, perfectly well. When it comes to love: ‘flaws’ are these countless little things that make you love another – your Other – even more.

Somewhere in all that exists, there is a person whose name had been Written beside yours, even before the dawn of time. You fit into one another’s beings like you were made for one another. All the checks, all the balances; the fierce challenges and all of the things we have, to learn. Exactly as the two of you are: because, Subhan Allah, you were quite literally made for one another. And if/when it is meant to happen, in this life, it will. Like the best garment you have ever worn. Custom-made by the One who knows you best. In your size, in your style: Divinely-planned, profoundly beyond ourselves, and

fitting just right.

[May we all find and get married to our actual Other-Halves in this lifetime! Āmeen, āmeen, āmeen]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Family

Today, I am thinking about family. Yesterday, after Ifthar, my uncle and aunt had made plans to visit the charity dessert stall behind the mosque: one of my aunts (my mum’s cousin Jeba) works for a Muslim charity — Human Aid. And, another one of my aunts (Jeba Khala’s, and my mum’s, cousin) runs her own chocolatier business. She (my chocolate-making aunt) volunteered to put up a stall with Human Aid, to raise some money for charity, post-Taraweeh prayers.

My cousin Moosa, also, volunteers for this charity. Undeniably lovable chap, he is. Before I was blessed with a little brother of my own — who shares the same parents as me, that is — Moosa had been my little brother. An ardent lover of Ben Ten and, a little later, of Spider-Man, as a child. He had been such a smily little sweetheart. And he had been my (late) grandfather’s absolute favourite. Sometimes, Moosa would come around to my house, to stay, and I loved it when he would. My dad would treat him like he were his own son — and the two of them still share such a unique and beautiful bond [the centrepiece of that bond being, probably: a shared passion for food]. My mum would be in charge of cleaning up after the little-kid-in-question’s… accidents.

So Moosa had been my first little brother. Then came Isa. Saif is the brother with whom I share a home and our parents. And now, there is Dawud. Dawud the sweet, eccentric [well, all children are ‘eccentric’, actually] car-obsessed one. The gentle and soft: the one who does not immediately go in for hugs. But if he likes you, he’ll randomly give you a little kiss from time to time, and tell you that he loves you “big much!”

My friend Tamanna has a little car-obsessed cousin too. He is called Danyal [I hope I spelled that right] and he is quite the outgoing, exuberant little charmer. His teachers adore him; he is the type of kid to act extraordinarily familiar with you as soon as you meet him. Tells you he’ll buy you, casually, a Lamborghini among other things. And much like Dawud’s “I love you big much!”, Danyal is known to say, “I love you a hundred million fousand!”

Dawud does not like it at all when there is anything sticky on his hands. Randomly, in the middle of nothing-much-happening, he… ‘collapses’ on the kitchen floor and loudly announces, “I’m deaad!”

Danyal’s uncle wanted to get some personalised Adidas clothes for him. Danyal requested that his hat (I think it was a hat, at least) be made with… a big round black dot on the back. Why? Nobody knows but young Danny, and Allah. But his uncle obliged with this unique request.

I can’t lie: in some ways, Danyal reminds me quite a bit of Tamanna, while Dawud reminds me a bit of myself. Tamanna is, technically, a ‘family-friend’ of mine: her nan lives at Number Fifteen, and my Nan used to live right here, at Number Seven. On a random day in July 2010, we had declared our official ‘best-friendship’ together. [But now the title ‘best friend’ sounds too childish. ‘Mortal enemy’ sounds far more mature]. She, the adorable one who would (literally) in public, pick up litter off of the ground, to put in the bin; collect leaves and flowers in a little tin box in order to ‘make perfume’ out of them; greet random passersby with a joyful “good morning”. And! She has always had this remarkable and unique ability to play. ‘Army game’ under the table at Islamic school. A soap opera character at my aunt’s friend’s wedding in Wales (in a Southern belle accent, holding, if I recall correctly, a wine glass filled with fruit juice: “Don’t liiie to me sugar, don’t lie to me!”) A little more recently – well, four years ago now, roughly: we walk into a fancy-looking place, and she is Queen Victoria. At IKEA, she is a hairdresser or a shop owner or some such. She has this joie de vivre about her, this larger-than-life personality, and I love her for it. The best mortal enemy I have ever had.

