Garments

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

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

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

“I’m here, okay?

I’m here.”

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

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

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

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

“Cover me,”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cover me.”

In the Qur’an, also:

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

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

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

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

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

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

fitting just right.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

‘Self-love’ (?)

“Love yourself.”

This contemporary concept of ‘self-love’. Admittedly, an idea that had sat fairly well with me, in the past. I did not really think much of it at first: I mean, what, exactly, about the notion of ‘loving oneself’ (and not relying on another to ‘give [you] love’) could be faulted?

Well — the truth is, as much as we can find ourselves in denial about our true natures and how it is we actually operate — we do, from the very onsets of our social developments (i.e. during infancy) rely on those around us (those whom we come to trust, and instinctively look towards, for validation) to tell us who we are, and to inform us about such things as how we fit into the world. To love us: to look at us, in our truths and in our entireties, and to smile upon us, through and for it all.

Of course, the onus of this process is initially (thrust) upon our primary caregivers, and then the responsibility begins to branch outwards, towards our extended family members, followed by our teachers, and the friends we make at school. The friends we make later on in life; our other peers, our romantic partners, our bosses at work. Through these bonds, we seek out validation, personal orientation, comfort, belonging. And what we may term ‘self-esteem’ (defined as: being content with, having faith in, one’s own worth, character, and abilities) is something that is very much socially informed, in us. It is, essentially, an ‘inside’ thing instilled in us by ‘outside’ people and factors; it is simply not something that we can genuinely self-generate, and subsequently ‘give’ to ourselves.

“Love yourself,” as we are habitually instructed to do. And, more often than not, this, in a distinctively consumerist manner. ‘Love yourself’ enough to… splurge on dresses, on jewellery, on a new car. “Treat yourself,” in such ways, thereby proving, making known, the abundant amounts of ‘self-love’ you possess. Whisper those ‘affirmations’ to yourself in the mirror every morning.

“I am beautiful. And intelligent. And awesome!

Somewhere in the distant background, wedding bells are ringing. A bride, all dressed in white, emerges from the place of her recent espousal. But, oh… there is no bridegroom to be seen, here.

Nay, for this has been a ‘sologamous’ marriage: the woman in question has married none other than… herself. Believe it or not, ‘sologamy’ is a practice that has been carried out by many across the West. And, indeed, the ‘self-marriage’ industry is one that is growing; the practice of ‘officialising self-love’ in such a manner is becoming increasingly popular, in particular among more affluent women.

These ‘self-partnered’ brides are known to dress themselves up, invite over their friends and family members (sometimes to a hired venue, and sometimes to their own homes), and then vow to themselves, that they will ‘love theirselves‘ eternally; that no man needs to ‘give’ them something they are purportedly adequately equipped to ‘self-administer’.

A rather ‘twenty-first century’ sort of matrimony, this. With some noble underlying intentions, perhaps. And, yet… the whole practice is arguably somewhat… narcissistic, no?

One ‘sologamous’ bride, New York-based performance artist Gabrielle Penabaz, claims that these symbolic self-wedding ceremonies are “usually very cathartic” and are “all about self-love”.

Indeed, many of the people (especially women) who have chosen to undergo these ceremonies had, unfortunately, been victims of abuse in previous relationships. And so, these functions may be perceived, by them, as being a means, or a symbolic statement, of self-empowerment: a bold, ‘feminist’ declaration of sorts. Many ‘self-brides’ promise, in the presence of their wedding guests, to ‘forgive [themselves]’, and to stop thinking of themselves as being “ugly” or otherwise ‘unworthy’.

But, at what point do such strides towards ‘self-love’ (or, perhaps, repairing otherwise compromised levels of self-esteem) deliquesce into what we might look upon as being… narcissistic?

‘Narcissism’: vanity. Excessive pride in one’s own image — in one’s physical appearance, abilities, and/or ‘worth’ [but, just what should the parameters be, for what is to be seen as being ‘excessive’?].

Some theorise that narcissistic tendencies always, ironically, stem from places of insecurity: if a person thinks himself inadequate in a particular regard, he may seek to ‘overcompensate’ somehow, whether in the very area in question, or within some alternative area.

Some (Freudian) theorists maintain that, for example, those who demonstrate distinctively arrogant tendencies at school or work (e.g. rudeness towards others; speaking ‘down’ on their peers) tend to be, whether consciously or not, behaving in such ways so as to defend their egos; they are, according to this line of thought, attempting to ‘overcompensate’ for, usually, personal feelings of sexual inadequacy…

What do you think? Do narcissistic tendencies always stem from places of perceived inadequacy… or do some people truly, from their cores, believe that they are ‘special’, and inherently ‘better than’ others?

