Concise Compositions: Knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

towards Truth; in Beauty; for Goodness.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Puzzle Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life / Bleach

Yesterday, I decided to peruse over some of my old blog articles. There were some things I had written, which I had long since forgotten about. Some things that, today, make me truly cringe. Things that humour me. Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and delete some of those entries; go over my old journals and cross some things out, with a thick black marker pen.

But, no: truly, I appreciate those times and those experiences. Those days made me. Helped to shape me; I could not have been whom I am now, and know what I do, without them. Our cringe-worthy, awkward days: the ones we are prone to looking back on with equal amounts of fondness and warmth, and regret and “why, why, why?” — really and truly, they shaped us.

And I guess one of the weirdest things about reading over old writings is this: that others see, and saw, of those entries what they see/saw [Tangent time: why are see-saws called see-saws? Why are they not called up-downs or sit-sats?] and I, when reading over them… it’s like I get transported, almost, back to the times in which I had penned – or typed – them. I vividly recall the thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing. All of those former versions of my own headspace. Awesome.

[My childhood best friend and I have chosen to lovingly call these last five years or so of our lives our ‘Kind of just feel like an Idiot’ years. No real regrets, though. Just gratitude, (mutual cringing,) love.]

There are so many things that we may find, we take for granted, these days. Erstwhile experiences, journeys of learning. Fall down, graze your elbow, get back up, be kind and patient: let it heal. From the most elementary things (e.g. our abilities to sit and eat calmly, without getting baby gunk all over our faces, as well as our abilities to read words with ease. Long gone are the days of ‘robot phonics’; of forgetting how to spell ‘beautiful’ or ‘friend’). To other things. Like how to deal with our own mistakes. Feelings. And with failures.

Coming to know other people. The possibilities. How best to take care of ourselves and others when we are unwell. How to be kinder; a better friend. How to fit a duvet cover; how to choose what to repair, and what to leave alone.

The women and men we seek to be. The opportunity presented, within each and every moment, to go ahead be them!

I have a feeling that, in about five years or so, I may (Insha Allah) read over this very article. Recall what I had been going through here and now, at age twenty. I think I will likely half-cringe, half-be a little endeared, then, too.

I think one thing that had followed me throughout this past almost-decade is… caring too much – fearing, even – what other people think. At times, I have aligned my own judgements of myself, with other people’s (perceived) judgements of me. Not great. Arguably quite instinctive and ‘natural’, but, still… not great.

The strange thing is, I never used to care so much. As a child, I did my thing, and I loved doing it. Granted, there were some things that I had done/taken part in that were a little [childish and innocent, but… a little] crazy. [Perhaps I should substitute the c-word for the word ‘spirited’!] I cannot bring myself to regret those things very much at all. Childhood is for fun and exploration. For being you, and for being loved precisely for it.

Seven-year-old I, I suppose, had been… a younger version of whom I continue to be, today: life is sort of childhood continued, but with some additional things added to the grand, often-confusing, mix…

I guess, somewhere along the line, the expectations changed dramatically. And those expectations did not begin from whom I had been already. Abruptly stop, be something else: considerably different, I think, from whom I had organically been in the process of becoming. People expect girls to be [their fixed, superficial, unrealistic idea of] ‘perfect Muslims’, ‘perfect daughters’, perfect in domestic terms, perfect in social terms. We must always, always, be hyper-aware of how we… look.

And that, right there, I think, is the key word. Look. How things seem, often centrally at the expense of what things are. Perhaps, ‘ideally’, I would… wear a Selwar Kameez all the time; a neat, crease-less headscarf. Know when to speak; be neat, never slip up. Perfect grades, but no… opinions. Smile flawlessly for pictures. Creativity only in secret, perhaps. Be so instinctively great with screaming babies. Be social, but talk about a limited range of ‘acceptable’ things. [But the standards and goal-posts seem to always be shifting, changing!] Nothing ‘too much’. Maybe: how school is going. “Good”. How work is going. “Good”. How are we. “Fine”. Nothing that really makes you a person, but… some un-fault-able impression, a picture of one. Keep everything else hidden. Keep a house spotless. Faultless. Nothing that ‘people’ could ever single out and fault. I’m [not really] sorry, but:

Spotless things must be quite intrinsically unfortunate: they would appear to be devoid of what life is really, truly, all about. They do not exist. But if they did, I really do think they would be missing out. Growth, and learning, and trying, and failing. Stories can only really stem from things… happening. Taking place. One cannot have a cake without a(n at-least-somewhat) messy baking process. And even if we could be extremely neat and precise: I think the joy would be extracted from it all. Everything would be controlled and systemised. Predictable, and character-less. When everything blends in: nothing really stands out.

