“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Friends

We live in a world that would appear to be characterised by — nay, marred by — this widespread sense of anxious individualism. We are known to focus so much on ourselves, eagerly rush to decorate our own egos, find ourselves caught up in all these — what some may term, — ‘rat races’. But, for what?

I think the truth is, we are all seeking love, that mysterious, sometimes elusive (yet profoundly well-known) active and flowing force. Real love. And not just that often over-romanticised ‘romantic’ sort. [Indeed, some theorise that a key reason as to why Western media and society seem obsessed with ‘romantic’ love is because of this drastic lack of far-reaching communal love. A strong, and true, sense of community. The feeling of truly being held by the people around us.]

Living the way most people would appear to live, today, can have its challenges, on the ‘love’ front. Some live alone, in small city apartments. Some live with others, yet feel equally atomised, are equally alone. Where our needs for love (which are so completely ingrained within us; they are fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health) remain unmet, a void is left, unchecked, in their place. It longs for true company; not just a type that is limited to exchanging pleasantries, discussing how bad the traffic has been all day…

Almost unconditional. The knowledge that one can lean back, and love is there. A simple, perhaps even unsaid, promise. That I am for you; will you be for me, too?

Today, we find, so many of us try desperately to ‘protect’ ourselves, and to glorify our own images, through the use of egoic shields. We try not to discuss any of our difficulties, but are fine with subtly announcing some of our ‘better’ achievements and qualities; we demonstrate hyper-competitive tendencies; we can often be very wary when it comes to trusting others. This is, without a doubt, an age of pandemic aloneness, of paranoia, of sovereign egos.

And this is precisely what many of the ways of ‘modernity’ do: they take these (Fitrah-aligned) ‘pure gazes’ of ours, the original, sincere ones, and they try to make us swap them for snake eyes. We find we are hungry [but for what?]; our egos are writhing, restless.

Undoubtedly, this can all get in the way of our being able to truly experience deep connections.

Throughout the courses of these lives of ours, our souls will (Insha Allah) incline strongly towards, and come to love, other souls. Love is just that: the non-finite, immaterial, often inexplicable, currency, or messenger, or fruit, of the human soul.

For this — love — to be allowed to truly take hold between us and others, one must be willing to let those egoic defences come down, quite a bit. The pride, the fear, the excessive Othering. Our fictions, too, like those pertaining to ‘perfection’. And, one must allow oneself to be what modernity might term, ‘vulnerable’. But this is a somewhat…lugubrious term, is it not?

As if the base state should be one thing, and then whenever we allow ourselves to be a bit more… true, we are being ‘vulnerable’. The term is redolent of… someone sitting outside in the cold, without a coat on, maybe. Vulnerable. Like exposing oneself, an embarrassing nakedness: shame.

We can safely and easily exchange the term ‘vulnerable’ for ‘sincere’, methinks. And, in fact, in reference to the aforesaid analogy, sincerity [a good dose of it, without allowing ourselves to slip into…excessive and uncurbed honesties…] actually brings warmth. It is when we are not in denial of what we are; when we allow others to be beautifully human, and are enough at peace within ourselves, to allow ourselves to be so, too.

The soul simply does not fall in love with egoic decorations. It does not fall in love with pretence, nor with fraudulent human beings who are sometimes in denial that sometimes the sky does give rain; in doubt that, at a certain time, death will come. The soul recognises truth — though sometimes the glass through which it can look, is rather muddied.

No human being alive is lesser than you; no one is better than you, either. One might find a ‘soulmate’ in someone who looks completely different to you; whose general egoic labels might be radically different to the ones that might be ascribed to you. We all find ourselves upon this Earth, slightly existentially disconcerted, perhaps. Requiring water to hydrate our skins, and sleep to restore our energies. Food with which to fill our stomachs, and love with which to fill our hearts; to energise our souls.

In a world that is not centred on love, our souls become tired. We require the stuff of the soul to energise us; we find that nothing else will do.

I believe in the critical value of family: in the ‘connections of the womb’, the ‘relationships of mercy’. Perhaps even more so than this, I so believe in friendship. The true kind.

The English word — friend — has its roots in an old Indo-European word that means, ‘to love’. A deep affection; truly seeing (knowing, understanding), and smiling upon, others. Interestingly, the word ‘free’ also shares this same root.

