Maybe she’s born with it

Our genes. Those basic units of heredity of ours; the segments of our DNA that inform – or, determine – our characteristics. The knowledge that we are these moving, thinking, breathing human beings – with so much going on within us, maintained via the presence of roughly thirty trillion cells (!!!), innate forms of information, and communication between all these microscopic parts. Mind-blowingly fantastic, amazing.

A while ago, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘Three Identical Strangers’, and it is safe to say that its contents – the topics explored through it – blew my mind; I would strongly recommend it to anybody who is even vaguely interested in psychology.

The documentary is centred on the story of three identical triplets who had been separated at birth, and who had been adopted into three different families. So, they had been practically the same on the ‘nature’ front, but brought up within three distinctly different household-types, of different social classes and such — and so, they had ended up being quite unalike on the ‘nurture’ front.

This had been a real-life occurrence; not something plucked from some work of fiction:

Nineteen years after being separated at birth, two of the three biological brothers meet, by ‘chance’, at university. One of them walks in, as a new student; his fellow students are already acting awfully familiar with him. He wonders why. Turns out, there is another student at the university, who looks just the same as him, and whom he is now being mistaken for. [Once again, I would truly recommend watching the documentary, for the details of the triplets’ story, and for more about… the experiment they later discovered they had furtively been made a part of, from birth. An absolutely astonishing story, which had given rise to a number of fascinating findings and resulting questions…]

The young men discover that they are indeed twins; later discover that there is a third brother: they are a trio. They looked pretty much the same: almost entirely identical facial features; hair type; build. Moreover, the brothers discover that they exhibit very similar behavioural characteristics too (in terms of ways of walking, of sitting, and such); they favour the same brand of cigarette; they even have the same ‘type’ (the same ‘taste’ in women)!

Tragically, one of the brothers eventually ended up taking his own life, after a battle with bipolar disorder, the actualisation of which had been pinned to social/environmental factors: namely, the man’s difficult relationship with his own (adoptive) father.

But I guess what I am trying to express, in this particular article, is how awesome it is, that we have, within us, these forms of innate knowledge, and how elusive the answers to these questions about ‘nature’/’nurture’/’autonomy’ really are.

We operate on information that is in-built, pre-existing, and here we are, as experiencers. We did not get to choose the colours of our skins; the texture of our hair. We did not choose whom we had been born to; whom we are connected to ‘by blood’. All of those ‘bigger’ things. And… so many of the ‘smaller’ ones, too.

Last year, I decided to purchase a ’23andMe’ test for myself. To find out more about my genetic predispositions, and also after years of being asked,

“Where are you from?”

“Oh, where’s that?”

“Oh, but you look Moroccan/Mauritian/Pakistani…”

Within my immediate-extended family, some of us look more ‘South Indian’, while others look more ‘Northern Indian’. Some look more Turkish, North African, Persian. The list goes on. For example, one of my first cousins and I attended the same primary and secondary schools together. We’d mostly been in the same classes, but nobody really ever suspected that we were cousins, or even that we had been ‘from’ the same country, until we told them so. People assumed he was Algerian or something, and some people guessed correctly that I’m Bengali, while others insisted that I look like I’m from “somewhere else”. [“Where, though?” “I don’t know. Just… somewhere else”]

I wanted to find out more about the story of my ancestry: about the people who had come before me.

Outside of my familial circle (which is actually so huge that we could probably easily populate a small country) some of my friends who are Bengali look quite like they could be Malaysian; some look more European; some look more Arab.

From what I know, on my mother’s side, my great-great-great-great (with eight ‘greats’ in total, I believe) grandfather had been from Yemen. Other than that, ‘we’ are from the Bengal region in India – a large fraction of which became ‘Bangladesh’ (literally, ‘Land of the Bengals’) in 1971, when the region declared its independence from Pakistan.

According to ’23andMe’, modern-day Bengalis are mostly the descendants of Central Asians who had migrated southwards, roughly four thousand years ago. Bangladesh is also bordered, on one side, by Nepal – which forms a sort of ‘bridge region’ between ourselves and China. It has (or, should I say, ‘we’ have?) been under Mughal – so, Turco-Mongol – rule, and under British colonial rule, in the past.

I never really realised how alike Bengali ‘culture’ is, with Nepali ‘culture’ until I met one of my cousins’ friends, at my uncle’s wedding. Language, ‘cultural dress’, food. Extremely similar. [Also, I’ve used inverted commas around ‘culture’ because this word seeks to describe the entire way of life of a particular group of people. But, of course, ‘culture’ is never really static, not really reified — but it is useful when it comes to describing what might ‘generally’ be the case].

From reading about my own genetic analysis results, I learned that, in addition to the ‘big’ things that are genetically determined: hair colour, eye colour, susceptibility towards particular illnesses… many of the ‘smaller’ things are thought to be genetically predetermined too. How likely you are to… be averse to coriander, for instance. Preferring sweet foods, or savoury. Being more of a ‘night owl’ or a ‘morning person’; whether you’re more likely to be a ‘deep sleeper’, or a ‘lighter’ one. Earwax type. Finger length ratio. ‘Asparagus odour detection abilities’.

Maybe she’s born with it: maybe it’s in her genes.

So much of ourselves would appear to be… predetermined. But where does predetermination end; where on Earth does auturgy (acting independently, without external influence) begin?

I know for a fact that my genetic makeup has been greatly affected by the actions, the decisions, of those who had come before me. Migrations, and marriages, and perhaps far, far more than these. Perhaps one of my Yemeni ancestors had developed a real penchant for coffee, and maybe that is why I love it so much, today.

Why do I love the things I love? Why am I who and how I am? Is it just a ‘self’ that I am presented with, which I myself can only ‘discover’ and never actually creatively contribute to?

Maybe it is that we start off with a lot of these things, which are predetermined. Perhaps it is the case that within these given features and factors, we have the ability to act with auturgy.

When you receive the ’23andMe’ testing kit, the box reads, in large print, “Welcome to you.”

