‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.
In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.
‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?
Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.
Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.
[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]
Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.
Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.
Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]
One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.
Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?
How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!
I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?
What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!
Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.
Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’sin the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.
Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.
And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.
‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.
[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]
‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.
Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.
“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar
Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.
Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.
So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.
And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.
Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.
And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.
In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.
Today, my friend Tasnim came all the way to my area, and we went on a nice walk, which had been coupled with a conversation that, Alhamdulillah, brought me such comfort; gave me an insightful, wise, alternative perspective on things. We spoke about our lives, and about our thoughts, and about our ideas pertaining to ourselves, and to other people and such.
A key theme in today’s conversation would appear to have been that of ‘irony’: as a teacher of ours had taught us a couple of years ago, this term, in Literature at least, refers to “the contrast between appearances and reality” [Sidgwick]. A crucial theme in English Literature, because it is a crucial theme in almost everything, when it comes to this human, Dunya-based, existence.
Irony: between what appears to be, and what actually is. When one character – person – is convinced of something, for example. And life is a collection of various journeys that tend towards the actual truths of things. The images, the stuff of outsides, and of projections and such. Holographs; assumptions; mirages. The temptation of the harmless-seeming apple whose poisons seem impossible, from here. And… when we get closer to their cores.
My little cousin Dawud, for instance, is utterly convinced that the moon glows white because it has batteries in it. I, on the other hand, sort of arrogantly believe that it does so because it is reflecting some of the sun’s light. And in reality, I am only a grown-up (somewhat-knowing, but mostly not-) child. I concede; I accept my weaknesses and fallibilities. I guess I don’t really know much at all.
But, yes, I look for what is true. I want to try to part with all of my currently-held convictions: all save for One. There is, after all, constantly: all these things that we think we know. Maybe they are not true; maybe they never were. Or, maybe they were true once, but are no longer so. You know: how we can be proven wrong about these exact things, over and over and over again. To awe-inspiring (positively surprising) ends, sometimes, or to ‘disappointing’ ones, (on our limited-and-human level, at least) other times.
But I make Du’a for whatever is best for me, which may not seem always quite so obvious here in the ‘now’. I see only a pixel of the (what seems to me, to be a) puzzle, while only Allah has power over the entirety of the picture. And my heart, I suppose, always feels far more at ease when I fall for what is real, and, in a connected manner, focus on what is True.
So maybe, like, say, a headstrong baby being guided away from eating those poisonous household things that seem, to them, most ‘exciting and colourful’: maybe Isimply, at present at least, do not know much at all.
Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:
You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.
If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.
Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.
In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.
The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.
Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.
And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?
The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.
I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?
Liberalism. Liberalism forwhom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.
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…
Works of fiction tend to be composed of a number of different… tropes. Male writers writing tragically one-dimensional, unrealistic female characters, pandering to the ‘Male Gaze’ [perpetually sweet and lovely. Very physically available. Mysterious and exciting, able to ‘liberate’ the man from a mundane existence]; female writers, also, writing tragically unidimensional male characters [dark, brooding, sharp-boned, and uniformed. Effortlessly eloquent and quietly, deeply emotional and passionate].
Works of fiction are fascinating. These particular products of our minds can tend to reveal quite a lot about… ourselves. In works of fiction, characteristics – physical and personality-based; aesthetic and otherwise – are singled out, and detached – liberated – from the quagmires of present, Dunya-based reality.
Fiction can tell us an awful lot about what our innermost desires may be: it is both informed by these desires, and also contributes to fuelling them; shaping our expectations from life, often without our consciously realising.
Our Fitrahs (generally defined as, our ‘innate human constitutions’) are so receptive to things like physical beauty, and ‘idealistic’ ideas. Constantly, it is like a constant reminder that we are not at Home, here: that there exists, between (Dunya-based) reality and (Jannah-promised) idealism this… journey. Our innermost desires do continue to exist, though. It is not ‘wrong’ for us to have these fundamental yearnings, but it is wrong for us to indulge in them here in Dunya.
‘Islam’ means finding peace in submission to the Creator of all things knowable. Therefore, it would be fallacious to attempt to detach considerations of bodily beauty; sensuality; luxury, and other ‘wants’, from ‘Islamic’ considerations.
One cannot act like the Deen of Islam is somehow… separable from all of these abstract elements of the human experience. Quite the opposite, really. From Allah comes beauty and all things good; with Allah is everything that we could ever dream of having, and More. It is just that these are not the Purpose of this present life of ours: this journey.
There is, for example, a rather interesting real-life story of a particular Muslim scholar/Sheikh – a European revert Muslim – whose forays into Islam began when he had been an adolescent, witnessing a scene of heightened (feminine) beauty. Allah’s artistry at play… and he realised that, since there can be such Beauty in the world – such Unity, Proportion, and Harmony of design – for example on the corporeal forms of women — then there simply must be a Creator.
As human beings [when I say ‘human beings’ I feel like I sound like some alien anthropologist, trying to observe humanity from the outside, but anyway… When human beings] enter into maturity – puberty – and actually even in the years before this fundamental transition – we find ourselves naturally beset by… a hyper-awareness of the opposite gender, coupled with little obsessions with… getting a six-pack and good haircuts. Or with being thin, and having glowing skin.
In bodily characteristics; in lightness or depth of voice; in scent, even, and in essence. As far as fleeting attractions go, it is quite normal for – boys and girls alike – to enter into a deep… recognition of attraction. And these acknowledgements are almost daily, for the majority of our lives. We are recognisers of beauty, but we are encouraged to “lower our gaze[s]” when it comes to the opposite gender: gazing is known to fuel desiring. And the stuff of Dunya simply leaves us hungrier the more we chase after it all.
Generally, also, in fiction, there tends to be carved out a particular dichotomy between the ‘Beautiful’ – the ‘bodily’ blessed, and therefore the more physically desirable – and the ‘Brainy’. The male characters who are supposed to belong to the former group are meant to enjoy frequenting the gym; playing football; flirting effortlessly with lots of women. The women of the former group: shopping, makeup, shoes, clothes, and partying.
The men of the latter group: socially awkward and cannot speak to members of the opposite gender, though thoroughly accomplished and knowledgable. ‘Socially’ unsuccessful; economically and professionally thriving, and with numerous differentiating ‘quirks’. And the women of the latter group: ‘unstylish’, neglectful of physical appearance, caring too much about minor details and/or seeming … monotonous, devoid of any proclivities towards lightheartedness and humour. No friends at all, or being… evidently disliked by the friends they do have.
There is Ralph ‘versus’ (the character who is rather unfavourably named) ‘Piggy’, in ‘Lord of the Flies’ — i.e. the ‘popular’ and widely-socially-approved-of, ‘golden-bodied’ ‘versus’ the ‘intellectual’, ‘physically weak’, caring and compassionate, but ruthlessly overlooked. Daphne ‘versus’ Velma, in ‘Scooby Doo’. Zack ‘versus’ Cody, in ‘The Suite Life’… [Personally, I really favoured Cody but in the show, he had been designed to be a little ‘pathetic’, teased by the others. Not particularly ‘respectable’ or ‘enviable’]. Haley Dunphy ‘versus’ Alex, in ‘Modern Family’. The list goes on and on.
But when it comes to defining real people, outside of the caricatures that are necessary in order to make works of fiction digestible and entertaining… People are people. Some people are quite smart and quite good-looking. Some people are quite smart in some ways but not necessarily in others; beautiful according to certain sets of standards, but not others.
When we attempt to fit people into convenient-but-oversimplified brackets like this, we forget about so many necessary nuances. When people admire – or envy – the ‘smart, productive’ one, they do not see the loneliness and restlessness that might be an essential downside of that general experience. When people envy the physically ‘beautiful’ ones, they may not see the behind-the-scenes emotional toils, and all the masking – that may come to form an essential downside of that general experience.
