Projections

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem

Dear Reader,

‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.

In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.

‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?

Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.

[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]

Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.  

Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.

Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]

One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.

Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?

May-haps, may-haps.

How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!

I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?

What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!

Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.

Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.

Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.   

And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.

‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.

[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]

‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.

Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar

Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.

Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.

So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.

And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.

Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.

And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.

In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.  

[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Appearances Versus Reality

Today, my friend Tasnim came all the way to my area, and we went on a nice walk, which had been coupled with a conversation that, Alhamdulillah, brought me such comfort; gave me an insightful, wise, alternative perspective on things. We spoke about our lives, and about our thoughts, and about our ideas pertaining to ourselves, and to other people and such.

            A key theme in today’s conversation would appear to have been that of ‘irony’: as a teacher of ours had taught us a couple of years ago, this term, in Literature at least, refers to “the contrast between appearances and reality” [Sidgwick]. A crucial theme in English Literature, because it is a crucial theme in almost everything, when it comes to this human, Dunya-based, existence.

            Irony: between what appears to be, and what actually is. When one character – person – is convinced of something, for example. And life is a collection of various journeys that tend towards the actual truths of things. The images, the stuff of outsides, and of projections and such. Holographs; assumptions; mirages. The temptation of the harmless-seeming apple whose poisons seem impossible, from here. And… when we get closer to their cores.

My little cousin Dawud, for instance, is utterly convinced that the moon glows white because it has batteries in it. I, on the other hand, sort of arrogantly believe that it does so because it is reflecting some of the sun’s light. And in reality, I am only a grown-up (somewhat-knowing, but mostly not-) child. I concede; I accept my weaknesses and fallibilities. I guess I don’t really know much at all.

But, yes, I look for what is true. I want to try to part with all of my currently-held convictions: all save for One. There is, after all, constantly: all these things that we think we know. Maybe they are not true; maybe they never were. Or, maybe they were true once, but are no longer so. You know: how we can be proven wrong about these exact things, over and over and over again. To awe-inspiring (positively surprising) ends, sometimes, or to ‘disappointing’ ones, (on our limited-and-human level, at least) other times.

But I make Du’a for whatever is best for me, which may not seem always quite so obvious here in the ‘now’. I see only a pixel of the (what seems to me, to be a) puzzle, while only Allah has power over the entirety of the picture. And my heart, I suppose, always feels far more at ease when I fall for what is real, and, in a connected manner, focus on what is True.

So maybe, like, say, a headstrong baby being guided away from eating those poisonous household things that seem, to them, most ‘exciting and colourful’: maybe I simply, at present at least, do not know much at all.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Family

Today, I am thinking about family. Yesterday, after Ifthar, my uncle and aunt had made plans to visit the charity dessert stall behind the mosque: one of my aunts (my mum’s cousin Jeba) works for a Muslim charity — Human Aid. And, another one of my aunts (Jeba Khala’s, and my mum’s, cousin) runs her own chocolatier business. She (my chocolate-making aunt) volunteered to put up a stall with Human Aid, to raise some money for charity, post-Taraweeh prayers.

My cousin Moosa, also, volunteers for this charity. Undeniably lovable chap, he is. Before I was blessed with a little brother of my own — who shares the same parents as me, that is — Moosa had been my little brother. An ardent lover of Ben Ten and, a little later, of Spider-Man, as a child. He had been such a smily little sweetheart. And he had been my (late) grandfather’s absolute favourite. Sometimes, Moosa would come around to my house, to stay, and I loved it when he would. My dad would treat him like he were his own son — and the two of them still share such a unique and beautiful bond [the centrepiece of that bond being, probably: a shared passion for food]. My mum would be in charge of cleaning up after the little-kid-in-question’s… accidents.

So Moosa had been my first little brother. Then came Isa. Saif is the brother with whom I share a home and our parents. And now, there is Dawud. Dawud the sweet, eccentric [well, all children are ‘eccentric’, actually] car-obsessed one. The gentle and soft: the one who does not immediately go in for hugs. But if he likes you, he’ll randomly give you a little kiss from time to time, and tell you that he loves you “big much!”

My friend Tamanna has a little car-obsessed cousin too. He is called Danyal [I hope I spelled that right] and he is quite the outgoing, exuberant little charmer. His teachers adore him; he is the type of kid to act extraordinarily familiar with you as soon as you meet him. Tells you he’ll buy you, casually, a Lamborghini among other things. And much like Dawud’s “I love you big much!”, Danyal is known to say, “I love you a hundred million fousand!”

Dawud does not like it at all when there is anything sticky on his hands. Randomly, in the middle of nothing-much-happening, he… ‘collapses’ on the kitchen floor and loudly announces, “I’m deaad!”

Danyal’s uncle wanted to get some personalised Adidas clothes for him. Danyal requested that his hat (I think it was a hat, at least) be made with… a big round black dot on the back. Why? Nobody knows but young Danny, and Allah. But his uncle obliged with this unique request.

I can’t lie: in some ways, Danyal reminds me quite a bit of Tamanna, while Dawud reminds me a bit of myself. Tamanna is, technically, a ‘family-friend’ of mine: her nan lives at Number Fifteen, and my Nan used to live right here, at Number Seven. On a random day in July 2010, we had declared our official ‘best-friendship’ together. [But now the title ‘best friend’ sounds too childish. ‘Mortal enemy’ sounds far more mature]. She, the adorable one who would (literally) in public, pick up litter off of the ground, to put in the bin; collect leaves and flowers in a little tin box in order to ‘make perfume’ out of them; greet random passersby with a joyful “good morning”. And! She has always had this remarkable and unique ability to play. ‘Army game’ under the table at Islamic school. A soap opera character at my aunt’s friend’s wedding in Wales (in a Southern belle accent, holding, if I recall correctly, a wine glass filled with fruit juice: “Don’t liiie to me sugar, don’t lie to me!”) A little more recently – well, four years ago now, roughly: we walk into a fancy-looking place, and she is Queen Victoria. At IKEA, she is a hairdresser or a shop owner or some such. She has this joie de vivre about her, this larger-than-life personality, and I love her for it. The best mortal enemy I have ever had.

