Once in a lifetime, these moments do come

You know when it is raining, suddenly, in the darkened part of an otherwise busy city? Even at this moment in time: here in lockdown. The cars jetting past, and you can almost hear exactly what the pitter-patter might sound like, from the inside of each and every one of them, inhabited by different people, coming from entirely different worlds.

That feeling of being snug, and warm. In good old-fashioned checked pyjamas, maybe; safe from the cold, and from the wet, the racing, the Anonymous and Alone.

On rainy evenings, it seems like everybody is simply in a rush to get home. Umbrellas look drizzly and forlorn; streetlights glow orange, while makeup, we find, begins to drip into something a little grotesque. Suits, also, at such times, do not look all that comfortable to find oneself wearing.

            Some shield their lacquered heads with newspaper, or scarves; crouch and, in the whirring, pouring noise, make that face: the one that looks rather like disgruntlement. Phone pressed to their ears; water getting hopelessly into their eyes.

Children, in fur-coated hoods, fixate on the excitement of puddles; stoop towards them, in fascination, ready to jump and splash and see themselves again (much to the annoyance of their parents, whose primary concern it now is to get home as quickly as possible, and to make something suitably comforting to eat). Faces rippled: recognisable, and yet, at the same time, hilariously zig-zagged and distorted.

Wellington boots, roof windows for a better view, and acrylic-coloured mugs of hot chocolate. The ‘little’ things, but why on Earth are we known to call them ‘little’? What might the ‘big’ things be, then, in contrast? The… loud, the shiny, the demanding-our-attention? The distracting; things that are extravagantly hard-to-get, the hundred-things-at-once, or the… once-in-a-lifetimes?

This here moment is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Even if it is quiet, and seems ‘unremarkable’, and ‘everyday’: it will never, ever be here again. Not like this, anyhow. And everybody you know and love is getting older, and this here world of yours will never be the same again:

Everything, dear friend, is going to change. As they always have done, and as they always will do:

(until the End, that is).

And I hope we get to see the rain again. Here, perhaps, and in another place;

Another time, another age, and maybe in an altogether different way.

Alhamdulillah for the rain, though. And for the feeling of it on our hands and on our cheeks: Barakah, Rahma, and hope. And for the ability to go home. To close the door. To feel warm, and dry; your entire world, and that you are not alone.

Because it is a big, big, big world out there. Bee-lines, and busy bees. Loneliness and exhaustion; superficiality and disease.

Tall shiny buildings, buzzing away with productivity. A million and one things to buy, and to own, and to try to feel powerful — seen — through. Cars racing through traffic, and the like. But would this life not be… a little unbearableterrifying, actually – without this peaceful slice from all that madness,

which we are thoroughly fortunate enough to call our own?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Forgiveness

“It’s okay — I forgive you.”

Forgiveness. What on earth does it actually mean? Apparently, it is a phenomenon that is separable from forgetting. Somebody wrongs you; it is difficult to forget what they have done. But you forgive them.

You have mercy on them, I suppose, on an inner level. Maybe you try to justify what they have done, in your own mind. The abusive, for example, must have been, at some point, abused themselves. Hmm. I don’t think anyone is ‘good’ and non-human enough to be able to fully pardon people, not without hoping that justice reaches them somehow.

In Islam, forgiveness is encouraged very much. You are meant to go to sleep each night having removed any ‘rancour’ that lies in your heart. I guess much of this can come from the fact that God is the judge. You, holding onto anger, resentment, and all these emotions that run antithetical to feelings of peace and forgiveness… well, they will not really do you any good. So let go of it. Have faith that it will all be taken care of, in due time, by a Being who is far more powerful than you are.

Forgiveness does not necessarily benefit the oppressor, unless they have been forgiven by God too. Forgiving those who have wronged you so much – it benefits you. You show your mercy – to yourself, first and foremost. We are meant to forgive – but not necessarily forget. Forgiving and forgetting renders us fools, I think, because it becomes far easier to allow people to repeat their abuses against us.

Protect yourself, by whichever means are necessary. Maybe some distance is needed from certain people. But do not lash out; do not look back in anger – or, try not to. And know that all is being taken care of. So there is no need to grieve.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself five 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 

Concise Compositions: Friendship

A friend is someone who holds your breath. Friendship. It is such a wonderful thing. If you are blessed enough, in this life of yours, to have at least one amazing friend, then you are truly blessed indeed. How awful would it have been to be alone – without friendship – in this world?

A friend is someone who looks into your eyes, and understands. Friendship is sacred, even if, these days, we often act like it is not. It takes things like trust and effort, yes. Humour, love, adventures. Sometimes just sitting in silence, enjoying one another’s company.

