Concise Compositions: Knowledge

Why seek knowledge? What is the significance of wanting to know, and then coming to know, and then passing this knowledge on? Wanting to know: this impulse is etched into our very nature, as human beings. We are curious; we have all these questions. We ask, and we ask, and we ask. Sometimes, we find answers. Sometimes, we even find answers to questions we did not even really know we had. Often, over time, we may become accustomed to those answers; we may take the things we have learnt along the way, for granted.

We all begin in a state of not knowing. Not knowing what the word ‘material’ means, or why flowers have stems, or how some creatures are nocturnal, while others are diurnal. Coming to know is an extraordinary, and invaluable, process, and one which we repeat, albeit in varying ways, over and over again.

Like when we meet new people. There is so much to come to know about them; every other person alive is just as complex, multi-faceted, with minds and hearts filled with millions of different experiences, as we know we are. Or, when we meet a new day. We explore uncharted territories; fundamental to who we are are the impulses for adventure and discovery. The moments of awe, and of, “oh, that’s why!”

Why is seeking knowledge – and the institutions and such built around this pursuit: why are they so important? I, personally, am not a fan of the idea of doing anything ‘for the sake of itself’. I cannot content myself with the idea that my desires to learn are ‘self-explanatory’, and ‘for the sake of themselves’. I want to learn because

I know I am passionate about my interests. I find the process of having questions, and then consulting different places and people in order to try to find answers to them, altogether quest-like. Novel, and ever-refreshing. But, more than this:

More than the ‘entertaining’ side of such explorations, and more than the ‘socio-economic’ dimensions that are ever-touted to us. [e.g. “to become a billionaire, you must read a hundred books a year,” as well as the idea that knowledge is integral to defining social statuses, and for ‘social mobility’ and competition.]

I guess it depends on how we view life, and on how we view success. My ten minutes have ended here, but I am going to continue. Might make the new time limit I give myself fifteen minutes. Bismillah.

Life, and what it is for. Our aims. Knowledge is the only thing that can help us to get there. If you want to, say… make a really good biryani [I think about biryani so much, it’s unhealthy], you need to know how to do so. If you want to… be a good lawyer, or teacher, or mother, or friend, or Muslim, you need to know how to do so. I do believe that the best types of knowledge we can acquire are the ‘experiential’ forms. Learning ‘on the job’; making our mistakes, and then learning from them. But also, we learn well from hearing about others’ experiences; what worked for them; what they would advise.

Hence, the value of books. And of YouTube videos, podcasts, Quora and more.

We are navigating our ways through these lives of ours. World, (universe,) selves, other people, education, careers, daily dilemmas. Knowledge enlightens; illuminates. It paves out maps, for us. We conceptualise what we want; our knowing is what facilitates our being. And vice versa. Knowledge and the human existence: we are inextricable. I think it is a great thing indeed, to love: the pursuit of, the preservation of, the sharing of, knowledge.

Being ‘without’ an understanding: darkness, ignorance. And then, being ‘with’ it. Gaining information; understanding; insight.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘knowledge’ refers to “Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

There are those more ‘abstract’, theoretical forms of knowledge. There are the practical forms that we ourselves have not directly experienced, but we are able to learn about them through others’ recounts and explanations: vicarious experiencing, for us. And there are the direct forms of knowledge that we, ourselves, do directly experience; these may be complimented by what we have learnt, from coming to know of others’ experiences.

Moreover, a snippet from the Wikipedia page [try not to use Wikipedia for research, kids!] on ‘Ilm (an Arabic word generally translated as meaning ‘knowledge’, but which would actually appear to have a wider definition), “knowledge in the Western world means information about something […] while [from the] Islamic point of view, ‘Ilm is an all-embracing term covering theory, action and education [so, learning, doing, and perhaps teaching]; it is not confined to the acquisition of knowledge only, but also embraces socio-political and moral aspects”. ‘Ilm might be summarised as meaning ‘active beneficial knowledge’; something that is meant to illuminate, in (not just) mind, (but also in) heart, and soul.

Knowledge does not ‘belong’ exclusively to a certain group of people, even though we do have experts in different fields. Knowledge is for goodness, and it ought to be for the goodness of everybody. It is from our Creator; it is for anybody who loves it. Yes, I quite like this idea — that ‘Ilm is about more than just ‘collecting information’. It is:

towards Truth; in Beauty; for Goodness.

