Welcoming Ramadan

Bismillah.

This week, at work (our final week before a two-week Easter break. But as we are a Muslim school, ’tis, de facto, a Ramadan break) we enjoyed – and, many of us ended up becoming thoroughly exhausted by – a rather eventful ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day — during which we had probably collectively amassed enough food to feed a small country, followed by an INSET day — at which we took part in some ‘spiritual meditation’ exercises, so as to recover from a hectic (and somewhat chaotically COVID-tinged) term, and an even more hectic end to it. [Personally, I found the ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ day really fun. One of my students made me my own paper crown to go with my outfit, and I (with the benefit of being a little… vertically challenged…) just blended in with the students for a while, and was invited to join in with some of their activities!]

We had workshops on: fruitfulness during the blessed month; another one on improving and maintaining our physical wellbeing; a third, on self-purification. The students got to make their own samosas, followed by chocolate truffles. They decorated their classrooms – with class advent calendars, paper lanterns and the like. They had an extended lunchtime, during which Nasheeds were played, and food was shared [and drinks were spilled, and slices of cake went splat! onto the floor]. There were different (fun and reflective) exercises for the different year groups to enjoy. One that I found thoroughly useful and enjoyable was the Ramadan bullet-journal workshop:

Each student in the class was given a black book. On the board, the instructor of the workshop (an older ‘Alimiyyah – Islamic knowledge – student) put up some pictures of some of the ‘Alimiyyah students’ own bullet-journal pages, for inspiration. They were absolutely gorgeous: calligraphy, colours, such neatness and creativity.

The idea was that each student would design a book that was personal, and hopefully useful for them. Personal religious goals; personal health goals; Qur’anic Ayahs and Hadiths that speak most to them; personal Ramadan timetable ideas, and the like.

Moreover, an important thing that one of my colleagues had been talking about, in the staffroom, had been, essentially, the danger of running into the ‘productivity trap’ way of thinking, in our considerations surrounding Ramadan. Asking, for instance, what others’ ‘goals‘ are, for the month, and feeling inclined to respond to such questions with a burdensome-sounding string of quantitative goals: “I want to read four books about Islam, and make food for my neighbours four times, and read the entire Qur’an twice, and…”

Ramadan, fundamentally, is about three things: praying (our five daily prayers, with some additions during the holy month); fasting (from dawn until dusk; fasting from food and drink, and from bad or time-wasting habits, and from intimacy, for people who are married); giving (Zakah and Sadaqah. Giving from one’s money/material wealth, as well as from the other forms of wealth that we have been given. Knowledge, acts of service for family members, and for strangers, even, alike. Even a smile is an act of Sadaqah!)

There are other things that can be done: little additions that we can learn about and practise, along the way. These are fruitful, but not compulsory. And, ultimately, Islam is fundamentally (meant to be) a religion of moderation. “All things in moderation. Including moderation.” [— Socrates]. Doing ‘more’ is not necessarily ‘better’, and we believe that (holism is important, and that) it is the spiritual value of things, which count.

Religion is easy; whoever overburdens himself in religion will be overpowered by it (i.e. he will not be able to continue in that way.)

So pursue what is good moderately; try to be near to perfection, and receive the good tidings (that you will be rewarded, for trying).

— Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Al-Bukhari]

In Islam, we are taught that Allah certainly has supreme rights over us. Our bodies have rights over us, too: they need to be cared for; we need to sleep, and to take things relatively easy, as much as possible. Our families have rights over us, also. And then come our other social responsibilities: towards extended family, other acquaintances, and our neighbours.

In close connection with the ‘productivity trap’ mode of thinking (and this is something that I must stop myself from doing!) is the reliance on ‘aesthetics’ for a sense of spiritual value. Fairy lights, Arabesque lanterns, plants, Turkish rugs… It is nice to try to create a nice Ramadan-themed atmosphere, but… the point of this month is neither consumerism nor materialism. It should be more about gratitude: for appreciating what we have, and not splurging on food and décor to ‘augment’ the experience.

Ramadan is for those three core things, mentioned above. And it is for personal reflection, and for family, and for gratitude. As much as I do wish to ‘make the most of’ this (upcoming) month, I know I cannot do everything: there is no comprehensive checklist for how Ramadan ‘should’ be done, and each individual will spend and celebrate this blessed period differently.