I know of people who, for instance… grew up reading ‘Harry Potter’ – repeatedly – in the bathroom. And then they got ‘dench’ and ‘popular’ (i.e. I suppose, easily, readily approved of by people) and grew into a newly developed part of themselves. But we do not ever lose who we are, at our cores, do we? And how many parts of oneself need one shed, in order to fit into any acceptable bracket of categorisation: any simple trope, any fiction?
As soon as we try to simplify human beings in such ways, they are no longer holistic people in our eyes, but ‘characters’. Fictions. And our formerly held convictions will almost necessarily be disproven.
We are just… people. [I really wish there were an actual antonym for ‘just’. For now, I’ll just say:] We are wonderfully… people.
Morality, according to the Muslim Weltanschauung [love that word] concerns: what ought to be done. We are each Children of Ādam; we have souls; we have our ‘selves’ (our Nafs…es?)
What is, versus what ought to/ought not to be (done), and what could be (done).
On the ‘sexual’ level, which is fundamental to us as a species… women love to beautify themselves. Skincare, henna, hair, clothes, and all the rest of it. Women crave male validation; men, certainly, also crave female validation, and also have impulses within them, to gaze at, and to pursue women.
Recently, I learned that, when it comes to sexual drives, the most influential hormone at play is… testosterone. And average men’s bodies tend to contain, within them, over eight times the amount of testosterone that is contained within the female body! [The entire world makes about… eight times more sense now…] It does also thoroughly seem to be the case that, while men have natural inclinations towards the more visual side of things, women have stronger inclinations towards the more… ’emotional’ side of things. Hence the differences in male and female fictional characters that are designed to be uniquely attractive to the two respective genders. ‘Men fall in love through their eyes; women, through their ears’.
Men are in need of women; women are in need of men. We have been created differently, but in a connected way. Complementarily, in a handful of very interesting ways.
I guess, what I am trying to relay here, is that we should not be in denial of who we are, and what we want. But the Muslim way of viewing things is that just because your Nafs beckons you towards something, we need not chase those desires like wolves. Ultimately, if we try to satisfy these desires within Dunya – to entertain non-Mahram people of the opposite gender, for example, or to always thoroughly beautify ourselves in order to go outside, and to religiously follow all these beauty trends pandering to that age-old Male Gaze – we set ourselves up for great disappointment.
That is not to say we should just… ‘let go’ of our outer selves, and ‘not care’. More so that… we have desires; we have animalistic, base parts of ourselves. We also have knowledge; intellect; the ability to discern what is right from what is wrong. There are permissible avenues through which to do certain things; there are also certain prohibitions in place, for us: for our own good. We choose what we do with this information.
As Muslims, one can have spent one’s youth having spoken to hundreds and hundreds of different boys/girls; having been ‘built’ and/or very beautiful, garnering much approval and validation as a result of our physical forms and behaviours. One can have spent one’s youth reading books, focusing on schoolwork, and on personal interests, perhaps (instead?) garnering approval and validation as a result of our intellectual capacities, vocabularies, ideas. Or… a bit of both, perhaps, with added helpings of familial responsibilities and such. Alhamdulillah for what we have been given, here in Dunya; equally and alike, for what we have not been given.
Ultimately, the purpose of Dunya life is… for us to be tested, and to worship our Creator. Pure gold, becoming separated from its ores. And our tests are also blessings; our blessings are also… tests.
With all this in mind: if one recognises – and is complimented on – beauty on one’s face and/or body, if one accepts sacred Islamic laws, one is inclined to cover up before non-Mahrams; thank Allah; ask for protection and for Barakah. If one recognises high levels of intelligence, within one’s mind, the Muslim is inclined towards thanking Allah for it; using it towards Good and not towards arrogant ends: of feigning superiority, disregarding the truth, mistreating others.
And: books ‘or‘ ‘boys’? Being ‘smart’ ‘or‘ being ‘pretty’? Being ‘cool’ ‘or’ ‘pathetic’… ‘religious’ ‘or’ ‘fun’…
Well, on the ‘boy’ front- or the ‘girl’ front, if thou art male – Insha Allah we all… end up with just one. A special just-one. And may they love us deeply: in soul, in heart, in mind, and in body, and may we love them very deeply in return. Sigh. May they also have good hair. Āmeen.
And on the general-life front: we are here to worship Allah, and we are here to be tested. One cannot focus on the body, at the expense of focusing on the other dimensions of our being: [just going to list them again, for my own benefit] mind, hearts, and souls. But! We also should not focus on, say, intellectual-or-otherwise pursuits at the expense of our physical health, and appearances. Whatever brings us towards that which is Good is… good. Whatever brings us away from holistic goodness might… not be so good. Everything about balances; moderation, holism, is the way of the Believer, is it not?
Furthermore, a random question, but one that I find quite interesting to consider:
If you had to choose: would you rather be very intelligent but average in terms of looks or very physically attractive but average in terms of intelligence?
We are judged, first and perhaps foremost, based on how we appear. In all physical social settings: at school, interviews, and more. The Halo Effect: good looks translate into ‘goodness of being‘, in our eyes.
I do care about how I look; how I come across. But people who ‘know’ my face do not really know me. I am not sure how much a face can reveal. Some markers of youth and health, sure. Ethnicity, perhaps [but people frequently guess at my ethnic background, and get it wrong. Including some random strangers who seem to ‘like’ me based on… where they think I am ‘from’. They don’t like me: they just… have some sort of appearance-based particular-ethnicity thing]. But if I am to be known, I would like to be known far closer to my core. Is it better to be shallowly ‘loved’ by the many, or is it better to be deeply loved by a select few?
Is this an ‘either’/’or’ thing? Yes, I think. Probably. We are limited in terms of how much time we have, and energy, to expend. Physical beauty speaks to – is pleasing to – the Fitrah. The stuff of the mind, heart, and soul: these are the abstract worlds that lie beyond what can be seen by the eyes. So much to explore, within ourselves, and others. Night-sky depths; oceanic mysteries, we.
And The Test of Life. It is hard. Dificil. It is meant to be, because the best, most worthy things usually are. But we are here, as knowing worshippers of Allah. This whole life thing: in terms of learning, socialising, health, sexual partnership (‘sexual’ in the sense that it is between the two sexes. More so than being bodily, in Islam we acknowledge that these partnerships are partnerships of the soul).
[With our food, and our books. With the natural world, and our families. Masjids, and our friends. With what is Halal, hopefully, and without what, here in Dunya, is not:]
To paraphrase a line I really liked from one of my all-time favourite TV series [‘Girl Meets World’. Uncle Joshie,]
We are in it for the long haul.
P.S. not to sound like a wannabe Romantic poet-philosopher here, but… this evening I went on a night walk with my aunts and cousins. The sky was uniquely clear here in London, tonight, Subhan Allah, and the Big Dipper (a constellation that I have always loved) resembled a perfect diamond question mark in the darkness. And I remembered and thought about that very powerful Qur’anic Ayah:
I believe that, in the process of writing, one of the most important things is… honesty. Looking back at old blog articles of mine, I worry I may have ‘over-shared’. Certain people might come to know things about me – and about my life – which they may ‘have no business in knowing’. But this blog of mine is mine, and slowly slow, Alhamdulillah, I am feeling less afraid about coming to know truths, and speaking of them.
If I and my writing are liked, for whom and how we are, then tres bien. We are glad to have you here. If not: we are all entitled to liking or disliking – and being fundamentally drawn to or away from – what we do.
