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 unbearable – terrifying, actually – without this peaceful slice from all that madness,
which we are thoroughly fortunate enough to call our own?
And just how does the spider – that most humble and noble creature of them all – know exactly how to spin, ceaseless – until the job is done, at least – and with such instinctual grace, even its very first attempt at a web? [Yes, a thought inspired by my recent re-watching of ‘Charlotte’s Web’!]
By the grace of Whom, is this life-giving, life-sustaining and -beautifying, information imbued? Our innermost longings, for example, and those tendencies of ours towards desiring… purpose, and justice. Connection, and love. Our instincts for language-acquisition. The resulting ability we are given, through which to reason, and then decide, and to ask that most fundamental of questions: Why?
Our own versions of the spider’s web: what we can spin, and produce, with what we feel, and through what we can claim to have of power: our words. And with our muscles, and with our hands. And what we know already, and have known — from invisible spec, to developed human being. And all those spaces within us, which are so well-pre-disposed, inclined, to coming to know.
How does it know how to work so quickly, and in producing a thing of such utility and geometric beauty, and a strength so seemingly antithetical to how altogether… silk-like those structures may seem?
The knowledge that, within us, is just so utterly powerful and instinctive. Woven right through our veins, and through our skins; between our finger-tips. Fundamental. I think I know, by now, what love might be. It is a type of knowledge that, within me, feels quite innate. Like I am afraid, for what may or may not happen. And yet, there is something in me that tells me to have faith; give it a fair chance — it seems thoroughly strong enough — and give it time.
It caught me at a weird time. Which had, mysteriously and yet without doubt, been the right time. Would appear to be quite fluffy and fragile; that one wrong turn and that is it, and it is gone for good.
I think it means something very special when these things come. Out of the blue, and quickly, and so intricately, gorgeously designed. A spider can settle on the decision to build its home between (almost) any two sets of walls. Or bars of a fence. Or between the plastic wires of an outdoor drying-rack. Gets to know its space. Proceeds to simply go ahead, and do what it would appear to do best.
I think I know, most ardently, though not in a way that might render this heart of mine restless, nor despairing, that there is something very special, very important, that I want to protect, here. And, well, here is to quietly hoping and hoping, that you might see, in this, the inherent truth and its beauty, too.
Even the most obstinate of soul-denying ‘materialists’, whose (no offence but) muddied-over-time intellects seem to prevent them from seeing the inherent, intrinsic beauty of things: the dangling legs of the spider, for example, its clockwork, tapestry-like missions. Even they cannot deny that we are born of love, and we are made of love, and we know that we love. That most noble and humble of our interpersonal pursuits. Between (almost) any two suitable walls, or metal rods, or tree branches, or twigs. A glistening thing, and so quietly, unobtrusively brilliant. How much strength there is, in softness.
The spider sits in its centre and knows. The mystery of its own beauty; the core, undying knowledge – that gentle, determined flow of artistry – that has guided its work. A labour of love, so clear and inspired. Albeit, seemingly transparent, almost, to those even only moderately far-away from it.
Yes. How encompassing, expectation-defying, dizzying, dazzling
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 formerflowers, 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.
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.
Friday (the 18th) had been, for me, my last day of being nineteen years old – and thus, of being a nominal ‘teenager’ – and it also happened to have been the last day of my first term of being a teacher. Subhan Allah. I have much to write (type) about, in this article. Reflections, random thoughts: about teaching; about what I have learnt; about the art of ‘learning’, in general.
Usually, I scribble in my journal quite frequently; doing so has been, for a long time, a favourite hobby of mine, in addition to being an ‘outlet’ thing. For a while, I would write in my journal multiple times a day. On the train; by the river (Thames, of course. London-born, London-raised!); at school, in class [leading some classmates of mine, at sixth form, to, in earnest, ask me if I were actually some sort of undercover journalist or a spy or something!] But, wow: during term-time now as a teacher, this had been rendered practically impossible. I cannot, of course, simply sit and journal while delivering lessons… and, much of my ‘PPA time’ (the teaching equivalent of ‘free periods’) is taken up by a seemingly endless list of things to do. During my breaks, I tend to sit down for a while, and rest, often with a book. Actually, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks a little more, lately [Sponsor me, Audible! I’m basically a YouTuber, but written version]
Alhamdulillah times a million, though: this whole experience has been wonderful; a true gift from Allah. But, since starting at this job, I have scarcely been able to sit in peace, and with the necessary energy levels – which are a prerequisite for that crucial feeling of ‘inspiration’ – to simply do nothing but write, to my heart’s (and, to my mind’s) content.
Teaching has been: waking up quite early, even though the beautiful wintry months make me really, really want to remain blissfully in bed; cycling or walking (and, admittedly, occasionally – when I am feeling especially lazy or have too much to carry – taking an Über) to work; getting there before the sun has even risen [I am not, by nature, a ‘morning person’]. What a lovely thing to witness, though: the stillness of an empty classroom; the pinkish, purplish glows of nascent sunrise, glinting off of the nearby high-rise buildings. The light, creeping into gorgeous wintry gloom. And all this, just before that incrementally increasing rush of students walking through the door. Subhan Allah.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum, Miss!”
Teaching has also been: going over things I myself had learnt in Year Seven and Eight and thereafter; it has been learning quite a few additional things, too. Planning, and then some more planning. And lots and lots of (submitting requests for) printing. Also: marking, administrative activities, among other things. Oh, and a lot of eating. Just prior to beginning this job, my aunt had remarked that if there is one thing I ought to know about being a teacher, it is that teaching makes you hungry. And, yes: it really, really does.
[Ah, food. How I love thee, food. Thy sugar and thy spice, and thy goodness and comfort. Healthful foods, and how they are known to nourish, but also some doses of indulgence and chocolate.
Making food; breaking bread and sharing food. Connection. Good stuff.]
At my workplace, there is this lovely ‘middle-of-the-table’ tradition: individual staff members often bring foodstuffs to share with everybody else. Doughnuts, falafel, soup, Turkish food, some good-good (Masha Allah) chicken karahi, once. And anything that is for anyone is placed in the middle of the long staffroom table.
The start, to now
This has all been one of those things: I could never have seen any of this coming. But, oh, how I love these very things. The ones that arrive kind of quietly, and then they show you how powerful they really are. The ones that can, quite quickly, take over significant parts of these lives of ours by storm. This year alone: we moved houses; I stopped wearing makeup to go outside [just a personal preference thing. I really do think it is a problem that most women wear it every day since we have been led to believe that we look “ugly” or “dead” without it. We do not, though. And Allah is the Best of Creators]; we got a cat [the most unexpected happening of them all: my mum has been known to absolutely hate the idea of having pets. And now, this cat is her third child!]; this whole pandemic took place – it has been approximately ten months since the start of all this; I started this job.
