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 will never let you down.
  4. Allah (our Creator) is always there, for you to turn towards. Never, ever underestimate the power of sincere Du’a. 
  5. There is a lot to learn, even from mountains, and from their springs. When you sit with your back against a mighty mountain, you push onto the Earth. And the Earth pushes onto you, gently, right back. Reminding you that you are of the Earth, and you are a part of it.

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

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

 

Humanity

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

Love and triumph.

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

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

Hope and novelty. Nostalgia.

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

 

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

 

And The Mountains Echoed 

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

 

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

 

You

Do

Not

Know

What is coming for you.

Until you necessarily meet it.

 

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

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

they roared. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

To Feel Seen, and Smiled At

I fear what other people may be thinking of me. I am almost certain that so too, do you. It is in our nature, in our design, to want to seek acceptance and approval from people: from authority figures, from people we would like to befriend. And we want to feel, on some deep psychological level, safe and sound, truly at home, and not in any way rejected or attacked; we want to feel like we belong. 

Deeper than this, we do not merely seek to be ‘tolerated’, nor even merely ‘accepted’. But appreciated, celebrated. We seek true validation. And nobody at all really wants to feel cast out; alienated.

We tend to look for validation specifically from people whom we perceive to have power. Professional, or social. Maybe they have certain traits that we may, ourselves, desire. For one reason or another, we find ourselves trusting them, as well as their judgements.

 

From the very first days of our existences outside of the womb, what we know to first seek is a validating type of eye contact: to feel seen, really seen, and to feel loved for being. A look, and a smile. A “welcome to the world. You are welcome here, truly.

 

“I see you, and I love you.”

 

And the ways in which we are mirrored back: these little messages continually tell us who we are. This is especially critical in the first seven years of our lives, for this is when the cruxes of our personalities are formed, [what ought to be] a delicate to-and-fro of “this is me,” and, “yes, this is you”. And it is the job of a child’s caregivers to continually make the child feel seen, and known, held, praised, and encouraged.

Such instinctual psychological desires do not just up and leave us, after these particular definitive years of ours, though; they are here with us, throughout our lives. At school, within our peer groups, at work — we find ourselves forever in pursuit of the eye-and-smile thing.

“You are truly seen,” it tells us. “And truly appreciated.” 

Relax. Without any sort of need to impress or overcompensate. Nor to always come across as being especially funny, or smart, or anything else. Just as you are: you are worthy of love.

But what if, whether in infancy or at some crucial point thereafter, we did not feel seen (i.e. seen in truth, and not merely via the masks we may have learnt to wear, in order to attempt to simulate that essential validating experience we so sought) and what if we did not feel smiled-at, appreciated, cherished?

One of my little cousins, for example, is really rather awesome. She likes to write her own songs, uses gifted makeup sets so as to paint on paper, plays football competitively. She is a gorgeous little creature (Masha Allah) and, as aforesaid, I think she is awesome. But she has all these strong doubts about herself. Thinks herself to be, among other things, ‘inadequate’ as a girl.

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’. Unique means weird.

“Well, I think it means singular and extraordinary!”

Cole Mackenzie and Anne, Anne with an E

Sometimes she finds she is excluded from certain little friendship groups. On account of being who and how she is, apparently. When I try to remind her of the beauty of this ‘who and how she is’, she is able to remember the good of herself momentarily, but then forgets, in the faces of those strong oppositional forces.

How difficult it is to build a building: brick-by-brick. How comparatively easy it is to knock the entire thing down. 

When one feels seen, yet not at all smiled at: this can prove to be a rather terrifying ordeal indeed. Put under a spotlight, feeling mortified and exposed, prodded and gawked at. Like you are a lab rat, some strange creature. Undeserving. Not belonging; social death.

Or, of course, on the flip-side, one may find oneself feeling smiled at, and yet, not truly seen. When one hides the truths of oneself, defensively, for acceptance, maybe; for fear of not being approved of. The smiles themselves: we may find that they do not fulfil. They can feel rather inauthentic… because it is not truly you that is being smiled at, is it?

Finally, rather tragically, one may come to find oneself in a state of feeling neither seen, nor smiled at. Whereby one’s truths are hidden, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Whereby masks are not worn, either. It is like such people have come to accept utter defeat; are now shrouded in a state of feeling completely societally rejected, and subsequently quite hopeless, fearing always floating, never belonging. But I think they are still there, somewhere. Our true/potential selves do not simply die while we ourselves remain alive: they can get unfavourably covered up for a while, sure. Or neglected, or hindered. But they are never lost. And, in due time, and with the love and support of the right people for us, oh how we find we can grow! 

Children (and indeed we, us over-aged children) need to be reminded, time and time again, of who we are, from the perspective of those who truly love us [us. Not whom they want us to be!] and whom we, in return, also love. That ‘to-and-fro’ thing, again. And, over and over again. Because, (when it concerns qualities that are not distinctively morally wrong) there are always at least two ways of looking at things.

