Journey to the Heart of Islam: ر , ح and ت

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Curiosity. Like many Muslims, ر demonstrates a particular sort of curiosity towards learning about ‘Ahlul Kitaab’: the People of the Book. At my favourite bookshop (‘Blackstone’ on Whitechapel Road) there is a section dedicated to the Abrahamic faiths, I believe: the Hanif tradition (that of uprightness, Pure Monotheism).

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

I mean, they were giving out free first-aid kits, so I thought, why not?

And ر had also tried to join her university’s Catholic Society, however they, apparently, did not want any Muslims to join. She reported them on the grounds of exclusionary practices, and they… ended up being disbanded.

The Qur’an exists as a manual for we Muslims, and it contains references to Biblical stories that had already been known to many people in pre-Islamic Arabia and its surrounding regions. The Qur’an had been revealed as a confirmation of that original Hanif message, and through it Allah also highlighted some corrections to be made, to the corruptions that had been introduced over time. Yet, still:

“Indeed, those who believe/trust and those who are Jews or Christians [‘Nasaaraa’] or Sabeans – those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and do works of righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” — Qur’an (2:62)

This makes me want to look further into the scriptures of the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, Insha Allah*.

Yesterday, I sat with ر , ح and ت. We, being ‘postcolonial [second-gen immigrant] Brits’, enjoyed some fish and chips together, no less. And, seeing as this had been a gathering of (interesting and unique) Muslims, I felt I had to bring out my notebook and pen. I told them to blink twice if they had been feeling exploited. I believe ت had blinked around ten times. [The price of friendship.]

ح explains that Islam is a belief system: it provides us with standards, examples on how to live our lives. This does not mean that the experience of the Deen* is monochromatic; certainly, it does not look the same for everybody.

If one accepts Islam in one’s heart, it necessarily follows that we believe that Allah created us, and this universe. How our faces know to look different; the cadences of our languages. Our different experiences, what is in our (individual) Rizq*. We are all the same ‘thing’: human, and yet in various configurations.

Different versions of the same thing, and no two Muslims are ever fully alike. Generally, the differences may be put down to variations in terms of age/generation, gender, life experiences, (which are linked to) socioeconomic class, ethnic culture, and so forth. Yet, when it comes down to it, as ر explains: we are all leaves of the same tree.

“A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky.” — Qur’an (14:24)

When I asked what the non-negotiables, then, are, in Islam: belief in the Ghayb (the metaphysical, the Unseen), i.e. the Jinn*, the angels (and not in the anthropomorphised, feminised way that is sometimes depicted, for example in churches. But in a way that is – at least at present – unknown to the limited human mind), the Day of Judgement. Prayer (the five daily Salāh) also, we agreed. And the Qur’an. Fasting, Hajj, the Prophets, Heaven and Hell; respect, and love and kindness. Giving, I would add, and not exclusively in terms of financial wealth, but also in terms of time and acts of service for others. And the belief in Pure Monotheism, undoubtedly. This is Islam.

Some people merely ‘abide by the rules’, and strongly enforce them, but Islam is not merely ‘rules’: it is a matter of the heart and the soul:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but

[true] righteousness is one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakāh; fulfil their promise when they promise, and are patient [and steadfast] in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — Qur’an (2:177)

ح’s parents had come to the UK from Lebanon, some thirty years ago. She is currently studying English at university (Masha Allah). We talked about women’s rights and feminism, and ح made it clear that she identifies as a feminist.

She says that “Islam is an inherently feminist religion.”

My current view is that the term ‘feminism’ now finds itself, in popular understanding, inextricable with notions of ‘liberalism’. I think that just as Islamic teachings advocate for the sharing of wealth, we need not advertise ourselves as being, say, ‘communists’ in order to demonstrate this belief. [Islam advocates for the sharing of wealth, and for the taking-care of the weak and poor in society, and for good treatment of people. And, yet, people have a right to be wealthy, own their own things, generate profit. Indeed, Allah made us different, blessed some of us, in certain regards, above others, and designed the ‘economic ways of the world’ so that some people work for others. Demand – wants – and supply – haves.]

ح argues that communism and feminism are distinctively different, since communism is closely associated with its own philosophy, history, and politics. She believes that simply ‘to believe that women deserve rights’ is to be a feminist. But I suppose the issue at hand, as is often the case with these things, is a matter of words, and definitions and associations. Nowadays, ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’ might often be in primary reference to… clothes and to ‘economic freedoms’, i.e. the encouragement towards partaking in more economic (paid) labour. [But is this ‘liberation’?]

I ask ر if she identifies as a feminist. She is more focused on the fact that she’s just seen a spider in the bathroom, and finds herself subtly traumatised by this ordeal.

In terms of women in Islam, this is a long-term, deep-rooted passion of mine. And I agree that often we women do not understand our rights in Islam, as a result of… men who ‘gate-keep’.

Impressions of ‘authority’. What grants them weight and legitimacy? A uniform, a label? A lengthy beard and the knowledge of numerous particular terms? I cannot forget about the time I had witnessed a fairly ‘learned’ man speak ill of a known Muslim scholar, who is a woman. While speaking freely, arguably casually… with women.

As another friend of mine advises, don’t necessarily (blindly) trust the ‘showman sheikhs’, and especially not the ones who… talk too much about women, especially in an unfavourable way.

This is why female Muslim scholarship is of such high importance. The legacy of ‘Aisha (RA), arguably the most important scholar in human history (Masha Allah).

ح tells me about the presence of a line of female scholars in Lebanon. They are integral to their communities, and they are educated in Deen, and they teach. They are known as ‘Anisāt’. By contrast:

There is also a strong culture of Western influence – especially from France – in Lebanon (and the same in Syria. Britain in Jordan and Palestine). Secularism, notions of liberation from a ‘Western ‘liberalist’’ worldview. This, unfortunately, is coupled with a seeming obsession with conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards: cosmetic surgery is widespread there.

This reminds me of when I went with my family to Saudi in 2015, I think it had been. We had been going in order to do Umrah (the ‘semi-pilgrimage’, so to speak), and had to spend a day or something in Beirut, Lebanon. The plane had barely even landed, I think, before advert after advert on the behind-seat screens had been blaring information about cosmetic surgeons, cosmetic surgery, are you unhappy with the shape of your nose? And so forth.

Almost dystopian, I would say. Deeply normalised: entrenched. And, the contrast: between the simple white-and-black of this group on our way to Makkah, and the more… ‘Parisian-seeming’, rouged, potently-fragranced and shiny, Beirut, Lebanon.

ح continues by explaining that these encroaching attitudes of ‘modernism’ (by Western ‘liberalist’ standards, deeply entwined with economic ‘liberalism’) are connected to a culture among many modern-day Arabs of looking distastefully at whatever is ‘old-fashioned’: ‘Adeem’ (or, ‘Qadeem’, in Fus’ha – that is, ‘classical’, or ‘proper’ – Arabic).

To many, the Hijāb is ‘Adeem’. I sort of recently saw a video of an Egyptian woman explaining to a white non-Muslim journalist, I think it had been, that she “hates the hijāb”. She does not have to wear it, but she seems to hate it, with a passion. I believe this had come about after a Muslim woman – in Egypt, nominally a ‘Muslim country’ – had been ordered to exchange her ‘Burkini’ (modest swimwear) for something more revealing. She cried; she felt defeated and so upset.

This, ‘in the name of ‘liberation’’. In whose eyes, and for whose gain?

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

the men who guard their private parts/chastity and the women who do so,

 and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so:

for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” — Qur’an (33:35)

I ask ح about her views on male-female segregation: the general separation of ‘spheres’. This would appear to be a point of contention for many, including a Christian person I know, whose belief seems to be that such a notion ‘belongs in erstwhile times’. [‘Get with the times!’]

ح explains that ‘free-mixing’, in her view, is disallowed in Islam. Non-Mahram* men shouldn’t freely, casually interact with non-Mahram women. In her household, for instance, at dinner parties, the men and women eat in different parts of her home. At the same time, and the same food, but in different places.

I ask her about weddings, then, in her ethnic/religious culture. She said that it depends on the individuals, the families. Sometimes, the men and women celebrate on different days. A Muslim wedding is two parts: the Nikkah declaration, and the Walīma (feast). Sometimes, ح explains, they are segregated events, and without music, but with Nasheeds (Islamic devotional songs) instead. Sometimes, the groom will drop his wife off to the venue, while she is in hijāb (modestly dressed), and while her (female) guests are too. When he leaves, the guests can relax and enjoy themselves. I like this idea.

In line with the topic of ‘free-mixing’ and segregation [an Islamic teacher at the school I worked at for a year taught me about the guidelines that ought to be exercised with non-Mahram men: keeping it public, purposeful, and professional. The three Ps.] I explained to my friends that one of my class groups from the sixth form we had attended had invited me to go out with them to eat. Because it is going to be a mixed thing, I declined the invitation (as politely as I could) but also worried – as I sometimes do – that people would come to perceive me as being this or that: in particular, those of the group who are not Muslim.

But I think they get it. Because two of the non-Muslims in the group made sure to look for Halāl restaurants, for the members of the group who are Muslim. One of my non-Muslim friends from that class is from Albania, and she understands Islamic terminology and such, since members of her family use them. And, also: as I learned yesterday…

Someone from this former class of mine – ethnically Italian, class joker – has taken his Shahādah*. When I heard this, I felt something quite deep: my heart felt something, and I kind of wanted to cry. How amazing, Masha Allah. [It usually is the ‘class clown’, nice type that are actually rather serious and deep thinkers. ‘Behind-the-scenes’.] How exceptional, Masha Allah.

It is amazing because: Allah chose him specifically. How special he must be, in the Eyes of Allah.

Is it patronising of me to write, here, how deeply proud I am? [In Jannah, Insha Allah, we can eat some otherworldly-good cake together. And everyone’s invited].

I ask ح about her views on music. Her view is that it is okay so long as the lyrics are not bad. ر adds that, like many, she found herself listening to music that had a good beat. But actually, the lyrics had been sort of shameless. ‘Hayaa’ (shyness, self-respect in the form of humility, a sensitivity to shame and dishonour) is a part of being Muslim.