In tandem with our more ‘physical’ selves, we human beings are also, at our very cores, an emotional kind. So many ‘mental’ ailments that plague us today would appear to be, at least in part, caused by a lack of love. And I do genuinely believe that so many of our ills can ultimately be cured through it, too. Even if our faculties that are primed to receive and return it become a bit dusty here and there, over time. Perhaps due to a lack of our exercising them, or maybe due to some traumatic injuries to them. I believe that love can heal us; it is the only thing that can allow us to flourish, like roses coming into bloom. Right through the dirt: a Divine gift. Like how sunflowers are known to grow towards the sun, does the human being not grow towards love?

The general Arabic word for ‘friend’ is ‘Sadīq’. This word finds its roots in the word for ‘sincerity’. One cannot have a true friendship without sincerity. Sincere friendships are the ones that are sans deceit, sans lies and delusional ways of thinking (e.g. thinking oneself ‘better’ than another), sans that egoic pride, springing from glitter. Friendship is a connection of equal-but-differents, a golden bridge from one soul to another.

And, in Arabic, there is a different word that describes a particularly close friend: a ‘Khalīl’. In terms of imagery, this word is linked to the action of ‘Khilāl’: when one interweaves the fingers on one hand, with those on the other. A special kind of intimacy, and you are a fortunate person indeed if you have, in your life, at least one Khalīl.

A true friend is someone who one feels entirely comfortable with. Enough to let the walls come down; enough to be true, in your relative entirety. Someone with whom one can speak to in the later hours; someone to experience significant, and small, parts of one’s life with. Between true friends, there is true care, and trust, and openness. A fine balance, with neither pity nor envy, nor any such similar things that may threaten to tip this balance, in the mix.

In a video by ‘The School of Life’, Alain De Boitton outlines four criteria for a truly good friendship. They are as follows:

  1. Reassurance

The life of this world can often be hard. We are frequently met with individual trials and tribulations. Sometimes we feel tremendously lonely; sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, or about our places in the world. Confused, and so tiny, especially beneath all those exceptional stars.

Good friends give one another comfort and reassurance. Hands to hold, loving listeners to speak with.

2. Fun. Positive ways of spending time.

A friend is someone whom one enjoys spending time with. And this, of course, will depend on one’s own subjective ideas of fun. Sports, watching movies, simply going for walks. Good friends inspire in their friends, authentically positive feelings.

3. Knowledge. Better understanding oneself, and the world

A good friend helps you to understand yourself, and various aspects of the world at large, better. A ‘Sadīq’ will thus share with you ideas, things that they have come across or learnt, as well as tips on such things as improving your diet, or perhaps on particular topics that are relevant to your specific current situation. Such as things to do with childcare, if you are a new mother.

With a true friend, one can explore through self and other. Without losing oneself to the other, nor burying considerations of other beneath self. Equals.

4. ‘Networking’

Every human life has a general ultimate direction towards which they turn. For some people, the highest attainment lies somewhere along a certain career path. For others, Jannah is the ultimate goal, while other worldly objectives are considered as being only ancillary or secondary. This fourth component of friendship-based excellence refers to the ability of one’s friends, and the ability of one to help one’s friends, in developing towards our life objectives; good friends certainly inspire us to do, and be, better. They genuinely want for you what they want (i.e. the good, the Khayr they want) for themselves.  

Do you find you share the same purpose[s] and values as your friends? Your decisions on who your friends are absolutely crucial things to think about, for they will naturally, and deeply, come to influence your values, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of doing things.

Very fascinatingly, one of the bases of the successes of friendship-group-based sitcoms, like ‘Friends’ and ‘New Girl’ is the fact that viewers often connect with (or, to — since the phenomenon is evidently rather one-way) on-screen characters, as a result of the human emotions and such they (the characters) portray. A bond that mimics friendship begins to form, and people can become extremely invested in their favourite friendship-based TV shows. We may begin to identify very deeply with their (fictional, on-screen) woes; we may find ourselves imitating certain small things that they do. Subconsciously, we feel like those are our friends [we may thus find ourselves entangled in ‘para-social relationships’]… and friends, as aforesaid, tend to come to have some very powerful (emotional, ideological, behavioural) influences over one another.

With your favourite TV show characters, you can become very familiar. The process of growing in perceived familiarity, with fictional characters just as with real people, necessitates a lot of time spent with them; a feeling that you ‘know’ them, and/or ‘understand’ them.

