The consumption of fiction, and the significant effects it has, upon our psyches, and on all these ideas surrounding what we want to be, and what we want to have, and what we expect of life. That school is, or ‘should’ be, like a Disney series; travelling is a vlog on YouTube; summer is a poem. Fiction: filtering out the ‘mundane’, the ‘undesirable’, the ennui, the unevennesses, frictions. Taking singular moments, which ‘real life’ may exhale, at certain given moments, unpredictable, un-plan-able. Marketing people, relationships, institutions, experiences… as being fundamentally ‘shiny’. ‘More than’ reality, and thus quite ‘liberating’.
Allah created Dunya in a certain way, and this, we all, after a certain age, truly come to know. And it might feel like consuming fiction, or imagining life in light of it [I am tres guilty of doing this. And hence this blog article.] is relief. But I want to take a (metaphorical) axe, and rid myself of these: my ‘super-Dunya’ expectations. They come about spontaneously, sure, but they can often be… entertained, in this mind of mine.
Yesterday I came across a podcast about ‘bringing blessings (Barakah) to one’s life’. The central matter being discussed was gratitude. A cosmic law, emphasised in the Qur’an: if we are grateful – thankful, using what we have towards goodness and making the most of it – Allah increases us in favour(s).
And I have noticed: when I have abstract expectations, or when I find myself wanting… I feel restless, and dissatisfied, and lost. But when I look down at my feet (m e t a p h o r i c a l l y) and really ‘deep’ what I have, and just live, and do what ought to be done, sans against-fiction expectations… Good things happen!
When I do not want, I know I receive [note: the word ‘want’ has two separate-but-connected meanings. To desire something (that you do not, at present, have) and to be deficient, lacking, in something]. Good, quietly – but deeply – lovely, things, from sources unexpected, but which Allah has given to me. [Ref: a colleague whom I sometimes speak with – I, struggling, in Bengali, embarrassing myself – randomly got me a box of sushi for lunch <3. And then, not to show off, because this was entirely a one-sided thing: my baby brother got me a book, from school (World Book Day). My heart melted, and I asked him how come (I had lowkey been fishing for him to say something extremely sweet) and he just said, unemotionally, in classic Saif fashion: “I had two book tokens and I already got myself the one I wanted so I just got you one too.” Eh. Good enough.]
I know I am a bit of a … romanticiser, at the best of times. I like looking up at the stars; I like it when words sound and feel beautiful; I like to feel the golden glow of things, when I am with people whom I love. But this is not necessarily idealism: the stars do exist, and so does the beauty of words; so, too, does the Divine gift that is family (even with its ups and downs, and little knife-wound betrayals… like when I no longer seem to be Dawud’s favourite cousin anymore. Sigh.) I think I can be quite prone to romanticising things… and I think this is okay, so long as it is all rooted in reality, and not in things that are not real, or real at present, or which I do not know, fully and deeply and fundamentally.
My muddied boots are mine:my reality. The craggy, the uneventful and the mundane. The errands, and the times when things get a little tough — and these gorgeous skies overhead are mine, also, and everybody’s. I need to manage my expectations, and focus on doing what is fruitful. These are the realities with which we are presented, and all fictions are inspired by reality’s best parts.
Reality is a fuller experience, though. Unscripted, and not engineered for the eyes of those of us who, at times, seek escape.
And the opposite of ‘escape’ is… being here, and facing it all. No (or, re-managed) expectations; no comparing my reality with others’. Futile. [To have their blessings, I would have to have their lives’ difficulties/tests. To lose my difficulties/tests, I would have to lose my blessings, also…]
These are the stuff of our lives. And now, what to do with them, or about them… The good, and the bad, and the… greys, the neutrals, also.
I need to focus, truly, on what is there, and not on actually-nonexistent things, like what ‘could’ or… ‘should’ (according to the fictions that we have digested, and/or concocted) be there. Loving what one has, and focusing on here-and-now considerations, and on giving/engaging in acts of acts of service as opposed to receiving, leads to Barakah: to an unmatchable, though quiet, goldenness, which is present even in times of acute difficulty. And Allah Azawwajal takes care of the rest: the outcomes, the Future, and all the rest of it.
[Some Biblical quotes, I find extremely beautiful. So, to quote the Bible:]
“I shall not want.”[Psalms, (23:1)]
Instead, I shall try to say: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen” [Qur’an, (1:2)].
All praise/gratitude is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds: Lord of every single thing that exists, including [existential moment, here] me…
Islam is: beginning right from where you are. It is finding Peace, finally, amid all of tumultuous Dunya’s numerous tribulations.