You: an alive, breathing, and conscious part of the story of humanity. Our very beginnings. A world to get to know, and to be conversant with; our selves, and other people, too. And every single thing that had to happen to get here, to you. The migrations; the meetings. The language barriers – and the breakthroughs – between Bengali and Arabic perhaps, and then came English.

Selfhood. The journeys of our lives. The innate information that tells us how – and when – to begin. Two cells fuse together; growth occurs. Majestic and precise. The innate knowledge within a woman’s body – cycles, circles – which knew how to nourish you, converting the food your mother ate, into food for you. The capacities we have, to learn. How words – language – sounds from our mouths, and scratches on paper, fit into our minds like puzzle pieces into gaps, ready for them, and waiting.

Our bodies know to begin to decline, too. The forthcoming, the inevitable. We are here for a while, and then we return.

We are not the creators of our own selves; it is not each of the trillions of cells that make us – nor the atoms that make up them – that are sovereign. How do they know what to do? How do we know what to do?

Strangers on an island, we are. We “[discount] all this learnedly”. We “[grow] accustomed to these mysteries and [ignore] them, just as [we ignore] the miraculous throbbing stars.” [William Golding, Lord of the Flies]

It is all just too amazing for words. Subhan Allah.

Also, a free pick-up line to use on your Bengali friends:

“Are you Bengali? Because I think you are… peng…-ali.”


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Puzzle Pieces

It is a bit of a puzzle, at present, and we are working on understanding it. Living life as though it is something we deeply, fundamentally comprehend – and also crucially, dizzyingly don’t. Moving forward, I question what my motivations are;

What they have been; what they will be. It takes an awful lot of trust, sometimes, to do things, and to get on with it. I know, though, that the little things add up – even when you cannot exactly reach out and touch what you have done, or earned, or built.

            Grand puzzle, this, and it is a mystery to all of us. Things are not yet ‘solid’; not lasting: they just flow and flow, continuously, with time. But pardon me [the dramatic hippie in me is speaking, again] none of it is without reason. Trust – Tawakkul – and effort – will get you there, Insha Allah. Even if – and when – you feel absolutely deserted, and lost, at times. The world does not need to witness it how you eventually do, in order for it to be true.

Are you able to find it within yourself, to trust that each individual moment, action, is meaningful,

And that, in due time, Allah will give you, in spite of whatever you may currently hold of human ‘expectation’, better?

[Dear reader: I have faith in you; in everything you have known, and done, and been. In this moment; in the way that time flows. There is Wisdom behind this, too brilliant for our naïve selves to fully be able to comprehend, right (here and) now.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Depression, Collectivism and Care

Dear reader,

Depression. Looking back, I realise I never really understood how common this ailment is. Generally, it does seem as though the signs of it can manifest very differently, between men and women, and between one person and the next.

            ‘Depression’ is a heavy term, which seeks to describe a rather heavy experience. It may be caused by, accompanied by, or intensified by, experiences of stress — financial, academic, interpersonal, existential; rage; hopelessness; fear. A feeling that might mimic… jet-black tar being poured into your very brain.

            Recently, I learned more about how worryingly commonplace it is. Postpartum depression, for instance. An illness that affects so many women – new mothers. Recently, I had a very interesting and insightful conversation on this topic, with someone I know. About her own experiences with postpartum depression. First child. The ‘baby blues’; an encompassing sense of discomfort and restlessness; difficulties with bonding with the child, at first; fatigue… and also insomnia; suicidal ideation. Depression is always deeply difficult, and it is all-encompassing.

            But what had made her experience especially difficult, she told me, had been the following: the (almost-malicious) reluctance from other women, who had been through the very same thing, to be there for her; to help — and to help in a compassionate, no-interrogation-required, sort of way.  

            The most curious thing of all is when fellow women open up about their struggles; explain that they had been through the same things. But then, in subsequent conversations with these same women, they proceed to actively deny it outright. Like they are there for you, one minute: being all ‘present’ and relatable and empathetic. But then, and maybe this is an attempt-to-have-the-‘upper hand’-thing, it is withdrawn. Presence, comfort, empathy and assistance: simply gone with the wind. Enter coldness, lying, and ‘competition’.

            “Postpartum depression? No, never me!”

            “Anxiety and depression? Why is it always ‘anxiety’ with you? Why can’t you think more positively?”

            What can we do to be there for new mothers, or fathers, or students, men or women, old or young, friends and family – anybody who might be facing depression? According to the person I had this conversation with, there had been some people who had insensitively interrogated her; had essentially blamed her for this mental health condition; fled from her, at the very time during which she needed them the most.

            And others were present with her. Shared their own experiences – and some had experienced post-birth depression with each child they had – willingly and honestly. Told her she is not alone; proved this, to her. Took care of her baby, while she got a chance to catch up on some much-missed, much-needed sleep. Some people, when they assist another in their times of need, it is straight-in, caring, no-questions-asked. And others: you guessed it. It is like they need to feel superior; gain some sort of advantage; may remind you of their ‘kindnesses’ long afterwards.

            When I went through major depression myself, I know I too just wanted people to be there for me. And some people really, really were. I felt bad: it must be draining to be in the company of… what I had been like. Lost in my own world; in deep, murky mental waters. I am most thankful for the friends and the family members who were just ‘there’ for me. The particular friend who came round all the time; the cousin who did the same, just to sit and watch movies together. They made me feel cared-for; far less alone.

 During that time, I also really, really just wanted to know that others had been through the same – or a similar – thing, and that there was a possibility that I could make it out alive, and okay.

            If you are going through depression right now, I can promise you that it is possible to make it out of this alive, and okay. It may necessitate quite a lot of patience – Sabr – though, and some effort.

            It may feel like the whole world is just carrying on – exactly as it does – and there you are, trapped. Stagnant, and suffering. And so alone, and how on Earth could this ever get better?

And aren’t we all just meant to pretend? That we are men – stoic and ‘strong’ – and women: ‘faultless’ and put-together, and surely depression only affects those of us who… lack willpower? Lack mental strength and resilience? Do not exercise a ‘positive outlook on life’?

