Concise Compositions: Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

towards Truth; in Beauty; for Goodness.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Confidence

What is ‘confidence’? And what is it… not?

A friend of mine and I both seek to be ‘confident’ in a particular way. A ‘self-comfortable’ way. Both ‘passive’ – a comfort, a security, in being – but also with a good helping of being ‘active’. Being both deeply kind – but not in a performative, nor over-the-top and ‘cutesy’ sort of way – and strong – but not in a way that ever necessitates stomping all over other people to make ourselves feel superior.

Nowadays, it seems like the image of the cocky and abrasive suit-clad man, and the mean, nose-up and otherwise-indifferent-seeming woman, make for the most popular benchmarks for what constitutes ‘confidence’. Is confidence rooted in power – i.e., the ability to influence others’ thoughts and behaviours? To me, the need to be ‘powerful’ in order to be confident seems slightly paradoxical. I guess it can work either way: a person may feel so secure in themselves that they become uncaring about how they are making others feel: attitudes of superiority might eventually simply come naturally to them. Or, maybe some people are fundamentally insecure and uncomfortable within themselves, and so look to have power over others, in order to compensate, to fill the ‘gap’, so to speak.

One can have power over others intellectually; sexually; professionally; in terms of familial roles, and more. To me, the most authentically ‘confident’ people seem to be the ones who exude this sense of peace within themselves. They do not seem restless, or scared, or desperate for others to validate them; there is a strong sense of trust, from seemingly deep within themselves, and a significant gentleness, that would appear to be indifferent to whether or not the next person agrees with them.

The dictionary definition of ‘confidence’ points to notions of certainty in oneself; trust. My ten minutes have ended here, but I’m going to continue.

At what point does ‘confidence’ lean into arrogance?

From reading the meaning of the Qur’an [and I am still not done yet!] I have learnt that, time and time again, we are told by Allah (SWT) to not be “arrogant”: to not act greater than what we actually are. A hadith (Prophetic saying) clarifies that the definition of arrogance is, a) to disregard the truth [when you know it, I’m assuming], and b) to look down upon the people, and to scorn them — to treat other people like they have little worth, and to treat them without respect.

Islam is, fundamentally, about two things: one’s comportment before, and relationship with, Allah, and one’s demeanour before, and relationships with, fellow human beings: from one’s closest family members, to complete strangers in lands that we do not call our own. With this in mind, then:

Confidence. Trust and strength and peace. I want to have so much trust in my Creator, and in the unique merits of being – inside and out – that He has given me. Shukr: they are not from me. In terms of worth and being deserving of (authentic) respect, nobody is above me; nobody is beneath me, either. Respect for others; respect for myself. No human being at all is high and mighty, or even vaguely omnipotent.

I used to look at certain people I know – male and female, alike – and think that they must be archetypal examples of ‘confidence’. A man who is always taking pictures of himself, always around people, always being pursued by women and being praised. And, no disrespect to him, but then I learned that all this is not always indicative of ‘confidence: he really cannot do without streams of compliments from people.

Women, too: people at secondary school would sometimes say that I came across as being “really confident”… which I secretly found absurd, because a lot of the time, I was actually quite scared [I know not why], and yes, I habitually relied on ‘what other people were saying’ – good and bad – in order to inform my self-view.

Even with people I know who are really beautiful (Masha Allah) and sort of walk around like they own the place: they say they experience anxiety with going up to shopkeepers to pay for their things, for example.

Is anyone fully, thoroughly, and across all different social circumstances and such, ‘confident’, then? Would this not be a little … impossible, without dipping at least a little into delusion? We are all blessed with our own merits, talents, nice physical features, comforts, and more. And we are all certainly quite limited, in various ways, too. We all do need validation and affirmation, though – whether in these ways, or those – and to be told by others that we are doing okay.

So maybe authentic confidence – and two particular people come into mind when I think about this – is about these recognitions, simply in line with the truths of things. In a way that acknowledges that it is all from Allah, and that we are also very limited: I quite like myself – 10/10, would be friends with – and you are very likeable, in your own unique ways, too — though there will almost undoubtedly be some people who may dislike your personality, and disagree. I have my merits, and my flaws; you have yours, too. You, by nature, deserve my (authentic, not-restrained, but also not-excessive-and-performative) kindness and respect; I, by nature, deserve yours, too. You are allowed to dislike me; to fundamentally disagree with me, and I am allowed to dislike and/or disagree with you, too. But we walk on the same plane, in terms of core worth and value; in terms of the wombs from which we are born, and in terms of the earth we physically become part of, when we are gone.

And there will be mutual respect, here, or nothing.

Treating others how we ourselves would like to be treated. Oh, and also, treating ourselves how we like for those whom we love, to be treated. ‘Confident’, and at peace, as and within ourselves.

(Authentic confidence in people definitely leads to a magnetic sort of attractiveness: good vibes and all)

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Once in a lifetime, these moments do come

You know when it is raining, suddenly, in the darkened part of an otherwise busy city? Even at this moment in time: here in lockdown. The cars jetting past, and you can almost hear exactly what the pitter-patter might sound like, from the inside of each and every one of them, inhabited by different people, coming from entirely different worlds.

That feeling of being snug, and warm. In good old-fashioned checked pyjamas, maybe; safe from the cold, and from the wet, the racing, the Anonymous and Alone.

On rainy evenings, it seems like everybody is simply in a rush to get home. Umbrellas look drizzly and forlorn; streetlights glow orange, while makeup, we find, begins to drip into something a little grotesque. Suits, also, at such times, do not look all that comfortable to find oneself wearing.

            Some shield their lacquered heads with newspaper, or scarves; crouch and, in the whirring, pouring noise, make that face: the one that looks rather like disgruntlement. Phone pressed to their ears; water getting hopelessly into their eyes.

Children, in fur-coated hoods, fixate on the excitement of puddles; stoop towards them, in fascination, ready to jump and splash and see themselves again (much to the annoyance of their parents, whose primary concern it now is to get home as quickly as possible, and to make something suitably comforting to eat). Faces rippled: recognisable, and yet, at the same time, hilariously zig-zagged and distorted.

Wellington boots, roof windows for a better view, and acrylic-coloured mugs of hot chocolate. The ‘little’ things, but why on Earth are we known to call them ‘little’? What might the ‘big’ things be, then, in contrast? The… loud, the shiny, the demanding-our-attention? The distracting; things that are extravagantly hard-to-get, the hundred-things-at-once, or the… once-in-a-lifetimes?

This here moment is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Even if it is quiet, and seems ‘unremarkable’, and ‘everyday’: it will never, ever be here again. Not like this, anyhow. And everybody you know and love is getting older, and this here world of yours will never be the same again:

Everything, dear friend, is going to change. As they always have done, and as they always will do:

(until the End, that is).

And I hope we get to see the rain again. Here, perhaps, and in another place;

Another time, another age, and maybe in an altogether different way.

Alhamdulillah for the rain, though. And for the feeling of it on our hands and on our cheeks: Barakah, Rahma, and hope. And for the ability to go home. To close the door. To feel warm, and dry; your entire world, and that you are not alone.

Because it is a big, big, big world out there. Bee-lines, and busy bees. Loneliness and exhaustion; superficiality and disease.

Tall shiny buildings, buzzing away with productivity. A million and one things to buy, and to own, and to try to feel powerful — seen — through. Cars racing through traffic, and the like. But would this life not be… a little unbearableterrifying, actually – without this peaceful slice from all that madness,

which we are thoroughly fortunate enough to call our own?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Dunya

Maybe it is true that the world feels a little smaller now. And, in that, it also at the same time feels a little bigger, no?

There is time, we find. There is time enough to sleep in a little — at least until your body informs you that, yes. You are now sufficiently ready to begin. At a good pace. Not rushed, and yet, not so slow that it feels sort of aimless. But a good pace in-between. A relative peace, finally devoid of, or at long last being ‘detoxified’ of, that all-too-common-to-us sensation of restlessness. Though, we do still find, that at times, at some points, there is also

this and this — oh and this — to do. And things get misplaced; some things might get a little hard and go a little ‘wrong’; things hurt; you might start thinking and thinking and thinking but —

Hey, the day is young; you are alive, upon this Earth; we are deeply fortunate to be here, as and how and as who we are.

We require the approval of our Lord; we should not seek out permission to be (ourselves) from anybody else.

Days and days: it feels, sometimes, like they are falling rather like how dominoes do. I want to say that they are always coming and leaving ‘gracefully’. Yes, sometimes it is quite graceful. Elegant. Serene walks in the park; tinges of orangey sun; a ‘perfect’ line of tick-tick-ticks, upon your checklist. And, a neighbour of mine, complimenting my bike. I had frequently seen her around, since I was very young. But never once had we had a conversation together, until that day.

You know, sometimes Tuesday morphs quite effortlessly into Wednesday, and then Friday just appears, as if out of nowhere. Someone FaceTimes out of the blue; my brother helps me to cook, one day. The next day, we order some takeaway. Sometimes, something kind of strangely wonderful occurs. Someone says something that clings to your mind sort of like a butterfly. Beautiful enough to stay; to linger.

Things are delicate. Sometimes, an entire week might feel like just one, tumbling, ongoing day. The laundry always smells fresh; there is enough time, at the very least, to neaten up the books; there is a (re-)emergent sense of community, here. Some palpable-almost feeling of togetherness. Bonds between people; between people and places. With that third crucial consideration: time.

There are the things I just really want to do, and these are finely interspersed between those things that I must do. There is enough time, and there is much goodness in it.

Weekday mornings: there is a quicker pace to them, in contrast with Sundays, at least. I quite like the relative urgency of them – the former (but, this, only in moderation). Get up, get ready, first online lesson of the day. Admin, admin. The joys that are part-and-parcel of the fact that our school has instructed us to only use the audio feature — we need not show our faces on Teams. [Yay!]

All of this speaks rather deeply to my introvert-y inclinations. I love people; people are wonderful, and deeply so. As friends, as family members, and as… subjects for quiet (without intent to sound creepy, here…) observation. And, yet, I find: being around people for lengthy periods of time, and/or in large numbers… quite exhausts me.

For the time being, however, the staffroom at work is no longer where I am spending my breaks in-between lessons. My own room is my ‘staffroom’. Sometimes, the stairs are my classroom. And sometimes, the sitting room, also — but not whenever my brother is gaming… [He is the type to shout at the screen, and to become so invested in Fortnite that he begins to act like his actual life is on the line while playing it.]

I do find I like — the state of being that is described through — the word ‘busy’. But only when it really feels meaningful. And when it feels like it is in healthy moderation. You have things to do; responsibilities, obligations to meet. People to care for, in varying ways. A self to be. You adapt.

