Islam is

Islam is: beginning right from where you are. It is finding Peace, finally, amid all of tumultuous Dunya’s numerous tribulations.

It is Ultimate, life-giving, life-restoring,

hope-fuelled

Surrender.

And — Islam is not solely for the man for whom the Arabic language is his native tongue. It is also for… the Bengali woman. Malaysian, Nigerian, French, Argentinian. And for kings and nobles, and for their sons, and for seamstresses and chai-walas, and for their daughters.

Islam is for the ones who grew up going to — some call it Fora, others call it Maktab; some call it Dugsee — every weekend. And it is also for the ones for whom the words of the Qur’an are, at present, wholly indecipherable.

For the ones who grew up in Roman Catholic households. Or Hindu ones, or otherwise.

The truth is, we do not know, and we are truly not aware of

which of us truly are the Best of us.

How can one look at another and be convinced that we know what their intentions are? How can we look at another and be sure of where they stand, at present, before God?

Islam is also for the heroin user whose family chose to disown him, for his one fatal error. It is for the chronically sick, and it is for the young, and well, and wealthy, too. It is for the ones who know the most, and it is also for the ones who simply cannot wait to learn.

When I say that Islam is Universal, I mean: everything that exists — everything, of which we are a part:

We come from One. Are loved, and nurtured, primarily and ultimately, by One. Are being Tested by One. And it is to One, that we return.

When Allah explains to us that we are human, He means, necessarily, that we can choose between Good and Evil, based on the knowledge that we, individually, subjectively, possess, and have access to.

And that we are, all of us, fundamentally flawed — and that many people are stitched up with Good intentions, while others destroy themselves, through arrogance. But for the most part, these things remain invisible to the fallible human eye.

Fundamentally, goodness is something that must be shared. Trying to meet people where they are; trying to love them, as they are: these things are Sunnah. There is no room for violent tribalisms, where there is true Islam.

Islam is for anybody who, even in the slightest, cares — enough to seek forgiveness; to ask for Help; to try. In your own time; in your own beautiful ways.

Islam is for the human being who is uncertain, in himself, or as herself. We are not Necessary Beings; we forget and we make blunders.

We struggle, and we fall; we can come, crawling, or walking. If we are able, we can come running.

Islam is for the one who has “always felt a little bit Muslim at heart”. Who, eventually, started carrying a prayer scarf around, in her bag. Used the prayer room at Westfield, once, and amassed the courage to say Salaam to an auntie, a different time, outside the mosque.

For the man who is consciously trying to “lower [his] gaze” when it comes to women, contrary to the pullings of his Nafs (loosely translatable as ‘inner-self’). For the one who feels broken, breaking, alone. Trying to speak to his Creator, under the soul-baring covers of good night.

Islam is Meaning, and it is Purpose. It is Love, and it is Comfort. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, concerning the Mind, the Heart; our Bodies and our Souls. Beginning: fusing together. And Ending: coming apart (for a while). The centre of the Universe, and the very fabric of our being.

Ever-a-continuation: a personal story, journey. And, always, a beginning-again, too. Right from where we are.

[Allah knows, while we do not.]

And every good thing that we (endeavour to) do, here, in submission to Al-Rahman

is growing into something Unspeakably Beautiful (we hope,) over There.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Art of Beeing

To know that one is part of something greater than one’s own self. What a relief. What a welcome realisation:

The idea that, all around us, we are beset by jars of honey, asking for us to dip into, and out of. Choice paralysis.

And this world: it seems, prima facie, as though it is one of billions of flowers. Feels like there is so much that

Could be done. And therefore, with the limited bee-line timelines we have, here: must be done.

For this to be deeply rich, and meaningful, somehow. The bees, and what they do: scarcely seen, except when up close, thrumming.

Always busy. Playing their roles: from mouth of flower, to hive, and back. It is the essence of things:

of our actions, choices, sitting-places, which count.

I want to be guided by the nectar of things. And not by the ‘numbers’; not necessarily by what other people come to see, of it.

And what about… how other people do things, for example? The communities they are part of; how and where they might spend… Ramadan, for example?

At a grand mosque in Texas, or… walking to the same one, under orange-glowing lamps, in Dickensian(-almost) Whitechapel?

One could be halfway up Mount Everest. Or, on the upper floor of a quiet bookstore in Folkestone. Still, it is the essences of things that count: not necessarily the sizes, nor the colours, nor the shapes, of the petals which adorn them.

[Crying, alone, in a Volkswagen. Or, secretly, in a Lambo. To quote the doughnut-eating boy from a really funny Vine that I tragically can’t seem to find anymore: iz the same thing.]

Whether one man gives his fellow man in need a piece of bread. And if another man is able to provide for an entire village a million pounds worth of food:

It is the weight of things, unseen yet certainly Recorded, which grant them significance. The bees are small, and they are not exactly butterflies. Look how weighty their value:

A single day off, and entire ecosystems fall to the ground. We must never underestimate the roles we inhabit, nor the essences of them, in favour of thinking about the precise configurations of our petals.

Those petals eventually fall to the ground, one, by one, by one. The golden threads of Meaning, Purpose, here, though: small, but mighty. The ‘grand scheme of things’, and the places we inhabit, which cannot do without our being there. Here, or there; this way, or that, but altogether… Undying.