The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself fifteen 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. Have fun writing! 


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Confidence

What is ‘confidence’? And what is it… not?

A friend of mine and I both seek to be ‘confident’ in a particular way. A ‘self-comfortable’ way. Both ‘passive’ – a comfort, a security, in being – but also with a good helping of being ‘active’. Being both deeply kind – but not in a performative, nor over-the-top and ‘cutesy’ sort of way – and strong – but not in a way that ever necessitates stomping all over other people to make ourselves feel superior.

Nowadays, it seems like the image of the cocky and abrasive suit-clad man, and the mean, nose-up and otherwise-indifferent-seeming woman, make for the most popular benchmarks for what constitutes ‘confidence’. Is confidence rooted in power – i.e., the ability to influence others’ thoughts and behaviours? To me, the need to be ‘powerful’ in order to be confident seems slightly paradoxical. I guess it can work either way: a person may feel so secure in themselves that they become uncaring about how they are making others feel: attitudes of superiority might eventually simply come naturally to them. Or, maybe some people are fundamentally insecure and uncomfortable within themselves, and so look to have power over others, in order to compensate, to fill the ‘gap’, so to speak.

One can have power over others intellectually; sexually; professionally; in terms of familial roles, and more. To me, the most authentically ‘confident’ people seem to be the ones who exude this sense of peace within themselves. They do not seem restless, or scared, or desperate for others to validate them; there is a strong sense of trust, from seemingly deep within themselves, and a significant gentleness, that would appear to be indifferent to whether or not the next person agrees with them.

The dictionary definition of ‘confidence’ points to notions of certainty in oneself; trust. My ten minutes have ended here, but I’m going to continue.

At what point does ‘confidence’ lean into arrogance?

From reading the meaning of the Qur’an [and I am still not done yet!] I have learnt that, time and time again, we are told by Allah (SWT) to not be “arrogant”: to not act greater than what we actually are. A hadith (Prophetic saying) clarifies that the definition of arrogance is, a) to disregard the truth [when you know it, I’m assuming], and b) to look down upon the people, and to scorn them — to treat other people like they have little worth, and to treat them without respect.

Islam is, fundamentally, about two things: one’s comportment before, and relationship with, Allah, and one’s demeanour before, and relationships with, fellow human beings: from one’s closest family members, to complete strangers in lands that we do not call our own. With this in mind, then:

Confidence. Trust and strength and peace. I want to have so much trust in my Creator, and in the unique merits of being – inside and out – that He has given me. Shukr: they are not from me. In terms of worth and being deserving of (authentic) respect, nobody is above me; nobody is beneath me, either. Respect for others; respect for myself. No human being at all is high and mighty, or even vaguely omnipotent.

I used to look at certain people I know – male and female, alike – and think that they must be archetypal examples of ‘confidence’. A man who is always taking pictures of himself, always around people, always being pursued by women and being praised. And, no disrespect to him, but then I learned that all this is not always indicative of ‘confidence: he really cannot do without streams of compliments from people.

Women, too: people at secondary school would sometimes say that I came across as being “really confident”… which I secretly found absurd, because a lot of the time, I was actually quite scared [I know not why], and yes, I habitually relied on ‘what other people were saying’ – good and bad – in order to inform my self-view.

Even with people I know who are really beautiful (Masha Allah) and sort of walk around like they own the place: they say they experience anxiety with going up to shopkeepers to pay for their things, for example.

Is anyone fully, thoroughly, and across all different social circumstances and such, ‘confident’, then? Would this not be a little … impossible, without dipping at least a little into delusion? We are all blessed with our own merits, talents, nice physical features, comforts, and more. And we are all certainly quite limited, in various ways, too. We all do need validation and affirmation, though – whether in these ways, or those – and to be told by others that we are doing okay.

So maybe authentic confidence – and two particular people come into mind when I think about this – is about these recognitions, simply in line with the truths of things. In a way that acknowledges that it is all from Allah, and that we are also very limited: I quite like myself – 10/10, would be friends with – and you are very likeable, in your own unique ways, too — though there will almost undoubtedly be some people who may dislike your personality, and disagree. I have my merits, and my flaws; you have yours, too. You, by nature, deserve my (authentic, not-restrained, but also not-excessive-and-performative) kindness and respect; I, by nature, deserve yours, too. You are allowed to dislike me; to fundamentally disagree with me, and I am allowed to dislike and/or disagree with you, too. But we walk on the same plane, in terms of core worth and value; in terms of the wombs from which we are born, and in terms of the earth we physically become part of, when we are gone.