Not too much… and not too little. In Dunya terms, I reckon that is precisely where the ‘good life’ lies: between over-excitement, -stimulation, chaos, and boredom and day-in-day-out day-in-day-out routine and sameness. Too much to do; there is too little time. Too little to do; there is too much time. Ah, but: that good place in-between. Quite enough to do, and quite enough time.

This time has not exclusively been one of rainbows and butterflies and of unceasing sunshine. No. It has also been a time of uncertainty; bittersweetness; grief. Our household receiving phone call after phone call about extended family members and family friends and such who have contracted the virus. We were informed, again and again, about a number of passings-away too.

People are human. Whole, and complete. Spinning worlds, individual minds. Some people have lost their fathers; their cousins; aunties; friends, over the last ten months. Some people find themselves shrouded in profound lonelinesses. For the time being, at least, and forever, too: headteacher or student. Chronic illness or not. Seven years old, or sixty-two. Materially wealthy, or poor. Human is what we are, and

This time, like everything else that Dunya comprises, is not ‘perfect’. It does not feel particularly ‘heavenly’. No fanciful cut-outs from picture-perfect magazines or movies. There are obstacles; tensions; moments of sadness, or of anger, or of stress.

But what would life be without all these things that make it… other-than ‘perfect’? It would be Jannah. But this is not Jannah, and we are not [yet, bi’ithnillah] the Jannah-worthy, Jannah-inhabiting, versions of ourselves. Dunya: we dwell within the shadow of Perfection. Though, of Perfection, we do – would certainly appear to – have a deep-rooted, innate understanding.

Good: Khayr, fil ‘Arabiyya. One must, first and foremost, have true trust (Īmān) in one’s Lord. Undoubtedly, He is the One who knows you best. And then, we must acknowledge that in the more evident and immediate blessings: the morning almost-spring air; the kind and unexpected words of affirmation; the fledgling flower buds, and so too, in the confusions and in the slip-ups and in the delays. There is Khayr in it. If we are willing to look for it.

Down at our feet. Shoes muddied, scarred – embellished – by all of our experiences and adventures. Careworn, life-worn. So full of character, I would say. And, also, up at the stars: due recognition of the facts of our being, and of our personal journeys, of our destinations. You are here, dear reader. Dunya. It is an honour for you to be you. Exactly who, and what, and when, where, and why, you are.

Our time here is long. And it is short. It is always upsides and downsides. Making the best of things. Wanting other things: sometimes, I think, this is nice. It keeps things moving, at a good pace. Introduces some novelty. But we must be realistic about things. Dunya is Dunya; life is life. Dear reader,

Through what (more evidently and immediately, perhaps) might present itself as being ‘good’ and what might (more evidently and immediately) present itself as being bad, I so hope we make the best of it. Scars, and our muddied shoes, our blessings and our tests, our losses and our gains, the gifts from God that we never could have foretold, and our hearts and minds filled with good stories, Insha Allah.

Here, from the very midst of this life. Welcome. Smooth, easy, and straightforward? Rarely. But, worthwhile? Always.

And, appearances versus reality. What is, versus what one may perceive (or want) of it. Things often look quite different from afar. The moon, for instance, might, from a distance, seem as though it is only a bright side. Without its bumps; without its craters.

From far away, Earth might look like she is still. And serene, and not spinning. As though her whirlwinds – hurricanes, earthquakes, and all the rest of it – are only mere brushstrokes on spherical canvas. But, look a little closer.

Things can, and ought to, be known. Loved, too, in their truths and in their (relative) entireties. And if you would like to know a thing – be it a time, or a place, or another person, or yourself – all you have to do is… look a little closer.

Dear reader, if you find you are currently struggling, on a particular front, with a particularly stormy sea, then: I ask Allah to grant you a kinder sea. If things are good, right now, I hope the goodness endures; that you are able to have and hold, in that mind and in that heart of yours, all those cherished little moments that take you entirely by surprise. I wish you learning and products of your learning that bring about light and wonder and fascination (and love) in your eyes. Āmeen.

.وبسم الله

Also, movie recommendation: ‘Wonder’. What a gorgeous one. The feels.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Mind and Heart

I had accidentally published this prematurely (i.e. without having edited it) earlier today; some of you may have read that draft version via email. Here is the edited version! Some paragraphs have been added, at the end.

I thought I would not be writing here, (at least not) for a while. My time and mental energies are being taken up, mainly, by my first full-time job. I am, by the Will and Grace of Allah, teaching English, and now History, too (to Year Sevens and Eights) at an Islamic secondary school. On the titular level at least, though, I am not a ‘qualified’ teacher (…yet?)  

But I love writing, and I love writing for this blog of mine. I love teaching, too. English has always been my favourite subject: the one for which ‘work’ had never quite felt like ‘work’. And I love it, and I love how, through this subject, one is able to gain or exercise a unique sense of… ‘emotional literacy’. The most important ‘type’ of intelligence, in my opinion. Through this subject, one comes across and is made to grapple with various ideas: political, philosophical, sociological, psychological. You get to explore others’ words, and thus, parts of their minds, their worlds. And their hearts, and their souls. And these are the very things that make a human being; that shape humanity as a whole.

As is the case with most of these articles of mine that I write on a whim and in random places [I am currently at work. Hashtag just staffroom things. I am such a dweeb.] and without prior planning, this one will likely make for a seemingly structure-lacking read. I do not mind. Not even I know what I am going to include in it, for the most part, and nor do I know, just yet, what its conclusion[s] shall be.  

Well, I love learning (and how great is it that being a teacher also necessitates being a learner, at the same time. Just like how being a ‘writer’ necessitates being a reader, at the same time). I love coming to ‘know’ – to the extents to which I am able to come to ‘know’, that is.

We walk through this world, and we, by nature, seek. And we seek to ‘know’, to understand.

But sometimes, ‘knowing’ so much – all these facts and figures and such – is not necessarily conducive to nor connected with understanding so much. I think this phenomenon – of ‘minds’ being tragically detached from ‘hearts’, let’s call it – is quite symptomatic of the unfortunate and unfavourable ways in which we are often taught to do things, these days. We are encouraged to chronically consume so much; how much of it all is actually really nourishing us?

One of the most intelligent people I know is my uncle. Let’s call him R.M. [not the same uncle that I have previously mentioned in my blog articles. I have two maternal uncles. ‘L.M.’ is the very extroverted, ‘popular’, adventurous one. R.M. is the super smart, cool one whom I can speak to for hours on end without getting bored].

When I received the phone call informing me that I had been given this job, I had been quite happy; overall, I felt a much-awaited sense of relief. I knew that Allah (SWT) had provided me with this wonderful opportunity: a time-perfect fusion of all the things I had been looking for, Alhamdulillah.

Some relatives and acquaintances of mine had been somewhat derisive, though, in response. They had known me as the girl who had been ‘destined’ for Oxbridge; from my time at secondary school, onwards, it is like many of them refused to see me as being anything more or other than my academic occupations and statuses. Not a holistic human being; just a thing of images, a picture frame onto which some people ‘projected’ things. Excessive praise, sometimes, and some (perhaps) excessive criticism, too. They compared their children to me, and also sometimes (paradoxically) talked about me behind my back.

I suppose I became quite… maybe ‘befuddled’ is the right word to use, here. Befuddled. An understanding of myself that had now begun to be dramatically interrogated, by many people. [Sylheti-Londoni society, let’s call it. R.M. is right: sometimes this community is so very easily comparable with Austenian ones (i.e. the ones that Jane Austen penned, in her novels, those biting social commentaries on!)]

Labels and comments from people who did not really even know me. I felt they were only seeing a shell of me: school grades, ‘achievements’ and whatnot. Building resentments: pitting their own children in competition against me. And, as a result of their more negative sayings and negative constructions of me, I admit I became somewhat scared. Some of their sayings had slipped through my defences, I think. Frozen in headlights, I, at times, admittedly felt. And, questioning. Who did I want to be? What did I want?

Now: some smirking inquisitions of the following nature. [My parents are acquainted with too many people… some of whom have made it their primary occupations to ‘concern themselves’ over the lives of others…] “So you’re not at uni?” Expressing ostensible shock and horror. Or, to my parents: “Yallah, she isn’t even at uni yet? What a shame. Well, my son is at [insert uni name here] doing [insert course name]” [Lady, with all due respect, I do not care about what your son is doing. By the way, he also detests his course and is doing drugs behind your back, so…] 

A frequent case of: I should not care. You do not even know me, in truth. Do you even care about me? I should not care. I should not care. But I do. But I do. But, for some reason… I do.

When I got this job, R.M. and his wife, my auntie, had been so genuine and heartfelt in congratulation. My auntie has been, to me, the type of aunt to always take me out for meals; to go out of her way to make me feel comfortable at her house. As though we – my cousins and I – are her nieces and nephews ‘by blood’. But, see, what is stronger than ‘blood’ is this: the strength of the connections of the soul. Hearts, minds, and souls, bonded with love. Frankly, mere ‘blood relations’ that are empty of these truly pale in comparison to these truer connections.

R.M. had decided to send a very unique and thoughtful gift to my house. Attached to it, a riddle, no less! A very characteristically my-uncle thing to do. How very lovely indeed.

What I admire most about R.M. (the initials for the title of address I refer to him with also happen to be the same initials for the term ‘role model’) is not his strong intellectual faculties in isolation. No, I admire his character mostly for the fact of his great mind being connected, Allahummabārik, to such a great heart, and which are both orientated towards Al-Haqq.

When darkness had truly dawned upon me: at the very peak – or, rather, the trough – of everything. At a point in my life when it had become impossible to distract myself, and when, psychologically, I had felt so alone, so entrapped in the depths, the valleys…

R.M. (and his wife, my auntie) had been there for me. In a much-needed, heart-warmingly sincere way. I went to their house, and I spoke my heart and mind out, and they had listened with their hearts, seeking to understand, with their minds.

And we spoke, for ages on end, about Psychology, and about Philosophy. This has always been mine and my uncle’s ‘thing’, ever since I was quite young. Debating. Back then, we disagreed with one another on pretty much everything. But that had been okay: a good discussion would always be born of it. At the Ifthar table, every Ramadan, most notably.

Oh no… They’re debating again,” my aunt would always remark.