It is Allah who decides that it is necessary for one person to be in another person’s life: these things just happen, but they do not ‘just happen’.

Both Moosa and Tamanna are pretty much the same, today, but in more developed-over-time ways. Moosa — when his father had worked weekends at his friend’s restaurant in Sudbury — worked there, too, for a while (over summer, I think it had been). He got on with his coworkers and the customers so effortlessly well. It is all down to his smile, and his humorous and unassuming, unaffected nature (Masha Allah), methinks. These qualities benefit him very well when it comes to the whole fundraising thing. And I can’t say that I am not deeply proud of him. He is fifteen years old, now, and so he is no longer my Mahram. We ‘air-spud’, now, instead of hug. He manages to fully convince me that he’s secretly been doing drugs. Cracks [pun not intended, but still sort of there] a few dark jokes, from time to time. Yep, super proud of him, I am.

Tamanna, just the other day, got visibly very frustrated when someone threw a bit of litter out of their car. She is (still) the type to, for example, colourfully tell the (apathetic-seeming) shopkeeper to “Have a good day!” Came to my workplace, recently, to pick me up. Offered some of my colleagues some sweets, as though she knew them already.

I, by contrast, had been the school-loving kind to plan random (‘spirited’. Crazy.) projects. I had been the type to: give myself a really bad haircut in the depths of one Ramadan night [I had decided that I really wanted bangs. When my mum took me to the hairdresser’s to get that abomination corrected, Tee had been in the seat next to mine, herself also getting a haircut, which she ended up secretly detesting]; get a splinter the length of my index finger, lodged into my leg [Asian dress – Selwar Kameez – and a wooden climbing frame. An ominous combination]. Khala, Tee’s mum, had tried to extract the painful specimen using a tweezer back at her house, but to no avail. We ended up having to go A&E, and Tamanna sat in the room while they took it out. I was deeply mortified by everything about this incident]; convince Tamanna, who had learnt to make her own food pretty early, to cook her eggs without oil, because it would be ‘much healthier’. And what else had ensued, but catastrophe?  

[We also made a club, at Islamic School, which I had come up with the name for. ‘The Salvation Army’. Back then, we had no idea what this name actually meant: I had just seen it on the side of a building, and rather liked the sound of it…]

The point of this article had been to talk about family. In the Qur’an, Allah instructs for us to be good towards our ‘relatives’/’kin’ [this is how the word ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’ – Al-Qurbaa – tends to be translated]. The root word of this, the Arabic, word is: ‘قرب’, which means ‘close’, or ‘near’. Another word for ‘relatives’, in the Qur’an, is ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’, whose root word is ‘رحم’, meaning ‘compassion/nourishment’, ‘womb/uterus’, and (in a connected way,) ‘blood-relationships’. ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’, I believe, refers to those who are ‘close/near’ to us: family, friends, neighbours, coworkers; while ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’ is likely to refer specifically to blood-ties, even if you are not particularly ‘close’ with them [they still have rights over you].

In terms of ‘Qurbaa’, some of our friends become exceptionally close to us. And, in terms of ‘Arhaam’, some of our blood-relations are not particularly close with us, sometimes as a result of familial tensions and disputes and such, and sometimes simply as a result of distance: a lack of (true) presence in one another’s lives.

Yesterday, after Dawud and I hung out on the trampoline, and after he suddenly betrayed me, for a while (siding with Saif and Isa to call me “yucky” — and, later, when the other boys were not there, he outright denied that he had ever done such a thing) I asked his parents if I could go with them to the charity dessert stall. I really wanted to see everyone. Whomever I could see, of the clan, the tribe.

So, post-Ifthar, we all went there. My uncle (Ranga Mama), my aunt, and my aunt’s sister. And Dawud, and Faldi (what he calls me, since he can’t pronounce ‘Fuldi’  — a cute honorific title that my cousin Maryam had given me, a long time ago. It means ‘flower sister’, and now all my little cousins call me it).

I had been a little tired and overfed, but it was quite nice nonetheless, Alhamdulillah. It was nice to see Jannah Khala (Suto Mami’s sister) after so long. “All of Dawud’s favourite people are here now!” Suto Mami remarked (and this made my day).

When we got there: my aunts whom I had not seen for ages greeted me so very lovingly. Shibu Khala, Jeba Khala, Babli Khala, Koli Khala. And the ‘young adults’: Moosa, Maryam, Ibby (Ibrahim), Jammy (Jamilah), Lia, Kayaan. And the kids: Ayat, Shayan, Jinaan, Hana, Milly (Amelia), Dalia and Daneen. All helping out on the stall.