These conversations on music remind me of something I have read fairly recently, about linguistics. Humanity is inextricable from linguistics: words carry weight, and they are emotionally heavy, also, and the nature of mankind is emotional. Words mean things that is their point and linguistics can be summarised as the relationships between sounds and meaning.

The Qur’an was revealed in words, and we say ‘I love you’, in words. A human baby comes into human autonomy with the introduction of words into its vocabulary: a shift from guttural and confused babbles and cries. Into meaning, and not solely sound. We express wants, thought processes, our ideals, our selves, through… words.

And words can be violent, too: they make us feel things, and do things, even ‘subliminally’ and/or gradually, over time. They affect how we think about things, and indeed we think through… words.

A lot of modern-day music – even if we argue that we are clever enough to filter away what we do not actually agree with – contains meanings of… misogyny, promiscuity, the advocation of certain lifestyles whose very proponents victims, even are testament to how soul-destroying they are. The drugs, merely to ‘feel something’. The using-women-as-objects, to ‘feel something’. The mindless materialism. And so forth.

As with (perhaps all) Muslims who are mature in terms of age, there are questions that I have. Pertaining, for example, to the nature of Hadīth, and to music, and so forth. Islam is a way of life, and it is a way of life that encourages ongoing renewal, discovery, facing challenges, and learning.

When ر first met ت, she had seen… a South Asian wearing a headscarf. She admits that she had come to the initial conclusions that ت might have been “boring, judgemental, and annoying”. None of us are quite immune from the tendency to make quick judgements of such natures.

But then she got to know her better: the time-and-time-again realisation that there is so, so, much that makes up a human being (Masha Allah. How exceptionally, wonderfully well we have been made). Now, ر and ت are very close, Masha Allah.

ر had been the type of person, at our school, to randomly stop people in the corridors, to hug and compliment them. She also seems to have this strange obsession with… ‘head shapes’, able to discern who has a good, or even ‘perfect’, one.

And it is hard to tell what people are actually going through, ‘behind-the-scenes’, but everybody is. ر’s story is a very difficult one, and this is the person she chooses to be (Masha Allah). Sunshine for others, even when she might not quite feel like it inside. She does not, for example, want to turn out “miserable and hollow” like certain people who really mistreated her. Instead, she would like to do things like help kids in Egypt – her family’s home country.

Islam is something that ر began to navigate ‘on her own’. She talks about the effect of some people who seek to ‘attract’ people to the Deen by being… quite inherently repulsive in their actions. A ‘strangling’ effect, she calls it. Islam, however, is something that must be accepted ‘in the heart’, she explains.

You have to open your heart, and allow the Qur’an to “proper speak” to you.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

“Oh Turner of hearts, make my heart steadfast upon Your Deen.”

Certainly, ours is a ‘proselytising’ faith, in that we are meant to do works of ‘Da’wah’ (‘calling’ people to the faith). We explain the principles of our belief, we are meant to embody said principles in our actions. But, at the same time, to paraphrase ح, “you keep your business to your business.”

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

“For you is your way of life and for me is mine.” — Qur’an (109:6)

ر talks about the Muslim’s relationship with the Qur’an. It is about, to paraphrase her, taking the words, understanding them (and their linguistic subtleties, for example, and their historical contexts), putting them into your heart, and acting upon them. In ‘spirit’ (essences, principles, intention) and in ‘letter’ (laws, commands, directives). The heart/soul and the body.

We talk about the ‘LGBT’ movement too, and about the reactions of some Muslims. A very ‘reactionary’ way of addressing the issue at hand, in that the ‘rainbow movement’ seems to function as yet another symbol of encroaching ‘Western ‘liberal’ modernism’.

Some resort to verbal and physical abuse against proponents of the views of non-heterosexuality being okay in practice. ح states that this abuse is un-Islamic.

Here, I remember seeing a man dressed in a certain way – effeminately – walking past a group of young men (who are Muslim, I assume). They jeered at him, made him feel very uncomfortable. Would they have done the same to, say, a man walking with his girlfriend who hadn’t been wearing a headscarf? I think not, and it isn’t right either.

ح argues that these same seeming ‘ardent Muslims’ who sometimes violently oppose these individuals do not seem to harbour or demonstrate the same energy against… adulterers and such. ت comments on the major sins that have seemingly become quite normalised, even among Muslims: backbiting, people cheating on their spouses. So to cling inordinately to this singular issue might be indicative of… a ‘pick-and-choose’ version of practising Islam, and not necessarily one rooted in… sincerity, perhaps.

How can one attract to Islam by being inherently repellent in nature? By having an altogether-‘strangling’ effect?

“Make matters easy (for people) and do not make them difficult,

and give people glad tidings

and do not repulse them.” — Hadīth* (Sahih Muslim and Bukhāri)

ح is a ‘Sayyida’. Her lineage can be traced back to Muhammad (SAW)*. Some people are known to truly honour Sayyids and Sayyidas, but ح does not hold the view that it makes her ‘special’ in any way.

It is interesting how I met these beautiful people (Masha Allah) and others. Secondary school was one thing: at times, a day-in-day out, monochromatic uniform, conveyor belt into exams. People mainly from ‘my’ particular community, and then into a pocket of Central London we had all respectively, from our different secondary schools and parts of London and backgrounds, been plunged. The places and the people we have, and will, come across: Allah’s Divine Plan for us.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.

Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-cognisant of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” — Qur’an (49:13)

Yesterday, I learned a new word from ح: ‘Ikhtilaaf’. It means ‘differing of opinion’. I ask something along the lines of: what is truth?

And: there is Objective Truth, and part of it, perhaps, is subjective experience. The Islamic view is that this life is a test. Each of us is being tested, based on what we, individually know. At various stages in our lives, in accordance with our individual circumstances. What we have access to, how sincere we are, in relation to Truth.

Sensitivity Warning from here onwards: themes of animal meat and slaughter

ر is a passionate environmentalist (Masha Allah). She feels that Alhamdulillah, we’ve been given these amazing, beautiful things that we’ve been given. We should embrace them, and take care of what Allah has given us.

“And it is He who has made you successors/vicegerents upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” — Qur’an (6:165)

I’m not quite sure how our conversation had arrived at… animal welfare, but it did. ر talks about the Halal method of slaughtering an animal for food. The animal must be raised in a clean space, where it is allowed to move around freely. She talks about the “way the human dies” too – animal! She means animal! [Freudian slip?]

The animal is not allowed to see the blade. It must be a sharp blade. Other animals cannot witness the slaughter. If it is done right, and with the right, calming prayers uttered: the animal tends to submit.

Sometimes, the animal twitches after its death. ح, an English student, talks about the theory of ‘galvanisation’, which had been prevalent around the time when Mary Shelley had written ‘Frankenstein’. [I also know about this because I had to teach about this book last academic year]. ر adds that twitching doesn’t necessarily mean:

You’re aliiive!

And I forget if it had been ح or ر who had said this, but:

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

To be Muslim: to know that we are being tested. What is Halāl is Halāl and what is its opposite is its opposite. To know that Allah made humans, and made this Deen for us too. There is room for humour, and for personal inclinations and such. It is not about being ‘free’ in terms of beckoning to every whim and fleeting fancy, inner desire we might have. It is also not about feeling spiritually ‘strangled’.

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

Meanwhile, what we refer to as ‘science’ is “ever-developing”. Empiricism: relying on observation, sensory experience. But we also know, perhaps even empirically, that our minds are quite limited.

 ح explains that we ‘know’ that the moon is a circle. “Sphere,” ر corrects. ‘Science’ is a thing of theories and disproving theories. We could find out, at some point in the future, that, contrary to our previously-held convictions based on observation: the moon is actually… a square. [“Cube,” I imagine ر correcting, here.]

Islam and Science. I’d like to find out more about ‘scientific’ and knowledge-related developments under the Golden Age, Insha Allah. Under Islam, we have an epistemological grounding, a framework. That Allah Knows, while we can know, but still, in limited ways, and only by His Will.

ت adds that part of being Muslim is being comfortable in this ignorance. We have to live by that, in terms of understanding the world, the universe, our own lives. We have to put our trust in Allah.

We are fundamentally unsure about things. We’re tested through matters pertaining to knowledge, too, arguably. But we can ask our Creator, regarding them. And then we have to be patient.

“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” — Qur’an (2:186)

Branching off from the topic of galvanisation, we talk about that age-old ‘dichotomy’ between ‘science’ and ‘rationality’, and romanticism. ‘Sense’ versus ‘sensibility’: a key topic of thought in the 19th Century, and it still is, today.

Oh, stop being so irrational!” might effortlessly say the ‘rationalist’, to the ‘religious ones’. But, sure, there are numbers, and science, and logical trails. Things that happen ‘instantly’, and things that ‘click into place’ without resistance. Allah has designed this world of ours so that there is also such beauty (Masha Allah) and poetry, and harmony. Stories, and complexity; so many variables, perspectives. How could one side of the world (‘male’: ‘rational’, ‘logical’, ‘scientific’, precise and ‘numerical’, strategy and decisiveness) be isolable from its other? [‘Female’: intuitive, beautiful, spiritual, flowers and complexity, emotional and poetic, colour and culture]. By the Design of Allah, the world is made up of, and in need of, both.

We touch on the topic of ‘mental health’, also. People truly are iceberg-like. Everybody knows to hide certain things; people are fighting harder battles. Even the one who seems ‘happy and outgoing’ all the time. We show different ‘faces’ to different people. Many seemingly ‘effortlessly social’ people actually have “massive social anxiety”. Perhaps a rephrase is in order, however: the most ‘anxious’ of us usually care the most.

‘Depression’ is widespread, also, though not always apparent. Allah does say in the Qur’an that, in accordance with the Islamic view of this Dunya (this world) being a place of test: we will be tested in our own selves too.

ر spoke about the things that people do, in order to ‘escape’, and/or to ‘feel something’. These are often the basis of many of the images that it is easy to look to, thinking that those things might show what ‘truly living’ must be like.