It is Ultimate, life-giving, life-restoring,
And — Islam is not solely for the man for whom the Arabic language is his native tongue. It is also for… the Bengali woman. Malaysian, Nigerian, French, Argentinian. And for kings and nobles, and for their sons, and for seamstresses and chai-walas, and for their daughters.
Islam is for the ones who grew up going to — some call it Fora, others call it Maktab; some call it Dugsee — every weekend. And it is also for the ones for whom the words of the Qur’an are, at present, wholly indecipherable.
For the ones who grew up in Roman Catholic households. Or Hindu ones, or otherwise.
The truth is, we do not know, and we are truly not aware of
which of us truly are the Best of us.
How can one look at another and be convinced that we know what their intentions are? How can we look at another and be sure of where they stand, at present, before God?
Islam is also for the heroin user whose family chose to disown him, for his one fatal error. It is for the chronically sick, and it is for the young, and well, and wealthy, too. It is for the ones who know the most, and it is also for the ones who simply cannot wait to learn.
When I say that Islam is Universal, I mean: everything that exists — everything, of which we are a part:
We come from One. Are loved, and nurtured, primarily and ultimately, by One. Are being Tested by One. And it is to One, that we return.
When Allah explains to us that we are human, He means, necessarily, that we can choose between Good and Evil, based on the knowledge that we, individually, subjectively, possess, and have access to.
And that we are, all of us, fundamentally flawed — and that many people are stitched up with Good intentions, while others destroy themselves, through arrogance. But for the most part, these things remain invisible to the fallible human eye.
Fundamentally, goodness is something that must be shared. Trying to meet people where they are; trying to love them, as they are: these things are Sunnah. There is no room for violent tribalisms, where there is true Islam.
Islam is for anybody who, even in the slightest, cares — enough to seek forgiveness; to ask for Help; to try. In your own time; in your own beautiful ways.
Islam is for the human being who is uncertain, in himself, or as herself. We are not Necessary Beings; we forget and we make blunders.
We struggle, and we fall; we can come, crawling, or walking. If we are able, we can come running.
Islam is for the one who has “always felt a little bit Muslim at heart”. Who, eventually, started carrying a prayer scarf around, in her bag. Used the prayer room at Westfield, once, and amassed the courage to say Salaam to an auntie, a different time, outside the mosque.
For the man who is consciously trying to “lower [his] gaze” when it comes to women, contrary to the pullings of his Nafs (loosely translatable as ‘inner-self’). For the one who feels broken, breaking, alone. Trying to speak to his Creator, under the soul-baring covers of good night.
Islam is Meaning, and it is Purpose. It is Love, and it is Comfort. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, concerning the Mind, the Heart; our Bodies and our Souls. Beginning: fusing together. And Ending: coming apart (for a while). The centre of the Universe, and the very fabric of our being.
Ever-a-continuation: a personal story, journey. And, always, a beginning-again, too. Right from where we are.
[Allah knows, while we do not.]
And every good thing that we (endeavour to) do, here, in submission to Al-Rahman
is growing into something Unspeakably Beautiful (we hope,) over There.
Surah ‘Asr. There are, in total, 114 chapters in Al-Qur’an-il-Kareem: the Noble Qur’an. Each of these Surahs are of varying lengths, and explore different topics.
Surah ‘Asr is one of the shorter Surahs. Composed of three Ayahs (meaning verses, and otherwise translatable as ‘signs’) in contrast with Surah Baqarah’s 286, Surah ‘Asr is succinct, yet strong. Small and mighty, hard-hitting and enlightening.
As with many words in the Arabic language, so it would seem: the word ‘Asr has a number of contemporaneous meanings. ‘Asr (عصر) means Time. A period of time, whether this be a century, a season, a day, or a night. Another meaning this triliteral root word has is one that is related to the action of pressing. Squeezing, wringing, things out. Extracting the juice from a fruit. Indeed, one cognate form of the word ‘Asr is ‘Aseer (عصير) which means ‘juice‘.
We Muslims also refer to one of our five daily prayers as the ‘Asr prayer. It occurs right before the end of the day: when the sun begins to wane. The day loses its vitality, its عصير.
Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic is so fascinating, Subhan Allah.I love, love, love it.