More recently, a relatively new addition to our extended family commented on how R.M. and I tend to just have our own “intense intellectual conversations” away from everybody else. He added that I seem like I am someone who “intellectualise[s]” everything. I know that this is how I may be perceived, by some. And at times I would worry: are the conversations I tend to have, often ‘cold’? Am I speaking from some mind that is detached from heart? But, no: I do not think so. This new family member perceives me from his own perspective. For each thing, there tends to be at least two differing ways of viewing it. Good, or bad, and entire spectrums replete with variations and complexities, between them. There can be as many differing perspectives on you, or on I, or on anything, for that matter, as there are different human minds upon this Earth! Same thing in question, and just a range of differing perspectives on it…

R.M. thinks our discussions are always “heartfelt” and interesting, and I agree. From now on, I wish to internalise the fact that those who understand me, and whose hearts and minds (and, thus, whose souls) mine feel an affinity for: these are the people who know me best, and these are the people who really matter to me.

And when I was twelve and identified (retrospectively, rather naively) as an agnostic feminist, nobody could answer my inquiries about religion. Nobody really wanted to address them. But R.M. understood, rather uniquely, that my questions did not need to be, in any way, a reason for outrage. Infinite regress, the nature and the limitations of language, logic, and more. I have never formally studied Philosophy. But I know I love the subject, especially since the topics it comprises have much to do with the sorts of things I would always learn about and discuss with my uncle.

R.M. studied Law at university. And so I, as an overzealous adolescent, would be very pleased with myself indeed whenever I felt I had ‘won’ a debate with him. More recently, however, our renowned ‘debates’ are no longer debates. They are more… discussions. I still learn much from him, but now I do find I agree with him on most things.

His is the sort of teaching style that involves stating, “Here is the answer I personally agree with, and here is why. Now you can go and explore the topic independently, and you can come to your own conclusions.”

And R.M. keeps saying that the most important thing he would like to have instilled in his son – my baby cousin, Dawud – is emotional intelligence. Empathy, a willingness to listen and to understand. A strong caring instinct, towards others, above all else. [But I imagine Dawud would absolutely have to be a Man-U fan, too. R.M. is a Man-U fan(atic) — of the type whose mood for an entire day will be contingent on – if a match had taken place that day – whether Man-U had won, or lost]

Unfortunately, nowadays many pockets of our communities seemingly find themselves far from this willingness to refine their minds and cultivate their hearts, and this results in manifold issues, for many of us. Problems arising from the initial problem of… these disconnects, a lack of empathic understanding. But maybe we need to work on realising that these disharmonies may not be due to anything that is objectively ‘wrong’ about us.

We need change, don’t we, with regard to these very things. For, for example, our ‘elders’ and whatnot to understand that we are not mere picture frames who need to be forced into bored homogeneity only to avoid ‘talk’ about us; that these [trite though the term may be] toxic ways do harm us all.

People ‘talk’ so much about ‘different’ things when they are used to being bored, and when their minds and hearts have been dulled. When things are, frankly, colourless: a pop of colour here and there is going to turn heads. [Dare I say, here: it is ironic how some Asians are unable to handle unique ‘flavours’ from among people, spices. They are so used to the ‘comfort’ of the ways that they are used to. Anything else, to them, is ‘wrong’, simply intolerable.] But these differences can either be perceived, by the beholder’s own volitions, as ‘good’ things, or ‘bad’ ones. If people are committed to criticising others (so as to quieten their own boredoms, their own dissatisfactions, more often than not), the things that stand out, somehow, in this way or the other, tend to be the easiest targets, for them. Wherever you seek out flaws and problems, you will find mostly them.

I think we urgently need change, within a number of different ‘cultural’ aspects, and that we (this current generation) need to be the ones who enact it.

If there is one thing that I have come to know about myself, it is that I am rather ‘weird’. [I find I much prefer the Arabic word for ‘weird’. ‘Ghareeb’ (غريب). ‘Strange’, or ‘stranger’. Like a traveller, one mysterious and unknown, if I am to romanticise it.] I suppose some people perceive it in a quite positive light: they say it is “cute”, and that it is a thing that they very much like. But maybe others frame ‘weird’ in a more negative light. I know that some are unable to immediately approve of things they are not used to. I know that some people will ‘disapprove’ of me, because there is something about me that they are not quite able to ‘understand’. But I also know that I am liked by all the ‘right’ people, for me. If anything, partly as a result of what makes me ‘weird’, and not ‘in spite of it’.

I must always remember that morality – that is, what ‘ought’ to be done, and what is objectively ‘right’ – is a separate thing from convention: from intersubjective agreements on what ‘should’ be done, that is. At times, they do overlap, but not always. And thus, doing things differently does not necessarily mean that you are doing things ‘wrong’. In fact, if you examine the very things that you are trying to be ‘different’ from, perhaps, by doing things differently, you are doing things quite ‘right’!

 So long as you are still adhering to objective morality (that is, moral frameworks that exist outside of the fluctuating, at least somewhat fluid tastes, fancies, preferences and whatnot of human beings) your way is not ‘wrong’. And, likewise, just because everyone else within your ‘community’ is doing something, or believing in something, or whatever else, does not make all of those things ‘right’. With all due respect, do you seek to emulate them? Or do you seek to emulate and be ‘accepted’ by people like R.M., more so?

Objective morality is derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah; if you are embodying what is within them, then your way is by nature ‘right’. All else – expected academic/professional timelines, included – can be questioned, played around with. And it is so okay! Have fun with it, chica!

Sometimes I wonder whom I am writing these articles for. I write them for my close friends to read, and for strangers, alike — all in all, people I am okay with, knowing these things about me. And I certainly also write for myself: for past versions of me, for my present self, and for the same-but-different versions of me who are yet to come, Insha Allah. Oh, and for a future daughter, perhaps: that is, if I am ever fortunate enough to have one, Bi’ithnillah. To each party who reads these pieces, they will all necessarily mean different things.

I want for my blog to be about encouraging people to Truth. For Muslims, and for non-Muslims. I want for it to be about thinking – about humanity, about random abstract things – and, certainly, about feeling, at the same time, also. And to bring about some hope and some comfort for some of its readers, Insha Allah. So, yes: my blog is/shall be about gardening my main ‘academic loves’: Islam, Philosophy, Psychology, and English. All four of them, as we find, are deeply interlinked, intertwined.

This world, this world. It is certainly not ‘all there is’. But, even still: it is so much. Here, there is, to quote the ‘Lion King’ song, “more to find than can ever be found”. Do you know how amazing your ears, for instance, are? Do you know how ridiculously awesome your mind is? Or about the sheer strength of a blue whale’s beating heart? Why is all this knowledge important? Should we think about all these things without feeling anything? Is ‘knowledge’ important for the mere sake of itself? Or are these bits of knowledge significant in bringing about, in our hearts, awe and wonder and fascination; in allowing us to come to know about the Truth of our Ilah?

“Verily in these things there are Signs for those who consider/reflect!”

— Qur’an, (13:4)

I think the most valuable thing worth striving for, on the personal level, is this: a well-gardened mind, inextricably connected with a well-gardened soul. Open, full, and alive. And, to get here, one must learn to not align oneself with the projections of (no offence but) heart-diseased (not the ones who are physically, but the ones who are metaphorically so) ignoramuses, but (more so) with those whom you seek to be like. R.M. is somebody whom I seek to be like. [I just need for my older cousins to have children as soon as possible, so I can try to be the ‘cool aunt’ – just as R.M. has undoubtedly been the ‘cool uncle’, for me].

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding”

— Qur’an, (3:190)

Now, in returning to this article so as to edit it, I feel I must include the following, in it. Recently, I told R.M. about something a friend of mine had told me: that there is an Islamic scholar who carries around her own white shrouds — i.e. the cloths she wishes to ultimately be buried in — wherever she goes. A true sort of ‘memento mori’, if there ever was one…

R.M. told me, in response, about how he had been one of the ones who had lowered his late father – my late grandfather – into the Qibr (the grave) after my grandfather’s passing, roughly a decade ago. I asked him what that experience had been like. He replied that it had been:

“A moment of overwhelming truth. I stopped seeing the world and the hereafter as two distinct things. At that moment, I felt like I was in both. Each breath here, was an echo There.

Subhan Allah. One must never forget the reality, and the point, of this life. And seek to cultivate one’s soul (mind and heart included) in line with Truth, before the Inevitable takes place. This world is this world. As we have always known it to be: this journey. Most of the vanities that we indulge in, here, will necessarily fall to the ground, to dust, and to nothing, while our souls, and what they had ‘earned’, will remain. I hope, as we are walking through this world, and while Time is taking us to our Creator, that we are making them (our souls, that is) as beautiful as they can possibly be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

On Deleting Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

The Roaring Twenties

The autumnal season always seems to bring along with it this potent impression of… renewal, does it not? Life, continuing just as it does, and yet, also starting all over again. A Janus season, this one: this sense of beginning and ending, at precisely the same time. Subtly electrifying, comfortingly poignant. The way the trees suddenly, both modestly and in a way that demands our attention, burn up into all these shades of red and orange, interspersed between fading, yellowing, greens. Autumn, I think, very much epitomises what this first life of ours, for us, is like; it powerfully demonstrates the states in which we, in this Dunya, exist. Half-sad, and yet, equally, half-ablaze with the quietly brilliant stuff of aliveness. Wonder and mundanity, dreariness and colour. And we find that things can be more than one thing  — can even be a thing as well as its very opposite, at the very same time — at any given time. 

Autumn is filled both with the sighs of tiredness, of nostalgia, and all the rest of it — and with sharp inhalations of excitement, novelty. What a perfect season in which to consciously savour the old, to reflect upon what has gone. It is also an apt time for regeneration: an emergent shoot upon an otherwise dying rose plant. Dark greens, browned, and then: lime green, all new and hopeful. So the plant is, at once, dying, dwindling, and reborn, anew. A new spring in its step, even amid, birthed from between, autumn’s rainy gusts, its approaching winters.

 

Two months left, for me, before the period of my life that shall be hailed as my ‘twenties’, arrives — the roaring twenties, these reputedly momentous years. And foundational, apical ones, too. Years of matured youthfulness, of lots of important decision-making, apparently. [According to the Islamic tradition, one is considered to be ‘young’, a ‘youth’, until the time of one’s fortieth birthday…]

 

Some people I know, or know of, who are in their twenties, are already investing in anti-ageing creams and serums and such. Taking their health — and ‘Beauty’, which is arguably Health’s main medium of manifestation — very seriously indeed. Gym days and Keto. And, also, ‘hustling’, and money-making. A need to make as much money as one can, with such ‘entrepreneurial zeal’, and to then save it up. 

