Concise Compositions: Gratitude

What does it mean to be grateful?

Gratitude is good for the human being; for the soul. And I really do believe that choosing to have (and focus on) fewer things necessarily makes way for higher feelings of gratitude. This does not mean that one needs to make one’s lifestyle all bare and boring. Rather, one perhaps ought to minimise, and retain the things that are of value.

Minimalism makes way for more gratitude primarily because, well, we can only truly appreciate a particular amount or number of stuff at a time. For example, even when we look at the most extravagant of tapestries, our eyes and our minds only allow us to focus on and thereby appreciate – be grateful for – certain parts, at any given time. The same sort of concept is true for most things, actually. Why do some people want, for example, more than one supercar, or more than one bed, or whatever? You can only use one of them at a time. What is ultimately important is the experience, and a grateful mind always has a better experience: higher emotional and spiritual gains from the daily happenings of life.

Chasing lives of extravagance surely leads to lower feelings of gratitude. There is so much evidence for this.

And we can only really be grateful for things once we know what it feels like for the thing to not be there. We are more grateful for a thing’s presence, when we have come to know its absence. Things like joy, like good friends, maybe, and like food. Doesn’t food always taste that much better after a day of fasting?

There is so much wisdom behind Islamic principles of fasting, minimalism, and expressing gratitude.

One’s actions are important, too. When you are grateful for a thing, you must show this in your behaviour. You must care for it. You must tend to the rights it may have over you.

In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He increases in favour the one who is grateful. We only really need what is enough to get by. Survival, and then some additional comfort, peace and joy. We do not have to deprive ourselves of goodness. But there are certainly some things – and these are usually the things that are characterised by lavishness and ‘plenty’ – that we might, in the moment, think will bring us much good. Might solve some of our problems for us, and so forth.

But when you have fewer things – like friendships, like projects you are working on, for example – I do think you are able to focus on them more. Cultivate them like flowers, and then se cosecha lo que se siembra: you reap what you sow.

Gratitude is good for you. Zooming in on all the ‘small’ things, for example the things you cannot live without. A glass of water. The gorgeousness of sunrises. The comfort of your duvet. There is much use, and much Khayr, in certain things.

And for these things, may we always find ourselves grateful.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Beauty

The human woman is a thing of beauty. This is, without question, how she has been designed and made: beautiful. From her eyelashes to her voice, and to the soul that rests between them, the human female is different to the human male. Both, in general, have differing essences, and each are attracted to differing things, in the other.

In this article, I want to talk about beauty standards. I may also touch on the topics of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like. I want for this article to encapsulate my indignation towards, for instance, the fact that some of the most beautiful women I know think themselves to be hideous; I think current popular conceptions of ‘beauty’ are symptomatic of, well… a world gone mad, taken to deceit, superficiality, and shallowness, among other things.

One of my little cousins, I tell her, she does not need to worry: she is gorgeous how she is, Masha Allah! But she says, no, she is not. Why, I ask? Because, as she tells me, she does not look like her, and she points to a girl she is watching on Tik-Tok, whose face is laden with makeup, whose features are accentuated through the use of certain poses and filters.

The ‘Instagram face’. This is an important concept in today’s world, so it would seem.

I so wish everybody could just know how beautiful they are. A few months ago, I carried out that survey thing, for which the fourth question was about people’s main struggles and insecurities. Everybody responded to this with, looks: they struggle with accepting and appreciating how they look, and this actually holds them back, they find, in other areas of life. People find themselves ugly; want to do away with certain features of theirs, acquire new ones.

What a world we live in, huh? Our notions of beauty are so distorted. This ‘Instagram face’, this template that begins with European features, takes from ‘ethnic ones’, merges them together to create the notorious almost-bionic template that plasters our social media feeds these days. My issue with the culture that this has been fostered by (and then, in turn, fosters) is that we now have humans who are disgusted by some of the baseline stuff of being human: who spend hours hating their own reflections, who look beauty right in the eye each day (when they look into a mirror) but who cannot at all recognise it for what it is.