Necessarily, though, when processing things by attempting to produce what may be termed ‘art’ – whether it is, in the end, judged to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – one is forced to filter out certain things, and to pay special attention to some of its brethren instead; favouring them, dressing them up in eloquence and prettiness.
But what has one to lose, really, in being honest? Pride, we say. And dignity. I don’t think I want to ever change the essence of myself – neither the parts I have deemed to be desirable, nor the parts which have caused me some difficulty along the way – in order to be rendered ‘agreeable enough’. So long as I am acting in line with moral requirements, and making space for others: there is enough space for me to be precisely who I am, here, too.
‘Neurodiversity’. This is a topic that I find, intrigues me very much. Recently, I came across a written publication whose premise seems to be the inherent connection between ‘neurodivergence’ (autism, ASD, ADHD, and more) and creativity and innovation, being (academically) ‘gifted’, and (most notably, perhaps) sensitivity.
I also happened upon a very interesting (fictional, but with real real-world relevance) story-based video: about a young writer who wins competitions and is seen as being something of a lexical prodigy. Eventually, her work gains public recognition: she is invited onto talk-shows, and to write for popular publications and the like. She also suffers from depression. The public are taken by her work; insistently ask her how she became such a good writer; where she gets her inspiration from. Her depression and insomnia. These are what lend her the necessary inspiration and articulateness, for writing — and the art of writing provides an outlet through which she processes her deep and heavy emotions. The story is well-developed: this writer’s depression, as she later discovers through her conversations with a health coach, would appear to be caused by her sensitivity to a particular protein found in dairy. And, because her output with regard to writing had been so reliant on her experiences of depression, the woman in question has a choice to make. Her love of cheese, or the quality of her writing.
At the end, the grand question that is put to her is:
“What’s worth more to you?
The success of your work or the more pleasant state of mind?”
In this world, generally, people really do fear being ‘mediocre’. Instead, people aspire to be more like… the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and, in terms of historical figures: Mary Shelley, Van Gogh, Mozart. Mark Twain, Edward Thomas, Da Vinci, Albert Einstein.
World-renowned artists; writers; musicians; inventors, mathematicians, scientists and architects: their experiences of bipolar, depression, autism, ADHD. They are flip-sides of the same coins: because, to be different, one must be… different.
It is that, to have the ‘good’ – the plus-sides – of something, one must necessarily experience its necessary downsides, too.
See, people who tend to excel at a particular thing — for whom the underlying languages of particular fields seem to come rather naturally… tend to also easily be ‘diagnosable’ as being, in some ways or others, ‘neurodivergent’.
And the price to pay for the ‘normality’ that escapes these difficult labels and experiences is: relative ‘mediocrity’.
I, for one, have always known that I am ‘weird’. People have always let me know of this fact — not necessarily in a bad way. “Cute,” they say: a label which sometimes irks me. “Quirky”. “Brave enough to be yourself”. “Weird”.
I… am not trying to be “quirky”. The so-called ‘quirky’ things I do and say: they feel so intrinsic to who I am. It is weird to realise, over and over again, that some other people might find these things strange.
Sometimes it has felt alienating. “See? Even Sadia finds that weird!”
And suddenly I am made hyper-aware, again, of the fact that… maybe I need to learn to do things differently, maybe, somehow. I don’t know what to change about myself, but then again, why should I want to change anything-that-isn’t-harming-anybody about myself?
Just because parts of myself might feel… unfamiliar to some?
I guess I am writing this article because recently I think I started to put the pieces together a little. I have always – from Nursery to (what I term The Depressive Year) Year Thirteen done well at school, Alhamdulillah. But I have major problems with being unable to sit and do work for subjects and such I do not have strong, strong interests in. I have pretty much always had a particular proclivity towards words, and writing, and day-dreaming. I am very emotionally sensitive: I absorb others’ emotions pretty much like a sponge. I am quite sensitive to sensory overstimulation. I get socially exhausted pretty quickly, and I have my particularities. Three close friends, and I can really only socialise well when it’s one-on-one. With these things in mind, and more pertaining to whom I have always been, I realise:
I might just be a little on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s, may-haps?) But I don’t think I want to see a doctor, to get an official diagnosis. Because if this is the case, I don’t really see it is an ‘illness’.
Looking back, I realise that many of the people I have admired may have been what is commonly seen as being ‘neurodivergent’. At secondary school, a boy who had been seen as being a bit of a ‘lone wolf’, even though he had friends. He had a knack for making physical works of art; very intelligent (Allahummabārik) and he had particular interests in things like Transformers. We – his friends and some of his classmates – knew him to have been very cool, strange-in-a-good-way, and funny. But it seemed like he had been trying to hide from ‘the masses’, at our school. Secondary school can be an awful, relentless place; one in which anything that makes you ‘different’ makes you… less-than, a ‘problem’, somehow, an easy target.
It must be said, also, that the idiot boys who sometimes taunted the aforementioned one were so, so, personality-less[-seeming], in contrast to him. To be part of the ‘group’ they so desperately wanted to be part of, they simply had to locate and project their insecurities upon some sort of ‘Other’. It is true, though, that “anybody who tries to bring you down is already beneath you”…
The art-loving boy in question ended up becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Being ‘different’ in these ways can be truly painful – especially if/when other people are woefully immature – but those who loved him loved him precisely for who he is, and, to quote the big sister from the movie ‘Wonder’, “you [really] can’t blend in, when you’re born to stand out”. [That is not to say that one should make it a deliberate goal to be ‘quirky’ and consistently ‘not-like-the-others’ and whatnot. But if it happens to be the case, then it happens to be the case, and there is Khayr in it. Allah made you who and how you are, with such good reason].
Sometimes it seems like this very secondary-school-way-of-thinking is what tars modern definitions of what is ‘normal’ and desirable, and what is ‘abnormal’ and not desirable. Be a certain way, or people cannot authentically accept you: how could they? But then enters that classic consideration: that rather edgy 2015-Tumblr-esque statement of rather being disliked for what I am, than liked for what I am not.
I had another friend at school – sixth form, this time – who told me she’d been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This had come as a bit of a shock to me — I’m not sure why. Probably because, when one thinks of autism, it is very easy to immediately picture symptoms of severe autism, as well as evident, insurmountable-seeming difficulties with speech and communication. And then, I guess, it occurred to me that I had attended a sixth form that had been filled with cool, exceptional, highly knowledgable, strange-in-a-good-way people [and at this school, being ‘normal’ had been the generally undesirable way of being]. In retrospect, many of them probably belonged somewhere on this ‘neurodivergent’ spectrum. They were different, in such awesome ways. [But, see, the idiot boys mentioned above would have probably, if they had come into contact with many of these people, committed to seeing them in a deliberately negative manner, purely towards self-affirming ends]. People are people: how can one fit the entirety of a person, and her essence, into strings of words and diagnoses?
In a world of several billion people, ‘neurodiversity’ is inevitable. Our minds are ‘built differently’, and function along differing lines. Some people are exceptionally good with numbers, or know an awful deal about planes. OCD, dependent-personality-disorders, autism, ADHD… these are all just terms that we attempt to attach to the entirety of a part of human experience. And the more I come to know about different people – from all different walks of life and such – it really does seem as though everybody ‘has’ something.
It’s just that we learn to wear our masks, for the outside world. Generally, our ‘true selves’ tend to be revealed as soon as we come home: to ourselves, and/or to the people who know best of our behavioural tendencies. Phone addictions, shopping addictions, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, mood swings and tendencies towards rage… Yep: it thoroughly does seem as though ‘everybody has something’.