You are indeed who your friends are. Well, you are you, a separate entity. But so much of you will be dependent on who they are. They will be reflections of you, too. So choose wisely.

You know, we sometimes act as though every person we have met, whom we perhaps shared a class at school with, or whom we worked alongside as colleagues – we (or, do I mean I?) act like these are ‘friends’. But, no, I think, realistically, these are…acquaintances. They might be circumstantially somewhat close acquaintances, sure. But I think the term ‘friend’ ought to hold far more weight.

Friends are here for the best of your times. They are equally there for the worst ones. Your happiness and sadness becomes theirs, somehow, and vice versa. Friends are the family we are fortunate enough to be able to choose for ourselves; their lives become intertwined with ours, in parts. We end up sharing some of our flowers.

Okay I’ve got like twenty seconds left. I love my friends; over and over again, I would choose them. I love having good food with them. Good food, good friends. And FLOWERS. Life complete.

4 seconds left. 3, 2, 1.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself five 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

Book Review: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Tariq Ramadan

There are some books that you may come across, in your life, that are rather subtly powerful. They hold within them the ability to really change your life and your ways of thinking – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. For me, this has certainly been one of those books (for the better). This ‘book review’ series on my blog will be dedicated to my reviewing – and independently commenting on the ideas explored – of different books that I love. I won’t review every book I read – only the ones I feel must be shared in this way. 

Tariq Ramadan, I think, is my all-time favourite non-fiction author and academic. He has an undeniable ‘way with words’, Allahummabārik; he presents some very interesting and comforting ideas in a manner that harmoniously merges clarity with profundity. His works focus on Islam – Islamic ethics and legislation, history, Islamophobia, modern politics in light of ‘Islamist’ movements… I am particularly fond of this work of his – as well as another one of his books, entitled: ‘To be a European Muslim’.

As Muslims living in this current (rather confusing, rather intense) epoch, it is natural for us to deeply question many things. Our place here, how to be.

To be a Muslim (today, always) is to be a stranger – a traveller, as the Hadith goes – in the Dunya. To “be here in order to be better over There”. And how true this is. The most prevalent ways of doing things, of thinking, and of being, here can often be quite antithetical to the teachings of our faith.

What are some of the defining characteristics of this modern world? Undeniably, this is a world that is heavily focused on appearances. Facades, the ‘outside’, shells. Lies (which are widely and eagerly devoured), rumours, scandal-mongering, narcissism, widespread distrust. Brutalisers being convincingly disguised as the respectable ones.

The world of modernity is also heavily focused on the principle of individualism. And these two tenets – that of appearances and that of (an inhuman level of) individualism – marry to render the modern world one that is fuelled, very much, by selfishness and deceit.

The society of entertainment, excessive consumption and generalised individualism coexists with the most extreme destitution and the most total misery”

People churn out ‘wealth’ – sell their bodies and souls to do so; many people end up becoming richer — leading richer lives, but rarely necessarily happier ones. Many become so caught up in these images of ‘plenty’ that they forget about the stuff of actual value. One of the breaking wings of modernity is made of speed, computer science, fashion, blaring music with the most peculiar lyrics, cinematic illusions, facades of ever-growing ‘freedoms’. The other: exploitation, weariness, poverty, loneliness, dissatisfaction and despondency, and the children who die at the hands of those who claim to fight in the name of ‘freedom’. One wing functions as a mask for the other. A colourful exterior pressed atop an inside that is soulless and rotten.

“Modern times have, for our memories, a concern for image, and also the infinite neglect of reality and meaning”

There are many problems around us, which serve as evident threats to our spirituality, to our humanity and to our ‘Muslimness’: they are detrimental to the human Fitrah. Many of these things, we find ourselves becoming increasingly desensitised to: senseless violence, shameless vanity and arrogance, greed and overindulgence, chronic intoxication and/or distraction, widespread nudity and sexual immoralities… The list goes on.

In modern society, secularisation tends to be championed. The sacred is desacralised. Modesty, the beauty and elegance of simplicity, the excellence of manners, deeply caring for and tending to the natural environment. These things become obliterated by the army tanks of the modern world. We are a society of individuals; all that seems to matter is the capitalist ‘value’ we can find in things. Morality comes from nothing but the human imagination; it is ‘decided by society’.

“…modernity renders us so unfaithful to our humanity […] The daily running of the world steals us from ourselves, to the point, sometimes, of rendering our personality double and tearing us apart.”

The interactions between Islam and global politics are also a deeply significant thing to consider, here. Often, ardent nationalists operate under the (highly mobilising, highly unifying) guise of religion in order to do their damage. Religion devoid of spirituality, and whose cold exterior latches onto political (nationalistic) movements actually defeats the point of religion itself: religio, to relegate oneself before God.