It is Allah who decides that it is necessary for one person to be in another person’s life: these things just happen, but they do not ‘just happen’.

Both Moosa and Tamanna are pretty much the same, today, but in more developed-over-time ways. Moosa — when his father had worked weekends at his friend’s restaurant in Sudbury — worked there, too, for a while (over summer, I think it had been). He got on with his coworkers and the customers so effortlessly well. It is all down to his smile, and his humorous and unassuming, unaffected nature (Masha Allah), methinks. These qualities benefit him very well when it comes to the whole fundraising thing. And I can’t say that I am not deeply proud of him. He is fifteen years old, now, and so he is no longer my Mahram. We ‘air-spud’, now, instead of hug. He manages to fully convince me that he’s secretly been doing drugs. Cracks [pun not intended, but still sort of there] a few dark jokes, from time to time. Yep, super proud of him, I am.

Tamanna, just the other day, got visibly very frustrated when someone threw a bit of litter out of their car. She is (still) the type to, for example, colourfully tell the (apathetic-seeming) shopkeeper to “Have a good day!” Came to my workplace, recently, to pick me up. Offered some of my colleagues some sweets, as though she knew them already.

I, by contrast, had been the school-loving kind to plan random (‘spirited’. Crazy.) projects. I had been the type to: give myself a really bad haircut in the depths of one Ramadan night [I had decided that I really wanted bangs. When my mum took me to the hairdresser’s to get that abomination corrected, Tee had been in the seat next to mine, herself also getting a haircut, which she ended up secretly detesting]; get a splinter the length of my index finger, lodged into my leg [Asian dress – Selwar Kameez – and a wooden climbing frame. An ominous combination]. Khala, Tee’s mum, had tried to extract the painful specimen using a tweezer back at her house, but to no avail. We ended up having to go A&E, and Tamanna sat in the room while they took it out. I was deeply mortified by everything about this incident]; convince Tamanna, who had learnt to make her own food pretty early, to cook her eggs without oil, because it would be ‘much healthier’. And what else had ensued, but catastrophe?  

[We also made a club, at Islamic School, which I had come up with the name for. ‘The Salvation Army’. Back then, we had no idea what this name actually meant: I had just seen it on the side of a building, and rather liked the sound of it…]

The point of this article had been to talk about family. In the Qur’an, Allah instructs for us to be good towards our ‘relatives’/’kin’ [this is how the word ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’ – Al-Qurbaa – tends to be translated]. The root word of this, the Arabic, word is: ‘قرب’, which means ‘close’, or ‘near’. Another word for ‘relatives’, in the Qur’an, is ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’, whose root word is ‘رحم’, meaning ‘compassion/nourishment’, ‘womb/uterus’, and (in a connected way,) ‘blood-relationships’. ‘الْقُرْبَىٰ’, I believe, refers to those who are ‘close/near’ to us: family, friends, neighbours, coworkers; while ‘أَرْحَامُكُمْ’ is likely to refer specifically to blood-ties, even if you are not particularly ‘close’ with them [they still have rights over you].

In terms of ‘Qurbaa’, some of our friends become exceptionally close to us. And, in terms of ‘Arhaam’, some of our blood-relations are not particularly close with us, sometimes as a result of familial tensions and disputes and such, and sometimes simply as a result of distance: a lack of (true) presence in one another’s lives.

Yesterday, after Dawud and I hung out on the trampoline, and after he suddenly betrayed me, for a while (siding with Saif and Isa to call me “yucky” — and, later, when the other boys were not there, he outright denied that he had ever done such a thing) I asked his parents if I could go with them to the charity dessert stall. I really wanted to see everyone. Whomever I could see, of the clan, the tribe.

So, post-Ifthar, we all went there. My uncle (Ranga Mama), my aunt, and my aunt’s sister. And Dawud, and Faldi (what he calls me, since he can’t pronounce ‘Fuldi’  — a cute honorific title that my cousin Maryam had given me, a long time ago. It means ‘flower sister’, and now all my little cousins call me it).

I had been a little tired and overfed, but it was quite nice nonetheless, Alhamdulillah. It was nice to see Jannah Khala (Suto Mami’s sister) after so long. “All of Dawud’s favourite people are here now!” Suto Mami remarked (and this made my day).

When we got there: my aunts whom I had not seen for ages greeted me so very lovingly. Shibu Khala, Jeba Khala, Babli Khala, Koli Khala. And the ‘young adults’: Moosa, Maryam, Ibby (Ibrahim), Jammy (Jamilah), Lia, Kayaan. And the kids: Ayat, Shayan, Jinaan, Hana, Milly (Amelia), Dalia and Daneen. All helping out on the stall.

The last time I had seen everyone had been at a family wedding, (Sunia Khala’s) two years ago. Two years ago. The kids have all grown up and changed – developed – so much. The babies of back then are no longer babies. But, in such an interesting way, each of their essences remain, quite beautifully, the same. Their cheeky and insanely adorable smiles, and/or their quiet, contemplative, headstrong natures. Ibby and Moosa are pretty much exactly the same as one another, as I discovered yesterday: they kept bursting out into laughter for no good reason, exchanging side-spuds, finding it hilarious that Ibby (who is half-Arab) is ‘more Bengali’ than I am (because ‘Bengali banter’ and I would appear to simply not go very well with each other).

These are members of my ‘Arhaam’: the daughters’ daughters, and also their daughters, of my great-grandmother (who passed away in 2016, I think it had been) Bibi Noor. She had lived with her son – and his seven daughters – in a big house in Shadwell. Quite a nucleic home, it had been, frequented by various family members, so much of the time. The kids, all upstairs. The adults, all downstairs. The classic Nutella sandwiches as snacks. Big vats of rice and curry made for everyone: the hustle and bustle. Mayhem and fun. All these relatives of mine had been such a welcome part of my childhood, Alhamdulillah: something that I, the only child from the very quiet household, very much needed, actually.

