People and Places

As far as visible and tangible things go, we are made up of so many things. Micro and macro: all of these various systems in place, carrying out their unique roles.

And, in terms of the very-real, but which-cannot-be-seen:

We are wonderfully imitative, emotionally dependent, creatures, aren’t we? We learn to eat how those around us do; dress in light of how other people dress; learn to speak and behave in different ways, with different people, in different contexts and places.

We know to adapt, almost effortlessly, intuitively. We are our selves: a space that is, by nature, held for us by who others are; ourselves, in relation to them. Human relationships: the bonds that we have with others, and the connections we have with places, too.

Deeply affecting, and deeply being affected by, other people and places, often even without our noticing. Who introduced you

to the great food place, hidden in an alleyway, around the corner? Whose ‘words of affirmation’ do you value most, and why? From whom did you get the idea, to introduce this new way of doing something, into your way of doing things? Who bought you that water bottle, that you so love? That new word: you learnt it from someone. That particular gesture. Way of sitting. Idea.

We are not individuals who are ‘set in stone’. We are intelligent, learning, conversant creatures: turning towards, and thus in (mutual) conversation with, other People, and with all of these Places.

For me: family, and close friends. Classmates and colleagues, who are/were here for a while. Nanu’s house, and Maryam’s. Local library; local mosque. Tamanna’s house, and our local Adventure Park. Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh. Wapping, Whitechapel, Westminster, and then back to Whitechapel for a while. And where to, next (Insha Allah)?

I do not know. Shall I be content with… not knowing? Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. There would appear to be a lot of space for it, in this mind of mine. But, as much as certain things – places and people – feel like home, in Dunya, for me: I cannot keep running back to the past merely because it is familiar.

I think, I love these places: my current places of living, and of working, and of everything in between, very much. I sort of really want to come back to this school, in the future, perhaps, Insha Allah. But Allah might have different things in store for me: after all, this… acceptance that Allah Knows, while I do not… is precisely how I found this place, in the first… place.

I have learnt so much from these very people. [I also, sort of narcissistically, wonder what they may have learnt, picked up, from me!]

Call this all ‘serendipity’. No, better still: call it Qadr.

How wonderful, wonderfully awe-inspiring, it is, that we carry within us, pieces – souvenirs within our persons – of places and of people, whom we have, in whatever capacity, come to know? How weird a thing to realise that… we are real, too. We have also influenced other people; been meaningful, valuable, and beloved, parts of places.

The makings of marks – even ‘small’ ones. The etchings, stitches, into various fabrics, histories.

Moving forward: I wonder what will change. I wonder what stays the same.

I do so love the things that, at their cores, stay the same. And, yet, what would we be, without those things that change and change and change?

I like the idea that the best people, and the best places, for us, are those that feel, at the same time, like Home and an Adventure. A balanced life: the beneficial inter-plays between two opposite (separate, and unknown) but connected (intrinsically known, familiar) forces.

Who and how and what I may be now: I had no idea how things would pan out, just a year earlier. None of this had been, even in the slightest, predictable.

And I am able to look back on erstwhile times with… the distance, the benefit of hindsight. And, the ‘future’, with… the distance, these imaginative impulses that are known to fill the spaces that are, at present, devoid of Knowing.

But all of it, in truth, is experienced as a series of present moments: right between unbearable suffering, and liberating, uninterrupted euphoria.

People, and places: significant, and yet fleeting, ever-changing with Time. But, sometimes, their effects on our minds, hearts and souls: permanent, valuable, undying. The permanence, also, in contrast to all that is transient: of Purpose (the nectar of things), and of Prayer.

At the end of the (long, winding, unpredictable) day: where do we end up? In a Place that is permanent, Insha Allah, beneath which rivers flow. And, with the People whom we have known – permanent souls, also – and loved: walked beside, and prayed beside. All of these things:

they begin as little specs in the distance. Invisible, even, sometimes. And then, seen from afar. Images; while we know not what lies beyond what we see and (think we) know, of them. And then, with Time, we come closer and closer to them. See what lies beyond the shininesses of prospectuses, websites, social media displays, and otherwise. Closer and closer. Faces, and then hearts and souls. Until our beings feel… a little inextricable.

We define ourselves in terms of our people, and our places.