Depression is not a personal failure, and between ourselves and others, there is no fair comparison at all. Depression is very real. It affects more people than we might be aware of. From the ‘class clown’ who would always appear to be smiling, to the high-achieving student, to the gym-obsessed lad.

            In Islam, we believe that all of life, ultimately, is a test. And so, if, for instance, someone were to open up to you about their depression, what would you do? Be there for them, or turn away from them?

            Treat them with empathy and compassion, as true as you can manage, or… turn your nose up at them and affect superiority?

            When talking about depression, I really think we must also talk about loneliness. So many of us feel lonely. Even when surrounded by people.

            I do not want to ‘blame’ the schooling system here, but for example, I, personally, noticed that my social connections began to become drastically, terribly frayed as and whenever school became more intense and demanding. Like my personal studies – work, and work-related pursuits – had been fighting to become all there really ‘is’, and the most valuable thing of all, in my mind.

Plot twist: it is not. ‘Work’ and my academic and professional pursuits only augment my life where they are good for me. Rooted in purpose, and not in burdensome immoderation; not when I am perpetually feeling alone and like I am not good enough, and like I must be fundamentally in conflict with my own self in order to be ‘successful’.

            Individualism. Racing after; chasing personal goals, and sometimes sacrificing all that we are, and have, in order to get there. This time in my life has sort of made me fundamentally reframe things; giving the most valuable things their due value in my life. These things are tremendously ‘fruitful’ and worthwhile for and to me, though they are not ‘economically productive’. I don’t think the most valuable things are particularly ‘quantifiable’; we are known to seek undue amounts of worth, purpose, meaning, community, and self-definition, through work, almost exclusively. Like everything else comes only secondary to it. This leads to that detrimental cycle of focusing primarily on ‘work’ in order to seek to compensate for those other things we may be lacking and seeking; this primary focus on ‘work’ holding a monopoly over our time, and efforts, and energies, altogether necessarily takes away from what we are able to organically ‘invest’ in our families and communities; the structures that are actually able to organically love us back.

            When my cousin wants to speak to me about how much she loves Ariana Grande, that is probably more important than I can, at present, realise. Understanding the Qur’an better: that is also very important. Purpose, and ‘goodness’ and community: these things are profoundly, unavoidably, important. A strong, love-bonded community: there for us when times are somewhat ‘good’, and there for us when times are more difficult, too.

            Good, supportive relationships; honesty, presence, consistency, and community. If we stoop down and build, then they will come, Insha Allah.

I think that, ultimately, Deen and collectivism – taking care of our relationships with Allah and with and of other people – are the most important things. But also, when we commit ourselves to making these very things our priority: know that Allah, Al-Razzaq, takes great care of us, too.

Whoever helps ease one in difficulty, Allah will make it easy for him in this world and in the Hereafter.” [Sahih Hadith]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

“Human beings are stupid. We’re a stupid species”

Another gem from Shaykh HY. Ultimately, the human intellect is what separates us from animals: how we are able to reason, and seek knowledge, and understand. Discern, discriminate, and ultimately choose.

[And this, dear wonderful readers, is precisely why I really need to cut down on how much chicken biryani I am known to consume — nay, devour. If someone can give me the recipe for a really great vegan alternative to chicken biryani (the actual love of my life) I will forever be indebted to thee]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Respect’

Do you ever experience a day – or a series of them, perhaps – during which things feel a little… weird? Like the things that still need to get done have really overcome you: swimming around, here, all around you. And it just feels a little… like you are running some race that seems like it cannot really be won.

And in this world, there are diseases. And darknesses. And difficult people, who fill others’ hearts with dread. And you might long for justice; for those bruises to hurry up already, and to grow into something beautiful.

And time moves, all dreary-swift, almost without our noticing. Though sometimes, once in a while, it might hit you that five years ago had been half an entire decade ago. That there are only ten decades in a century;

what sort of version of this world are we going to come to meet, in those days before we leave here? I so wonder what will matter to me, then.

I think, maybe, many of these notions of ‘respectability’ that we have swallowed like necessary pills – and which we have internalised, feel we simply cannot do without – oft feel a little cheap, to me. There are they, the mighty and ‘established’, attempting to tower over fellow human beings. On account of what, exactly? Money? Knowledge? ‘Taste’, ‘culture’, ‘style’?

But we find that there is no fulfilling replacement for sheer, unaffected love.

Yes: I think I ought to appreciate, for example, the validations of children, far more so than those of those particular adults who find themselves, rather tragically, lacking what may speak of authentic kindness; human humility – that sense of acceptance of what it is we truly are; imagination, encouragement, optimism.

A continual race to some sort of ‘top’. Maybe, most likely, to earn and to ‘still deserve’ the respect of people I do not really, myself, think I respect. I mean, I can respect them as people: being a human being – a child of Adam – is what it takes, to be a being of worth.  

I realise, now (though, yes, it is still rather hard to fully ground myself in this understanding) that it will necessarily be difficult to stop directing my pursuits towards what other people might deem ‘best’ for me; the ‘best’ routes to take, and things to do. I do know, by now, that certain environments suit me, while others simply do not. And that other people do have all sorts of ideas and fancies and… unrealised expectations with regard to what constitutes a (in Dunya terms) ‘good life’, which are often projected onto us.

People are quick to criticise what they are ignorant of; what they do not understand. And we are also quick to idealise, from afar, realities that are not ours.

            Subhan Allah, though: the ways through which Allah helps us to understand things better. The other day [insert that meme, here, about how when I say ‘the other day’, I could be referring to any day between yesterday, and the day I was born] I had to call up my brother’s school, since we had lost his online-school login details. [The previous day, we had gone on a little storage-clearing spree – and ended up also wiping his internet history, including saved passwords – because brother mine had been eager to download Fortnite on his laptop.]