In conclusion: bees are cool. For more evidence on this fact: https://themuslimvibe.com/faith-islam/in-theory/animals-in-the-holy-quran-the-bee

“Actions are but by intentions” [Sahih Hadith]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Hope and Snow

This morning, here in London (UK), we had woken up to heavy snowfall. Pellets of white, darting down from the sky. So graceful; so redolent of that fine word: hope.

Today, it is Sunday. A snow-day on a Sunday. On Friday, my brother and I went on a walk through our local area. The conversations he and I have together really do tend to be… something else. I am not sure if he sounds mature for his age, by consequence of living with three adults, or if I sound like an eight-year-old boy, by consequence of spending so much time with him… Probably a mixture of both.

I told him that I was a little sad that it did not snow this winter.

His response was quick and endearing, and said with conviction: “What do you mean? It could still snow this year!”

In my mind, I sort of dismissed this statement as a product of his ‘child-like optimism’. ‘Not rooted in reality’. It seemed to me as though the peak of wintertime had already come to an end: now was going to be that time when Winter begins to transition into Spring. Cold, golden, sunny days. Not snow.

I so love that young children tend to be so deliberately hopeful. I think it is something of a tragedy, that many of us lose this sense of hope along the way. Scepticism’s tenacious fingers tend to, over time, establish this terrible stronghold within our hearts.

While on last Friday’s walk, my brother wanted to stop somewhere and sit down for a moment. He went and sat on a boulder. We had been talking about the significance of making Du’a, and he decided to sit down on a street-side boulder, in order to make Du’a, there and then, for… a horse. Strange child [but then again… he is my brother.]

Du’as do come true. I know this for certain. My brother himself: I see him as a product of Du’a. When I was younger, I prayed and prayed for a little brother. Someone to do cool things like karate with, and art and baking, and to take out to Nando’s after Parents’ Evenings, and to sort of spoil just a little. Some family members, back then, sort of dismissed my Du’as as childish, foolish optimism.

Since then, I have been well-acquainted with good reasons so as not to internalise others’ scepticism, but to… rely on my Lord, and to have hope and faith and trust in Him; in His supreme wisdom and ability. Even if you doubt and doubt: sometimes extremely ‘unlikely’ things happen, just like that.

It is so okay if other people doubt. So long as you have faith. Those things that you are praying for: know that if you are humble and sincere in your prayers… everything you are praying for is yours. It may take a little time: these things will come about in Allah’s faultless timing, not in ‘your own’. We must be consistent, hopeful, and know

That Allah (SWT) does not reject the Du’as of the sincere. You either get those things that you want, a little later (and there is Khayr in the delays). Or, you get them almost immediately. Or… you get something that is better [for you].

Hope-like snow. And eyes filled, at least at times, with wonder and fascination. It is not exclusively ‘childish’, but good and… human-ish. We need a little bit of sunshine, and a little bit of snow.

A little bit of rain, too… [This is how good things grow.]

We really must not lose hope, nor despair in the Rahma of our Lord. Faith and reason. Hope and rationality. Optimism and scepticism. Questioning things deeply, and having trust. Dichotomies, but actually, each one is ever-in need of its other.  

[And I really hope that, one day, I will get to see my little brother sitting on his own horse. I hope that I will be able to remind him of that fine Friday, in lockdown, 2021, when he sat down on a random boulder solely in order to make Du’a for it.]

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

“Indeed, Allah is with those who have Sabr*.” [Qur’an, (2:153)]

*Meaning: a mixture of patience, discipline, steadfastness, self-restraint, perseverance, endurance


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

If porcelain, then only the kind — by Stanisław Barańczak

If porcelain, then only the kind
you won’t miss under the shoe of a mover or the tread of a tank;
if a chair, then not too comfortable, lest
there be regret in getting up and leaving;
if clothing, then just so much as can fit in a suitcase,
if books, then those which can be carried in the memory,
if plans, then those which can be overlooked
when the time comes for the next move
to another street, continent, historical period
or world:

who told you that you were permitted to settle in?
who told you that this or that would last forever?
Did no one ever tell you that you will never
in [this] world
[be quite] at home?


(Translated from the original Polish by Frank Kujawinski)

Subhan Allah. What a wonderful poem, no?


2020

Winter

Autumn and Winter. What gorgeous times of the year these, time and time again, prove to be. Just the idea of being cosied up in a couple of layers – or six – and the way the sky falls to dark blue, even hours before night-time is actually due… There is something that is so enchanting and mysterious, so uplifting inasmuch as it is nose-freezing, about this most beautiful time of the year.

Christmastime comes around, and so do all the jumpers. And the endearing little decorated mugs of hot chocolate. Lights and festivities, and all else. I cannot believe that we have now officially reached Winter 2020. These past two years, at least, have felt like they had just arrived, tipped their hats off to us, and left.

Winter is cold, and she is often storm-like. Impels us, through forceful gusts, to appreciate the warm homes that we do have; the safety. The newly-warmed dips on duvets; atop cushions and rugs. Feet blanketed in wool-soled boots, and

Although now is the time that the goblins of consumerism do come out to play a bit more, [think: Black Friday. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Year’s. Sales that compel mankind to obsessively buy, buy, buy. New, new, new. Through creating false ‘needs’, for us, through making us believe that without having these ‘new things’, we ought to feel so very dissatisfiedSigh…]

now is also very much a time during which we can look inwards. Learn to patch things up. A small tear in a top? Why not employ some of our Year Seven D.T. skills and go ahead and mend it, instead? Why won’t we love what we have: it is enough. And when we are grateful — look inwards and commit to truly appreciating these blessings of ours — we are granted Barakah within these very things.