Again, I do not want to seek to get myself diagnosed, and nor do I seek to diagnose myself. But if it is the case that I am ‘neurodivergent’ in this way, I say Alhamdulillah. The things that make me ‘me’: I have certainly come to know their associated downsides and difficulties. And, because of them, I also have the streams of good, which I may often take for granted: my beloved friends, and my personal experiences and stories, the stupid-fun, and the conversations I am able to have on awesome topics, with awesome people, and more.
Also, a poem that I had come across this academic year, courtesy of teaching my beloved Year Seven class:
Sigh. I love love. And not solely the over-romanticised ‘romantic’ type. Love between friends, and between family members. Real love sees not solely the masks that we wear. It sees beyond the ‘whom and how we are trying to be’: the cool, the unaffected, the ‘normal’. Real love notices, in love, our nooks and our crannies. And it promises to love us because of, and not ‘in spite of’, them.
So I am going to conclude this here article by assuring myself that I promise to, Insha Allah, always give myself a try. ‘Be myself’, and all that jazz. And I hope that Allah will continue to bring me to all of the right people; that He will continue to bring all of the right people to me.
Jordan Peterson: quite controversial a figure. I do find many of his talks and explanations thoroughly insightful.
Yes, I also scrolled down to the comments section for this one. Here is one comment that particularly stood out to me:
“Modern feminism has really been a punch in the gut to me. Raising children is not the honour it needs to be. I always felt that I was a burden even though my husband and family never made me feel that way. Grew up with a hardworking stay-at-home mom. When I went to work, the guilt and inability to juggle it all was unbearable. My family was not priority according to my work. I hope a new feminism brings back the mystery of women, the value of femininity and the strength of it in its own right. Also the value and the strength of masculinity.”
What matters? One’s health and wellbeing matter. One’s family. If you choose to work, your work may matter to you. Some people only partake in economic labour because they must, while others really only partake in it as a hobby thing: an enjoyable and productive way to pass time.
Some women get extremely bored and unhappy when they stay at home. Some women become extremely unwell when they commit to carrying out high-demand economic labour roles.
The most crucial considerations, I think, ought to be: what is truly, holistically good – best – for you? For the people you most deeply care about? For your Deen?
What ought not to play such a significant role: Mere appearances. What other (no offence, but for-the-most-part-irrelevant) people think. These people… will almost undoubtedly always be thoughtlessly ‘thinking’ things.
“She doesn’t work and only stays at home? Why doesn’t she do something useful with her life?”
“She’s only a pharmacist? Why isn’t she a doctor?”
“She works all day and sends her children to daycare?! How pitiable!”
“She earns more than her husband does? Ha!”
“Her husband’s an engineer and she doesn’t work? He should’ve married someone more educated!”
“Why is she tired all the time? Surely it isn’t that hard to have two young children and have a high-flying career?”
“Why can’t she go to work all day and clean the entire house top-to-bottom every day, by herself?”
“How dare she have her own opinions? The insolence! I should never have let my son marry her! She should just keep her mouth shut and cook and clean and say ‘Yes ma’am, whatever you say ma’am’ to everything I say!”
These busybodies, so violent with their words, necessarily a) only see the outermost parts of things, and b) have committed themselves to identifying the perceived negatives in lieu of the positives, so as to soothe themselves, and so as to entertain themselves through gossip. Have no fear, though: all they are really doing is depleting their own Ajr-ic [this should be a word. i.e. relating to Ajr] reservoirs, while contributing to their victims’…
You face your own reality. You know what it is like to be you.
The truth is, when you choose one thing, you necessarily forgo its alternatives. Life, and all of its various aspects: blessings and tests. Necessary upsides and downsides, to each part of it. You inherit a ‘good’ thing: you also inherit its unique ‘downsides’. Mutatis mutandis, ‘bad’ or difficult things, and their unique perks and ‘upsides’.
Ours is a world that finds itself marred by crises: of home; of family; of loneliness and hyper-‘individuality’. Of meaning; of mental wellbeing. It is also true: sacred things like marriage and motherhood are generally no longer looked upon with due sanctity and honour.
In any case, you are a being whose (limited) wealth is time. And health and energy; the ultimately finite amounts of attention you can give to different things. Family. Talents, skills, interests. Allah is Al-Mālik, and
you get to figure out what might be holistically best for you. Seek His guidance: sometimes certain things, decisions and such, may be hard, but
We submit to the Creator, and not to (the fleeting, incomplete, and often-exaggerated takes of) creation. Your life. Between you and your Lord, and also concerning the people whom you love.
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: email@example.com
Friday (the 18th) had been, for me, my last day of being nineteen years old – and thus, of being a nominal ‘teenager’ – and it also happened to have been the last day of my first term of being a teacher. Subhan Allah. I have much to write (type) about, in this article. Reflections, random thoughts: about teaching; about what I have learnt; about the art of ‘learning’, in general.
Usually, I scribble in my journal quite frequently; doing so has been, for a long time, a favourite hobby of mine, in addition to being an ‘outlet’ thing. For a while, I would write in my journal multiple times a day. On the train; by the river (Thames, of course. London-born, London-raised!); at school, in class [leading some classmates of mine, at sixth form, to, in earnest, ask me if I were actually some sort of undercover journalist or a spy or something!] But, wow: during term-time now as a teacher, this had been rendered practically impossible. I cannot, of course, simply sit and journal while delivering lessons… and, much of my ‘PPA time’ (the teaching equivalent of ‘free periods’) is taken up by a seemingly endless list of things to do. During my breaks, I tend to sit down for a while, and rest, often with a book. Actually, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks a little more, lately [Sponsor me, Audible! I’m basically a YouTuber, but written version]
Alhamdulillah times a million, though: this whole experience has been wonderful; a true gift from Allah. But, since starting at this job, I have scarcely been able to sit in peace, and with the necessary energy levels – which are a prerequisite for that crucial feeling of ‘inspiration’ – to simply do nothing but write, to my heart’s (and, to my mind’s) content.
Teaching has been: waking up quite early, even though the beautiful wintry months make me really, really want to remain blissfully in bed; cycling or walking (and, admittedly, occasionally – when I am feeling especially lazy or have too much to carry – taking an Über) to work; getting there before the sun has even risen [I am not, by nature, a ‘morning person’]. What a lovely thing to witness, though: the stillness of an empty classroom; the pinkish, purplish glows of nascent sunrise, glinting off of the nearby high-rise buildings. The light, creeping into gorgeous wintry gloom. And all this, just before that incrementally increasing rush of students walking through the door. Subhan Allah.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum, Miss!”
Teaching has also been: going over things I myself had learnt in Year Seven and Eight and thereafter; it has been learning quite a few additional things, too. Planning, and then some more planning. And lots and lots of (submitting requests for) printing. Also: marking, administrative activities, among other things. Oh, and a lot of eating. Just prior to beginning this job, my aunt had remarked that if there is one thing I ought to know about being a teacher, it is that teaching makes you hungry. And, yes: it really, really does.
[Ah, food. How I love thee, food. Thy sugar and thy spice, and thy goodness and comfort. Healthful foods, and how they are known to nourish, but also some doses of indulgence and chocolate.
Making food; breaking bread and sharing food. Connection. Good stuff.]
At my workplace, there is this lovely ‘middle-of-the-table’ tradition: individual staff members often bring foodstuffs to share with everybody else. Doughnuts, falafel, soup, Turkish food, some good-good (Masha Allah) chicken karahi, once. And anything that is for anyone is placed in the middle of the long staffroom table.