The media we consume on a daily basis undoubtedly has a massive impact on the ways in which we come to see things. It is all quite interconnected, too: how addictive these platforms are, how much of its content we consume each day (often quite ‘mindlessly’. But it is always having an effect on our minds…), advertising, the cosmetic industry…

The truth is, looks do matter. Of course they do. But it gets awfully political, if you think about it enough: how the ones with the most power, have the power to truly influence how we view things. Like beauty. The thing about beauty is, it is meant to be indicative of goodness [and, I would argue, of Truth. We tend to see things that are unified, proportionate, and harmonious, as being beautiful. I think this points us towards a supreme wisdom, a Oneness. Allah].

An envelope, and then you open it, and there is goodness to be found. But as soon as we come to believe that only some women (i.e. those with European features, lightly infused with more ‘exotic’ and ethnic ones) are truly beautiful, we are also allowing ourselves to believe that they, by nature, hold unique goodness within them. Such ideas – pertaining to both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ – are strongly linked to European colonial ideas. That white women, for example, are more ‘feminine’ and ‘angelic’ than other ones. [And that white men are more civilised and intelligent than other – the more ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ – ones]. Then, these notions of what constitutes seeming ‘angelic’, and how these have, over time, developed into modern conceptualisations of the infantile woman, who is at once childishly adorable, ‘angelic’, and very sexually fecund… doesn’t it all make you a little uncomfortable?

The human Fitrah does ‘naturally’ recognise beauty. Most human beings absolutely love ‘nature’. It is visually, aurally, atmospherically beautiful. But our Fitrahs can be, and very often are, affected by environmental factors. By the media, for example: what we cognitively consume, and just how much of it. These things that can acquire power over you, a hold on you, can in turn deeply influence your thoughts and beliefs.

I wish humanity would just accept its own humanity. I wish we would stop worshipping plastic notions; stop allowing ourselves to be fooled so. Whenever I come across pictures (e.g. at museums) from the past, of people simply having fun, and while looking unashamedly human, I think about the ways of now. How we dress ourselves up so much, to go just about anywhere, and how hyper-aware we can tend to be, of our own physicality.

Sadly, this hyper-awareness stops a lot of people from playing. From having pure, unbridled fun. And from bearing witness to their own inherent beauty. It makes people compare themselves (to heavily engineered images) and then come to consider themselves as being ‘ugly’. It motivates people to go on a lot of these unhealthy ‘diets’, to think about getting nose jobs, bodily implants, and more.

How did we get to this point, at which normal human faces are seen as abnormal? Where, if a woman walks out without makeup, she looks ‘sickly’ and un-groomed.  If she wears ‘subtle’ makeup, little girls come to think that this is how they ought to look without makeup [this is what the ‘no makeup makeup look’ does, in truth].

Nobody is born ‘ugly’, and nobody is born seeing themselves this way. In fact, it goes against the inclinations of the human Fitrah, to see ‘ordinary’ humans as being ‘ugly’. This would be tantamount to denying the beauty within walking definitions of beauty!

I reckon it began with makeup. With the arrival of new potential, for women with ‘ordinary’ faces to look special, ‘exotic’ and sexy: to accentuate their features with the use of substances that blacken and bronze and ‘beautify’. Interestingly, the basis of all these makeup products is the promise of an ‘ethnic’ look, a ‘sultry’ and ‘exotic’ one. With mascara, white women could now darken and elongate their eyelashes. With bronzer, they could achieve that ‘sun-kissed’ look. Lip-liner allowed them to achieve the full-lip look. Other various cosmetic powders and liquids allow for skin to look ‘flawless’, glowing. But women who are South Asian, black, Latina, and Arab (generally) naturally have these features already. So where do they fit in, in terms of how the global cosmetics industry direct their advertising and relevance?