Surah ‘Asr, then [an English translation]:
By [the passage of] Time. (1) Indeed, mankind is [certainly] in loss. (2) Except those who believe/have trust (have Īmān) and carry out righteous deeds/actions/work, enjoin [with one another] in Truth, and enjoin [with one another] in Patience(3)
Time. Like when you go to juice a fruit. You begin with a complete fruit: full and ‘youthful’. The juice gets squeezed out, until there is but a carcass form of the fruit left. Human beings. What do we have? Our wealth, our main concern, is Time. It is being wrung, juiced, out. Every second that elapses is another second
Lost. Another drip of juice, extracted from the fruit.
When it comes to Time – this wealth that each of us has been bestowed with… Are we spending it fruitfully?
[I much prefer the word ‘fruitful’ over the word ‘productive’ when it comes to reflecting upon whether or not we are using our time well. ‘Productivity’ as a value implies that time is spent well – or, best – when something is being produced. But that is not all we are: we are not merely, solely ‘producers’. I mean, I could spend all my time constructing… a toothpaste factory model. That, for instance, would be time spent ‘productively’, but not necessarily…
Fruitfully. The imagery of a fruit being juiced. Gradually, perhaps, but truly and undeniably, still. Drip, drip, drip.]
You know life: it is hard. It is ups and downs and squiggles and jagged lines. It is loss and gain; pleasure and pain. It is necessarily challenging. And, as Muslims, we know:
We begin with Īmān. Faith, recognition of our Creator. Next:
Righteous deeds and works. These may include, according to Qur’an and Hadith [I am just going to list some that I know of, off the top of my head…]
Offering our five daily Salah, with due attention and respect
Doing Dhikr (active remembrance of God)
Smiling [It counts as Sadaqah!]
Helping someone in need
Saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to people
Seeking forgiveness from Allah
Expressing gratitude to Allah
Seeking beneficial knowledge
Passing on beneficial knowledge
Being good to one’s neighbour
Reconnecting with family members with whom the ties of kinship had been cut
Walking on the Earth in a humble manner
Responding to ignorance with words of peace
Maintaining good personal and spatial hygiene
Being good to animals [e.g. an example from a Hadith: giving water to a thirsty dog]
Visiting people who are unwell
Accepting invitations to others’ houses; inviting them to your house, too, and being a good host [post-Corona, Insha Allah]
Planting a tree [even if it does not end up growing]
Serving our parents
Can you think of any more examples of good works ( الأعمال الصالحة)?Please do drop them in the comments section, below!
Finally: Truth and Patience. Being bonded with others, in Truth (and encouraging one another toward it, and toward remembering Him). And, encouraging one another toward, engaging in, Patience: Sabr – which is otherwise translatable as: discipline, self-restraint, steadfastness, perseverance. Because life is a thing of struggle.
So, the four things that render our ‘spending’ of Time fruitful, and not, ultimately, a grave loss:
Belief. Good actions. Enjoining in Truth. Enjoining in Patience.
May we all have a fruitful week, dear reader. And may we all have a fruitful Dunya-based life. Āmeen.
I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…
I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…
The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.
And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.
Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]
Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.
I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.
I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.
The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.
As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.
Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.
In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.
Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.
School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?
When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!
And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.
The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.
And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]
These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]
I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.
I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.
The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-drivenways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.
The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.
And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.
I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.
The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.
In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.
I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.
I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.
Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.
The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
At my workplace, on Tuesdays, we are fortunate enough to have staff Halaqahs (Islamic talks, during which we sit on the prayer carpets, and one person leads the session). Delivered by the ‘Alimiyyah (Islamic Sciences) teachers in turns, these weekly circles are something I have truly been loving. This, and coming into school with Surah Kahf being played through the tannoys every Friday morning, just after winter sun has come up. The Tuesday Halaqahs: such necessary, and often quite moving, reminders. I like that Deen is at the very centre of the ethos, purpose, and all else of this school. I do not think I would be able to contentedly work at a state secondary school [where true spirituality and religion are not core principles, I truly think only meaninglessness and materialism are left behind in their wakes…]
Today’s had been a rather memorable Halaqah session. I suddenly found tears rolling out of my eyes: unimpeded and so unexpected, while processing the teacher’s words, today. Bringing it all back to what I had been thinking about, quite a lot, of late.
That is what I truly am, as a teacher there. I feel, simultaneously, I am very much a student: I am learning and re-learning things, from their very basics. Teachers do not know everything — about anything. They very much learn, and learn, and learn, on the job.
I love it when the early morning sun floods through this old Victorian building. Big windows, old walls. I love that the Qur’an is always there, to turn back to: I love that Qur’ans line many of the shelves here. And the view of yellow-leaved trees outside, and the high-rise buildings (Aldgate, the increasingly gentrified parts of East London) on one side, the rows of chimneyed council houses just adjacent to them: what an interesting contrast. The unmissable deep orange reflection of sunrise, still left behind on the new(-ish) part of the Royal London Hospital.