“You can only know something when you know it. Not a minute before.”
— Gilbert Blythe, ‘Anne with an E’
It is true that I had been tutoring for a fairly long time, but I had never before been given the responsibility of teaching thirty students at a time. Tutoring involves sitting with between one to about, maybe, six, students at once, once or twice a week. There is some preparation that goes into it, sure, as well as some marking to do. But teaching is, altogether, something quite different. Greater responsibility, no doubt. An honour, and, certainly, an Amānah, too.
It had been my aunt who had encouraged me to apply for this post, actually. She works at the same school as I do – part-time – and teaches A-level Biology there. We tend to walk home together on her workdays. Roughly two weeks ago, I had some PPA time and found I could not concentrate nor do much in the staff room. I went all the way upstairs [the sixth form and ‘Alimiyyah faculties of the school are located, rather interestingly, on its roof!] and sat comfortably at the back of her classroom.
She had started her lesson off by asking her students what the term ‘gametogenesis’ might mean. She then asked me if I could explain what ‘genesis’ means. This made me smile. Biology teacher aunt, and her now-English-teacher niece. A nice moment. But then she proceeded to talk about puberty, and my ‘inner child’ re-emerged, and I wanted to laugh. [Thankfully, I did not.] Anyway.
There had been something quite nice about that particular sixth form classroom. The floors – unlike those of the secondary school ones on the floor levels below – are carpeted. You leave your shoes at the door. Moreover (if I recall correctly) there had been a lot of natural light flooding in, as opposed to glaring and sharp artificial ones. Also, her students had been sitting on the floor, with floor desks before them. Sunnah vibes. Teacher and slideshow at the front; students really paying attention, albeit in a calm sort of way. It had all felt quite serene, (connected, and meaningful) and not at all stressful, sort of reminiscent of some mosque classes I had taken in my early adolescent years:
Spatial escapes from the ever-‘busy’, the autopilot-modes, the grimy, the dizzying, the confusing, the relentless ‘grinds’, searching for things that might, in the end, be so far away from peace. And into carpeted-floor room, all clean. A glow of sorts; frosted windows, softened voices.
There is something about sitting on the floor, don’t you think? It makes you feel more… grounded. Connected. Learning, eating – even sleeping – on the floor, at least sometimes. There is something that is essentially quite lovely about it.
This ‘modern world’. It is fast-paced, rat race, relentless. Dog chase, altogether so industrial. All in the name of ‘progress’, of uncurbed growths. People just do not know where they are headed, but we find ourselves chasing all these abstract uncertainties, regardless. “We are surrounded by all of these lies, and people who talk too much.” [E.S.]. Maybe I am too sensitive, in this sense. But it all makes me ache and feel drained.
A personal preference, maybe: but I far prefer the presences of plants, and of warm lighting. An emphasis on connection, on good mannerisms. Moderation, and not ‘too much’. Places in which to deeply connect (with places, people, the contents of good curricula), and to learn – via mind, heart, and soul – and not merely in which to ‘work hard’: all that stuff of harsh lighting, caffeine-driven sleeplessness, desk-chair, desk-chair, desk-chair, unquestioning obedience. I so believe in holistic humanity being nurtured within places such as schools and hospitals. And, with the former in mind at least, it should not be about the incubation of mere ‘workforce robots’: obedient slaves to some deified ‘Economy’.
Schools should be houses of wisdom, and not factories or… prisons. Warm and inclusive; not cold and steel-gazed, wolf-like. Places in which mind, heart, and soul, are truly, deeply, nurtured: all three.
What I have learnt
As far as ‘learning’ goes, I have learnt oh-so-much, Subhan Allah, from all of this.
My first day at the school had been my observation/interview day. Prior to walking in, I admit I had envisioned Madrassa secondary schools in general as being… stern, serious, sad places. Draconian. No colour: just rules, rules, rules. Scarcely a student laughing, or having fun.
It was like I had (perhaps in part as a consequence of having been away from distinctively Islamic places of learning such as this one, for a while) rather shamefully internalised a particular sort of prejudice. And I had been wrong.
When I first walked in, I noticed the nice colourful displays on the walls. Basketball hoops, martial arts, for PE. The lovely scene – and sound – of a group of students sitting in a circle, on the floor of the hall, reading Qur’an together. The lovely light; how bright and energetic the Year Seven students were. Our first lesson together had gone well, Alhamdulillah [We had discussed how to use different punctuation marks so as to make our writing more effective, and wrote short imaginative stories about going on hot-air balloon rides in Turkey]. And it was thanks to them: my first class. What a funny, ambitious, clever, often downright melodramatic, bunch they are, Allahummabārik.
The art of learning is about discovering new things – information, stories, ideas. It is about piecing things together; making/finding connections between things. And it is also truly about being reminded about certain things that you may already, somewhere in your mind, already know. And you are granted the ability to come across them again, albeit in different, and unexpected, ways. As I have spoken about in a previous article, life is an adventure; a story, and – it is a school.
I have learnt that sunshine is always nice. But storms are what tend to leave us with the best stories, at the end of the day, aren’t they? They are known to bring us something that is altogether more than just ‘nice’. Sure, they can bring up, in us, feelings of fear. Unpredictable, and unknown. And, yet, how woefully, tragically straightforward and bland these lives of ours would be, without them.
One of my Year Seven (English) students had penned – for a competition – the following poem. Its message deeply inspires me [Everyone say Allahummabārik laha!]:
I have learnt things: new and previously-known alike, at this school. From students, and from staff members, alike. From books; from videos. Textbooks, podcasts, sometimes, and from outside of them. But mainly: from people. We humans learn (best) from other humans. We are fundamentally needy, imitative, receptive of and responsive to the subtleties of human connections, relationships.
Like about the temporality of life. It just keeps on moving: one moment, straight to the next, and then to the next, and so on. There is no ‘preparation time’, then ‘practice time’; no clear-cut delineation at all between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’. There is only life. And here we are, living it. No dress rehearsals: these are our lives.
Our relationships with the past (i.e. before we were born, and also the past[s] of our own personal histories) and our experiences of the present moment, and… notions of ‘the future’. We will meet those (the latter) moments, Insha Allah, as and when they come.