To put it simply, white women started to want these ‘exotic’ ethnic features. They were seen, undoubtedly, as being fascinating, and (thus) ‘sexy’. But some ‘exotic’ features had been left behind, in the conceptualisation of this model: uni-brows, for example [and thick eyebrows, too. These only became ‘fashionable’ far later]. And hooked noses, and certain face shapes, among other things. So, it is almost as though a makeup template for white women had been created deeply inspired by certain ‘ethnic’ looks and features, but then, in turn, ‘ethnic’ women took from the new European-with-hints-of-‘exoticism’ model.

And so, lots of white women rushed to get lip fillers, while lots of black women rushed to acquire straighter hair. Lots of Arab women rushed to get nose jobs. Lots of South Asian women rushed to lighten their skin.

See, the entire cosmetic industry peddles the idea that no, you are never ‘enough’, never quite done yet. You do not yet look like the ‘models’ we have created. So keep going, keep buying, keep ‘improving’. 

And yes, I think ‘celebrity culture’ has played a notable role in all of this. From the beginnings of Hollywood, to the ways of things now, this culture has always relied on some people being presented as being extraordinary, very special, worthy of much popular attention. They had to be set apart from everybody else: talent-wise, and, of course, ‘beauty’-wise.

But, gradually, the cosmetics that only the rich and famous had access to became increasingly accessible to the rest of the public. And, with this ‘celebrity culture’ mentality in mind, of course, people wanted to emulate whom they had been made to perceive as being the ‘successful’. And thus, I think, was birthed these ideas of the most non-human-seeming human things being the most attractive ones. Terrifying, really.

Hooked noses and pointed chins, for example, are not objectively ‘ugly’. And nor are rounded faces, or thinner lips, stretch marks, tummy rolls, or whatever else.

I do think it is a very human, ‘okay’ thing to want to be beautiful. In general, women in particular have innate desires to be beautiful (on the inside, and the ‘out’), while men tend to obtain the majority of their self-esteem from how ‘strong’ they are (both on the physical, and inward, emotional level). But I think our paradigms of beauty ought to be more ‘from us’. Beginning with us, and ending, for the most part, with us: with the beautiful features and things that Allah has given us, already. The goal, perhaps, ought to just be: being as healthy as we can be. Developing according to our own natures (and this should be true, for us, on both the physical level, and the mental ones).

Hey, did Aphrodite not have tummy rolls? She is, then, perhaps more human than most of us today will, unfortunately, allow ourselves to be.

I worry for my little cousins, I really do. In fact, I worry for every woman – especially the younger ones – who finds herself alive, right now, in this world of ours. I want for beautiful people to know that they are beautiful, even where their faces do not fit with the whole Instagram cut-out template.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope I can teach her how to stand before herself and bear witness to the beauty that is inherent in her, a gift from God. I know I would want to protect her from these never-ending streams of media that may seek to tell her that, in terms of beauty, she is lesser than what she, in truth, is.

Dear reader, I want you to know how beautiful you are. So, for today at least, I challenge you to exchange those critical lenses through which you may look at yourself in the mirror, for ones of appreciation. When you actively look for the beauty that (I promise you) is already there, you will surely come to see it, Subhan Allah. Nobody else in the world has the beauty that only you do.

And why would you ever want to look like anybody else?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Pretences of Piety

Don’t you find it frightening (and infuriating), for example,

Just how many Qur’an teachers and self-proclaimed Maulanas have abused little girls in their own homes?

The Deen. In actuality, it is meant to protect, not hurt. But, see, we seem to have all these cowardly men who hide under their thobes; what they do is they feign these unmatchable levels of piety. What they do, then, is they slander innocent women (which is one of the major sins in Islam, actually) and they try to control their wives. Some of them sexually abuse little girls. These are just misogynists trying to be Muslims.

And, when they find themselves having been exposed for things like this, swathes of men tend to flock to their defence. We are taught to see them as the bastions of this faith of ours. It seems shameful to exist before them, as women; to look them in the eye.

We seem to commonly mistake image-based expressions of piety for piety itself. What piety necessitates, actually, is a pure heart. The pure-souled do dwell among us, of course they do. Maybe they are not always the ones who sport the longest beards; maybe they do not wear black robes all the time.