And to know something, and to also be known by it: we need to experience it, or them, in their (relative) entireties, and in present tense: in the Here and Now. Their necessary upsides and downsides.

“There can be no ‘love before marriage’. That isn’t ‘love’,” says a colleague of mine. [When you are twenty years old and South Asian, you tend to find that a lot of conversations start off as being centred on one thing. And then… marriage is brought up: the trumpeting of that age-old Elephant in the Room. But the point is:] There is no authentic ‘loving’ something – be it a person, or a place, or a time outside of this one – before (or, even long after) being entirely, and truly, present with them. In time, and space, and true, close-up, experience. Otherwise, one claims to be ‘loving’ mere images; lusting after fictions, in place of their up-close and real, truths.

I am so happy-sad for everything that has passed. I still even miss people and places that had been in my life over a decade ago. But I am grateful, too. How strange that I will never know them, in the same ways, at least, again. But (necessary) losses often come to form openings: spaces for new things to grow. For other things, whomever, and whatever, they may be.

I am (a little worried, but also) very curious – excited for what is yet to come; trying to be as content with what Allah has written for me, as I can be. Life, as we know it to be: is Process. Toil and hardship, and our moments of levity and ease. And only Paradise is Paradise.

But how quietly wonderful an experience it is, this human one. And how… bittersweet. So many people and places and parts of oneself, to come to know: if only for a while. And then, when the leaves fall: though on the same branches, new ones do grow. Life moves on, and things (which we find we may only be able to half-love, in the present moment, at least) change — just as it is in their nature to.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life / Bleach

Yesterday, I decided to peruse over some of my old blog articles. There were some things I had written, which I had long since forgotten about. Some things that, today, make me truly cringe. Things that humour me. Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and delete some of those entries; go over my old journals and cross some things out, with a thick black marker pen.

But, no: truly, I appreciate those times and those experiences. Those days made me. Helped to shape me; I could not have been whom I am now, and know what I do, without them. Our cringe-worthy, awkward days: the ones we are prone to looking back on with equal amounts of fondness and warmth, and regret and “why, why, why?” — really and truly, they shaped us.

And I guess one of the weirdest things about reading over old writings is this: that others see, and saw, of those entries what they see/saw [Tangent time: why are see-saws called see-saws? Why are they not called up-downs or sit-sats?] and I, when reading over them… it’s like I get transported, almost, back to the times in which I had penned – or typed – them. I vividly recall the thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing. All of those former versions of my own headspace. Awesome.

[My childhood best friend and I have chosen to lovingly call these last five years or so of our lives our ‘Kind of just feel like an Idiot’ years. No real regrets, though. Just gratitude, (mutual cringing,) love.]

There are so many things that we may find, we take for granted, these days. Erstwhile experiences, journeys of learning. Fall down, graze your elbow, get back up, be kind and patient: let it heal. From the most elementary things (e.g. our abilities to sit and eat calmly, without getting baby gunk all over our faces, as well as our abilities to read words with ease. Long gone are the days of ‘robot phonics’; of forgetting how to spell ‘beautiful’ or ‘friend’). To other things. Like how to deal with our own mistakes. Feelings. And with failures.

Coming to know other people. The possibilities. How best to take care of ourselves and others when we are unwell. How to be kinder; a better friend. How to fit a duvet cover; how to choose what to repair, and what to leave alone.

The women and men we seek to be. The opportunity presented, within each and every moment, to go ahead be them!

I have a feeling that, in about five years or so, I may (Insha Allah) read over this very article. Recall what I had been going through here and now, at age twenty. I think I will likely half-cringe, half-be a little endeared, then, too.

I think one thing that had followed me throughout this past almost-decade is… caring too much – fearing, even – what other people think. At times, I have aligned my own judgements of myself, with other people’s (perceived) judgements of me. Not great. Arguably quite instinctive and ‘natural’, but, still… not great.

The strange thing is, I never used to care so much. As a child, I did my thing, and I loved doing it. Granted, there were some things that I had done/taken part in that were a little [childish and innocent, but… a little] crazy. [Perhaps I should substitute the c-word for the word ‘spirited’!] I cannot bring myself to regret those things very much at all. Childhood is for fun and exploration. For being you, and for being loved precisely for it.