A number of things have forced me to give notions concerning the past some more thought, this term. Teaching History for the first time, for one thing. And, also: back in October (I had started in the middle of the first academic half-term. Hectic!) I had been taking a particular route to and from work. That is, until, I had stumbled upon an alternative route: a shorter, simpler one. And en route this route, I came across a building that my mother, uncle, and aunt sometimes speak about. A quite old-looking tower block: the first home they had dwelled in, actually, upon having migrated to this country.
‘History’ – including our own personal ones – is filled with events, happenings, which we can truly fascinate ourselves by interrogating the following, of them: what if this particular thing had not taken place? What if my grandfather (Allahu Yerhamu) had never made the decision to move here (alone, no less, and as an adolescent!)? And what if my grandmother had rejected his proposal for marriage? Or, what if they had chosen to settle in, say, Kent, or in New York (as some of my other relatives had done) as opposed to in this very part of East London? [What if I had been born a boy?!] And so on, and so on.
So many potential questions. But here we are, in the present (a gift). Much of it: a summation of the consequences of a series of individual decisions. The rest… remains to be seen.
[I am accidentally-on-purpose including quite a few ‘AWAE’ references in this article. You are a certified awesome person if you have managed to pick up on them…]
I think it is very easy to become ungrateful, though, and to take things for granted. But knowledge: one of its key purposes, I believe, is to cultivate and foster deep appreciation within our hearts, gratitude. I, and my family, Alhamdulillah, live in a state of economic stability. But my grandfather had to work hard for this: back when East London (which is now increasingly becoming gentrified) had still been a centre for the British textile industry, he had worked at a coat-manufacturing warehouse. The building is still there: it stands on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop I used to wait at almost every day, after secondary school. Over time, I watched it – the warehouse, that is – be converted into a ‘hipster’-style hotel, all painted white.
And maybe it is true that we humans learn best through experience: I never could have told you what teaching is actually like, until doing it. The strangest of feelings, particularly right at the start: being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Having to be this responsible, for the first time. I was quite worried, right at the start: What if they won’t like me? What if I don’t do a good job? What if I’m really awkward and they’ll find it off-putting? Worries done away with, Alhamdulillah, as a result of experience. The barrages of (repeated) personal questions, too [“Miss, where are you from?” “Miss, what are your plans for the weekend?” “Miss, are you married?”]; ten students attempting to speak to you, at once; the “Miss, have you marked them yet?” the literal day after they have all sat the assessment. The classic borderline-frustrated response of, “Teachers have their own lives too, you know!”
I think, another thing that has significantly changed – for the better, Alhamdulillah – has been my relationship with ‘work’. It is good, insofar as it is good, in good amounts. But it is no ‘saviour’, no deity to be worshipped, slaved after. I have my responsibilities; I will try to fulfil them. But aside from that, ‘work’ itself does not give me selfhood nor meaning. It… is not my master.
It seemed almost as though different weeks had different overarching ‘themes’ for them, in terms of what they had in store, to teach me. During one week in particular, I believe, I began really thinking about how on Earth other people live. How do some mothers, especially, manage to work for forty hours during the week, and carry out all of their household/family responsibilities, without collapsing as a result of exhaustion?! I remember thinking about this, on my way to work, one day, and I had passed by a (most probably, at least) working mother. Bulging backpack on back, coffee flask in hand, 07:30AM. And she had been on the phone to her (by the sounds of it) young daughter, likely providing some moral support as her husband had shouldered the burden of breakfast duties.
At work, in the staffroom, I am surrounded by some young and unmarried women; some who are newly married; there had been some expectant-mother teachers; some who have a child; some who have a handful of children. Older mothers who are teachers, too: speaking about their children-in-law as well as about their grandchildren. Discussing childminders; speaking on the phone to their kids, at the end of long school days, about homework, and about matters pertaining to ‘playground politics’, and some of the other things that matter deeply, to children. Teachers who are also mothers. How do they do it?! Subhan Allah. The (joys and) stresses that these screaming, energetic children give rise to. Exchanged, at the end of the long academic day, for… those ones (the ones that look half-like them, and call them “Mum” in lieu of “Miss”) …
We are watching, witnessing, as time moves [us] on and on and on. As relatives of ours grow and grow older; as we, ourselves, do much the same thing, too. Our relationships with different places – and with different people – are ever-changing. Sometimes, for the better: development, evolution, we may term it. And sometimes, we find that some leaves simply have to fall, in order to allow for new growth to take place.
Take heart, dear one. Some things will be somewhat (very) hard, some of the time, perhaps the whole way through. But you are more than well-equipped enough to face it, and to get through it all. In a beautiful way, I hope.
We crave permanence, don’t we? This sense of… feeling entirely at home. But I regret to inform you (both you and myself, dear reader) that that is not what this world is for. This whole experience – this maybe eighty-odd-years-long one – is an essentially dynamic one, and it will take you by surprise, over and again. The best thing to do is to locate Earthly home in Sujood: this is what stays. Your soul, in conversation with its Author, Creator. Everything else, you see, is etched only in sand. A gust of wind, or two, and then it is gone.
Here for a time, and then it falls, to dust.
Here, I have learnt (been aptly reminded) about how actions are but by intention [it is the intention behind an action that counts. So we ought not to concern ourselves too much with the outcomes of things. Even with regard to numbers and such… the Qur’an tells us that saving one life is equal to saving the whole of humanity (5:32). The weight of a deed is derived from the intention(s) underlying it]; about the art (the beauty, the tender humanness) of sincereapology; about the rich complexities that individual minds can house. Sometimes, even eleven-year-olds are quite ‘mature’ in demeanour: they have been through so much.
I have learned that we often learn things best as a result of stumbling and falling. That when it comes to deeply difficult things: Healing and Patience are lovers. That it is good to take rest when it is good to; you can then begin again, at a good pace, when the time is right. When you are ready.
That there is no use in ‘crying over spilt milk’ [or spilt Coke, to make reference to something that actually, for some reason, took place] as the aphorism goes. These things happen. Mistakes are made; you will also likely have done and said (and will continue to do and say) some utterly cringeworthy things, during this lifetime of yours. But it is okay. We grow from them; look back and laugh at them, even. Time and other considerations move us on.
That staple-gunning can prove to be an excellent way of releasing aggression. That ‘Resource Rooms’ are, to stationery lovers, what drug dens are to drug addicts. [My gosh, I sound like Amy Santiago here…]
My Bengali-speaking skills have improved, too, Alhamdulillah, as a result of some conversations with a particular colleague of mine, in Bengali. At first, I was not too confident in speaking with her: my Bengali skills had been rather rocky, disjointed. Altogether, in my own head at least, quite embarrassing a thing to behold. ‘Benglish‘. But my gradual improvements in this regard have not gone unnoticed!