Perhaps one can tell quite a lot about the sorts of people — the types of personalities and such — that we are more intrinsically inclined towards, by examining the TV characters we have been most fond of.  Perhaps these particular personalities offer us reassurance, through ‘relatability’ (our ability to identify with them and their experiences, etc.) or simply as a result of ‘tuning in’ to these characters’ shows when we are feeling a little down. Or, maybe their personalities are fun; we find that it is enjoyable to spend time with (or, watching [that sounds creepy]) them. Maybe they have knowledge to offer us — about the world, or about ourselves. Or, perhaps they (in line with the ‘networking’ criterion) occupy a certain social or professional role that we may seek for ourselves, and thus inspire us in this regard…

Something that is actually rather alarming about the norms of ‘modernity’ is that so many of us would now appear to be spending far more time — emotionally, and in terms of our presence — investing in those ‘para-social relationships’ of ours, than in our actual (two-way) social ones!

I think a particular, particularly important, form of friendship is, perhaps, the type that is (or, should be,) shared between spouses. Marital friendship. For what good is a marriage, without friendship as its fundamental basis? I maintain (though, at present, I find I am quite experientially unqualified to have an opinion on this) that the best of marital relationships are the ones in which a person truly feels like he or she is married to his or her best friend; in which marital life might feel like one big on-going sleepover with one’s closest companion. In Islam, the Qur’an states that the purpose of a marriage is so that one may find tranquility and affectionate love in a significant other. Ideally, as well as this, one’s husband or wife should, I think, be someone whom we can learn from, and have a good time with — in a truly comfortable way. They are, I think, friends, with that added facet of what we may term ‘romance’. [Dear reader, if you are to get married in the future, may you end up with a husband or wife who is also your Khalīl; Ameen!]

It is true that you will not manage to find friendship in everyone. You may not end up feeling that connection of the soul with certain people with whom you might have pre-imagined it. And, see, when it happens, it just does, and your soul just knows. There is no use in forcing it with anybody.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is true: with most human social dispositions (think: ambition, work, friendship) there are ultimately two paths that one can take: the path towards the ego, or the ‘spiritual’ path — the path that is greater than oneself (one’s ‘Nafs’). Some may say this, the latter path, is towards ‘love’ itself. Others would say that this is the path towards Allah. [I would personally argue that what is generally termed ‘spirituality’ today is simply the name we give to ‘secularised religion’. I think (‘modern’ notions of) ‘spirituality’ is very much interchangeable with the idea of ‘a connection to the Divine, without explicit mention of Him’.]

Yes, I do think that the best friendships possible are rooted in a mutual love for Allah (SWT). Such friendships tend to accommodate a uniquely top-down experience; when done right, a decidedly more… ‘sincere’ and (sincerely) spiritual one. True adherence to Islam, for instance, can prevent or deeply regulate such threats to authentic friendship as hyper-competition, a reluctance to forgive and overlook small faults, etc.

And so, on these very notes do I challenge myself to love more openly, outwardly, and sincerely. I must apologise for any mistakes I may have made along the way; try to be better, Insha Allah. I should remember that it is only sincerity that brings about, and allows the maintenance of, true love: love for Allah, and for others, and for fellow components of creation, and indeed for oneself.

Love accepts and forgives. It nurtures and helps heal. It grows; it allows us to grow along with it. It is kind and true; appreciates the good, is understanding when it comes to some of the ‘less good’ bits, too.

And I must have great trust in love, and trust that herein is where great change — mighty good change – oft happens. In loving the fact that one never loses, by giving love: this is not how the stuff of the soul works.

Say it is all too abstract, call it fairy dust.

But, oh how real and powerful and necessary-for-life we (innately) know love to be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

“Depression”

Around this time last year, I had been struggling with a major episode of depression (and anxiety).

[Sometimes I feel concerned that I may be sharing excessive facets of myself and my life on this blog of mine. But I sincerely believe that these things must be talked about, therefore I suppose this is a risk I am willing to take.]

Overpowering suicidal urges, piercing and burning pains throughout one’s head, issues with focus and memory, an unmatchable feeling of exhaustion. For roughly two months straight, my entire existence felt like one giant walking panic attack. Nervous lump in throat, heart always pounding, not able to truly be ‘here’ at all.

Some people chose to think that I had been making it all up, or that I myself had chosen to be in such a difficult state. I can assure you, nobody at all would ever choose to go through such things. In truth, I think I am a rather optimistic person. I am especially fond of the idea of persevering; of… mountain-climbing. And I know that neither anxiety nor depression, nor bipolar, nor all these other mental health conditions, are indicative of any sort of personal failure. Some people can make it all the more difficult, though: by being ignorant, or even angry towards you, when all you are trying to do is get better.

