Dunya

Maybe it is true that the world feels a little smaller now. And, in that, it also at the same time feels a little bigger, no?

There is time, we find. There is time enough to sleep in a little — at least until your body informs you that, yes. You are now sufficiently ready to begin. At a good pace. Not rushed, and yet, not so slow that it feels sort of aimless. But a good pace in-between. A relative peace, finally devoid of, or at long last being ‘detoxified’ of, that all-too-common-to-us sensation of restlessness. Though, we do still find, that at times, at some points, there is also

this and this — oh and this — to do. And things get misplaced; some things might get a little hard and go a little ‘wrong’; things hurt; you might start thinking and thinking and thinking but —

Hey, the day is young; you are alive, upon this Earth; we are deeply fortunate to be here, as and how and as who we are.

We require the approval of our Lord; we should not seek out permission to be (ourselves) from anybody else.

Days and days: it feels, sometimes, like they are falling rather like how dominoes do. I want to say that they are always coming and leaving ‘gracefully’. Yes, sometimes it is quite graceful. Elegant. Serene walks in the park; tinges of orangey sun; a ‘perfect’ line of tick-tick-ticks, upon your checklist. And, a neighbour of mine, complimenting my bike. I had frequently seen her around, since I was very young. But never once had we had a conversation together, until that day.

You know, sometimes Tuesday morphs quite effortlessly into Wednesday, and then Friday just appears, as if out of nowhere. Someone FaceTimes out of the blue; my brother helps me to cook, one day. The next day, we order some takeaway. Sometimes, something kind of strangely wonderful occurs. Someone says something that clings to your mind sort of like a butterfly. Beautiful enough to stay; to linger.

Things are delicate. Sometimes, an entire week might feel like just one, tumbling, ongoing day. The laundry always smells fresh; there is enough time, at the very least, to neaten up the books; there is a (re-)emergent sense of community, here. Some palpable-almost feeling of togetherness. Bonds between people; between people and places. With that third crucial consideration: time.

There are the things I just really want to do, and these are finely interspersed between those things that I must do. There is enough time, and there is much goodness in it.

Weekday mornings: there is a quicker pace to them, in contrast with Sundays, at least. I quite like the relative urgency of them – the former (but, this, only in moderation). Get up, get ready, first online lesson of the day. Admin, admin. The joys that are part-and-parcel of the fact that our school has instructed us to only use the audio feature — we need not show our faces on Teams. [Yay!]

All of this speaks rather deeply to my introvert-y inclinations. I love people; people are wonderful, and deeply so. As friends, as family members, and as… subjects for quiet (without intent to sound creepy, here…) observation. And, yet, I find: being around people for lengthy periods of time, and/or in large numbers… quite exhausts me.

For the time being, however, the staffroom at work is no longer where I am spending my breaks in-between lessons. My own room is my ‘staffroom’. Sometimes, the stairs are my classroom. And sometimes, the sitting room, also — but not whenever my brother is gaming… [He is the type to shout at the screen, and to become so invested in Fortnite that he begins to act like his actual life is on the line while playing it.]

I do find I like — the state of being that is described through — the word ‘busy’. But only when it really feels meaningful. And when it feels like it is in healthy moderation. You have things to do; responsibilities, obligations to meet. People to care for, in varying ways. A self to be. You adapt.

Not too much… and not too little. In Dunya terms, I reckon that is precisely where the ‘good life’ lies: between over-excitement, -stimulation, chaos, and boredom and day-in-day-out day-in-day-out routine and sameness. Too much to do; there is too little time. Too little to do; there is too much time. Ah, but: that good place in-between. Quite enough to do, and quite enough time.

This time has not exclusively been one of rainbows and butterflies and of unceasing sunshine. No. It has also been a time of uncertainty; bittersweetness; grief. Our household receiving phone call after phone call about extended family members and family friends and such who have contracted the virus. We were informed, again and again, about a number of passings-away too.

People are human. Whole, and complete. Spinning worlds, individual minds. Some people have lost their fathers; their cousins; aunties; friends, over the last ten months. Some people find themselves shrouded in profound lonelinesses. For the time being, at least, and forever, too: headteacher or student. Chronic illness or not. Seven years old, or sixty-two. Materially wealthy, or poor. Human is what we are, and

This time, like everything else that Dunya comprises, is not ‘perfect’. It does not feel particularly ‘heavenly’. No fanciful cut-outs from picture-perfect magazines or movies. There are obstacles; tensions; moments of sadness, or of anger, or of stress.

But what would life be without all these things that make it… other-than ‘perfect’? It would be Jannah. But this is not Jannah, and we are not [yet, bi’ithnillah] the Jannah-worthy, Jannah-inhabiting, versions of ourselves. Dunya: we dwell within the shadow of Perfection. Though, of Perfection, we do – would certainly appear to – have a deep-rooted, innate understanding.

Good: Khayr, fil ‘Arabiyya. One must, first and foremost, have true trust (Īmān) in one’s Lord. Undoubtedly, He is the One who knows you best. And then, we must acknowledge that in the more evident and immediate blessings: the morning almost-spring air; the kind and unexpected words of affirmation; the fledgling flower buds, and so too, in the confusions and in the slip-ups and in the delays. There is Khayr in it. If we are willing to look for it.