“Too quiet”, for instance, can be exchanged for “contemplative”: a brilliant quality to have, actually. “Weird” can be swapped for “spirited”. “Shy” can be rephrased as “endearing”.

And, on matters concerning physical appearance, no baby is born feeling that he or she is “ugly”. But often, all it takes for a child to suddenly feel bad about one or more of their qualities is… a single comment.

“Different isn’t bad. It’s just not the same.

— Anne with an E

From back when I had been the same age as the aforementioned cousin of mine, I remember how much the tiniest comments would affect me. For example, an aunt of mine had taught me to think that having ‘baby hairs’ was a bad thing. So, at home, I tried exceedingly hard to scrub it all off. But now I know that many people consider these baby hairs to be a positive and desirable thing to have. A similar occurrence, concerning my slightly-upturned nose. A relative of mine teased me about it, calling it a “pig nose”. So I would exert myself to push my nose downwards, in the hope that it would become permanently like this, someday. But, now I know that many consider upturned noses to be “cute”, actually.

A final example, concerning the colour of my skin. As a very young child, my skin had been very fair. And, as a result of some deeply colourist South Asian standards, I had been complimented for this, quite a lot. An aunt of mine even made jokes about wanting to swap her own daughter for me, since I had been fairer than my cousin.

[You know, it is not uncommon for people to comment, as soon as a child is born, on the colour of his or her skin: on how (apparently, consequently) ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ the baby is, or will turn out to be. And these attitudes are quite disgusting.]

Anyway, I did not care much for the fact that my skin colour had been granted so much value in the eyes of certain relatives of mine. I liked to play outside in the sun; let my skin turn browner. A particular relative of mine started to insult me, calling me “dirt-coloured”, and treating me differently. But, I did not care. I told her that she, by contrast, was fair, just like bacteria, and just like the bottom of my feet.

A bit savage, I know. But I figured I did not need nor want the approval and acceptance of a person who wanted to determine the value of a child by how fair or dark their skin was. This was not a value that I had aspired towards: so why should the disapproval of someone with such a value have mattered, to me? I guess I chose to give this particular person less power in my eyes. Who was she, to determine any ‘truths’ about me, anyway?

No, I did not feel like I ‘belonged’, with a person like her. But, nor did I want to: the apparent criteria that would have been necessary for this were simply not worth it!

Personality-based features (again, when they are not rooted in immorality), and appearance-based ones: one may find that there are always different perspectives that one can choose to have, on any given thing. Positive, or neutral, or bad. Being tall: desirable to some; a neutral thing to be, for others. And an awful thing to be, in the perspectives of some. Being bookish: desirable, neutral, or terrible.

See, on the level of people, there are as many distinctive ‘truths’ as there are pairs of eyes! And, different eyes [can choose to] see different ‘truths’, about the very same thing: whether this be concerning the entirety of a person, or about certain isolated features of theirs. Brown skin. Or ginger hair. Freckles, chubby cheeks, mono-lid eyes. They can be seen, and are seen, by different groups of people, as being good, or neutral, or ‘bad‘. Now which group, of the three, would it be best for you to agree with, when it comes to you and your attributes?

You might find you are “too religious,” for some. Perfectly so, for others. “Too boisterous,” for some. Brilliantly so, for others. “Too into […] stamp-collecting [?],” for some. And splendidly so, for others. And there will always, always, always be some people on this Earth who will deeply approve of you, as well as some people who will really not. 

The ones who will really see you, and therefore love you… I hope they are the friends that you will have, through life. I hope they know to honour you, and you, them. And your respective colours. And how the jigsaw pieces might fit together. I hope the soil nurtures your growth and theirs, really and truly.

Anyway, what certain people say, and the ‘standards’ that are decided as a result of these opinions: these are not the ‘gatekeepers’ of Truth. Even when it comes to things like beauty standards: do you not see how these fashions ebb and flow, and change, and what they are, altogether, in light of? Quite frivolous, for the most part. Sometimes fleeting, often unsubstantial.

If you ever find yourself having been insulted for a trait or feature that you may have, I challenge you to try to immediately remind yourself that “there is another way of looking at this“. Whatever they may be saying, there is another thing that can be said, regarding the very same thing: a more positive outlook. Now, just what could this be?

Who had taught you to think the bad things you might think of yourself, currently? And, why should they have the authority to be able to make such a decision, concerning you? Why should you have to believe them?

I promise you: where there is a choice to see beauty, and when you then choose to see it, beauty grows. In you, and in others.

You are a brilliant pear tree; why should I complain about your ‘failure’ to produce apples? You are a gorgeous wintry sun; who am I to expect, from you, heat? Or, you are a sunflower. Why ought I to be disappointed to find that your petals are not red and pleated?