There are, for instance, some new Muslims, who live alone. Maybe they will be attending a weekly class, or watching some videos on YouTube, to learn more about the Deen. Maybe they will open the fast after enjoying a bowl of cereal and a plate of fruit; perhaps they are going to close the fast with a sandwich or two.

Maybe this is their first time praying Salāh. Maybe they are going to try to wear a headscarf for the first time. Crucially, it is not about the external considerations, but about the essences and the intentions guiding them. That is the thing: we never know who is actually ‘doing Islam ‘right” because, fundamentally, religion is about the connection between a man or a woman, and their Creator. It is not necessarily about who knows Arabic the best, or who has the most Du’as memorised.

The experience is not about what makes for the most ‘aesthetic’ or ‘Instagrammable’ Ifthar, either. It is not about cooking the most food, or about memorising the greatest amount of information. It is more about the internal: the patience, the gratitude, the love, the effort.

Personal journeys, varying situations and circumstances. Effort: no human being alive is ‘perfect’. And, something that I had been reminded of during that aforementioned ‘self-purification’ workshop: each and every one of us has a thing or two, within us, that needs to be fought against, and curbed. Anger, and/or envy, and/or greed and gluttony, and/or pride, and/or lust, and/or laziness, and/or otherwise.

“The [real] Mujāhid is one who strives against his own soul [Nafs].” [Sahih Hadith]

And a random addendum [we love a half-rhyme, in this house]: within and against [parts of] our souls, we struggle. We can feel, sometimes, (for instance, on the religious front) like we are ‘too much’, or, at times, like we are ‘not enough’. At times, I have felt like an… ‘inside-outsider’, within Islam. This is because I had internalised some warped ideas about this whole thing. That to be a Muslim (in addition to the actual requirements of faith) one must be a certain way, ‘culturally’, and otherwise: like… a Saudi sheikh, or like an Arab-Muslim vlogger, or something. But, genuinely: Islam can be (or is) yours as much as it is anybody else’s (and vice versa). Everywhere, there is inspiration, and ultimately Deen is very much a ‘together’ thing.

It is this beautiful ongoing conversation between you, and the One who created you. And then, in an ancillary manner, it is also, very importantly, about your comportment with fellow human beings.

And, in Ramadan, that very ongoing conversation becomes a little more blessed, while our hearts and souls, in conversation with the people in our lives, become a little more nourished.

May we all have a wonderfully restful, spiritually rewarding, relatively easy, and fun(!!!) Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem!


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

On Deleting Instagram

A couple of friends of mine have, since my having deleted Instagram earlier this year (after having had it for approximately seven years!) asked me whether or not this decision has ‘changed [my] life’, and if so, how. And I wanted to write out – or, type out – the relative completeness of my thoughts surrounding this.

I think that, the truth is, so many of us feel quite ‘existentially isolated’. [After all, why wouldn’t we? Just look at the norms, the ways, of this world, today…] And Netflix’s ‘Social Dilemma’ documentary summarises it aptly when it refers to how we are prone to using our smartphones – and the colourful social media apps that dwell within them – as “digital pacifiers”. We feel something; we must purge our emotions on social media. Lonely, bored, happy, sad, confused. We are known to turn instinctively to social media in order to assist us in ‘processing’ our emotions, or in blunting them altogether.

I believe that social media – the ‘newsfeed’ apps, that is (and this is less so the case with the private messaging ones, like WhatsApp) – facilitates and normalises ‘quasi-social-relationships’. We ‘connect’ with others virtually, but in doing so, it seems the majority of us have lost the art[s] of real, complete, human connection.

I find it rather tragic indeed that, when close friends, for example, get together these days (or, at least, in those golden pre-Corona days) silences and less ‘exciting’ moments are filled by everybody turning to their digital pacifying devices. Instinctively. The same phenomenon can be witnessed within families, too. In those ‘quality moments’ that young children in particular are meant to remember fondly throughout their lives, parents are obsessively checking FaceBook, or WhatsApp stories, or Instagram. Being made to feel inadequate, in this way, that way, or the other, as a result of all these engineered images of ‘good times’, ‘perfection’. And then, they generally contribute to said phenomenon, by engineering and posting some images of their own.