The last time I had seen everyone had been at a family wedding, (Sunia Khala’s) two years ago. Two years ago. The kids have all grown up and changed – developed – so much. The babies of back then are no longer babies. But, in such an interesting way, each of their essences remain, quite beautifully, the same. Their cheeky and insanely adorable smiles, and/or their quiet, contemplative, headstrong natures. Ibby and Moosa are pretty much exactly the same as one another, as I discovered yesterday: they kept bursting out into laughter for no good reason, exchanging side-spuds, finding it hilarious that Ibby (who is half-Arab) is ‘more Bengali’ than I am (because ‘Bengali banter’ and I would appear to simply not go very well with each other).

These are members of my ‘Arhaam’: the daughters’ daughters, and also their daughters, of my great-grandmother (who passed away in 2016, I think it had been) Bibi Noor. She had lived with her son – and his seven daughters – in a big house in Shadwell. Quite a nucleic home, it had been, frequented by various family members, so much of the time. The kids, all upstairs. The adults, all downstairs. The classic Nutella sandwiches as snacks. Big vats of rice and curry made for everyone: the hustle and bustle. Mayhem and fun. All these relatives of mine had been such a welcome part of my childhood, Alhamdulillah: something that I, the only child from the very quiet household, very much needed, actually.

I feel close to these people in a special way. In a, ‘Allah-has-decreed-for-you-and-I-to-be-of-this-same-clan’ way. And, yet, I have felt a little far away, too. Like back when school had been my foremost priority. GCSEs had been all-consuming, for me, but then I got to see everybody over the summer, what with Sweetie’s wedding. All the preparations that had come along with it; all the gatherings. The time of my life that had (on an academic/professional-structural-level) been about A-levels, for me, had been, overall, quite an alienating experience. Extraordinarily stressful: personal struggles with academic perfectionism, may-haps. The pressure I had put on myself to ‘do’ so much. How many family gatherings I had missed, for the sake of exams. Exhaustion. And other familial, and (otherwise) personal things.

I had been conditioned, and yes I had also conditioned myself, to view exams and ‘work’ as being, perhaps, the foremost parts of life. As a result, maybe, things frayed, and things were hard. But, over time, my way of viewing things developed.

Allah comes first, and what He has commanded for me, and what He has told me is good for me. Family: my Qurbaa, including friends. Or, soul sisters (and one Mortal Enemy, for good measure). And anything else I do is only good insomuch as it is good for my Deen, and for them, and for me. Any other recipe for ‘success’ and contentment, in this life, is, to me, woefully illusive.

So, post-A-level-alienation, and amid a lockdown-warranting pandemic (which has truly forced and facilitated, Alhamdulillah, my ‘looking inwards’  — including, at the portions of Dunya which are actually mine. Home and such) I find myself here. For Suhoor, last night (this morning) I had two marshmallow-and-strawberry skewers (dipped in chocolate) from the dessert stall: one, I had paid for. And one, Koli Khala had insisted on my taking for free.

ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَالَمِينَ.

I spent yesterday evening shivering awkwardly, in the cold. Talking to Dawud, and then to (three-year-old) Dalia. Dalia is, Masha Allah Allahummabārik, one of the cutest kids I have ever come across. We had a long conversation together, about how her red drink is making her tongue all red. And how her favourite colour is green. “Green?!”

She has this way of nodding her head once and, with excitement, saying, “Yeaah!” as if you are meant to already know these things.

Some very funny things took place, yesterday, also. Me mistaking a Niqabi helper at the stall for one of my cousins.

“Is that Jammy?!”

“No”

Getting a chocolate skewer for Milly. Her older sister asked her if she even knows who I am. “No,” she said, turning around to look at me again, with a smile. “But thank you!”

Shayan, quiet and reflective. Worrying over how well his side of the stall was doing. Carries around him an air that is quite… noble-seeming, for his age. And seems to really consider what he is about to say, before he says it. Ayat and Jinaan, the clever girls (Masha Allah). The former: decisive, strong-willed. The latter: gentler, more easygoing.