Down at our feet. Shoes muddied, scarred – embellished – by all of our experiences and adventures. Careworn, life-worn. So full of character, I would say. And, also, up at the stars: due recognition of the facts of our being, and of our personal journeys, of our destinations. You are here, dear reader. Dunya. It is an honour for you to be you. Exactly who, and what, and when, where, and why, you are.

Our time here is long. And it is short. It is always upsides and downsides. Making the best of things. Wanting other things: sometimes, I think, this is nice. It keeps things moving, at a good pace. Introduces some novelty. But we must be realistic about things. Dunya is Dunya; life is life. Dear reader,

Through what (more evidently and immediately, perhaps) might present itself as being ‘good’ and what might (more evidently and immediately) present itself as being bad, I so hope we make the best of it. Scars, and our muddied shoes, our blessings and our tests, our losses and our gains, the gifts from God that we never could have foretold, and our hearts and minds filled with good stories, Insha Allah.

Here, from the very midst of this life. Welcome. Smooth, easy, and straightforward? Rarely. But, worthwhile? Always.

And, appearances versus reality. What is, versus what one may perceive (or want) of it. Things often look quite different from afar. The moon, for instance, might, from a distance, seem as though it is only a bright side. Without its bumps; without its craters.

From far away, Earth might look like she is still. And serene, and not spinning. As though her whirlwinds – hurricanes, earthquakes, and all the rest of it – are only mere brushstrokes on spherical canvas. But, look a little closer.

Things can, and ought to, be known. Loved, too, in their truths and in their (relative) entireties. And if you would like to know a thing – be it a time, or a place, or another person, or yourself – all you have to do is… look a little closer.

Dear reader, if you find you are currently struggling, on a particular front, with a particularly stormy sea, then: I ask Allah to grant you a kinder sea. If things are good, right now, I hope the goodness endures; that you are able to have and hold, in that mind and in that heart of yours, all those cherished little moments that take you entirely by surprise. I wish you learning and products of your learning that bring about light and wonder and fascination (and love) in your eyes. Āmeen.

.وبسم الله

Also, movie recommendation: ‘Wonder’. What a gorgeous one. The feels.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

The Roaring Twenties

The autumnal season always seems to bring along with it this potent impression of… renewal, does it not? Life, continuing just as it does, and yet, also starting all over again. A Janus season, this one: this sense of beginning and ending, at precisely the same time. Subtly electrifying, comfortingly poignant. The way the trees suddenly, both modestly and in a way that demands our attention, burn up into all these shades of red and orange, interspersed between fading, yellowing, greens. Autumn, I think, very much epitomises what this first life of ours, for us, is like; it powerfully demonstrates the states in which we, in this Dunya, exist. Half-sad, and yet, equally, half-ablaze with the quietly brilliant stuff of aliveness. Wonder and mundanity, dreariness and colour. And we find that things can be more than one thing  — can even be a thing as well as its very opposite, at the very same time — at any given time. 

Autumn is filled both with the sighs of tiredness, of nostalgia, and all the rest of it — and with sharp inhalations of excitement, novelty. What a perfect season in which to consciously savour the old, to reflect upon what has gone. It is also an apt time for regeneration: an emergent shoot upon an otherwise dying rose plant. Dark greens, browned, and then: lime green, all new and hopeful. So the plant is, at once, dying, dwindling, and reborn, anew. A new spring in its step, even amid, birthed from between, autumn’s rainy gusts, its approaching winters.

 

Two months left, for me, before the period of my life that shall be hailed as my ‘twenties’, arrives — the roaring twenties, these reputedly momentous years. And foundational, apical ones, too. Years of matured youthfulness, of lots of important decision-making, apparently. [According to the Islamic tradition, one is considered to be ‘young’, a ‘youth’, until the time of one’s fortieth birthday…]

 

Some people I know, or know of, who are in their twenties, are already investing in anti-ageing creams and serums and such. Taking their health — and ‘Beauty’, which is arguably Health’s main medium of manifestation — very seriously indeed. Gym days and Keto. And, also, ‘hustling’, and money-making. A need to make as much money as one can, with such ‘entrepreneurial zeal’, and to then save it up. 

Someone I know has discussed with me her desire to freeze her eggs in the near future. Fertility concerns: apparently half of the eggs we are born with are gone by the age of twenty-one… Another girl I once knew is now married, has already had children of her own. Many others are currently at university, will then begin job-seeking, or… -‘hunting’ (for it can all prove to be a rather difficult and aggressive endeavour, so it seems: this deciding on, and subsequently finding, an occupational role). Many twenty-somethings ‘get work done’ on their outer selves, too — on their lips, their skin, the curvatures of their bodies. Some go out to party quite a lot; ‘live it up’ outside of, so far away from, theirselves. Some young men will find that their hairlines are already beginning to recede; some will start to grow out their beards very soon. Many find that they are surgically attached to their phones, to social media. Most are fundamentally confused. Many are in quiet, intense competition with the next man, or woman; they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, of always getting something out of ‘impressing’ others: standing out, being ‘extraordinary’ through titles and possessions and such. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation [H.D.T]. And most are fundamentally confused. Cannot slow down, and nor can they quell all these distractions, for even a small while. Terrified of what might just bubble up to the surface, should they ever choose to ‘deep’ their lives, if even just a little. And so they favour whatever is ‘safe’, more ‘shallow’. Life’s short, they say. Live a little! YOLO!