Distracted from (the completeness, the truths of) one another, we find we are; sucked into digital vortexes. Scrolling, scrolling. And the sheer amount of information that one is made to come across, on a daily basis, and to process. Over-stimulation, with mere glitter, and not with media and information that always necessarily nourish us. Often, we find, our minds are, at once, being put under so much stress and pressure (you must do this and do that and buy this and be that!) and that they are being chronically… numbed down.

I admit, Instagram had been quite fun to use, at least at times. Aesthetic pictures, wonderful filters, funny people, interesting knowledge, a way of knowing about fellow human beings; a way through which to observe humanity. But the app is also, by nature, addictive. Image after image, post after post. The things we consume through our eyes and ears do ultimately have effects upon our minds and our hearts. Islamic teachings make us well-aware of this fact.

I do feel less… suffocated by the presence (now, absence) of a burgeoning bright-light world of hundreds of people that sits on my phone and sends me daily notifications. [I have also, this year, realised how unfavourable it really is to be so readily and easily accessible, all of the time. Slews of notifications, from Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp… nay, sir. It is not for me, thanks]. A world that had held hegemony over my attention, and thus, over my mind. One I would escape to, but also, paradoxically, needed escaping from, and one whose norms are actually quite scary: all these ills that are known to be promoted, so very easily, through this app.

To have such a frenetic world at my very finger-tips. Sometimes, these days, I do feel I may be ‘missing out’. But, on what? There are so many people I have met, known, briefly crossed paths with, whom I used to have on Instagram. But if we are to maintain (real) social relationships with one another, even small ones that involve an occasional conversation a couple of times a year, I would much prefer that we have an actual conversation. Not based on curated images; not based on fragments of information we each send out to large audiences. Real conversations, one-to-one, maybe over WhatsApp, and then (post-lockdown, perhaps) over coffee [Hello Poli, you get a shout-out here, my friend]

I do wonder sometimes, by being off of Instagram, am I ‘missing out’, somehow? The truth is, I do not think I am. I now have a mind less burdened, (less… intoxicated by incessant and on the whole uncontrollable inputs) and I want to invest my time and energy into my truer connections. Beginning with religion. A good relationship with Allah, I feel, necessitates a cleaner mental space, as well as diminished valueless-media consumption. Snapshots, images: that make you idealise; that are designed to make you feel, in some way or another, dissatisfied; that give you false impressions; that eventually lead to your living this life of yours more vicariously than individually.

This is my life. Its peaks, its troughs, its sometimes-rocky roads. I want to experience it, in its truth and in its wholeness, and firsthand. I need not ‘escape’ from it, through (over-)using Instagram, which is often (if I am to indulge in a bit of bitterness, here) merely a marketplace of delusion.

A good relationship with Allah (SWT) and good, healthy, nurturing relationships with my loved ones. I hope each of us can truly be here for, and take care of, one another. The hyper-individualistic, deluding, isolating, often-quite-detrimental ways of ‘modernity’… they are not for us. These ‘toxic’ cycles that Instagram often gives rise to, and facilitates: making people feel lonelier, and increasingly inadequate. And then, where humans are wired to look to established and true social groups for comfort, support, and belonging… instead, we look to these quasi-relationships. Everyone is entrapped. Real friendships, deep bonds, are in major crisis.

How awful is it that, in order to nurture a good social bond with someone, these days, we feel we must schedule little appointments with them roughly a month in advance?! I know, I know… life gets busy. But if we are putting our ‘busy-ness’ way before the connections of our souls, really and truly, we are doing things wrong. What is the point of ‘busy’, if it means losing out on so much true goodness? Priorities, sister!

Deleting Instagram has certainly been ‘worth it’, I think. Perhaps it is true that I now know less about two thousand people I have once known; that they now know less about me. It is also true that it is no longer ‘normal’ for me to continuously consume so much pointless and/or obviously detrimental media. Also, feelings of ‘boredom’ and such, when faced, can be quite useful: they allow us to truly, meaningfully, reflect. On the things that are actually important. Seven real friends, in lieu of two thousand not-so-real ones [And whose approvals are more important? Higher quantities of surface/image-based approvals, or deeper ones from those who know you and love you most deeply?] And the ability to face our feelings head on – including ‘awkward silences’ in our face-to-face interactions… This is far more conducive to a better holistically-human experience than… compulsively quelling or purging our feelings by plunging our minds into a virtual world that actually ends up making us feel more restless, dissatisfied, and overburdened with information. A conveyor belt of images, to which we are known to turn in order to escape truth[s].