My brother had been born there, on the twelfth-or-something floor, of that building. I can still remember the day fairly vividly. Three days before my having started secondary school (as a student, that is!) Everything had changed, that year. Hours on end, of waiting and waiting. But that did not matter: I had waited for years and years to be an older sister. I mention my brother, here, because during Ustādha S’s talk, I had found myself thinking about the following questions:
“Do I love?”
“Am I loved?”
The answer is, Alhamdulillah, yes to both. I thought about my brother, and about how much Du’a I had made for him, prior to his coming into (worldly) existence. Nobody, really, had seen him coming. Most thought I would remain an only child forever. And, I don’t know. He is not the type – and those of you who know him personally will likely know this about him – to express affection so openly and/or ‘conventionally’ (except, perhaps, when it comes to his cat…) But it is in the small and the silly and the unexpected and/or typical-of-him moments that my heart floods with the love I have always had for him. The love I had come to learn upon first being given the chance to hold him in my arms. The love I am frequently reminded of, for example when he… needs me to deal with a spider in his room or something. Yes, sometimes it is ironically through his eight-year-old boy remarks about how “annoying” or how much of a “dummy” I am – or when he simply needs to tell me everything he knows about Charles Darwin – that I am reminded that I am indeed so loved, as a big sister, Subhan Allah, too. There is loneliness in this world, and there is also love. Allah (SWT) is the provider of all of this love: He is Al-Wadūd.
Ustādha S had mentioned, in her talk today, That Day. A forthcoming reality we oft find ourselves quite heedless of, or in outright denial of. Falsehoods mixed with and mistaken for truth, and vice versa. That Day on which, on the horizontal ‘creation’ level, we will find ourselves quite alone. Standing before our Creator, trembling. Are you prepared well enough for it? And, right now, we are quite alive, and we are quite real, and every single moment means something. This is your story; these are the moments, and the days, of your life. The flow of time; the presently-ceaseless flowing of ink. The grand storybook that shall be produced, come the End of it all. It will either be placed in your right hand, or… atop your left one.
Nothing will matter, on That Day, except for your own soul, quaking in new-urgent God-consciousness. You will be alone.
Have you ever come to know what true aloneness feels like?
We must not fall in love with Dunya, my dear: not while Jannah is waiting for us. And, also, we must know to bow not to creation – not now, and not ever – but to the One who created us. This is authentic liberation, and this is authentic strength. Be flowing, and be firm.
People are only people, and I think I have learnt, by now, that I am capable of walking alone. I ultimately ‘need’ nobody else. But I sure do love some people. For some of them, I am willing to wait. But they are not whom I seek to bend and grow towards. Maybe they are trying to walk the same way as I am trying to walk; perhaps we shall grow together, towards sunlight, intertwined… but maybe they are not, and we will not. Maybe sometimes we must love, and ‘have loved’, and we must leave it at that.
This moment: time, and the present workings of your life, of your mind. This is what is real, right now. I have found myself thinking too much about distant and imagined things, and all the while… the ink is ever-flowing, is it not? Writing, writing. Things are happening, happening. These are the days of my life; every second, I find myself authoring my life’s story. I will not give it up for any human being; for any fleeting thing.
I have realised that if it is not Real, it does not matter,
neither to, nor for, me: simple as.
So long as my feet are rooted in Truth. Myself, I seek to be, and become, in submission to, and with the love, protection, and guidance of, the One in whose Hand my entire being is. I so hope to feel that sense of peace, relief. To be worthy of جَنَّةٍ عَالِيَةٍ, you know?
To do this, and to get there, to outside-and-away from truth and here, (now), I must say goodbye.
To everything I know to be so true, hello. Things either matter, or they do not. There is what is Khayr; there is what is not Khayr. I am learning to filter things, along these lines, better.
We are growing individually, though in parallel, I hope, towards being People of the Right Hand. Asking ourselves: in this very moment, if we were to go right now,
Sometimes someone says something, and I want to frame what they have said, and keep it forever. Copied and pasted below is one of those frame-worthy utterances, (or, writings. Typings, even, to be even more precise). An important excerpt from an email my amiga Tasnim wrote to me (in response to one of my emails, to her).
[Follow her art account on Instagram: @Nimartistry. Her artistic abilities are simply amazing, Allahummabārik!]
“Final time I am going to think outside of the ‘here and now’, Insha Allah.”