What else is ‘modernity’ characterised by? I think Ramadan describes it perfectly. Adding to the aforementioned theme of covering up the truth and engaging in (indulging in) falsehood, much of modern society is composed of examples of one part in direct conflict with another: thus is the basis of all neuroses.

Many comedians, for example, wear happy faces but a lot of them (a shocking number) have revealed that they suffer from deep (exogenous) depression. This pattern of double personalities can also be seen in the wider world of celebrities; in the culture that they collectively champion and foster in others.

“When men lose morality they find the jungle and become wolves”

To be true to our Muslim identities, in this world today, we must commit to being committed to Truth, no matter what. “[Saying] the truth and [re-saying] it, before God, without fear”. Despite any material difficulties or emotional struggles we may face: we must vow to be true to Truth, in its exactness. And to justice. Authenticity. Goodness, kindness, fraternity, the pursuit of beneficial knowledge. Spirituality — the heart and soul of this religion.

As Muslims, the deceitful adornments of the world should not faze us. The Qur’an and Hadiths tell us about its reality: marry the world, and you actually end up marrying, essentially, what resembles the rotting insides of a camel’s carcass [Hadith].

We really ought to favour ‘Barakah culture’ over ‘Hustle culture’. Our bodies do not exist to be used, in their entireties, by corporations and such. Our Lord is far more important and powerful; our Haqq is more, well, Haqq. We bring Barakah into our lives by favouring three things – worship, the pursuit of knowledge, and the graceful servitude of others. And these things undoubtedly interact with one another: the quality of one affects the quality of the others.

Today, we are just so self-absorbed. We care too much about how we look, and about our titles, and about our social media accounts — about how we can best come across to others. We have lost the art of sincerity, so it would seem; often, things are done for the primary purpose of social recognition, and in the names of efficiency and rationalisation. When we exclusively focus on these particular things, the world becomes one of black and white, and of smog and several other hues of grey.

As Muslims, we do need to tend to our ‘portions in the [current] world’: we go to school, and to work. We eat, we have friends. We partake in creative and personal projects. But, for us, Deen takes precedence over Dunya. Our religion gives true life to our lives. And here, we “live and learn how to die, live in order to learn how to die”.

And prayer should be our lives’ lifeblood. As Ramadan writes, prayer “[gives] strength, in humility, to the meaning of an entire life”.

I love that books like these incorporate history, personal anecdotes, politics, philosophy, and more, all into one. It was fascinating to read about why Islam today looks like what it does, and in various parts of the world; about things like the Islamic Centre of Geneva (est. 1961) for instance, and how it broadcasted a certain form of Islam to several other European Muslim communities; about the growing religious influence of the Saudis, the Islamic World League, how pan-Arab politics both informed, and was informed by, all these happenings.

Our problem is one of spirituality. If a man comes to speak to me about the reforms to be undertaken in the Muslim world, about political strategies and of great geo-strategic plans, my first question to him would be whether he performed the dawn prayer (Fajr) on time”

– Said Ramadan

“Power is not our objective; what have we to do with it? Our goal is love of the Creator, the fraternity and justice of Islam. This is our message to dictators.” 

These days, many influential Muslims are actually, unfortunately, walking epitomes of the notion of religion without spirituality. They may sport lengthy beards, quote the Qur’an almost endlessly. But Islam would not appear to be in their hearts: instead, the love of things like wealth, power, titles and territory are.

There are many things that the Muslims of today – in particular, we youngins – need to unlearn. There are also many things that we must learn and then proceed to internalise. For example, our hearts (if we are to truly find peace) must come to sing the idea that “solitude with God is better than neglect with men”. The link with God is the way.

The concept of modernisation is constantly valorised by those who live under it. Why wouldn’t a person or a place want to be ‘modern’? Granted, there are some ‘positives’ to this whole global project. A certain type of work ethic, in conjunction with certain personal liberties, does breed invention. Innovation, efficiency, improvement, sanitisation, gigantic systems that work (mostly) for the benefit of the people.

In the European Middle Ages, dynamism in this way had simply not been a thing. Feudalistic power structures and the unshifting dominance of the clergy in circles of thought contributed to a certain sort of “numbness”, a stifling of sorts. “Nothing seemed to move; men were as if paralysed…” So today’s constant state of movement may be seen as a welcome change from these erstwhile times. But instead of a steady state of flow, we seem to now be moving recklessly, too quickly. Growth for the sake of growth; it is not healthy.

But modernity is also, unfortunately, the things that are hidden beneath the veneer of shininess. Massive inequalities of wealth and resources. Poverty and exploitation. Pandemic addictions. Increased rates of severe mental illnesses. And, of course, all those other things – what, now, are hallmarks of modernity – that our Prophet (SAW) had warned us about.