Seven-year-old I, I suppose, had been… a younger version of whom I continue to be, today: life is sort of childhood continued, but with some additional things added to the grand, often-confusing, mix…

I guess, somewhere along the line, the expectations changed dramatically. And those expectations did not begin from whom I had been already. Abruptly stop, be something else: considerably different, I think, from whom I had organically been in the process of becoming. People expect girls to be [their fixed, superficial, unrealistic idea of] ‘perfect Muslims’, ‘perfect daughters’, perfect in domestic terms, perfect in social terms. We must always, always, be hyper-aware of how we… look.

And that, right there, I think, is the key word. Look. How things seem, often centrally at the expense of what things are. Perhaps, ‘ideally’, I would… wear a Selwar Kameez all the time; a neat, crease-less headscarf. Know when to speak; be neat, never slip up. Perfect grades, but no… opinions. Smile flawlessly for pictures. Creativity only in secret, perhaps. Be so instinctively great with screaming babies. Be social, but talk about a limited range of ‘acceptable’ things. [But the standards and goal-posts seem to always be shifting, changing!] Nothing ‘too much’. Maybe: how school is going. “Good”. How work is going. “Good”. How are we. “Fine”. Nothing that really makes you a person, but… some un-fault-able impression, a picture of one. Keep everything else hidden. Keep a house spotless. Faultless. Nothing that ‘people’ could ever single out and fault. I’m [not really] sorry, but:

Spotless things must be quite intrinsically unfortunate: they would appear to be devoid of what life is really, truly, all about. They do not exist. But if they did, I really do think they would be missing out. Growth, and learning, and trying, and failing. Stories can only really stem from things… happening. Taking place. One cannot have a cake without a(n at-least-somewhat) messy baking process. And even if we could be extremely neat and precise: I think the joy would be extracted from it all. Everything would be controlled and systemised. Predictable, and character-less. When everything blends in: nothing really stands out.

Bleach is a chemical product that tends to leave things spotless. Faultless. So… clean. Bleach also happens to be a substance that effortlessly kills things that are organic, alive. Life. Is simply not meant to be so (to paraphrase something my friend said, which really stuck to my mind) efficient and sanitised.

I so love exploring the field of Child Psychology. Children, you see, come into the world telling us who they are. They cry: they (and we) need food, warmth, comfort, love. The first seven years of our lives tend to be when we express what our personalities are. Over time, personality is honed, moulded into character. First, this responsibility of nurture is placed, primarily, on the families that are entrusted with our upbringing and care. And then, when we reach an age of understanding, we acquire a personal responsibility. A duty of care over our own selves; our souls.

Ideas pertaining to innate personality are supported, for instance, by a particular Hadith, which informs us that the first seven years of a child’s life are to be dedicated to play. Through play, we get to clearly see that some children are more outgoing and imaginative. Make battle-ships out of see-saws [that word-of-mysterious-origins again, semi-deliberately re-employed]. Some children are very emotionally sensitive; need more hugs, more loving words, than others do. [And are so terribly sweet that it just makes your heart melt.] Some like to sit and play alone for hours on end: there are whole entire worlds, whirring away within their brilliant (and, also, highly impressionable) minds. Some children get a little kick out of using swear-words; want to feel all grown up. Lipstick and big words. Some love making others laugh. Some are so completely captivated by washing machines, cars, and Iron-Man. Some do not like to get their clothes dirty, and do not like to share. Some get socially drained very easily. [Why don’t we just let them, for example, have a rest and sleep, rather than making them feel bad for not being like this or not being like that?]

Yes, ultimately: perfection is not to be expected of anybody. Maybe it is something that we sometimes think we want, but not really. We have an objective moral code to follow. For example, Allah instructs us, in the Qur’an, time and time again, to not be arrogant. Do not act superior; like you are mighty — something you are fundamentally not. I think I would rather be exactly who I am (Alhamdulillah) than some delusional arrogant boaster who picks at others’ flaws, while overlooking my own. Convincing myself that I am… superior.

I really do believe in the inherent beauty of looking at – and loving – what is there, and not singling out and exaggerating what is not there: perceived faults and inadequacies. Watering those former flowers, instead of those latter…weeds. People are not problems. Every human being, complete with our own stories, strengths, weaknesses: is a blessing, a Divine gift.