I feel close to these people in a special way. In a, ‘Allah-has-decreed-for-you-and-I-to-be-of-this-same-clan’ way. And, yet, I have felt a little far away, too. Like back when school had been my foremost priority. GCSEs had been all-consuming, for me, but then I got to see everybody over the summer, what with Sweetie’s wedding. All the preparations that had come along with it; all the gatherings. The time of my life that had (on an academic/professional-structural-level) been about A-levels, for me, had been, overall, quite an alienating experience. Extraordinarily stressful: personal struggles with academic perfectionism, may-haps. The pressure I had put on myself to ‘do’ so much. How many family gatherings I had missed, for the sake of exams. Exhaustion. And other familial, and (otherwise) personal things.

I had been conditioned, and yes I had also conditioned myself, to view exams and ‘work’ as being, perhaps, the foremost parts of life. As a result, maybe, things frayed, and things were hard. But, over time, my way of viewing things developed.

Allah comes first, and what He has commanded for me, and what He has told me is good for me. Family: my Qurbaa, including friends. Or, soul sisters (and one Mortal Enemy, for good measure). And anything else I do is only good insomuch as it is good for my Deen, and for them, and for me. Any other recipe for ‘success’ and contentment, in this life, is, to me, woefully illusive.

So, post-A-level-alienation, and amid a lockdown-warranting pandemic (which has truly forced and facilitated, Alhamdulillah, my ‘looking inwards’  — including, at the portions of Dunya which are actually mine. Home and such) I find myself here. For Suhoor, last night (this morning) I had two marshmallow-and-strawberry skewers (dipped in chocolate) from the dessert stall: one, I had paid for. And one, Koli Khala had insisted on my taking for free.

ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ رَبِّ ٱلْعَالَمِينَ.

I spent yesterday evening shivering awkwardly, in the cold. Talking to Dawud, and then to (three-year-old) Dalia. Dalia is, Masha Allah Allahummabārik, one of the cutest kids I have ever come across. We had a long conversation together, about how her red drink is making her tongue all red. And how her favourite colour is green. “Green?!”

She has this way of nodding her head once and, with excitement, saying, “Yeaah!” as if you are meant to already know these things.

Some very funny things took place, yesterday, also. Me mistaking a Niqabi helper at the stall for one of my cousins.

“Is that Jammy?!”

“No”

Getting a chocolate skewer for Milly. Her older sister asked her if she even knows who I am. “No,” she said, turning around to look at me again, with a smile. “But thank you!”

Shayan, quiet and reflective. Worrying over how well his side of the stall was doing. Carries around him an air that is quite… noble-seeming, for his age. And seems to really consider what he is about to say, before he says it. Ayat and Jinaan, the clever girls (Masha Allah). The former: decisive, strong-willed. The latter: gentler, more easygoing.

Shibu Khala going for a little cruise, in her Jilbāb, (outside the mosque, at midnight). Oh, and on a mobility scooter, no less, which had been donated to the charity, for auction. Everybody around her almost shrieking with laughter. The strangest thought: Shibu Khala’s siblings refer to her as their ‘Fuldi’. She is currently in her mid-thirties. What am I going to be like (Insha Allah) as my cousin-siblings’ Fuldi, in my mid-thirties?!

Moosa picking Kayaan up to make a human flag out of him, on a lamppost. Koli Khala taking Dawud for a drive around the block, in her BMW [he loves cars so much. That one cruise might just make him love her forever].

Everybody has some sort of role, here. What’s mine? In big social settings like these, I do tend to be relatively quieter. I prefer my one-on-one conversations; it feels more comfortable for me to be a bit of a wallflower in larger settings. And, still, I belong. Even with my fears about myself (am I being too awkward? Too strange?) I should be thoroughly, thoroughly grateful that these people are of me, and I, too, am of them. I look so forward to future family events and such. Carving out my own role, more, in these things: I am no longer only an extension of my parents. But I have things from him, and things from her. I have things of them, too. And I bring something to them (I hope, at least,) also.

I have pretty much always sought to better understand myself, I suppose. But the truth, as I have found it, is that we are not ‘independent’ beings. We require our Qurbaa around us, always, as people to love, and be loved by; as mirrors to tell us whom we are, and whom we are trying to be, and all the rest of it.

I love the ways through which Allah teaches us things, and how things happen. Even if things are difficult – maybe even extremely so, for some times at a time: the darknesses are known only to push the light into greater relief.

On our way back home from the dessert stand yesterday (or, was it on the way there? My short-term memory tends to be terrible) my uncle shared with me some lines of poetry he had come up with, a while ago:

“Too fine

Are the perfect lines

Of the human mind

To comprehend the rugged canvases

Of all these plans Divine”

[I forgot what the last parts had actually been, so I invented a new final line]

I had found out about this little event (which basically turned into a big – and, yet, little, when compared to the vastness, Masha Allah, of our tribe – family reunion) because: I work in Whitechapel. I tend to go to the local Tesco to get things, here and there. A few weeks ago, I went there and bumped into Jeba Khala. I had not seen her in… maybe two years. She lives miles away, but, as it had turned out, she had acquired a job at the local Human Aid office (alongside her two other ones: Hijāmah – cupping – and doing research at a lab, Allahummabārik). We exchanged numbers. I saw the details re the stall, on her WhatsApp status. Found out Moosa was going. Found out Ranga Mama, Suto Mami and Dawud were going, too. Alhamdulillah.

Too fine are the lines of my mind, Subhan Allah. These beautiful things are not in my hands. Nothing, and nobody, is ‘perfect’, here, although certain presentations of ‘super-normal’ realities may delude us into thinking so. But those things are only distractions.

I wonder about those things that are, [at present,] beyond my comprehension. I know that they are there, but I do not, [at present,] know them. Mad.

I so wonder about the capacities to which I will get to know all these gorgeous family members; how my friendships will develop over time, too. Whether or not I get married, in this lifetime. Whom I marry. What our future homes will look like. How this family, and the individual families it is comprised of, will grow larger, grow smaller over time. New additions to love: through marriages, through births. And, beloved members to know we have loved: to mourn over, and also to count on our eventual reunions with, Insha Allah.

I know that, if I Believe, then I believe in the beauty – sometimes aching, sometimes joy-infused – of all of these things. Past, and present, and (the present moments that will make up the) future.