A key word, that one: gradual. Trial and error; some things work, some things do not. We learn, and we develop, and this all happens over time. Reflection, then effort. Some courage, maybe, and then patience. God’s Command.
I think, yes, learning is illumination.
And “اللهُ نورُ السماواتِ و الأرضِ” [Qur’an, (24:35)]. Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Truth is Light, and in truth’s absence, there is darkness.
“What is school for, do you think?”
“…to get a good job, innit.”
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do,
— Lord Alfred Tennyson,‘Charge of the Light Brigade’
Work is only meaningful when it has real meaning. Otherwise we (ultimately) find ourselves doing for the sake of doing. Work for the sake of work. ‘Growth’ for the sake of itself: the ideology of the cancer cell [E.A.]
Do we learn solely towards economic-benefit, and/or social-status-related ends? [A good job, in order to earn good money. To provide for my family. To give back to society.]
Fair enough. Economic and social considerations are all well and good — they are deeply important, actually. But, as Muslims, we know that the absolute queen of all these considerations ought to be: our relationships with Allah. Helping people is a noble thing to do; providing for one’s family is also a noble thing to do. Social connections are wonderful, but some of them may come to fray, or be lost. Money, beyond what is needed for survival and to fund for necessities, is not everything. The way of God ought to be the path we seek to always be traversing; the consideration that all other ones are tethered to. This is Light; this is Truth; this is true Purpose and Meaning. This is concerning your Origin, and your place of Return, and this is concerning every single moment,
after moment, in-between.
And in the absence of truth, what is there? There is only darkness and delusion. Looking for these things where they cannot ever truly be found.
Some things that we encounter will seem quite a challenge, at least at the start. But we learn through experience; we [pardon the cheese. A little statement, that one, which ought to extend over the entirety of this blog of mine…] grow through what we go through.
It is quite nice, at times, to look back on things, and to see how we – and our circumstances – have changed, progressed. When, at the start, in conjunction with the hectic novelty, I had been given an actual form class [whom I now, thankfully, share with a colleague, so I now only have them for certain days of the week. We joke that we are like a divorced couple: we have shared custody over the kids] I had found myself feeling quite overwhelmed. I thought it would be a sign of ‘strength of character’ if I just continued, grinned and bore it. But my aunt had noticed how stressed I had seemed that week; she persuaded me to go and speak with the Assistant Principals. Then, the aforementioned changes were made. ‘More’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’!
Kind of linked to the above: a certain family member had remarked that he thinks I should become a headteacher someday. Which had been a nice thing to say. But, firstly, I have realised that in order to do ‘good’, and to do it well, you do not always need to have a ‘big’ official role. And, secondly, I am really trying not to think too much about ‘the future’, while here. Where I am now is where I am now, Alhamdulillah, and I do not want to fall prey to ‘destination addiction’ or idealising, again [looking at other than who and where – and, when, and why – I find myself]. Over-contemplating secondary school while at primary school; thinking so much about sixth form while at secondary school; university, while at sixth form. Being married, while being single. Always obsessing over ‘the Next Thing’. Besides… once, in Year Eight, I had shadowed my school’s headteacher. What a gargantuan, stressful, role, Subhan Allah. Meeting after meeting; I do not think it is for me. I do not know where I will be, this time next year; I do not know what Allah has planned for me, for the rest of my Dunya-based existence…
For now, here I am, as I am. The ‘here and now’. I want to honour it, as best as I can. Very soon, this moment will be gone. The next one arrives; takes its place.
This is a big one. For we are crucially, essentially, undeniably, social beings.
Your family, and then, your friends (i.e. the family you come to choose for yourself). The people you love; your sources of joy, goodness, comfort, security.
The love of your life, too (Insha Allah). If it is in your kismet to find them, you will find them. All you have to do is… be exactly who you are (not anything ‘more’, not anything ‘less’) and you shall be loved precisely for it: for you!
Other people are other people. Allah (SWT) is Allah (SWT). Other people have no ‘power’, of nor from, their own selves.
اِنَّ اللّٰہ علیٰ کل شی ءٍ قدیر
[Perhaps best translated as: “Indeed Allah is, above allthings, Powerful and competent”. Qur’an, (2:109)]
We do need other people, though. We need to love, and to feel loved in return. And in these very endeavours, there is a great amount of ‘vulnerability’ (openness) that has to go into it. Maybe we need to speak our minds and explain our hearts better and a little more often, to those whom we wish to share love with. Maybe we need to also do a better job at listening, understanding. Stopping; turning our hearts toward them. Giving our loved ones, whom we have been blessed with, the time of day. Chasing whatever it is we may find ourselves chasing: that all can wait.
We absolutely need to make time for ‘the boyz’ (this is a non-gender-specific term). Surround ourselves with good company, which, as a particular Hadith explains, can leave us with the mark of its good fragrance. (Just as unfavourable company can leave us with the mark of its stench).
And our Salāh, Du’a (the weapon of the believer), Adkhār, and so on. The relationships we servants have with the Almighty. This ought to be the fundamental consideration, for us.
What is the point of ‘learning’?
I would like to continue to be both a teacher and a student, Insha Allah, in this life of mine. I have to think about what my learning is to be ‘for’.
I want to be a good Muslim, Insha Allah. To improve; to develop. I want for the awe and the wonder that learning often exposes me to, to bring me closer to my Creator. I want it to help me in serving people (my wonderful students, for instance) for the sake of Allah.
The process of learning illuminates. Our hearts and minds. Places. We learn; use our intelligence and knowledge, pass it on.
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.“
— Sahih Hadith
We learn for good; to make us better. Towards beauty, too. Truth. A Muslim – a human being – is, at his or her very core, a learner. And may it all drive us to say “Subhan Allah” and “Alhamdulillah” and “Allahu Akbar“, over and over again, Āmeen.
[Below, I have included a list of some ridiculously awesome facts, taken from this article. How astonishing are the creations of the Creator!]
– The journey which the sperm makes in order to get to the egg is equivalent to us sprinting for 150 kilometres nonstop. The journey is not straightforward. Many obstacles and hurdles await it, yet it overcomes them without losing direction. [Subhan Allah!]
– Your heart weighs around 321 grams. Its size is around that of your fist and beats around 60 to 80 times per minute. On a yearly basis, it beats around 40 million times and pumps around 2200 gallons of blood per day, and approximately 56 million gallons of blood per lifetime.