Bleach is a chemical product that tends to leave things spotless. Faultless. So… clean. Bleach also happens to be a substance that effortlessly kills things that are organic, alive. Life. Is simply not meant to be so (to paraphrase something my friend said, which really stuck to my mind) efficient and sanitised.

I so love exploring the field of Child Psychology. Children, you see, come into the world telling us who they are. They cry: they (and we) need food, warmth, comfort, love. The first seven years of our lives tend to be when we express what our personalities are. Over time, personality is honed, moulded into character. First, this responsibility of nurture is placed, primarily, on the families that are entrusted with our upbringing and care. And then, when we reach an age of understanding, we acquire a personal responsibility. A duty of care over our own selves; our souls.

Ideas pertaining to innate personality are supported, for instance, by a particular Hadith, which informs us that the first seven years of a child’s life are to be dedicated to play. Through play, we get to clearly see that some children are more outgoing and imaginative. Make battle-ships out of see-saws [that word-of-mysterious-origins again, semi-deliberately re-employed]. Some children are very emotionally sensitive; need more hugs, more loving words, than others do. [And are so terribly sweet that it just makes your heart melt.] Some like to sit and play alone for hours on end: there are whole entire worlds, whirring away within their brilliant (and, also, highly impressionable) minds. Some children get a little kick out of using swear-words; want to feel all grown up. Lipstick and big words. Some love making others laugh. Some are so completely captivated by washing machines, cars, and Iron-Man. Some do not like to get their clothes dirty, and do not like to share. Some get socially drained very easily. [Why don’t we just let them, for example, have a rest and sleep, rather than making them feel bad for not being like this or not being like that?]

Yes, ultimately: perfection is not to be expected of anybody. Maybe it is something that we sometimes think we want, but not really. We have an objective moral code to follow. For example, Allah instructs us, in the Qur’an, time and time again, to not be arrogant. Do not act superior; like you are mighty — something you are fundamentally not. I think I would rather be exactly who I am (Alhamdulillah) than some delusional arrogant boaster who picks at others’ flaws, while overlooking my own. Convincing myself that I am… superior.

I really do believe in the inherent beauty of looking at – and loving – what is there, and not singling out and exaggerating what is not there: perceived faults and inadequacies. Watering those former flowers, instead of those latter…weeds. People are not problems. Every human being, complete with our own stories, strengths, weaknesses: is a blessing, a Divine gift.

Maybe if ‘perfect’ men existed, ‘perfect’ women would exist too. Maybe if the women who seem to expect us to be ‘perfect’ were ‘perfect’ themselves, we would have ‘better role models’ to take after… But they don’t; we don’t. We are real, and full; each of us is unique. We are too cold sometimes; we cry; we forget to do something; misplace our keys. Run into interpersonal frictions; get stressed; get insecure. Our houses are a bit more messy when we find ourselves a little more occupied with other things. We are former babies, with gunk everywhere, and then we learn, over time and with due patience, how to eat more neatly. Not robotically, though. Each person has a style: of writing, of eating, of speaking, of being. How to pronounce the word ‘scone’. How to write a polite email. We are not born knowing how to ride a bike; how to change a nappy; how to please the probing eyes of every insolent busybody with access to a phone line. How to stop being scared of things that need not be so scary any more.

We will run into shortcomings, mistakes, faults. We are designed to be able to work on things; learn, practise, fall again, get up again. I love, love, love this. It is not ‘perfect’. Thankfully, it is interesting, though. Fascinating, not some predictable conveyor-belt porcelain ‘picture-perfect’ straight line. So worthwhile, and deep, and unexpected, pleasure-and-pain, and complex.

This matters to me because, to me, it is life and death. And I need to know: it is not boring, character-less ‘perfection’ I ought to expect of myself, just so others do not talk; so that people do not express angry disapproval. Besides, how boring a thing to talk about: what appears to be ‘wrong’ with others and their lives. And, how indicative of self-delusion and arrogance!

Expectations of ‘perfection’ are sort of a ‘double-bind’ thing. You either become that quiet, ‘normal’, ‘perfect’, negligible character with nothing vaguely interesting to do or talk about. A walking picture-frame, trophy, silent-for-the-most-part accessory. Or, you understand that there is an innate you, a personality. A complete, living, breathing human being, within whose rib-cage is this wonderful beating heart, beating for life and for love.