Almost inarguably, we do all seek to have good levels of confidence — self-esteem. But, as previously indicated, the parameters we have collectively put in place with regard to these definitions can oft prove to actually be rather… blurry, messy. A key reason for this is because, as with many things in the field of (the more ‘philosophical’, theoretical, social sides of) Psychology, whatever may be seen as being more desirable (or the opposite) is very much contingent on the underlying world-views we choose to adopt, and their associated considerations.

For example, the philosophies of ‘modernity’ (which, generally, is yoked to a secular, a-spiritual, materialistic world-view) may include things like moderately sustained, direct eye contact, and speaking ‘assertively’, in its own parameters of how we may be able to assess desirable levels of self-esteem in ourselves and in others. But the Islamic view is more so that authentic self-esteem is to be found in the acceptance of one’s own humanity, as well as this of others. We Muslims are encouraged to observe modesty; to look down, more, and to speak with humility, gentleness. To wholly accept our intrinsic worth, but to not be ‘loud’, exultant, arrogant, with it.

And, for example, while, in ‘modernity’, a woman who shows more skin and who walks in a certain way is seen as being more ‘confident’ and those who cover themselves up are seen as being relatively more ‘insecure’, the argument could well be inverted: it could be argued that ‘true confidence’ does not necessitate beautifying oneself for as many people as possible to see. Indeed, it would appear to be a real issue among women — young and old — today: the inability to go outside without any makeup on, courtesy of such things as the insidious messages that the cosmetic industry inculcate us with on a daily basis. Some women now cannot even go outside without false lashes and other makeup products on; they are convinced that they look ‘ugly’ without them…

The principles underlying the Islamic view on feminine beauty can be broadened to explain the entirety of how we Muslims ought to look upon matters of self-esteem and such, methinks. Makeup, jewellery, and nice clothes are certainly not disallowed in Islam, but we are told to only display our ‘ornaments’ in the presence of women and male relatives (with some exceptions), while maintaining physical modesty whenever we are in public.

Validation and love should be — and must be (if we are to ensure and cultivate their emotional wellbeing) — actively and copiously granted to our girls (and, yes, boys) by family members. Because we do and will seek such things out, from fellow human beings. And, yes, when we fail to adequately validate our family members, our friends, our ‘wards’, with regard to the things that humans generally seek out validation for (beauty, intelligence, character and such) they will come to feel inadequate, and will likely look for validation in other places, through other avenues.

I think some Muslim families do get it rather wrong. They seem to be operating under the impression that, simply because there are these particular boundaries on things like cosmetics and feminine beauty, that their daughters and such should be prevented from using makeup products altogether. But, no: it is generally in the essence of a woman to enjoy adorning herself with beautiful things. A similar thing with Muslim men: it is generally in the nature of a man to enjoy gazing upon feminine beauty. But they must observe certain Islamic boundaries when it comes to this, in line with the Test of Life: to ‘lower [their] gaze[s]’ when it comes to women whom they are not married to.

In any case, blessings like physical beauty, intellectual capacities, material wealth and professional success: we Muslims do not — or, should not — look upon them as being wholly ‘personal’ achievements. These blessings are from Allah; the acknowledgement of this fact should aid us in being more confident in our self-worth, and more humble, too. And we ask of Him from His bounty; we ask for protection for our present blessings, too.

Now, a key facet of contemporary views on confidence would appear to be that if you are in possession of something good, you must make some sort of display of it before people: make it known. If you do not show it, make a show of it, do you really even have it, in the first place?

Although we are becoming increasingly desensitised to these things, I really think that the rap lyrics, the social media norms, of today are quite shameless, and they truly do much to bolster such attitudes. Boasting, filtering, directing the spotlight onto certain things: how much money one has, how many people one has slept with. Being sure to make these particular things known; sometimes insolence is peddled as being a merit — some sort of ‘right’ that the more ‘successful’ can exercise, over the less ‘successful’. At what point does ‘sharing’ shift into becoming ‘showing off’? My own view is that it is all about intention. One’s intentions can either be towards developing sincere (equal) connections, or… towards portraying oneself as being on some superior plane to others.

Of course, these days, many people are known to seek out an experience of love — or, a simulation of it — via the avenue of ‘fame’. Having as many people as possible see you, and give you — your talents and abilities, your physical beauty, your levels of ‘success’ — a series of standing ovations.

Earlier this year, I had carried out a survey asking a handful of questions to as many different people from as many different backgrounds and such as possible. One of the questions had been in relation to self-esteem. “What do you think most people dislike about themselves [and that acts as a barrier to their acquisition of the ‘Good Life’]?”