– The blood which the heart pumps to the brain returns back to the heart within 8 seconds, and the blood which it pumps to your toes – the furthest distance from the heart – returns back to the heart within 18 seconds.
– The blood is home to around 5 million red blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. If red blood cells from one human were to be placed side by side, they could cover the surface of the Earth 6 to 7 times over.
– Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognise damaged blood vessels. A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood.
– The human body is home to over 600 muscles, and the average sized muscle is comprised of approximately 10 million muscle fibres.
– The human body has around 2 to 5 million sweat secreting glands to regulate our body temperatures.
– The brain is home to approximately 100 billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections.
– Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
– The human retina contains about 120 million photoreceptor cells. How it communicates this information to the brain, and how the brain then processes this information bringing about love, hate, hope, despair, fear, security and so on, is a completely separate and highly sophisticated discussion.
– The tongue has a role to play during the process of chewing, swallowing and tasting food as well as for speech and sounds. It has 17 muscles to allow it to move in any direction. The surface of the tongue has 9000 taste receptors to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
– One kidney weighs around 150 grams and is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each hour, it filters 1800 litres of blood and about 1 and ½ litres are extracted in the form of urine. Consider the difficulty experienced by those who are undergoing dialysis treatment. They are required to spend around 12 hours a week connected to 150kg worth of machinery, let alone the side-effects, in order to carry out what your 150 gram kidney is able to carry out within moments.
– Your outer layer of skin, the epidermis, replaces itself every 35 days. You are given a new liver every six weeks. Your stomach lining replaces itself entirely every 4 days, and the stomach cells that are involved in digesting food are replaced every 5 minutes. Our entire skeletal structures are regenerated every 3 months. Your entire brain replaces itself every two months. In fact, the entire human body, right down to the last atom, is replaced every 5-7 years.
How is it, then, that if one’s brain replaces itself every two months, they can still retain long term memories? The nerve cells in the human body are the only exception to regeneration. If they did regenerate, say, once every six months, you would need to relearn your language every time.
Consider also the sounds from within the digestive system following the consumption of an apple, the sounds of a real factory at work. Consider how matters would have been if people were able to hear such sounds from each other, whether at interviews, marriage meetings, circles of knowledge, communal prayers or around the dinner table. One would need to escape to a remote corner to eat and drink in dignifying solitude. This dilemma has been, by divine design, overcome.
The briefest moments of reflection on creation are sufficient to leave one lost for words, and such bewilderment will only ever intensify as time progresses and discoveries are made. Our only words are therefore:
فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ … So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators” [Qur’an, (23:14)]
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (67:14)
Of course, He who created you knows you better than you know yourself. Thus everything He commands, prohibits, or sends your way is, as the āyah above alluded to, out of His Subtlety towards you, and out of Him being Acquainted with you.
Trust Him, […] and watch how you will live in [true contentment] with Him.
This year. Did you feel it too? When our world felt itself grind to a halt. We had to stop. Turn back. Grief took over. It was hard. Hard to get out of bed; hard to do much at all. Hard to not question and question and question things. Hard to escape.
It had not happened without reason. A number of reasons. And it was – and is – so difficult.
The acute feelings of entrapment, loneliness. Uncertainty: that anxiety. Heavy, and at the same time: minds whirring, whirring away, feeling almost detached from our bodies. The disruption, and the difficulty. That terrifying sense of stagnation… and nobody really knew what on Earth to do.
Did you feel it too?
Mental unwell-ness. Not feeling particularly mentally ‘healthy’. Anxiety, depression, and all the rest of it. These things do not signify ‘character failures’. It need not be some ‘shameful’ secret, which you carry: which you pretend is not there, does not exist. It is something very real; something we can go through. And it might take years. Maybe we will never completely be rid of it: maybe depression will continue to dawn on us on those days on which we may least expect it. Anxiety often takes us by surprise too; turns our very nerves into jelly. But, over time, things do get better. And Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear [Qur’an, (2:286)]. You are strong enough.
A few articles, by ‘The School of Life’, which I have loved and benefitted from:
I want to be open and honest with the people I love; I would hope they feel they can be open and honest with me, too. And I will love them no matter what. Sometimes up close; sometimes from afar. In light of the texture, and never ‘in spite’ of it.
It might feel as though you are quite alone in this. While others go ahead and just ‘live’. ‘Nobody gets it’? But people do. Many of us are pretending. Depression, for example, is a fairly widespread reality. It often results in people taking their own lives: suicide, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
Why is it important to better understand mental health conditions? So many of us suffer as a result of them.
So many people are hiding, because they feel they need to. And, I get it: you do not want to be seen as being ‘broken’ or ‘defective’. But you are not. We are all fundamentally imperfect; we are our essential ‘upsides’ and we are our ‘downsides’, and you are neither somehow ‘evil’ nor some sort of ‘failure’ by consequence of this. Pardon my cheese again; this ongoing cliché. But, you know what we are? We are human beings. Not shiny robots; not filtered pictures, carrying ourselves around; not made of porcelain. Insān. Allah is closer to us than our own jugular veins are, and He knows, even while others may not know. Other people do not somehow hold the keys to the truth(s) of you, anyway. And we can get through this, together, Bi’ithnillah: it will (likely) not be easy — but it will be worthwhile.
Acceptance can be hard: that first step. I have certainly found it to be liberating, though.
Rejecting hyper-individualism, hyper-‘productivity’, hyper-competition; these obsessions with images. Depression, for instance, is a reality, and one whose numerous (dumb) stigmas require some doing away with. So that some of the ridiculous pressure might be taken off from the shoulders of those of us who experience it.
1. We must live right now. As Muslims.
2. When the time is right / if it is in your Qadr. (When Allah decides.)
3. You are going to die. And you will return to Allah.
We are Muslim in the morning, when we open our eyes. Muslim before we start eating; Muslim after eating, too. Muslim, first and foremost, when we choose to don additional titles. Doctor, lawyer, engineer [I am very Asian indeed for instinctively listing these three occupations…]. Muslim in the courtroom; Muslim when in scrubs. Muslim when young and healthy; when older, when sick, when out-of-work, for a while, perhaps, too. Muslim when driving our cars; Muslim when riding our bikes. When standing on stages before thousands; when all alone, in the dark. At 5am, at 5pm. In Winter, in Summer, in the less-easily-definable bits in-between. Muslim when it might feel like the entire world is at our feet; Muslim, still, when it feels like the entire dark sky weighs somewhat heavy upon our chests.