Be whom you are, my friend. And bloom from whom you are. You will have your ‘right’ ones who notice and appreciate; you will have your ‘not-so-right’ ones who find they cannot do so. And this is okay, for you are you, and they are they. There is no need to meet everybody’s seeming ‘expectations’ of you: no, for you may just completely lose yourself in the process.

We all, from the places of our very cores, seek to be smiled at, after being seen. And, there is no substitute for real (love-based) connections, which are rooted in the very aforesaid phenomenon. Some people might seek seen-ness and smiles from others, through avenues such as fame. But no, no. Mere popularity is no substitute for the real stuff: it is no substitute at all.

 

Just whose validation is it that you seek, and why? And whose disapproval do you fear so much, and why? 

 

Now, if you are able to do so, dear friend, I encourage you to look into a mirror: any mirror. And right into your own eyes. It might feel quite strange and intense at first, but… be sure to soften your gaze a little. There. I hope you feel seen now. And now, smile. A most sincere and welcoming smile. Feel seen, and in a most accepting, appreciative, supportive way. Even if some of the people around you are unable to do the same: herein might just lie the first step. Being on one’s own side, while standing on the other side of the mirror. And then, simply choosing to focus on what is good and true. 

“It’s not what the world holds for you.

It’s what you bring to it.”

— Anne with an E

Somehow, one must try to root oneself in soil that will help one to grow; to see others, too, and to smile upon their existences, also. To be with people who love you; to love them right back. To feel connected; to want to always be able to look into their eyes; to miss their smiles when they are not there. To discover more about them and their lives; more things to smile for, and to support.

To really feel seen, and to also sincerely feel smiled at. Is this not the basis of all human love? 

And one must give out this willingness to try to understand, and to appreciate, others, with the sincere hope that you, too are deserving of such treatment. Whether this is granted to you from the hearts of many, or solely from the hearts of a few. 

The greatest thing one can aspire to in life is to love, and to then be loved, too. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Community

Community. Villages and the like come into mind. How things are done in the rural parts of Bangladesh, for example. My grandad’s village in Sylhet: surrounded by rice fields and lakes. There are several housing estates. He shares his one with the families of his two brothers. My grandfather’s house is in the middle; his brothers’ are on either side of his. There is a passage connecting the three of them, for the rainier days, when members of each of the households want to spend time with one another.

The community mentality – which, I would argue, all of us need and seek – is strong, over there. In the joint celebrations; when it is fishing season; when it is monsoon season. The men go out to work on the farm together, and some strong bonds are nurtured through this. Sometimes, they go to village cricket matches together; ride their motorbikes along dangerous cliff-sides. The women sing together, sometimes. Swim in the lake, do Mendhi on each other’s hands, go to ‘town’ for shopping, filter the rice grains together. The children of the families walk to school together.

That is the key word, in matters of ‘community’: ‘together’. It is about daily doings, while feeling like you are part of something. There are bedrooms for private time; things can be done alone, if desired. But, for the most part, it is nice to know that there is a reliable community around you. This is what we all need.

We don’t really want to be atomised; to feel alone. The effects of the feeling of being alienated are devastating for the human spirit. Feeling like you are on this spinning planet alone, and that there is no good community structure to run back to; to lighten some of the load for you, to enjoy your days with.

Sometimes, I think, we do things too selfishly, considering only ourselves and our ‘own’ lives. We forget just how dependent we have been designed to be, on others. There is an element of individualism in each of us that should be honoured, yes, but this in the greater context of community!

Sisterhood and brotherhood. Friendship, marriage. Being colleagues. United in something. Truly feeling like we belong to communities, I think, necessitates time (and space) spent together, things to bond over, challenges faced together, and more. A community unit, a number of individuals with their own personalities and roles, held together by something.

Community: I think this is where humanity comes most alive; we were made for it. We cannot do without it. In the absence of true community, we may seek it in ‘para-social’ relationships. Often, in this ‘modern’ world of ours, it is hard to be part of a consistent and love-connected human community.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Family

Family. The people you recognise as being your own. The blood connections (known, in the Islamic tradition, as being the ‘connections of the womb’), and, indeed, the non-‘blood’ ones. The people with whom you find you are quite… familiar. You may share your space with them. And much of your time, much of your efforts, and your energy. Emotional bonds; family gatherings, inside jokes. Things you do not really share with anybody else.

I have one sibling: my baby brother (no longer a baby, but that classic comment about how he will forever be a baby, in my eyes). Before his birth, I had my cousins as siblings. We share so many memories together; we continue to make new ones as the days go on. Our relationships are funny and lovely. But they have not been without their frictions, their times of difficulty.

I wonder how these current inter-familial relationships will turn out to be, in the future. We will likely grow up and fly away from the (general) nest. We might move to different countries; be able to see each other far less. I hope we never reach a point where seeing one another becomes a mere ‘formality’ thing: the polite hugs, the small talk, the lack of offensive humour.