Someone I know has discussed with me her desire to freeze her eggs in the near future. Fertility concerns: apparently half of the eggs we are born with are gone by the age of twenty-one… Another girl I once knew is now married, has already had children of her own. Many others are currently at university, will then begin job-seeking, or… -‘hunting’ (for it can all prove to be a rather difficult and aggressive endeavour, so it seems: this deciding on, and subsequently finding, an occupational role). Many twenty-somethings ‘get work done’ on their outer selves, too — on their lips, their skin, the curvatures of their bodies. Some go out to party quite a lot; ‘live it up’ outside of, so far away from, theirselves. Some young men will find that their hairlines are already beginning to recede; some will start to grow out their beards very soon. Many find that they are surgically attached to their phones, to social media. Most are fundamentally confused. Many are in quiet, intense competition with the next man, or woman; they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, of always getting something out of ‘impressing’ others: standing out, being ‘extraordinary’ through titles and possessions and such. The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation [H.D.T]. And most are fundamentally confused. Cannot slow down, and nor can they quell all these distractions, for even a small while. Terrified of what might just bubble up to the surface, should they ever choose to ‘deep’ their lives, if even just a little. And so they favour whatever is ‘safe’, more ‘shallow’. Life’s short, they say. Live a little! YOLO!

 

In 1999, it had been the case that roughly 17% of all British women had tried to kill themselves before their twenty-fifth birthday. Now, with proliferating rates of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (intensified by all this filtered imagery that social media encourages and gives rise to), work-related stress conditions, a culture centred on hyper-productivity and -competition, ensuing self-comparisons and deep dissatisfactions, and more, it is almost undoubtable that this figure has, in the eventful two decades since, risen dramatically.

Quietly, secretly, so many of us are hurting as a result of all these unplumbed mismatches between appearances and reality. Profound ironies. But that is okay, because we have drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll, don’t we? We have noise. As well as all these expectations and ideals to live up to, which had never been conceptualised with… truth in mind, in the first place. Nay, for they are, at their very centres, hollow: at their very cores, they breed only the stuff of delusion. Fleeting fancies, hot air. But we can think about all that when we are ‘older’, can’t we?

 

Our twenties will likely be, at least somewhat, a time of existential-everything. Questions, dread. Some people cannot bear to sit alone with themselves, in silence, for even half an hour, you know. Cry whenever they are alone in the bathtub; cannot bear to be home by themselves, either; drown in their own darknesses in the depths of each night. Not even the most ‘stoic’ or ‘macho’ of men can escape nor surmount essential human nature. And, you see, accepting the things that are true about ourselves, and about life, is… okay. Should be okay. It is okay.

 

Most twenty-somethings are dealing with at least one thing that is really rather heavy, for them. Many are recovering from unfavourable childhoods. And it is okay to accept and embrace the truths of these things; it should be okay to speak about them, too. See, the only alternative way is… busying, intoxicating, ourselves with and in delusion. Hiding. But the truth will always gnaw away at us; it is always there. It has a way of always catching up to us, and of doing away with all falsehoods, in the end. Light, by nature, illuminates darkness.

We must come to accept that we are weak and we are strong; we are both, at precisely the same time. 

And so, these urgent invented needs to be filthy rich; to obsessively adhere to a very narrow construction of what it means to be ‘beautiful’ and/or ‘strong’; to have so many things to show [off with] to others. To ‘satisfy’, somehow, prying eyes; to ‘impress’ and ‘outshine’ other people… with mere image-based things, impressions. Excessive focuses on imagined futures, ‘super-‘realities. (Often) furtive addictions, through which the pain is momentarily benumbed; through which to take the edges off, from the truths of these passing days of ours.

 

Oh, what is it all for; towards?

Some moments of praise, applause? — to convince other people through our making the shells look shiny? Do other people hold the keys to the truths of you, to your day-to-day experiences, anyway? Should they ever be granted such power?  

 

Reality, essence, passed through layers of filtering, creating alternative ‘realities’ into which we might quietly slip into, escape. Is everything only… what we can bring it to seem it is? Small talk, deliberate omissions, heavily edited excerpts, simply ‘keeping busy’. Inebriation and suppression. Truth is uncomfortable to face… so why let ourselves think about it ‘too much’, in any case?

Polished surfaces, only, and all these… waxy ventriloquies. Our willingness to, and the ease with which we, accept… ‘not-accepting’… perturbs me. And we will find that, no, we can never actually escape Truth, especially not in the End. 

 

Very recently, a family friend of mine (who is aged twenty-something) got married. A period of celebration: a sacred union, a joyous occasion, a ‘milestone’. She moved into her husband’s home.

Five weeks after their wedding, her spouse passed away, tragically and unexpectedly, as a result of having experienced a haemorrhage in his brain. Five weeks ago, she had been a new wife. And now, she is a new widow. The tinges of orange from her wedding Mendhi had still been on the tips of her fingers at the time of his passing. On the inside of her wedding ring, her late husband had had engraved, in Arabic:

My wife — in Dunya and Ākhirah”. 

 

[May Allah (SWT) reunite the two of them in Jannah, Ameen.]

 

True things, by nature, can withstand even trials by fire. They exist outside of the realm of things that are prone to decay; true things are the opposite of those ones that are rooted in delusion, hot airs. They are, by nature, evergreen. And therefore, it is okay. True love, for example, is essentially strong and everlasting. It is not at all fragile. It will prove itself, time and time again. 

 

“And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?”

— Qur’an, [3:185]

The Reality (and the derivative realities) of Dunya can be rather unsettling to think about — to ‘deep’. But I find comfort in reminders of what is substantial, true. That here is life, here in the Now. That all of (this) life is a series of breaths, and of sighs — a string of ‘imperfect’ moments, Nows. [And… therein lies the charm, no? The character, the meatier stuff that one can actually enjoy really talking about. In the ‘flaws’, the unpredictabilities, the texture, the edges…]

 

Here, we are surely being tested, and everything we do does count.

And every soul shall taste death, this necessary passing on. Through the gates of eternity, and into the lasting world of Home. That Home that our souls are always yearning for, just as they cry not, in this world, for bags of money and such, but for people to share love with, and alongside whom to walk. And for a connection to the natural world, too: with the crumbly earth between one’s fingers, and with spiralling sunflowers — with all these beautiful and unmissable emissaries of truth.

 

How do I fully come to make peace with it all, though? With the fact that I am, at present, quite alive, and that someday I will be dead? With how I am, by nature, quite an idealist; that there will always be a deep yearning for something, from within the very depths of my soul? [Well, of course, I must be, from the core of me, longing after the very abode of idealism — Jannah. “We dance round in a ring and suppose, // But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” [R.F.]]

 

And this worldly life is only pastime and play, and the abode of the hereafter is the real life, if only they knew.”

— Qur’an, [29:64]

How do I reconcile, in my own self, the truths of, for example, impermanence? Of instability, confusion, of how it often does not (yet) all make sense to me? That some people will stay; that others will go? That some interpersonal connections truly are bonds of the soul; that they are immutable; that they will not die, even when one of us do? How do I know which ones are rooted in Truth, and which ones may not truly be so? 

 

“Know that the life of this world is only play and pastime and adornment and mutual boasting amongst you and [the] amassing of wealth and children. Like the example of a rain whose [resulting] plant growth pleases the tillers; then it dries and you see it turned yellow; then it becomes [scattered] debris.”

— Qur’an, [57:20]

 

And just what will my twenties be for? 

 

They will be for me, navigating my way through this Dunya, just as the decade preceding them has been for. We find we like to think of life in terms of neat stages, phases. Clear-cut periods: decades and such. The modern state education system, for instance, is centred on the idea that ‘life’ exists in some future; some… nothere, notnow. But, actually, this is all we find we have: a series of yes-heres, and yes-nows. Nothing else. Only these souls of ours, and all this sand-like time we have been gifted with.

 

A month ago, my cousin (twenty-something, too) also got married. While being a student of Law at university; while working, for lengthy hours each week, in retail; while mothering her two siblings who have special needs. Indubitably, she is one of the strongest, most incredible, and kind-hearted, people I have ever come across. Her life, thus far, has been riddled with difficulties. But despite — and, yes, in light of — it all, you see, her soul shines right through. She is a woman whose strength, goodness, and beauty, are True.

Allahummabārik. 

 

I do somehow always find it surprising when things like marriages and graduations take place. Witnessing all the preparatory efforts and such, which precede them [my cousin had been planning her future wedding since around the age of ten!] and then… they simply take place. They finally arrive, and then they go. Just another day. Not ‘underwhelming’, necessarily, no. Just… evidence for how we really ought not to live our lives within daydreams of the ‘future’. The ‘big day’, the new job: all these things, will come. And you will get out of bed, as you do, and you will eat and pray, and all the rest of it. By the end of the day, (just) another day of your life will have passed, as all these days that constitute our lives do…

 

I find I am very interested in education: in how children are taught, and in how — and just what — they learn, from it all. The halcyon days of primary school: when school had been a little community, a mini village of sorts. Where the focus had been, to a great extent, on the present tense: on nurture and development, enjoyment and true learning, far more so than on ‘future careers’ and such. Appreciating children for being alive, just as they are. A home outside of home, primary school had been, just as school really always ought to be. 

And then, secondary school. Where the building and the atmosphere it had accommodated resembled those of… a prison, more so than a ‘small village’. With these new emphases on institutionalised discipline, on sanding personalities, humanity, down. On work, and work, and on even more work, to then take home. People started coming into school sleep-deprived, often sad. But that’s okay, as the new message of school had now become. If you endure all this, you’ll be rich, ‘successful’, and ‘happy’ in the future, someday.

And so we had been indoctrinated with these new ideas of some hallowed ‘future’; with the notion that the days of these ‘futures’ meant far more than those of the present. Attitudes of materialism were heavily inculcated within us, too. You tell a teacher you would like to be a teacher, when you are older. “You can do way more than that!” they, rather ironically, tell you. But just what does ‘more’ even mean

These unfavourable ways of thinking that we are drip-fed through our formal schoolings are both symptomatic of, and actively serve, a society that evidently cares far more about the ‘economy’ and about how we ought to fit into it, (and which buys into foolish fantasies of ‘American Dreams’) than about humanity, about Truth, our souls… 

 

One boy whom I had attended the same secondary school as had passed away in Year Eight, as a result of terminal illness. And so he never even got to see this ‘future’ he had purportedly been in school every day, from 8:30 to 15:15, and which he had purportedly been doing all that homework, for. 