Maybe if ‘perfect’ men existed, ‘perfect’ women would exist too. Maybe if the women who seem to expect us to be ‘perfect’ were ‘perfect’ themselves, we would have ‘better role models’ to take after… But they don’t; we don’t. We are real, and full; each of us is unique. We are too cold sometimes; we cry; we forget to do something; misplace our keys. Run into interpersonal frictions; get stressed; get insecure. Our houses are a bit more messy when we find ourselves a little more occupied with other things. We are former babies, with gunk everywhere, and then we learn, over time and with due patience, how to eat more neatly. Not robotically, though. Each person has a style: of writing, of eating, of speaking, of being. How to pronounce the word ‘scone’. How to write a polite email. We are not born knowing how to ride a bike; how to change a nappy; how to please the probing eyes of every insolent busybody with access to a phone line. How to stop being scared of things that need not be so scary any more.

We will run into shortcomings, mistakes, faults. We are designed to be able to work on things; learn, practise, fall again, get up again. I love, love, love this. It is not ‘perfect’. Thankfully, it is interesting, though. Fascinating, not some predictable conveyor-belt porcelain ‘picture-perfect’ straight line. So worthwhile, and deep, and unexpected, pleasure-and-pain, and complex.

This matters to me because, to me, it is life and death. And I need to know: it is not boring, character-less ‘perfection’ I ought to expect of myself, just so others do not talk; so that people do not express angry disapproval. Besides, how boring a thing to talk about: what appears to be ‘wrong’ with others and their lives. And, how indicative of self-delusion and arrogance!

Expectations of ‘perfection’ are sort of a ‘double-bind’ thing. You either become that quiet, ‘normal’, ‘perfect’, negligible character with nothing vaguely interesting to do or talk about. A walking picture-frame, trophy, silent-for-the-most-part accessory. Or, you understand that there is an innate you, a personality. A complete, living, breathing human being, within whose rib-cage is this wonderful beating heart, beating for life and for love.

A character you are going to, Insha Allah, work on, for the rest of this life of yours. You will be tested, over and over and over again; you will learn and grow and develop. Other people: I suppose you’ll continue to see who is good to hold, within your heart. And who… might not, so much, be. Let people approach you – from their own perspectives, biases, attitudes, values, demeanours. Alhamdulillah, we are mature enough to decide on things for ourselves. Commit to certain things; set our boundaries and make them clear; choose these things, or those. This whole entire thing: it is between you and the one in whose very Hand is your very soul; your whole entire being:

‘Quirks’, ‘flaws’, uniquenesses.

Sharpnesses, capabilities;

softnesses, fragilities;

thorough, undeniable humannesses —

life, unbleached — and all.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be you;
I don’t know what it’s like but I’m dying to


So tell me what’s inside of your head:

No matter what you say I won’t love you less” — S.M.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

To Feel Seen, and Smiled At

I fear what other people may be thinking of me. I am almost certain that so too, do you. It is in our nature, in our design, to want to seek acceptance and approval from people: from authority figures, from people we would like to befriend. And we want to feel, on some deep psychological level, safe and sound, truly at home, and not in any way rejected or attacked; we want to feel like we belong. 

Deeper than this, we do not merely seek to be ‘tolerated’, nor even merely ‘accepted’. But appreciated, celebrated. We seek true validation. And nobody at all really wants to feel cast out; alienated.

We tend to look for validation specifically from people whom we perceive to have power. Professional, or social. Maybe they have certain traits that we may, ourselves, desire. For one reason or another, we find ourselves trusting them, as well as their judgements.

 

From the very first days of our existences outside of the womb, what we know to first seek is a validating type of eye contact: to feel seen, really seen, and to feel loved for being. A look, and a smile. A “welcome to the world. You are welcome here, truly.

 

“I see you, and I love you.”

 

And the ways in which we are mirrored back: these little messages continually tell us who we are. This is especially critical in the first seven years of our lives, for this is when the cruxes of our personalities are formed, [what ought to be] a delicate to-and-fro of “this is me,” and, “yes, this is you”. And it is the job of a child’s caregivers to continually make the child feel seen, and known, held, praised, and encouraged.

Such instinctual psychological desires do not just up and leave us, after these particular definitive years of ours, though; they are here with us, throughout our lives. At school, within our peer groups, at work — we find ourselves forever in pursuit of the eye-and-smile thing.

“You are truly seen,” it tells us. “And truly appreciated.” 