See, between states of boredom (‘under-stimulation’) and those of anxiety (‘over-stimulation’) there is a place. A ‘middle way’, call it, which is centred on order and routine, and is also decently challenging and exciting. Constancy, with some much-needed interspersed novelties. This is a worthy state of being to strive towards, methinks. However, the issue with Instagram is that it exploits states of ‘boredom’ and then propels us, whether we are, at the time, conscious of this or not: into hyper-stimulation.

Even months on, from my having deleted Instagram, I am still working on this: I am known to think, from time to time, about pretty much everyone, and everything. I think I absorb others’ emotions and such like a sponge. I need to normalise, within myself, concerning myself only with that which truly concerns me. And if a true social connection between I and another is meant to be, then, quite simply, Bi’ithnillah, it shall be.

Mine to be concerned about is this: my own ‘small world’. With these people, in it. A world that truly concerns me, and which does not dizzy, deafen, or delude me, as a result of my engaging with it. Purpose, validation, motivation, comfort, belonging: surely I can obtain fulfilment, within these particular things, from more substantial and true avenues than… Instagram.

My Rabb; nature; interpersonal connections of the soul. These, I find, are all I really have, here, and these are all I really need.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Concise Compositions: Privacy

What does it mean, to be a ‘private person’? And is this – being ‘private’, keeping things ‘lowkey’ – truly a virtuous trait? Why do we claim to admire such people so?

It is true – that trite statement that tells us that we “live in a society”. We are, at our cores, social creatures. So, so much of who we are is not independent of others: we develop our personalities and such in light of others. We all want to earn the approval of certain people; be loved by our loved ones; impress certain other people.

The ‘private’ person, then. Just does things, theoretically without other people in mind. I wonder if this can ever actually be the case. It could be the case for misanthropes and hermits, perhaps. But I do think that attempting to go against human nature by closing oneself off from ‘society’ makes people miserable.

I mean, it is true that some people are super public. They do most things ‘for show’, so it would seem. They lose things like what we may term ‘authenticity’. I think an obsession with being popular and being famous just cheapens things.

And then, there are those who obsessively say they are guarding themselves, somehow. By not sharing their work; by refusing to talk about details of their own lives, with others. How arrogant. Maybe both – the excessively ‘public’ and the excessively ‘private’ are driven by pride.

Hmm. I think it is important to be more or less the same person in private and in public. Worrying not about being popular and public and such; also not worrying about hiding oneself and one’s goodnesses. It’s when you’re anxious to either be public or to be private, when it just seems a little pathetic, methinks.

  • 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! 

(Let’s see what might spill from that mind of yours, when it is forced, under time constraints, to speedily think and write…)


Sadia Ahmed J. 2020

 

You’re Weird.

According to the OED, the term ‘weird’ refers to something “very strange; bizarre”. This is its informal definition. The definition of ‘strange’ is as follows: “unusual or surprising; difficult to understand or explain.” Now, with regard to a more formal definition of the adjective ‘weird’, it actually means “suggesting something supernatural or unearthly”. Thus, if you are weird, the chances are that you are, a) different from the norm – and that you are therefore rare; b) as a result of your numerical rarity, you are also difficult to understand, by the general populace. Finally, c) there is a high chance that you also have about you a ‘supernatural’ quality; some sort of ‘unearthly’ mystique. 

In general, human beings tend to seek out a stable sense of belonging, via validation from those around us. Firstly, we need to feel like we belong within our nuclear family units, and then, in our extended family units; our workplaces, our schools. And, of course, we yearn for a sense of belonging within the wider construct of society. Without these feelings of authentic belonging, we become susceptible to some of the most unpleasant and unfavourable sentiments – those of feeling like societal rejects; like abnormalities; like weirdos. 

And we try, so desperately hard, to run away from this label. “You’re weird“. “Freak!” is what we hear. “Societal mistake”; “cultural anomaly”; “reject”. We crave not to be outcast in such a way; we need to feel like we belong. And we often find ourselves under the impression that to belong is to be exactly like those around us. 

This is a valid idea: many of the values, ways of doing things (etc.) that we acquire over the courses of our lives do come from the people around us – in particular, from those in senior authority positions, relative to ourselves. Parents, teachers, bosses at work, the ‘role models’ we place upon perceptive idealistic planes…

But who decides what is normal, and what is not? Is it merely a game of numbers? The majority of the population does this, and is like this, therefore this is the norm, i.e. what is normal. Does that mean that everyone and everything that strays from what is numerically most popular is to be deemed weird? 