            My brother currently attends the same primary school that I had attended. And the receptionist who picked up the phone is the same receptionist I had known, throughout my time at the school. She still remembers me; she had also been a learning assistant to our class, in Year Two. A decade after my having left that school, during this phone conversation, the receptionist asked me what I am getting up to. I told her about my current job. She said she could really picture me as a teacher [it always means so much, doesn’t it, when people who know, or have known, you well tell you this] but also added that she always thought I’d do something “big”; something ‘more’, with my life. Something political, perhaps, on account of how “outspoken” and academic I had been.

I completely understand this way of looking at things. ‘Ambition’. Having goals; progressing, moving forward. And I am only twenty years old. Very happy with where I am, Alhamdulillah, and also not at all keen on the idea of staying in one place and doing the precisely same thing, my entire life. I explained to the receptionist that I thought I would like the world of politics too, at one point. I took part in local (council) politics, and met with a local MP, to learn more about her life. But in the end, I decided that this – as well as the many other options I had looked into, including commercial journalism and even investment banking – do not suit me, and I do not think I suit them.

The receptionist also told me that she, too, had been presented with the option to take a ‘higher’ job – further up the career-based hierarchy. But ultimately, she had refused it. For a number of different personal reasons. ‘More’ in one sense is not necessarily always best for everyone, in terms of the holistic picture.

I guess what I have been struggling with quite a lot – and I know that many Desi women struggle on a similar front: developing a lifestyle that is best for ourselves, in line with our own values and priorities. And having to hear, over and over again, from people who may (claim to) fundamentally disagree with it. We come to deeply internalise this sense of guilt. And, yes, we are meant to listen with open ears, for what the authoritative ‘aunties’ and such are saying. Wise, wise women they must be. Always knowing what is ‘best’ for us, and all. Insulting, and degrading, and always looking for something they can ‘find’ and fault. To truly, truly bring you down. How else would they manage to sit on a seat that feels, to them, ‘higher’?

I know that, the way I am living my life, currently, and the way I hope to live my life in the future: not everybody ‘agrees’ with it. Not everybody would want such a life for themselves. People want different things; enjoy different things. And this is okay, so long as we can learn to respect different people, and their choices.  

I would not want the life you have chosen, for my own self. But I have no right at all to comment negatively on it, nor to make you feel bad. I am not living your reality – our values, priorities, and ultimate outlooks might be profoundly dissimilar – and you are also not living mine. And I find I cannot bring myself to reject what I know I truly want for myself, in favour of creating some version of things that is neatly packagable and explicable to scrutinising eyes.

Take, for example, the eyes of the man (a distant family member) I met at – get this – a family funeral. I had been sitting there, minding my own business, when he came up to me to ask, in quite a demanding tone, “What are you doing?”

“Nothing, really,” had been my response. I was slightly alarmed: although I had heard of this person before, I do believe this had been my first time meeting him in person.

“No,” he meant, what I had been doing with my life.

“Oh,” I understood. I began to tell him, still slightly taken aback by the fact that this entire conversation had not even been prefaced with a “hello”.

He looked at me with disapproving eyes. “Oh, you mean… you’re doing an apprenticeship?!”

It felt very much like a strange, unwarranted telling-off, of sorts.

“No –” I tried to explain. He proceeded to speak, at length, about how, well, his own children are at university, and how they have also made strides in terms of Qur’anic memorisation. I said, “Masha Allah,” but still felt awfully uncomfortable. A) funeral setting. B) No “hello”. No semblance of any real human connection established. Just cornered by a near-stranger, in strange conversation. C) kind of, sort of rude. D) …okay…?

I guess I just cannot wait to be forty-years-old or something – when it will be a little more socially acceptable for me to respond to incidents like this one with questions like, “In your eyes, what do you think… the purpose of this conversation might be?”

Because such interactions are certainly not uncommon. A second example: last year, during an Über journey, the driver – a Bengali uncle – asked me what I am currently ‘doing’. I explained that I had chosen to take a gap year. He asked why. Sternly. I said, because I really struggled with my mental health. He said, with such self-conviction, that I should have just carried on; my gap year had been a bad idea. ‘Mental health’ is just an excuse. Yes, because clearly, with the fare for this twenty-minute journey, I had also paid for a stranger to become my father, and he knew me so well.

I guess I did not want to be rude. So I just tried to ‘explain’ a little, but mostly just listened. I really want to locate that perfect balance between being strong, without being rude, and being kind, without letting others assume undue ‘authority’ over me, which might resemble gaping disrespect. Muhammad (SAW) was probably somebody who had managed to master this skill; I really want to know more about how he dealt with such things.

A big part of it is likely: truly understanding, and remembering, that others’ perceptions are just… others’ perceptions. One can take what might be good, useful, from what they say. And leave the rest. [Another key Prophetic character trait]. Through my own way of viewing things, I perceive such intrusive comments as being indicative of ignorance and insensitivity. And Allah does instruct us, in the Qur’an, to respond to words of ignorance with [words of] peace. This is certainly something I hope to get better at, Insha Allah.

I know what matters to me. A key question, though, moving forward ought to be: can I develop and love my own lifestyle so much, that my love for it is enough to look upon words and attitudes of disapproval and criticism as being, for the most part, empty and unimportant? These ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ look down on women who do not work as professionals – and whose children would appear to enjoy uniquely deep bonds with them, on account of the benefit of their mother’s greater sense of presence in their lives – and they also look down on the women who do – their accomplishments and such suddenly become ‘unimportant’. With the human being, there are always decisions we must make. We necessarily forego certain options, when choosing others. Limited resources; decisions must be made. We cannot do it ‘all’; certainly cannot do it ‘all’, ‘perfectly’. And nor should we ever feel expected to.

I must say, as a human being, I do need positive validation. Everybody does. But I think I should deeply value validation from those whom I truly, authentically respect. And the litmus test for this – whom I truly, authentically respect, that is – is: who would I want to be more like? What are my ideas of success, and do these people fit into it? Would I want for my brother to be like this person?