There are certainly some good things from the current state of things that the modern Muslim can benefit from; these things are not anti-Islamic. Science, technology, the pursuit of wisdom, and progress. [It is important to note that, in the Christian world, science and progress had come about as a result of that society’s parting with religion, for the most part. On the flip-side, the Muslim world had flourished when it had been more in touch with its spirituality; it declined when this had been lost]. An issue arises solely when people cling to these things in lieu of a link with God. Knowledge should breed Taqwa; what we learn should come benefit our own souls, as well as those of the people.

In (temporary) solitude and seclusion, muddied water – agitated, noisy – slows down; the dirt settles, and then there is peace. Clarity, flow and focus may be achieved here. When Islam is in our hearts; when we are able to exhibit due Khushuu’ in our prayers, life becomes warm. Meaningful. Animated with gratitude and Barakah; a separateness from the cheapness of meaningless chatter. A walk – even if it be a solitary one – towards wisdom and elegance. It slows down; the roses bloom. Beautiful heart, beautiful thoughts, and all the rest of it.

“To be good and do good, before God, is the meaning of this call.” 

And, right now, we all find ourselves in our own houses, quarantined, mostly in solitude. As much of the Islamic tradition demonstrates, there is much Khayr – goodness – to be found in solitude and seclusion: this is where the sacred tends to reveal itself. Where you can train yourself to be a contented observer of the world, in it, but not wholly devoted to it… being somewhat distant from all the noise and the crowds, for here is where one may find clarity.

From the very first pages of its Foreword, I was enthralled by the messages this book contains. I considered it to be very informative, and yet so very soulfully validating. It has inspired me to try to get closer to God; to give my daily prayers their due diligence, Insha Allah; to not be distracted by the distractions of a noisy world that is filled with busy people who talk far too much.

In case I didn’t manage to make it clear earlier, I so love this book; I would truly recommend it.

“Be like a fruit tree. They attack you with stones, and you respond with fruits.”

– Hasan al-Banna


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Frameworks

We each look at the world through our own eyes – through our own subjective perspectives. The way we view others, how we process things that happen to us and around us, the ways in which we examine the beings of the very humans whose eyes meet our own when we look into the mirror. All this, we witness through lenses of varying colours and tones, which may change with time, and which are determined by the cognitive frameworks that lie in place, in our minds. 

Many of us were imbued with certain ideas when we were younger, whose psychological and behavioural repercussions may be quite evident now, in adulthood, but some of which we are now wise enough to recognise as having been quite… detrimental. They were never really necessary in the first place, and we find, now, that we can actually happily do without them.

One of these unhelpful cognitive frameworks, for example, may well be the one that focuses excessively on appearances in lieu of substance. This insidious, suffocating, anxiety-ridden ‘What will people think?’ mentality. In childhood, its beginnings may have come about as a result of excessive scolding from caregivers, for (things that are retrospectively identifiable as having been) pretty harmless things. Outrage and ensuing fear, and the laying-down of certain cognitive frameworks.

I firmly believe that every human being has a ‘core’ in terms of individual personality. We can seek to categorise them (MBTI tests, Enneagram tests, Temperament types, Harry Potter houses, and the like) while also being fully cognisant of the fact that our personalities, in truth, are too complex to be wholly contained by such concise definitions. I do think our ‘core’ personalities were imbued in us by God; I also acknowledge that ‘who we are’ is ever-changing… though the core does tend to remain intact. When we were children – when we were little tabula rasas (relatively speaking; not entirely so) – we were almost undoubtedly closest to our ‘core selves’. Some of us were curious and outgoing and loved playing in the mud; others of us were shy and bookish and neat. And (hopefully) nobody really told us that it was not okay to be like this – to be who we are/were…

Until (presumably) somebody did. Some of us may have faced this phenomenon of personality-based antagonism earlier on in childhood. Maybe some of us never faced it directly, but did so as a result of insidious media influences during fragile points in our development. And, bullying. Maybe from people at school, maybe from siblings, or even from our parents.

What are three – or more, or less – negative attributes that you believe you have?

1.

2.

3.

Some of our self-reproachful conceptions may be founded in some truth. We are undeniably each flawed creatures. But said conceptions become an issue when they are not really founded in reality; when they are a cause of ongoing anxieties; when they hold us back and make us feel like we are, in those respects, far worse than our fellow human beings.

Maybe you have believed, for years and years and years, that you are insurmountably socially awkward and strange. Or not clever at all. Or not ‘masculine’ enough, or ‘feminine’ enough. Maybe when it comes to certain things, you perpetually feel ‘too much’, and for others, you deeply feel ‘not enough’.