And there will be mutual respect, here, or nothing.

Treating others how we ourselves would like to be treated. Oh, and also, treating ourselves how we like for those whom we love, to be treated. ‘Confident’, and at peace, as and within ourselves.

(Authentic confidence in people definitely leads to a magnetic sort of attractiveness: good vibes and all)

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. Have fun writing! 


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: What is Peace?

‘Peace’ is a concept that most people, you will find, believe in, agree with. Even if their ideas of peace necessitate the use of some violence to get there [“The ends justify the means” (N.M.)]. But what, exactly, is ‘peace’?

Broadly defined as being ‘the absence of violence’, when we think of ‘peace’, we might think of smoothness. An absence of frictions, tensions. We might think of olive branches, doves, and butterflies. Good relations between people, and between groups of people (including nations). Is ‘peace’ only the absence of violence? This notion suggests a sort of passivity. A thing only being the absence of another thing. Is peace not a little more… of an active force?

Maybe the difficulty here, as with many things, is with how we choose to use different words: inconsistencies in language, in what we mean. Maybe ‘eudaimonia’ – that is, a state of flourishing, health, blessedness – is ‘active goodness’. Maybe ‘peace’ is passive goodness – merely the absence of violence. Maybe ‘neglect’ is passive evil. And maybe ‘violence’ is active evil: the active violation of others’ rights, and their bodies, and their souls.

Maybe ‘peace’ comes about when life is honoured, and when rights are upheld and honoured. Violence is when this is disrupted: it is when one, through inflicting pain, exerts their will over (i.e. actively, with intention, violates) another. “Violence is the ultimate exertion of will”. I’ve forgotten who it was that said that.

But maybe there is another challenge to ‘peace’: neglect. Simply, not adequately upholding others’ rights, nor meeting their needs. But is neglect necessarily a form of ‘violence’? Or is the intention of inflicting pain necessary for something to be classified as being ‘violent’? Then, is it not ‘violence’ if one accidentally hurts another? No — probably not. [My uncle is right: ‘Philosophy’ — ‘peace studies’ come under the branch of political philosophy — is all about “responding to questions with more questions.”]

Is it only ‘violence’ when one person actively hits another? Is it also violence to allow another to starve, when they are, perhaps, under one’s charge?  Then, is it still ‘violence’ to not give a hungry stranger food, when you have the ability to do so? Are physical bruises – things ‘added’ to a body – the only teller of violence? Is it an act of violence to prevent people from having access to clean water, say? How about psychological distress? Is this violence, too?

My time is up, now. And this piece has ended up being more about violence, than about its opposite, ‘peace’. But then again, they are counterparts, and people frequently define one in terms of the other. 

And, wait! Is the absence of a thing necessarily the presence of its opposite? Is ‘good’ simply the absence of ‘bad’? ‘Love’ is not merely the absence of ‘hate’, is it? ‘Tolerance’ might be the absence of ‘hatred’, but tolerance is not love: love is an active force. So is peace an active force, or is it merely a neutral one; the absence of violence?

And! What about ‘inner peace’? What is this? Is it merely the absence of intra-psychic conflicts? Or is it the presence of something? Is it a neutral feeling, or an actively (albeit subtly) enlightened and uplifting one?

  • 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. Have fun writing! 

Concise Compositions: Family

Family. The people you recognise as being your own. The blood connections (known, in the Islamic tradition, as being the ‘connections of the womb’), and, indeed, the non-‘blood’ ones. The people with whom you find you are quite… familiar. You may share your space with them. And much of your time, much of your efforts, and your energy. Emotional bonds; family gatherings, inside jokes. Things you do not really share with anybody else.

I have one sibling: my baby brother (no longer a baby, but that classic comment about how he will forever be a baby, in my eyes). Before his birth, I had my cousins as siblings. We share so many memories together; we continue to make new ones as the days go on. Our relationships are funny and lovely. But they have not been without their frictions, their times of difficulty.