Maybe they are what a Muslim ought to be: one who remembers God, and remembers that God is ever-cognisant.

“The best among [us] are the ones who have the best manners and character” [Hadith].

I refuse to trust anyone whose image-based manifestations of ‘piety’ render them arrogant. The attempted ‘holier-than-thou’ mentality: it goes against the teachings of Islam, and pushes people away from it, too.

Beating people into submission, for example. Feeling proud, thinking you are so much better than them. And I am absolutely sick of all of these double standards.

Men who recite the Qur’an in public, for example, and then quietly sanction the bombing of children as they sleep in their cots. Who preach Islamic values, but whose families are oppressed under them. Who secretly lust after and abuse women, and then proceed to blame the female kind for… existing.

Men who maintain that any woman who does not wear a Niqab, and who is not… personality-less and almost perpetually scared, before them… is not worthy of the ‘religious’ title. They call any woman who does not fit their ‘ideals’ a “feminist”.

They tell us not to speak to non-Mahram men. Don’t even look at them. If they say “Salaam” to you, walk away from them. Okay. Why are you speaking to me then? Follow your own rules. Why do you speak to women whom you are not married to, in such boundary-less ways? Who are you to think that you are better than her, because you happen to attend some class every week?

Do you find yourself so insecure in your masculine identity that you find you must now either sexualise every woman you come across, or demean and debase her?

You question all of her actions.

You make the same human mistakes as she does. Yet, in your eyes, she is the only fallible one.

You put certain other men on pedestals. Yet, for women, you erase, in your mind, all the good that they do. You expect so much of them; what do you give them, back?

You slander female Muslim scholars for… being scholars. (Wait… I thought you thought we – this monolithic ‘Modern Muslim woman’ – are not educated-in-the-Islamic-sciences enough for your liking?) You call her names, because she happens to be pretty. You say, she is despicable – attracting men by standing there, speaking.

And yet you are willing to give your fellow men chance, after chance, after chance. Hide their sins, you say, for them. But, for women: if she breathes, you say that she is blameworthy.

Misogyny – the like of which has no place in our Deen – is what pushes many Muslim women towards notions of Liberal Feminism. We should remember, though, that while women do have certain responsibilities towards men, men have certain responsibilities towards us, too. We also both have rights over one another. I think modern feminism sometimes forgets that we are, in fact, an intrinsically dimorphic kind. I think modern Muslim misogynists often forget that Allah has given us certain inalienable rights. Like the right to not be treated like worthless little objects, like misbehaving children, just as an example.

Seeing is not believing. I refuse to look at the clothes a person wears to gauge how ‘religious’ they may be. The words of many of these revered ‘Maulana’ types, I refuse to ever take as gospel. He is a human being, just like I am.

And if he ever treats me like I am somehow lesser than him, well then, I already know that he is lesser than me, at least with respect to respect ⁠— to Akhlaq and Adab. These are the words. They beautify the human being.

Maybe some of the (actual) best Muslims alive right now wear football shirts. Maybe they skateboard. Maybe they are primary school teachers, painters, boxers.

The sincerity of your soul, and its being in servitude of God ⁠— well, this is between you and your Creator, actually. The eyes and minds of the people, these are fallible. But, with regard to the people, know that it is a command of God to serve them, and not to walk with pride before them.

Justice, humility, compassion, mercy, honesty, trustworthiness. These are what make a man, a Muslim.

“إِنَّ مِنْ خِيَارِكُمْ أَحْسَنَكُمْ أَخْلَاقًا”

Verily, the best among you are those who exhibit the best character. 

[Hadith]

 

“أَلَا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِخَيْرِكُمْ مِنْ شَرِّكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ مَنْ يُرْجَى خَيْرُهُ وَيُؤْمَنُ شَرُّهُ وَشَرُّكُمْ مَنْ لَا يُرْجَى خَيْرُهُ وَلَا يُؤْمَنُ شَرُّهُ”

Shall I not tell you what distinguishes the best of you from the worst of you? The best of you are those from whom goodness is expected and people are safe from their evil. The worst of you are those from whom goodness is not expected and people are not safe from their evil.