 

In 1999, it had been the case that roughly 17% of all British women had tried to kill themselves before their twenty-fifth birthday. Now, with proliferating rates of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (intensified by all this filtered imagery that social media encourages and gives rise to), work-related stress conditions, a culture centred on hyper-productivity and -competition, ensuing self-comparisons and deep dissatisfactions, and more, it is almost undoubtable that this figure has, in the eventful two decades since, risen dramatically.

Quietly, secretly, so many of us are hurting as a result of all these unplumbed mismatches between appearances and reality. Profound ironies. But that is okay, because we have drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll, don’t we? We have noise. As well as all these expectations and ideals to live up to, which had never been conceptualised with… truth in mind, in the first place. Nay, for they are, at their very centres, hollow: at their very cores, they breed only the stuff of delusion. Fleeting fancies, hot air. But we can think about all that when we are ‘older’, can’t we?

 

Our twenties will likely be, at least somewhat, a time of existential-everything. Questions, dread. Some people cannot bear to sit alone with themselves, in silence, for even half an hour, you know. Cry whenever they are alone in the bathtub; cannot bear to be home by themselves, either; drown in their own darknesses in the depths of each night. Not even the most ‘stoic’ or ‘macho’ of men can escape nor surmount essential human nature. And, you see, accepting the things that are true about ourselves, and about life, is… okay. Should be okay. It is okay.

 

Most twenty-somethings are dealing with at least one thing that is really rather heavy, for them. Many are recovering from unfavourable childhoods. And it is okay to accept and embrace the truths of these things; it should be okay to speak about them, too. See, the only alternative way is… busying, intoxicating, ourselves with and in delusion. Hiding. But the truth will always gnaw away at us; it is always there. It has a way of always catching up to us, and of doing away with all falsehoods, in the end. Light, by nature, illuminates darkness.

We must come to accept that we are weak and we are strong; we are both, at precisely the same time. 

And so, these urgent invented needs to be filthy rich; to obsessively adhere to a very narrow construction of what it means to be ‘beautiful’ and/or ‘strong’; to have so many things to show [off with] to others. To ‘satisfy’, somehow, prying eyes; to ‘impress’ and ‘outshine’ other people… with mere image-based things, impressions. Excessive focuses on imagined futures, ‘super-‘realities. (Often) furtive addictions, through which the pain is momentarily benumbed; through which to take the edges off, from the truths of these passing days of ours.

 

Oh, what is it all for; towards?

Some moments of praise, applause? — to convince other people through our making the shells look shiny? Do other people hold the keys to the truths of you, to your day-to-day experiences, anyway? Should they ever be granted such power?  

 

Reality, essence, passed through layers of filtering, creating alternative ‘realities’ into which we might quietly slip into, escape. Is everything only… what we can bring it to seem it is? Small talk, deliberate omissions, heavily edited excerpts, simply ‘keeping busy’. Inebriation and suppression. Truth is uncomfortable to face… so why let ourselves think about it ‘too much’, in any case?

Polished surfaces, only, and all these… waxy ventriloquies. Our willingness to, and the ease with which we, accept… ‘not-accepting’… perturbs me. And we will find that, no, we can never actually escape Truth, especially not in the End. 

 

Very recently, a family friend of mine (who is aged twenty-something) got married. A period of celebration: a sacred union, a joyous occasion, a ‘milestone’. She moved into her husband’s home.

Five weeks after their wedding, her spouse passed away, tragically and unexpectedly, as a result of having experienced a haemorrhage in his brain. Five weeks ago, she had been a new wife. And now, she is a new widow. The tinges of orange from her wedding Mendhi had still been on the tips of her fingers at the time of his passing. On the inside of her wedding ring, her late husband had had engraved, in Arabic:

My wife — in Dunya and Ākhirah”. 

 

[May Allah (SWT) reunite the two of them in Jannah, Ameen.]

 

True things, by nature, can withstand even trials by fire. They exist outside of the realm of things that are prone to decay; true things are the opposite of those ones that are rooted in delusion, hot airs. They are, by nature, evergreen. And therefore, it is okay. True love, for example, is essentially strong and everlasting. It is not at all fragile. It will prove itself, time and time again. 

 

“And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?”

— Qur’an, [3:185]

The Reality (and the derivative realities) of Dunya can be rather unsettling to think about — to ‘deep’. But I find comfort in reminders of what is substantial, true. That here is life, here in the Now. That all of (this) life is a series of breaths, and of sighs — a string of ‘imperfect’ moments, Nows. [And… therein lies the charm, no? The character, the meatier stuff that one can actually enjoy really talking about. In the ‘flaws’, the unpredictabilities, the texture, the edges…]

 

Here, we are surely being tested, and everything we do does count.