All in all, I do not feel as though the terms we commonly ascribe to these conditions are that useful or… accurate. Because we use the term “depressed” to describe both the impossibly challenging neurological condition (which, often, like a 20-foot-tall dark monster, appears out of nowhere, and brings to your being the most pain you have ever known) and the reactive emotional states of misery/sorrow, alike. Same with ‘anxiety’. If anything, the phrase ‘atrophy of the mind’ might be most fitting when it comes to Depression (that severe inexplicable type that would appear to plague certain families, I mean: there is undoubtedly a genetic element to it). And, since the mind and body are so deeply integrated with one another, mental atrophy is something that every millimetre of you comes to feel.

Mental atrophy is: disorientation, and it is extreme fatigue. It is wanting, desperately, to know why, yet discovering that none of it can be rationalised, reallyIt is the seeming decay of one’s mind, before one’s very own… mind. Suicidal thoughts, pounding voices; a feeling of poison being injected into both sides of one’s brain. Headaches, body aches, wanting to eat too much, or wanting to starve oneself (without actually…wanting to). All I can say is that it is the worst thing I have ever known.

And, Alhamdulillah, for me, in this moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. [It is barely even here!] But I sort of want to really hold onto my knowledge of the severity of the formerly quite intense experience. I want to remember how important it is, to truly be there for anybody who tells me they are suffering from one of these diseases of the mind. I want to remember how important it is, that we work together to find true solutions. To mental atrophy; to other mind-generated ‘implosions of the self’, including anorexia, complex-PTSD (etc.)…

And, perhaps a better term for ‘anxiety’ (i.e., the disorder) would be… ‘life-destroying fear’. [What am I afraid of, though? There is no explanation. Such things, one finds, cannot be intellectualised]. And it all comes out of nowhere, and it will not let you sleep at night, or rest during the day. Everything in your head flips, upside-down, and your whole universe is sinking. Total suffocation, and… nobody else can hear it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

Right now, it would appear as though most of the ‘treatments’ humanity has found, for these neurological/mental health conditions are… woefully experimental. Trial and error. Unsure of themselves. A mind-numbing pill here, some talking therapy there. And, on the whole, there is this emphasis on ‘managing’ the conditions, not necessarily on trying to resolve them, once and for all.

There is so much to learn about mental diseases; so much stigma to work on eradicating. And there is a cure, out there somewhere; not merely one that dulls all feelings, causing patients to walk around like apathetic robots [this, along with intense sickness and insomnia, had been one of the terrifying side effects of a particular medicine I had been prescribed]. There is much to be learnt about; much to be found.

Indubitably, there is a significant ‘biological’/neurological component to consider. Mental health disorders are evidently quite hereditary by nature. I wonder if the theories pertaining to ‘inherited trauma’ are true. Or, perhaps, it is something about the nervous systems of particular individuals that renders us more susceptible to… being so badly affected by stress? 

If stress (and stress-based conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD) are analogous to a bushfire, then what we term Depression is the aftermath of the destructive blaze: a mental forest that has been burnt to the ground. Bare and seemingly utterly destroyed. So, some key questions that arise might be: 1) What, exactly, makes certain forests more flammable than others? Overactive minds? Larger amygdalas? 2) Just how does stress manage to affect so many mental faculties at once? 3) How best can we make the ground fertile and good again; how can we rebuild those forests that had been lost to the flames?

And, how can we prevent fires that occur in the ‘more flammable’ forests from becoming massive and destructive ones, in the first place? I think emotional intelligence undoubtedly needs to come into play, here. Especially if a child, for example, might have a high genetic predisposition to Depression, his or her emotional needs should really be looked after, at home. A little bit of emotional nurture can go a long way. Sadly, in some families in which the levels of predisposition to mental illness are high, adults can be extremely dismissive of, and even abusive towards, children. Thus, ‘the forest’ is quick to catch on fire, and quick to burn right to the ground.

Does stress always precede mental atrophy? [When it comes to ‘endogenous’ Depression, those who suffer from it more often than not also suffer from one or more anxiety disorders, OCD, etc.] Is the condition, then, in concise terms, a holistic and ongoing sense of exhaustion? 

[Stress (as a result of life events) is typically the factor that ‘realises’ mental health conditions in people, though some have a particularly strong genetic predisposition to them. This is explained by the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model’]

“I have Depression.”

“…Oh. Why don’t you try thinking more positively?”

“No I mean, I suffer from the neurological condition that is commonly referred to as ‘Depression'”

“Oh. You should exercise more! No matter what you do, though, do not take medication. You can sort this out by going jogging, and by eating more fruit and veg, and drinking water. Also, have you tried meditation?