[Hadith]

And, a Hadith that I particularly love:

خِيَارُكُمْ الَّذِينَ إِذَا رُءُوا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

The best of you are those who, when they are seen, inspire others to remember Allah Almighty.

Whom have I come across, who have inspired me to remember the Almighty upon looking at them? I think these are the ones with radiant faces, and they have this peace about them. They are humble before fellow creatures. Their hearts gleam. Their mannerisms tend to be quite soft, their laughs hearty, their levels of emotional intelligence quite high.

I aspire to be like them. Light – Noor – radiates from them; it is hard to express such a thing through words. They smile often, and they are humble, at peace and quite integrated within themselves, it seems, and rather true.

I do try to be open to and welcoming of advice – Naseeha, sincere counsel. But I think there is a distinction to be made, between sincere and empathy-based advice, and unproductive criticisms that come from a place of clear haughtiness and/or hypocrisy.

 

True piety beautifies, and the truly pious remind you of Allah, almost as soon as you look at them. It is difficult to not have a strong affinity towards people like this. They walk the walk of Islam, true Islam, while others bark as they mostly talk a talk, frequently stomping all over others as they do so. 

 

Remember that Islam is for you too. We are all imperfect; most of us are just sinners doing the best that we can. But know that if you are sincere, then Islam is for you.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Your Body

Strange, isn’t it? How, these days, many of us would appear to have this tendency to catch a glimpse of the most natural of faces, to pore over them for a little while, and then to dismiss them as being not much at all. Or, if we do concede to acknowledging the outward beauty of these particular individuals, we say of it that it is a type that is… “unconventional”.

These days, most of the world seems to be mired in all these promotions of a viral monoculture when it comes to matters of beauty. The ideal, for women, is very much the ‘Instagram face’, which is otherwise known as the ‘baddie’ look. It is a face that is laden with makeup – synthetic lashes, arched eyebrows, contoured face. An engineered impression of heightened ‘femininity’ and sexual availability. And this archetype is centred upon beautiful features that can tend to be quite Eurocentric (a small button nose, fairness of skin…) but which are made sufficiently ‘exotic’ through the additions of pouty lips, and thick eyebrows, and more.

See, none of us were born thinking that there is anything at all ‘wrong’ with our faces nor with our bodies. These majestic physical expressions of ours, vehicles of our metaphysical selves, walking (albeit temporary) homes to our very souls. They do so much for us, quite often without us even asking them to.

And, yet: look how unduly harsh we can be on them. Look how we pinch our tummy rolls and wonder why they cannot be gone. How we analyse our faces in the mirror much like stern teachers putting red pen to some troublesome student’s essay. Look at all these strange manipulations of what is real and what is natural, their airbrushed impressions that, for example, stretch marks should not really be there in the first place. 

Does the worth of a body grow or diminish with the sizes of certain muscles? And is it to also dip with every crater upon its skin; to rise with every individual who may express an admiration for it? Were these bodies of ours only meant to ever be valued from a sexual (and democratically-decided) perspective, and even then, against all these heavily edited paradigms?

From the very tips of your toes – from how, when you were an adorable cot-ridden little infant: you probably will not remember how you used to wriggle them around in sheer delight. The puerile joys of being alive! But I’m telling you now, somebody does remember. You brought wonder and delight into this world from the very first breath you took here. And your body has been here for you, from then, all the way up to now.

And what about the colour of your eyes? Yes, people are known to romanticise blue eyes so very much; green, too. But how can one not love dark brown eyes, jet black hair, and every single physical expression of humanity, which has all been brought about by none other than Divine paintbrush [and, yes, this is just a metaphor].

Your body was made to allow you to run. To facilitate your gripping onto life itself – the life of this world – for as long as you have been destined to do so. To taste the sweetness of ice-cream and coffee, and, indeed, of coffee-flavoured ice-cream. The chill of cold water – the shock – when you first dip your foot into it.