These bodies, and these souls, of ours are the only ones we will have (the former, in this life, at least. The latter, in both this world and Ākhirah…) They are not ‘perfect’; may we love them. Friends, family, school/work. Texture, edges, unpolished, and uniquely yours.

In my opinion, it is far better to live in a warm-enough camper van, for example, which finds itself suffused with Barakah, than in some stone-cold stone castle, in which material possessions may be ornate and many, but where there is no Barakah.

And what are the ingredients that may lead to a guarantee of our having this Barakah? I think it is about sitting on the floor, sometimes, and acknowledging what we really are. Outside, and irrespective of, titles and roles and any of these ever-present delusions of grandeur. Of us, it is our souls that matter, and is this not what Winter does:

It sings to our souls, while our bodies stay at least somewhat cold. Warmth, like most desired and delightful things, is only truly known when juxtaposed with its opposite: cold. And maybe the same could be said, for love: outside, it is cold. The trees look more bare, things look sort of lonely. Inside, however,

a hand upon a hand may be all it takes. Forehead pressed upon ground – on decade-old (though intermittently washed!) prayer rug, a letter of gratitude to your Creator. A heart, which you, its keeper, can silently witness, when it says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I think I have always loved Winter. She had been the first season I had ever known: I had been born amid her, and she feels like home. Sometimes her rains are furious, and sometimes her snowfalls are more graceful, elegant. Winter sun can be ever so bright, spilling across dew-dropped grass, sending spirals of icy breaths outward and upward. Deceptive, though, for Winter Sun is not usually warm, as it is ‘meant’ to be…

Winter moon often appears when we least expect him to. 4PM and there he is already, all eerie and nonchalant. Silently brilliant: not begging for our awe, for our attentions, and yet receiving them, very much deserving them, anyway. The way he is known to glow – luminescent, and not angry, defensive, or ‘fierce’ – but only when the sky has become dark enough for him to do so.

I want to say, to those of you, dear readers, who have Depression and/or Anxiety, or anything else of the sort, that… I know it tends to get more difficult around wintertime. These seemingly implacable tirednesses, wisps of sadness.

I hope you learn not to feel guilty when the ‘work’ you have to do is not your first priority. Work itself, I think, ought to be for the sake of – for the good of – the soul. Your value as a being is not determined by ‘how many hours of work you have managed to complete today’ and, truly, nor is it about comparing ourselves to others and what they may be doing. Your circumstances are different; your journey is your own. Your needs: sleep, rest, comfort. They matter far more.

The difficult days: may they strengthen us, and may we be strong enough to get through them, always, Āmeen. And I also wanted to say:

As cliché as these words do sound, over time, it does get better, Bi’ithnillah. Seasonal Affective Disorder: the sun eventually does come back up, doesn’t it? These things work in cycles…

Generalised Anxiety: it is there. At times it makes you quiver and quake, but you know what it is. It is powerful, but it will not win, Bi’ithnillah.

When you are tired, dear friend, please do let yourself sleep. And when you are sad, do cry, even if it means that your whole body sobs with crying. It really is okay sometimes. And when you are in prayer, do thank Allah over and over again. When you are reciting Qur’an, recite with melody; feel your heart become still, become calm: recollected, reconnected.

Social anxiety: that uncontrollable feeling of terror, of being seized. But at just what, though? What are your fears? That you will be disliked? Why have such thoughts, over time, solidified into beliefs, in your mind? Are you loved? Of course you are… Then, the extent of your fears is fundamentally unfounded. This may be difficult to hear, but…

Maybe, new seasons within our lives ask for new versions of ourselves, to come through. To meet the present challenge; to embrace present blessings, too. Maybe this season requires of us some newer ways of thinking. Maybe the world had been one thing, to us, then. Maybe – most likely – it is something altogether quite different, now.

You had been afraid then, maybe. Perhaps with good reason. But you do not require those same modes of thinking in order to survive and/or ‘thrive’, now. Look around you. Things have changed, haven’t they. Sometimes, what it takes, is to say to these erstwhile, obsolete thoughts of ours, a simple but strong:

Nope.”

You belong here, I promise you. And, atop this Earth, you walk along as a person who is loved. Beloved. It is truly a blessing.

Depression, though: what a thing. Albeit often misunderstood. On some winter mornings, you will feel the heaviness a little more acutely than on some other days. But looking inwards rather than unfairly, unrealistically, unhelpfully outwards… really does help, I think. Make Du’a, and when you are ready, you will get up again, Insha Allah.

To quote a Moroccan proverb I have recently come across:

Drop by drop,

the river rises.

Dear friend, give a little time to yourself. Some more space, some more depth of understanding. Winter can be hard. Anxiety and Depression: the Winters – the less favourable parts of it, I mean – of these minds of ours. We must trust, though, that the sun is about to come up again. It usually, and sometimes when you least expect it, does.

Your personal journey may look rather different to my own one, but they are likely to be fairly similar, in terms of essence. This is what happens: time goes on, and things change. We adapt, and we learn and we grow. Step by step, we come to overcome certain things. And, drop by drop, drop by drop, the river rises, becomes.