What if the majority of the world’s inhabitants were to suddenly find themselves plagued by some sort of neurodegenerative disease that rendered them all prone to seeing hallucinations? What if they all were to start walking around barefoot, and hugging every tree they saw, and poking each other’s noses by way of greeting one another? According to our earlier definitions of normal and weird, this would all, by default, become the new normal. And anything and anyone who were to stray from this – what has become the most popular way of doing things – would be labelled as weird. 

The fact of the matter is, most of us fear being weird. We think the concept of being different naturally means that we are like science experiments gone wrong; like physical abnormalities in abstract cages, self-criticising, while the rest of the world gawks at and laughs at us.

But, and in reality, people laugh at what is different; at what causes them some discomfort. And what causes discomfort tends to be what is unfamiliar. This is why people often laugh at politically incorrect jokes; these jokes cause some degree of discomfort in people, which can be released via the outlet of laughter. Furthermore, with regard to criticism, people always display inclinations towards commenting on what is different; unfamiliar; discomfort-inducing.

If you were to walk along beside a line of pine trees, and if you then came across a single cherry blossom tree, the cherry blossom tree is likely to immediately catch your attention. And, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it, the cherry blossom tree remains objectively beautiful. Her beauty is only accentuated by the fact that there are few like her, in her vicinity. Few pine trees could ever possibly understand her. But she is there, and she is weird. And ‘weird’ is not an inherently bad thing; this is surely all a matter of perspective.

And, besides, what are we, all of us, but grown-up children? Do we not all trip up sometimes on pavements; spill food; go to use the potty? We still have tantrums – whether we choose to show these to the world or not. We feel unmitigated rage; we feel jealous; we show off. Pretty much all of the things that children – these beings that hold mirrors up to our true core selves – do, adults do, too. Adulthood is but a game of seasoned childhood, with some additional moral frameworks in the mix…

All the things you do; all the things you perhaps dislike about yourself are probably pretty normal. It’s just that some things, as we have all implicitly decided within greater society, can be shown. Other things must be kept hidden.

Interestingly, and in light of the fact that we are all merely overgrown children, human babies are born having only two ‘built-in’ fears: that of falling, and that of loud noises. Every other fear and insecurity that we may have is gained along the way, via ‘nurture’ – via experience.

We have learnt (from the adults who were in charge of our care back then) what is to be seen as normal, and what is to be regarded – dismissed – as being weird. See, if you were to give a young child the chance to dress him- or herself, chances are, they will appear before you, minutes later, clad in wellington boots in the middle of the summer; animal-print tops that do not match their tracksuit trousers; raincoats on days where rain does not look like a probable occurrence at all…

Children are the weirdest of creatures. And this is what makes them so intrinsically wonderful. Their intrinsic human creative faculties have not yet been curbed; rather, these are nurtured every single day by a general fearlessness of being labelled as strange.

Children see almost every fellow child in the entire world as a potential fellow playmate. They point at random squirrels, name them ‘Alison’ or ‘Percy’, and call them their “pets”. They get tubs of face cream and smear it all over their hair. They invent weird languages, and handshakes, and make pointless devices out of cardboard. Weird is precisely how they learn. 

And if you were to force a young child into modern accepted brackets of normality (e.g. forcing them to sit on a swivel chair in a sparsely-decorated office, filling out piles of paperwork, with a twenty-minute coffee break in between all their hours) they would, to put it succinctly, freak out. Such things – such notions that we gradually imbue children with as they grow up – that this is how you are meant to end up – are wholly unnatural to the unaffected child. These things run antithetical to the weird essence of the young human.

Do we truly outgrow our own selves, after childhood? Is that truly the case? Or is it more so a case of plastering atop our essential selves affectations of ‘adulthood’, and of ‘propriety’, and of blunted weirdness, and curbed creativity?

Weird is necessary for progress. If you try the same things over and over again, you will end up with the very same results, over and over again. This is true both on an individual, and on a wider societal, scale. The iPhone was invented because a certain man decided to be a bit weird. Frida Kahlo’s legendary works of art are intrinsically weird. “Only one mountain can know the core of another mountain,” she once said. Only one weird person can know the wonderful core of another weird person. 