This gorgeous sense of the ‘familiar’ (notice how similar the word is to ‘family’), it does not rely on one being particularly similar to another. It just depends on the bonds between you, and how these are nurtured. I find that I am unbelievably different to some of the family members I am closest to. Though sometimes, it is wonderful to notice facial similarities, and personality-based ones, between me and my brother, or my little cousins. Recognising them as being my own, albeit different to me.

I love the American sitcom ‘Modern Family’. I think it shows quite well how nuclear families can successfully be meshed together, into functioning extended ones. Different houses, but they see one another quite often. They rely on one another, for comfort, for entertainment, and more. I think we all need this: families that are larger than small nucleic ones.

And, the thing is, over the courses of our lives, we will likely gain new family members. Through marriages, through births, and, indeed, through the forging of excellent friendships. Some friends become family: they are the people you distinctively come to recognise as your own; they become like siblings. You feel awfully ‘yourself’ with them, in the best ways possible.

Some family members are like friends, to us; some friends are like family members. It was never a dichotomy, to begin with. There are simply those connections that begin with blood, and those that do not necessarily. But what is important is the actual social bond, which tends to take some effort to maintain.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Weddings and Marriage

Over the course of these first twenty years of my life, I find I have attended many weddings. Some people I know have told me that they have never been to a wedding before, but for me, and probably for most of the fellow Bengalis I know, this is far from being the case. Our ‘culture’ is one that is very much rooted in the importance of family. Many of us belong to rather big extended families; it is difficult to deny that marriages are really the cornerstone of such family units. And weddings are generally really celebrated, and are a chance for extended (and, indeed, extended-extended) families to come together, and to meet and greet the new additions to them.

The number of times I have opened up my letterbox to find yet another wedding invitation inside is, quite frankly, unreal. And, another thing that I find to be quite ‘unreal’ is… the fact that these Asian weddings I have been to, the average spend for each of them is £60,000.

And for what? With all due respect, these weddings can feel quite… soulless. A generic big hall, accommodating hundreds of guests, many of whom the bride and groom do not even personally know [I, for instance, have been to cousins’ cousins’ cousins’ weddings, pretty much not knowing anybody else there] and the same sorts of food, over and over again. Have I even found any of these dozens of weddings to have been particularly memorable? Well, there was one at which they had a pretty cool fireworks display on the field outside, afterwards. Oh, and the ones that have had chocolate fountains at them certainly get higher approval ratings, from me. I think the best wedding I have been to thus far has been my uncle’s one. Venue by a lovely winding lake, chocolate fountain, and even a bouncy castle!

But I think the main factor that puts this particular wedding on a plane above the rest of the ones I have attended thus far is this: the soul factor. The fact that this was a close family member getting married; we got to ride in the ‘close family’ limo, played much with the little kids, saw and spoke to people we actually knew and wanted to converse with…

Another wedding that I particularly liked the look of: ’twas one I did not myself attend in person, but I sort of experienced it vicariously, through my friend’s Snapchat story: my friend’s relative’s wedding, and one that she (my friend) had done a lot of the artwork for. It had been a garden party, an intimate and seemingly soul-enriching event, and they had hired a Turkish band for it, among other things.

Anyway, back to what I had been saying about all these £60,000 weddings. Often, those paying for these events do not really even have this money just lying there, to begin with; they cannot really afford these lavish displays that they put on. All these expenses (spent on things like £15,000-for-one-evening halls, fleets of hired Lamborghinis, and on impossibly heavy – excessively adorned – dresses) actually often lead to the newly wedded couple spending the first years of their lives together, in crippling debt.

The primary underlying concern and motivating force behind how so many Bengalis plan their weddings is this one: appearances. Reputation, how ‘picture-perfect’ everything can seem; minimising the potential for ‘negative press’ from the aunties who gossip too much [but, I mean, they are going to gossip anyway. Whether you spend £60,000 on your wedding, or next to nothing, on it. Whether you invite them or not. They will talk… So, I figure, we might as well focus on what we like, and what is actually good, for us. Let them talk until they possibly get tired of themselves…]. And, thus, the materialistic side of things tends to be focused on, very much at the expense of the more spiritual, essential, sides of things.

There is certainly much elegance and beauty to be found in simplicity. But, in the eyes of traditional Desi society, more is seen as being conducive to ‘better’. The more makeup, food, people, money spent, the better!