There will be some more difficult days; sometimes it may feel as though things are rapidly, and right before our very eyes, becoming undone. But we trust our Lord, do we not? We take care of our tasks – put our effort in – and we leave it all to Him.

When I think of strength, and when I wish to be reminded of the sort of progress that due trust and reliance upon Allah can bring about, I think of my infant cousin, Siyana. Born prematurely, two-and-a-half years ago, and placed in the ICU. Her fingernails had been as tiny as short grains of rice; her clothes smaller than the ones that little children are known to put on their little dolls.

How fragile and how strong this child is. We now see her running around, strong and spreading such joy, that characteristically quizzical expression on her face, frequently sending my nan and we into fits of laughter. Trying to lift her father’s weights. It has taken some time, though. From those early months, during which her parents would mostly take it in turns to be with her at the hospital. Get her milk ready; those sleepless nights of theirs. Over time, though, things, in this regard, got easier. Siyana grew in strength. Seeing pictures of her from 2018, in comparison to the animated character we know her to be now… Oh, how she has grown. And from her story, I do take quite some inspiration.

As well as from the stories of some other individuals I have had the fortune of having been acquainted with, this year. Ms N and Ms Z stand out. What kind people; what (quietly, secretly) strong individuals they are. They have told me about (parts of) their own journeys. Exceptional. Embodiments of how Allah rewards As-Sabiroon (the patient/steadfast ones).

We begin from somewhere; drop by drop, or millimetre by millimetre, we grow. Through time, via experience, and as a result of our choices. We adapt, and we fall, sometimes; we get up again.

[What counts is what you do [now]]. ‘Philosophical presentism’ and all [Thank you Tas, for teaching me about this…]

Khayr, khayr, khayr. May we learn to focus on it, and give it and receive it.

And may we realise that when we give it – the good – due love:

it does grow.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

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

Dear Moon,

Dear Moon,

You are still you, even when the sky renders you ‘half’-seeming, sometimes, and not entirely ‘whole’.

Spinning world. The ease with which, you find, it can dizzy you, tire out completely your very soul. And

maybe in five years (or less, or more) you will find yourself still there, yet overlooking some different world:

still the same one, but some things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Or maybe in a decade or less, you will find yourself over there instead:

in that place you will necessarily meet before standing at the gates of Eternity: your earthly bed.

One small push, and into a whole new world we go.

But before that time, maybe, there are some things that you and I must do, some new people and places that we must come to know.

Dear you,

There are some undeniable elements of radiance in you. Maybe bringing them up and out will require an excavation of sorts, but I have complete faith in you;

with certainty, I do. Even in every single wrong turn you have ever taken; in every single ‘blunder’ you have ever made.

Far from home, as you have been. Trying and trying.

Still, do not fret too much. No more. I think it’s completely okay; wherever you are going, it will all be understood retrospectively, at some point, some day.

You make your own efforts; exert yourself. Tie your camels, and then remember to have hope, trust, faith. There is a fine balance between all this trying, and then it is this grand old waiting game.

Right now, it confuses, doesn’t it? It burns, then stagnates; it is tremendously elusive.

The truth is, your mind simply cannot fathom something it has never (yet) known. And though the imagination may seek to do exactly what it tends to — it cannot, at present, tell you exactly what.

Your state of mind finds itself in a rush, sometimes, doesn’t it? To get there. Where? Somewhere. That tyrannous abstract timeline of yours.

And to actually listen to all that others might have, to say about you. To worry about their receptions, perceptions. Those ones who put you on some unfair pedestal, and the ones who may do the exact opposite. Praise and criticism: people are excessive, biased, and unfair in both. Do they hold the keys to the full picture, anyway?

And, what? Is it they whom you exist for, Moon mine?

Divine Plan, I promise you. And the knowledge that you were fashioned by the very same supreme Being whom you pray to. So keep going; trust that the destinations are worth this extra mile.

Allah is closer to you than your own jugular vein is, and there is not a single tear that has fallen from your eye that He has not heard fall; accounted for.

So doubt the intentions of others, sometimes. Doubt the veracity of their words, but of Divine mercy, at least, always be sure.

It is He who cures; who, even better than you, at present, are able to: understands your hurt.

“Indeed, I am near,” He tells you, while you are struggling to emerge, a little seedling being brought forth, right through all this dirt.

And come, the rain will, too, won’t she? See, even if you can’t quite say what it looks like just yet, grow towards pure light, I so hope, will you.

It honestly matters not what others see or hear of it — or don’t. But always, at least, “To thine own self, be true.” [W.S]

And so, be there for yourself. In all your own colours, every single one. Maybe those seven or so years of mostly-greys will only be preparatory, for gliding steps towards a whole different experience. New knowledge, a new place.

And Jannah. For some people, such a place is already promised.

Another thing that is promised: that the life of this world gets intensely hard, at times. To each, their own individualised set of tests. And it will all tear at your soul, and at times, you will fall. Some of those moments, alone, when it feels like nothing but the entire sky is pushing you down. Have faith in those moments, too.

The word for trials, tribulations, and obstacles, in Islam is ‘Fitnah’. Imagery-wise, based on the process of separating gold from its ores. But first, a necessary melting process. It may threaten to tear you down to your very core. And here, I think, something, perhaps, quietly shines.