How else did Barack Obama become the first black president of the USA? Was it a normal decision that he made – to run in the election? No – it was weird – it was unheard of to have an African-American person in such a noble and important position, back then. But weird is necessary for change, until the virtuous elements of weird become the new normal. Marie Curie; Prophet Muhammad (SAW); Virginia Woolf; the Buddha. Though widely celebrated individuals now, back then, they were utter weirdos. And this was precisely their collective superpower: they could be weird, and they could thus see things differently. This allowed them to do things differently – weirdly, albeit, in the direction of much good.

If you are weird, congratulations! Though you may be acutely self-conscious, self-critical, and numerically few, you are of extremely high value. And almost every single thing you frown upon yourself for doing or being can be either flipped or neutralised; it is all a matter of mindset and interpretation.

“I’m awkward.” No – you’re adorable, and your actions are so very endearing. 

“I’m too much of an introvert.” Your mind must be beautiful; you actively nurture it by being outwardly silent. Your words have more weight – more value – whenever you do speak. 

“I do x and y. I’m such a freak.” Millions of other human beings probably do – and have, throughout history done – exactly whatever you do. You’re not a freak at all. Every human action is borne from a universal human motivation… whether this be the motivation to play and to enjoy the world; to learn and explore; to experience platonic and romantic love… 

“I embarrass myself, over and over again.” Good. That means you are alive and human. And it means you are tryingKeep trying, please! 

Some of my most favourite fictional characters are ‘weird’, and, for the most part, this is exactly why I love them. Rudy from ‘the Book Thief’. How adorable and endearing is he? It is safe to say, I had the biggest crush on him when I was younger. Sadly, he does not exist.

Jessica Day from ‘New Girl’. Polka dots, wide-frame glasses, saying weird things, and at all the wrong times. Sweet, funny, super unique, interesting, unpredictable. Who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Riley from ‘Girl Meets World’. What a weirdo. She has stars in her eyes; gets excited at the smallest of things. She is a tad naive, but, and like Jessica Day, who wouldn’t want her as a friend?!

Farkle from ‘GMW’, too. Initially, he sported a bowl-cut hairstyle. He would wear turtlenecks, and he had a whole host of strange idiosyncratic behaviours. He was funny, and very strange, and such a sensitive and loyal friend. Fictional crush the second, who unfortunately does not exist.

Then, there’s Topanga from ‘Boy Meets World’, and, later, ‘Girl Meets World’. One of my (fictional) role models. Topanga starts out as the definition of ‘weird’. She is… a hippie. ‘Child of the universe’, glassy eyes that just gaze into distances. She spontaneously performs rain dances and applies lipstick, as warpaint, to her face. When she is younger, she is one of the most sensitive, intelligent, loyal, and beautifully different souls out there. And she grows up to be a lawyer and a cafe-owner, with a wonderful (rather weird) family. Adulthood catches up with the great Topanga in the end, sure, but the beauty of her weirdness remains.

Hermione from Harry Potter. “Mental, that one,” Ron (ironically, her future husband) remarks, upon watching her sit beneath the Sorting Hat. Hermione is proudly weird; Luna Lovegood, too. Sometimes they are both mocked by those around them. But people throw rocks at things that shine. And, oh, how Hermione and Luna shine. 

And, finally, one of the best (fictional, unfortunately) couples in existence: the legendary Jake and Amy from ‘Brooklyn-99’What utter weirdos! Jake, the joker: jumps on grown men, is forever making childish jokes, always embarrasses himself. And, Amy, whom Rosa and Gina initially deem “a loser”. Stationery advocate; crossword aficionado; she has one friend outside of the precinct. But – nay, and – she is so very loved, and she is one of the greatest sergeants of her time.

Of course, fiction does not wholly represent human reality. But, often, it can give an acceptably good indication of it. Both in fictional worlds and in the real world, weird is what gives rise to adventure, and to greatness, and to fun. So here’s to your weirdnesses, dear reader – to all of them, even to the ones you cannot bring yourself to love, just yet.

See, weird is the very thing that makes small children fall in love with the world, in the first place. And weird might just be what it may take for us to stay there, in that childishly blissful state we have all, at some point, had the pleasure of experiencing.