Shibu Khala going for a little cruise, in her Jilbāb, (outside the mosque, at midnight). Oh, and on a mobility scooter, no less, which had been donated to the charity, for auction. Everybody around her almost shrieking with laughter. The strangest thought: Shibu Khala’s siblings refer to her as their ‘Fuldi’. She is currently in her mid-thirties. What am I going to be like (Insha Allah) as my cousin-siblings’ Fuldi, in my mid-thirties?!

Moosa picking Kayaan up to make a human flag out of him, on a lamppost. Koli Khala taking Dawud for a drive around the block, in her BMW [he loves cars so much. That one cruise might just make him love her forever].

Everybody has some sort of role, here. What’s mine? In big social settings like these, I do tend to be relatively quieter. I prefer my one-on-one conversations; it feels more comfortable for me to be a bit of a wallflower in larger settings. And, still, I belong. Even with my fears about myself (am I being too awkward? Too strange?) I should be thoroughly, thoroughly grateful that these people are of me, and I, too, am of them. I look so forward to future family events and such. Carving out my own role, more, in these things: I am no longer only an extension of my parents. But I have things from him, and things from her. I have things of them, too. And I bring something to them (I hope, at least,) also.

I have pretty much always sought to better understand myself, I suppose. But the truth, as I have found it, is that we are not ‘independent’ beings. We require our Qurbaa around us, always, as people to love, and be loved by; as mirrors to tell us whom we are, and whom we are trying to be, and all the rest of it.

I love the ways through which Allah teaches us things, and how things happen. Even if things are difficult – maybe even extremely so, for some times at a time: the darknesses are known only to push the light into greater relief.

On our way back home from the dessert stand yesterday (or, was it on the way there? My short-term memory tends to be terrible) my uncle shared with me some lines of poetry he had come up with, a while ago:

“Too fine

Are the perfect lines

Of the human mind

To comprehend the rugged canvases

Of all these plans Divine”

[I forgot what the last parts had actually been, so I invented a new final line]

I had found out about this little event (which basically turned into a big – and, yet, little, when compared to the vastness, Masha Allah, of our tribe – family reunion) because: I work in Whitechapel. I tend to go to the local Tesco to get things, here and there. A few weeks ago, I went there and bumped into Jeba Khala. I had not seen her in… maybe two years. She lives miles away, but, as it had turned out, she had acquired a job at the local Human Aid office (alongside her two other ones: Hijāmah – cupping – and doing research at a lab, Allahummabārik). We exchanged numbers. I saw the details re the stall, on her WhatsApp status. Found out Moosa was going. Found out Ranga Mama, Suto Mami and Dawud were going, too. Alhamdulillah.

Too fine are the lines of my mind, Subhan Allah. These beautiful things are not in my hands. Nothing, and nobody, is ‘perfect’, here, although certain presentations of ‘super-normal’ realities may delude us into thinking so. But those things are only distractions.

I wonder about those things that are, [at present,] beyond my comprehension. I know that they are there, but I do not, [at present,] know them. Mad.

I so wonder about the capacities to which I will get to know all these gorgeous family members; how my friendships will develop over time, too. Whether or not I get married, in this lifetime. Whom I marry. What our future homes will look like. How this family, and the individual families it is comprised of, will grow larger, grow smaller over time. New additions to love: through marriages, through births. And, beloved members to know we have loved: to mourn over, and also to count on our eventual reunions with, Insha Allah.

I know that, if I Believe, then I believe in the beauty – sometimes aching, sometimes joy-infused – of all of these things. Past, and present, and (the present moments that will make up the) future.

And Perfectly, though not-always-so-neatly-comprehensibly, are Drawn all of these lines. What is ours is ours. May we meet them so very beautifully, each and every time. And may we know how to love them most truly, and most ardently.

Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Tradition and ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Pictured: Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

‘Appropriation’. The term refers to taking something for one’s own use, usually without first obtaining permission from whomever the thing in question ‘belongs’ to.

Recently, on Twitter, the conversation surrounding the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ would appear to have been re-ignited: this time, from certain (online-presented) corners of the Muslim world. White reverts* being accused of the crime, as a result of, for example, wearing thobes to the masjid.

            These are just my own personal views on the subject, but frankly I think that such accusations are absurd. I find it especially uncomfortable – ridiculous – that some individuals are childish enough to treat individual white people as though they are guilty for some of their ancestors’, perhaps, misdeeds.