Our bodies break ice, and they make conversation. They ‘ugly-laugh’ in ways that are so undeniably great. When we are happy, our bodies, these rentals from God and lifelong friends of ours, they light up with us. And when we are sad, they too stoop out of loyalty; they are known to mourn with us.

And oh, to sit beneath the rustling branches of several trees, and to gaze upwards at the cosmos to which they would all appear to point. To marvel at the fact that the very same Supreme Being who had fashioned them – in perfection, I might add – created you, too. This is an undeniable and timeless fact; it does not ebb and flow in accordance with the ever-changing preferences of the masses. So how dare we be ungrateful. How dare we delude ourselves into thinking that we could know more about Beauty than He who is al-Jameel – the Most Beautiful?

One day, perhaps – if He so wills, that is – there may come a day when you find yourself cradling your own child in your arms, hearing his or her little heart thrashing around in its ribcage, and realising that it is doing so almost as enthusiastically as yours is. He or she might have your hair; your eyes; your lips, your smile.

Would you want this child to grow up thinking there are things that are inherently ‘wrong’ – or starkly inadequate – with his or her body, simply because he or she would not be able to walk through today’s model-culture cookie-cutter template, without shedding and altering a few things of his or hers? Would you want them to think that those celebrities and influencers – the ones who have tacitly undergone rhinoplasty surgery, lip fillers, bodily transplants and more – are worth their observantly, obsessively, aspiring to look just like? And would it not break your heart if you were to ever stumble upon the sound of him or her – your own child – calling themselves…ugly? 

I so wish we could just stop seeing ourselves through such critical lenses. When did all this even begin?

And were we not fashioned by the most Beautiful, the most High? The best of geometers? He created you in perfection, in proportion. As another manifestation of His Divine creative signature. And as one who is able to laugh and run and smile and sing; one who can cry and walk and think, cook and create. One who could, unfortunately, fall into the trap of spending an entire lifetime erroneously thinking she is not ‘pretty’, and thereby berating herself for some abstract crime that she did not ever even commit.

The goal then, surely, is not to assess ourselves against criteria that may not always be in our favour and reflect what we already look like. The goal is to be as healthy as we can be – to water ourselves, and to nurture the intrinsically beautiful things that are part of us, individually.

May our goals – on the physical front – be optimal health, and even this, not against anybody else‘s yardstick… certainly not the yardstick that imbues us with the impression that we are to see ourselves as plastic products, and that our intrinsic values rise and fall with the glances of strange men – that we need to heavily ‘work on ourselves’ in this particular regard…

I mean, how utterly, inconceivably foolish would it be to attempt to judge one masterpiece against the fingerprint criteria of another? Are we to examine, say, the Great Wave against the criteria of the Mona Lisa? Do we assess the aesthetic appeal of a majestic cherry blossom tree against the characteristics of, say, a soul-invigorating urban sunset? No. For these things are so very beautiful, but each in their own right.

And even if we were to (quite unfairly) reduce all these considerations of beauty and intrinsic feminine value to questions of sexual appeal (i.e. ‘who-is-the-most-widely-sexually-appealing?’) it must always be known that the real objective here is not to look like others – but to look like ourselves. Another’s personal, natural, blueprint for what they may look like at the height of their own health and fertility and whatever else will simply not be the same as yours.

As afore-implied, there are certainly some very ‘natural’ bases when it comes to all this talk of feminine beauty and physical attractiveness. Health, and those signs of fertility… But nature, as is often the case, can be manipulated in various ways, via ‘nurture’. Of course, the media – its widespread, various, and insidious effects – might trick us into thinking that certain ideals of beauty are far more valuable than others. Maybe it will take some effort and a great deal of conscious unlearning to eventually part with these unhelpful views –

and to come to the habit of looking into mirrors and reflexively seeing ourselves through appreciative eyes. To thank Allah (SWT), instinctively, for this hair, and for these hands – for this face, and these eyes. This capacity to run and to love and to hug and to play. For the loyalty of our heartbeats and for the stuff of life that flows quietly, ferociously, through our very veins.