On Social Media

Social media: online platforms that supposedly enhance our social lives, making us feel more connected to other people and places. I know that the virtual world certainly has its benefits; it lets us keep in touch with people, and to come across new people (I was lucky enough to first meet one of my closest friends through Tumblr) and new perspectives. Through online networks, we can also come by inspiration for various things (a word of advice here: Pinterest is indisputably the one for room decor inspo).

That being said, however, personally, I have found that whenever I am feeling particularly dissatisfied or mentally uneasy, I notice that there has been a spike in my social media activity (or, rather, inactivity, when I am scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram newsfeed). Granted, the direction of causation is unclear here: do I attempt to purge my sorrows by looking at aesthetically pleasing pictures of books, buildings, and beautiful things … or does the virtual realm actively contribute to my sense of sadness? Perhaps the answer to this is a more circular one, and an increasing number of us find ourselves trapped in the vicious cycle of the lofty expectations and subsequent dissatisfaction that social apps can impose on us.

You may have already heard about the shocking finding that receiving ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on social media typically has psychological and physiological effects that parallel those of heroin consumption. Social media, our digital drug, has utterly consumed us. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… the logos of these social media giants are plastered all over shop windows and tourist attractions. Many of us use them for hours on end, every single day.

Recently, numerous celebrities and other avid social media users have posted about their love-hate struggles with their digital lives. Many have taken the decision to dispose of their accounts altogether; many others have resorted to undertaking lengthy social media hiatuses.

As well as the plethora of mental health issues that can arise from or be worsened by the overconsumption of digital content, it could be argued that the epidemic of social media warps our reality, and replaces it with a falsified ‘Insta-reality’: our experiences are commodified, made as ‘picture-perfect’ as possible, in order to be shared online. It could also be argued that the online element only adds to our perceptions of reality: we naturally enjoy relaying our thoughts and experiences to others (often in a rather filtered way). Does it really matter if what is being said is conveyed through our screens in lieu of our facial expressions, voices, and physical proximity?

When analysing the effects of social media, it is easy to fall into the trap – that great human bias of ours – of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, and at the present through a lens of mistrust. Life must have been sweeter back then – and interpersonal relationships more soulful or romantic – when our means of communication were limited to face-to-face interactions, and beautifully handwritten letters. In truth, this probably wasn’t the case: humans have always been great narcissists, nosy parkers, perfectionists, procrastinators, and so on. Social media simply provides a digital stage onto which the best (and worst) elements of the human condition can be projected.

Another crucial question to be asked: is there really a solid line that delineates between our ‘in-real-life’ and online selves? The postmodernist view is that the distinction between media and reality has become (irreversibly) blurred. ‘Real life’, surely, is a product of our experiences – whatever we see, touch, feel, smell, taste, and, most crucially, think. Our realities depend on the manner in which we process the things around us – including the things we see online. But what detracts from whatever claims to authenticity social media might have is its often very ‘filtered’ nature. People are very particular with what they post online: streams of glamorous and ‘aesthetic’ posts can lead to – and has led to – the development of the view that anything that is ‘ordinary’, mundane, commonplace, and messy, is substandard.

However, it is true that the issue of the selective presentation of ourselves exists offline too: people are also rather selective with which thoughts they allow themselves to translate into physical behaviour and speech. We are inherently prone to filtering ourselves – so perhaps, instead of being a threat to our fundamental collective human nature, social media is a direct product of it.

Ultimately, it would be rather ignorant and small-minded of me to claim that the effect of social media is only detrimental to us: there are certainly benefits to increased connectivity. But these online platforms have exacerbated certain negative conditions – FOMO (fear of missing out), jealousy, feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, issues with body image, and more. Social media exposes us more to the world – both its good sides, and its darker sides.

But the most alarming aspect of the whole debate, in my view, is the fact that social media has become a drug to which many of us find ourselves helpelessly addicted. And, just like any other drug, people need increasingly large doses of social media to sustain their addictions. In fact, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced in its absence. And often, instead of ‘living in the moment’, we find ourselves responding to cognitive itches by obsessively and anxiously picking up our phones, unfathomably desperate to know what others are doing, or how we are being perceived by them, or which shade of lipstick Kylie Jenner has chosen to wear today.

My ambivalent ramblings towards social media conclude themselves here: everything that is good, is good in moderation. And sometimes, in order to recharge yourself, you must first unplug yourself from the often deceptive and all-consuming world of social media.


Sadia Ahmed, 2018