Firstly, in Islam, we are reminded (through the words of the Qur’an) that those who have lived and passed on have lived and passed on: the people who are alive today “will not be asked about what they used to do.”

“That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.” [Qur’an, (2:141)]

Accusing somebody of ‘fetishising’ a ‘culture’, because they have donned a scarf or a dress or a coat or something that tends to be associated with that ‘culture’ is quite unfair, and it would appear to be rooted in a mentality that is quite… ahistorical. This attempted ‘reification’ of culture; this (quite modern) idea that ‘nations’ and ‘cultures’ are these solid, solidly consistent, entities. That these food items, artistic tendencies, clothing styles ‘belong’ to these cultures; those ones ‘belong’ to those.

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” [Qur’an, (49:13)]

There is a clear difference between mocking what is associated with a group of people, and with appreciating something that may be common among them. ‘Blackface’ belongs to the former category. A white revert wearing a Moroccan-style thobe… is, most likely, of the latter.

The Muslim idea is that every human being in existence had been born of, by Allah’s decree, a single male, and a single female: Adam and Eve. Every single group of people – every nation, every tribe – had eventuated as a result of this primal partnership. We were made into various “nations and tribes”, in order to recognise one another; in order to learn from one another; in order to interact and converse with one another.

In conversations between people, we become inspired by what others do. We learn from them. We often proceed to (sometimes subconsciously) imitate what we like, of them. Some of the things they may say; some of the ‘life hacks’ that they may swear by; some elements of their clothing styles.

And this phenomenon of conversation and exchange is precisely what takes place on the macro level, also. Like the way that ‘Karak chai’ – a cardamom tea beverage that is extremely popular across the Arab world – had come about as a result of South Asian expats drinking their masala chai in the Khaleeji nations. ‘Vimto’, also, a drink commonly associated with ‘Pakistani culture’, apparently (as I learned this week) had actually originated in Manchester, England. What we, here in the West, refer to as night robes (or, as ‘housecoats’) had actually been inspired by robes that are commonly worn in ‘East Asian cultures’. Things – and new styles, developed ways of doing things – come about as a result of being inspired by other things; through people’s, and nations’, and tribes’, interactions with one another.

The vast collection of stories that make up human history. Some of these subtle tales find themselves woven into our languages. Another random example: the word ‘camiseta’ in Spanish, which means ‘shirt’. ‘Shirt’ in Arabic is ‘قميص’ (‘qamees’). In Urdu, one of the words for ‘shirt’ is ‘kameez’. And then, in Bengali, we also say ‘kameez’. Fascinatingly, the word ‘camisia’ is ‘shirt’ in Late Latin. Awesome sauce. The links between parts of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Nations and tribes, getting to know one another: through trade, through friendships, through marriage, (through bloody wars). Taking on the things they have liked, of one another.

Tea, also. Tea ‘is’ Indian, and it is Chinese. British, and Arab. ‘Tea’ is ‘té’ en español, ‘te’ in Danish, and ‘tee’ in Afrikaans. ‘Chai’ in Hindi; ‘shai’ in Arabic; ‘cha’ (or ‘sa’) in Bangla; ‘tsaa’ in Tagalog. The result of different nations and tribes, coming to know [parts of] one another. Sharing tea; sharing words, and more.

Am I ‘appropriating’ – taking something that is not mine, and without permission from whomever it ‘belongs’ to, if, say, I wear the clothes I had bought while on holiday in Turkey? Am I ‘appropriating’ if I enjoy some mint tea in a ‘Moroccan-style’ cup? What if I had a bag with some Japanese floral artwork on it? If no, then would the rules have to somehow be different for me, if, say, I were white?

Is ‘cultural appropriation’ only a thing of clothes? Or is it meant to extend to other things – like food, recreational activities and art – also?

Human personalities are certainly not solid, reified entities that are set in stone. As time goes on, we are ever-changing, ever-learning and -developing. The same thing is true for what humans are on larger scales: nations, tribes, societies, ‘cultures’.

Identities are living, breathing things, almost. [‘Culture’ is defined as ‘the complete way of life of a particular group of people’, and so therefore:] Our ‘cultures’: micro (e.g. the nuclear families that we belong to) and macro (e.g. ‘Desi culture’). We are theirs, and they are ours, and none of it is set in stone! We, past and present (and ‘future’) are constantly in active conversation with, affecting, one another.