The deepest depressions, too: in the Catholic spiritual tradition, there is a phenomenon known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. I think I have been through mine already (2019, perhaps). It describes a time of… enhanced, amplified, feelings of ‘lostness’, depression, hollowness. It tends to be extremely hard – like ‘rock bottom’, perhaps, and then even further. But: what is actually happening is, perhaps, that “the egoic sense of self” is dying:

“The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time.  Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies. Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before.  Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.  But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain.  Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind.  A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life […]  It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized [sic] that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process,

the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.” — Eckhart Tolle

The ‘phoenix falling [deeply], the phoenix flying [Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah*]’. I think, if this really is a somewhat-universal (though, of course, very individually experienced) experience, then: this is when we really come to realise what… the life of this Dunya* is:

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” — Qur’an (57:20)

For more on this Āyah*, including a closer linguistic look at the words employed: https://muslimmatters.org/2010/05/12/eye-opening-words-in-the-quran-describing-the-life-of-this-world/

ر goes on to talk about one of her Science classes back at sixth form [I am the only one in this group who hasn’t been to university. Yet, Insha Allah, and] the others agree that they found their ‘people’ neither at secondary school nor at university. But, there: at our sixth form. [What a unique experience, Masha Allah, being at that school. So stressful, yet very special indeed.] In this class, ر’s teacher had managed to convince everybody that bananas are painted yellow. She (ر) might have been the only one who disagreed.

“What? Do elves come and colour them brown or something [when brown spots start to appear]?”

The conversational emphasis is on critical thinking. Trusting ‘authority figures’. Even teachers can be challenged (respectfully). Public figures, ‘famous Islamic scholars’. ح says that some of these bearded ‘part-of-a-mosque’ figures use religion as a tool – a weapon – to justify their ‘misogyny’.

She does not think that complete ‘obedience to one’s husband’ is a part of Islam, like how some make it out to be. This is also something that I would like to look more closely at, Insha Allah.

Cross-culturally, in general, there are four different ‘schools of thought’ in terms of how Islam is, on the whole, practised: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali, and Māliki. In the subcontinent (which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and arguably parts of certain other countries too, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka) the Hanafi school seems to be the most popularly-followed one.

Personally, I am yet to come to a conclusion on which school I follow, but Insha Allah, I’ll know more about that as time (and my life, and learning) goes on.

Islam points to the Oneness of God. It is not robotic, monochromatic and homogenous. It is not an absolutely-homogenising factory. We have been made into nations and tribes, to come to know one another. With our own individual stories, journeys, cultures and experiences.

ح argues that the attitude of strict ‘homogenisation’ is prevalent among Wahhabis [an Islamic revivalist movement and doctrine that started within Sunni Islam and it is associated with the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 18th Century]. She thinks that this movement is one of ‘rules, rules, rules’, and adds somewhat vehemently that the movement is one about ‘living by hate’.

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

She thinks that the opposite of ‘Wahhabism’ is ‘Sufism’: believing in, living by, love. Her view is that if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, he would have been labelled a ‘Sufi‘, perhaps.

We go on to talk about more sometimes-controversial topics, and some more that are often ‘brushed under the rug’. Sexuality, for example. A Muslim is meant to have Hayaa’, and yet matters pertaining to sexuality should be discussed. These things are inextricable from humanity, reality. Heavy-handed and in-denial ‘repression‘ in these regards is more… Victorian than anything. [The early Muslims, I believe, quite-‘openly‘ discussed these things. This Deen is Designed with… humanity in Mind]

‘Slavery’, also. Islam advocates for the freeing of slaves. And ح explains how important context is. That there are rules outlining how ‘slaves’ should be treated… because it had been a part of the socioeconomic reality, the cultural fabric, then. With Islam having been introduced to pre-Islamic Arabia, where there had still been slaves living with families, they had to be clothed, fed, and treated well.

Nowadays, ح argues, people trying to reinstate practices of slavery (whose definition and associations have seemingly changed over time) have got it wrong, and there are all sorts of moral issues with the practice. In 2017, for example, details about the slave trade in Libya had become publicised: people being treated like cattle, trafficked. The Qur’anic directive is not to instate the practice, and especially not in these ways. But, instead: to liberate enslaved people from bondage.

Another ‘controversial’ issue that would appear to come up, again and again, in discourses pertaining to Islam, is that of war. ح says that Muslims in war, especially in contrast to European combatants, had displayed good conduct. ‘Honour’ is an important word in Islam, and to cultures with strong Islamic influences.

Meanwhile, says ح, the Europeans had been killing mercilessly, destroying culture, raping, murdering, forcing Christianity onto people, and while depicting Muslim civilisation as being the “barbaric” one. ‘Saracens’, and the like. It could be argued that such narratives are continued today: the present moment is a continuation of all those ones that have preceded it.

She says that, for example, when the Muslims had entered Spain, culture had been allowed to be retained. But with the introduction of Islamic principles. Numerous people had come to Islam of their own accord and will, after witnessing the Deen in action. [I do want to learn much more about Islamic history, Insha Allah].

The ‘modern world’ is one that is built on war. And war, like many things, is driven by… economics. Profit. The Taliban, for instance, had been funded by the Israelis and the Americans. When the ‘enemy’ had been… the Soviets. Written as clearly as day, even in British history textbooks. [The Taliban: another thing I want to learn much more about, Insha Allah]. The US: exploiting Middle Eastern lands and peoples for… economic gain. Power.

Afghanistan, through Western-political eyes: less people and human/environmental care. And, more: oil. Minerals. War. For money. ح and ر argue that the Taliban have been, and are being, used as a mere puppet. And as an excuse for intervention, and for further (profit-generating) interventions and conflicts.

An effective way to justify forcefully taking control of a region: look at these women! We need to ‘save’ them! ‘Liberate’ them!

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

And so, where is the Western ‘sympathy’, the interventions, for… the Uyghurs in China, for example?

I ask ح and ر if they think the Taliban’s intentions might be in the right place.

“I mean, I don’t speak to them,” comes ر’s response.

Something that intrigues me, also:

ح says something along the lines of them (the Taliban) being ‘pawns’ in a giant geopolitical chess game. Or, even less significant than a pawn: “truly” so.

And it is all connected, without a doubt: colonialism, orientalism, notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘reform’ and ‘education’, even. Economic ideals of ‘development’, the manipulations of narratives towards particular end goals.

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

Even our Holy Book, the Qur’an: I forget where I had come across this idea, but it has been authored for the fisherman and the philosopher alike. Different eyes and minds look upon the same message, and understand it relatively differently. Some: perhaps, more literally. Some: more abstractly.

But internalising those words necessitates a sincere, open and humble heart.

The key words, here: Pure Monotheism. Sincerity. Heart. Context. Soul, and not merely some cold ‘body’ without one. Critical thinking.

Here, time goes on, and each ‘leaf’ that makes up this ‘tree’ is distinct. Still, the words and meanings of the Qur’an, and the essence of primordial religion, remain timeless.

“We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed.

But only as a reminder/remembrance for those who fear [Allah].” — Qur’an (20:2-3)

We ended the day by sitting on my brother’s trampoline and gazing up at the sky [and later on – in the evening – the stars looked pretty amazing too, Subhan Allah*], and by playing a game my uncle had introduced me to:

‘Most Powerful Memory’ or ‘Foremost Characteristics’ or ‘A likely flaw’. Depending on the title of that round, you stop at each person, and the others go around and share their thoughts of, for example, the most powerful memory that comes to mind of the person whose turn it is. Well, what I had been reminded of yesterday is that… people remember how you made them feel. The human being is not only body, but: mind, heart, and soul. The company we surround ourselves with is integral to our experience of Īmān, and life. People are always going through things that we have no idea about: the faces we present do not show everything – not at all.

Finally, in the struggle to understand religion, and self, and world: it is not… so simple. Mental illness, for example, happens. We’re anxious. We’re not perfect. But how wonderful is it, that others will remember little things that you did, and said, and are? Things that might be ‘first-nature’ – not even just ‘second-’ – for you: the people who love you, know.

[And sometimes they ‘exploit’ you a little, so as to post something on their blog.]

In any case, life happens, in all the ways in which it does. ‘Your world’ can break, come undone, right before your very eyes, or even in the hiddenness, the privacy, of your very mind. Islam, and with the right places, and people, and

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

Like one of the statements in the Adhaan*… drop what doesn’t actually really matter. And:

“Come to success.

Things I would like to learn more about, Insha Allah:

  • Christianity; the stories of the Prophets, the Bible
  • Hadīth verification
  • The Taliban: past [going back to the time of the Crusades, even], and present.

*Insha Allah — ‘God-Willing’, in Arabic.

*Hadīth sayings attributed to/about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

*Dunya this current, transient world, before the eternal one (which is known as Ākhirah).

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

*Masha Allah ‘God has Willed it’. To express that good, beautiful things are from and by Allah.

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

*Jinn — beings that cannot be seen by human eyes. While humans are made of clay, they are made of smokeless fire.

*Mahram — for a woman: her husband, father, direct maternal and paternal uncles, sons, direct nephews, father-in-law, etc. and with her women. With these people, a woman can show her beauty and be more casual and close.

*Shahādah — declaration of faith in Islam. Bearing witness to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His servant and Messenger.

* (SAW) —  an abbreviation for, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in Arabic.

*Āyah —  Qur’anic Verse, and/or ‘Sign’ [of Allah]

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

* Subhan Allah — Glory is Allah’s; God is Perfect.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Sadnesses Seasonal

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

You tried to speak,

and it felt like nobody could really hear you. Like you were living a life that had scarcely been yours, ‘living for others’, uttering words, but merely parroting them, somehow. Like things do not make sense, yet they seem to make sense for others. Like Autumn comes, and the leaves are crisp,

Crunch beneath the soles of your feet, and yet: the sadness weighs heavy. There is a lot, a lot, that people know to hide. But we, individually, and at times together, got through those days, Subhan Allah, every single one.

At times tired, at times strong, but: what’s coming will come. We’ll meet them when they do.

Various aspects of the media tout these ideas that you’ll ‘find yourself’, and all else that you seek in the lonelier notions of adventure, and of chasing things, and ‘thrills’ and all. Like that is ‘youth’, and like all else might stench of ‘stagnation’.