When I read this bit of your email, it honestly summed up what I wanted to say regarding everything you’ve written. There is a video I saw on Instagram; you may have seen it already. A Somali Muslim guy, visibly blind, quoted the Qur’an and then said,
“Allah promised me, all I have to do is be patient, and I’ll be granted Jannah. I have to deal with blindness for about 80 years, and then be guaranteed paradise permanently? No problem; this is nothing!”
And seeing him act so nonchalant about being blind just truly diminished any sense of struggle and worry I had in that moment. Alhamdullilah we have all our senses, but we are tested in other ways. However, the principle still applies. Be patient, and you will be granted Jannah. That’s literally all it is!
So Sadia, try to take one day at a time, with each […] emotion, deal with them as they come. Each test, is just an opportunity to stack them rewards boi. Imagine if life went the way we wanted it to: how could we be tested? How would we deserve any blessings given to us? Our Lord is Just. Whatever pain and worry you feel, you will be recompensed. Never doubt that there is a purpose to every twist and turn, to every calamity, to every stress. (A reminder to myself as well). It is simply an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and that is the greatest blessing we could ever receive in this life.”
[I (Sadia, that is) will add, here, that the life of this world is, ultimately, a struggle. An oft arduous journey, up a mountain. Or, on an aeroplane of sorts, to Somewhere. To meeting our Creator, and to our ultimate Homes, Insha Allah. Here, we must not allow ourselves to be deluded. There are no utopias on Earth, you will find, “and what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?” [Qur’an, (57:20)]]
“When I ride in an airplane [sic], I enjoy looking at how small the world seems from a distance. Yet when you zoom in, what seemed so small and insignificant turns out to be very important and major for most of us. The size of the house, the kind of car, the amount of money, and the lifestyle we want. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of day to day life thinking that it will never end. Each day we wake up, go to work, wait for Friday, and enjoy the weekend. Rinse and repeat. It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to stop, pause, and reflect on what is happening and where we are going. We often escape from the thought of our end. Death is a reality every single living creature will experience. No one’s health, wealth, status, or riches ever saved them from dying and being buried with nothing.” — Fatima Karim
“The root of all diseases of the heart is our love and attachment to this materialistic world. We know this world is temporary, yet we find it so hard to disengage from it. May the Almighty guide our hearts into desiring what is lasting — the Hereafter.” — Mufti Ismail Menk
This is certainly something that I need to remember. That, on the flip-side of this more fleeting existence, I am already ‘dead’, departed from this Dunya. In that atemporal realm, I am either somewhere in Jannah, or I am in Jahannam. My current experience, here, is retrospective knowledge for me, over There: a string of reasons as to why I am wherever it is that I may be.
This life is a test. My life is an individualised ‘test paper’, so to speak. I am being tested in particular ways, and you are being tested in different particular ways. Through, to paraphrase that ‘Meaning of Life’ spoken word poem I am so obsessed with, our wealth, our health, and everything we have been blessed with.
And we will surely be resurrected.
Here, I have Salaah. I have the Qur’an. I have all these added blessings, such as food and warmth, good people, and these constant opportunities to learn, and to grow, and to work on bettering myself. Most else… these are supplementary blessings that I do not necessarily ‘need’ in order to fulfil my purpose, here. I must be duly thankful for all of it, Shakoor.
“Everything other than Allah is vanity” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
In your grave, nothing of the vanities of this life will remain. Just you, alone, and your deeds: the stuff of the soul (presently seemingly invisible, intangible. But, soon: the only things that are real, that remain).
And, see, death is absolutely certain, while the things of this life are absolutely not.
People find, or re-find, Islam in different ways. In fact, from my observations, it would certainly seem as though every ‘born-Muslim’ does undergo a distinct period in their lives during which they are presented with a distinguishable opportunity to ‘come back’ to Islam, and as if for the first time.
The latter half of the year 2019 had very much been this sort of period for me. Returning. Coming home to Deen, and yet, things had felt quite new. I knew things, and yet I was ‘re-learning’. I also learnt about a lot of additional things to do with Islam, courtesy of some great conversations with people; YouTube videos/lectures; working part-time at an Islamic bookshop (hashtag free library, basically). And now, teaching at an Islamic school: Alhamdulillah. What an exceptional bank of resources Allah has blessed me with. Even to have access to the internet: the entire world at our very fingertips [but, do remember that Sheikh Google is not qualified enough to answer all our Deen-related questions. Misleading information on the web is, shock horror, very much a thing!]