And every soul shall taste death, this necessary passing on. Through the gates of eternity, and into the lasting world of Home. That Home that our souls are always yearning for, just as they cry not, in this world, for bags of money and such, but for people to share love with, and alongside whom to walk. And for a connection to the natural world, too: with the crumbly earth between one’s fingers, and with spiralling sunflowers — with all these beautiful and unmissable emissaries of truth.

 

How do I fully come to make peace with it all, though? With the fact that I am, at present, quite alive, and that someday I will be dead? With how I am, by nature, quite an idealist; that there will always be a deep yearning for something, from within the very depths of my soul? [Well, of course, I must be, from the core of me, longing after the very abode of idealism — Jannah. “We dance round in a ring and suppose, // But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” [R.F.]]

 

And this worldly life is only pastime and play, and the abode of the hereafter is the real life, if only they knew.”

— Qur’an, [29:64]

How do I reconcile, in my own self, the truths of, for example, impermanence? Of instability, confusion, of how it often does not (yet) all make sense to me? That some people will stay; that others will go? That some interpersonal connections truly are bonds of the soul; that they are immutable; that they will not die, even when one of us do? How do I know which ones are rooted in Truth, and which ones may not truly be so? 

 

“Know that the life of this world is only play and pastime and adornment and mutual boasting amongst you and [the] amassing of wealth and children. Like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris.”

— Qur’an, [57:20]

 

And just what will my twenties be for? 

 

They will be for me, navigating my way through this Dunya, just as the decade preceding them has been for. We find we like to think of life in terms of neat stages, phases. Clear-cut periods: decades and such. The modern state education system, for instance, is centred on the idea that ‘life’ exists in some future; some… nothere, notnow. But, actually, this is all we find we have: a series of yes-heres, and yes-nows. Nothing else. Only these souls of ours, and all this sand-like time we have been gifted with.

 

A month ago, my cousin (twenty-something, too) also got married. While being a student of Law at university; while working, for lengthy hours each week, in retail; while mothering her two siblings who have special needs. Indubitably, she is one of the strongest, most incredible, and kind-hearted, people I have ever come across. Her life, thus far, has been riddled with difficulties. But despite — and, yes, in light of — it all, you see, her soul shines right through. She is a woman whose strength, goodness, and beauty, are True.

Allahummabārik. 

 

I do somehow always find it surprising when things like marriages and graduations take place. Witnessing all the preparatory efforts and such, which precede them [my cousin had been planning her future wedding since around the age of ten!] and then… they simply take place. They finally arrive, and then they go. Just another day. Not ‘underwhelming’, necessarily, no. Just… evidence for how we really ought not to live our lives within daydreams of the ‘future’. The ‘big day’, the new job: all these things, will come. And you will get out of bed, as you do, and you will eat and pray, and all the rest of it. By the end of the day, (just) another day of your life will have passed, as all these days that constitute our lives do…

 

I find I am very interested in education: in how children are taught, and in how — and just what — they learn, from it all. The halcyon days of primary school: when school had been a little community, a mini village of sorts. Where the focus had been, to a great extent, on the present tense: on nurture and development, enjoyment and true learning, far more so than on ‘future careers’ and such. Appreciating children for being alive, just as they are. A home outside of home, primary school had been, just as school really always ought to be. 

And then, secondary school. Where the building and the atmosphere it had accommodated resembled those of… a prison, more so than a ‘small village’. With these new emphases on institutionalised discipline, on sanding personalities, humanity, down. On work, and work, and on even more work, to then take home. People started coming into school sleep-deprived, often sad. But that’s okay, as the new message of school had now become. If you endure all this, you’ll be rich, ‘successful’, and ‘happy’ in the future, someday.

And so we had been indoctrinated with these new ideas of some hallowed ‘future’; with the notion that the days of these ‘futures’ meant far more than those of the present. Attitudes of materialism were heavily inculcated within us, too. You tell a teacher you would like to be a teacher, when you are older. “You can do way more than that!” they, rather ironically, tell you. But just what does ‘more’ even mean

These unfavourable ways of thinking that we are drip-fed through our formal schoolings are both symptomatic of, and actively serve, a society that evidently cares far more about the ‘economy’ and about how we ought to fit into it, (and which buys into foolish fantasies of ‘American Dreams’) than about humanity, about Truth, our souls… 

 

One boy whom I had attended the same secondary school as had passed away in Year Eight, as a result of terminal illness. And so he never even got to see this ‘future’ he had purportedly been in school every day, from 8:30 to 15:15, and which he had purportedly been doing all that homework, for. 

 

In terms of time, the Truth lies very much in the present. We do not know when it will be, that we go. The least schools can do, for all of us, is embrace and embody these facts; encourage attitudes of realism, present contentment, teach us how to navigate through life’s many (inevitable, inevitably ongoing) struggles. They should operate on the bases of kindness, and nurture. Call me idealistic, unrealistic, here, but I really do think schools should continue to be, for students, homes outside of home, even after primary school. School is where young people are made to spend the majority of their time, and thus, of their youths, at; school is where, for instance, children who live in abusive households, both seek, and deserve, much comfort, individual appreciation, an organic sense of belonging. It should not all be about sacrificing present contentment for some mythical ‘glorious futures’. But I digress, I guess. 