And Perfectly, though not-always-so-neatly-comprehensibly, are Drawn all of these lines. What is ours is ours. May we meet them so very beautifully, each and every time. And may we know how to love them most truly, and most ardently.

Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Breaking the Idol of Mockery — Tamim Faruk

https://www.safinasociety.org/post/breaking-the-idol-of-mockery

Me gusta this article, and I have decided to (procrastinate a little and) think about my thoughts on it:

You cannot consider ‘liberalism’ – which, all in all, holds that ‘liberty’ is the most important thing – without due consideration of its colonial histories. To be ‘free’ means to be without (or, to act in spite of) constraints. And when liberty, in and of itself, becomes the primary value for a people, abstract values (for example, concerning the sanctity of certain things, and the mutuality of social rights and responsibilities) become less important; a threat, even, to liberalism’s primary focus. ‘Individual freedoms’.

If one is to be ‘free’, then one is free to offend. One is free to cause harm. One is free to exploit others, and to generate endless amounts of wealth, at the expense(s) of just about anything.

Truly, in ‘liberal’ societies such as France, who is ‘free’ to act in accordance with their own individual desires? The powerful or the (comparatively) powerless? Would an Islamic magazine satirising, say, the concept of democracy (which even Plato, for example, had criticised) garner the same response, from the French public, as secular magazines mocking Muhammad (SAW)? Probably not. Based on the nuances of history, and as a result of ensuing sensitivities, such a thing would likely stir up a lot of anger, fear, and intolerance… just as the donning of the headscarf would appear to do, in France.

In its colonial past, France has had control (gained and maintained through violence — through one group exercising their ‘freedoms’) over a number of different nations, including a handful of Muslim-majority ones. Bloody and brutal are many aspects of this history, and now France has, within its borders, roughly five million citizens who are of Muslim descent.

The definition of bullying is using power in order to belittle, taunt, and degrade those who are less powerful than oneself. Muhammad (SAW) is a very important figure, in Islam; to Muslims. Just as Jesus is, to (believing) Christians.

Fundamentally, as the author of the above article mentions, there is a difference between bullying and mockery, and attempting to engage in discussion and debate. In fact, the former tends to be designed in order to, a) stifle the latter, and to b) evoke strong emotional responses… for the sadistic pleasure, I suppose, of the powerful.

And, yes, one can bully another not solely directly by insulting them, but also by insulting what is important to them. You know, how some insult others’ mothers, to bring about a potent emotional reaction in them? Like that, no?

The point of satire, in general, is to keep governmental authority and such in check. But when the relatively powerless are mocked, or when something or someone deeply important to them is mocked, it is bullying.

I like to think in terms of abstract things and comparisons, I guess. So: if there were two households, and Household A were to take some of Household B’s belongings, brutalise some of their family members, and put them at a strong economic disadvantage… and then, if they were to blame Household B for their own suffering, labelling them “savages” and “barbarians” and then, several years later, if later members of Household A were to openly mock B’s religion and/or whatever is, or has been, sacred to them… Would this be, in any way, morally justifiable? In the name of ‘liberty’, and through feigning the moral upper hand?

Liberalism. Liberalism for whom, and at the expense of what and whom? I think, when one group freely, and without accountability, indulges in their ‘freedoms’ (which are naturally augmented as a result of power, and also in turn leads to the augmentation of power) necessarily, another group’s ‘freedoms’ – those of the less powerful – are constricted. Read: the colonial history of France, and the supposed bastion of ‘liberty’ the nation has become, today.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Having Versus Wanting

Bismillah.

The consumption of fiction, and the significant effects it has, upon our psyches, and on all these ideas surrounding what we want to be, and what we want to have, and what we expect of life. That school is, or ‘should’ be, like a Disney series; travelling is a vlog on YouTube; summer is a poem. Fiction: filtering out the ‘mundane’, the ‘undesirable’, the ennui, the unevennesses, frictions. Taking singular moments, which ‘real life’ may exhale, at certain given moments, unpredictable, un-plan-able. Marketing people, relationships, institutions, experiences… as being fundamentally ‘shiny’. ‘More than’ reality, and thus quite ‘liberating’.

Allah created Dunya in a certain way, and this, we all, after a certain age, truly come to know. And it might feel like consuming fiction, or imagining life in light of it [I am tres guilty of doing this. And hence this blog article.] is relief. But I want to take a (metaphorical) axe, and rid myself of these: my ‘super-Dunya’ expectations. They come about spontaneously, sure, but they can often be… entertained, in this mind of mine.

Yesterday I came across a podcast about ‘bringing blessings (Barakah) to one’s life’. The central matter being discussed was gratitude. A cosmic law, emphasised in the Qur’an: if we are grateful – thankful, using what we have towards goodness and making the most of it – Allah increases us in favour(s).

And I have noticed: when I have abstract expectations, or when I find myself wanting… I feel restless, and dissatisfied, and lost. But when I look down at my feet (m e t a p h o r i c a l l y) and really ‘deep’ what I have, and just live, and do what ought to be done, sans against-fiction expectations… Good things happen!

When I do not want, I know I receive [note: the word ‘want’ has two separate-but-connected meanings. To desire something (that you do not, at present, have) and to be deficient, lacking, in something]. Good, quietly – but deeply – lovely, things, from sources unexpected, but which Allah has given to me. [Ref: a colleague whom I sometimes speak with – I, struggling, in Bengali, embarrassing myself – randomly got me a box of sushi for lunch <3. And then, not to show off, because this was entirely a one-sided thing: my baby brother got me a book, from school (World Book Day). My heart melted, and I asked him how come (I had lowkey been fishing for him to say something extremely sweet) and he just said, unemotionally, in classic Saif fashion: “I had two book tokens and I already got myself the one I wanted so I just got you one too.” Eh. Good enough.]

I know I am a bit of a … romanticiser, at the best of times. I like looking up at the stars; I like it when words sound and feel beautiful; I like to feel the golden glow of things, when I am with people whom I love. But this is not necessarily idealism: the stars do exist, and so does the beauty of words; so, too, does the Divine gift that is family (even with its ups and downs, and little knife-wound betrayals… like when I no longer seem to be Dawud’s favourite cousin anymore. Sigh.) I think I can be quite prone to romanticising things… and I think this is okay, so long as it is all rooted in reality, and not in things that are not real, or real at present, or which I do not know, fully and deeply and fundamentally.