Where did these ideas come from? And how, in light of these origins, are we going to find a way to quiet these thoughts, and to put an end to them altogether?

If these ideas have come from another, or from a group of ‘anothers’, it must be known that, just as you view the world through your own cognitive frameworks, others view the world through theirs. People are often quite prone to, for example, projecting their personal insecurities in the form of hurtful statements against others, particularly against those whom they are either envious of, or whom they have deemed to be less powerful than they are.

Moreover, with the benefit of hindsight, we must acknowledge that hefty criticisms (whether they were explicitly transmitted, or done so more implicitly, for example through backbiting) should only really be given any validity by us if we truly respect the people dishing them out. If you do not want to ever become like a certain person, why should their analyses of your being even matter? If anything, disapproval from somebody you want to be rather unlike is a good thing!

People look at you relative to how they look, both at and through, themselves. So if there is an ongoing ‘problem’ with you, it is more likely that there is an ongoing problem with you relative to them. I am not advocating for the display of unreflective and obnoxious behaviour, here. All I am saying is that sometimes ‘issues’ are made into – reified into -issues, quite gratuitously [yes, I very much love this word].

We cannot leave the custody of Truth to people; we cannot democratise it, for this can often lead to the championing of falsehood. It is rather telling that some of the best men to have ever lived had scores of opponents and ardent critics who were obsessed with them. In the same vein, some of the worst men to have ever lived had been surrounded by ardent admirers and supporters. We do not leave the determining of truths to the people: we leave this to God, the source of objectivity.

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

– Malik ibn Dinar 

Are you okay as a person? Is who you are fully ‘okay’? Well, a good way to determine this would be to think about those who are actually worthwhile seeking to please or emulate. What is your current relationship with God like? If you are a Muslim, how do you think Muhammad (SAW) would respond to who you are, and to what your behavioural tendencies might be? If you are Christian, what would Jesus say? [If you are atheist, what would… Keanu Reeves…say?]

Granted that your perceived deep, dark, exceptional, all-encompassing negative traits are not…actual deeply negative traits that harm others, I am sure we can find ways to almost poeticise all of them. Books and movies are replete with characters whom some may deem ‘unintelligent’ because they don’t necessarily flourish at school (but who are intelligent, for instance, ‘street-wise’); characters who may be misconstrued by other characters as being ‘annoying’ because they are very curious and outgoing, or ‘boring’ because they are quite quiet a lot of the time. But fiction certainly teaches us this: the way we come to define people is a matter of perspective. Often, the protagonist of a tale is presented as the ‘good one’, and it does not matter what he or she does: the commitment to seeing and presenting them as the ‘good one’ has already been solidified. Confirmation bias ensues, and this is also true for those characters who are ‘villains’. There is a certain ‘unchangeability’ that is associated with them, for instance through their ‘villainous’ tattoos and facial structures and such. Some real-life people are known to construct heroic and villainous characters out of other people, in a similar regard; we can tend to be rather obstinate with our perceptive definitions of others. Although everyone is deeply complex and ever-changing, we seem to like to cling to stubborn categorisations.

And, we also often see in fiction (which does not entirely represent human reality, granted, but it can certainly be helpfully reflective of it) that certain evidently ‘good’ individuals are not appreciated by those who form major parts of their immediate environments. Take Matilda for example: relative to those around her, she is seen as a show-off, and as an abnormality, among other things. But a change of her environment demonstrates that oftentimes people can only really flourish when given a true chance to; when they are loved.

To love (oneself and others) authentically is to take a balanced approach when it comes to matters of personality. It is to know that we each have our flaws and our unique traits – whether good or bad. It is to commit to self-improvement, without being too harsh on oneself, or on others. If you and another human being are not compatible in terms of who you both are, this is okay. Nothing wrong with them per se (unless there really is, e.g. if they are a narcissist) and nothing wrong with you (unless you are a mean narcissist). We must concern ourselves with that which concerns us: admitting to our weaknesses but in moderate ways, and to our strengths, also in moderate ways. We must not seek out the opinions and the validation of the masses: we should tend to the opinions of those whose opinions are truly worth caring about. And even then, our loved ones (can only) see us from their own perspectives: no other human being will ever be able to hand you a holistic definition of ‘who you are’ on a plate.

To a very high extent, you decide who you are. Who your friends are, how you spend your time. The thoughts that you dismiss, the feelings you nurture or work your way through, the books you read. These things all determine the colours and tones of your personal reality.

See, humanity – both wider, and our own – is merely a collection of stories. The stories that others may tell us, and also the stories that we tell others and ourselves. At a certain point, we come to realise that others do not hold the pens through which our own stories are authored. (After God’s supreme authority) we hold our own pens.