 

I just do not want for my twenties to be all about… running for a train I will never quite be able to catch. This would appear to be what many people do, and this is quite an alarming phenomenon, in my opinion. 

 

As well as all those more ‘spiritual’, existential-type questions that one’s twenties may traditionally be characterised by, there are also the other rather pressing ones, surrounding what to do. What, whom, to ‘be’. I really do believe that the best decisions, in these regards, are made when we put considerations of Purpose and Passion(s) right at the forefront. And, also, through following the maxim of ‘being whom [we] needed when [we] were younger’ — whom we ‘needed’, in both senses of the word. Who had been there, in our lives, if only briefly, and whose presence(s) we had really valued. And/or, who had not been there, but whose presence(s) we would have had really valued. 

A very encouraging older sibling, perhaps. A youth worker who had been there for us. A teacher who had taught us something about life, or about ourselves, that we would never, from then on, forget. A lawyer, perhaps, who had spoken to us reassuringly during, say, a parental divorce. A doctor who had displayed, towards us, a great level of care and compassion. An uncle or aunt whose home had always been open to us. A movie character — or a handful of them — whom we had been drawn to, and whose occupations and such, and their own individual ways of carrying out their roles, had inspired us deeply. 

I wish to emulate, in terms of their noble characteristics and actions, the people (including the fictional ones!) whose presence(s) had meant something to me. Who had taught me something important, or who had instilled some hope within me; who had told me something I really needed to hear: valuable presences. 

 

Recently, I had been fortunate enough to meet a fellow teacher who really inspires me. The good energy she seems to radiate; her evident love of and passion for learning. The good humour through which she connects with her students. And, crucially, her centred-ness. Khayr is usually found in the middle of things: through balance, through being centred, as she reminded me.

She seems to be rooted in Deen; does not seem to be always-in-a-rush. When she is here, she is here. She grew up between Algeria, (a mountainous region in) Spain, and Egypt; in Algeria, she had witnessed the bloodied brutalities of the Civil War. In Spain, she would go hiking with her grandfather almost every day. She cares an awful lot about nutrition; her mother is a naturopath. And her idea of worldly success — as she is courageous enough to deeply embrace, in spite of all these strong forces that may encourage her to think otherwise — is what she already has. Her job as a teacher, her family, and gardening. In a society that is so hell-bent on notions of ‘outdoing’ others, being (in terms of our shells, what we can most concisely, conveniently present before others) ‘extraordinary’ and ‘exceptional’… Perhaps being so centred is quite revolutionary, really. Being ‘special’ really is an ‘inside’ thing, in truth; a soul-based one. She — this awesome and radiant teacher who would appear to be just a tad obsessed with going to Tesco so as to purchase snacks — just longs to eventually get out of and away from the city, really [the city is designed with mainly industry, and with the ‘economy’, in mind. It can very easily, and often does, make soulless, tired, workaholic robots out of human men and women. I find I very much agree with these views of hers… Offices are like animal cages, drenched in lifelessness and misery. Harsh lighting, caffeination. A potted orchid plant — a measly attempt to make up for the callousness against the human soul that the office fundamentally embodies.] 

 

I now know that, throughout this life of mine, I will be faced with tests, and I will also encounter new blessings, Insha Allah. But actually, they are one and the same, are they not? For we are tested through our blessings, too; we are, though we may not currently know just how, also blessed through our tests. 

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient/steadfast”

— Qur’an, [2:155]

Perhaps, Bi’ithnillah, I will die in the coming year. Or maybe I will remain alive throughout this newly dawning decade. Some days I will experience a little more sadness than on other days, and maybe on some days I will be more scared or confused. Throughout these years, though, there will be moments of joy, of peace, of happiness, Insha Allah. All will be well, in the present and in the end, so long as I hold on to all that is true (and good, and beautiful). And, in a way that, I hope, does not sound too narcissistic, in response to those ceaseless questions of what I wish to be in the future… I want to be whom and what I already am. The fabric of the worldly life will remain the same throughout, too. Always a set of blessings, and always a filled space for problems, issues, frictions, worries. And to find peace and centred-ness in Truth, and in my own truths (without feeling a need to anxiously accommodate for, nor internalising, others’ responses to it all) — this is what I want for myself. 

 

These autumnal months are the ones that the soul, I think, instinctively warms towards. These striking, undeniably (though sometimes quietly) gorgeous months of warmth, of reminding oneself of what truly matters; of what this life truly is. Its very fabric: brushstrokes of happy, tinges of sad, often at precisely the same time. Fading away just as it all comes alive. Is this not what it is, also, to be human?