I think: we continue to be tested. Continue to be frail; ever-dependent on the Almighty, and, by consequence of how He has designed us to be, on people, in various ways. Parents, and aunties and uncles. Teachers, even. That friend, that neighbour. Maybe you haven’t quite met ‘your people’ yet, or maybe those bonds have not quite been properly realised [to really realise a bond, one must… be real]. But your Creator is here, and has been here all along.

Nobody said it would be easy, but your Lord Knows and, of course, Understands. And so will all the right people for you: as naturally as the seasons know to change (Masha Allah). We, awfully real beings, in a world of deceit, mirages, illusions, and lies. The wind blows, and the leaves fall.

Was it especially hard to get up this morning? Do you find yourself worrying about what Persons A, B, C, D, and E think about you? Are the actions of Person F, in your heart, a little difficult to forgive?

A candle, palms outstretched over campfire; do we really need much else? Whom and what you love, and are loved by: they will keep you warm.

A mug of hot chocolate; unexpected tears from your eyes. The first glimpse, the break, of sunrise. Dear reader, amid all of these things that necessitate Sabr (a sometimes-mountainous-feeling steadfastness, balance, patience, constancy) and wellies and waterproof coats to walk through, face and get through, those storms, I wish you much that can make your heart pour out in Shukr (appreciation, gratitude). And comfort, a sharing, or a confluence, of energies.

And ease, and mustard-yellow bursts of joy. A knowing that, dear alive and complete, complex, ups-and-downs, and not-only-image-or-‘concept’ human being: you are enough and more, even when parts of you may be convinced otherwise for any while.

This too shall pass: the better, that is, as well as the worse.

And the best, whatever that is, and looks like, for you, for this world, and for the one that will come after it. With each browned, yellowed, auburn-red leaf that falls,

one (wait)

by one

(wait) by (wait) one:

Āmeen, Āmeen, Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

At The Airport

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

At the airport, there are open cafés and sitting areas; people lined up, sitting on horizontal metal poles, since so many of the chairs and benches are already taken up. WH Smith sells sandwiches; magazines; books. Some people have brought with them their Kindles. Others buy books for £9.99 or so. Water. Toiletries from Boots: those mini ones. Somewhat extortionately priced, here at the airport.

Burberry scarves, and bags. Duty-Free Toblerones, and perfumes, and all the rest. You get: one bag, on your back. And another bigger one, perhaps to roll along. Some people do this ‘travel’ thing so often that they seem to have perfected the art of rolling their suitcases along. Dressing for the role: stylish-but-comfortable clothes, coffee flask, neck pillow. Faces that say: “I’m kind of really tired, you know? A little disorientated, but… I’ll get there.”

She posts another picture onto Instagram anyway. In it, she looks energised. Off it, she seems disgruntled as she tries to locate the perfect filter for it.

Everywhere you look, pretty much, there are people. All sorts. Two-year-olds, maybe, talking to their big siblings. Babyccinos. The elderly, and wheelchairs. There is a prayer room; flights being announced, on blinking screens overhead. Plane to Russia; Thailand; China; France. Criss-crossing paths.

Some: returning, with souvenirs and memories in tow. Some: going, with expectations, and goals. To see grandma, or to spend a week or two at the family farm. Airports: the wannabe-philosopher within me yearns to say how they are such… liminal spaces. Between origin and destination.

Human beings conversing, over coffee, maybe. Bleary-eyed, and in waiting. Keeping busy; eating; knowing that they are Elsewhere-bound. Some ‘let loose’ a little; act like this place is sort of less ‘liminal’, less airport, and more ‘home’. “We’ve got ages to go until the plane comes,”

might say the person who is not yet aware of how quickly the time is passing. Under these white lights, and amid all the chatter. Plane to __________ boarding now. And he has to up and leave. Higher and higher, and most of it, he finds, he must leave behind.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

حiking حelvellyn [Sorry, I حad to.]

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

*ح is the Arabic equivalent to a strong ‘h’ sound.

Yesterday I went with a group, organised by the charity Human Aid UK, to climb my first [literal, since we are all climbing figurative mountains in our lives, aren’t we] mountain, Alhamdulillah. Her name is Helvellyn, and my oh my, is she gor-geous (Masha Allah). Green, and hilly; coniferous, evergreen trees [I had been hiking with my friend who is a Geography teacher; here I am, trying to show that I have at least some ‘Physical Geography’ knowledge…].

My dad dropped me off at the meeting point just before 4am, I believe; my mum came along to drop me off too. Geography teacher (Samaiya) and I waited around for a bit; prayed Fajr, and then boarded the coach. A while ago, during Ramadan (so, April) I had come to yesterday’s meeting point area, in order to see some of my second cousins and aunties and such, at a charity dessert stall they had been running, after Ifthar. That evening, I had mistakenly thought that one of the sisters there (who had her face covered) had been my cousin Jameelah, so I’d greeted her enthusiastically as such. That… was not Jameelah.

Yesterday I got to properly meet the woman whom I’d thought was my cousin. Her actual name is Faika; ethnically Bengali and having grown up in France, Faika had come here at the age of eleven. She is a key volunteer with Human Aid, Masha Allah, and has completed her BSc in Psychology. She had sat, drinking her coffee, at the side, in the Human Aid office, while I prayed.

The coach journey there had been nice, Masha Allah. Restful. We stopped at two service stations. One had been somewhere in Lancaster I think. The people there had been really nice (based on our interactions with a couple of them). You know the sort: apologising for walking in front of you, saying thank you for little things. Niceness is nice.

At the site of the climb, one of the (Mancusian) men in charge explained some things to us, and he and his wife, and her sister, helped to distribute lunch to everyone, with the intention of eating it once we reach the summit [the other two people who had been in charge there had been my aunt (Jeba Khala) and her husband. They’d gotten married quite recently, Bārak Allah ‘Alayhum, and had a ‘COVD wedding’. And what better way to nurture a spousal bond than by… climbing a mountain together, for example?!]

Naturally, I chose a tuna sandwich. And I also got a packet of cheese-and-onion crisps, with the intention of putting the crisps into the sandwich, for added crunch [if my aunt’s friend Nazia’s little son Hishaam were there, he might have laughed at me and called me the ‘crisps girl’ again, after seeing me sprinkle crisps on my pasta a couple of times. ‘Tis my honour to be the weird crisps girl. I eat my crisps weirdly with honour!].

At approximately 12PM, we set off, up a particular trail, to the top. But then! About five minutes in to the journey, it turned out that we had been taking the wrong route. So we turned around, and started over. Just a little taster, before the real thing.

Probably less than twenty minutes into the actual hike, I genuinely thought I could not make it to the summit. But as the Mancusian brother had told us, this is mostly mental work: a thing of mindset. Someone else had said something similar, while on the climb. Now, normally, I am someone who is tragically out-of-breath after climbing up two flights of stairs, but Subhan Allah, Alhamdulillah: yesterday I walked and climbed, for roughly, apparently 4km on the way up, and the same on the way down.

That trite but true saying, I guess: “if you put your mind to it…” I think I have really realised, by now, that, Subhan Allah: Allah really does not “burden a soul with more than it can bear” [Qur’an, (2:286)] and if there is a possibility to do something beneficial, even if it seems mountainously difficult… this is your Lord, who can make entire seas split for you, if you have due trust in Him [an idea that is echoed in my cousin Moosa’s amazing GCSE English Lang speech, Masha Allah]. We absolutely can do it, but our beings are always, always, always, reliant on the Most Merciful, The Subtle, Able, All-Knowing, All-Wise.

Well I learned a lot, going up that mountain. I learned more about my friend Samaiya, whom I love, to quote my little cousin Dawud, “big much“. This might sound cheesy, but I knew I loved Samaiya from the moment I saw her. Something about her heart, Masha Allah, and about mine, which loves her. I learned about Faika, and bits about the other climbers with us. We also came across a number of solo hikers [how cool, to sit with a book, with your legs dangling, on the edge of a mountain, for example?!] and couples, and families. I must admit, I had been proud of myself and Samaiya for doing this – our first mountain – at the age of twenty and twenty-two… until, that is, we’d come across a five-year-old kid doing just the same thing. [Cliché motivational message here, about how there is no comparison! Your journey is your journey!]

I think the first twenty minutes had probably been the hardest. And then: it probably did not get easier, but we likely adapted. Is the human body, and the mind, not remarkable (Subhan Allah) in how it learns to adapt to situations?

For a while, about every five minutes or so, I would sit down. Have some juice; some snacks. Recuperate. These breaks had been extremely useful, Masha Allah. Getting weary and achey; then sitting down for a while. Good bursts of energy ensued, I think.

“It’s hard. It’s bloody hard, but it is so worth it,” to quote (or perhaps paraphrase, since I am writing from memory. This is usually the case, with these articles of mine) what a (perhaps sixty-something-year-old) man with a very classically British accent had said. Me being me, I said that this is what mothers tend to say too, after giving birth. He said he has nine children and grandchildren in total, so yes, that’s true: he knows it to be. He had also been intrigued by the T-shirts some members of the group had been wearing, advertising what we had been doing there [Human Aid’s campaign for solar-powered water wells in Yemen] and he and his family had been interested in contributing towards it.

He also told us that he is a member of the ‘Lions Club’, and that he was in Qatar for a while I think. That thing about people trying to communicate warmth and friendliness, and establish connections by trying to figure out who you are, while saying things from who they are. Ah, humankind, thou dost continue to continually fascinate and endear me. [On the (long, winding, kind of quite achey) way down, an auntie who had been walking with Samaiya and me had been talking about her elder brother, who had passed away from COVID in December, Allahu Yerhamuhu. She had been talking about how charitable he, a businessman, had been. Suddenly, we had heard a voice talking about his grandma, I think it had been. How charitable she had been, and the work she would do with the church. It had been a man lying on the mountainous grass, on the side].

The ‘Lions Club’: I’ve just researched it a little. A charitable organisation, some of whose tenets are: to foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world; unselfish service to others. Their motto: “We serve“. Apparently, entry into the club is by invitation only. [Somebody invite me!]