We are Muslim. And may we be so, first, last and always.
There is so much to (possibly) do, here, in this big world, and so little time. This fundamental conflict can bring about quite a lot of… worry, ache. So many things that can potentially be known; done; written about. But so little time. So we must focus on essences; we have to be quite selective. And if we focus on the Why of things, all will be well – swell, even, in the present and in the end, Insha Allah.
I think, for me, the essence of this general time is captured very well by Siedd’s [whose works my students seem obsessed with] song, ‘God Knows’:
Back when I was eighteen We used to live in daydreams Then woke up in our twenties Life passed us by so quickly
Said I’d put You above me But been so busy lately Out all these hours daily Been driving myself crazy
I’ve been losing myself each day Losing my rest each day All these things I want for me Oh I’ve been Caught in distractions Oh lost in my passions I don’t know where this road will lead
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows Oh God knows, God knows, I’m trying Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying
Been soul-searching for purpose Is there more to life than this? Been carrying these burdens Hoping this will be worth it
It’s not as I imagined I’m losing all my balance Take me from all this madness I just don’t understand this
All these bills and burdens A jester in this circus From midnight till the morning Can someone save me from this
I know I’ll be buried ‘neath the same ground No matter rich or without a pound The only things that matter now Is finding You somehow
I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
‘Cause I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying.
I am not perfect; life is not perfect. And nor will I, or this life of mine, ever be. That is what I need to let go of: these ideas that I must be ‘smooth’ and sort of perfect. No. I am so anxious, at times, and I am quite awkward. I get socially drained, quite quickly. Sometimes I find myself feeling inexplicably, profoundly, sad. Sometimes I am very quiet; sometimes I talk far too much. And it shocks me that my loved ones can still love me this much, even with all of this.
But, then again, what on Earth would I be without all of this? I would be… character-less. Smooth, and shiny. No texture, to allow for authentic love’s grips to grip onto.
I have held, in my head, all these unrealistic, over-simplistic, standards and ideals for myself. I cannot live up to them. Today, I (metaphorically) burn them all. They are not fair. Besides, these fancies of simple perfection are quite boring [nothing to learn, no challenge, no storms nor surprises!], in reality, aren’t they?
I worry, sometimes, that I do not deserve patience, or chances. But this, too, is so untrue. All humans deserve these things, don’t we? God knows I am not perfect. But sometimes parts of my mind tell me that I am crucially, fundamentally, terrible. This is… not true.
God knows, I’m trying. Learning, developing. And this is what matters.
Things can change a lot, as they do. And, they should be allowed to. The present moment, also, is beautiful. And I am thankful for every historical twist and turn that has led me to this here, this now.
For both you and I, dear reader: may Allah grant us so many answers to our questions. And may some things take us completely by storm and by surprise. May they cause our skins to quietly fire up with awe, sometimes [have you ever felt that? When something is so lovely and/or amazing that you feel (what feels like) light wash over your entire being, somehow?] and wonder. May they make us say, over and over again, “Subhan Allah”. Āmeen.
May it be true wisdom that we seek; may it all make us more human – better Muslims – and not less so. Haqq-rooted, Deen-rooted, learning. And not merely towards ‘the life of this world’ (الحیاة الدنیا) which, as the Qur’an clarifies, is “only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children” [Qur’an, (57:20)]. Things of illusion, and then they just up and wither away. And I think: our learning ought not to simply be for amusement, nor for the collection of titles and ‘glory’. We should not perceive it as being ‘wealth’ – stuff we can ‘own’, and through which we readily compete with others. May our learning be truly and everlastingly meaningful, dear reader. And may it benefit us on Yawm-ud-Deen: Āmeen.
وَقُلْ رَّبِّ زِدۡنِىۡ عِلۡمًا
“And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in [beneficial] knowledge'”
From our Lord, Allah, did we come. He sustains us, every breathing moment of every living day. And to Him shall we return, at the end of this journey; after the final full-stops of these stories of ours; at the end of these school days:
when the lights are turned off; when the tables and floors are cleaned; when the boards are wiped blank. After all the learning; the fun. The structure and the unpredictability. The getting-into-trouble here and there, as well as those feelings-of-triumph. The time we are given for eating; for chilling. The streams and streams of things to do. At the end of the school day, we pack up; say goodbye to our friends, and then we make our (own) ways home.
Jannah, dear reader. For you, and for me. Good, and better, and the best.Eternally. Āmeen.
Felicity sat with her legs dangling, feet hovering right above the stream. There had only been mere millimetres between the tips of her toes, and the icy wetness of the water. She recalled a question her father had once posed to her: “Is water wet?”
This had been back when he had been around, for that brief period, at least. Felicity had been around ten years old. She would spend her evenings, that year, curled up under the mustard-coloured fleece blanket in the orangery, ruminating over possible answers to her father’s many random questions. But, more often than not, there were no concrete answers. Only one thought, giving way to another, giving way to a dozen more: words spilling like tree branches.
Then, there were those bursts of thoughts about what ‘big school’ might be like: that entire presently unbeknownst adventure. And there were the orchids and the orange trees, which, when the house had been empty (as it often had been) Felicity would speak to. They had been her truest friends. Sometimes, they would end up being her only companions for the evening: on some days, her father would come home, would make himself a mug of hot chocolate, would sink comfortably into his armchair. A half-stranger, in the only home Felicity had ever known.
On other days, however, he would not come home. Half here, her father had been. And mostly not.
She found herself thinking about her father quite often, these days – about his health, about that enduring sadness of his – and about that tree in the garden (the one with only half its leaves there — and even the ones that remained were quickly becoming more and more yellow) that she found had quite resembled, in nature, her mother.
Did the presence of two half-parents come together and equate to one sort of ‘whole’? Half a mother, and half a father. But, also, elsewhere, the entirety of a world, contained within the glass panes of that orangery. A room, a tiny universe, which had been quite alive, quite quietly. Known to let the sunlight right through, and on those blessed cloudless evenings: entire constellations, too.
But, even despite the delightful company of her floral friends, Felicity did often feel quite alone in the world; this had been a persisting feeling. And even at school, where she had not been without friends; even when swarms of other people would come around: when her mother would finally emerge from her tower, would come downstairs with her sorrows masked in powder and lipstick, would almost look… whole again. Like the moon, periodically coming into fullness, even if for a mere moment: even then…
Felicity felt alone. But she knew that love was there, out there and everywhere. She would wear that little old fleece blanket as a cape most evenings, walk outside and sit on that large rock by the stream. And she would remind herself, beneath the silver glow of the moon: that her father, too, was still there, somewhere at least. That the truest of loves never really do ‘die’, do they? When it is true, it cannot be destroyed.