If we were to strip away all of the extravagance, what is it, really, that would remain? The things of value, surely. Really and truly, for a wedding, one needs: a nice venue (with some nice décor); some good food; some entertainment, and some good guests… i.e. people who actually care about you, who actually feel something (hopefully, good) towards the fact of your getting married, and with whom you – the bride and groom – actually want to spend this big day of yours with. And, of course, the thing itself: the signing of the Nikkah papers. Et voila! A soul-enriching, meaningful wedding event…

I think it is quite sad to think about how many married Desi people cannot remember very much from their own weddings, save from all the stress, the… financial debt, and the feelings of overwhelm that one would understandably experience, from sitting, caked in makeup and under glaring lights, in front of hundreds of spectators. And for what? To satisfy whom? 

Whose life is this? Who is actually, and who actually ought to be, involved, here? Is it you who will possibly spend the next sixty years with this person? No? Then… stop talking so much. 

I have known, over the course of my life, dozens upon dozens of people who got married young, and people who have gotten divorced and remarried, people who had had ‘love marriages’, people who had had ‘arranged marriages’…

There appears to be, on the whole, this pressing disconnect, between more ‘traditional’ ways – the ways of the ‘elders’ – and some of the more ‘modern’ ones. But, really and truly, we are not too different from those who might be older than us. We are all human beings, and marriage is quite important, for us. Humans are not only ‘biology’: we are emotions, we are ‘society’, and we are spiritual considerations.

Of course many of our ‘elders’ had fallen in love, when they were younger, experienced passion and poetry, just as we do. Sadly, though, these cultural norms of arranged marriages – on stupid bases, like social reputation (lineage, etc.) had come in the way, for many of them. And then, the unjustifiable mixing of these ethnic-cultural traditions, with Islamic ones, until they had just begun to present the two as though they are one and the same, inseparable.

But they are not. Islam says, marriage is good – excellent, actually – and that, for example, sex is not shameful at all. Human beings have been made for marriage: for emotional, physical, spiritual connection. And I firmly believe that Muslims need to start talking about sex far more; I mean, historically, this is very much in our tradition!

But! Islam also outlines some particular social rights and responsibilities, and instructs us to really take care of them, for they are sacred. With marriage, for example, only your spouse should have a right to you, sexually (and you, to them). And, more than this, the idea is that your spouse is also perhaps your best friend of the opposite gender: you share an emotional and spiritual intimacy that is quite exclusive.

These days, however, marriage (in the secular world) is often just seen as a decorative addition to a relationship. It, I would argue, is often diluted by a lack of that important exclusivity. You can hug whomever you want, for example, kiss whomever you want on the cheek. Spend time alone with whomever you want, of the opposite gender. And, the female body is commodified, animalised. Affairs – sexual, and indeed emotional – are very much normalised, these days.

By contrast to this, the Islamic way is often dismissed as being ‘backwards’. But, no, think about it: it makes sense. This is what true commitment, true appreciation necessitates: only your spouse should have a right to you, in these particular ways. Before strangers, modesty is strongly encouraged. In your private sphere, though, the defences can come down, and you and your spouse may thoroughly, boundlessly, enjoy one another’s company (as well as the enriching exclusivity of this bond).

Allah (SWT) created us “in pairs” – as a dimorphic species. He has given us spouses, so that we may find “tranquility” [Qur’an] in them, as well as “affection and mercy”. Sadly, so many marriages around us nowadays would appear to be centred on the opposite of these Divinely-ordained things; they are full of restlessness, emotional emptiness, and argumentation, as opposed to peace. Lacking affection, and cold, and without emotional intelligence, as opposed to being filled with love and mercy.

Unquestionably, issues that are left to fester within marriages also tend to lead to spirals of outcomes that affect others. Children often suffer much as a result of their parents having loveless, and/or abusive, marriages. There are many intergenerational issues within Desi families these days, that I really think could do with some love and some meaningful communication by way of remedy.

The Qur’an also tells us that spouses ought to be like “garment[s]” for one another. What a fitting [pun not intended, but still, very much there!] metaphor. What do our clothes do, for us? They allow us to express who we are; they keep us warm; they give us comfort; they help us to preserve our modesty. And we wear them; are intimate with them, have them as extensions of us.

Islam says that falling in love with someone is completely fine, so long as the legitimate avenue through which to realise a romantic relationship is sought: marriage. Some Muslims today, (who notably tend to be those excessively black-and-white ones, the ones who act as though being a good Muslim means caring about strictness and rules above anything else, as though being pious means that one should deny oneself of all the pleasures and joys of life — even though there is to be no monasticism, zealotry, or celibacy in Islam [Hadiths], but I digress…) they act as though… one cannot get to know potential spouses before making the decision to marry them; as though one person should not fall in love with another, and later approach them with a proposal; as though physical intimacy is shameful and disgusting, but ‘must be done’, sometimes, and is solely for procreative purposes; as though “affection and mercy” (despite these being the very words of the Qur’an) are not necessary in a marriage.