 

In terms of time, the Truth lies very much in the present. We do not know when it will be, that we go. The least schools can do, for all of us, is embrace and embody these facts; encourage attitudes of realism, present contentment, teach us how to navigate through life’s many (inevitable, inevitably ongoing) struggles. They should operate on the bases of kindness, and nurture. Call me idealistic, unrealistic, here, but I really do think schools should continue to be, for students, homes outside of home, even after primary school. School is where young people are made to spend the majority of their time, and thus, of their youths, at; school is where, for instance, children who live in abusive households, both seek, and deserve, much comfort, individual appreciation, an organic sense of belonging. It should not all be about sacrificing present contentment for some mythical ‘glorious futures’. But I digress, I guess. 

 

I just do not want for my twenties to be all about… running for a train I will never quite be able to catch. This would appear to be what many people do, and this is quite an alarming phenomenon, in my opinion. 

 

As well as all those more ‘spiritual’, existential-type questions that one’s twenties may traditionally be characterised by, there are also the other rather pressing ones, surrounding what to do. What, whom, to ‘be’. I really do believe that the best decisions, in these regards, are made when we put considerations of Purpose and Passion(s) right at the forefront. And, also, through following the maxim of ‘being whom [we] needed when [we] were younger’ — whom we ‘needed’, in both senses of the word. Who had been there, in our lives, if only briefly, and whose presence(s) we had really valued. And/or, who had not been there, but whose presence(s) we would have had really valued. 

A very encouraging older sibling, perhaps. A youth worker who had been there for us. A teacher who had taught us something about life, or about ourselves, that we would never, from then on, forget. A lawyer, perhaps, who had spoken to us reassuringly during, say, a parental divorce. A doctor who had displayed, towards us, a great level of care and compassion. An uncle or aunt whose home had always been open to us. A movie character — or a handful of them — whom we had been drawn to, and whose occupations and such, and their own individual ways of carrying out their roles, had inspired us deeply. 

I wish to emulate, in terms of their noble characteristics and actions, the people (including the fictional ones!) whose presence(s) had meant something to me. Who had taught me something important, or who had instilled some hope within me; who had told me something I really needed to hear: valuable presences. 

 

Recently, I had been fortunate enough to meet a fellow teacher who really inspires me. The good energy she seems to radiate; her evident love of and passion for learning. The good humour through which she connects with her students. And, crucially, her centred-ness. Khayr is usually found in the middle of things: through balance, through being centred, as she reminded me.

She seems to be rooted in Deen; does not seem to be always-in-a-rush. When she is here, she is here. She grew up between Algeria, (a mountainous region in) Spain, and Egypt; in Algeria, she had witnessed the bloodied brutalities of the Civil War. In Spain, she would go hiking with her grandfather almost every day. She cares an awful lot about nutrition; her mother is a naturopath. And her idea of worldly success — as she is courageous enough to deeply embrace, in spite of all these strong forces that may encourage her to think otherwise — is what she already has. Her job as a teacher, her family, and gardening. In a society that is so hell-bent on notions of ‘outdoing’ others, being (in terms of our shells, what we can most concisely, conveniently present before others) ‘extraordinary’ and ‘exceptional’… Perhaps being so centred is quite revolutionary, really. Being ‘special’ really is an ‘inside’ thing, in truth; a soul-based one. She — this awesome and radiant teacher who would appear to be just a tad obsessed with going to Tesco so as to purchase snacks — just longs to eventually get out of and away from the city, really [the city is designed with mainly industry, and with the ‘economy’, in mind. It can very easily, and often does, make soulless, tired, workaholic robots out of human men and women. I find I very much agree with these views of hers… Offices are like animal cages, drenched in lifelessness and misery. Harsh lighting, caffeination. A potted orchid plant — a measly attempt to make up for the callousness against the human soul that the office fundamentally embodies.] 

 

I now know that, throughout this life of mine, I will be faced with tests, and I will also encounter new blessings, Insha Allah. But actually, they are one and the same, are they not? For we are tested through our blessings, too; we are, though we may not currently know just how, also blessed through our tests. 

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient/steadfast”

— Qur’an, [2:155]

Perhaps, Bi’ithnillah, I will die in the coming year. Or maybe I will remain alive throughout this newly dawning decade. Some days I will experience a little more sadness than on other days, and maybe on some days I will be more scared or confused. Throughout these years, though, there will be moments of joy, of peace, of happiness, Insha Allah. All will be well, in the present and in the end, so long as I hold on to all that is true (and good, and beautiful). And, in a way that, I hope, does not sound too narcissistic, in response to those ceaseless questions of what I wish to be in the future… I want to be whom and what I already am. The fabric of the worldly life will remain the same throughout, too. Always a set of blessings, and always a filled space for problems, issues, frictions, worries. And to find peace and centred-ness in Truth, and in my own truths (without feeling a need to anxiously accommodate for, nor internalising, others’ responses to it all) — this is what I want for myself. 

 

These autumnal months are the ones that the soul, I think, instinctively warms towards. These striking, undeniably (though sometimes quietly) gorgeous months of warmth, of reminding oneself of what truly matters; of what this life truly is. Its very fabric: brushstrokes of happy, tinges of sad, often at precisely the same time. Fading away just as it all comes alive. Is this not what it is, also, to be human?

 

That evening, even though we felt cold and were bleary-eyed: we came outside, and we got to see the stars again. Fingertips freezing, but there our souls had been, in full force, subtly ablaze. We were reminded of those smaller — and larger — facts of our existence. The deep blessings that begin, perhaps, with our capacities for breathing: and the flower-like structures that line our lungs. The knowledge of how water is known to connect us with everything else, upon this planet, that is alive. And how these souls of ours: these immaterial, unifying, experience-and-reason-facilitating vessels of ours… How they are eternal, and undeniable. And how they are true.  

How, even on those nights in which we might forget to pay much heed to those celestial bodies overhead — and even when the leaves, rather like secret stories penned upon little crinkled coloured pieces of paper — when they begin to fall… What will remain, and what actually carries meaning, are our souls. And, of course, their connections: to other sempiternal souls, and indeed, most crucially, to sempiternal Truth.

Money will enter our pockets, but at some point, we find, we must part from it. The praises of others may bring a wisp — or a hundred — of satisfaction. But this fades too. So may our focuses be on what ultimately remains, matters. 

 

I want for my life to be about tending to whatever is ever-true. The things that, when these presently tangible, quantifiable, material Dunya things fall to dust, will come to reveal the truths of their weightiness, significance. Substantiality. For what is presently untouchable is not necessarily presently unknowable: the soul has its own ‘eyes’ through which it sees, too. Sabr, Taqwa, ‘Ilm, Salāh, love, and all else that is true. I hope these twenties — if I am to be permitted to live through them — will be years of centring myself on reality, essence, Truth. 

 

Every soul must taste death, and they will be receiving their rewards on the Day of Resurrection, so whomever is removed from the fire and entered into the garden is successful, and the life of this world is only a passing provision.” 

— Qur’an, [3:185]

“You will surely be tested in your possessions and in yourselves. And you will surely hear from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with Allah much abuse. But if you are patient/steadfast and fear/are conscious of Allah – indeed, that is of the matters [worthy] of determination.”

 

Oneness, in recognition of, and thus in submission to, the One. May my twenties be a period of using what I have, over these years, learnt; a period of synthesis, of accepting and embodying what is real (and all of Truth’s derivative truths — quiet beauty, true goodnesses — also). 

 

Your soul, dear reader, is absolutely, undeniably, your core: the Truth of you. And the life of this world, complete with its mystifying ablaze-with-auburn trees, has its own soul, a non-visible yet all-encompassing truth, too. We speak of notions of meaning, of purpose, of direction and success; each of these concepts… they do not come from nothing, and nor is it to nothing they return. 

Throughout this life, in this impermanent abode of ours, we will always have things to be grateful for: the stuff of the soul, in particular. But this world is not Home, for us, although some of the people we come to love, here, may (Insha Allah) be segments of it, for here, and also, later, for There. With them, we walk along these (sometimes rather rugged) paths of ours. And here, we also have our capacities for patience, the capacities through which to maintain our relationships with our Creator, via prayer and other forms of remembrance. 

We will always, in this world, experience difficulty: mankind has certainly been created in hardship: Kabad. An ongoing state of incompleteness, experiences of grief, and of fear, and of sorrows and regret. Longing, longing, pangs of pain. Here, as you will find, you will need to be brave. And honest, I think. Loving, and hopeful.

Because the aforesaid displeasures, obstacles, are only facets of the worldly life through which we must walk, in order to get to the Lasting Attainment. Here, in this world, lies the means — dynamism, a journey — not the end.

 

And so, with all this in mind, dear reader, I ask you:

What is your journey — your adventure, your quest — to Jannah looking like? 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Gang Aft Agley

 

An adventure, and some quite random reflections. 

This ‘academic year’, I had taken a gap year. A year of not having attended any formal educational establishment. I have very much learnt that life is more than dictated schedules of nine to five, and that some very good things can come from states of utter uncertainty — if one has faith, that is. My own gap year was, in no way, a pause year in terms of life. It had simply been another year of it. Life: waking up every morning; eating, learning, laughing, having existential crises, writing. Up until the other bookend of the day: going to sleep.

Time, and how I had been spending mine.

Did I find that I ‘found myself’, this year? Well, perhaps such a question escapes the point. Maybe it is not about ‘finding oneself’. It is simply about you (you are yourself already) and about how you are living.

All life is but a series of days. And each individual day contains, within it, life. 

 

Religion

I reckon we all need it. And that we know that we have a Creator. Who made us this perfect? And that all around us, there are signs for all of we who are willing to have faith. Things get quite confusing at times, I know. But may we always find our way back home.

I have learnt that nothing is better than ‘Ilm, and the stuff that gives the heart true serenity — nothing at all. And, while all the rest of the world might be always-in-a-hurry, almost perpetually in motion, I hope that our hearts remain steadfast, always beating in recognition of the One who made them, responsive to the facts of their own blessed aliveness.

Welcome to a world that has almost completely forgotten God. Where, ironically, the West operates upon originally Christian ideals (the Protestant Work Ethic, notions of human rights) but in such twisted and hypocritical ways. And belief, one finds, can understandably be extremely hard, at times.

But how blessed I feel, to be Muslim. Subhan Allah. 

When it comes to Islam, the emphasis is very much on Pure Monotheism. In this world, pretty much everyone is enslaved to at least one thing. Devoting oneself to something; directing one’s efforts towards these things, organising one’s time around it. Even the way we think about the education system, sometimes. Seemingly benign. But actually rather (significantly) detrimental: eat well and sleep well so you can perform wellEducation is the primary consideration: a deity, almost. Etc. And obedience to these systems, or sacrificial devotions to… national flags and such, being the very centrepieces of these lives of ours: this is something that I am desperate to disconnect from. Otherwise it simply would not be Pure Monotheism, would it?