I know that I, for instance, as a second-generation Bengali (Sylheti) immigrant, here in East London do not speak, nor think, nor even eat, the same (things) as my grandmother does. So what is ‘Bengali culture’, then? Well, it is my lived – living – experience, and it is also her own; it is millions of others’, too. It is the age-old traditions that we accept and follow, and it is also the things we change, and/or introduce, as a result of our interactions, our conversations, with various other people(s).

What is important, for us, is our conscious adherence to Objective Morality. Everything else is not really set in stone. There is so much room for discovery, and for creativity, and for individuality; for learning, inspiration, and development. [Islam is not ‘the Arab man’s religion’. You can keep whatever is yours, granted it fits into Islam’s moral frameworks, and be 100% Muslim. If you are a revert, you can keep your name, also!]

Some white British Muslims, perhaps, like to wear thobes sometimes, and classic tweed jackets at other times. Some Bengalis love the taste of ‘Korean-style’ chicken; find it so fascinating that some Bengalis have the (generally-associated-with-Portuguese-people) surname ‘Pereira’, as a result of certain historical interactions between the two places, and so on.

Tres cool, tres cool indeed. And instead of closing our eyes to these truths, and defensively seeking to present our identities as being solid, untouchable entities that somehow ‘belong’ to us and only us (probably out of insecurity, fear of losing them, somehow), perhaps we ought to act more in line with our belief that… everything in existence is from Allah. Some things we do, we have learnt from what our ancestors have done, perhaps for centuries. And some things we do are newer.

(So let the man wear his jubbah and Converses to the masjid in peace!)

“This story has not happened before. […]

Let the future begin.

Anne Carson

*We tend to use the term ‘revert’ to describe people who have come to Islam from other faiths. This is because we believe that every human being is born upon Fitrah – the innate disposition – naturally, as a Pure Monotheist.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Belonging

“I’m not entirely sure if I feel like I ‘belong’,” she wrote. “And I’m not sure if I really… ever have.”

And maybe there is value in this. To ‘belong’, in the most common sense of the word, perhaps, might mean: to take for granted. One’s given, established, place[s] in the world. Easy acceptance: when people know to, and are easily able to, hold a space for you. “These are my people. This is my place.

And I (effortlessly) belong, here: there is no doubt about it.”

Does ‘belonging’ necessarily imply an effortless ‘conformity’, a seamless, frictionless ‘fitting in’? Or… is it more about that sense of… comfort of being — that sort that makes it easier to ‘be (more fully) oneself’, and to organically bloom?

To ‘belong’, maybe, feels like having a space held for you. And you are able to fill it as though you were made to do so. Niches, maybe, in family units; clubs and such, at school. Whom are you with, when you feel more ‘real’ and realistically appreciated; like you ‘belong’?

It is about some things being the same, between you, and another person (or another place). And it is about a process of carving out: about some things being different, challenging, bringing something to the whole experience, which feels more than solely comfort. At once, deep comfort and challenge; Home and Adventure. To be deeply affected by certain people, and places.

Like it was – or they were – made for you, and you were made for it (or, them). You bring something to them; they bring things, also, to you: there is much to learn, and, perhaps even without our conscious forethought, there is much to teach, also.

Always, always, always: we are affecting, and we are being affected.

I suppose I ought not to confuse this sense of ‘belonging’ that I seem to have deemed to be desirable, with only a sort of feet-up, cushions-everywhere feeling of comfort (and stagnation). Like: yes, this is your space, your place. You are so thoroughly ‘Enough’, for it, and More. It is perfectly yours, and you fit into your surroundings ‘perfectly’.

Such a sense of comfort does sound nice. But is it not better to also maybe ‘stick out’ a little, so that we can seek to bring something to the table? A couple of flowers in a rose-tinged vase; a handful of nice napkins, emerald green; a somewhat hodgepodge-y mixture of quaint-looking cutlery. You belong to each and every place, in this world, which you inhabit. And you bring things, whether you know it or not, to each person, and to each place, you come to meet. Why? Merely because you are there, as you are. Masha Allah. Which literally means: as God has willed.

The family you have belonged to: mum’s side, and dad’s. You belong within both: Masha Allah. Your neighbourhood. You belong: Masha Allah. The schools you have attended; where you have worked, and/or where you will work. A hundred percent: sin duda, you belong. Because Masha Allah!