That, rather than peering out with binoculars onto the outside world; seeking to come to know all of it, and to find all that could ever possibly be found… The world, in its largeness, could often be quite dizzying, Felicity found. And everywhere, there had been destruction. Millions and millions of all these other people, and other lives, other concerns, and…
Maybe the orangery had been enough of a world, for Felicity’s own good. Maybe she did not have to worry so much. It had been God that had placed her there, specifically, in that half-glass world of hers, in the first place.
And it is He who puts love between hearts. And it had been He who had placed watchful old moon right there, right there, thousands of miles above Felicity’s head.
And “he who is not grateful to the people is not grateful to God”. God gives us, in our lives, certain people. And certain orange trees and orchid plants. And it is through love, Felicity concluded, that God oft speaks — and in this knowledge she found a unique sort of peace. That word, that word in Arabic, what had it been, again?
Had it not been in the bittersweetness of her aloneness, that Felicity had found God? And, would any other person, any other fellow creature — be it her father, or a dear friend, or a boy — be able to give her something (love, perhaps, and warmth) which God had not ordained, decreed for her? Nay. For it is God, as Felicity had told her assembly of orange trees, with all due conviction, who places love in the hearts of mankind, between one man and another, between a sister and her brother, between son and mother.
We receive what we receive. And we nurture certain things. We pick and we choose. And some things do blossom, do come into fullness, while other things… fall. What to do next, Felicity wondered. What to do, what to do, though, about her fallen, autumnal – moon-like – mother?
Regardless of the heaviness of these crepuscular thoughts of hers, which had followed her all the way to sleep: as the first rays of dawn broke through the glass panes of the orangery that nascent morning, Felicity looked all around her. Something had surely changed; she wanted to pay attention to, study, all the little changes. Things felt rather more real, more alive, and Felicity felt a remarkable sort of satisfaction in this morning’s aloneness. Mother, asleep still, but birds, though: wide awake, and quite loudly so. Sky streaked with a line of pink.
Other people will be other people, Felicity concluded. Including mother and father. Friends will be friends. Orchids, and birds, and orange trees. But in all those hours and crevices in-between: there is only she, in truth, and there is always God.
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… not–here, not–now. 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.
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?
I am almost certain that I have already said the following numerous times before, but:
is the human mind not… just the most fascinating thing ever?!
We just become so accustomed to our own realities; we can very easily fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else sees the world, and thinks, in the same ways that we find we do.
I know of some people who don’t have an inner monologue, for example; some of them do not ‘live inside their own heads’ at all, cannot ‘dissociate’ from whatever is immediately surrounding them, retreating inwards. They do not really form emotional attachments to past happenings; they do not idealise the future. They live very much in the present; nothing in their heads instructs them to do otherwise. Knowledge of this came as a shock to me, truly. My inner monologue is pretty much always there. I can recall, during a certain phase in my life for instance, being able to visualise words as I thought them, as I spoke to myself internally.
Some people can conjure up, in their ‘mind’s eye’, distinctive scents. On command, they can remember, bring into being via their own minds, the exact smell of freshly-baked cookies, or of perfume. Some people can visualise actual 3D things, in such vivid ways. I find this absolutely fascinating. When I think of something – say, an apple, I know what an apple is, and what it looks like. But when I try to close my eyes and visualise an apple, I sort of only remember… a ‘feeling’ of what it looks like. I have what might be classified as being ‘aphantasia’. Many others do not have this: they can visualise things powerfully, and to their hearts’ content!
Everybody thinks in different ways. Some people’s thought processes work quicker than others. Some are given to experiencing vivid daydreams. Some always have music playing in the back of their minds. Some seek poetry in everything. Some think more logically, more mathematically. Some are more creative: imagining things beyond themselves. Some are more analytical, able to quickly make links between things and identify patterns. And some are more practical: they have things like better spatial awareness, among other things (an ability that I truly lack, as evidenced in my inability to be better than a six-year-old, at Fortnite).
The ways in which you process the world are so, so different to how others do.
From the uniqueness of how the photoreceptors in your eyes work together, to the uniqueness of every single memory and frame of reference you have gathered over your lifetime… Cognitive frameworks, and then there are also different neurological conditions to consider.
I mean, did you know that some people view the entire world as a series of individual pictures – snapshots, as if time works differently for them! Some people see the world, usually following a very traumatic experience, as if it were all a series of comic-book-like sketches. We assign all these different names to these general conditions, attempt to collect and categorise: dissociation, depersonalisation, derealisation, depression. OCD, ADHD, and the like.
But, we are all experiencers of our own realities, and this, while we are necessarily outsiders when it comes to others’ realities. We can only use our words, really, to try to understand where others’… entire worlds… are coming from.
But language, also, is by nature limited when it comes to the matter of attempting to describe our realities. Because when I think of a ‘tree’, for example, the word signifies the thing itself. But I will only know of the thing itself what I have seen – experienced – of it. No human being knows what a tree looks like ‘objectively’ – without our ocular and mental filters…
[In the middle of writing this, I am reminded of things like the Blue/Gold dress. And about the fact that some people may have acute phobias towards things that I may adore. Because we are, each of us, the sum total of our own cells, ensuing cognitive processes, experiences…]
Moreover, when a person who suffers from depression tells you they suffer from depression, perhaps, by reflex, you encourage them to make some lifestyle choices, to try to ‘shake it off’. You may not realise that depression, if I may use this limited tool that is my language, is a disease of the mind. It is absolutely not the same as reactive sadness. It is an insidious disease, ravaging, and it can tinge an entire reality with an inexplicable darkness, an ongoing feeling of grief and mourning, the feeling of one’s brain being trapped inside of a fiery cauldron. You know how, generally, feelings can be said to be borne from thoughts? The thing about depression is that, often, the (afore-described) feeling comes first. And you may find yourself at a loss, trying to explain them.
Reactive sadnesses may have a ‘why’. Sometimes people refer to these reactive sorrows as ‘depression’. But the thing about depression is, it tends to be scary in how unconditional it is.
What happens is that people often respond from a place of ignorance when it comes to things like this. They demand explanations, yet when explanations are offered to them, they sort of impose their own mental realities onto others’.