 

In the most dark and difficult parts of this year, the doors of the mosque were always open, for me to walk right through. And, those portions of the evening spent in the part of my local mosque that is dimly illuminated by panels of light from the corridor, which would stretch out right across the carpeted floor. A women-only space. Those evenings are quite unforgettable; I have rarely ever known a deeper kind of peace.

 

People, Connections 

This year especially, I find I have learnt much about friendship, and about family. The connections ‘of the womb’, and those of the soul. Allahummabārik, some of my kindred spirits, my soulmates, are cousins of mine, while others of them, I had been fortunate enough to meet at school, or elsewhere. They are the people whom I know want the best for me, and for whom I want nothing but the best, too.

Spending time with them. I feel so at ease; it is something different. Peace and play, and a unique sort of spiritual fulfilment. And they are nothing less than the lights of my life, if I am to be honest; my world.

Considerations of family, and of ‘home’, should not be pushed to the side. And my heart had really missed that sort of true quality time (whereby my attentions had been, for the most part, undivided) that I had been able to spend with particular family members, this year.

I have realised that I do not wish to be liked (or, loved) based on such things as my scholastic activities, nor even the things (books, media) I may consume. Nor for how I might look on paper, or on a phone screen. Not for outside, ephemeral, image-based factors. No, no. I want for my connections to always be so terribly (terrifically) real; the places where existing as I am is truly enough.

I cannot imagine my life without you in it.”

When it comes to matters of the soul, and its messenger of choice: love, my mind seems to generate this imagery of a treehouse. A place of resort, hidden away in the greenery. And I think of cosiness, and the wood and the Earth. About putting the rest of the world away; feeling entirely safe. Spaces for reflection, and in which to spread one’s wings. Kind eyes, shoulders to lean on; all that is good, and true, and beautiful, concentrated into this small home of wood. Excitement, too: buzzes of true connectivity. And nowhere in the world do you feel more significant and genuinely alive than in this little treehouse, tucked away somewhere who-knows-where. Nobody ‘gets’ you like they do. (Nobody needs to ‘get’ you like they do.)

The basis need not be the state of being near identical, to them. No, no. It is less about ‘finding oneself in others’, and more, I think, about finding oneself (a distinctively different entity) with certain others. Interactions: you move, they move. And resulting equilibria. Two beings, together. I am not sure how to fully express it in words, actually.

And only closeness can bring about… closeness. Nothing else. Physical proximity, the eyes, and the hands, and the spirit. Bonds, and how they are watered, nurtured. And real closeness is the most important thing ever.

Forget the labels. Forget about whom you are only ‘meant to’ like, and focus on your real loves, to have, and to hold, and to eat with, and to be an absolute idiot with. Who will stand with you in the warmth; who will sit there with you, in warm silences, for when it is cold.

With them, one’s heart is full. Without them, life is empty. Their smiles light up the entire world; they are whom your heart longs to always know. They are yours, and you are theirs.

And I write about this stuff because I know it is the most important thing in the entire world: the connections of one’s soul.

 

Life. And you.

These days are passing us by; they are almost as long as they are short. And you, dear one:

you will be fine. 

 

Are you ‘enough’? Well, what sort of a question is that? You have always been enough; will, to the right people, always be enough.

And, you, you, you: there is no better person for you to be!

 

‘Who we are’, as well as our subjective experiences of life: these are determined by the things we acquire. Within each of us, there are the seeds of potential(s). Potential(s) for good, and those for evil. And, for what we can be, and for how well we can be them. The potential(s) within me are necessarily going to be different than those within you.

What sort(s) of potential do you find you, as an individual, may hold? And how are you going to acquire the good stuff? And how are you going to focus on you and tending attentively to your own unique set of seeds?

 

So long as the centre is sound, know that all else will be fine, too.

 

 

The Road to Scotland 

Travelling is fun. But whom you go with is everything: the shapers of your experience. And, trite but true: life is a journey. Whom one’s companions are, for the ride: this a most crucial consideration, indeed.

I have always loved Scotland. Even before visiting… though not in a delusional, idealistic way. For everything Scotland is, she is wonderful. Cloudy skies and rain included. Scotland is certainly worth a 10-hour car journey with my sometimes hyperactive little cousins for; even worth enduring the adults who would not stop blasting cheesy Bengali music much of the way through.

Being with certain people, I find, never fails to ignite my spirit. My little cousin Isa, for example: my best frenemy. A grandfatherly figure in the form of a child. Often ‘grumpy’, always sarcastic. Whenever he sees me with a book in my hands, he is known to call me a “boring nerd”. And, whenever I see him with a book in his hands (the little hypocrite!) I call him the very same thing. Nine years of age, and probably already the most responsible adult I know. And I love it when Isa has all these things to tell me about the things he has read. Or when he annoys me and we chase each other around; when my little grandfather-like cousin suddenly cannot stop laughing. When his siblings and I go crazy together, while he just sits and stares at us disapprovingly. Though he is my cousin, I also consider him to be my brother, and nothing but.

Cousin Moosa, also. But I have chosen to rename him ‘Throckmorton’. While in Scotland, we stopped off at an awesome hillside ‘garden nursery’ [where one woman, by herself, tends to a very diverse, vibrant, array of flowering plants. There is also a wooden viewing hut, towards the top, from which one can gaze upon all the flowers, and at the massive glistening lake below!] I was awestruck by the sheer botanical variety: all these petals of yellow, and of red. The Earth really does laugh in flowers! In blues, in purples, and whites. Clusters of blossoms, ribbon-like designs, orchid arches, and more.

Throckmorton’s commentary, upon seeing the very same gorgeous garden that I had very much fallen in love with, had included the following:

“They just dash seeds in, and hope for the best!”

He added, while exploring:

Brexit means Brexit. I love Brexit!”

We took a cable car up to the top of a mountain in the Nevis range. I shared a gondola with Moosa and Maryam. Moosa decided to shake our carriage vigorously, in spite of how high up we had been, promptly before opening one of the little windows, to play at being a McDonald’s drive-thru worker, taking the fast food orders of… the mountains around us.

My cousin Maryam, who is, to me, my little sister. How glad I am that not all of my cousins are boys. Maryam is warmth and loveliness, and madness, and humour, and home, all wrapped up into one gorgeous human being.

And, their dad: my uncle. Adventurer extraordinaire; an amazing travel-planner. He knows how to plan things well, and he also knows how to (very effectively) be spontaneous. Scotland, as everybody who knows him knows of him, is his ‘true home’. So he had been more than happy to drive for those ten hours, since it meant that Scotland was to be our destination.

Then, my own dad: the most generous person I know, Allahummabārik. Whenever we go on these big trips, being the great foodie that he is, my dad tends to take care of what we eat, cooking for us, and finding different (great) food places. So we got to enjoy some of his homemade meat and chicken curry; some Moroccan food; Scottish fish and chips, and more. I really do think that Scottish fish and chips are the best in existence: probably because they seem to only use fresh fish, over there.

A Hadith tells us to live, in this world, as though we are “travellers”, wayfarers. What might this mean? When one travels, one knows to pack only the essentials. To explore, and to keep moving, and to walk upon the Earth with humility. To love places, but to not get too attached to them. And to know that this is certainly not all there is: one day, we will go Home.

 

While in Scotland, I could not help but think: if the landscapes of this one country are this sublime, imagine how wonderful Jannah must be!

 

Wow. 

In Scotland, the mountains touch the sky, and then the clouds roll right off of them. The very air is simply different, there. And something about the place just made me want to… lay down and hug the Earth or something.

For me, the place epitomises, at once, the notion of ‘home’, as well as that of ‘adventure’. At precisely the same time, and with zero contradiction. Age-old, and yet (courtesy of how its waters are always in motion, for example) ever-new. The landscape makes me think of dinosaurs, and of mythical tales, kind souls and warriors, unbridled spirits. And interspersed throughout those magnificent folding glens are a number of castle ruins!

 

Don’t know where we’re going 

but we know where we belong.”

 

— Harry Styles

 

Mountains and forests, needle-like trees: obedient rows and rows of them. And bodies of water, drenched in the most beautiful shades of blue. The silvery loch: half-water, half-mirror. Clusters of thistle bushes, little welcome bursts of purple. A train darting past, weaving through the hills, the very image of grace. What a dream, and, a true one at that!

A perfect mess of beautiful things…

 

“One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days.”

Willa Cather

 

For this trip, we had stayed at a lovely Edwardian house near River Ness [and I always find I much prefer staying at places that are not hotels. For a more ‘authentic’ experience (that is not really ‘authentic’,) of course.]

I quite love the look of tartan. Some tartan designs that incorporate purple into them: I found out that their dyes are made from Scottish heather! And I also found everything about the clans of Scotland truly fascinating. Age-old traditions, kilts, excellent manners, honour and compassion, communities centred on strong ties of kinship.

 

“And We made you into nations and tribes, so that you may become mutually acquainted.” 

— Holy Qur’an, [49:13]

 

My family members (and, indeed, this does seem to be quite common among Bengali adults) tend to compare most countries to their home one, Bangladesh. Fields, bagpipe music, lakes, clan systems. They find, in ‘most everything, something to compare with Bengali things.

When it comes to comparisons with the clan system, the Indian subcontinent in general has its caste system. Bangladesh has its ‘Baris’. Villages. From small family units, to bigger extended ones. Then, housing estates, and Baris. Then, towns and cities, and provinces, and, finally, the nation as a whole. Ideas pertaining to nations and tribes: I am able to really appreciate them insofar as they are of value; able to be, to a reasonable level, appreciated.

But when there is excessive (delusional) pride in a nation — or in a Bari, or in a clan. When one family or tribe looks down on the entirety of another one, generalising unfairly, saying that they are (all) ‘stingy’ or ‘ill-mannered’, or whatnot. Such attitudes of reification are erroneous and ahistorical. I simply cannot stand such mentalities.

We were created as a very social species; we organise ourselves, naturally, into nations and tribes. We are meant to become mutually acquainted; to appreciate cultures outside of our own. To recognise that ‘culture’ is not ever solid and stagnant. It is dynamic; always in motion, changing, just like how we ourselves are. Culture informs who we are, and we, in turn, very much also (continually) inform what it is.

I do so love things that are rooted in tradition. Such things can grant us strength and solidity. And I also love that we can also change things. Move to different places; marry outside of our own ‘cultures’. Appreciate the stories and customs of clans of old; recognise that they, too, had been ‘new’, once. We could even begin new clans and traditions of our own, too!