Who are they? What are they saying? Why might they be saying it? Why should it mean something, to you?

Off the top of my head: the people I have the most respect for are… the woman with the such-kind smile, who went around telling other women how beautiful she thought we looked, at her own wedding! My uncle who, as I recently found out, did something pretty amazing a few years ago, but never really made a big deal out of it. It seemed like he had just been so secure in his life decisions that the praises or the criticisms of the Bengali masses had seemed a little meaningless in contrast.

I thoroughly respect someone I know who treats everybody – including little children – as though they, each of them, might just be the most important person in the world, even when he might think that no fellow human being is watching. The woman for whom everyone’s views really seem to matter; just the way in which she speaks. She is a colleague of mine, actually, who has been recognised by Ofsted as being an outstanding teacher. Her students seem to truly love her, and I think she also truly loves them: they are important. And it is not a job position, or a badge, or a trophy or such, which makes them so.

I respect people who make it clear who they are; make clear what they will not compromise on, and they prove this through their very being. Respecting others, while also respecting oneself. Never one at the expense of the other. People who are positive and encouraging; never seeking and ‘finding’ others’ faults and flaws, in order to ‘shoot them down’, through exaggerated, unfair deployment of them. If you have to go out of your way to make others feel bad, in order to feel good about yourself: you might just be a little (quite) insecure. Desiring respect, maybe. But this is not how you go about really earning it. I reckon true respect is gained through goodness and humility, and not through coldness and arrogance.

All I know, though sometimes I might feel a little more doubtful, is that there are these things that I truly, unwaveringly, believe in. It is undoubtable that we are going to be tested, here in Dunya, through everything we do have; likewise, with everything we don’t. There will be critical talks of us, comparisons, illness, fears, losses and grief. Endured before, by the ordinary men – and, indeed, prophetic examples – of old. And here we are, I suppose, doing it all, albeit in our very own ways, over again.  


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Qur’an (Mus’haf) Recommendation

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I just wanted to tell you about this version of the Qur’an (or, Mus’haf the term we use for physical, written forms of the Qur’an). I have looked at many different versions of Qur’anic translation, and thus far have found this one to be the most comprehensive. It provides historical context for each Surah; includes some very nice summaries; divides the Qur’anic message into different themes, for ease of access and understanding.

I am really glad that I have a copy of this Mus’haf. On Amazon, the hardback copy costs around £20, and it. Is. Gorgeous. [See above. Matches my window stickers, too!] The paperback version costs around £8.

Previously, I had planned to research (and write about!) the meanings, and contextual backgrounds, of each Surah individually [and there are one-hundred-and-fourteen of them!]. Thankfully, the compiler of this version of the Qur’an has already done so for me.

The Qur’an is an Arabic text. Insha Allah, I do hope to develop my level of understanding in and of the Arabic language: this is undoubtedly the only way to truly come to appreciate the richness and profundity of the Holy Book. There are so many things to consider: syntax, morphology, contemporary uses of figurative language, the unique poetic styles of classical Arabic…

In the meantime, however, translations will have to suffice. Translators, especially in the case of attempting to translate the classical Arabic language into modern European ones, have to make choices. The specific translative choices made in ‘The Majestic Qur’an’ make for, in my opinion, an eloquent, highly accessible, comprehensive, and enjoyable read. A sense of flow is conveyed in the English parts, coupled with a good sense of flavour and feeling — and these, far more so, I think, than other translations into English that I have come across have managed to achieve.

In Arabic, the Qur’an is undeniably, inimitably beautiful. In Musharraf Hussain’s translation, the English is a thing of beauty, too; I think it feels far less disjointed, less somewhat-perplexing, than other translative attempts often do. Aesthetically, too. What a book to read from, in the earliest hours of the day, perhaps. To turn back to. A book for comfort, and for illumination. Knowledge, guidance; some much-needed reminders for us.

A potential downside, however: the Arabic in this Mus’haf is written in Urdu script, which might prove a little difficult to read, for some.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life / Bleach

Yesterday, I decided to peruse over some of my old blog articles. There were some things I had written, which I had long since forgotten about. Some things that, today, make me truly cringe. Things that humour me. Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and delete some of those entries; go over my old journals and cross some things out, with a thick black marker pen.

But, no: truly, I appreciate those times and those experiences. Those days made me. Helped to shape me; I could not have been whom I am now, and know what I do, without them. Our cringe-worthy, awkward days: the ones we are prone to looking back on with equal amounts of fondness and warmth, and regret and “why, why, why?” — really and truly, they shaped us.

And I guess one of the weirdest things about reading over old writings is this: that others see, and saw, of those entries what they see/saw [Tangent time: why are see-saws called see-saws? Why are they not called up-downs or sit-sats?] and I, when reading over them… it’s like I get transported, almost, back to the times in which I had penned – or typed – them. I vividly recall the thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing. All of those former versions of my own headspace. Awesome.

[My childhood best friend and I have chosen to lovingly call these last five years or so of our lives our ‘Kind of just feel like an Idiot’ years. No real regrets, though. Just gratitude, (mutual cringing,) love.]

There are so many things that we may find, we take for granted, these days. Erstwhile experiences, journeys of learning. Fall down, graze your elbow, get back up, be kind and patient: let it heal. From the most elementary things (e.g. our abilities to sit and eat calmly, without getting baby gunk all over our faces, as well as our abilities to read words with ease. Long gone are the days of ‘robot phonics’; of forgetting how to spell ‘beautiful’ or ‘friend’). To other things. Like how to deal with our own mistakes. Feelings. And with failures.

Coming to know other people. The possibilities. How best to take care of ourselves and others when we are unwell. How to be kinder; a better friend. How to fit a duvet cover; how to choose what to repair, and what to leave alone.

The women and men we seek to be. The opportunity presented, within each and every moment, to go ahead be them!

I have a feeling that, in about five years or so, I may (Insha Allah) read over this very article. Recall what I had been going through here and now, at age twenty. I think I will likely half-cringe, half-be a little endeared, then, too.