Some of the people we’d crossed paths with during the hike had been extremely kind and friendly. Others: not so much. [This is life. But doesn’t the presence of the a-little-less-than-lovely people mostly serve to augment the value of the wonderful ones? I think so.]

We’d come across, for example, a lovely group of originally-Polish people. A woman who seemed to really love the colour blue. People who told us how long we’ve got left to climb, roughly. People encouraging us to keep going! Remember why you’re doing this! In Northern accents, no less. Imagine ‘accent classes’ were a thing, like language classes are.

Oh, and kids: kind of fearless, Masha Allah. Practically running up the more ‘treacherous’ parts. One boy, I think, had asked his mum for five hundred pounds if he makes it to the top. I told her my brother’s like that too. Just casually, randomly: “Get me a PS5!” and charging me five pounds for a hug, and things like this.

I’m kind of sure I also saw a YouTuber whom my brother used to watch, while on that mountain. Or perhaps the mountain air had been making me a little kooky.

Some things I found to be quite adorable, Masha Allah: a brother had accompanied his little sister on this trek. There were some families there too, including a couple (married twenty-five years, I think she said, Masha Allah) who had stayed in the Lake District for the weekend. And their son and daughter had come with this group, meeting them there; they all climbed up the mountain. There was a family with a Turkish father and a Bengali mother [I think I find mixes like this inordinately cool, Masha Allah. This family: apparently the sons of the owner of their local Turkish grocery shop contributed £150 each towards the wells in Yemen, Masha Allah. “They treat us like family and are so proud of us”. How lovely, Allahummabārik!]. A sister who had been accompanied by her son and nephew, I think they’d been. Two sisters, also, and their brother, and one of the sisters’ husbands: gang. Family tingz. And I had with me my friend who is my sister:

Together, we make up Sam-dia, and we are thinking of starting up our own (monetarily-free-but-spiritually-valuable) Asian matchmaking service, since one of the aunties (the one who’d been spending the weekend in the Lake District) asked us to ‘look for someone’ for her (23-year-old, Bengali, Haafidh) son, but apparently he has better things to be doing than ‘chatting up girls’, so she’s looking for him, even though he probably doesn’t quite trust her individual judgement on this. [If you, dear reader, would like to help Samdia kickstart our introduction services, then… do get in touch Insha Allah! I’m not sure if we’re joking or not, but if it happens it happens].

Well, the higher and higher we climbed, the more gorgeous the view became, Masha Allah. There is just this incredible sort of… silence, up there. The God-given grandeur of these mountains and hills, converging by ways of streams. And forests, dotted about, here and there. And majestic, majestic shades of green, and blue, and browns. And patches of purple – from the thistles – and of grey – from the slate [‘Physical Geography’. As aforementioned, I’d been hiking with a Geography Teacher: the Pakistani from Jhelum whom I’d spent Pakistani Independence Day, so I’d learned, with]. Aside from a subtly profound silence, you could only really hear the intermittent rustling of things, footsteps on ground, the bleating of mountain sheep. Uphill conversations. Catch-ups, and nice-to-meet-yous.

Just keep climbing, just keep climbing.

A while into hiking, I’d assumed that there it is: I can see the peak! Turns out: this had only been a jutted-out rocky part of the mountain, past which you have to keep going, and going, to actually get there. About a third of the way in, I’d assumed we were almost done. But, alas, alas, alas.

Faika let me use the hiking stick she had been walking with. “Is it helping?” I wasn’t sure. But placebo effect, maybe. So, in turn, I think it did work, if not as a distraction, and with its secondary functions (as a sword, or a sniper. But not when there were other people around. What if they’d… assume certain things about me?)

Inarguably a rewarding experience though, Alhamdulillah. After a certain point, Samaiya had hurried ahead with some others, while Faika and I had sort of been struggling. We thought we were the last ones in the group, but we weren’t. We kept carrying on, then sitting. Talking for a while, Capri-Sun and stuff. Samaiya had reached the summit about twenty minutes before I [traitor!]. We sat together to eat (my beloved tuna sandwich) somewhere on the way down. We saw some people who had been running down the mountain paths; mountain-biking, also.

“Why would you do that?!” Samaiya exclaimed something like this (not at them), I think. Like Aya, when she’d seen those… ordinary runners (not to them) … “Why are you ronning?!

Admittedly, there were a number of small occurrences that could have, perhaps, led to injuries on this hike. Like the almost-slips on the way down [hence why it was advisable for us to have brought a Mahram with us. I would have liked for my uncle (Ranga Mama) to have come with me, however it had been his and Suto Mami’s anniversary (Allahummabārik) yesterday. Next time, maybe I’ll encourage my dad to come along]. Whenever I would almost-slip, and be propelled forwards a little, Samaiya would shout, lovingly(!), Speed!

The way up the mountain was struggle, and beautiful: Azwājā. And I am in love with Islam, and with people who love Islam and Allah, and with these values of family, and brotherhood/sisterhood. The marvels of this universe, which Allah has created; the minds with which we have been gifted, to begin to make sense of it all. To quote what is on the shirts we’d been given yesterday:

“We can’t move mountains. But we can climb one.”

The way down was tough, and we kept shaking (probably from slight over-exertion). We walked, for instance, with that auntie, who is a nurse for patients who have breast cancer. She has this wonderful mentality of (maintaining boundaries, and yet still) being friends with her children. They tell her things; her daughter thinks she might want to be a nurse, like her. At the bottom of the mountain, after having climbed it, I saw how she comforted her (maybe fifteen-year-old daughter), asking her if she wants a hug. On the outer levels, perhaps, we outgrow babyhood. But, still: ‘small’ shows of love like this are essential, and may Allah bless their beautiful family, Āmeen. Just the way the brother had been looking after his little sister, as well: the fragrance of this family’s essence can quite easily be sensed, Masha Allah.

The mother of the family also said something which I so loved. It melted my heart, basically. She said that she and her siblings would meet up to eat, without their partners or children. The sibling bond, chronologically, came first. Siblings are a part of you, she said. How cute; how special; how amazing!

Some of us did Salāh outside. At times, admittedly, I would be self-conscious about doing Salāh in front of certain people, strangers. But: so what. I’m standing before my Creator, and that is what matters.

Yesterday, I found myself reassured at the fact that… it’s possible to, for example, memorise the Qur’an. Like Miss Maryam did (Masha Allah) at the age of twenty, in Egypt, I think. You can be, as some members of the group are, a quiet, gentle, kind Muslim. You don’t have to be the centre of attention, for example. The way you are: some will perceive it as the best, most desirable, things, while others may see something of the opposite, on the whole. May you always have people who see the things that make up you, specifically, through the most beautiful eyes/ways of looking: Āmeen. Your ‘peaks’ and your ‘troughs’. May this be part of the beautiful things that encourage you to… just keep climbing. Āmeen, Āmeen.

I think people’s essences shine through, especially when they’re just doing their thing, without showing much consciousness of who might be around, or looking. Our essences matter; what we do and say might be our petals, while our hearts are at their centre.

Well, after the climb, I thought I’d lost my watch. And my glasses. The glasses: it turned out that someone in our group had seen them, and had left them on the side, on a fence. I asked if I could go back to get them, but two of the men in the group kindly said they’d go [I felt bad, but also I’d done too much exercise in one day already. One is weak]. As for the watch, ‘t’had been… in my pocket all along, as I’d later discovered.

On the way home, we stopped at the services. We came across a rowdy group of (a lot of drunken, so it very much seemed) men. A football game had just happened, I think. “You all right, girls?” said one of them. “They’re everywhere,” it sounded like another had said, while I prayed Maghrib on the side of our table at the open service-station Costa.

Someone had thrown a food item at my Jeba Khala, while she had been turned around, and while her husband had been praying. A teenager, maybe. She being she… called them a coward, and told them to be braver, and throw it at her face next time. We had a random conversation, some of us, on the coach, after this. At certain schools, for example, South Asians who are in a populace’s minority might be seen as the ‘meek, studious’ ones, and treated as though they won’t do anything to defend themselves from things. I’d say with speech, it might be better to not say anything, or to just say “you too”. With direct acts of physical aggression: if they attack you, you can retaliate in equal measure, although to forgive is likely better.

Mountains: it’s a metaphor for life. I said this, on the way up Helvellyn, I think. And a woman who’d crossed paths with us had laughed at this, and I do quite love it when people appreciate my dad jokes.

Insha Allah, this is my (and Samdia’s) first mountain of a few, or of many. Doing enjoyable things, and with Purpose. Another thing I love about Islam: there’s room for different sorts of people, with different sorts of hobbies, dispositions/personality types, and inclinations. Alhamdulillah.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of London / Islam

Yesterday I took myself on a long walk, from my home in East London (well, more specifically: where East begins to coalesce into Central. Literally: one side council flats, the other side yachts and such) all the way to London Central Mosque: a gorgeously-designed (Masha Allah) masjid on the corner of Regent’s — one of the larger (complete with its own quintessentially Bri’ish backstory) parks that make up part of this blooming wonderful city.

Recently, I have been trying to walk (far) more. If there is a longer route that can be taken from a certain place to a destination, I have been trying to favour it. Stairs, also. Generally, by nature, I am somewhat ‘lazy’ though.

Yesterday I went by myself. Without Tamanna, for example, since her Nasir Biyya (elder cousin Nasir) had just gotten married. In Bengali tradition, the day after weddings, the bride’s side tends to take food over to the groom’s, for breakfast (‘Nasta’). And yesterday, I had worn my hiking boots: I am trying to wear them in more, in preparation for the mountain-hiking trip I am going on (Insha Allah) in T-minus six days. These boots are laced on the inside with wool; they are sort of camel-coloured.

I walked through Wapping, and by the river. Thames, that is, of course. Tower Bridge. And then it had begun to rain and rain, as it does. Past scores of sightseers; tourists, visiting families. Concrete buildings, decorated with carvings; professionals in fitting Central-London-style attire. Car-after-car roads: like abacus beads. And passing all these Monopoly streets, just like I’d done while walking with Tamanna the other day [approximately 18km in one day, that day, I think. Masha Allah: a record for me, probably]. Fleet Street. Marylebone. Strand. Past sites that have known, and have been the sites for, all sorts of stories; the circular blue plaques affixed onto the fronts of some buildings, for example, saying that ‘the first ______ to have _________’ or similar had lived here at some point.