It is actually out of character for the Muslim to not love – and express much love towards – their spouse. And to be hard-hearted: this is completely outside of the faith. Muhammad (SAW) had, and had nurtured, a very soft heart indeed; he had been a man of such high emotional intelligence. So why do we take the spirit, the soul, the beauty out of things, and then say that ‘this is from Islam’?

Recently, my aunt asked me if I would ever consider getting married ‘young’ (at this age, nineteen). I said, sure, why not? I mean, I know that there are some, within my extended family, who themselves got married young, but who suffered much, as a result of it. But this is because of certain facets of the how of things, as opposed to being due to the fact of marriage, itself: how certain family members got involved rather intrusively; the heavy expectations that had been placed upon the new brides, and more. This particular aunt of mine had been shocked that I had replied in the affirmative to her question. She told me, no, get your education first. ‘Live your life’ first. She said, if I do meet somebody whom I definitely want to marry, I should wait it out. Wait for years (and years); experience things together — like graduation — and then maybe go for it. 

My views, right now, are rather different to this. If I met somebody whom I wanted to marry, would it not be better to legitimise things with the Nikkah – a contract – that protects me, than to pursue an illegitimate relationship with them? Marriage does not have to be an unfortunate ‘end’ to days of youth and laughter and education and adventure, not at all. It can actually liberate; one can continue to live one’s life, retain oneself, while having the lovely addition of a life partner — somebody to share the majority of one’s days with, and to travel with, and spend time with… maybe even study with. Life just goes on, as it does, somewhat differently, but still somewhat in the same way.

And here are my issues with that mentality: the classic mentality that merges ‘feminist’ thought, with traditional Desi ones. Marriage is seen, by so many, as an end. An end to your days of youth, and of having fun. A new era, of being ‘controlled’ by your husband, sort of being enslaved to him and his family, losing yourself in the process. It is almost treated like a thing of legal slavery; the woman is simply not honoured as she should be.

Islam does not say that, after getting married, one must sacrifice one’s entire own life to go and live with a husband and his family: to just become a part of his world, a mere accessory. Hearing over and over again about the trope of the ‘evil mother-in-law’, for example, and the tensions that frequently ensue as a result of introducing a new woman into her household… I am growing quite weary of them. This is a very Desi idea: that, with marriage, a woman is to lose most of her selfhood, while the man only gains. She gives it all to a husband who, more often than not, does not honour her (though he should). He simply expects her to cook and to clean, and to suffer so many hardships, and to just get on with it.

Based on what Islam says, though… this need not be the case. In fact, as for mutual respect and compassion between spouses, this is an absolute must. But, technically, it would be fine to live with one’s partner as many modern boyfriends-and-girlfriends do. One could carry on with one’s education, with one’s current hobbies… The only addition – and an excellent addition, at that – would be the Nikkah!

Once, while delivering a lecture to a large group of female university students, the renowned feminist author Betty Friedan posited the idea that the first most important decision a woman will make in her lifetime is this one: whom she marries. This statement of hers had been met with gasps and groans of protestation. She added, things like what you study and the career you may have are not as significant as this particular decision. She had not been wrong: your spouse, marriage (if, indeed, you do end up getting married) will come to form a big part of your life. The hours you will spend with your husband or wife, how much they will be able to influence your day-to-day activities, your ways of thinking, and more… Marriage is very important, actually. And, since many of us are fine with the idea of constantly talking about and preparing ourselves for our future careers, I do think more conversations need to be had, around marriage, and about how to have healthy and nourishing ones.

One of my (younger) aunts — the first in my extended family to be studying for a PhD, Allahummabārik! — does not want to get married, at all. Her exposure to marriages has been rather like mine: we have witnessed so many couples who appear to be trapped within affection-less marriages. Where the woman is made to do all the housework, and the two (husband and wife) simply complain about one another to others, all day. Incompatibility is a major issue; I really think meddling family members who choose partners for others have a big role to play in this. I find it deeply concerning how surprising we now see healthy marriages – ones rooted mostly in love and positivity, authentically, and not ‘just for show’ – as being. 

What I find additionally infuriating is that, sometimes, when Desi parents, for example, choose a spouse for their child, they actually choose on such superficial premises as: the tribe in Bangladesh that this person comes from… even if said person had been born and raised here in the UK! And other things, like how good their job title sounds (once again, that highly-detrimental overarching ‘appearances’ factor), how fair their skin is. And, sadly, another thing: interracial marriages continue to be strongly looked down on, too, even though Islam permits and even encourages these. [Islamic teachings also teach us to steer away from pride-based considerations. Yet, this is undoubtedly a very significant contributing factor in the making of these decisions, by the evidently-so-wise ‘elders’].