I think one thing that had followed me throughout this past almost-decade is… caring too much – fearing, even – what other people think. At times, I have aligned my own judgements of myself, with other people’s (perceived) judgements of me. Not great. Arguably quite instinctive and ‘natural’, but, still… not great.

The strange thing is, I never used to care so much. As a child, I did my thing, and I loved doing it. Granted, there were some things that I had done/taken part in that were a little [childish and innocent, but… a little] crazy. [Perhaps I should substitute the c-word for the word ‘spirited’!] I cannot bring myself to regret those things very much at all. Childhood is for fun and exploration. For being you, and for being loved precisely for it.

Seven-year-old I, I suppose, had been… a younger version of whom I continue to be, today: life is sort of childhood continued, but with some additional things added to the grand, often-confusing, mix…

I guess, somewhere along the line, the expectations changed dramatically. And those expectations did not begin from whom I had been already. Abruptly stop, be something else: considerably different, I think, from whom I had organically been in the process of becoming. People expect girls to be [their fixed, superficial, unrealistic idea of] ‘perfect Muslims’, ‘perfect daughters’, perfect in domestic terms, perfect in social terms. We must always, always, be hyper-aware of how we… look.

And that, right there, I think, is the key word. Look. How things seem, often centrally at the expense of what things are. Perhaps, ‘ideally’, I would… wear a Selwar Kameez all the time; a neat, crease-less headscarf. Know when to speak; be neat, never slip up. Perfect grades, but no… opinions. Smile flawlessly for pictures. Creativity only in secret, perhaps. Be so instinctively great with screaming babies. Be social, but talk about a limited range of ‘acceptable’ things. [But the standards and goal-posts seem to always be shifting, changing!] Nothing ‘too much’. Maybe: how school is going. “Good”. How work is going. “Good”. How are we. “Fine”. Nothing that really makes you a person, but… some un-fault-able impression, a picture of one. Keep everything else hidden. Keep a house spotless. Faultless. Nothing that ‘people’ could ever single out and fault. I’m [not really] sorry, but:

Spotless things must be quite intrinsically unfortunate: they would appear to be devoid of what life is really, truly, all about. They do not exist. But if they did, I really do think they would be missing out. Growth, and learning, and trying, and failing. Stories can only really stem from things… happening. Taking place. One cannot have a cake without a(n at-least-somewhat) messy baking process. And even if we could be extremely neat and precise: I think the joy would be extracted from it all. Everything would be controlled and systemised. Predictable, and character-less. When everything blends in: nothing really stands out.

Bleach is a chemical product that tends to leave things spotless. Faultless. So… clean. Bleach also happens to be a substance that effortlessly kills things that are organic, alive. Life. Is simply not meant to be so (to paraphrase something my friend said, which really stuck to my mind) efficient and sanitised.

I so love exploring the field of Child Psychology. Children, you see, come into the world telling us who they are. They cry: they (and we) need food, warmth, comfort, love. The first seven years of our lives tend to be when we express what our personalities are. Over time, personality is honed, moulded into character. First, this responsibility of nurture is placed, primarily, on the families that are entrusted with our upbringing and care. And then, when we reach an age of understanding, we acquire a personal responsibility. A duty of care over our own selves; our souls.

Ideas pertaining to innate personality are supported, for instance, by a particular Hadith, which informs us that the first seven years of a child’s life are to be dedicated to play. Through play, we get to clearly see that some children are more outgoing and imaginative. Make battle-ships out of see-saws [that word-of-mysterious-origins again, semi-deliberately re-employed]. Some children are very emotionally sensitive; need more hugs, more loving words, than others do. [And are so terribly sweet that it just makes your heart melt.] Some like to sit and play alone for hours on end: there are whole entire worlds, whirring away within their brilliant (and, also, highly impressionable) minds. Some children get a little kick out of using swear-words; want to feel all grown up. Lipstick and big words. Some love making others laugh. Some are so completely captivated by washing machines, cars, and Iron-Man. Some do not like to get their clothes dirty, and do not like to share. Some get socially drained very easily. [Why don’t we just let them, for example, have a rest and sleep, rather than making them feel bad for not being like this or not being like that?]

Yes, ultimately: perfection is not to be expected of anybody. Maybe it is something that we sometimes think we want, but not really. We have an objective moral code to follow. For example, Allah instructs us, in the Qur’an, time and time again, to not be arrogant. Do not act superior; like you are mighty — something you are fundamentally not. I think I would rather be exactly who I am (Alhamdulillah) than some delusional arrogant boaster who picks at others’ flaws, while overlooking my own. Convincing myself that I am… superior.

I really do believe in the inherent beauty of looking at – and loving – what is there, and not singling out and exaggerating what is not there: perceived faults and inadequacies. Watering those former flowers, instead of those latter…weeds. People are not problems. Every human being, complete with our own stories, strengths, weaknesses: is a blessing, a Divine gift.

Maybe if ‘perfect’ men existed, ‘perfect’ women would exist too. Maybe if the women who seem to expect us to be ‘perfect’ were ‘perfect’ themselves, we would have ‘better role models’ to take after… But they don’t; we don’t. We are real, and full; each of us is unique. We are too cold sometimes; we cry; we forget to do something; misplace our keys. Run into interpersonal frictions; get stressed; get insecure. Our houses are a bit more messy when we find ourselves a little more occupied with other things. We are former babies, with gunk everywhere, and then we learn, over time and with due patience, how to eat more neatly. Not robotically, though. Each person has a style: of writing, of eating, of speaking, of being. How to pronounce the word ‘scone’. How to write a polite email. We are not born knowing how to ride a bike; how to change a nappy; how to please the probing eyes of every insolent busybody with access to a phone line. How to stop being scared of things that need not be so scary any more.

We will run into shortcomings, mistakes, faults. We are designed to be able to work on things; learn, practise, fall again, get up again. I love, love, love this. It is not ‘perfect’. Thankfully, it is interesting, though. Fascinating, not some predictable conveyor-belt porcelain ‘picture-perfect’ straight line. So worthwhile, and deep, and unexpected, pleasure-and-pain, and complex.