In Scotland, I had woken up as early as I could manage. Compared to some people, I suppose I ‘sleep in’ a lot. But, compared to cousin Maryam, I do not sleep much at all! While she and everyone else had still been asleep, I went outside for a little walk. Mainly to look at the flowers. I stopped by a cluster of them, and found a bee, doing its thing. I was quite mesmerised by it. And, suddenly, much to my surprise, I turned around to find Moosa and Maryam standing right there, behind me. We somehow started… serenading the bee, with a bee song. As you do. And the amazing little creature buzzed away precisely when our (glorious, gloriously out-of-tune) song had come to an end.

Maryam and I went to the river together, to explore; we walked for a while through the forest. I decided to try to sketch a map, in case we got lost. Well, despite (somewhat-) meticulously sketching out this map of mine, we did indeed get lost. So that was fun!

In the Scottish forests, I had stumbled upon many a mushroom [I think mushrooms are awesome]. And [can you tell that I love flowers?] flowers galore. 

In Bengali, it is something of a no-no to refer to one’s elders by name. Older brothers and male cousins, for instance, are addressed as ‘Bhai’, out of respect, while sisters are called ‘Afa’ or ‘Didi’. When Maryam had been much younger, she had given me the title ‘Fuldi’, which essentially means ‘flower sister’. Now all my younger cousins address me as this. And I am now able to see just how much of an example of ‘nominative determinism’ this has turned out to be.

The link between flowers and humanity is truly fascinating, is it not? How the little (and sometimes large) petalled things plaster our plates, our clothes, our works of art. We extract from them their unique scents for our perfumes; spices are made from them; we write poems about them. We wear them in our hair; base our Mendhi patterns off of them; decorate our rooms and wedding halls with them. They have a distinctively therapeutic quality about them, too, and thus find themselves in bunches, in vases beside hospital beds, in monasteries, in therapists’ offices. We gift them to others, as tokens of our love, of our sympathies, our thanks, and more.

Researchers have found (and I guess it goes without saying) that women in particular have a particular affinity toward flowers. And if you want to see a woman’s genuine (Duchenne) smile, as opposed to her ‘social’ or polite smile, you best give her some flowers!  [Source: ‘Country Life’ magazine, I cannae lie].

Flowers are, to quote the aforementioned magazine, “ineluctable emissaries of beauty”. Beauty makes us feel something; we have, within us, certain faculties that are primed to recognise it. Beauty tells us something about proportion, and about harmony, and Oneness. It inspires in us a yearning for something. I very much think it is one of the ways through which one can come to recognise, and be reminded of, one’s Creator.

While in the Highlands, I had learnt so much. Like about how, in Scotland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gallik) while in Ireland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gay-lik). And that ‘Mac’ is a surname prefix meaning ‘son [of]’. That a ‘glen’ is a steep-sided hill, a narrow valley; that, when one shouts something while standing in between several mountains, the ensuing echo is truly a thing to behold! I so love that one can learn, not just from books, but from random quotes etched into fences, from signposts, from people, from random leaflets, and, of course, from Country Life magazines…

 

The name ‘Inverness’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Inbhir Nis’. An ‘Inbhir’ refers to ‘a confluence of waters’. Two distinctive bodies of water; where it is that they meet. What a wonderful word indeed.

For one of our activities, we took a boat down Loch Ness. And, while on this cruise, we got to see something rather remarkable: a full rainbow, extending from one side of the mile-wide lake, right to the other! Subhan Allah!

My uncle never fails to make us feel like we are true adventurers. We climbed onto Carr Bridge, whose parapets are no longer there. It was terrifying, but quite an exhilarating experience, also.

We also went to see a waterfall, hidden in the deep heart of yet another forest. Upon entry into this forest, we found a giant tree, on an elevated platform of mud. Half of its roots were exposed, and a makeshift swing had been affixed to one of its lofty branches. To sit on the swing, one had to climb onto the platform. And then, jump, and swing. Of course, my uncle had been the first to give it a go. And then I, and then cousin Isa. And it was awesome!

 

Mind, and Experience 

All of what we do, and see, and are… our minds are, for us, our filters and processors of reality. Whether one is a prince, or a pauper. Living in a palace, or in a small box room. I do not intend to dismiss the difficulties of socioeconomic struggles, for instance, here. And I also know that mental health conditions can make the mind a rather terrible and terrifying place through which to exist, but…

Often to a great degree, and sometimes only to a certain one, the mind is the most important thing. There is nothing better than a fertile, grateful mind.

Irrespective of how one can dress up one’s experiences — on social media, for instance — ultimately, it is one’s own subjective and personal experience that really counts.

 

The smallest things do have this remarkable tendency to turn out to be the most significant ones. Stupid moments; unbridled joy and laughter. Madness. A good warm meal — a shared one — after hours and hours spent outdoors, and so on.

I so want for my mindset to be a grateful one. In Arabic, the word for this is ‘Shakoor’. Etymologically, this word has its roots in the phenomenon of cattle grazing on small amounts of grass, and, from this, producing much milk. A lot from a little; wholesomeness, too. In the Qur’an, some very apt and interesting imagery is used to express the delineation between those who are ‘Ash-Shakoor’, and those who are not: like fields. Some fields, when the rain comes, they return much vegetation. And some remain bare, for the most part.

And I find I am certainly guilty. Sometimes, on my ‘homebody’ days, for example: when I am indoors, learning about things, watching a movie perhaps, making myself something nice to eat… I find myself secretly lamenting that I am not outside, with my friends or cousins, having ‘social fun’, and experiencing things firsthand. Yet, sometimes when I am with good company, ‘truly experiencing’ life, I quietly want to slip away and go home. But life is both ‘doxis’ and ‘praxis’, and the ‘praxis’ parts — really living for oneself and one’s own mind — ought to be the supreme consideration, methinks. And I simply need to learn to be far more grateful. Shakoor, no matter what.

If one does not cultivate a mindset of Shakoor,  it simply does not matter how much rain one’s field receives. It is about what one does with one’s blessings and such; how we savour individual things [and, foolishly, we humans often convince ourselves that, when we are unable to sufficiently savour any particular individual thing, the solution must be to simply get more and more of the thing, so as to cultivate gratitude!]

It is about how grateful one can be; what one is able to create from things, and, in turn, return. 

 

In general, the value of things comes to be known, via contrasts. In Ramadan, fasting all day, and then quenching one’s thirst, satisfying one’s hunger. Food and drink taste the best when one comes to know what it feels like to be without them.

Patience is important. And nostalgia is, more often than not, a queen of melodrama. These are things that I know. And I must remember to know them (know to remember them), too.

I must embrace such facts, with all of my heart: that I must learn to love exactly where I am now. My entire universe, materially contained within whichever room or garden or whatever I find myself within. And it should not be about working on outer shells so much; it should not at all be about the neglect of the ‘inner’. No, for ultimately, it is all about that ultimate filter of ours: the understander, the decider. Our minds.

 

The Big and Small 

I really think that some of the most awesome things in life are the most ‘paradoxical’ ones.

Contradictions in terms, yet perfectly sound, in truth.

Like when one can say precisely what one wishes to say to another, through the medium of Silence.

When one feels stunningly significant in ‘smallness’. Two lovers on a park bench, or a family at their home. A small part of the world, they find they inhabit, and, yet, the entirety of it, at the very same time.

When small moments feel timeless.

When one finds himself in such a state of cowardice, that it (paradoxically) makes him brave. 

When you feel you have known a new friend forever. Somehow.

When beauty is so true that it feels… untrue, surreal.

And so on.

We are fundamentally spiritual beings, enmeshed within these material envelopes of ours. We are known to seek out what might be most meaningful — and it is the soul that seeks, while the body is its physical enabler, a vehicle.

I have been thinking some more about materialism, and about consumerism. And about how commercial advertising works: which parts of our psychologies it all appeals to. What it is, in us, that the reliance on things, and the need for more, might (claim to) empower.

We are all seeking something spiritual. Answers to our questions; for things to make sense. Are we really ‘more’ with more? 

In truth, when we seek out a thing, what we yearn for is its essence, methinks. Even with things like supercars: people are mainly seeking out the experience of driving them.

With friends, one may (claim to) have hundreds and hundreds of them. But it is only the essence of friendships that really counts. Better to have one true, deep friendship, than a hundred shallow ones. In fact, often, having less allows one to channel more focus and nurture into the things we do have. Thus, the ‘spiritual essences’ of what we are fortunate enough to have, are made more powerful.

The spiritual essences of things are not quantifiable in the way that we find material things are. And they are everything: their material accompaniments matter to a degree, but it is all about what these things truly carry. 

In a similar vein, what is knowledge without wisdom? Or, religion (its ‘practice’) without spirituality? And so on. 

I believe in ‘staple’ things, with regard to most things. A couple of ‘staple’ things, and the knowledge that having more will not actually do ‘more’ for me, for my soul.

The feelings of excitement that often come from encountering novelty are hardly an excuse.

You may be well-acquainted with the phenomenon too: seeing a beautiful coat or something, enticingly displayed in a department store. It is your style, exactly. Even though you have a coat at home. Is that one as nice as this one?

[Yes. It is. If the coat you had at home had been brand new and on this mannequin, and if this one on display had already been in your possession, you would probably consider buying it, too. Favouring it above the one you already have, in that instance. Simply because it is new. 

Maybe you want to feel somewhat more ‘new’, too. New look, new me. But listen here, woman! It is the essence and the function of things that matter!

Aesthetics are cool, too. You recognise beauty in things. But owning another beautiful thing is unlikely to somehow make your life more beautiful…]

When I think of… what I suppose I am trying to say, here… about how a single grain of sand could absolutely be better than an entire beach in terms of spiritual truth [especially if it exists in a state of recognition of Oneness, in consciousness of its Creator] I think of…

An apple tree on a hill, on a field in the middle of nowhere. And the way the goldenness of sun might trickle right onto it, and around it.

 

I do not want to live an empty life. Empty of that unquantifiable spiritual goodness, I mean. And nothing but the thing itself can fill its place:

the stuff of the periphery cannot ever be substitutes for the soundness of the centre.

 

I want to enjoy where I am now. Not put numbers or anything to it. My experiences are my own, and yours are yours. It matters not what others might see of it — your own encounters and adventures and such. The spirit of the stuff matters, though. And what it all is, really, for you. 

My life is mine, and your life is yours. And, why should we let so many other people hold us so ‘socially accountable’? Why ought we allow their opinions to forge, for us, mental prisons? One must learn to only really care about the opinions of those whose opinions should matter to us. For good reasons. Not just to have as many abstract stamps of approval from as many random people as we can get them from. From the wrong people, these do not really mean anything at all.