The start, to now
This has all been one of those things: I could never have seen any of this coming. But, oh, how I love these very things. The ones that arrive kind of quietly, and then they show you how powerful they really are. The ones that can, quite quickly, take over significant parts of these lives of ours by storm. This year alone: we moved houses; I stopped wearing makeup to go outside [just a personal preference thing. I really do think it is a problem that most women wear it every day since we have been led to believe that we look “ugly” or “dead” without it. We do not, though. And Allah is the Best of Creators]; we got a cat [the most unexpected happening of them all: my mum has been known to absolutely hate the idea of having pets. And now, this cat is her third child!]; this whole pandemic took place – it has been approximately ten months since the start of all this; I started this job.
“You can only know something when you know it. Not a minute before.”
— Gilbert Blythe, ‘Anne with an E’
It is true that I had been tutoring for a fairly long time, but I had never before been given the responsibility of teaching thirty students at a time. Tutoring involves sitting with between one to about, maybe, six, students at once, once or twice a week. There is some preparation that goes into it, sure, as well as some marking to do. But teaching is, altogether, something quite different. Greater responsibility, no doubt. An honour, and, certainly, an Amānah, too.
It had been my aunt who had encouraged me to apply for this post, actually. She works at the same school as I do – part-time – and teaches A-level Biology there. We tend to walk home together on her workdays. Roughly two weeks ago, I had some PPA time and found I could not concentrate nor do much in the staff room. I went all the way upstairs [the sixth form and ‘Alimiyyah faculties of the school are located, rather interestingly, on its roof!] and sat comfortably at the back of her classroom.
She had started her lesson off by asking her students what the term ‘gametogenesis’ might mean. She then asked me if I could explain what ‘genesis’ means. This made me smile. Biology teacher aunt, and her now-English-teacher niece. A nice moment. But then she proceeded to talk about puberty, and my ‘inner child’ re-emerged, and I wanted to laugh. [Thankfully, I did not.] Anyway.
There had been something quite nice about that particular sixth form classroom. The floors – unlike those of the secondary school ones on the floor levels below – are carpeted. You leave your shoes at the door. Moreover (if I recall correctly) there had been a lot of natural light flooding in, as opposed to glaring and sharp artificial ones. Also, her students had been sitting on the floor, with floor desks before them. Sunnah vibes. Teacher and slideshow at the front; students really paying attention, albeit in a calm sort of way. It had all felt quite serene, (connected, and meaningful) and not at all stressful, sort of reminiscent of some mosque classes I had taken in my early adolescent years:
Spatial escapes from the ever-‘busy’, the autopilot-modes, the grimy, the dizzying, the confusing, the relentless ‘grinds’, searching for things that might, in the end, be so far away from peace. And into carpeted-floor room, all clean. A glow of sorts; frosted windows, softened voices.
There is something about sitting on the floor, don’t you think? It makes you feel more… grounded. Connected. Learning, eating – even sleeping – on the floor, at least sometimes. There is something that is essentially quite lovely about it.
This ‘modern world’. It is fast-paced, rat race, relentless. Dog chase, altogether so industrial. All in the name of ‘progress’, of uncurbed growths. People just do not know where they are headed, but we find ourselves chasing all these abstract uncertainties, regardless. “We are surrounded by all of these lies, and people who talk too much.” [E.S.]. Maybe I am too sensitive, in this sense. But it all makes me ache and feel drained.
A personal preference, maybe: but I far prefer the presences of plants, and of warm lighting. An emphasis on connection, on good mannerisms. Moderation, and not ‘too much’. Places in which to deeply connect (with places, people, the contents of good curricula), and to learn – via mind, heart, and soul – and not merely in which to ‘work hard’: all that stuff of harsh lighting, caffeine-driven sleeplessness, desk-chair, desk-chair, desk-chair, unquestioning obedience. I so believe in holistic humanity being nurtured within places such as schools and hospitals. And, with the former in mind at least, it should not be about the incubation of mere ‘workforce robots’: obedient slaves to some deified ‘Economy’.
Schools should be houses of wisdom, and not factories or… prisons. Warm and inclusive; not cold and steel-gazed, wolf-like. Places in which mind, heart, and soul, are truly, deeply, nurtured: all three.
What I have learnt
As far as ‘learning’ goes, I have learnt oh-so-much, Subhan Allah, from all of this.
My first day at the school had been my observation/interview day. Prior to walking in, I admit I had envisioned Madrassa secondary schools in general as being… stern, serious, sad places. Draconian. No colour: just rules, rules, rules. Scarcely a student laughing, or having fun.
It was like I had (perhaps in part as a consequence of having been away from distinctively Islamic places of learning such as this one, for a while) rather shamefully internalised a particular sort of prejudice. And I had been wrong.
When I first walked in, I noticed the nice colourful displays on the walls. Basketball hoops, martial arts, for PE. The lovely scene – and sound – of a group of students sitting in a circle, on the floor of the hall, reading Qur’an together. The lovely light; how bright and energetic the Year Seven students were. Our first lesson together had gone well, Alhamdulillah [We had discussed how to use different punctuation marks so as to make our writing more effective, and wrote short imaginative stories about going on hot-air balloon rides in Turkey]. And it was thanks to them: my first class. What a funny, ambitious, clever, often downright melodramatic, bunch they are, Allahummabārik.
The art of learning is about discovering new things – information, stories, ideas. It is about piecing things together; making/finding connections between things. And it is also truly about being reminded about certain things that you may already, somewhere in your mind, already know. And you are granted the ability to come across them again, albeit in different, and unexpected, ways. As I have spoken about in a previous article, life is an adventure; a story, and – it is a school.
I have learnt that sunshine is always nice. But storms are what tend to leave us with the best stories, at the end of the day, aren’t they? They are known to bring us something that is altogether more than just ‘nice’. Sure, they can bring up, in us, feelings of fear. Unpredictable, and unknown. And, yet, how woefully, tragically straightforward and bland these lives of ours would be, without them.
One of my Year Seven (English) students had penned – for a competition – the following poem. Its message deeply inspires me [Everyone say Allahummabārik laha!]:
I have learnt things: new and previously-known alike, at this school. From students, and from staff members, alike. From books; from videos. Textbooks, podcasts, sometimes, and from outside of them. But mainly: from people. We humans learn (best) from other humans. We are fundamentally needy, imitative, receptive of and responsive to the subtleties of human connections, relationships.
Like about the temporality of life. It just keeps on moving: one moment, straight to the next, and then to the next, and so on. There is no ‘preparation time’, then ‘practice time’; no clear-cut delineation at all between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’. There is only life. And here we are, living it. No dress rehearsals: these are our lives.
Our relationships with the past (i.e. before we were born, and also the past[s] of our own personal histories) and our experiences of the present moment, and… notions of ‘the future’. We will meet those (the latter) moments, Insha Allah, as and when they come.
A number of things have forced me to give notions concerning the past some more thought, this term. Teaching History for the first time, for one thing. And, also: back in October (I had started in the middle of the first academic half-term. Hectic!) I had been taking a particular route to and from work. That is, until, I had stumbled upon an alternative route: a shorter, simpler one. And en route this route, I came across a building that my mother, uncle, and aunt sometimes speak about. A quite old-looking tower block: the first home they had dwelled in, actually, upon having migrated to this country.
‘History’ – including our own personal ones – is filled with events, happenings, which we can truly fascinate ourselves by interrogating the following, of them: what if this particular thing had not taken place? What if my grandfather (Allahu Yerhamu) had never made the decision to move here (alone, no less, and as an adolescent!)? And what if my grandmother had rejected his proposal for marriage? Or, what if they had chosen to settle in, say, Kent, or in New York (as some of my other relatives had done) as opposed to in this very part of East London? [What if I had been born a boy?!] And so on, and so on.
So many potential questions. But here we are, in the present (a gift). Much of it: a summation of the consequences of a series of individual decisions. The rest… remains to be seen.