This matters to me because, to me, it is life and death. And I need to know: it is not boring, character-less ‘perfection’ I ought to expect of myself, just so others do not talk; so that people do not express angry disapproval. Besides, how boring a thing to talk about: what appears to be ‘wrong’ with others and their lives. And, how indicative of self-delusion and arrogance!

Expectations of ‘perfection’ are sort of a ‘double-bind’ thing. You either become that quiet, ‘normal’, ‘perfect’, negligible character with nothing vaguely interesting to do or talk about. A walking picture-frame, trophy, silent-for-the-most-part accessory. Or, you understand that there is an innate you, a personality. A complete, living, breathing human being, within whose rib-cage is this wonderful beating heart, beating for life and for love.

A character you are going to, Insha Allah, work on, for the rest of this life of yours. You will be tested, over and over and over again; you will learn and grow and develop. Other people: I suppose you’ll continue to see who is good to hold, within your heart. And who… might not, so much, be. Let people approach you – from their own perspectives, biases, attitudes, values, demeanours. Alhamdulillah, we are mature enough to decide on things for ourselves. Commit to certain things; set our boundaries and make them clear; choose these things, or those. This whole entire thing: it is between you and the one in whose very Hand is your very soul; your whole entire being:

‘Quirks’, ‘flaws’, uniquenesses.

Sharpnesses, capabilities;

softnesses, fragilities;

thorough, undeniable humannesses —

life, unbleached — and all.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be you;
I don’t know what it’s like but I’m dying to


So tell me what’s inside of your head:

No matter what you say I won’t love you less” — S.M.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Windows

“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even [have to] pay for the ticket.” — Charles Bukowski

You find yourself gazing through some of their windows. Wondering: how on Earth do other people live? How do other people choose to live? Who are these people? Where – and whom – have they been? And where are they going? [And, who, what, when, where, why am I?]

Head resting upon hand, leaning over the table. Wide windows make for real-life television screens, almost. Sort of accidentally-on-purpose. Stage-curtains drawn, dynamically, apart. Or, via Instagram: individuals, and the art galleries they have curated for themselves. What do we come to make of it all?

A glimpse of them practising ballet in their front room, perhaps, canal-side. Painting a picture; carrying out their skincare routines. A selfie. Or, maybe ten. A new boxing hobby. Picking at their skin a little; pulling at their eyebrows. Stretching. Snacking. The ins and the outs, and every single passing moment.

The closer one gets, to a person, the more one tends to come to know, of them. How they might always obsess over the tiniest of details, or how they can so easily get swept up in day-dreams. What they do as soon as they wake up; their go-to composition for a lazy breakfast. The manner in which they come and sit down – or, melodramatically slump down – for lunch. How they prefer to sit, when watching TV. That far-away expression that paints their face, when they are lost – deep in thought. How – and when – they recite Qur’an. Their most favourite parts of their days. Why they may seem so certain, at certain times. And yet, so fragile and falling, almost, at others. [When? And… why?]

Working from home: her industrious typings at the dining-room table – and she also happens to be intermittently fasting – while his chosen space is on the middle floor, caught between two monitors. Phone in hand, spinning on chair. And maybe they have a small child, too. Napping on a sofa somewhere downstairs, for the time being, while Alexa is humming for her a lullaby. A view of picturesque, drizzly and grey England cuts right through their bedroom windows.

Pearl-white light.

Their laughter: four young daughters, playing. Pumpkin plant; apple tree; a cat that has given birth twice within the space of just over a year. The tree’s branches are bare for now, but it tends to come into fruition come late Spring. Equations, incomprehensible-seeming, scrawled across the window in whiteboard marker. The garden table; ceramic ashtray at its centre. You witness these auditory snapshots of their laughter. Hear snippets of heated arguments, too. The echoes that manage to emanate beyond high brick walls.

You’ll feel the good, and

you’ll have the bad too. Because we are made of dirt; of fertile, nourishing earth. Secrets, and laughter, monotony and sighs. Moments, and moments; how time is always passing, and how we spend each of our nights.

Today I learned that the word ‘human’ is thought to be derived from a (proto-Indo-European) word that meant ‘earthly being’. Human: a thing whose corporeal being comes from the earth. And also, back to the ground do our physical forms decay.

The word ‘humble’ is thought to stem from this same root, too. Since we are, each and every one of us, on the physical level, from and of and destined to return to the earth: what justifiable reason could any of us possibly have, to act with Istikbar – arrogance – as though we might be mighty and superior, somehow?

And worldly life is just that, usually: mundane. [From the Latin mundus, meaning ‘world’]. There are the shininesses; the dressing-things-up to show; the snapshots and the images. Zeena, in Arabic. And there are the more complete truths. What goes further than the mere surface level. What we know these lives of ours to be. Deeply, and truly, and in their relative entireties. But also,

Every single thing that you have: did you know that you are likely, in one way or another, enacting somebody else’s dream, right now? You have, for example, the sort of physical ability that they so sorely miss — the type that has long been left behind, to some aged, fading-in-memory days of youth. Back when their elbows and knees did not creak or groan so much; when a walk in the park had been just that. A walk in the park.

Food that fulfils. Rest that regenerates. Cushions for comfort.

Water that flows. Exactly who, and how, when and where, you are here, and now.

Every living, breathing moment. All that is calm, and all that is a little chaotic. The ways through which we learn things. Usually, from others. But in ways that speak best to whom we already intrinsically know ourselves to be.

Also: irrespective of how well-informed or put-together any fellow neighbour human being may appear… Remember that, just as this is your first (and last) time living this life; having this earthly experience… this is everyone else’s first (and last) time here, too. How tender; how actually-rather-reassuring, and conceptually uniting, a thing to think about. That we are all learning – and being – precisely as we are going along. All of us come from rich, humble earth. And, certainly this is where each and every one of us are headed back to.