 

That evening, even though we felt cold and were bleary-eyed: we came outside, and we got to see the stars again. Fingertips freezing, but there our souls had been, in full force, subtly ablaze. We were reminded of those smaller — and larger — facts of our existence. The deep blessings that begin, perhaps, with our capacities for breathing: and the flower-like structures that line our lungs. The knowledge of how water is known to connect us with everything else, upon this planet, that is alive. And how these souls of ours: these immaterial, unifying, experience-and-reason-facilitating vessels of ours… How they are eternal, and undeniable. And how they are true.  

How, even on those nights in which we might forget to pay much heed to those celestial bodies overhead — and even when the leaves, rather like secret stories penned upon little crinkled coloured pieces of paper — when they begin to fall… What will remain, and what actually carries meaning, are our souls. And, of course, their connections: to other sempiternal souls, and indeed, most crucially, to sempiternal Truth.

Money will enter our pockets, but at some point, we find, we must part from it. The praises of others may bring a wisp — or a hundred — of satisfaction. But this fades too. So may our focuses be on what ultimately remains, matters. 

 

I want for my life to be about tending to whatever is ever-true. The things that, when these presently tangible, quantifiable, material Dunya things fall to dust, will come to reveal the truths of their weightiness, significance. Substantiality. For what is presently untouchable is not necessarily presently unknowable: the soul has its own ‘eyes’ through which it sees, too. Sabr, Taqwa, ‘Ilm, Salāh, love, and all else that is true. I hope these twenties — if I am to be permitted to live through them — will be years of centring myself on reality, essence, Truth. 

 

Every soul must taste death, and they will be receiving their rewards on the Day of Resurrection, so whomever is removed from the fire and entered into the garden is successful, and the life of this world is only a passing provision.” 

— Qur’an, [3:185]

“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient/steadfast and fear/are conscious of Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.”

 

Oneness, in recognition of, and thus in submission to, the One. May my twenties be a period of using what I have, over these years, learnt; a period of synthesis, of accepting and embodying what is real (and all of Truth’s derivative truths — quiet beauty, true goodnesses — also). 

 

Your soul, dear reader, is absolutely, undeniably, your core: the Truth of you. And the life of this world, complete with its mystifying ablaze-with-auburn trees, has its own soul, a non-visible yet all-encompassing truth, too. We speak of notions of meaning, of purpose, of direction and success; each of these concepts… they do not come from nothing, and nor is it to nothing they return. 

Throughout this life, in this impermanent abode of ours, we will always have things to be grateful for: the stuff of the soul, in particular. But this world is not Home, for us, although some of the people we come to love, here, may (Insha Allah) be segments of it, for here, and also, later, for There. With them, we walk along these (sometimes rather rugged) paths of ours. And here, we also have our capacities for patience, the capacities through which to maintain our relationships with our Creator, via prayer and other forms of remembrance. 

We will always, in this world, experience difficulty: mankind has certainly been created in hardship: Kabad. An ongoing state of incompleteness, experiences of grief, and of fear, and of sorrows and regret. Longing, longing, pangs of pain. Here, as you will find, you will need to be brave. And honest, I think. Loving, and hopeful.

Because the aforesaid displeasures, obstacles, are only facets of the worldly life through which we must walk, in order to get to the Lasting Attainment. Here, in this world, lies the means — dynamism, a journey — not the end.

 

And so, with all this in mind, dear reader, I ask you:

What is your journey — your adventure, your quest — to Jannah looking like? 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Ask: :)))

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Dear :), 

Thank you so much for your kind compliments. You just made my day! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog articles. Please make Du’a for me! 

My tips for getting started with writing are as follows…

Don’t think; just write. Especially if you intend to publish your works, it may feel tempting to think before writing: to generate criteria to which you plan to adhere, and to intricately plan out what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. But something I find that really helps me to get into the ‘flow’ is this: writing as I think (and, thus, thinking as I write). I never know what my pen’s ink will end up forging. I like to just sit with my open notebook and pen (sometimes under a tree or something; sometimes simply in my room). It does truly help to have around you some material sources of inspiration — at least, in my case, anyway. Vases of sunflowers [shoutout one of my beloved friends for randomly sending me some!] and/or candles, and the like. Ambience. Though, when it truly comes down to it, the things that matter are: your mind, the paper, and your pen [or your laptop or whatever].

And then, I like to just write. I try not to think too much about whether or not my words are sounding particularly beautiful there and then. I sometimes don’t even ask myself if they are making sense. In my opinion, writing is best — and, certainly, most enjoyable — when it is authentic to you. Even if you find they are a bunch of random words that you have messily woven together. Most of what I write is for my eyes only; I like to be as free with my pen as I can be, even if I am not always writing particularly ‘well’.

I find the process itself to be extremely enjoyable and engaging for my mind. As with most activities, if you can reach that wonderful state of ‘flow’ while writing, you will likely find the most possible benefit and enjoyment (and, also, the best end product) as a result of doing it. Flow, flow, flow. Sometimes I simply sit down, tell myself, I am going to fill three whole pages of this notebook. And then, I just write. Even if I don’t particularly feel I have much to write about: my mind finds things. Things to say about the sky, or about… bread. In a similar vein, sometimes I set a timer for five or ten minutes. And I let the ink flow, and I try not to stop before the timer is done.