Relax. Without any sort of need to impress or overcompensate. Nor to always come across as being especially funny, or smart, or anything else. Just as you are: you are worthy of love.

But what if, whether in infancy or at some crucial point thereafter, we did not feel seen (i.e. seen in truth, and not merely via the masks we may have learnt to wear, in order to attempt to simulate that essential validating experience we so sought) and what if we did not feel smiled-at, appreciated, cherished?

One of my little cousins, for example, is really rather awesome. She likes to write her own songs, uses gifted makeup sets so as to paint on paper, plays football competitively. She is a gorgeous little creature (Masha Allah) and, as aforesaid, I think she is awesome. But she has all these strong doubts about herself. Thinks herself to be, among other things, ‘inadequate’ as a girl.

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’. Unique means weird.

“Well, I think it means singular and extraordinary!”

Cole Mackenzie and Anne, Anne with an E

Sometimes she finds she is excluded from certain little friendship groups. On account of being who and how she is, apparently. When I try to remind her of the beauty of this ‘who and how she is’, she is able to remember the good of herself momentarily, but then forgets, in the faces of those strong oppositional forces.

How difficult it is to build a building: brick-by-brick. How comparatively easy it is to knock the entire thing down. 

When one feels seen, yet not at all smiled at: this can prove to be a rather terrifying ordeal indeed. Put under a spotlight, feeling mortified and exposed, prodded and gawked at. Like you are a lab rat, some strange creature. Undeserving. Not belonging; social death.

Or, of course, on the flip-side, one may find oneself feeling smiled at, and yet, not truly seen. When one hides the truths of oneself, defensively, for acceptance, maybe; for fear of not being approved of. The smiles themselves: we may find that they do not fulfil. They can feel rather inauthentic… because it is not truly you that is being smiled at, is it?

Finally, rather tragically, one may come to find oneself in a state of feeling neither seen, nor smiled at. Whereby one’s truths are hidden, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Whereby masks are not worn, either. It is like such people have come to accept utter defeat; are now shrouded in a state of feeling completely societally rejected, and subsequently quite hopeless, fearing always floating, never belonging. But I think they are still there, somewhere. Our true/potential selves do not simply die while we ourselves remain alive: they can get unfavourably covered up for a while, sure. Or neglected, or hindered. But they are never lost. And, in due time, and with the love and support of the right people for us, oh how we find we can grow! 

Children (and indeed we, us over-aged children) need to be reminded, time and time again, of who we are, from the perspective of those who truly love us [us. Not whom they want us to be!] and whom we, in return, also love. That ‘to-and-fro’ thing, again. And, over and over again. Because, (when it concerns qualities that are not distinctively morally wrong) there are always at least two ways of looking at things.

“Too quiet”, for instance, can be exchanged for “contemplative”: a brilliant quality to have, actually. “Weird” can be swapped for “spirited”. “Shy” can be rephrased as “endearing”.

And, on matters concerning physical appearance, no baby is born feeling that he or she is “ugly”. But often, all it takes for a child to suddenly feel bad about one or more of their qualities is… a single comment.

“Different isn’t bad. It’s just not the same.

— Anne with an E

From back when I had been the same age as the aforementioned cousin of mine, I remember how much the tiniest comments would affect me. For example, an aunt of mine had taught me to think that having ‘baby hairs’ was a bad thing. So, at home, I tried exceedingly hard to scrub it all off. But now I know that many people consider these baby hairs to be a positive and desirable thing to have. A similar occurrence, concerning my slightly-upturned nose. A relative of mine teased me about it, calling it a “pig nose”. So I would exert myself to push my nose downwards, in the hope that it would become permanently like this, someday. But, now I know that many consider upturned noses to be “cute”, actually.

A final example, concerning the colour of my skin. As a very young child, my skin had been very fair. And, as a result of some deeply colourist South Asian standards, I had been complimented for this, quite a lot. An aunt of mine even made jokes about wanting to swap her own daughter for me, since I had been fairer than my cousin.

[You know, it is not uncommon for people to comment, as soon as a child is born, on the colour of his or her skin: on how (apparently, consequently) ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ the baby is, or will turn out to be. And these attitudes are quite disgusting.]