“Well, —”

“You should go and spend time with your family members more. And cheer up! Smile more! Stop being miserable. There is so much to smile about! I feel sad too sometimes, you know! I normally just get some ice-cream, watch a movie or something, and it goes away.  It’s all about emotional resilience! Everyone goes through what you’re going through, you know…”

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

There are ‘biological’ things to be considered, when it comes to Anxiety and Depression, and related disorders, certainly. But, what is unique about mental health is that there are also spiritual, social, and emotional things to consider. The way in which our societies are organised, and how they function. Stresses, and stress relief. And, just how accurate might, for example, Freudian views on such things, be?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/depression-awareness-mental-illness-feel-like

An “implosion of the self”, a flood of leaden waters. And you cannot stop them.

So if/when somebody tells you that they suffer from, say Depression: please try not to dismiss them. When it comes to family members and friends; when it comes to your ‘boys’ who may even laugh off their own experiences of it. I hope you do not attempt to speak over them, or to look past them.

I hope you try to look into their eyes, and try to be there for them; try to really listen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

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 

Concise Compositions: Community

Community. Villages and the like come into mind. How things are done in the rural parts of Bangladesh, for example. My grandad’s village in Sylhet: surrounded by rice fields and lakes. There are several housing estates. He shares his one with the families of his two brothers. My grandfather’s house is in the middle; his brothers’ are on either side of his. There is a passage connecting the three of them, for the rainier days, when members of each of the households want to spend time with one another.

The community mentality – which, I would argue, all of us need and seek – is strong, over there. In the joint celebrations; when it is fishing season; when it is monsoon season. The men go out to work on the farm together, and some strong bonds are nurtured through this. Sometimes, they go to village cricket matches together; ride their motorbikes along dangerous cliff-sides. The women sing together, sometimes. Swim in the lake, do Mendhi on each other’s hands, go to ‘town’ for shopping, filter the rice grains together. The children of the families walk to school together.

That is the key word, in matters of ‘community’: ‘together’. It is about daily doings, while feeling like you are part of something. There are bedrooms for private time; things can be done alone, if desired. But, for the most part, it is nice to know that there is a reliable community around you. This is what we all need.

We don’t really want to be atomised; to feel alone. The effects of the feeling of being alienated are devastating for the human spirit. Feeling like you are on this spinning planet alone, and that there is no good community structure to run back to; to lighten some of the load for you, to enjoy your days with.

Sometimes, I think, we do things too selfishly, considering only ourselves and our ‘own’ lives. We forget just how dependent we have been designed to be, on others. There is an element of individualism in each of us that should be honoured, yes, but this in the greater context of community!

Sisterhood and brotherhood. Friendship, marriage. Being colleagues. United in something. Truly feeling like we belong to communities, I think, necessitates time (and space) spent together, things to bond over, challenges faced together, and more. A community unit, a number of individuals with their own personalities and roles, held together by something.

Community: I think this is where humanity comes most alive; we were made for it. We cannot do without it. In the absence of true community, we may seek it in ‘para-social’ relationships. Often, in this ‘modern’ world of ours, it is hard to be part of a consistent and love-connected human community.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Beauty

The human woman is a thing of beauty. This is, without question, how she has been designed and made: beautiful. From her eyelashes to her voice, and to the soul that rests between them, the human female is different to the human male. Both, in general, have differing essences, and each are attracted to differing things, in the other.

In this article, I want to talk about beauty standards. I may also touch on the topics of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like. I want for this article to encapsulate my indignation towards, for instance, the fact that some of the most beautiful women I know think themselves to be hideous; I think current popular conceptions of ‘beauty’ are symptomatic of, well… a world gone mad, taken to deceit, superficiality, and shallowness, among other things.

One of my little cousins, I tell her, she does not need to worry: she is gorgeous how she is, Masha Allah! But she says, no, she is not. Why, I ask? Because, as she tells me, she does not look like her, and she points to a girl she is watching on Tik-Tok, whose face is laden with makeup, whose features are accentuated through the use of certain poses and filters.

The ‘Instagram face’. This is an important concept in today’s world, so it would seem.

I so wish everybody could just know how beautiful they are. A few months ago, I carried out that survey thing, for which the fourth question was about people’s main struggles and insecurities. Everybody responded to this with, looks: they struggle with accepting and appreciating how they look, and this actually holds them back, they find, in other areas of life. People find themselves ugly; want to do away with certain features of theirs, acquire new ones.