When it comes to works that I do end up publishing or submitting for competitions, however, I tend to read my work aloud to myself afterwards. Sometimes, several times. I go back and edit; swap some words around, etc. And I occasionally send things over to a particular friend of mine whom I consider to be very trustworthy. If something I have written is a little substandard, or if some of it is difficult to understand, or if it contains some misleading information or something, I truly trust this friend and her honesty. She also tells me which of my articles she has liked the most, and why. I really value her opinion (as well as those of a select few others) and, whenever I am in strong doubt about my writing, I do find I look to them for validation.

If you are looking for some sort of second opinion for your writings, I wouldn’t mind at all if you were to send some of them to me… and I promise to give you my true opinions about them! Feel free to email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com

Also, trust me, my thoughts often feel quite all-over-the-place, too. And this is precisely one of the reasons as to why writing is so wonderful. As an art form, as a therapeutic means. It is logic and beauty, wrapped up together: individual letters and the seemingly infinite ways in which they can be arranged. The beauty and the power of words. Through writing, order can be born out of chaos, while the mundane, the confusing, can be rendered gorgeous and strong and undeniable!

Writing prompts can tend to be quite useful, too. Focusing on a particular word. Like… ‘luminescent’. Or a question — like, “What makes you melancholy?” or, “What do you suppose dying feels like?” And then just writing whatever comes to mind as a result of beginning with such a word or question; thereby creating your own flow, and going with it.

Finally, a belated congratulations on your A* in GCSE English! But, even if you had not managed to acquire such a high grade in the subject, it would not necessarily mean that your writing is ‘bad’: examiners seek out certain tick-box criteria in pupils’ exam scripts. Honestly, I think the best writing is often the type that is… unscripted. Spontaneous and real: fresh out of the oven that is your mind, and true to (and, from) you. 

I hope this has been of some help to you.

Salaam!

 

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

5 and 95

If you were to sit down with a past version of yourself – five-year-old you, let’s say – would he or she be impressed, pleased with, whom you find that you are today? And what about (theoretical) ninety-five-year-old you? What would they have to say, about the you of today?

Five-year-old you presumably had big plans for whom he or she wanted to be by the age that you currently are. Their ways of looking at the world must have been rather different to your ways of doing so, now. What had they been like? Do you remember much from then?

Five-year-old you knows a thing or two about your essence. As vague and trite and irritating as the phrase may be, he or she knows, to a good degree, ‘who you really are’. You, minus the ladening of you, under others’ expectations. The one that presumably did not think twice before playing, before exploring, before almost effortlessly making friends.

And then, of course, there is also ninety-five-year-old you to impress. Sit with him or her for a while, why don’t you; have a cup of coffee. Tell her about your current worries, plans, daily happenings, adventures. She will say (granted that her memory is still relatively intact…) that yes, she knows — she has been there before. She knows all about your takes and your mistakes; the things that worked out, in the end, and the things that did not.

And what, do you reckon, might matter to her? Do you think she would mind all that much, that you slipped up that one time? Do you think that she, from her retrospective perspective, cares much for most of these worries of yours?

Pandering to the expectations of people. If you are a member of Desi society like I am (and involuntarily so, one might add!) or, perhaps worse still, if you happen to be a female member of Desi society, you may know all too well about some of the societal pressures that we are made to face all the time. There is always this person and that one that you must appease, and that person who is constantly speaking ill of you without even knowing you. There are spiralling talks about your character, your actions, your education, your marriage. And, yes, maybe it is true that talks of complete self-autonomy are only emblematic of liberal delusions; we are an intrinsically interdependent species, but

Please don’t let them decide for you. What a recipe for unhappiness, and for personal disaster. And it is okay if they say that you are too headstrong or that you are enacting womanhood in a way that they have deemed to be ‘wrong’.

The one question you must ask yourself is this: [with all due respect,] Do I wish to become like them? And if the answer is no, well then, you have your answer, don’t you?

You do not wish to become like them? Good. Then they can never tell you who you are, and you must try not to care too much about their incessant and tiresome streams of criticism. Five-year-old you certainly did not care much for them. And ninety-five-year-old you (granted that she is alive and well!) probably – hopefully – scoffs at the idea of whom you may have turned out to be, if you took the words of most of these Desi aunties seriously. Puppet on legs, for example, lipstick and sweeping brush. 

You know, there are two Lights that you have been blessed with by God Almighty, to illuminate the way for you; to help you to make all these crucial decisions. They are: Reason, and Revelation. And yes, they do go hand-in-hand. The two most significant tools for living these lives of ours. I hope that you will not ever let go of either of them.

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,

And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.

– The Gestalt Prayer


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Concise Compositions: Love

What do I think love is? What defines it? Well, I think it comes from that place of perfection – from God – and so we can only achieve imperfect reflections of it. Through things like our words, and our hands. We resort to using metaphors. It is not a thing of logic; it cannot wholly be represented in such ways.

I think love is a thing of middles. It is halfway between feelings of ‘home’ and those of ‘holiday’. Yes, it is certainly a thing of middles: it comes from, and in turn, speaks to, the core of you.