[I am accidentally-on-purpose including quite a few ‘AWAE’ references in this article. You are a certified awesome person if you have managed to pick up on them…]
I think it is very easy to become ungrateful, though, and to take things for granted. But knowledge: one of its key purposes, I believe, is to cultivate and foster deep appreciation within our hearts, gratitude. I, and my family, Alhamdulillah, live in a state of economic stability. But my grandfather had to work hard for this: back when East London (which is now increasingly becoming gentrified) had still been a centre for the British textile industry, he had worked at a coat-manufacturing warehouse. The building is still there: it stands on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop I used to wait at almost every day, after secondary school. Over time, I watched it – the warehouse, that is – be converted into a ‘hipster’-style hotel, all painted white.
And maybe it is true that we humans learn best through experience: I never could have told you what teaching is actually like, until doing it. The strangest of feelings, particularly right at the start: being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Having to be this responsible, for the first time. I was quite worried, right at the start: What if they won’t like me? What if I don’t do a good job? What if I’m really awkward and they’ll find it off-putting? Worries done away with, Alhamdulillah, as a result of experience. The barrages of (repeated) personal questions, too [“Miss, where are you from?” “Miss, what are your plans for the weekend?” “Miss, are you married?”]; ten students attempting to speak to you, at once; the “Miss, have you marked them yet?” the literal day after they have all sat the assessment. The classic borderline-frustrated response of, “Teachers have their own lives too, you know!”
I think, another thing that has significantly changed – for the better, Alhamdulillah – has been my relationship with ‘work’. It is good, insofar as it is good, in good amounts. But it is no ‘saviour’, no deity to be worshipped, slaved after. I have my responsibilities; I will try to fulfil them. But aside from that, ‘work’ itself does not give me selfhood nor meaning. It… is not my master.
It seemed almost as though different weeks had different overarching ‘themes’ for them, in terms of what they had in store, to teach me. During one week in particular, I believe, I began really thinking about how on Earth other people live. How do some mothers, especially, manage to work for forty hours during the week, and carry out all of their household/family responsibilities, without collapsing as a result of exhaustion?! I remember thinking about this, on my way to work, one day, and I had passed by a (most probably, at least) working mother. Bulging backpack on back, coffee flask in hand, 07:30AM. And she had been on the phone to her (by the sounds of it) young daughter, likely providing some moral support as her husband had shouldered the burden of breakfast duties.
At work, in the staffroom, I am surrounded by some young and unmarried women; some who are newly married; there had been some expectant-mother teachers; some who have a child; some who have a handful of children. Older mothers who are teachers, too: speaking about their children-in-law as well as about their grandchildren. Discussing childminders; speaking on the phone to their kids, at the end of long school days, about homework, and about matters pertaining to ‘playground politics’, and some of the other things that matter deeply, to children. Teachers who are also mothers. How do they do it?! Subhan Allah. The (joys and) stresses that these screaming, energetic children give rise to. Exchanged, at the end of the long academic day, for… those ones (the ones that look half-like them, and call them “Mum” in lieu of “Miss”) …
We are watching, witnessing, as time moves [us] on and on and on. As relatives of ours grow and grow older; as we, ourselves, do much the same thing, too. Our relationships with different places – and with different people – are ever-changing. Sometimes, for the better: development, evolution, we may term it. And sometimes, we find that some leaves simply have to fall, in order to allow for new growth to take place.
Take heart, dear one. Some things will be somewhat (very) hard, some of the time, perhaps the whole way through. But you are more than well-equipped enough to face it, and to get through it all. In a beautiful way, I hope.
We crave permanence, don’t we? This sense of… feeling entirely at home. But I regret to inform you (both you and myself, dear reader) that that is not what this world is for. This whole experience – this maybe eighty-odd-years-long one – is an essentially dynamic one, and it will take you by surprise, over and again. The best thing to do is to locate Earthly home in Sujood: this is what stays. Your soul, in conversation with its Author, Creator. Everything else, you see, is etched only in sand. A gust of wind, or two, and then it is gone.
Here for a time, and then it falls, to dust.
Here, I have learnt (been aptly reminded) about how actions are but by intention [it is the intention behind an action that counts. So we ought not to concern ourselves too much with the outcomes of things. Even with regard to numbers and such… the Qur’an tells us that saving one life is equal to saving the whole of humanity (5:32). The weight of a deed is derived from the intention(s) underlying it]; about the art (the beauty, the tender humanness) of sincereapology; about the rich complexities that individual minds can house. Sometimes, even eleven-year-olds are quite ‘mature’ in demeanour: they have been through so much.
I have learned that we often learn things best as a result of stumbling and falling. That when it comes to deeply difficult things: Healing and Patience are lovers. That it is good to take rest when it is good to; you can then begin again, at a good pace, when the time is right. When you are ready.
That there is no use in ‘crying over spilt milk’ [or spilt Coke, to make reference to something that actually, for some reason, took place] as the aphorism goes. These things happen. Mistakes are made; you will also likely have done and said (and will continue to do and say) some utterly cringeworthy things, during this lifetime of yours. But it is okay. We grow from them; look back and laugh at them, even. Time and other considerations move us on.
That staple-gunning can prove to be an excellent way of releasing aggression. That ‘Resource Rooms’ are, to stationery lovers, what drug dens are to drug addicts. [My gosh, I sound like Amy Santiago here…]
My Bengali-speaking skills have improved, too, Alhamdulillah, as a result of some conversations with a particular colleague of mine, in Bengali. At first, I was not too confident in speaking with her: my Bengali skills had been rather rocky, disjointed. Altogether, in my own head at least, quite embarrassing a thing to behold. ‘Benglish‘. But my gradual improvements in this regard have not gone unnoticed!
A key word, that one: gradual. Trial and error; some things work, some things do not. We learn, and we develop, and this all happens over time. Reflection, then effort. Some courage, maybe, and then patience. God’s Command.
I think, yes, learning is illumination.
And “اللهُ نورُ السماواتِ و الأرضِ” [Qur’an, (24:35)]. Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Truth is Light, and in truth’s absence, there is darkness.
“What is school for, do you think?”
“…to get a good job, innit.”
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do,
— Lord Alfred Tennyson,‘Charge of the Light Brigade’
Work is only meaningful when it has real meaning. Otherwise we (ultimately) find ourselves doing for the sake of doing. Work for the sake of work. ‘Growth’ for the sake of itself: the ideology of the cancer cell [E.A.]
Do we learn solely towards economic-benefit, and/or social-status-related ends? [A good job, in order to earn good money. To provide for my family. To give back to society.]
Fair enough. Economic and social considerations are all well and good — they are deeply important, actually. But, as Muslims, we know that the absolute queen of all these considerations ought to be: our relationships with Allah. Helping people is a noble thing to do; providing for one’s family is also a noble thing to do. Social connections are wonderful, but some of them may come to fray, or be lost. Money, beyond what is needed for survival and to fund for necessities, is not everything. The way of God ought to be the path we seek to always be traversing; the consideration that all other ones are tethered to. This is Light; this is Truth; this is true Purpose and Meaning. This is concerning your Origin, and your place of Return, and this is concerning every single moment,
after moment, in-between.
And in the absence of truth, what is there? There is only darkness and delusion. Looking for these things where they cannot ever truly be found.
Some things that we encounter will seem quite a challenge, at least at the start. But we learn through experience; we [pardon the cheese. A little statement, that one, which ought to extend over the entirety of this blog of mine…] grow through what we go through.