What a world we live in, huh? Our notions of beauty are so distorted. This ‘Instagram face’, this template that begins with European features, takes from ‘ethnic ones’, merges them together to create the notorious almost-bionic template that plasters our social media feeds these days. My issue with the culture that this has been fostered by (and then, in turn, fosters) is that we now have humans who are disgusted by some of the baseline stuff of being human: who spend hours hating their own reflections, who look beauty right in the eye each day (when they look into a mirror) but who cannot at all recognise it for what it is.

The media we consume on a daily basis undoubtedly has a massive impact on the ways in which we come to see things. It is all quite interconnected, too: how addictive these platforms are, how much of its content we consume each day (often quite ‘mindlessly’. But it is always having an effect on our minds…), advertising, the cosmetic industry…

The truth is, looks do matter. Of course they do. But it gets awfully political, if you think about it enough: how the ones with the most power, have the power to truly influence how we view things. Like beauty. The thing about beauty is, it is meant to be indicative of goodness [and, I would argue, of Truth. We tend to see things that are unified, proportionate, and harmonious, as being beautiful. I think this points us towards a supreme wisdom, a Oneness. Allah].

An envelope, and then you open it, and there is goodness to be found. But as soon as we come to believe that only some women (i.e. those with European features, lightly infused with more ‘exotic’ and ethnic ones) are truly beautiful, we are also allowing ourselves to believe that they, by nature, hold unique goodness within them. Such ideas – pertaining to both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ – are strongly linked to European colonial ideas. That white women, for example, are more ‘feminine’ and ‘angelic’ than other ones. [And that white men are more civilised and intelligent than other – the more ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ – ones]. Then, these notions of what constitutes seeming ‘angelic’, and how these have, over time, developed into modern conceptualisations of the infantile woman, who is at once childishly adorable, ‘angelic’, and very sexually fecund… doesn’t it all make you a little uncomfortable?

The human Fitrah does ‘naturally’ recognise beauty. Most human beings absolutely love ‘nature’. It is visually, aurally, atmospherically beautiful. But our Fitrahs can be, and very often are, affected by environmental factors. By the media, for example: what we cognitively consume, and just how much of it. These things that can acquire power over you, a hold on you, can in turn deeply influence your thoughts and beliefs.

I wish humanity would just accept its own humanity. I wish we would stop worshipping plastic notions; stop allowing ourselves to be fooled so. Whenever I come across pictures (e.g. at museums) from the past, of people simply having fun, and while looking unashamedly human, I think about the ways of now. How we dress ourselves up so much, to go just about anywhere, and how hyper-aware we can tend to be, of our own physicality.

Sadly, this hyper-awareness stops a lot of people from playing. From having pure, unbridled fun. And from bearing witness to their own inherent beauty. It makes people compare themselves (to heavily engineered images) and then come to consider themselves as being ‘ugly’. It motivates people to go on a lot of these unhealthy ‘diets’, to think about getting nose jobs, bodily implants, and more.

How did we get to this point, at which normal human faces are seen as abnormal? Where, if a woman walks out without makeup, she looks ‘sickly’ and un-groomed.  If she wears ‘subtle’ makeup, little girls come to think that this is how they ought to look without makeup [this is what the ‘no makeup makeup look’ does, in truth].

Nobody is born ‘ugly’, and nobody is born seeing themselves this way. In fact, it goes against the inclinations of the human Fitrah, to see ‘ordinary’ humans as being ‘ugly’. This would be tantamount to denying the beauty within walking definitions of beauty!

I reckon it began with makeup. With the arrival of new potential, for women with ‘ordinary’ faces to look special, ‘exotic’ and sexy: to accentuate their features with the use of substances that blacken and bronze and ‘beautify’. Interestingly, the basis of all these makeup products is the promise of an ‘ethnic’ look, a ‘sultry’ and ‘exotic’ one. With mascara, white women could now darken and elongate their eyelashes. With bronzer, they could achieve that ‘sun-kissed’ look. Lip-liner allowed them to achieve the full-lip look. Other various cosmetic powders and liquids allow for skin to look ‘flawless’, glowing. But women who are South Asian, black, Latina, and Arab (generally) naturally have these features already. So where do they fit in, in terms of how the global cosmetics industry direct their advertising and relevance?

To put it simply, white women started to want these ‘exotic’ ethnic features. They were seen, undoubtedly, as being fascinating, and (thus) ‘sexy’. But some ‘exotic’ features had been left behind, in the conceptualisation of this model: uni-brows, for example [and thick eyebrows, too. These only became ‘fashionable’ far later]. And hooked noses, and certain face shapes, among other things. So, it is almost as though a makeup template for white women had been created deeply inspired by certain ‘ethnic’ looks and features, but then, in turn, ‘ethnic’ women took from the new European-with-hints-of-‘exoticism’ model.