My muddied boots are mine: my reality. The craggy, the uneventful and the mundane. The errands, and the times when things get a little tough — and these gorgeous skies overhead are mine, also, and everybody’s. I need to manage my expectations, and focus on doing what is fruitful. These are the realities with which we are presented, and all fictions are inspired by reality’s best parts.

Reality is a fuller experience, though. Unscripted, and not engineered for the eyes of those of us who, at times, seek escape.

And the opposite of ‘escape’ is… being here, and facing it all. No (or, re-managed) expectations; no comparing my reality with others’. Futile. [To have their blessings, I would have to have their lives’ difficulties/tests. To lose my difficulties/tests, I would have to lose my blessings, also…]

These are the stuff of our lives. And now, what to do with them, or about them… The good, and the bad, and the… greys, the neutrals, also.

I need to focus, truly, on what is there, and not on actually-nonexistent things, like what ‘could’ or… ‘should’ (according to the fictions that we have digested, and/or concocted) be there. Loving what one has, and focusing on here-and-now considerations, and on giving/engaging in acts of acts of service as opposed to receiving, leads to Barakah: to an unmatchable, though quiet, goldenness, which is present even in times of acute difficulty. And Allah Azawwajal takes care of the rest: the outcomes, the Future, and all the rest of it.

[Some Biblical quotes, I find extremely beautiful. So, to quote the Bible:]

“I shall not want.” [Psalms, (23:1)]

Instead, I shall try to say: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen” [Qur’an, (1:2)].

All praise/gratitude is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds: Lord of every single thing that exists, including [existential moment, here] me…


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Books Versus Boys?

Works of fiction tend to be composed of a number of different… tropes. Male writers writing tragically one-dimensional, unrealistic female characters, pandering to the ‘Male Gaze’ [perpetually sweet and lovely. Very physically available. Mysterious and exciting, able to ‘liberate’ the man from a mundane existence]; female writers, also, writing tragically unidimensional male characters [dark, brooding, sharp-boned, and uniformed. Effortlessly eloquent and quietly, deeply emotional and passionate].

Works of fiction are fascinating. These particular products of our minds can tend to reveal quite a lot about… ourselves. In works of fiction, characteristics – physical and personality-based; aesthetic and otherwise – are singled out, and detached – liberated – from the quagmires of present, Dunya-based reality.

Fiction can tell us an awful lot about what our innermost desires may be: it is both informed by these desires, and also contributes to fuelling them; shaping our expectations from life, often without our consciously realising.

Our Fitrahs (generally defined as, our ‘innate human constitutions’) are so receptive to things like physical beauty, and ‘idealistic’ ideas. Constantly, it is like a constant reminder that we are not at Home, here: that there exists, between (Dunya-based) reality and (Jannah-promised) idealism this… journey. Our innermost desires do continue to exist, though. It is not ‘wrong’ for us to have these fundamental yearnings, but it is wrong for us to indulge in them here in Dunya.

‘Islam’ means finding peace in submission to the Creator of all things knowable. Therefore, it would be fallacious to attempt to detach considerations of bodily beauty; sensuality; luxury, and other ‘wants’, from ‘Islamic’ considerations.

One cannot act like the Deen of Islam is somehow… separable from all of these abstract elements of the human experience. Quite the opposite, really. From Allah comes beauty and all things good; with Allah is everything that we could ever dream of having, and More. It is just that these are not the Purpose of this present life of ours: this journey.

There is, for example, a rather interesting real-life story of a particular Muslim scholar/Sheikh – a European revert Muslim – whose forays into Islam began when he had been an adolescent, witnessing a scene of heightened (feminine) beauty. Allah’s artistry at play… and he realised that, since there can be such Beauty in the world – such Unity, Proportion, and Harmony of design – for example on the corporeal forms of women — then there simply must be a Creator.

As human beings [when I say ‘human beings’ I feel like I sound like some alien anthropologist, trying to observe humanity from the outside, but anyway… When human beings] enter into maturity – puberty – and actually even in the years before this fundamental transition – we find ourselves naturally beset by… a hyper-awareness of the opposite gender, coupled with little obsessions with… getting a six-pack and good haircuts. Or with being thin, and having glowing skin.

In bodily characteristics; in lightness or depth of voice; in scent, even, and in essence. As far as fleeting attractions go, it is quite normal for – boys and girls alike – to enter into a deep… recognition of attraction. And these acknowledgements are almost daily, for the majority of our lives. We are recognisers of beauty, but we are encouraged to “lower our gaze[s]” when it comes to the opposite gender: gazing is known to fuel desiring. And the stuff of Dunya simply leaves us hungrier the more we chase after it all.

Generally, also, in fiction, there tends to be carved out a particular dichotomy between the ‘Beautiful’ – the ‘bodily’ blessed, and therefore the more physically desirable – and the ‘Brainy’. The male characters who are supposed to belong to the former group are meant to enjoy frequenting the gym; playing football; flirting effortlessly with lots of women. The women of the former group: shopping, makeup, shoes, clothes, and partying.

The men of the latter group: socially awkward and cannot speak to members of the opposite gender, though thoroughly accomplished and knowledgable. ‘Socially’ unsuccessful; economically and professionally thriving, and with numerous differentiating ‘quirks’. And the women of the latter group: ‘unstylish’, neglectful of physical appearance, caring too much about minor details and/or seeming … monotonous, devoid of any proclivities towards lightheartedness and humour. No friends at all, or being… evidently disliked by the friends they do have.

There is Ralph ‘versus’ (the character who is rather unfavourably named) ‘Piggy’, in ‘Lord of the Flies’ — i.e. the ‘popular’ and widely-socially-approved-of, ‘golden-bodied’ ‘versus’ the ‘intellectual’, ‘physically weak’, caring and compassionate, but ruthlessly overlooked. Daphne ‘versus’ Velma, in ‘Scooby Doo’. Zack ‘versus’ Cody, in ‘The Suite Life’… [Personally, I really favoured Cody but in the show, he had been designed to be a little ‘pathetic’, teased by the others. Not particularly ‘respectable’ or ‘enviable’]. Haley Dunphy ‘versus’ Alex, in ‘Modern Family’. The list goes on and on.