To live, somehow, a life that does not feel superficially ‘shiny’ or constantly-sunny. And nor should we ever expect for it to. But, to take the necessary good, and the necessary bad. Write, somehow, right between each of these lines. The loops that go up; the curves that extend down. I hope, Insha Allah, that it is a thing of calligraphy that ensues.

I know all this might sound a little cheesy. But, no … all of it does not truly, neatly, ‘efficiently’, ‘make sense’ to me. And I genuinely love that. No two days – no two moments – are ever quite the same. Pouring bleach over all of this, so as to clean it… these beautiful things would also come to die, in the process.

Right now, you see, there are all of these questions; this mystery. This is, kind of quietly, quite the adventure. And one ought to find peace in the fact that this was always meant to be a journey; this was never meant to be the Destination.

You are alive. Human; earthly being, and there is all this grass right there, at your very feet. It is, at once, blessing, and it is struggle: test. You may either stoop down and water it; tend, with due love, to your own garden. Or… you may spend your days imagining that greener grass must exist here atop earthly cradle, but… somewhere other than here or now, in some patch that is simply other than yours.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Hope and Snow

This morning, here in London (UK), we had woken up to heavy snowfall. Pellets of white, darting down from the sky. So graceful; so redolent of that fine word: hope.

Today, it is Sunday. A snow-day on a Sunday. On Friday, my brother and I went on a walk through our local area. The conversations he and I have together really do tend to be… something else. I am not sure if he sounds mature for his age, by consequence of living with three adults, or if I sound like an eight-year-old boy, by consequence of spending so much time with him… Probably a mixture of both.

I told him that I was a little sad that it did not snow this winter.

His response was quick and endearing, and said with conviction: “What do you mean? It could still snow this year!”

In my mind, I sort of dismissed this statement as a product of his ‘child-like optimism’. ‘Not rooted in reality’. It seemed to me as though the peak of wintertime had already come to an end: now was going to be that time when Winter begins to transition into Spring. Cold, golden, sunny days. Not snow.

I so love that young children tend to be so deliberately hopeful. I think it is something of a tragedy, that many of us lose this sense of hope along the way. Scepticism’s tenacious fingers tend to, over time, establish this terrible stronghold within our hearts.

While on last Friday’s walk, my brother wanted to stop somewhere and sit down for a moment. He went and sat on a boulder. We had been talking about the significance of making Du’a, and he decided to sit down on a street-side boulder, in order to make Du’a, there and then, for… a horse. Strange child [but then again… he is my brother.]

Du’as do come true. I know this for certain. My brother himself: I see him as a product of Du’a. When I was younger, I prayed and prayed for a little brother. Someone to do cool things like karate with, and art and baking, and to take out to Nando’s after Parents’ Evenings, and to sort of spoil just a little. Some family members, back then, sort of dismissed my Du’as as childish, foolish optimism.

Since then, I have been well-acquainted with good reasons so as not to internalise others’ scepticism, but to… rely on my Lord, and to have hope and faith and trust in Him; in His supreme wisdom and ability. Even if you doubt and doubt: sometimes extremely ‘unlikely’ things happen, just like that.

It is so okay if other people doubt. So long as you have faith. Those things that you are praying for: know that if you are humble and sincere in your prayers… everything you are praying for is yours. It may take a little time: these things will come about in Allah’s faultless timing, not in ‘your own’. We must be consistent, hopeful, and know

That Allah (SWT) does not reject the Du’as of the sincere. You either get those things that you want, a little later (and there is Khayr in the delays). Or, you get them almost immediately. Or… you get something that is better [for you].

Hope-like snow. And eyes filled, at least at times, with wonder and fascination. It is not exclusively ‘childish’, but good and… human-ish. We need a little bit of sunshine, and a little bit of snow.

A little bit of rain, too… [This is how good things grow.]

We really must not lose hope, nor despair in the Rahma of our Lord. Faith and reason. Hope and rationality. Optimism and scepticism. Questioning things deeply, and having trust. Dichotomies, but actually, each one is ever-in need of its other.  

[And I really hope that, one day, I will get to see my little brother sitting on his own horse. I hope that I will be able to remind him of that fine Friday, in lockdown, 2021, when he sat down on a random boulder solely in order to make Du’a for it.]

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

“Indeed, Allah is with those who have Sabr*.” [Qur’an, (2:153)]

*Meaning: a mixture of patience, discipline, steadfastness, self-restraint, perseverance, endurance


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

The Roots of Our Crises — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Knowledge; the Muslim world, past and present. The wonders of the world; of the Universe; the signs within your own self, and in animals, and in the alternation between night and day. Hormonal cycles; how our eyes work; how flowers are pollinated. Knowledge is beneficial to us when and while it illuminates: brings us close to Truth.

The above is a really great lecture. It got me thinking more about what the Qur’an tells us. For example, Qur’anic directives to look for the signs of Ar-Rahman: in the birds; in the trees; in how three pounds of flesh (your brain) facilitates, by His Will, an entire inner world: this deep and rich entirety of individual experience, within you.

Allah (SWT) authored the Qur’an; the Universe; fashioned you, too. Each vein upon a leaf; each leg upon an ant; the solar system, in precise motion. Each ridge upon your fingertips. Do you dare doubt that you came from somewhere? A beginning; a Beginner? Dare you doubt that He, for example, created you so gosh-darn beautiful?

And intelligent. And a fundamentally learning creature. Worthy of His Jannah: all you must do is put the work in. Allah ennobled you, child of Ādam. Every eyelash of yours is in perfect place. And how wonderful a thing is it that we have these phenomenal capacities for language?! Through an appreciation of Allah’s creations: this is how we come to greater recognition of Him. Appreciation; betterment. More goodness and humility and Taqwa, Insha Allah, and not less of it. And these, I think, (much in lieu of pride or rivalry or vanity) ought to form the foremost impetus for our pursuits of knowledge.

Jummah Mubarak, my dudes. Remember to read Surah Kahf and make lots of Du’a today, in particular right before Maghrib time…