It is amazing to think that, while many marvel at the landmark that is Tower Bridge, as a singular example, for example; how it is such a famous symbol of London: it is only a matter of footsteps away from me, and I do think I often take such facts for granted. Sometimes, I have found myself wondering if I would prefer to live in a place like, say, Edinburgh in Scotland. But such an impulse would be rooted in lust: in a fundamental unknowing, mystery, distance and distraction, a narrowing to mere snapshots and aesthetics in opposition to the (holistic and true) love I know I have for (especially this part of) London, Masha Allah.

London is a city in which, even in its current, ‘modern’, post-Dickensian form: it is almost easy to find a rat or two, here or there. Dead or alive. Spillages, including of the… acidic upthrow variety. Overly-fancy signs showing the ways to… underground toilets, no less, in the middles of frenetic streets. Things like this, you know?

To get to the masjid, I used Google Maps. And on the way, I listened to a handful of (informative YouTube videos as) podcasts; I thought about random things — ‘over’-thought, even, by some definitions, understandings. And I realise how much of a blessing it is, Masha Allah, to be able to be comfortable in one’s own solitude.

Well, it never quite is true, pure solitude. Because Allah is always with us. And the people we love, and are loved by: there are forces that, though not quite visible, are as real as gravity, perhaps, is. They tether our hearts to others’. Inextricable, practically. And, on the way to my destination yesterday, I had been in the process of sending a voice note or two to my friend Tasnim. When: an old woman whom I had just walked past… blurted out a swear.

I wondered if she had meant to direct it towards me. But I looked at her, and at her raincoat (I think it was) and her trolley (you know: those tall rectangular ones with the waterproof covers. Memories of going to the frozen fish shop in Shadwell with my nan) and excused her on the potentiality of… senility or some such.

A little later on, past eateries (London’s Prets, and Eats, and Leons, probably, and some more Mediterranean-style ones, and cafés with their characteristic antiquated wooden tables, and all the rest) and the theatres that make up Drury Lane: a man — a grown man — angrily shouted some things in my face, in some other language. Unprovoked; just barking, and I greatly suspect that it had been on account of my apparent Muslim-ness. Some eight years ago or so, perhaps (my first steps into early adulthood; a time of all-time high, so it very much felt, in terms of anti-Islamic sentiment here) I very much used to fear incidents like this. I: half-hypersensitive, probably, and half-quite its opposite, I think. The truth is, as a visible Muslim, even in big, diverse London: you may get looked upon, and shouted at (and, in some cases, even physically attacked, unfortunately) as though you are some sort of monster. Indecipherable, undesirable, uncannily ‘human-but-also-not’, and a threat. However, I will not apologise. I’m willing to engage in discourse; I do love conversations, even challenging ones. Yet… there’s something kind of quite… off-putting, maybe[…?] about being yelled at by a complete stranger, out of the blue.

‘Oppressed’, also. The scarf atop your head, perhaps: an emblem of their notions of ‘backwardness’; a reason for their fear, and some challenge, maybe, to their ‘values’. So much so that… it might warrant a forty-year-old-looking man approaching a twenty-year-old woman in order to angrily and aggressively shout in her face. I’m telling you, though: yesterday, and I am not sure if it had been because I had been distracted by the (gorgeous, Masha Allah) rain, and by the ‘podcast’ I had been listening to… I just did not care. Didn’t even flinch. This thing happened, and I mentally acknowledged it, and then walked away from it like nothing really had. No anxiety; no urge to argue or respond. I am trying to be a better Muslim, Insha Allah, and today I came across the following Qur’anic Ayah again:

“The true servants of the Most Compassionate are those who walk on the earth humbly,

and when the foolish address them improperly, they only respond with ‘peace’”. — Qur’an, (25:63)

I think it took me around two hours to get to the masjid. Past Temple, and Bank; souvenir shops, and supermarkets. The Indian High Commission building. All the ‘bigger’ things, and the ‘smaller’ things, which, by no means, are less ‘important’. Into Regent’s Park, and past flocks and flocks of geese and birds. Prim patches of flowers, here and there, and something of sunshine, and activity, almost everywhere. And, at this point: this wannabe-adventurer had been hungry. And so I went to the little light-blue-coloured café that sits on the side of the lake. ‘The Boathouse Café’.

Much to my surprise, [time seems to be going irrevocably quickly, these days… or months…] it has been roughly a-whole-year-and-a-half since the onset of the Corona crisis. And these days, when I walk into cafés or shops, it is not always immediately clear as to how stringently they are upholding the rules pertaining to face-covering and QR-code-checking-in and all.

I walked into the café, and I, being the socially awkward person I (often think I, even though my friends tell me otherwise) am, had been unsure as to which side of the canteen to stand on. Even in spite of the arrows (stickers) on the ground, providing those answers.

The last baguette that had been waiting for me on the tray: egg-and-cress. Get yer protein; get some greens. Cress tends to remind me of the earlier stages of Primary School: planting cress in transparent plastic cups, using cotton wool instead of soil. Good times, good times, as the colours of nostalgia would have me quite ardently believe.

Drink: it had been between (‘organic’, ‘farm-pressed’, I believe) apple juice, and hot chocolate. I went with hot chocolate. The two baristas at the counter had been so very friendly. Just like the two women, the other day, at the new quiet (just how I like it, a lot of the time) ‘Chocolate Ice Café’ near where I live: they had referred to me as “darling”, and in my view, anybody (i.e. women) who habitually calls other people “darling” or “sweetheart” or “babe” or “my love” is… good vibes, Masha Allah.

I would say that places are made up, for the most part, by people. And both places and people are defined mostly by their essences/’ethos’. This café had been quite a nice one, Masha Allah. A nice scattering of picnic tables outside. A nicely, welcomingly, simple arrangement of places to sit inside, too, overlooking the tranquil beauty of the lake. And I quite like it when sunlight trickles, at once serenely, and brilliantly, into places. The essence of this place… content-seeming, with its baristas interacting with their customers very… humanly, you know?

My hot chocolate had been made almost instantly. And one of the baristas had seemed very proud of, and excited by, his creation. He said I would have to let him know how it was, and reassured me once or twice about how good it would be.

A napkin and a metal plate ensued, and the (endearingly) proud barista (jokingly) boasted about how quick and amazing his service had been, in contrast with his colleague, who had, in his eyes, ‘promised [me] something, but didn’t deliver’. It’s true that she had been taking her time, but good things (like those brown napkins, which I ended up quite needing) come to those who wait. I sat by the window, and ate [and I think I am something of a rather awkward eater, when I am alone in public. And/or with people I just feel quite self-conscious around, for whatever reason. But I’m probably ‘over-thinking’, yet again… ‘Over-thinking’ about my ‘over-thinking’, coming up with problems, perhaps, where there might actually be… none. Maybe I ‘over-think’ about acting awkwardly, when I’m not actually acting awkwardly. And then… perhaps I ironically make myself act awkwardly as a result. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon… self-fulfilling prophecy, or something similar].

Nearby, a family, ostensibly from some Arab country, had been sitting together, conversing in Arabic. Oh, I can’t wait to learn more Arabic, Insha Allah. What a gorgeous, gorgeous language, Masha Allah. The one that had been chosen by Allah, and with such excellent reason, without a shadow of a doubt, to be the lingua franca of Islam. I love how people with tinges of Arabic in their accents say things, in English. Like:

“What’s the طiime?” and how they might say “Hyde Park,” for example. I didn’t quite mean to ‘eavesdrop’ on this family’s conversation yesterday, however my phone had been on about 1%, I think. So I settled on… just eating. No listening to/watching things on my phone. And, although the bulk of their conversations had been (at present, though such things do give me little bits of motivation to learn further, Masha Allah) indecipherable to me, I understood some words: ‘arooz’, which means ‘rice’ [and the Spanish word for ‘rice’ is practically the same as the Arabic!]. ‘Lahm’, which means ‘meat’. ‘Dajjaaj’, which means ‘chicken’.

It was an excellent cup of hot chocolate, Masha Allah. In a white paper cup. Delightfully frothy, and I could see the delicate and artistic little chocolate swirls sitting nicely on the milk. [One of my favourite things to do with my eight-year-old brother Saif, these days, is sitting, with cups of hot chocolate together, while it rains outside. It’s nice when it feels like there’s less to be distracted by; I feel it makes the more valuable stuff appear far more prominently, in our hearts and minds, as it should. Like the other day, when we used the ‘Gorillas’ app (since it had been pouring outside, that day) to order some chocolate, in order to make some hot choc. I would say that my ‘baby’ brother is one of my most beloved, and closest, companions in the universe, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik, and I would not have it any other way. He does, apparently, as he has said, love the cat more than he loves me, though. I seem to be… raising a little savage over here.]

While walking to the mosque (whose minaret I noticed, standing tall in the near distance) I did not know where the entrance might be. I’d been to this particular masjid probably… four times, roughly, in my life. Once: with an Islamic summer school, at age seven or so, on a trip. I think I’d lost my gold bracelet or something there, then: I think I put it on some side, before doing Wudhu.

And then, again, after a day out, with my family, and my nan, and my uncle’s family. Boating, I think it had been. And something has tended to pull my heart towards mosques, and towards certain ones in particular. Mosques in Turkey: the elegantly hidden-away ones, with the simple beauty, and the calligraphies, and all that of ‘rugged’ cobblestone charm. There is something so undeniably beautiful about simplicity. Elegance. Remove whatever does not matter, and then the important things are made to stand out far more, Masha Allah.

And I visited this masjid some years later: again, and then again, during some particularly difficult times, in this life of mine. Just to sit, and to feel things, and to contemplate, and to talk to Allah. And to read a little, and maybe to talk (not ‘serendipitously’ per se, but Qadric-ally) to some other people who might also be there. Yesterday, I asked two fellow Muslim women (who looked like they’d been around my age) where the entrance is. They showed me the way; we walked together.