Perhaps they will be seven harder years, marred by all those thoughts and such. Same old silences, absences, aggressions. But be still. And know.

Then, perhaps, seven easier ones. This is what life does: it works in cycles, it ebbs and flows. And, dear Moon,

Maybe you cannot put words to it all now. There is seemingly no preciseness at all, not here. These current experiences of ours. No fences with which to neatly encase everything that has happened. But I can promise you this much: it is with purpose — all of it.

When Moosa (AS)’s mother lay her baby son into that basket atop that river, it had been her heart that bore the brunt of that pain. An entire heart made “empty”. And it was Allah who had then mended it for her. Brought it all back together; everything in place.

And it was Allah who brought you, dear Moon, into being. And the sun. Conception, and life. Everything necessary to bring us here, and to keep us going. As well as everything that we share this planet with. It is not at all beyond our Creator to change things completely, for you. And every ‘Fitnah’ that you experience is with noble reason; without a doubt, this much is true. Jannah is reserved for those of mankind who will choose to, and struggle to, become Pure Gold, at the end of it all.

And, yes, it can sometimes get mighty hard. Seemingly impossible. All these things that it feels like nobody else will ever understand.

Just know that, even in darkness, your light still sings, dear Moon. Some will hear your songs; they understand. The ways of its ebbs, and all of its flows. And they have complete faith in you.

So doubt that things have been that ‘good’ thus far. If you so wish, doubt this well.

But do not doubt in hope. In all the good stuff that is yet to come. In the hard bits that you will, Insha Allah, get right through.

Doubt most things about yourself, sometimes, but do not doubt that I believe in you.

The clock is ticking now. It always has been. So, with due knowledge of all that has taken place, do remember, do forget.

And worry not too much for whenever night, once more, begins to set.

No more. Shed old skins, farewells and hellos, and on new adventures, allow yourself to freely embark.

For is it not true that you have always loved the stars too fondly, to ever again be afraid of the dark?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Bloom

 

IMG_3203

[Brace yourself, dear reader, for a whole lot of unstructured cheese: this is going to be one heck of a rather messy, rather cheesy, entry]

 

Dear friend,

 

Something has got to change, and fast

Something has got to change, and fast. 

 

I know who you are: of course I do. You are the girl who thinks far too much – who feels this need, within yourself, to be able to dismantle, unravel, every single thing you possibly can

in that loud – and sometimes deafening – mind of yours.

Overwhelming, and

caught beneath tidal waves. I do so hope you find a way back to the air, a (newfound) way to breathe, once again.

And are you not also that boy that hides, who lets himself lurk in the shadows, and paints upon himself smiles, so that maybe the rest of the world might just be satisfied. You are he who cuts parts of himself out, endeavouring to make himself feel whole again, somehow.

I know you. There is a mystery to you, without a doubt. But, still, there is nothing of you that is utterly unknowable. To know them – all of these parts – deeply enough, though, a little bit of effort needs to be made.

You are the type of person to fall in love with things that will not love you in the same way, back. Like the entirety of this world – this camel’s carcass. All the bigness, and what might look most shiny. It will chew you up and spit you out, if you grant it even the slightest of chances to.

And to what things do you sometimes turn, so as to (attempt to) numb those things that your mind is prone to producing? Which things, for you, help to ‘take the edge off’, allow you to pretend, for a little while, that you are not really here, standing, as you are, in a maddening world that lacks the means to requite thy love?

You are here, if you are reading this. And what could it be that you truly long for?

It’s strange, you know, just how much terminologies and metaphors related to cleaning and cleanliness come into play when we talk about our own life-related longings. We want to feel clean – somehow – and not just on that skin-deep level. We want to be able to scrub away so many parts of yesterday; to do away with all that we might now deem to be impure;

remnants of times gone, or that are still here; we wish to wash away at ourselves, until we feel ‘new’ again.

It’s nice sometimes: on those rainy days, when you wake up to those gentle tap-tap-taps upon your window, and you’re inside, and the entire world feels like it is no longer loud; like all of it is being cleansed by water from the skies. There is only your world, here, and doesn’t it just feel so blissfully insular? Forget about all that may take place outside of it. All that is real is all that is here, and

now. 

A ‘spring cleaning’ kind of day, as you might refer to it. You strip away all that is old; dust the shelves; clean the floors,

sweep up the mess. You replace it all with relative newness – what might feel more clean and comforting. New sheets upon your bed, new flowers placed in crystal water in (same old) vase, that lemony-clean scent that lingers, afterwards, throughout your air.

But, hear me out, dear friend. Disinfectants can also have a fading effect, a dulling one: scrub just a tad too hard, and you shall see. I really don’t want you to lose these parts of yourself. It is difficult for me to believe, sometimes, that you are unable to see the beauty in you: this is something that is quite easy for me to do. What I like most, perhaps, are all your colours.

There is a vibrancy to you. It is present during all your summer evenings, when that dusky sunlight emanates from the very words that you speak. It feels distinctively…silky, somehow, and it is nice when little flocks of birds dart past, their silhouettes making themselves known, upon each of your four walls.

I like you when you are winter, too. When the leaves begin to rust, and then they fall, making way for all those many nights that feel a bit more… electric-blue. A little colder, yes, but there is no doubt at at all that it is all still you. And,

it is enough for me, anyway,

in any case.

