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

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

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

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

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

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

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and give people glad tidings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re aliiive!

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

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

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

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

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

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

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

Something that intrigues me, also:

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

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

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

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

“Come to success.

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

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

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

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

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

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

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

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

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

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

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

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

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

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

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Sadnesses Seasonal

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

You tried to speak,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

one (wait)

by one

(wait) by (wait) one:

Āmeen, Āmeen, Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

At The Airport

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of London / Islam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I’m adulting and everything, Allahummabārik.

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

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

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

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

people change people. Secret of life.

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

Some questions for you:

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

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

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

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

Who has been important, on your Islamic journey?

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Garments

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

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

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

“I’m here, okay?

I’m here.”

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

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

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

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

“Cover me,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cover me.”

In the Qur’an, also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

fitting just right.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

At what point does ‘confidence’ lean into arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Spider’s Web

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

(and fragile, and yet enduring)

and unpredictable

a thing is love.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Mind and Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Qur’an, (13:4)

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

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

— Qur’an, (3:190)

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

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

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

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


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Friends

We live in a world that would appear to be characterised by — nay, marred by — this widespread sense of anxious individualism. We are known to focus so much on ourselves, eagerly rush to decorate our own egos, find ourselves caught up in all these — what some may term, — ‘rat races’. But, for what?

I think the truth is, we are all seeking love, that mysterious, sometimes elusive (yet profoundly well-known) active and flowing force. Real love. And not just that often over-romanticised ‘romantic’ sort. [Indeed, some theorise that a key reason as to why Western media and society seem obsessed with ‘romantic’ love is because of this drastic lack of far-reaching communal love. A strong, and true, sense of community. The feeling of truly being held by the people around us.]

Living the way most people would appear to live, today, can have its challenges, on the ‘love’ front. Some live alone, in small city apartments. Some live with others, yet feel equally atomised, are equally alone. Where our needs for love (which are so completely ingrained within us; they are fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health) remain unmet, a void is left, unchecked, in their place. It longs for true company; not just a type that is limited to exchanging pleasantries, discussing how bad the traffic has been all day…

Almost unconditional. The knowledge that one can lean back, and love is there. A simple, perhaps even unsaid, promise. That I am for you; will you be for me, too?

Today, we find, so many of us try desperately to ‘protect’ ourselves, and to glorify our own images, through the use of egoic shields. We try not to discuss any of our difficulties, but are fine with subtly announcing some of our ‘better’ achievements and qualities; we demonstrate hyper-competitive tendencies; we can often be very wary when it comes to trusting others. This is, without a doubt, an age of pandemic aloneness, of paranoia, of sovereign egos.

And this is precisely what many of the ways of ‘modernity’ do: they take these (Fitrah-aligned) ‘pure gazes’ of ours, the original, sincere ones, and they try to make us swap them for snake eyes. We find we are hungry [but for what?]; our egos are writhing, restless.

Undoubtedly, this can all get in the way of our being able to truly experience deep connections.

Throughout the courses of these lives of ours, our souls will (Insha Allah) incline strongly towards, and come to love, other souls. Love is just that: the non-finite, immaterial, often inexplicable, currency, or messenger, or fruit, of the human soul.

For this — love — to be allowed to truly take hold between us and others, one must be willing to let those egoic defences come down, quite a bit. The pride, the fear, the excessive Othering. Our fictions, too, like those pertaining to ‘perfection’. And, one must allow oneself to be what modernity might term, ‘vulnerable’. But this is a somewhat…lugubrious term, is it not?

As if the base state should be one thing, and then whenever we allow ourselves to be a bit more… true, we are being ‘vulnerable’. The term is redolent of… someone sitting outside in the cold, without a coat on, maybe. Vulnerable. Like exposing oneself, an embarrassing nakedness: shame.

We can safely and easily exchange the term ‘vulnerable’ for ‘sincere’, methinks. And, in fact, in reference to the aforesaid analogy, sincerity [a good dose of it, without allowing ourselves to slip into…excessive and uncurbed honesties…] actually brings warmth. It is when we are not in denial of what we are; when we allow others to be beautifully human, and are enough at peace within ourselves, to allow ourselves to be so, too.

The soul simply does not fall in love with egoic decorations. It does not fall in love with pretence, nor with fraudulent human beings who are sometimes in denial that sometimes the sky does give rain; in doubt that, at a certain time, death will come. The soul recognises truth — though sometimes the glass through which it can look, is rather muddied.

No human being alive is lesser than you; no one is better than you, either. One might find a ‘soulmate’ in someone who looks completely different to you; whose general egoic labels might be radically different to the ones that might be ascribed to you. We all find ourselves upon this Earth, slightly existentially disconcerted, perhaps. Requiring water to hydrate our skins, and sleep to restore our energies. Food with which to fill our stomachs, and love with which to fill our hearts; to energise our souls.