Anyway, I did not care much for the fact that my skin colour had been granted so much value in the eyes of certain relatives of mine. I liked to play outside in the sun; let my skin turn browner. A particular relative of mine started to insult me, calling me “dirt-coloured”, and treating me differently. But, I did not care. I told her that she, by contrast, was fair, just like bacteria, and just like the bottom of my feet.

A bit savage, I know. But I figured I did not need nor want the approval and acceptance of a person who wanted to determine the value of a child by how fair or dark their skin was. This was not a value that I had aspired towards: so why should the disapproval of someone with such a value have mattered, to me? I guess I chose to give this particular person less power in my eyes. Who was she, to determine any ‘truths’ about me, anyway?

No, I did not feel like I ‘belonged’, with a person like her. But, nor did I want to: the apparent criteria that would have been necessary for this were simply not worth it!

Personality-based features (again, when they are not rooted in immorality), and appearance-based ones: one may find that there are always different perspectives that one can choose to have, on any given thing. Positive, or neutral, or bad. Being tall: desirable to some; a neutral thing to be, for others. And an awful thing to be, in the perspectives of some. Being bookish: desirable, neutral, or terrible.

See, on the level of people, there are as many distinctive ‘truths’ as there are pairs of eyes! And, different eyes [can choose to] see different ‘truths’, about the very same thing: whether this be concerning the entirety of a person, or about certain isolated features of theirs. Brown skin. Or ginger hair. Freckles, chubby cheeks, mono-lid eyes. They can be seen, and are seen, by different groups of people, as being good, or neutral, or ‘bad‘. Now which group, of the three, would it be best for you to agree with, when it comes to you and your attributes?

You might find you are “too religious,” for some. Perfectly so, for others. “Too boisterous,” for some. Brilliantly so, for others. “Too into […] stamp-collecting [?],” for some. And splendidly so, for others. And there will always, always, always be some people on this Earth who will deeply approve of you, as well as some people who will really not. 

The ones who will really see you, and therefore love you… I hope they are the friends that you will have, through life. I hope they know to honour you, and you, them. And your respective colours. And how the jigsaw pieces might fit together. I hope the soil nurtures your growth and theirs, really and truly.

Anyway, what certain people say, and the ‘standards’ that are decided as a result of these opinions: these are not the ‘gatekeepers’ of Truth. Even when it comes to things like beauty standards: do you not see how these fashions ebb and flow, and change, and what they are, altogether, in light of? Quite frivolous, for the most part. Sometimes fleeting, often unsubstantial.

If you ever find yourself having been insulted for a trait or feature that you may have, I challenge you to try to immediately remind yourself that “there is another way of looking at this“. Whatever they may be saying, there is another thing that can be said, regarding the very same thing: a more positive outlook. Now, just what could this be?

Who had taught you to think the bad things you might think of yourself, currently? And, why should they have the authority to be able to make such a decision, concerning you? Why should you have to believe them?

I promise you: where there is a choice to see beauty, and when you then choose to see it, beauty grows. In you, and in others.

You are a brilliant pear tree; why should I complain about your ‘failure’ to produce apples? You are a gorgeous wintry sun; who am I to expect, from you, heat? Or, you are a sunflower. Why ought I to be disappointed to find that your petals are not red and pleated?

Be whom you are, my friend. And bloom from whom you are. You will have your ‘right’ ones who notice and appreciate; you will have your ‘not-so-right’ ones who find they cannot do so. And this is okay, for you are you, and they are they. There is no need to meet everybody’s seeming ‘expectations’ of you: no, for you may just completely lose yourself in the process.

We all, from the places of our very cores, seek to be smiled at, after being seen. And, there is no substitute for real (love-based) connections, which are rooted in the very aforesaid phenomenon. Some people might seek seen-ness and smiles from others, through avenues such as fame. But no, no. Mere popularity is no substitute for the real stuff: it is no substitute at all.

 

Just whose validation is it that you seek, and why? And whose disapproval do you fear so much, and why? 

 

Now, if you are able to do so, dear friend, I encourage you to look into a mirror: any mirror. And right into your own eyes. It might feel quite strange and intense at first, but… be sure to soften your gaze a little. There. I hope you feel seen now. And now, smile. A most sincere and welcoming smile. Feel seen, and in a most accepting, appreciative, supportive way. Even if some of the people around you are unable to do the same: herein might just lie the first step. Being on one’s own side, while standing on the other side of the mirror. And then, simply choosing to focus on what is good and true. 