It is true: as one of my History students pointed out (in one of our class discussions, during which I try with some exertion to make some rather boring parts of History relevant and engaging, somehow, to these young Muslim girls in East London) converts (or, reverts) do tend to be more enthusiastic and ‘strong’ in their faith than people who had simply been born into religion: i.e. those of us who are merely going through the motions.
“So Miss, Henry VIII had basically been a Munāfiq, but Catholic version, right?”
“Okay, sure… yes, [student’s name]. Why, yes he had been.”
We like finding things for ourselves; when our love for things has grown; when we have watched and overseen their growing. We love it when things speak to us personally, somehow. To be instructed to do something is one thing; to be truly passionate about doing that thing – to love it out of personal choice, and through personal effort – is really something else.
Now I am going to go ahead and analogise religion with… marriage. Some marriages are entirely ‘arranged’; in some ‘arranged marriages’, love does not grow. Everything is ‘obligation’; ‘spirituality’ is suppressed. Things are rote, and without genuine feeling, love. On the other extreme end of the spectrum, perhaps, there are intense, passionate ‘love marriages’, in which everything is guided by infatuation and ‘passion’. And sometimes, these are quite short-lived, as the ‘fire’ can quickly result in… burn-out.
In some ‘arranged marriages’, though, over time, and with some individual effort towards nurturing the connection, love can grow. With some effort, with some greater commitment to love – through a lens based on reality – one can return to it, over and over again. Inter-marital conflicts do arise, all the time. But it is about what spouses do afterwards, towards resolution (or, in some cases, towards mere escape). Are these arranged marriages not comparable with people who had been ‘born into’ Islam? Some people stay. Some people’s arranged marriages grow in love: sometimes it takes a mere week; sometimes it takes years. And sometimes, people leave.
‘Love marriages’, then. One must learn not to confuse zealousness with ‘love’. Love, I think, sits in some moderate and ‘good’ place between intense and fiery passion, and mere black-and-white rules and obligation. It is like water. Often quiet, often powerful. Deeply nourishing. And dams and other obstacles can be overcome, Insha Allah. If one is truly committed: things can be made realistic and sustainable. Fine balances between ‘materialism’ and ‘spiritualism’ (with the latter remaining the objective) and between ‘Dunya’ and ‘Deen’.
Marriage is about a mutual ‘officialised’ connection between husband and wife. Religion is about an officialised connection between oneself and one’s Creator. With both types of connection, you will likely experience fluctuations in pure ‘passionate’ feeling. In marriage, one may refer to this as ‘romantic’ emotion. In religion, one may refer to this as ‘Īmān’. To make things sustainable and good, we must learn to be moderate; commit ourselves to the ‘Greater Good’ of things, so to speak. Even when we feel too proud to apologise, or when we feel ‘too tired’ to wake up for Fajr. Put Allah first, and you will ultimately be Successful.
Let love grow; be patient with its growing. Patient when (when, not if) it falls short. It requires nurturing. Often, some of its petals brown and fall, and this is okay. If you tend to it properly, new petals will grow: so long as its roots are sturdy, healthful.
[Also, very often: short-term pain, long-term (True) gain!]
The exact way that Allah had brought me back to Islam, and to conviction: I prefer to reserve the details and the steps of this process for a far smaller audience. But, Subhan Allah. It had all been quite… divine, hadn’t it. My doubts, over a certain period, had been driving me a little crazy. But my Rabb guided me. One thing, and then another. All these signs. Incidents, so perfectly placed. I had prayed and prayed for more than mere ‘faith’: it had been conviction that I had so longed for. And Allah did bless me with it, Alhamdulillah. And may it be preserved within me, Āmeen.
‘The Religious One’. I speak about Islam a lot, I suppose, and thus I seem to have earned the label, from some, of being ‘The Religious One’. For some, I know this is as a result of my being, at once, a Hijabi, and an introvert. Therefore ‘serious’ and/or ‘reserved’, and ‘religious’. Boring, not very amicable, and whatever else… Hmmm… Okay. But ultimately,
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ [Qur’an, (109:6)]
For you, your way of life/religion. And for me, mine.
Admittedly, I used to see certain individuals within my greater extended family (my mother’s grandmother had seven children; each of them had between four to seven children. And then most of them each had two or three children. Big, big extended family. Alhamdulillah) as being really ‘religious’. Based on fairly ‘outside’ factors: because some of them wore Niqab, for example. One of them, I believe, chose to not have a TV in his house, and would sit all his children down to read Qur’an for hours a day, after school. And one of them would let her son do some fun things (like taking horse-riding lessons) but refused to let him watch ‘Horrid Henry’. I found this a little extreme, at the time.