In a world that is not centred on love, our souls become tired. We require the stuff of the soul to energise us; we find that nothing else will do.

I believe in the critical value of family: in the ‘connections of the womb’, the ‘relationships of mercy’. Perhaps even more so than this, I so believe in friendship. The true kind.

The English word — friend — has its roots in an old Indo-European word that means, ‘to love’. A deep affection; truly seeing (knowing, understanding), and smiling upon, others. Interestingly, the word ‘free’ also shares this same root.

In tandem with our more ‘physical’ selves, we human beings are also, at our very cores, an emotional kind. So many ‘mental’ ailments that plague us today would appear to be, at least in part, caused by a lack of love. And I do genuinely believe that so many of our ills can ultimately be cured through it, too. Even if our faculties that are primed to receive and return it become a bit dusty here and there, over time. Perhaps due to a lack of our exercising them, or maybe due to some traumatic injuries to them. I believe that love can heal us; it is the only thing that can allow us to flourish, like roses coming into bloom. Right through the dirt: a Divine gift. Like how sunflowers are known to grow towards the sun, does the human being not grow towards love?

The general Arabic word for ‘friend’ is ‘Sadīq’. This word finds its roots in the word for ‘sincerity’. One cannot have a true friendship without sincerity. Sincere friendships are the ones that are sans deceit, sans lies and delusional ways of thinking (e.g. thinking oneself ‘better’ than another), sans that egoic pride, springing from glitter. Friendship is a connection of equal-but-differents, a golden bridge from one soul to another.

And, in Arabic, there is a different word that describes a particularly close friend: a ‘Khalīl’. In terms of imagery, this word is linked to the action of ‘Khilāl’: when one interweaves the fingers on one hand, with those on the other. A special kind of intimacy, and you are a fortunate person indeed if you have, in your life, at least one Khalīl.

A true friend is someone who one feels entirely comfortable with. Enough to let the walls come down; enough to be true, in your relative entirety. Someone with whom one can speak to in the later hours; someone to experience significant, and small, parts of one’s life with. Between true friends, there is true care, and trust, and openness. A fine balance, with neither pity nor envy, nor any such similar things that may threaten to tip this balance, in the mix.

In a video by ‘The School of Life’, Alain De Boitton outlines four criteria for a truly good friendship. They are as follows:

  1. Reassurance

The life of this world can often be hard. We are frequently met with individual trials and tribulations. Sometimes we feel tremendously lonely; sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, or about our places in the world. Confused, and so tiny, especially beneath all those exceptional stars.

Good friends give one another comfort and reassurance. Hands to hold, loving listeners to speak with.

2. Fun. Positive ways of spending time.

A friend is someone whom one enjoys spending time with. And this, of course, will depend on one’s own subjective ideas of fun. Sports, watching movies, simply going for walks. Good friends inspire in their friends, authentically positive feelings.

3. Knowledge. Better understanding oneself, and the world

A good friend helps you to understand yourself, and various aspects of the world at large, better. A ‘Sadīq’ will thus share with you ideas, things that they have come across or learnt, as well as tips on such things as improving your diet, or perhaps on particular topics that are relevant to your specific current situation. Such as things to do with childcare, if you are a new mother.

With a true friend, one can explore through self and other. Without losing oneself to the other, nor burying considerations of other beneath self. Equals.

4. ‘Networking’

Every human life has a general ultimate direction towards which they turn. For some people, the highest attainment lies somewhere along a certain career path. For others, Jannah is the ultimate goal, while other worldly objectives are considered as being only ancillary or secondary. This fourth component of friendship-based excellence refers to the ability of one’s friends, and the ability of one to help one’s friends, in developing towards our life objectives; good friends certainly inspire us to do, and be, better. They genuinely want for you what they want (i.e. the good, the Khayr they want) for themselves.  

Do you find you share the same purpose[s] and values as your friends? Your decisions on who your friends are absolutely crucial things to think about, for they will naturally, and deeply, come to influence your values, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of doing things.

Very fascinatingly, one of the bases of the successes of friendship-group-based sitcoms, like ‘Friends’ and ‘New Girl’ is the fact that viewers often connect with (or, to — since the phenomenon is evidently rather one-way) on-screen characters, as a result of the human emotions and such they (the characters) portray. A bond that mimics friendship begins to form, and people can become extremely invested in their favourite friendship-based TV shows. We may begin to identify very deeply with their (fictional, on-screen) woes; we may find ourselves imitating certain small things that they do. Subconsciously, we feel like those are our friends [we may thus find ourselves entangled in ‘para-social relationships’]… and friends, as aforesaid, tend to come to have some very powerful (emotional, ideological, behavioural) influences over one another.

With your favourite TV show characters, you can become very familiar. The process of growing in perceived familiarity, with fictional characters just as with real people, necessitates a lot of time spent with them; a feeling that you ‘know’ them, and/or ‘understand’ them.