Oh Allah, you have made my body beautiful, so beautify my character too.”

– A du’a [Hadith, Ibn Mas’ud]

Ameen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

How to love yourself

Last week, I faced myself in the mirror and told myself, “I am beautiful”. My tone was firm and unwavering.

“I. Am. Beautiful.”

To be completely honest, I did not believe myself at first. In the past, I had always been intensely insecure about my appearance, always internally accusing myself of being ugly. Whenever someone complimented me on my appearance, it had almost become permanently wired into my nature to reflexively respond, “Thank you, but I think you may be visually impaired”. Indeed, we live in a society where self-hate is a prolific act. In the pursuit of perfection, we are our worst enemies, obsessing over things ranging from body weight to nasal structure.

Eventually I realised that this incessant self-deprecation was becoming increasingly detrimental. I was losing confidence in myself. Then, I came across a poem- a delightful written piece about the ambiguity of beauty. There are 7.125 billion different definitions of beauty in this world, and I finally came to the realisation that I am one of them. 

There is a fine line between loving and appreciating oneself, and downright hedonism. Loving oneself should not be seen as synonymous with excessively indulging in materialistic goods. Instead, self-love involves recognising your beauty, sowing in yourself the seeds of confidence, and ultimately, becoming aware of the fact that, in this world, you are your most valuable companion.

The path to loving myself was arduous and full of uncertainty. Everyday I would stand before the mirror, searching for my own beauty, even though it was always present before me. I would pass by my reflection in shop windows, reassuring myself that I am beautiful. I wrote myself a poem to capture my own beauty. I took myself on little adventures in an attempt to get to know myself better. And no, these were not acts of vanity. These were acts of self-appreciation after years of the exact opposite.

Soon, I fell in love with myself, and I realised that only when we love ourselves as much as we love those around us, will we ever truly be happy.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Time

Time. It changes things.
One day you are friends,
Souls intertwined, you run through the park
Arms outstretched like eagles, and nothing can stop you, for
Freedom is the only thing you know.

One day you hold her in a tender embrace- she is the only warmth in your life,
And the next day, the Earth is cold because she no longer walks upon it.

One day you breathe a sigh of content- your family is now complete,
And the next day, there is another heart beating desperately in your arms-

Time changes everything.

There is a blurred line between pain and euphoria, and it is time,
The resonance of a thousand souls pouring from the sky,
But all you can do is smile,
Because the ground will absorb your sorrows,
And time will absorb mine.

Soon it will be tomorrow,
and the uncertainties of yesterday will cease to be.
So consign yourself to the soil from which flowers grow-
For time will never awaken us from this dream.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Paper

That was his goal in life.
He wanted to drown his sorrows in old, crinkled paper,
Tokens of exchange that had been touched by hundreds before him,
In the same despondent way.
He wanted the paper to dissolve into his bloodstream,
It would sustain him, it would distract him,
But little did he know that it would destroy him.
The paper might have been able to get him a nice house, and perhaps a nice car and a pretty wife,
Holidays, parties, escapism from the tedium of life,
But it would not buy him happiness- just a sad illusion of it,
A holographic representation that disperses as soon as you attempt to touch it,
It is not real.
He feels his success will grow based on the expensive things he owns,
But price tags will never compare to watching the stars, with hope in his eyes,
surrounded by the people who love him.
No, such things could not compare to the old, crinkled paper
That had filled his mind, and then his pockets, and then his blood, and then his life,
And then he drowned in it.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

She was beautiful

She was beautiful,

But not the type of beautiful that required crimson lipstick to accentuate it,

Or various powders to define it,

Or a hollow pout to perfect a hollow smile.

Her beauty was not skin deep, for it touched every branch of her soul,

From her fingertips to the deep, dark recesses of that beautiful mind of hers.

I could talk to her for hours on end, without ever growing tired of the universe within her eyes.