I wonder how these current inter-familial relationships will turn out to be, in the future. We will likely grow up and fly away from the (general) nest. We might move to different countries; be able to see each other far less. I hope we never reach a point where seeing one another becomes a mere ‘formality’ thing: the polite hugs, the small talk, the lack of offensive humour.

This gorgeous sense of the ‘familiar’ (notice how similar the word is to ‘family’), it does not rely on one being particularly similar to another. It just depends on the bonds between you, and how these are nurtured. I find that I am unbelievably different to some of the family members I am closest to. Though sometimes, it is wonderful to notice facial similarities, and personality-based ones, between me and my brother, or my little cousins. Recognising them as being my own, albeit different to me.

I love the American sitcom ‘Modern Family’. I think it shows quite well how nuclear families can successfully be meshed together, into functioning extended ones. Different houses, but they see one another quite often. They rely on one another, for comfort, for entertainment, and more. I think we all need this: families that are larger than small nucleic ones.

And, the thing is, over the courses of our lives, we will likely gain new family members. Through marriages, through births, and, indeed, through the forging of excellent friendships. Some friends become family: they are the people you distinctively come to recognise as your own; they become like siblings. You feel awfully ‘yourself’ with them, in the best ways possible.

Some family members are like friends, to us; some friends are like family members. It was never a dichotomy, to begin with. There are simply those connections that begin with blood, and those that do not necessarily. But what is important is the actual social bond, which tends to take some effort to maintain.

  • 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 

Concise Compositions: Ageing

Someday – if good friend Time doth permit it, that is – our hair will become made of silver. There will be fine lines – like those cracks that trees sometimes make, in pavements – beneath our eyes, and around our smiles. Our voices will sing of old age; nostalgia will be what sweetens our tea.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to reach old age, though. To look behind at a life nearing graceful completion.

I hope I do accept it gracefully.

It is a relatively alarming prospect, though: the idea of being so dependent on others, again. Coming full circle, almost. That post-birth dependence, then the pre-death one, I suppose.

Life peaks, maybe, somewhere in its middle. But we do not go downhill from there. Maybe we will come to see the entire world in different ways. Maybe senility will give us that gift of child-like wonder all over again.

But I hope that family holds us while we do so. When walking down the stairs becomes harder, and when we ask those same questions, over and over again. Perhaps we will be grandmothers and grandfathers, beloved by those jumpy and joy-giving little beings.

How much wisdom will we be able to impart unto them, for their use? How different will the world look? Will we remember what it was ever like, to be that young?

I’ve forgotten just where I read about this, but often old people – women, in particular – look back on their youthful days, and they think about how beautiful they had been, back then, and about how much they didn’t know it. But they know it now, in retrospect. [Aw!]

I want to live in a complete way; I want to have stories to tell

[Insha Allah!].

  • 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

Concise Compositions: Privacy

What does it mean, to be a ‘private person’? And is this – being ‘private’, keeping things ‘lowkey’ – truly a virtuous trait? Why do we claim to admire such people so?

It is true – that trite statement that tells us that we “live in a society”. We are, at our cores, social creatures. So, so much of who we are is not independent of others: we develop our personalities and such in light of others. We all want to earn the approval of certain people; be loved by our loved ones; impress certain other people.

The ‘private’ person, then. Just does things, theoretically without other people in mind. I wonder if this can ever actually be the case. It could be the case for misanthropes and hermits, perhaps. But I do think that attempting to go against human nature by closing oneself off from ‘society’ makes people miserable.

I mean, it is true that some people are super public. They do most things ‘for show’, so it would seem. They lose things like what we may term ‘authenticity’. I think an obsession with being popular and being famous just cheapens things.

And then, there are those who obsessively say they are guarding themselves, somehow. By not sharing their work; by refusing to talk about details of their own lives, with others. How arrogant. Maybe both – the excessively ‘public’ and the excessively ‘private’ are driven by pride.

Hmm. I think it is important to be more or less the same person in private and in public. Worrying not about being popular and public and such; also not worrying about hiding oneself and one’s goodnesses. It’s when you’re anxious to either be public or to be private, when it just seems a little pathetic, methinks.

  • 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! 

(Let’s see what might spill from that mind of yours, when it is forced, under time constraints, to speedily think and write…)


Sadia Ahmed J. 2020