Life comes and goes in seasons, in cycles. In sevens and in three-six-fives. In each of those moments that show little sun-kissed promises of summer, and yet, at the same time, sing of rose-garden springs. And, yes, sometimes winter comes, and it stays for a little longer than anticipated. The trees become cold, old, unprotected, what with their lack of leaves; stop, for a while, then start again, but in a new kind of way. And on each of these days,

these day-long nights, we shall light candles for ourselves, find

what is True – and this can only be found in the relative

quiet. Place the cupped flames upon our window-sills and make Du’a; the candles won’t do much to melt the snow, no, but fear not, because spring is surely on its way. God is As-Samee’ and Al-Mujeeb; He hears you, and

Spring shall announce herself to us, when she is ready.

And in these particular desires of ours for newness, we must know that

life is composed of seasons, and, try though we might, we find we cannot scrub away an entire seasonal phase. Cycles are just that, you see – cyclical: and who are we to demand, of them, straight lines?

You know, when things get a little chaotic – when some things find themselves spilt across the floor, and when others just don’t feel right at all – I think these are all just signs that may point to the coming of a next part. Things do get messy sometimes, simply because things happen. Life does not stay still; where there is time, there is necessary dynamism. Movement, this way and that. There is no real telling what comes next.

So why don’t you give a little time to yourself, to breathe, dear friend? I know you shall find your way again.

And know that it is true: nobody knows you

better than God does, and no human being alive knows you better than you can claim to. What is it that you might need, right now, so as to allow for the next part to gorgeously arrive? A change in habit, perhaps – the life-giving embrace of a certain someone?

Strange, it is, the state of the world, today: the people, they say that there is no objective meaning – nothing to ground all this reality in. There are only atoms, meaninglessly buzzing, this way and that. And then, they tell us, create your own truths, why don’t you? There is no gravity, so float: build your fantasy worlds, your

phantasmagorias

on shaky nonexistent ground, and allow yourself

to be beckoned by all those paper skylines. The American Dream, and its offspring half-truths, empty truths: run to it all, chase it, hungry as a wolf. But blame us not, for the way in which paper has a tendency to fall, or to burn, as soon as it is breathed on.

Some lives, these days, would appear to be so very ‘rich’, in comparison to other ones. But ‘richer’ does not necessarily mean ‘happier’, nor better, I am afraid. And you do not become more ‘human’, more ‘real’, the more you come to own; the ‘bigger’ you can claim your life to be. What matters is wellness; the harmony, all the balances.

What would appear to matter most is the cultivation of a life of inspired spirituality, serenity. If you were to ask all the people you know about when the best periods in their lives thus far have been, you will likely find, in their responses, recurring themes of spirituality, connectedness, and discovery.

I tell you again, dear friend, that no other human being on the face of this Earth knows you the way that you do. How often do you sit with yourself, in stillness, just to listen, ask yourself what you might need, now? How often do you make it a point to hold yourself, and to welcome yourself home again, back to that skeleton of yours that holds you up every single day of the week,

to that soul of yours that sings, for you, all of your you-shaped melodies?

With how much fluency are you able to speak your own language? And how much effort have you put in, towards learning it?

Spring is coming, doubt it not. But even if you try to suppress her, my friend, her flowers will still bloom – though, do be warned: they may begin to flower up and congest your lungs.

Today, why don’t we allow for them grow in an uninhibited way? The basis of life: these little breaths of ours. There is little good to be found in self-imposed suffocations, no matter how rosy we may perceive them to be.

Strange, isn’t it? How much we tether ourselves to the big and bad ‘outside world’, to a reality that is often sick as a result of its own lies, its own fundamental emptiness, ephemeral tales. We let its delusional premises, promises, swim through our bloodstreams; we bow before its assembly lines, its obsessions, restlessness, its hellish commitment to its own admitted pretences. And then, we act shocked when the whole of it makes us ill, too.

Most of all, it would seem as though we are all in search for womb-like comfort, and this, often, in things that simply cannot grant it to us.

‘Home’ is a place that is warm. It is what we can point to as being our own ‘portion[s] of the world’. It facilitates our being in a way that nothing else can; in a way that is neither aggressive nor angry; it fosters our nourishment, and our growth.

Home has its walls, yes. In their own absence, walls just become open floodgates. Our sanctuaries might become contaminated; we become dizzy; there enters far too much to take in. What we look for is a spirited sort of serenity; complete with its own door, which we can open when so desired, and close, too, when needed.

This is your portion of the world. What does it look like? And, did you know that you shall never be this young again; that you will never get this very time back? What are you doing to ensure that you are enjoying where you are,

now?

Most of us yearn for meaning. And we tend to find meaning in things that we can touch, or feel, and in things that might stay. A certain work ethic, maybe. A cognitive fortress – built through the accumulation of knowledge. Or, perhaps, in money, and in our jobs. A thriving business, perhaps? Maybe, via living vicariously, through our children?

What will fulfil us, best?

“You prefer the life of this world,

although the Hereafter is better and more lasting.”

– Holy Qur’an, (87:16-17)

In Plato’s infamous allegory, his Cave represents ignorance. In our tradition, however, caves might symbolise necessary escapes, protective womb-like structures. All else is false, illusive – all except the things that point towards the only necessary Real. I think we ought to work towards cultivating lives in which His word provides the lifeblood – for a life that might actually show promises of being real.