You and I are not the same. I cannot see things precisely how you do: this is impossible. And you cannot see things how I do. The very best we can do is to talk to others; to read things borne from others’ minds. Bridges, you see, are (semi-)built through words. But the complete realities of what they represent… well, these remain a secret to all of us outsiders. They can only be known by the experiencer. And, on this Earth today, there are roughly seven billion different (human) experiencers, roughly seven billion different human realities, different eyes looking out into different worlds, and coming to some very different conclusions about all of it…
Some very cool questions to ask people: How do you think? How do you see the world? Do you have an inner monologue? If I were to tell you to visualise, say, an apple, right now, what goes on inside your mind?
Gratitude is good for the human being; for the soul. And I really do believe that choosing to have (and focus on) fewer things necessarily makes way for higher feelings of gratitude. This does not mean that one needs to make one’s lifestyle all bare and boring. Rather, one perhaps ought to minimise, and retain the things that are of value.
Minimalism makes way for more gratitude primarily because, well, we can only truly appreciate a particular amount or number of stuff at a time. For example, even when we look at the most extravagant of tapestries, our eyes and our minds only allow us to focus on and thereby appreciate – be grateful for – certain parts, at any given time. The same sort of concept is true for most things, actually. Why do some people want, for example, more than one supercar, or more than one bed, or whatever? You can only use one of them at a time. What is ultimately important is the experience, and a grateful mind always has a better experience: higher emotional and spiritual gains from the daily happenings of life.
Chasing lives of extravagance surely leads to lower feelings of gratitude. There is so much evidence for this.
And we can only really be grateful for things once we know what it feels like for the thing to not be there. We are more grateful for a thing’s presence, when we have come to know its absence. Things like joy, like good friends, maybe, and like food. Doesn’t food always taste that much better after a day of fasting?
There is so much wisdom behind Islamic principles of fasting, minimalism, and expressing gratitude.
One’s actions are important, too. When you are grateful for a thing, you must show this in your behaviour. You must care for it. You must tend to the rights it may have over you.
In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He increases in favour the one who is grateful. We only really need what is enough to get by. Survival, and then some additional comfort, peace and joy. We do not have to deprive ourselves of goodness. But there are certainly some things – and these are usually the things that are characterised by lavishness and ‘plenty’ – that we might, in the moment, think will bring us much good. Might solve some of our problems for us, and so forth.
But when you have fewer things – like friendships, like projects you are working on, for example – I do think you are able to focus on them more. Cultivate them like flowers, and then se cosecha lo que se siembra: you reap what you sow.
Gratitude is good for you. Zooming in on all the ‘small’ things, for example the things you cannot live without. A glass of water. The gorgeousness of sunrises. The comfort of your duvet. There is much use, and much Khayr, in certain things.
And for these things, may we always find ourselves grateful.
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. Good luck!
Another thing that I have learnt during these first two decades of my life is about giving people (and, indeed, oneself) chances. We change and we grow; it is not (not ever) a solid, reified, definable ‘you’ or ‘I’ that follows us through time. Our ships are always being developed, rebuilt. We find that some things work; we may wish to keep them, and hone them. Some things, we come to discard. We look within ourselves, think about who we are; some things, we change. Some things, we allow to be kept the same. And Time does not stop for anybody.
Besides, all human life is stories, and what are stories without character development?
Of other people, we may only see glimpses. And then, we might hear of them from the mouths of others. Words are ascribed to them. And words – definitions – by nature, limit. They facilitate the fastening of certain characteristics and ideas to certain people. We might come to hear of one or two things a particular individual has done, way back when. What we may not hear about are all the extra contextual considerations. We may forget that they are only human, just like us; they will necessarily slip up sometimes. We might not listen to and accept additional information, about how these people have changed, for example. We really ought to give people a chance to do so – to be messy, sometimes, and to grow and to change; no human being’s character is a necessarily reified and consistent-through-time thing. Nobody is perfect; people do not suddenly become the picture of evil as soon as they do something wrong.
So is it not foolish to portray individuals in such ways, in our own minds – as if they in their entirety are only the one, or two, or five, or sixty, individual picture frames you have seen of them – or, worse still – heard of them? As if they are either wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘bad’?
I have certainly fallen into similar traps before. Hearing about various things about a certain person. Blindly believing it. How can we meaningfully come to determine which side of a story is the most valid, the closest to Truth?
People do change; it is in our nature to. So now, I guess, when I hear about the doings of certain people from five years ago, or even from five weeks ago, I try to stop myself from forming any sort of judgement that may feign, in my own mind, being solidity or holism. Doing so would be quite unfair.
I have known – and really liked, actually – certain people whom others have loathed. Stupidly, at times I allowed myself to become swayed by popular narratives.
“She’s so annoying. My blood boils whenever she speaks. She must be evil too.” And they proceeded to make fun of her and to eat all the brownies she had made for them, and to speak ill of her as soon as her back had been turned. They, and their daily Starbucks drinks, and their chronic inability to be funny, their astute ability to convince everybody that they were just so nice. But hey, then again, that is just my opinion of them, based on what I have seen.
The most popular opinion is not necessarily the truest one; likewise, I suppose, the most ‘popular’ people are not necessarily the ones whose characters are most beautiful. I thought she – the one who made them brownies and biscuits and cookies all the time – was quite lovely, actually, but for some reason, in light of what they had said, I found myself questioning my own thoughts about her.
And is it a sign of loyalty, to dislike the people your loved ones may dislike? Hmm. I guess we just need to accept that a human being, in his or her entirety, is not a singular and consistent being. We are holistic and social creatures; we are fluctuation, development, and a range of different social personas.
So why not give people a chance to be human. At the end of the day, you will look at them through your own eyes, through your own perspective. They are who they are, to you, witnessed through your personal relationship with them.
It is completely natural to make judgements about people, internally. We gauge their actions, make decisions on who to trust or not to trust, decide on whom we are willing to grant the most ‘chances’ to. I think it is reasonable to choose to look at people’s behaviour – how they are towards you – and to focus on this, in lieu of ever taking others’ comments as gospel. And yes, ultimately, we only have access (through fallible eyes, fallible minds) to people’s speech and behaviour. Allah (SWT) has access to people’s hearts; He knows each of us best.
“The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”
– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
Note to self: forgive people, and try to have mercy on them, even when you are alone and inside your own mind. You are not the Judge; you are fallible, and you do not know anybody in their entirety.
A person who is despised by hundreds upon thousands of people may just be completely beloved by God. So, I guess, we really must be careful about trusting our own judgements of others, and about relying on what others say of them, or of past versions of them. To quote the theme song of ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’,