It is quite nice, at times, to look back on things, and to see how we – and our circumstances – have changed, progressed. When, at the start, in conjunction with the hectic novelty, I had been given an actual form class [whom I now, thankfully, share with a colleague, so I now only have them for certain days of the week. We joke that we are like a divorced couple: we have shared custody over the kids] I had found myself feeling quite overwhelmed. I thought it would be a sign of ‘strength of character’ if I just continued, grinned and bore it. But my aunt had noticed how stressed I had seemed that week; she persuaded me to go and speak with the Assistant Principals. Then, the aforementioned changes were made. ‘More’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’!
Kind of linked to the above: a certain family member had remarked that he thinks I should become a headteacher someday. Which had been a nice thing to say. But, firstly, I have realised that in order to do ‘good’, and to do it well, you do not always need to have a ‘big’ official role. And, secondly, I am really trying not to think too much about ‘the future’, while here. Where I am now is where I am now, Alhamdulillah, and I do not want to fall prey to ‘destination addiction’ or idealising, again [looking at other than who and where – and, when, and why – I find myself]. Over-contemplating secondary school while at primary school; thinking so much about sixth form while at secondary school; university, while at sixth form. Being married, while being single. Always obsessing over ‘the Next Thing’. Besides… once, in Year Eight, I had shadowed my school’s headteacher. What a gargantuan, stressful, role, Subhan Allah. Meeting after meeting; I do not think it is for me. I do not know where I will be, this time next year; I do not know what Allah has planned for me, for the rest of my Dunya-based existence…
For now, here I am, as I am. The ‘here and now’. I want to honour it, as best as I can. Very soon, this moment will be gone. The next one arrives; takes its place.
This is a big one. For we are crucially, essentially, undeniably, social beings.
Your family, and then, your friends (i.e. the family you come to choose for yourself). The people you love; your sources of joy, goodness, comfort, security.
The love of your life, too (Insha Allah). If it is in your kismet to find them, you will find them. All you have to do is… be exactly who you are (not anything ‘more’, not anything ‘less’) and you shall be loved precisely for it: for you!
Other people are other people. Allah (SWT) is Allah (SWT). Other people have no ‘power’, of nor from, their own selves.
اِنَّ اللّٰہ علیٰ کل شی ءٍ قدیر
[Perhaps best translated as: “Indeed Allah is, above allthings, Powerful and competent”. Qur’an, (2:109)]
We do need other people, though. We need to love, and to feel loved in return. And in these very endeavours, there is a great amount of ‘vulnerability’ (openness) that has to go into it. Maybe we need to speak our minds and explain our hearts better and a little more often, to those whom we wish to share love with. Maybe we need to also do a better job at listening, understanding. Stopping; turning our hearts toward them. Giving our loved ones, whom we have been blessed with, the time of day. Chasing whatever it is we may find ourselves chasing: that all can wait.
We absolutely need to make time for ‘the boyz’ (this is a non-gender-specific term). Surround ourselves with good company, which, as a particular Hadith explains, can leave us with the mark of its good fragrance. (Just as unfavourable company can leave us with the mark of its stench).
And our Salāh, Du’a (the weapon of the believer), Adkhār, and so on. The relationships we servants have with the Almighty. This ought to be the fundamental consideration, for us.
What is the point of ‘learning’?
I would like to continue to be both a teacher and a student, Insha Allah, in this life of mine. I have to think about what my learning is to be ‘for’.
I want to be a good Muslim, Insha Allah. To improve; to develop. I want for the awe and the wonder that learning often exposes me to, to bring me closer to my Creator. I want it to help me in serving people (my wonderful students, for instance) for the sake of Allah.
The process of learning illuminates. Our hearts and minds. Places. We learn; use our intelligence and knowledge, pass it on.
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.“
— Sahih Hadith
We learn for good; to make us better. Towards beauty, too. Truth. A Muslim – a human being – is, at his or her very core, a learner. And may it all drive us to say “Subhan Allah” and “Alhamdulillah” and “Allahu Akbar“, over and over again, Āmeen.
[Below, I have included a list of some ridiculously awesome facts, taken from this article. How astonishing are the creations of the Creator!]
– The journey which the sperm makes in order to get to the egg is equivalent to us sprinting for 150 kilometres nonstop. The journey is not straightforward. Many obstacles and hurdles await it, yet it overcomes them without losing direction. [Subhan Allah!]
– Your heart weighs around 321 grams. Its size is around that of your fist and beats around 60 to 80 times per minute. On a yearly basis, it beats around 40 million times and pumps around 2200 gallons of blood per day, and approximately 56 million gallons of blood per lifetime.
– The blood which the heart pumps to the brain returns back to the heart within 8 seconds, and the blood which it pumps to your toes – the furthest distance from the heart – returns back to the heart within 18 seconds.
– The blood is home to around 5 million red blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. If red blood cells from one human were to be placed side by side, they could cover the surface of the Earth 6 to 7 times over.
– Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognise damaged blood vessels. A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood.
– The human body is home to over 600 muscles, and the average sized muscle is comprised of approximately 10 million muscle fibres.
– The human body has around 2 to 5 million sweat secreting glands to regulate our body temperatures.
– The brain is home to approximately 100 billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections.
– Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
– The human retina contains about 120 million photoreceptor cells. How it communicates this information to the brain, and how the brain then processes this information bringing about love, hate, hope, despair, fear, security and so on, is a completely separate and highly sophisticated discussion.
– The tongue has a role to play during the process of chewing, swallowing and tasting food as well as for speech and sounds. It has 17 muscles to allow it to move in any direction. The surface of the tongue has 9000 taste receptors to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
– One kidney weighs around 150 grams and is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each hour, it filters 1800 litres of blood and about 1 and ½ litres are extracted in the form of urine. Consider the difficulty experienced by those who are undergoing dialysis treatment. They are required to spend around 12 hours a week connected to 150kg worth of machinery, let alone the side-effects, in order to carry out what your 150 gram kidney is able to carry out within moments.
– Your outer layer of skin, the epidermis, replaces itself every 35 days. You are given a new liver every six weeks. Your stomach lining replaces itself entirely every 4 days, and the stomach cells that are involved in digesting food are replaced every 5 minutes. Our entire skeletal structures are regenerated every 3 months. Your entire brain replaces itself every two months. In fact, the entire human body, right down to the last atom, is replaced every 5-7 years.
How is it, then, that if one’s brain replaces itself every two months, they can still retain long term memories? The nerve cells in the human body are the only exception to regeneration. If they did regenerate, say, once every six months, you would need to relearn your language every time.
Consider also the sounds from within the digestive system following the consumption of an apple, the sounds of a real factory at work. Consider how matters would have been if people were able to hear such sounds from each other, whether at interviews, marriage meetings, circles of knowledge, communal prayers or around the dinner table. One would need to escape to a remote corner to eat and drink in dignifying solitude. This dilemma has been, by divine design, overcome.
The briefest moments of reflection on creation are sufficient to leave one lost for words, and such bewilderment will only ever intensify as time progresses and discoveries are made. Our only words are therefore:
فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ … So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators” [Qur’an, (23:14)]
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (67:14)
Of course, He who created you knows you better than you know yourself. Thus everything He commands, prohibits, or sends your way is, as the āyah above alluded to, out of His Subtlety towards you, and out of Him being Acquainted with you.
Trust Him, […] and watch how you will live in [true contentment] with Him.
This year. Did you feel it too? When our world felt itself grind to a halt. We had to stop. Turn back. Grief took over. It was hard. Hard to get out of bed; hard to do much at all. Hard to not question and question and question things. Hard to escape.
It had not happened without reason. A number of reasons. And it was – and is – so difficult.