‘Belonging’ is not necessarily about sharing the exact same attitudes, inclinations, preferences and such as your surroundings. Without a doubt, Allah has created you as an individual (who is part of greater things), complete with your countless particularities. Maybe you don’t quite see them all of the time. But, you know:

The way you sit, by yourself, in the same spot, over and over again, with the cat on your lap, to play your games and watch YouTube videos about them (somehow at the same time) and scream at me to “StoooOOooP” if I dare even come within a metre of your space [Saif]. The way you encourage me so very much with my endeavours to ‘eat healthily’, the lovingly over-the-top words of positivity and affirmation; the beams and laughter with which you greet me, no matter what [Nanu]. I have always loved that I look forward to our walks together like nothing else: they are always so subtly life-changing, so filled with something quite (quietly) untouchably beautiful; so coloured with that unmatchable attitude of mature-immaturity,

Belonging, complete with all of its silently significant changes, over time, and with its wonderful continuities [Tammay]. I love that I feel like I can call you any time, or pen you a letter, about whatever fragment of idiocy I feel the urge to discuss with you this time [Miss Twin]. I love it so much when – and that – you have things to tell, to share, with me, specifically. Out of everyone else in the world, Allah has chosen for us, specifically, to belong, in these particular ways, to one another! As my brother; as my beloved friend; as my cousins; students; aunts and uncles; grandma. And I, as your sister/friend/cousin/teacher/niece/granddaughter, also. [Extraordinarily cool beans].

To quote the Moana song:

I know,

Every-body on this island

Has a – role, on this island:

Everything is by design.

[and if you didn’t sing that in your head, while reading, then I really do not know for you]

‘Belonging’ can sometimes feel like a difficult thing to have/feel. That unique, rare (augmented-in-value-by-its-rarity) acceptance – love – for exactly, and entirely, whom you are, and as you are: (more than) the sum of all your parts. How you (here, specifically, I mean I) sometimes foolishly trip over inanimate objects… and then reflexively proceed to apologise to them. Your terribly awkward social experiences (yikes!) but… they tend to end up making for good stories (once the embarrassment subsides, at least,) no?

We: past, present, and whom we are, individually and together, (Insha Allah) always growing into. Maybe you… are known to become anxious, sometimes, and go on to ‘people-please’. Maybe you always need for someone to interact with the shopkeeper for you. Maybe your mood sometimes dips markedly, perhaps, from sunny skies, to the deepest of greys. Maybe you blurt out the wrong thing, sometimes, at the wrong times. You tend to reflexively cover your mouth, whenever you laugh; have a phobia (complete with its own interesting backstory) of red meat. Maybe, you are known to go completely quiet, and for lengthy periods, sometimes. Are struggling, perhaps, with being a responsible big brother. Who knows (but Allah, and you yourself, and the people whom you trust the most)? There are some things – parts of ourselves – which we are sometimes a little afraid to share. But know that it has been Divinely Intentional: the exact way that Allah has fashioned your being, and the very way in which others’ (people and places, that is) beings are meant to be, with and beside yours. From the precise colours of your eyes to whether you prefer the summery season, or her opposite; your favourite Meal Deal combinations from Tesco; your unique passions: the things that, quite evidently, seem to set your very mind on fire. The inside jokes you share with one another, and how much can change, quite evidently, in all but a year. And every single quiet, mundanely important thing in-between.

Do you sometimes wonder if you would, perhaps, ‘belong’ better, someplace, sometime else?

Well, what utter Hogwash! [It is Hagrid who says that, right?] Having, perhaps, practical clones of ourselves around us might assist us, somehow, on the feeling-completely-and-effortlessly-affirmed front. But we require challenge, don’t we, (to make things exciting, and) in order to learn things, and to grow. There are these entireties of we to get to know, and develop — in contrast, and in interaction and conversation with every single thing, person, and place, which and whom has been Divinely ordained both for us to (in a particular capacity) belong to, and for them to belong to us, also. These very realities are what is ours: past, present, and future; there is nothing ‘better’, out there, for us: this, and these, are what have been Chosen.

I am I, and they are they, and we are in conversation with each another, affecting one another. And these places and these people: they come to form, whether in memory or in present presence, inextricable parts of our beings.

And with every single beat that our hearts make, beautifully and with Divine Plan in mind, whomever we may be, and wherever/whenever we may be, upon these Dunya-based journeys of ours:

We belong, we belong, we belong.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.