But when it comes to defining real people, outside of the caricatures that are necessary in order to make works of fiction digestible and entertaining… People are people. Some people are quite smart and quite good-looking. Some people are quite smart in some ways but not necessarily in others; beautiful according to certain sets of standards, but not others.

When we attempt to fit people into convenient-but-oversimplified brackets like this, we forget about so many necessary nuances. When people admire – or envy – the ‘smart, productive’ one, they do not see the loneliness and restlessness that might be an essential downside of that general experience. When people envy the physically ‘beautiful’ ones, they may not see the behind-the-scenes emotional toils, and all the masking – that may come to form an essential downside of that general experience.

I know of people who, for instance… grew up reading ‘Harry Potter’ – repeatedly – in the bathroom. And then they got ‘dench’ and ‘popular’ (i.e. I suppose, easily, readily approved of by people) and grew into a newly developed part of themselves. But we do not ever lose who we are, at our cores, do we? And how many parts of oneself need one shed, in order to fit into any acceptable bracket of categorisation: any simple trope, any fiction?

As soon as we try to simplify human beings in such ways, they are no longer holistic people in our eyes, but ‘characters’. Fictions. And our formerly held convictions will almost necessarily be disproven.

We are just… people. [I really wish there were an actual antonym for ‘just’. For now, I’ll just say:] We are wonderfully… people.

Morality, according to the Muslim Weltanschauung [love that word] concerns: what ought to be done. We are each Children of Ādam; we have souls; we have our ‘selves’ (our Nafs…es?)

What is, versus what ought to/ought not to be (done), and what could be (done).

On the ‘sexual’ level, which is fundamental to us as a species… women love to beautify themselves. Skincare, henna, hair, clothes, and all the rest of it. Women crave male validation; men, certainly, also crave female validation, and also have impulses within them, to gaze at, and to pursue women.

Recently, I learned that, when it comes to sexual drives, the most influential hormone at play is… testosterone. And average men’s bodies tend to contain, within them, over eight times the amount of testosterone that is contained within the female body! [The entire world makes about… eight times more sense now…] It does also thoroughly seem to be the case that, while men have natural inclinations towards the more visual side of things, women have stronger inclinations towards the more… ’emotional’ side of things. Hence the differences in male and female fictional characters that are designed to be uniquely attractive to the two respective genders. ‘Men fall in love through their eyes; women, through their ears’.

Men are in need of women; women are in need of men. We have been created differently, but in a connected way. Complementarily, in a handful of very interesting ways.

I guess, what I am trying to relay here, is that we should not be in denial of who we are, and what we want. But the Muslim way of viewing things is that just because your Nafs beckons you towards something, we need not chase those desires like wolves. Ultimately, if we try to satisfy these desires within Dunya – to entertain non-Mahram people of the opposite gender, for example, or to always thoroughly beautify ourselves in order to go outside, and to religiously follow all these beauty trends pandering to that age-old Male Gaze – we set ourselves up for great disappointment.

That is not to say we should just… ‘let go’ of our outer selves, and ‘not care’. More so that… we have desires; we have animalistic, base parts of ourselves. We also have knowledge; intellect; the ability to discern what is right from what is wrong. There are permissible avenues through which to do certain things; there are also certain prohibitions in place, for us: for our own good. We choose what we do with this information.

As Muslims, one can have spent one’s youth having spoken to hundreds and hundreds of different boys/girls; having been ‘built’ and/or very beautiful, garnering much approval and validation as a result of our physical forms and behaviours. One can have spent one’s youth reading books, focusing on schoolwork, and on personal interests, perhaps (instead?) garnering approval and validation as a result of our intellectual capacities, vocabularies, ideas. Or… a bit of both, perhaps, with added helpings of familial responsibilities and such. Alhamdulillah for what we have been given, here in Dunya; equally and alike, for what we have not been given.

Ultimately, the purpose of Dunya life is… for us to be tested, and to worship our Creator. Pure gold, becoming separated from its ores. And our tests are also blessings; our blessings are also… tests.

With all this in mind: if one recognises – and is complimented on – beauty on one’s face and/or body, if one accepts sacred Islamic laws, one is inclined to cover up before non-Mahrams; thank Allah; ask for protection and for Barakah. If one recognises high levels of intelligence, within one’s mind, the Muslim is inclined towards thanking Allah for it; using it towards Good and not towards arrogant ends: of feigning superiority, disregarding the truth, mistreating others.

And: books ‘or‘ ‘boys’? Being ‘smart’ ‘or‘ being ‘pretty’? Being ‘cool’ ‘or’ ‘pathetic’… ‘religious’ ‘or’ ‘fun’…

Well, on the ‘boy’ front- or the ‘girl’ front, if thou art male – Insha Allah we all… end up with just one. A special just-one. And may they love us deeply: in soul, in heart, in mind, and in body, and may we love them very deeply in return. Sigh. May they also have good hair. Āmeen.

And on the general-life front: we are here to worship Allah, and we are here to be tested. One cannot focus on the body, at the expense of focusing on the other dimensions of our being: [just going to list them again, for my own benefit] mind, hearts, and souls. But! We also should not focus on, say, intellectual-or-otherwise pursuits at the expense of our physical health, and appearances. Whatever brings us towards that which is Good is… good. Whatever brings us away from holistic goodness might… not be so good. Everything about balances; moderation, holism, is the way of the Believer, is it not?

Furthermore, a random question, but one that I find quite interesting to consider:

If you had to choose: would you rather be very intelligent but average in terms of looks or very physically attractive but average in terms of intelligence?

We are judged, first and perhaps foremost, based on how we appear. In all physical social settings: at school, interviews, and more. The Halo Effect: good looks translate into ‘goodness of being‘, in our eyes.