The acute feelings of entrapment, loneliness. Uncertainty: that anxiety. Heavy, and at the same time: minds whirring, whirring away, feeling almost detached from our bodies. The disruption, and the difficulty. That terrifying sense of stagnation… and nobody really knew what on Earth to do.
Did you feel it too?
Mental unwell-ness. Not feeling particularly mentally ‘healthy’. Anxiety, depression, and all the rest of it. These things do not signify ‘character failures’. It need not be some ‘shameful’ secret, which you carry: which you pretend is not there, does not exist. It is something very real; something we can go through. And it might take years. Maybe we will never completely be rid of it: maybe depression will continue to dawn on us on those days on which we may least expect it. Anxiety often takes us by surprise too; turns our very nerves into jelly. But, over time, things do get better. And Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear [Qur’an, (2:286)]. You are strong enough.
A few articles, by ‘The School of Life’, which I have loved and benefitted from:
I want to be open and honest with the people I love; I would hope they feel they can be open and honest with me, too. And I will love them no matter what. Sometimes up close; sometimes from afar. In light of the texture, and never ‘in spite’ of it.
It might feel as though you are quite alone in this. While others go ahead and just ‘live’. ‘Nobody gets it’? But people do. Many of us are pretending. Depression, for example, is a fairly widespread reality. It often results in people taking their own lives: suicide, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
Why is it important to better understand mental health conditions? So many of us suffer as a result of them.
So many people are hiding, because they feel they need to. And, I get it: you do not want to be seen as being ‘broken’ or ‘defective’. But you are not. We are all fundamentally imperfect; we are our essential ‘upsides’ and we are our ‘downsides’, and you are neither somehow ‘evil’ nor some sort of ‘failure’ by consequence of this. Pardon my cheese again; this ongoing cliché. But, you know what we are? We are human beings. Not shiny robots; not filtered pictures, carrying ourselves around; not made of porcelain. Insān. Allah is closer to us than our own jugular veins are, and He knows, even while others may not know. Other people do not somehow hold the keys to the truth(s) of you, anyway. And we can get through this, together, Bi’ithnillah: it will (likely) not be easy — but it will be worthwhile.
Acceptance can be hard: that first step. I have certainly found it to be liberating, though.
Rejecting hyper-individualism, hyper-‘productivity’, hyper-competition; these obsessions with images. Depression, for instance, is a reality, and one whose numerous (dumb) stigmas require some doing away with. So that some of the ridiculous pressure might be taken off from the shoulders of those of us who experience it.
1. We must live right now. As Muslims.
2. When the time is right / if it is in your Qadr. (When Allah decides.)
3. You are going to die. And you will return to Allah.
We are Muslim in the morning, when we open our eyes. Muslim before we start eating; Muslim after eating, too. Muslim, first and foremost, when we choose to don additional titles. Doctor, lawyer, engineer [I am very Asian indeed for instinctively listing these three occupations…]. Muslim in the courtroom; Muslim when in scrubs. Muslim when young and healthy; when older, when sick, when out-of-work, for a while, perhaps, too. Muslim when driving our cars; Muslim when riding our bikes. When standing on stages before thousands; when all alone, in the dark. At 5am, at 5pm. In Winter, in Summer, in the less-easily-definable bits in-between. Muslim when it might feel like the entire world is at our feet; Muslim, still, when it feels like the entire dark sky weighs somewhat heavy upon our chests.
We are Muslim. And may we be so, first, last and always.
There is so much to (possibly) do, here, in this big world, and so little time. This fundamental conflict can bring about quite a lot of… worry, ache. So many things that can potentially be known; done; written about. But so little time. So we must focus on essences; we have to be quite selective. And if we focus on the Why of things, all will be well – swell, even, in the present and in the end, Insha Allah.
I think, for me, the essence of this general time is captured very well by Siedd’s [whose works my students seem obsessed with] song, ‘God Knows’:
Back when I was eighteen We used to live in daydreams Then woke up in our twenties Life passed us by so quickly
Said I’d put You above me But been so busy lately Out all these hours daily Been driving myself crazy
I’ve been losing myself each day Losing my rest each day All these things I want for me Oh I’ve been Caught in distractions Oh lost in my passions I don’t know where this road will lead
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows Oh God knows, God knows, I’m trying Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying
Been soul-searching for purpose Is there more to life than this? Been carrying these burdens Hoping this will be worth it
It’s not as I imagined I’m losing all my balance Take me from all this madness I just don’t understand this
All these bills and burdens A jester in this circus From midnight till the morning Can someone save me from this
I know I’ll be buried ‘neath the same ground No matter rich or without a pound The only things that matter now Is finding You somehow
I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
‘Cause I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying.
I am not perfect; life is not perfect. And nor will I, or this life of mine, ever be. That is what I need to let go of: these ideas that I must be ‘smooth’ and sort of perfect. No. I am so anxious, at times, and I am quite awkward. I get socially drained, quite quickly. Sometimes I find myself feeling inexplicably, profoundly, sad. Sometimes I am very quiet; sometimes I talk far too much. And it shocks me that my loved ones can still love me this much, even with all of this.
But, then again, what on Earth would I be without all of this? I would be… character-less. Smooth, and shiny. No texture, to allow for authentic love’s grips to grip onto.
I have held, in my head, all these unrealistic, over-simplistic, standards and ideals for myself. I cannot live up to them. Today, I (metaphorically) burn them all. They are not fair. Besides, these fancies of simple perfection are quite boring [nothing to learn, no challenge, no storms nor surprises!], in reality, aren’t they?
I worry, sometimes, that I do not deserve patience, or chances. But this, too, is so untrue. All humans deserve these things, don’t we? God knows I am not perfect. But sometimes parts of my mind tell me that I am crucially, fundamentally, terrible. This is… not true.
God knows, I’m trying. Learning, developing. And this is what matters.
Things can change a lot, as they do. And, they should be allowed to. The present moment, also, is beautiful. And I am thankful for every historical twist and turn that has led me to this here, this now.
For both you and I, dear reader: may Allah grant us so many answers to our questions. And may some things take us completely by storm and by surprise. May they cause our skins to quietly fire up with awe, sometimes [have you ever felt that? When something is so lovely and/or amazing that you feel (what feels like) light wash over your entire being, somehow?] and wonder. May they make us say, over and over again, “Subhan Allah”. Āmeen.
May it be true wisdom that we seek; may it all make us more human – better Muslims – and not less so. Haqq-rooted, Deen-rooted, learning. And not merely towards ‘the life of this world’ (الحیاة الدنیا) which, as the Qur’an clarifies, is “only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children” [Qur’an, (57:20)]. Things of illusion, and then they just up and wither away. And I think: our learning ought not to simply be for amusement, nor for the collection of titles and ‘glory’. We should not perceive it as being ‘wealth’ – stuff we can ‘own’, and through which we readily compete with others. May our learning be truly and everlastingly meaningful, dear reader. And may it benefit us on Yawm-ud-Deen: Āmeen.
وَقُلْ رَّبِّ زِدۡنِىۡ عِلۡمًا
“And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in [beneficial] knowledge'”
From our Lord, Allah, did we come. He sustains us, every breathing moment of every living day. And to Him shall we return, at the end of this journey; after the final full-stops of these stories of ours; at the end of these school days:
when the lights are turned off; when the tables and floors are cleaned; when the boards are wiped blank. After all the learning; the fun. The structure and the unpredictability. The getting-into-trouble here and there, as well as those feelings-of-triumph. The time we are given for eating; for chilling. The streams and streams of things to do. At the end of the school day, we pack up; say goodbye to our friends, and then we make our (own) ways home.
Jannah, dear reader. For you, and for me. Good, and better, and the best.Eternally. Āmeen.
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,