A character you are going to, Insha Allah, work on, for the rest of this life of yours. You will be tested, over and over and over again; you will learn and grow and develop. Other people: I suppose you’ll continue to see who is good to hold, within your heart. And who… might not, so much, be. Let people approach you – from their own perspectives, biases, attitudes, values, demeanours. Alhamdulillah, we are mature enough to decide on things for ourselves. Commit to certain things; set our boundaries and make them clear; choose these things, or those. This whole entire thing: it is between you and the one in whose very Hand is your very soul; your whole entire being:

‘Quirks’, ‘flaws’, uniquenesses.

Sharpnesses, capabilities;

softnesses, fragilities;

thorough, undeniable humannesses —

life, unbleached — and all.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be you;
I don’t know what it’s like but I’m dying to


So tell me what’s inside of your head:

No matter what you say I won’t love you less” — S.M.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

The Ones

I like the ones who are known to read four books at once. Pages sprawled across the floor, noses busy poring over them. Sometimes they are keen to put all considerations of schoolwork aside – close the door on monotony for a while, while they beckon to the call of ardent curiosity.

One of my beautiful friends self-learns the Russian language for fun. Without considerations of future business deals nor profits; no desire to go and live there, either, in Russia. She is pulled by that undying spirit of inquiry of hers. And her bookshelf, testament to this truth, is truly a thing to behold. It sings songs of Kantian philosophy; Qur’anic explorations; economics; Victorian classics, all at once…

I like the ones whose intelligence is worn on their beings like a delicate flower upon their lapels. It somehow humbles them; makes them evermore graceful. Where a pentasyllabic word can be used, they shall make use of them. But there is a distinctive flow to the words they utter. Wonder, knowledge, passion, worn not like a badge of pride and honour, but like a flower. It is gentle; it only beautifies.

I like the ones who are known to scribble notes everywhere – in notebooks, book margins, and sometimes upon skin of hand. Who will research the most obscure of topics, and for weeks at a time. When they speak about these things, you can witness their pupils dilate as they do. You could plug yourself into their minds, almost; you are convinced you could listen to them speak, for decades at a time.

These ones – the ones I so love – consume knowledge. Not robotically, and not to ‘prove’ anything at all. They consume what they wish to consume, and then they mentally savour these facts, figures and tidbits of fascination. They proceed to produce: ideas, abstract, wacky and wonderful. Works of art, golden conversations. They do take themselves rather seriously. Rather respectable, they are. But at the same time they are never afraid to laugh at themselves.

I truly like the ones who feel a weird desire to be able to curse in Yiddish. The ones who, for too long, have felt too ‘alien’ to share too much of themselves with others. My friends – I hope they know this – are walking poetry. They have known pain, undoubtedly; some of them have known inconceivable amounts of struggle. But they found solace from the onslaughts of the worlds they were born into, in the worlds that can be found in books, or in classic movies, and in the engraved walls of the mosque. In fantasies of castles and horses; in grand plans that they determinedly build themselves towards, brick by brick.

You will most likely find them in a mosque. Spanish revision cards out, right next to Qur’an. They stand up frictionlessly whenever the Adhan calls them to do so. Or you will find them in an ice-cream parlour: [the ones who enjoy ice-cream dates in winter, what a delight]! Or in a library, eyes (gently, and yet with much purpose) searching for a book on who-knows-what, this time. Or in a park, frustratedly picking up little bits of litter from the floor, then sitting, back against tree, just to observe God’s unmatchable artistry. They know that there is such beauty to be found in simplicity. The ones I so like – they deeply, effortlessly, inspire me.

And how fortunate am I, to have these as friends? These are the ones, who, more times than not, are quite unaware of their own unmistakeable, though mysterious, beauty. I think you can tell a lot about a person by the perceived depths of their eyes when they speak; by the interior designs of their bedrooms; by their handwriting, even. And, more so, by how they speak to other people. My friends speak to people as if social status simply is not a thing. Some of them do not speak often, but when they do, you come to realise why they are so prone to being laconic: melodies like these, by nature, take some time and consideration to be brought into fruition.

I like the ones who sing, inadvertently, when they speak. Who have the funniest of stories to relay all the time, the wittiest of jokes that constantly spring to mind whenever they do. One lens through which they look at life is that of Fascination; the other – Adventure. And perhaps the difficulties of their pasts should have broken them. Single mother, having to work from the age of fourteen onwards. Claustrophobic homes, a scarcity of real-life role models, absent parents who live beneath the same roofs as them. The list goes on.

But, yet, look at them. Masha-Allah. Ridiculously intelligent. Humble before the people, and before God. Stars in their eyes, and things like the Russian language upon their tongues. University lectures by day, entire worlds of art, from comfort of bedroom, by night. I like these ones; I admire them so. And may Allah’s mercy and favour shine upon them, the lights of my life, always.