For a moment, then, be still, friend. Be still among the trees, and with yourself, under night skies, and against the ground. And remember to love all of the ‘little things’, just as much as they ought to be loved. [Why do we see them as being ‘little’, insignificant, in the first place? They are indubitably what our lives are made up of.] The warmth of the entire world, felt through woollen jumper and radiator,

just beneath frosted glass window. Winter cannot be denied, and neither can summer.

I suppose this might be one of the reasons as to why I am so fond of (more-or-less) daily journalling. You write about all these ‘little things’ – no, let’s call them the essential things. And then, you go to read over these old entries half a decade later, and you realise that, yes, it had all been so very important. The flavour of the ice-cream you had enjoyed that day; the lovely compliment a friend had given you; those summer evenings, all those lazy summer strolls, the uplifts that came

slowly.

Here is where the blooming might be taking place; where the flowers might cease from congesting your airways. You may now speak. You may now come to realise that it is only really Home that you so seek.

Home begins where you do.

Are you tired? Tonight, please, allow yourself to breathe, my friend, and know that this is not (yet) the end. There are parts of you that may feel a little broken; still, there are parts of you that are blooming. And they – the latter parts – are undeniable, take it from me. So who are we to stand before the seasons, and against them, rebelliously commanding winter to not beckon towards those sweeter summer skies?

Which colours might characterise life, for you, right now? Who are the people who bring you peace; which are the clothes that bring you comfort? What feels most warm, for you, and who, on this planet, is your safety?

There is something about Fajr time, that puts everything into perspective, over and over again. Hopefully it will continue to do so, for us, for as many times as there will be days in our lifetimes. You escape the serenity of temporary slumber, an unwelcome jolt. The sky’s colours, at this time, are only visible to those who are up to see them. A tremendous quiet ensues; everything falls, and all becomes clear. And those two Rak’at that you first pray – did you know that they alone are better than the entire world and all that is in it?

As dawn arrived, time seemed to stand still. Lazy rays of sunlight; the silhouettes of those birds, again, darting across the walls. The sky is an awfully beautiful thing to behold, and to befriend. And it is in these moments – the dawns, the dusks – that things stand still, and those necessary moments of clarity ensue. The sky, in its mighty and God-given grace, allows the human being this sense of constancy, while, in the same (sometimes icy, sometimes golden) breaths, allows us to be reborn, over and

over again. The storms might continue for a little longer outside, but fear not, dear friend, because all the while, we will be here, inside. Patience and prayer, patience and prayer. Some creativity, some biting our tongues, perhaps, too. Here, we will do

all that ought to be done. Watch, with a cup of tea – or two –

as each of those flower buds break open and bloom –

just as it is very much in their nature to do.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

Through Time

Dear friend,

Life is a period (relatively long and relatively short)

of continued striving. It is a thing of comedy, and

it is a thing of tragedy.

 

I know that, on some nights, there are certain things that mercilessly rip your heart apart, without you ever asking them to.

And I know how you hide. It’s so hard to ‘open up’ when, in the past, doing so has led to your spirit being thrown onto the ground, stomped on, thrown to hungry wolves,

over and over again.

It’s okay if you need some more time to heal; I’ll wait for you here while you do.

There’s a nice sunflower outside I want to try and sketch. It is undeniable, and

it reminds me of you.

 

Dear friend,

How real is the smile on your face, and how often is it so?

How frequently do you forget who you truly are, when your heart feels numb and its love feels this low?

 

Dear friend,

It feels quite like we are alone in this world, doesn’t it? Like it is terribly easy to become this cold;

To reach for anything that might shield our souls from the elements – walls, perhaps; to be a little quieter, more defensive, less bold.

 

It feels like forever missing something you can’t quite put your finger on, and nothing else on Earth can ever fill its space.

You cry and you mourn and yet nothing comes. How is the thing to know it is being called,

If you can’t even recall its name, not even the first letter, not even at all.

 

Dear friend,

Yes, you are simultaneously blooming and you are fading, here.

We are on this Earth like mere travellers. But oh, the things we will see; the stories we will tell.

And there is a great promise of Something Else beyond here, a beckon to an ocean through vessel of seashell.

All life, on a spinning planet, inches forward every hour. And someday, there will be no hours left.

 

Dear friend,

Perhaps on your bad days, we could sit here together and attempt to imagine what timelessness might be like. Someday we will exist in that state, you know.

Nothing from the past really matters (except, of course, everything. It has all led us here, it is everything that might have helped us to grow.)

Some days, I am so scared and I feel like almost everything is out of reach, beyond me.

Going through the motions, almost unreal; is there any other way to be?

 

Dear friend,

I think you are wonderful. Nobody else can quite do the whole ‘you’ thing the way you do:

Your funny tales, catchphrases, forever doing the opposite of what you’ve been told.

I think the ends of your smile sing of beauty, your hair of genius, your heart of gold.

And I think we must be brave here. Nobody knows of the pain that floods your entire mind from time to time;

few know of the terrible notions you were made to believe, and which have replayed themselves in your head over and over in your mind.

See, on a bodily wound, one may kneel and place a bandage, grace and hope.

But the soul, you see, tends to sing of a different kind of pain.

Dull, amorphous, insidious. There would appear to be no escaping it.

 

Dear friend,

What do we do? We tie our camels and we trust Allah. Helplessness is not in our vocabularies: indeed, the help of your Lord is near. 