Homelessness is a major issue in this city; if you go to Central London, you can truly tell. Outside the mosque, somebody had been begging. And one of the women I had been walking with – Zaynah is her name, as I later learned – gave the woman some money, in such earnest. Zaynah seemed very passionate about the masjid, and about being Muslim; during our conversation on the (short) way there, she brought up something her uncle had taught her, from Surah Nisaa’ in the Qur’an.

As it had turned out: Zaynah and her friend Davina (whose Muslim name, she told me, is ‘Aafiyah’, which means something like ‘health’ and ‘security’ in Arabic) are fairly new Muslims. [However, this does not mean that Islam is any less theirs too. We had talked a bit, about things like this, yesterday. Davina thought that born-Muslims are ‘luckier’, for example because we’re less likely to have experienced much of Harām. Reverting Muslims, though: they begin on a fresh, clean slate, in terms of sins/unfavourable pasts].

I think Zaynah had said that she’d reverted in January: born to a white British mother and an Egyptian (nominally Muslim, but not practising) father, she’d started watching videos about Islam, and her eyes, she said, would start flooding with tears. There was something so pure and sincere about Zaynah, Masha Allah. A gentle but determined determination; a softness of heart, a rather strong Cockney accent (and accents are always cool) and she is seventeen years old. She had made plans, also, to take Davina to a Shaykh that day (yesterday) in order to acquire some sort of certificate of new Muslim-ness. Having good friends with pure hearts and good intentions for you: absolutely an unmatchable blessing.

Davina (seemingly more introverted than Zaynah. And there is value to this, Masha Allah, no doubt) is of Jamaican origin. She accepted Islam on Eid-ul-Adha day, this year (so, only about three weeks ago). I think Zaynah’s journey into Islam had been fuelled by curiosity, perhaps. Davina’s story in this regard really took flight when something major, and majorly difficult, had taken place in her life. Something that distractions could not fix for her, or grant relief from. Her brother and sister-in-law had already reverted. And I think it had been the inherent appeal, the pure simplicity, of Pure Monotheism that had brought her here, Masha Allah.

Zaynah said that she feels at home in the masjid. You can easily just… nap, in mosques, for example. And there is something about Islam that always feels like ‘coming home’ after a long and difficult day. Putting your head down on the ground, before your Creator, and there you find peace. [And direction, and purpose. Structure, hope, meaning and virtue, and all the other abstract and necessary things that we, as beings, seek]. Davina and I talked about the difference between, say, many Catholic buildings [I’d passed by St. Paul’s, for example, on the way there. And I’ve seen other Cathedrals, including the Sacré-Cœur (‘Sacred Heart’) in Paris] and… mosques. Something that is uniquely appealing about Islam is this profound simplicity, clarity. The ability to have an unobstructed bond with your Creator; unpolluted, unmuddied. Carpet, ground, a few inspired wall designs here and there. And hearts at peace.

Talking to Zaynah and Davina inspired me. Davina has already memorised Surah Fatiha, she said (Masha Allah). And Zaynah: Surah Fatiha, Nās, Falaq and Ikhlās, I think she said. “Allah SWT defo made us meet intentionally”, as Davina said in our conversation over text, today. I agree: these things do not happen ‘by chance’; not at all. And I would like to introduce both of them to chicken tikka biryani (and the mosque and its surroundings in Whitechapel – a big part of what constitutes ‘my endz’) sometime soon, Insha Allah.  

Zaynah, and her purity of heart, sincerity and outgoingness, Masha Allah. An ability to engage with others practically seamlessly; she went to the bookshop within the mosque, and bought a prayer mat, and a travel one, and some Qur’ans, for her friend. She told me about another time she had come to the mosque; the love she has, for Salāh, and the guilt she feels, whenever she slips into sin (as all humans, by nature, do from time to time). She told me about a certain difficulty she had faced, and about how she thinks she should be more grateful, regardless.

And Davina: I also rather like it when people have a certain kind of calmness to them, a demonstrable… groundedness that tells me that they probably have interesting and ‘deep’ minds, Masha Allah. An evident (relative) lack of… feeling intimidated by silence, for example. Different hearts, and their manifestations in the forms of smiles, are beautiful and valuable in their own unique ways, Masha Allah.

Less of the less important stuff; more stuff of value. Like chicken tikka biryani, and how good things come to those who… work on exercising noble restraint, and: go without, for a while. And wait. And rely on Allah on these journeys of ours, like there is absolutely no other way to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness (because there isn’t).

Yesterday, a Moroccan sister who had been sitting near us asked me if I, too, am a revert Muslim. This is an interesting question for me. I was born into a Muslim family, with religious (Masha Allah) grandparents. On my mum’s side [I don’t believe that piety/character-based goodness is necessarily lineage-based but] I come from a ‘clan’ of ‘Pirs’, i.e. ‘important-in-a-religious-sense’ people, apparently. Apparently, on my mum’s side, our ancestors are from Yemen. My nana’s mother used to teach Qur’an; she had been a woman of devotion, Masha Allah. On my dad’s side: my grandfather worked in Saudi Arabia for a while. My eldest maternal uncle really came to Islam, I think, in his twenties. He started reading, and researching; I think one of his favourite speakers had been Dr. Zakir Naik.

My mum started observing the Hijāb. She started attending mosque circles. She gave me Islamic books. I went to a (really fun, actually) summer scheme, in Shadwell: they took us to the park, and to Regent’s Mosque, among other activities. Another summer school at the East London Mosque, where we would paint canvases, and print T-shirts, and learn lots. Weekend classes; trips, with them, to the farm, and to museums. What else, what else?

What the month of Ramadān brings with it; spending time at Nanu’s, and talks by Nouman Ali Khan. Taraweeh, sometimes, at ELM, and what the streets of this part of town feel like, then: so peaceful, and so alive with heart and soul, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik. Ranga Mama, and our ‘philosophical’ conversations, over Ifthar tables, for instance. [“They’re debating again!” although now we… actually seem to agree on things. What a change.]

My aunt (‘Sweetie’ is her ever-used nickname from us) might have been the first one, after her father, to really come to Islam ‘for herself’, inspiring her siblings by example. She started taking Mazhar and me to events run at her secondary school in Whitechapel (which would later become our secondary school too, as Allah’s Qadr would have it). We went to… an Eid event or two, at Trafalgar Square [‘Eid in the Square’]. The ‘Global Peace and Unity’ events, at the Excel Centre (where I saw Zain Bhikha, and one of my role models, Yvonne Ridley. But I had been too shy to speak to them) among others. Dinners and Bazaars and the like.

It has to speak to your mind and heart, for it to feel vitalised, activated. Sweetie became really involved with the mosque; I grew up with her friends as my aunties. A lovely bunch. Like Habiba Khala, the Scouts’ leader, and Zubaydah Khala, and Munira Khala, the funny one (who once, I remember, had fastened her headscarf with a paperclip, no less).

My nan’s mother had seven kids, Masha Allah: six girls, and one boy. Then they had their kids. Like… Sunia and Tania Khala, who came here as teenagers, from Italy. Jeba Khala (who does work at a lab, and as a fundraising coordinator at Human Aid, Masha Allah). Habi Khala (a beautiful person, Masha Allah, who passed away at the age of twenty-seven. Unexpected, as many turns of life are, and a shock to our systems; it forced many of us to rethink things). Gulshan and Gulraj and Guljar Mama, whom and whose families I don’t (at present, at least) know that well. Nishat Khala, who I thought was fun and interesting, and who encouraged me to pray with her those times. Babli Khala, who married a Palestinian man, and who sometimes speaks to her kids in Arabic. Shibu Khala, and one of her kids’ friends’ parents, who had asked her about Islam. And much more.

When I was about five years old, I went to Saudi (Umrah) for the first time. Mazhar, Safwan and I wore Islamic attire. Playing with Beyblades we’d gotten, out of crisp packets, there. We played with plastic cups, and with other children, even if we did not quite speak the same language. Toys from the markets, like car games and Barbie heelies. I got myself locked into the toilet somehow [classic me]. Safwan and I had also been too lazy to walk, so… the adults had hired a wheelchair for us to sit on, while they wheeled us around [classic me, yet again]. Things like this.

And I think this is why I always come back to listening to (Surah Rahman in particular, by) Sheikh Sudais. It reminds me of that time, in Saudi.

Lima Fufu, in Bangladesh, who inspired me in terms of religion too, Masha Allah. We would cook over fire together; love the animals, and the rain. I very much love the stars too (hence how much I love the planetarium in good old Greenwich). My friend Tamanna, who would invite me to Islamic events and circles; her mum (Rufia Khala) giving us black messenger ‘Madrasah bags’. Qur’ans, and index tabs, and pound shop stationery [pound shops are great]. Tee’s Mahmuda Khala, and how she’d taught me how ‘Īmān is something that tends to fluctuate’. Mahmud and Hasanat, and their family: the four cousins, at school. Hadi, ‘the religious one’ (Masha Allah) at primary school, and Naymur, the same thing, in his own way, at secondary. Miss Shamima. Foyzul’s sisters from next door. Sumaiya Soni (who lived four doors down from me, and who had inspired me to start wearing a headscarf). I miss her; she still lives there; we should have Biryani together sometime. She is Gujarati, and she would bring her mum’s Biryani in to our primary school, on food-sharing party days. Delicious to the power of ten, Masha Allah.

Qur’an in the morning; a post-Fajr du’a, in Year Six, that Allah grants me a good day today. Things like this. The coming-into-understanding that this life is struggle; seeking ‘spirituality’, which people intuitively know to do. Yet, many do not quite know even how to define this ‘spirituality’ that they seek. Something ‘larger than ourselves’? Something – someOne – greater: the One who created us.

‘Intellectual’ and ‘academic’ journeys, too, and the realisation that… sometimes, merely collecting ‘knowledge’ as though it is merely some ‘collector’s item’… deadens the heart, and threatens to remove from it light, and life, and, perhaps even love.