And so, lots of white women rushed to get lip fillers, while lots of black women rushed to acquire straighter hair. Lots of Arab women rushed to get nose jobs. Lots of South Asian women rushed to lighten their skin.

See, the entire cosmetic industry peddles the idea that no, you are never ‘enough’, never quite done yet. You do not yet look like the ‘models’ we have created. So keep going, keep buying, keep ‘improving’. 

And yes, I think ‘celebrity culture’ has played a notable role in all of this. From the beginnings of Hollywood, to the ways of things now, this culture has always relied on some people being presented as being extraordinary, very special, worthy of much popular attention. They had to be set apart from everybody else: talent-wise, and, of course, ‘beauty’-wise.

But, gradually, the cosmetics that only the rich and famous had access to became increasingly accessible to the rest of the public. And, with this ‘celebrity culture’ mentality in mind, of course, people wanted to emulate whom they had been made to perceive as being the ‘successful’. And thus, I think, was birthed these ideas of the most non-human-seeming human things being the most attractive ones. Terrifying, really.

Hooked noses and pointed chins, for example, are not objectively ‘ugly’. And nor are rounded faces, or thinner lips, stretch marks, tummy rolls, or whatever else.

I do think it is a very human, ‘okay’ thing to want to be beautiful. In general, women in particular have innate desires to be beautiful (on the inside, and the ‘out’), while men tend to obtain the majority of their self-esteem from how ‘strong’ they are (both on the physical, and inward, emotional level). But I think our paradigms of beauty ought to be more ‘from us’. Beginning with us, and ending, for the most part, with us: with the beautiful features and things that Allah has given us, already. The goal, perhaps, ought to just be: being as healthy as we can be. Developing according to our own natures (and this should be true, for us, on both the physical level, and the mental ones).

Hey, did Aphrodite not have tummy rolls? She is, then, perhaps more human than most of us today will, unfortunately, allow ourselves to be.

I worry for my little cousins, I really do. In fact, I worry for every woman – especially the younger ones – who finds herself alive, right now, in this world of ours. I want for beautiful people to know that they are beautiful, even where their faces do not fit with the whole Instagram cut-out template.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope I can teach her how to stand before herself and bear witness to the beauty that is inherent in her, a gift from God. I know I would want to protect her from these never-ending streams of media that may seek to tell her that, in terms of beauty, she is lesser than what she, in truth, is.

Dear reader, I want you to know how beautiful you are. So, for today at least, I challenge you to exchange those critical lenses through which you may look at yourself in the mirror, for ones of appreciation. When you actively look for the beauty that (I promise you) is already there, you will surely come to see it, Subhan Allah. Nobody else in the world has the beauty that only you do.

And why would you ever want to look like anybody else?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Notes on the Qur’an: Surah Fatihah

 

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. 

The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 

Owner of the Day of Judgement.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help. 

Guide us to the straight path, 

The way of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, 

Not the way of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray. 

Ameen.

 

Surah Fatihah. ‘The Opening’ Surah. Root letters: Fa, Ta, Ha. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, these root letters are conjugated to indicate decision-making, too. Another word that stems from them is the Arabic word for ‘key’ — Miftaah.

The word ‘Allah’ has been retained throughout the translation, since there is no corresponding word in English. The word ‘Allah’ has neither feminine linguistic form, nor plural. It has never been used to refer to anything but the unimaginable Supreme Being. The word ‘Ilah’, however, means ‘God’ in the general sense of the word. 

This Surah is otherwise known as Umm-a-tul-Qur’an, the Mother of the Qur’an. It aptly summarises the Holy Book’s essence.

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

Now, we must remember that point about how all translations of the Qur’an happen to be, by nature, reductive. As aforementioned, the Arabic language – and, more so, Fus’ha Arabic – is an unbelievably rich and vast one. The words that have been selected, from English, to represent what the Arabic says are only the best possible options.

The word that has been translated into “Praise”, here, for example – Hamd – is actually quite an encompassing word. It encompasses the meanings of “praise”, “thanks” ⁠— all praise, and all thanks.

Second, ‘Lord’ of the Worlds: the word used is ‘Rabb’. This is another ‘encompassing word’. Lord, Sustainer, Maker, Cherisher, the Most Supreme Being, all wrapped up into one concise word. Rabb. 

Lord of the Worlds, of the ”Aalameen’. Root letters: ‘Ayn, Laam, Meem. These can be conjugated to mean things to do with knowledge, and things to do with different worlds. Essentially, Allah (SWT) is the Lord of all knowledge, all that we can gain via experience, all that can possibly be known; all that exists.