“It’s not what the world holds for you.

It’s what you bring to it.”

— Anne with an E

Somehow, one must try to root oneself in soil that will help one to grow; to see others, too, and to smile upon their existences, also. To be with people who love you; to love them right back. To feel connected; to want to always be able to look into their eyes; to miss their smiles when they are not there. To discover more about them and their lives; more things to smile for, and to support.

To really feel seen, and to also sincerely feel smiled at. Is this not the basis of all human love? 

And one must give out this willingness to try to understand, and to appreciate, others, with the sincere hope that you, too are deserving of such treatment. Whether this is granted to you from the hearts of many, or solely from the hearts of a few. 

The greatest thing one can aspire to in life is to love, and to then be loved, too. 

 


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: Forgiveness

“It’s okay — I forgive you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Ask Sadia: Feeling Rotten

 

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Dear M.,

Thank you for your submission.

Truth be told, I’m not really in a position to dish out diagnoses right now [currently, I have literally no psychological qualifications – not even a GCSE in the subject!] however I would definitely advise you to consider seeking out an official diagnosis for what you may have and perhaps some therapy: you might be suffering from mild depression – or dysthymia, as it is sometimes otherwise known.

We need to remember that the thing about other people is that they will always have differing, and subjective, opinions on pretty much everything, including on you. One person may love a certain type of chocolate; his brother may absolutely detest it. Opinions also change cross-temporally. What a person loves with all their heart one day, they may come to despise the very next day.

But is it healthy to allow our views of ourselves to be attached to other people’s opinions/perceptions of us, when we know how unstable – and, how oftentimes inaccurate – such opinions can be? You are who you say you are. It took me a while to fully understand this [firstly, I come from a big Desi extended family, which can be rather gratuitously judgemental at times; secondly, I went to a secondary school at which ‘differences’ within individuals were often deeply frowned upon] but it is undoubtedly true. You will not be palatable to everybody; this is an unavoidable fact. You will be loved by some; loathed by others. But you have the power to choose which group of people you invest your time and efforts into. And, ultimately, the only two beings you actually need validation from are, a) God, and b) yourself – your core self, and not any diluted version of you that others concoct in their own faulty imaginations. Seek advice from your loved ones, definitely, but only seek real validation from God and from yourself.

And are you really an intrinsically bad – a ‘rotten’ – person? Is it not true that all of us are deeply flawed as human beings? We all have our ‘cons’ and we all have our merits. But what we focus on tends to be what grows. So if you internally punish yourself by ruminating on all your deficiencies and flaws, you will come to see these perceptively negative traits as your most defining ones.

I would say that these worries of yours are very real concerns, but I also want to reassure you that they are all surmountable. Even the ongoing feelings of sadness and rottenness are completely superable, Insha-Allah.

I think you should know that this has very much been one of my personal struggles, too: that of fully being comfortable within myself; self-validating, self-regulating, self-loving. This is what I think you might need to intentionally work on: if your core is secure and fulfilled, you will be able to internalise compliments from your loved ones and such in a healthy manner. And [I know with this whole Corona crisis, the practice is strongly being encouraged but] social isolation is not a particularly productive practice. In doing so – in ‘distancing’ yourself, because of your personal insecurities – you are not heroically ‘protecting’ yourself and others. Human beings need other human beings. Your friends are made up of flaws, merits, mistakes, and accomplishments, just like you are. Good friends support each other: they can confide in one another, and they build one another up. So overcoming these struggles with feeling ‘like a bad person’ and such will likely necessitate firstly building a good relationship with yourself, and, secondarily, also actively nurturing your relationships with others. It is so okay if you slip up from time to time: this means that you are human, and that you are trying.

You are not a burden. And you are highly probably not permanently ‘broken’. All people are a little bit ‘broken’, and a little bit ‘ugly’ in terms of the things we feel and do. But there is beauty in all of us, too. We need to focus on this inherent beauty; we must allow this to flourish! There is a Hadith that tells us that for every son of Adam, and for every daughter of Eve, there are some who will love him/her, and some who will dislike him/her. The things that some may love in you, others will find a way to flip into something perceptively ugly. Haters will be haters, but only we get to decide if…they get to decide who we are [if that made any sense at all…].