It may be hard to stray from certain modes of writing that our stories have become a little accustomed to, over time. Other authors may have had power over our tales in childhood, and perhaps later on, in cases where one’s personal boundaries were not respected. But we can go back in time, with red pens. We can realise that these people had been influencing our narratives in such ways through their own eyes, their own pens – and projecting much, all the while, perhaps.

When it comes to human experience, we often find that reality is very much what we make of it. But this fact should not function as a cheap way of telling people to simply “Get over” certain things. Let the author of the story dictate what hurt him or her; let him or her decide how to go about making the necessary corrections, moving forward.

Maybe it is true that the past backwards is ‘set in stone’ – in ink on paper. But the past informs everything: the past forwards is what we refer to as the future. Once we make the decision to claim authorship and autonomy over our stories, we can make poetry of it all; fight duels with our pens with anybody who seeks to forcefully impose their own voices over ours. And, we can choose to invite those who truly love us, in.  


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

You’re Weird.

According to the OED, the term ‘weird’ refers to something “very strange; bizarre”. This is its informal definition. The definition of ‘strange’ is as follows: “unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain.” Now, with regard to a more formal definition of the adjective ‘weird’, it actually means “suggesting something supernatural or unearthly”. Thus, if you are weird, the chances are that you are, a) different from the norm – and that you are therefore rare; b) as a result of your numerical rarity, you are also difficult to understand, by the general populace. Finally, c) there is a high chance that you also have about you a ‘supernatural’ quality; some sort of ‘unearthly’ mystique. 

In general, human beings tend to seek out a stable sense of belonging, via validation from those around us. Firstly, we need to feel like we belong within our nuclear family units, and then, in our extended family units; our workplaces, our schools. And, of course, we yearn for a sense of belonging within the wider construct of society. Without these feelings of authentic belonging, we become susceptible to some of the most unpleasant and unfavourable sentiments – those of feeling like societal rejects; like abnormalities; like weirdos. 

And we try, so desperately hard, to run away from this label. “You’re weird“. “Freak!” is what we hear. “Societal mistake”; “cultural anomaly”; “reject”. We crave not to be outcast in such a way; we need to feel like we belong. And we often find ourselves under the impression that to belong is to be exactly like those around us. 

This is a valid idea: many of the values, ways of doing things (etc.) that we acquire over the courses of our lives do come from the people around us – in particular, from those in senior authority positions, relative to ourselves. Parents, teachers, bosses at work, the ‘role models’ we place upon perceptive idealistic planes…

But who decides what is normal, and what is not? Is it merely a game of numbers? The majority of the population does this, and is like this, therefore this is the norm, i.e. what is normal. Does that mean that everyone and everything that strays from what is numerically most popular is to be deemed weird? 

What if the majority of the world’s inhabitants were to suddenly find themselves plagued by some sort of neurodegenerative disease that rendered them all prone to seeing hallucinations? What if they all were to start walking around barefoot, and hugging every tree they saw, and poking each other’s noses by way of greeting one another? According to our earlier definitions of normal and weird, this would all, by default, become the new normal. And anything and anyone who were to stray from this – what has become the most popular way of doing things – would be labelled as weird. 

The fact of the matter is, most of us fear being weird. We think the concept of being different naturally means that we are like science experiments gone wrong; like physical abnormalities in abstract cages, self-criticising, while the rest of the world gawks at and laughs at us.

But, and in reality, people laugh at what is different; at what causes them some discomfort. And what causes discomfort tends to be what is unfamiliar. This is why people often laugh at politically incorrect jokes; these jokes cause some degree of discomfort in people, which can be released via the outlet of laughter. Furthermore, with regard to criticism, people always display inclinations towards commenting on what is different; unfamiliar; discomfort-inducing.

If you were to walk along beside a line of pine trees, and if you then came across a single cherry blossom tree, the cherry blossom tree is likely to immediately catch your attention. And, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, the cherry blossom tree remains objectively beautiful. Her beauty is only accentuated by the fact that there are few like her, in her vicinity. Few pine trees could ever possibly understand her. But she is there, and she is weird. And ‘weird’ is not an inherently bad thing; this is surely all a matter of perspective.

And, besides, what are we, all of us, but grown-up children? Do we not all trip up sometimes on pavements; spill food; go to use the potty? We still have tantrums – whether we choose to show these to the world or not. We feel unmitigated rage; we feel jealous; we show off. Pretty much all of the things that children – these beings that hold mirrors up to our true core selves – do, adults do, too. Adulthood is but a game of seasoned childhood, with some additional moral frameworks in the mix…

All the things you do; all the things you perhaps dislike about yourself are probably pretty normal. It’s just that some things, as we have all implicitly decided within greater society, can be shown. Other things must be kept hidden.