Owner of the Day of Judgement

The word ‘Malik’ is used for ‘owner’. This means owner, as well as one who has power over something. Sovereignty.

The Day of Judgement: ‘Yawm-ul-Qiyamah’. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Yawm’ does not necessarily refer to a ‘day’ as we know it here on Earth, i.e. consisting of twenty-four hours. It refers to a given period of time, a stage. For example, the Universe had not been created in seven days per se, but in seven differing stages.

We need to remember that we will die, and that we will be resurrected. There will come a day on which our deeds – good and bad, and their degrees – will be measured and presented before us. We will exit from temporality, and we will enter into eternity.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help.

As Muslims, we should worship God, and God alone. We should not worship Jesus, as the Christians do. We should not worship our own desires, either. And nor should we worship any of these false Gods that modernity has given birth to, after the rise of Existentialism.

It is Allah – our Rabb – whom we ought to ask for help. He is the ultimate provider, and the sustainer. We always need Him, even if we think we do not.

Guide us to the straight path

Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem: the straight path, variously translated as being the path of middles. [If anybody knows what the root letters of ‘Mustaqeem’ are, please do let me know…]

All life is a thing of acquisitions. We choose things; we acquire good, and/or evil, and thereby choose our paths. There is Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem, on which we are bestowed with Divine grace, if we walk upon it. And there is the path of the astray, the ones who have earned God’s anger. The Christians, for example, went astray after redirecting their worship from God to one of His Prophets. The Jews earned Allah’s anger by altering His words to befit their own desires.

 

So, this is the opening Surah of the Qur’an. One down, 113 to go. This Surah summarises the essence of the Book. It encapsulates themes such as our belief in and reliance on God, and God alone. It tells us about life, and how we choose the path(s) we walk upon. And, ultimately, we shall be judged. There will come a ‘Yawm’ of judgement, of Divine decisions.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 seconds left. 3, 2, 1.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

And what might it feel like, to Die?

To run away from all talks of death is to run away from reality. In this world, all those things we plan for – the graduations, the weddings, and the like – they are all mere possibilities. But death: death, as you would find yourself rather unsurprised to know, is the only actual inevitability. 

And what might it feel like, to die? I really do wonder, sometimes. The human mind and its accommodations of our experiences of consciousness: what fascinating stuff. Mind-boggling, the stuff of dreams. We are conscious, and we are thinking. Alive, helpfully facilitated by these more physical things that we collectively refer to as our ‘Biology’.

Have you ever had some sort of a death-like, or out-of-body, experience? I have. I mean, areligious science pins it all down to mere REM intrusions; they say that these things – astral projections, sleep paralyses, experiences of near soul extractions – they can all be attributed to mind-generated hallucinations. Essentially, they say, your own mind orchestrates these things, maybe gets a kick or two out of absolutely terrifying and confusing its own self…

I say, correlation does not always mean causation. Islam tells us that “Sleep is the brother of Death” [Hadith]. This makes a great deal of sense, if you think about it. When you sleep, your body stays still; you drift off into some other world. The body needs to stop and rest sometimes, but the soul is ever-active.

The more ‘scientific’ dimensions of… biological expiration… they are also extremely interesting, I think. For example, when and how does a body know to end itself? What fails first; is there some sort of innate timer that determines all of these things? What prevents an eyelash from growing into being the same size as the strands of hair that grow from our scalps? And what prevents the human being from living for, say, two hundred years?

Death. It sort of terrifies me, a little bit. The fear of the unknown. And also in light of these near-death experiences that I have had: the feeling of something significant being tugged out of my chest, leaving in its wake some dull ache. But something in me had been fighting. “I’m not ready to die yet, Ya Allah. I’m not ready to die”. Such friction, such fear: I had been too afraid to open my eyes, to witness this soul of mine, almost above its own body, floating. You know, all of it actually really solidifies my conviction in notions of integrated dualism. We are body and soul, and they are separable, albeit strongly linked. I wonder if my actual (eventual, inevitable) experience of death will be this physically unpleasant, too.

What also scares me quite so is that it is such a terribly solitary experience, passing away. Dying people see things that we, at present, cannot. We come into this world alone, and yet as part of human communities. We live with them; we die alone, though hoping to be reunited with them in the world that will follow.

Do you find yourself living, currently, in such a way that you would be satisfied with yourself, if Death were to come to you right now? Prepare for it, dear reader. It is inevitably coming, this portal to Eternity: unstoppable, irreversible.

Yes, why, I could bet my entire life on it.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020