And it is absolutely never the wrong time to ‘begin again’ if you feel like doing so. Pray to Allah (SWT), and ask Him to help you on this journey. With a little bit of effort on our parts, we can wash away all considerations of yesterday; of our heightened self-critical faculties. Let’s be reasonable and rational here: we are flawed beings, each trying our best. And the fact that you care about being a good – a better – person shows that you are probably not ‘rotten’ at all. Within the Islamic tradition, is it not true that Allah (SWT) forgives all sins if we turn to Him? If our Rabb is so very forgiving toward us, why is it that we tend to be so very unforgiving towards ourselves? 

I wish you the best of luck on this journey of healing of yours, dear M. And Insha-Allah, in due time, and in parallel with your trying to be kind to, and gentle with, yourself, all these negative feelings will subside, and all that is (inherently) good within you will come to bloom. Bismillah.

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.

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


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

Ask Sadia: Childhood Trauma

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Dear Wedasameppls (???) ,

I wish that I could have replied to you personally, only…  I don’t know who you are. But I am truly sorry to hear that you have had to endure, and are still forced to endure, this much pain. You were hurt by someone who you trusted, and who was meant to protect you from harm, at such a delicate and impressionable point in your life.

It’s scary just how much our childhoods, and childhood trauma, can affect us later on in life. But whoever you are, I am so proud of you for carrying on, in spite of the scars, and in spite of the panic attacks. It’s truly unfortunate but not at all surprising that your dad still finds a way back into your thoughts. When we are very young, we are constantly in the process of learning about and attempting to decode the world around us, and that includes absorbing feelings of danger as a survival mechanism.

Panic is irrational, but tends to have a rational basis. In your case, you were abused, when you deserved the absolute opposite: gentleness, nurturing, and protection. The blame is entirely on him, and the scars that you are left with are his imprints. To slowly combat the psychological trauma, it would be wise to try to rationalise it all, gradually. Those moments are in the past; you are (I hope) safe and loved now, and he is gone. I don’t want to romanticise the scars whatsoever; sometimes they do not truly make us stronger. They make us, understandably, weaker and more vulnerable, more worthy and deserving of care.

And that is okay. You are not an attention-seeking teen: anything but. Everybody deserves attention for their mental and emotional health, but in your case, given your past and the flashbacks you get, you deserve it more than anybody. The people in your life will probably not be able to fully empathise with your situation, but they are there to make you feel safer than you were made to feel when you were younger. If you trust them, know that your fears, your panic, and your pain, are not irrational, and it would probably relieve some of the emotional burden if you discuss your feelings with them.

Given the gravity of your situation, I would really recommend seeking professional help; doing so does not make you weak nor dramatic. You do not have to pretend that you are completely fine, especially not for others’ convenience. Your loved ones will listen, and NHS therapists and counsellors are qualified to guide you through the process of healing. It may be hard, and perhaps you will not see the positive results immediately, but if anything, what you deserve right now is to get your biological father and those insidious thoughts off your mind. You – that eight-year-old child who was unjustifiably abused at such a fragile point in your life – deserve to be free of them, but first you may need to confront them fully, by talking about them.

Neither the flashbacks nor the depression make you weak, and they should not be sources of shame. The trust issues are almost a given, and I am sorry that you have had to deal with the emotional consequences for ten years, and alone. The least you deserve now is a space to let the firewalls down, to admit, at least to one person whom you love and trust, that this is what you went through, and this is how it has left you feeling.

I think people are just obsessed with masks and having to pretend that they are okay and without any trauma whatsoever, all of the time. This just adds to the problem, making survivors like you afraid to tell others, for fear of being labelled frail or oversentimental. But think about it like this: if an innocent eight-year-old child came to you now and told you that they were being abused by a family member, what would you do? Would you call them an attention-seeker? Or would you do everything in your power to care for and protect them, and start and aid their process of healing?

At the core of all our beings is a child – our childhood selves, full of creativity and life, and often a great deal of suffering. Yours requires some extra attention right now; he or she has suffered immensely and unnecessarily, and, in this silence, is still suffering.

P.S. if we really are “dasameppls” as your alias suggests, I am always here to talk, and I have nothing but respect for you. 

Sincerely,

 

Sadia.


Sadia Ahmed, 2019