Perhaps one can tell quite a lot about the sorts of people — the types of personalities and such — that we are more intrinsically inclined towards, by examining the TV characters we have been most fond of.  Perhaps these particular personalities offer us reassurance, through ‘relatability’ (our ability to identify with them and their experiences, etc.) or simply as a result of ‘tuning in’ to these characters’ shows when we are feeling a little down. Or, maybe their personalities are fun; we find that it is enjoyable to spend time with (or, watching [that sounds creepy]) them. Maybe they have knowledge to offer us — about the world, or about ourselves. Or, perhaps they (in line with the ‘networking’ criterion) occupy a certain social or professional role that we may seek for ourselves, and thus inspire us in this regard…

Something that is actually rather alarming about the norms of ‘modernity’ is that so many of us would now appear to be spending far more time — emotionally, and in terms of our presence — investing in those ‘para-social relationships’ of ours, than in our actual (two-way) social ones!

I think a particular, particularly important, form of friendship is, perhaps, the type that is (or, should be,) shared between spouses. Marital friendship. For what good is a marriage, without friendship as its fundamental basis? I maintain (though, at present, I find I am quite experientially unqualified to have an opinion on this) that the best of marital relationships are the ones in which a person truly feels like he or she is married to his or her best friend; in which marital life might feel like one big on-going sleepover with one’s closest companion. In Islam, the Qur’an states that the purpose of a marriage is so that one may find tranquility and affectionate love in a significant other. Ideally, as well as this, one’s husband or wife should, I think, be someone whom we can learn from, and have a good time with — in a truly comfortable way. They are, I think, friends, with that added facet of what we may term ‘romance’. [Dear reader, if you are to get married in the future, may you end up with a husband or wife who is also your Khalīl; Ameen!]

It is true that you will not manage to find friendship in everyone. You may not end up feeling that connection of the soul with certain people with whom you might have pre-imagined it. And, see, when it happens, it just does, and your soul just knows. There is no use in forcing it with anybody.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is true: with most human social dispositions (think: ambition, work, friendship) there are ultimately two paths that one can take: the path towards the ego, or the ‘spiritual’ path — the path that is greater than oneself (one’s ‘Nafs’). Some may say this, the latter path, is towards ‘love’ itself. Others would say that this is the path towards Allah. [I would personally argue that what is generally termed ‘spirituality’ today is simply the name we give to ‘secularised religion’. I think (‘modern’ notions of) ‘spirituality’ is very much interchangeable with the idea of ‘a connection to the Divine, without explicit mention of Him’.]

Yes, I do think that the best friendships possible are rooted in a mutual love for Allah (SWT). Such friendships tend to accommodate a uniquely top-down experience; when done right, a decidedly more… ‘sincere’ and (sincerely) spiritual one. True adherence to Islam, for instance, can prevent or deeply regulate such threats to authentic friendship as hyper-competition, a reluctance to forgive and overlook small faults, etc.

And so, on these very notes do I challenge myself to love more openly, outwardly, and sincerely. I must apologise for any mistakes I may have made along the way; try to be better, Insha Allah. I should remember that it is only sincerity that brings about, and allows the maintenance of, true love: love for Allah, and for others, and for fellow components of creation, and indeed for oneself.

Love accepts and forgives. It nurtures and helps heal. It grows; it allows us to grow along with it. It is kind and true; appreciates the good, is understanding when it comes to some of the ‘less good’ bits, too.

And I must have great trust in love, and trust that herein is where great change — mighty good change – oft happens. In loving the fact that one never loses, by giving love: this is not how the stuff of the soul works.

Say it is all too abstract, call it fairy dust.

But, oh how real and powerful and necessary-for-life we (innately) know love to be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Gang Aft Agley

An adventure, and some quite random reflections. 

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

Time, and how I had been spending mine.

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

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

 

Religion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

People, Connections 

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

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

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

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

I cannot imagine my life without you in it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Life. And you.

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

you will be fine. 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

The Road to Scotland 

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added, while exploring:

Brexit means Brexit. I love Brexit!”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Wow. 

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

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

 

Don’t know where we’re going 

but we know where we belong.”

 

— Harry Styles

 

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

A perfect mess of beautiful things…

 

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

Willa Cather

 

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

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

 

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

— Holy Qur’an, [49:13]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Mind, and Experience 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

The Big and Small 

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

Contradictions in terms, yet perfectly sound, in truth.

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

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

When small moments feel timeless.

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Humanity

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

Love and triumph.

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

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

Hope and novelty. Nostalgia.

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

 

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

 

And The Mountains Echoed 

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

 

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

 

You

Do

Not

Know

What is coming for you.

Until you necessarily meet it.

 

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

The mountains of Scotland, with their luscious greens, rolling waters, dots of orange, clusters of pink. What they say about stillness and strength. Just beautiful: Subhan Allah.

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020