Oak Education, and Al-Azhar Academy, behind East London Mosque, and then there was also ‘Aspire’. When Sweetie had taken me to Black Stone (the bookshop) that time, when I was twelve. And I chose that book to buy. In times of difficulty, also (exams, and other emotional difficulties) we Muslims tend to rely on Allah, and ask Him for help. Like what Sitra I think it had been (someone I met at sixth form, and who is a friend from our Khayr Circle) said the other day: these times are when our Īmān seems to grow. Muslim YouTubers, like Dina Tokio, Adam Saleh, Subhi Taha. And now: Saajid Lipham, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Abdal Hakim Murad, and the like.

Questions, questions, questions. And the incomings of answers. Naajiyah, Aya (who is from Morocco and Spain) and Aissatou (who is from Senegal). When Nazma changed, and so did Samme, I think. Miss Ahmed, and our almost-daily Wudhu-room conversations. Dr. Shah. Faaizah, and coming to learn more about Sufism [I believe Islam had come to Bangladesh, mainly perhaps, in the form of Sufism: at times this seemingly becomes kind of syncretic, I think, with elements of Islam, and of pre-existing South Asian religious traditions… I would simply say that I am a Sunni Muslim. And/or just Muslim].

When Sweetie had accompanied my friend Zulaika and I to the sixth form I was going to attend, which is in Westminster, right near St. James’s Park. And she prayed in one of the language classrooms, where there had been a prayer mat. Just like how she had prayed on that mountain, in Switzerland. And then I met Safiya. And a lot of Arab people [in my head, I thought a lot of them look Bengali. Because we Bengalis are a diverse-looking kind… So when people say that I look Middle Eastern/North African… I have kind of been thinking the opposite. Certain Iraqis, Moroccans, etc.: ‘they just look so Bengali!’] and such. Fatema. Tasnim. A girl from a Hindu family, who had converted. White British people who were very interested in the Middle East, and by extension, in Islam. Umamah. Zaynah. The girl who had walked into the school library wearing a Jilbāb: sagacious-seeming, Masha Allah. And trusting in God, and fearless. Muslims who were (and are) very knowledgeable, Masha Allah. And kind, and uniquely interesting. Challenges to faith, also, and how they had been overcome. Crises of mental health, an Islamic bookshop. A period of gradual reconnection with my ‘endz’ and people. Coinciding with a period of pandemic. Madani School, and all these teachers (Masha Allah). Like Miss Maryam, and Ma’suma, and Samaiya, whom I so love (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik). Social media, YouTube. Various people, and what it had been Qadr, and in my Rizq, for them to teach me. And still, the journey continues… to continue. My road has led to… right here: where I am right now.

And now I’m adulting and everything, Allahummabārik.

So many people; so many stories, and subtleties and complexities and uniquenesses to them; so many ways of sharing goodness, and of being influenced by and inspired through knowing them. In whatever way, and for whatever while. An amazing thing about Islam is its vitality, and how it speaks to the mind and heart, and invigorates the soul, Masha Allah. It is alive, and well, and a sacred flame that will illuminate darkness, and which will be passed on, to whom God Wills, and which will refuse to be burned out.

Hey: did you know that this life is hard: have you noticed this yet? That there are no heavens, here on Earth? Moments of rest and/or satisfaction and ease. Yet, most of it is… toil and incompleteness, and continual struggle.

Still, you are capable, and you are not, by any means, ‘alone’ever and we’ll get through this together, Insha Allah. Looking for something; we’ve finally found it, right here.

And it’s true that through Allah’s Wisdom,

people change people. Secret of life.

Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path. [Hadith, (Bukhari)]

Some questions for you:

What is it like, to live where you live? Has this place always been ‘home’, for you [i.e. ‘endz’]?

What is your story, in terms of Islam [even if you are not a Muslim yourself]?

What is a random happening from your week, this week, which meant something to you [however ‘small’]?

Is there something that happened in your life, which made you reconsider how you look at things?

Who has been important, on your Islamic journey?

What is something that you are struggling with, at this moment in time?

Please do comment below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog. If you’d like to remain anonymous, you can write to me here. I’m really interested in hearing (reading) these stories…


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

A Mountain in the Lake District, for Water Wells in Yemen (Insha Allah)

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Allahummabārik: may Allah bless my writing (and climbing) endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Āmeen.

Insha Allah — God-Willing — on the 14th August I am going to be partaking in a sponsored hike with the charity Human Aid, with the aim of raising money to put solar-powered wells in place, in Yemen.

This is, Insha Allah, going to be my first mountain climbed. [I mean, I’ve climbed up hills before, and I’m pretty sure I also bragged to the good people at primary school that I’d ‘climbed mountains’…]. And, in general, I’m not really (currently) someone who partakes in that much strenuous exercise (however, I will be training for this hike, Insha Allah, since without prior training, I would probably collapse after about twenty minutes of climbing).

Water wells in Yemen: a long-term investment. Water, as we know, is integral to our living. This counts as Sadaqah Jaariyah (a continuous charity).

If anyone saves one life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” — Qur’an, (5:32)

“Sadaqah does not decrease wealth.” — Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith (Muslim)]

“When a son of Ādam dies, his deeds come to an end except for three: Sadaqah Jariyah (a continuous charity), or knowledge from which benefit is gained, or a righteous child who prays for him’.” — Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith (Muslim)]

I very much love mountains, Masha Allah, and I think we have a lot to learn from them. And from the general process — those heavily-used metaphors — of climbing them, the journey, and the togetherness of what it means to be Muslim. The views from the top (Jannah, Insha Allah. I hope to see you — and indeed myself — there. We should have a heavenly lunch together sometime). Mountains are also referred to, by Allah, in the Qur’an, a number of times. [This has been a random tangent. Thank you for your cooperation; it is mountainously appreciated].


Jazak Allah Khayr, thank you so much for your support… and please don’t forget to share online and/or send my fundraising page (linked below) to any friends you think might be interested in donating.

https://givebrite.com/hike-helvellyn-summer-2021/sadia4yemen


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

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.

Garments

“I don’t think I can do this,” he muttered, his head bowed, face hiding. Cloaked in something that spoke much of self-consciousness and shame: these undeniable, though often conveniently concealed, parts of what it is to be human. She smiled at him. Neither pityingly, nor panderingly. Simply her hand rested upon his: a partnership. He tensed briefly, and then let go. Release.

“Hey,” she said, quietly. The others in the room became curious observers of the conversation, and, still, not fully privy to it. “Hey, look at me.”

His face could not help but let out a smile. She reassured him.

“I’m here, okay?

I’m here.”

Even more quietly: “We can do it together.”

Her love reached out and climbed onto him, almost; it tickled him on his cheek. Then, the two of them grew a little giddy, and then broke out into quiet fits of laughter: first him, and then her, and then the two of them together. And nobody else at all had been in on the joke.

“What would your ideal partner be like?” had been the question. And a sweet smile had spilled from her; she looked over at him, holding him as he came and sat down, at exactly the right time.

(Inspired by something really cute I saw yesterday. So cute, so beautiful, it makes my heart ache and I am going to die)

“Cover me,”

said Muhammad ﷺ, having rushed home to his wife Khadijah (RA) after receiving the first part of the Qur’anic revelation. He wrapped himself in her arms; he thanked Allah for the repose that he found, right there. In his own words, he had felt “nourished by her love”.

When Khadijah died, Muhammad (SAW) never really got over her death. The entire year after her passing is known as the Year of Grief, in his biography: it was deeply painful for him to look at, for example, pieces of jewellery that she had once worn. He kept sending food over to the people that she had loved – her friends and relatives – years and years after her passing.

In these things, in matters of love, and protected within the cloaks of soul-baring privacy: there is no room for feelings of shame or inadequacy. On the human level: you become the fulcrum of your beloved’s world. Completely, and as you are. And where there is real love, there is honesty. Openness. Trust, and much nourishment and comfort.

“And among His signs is that He created for you from [among] yourselves partners that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy/nourishment. Indeed, in that are signs for a people who give thought.” [Qur’an, (30:21)]

Even though I know I can be somewhat cynical at times, I am quite prone to also romanticising the heck out of things. And this – the spousal – form of love is something that indubitably deserves to be romanticised.

The whole concept of ‘yin and yang’, for instance: on the human level, we were created, also, ‘for’ another person. And they have been created ‘for’ us. There will be parts of you, within your person. And parts of them, within you. And when the two of you, and all your parts, come together, Insha Allah (whether you meet them in this world or the next one) it will be beautiful.

“Cover me.”

In the Qur’an, also:

“They [your spouses] are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” [Qur’an, (2:187)]

The feeling of being embraced by your favourite jumper: a most welcome repose, so fittingly within, and yet so very far away from (the rest of) this world. Our garments – our clothes – are known to cover us. Nakedness and all: sans all of these social masks of ours, no attempted performances of those ‘ideal selves’. No makeup, no filters: nothing through which we seek ‘liberation’ from hidden truths via. Clothes, and how they are known to

beautify and cover; they tell the rest of the world a little about whom we are. Embrace. Warmth, and comfort. Protection. A burst of colour, here and there.

They hide things, also, and get to see what nobody else can: scars and such. Birthmarks. Bruises. The lines that might show you where you have grown, stretched, made space for development. They hide what we are ashamed of. Fears, insecurities, and what everybody else might scarily perceive as being our ‘flaws’: pigmentation, tummies tucked in, and all the rest. And only your clothes see the hidden beautiful parts of your being (which Allah, by His grace, has fitted you with) too. Nothing – nobody – else.

Love, when it is real, gets to see and know all of it. Intricately, intimately, perfectly well. When it comes to love: ‘flaws’ are these countless little things that make you love another – your Other – even more.

Somewhere in all that exists, there is a person whose name had been Written beside yours, even before the dawn of time. You fit into one another’s beings like you were made for one another. All the checks, all the balances; the fierce challenges and all of the things we have, to learn. Exactly as the two of you are: because, Subhan Allah, you were quite literally made for one another. And if/when it is meant to happen, in this life, it will. Like the best garment you have ever worn. Custom-made by the One who knows you best. In your size, in your style: Divinely-planned, profoundly beyond ourselves, and

fitting just right.

[May we all find and get married to our actual Other-Halves in this lifetime! Āmeen, āmeen, āmeen]


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.