She was a hurricane of chaos and calm, of brilliance and tranquility,

Yes, in everything she said, and did, and was, and breathed,

She was beautiful.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Look At Yourself

The mirror is your window into hell,

It is where your darkest dreams and most horrid nightmares become a reality,

You are a beast.

Your eyes are too close together. Your eyebrows are too far apart. Your lips are too thin, your nose is too fat, your hair is too flat and your cheeks look like they are pregnant.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what if there is no beauty there to behold?

Why can’t you look like one of those supermodels with

Hollowed cheeks, a thigh gap, daring eyes, flawless skin and a perfect figure?

This is what the world has come to.

We measure the beauty of a girl by how her body compares to those of airbrushed models or how little space she consumes

But what if I told you that a girl’s beauty is not defined by her ability to apply makeup, or to acquire the ‘perfect lighting’, or to form the perfect pout?

Girls, look at yourselves.

See your beauty without comparison or a compliment or a looking glass.

See your beauty in how a shooting star glides across the night sky, adorned with a billion stars. Even the stars cannot quite compare to your beauty.

See your beauty in how the northern lights dance to the songs of the galaxy,

Or how glorious waterfalls cry tears of elation, how the trees prostrate to the magnificence of themselves and everything around them.

The same divine force that created these is the same force that created you;

You are the universe, epitomised, amplified.

So never shrink yourselves for someone else’s comfort.

You take up space. You are beautiful. You matter.

Why GCSEs are a problem

Every British student has his or her own story to tell when it comes to the topic of GCSEs. There are the ridiculously bright, organised and perpetually energetic who jump with glee at the thought of endless hours of revision. Then there are the other 99% of the British teen population: the insanely intelligent and unique individuals who are not particularly compatible with the GCSE system of broad memorisation.

This article is dedicated to all of you: the brilliant, creative beings who have been labeled “dumb” or “lazy” due to your reluctance to sit down for hours on end, memorising an abundance of pointless information; the ones currently suffering from anxiety or depression or ADHD, so revision becomes synonymous with torture; the teens whose lives are currently too unstable for them to bear the burden of the responsibility of such a task, and, of course, the model students who suffer endlessly for their grades. I understand you, and I believe in you. You are not stupid or incompetent, and the system has failed you.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

To any non-Brits reading this article who are wondering what on Earth GCSEs are, they are a series of examinations fifteen and sixteen-year-olds take here in the UK, across eight to fifteen subjects in total. Most of these tests rely not on creativity, practical skills or logic; they rely primarily on memory retention. Imagine having to memorise subject content (usually about three textbooks of information for each subject) across numerous subjects. Some students have to sit over thirty exams- exams that do not focus on a particular career path, but across a desultory range.

Of course, as a keen socialist, I am all for education- it is the key to success both on a personal and global basis. However, that being said, the GCSE system here in the UK is in desperate need of reform. Not only does it counterproductively dull down intelligence and creativity, it also does little to prepare young individuals for life in the real world, especially in the digital age.

The system has failed to modernise- the constructors of the GCSE system must be unaware of the existence of Google. We do not need to memorise useless dates such as when the NHS Act was introduced, nor do we need to memorise complex algebraic functions or how dust precipitators work. The education of our generation- Generation Alpha- is being placed into the hands of a group of old, incompetent, privileged politicians who are simply making it increasingly difficult for the underprivileged to succeed.

GCSE grades lull high achieving students into a false sense of security and subsequent academic arrogance (which is sometimes absolutely demolished come A-levels) and give underachieving students the false impression that they are stupid and good for nothing. The truth is, not every GCSE Physics student will grow up to become a Physicist, and the same can be said for every other GCSE subject. Everyone excels at something- whether it be painting, baking, engineering or politics- and everyone deserves to be commended for their talents, irrespective of whether or not they were able to bag 10 A*s at GCSE level.

I do not, in any way, believe that GCSEs should be scrapped altogether, however I believe they are in desperate need of reform; the British education system must keep with the times, make learning more accessible and enjoyable (without leaving students with a feeling of perpetual exhaustion and dread), and do a better job at preparing us for the future.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016