Interestingly, and in light of the fact that we are all merely overgrown children, human babies are born having only two ‘built-in’ fears: that of falling, and that of loud noises. Every other fear and insecurity that we may have is gained along the way, via ‘nurture’ – via experience.

We have learnt (from the adults who were in charge of our care back then) what is to be seen as normal, and what is to be regarded – dismissed – as being weird. See, if you were to give a young child the chance to dress him- or herself, chances are, they will appear before you, minutes later, clad in wellington boots in the middle of the summer; animal-print tops that do not match their tracksuit trousers; raincoats on days where rain does not look like a probable occurrence at all…

Children are the weirdest of creatures. And this is what makes them so intrinsically wonderful. Their intrinsic human creative faculties have not yet been curbed; rather, these are nurtured every single day by a general fearlessness of being labelled as strange.

Children see almost every fellow child in the entire world as a potential fellow playmate. They point at random squirrels, name them ‘Alison’ or ‘Percy’, and call them their “pets”. They get tubs of face cream and smear it all over their hair. They invent weird languages, and handshakes, and make pointless devices out of cardboard. Weird is precisely how they learn. 

And if you were to force a young child into modern accepted brackets of normality (e.g. forcing them to sit on a swivel chair in a sparsely-decorated office, filling out piles of paperwork, with a twenty-minute coffee break in between all their hours) they would, to put it succinctly, freak out. Such things – such notions that we gradually imbue children with as they grow up – that this is how you are meant to end up – are wholly unnatural to the unaffected child. These things run antithetical to the weird essence of the young human.

Do we truly outgrow our own selves, after childhood? Is that truly the case? Or is it more so a case of plastering atop our essential selves affectations of ‘adulthood’, and of ‘propriety’, and of blunted weirdness, and curbed creativity?

Weird is necessary for progress. If you try the same things over and over again, you will end up with the very same results, over and over again. This is true both on an individual, and on a wider societal, scale. The iPhone was invented because a certain man decided to be a bit weird. Frida Kahlo’s legendary works of art are intrinsically weird. “Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain,” she once said. Only one weird person can know the wonderful core of another weird person. 

How else did Barack Obama become the first black president of the USA? Was it a normal decision that he made – to run in the election? No – it was weird – it was unheard of to have an African-American person in such a noble and important position, back then. But weird is necessary for change, until the virtuous elements of weird become the new normal. Marie Curie; Prophet Muhammad (SAW); Virginia Woolf; the Buddha. Though widely celebrated individuals now, back then, they were utter weirdos. And this was precisely their collective superpower: they could be weird, and they could thus see things differently. This allowed them to do things differently – weirdly, albeit, in the direction of much good.

If you are weird, congratulations! Though you may be acutely self-conscious, self-critical, and numerically few, you are of extremely high value. And almost every single thing you frown upon yourself for doing or being can be either flipped or neutralised; it is all a matter of mindset and interpretation.

“I’m awkward.” No – you’re adorable, and your actions are so very endearing. 

“I’m too much of an introvert.” Your mind must be beautiful; you actively nurture it by being outwardly silent. Your words have more weight – more value – whenever you do speak. 

“I do x and y. I’m such a freak.” Millions of other human beings probably do – and have, throughout history done – exactly whatever you do. You’re not a freak at all. Every human action is borne from a universal human motivation… whether this be the motivation to play and to enjoy the world; to learn and explore; to experience platonic and romantic love… 

“I embarrass myself, over and over again.” Good. That means you are alive and human. And it means you are tryingKeep trying, please! 

Some of my most favourite fictional characters are ‘weird’, and, for the most part, this is exactly why I love them. Rudy from ‘the Book Thief’. How adorable and endearing is he? It is safe to say, I had the biggest crush on him when I was younger. Sadly, he does not exist.

Jessica Day from ‘New Girl’. Polka dots, wide-frame glasses, saying weird things, and at all the wrong times. Sweet, funny, super unique, interesting, unpredictable. Who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Riley from ‘Girl Meets World’. What a weirdo. She has stars in her eyes; gets excited at the smallest of things. She is a tad naive, but, and like Jessica Day, who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Farkle from ‘GMW’, too. Initially, he sported a bowl-cut hairstyle. He would wear turtlenecks, and he had a whole host of strange idiosyncratic behaviours. He was funny, and very strange, and such a sensitive and loyal friend. Fictional crush the second, who unfortunately does not exist.