I do care about how I look; how I come across. But people who ‘know’ my face do not really know me. I am not sure how much a face can reveal. Some markers of youth and health, sure. Ethnicity, perhaps [but people frequently guess at my ethnic background, and get it wrong. Including some random strangers who seem to ‘like’ me based on… where they think I am ‘from’. They don’t like me: they just… have some sort of appearance-based particular-ethnicity thing]. But if I am to be known, I would like to be known far closer to my core. Is it better to be shallowly ‘loved’ by the many, or is it better to be deeply loved by a select few?

Is this an ‘either’/’or’ thing? Yes, I think. Probably. We are limited in terms of how much time we have, and energy, to expend. Physical beauty speaks to – is pleasing to – the Fitrah. The stuff of the mind, heart, and soul: these are the abstract worlds that lie beyond what can be seen by the eyes. So much to explore, within ourselves, and others. Night-sky depths; oceanic mysteries, we.

And The Test of Life. It is hard. Dificil. It is meant to be, because the best, most worthy things usually are. But we are here, as knowing worshippers of Allah. This whole life thing: in terms of learning, socialising, health, sexual partnership (‘sexual’ in the sense that it is between the two sexes. More so than being bodily, in Islam we acknowledge that these partnerships are partnerships of the soul).

[With our food, and our books. With the natural world, and our families. Masjids, and our friends. With what is Halal, hopefully, and without what, here in Dunya, is not:]

To paraphrase a line I really liked from one of my all-time favourite TV series [‘Girl Meets World’. Uncle Joshie,]

We are in it for the long haul.

P.S. not to sound like a wannabe Romantic poet-philosopher here, but… this evening I went on a night walk with my aunts and cousins. The sky was uniquely clear here in London, tonight, Subhan Allah, and the Big Dipper (a constellation that I have always loved) resembled a perfect diamond question mark in the darkness. And I remembered and thought about that very powerful Qur’anic Ayah:

“So where are you going?”


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

People and Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Neurodiverse’

I believe that, in the process of writing, one of the most important things is… honesty. Looking back at old blog articles of mine, I worry I may have ‘over-shared’. Certain people might come to know things about me – and about my life – which they may ‘have no business in knowing’. But this blog of mine is mine, and slowly slow, Alhamdulillah, I am feeling less afraid about coming to know truths, and speaking of them.

            If I and my writing are liked, for whom and how we are, then tres bien. We are glad to have you here. If not: we are all entitled to liking or disliking – and being fundamentally drawn to or away from – what we do.

Necessarily, though, when processing things by attempting to produce what may be termed ‘art’ – whether it is, in the end, judged to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – one is forced to filter out certain things, and to pay special attention to some of its brethren instead; favouring them, dressing them up in eloquence and prettiness.

            But what has one to lose, really, in being honest? Pride, we say. And dignity. I don’t think I want to ever change the essence of myself – neither the parts I have deemed to be desirable, nor the parts which have caused me some difficulty along the way – in order to be rendered ‘agreeable enough’. So long as I am acting in line with moral requirements, and making space for others: there is enough space for me to be precisely who I am, here, too.

‘Neurodiversity’. This is a topic that I find, intrigues me very much. Recently, I came across a written publication whose premise seems to be the inherent connection between ‘neurodivergence’ (autism, ASD, ADHD, and more) and creativity and innovation, being (academically) ‘gifted’, and (most notably, perhaps) sensitivity.

I also happened upon a very interesting (fictional, but with real real-world relevance) story-based video: about a young writer who wins competitions and is seen as being something of a lexical prodigy. Eventually, her work gains public recognition: she is invited onto talk-shows, and to write for popular publications and the like. She also suffers from depression. The public are taken by her work; insistently ask her how she became such a good writer; where she gets her inspiration from. Her depression and insomnia. These are what lend her the necessary inspiration and articulateness, for writing — and the art of writing provides an outlet through which she processes her deep and heavy emotions. The story is well-developed: this writer’s depression, as she later discovers through her conversations with a health coach, would appear to be caused by her sensitivity to a particular protein found in dairy. And, because her output with regard to writing had been so reliant on her experiences of depression, the woman in question has a choice to make. Her love of cheese, or the quality of her writing.

At the end, the grand question that is put to her is:

“What’s worth more to you?

The success of your work or the more pleasant state of mind?”

In this world, generally, people really do fear being ‘mediocre’. Instead, people aspire to be more like… the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and, in terms of historical figures: Mary Shelley, Van Gogh, Mozart. Mark Twain, Edward Thomas, Da Vinci, Albert Einstein.

World-renowned artists; writers; musicians; inventors, mathematicians, scientists and architects: their experiences of bipolar, depression, autism, ADHD. They are flip-sides of the same coins: because, to be different, one must be… different.

It is that, to have the ‘good’ – the plus-sides – of something, one must necessarily experience its necessary downsides, too.

See, people who tend to excel at a particular thing — for whom the underlying languages of particular fields seem to come rather naturally… tend to also easily be ‘diagnosable’ as being, in some ways or others, ‘neurodivergent’.

And the price to pay for the ‘normality’ that escapes these difficult labels and experiences is: relative ‘mediocrity’.

I, for one, have always known that I am ‘weird’. People have always let me know of this fact — not necessarily in a bad way. “Cute,” they say: a label which sometimes irks me. “Quirky”. “Brave enough to be yourself”. “Weird”.

I… am not trying to be “quirky”. The so-called ‘quirky’ things I do and say: they feel so intrinsic to who I am. It is weird to realise, over and over again, that some other people might find these things strange.

Sometimes it has felt alienating. “See? Even Sadia finds that weird!”

And suddenly I am made hyper-aware, again, of the fact that… maybe I need to learn to do things differently, maybe, somehow. I don’t know what to change about myself, but then again, why should I want to change anything-that-isn’t-harming-anybody about myself?

Just because parts of myself might feel… unfamiliar to some?

I guess I am writing this article because recently I think I started to put the pieces together a little. I have always – from Nursery to (what I term The Depressive Year) Year Thirteen done well at school, Alhamdulillah. But I have major problems with being unable to sit and do work for subjects and such I do not have strong, strong interests in. I have pretty much always had a particular proclivity towards words, and writing, and day-dreaming. I am very emotionally sensitive: I absorb others’ emotions pretty much like a sponge. I am quite sensitive to sensory overstimulation. I get socially exhausted pretty quickly, and I have my particularities. Three close friends, and I can really only socialise well when it’s one-on-one. With these things in mind, and more pertaining to whom I have always been, I realise:

I might just be a little on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s, may-haps?) But I don’t think I want to see a doctor, to get an official diagnosis. Because if this is the case, I don’t really see it is an ‘illness’.