You have to make a choice. You are the custodian of this life, and when you take certain chances, good things will appear.

Roses really bloom when you choose to really trust God; you will witness your Du’as unfurl, one by one.

 

Dear friend,

Today, we forget everything that we have known,

And we remember all that we have learned.

You know, I have always wondered if there will come a time in our lives when we will be able to say that “we made it.”

Good things will come; be patient. But, no: here in Life, things do not stay still, and time is always in a bit of a hurry.

 

Dear friend,

We humans were not designed for black and white, nor do we find ourselves having been programmed by binary.

Humanness is amorphous, colours, often not neat.

 

It does not really matter where you’re from. You might want to keep the good and forget the bad – a justified price.

It will all be of value, but it will not matter – not when you take that first step into Jannah – to Paradise.

 

Dear friend,

Nobody will ever know you

The way only your Creator can do.

People do not create Truth, and so it is okay if people look right through your eyes without understanding you.

 

God Himself chose to create you: a thing of beauty, wonderful. The entire world could end up hating you and still it would not matter:

 

You are not better than anybody, and nobody at all is better than you –

That is, not except by piety and good action.

 

Dear friend,

Maybe I do not know you personally, but I do so believe in you.

May the loudness, for you, quieten. May your journey through be filled with little lantern Du’as that all come true

 

one by one. Even in the belly of a whale; at the bottom of a well

Allah surely loves the one who puts their trust in Him;

so, dear friend, tonight we tie our camels, and through Time, Allah will tell.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

 

“We are surrounded by all of these lies and people who talk too much.”

– Ed Sheeran 

I am an immigrant

I am two people. I am Bangladeshi and I am British. The first version of my identity stems from the fact that I am the daughter of two immigrants. I say this with a tremendous amount of pride. Especially in recent months, the word ‘immigrant’ has come to be a dirty word, synonymous with images of filthy, diseased, impoverished people who ‘drain the economy’ and refuse to integrate into society. As the product of two immigrants, I can safely say that this is far from the truth.

My mother came to this country at the age of eleven: she left her friends, her beloved grandmother, her livelihood behind, because her father (my grandfather) had made the brave decision to move to England to start anew. He worked at a coat factory, laboriously attaching buttons to coats to provide for his family.

My grandfather (may he rest in peace) first came to this country when he was a teenager. Alone and almost penniless, he travelled to a country that promised work and stability, in the aftermath of World War Two. He often told me stories of how, during the coldest winters here, he and his friends would attempt to identify their houses beneath the many inches of snow, by leaving bricks beside their homes. These simple but endearing stories reminded me of the fact that my ancestors suffered for me to have this life, and for that I am eternally grateful.

My nan’s story is perhaps the most heart-rending of them all. She was born to a poor family with six other children. My great grandmother often went for days without food in order to ensure that her children did not starve. She would tell them white lies, insisting that she had eaten, to fool them into thinking that there was enough food, but there was not. Miniscule rations of rice and lentils were shared sparsely, and eventually, my nan saw through her mother’s façade of strength. The women that I am fortunate enough to be a descendant of are the strongest, most admirable and brave people I have ever heard of, and I aspire to pass their legacies on to my own children.

When it comes to my own mother, I can see that it pains her to retell her story. Her eyes brim with tears when she recounts her euphoric childhood in Bangladesh- how she couldn’t even bear to spend a day away from her grandmother, until a plane brought her to an alien country with people who would look down upon her. My mother started school here when she was in Year Seven. She was forced to learn an entire language with little support, and even then, managed to excel at most of the subjects she took (save for History, which she abhorred). My mother worked ridiculously hard, refusing to let any adversities get in her way: indeed, she was the victim of many a racist incident. Despite this, she acquired a good job, and supported herself through college and extra training. She managed to do all this without much guidance; as supportive as my nan and grandfather were, they were very limited in their English-speaking abilities, and the family’s situation quickly became a case of my mother and her siblings teaching my nan and grandfather. My mother was her own mentor, her own teacher and her own student. She raised me to be inquisitive, resilient and determined. My mother is the definition of strength; she epitomizes the type of magnificence that only women of colour can claim to possess.

My father was also rather independent in his journey. After completing his secondary education in Bangladesh, my father worked a number of temporary jobs at mini cab offices and restaurants, in order to provide for our little family: my parents had me at a relatively young age, when my mother was 22 and my father was 23. They were still finding their way around things: around their identities, around work and around integrating into an unfamiliar society and its customs. Now, sixteen years after my birth, my father owns a successful technology business in East London. He is surrounded by loving friends in a comfortable environment, however I know that deep down, nothing will ever replace my father’s true home, amidst the luscious green fields of Bangladesh. Sometimes when he speaks of his childhood, his voice breaks and he becomes teary. I know that in those moments, my father recalls his mother, who passed away when he had just entered adulthood.

My parents and grandparents have sacrificed and lost so much, in the hope of a better life for my family. The stories they tell are saturated with pain and loss and love and hope, and they have instilled in me values of gratitude, resilience and unbreakable strength. Though I was born here in London, I am the descendant of a family of immigrants. I listen to the tales of their childhoods, I enjoy the aromatic curries that remind them of their former lives, and I enjoy engaging in the hundreds of beautiful traditions that they have imparted on me. I am an immigrant, and I honestly could not be prouder of my identity.