Ultimately, whom an individual ends up marrying should marry them based on their own executive decision (yes, aided by well-meaning friends and family members, maybe). I find many Bengali ‘elders’ to be unnecessarily meddlesome and insolent when it comes to matters of marriage. When… reviewing the prospective spouses of their ‘youngers’, many are given to turning their noses up, disapproving of this, or that, feature of a person. She’s too fat. He’s too short. But the question for these ‘elders’, if they truly have the best interests of the ‘youngers’ at heart, should not be, “Would I, myself, marry this person?”, as it too often is.

For those who are involved in any of these matchmaking or approval processes, the first question should be about religion — Do they pray? (etc.) After all, marriage concerns an entire half of your Deen! And, then, the other ‘scrutiny’ should be about character. What is this person’s conduct like? Finally, matters of lifestyle should be considered. I wish I could tell all these Desi elders to stop placing undue emphasis on appearance-based considerations. Focusing on these, in lieu of the more meaningful stuff, is an almost surefire way to set your child up for a lifetime of marital misery.

I also disagree with the notion that a woman who is marrying a man should brace herself for marrying his family. The primary consideration should be a) husband, b) wife, and, c) are they — in terms of lifestyle, values, expectations, chemistry, and more — truly suitable for one another? And while I am able to deeply appreciate this cultural emphasis on family [I do also benefit from it much] I do still maintain that maintaining certain boundaries is invaluable. 

[To indulge myself further on this tangent about boundaries, perhaps this term sounds slightly harsh. I much prefer the idea of ‘Doors’. One should be able to protect one’s own space and time and energy; be able to politely but firmly close the door on others, sometimes, and open them up when they decide it is good to do so.

Unfortunately, many newly wedded Bengali women do not get to exercise their right to their own ‘doors’; many have to move into their husbands’ bustling homes, adapt very quickly, welcome and entertain constant streams of guests, cook and clean, listen to floods of gratuitous criticisms directed towards them, and more…]

Anyway, back to the young aunt of mine in question: when she informs people that, no, she does not want to get married, she is met with gasps of disapproval. Shock, anger. They express pity towards her. But, rather ironically, and humorously, they also happen to be the ones who incessantly complain about their married lives, and about how wholly unsatisfying they are!

In these particular marriages, the husband and wife rarely even interact in positive and meaningful ways, at home. That classic stereotype of the nagging wife, and the ever-annoyed husband. Tragic incompatibilities, unhappy tropes repeated over and over again.

Ah, but to the rest of the world, many of them will make it a point to try to show that they are the world’s most in-love couples! Yet another display of that classic Desi caring-about-what-people-will-think, prior to all other considerations (e.g. those of… authenticity, essences).

Muhammad (SAW) had left us with the wisdom that the best of men are the ones who are best to women, and specifically, to their wives. Kind and consciously nurturing treatment is very much encouraged, in this tradition of ours, towards spouses: on the physical and spiritual and emotional levels.

Muhammad (SAW) had loved his wives deeply, and tenderly, and honourably; he would recline beside them, speak to them for hours, help out with the housework, even kneel and offer his thigh for his wife to mount her camel. Just like the Qur’an says, a marriage should be centred on the principles of love, mercy, and affection.

Incidentally, the whole idea of modern ‘dating’… apart from how heavily commodified it has all become (and, how, often meaningless and taken-for-granted) it does stem from the idea of courting someone, prior to, and with the intention of, marrying them. So what does the Islamic tradition say, about courtship before marriage?

Unrelated men and women should not spend time in isolation, with one another. If someone would like to get to know somebody else, with the intention of marriage, the two are allowed to talk, and to ask questions. But, generally, this should not be done in a private place; some sort of third party should be present, too (typically a male relative – a Mahram – of the woman).

A Muslim man can approach and express his desires for the pursuit of marriage to, a woman. And a Muslim woman can do the same, to a man. And then, I suppose, after taking care of the practical side of things, the Istikhara (literally, ‘seeking goodness’) prayer should be prayed.

I am unsure as to why some Muslims argue that men should simply not speak to women, and vice versa. The guidelines simply tell us to speak to one another respectfully, to maintain good boundaries, “lower [the] gaze”.

It is worth remembering, here, that Muhammad (SAW)’s first wife (Khadijah) had been a wealthy businesswoman, and his employer. Of course the two had spoken to one another; in fact, it was Khadijah (RA) who had proposed marriage to him. 

And, ultimately, the Islamic way – the Shari’ah – is there to protect us, for example from developing excessively deep (and, potentially life-devastating) connections with someone, before marriage. The rules are here to aid in the preservation of our dignity.

There are many things that I think many of us Desi youngsters need to make it a point to unlearn. Firstly, I think we need to actively make it a point to focus on essences first, before appearances. And, specifically on the wedding-and-marriage front, the things we must remember are these: it is okay to be human; there is no other way to be. We crave companionship; we have been made for marriage, and marriage has been made for us. Islam concerns the human being, and feelings of shame should only come into play when it comes to things that are actually immoral (the guidelines for which our Deen informs us).