Many good things come from middles, and these also happen to be the things that give rise to love, and that help to nurture it. Things like symmetry, and compromise. That place between realism and romanticism, where the head is used, and where the heart is, too. Where logic cannot render a person heartless; where passion cannot render a person stupid, either.

Love is found where two things meet. It is in our nature, between things like monotony and chaos, between conviction and blind faith. Between sky and earth, between what is muddy and crude, and what is divine and celestial. Where love is, we are. We are, each of us, products of love, you know. And it is very much in our nature to grow towards it, rather like sunflowers do, towards sun.

Halfway between loss and gain. Halfway between euphoria and pain.

I suppose, when it comes down to it, love is being consumed. But it is also retaining the self in allowing oneself to do so. It is where we allow for rigidity to be softened, and for flowing liquids to be reified. It is mess and it is order. Sun and moon, their orbits, and the sky: what they come to share.

Love makes so much sense, and it does not make much sense at all. It is, by nature, paradoxical. It is our knowing that love makes 1+1 equal to 1. How, though? We cannot say.

I think the nature of True Love is such that it is at once validating, and transformational. Where you might be half the same, and half different. Where half of ‘I’ might be for thee.

It is the knowledge that you are already a part of me, and known. And, yet, you are outside of me, unknown. And maybe we will meet, where two things often do: somewhere, in some middle.

  • Note: I’ve now decided to change the time limit from five minutes, to ten. 
  • 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 

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 

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.

On Vessels and Causation

What is a ’cause’? According to the OED, this term refers to “a person or thing that gives rise to an action, phenomenon, or condition”. It must be noted that something [thing A] preceding something else [thing B] does not render A the (ultimate, first) cause of B. For example, at train stations in London, the tannoys blare out the words, “Mind the gap” before swathes of passengers exit the carriages. Does this mean that the tannoy’s repetitive words have caused the passengers to depart the train? No. These are just different components of a certain chain of causation: the respective thoughts in the passengers’ heads (e.g. “This is my stop”, “If I don’t get off here, I won’t get to work on time”, etc) give rise to certain actions – like preparatorily getting up from their seats, and gathering near the doors. The ultimate cause of the passengers’ collective departure is intentionality. But what is the cause of this ability to funnel thoughts into intentions, and later into actions?

Well, one could argue that the physiology of the human brain gives way to the functionings of the human mind – rather like technological hardware being a point of projection for technological software – like, say, apps on iPhones. What can we narrow such functionings down to? Decision-making arguably takes place in the human frontal lobe. So can we point to this segment of the brain and say that it is the cause of certain actions? But we can delve deeper: what is the cause of our decision-making capacities arguably dwelling in this part of our brains? The interactions between certain cells? The brain’s inner electrical happenings? Can we magnify this all and state that the atoms that form certain cells, which consequently form this part of our brains, is the cause of intention-fuelled human actions? What about considerations of the sub-atomic level? What about the level on which everything can arguably just be reduced to energy? Can we look at any individual human being’s intentional actions, and say, “energy, man. Energy was the cause“. 

And what was the cause of this energy? The process of creation requires a sense of will – whether this is a direct and calculated will or not. Something needs some sort of motivation in order to do something else. Should we go on to say that base-level energy is the ultimate creative force; the Cause; the Cause with a Will, which translated into the materialisation and fruition of everything? 

The universe – and all the caused processes it accommodates (from the gestation of mammals in wombs, to the controlling of the tide by the moon, to gravity, to… [and so on]) had a beginning. This is undeniable. Things do not give birth to themselves: this is a logical fallacy. The Big Bang [Sheldon says “Bazinga!” here] had a cause; otherwise, it would not have occurred. But was energy the cause, or was God the cause? But energy does not do anything unless it is made to do something – by some external force. It is not conscious; it does not have a will.

Surely, then, God is the most logical explanation – the Islamic, Qur’anic conceptualisation of Him? A Rabb [a complex and multifaceted Arabic term that describes the Creator]? Self-sufficient; He does not require a cause. In fact, He is not in need of anything [and this is truly difficult for we extremely needy beings to ever comprehend]. Eternal. The Cause. The Unmoved Mover. The One who is totally unlike His creation.

Does energy have a brain, in order to make these decisions in the first place? But then again, we must bring the following into question: is the brain the cause of human thought and intentionality, or is it merely a vessel? Uniquely human traits – like the ability to make art; the ability to love so deeply; the ability to write; the ability to create; to think – can we not see all our abilities (so boundless and yet so limited) as diluted subsets of Divine qualities? What is the cause of love? Mere neuro-chemical cocktails? But what if these, too, are just vessels – the ways, vehicles, through which Divine qualities pass through, and into the material realm? And eyesight? At which level can we look at our eyes beneath microscopes, and say, “Aha! The ultimate cause of eyesight!”

We find letters in letterboxes. This does not render the letterbox the cause of the letter. Likewise, we find the ostensible ‘origins’ of certain functions within certain bodily organs (etc). Are these organs the (unguidedcauses of said functions? This is all just something to think about; something through which one may cause oneself to have an existential crisis, on the spot…

 

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

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