But now, I am able to sympathise with such choices more and more. I am not of the opinion that children should not be allowed to, you know… have childhoods… however it would be wholly untruthful of me to claim that all movies and cartoons and such tend to have a net positive influence on children (or, indeed, on we adults, even) …
‘Peppa Pig’, for example, as many Muslim parents I am acquainted with have pointed out: one of the underlying messages of the show would appear to be that it is ‘okay’ to belittle and humiliate one’s own father, on account of his eating habits and such… [This is just an isolated, ‘basic’ example]
Movies and films and books and every societal ill that has been normalised, over time, through them. We now find ourselves so desensitised to immorality — it is ‘innocent fun’; so heedless and in loss. Throughout history: one group of people having diverted from the True Path, busying theirselves in greed and immorality and delusion. Gaining power, and then having the ability to deeply, insidiously, affect others. And, oh, the ease with which these false realities are then accepted, devoured, as though people are hungry for exactly them.
The mass media, and the education system, are powerful mouthpieces indeed. They fill us with information and with ideas; can truly pollute our hearts, minds, souls, and corrupt our Fitrahs. About whom we are; whom we ought to be; what we ought to desire; what we ought to live for. What a powerful hold these outlets can have, over us!
Money, consumerism, exaggerated conceptualisations of romantic love, idealisations of ‘travelling the world’…
These things are meant to ‘rescue’ us, somehow. But they cannot. These things cannot ‘do’ things for us, neither in nor of nor from themselves. Things can only ‘help’ us, in any way, by the Will and the permission of the Almighty. It is He whom we ought to rely on, and He whom we ask for help.
And we must be careful with what we are consuming – via our eyes and our ears – all of the time. Our very limbs, our organs: they may end up testifying against us, on the Day of Judgement. It is not about what ‘everybody else is doing’. Just because everybody else is indulging in massively inappropriate series shows on Netflix, does not mean we can justify doing the same. We, for our own selves, are responsible. And our moral compasses are either aligned with the whims and desires of the masses of people, or they rely on objective Truth for… truth.
The more I seek, though, the more I do find that Islam really is a way of life that is centred upon the principle of balance. We are meant to demonstrate balance in all things, from how much food we consume, to, even, how much we pray. We are not meant to withdraw from society, or force children to read and read, and relate to the Deen in a way that does not speak personally to them. We are meant to steer clear from excess, and from the states of ingratitude and heedless ness that ‘excess’ tends to foster.
The stories of our lives are made up of choices. This thing, or that. And then there are those varying degrees of evil and goodness, from extremely evil, to Ihsān: goodness, excellence.
And when I write about life and religion, I am mainly trying to process my own views on it all. It is an honour, actually, to be seen as a ‘religious person’ on account of my speaking about and writing about Islamic matters. But religion is about one’s relationship with Allah: an affair of not only the mind, but crucially also of the heart, and of the soul.
I am trying, and that is all we humans can do. Comfortingly, Allah does not expect perfection from us; we will all necessarily make mistakes and fall short, and in our religion, monasticism and excessive asceticism are both forbidden. There is beauty in balance, and the best that we can do is: try. Self-reflect. Change some of our habits. Ask Allah, over and over again, for guidance and for help,
“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly, even if they are few.”
— Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith
and try to be more grateful. I have been thinking more about gratitude, lately. Dunya. Consistently, throughout, albeit in varying configurations of this universal truth: all our glasses are half full, and they are half empty. ‘Common folk’ yearn for the riches of the rich, whilst the rich long for the camaraderie and gaiety of common folk. Young people race to start a family and become ‘settled’ already, while ‘settled’ people wish to be young and single, again. And so on, and so on. If only we could bring ourselves to accept this ‘here’ and this ‘now’, as well as whom and where we happen to be in this moment. Recognise that these forms of idealisation only occur as a result of being far away from [the truths of] things. Dunya is Dunya, all around Dunya — no matter where you look.
This was never meant to be ‘home’ for us, and we can either choose to focus on the good that we do have (every bite of chocolate, every new day that we are permitted to meet, every meeting with a dear friend [remembering, each time, that this may well be the last time you see them. So declare your love for them, and speak the beauty in them, which you see; make it known!] every sip of water, every obstacle that provides an opportunity to return to Allah) or we can instead obsess over what we do not have. And Allah promises in the Qur’an that those of us who choose to be grateful: He will “increase” us. This is a truth I had really come to know this year.