I think we really should focus on the things that are of value, when it comes to weddings, and to marriage. What is the point of a wedding? It is to celebrate the forging of a (hopefully) lifelong, and sacred, relationship. And, yes, it is to truly celebrate, with people who truly care about you. It is to welcome Barakah – blessings – into this new start in your life. [A very good way to attract Barakah into your marriage is by ‘inviting poor people to your Walimah’ [Hadith] (the Walimah is the name for the celebration, the feast, that takes place after the Nikkah ceremony). I came across a news story online about how a newly wedded Turkish couple went, in their wedding clothes, to distribute food at a refugee camp, presumably as part of their Walimah!]

Surely, at these events, it is better to focus on increasing Barakah, making them as… love-infused and genuinely nice as possible, than to spend so much money and energy on attempting to impress people who are often simply committed to being… unimpressed?

And, marriage — it ought not to be cold and only-for-show, a mere ongoing sugar crash from the contrived ‘highs’ of these over-indulgent wedding ceremonies. But marriage is not – is never – like what these Bollywood movies depict it as, these ideals that many young Desi women copiously consume. Much like the rest of life’s several aspects, in marriage, there will likely be some times of ease, joy, and pleasure, and some times of friction, tedium, and uncertainty.

Much of Desi society seems to focus on the shells of things. Adorning the outsides, what people can see. Attempts to minimise negative ‘press’. But, like I said before, if people are committed to gossip, they will talk, regardless of what you do. Regardless of how much you spend on a wedding, regardless of whether the man you have chosen for your daughter is a doctor or an engineer, or not.

Beautifying the shells of things does nothing to beautify their contents, their realities. And this – thinking about the essences – certainly should be the primary motivation. Any additional decorative qualities should only be a secondary consideration, really. And, you know what? Nobody’s opinion should really matter, apart from those whose opinions actually matter: those of the bride, and the groom, in question. And those of the ones they love and care about, and who love them too, and have their best interests at heart.

Nikkah, then: a union of two people, two lives, before Allah. A greater commitment, a bond, which is contractually solidified, from which one should extract much Khayr (goodness), love, enjoyment, peace and comfort, and blessing. Much of the modern world appears to attempt to de-sacralise, and to proceed to commercialise, ‘most everything. But I maintain that marriage is sacred; marital relationships probably take much effort to preserve and nurture, but I know that, when both participants equip themselves with the correct guiding principles for it, it is one of the most worth-it ventures a man or woman can undertake.

And, through marriage, this blessing from Allah, one gains a lover, a friend, somebody to experience this life with, and to have fun with, (perhaps) raise children with; someone to learn with, and grow (and hopefully also grow old) with.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Gratitude

What does it mean to be grateful?

Gratitude is good for the human being; for the soul. And I really do believe that choosing to have (and focus on) fewer things necessarily makes way for higher feelings of gratitude. This does not mean that one needs to make one’s lifestyle all bare and boring. Rather, one perhaps ought to minimise, and retain the things that are of value.

Minimalism makes way for more gratitude primarily because, well, we can only truly appreciate a particular amount or number of stuff at a time. For example, even when we look at the most extravagant of tapestries, our eyes and our minds only allow us to focus on and thereby appreciate – be grateful for – certain parts, at any given time. The same sort of concept is true for most things, actually. Why do some people want, for example, more than one supercar, or more than one bed, or whatever? You can only use one of them at a time. What is ultimately important is the experience, and a grateful mind always has a better experience: higher emotional and spiritual gains from the daily happenings of life.

Chasing lives of extravagance surely leads to lower feelings of gratitude. There is so much evidence for this.

And we can only really be grateful for things once we know what it feels like for the thing to not be there. We are more grateful for a thing’s presence, when we have come to know its absence. Things like joy, like good friends, maybe, and like food. Doesn’t food always taste that much better after a day of fasting?

There is so much wisdom behind Islamic principles of fasting, minimalism, and expressing gratitude.

One’s actions are important, too. When you are grateful for a thing, you must show this in your behaviour. You must care for it. You must tend to the rights it may have over you.

In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He increases in favour the one who is grateful. We only really need what is enough to get by. Survival, and then some additional comfort, peace and joy. We do not have to deprive ourselves of goodness. But there are certainly some things – and these are usually the things that are characterised by lavishness and ‘plenty’ – that we might, in the moment, think will bring us much good. Might solve some of our problems for us, and so forth.

But when you have fewer things – like friendships, like projects you are working on, for example – I do think you are able to focus on them more. Cultivate them like flowers, and then se cosecha lo que se siembra: you reap what you sow.

Gratitude is good for you. Zooming in on all the ‘small’ things, for example the things you cannot live without. A glass of water. The gorgeousness of sunrises. The comfort of your duvet. There is much use, and much Khayr, in certain things.

And for these things, may we always find ourselves grateful.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020