Looking back, I realise that many of the people I have admired may have been what is commonly seen as being ‘neurodivergent’. At secondary school, a boy who had been seen as being a bit of a ‘lone wolf’, even though he had friends. He had a knack for making physical works of art; very intelligent (Allahummabārik) and he had particular interests in things like Transformers. We – his friends and some of his classmates – knew him to have been very cool, strange-in-a-good-way, and funny. But it seemed like he had been trying to hide from ‘the masses’, at our school. Secondary school can be an awful, relentless place; one in which anything that makes you ‘different’ makes you… less-than, a ‘problem’, somehow, an easy target.

It must be said, also, that the idiot boys who sometimes taunted the aforementioned one were so, so, personality-less[-seeming], in contrast to him. To be part of the ‘group’ they so desperately wanted to be part of, they simply had to locate and project their insecurities upon some sort of ‘Other’. It is true, though, that “anybody who tries to bring you down is already beneath you”…

The art-loving boy in question ended up becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Being ‘different’ in these ways can be truly painful – especially if/when other people are woefully immature – but those who loved him loved him precisely for who he is, and, to quote the big sister from the movie ‘Wonder’, “you [really] can’t blend in, when you’re born to stand out”. [That is not to say that one should make it a deliberate goal to be ‘quirky’ and consistently ‘not-like-the-others’ and whatnot. But if it happens to be the case, then it happens to be the case, and there is Khayr in it. Allah made you who and how you are, with such good reason].

Sometimes it seems like this very secondary-school-way-of-thinking is what tars modern definitions of what is ‘normal’ and desirable, and what is ‘abnormal’ and not desirable. Be a certain way, or people cannot authentically accept you: how could they? But then enters that classic consideration: that rather edgy 2015-Tumblr-esque statement of rather being disliked for what I am, than liked for what I am not.

I had another friend at school – sixth form, this time – who told me she’d been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This had come as a bit of a shock to me — I’m not sure why. Probably because, when one thinks of autism, it is very easy to immediately picture symptoms of severe autism, as well as evident, insurmountable-seeming difficulties with speech and communication. And then, I guess, it occurred to me that I had attended a sixth form that had been filled with cool, exceptional, highly knowledgable, strange-in-a-good-way people [and at this school, being ‘normal’ had been the generally undesirable way of being]. In retrospect, many of them probably belonged somewhere on this ‘neurodivergent’ spectrum. They were different, in such awesome ways. [But, see, the idiot boys mentioned above would have probably, if they had come into contact with many of these people, committed to seeing them in a deliberately negative manner, purely towards self-affirming ends]. People are people: how can one fit the entirety of a person, and her essence, into strings of words and diagnoses?

In a world of several billion people, ‘neurodiversity’ is inevitable. Our minds are ‘built differently’, and function along differing lines. Some people are exceptionally good with numbers, or know an awful deal about planes. OCD, dependent-personality-disorders, autism, ADHD… these are all just terms that we attempt to attach to the entirety of a part of human experience. And the more I come to know about different people – from all different walks of life and such – it really does seem as though everybody ‘has’ something.

It’s just that we learn to wear our masks, for the outside world. Generally, our ‘true selves’ tend to be revealed as soon as we come home: to ourselves, and/or to the people who know best of our behavioural tendencies. Phone addictions, shopping addictions, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, mood swings and tendencies towards rage… Yep: it thoroughly does seem as though ‘everybody has something’.

Again, I do not want to seek to get myself diagnosed, and nor do I seek to diagnose myself. But if it is the case that I am ‘neurodivergent’ in this way, I say Alhamdulillah. The things that make me ‘me’: I have certainly come to know their associated downsides and difficulties. And, because of them, I also have the streams of good, which I may often take for granted: my beloved friends, and my personal experiences and stories, the stupid-fun, and the conversations I am able to have on awesome topics, with awesome people, and more.

Also, a poem that I had come across this academic year, courtesy of teaching my beloved Year Seven class:

Sigh. I love love. And not solely the over-romanticised ‘romantic’ type. Love between friends, and between family members. Real love sees not solely the masks that we wear. It sees beyond the ‘whom and how we are trying to be’: the cool, the unaffected, the ‘normal’. Real love notices, in love, our nooks and our crannies. And it promises to love us because of, and not ‘in spite of’, them.

So I am going to conclude this here article by assuring myself that I promise to, Insha Allah, always give myself a try. ‘Be myself’, and all that jazz. And I hope that Allah will continue to bring me to all of the right people; that He will continue to bring all of the right people to me.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

towards Truth; in Beauty; for Goodness.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Puzzle Pieces

It is a bit of a puzzle, at present, and we are working on understanding it. Living life as though it is something we deeply, fundamentally comprehend – and also crucially, dizzyingly don’t. Moving forward, I question what my motivations are;

What they have been; what they will be. It takes an awful lot of trust, sometimes, to do things, and to get on with it. I know, though, that the little things add up – even when you cannot exactly reach out and touch what you have done, or earned, or built.

            Grand puzzle, this, and it is a mystery to all of us. Things are not yet ‘solid’; not lasting: they just flow and flow, continuously, with time. But pardon me [the dramatic hippie in me is speaking, again] none of it is without reason. Trust – Tawakkul – and effort – will get you there, Insha Allah. Even if – and when – you feel absolutely deserted, and lost, at times. The world does not need to witness it how you eventually do, in order for it to be true.

Are you able to find it within yourself, to trust that each individual moment, action, is meaningful,

And that, in due time, Allah will give you, in spite of whatever you may currently hold of human ‘expectation’, better?

[Dear reader: I have faith in you; in everything you have known, and done, and been. In this moment; in the way that time flows. There is Wisdom behind this, too brilliant for our naïve selves to fully be able to comprehend, right (here and) now.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.