Finally, I know: it can be awfully hard to be a ‘practising Muslim’ these days. Even merely performing the basics of… Salāh, for example, are enough to earn one the label of ‘The Religious One’, with all of its unfavourable connotations.
“I bet he doesn’t even know how to have fun. He’s so religious!”
Hmmm… Maybe your ideas of ‘fun’ involve clubbing and speaking flirtatiously with ten girls/boys at any given time. [Someone I know says that “clubbing is for cavemen”. A valueless virtual merit for anyone who can identify and explain the double entendre in that statement…] And perhaps you are preventing others from fully being themselves, in your presence, through blocky labels of ‘religious’ or ‘fun’ and whatnot. But, fair enough; think what you wish to think:
.لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ
Muslim males who, for instance, are ‘waiting for marriage’ are not ‘losers’, in any way. Not at all. It is indeed tragic that the diseased ways of ‘modernity’ can fool us into thinking along these lines. And Muslim females who cover up and practise modesty are not ‘prudes’ or ‘boring’ or ‘unconfident’.
The people I love the most are gorgeous Muslims (and one, a Christian) who are fun, and interesting, and lovely. And they do not, for example, need to get a little ‘tipsy’ or ‘high’ in order to be these very things! Blessed, blessed, blessed (according to a Hadith) are the غريب, the strangers/outlandish people!
“Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers/outlandish ones.”
Though our to-do lists and routines do help us in some ways: they provide for us at least some mental clarity, the alleviation of at least some uncertainties [What to do now? And what to do next?] …
We have come to learn that life is very much about adaptability. There is no rigid manual that tells us what to do in every moment; there are no guarantees about what any coming moment shall bring with it.
There is this rainfall. There are those unexpected happenings; those people you happen to come by, cross paths with, even briefly.
There are each of these days of ours. And yes, though some of our lines are straighter than some of our other ones, there are all of these twists and these turns within our lives that we shall necessarily encounter. Inevitable. You do not get to build your steadfast castles here, and time is made to ceaselessly move on.
What if I told you that the stuff of this first life of ours is essentially cluttered and cumbersome? Things change; get swept away with little gusts of wind. You attempt to simplify, simplify, and all the while: new dilemmas, problems, struggles, are made to arise.
Sand-like, these worldly attempts at permanence, constancy, faultlessness, immortality, power over our own selves. We find we are fundamentally mistaken. And that we must learnt to focus on those things that are a little more substantial (i.e. what our souls are earning,) instead. Bring it all back to Truth, to what we know, at least five times a day: only these things (and one day we will come to know this) are made of materials that are truly fulfilling, for us: that last.
First life, to last. Journey and destination.
I think, at times, I have tried to control things a little too much. ‘Write things down’, make lists, neaten certain things up, plan and idealise. But then: global pandemics happen, sometimes, or I did not manage, for this reason or the other, to catch a good night’s sleep that night, so now this morning is being spent in a hurry… I plan, but I find I do not know much at all. I am only a visitor, here. Temporary, and a traveller.
There are, interspersed throughout our days, little obstacles, as well as little opportunities. Things that sort of stay the same; things that change and change and change. We are not in control, here. Not sufficient in and of and for ourselves. It is Ar-Razzaq who is our Sustainer, our Ultimate Provider.
So how ought we to learn to live, here? We must accept the reality of Dunya: the reality that we already, deep down, know. Glass half full, and half empty. And we must learn to ‘flow’, and move with it all. Pick up the good, know the bad. Seek the Khayr in it all – all of it – somehow. It is always there.
We fall, and we get up. And we make these plans, but they are penned in impermanent inks, through fundamentally unknowing nibs. Erase that, scrap that, try again. Look at the resources we have access to; try to, in a way centred on ‘rugged charm’, make do, carry on. Make it beautiful. We live, experience, we get through. Adaptability, we find, is already a key element of our human constitutions.
Witness the flurries of our days, and sit amid those moments of calm. Meet new situations in life – unforeseeable ones – and adapt to them. Take life as it comes: our plans and such are only rough outlines. Drawings in sand – somewhat useful – as opposed to carvings in stone.
What is Dunya, but dirt — first within our skin, and then beneath our feet. And then we are buried in it; we stay there for a while.
While we have the ability to, we must return to Allah, over and over again: however many tries it takes to really feel like we are there. Make all these choices; choose to walk this way, or that. Here, we are campers. Our main concerns ought to be survival: ‘enough’, materially, and as much as we can, spiritually. Look up at the sky for reminders; remember Time, from time to time, and we come to locate Earthly peace and home, right here,