 

Some may think of you this unfavourable thing, or that. And this, while some others are able to see entire galaxies in each of your eyes…

 

“I believe that the most beautiful things are worth waiting for, and that the sweetest fruits require patience”

a quote that is engraved into the front of my current journal (which is actually a notebook designed for Bible studies. And she is thick.)

 

Secrets of Life (i.e. the things that I think I ought to remember, throughout it) : 

  1. People change people. And, no person is sent to you by accident.
  2. Life is ever-unfolding, with every single second. Everything we seek is carefully hidden… so that we might find it. 
  3. Nature will never let you down.
  4. Allah (our Creator) is always there, for you to turn towards. Never, ever underestimate the power of sincere Du’a. 
  5. There is a lot to learn, even from mountains, and from their springs. When you sit with your back against a mighty mountain, you push onto the Earth. And the Earth pushes onto you, gently, right back. Reminding you that you are of the Earth, and you are a part of it.

And, springs: do you see how they flow over and through dirt-ridden rock, yet remain un-muddied by them? In fact, quite remarkably, they are only purified, enriched, by them!

Springs know how best to flow. How to gush, even.

 

Humanity

is farming. And trade. Friendships, and family. Home, and adventure. Food and coming together. Journeys and learning. Schools. Religion. The universe, explored via the human intellect, through the sciences, and the arts. Our words, our questions, and the answers we arrive at.

Love and triumph.

Emotional connection and comfort. Tenderness and gentleness. New birth.

Conflict and disagreement. Discomfort: and how it can manifest as either humour, or disgust, or fear. Or any two of them, together. Social expectations, judgement, pressure. Lies and hypocrisy.

Hope and novelty. Nostalgia.

Illness, and uncertainty. Aloneness. Violence and war. Loss and grief. Death, in the end.

 

The most important thing, for us, is the soul. And all its related considerations.

 

And The Mountains Echoed 

In Scotland, while breathing in that splendidly crisp air, being doused in its hopeful rains, while hopping into little pools of water…. and, while being surrounded by the gorgeous sturdy shoulders of the Highlands: I got this distinctive and true feeling that everything was going to turn out just fine. Somehow.

 

An undeniable, perhaps apprehension-inducing, but quite-reassuring-actually truth: 

 

You

Do

Not

Know

What is coming for you.

Until you necessarily meet it.

 

I find I am especially fond of those things that can set my soul on fire, in those quiet, magnificent, blaze-less ways. Where one can feel the thrum of majestic Earth; pockets of concentrations of the state of being alive. When you are on the back of a motorcycle [in Bangladesh, for example, where, in some parts, there are no road signs or anything whatsoever!] or when you are laughing with your friends so much that your insides hurt. And, when things are done more slowly, and with intention.

The mountains of Scotland, with their luscious greens, rolling waters, dots of orange, clusters of pink. What they say about stillness and strength. I whispered a little prayer at their feet. And the mountains, in return:

they roared. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Ask: :)))

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Dear :), 

Thank you so much for your kind compliments. You just made my day! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog articles. Please make Du’a for me! 

My tips for getting started with writing are as follows…

Don’t think; just write. Especially if you intend to publish your works, it may feel tempting to think before writing: to generate criteria to which you plan to adhere, and to intricately plan out what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. But something I find that really helps me to get into the ‘flow’ is this: writing as I think (and, thus, thinking as I write). I never know what my pen’s ink will end up forging. I like to just sit with my open notebook and pen (sometimes under a tree or something; sometimes simply in my room). It does truly help to have around you some material sources of inspiration — at least, in my case, anyway. Vases of sunflowers [shoutout one of my beloved friends for randomly sending me some!] and/or candles, and the like. Ambience. Though, when it truly comes down to it, the things that matter are: your mind, the paper, and your pen [or your laptop or whatever].

And then, I like to just write. I try not to think too much about whether or not my words are sounding particularly beautiful there and then. I sometimes don’t even ask myself if they are making sense. In my opinion, writing is best — and, certainly, most enjoyable — when it is authentic to you. Even if you find they are a bunch of random words that you have messily woven together. Most of what I write is for my eyes only; I like to be as free with my pen as I can be, even if I am not always writing particularly ‘well’.

I find the process itself to be extremely enjoyable and engaging for my mind. As with most activities, if you can reach that wonderful state of ‘flow’ while writing, you will likely find the most possible benefit and enjoyment (and, also, the best end product) as a result of doing it. Flow, flow, flow. Sometimes I simply sit down, tell myself, I am going to fill three whole pages of this notebook. And then, I just write. Even if I don’t particularly feel I have much to write about: my mind finds things. Things to say about the sky, or about… bread. In a similar vein, sometimes I set a timer for five or ten minutes. And I let the ink flow, and I try not to stop before the timer is done.

When it comes to works that I do end up publishing or submitting for competitions, however, I tend to read my work aloud to myself afterwards. Sometimes, several times. I go back and edit; swap some words around, etc. And I occasionally send things over to a particular friend of mine whom I consider to be very trustworthy. If something I have written is a little substandard, or if some of it is difficult to understand, or if it contains some misleading information or something, I truly trust this friend and her honesty. She also tells me which of my articles she has liked the most, and why. I really value her opinion (as well as those of a select few others) and, whenever I am in strong doubt about my writing, I do find I look to them for validation.

If you are looking for some sort of second opinion for your writings, I wouldn’t mind at all if you were to send some of them to me… and I promise to give you my true opinions about them! Feel free to email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com

Also, trust me, my thoughts often feel quite all-over-the-place, too. And this is precisely one of the reasons as to why writing is so wonderful. As an art form, as a therapeutic means. It is logic and beauty, wrapped up together: individual letters and the seemingly infinite ways in which they can be arranged. The beauty and the power of words. Through writing, order can be born out of chaos, while the mundane, the confusing, can be rendered gorgeous and strong and undeniable!

Writing prompts can tend to be quite useful, too. Focusing on a particular word. Like… ‘luminescent’. Or a question — like, “What makes you melancholy?” or, “What do you suppose dying feels like?” And then just writing whatever comes to mind as a result of beginning with such a word or question; thereby creating your own flow, and going with it.

Finally, a belated congratulations on your A* in GCSE English! But, even if you had not managed to acquire such a high grade in the subject, it would not necessarily mean that your writing is ‘bad’: examiners seek out certain tick-box criteria in pupils’ exam scripts. Honestly, I think the best writing is often the type that is… unscripted. Spontaneous and real: fresh out of the oven that is your mind, and true to (and, from) you. 

I hope this has been of some help to you.

Salaam!

 

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

Olive Tree

Motion, motion, with little time and space for reflection. Trains zooming into view; people hurry on, hurry off. Many of them, there seems to be a little something that their eyes are missing, if I am honest. Dragon eyes, as some might refer to them. Head bent towards phone, top buttons done up, and I wonder if I could ever consider living like this forever. The thrum of the city. Industry, hyper-everything. Something about the energy in the air; something about the way the people walk and do things and speak to one another, around here.

I don’t think I could do it. I’d say there are levels to this: there are the ones who go to work at these tall glass buildings, caught between walls, ever so professional. And then, there are those who live in more… rural areas. Where the natural world is allowed to be more of a priority, maybe: where human life is seen as being a little less dispensable, a little more… sacred.

And, yes, I am generalising hugely here, but have you seen their eyes, by contrast? Something a little purer about them, maybe. Something slower, more reflective, about the way they do things. Walk their dogs as the sun rises, feel the warmth of jumpers and cups of coffee in their hands. Know their neighbours, and know them well. Honour the trees just as they should be honoured, and the geese, and the robins, and pieces of paper on hardy wooden desks, and the sky.

We humans do not fare so well, when we are made to live in zoos, treated in ways that run contrary to how we need to be treated. Enclosed, and smoggy, doing work for the sake of work for the sake of… I know, I know: I am being rather dramatic, here. But these are just my views.

The next level, perhaps, after the ‘rural’ one, is the one that I have been thinking about the most, these days. And I cannot seem to recall who said this to me, or if I had read this somewhere, perhaps — about how some of the most content people in the world that one could possibly meet are the people who make bread near Al-Aqsa Masjid, in Jerusalem. Contentment: make their bread; walk atop those gorgeous cobbled streets under olive tree sun; beckon to the call for prayer five times daily; laugh and eat with their friends and neighbours. It is not “more” that they are ever-in-pursuit-of: it is “enough”. Smile, and smile, footsteps gentle, hearts at ease.

Noble people, I imagine, the ones who live in such a way. Noble, but, to ignorant eyes, maybe not ‘civilised’ enough. Their gentle smiles, their cleanness of clothes and manners, their generosity. Tell me, how is this not ‘civilised’ enough, for you?

These lives: lives in which spirituality might form the lifeblood. For better, and for worse. In which it is firmly acknowledged that if “enough” is not “enough” now, then there will simply never be an “enough”; one might just carry one’s own greed and soul-centred disquietudes to one’s grave.

People first, and worshippers of God — and labourers or whatever else, only second. The Earth is shared, and neither industry nor arrogance, nor any of these substitute names we seem to have generated for them, can replace what it is we seek.

I have never been to Jerusalem myself, though it has always been a dream of mine to go there. But I have come across some very spiritual people (spiritual-in-a-worldly-way people, I mean — not necessarily monks who live alone in the mountains) in places like Istanbul. Cities seemingly designed with holistic humanity in mind, and not centred on speed and mere ‘productivity’.

A lady sitting outside a shop — her workplace — painting. Arabic calligraphy, and with such flow and skill. I asked her where she had learnt to paint like that. Art school, she told me. She told me she was going to be an architect (or, something along these lines) but opted for this job instead. She figured it would bring more “Baraket” (blessing) to her life. She looked rather content, and had a distinctive glimmer in her eyes. And the sun, and the sun, as well as what we, here in the city, might refer to as being this gorgeous sense of…  ‘simplicity’. But, no: it is not they who are ‘simple’. It is simply we who have learned to be too much, so utterly far away from ourselves.

Contentment of the heart, and spiritual connection — and all its different branches. And living life, and really feeling like you are here, on this Earth, doing so.

Being. And not being overtaken by things like greed or pride, or petty wraths or envies. Instead: bread, and friendship. Prayer, and comfort, and meaningful work, and adventure. And not too much, and not too little. Gentle, and known, and held, without feeling a need to be loud, and to then be louder.

Enough. And whatever the stuff of ‘every day’ looks like for us, this will likely make up every one of these days of ours. Wherever one is, it is one’s mind that all is filtered through: it is only the soul that experiences. And there is no dress rehearsal for this life: these are the days that we have been given,

and these are exactly how we are spending them.

 

“Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul.”

— Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020