Then, there’s Topanga from ‘Boy Meets World’, and, later, ‘Girl Meets World’. One of my (fictional) role models. Topanga starts out as the definition of ‘weird’. She is… a hippie. ‘Child of the universe’, glassy eyes that just gaze into distances. She spontaneously performs rain dances and applies lipstick, as warpaint, to her face. When she is younger, she is one of the most sensitive, intelligent, loyal, and beautifully different souls out there. And she grows up to be a lawyer and a cafe-owner, with a wonderful (rather weird) family. Adulthood catches up with the great Topanga in the end, sure, but the beauty of her weirdness remains.

Hermione from Harry Potter. “Mental, that one,” Ron (ironically, her future husband) remarks, upon watching her sit beneath the Sorting Hat. Hermione is proudly weird; Luna Lovegood, too. Sometimes they are both mocked by those around them. But people throw rocks at things that shine. And, oh, how Hermione and Luna shine. 

And, finally, one of the best (fictional, unfortunately) couples in existence: the legendary Jake and Amy from ‘Brooklyn-99’What utter weirdos! Jake, the joker: jumps on grown men, is forever making childish jokes, always embarrasses himself. And, Amy, whom Rosa and Gina initially deem “a loser”. Stationery advocate; crossword aficionado; she has one friend outside of the precinct. But – nay, and – she is so very loved, and she is one of the greatest sergeants of her time.

Of course, fiction does not wholly represent human reality. But, often, it can give an acceptably good indication of it. Both in fictional worlds and in the real world, weird is what gives rise to adventure, and to greatness, and to fun. So here’s to your weirdnesses, dear reader – to all of them, even to the ones you cannot bring yourself to love, just yet.

See, weird is the very thing that makes small children fall in love with the world, in the first place. And weird might just be what it may take for us to stay there, in that childishly blissful state we have all, at some point, had the pleasure of experiencing.

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

#TwoMinutePoetryChallenge

I wrote this poem in the space of two minutes and I challenge my readers to do the same.


Look outside.

Are the clouds weeping? Do they share my sorrow?

Or does the world simply go on?

Did the sun rise today? Did the winds still blow?

Did time just carry on as though

Everything is okay?

Did the birds sing this morning? I would not know,

For their symphonies continue to be cancelled out by my desire to hear nothing.

Tell me: did the trees sway in the breeze today? Did they notify you of their reluctance to bear fruit at this hour?

Why must we wait for things? Why do we challenge ourselves to wait to escape?

Patience reflects delusion and a false sense of

Immortality.

Are we all just kidding ourselves?

We are all just kidding ourselves.

Look outside. The clouds are weeping, but they do not share my sorrow.

I am here, encapsulated in a universe that is neither happy nor sad, yet here I am,

Embodying (compensating for)  its lack of happiness and sadness,

All at once.

Like how the clouds gush tears of neutrality, I cry tears of happiness, sadness

and everything in between.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Blind Fidelity

05/05/2016

His heart was pounding so rapidly, he feared that, in a moment or two, it would tear through his chest and fall onto the floor- not that he’d even notice anyway; the only things he could think about were the faces of his dead friends, his intense fear of dying and his acute desire to make it out alive- to be able to kiss his daughter on the forehead again, to tell her he loves her.

In the very back of his mind, he wondered what had put him in this position in the first place- running senselessly to his death. Was it blind fidelity? Fraudulent jingoism? Or was it his constant desire to prove himself as a man?

Either way, there he was, a flimsy tin hat sitting uncomfortably atop his head, a Bible concealed beneath the ragged khaki- the uniform of his doom- and a bayonet bouncing up and down repeatedly between his anxious hands. He was nothing more than a heroic coward. A scared soldier.

Then, he saw it: the scene of a group of men he once knew, lying dead, scattered like unwanted clothes outside a charity shop, with pained, distant expressions strewn permanently across their faces, their blood flowing copiously into the welcoming vessels of the ground. Rest in peace, comrades. Rest in pain. Rest in power.

The scene of his dead, mutilated friends was almost too much to bear. Tom broke down and cried tears of dread and desperation. It was absolutely terrifying, because, in that moment, he had caught a glimpse of his inevitable future.

Fire

The woman crouched down on the floor, her bespectacled eyes affixed on the myriad of books that lined the towering shelf that stood before her. She was tall, thin and atypically beautiful; she wore no makeup, but her skin glowed like the light of the harvest moon. Her eyes were large and brown, and she wore a resolute facial expression of intellect and mystery combined. She was walking perfection. After a minute or two of browsing, she extracted a book from the shelf, entitled ‘The Feminine Mystique’. Stroking her silver pendant, which sat perfectly atop her plain black shirt, she marched over to the librarian’s desk, leaving behind her a trail of fire.