Most people had responded to this question with the theme of body image. Feeling like they are physically inadequate – ‘ugly’ – which can significantly affect one’s social confidence and subsequent wellbeing. ‘Modernity’ values ‘looks’ so much: and not just default (naturally human) looks. But how well we can manage to (through, yet again, our consumption of certain products) adhere to certain given ‘standards’. Particular ideas, popularised via powerful propaganda… Postcolonial conceptualisations of ‘what beauty (or, ideal masculine or feminine appearances) must be’, in addition to the power wielded by the multibillion pound cosmetic and ‘fitness’ industries today, have drastically affected the ways in which we have come to look at ourselves. We equate illusory cyborg snapshots and airbrushed constructions with looking ‘good’. And we absolutely also equate this (these versions of) looking ‘good’ with… intrinsic worth, unfortunately.

Second to considerations of outer appearances, in response to this particular survey question, most people commented on their perceived inadequacies in terms of their own abilities and talents. Academically, professionally. This is what modern mass-popularised hyper-competitive models inject us with: the idea that, in order to be worth something – worth anything at all, one must a) produce, or contribute to the production of, as much (economic) ‘output’ as possible and, b) do (and, therefore, ‘be’) better than others. The grand modern rat race: inextricably linked to highly individualistic, economic, (materialistic) notions of ‘success’. And ‘modernity’ tells us that if you are not ‘successful’ in the ways that they have outlined for you, well then, you are not really ‘worth’ much at all, are you?

Now, back to how we Muslims ought to view ‘self-worth’. When new babies are born, don’t we just know, instinctively, to cherish them, to honour their existences, purely on the bases of their… existences?! Self-explanatory, innate worth. They are alive, and human beings. Created, and not in vain, by our Supreme Creator. Fashioned in… awesomeness.

And, just like those former child versions of yourself, dear reader, in all that you are,

You matter immeasurably.

A living, breathing, moving, loving, thinking human being. What a thing!

I think we should learn to look upon fellow human beings – and ourselves – in such a vein. Looking upon ‘being’ as being the fountainhead of ‘worth’, value, as opposed to ‘doing’ (economic output, ‘productivity’, hyper-competition). Sometimes we humans do get sick; many of us will eventually become old and frail, too. Will our ‘worth’ as human beings decay as and when our abilities to ‘do’, do?

The core(s) of our level(s) of self-esteem should be… the core of we. Man: a brilliantly complex, gorgeously delicate, strong, athletic, sentient thing. The second layer of self-esteem, I personally think, ought to come from two things: one’s Deen (connection to Allah) and one’s personal character. May these be our constants, throughout life. All else should be tertiary considerations; they are susceptible to change. One can lose all of one’s money overnight; youthful beauty and strength begin to fade as old age arrives. If we attempt to root the core(s) of our levels of self-esteem in these particular variables, well then, how vulnerable to crumbling we are allowing our worth(s) as human beings to be.

Absolutely, I think we need to be far more open and giving, when it comes to offering love. And far less (pridefully) ‘unemotional’, resolute, avaricious. To get into the habit of truly treating others how we wish to be treated; to speak the beauty in others, which we see.

We do instinctively grow towards love. It is a responsibility upon us, to love others, and, yes, to trust in love when it is returned to you.

When you offer a fellow human being a loving word, a smile —

you help them bloom at least a tiny bit more. And the gravity of these particular social responsibilities upon us increases when it comes to people who may be suffering from low levels of self-esteem, which typically occurs when a person feels socially rejected, outcast somehow.

O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames.

— Qur’an, (49:11)

We need to, I think, exercise great care in our social interactions with, for example, ‘revert’ Muslims — new Muslims who may be struggling with feeling orientated and integrated within their new faith-based community; who are often disowned by their own family members as a result of making the decision to revert. And, towards people with severe disabilities (who tend to be, as my cousin puts it, “people of Jannah, walking on Earth”).

Muhammad (SAW), whom his wife ‘Aisha (RA) had referred to as being the walking embodiment of the Qur’an, had been in the habit of treating people — irrespective of whether they had been rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy — with such importance. [He would, for example, travel to the furthest parts of Madinah to visit the sick, and sit with people to listen to their woes and worries.]

Unfortunately, these days people often resort to carrying out social calculations to determine which people are most ‘worth’ being good to, and which people are ‘not’. Some people are simply dismissed, seemingly invisible.

We, each of us, have at least some power in affecting another individual’s levels of self-esteem. People change people, whether for better, or for worse.

As Muslims, we are told that even a smile is an act of Sadaqah – charity. And, that we should express active, conscious kindness: to children, to our parents (especially when they reach old age), to our neighbours, to strangers. And, in a similar manner to Muhammad (SAW)’s, this should be in a sincere and conscious manner, and irrespective of factors such as class or race.

“Speak good [words], or remain silent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

A substantial part of the character of a Muslim should be ‘Rahma’. Typically translated into English as ‘mercy’, the word ‘Rahm’ is actually derived from the word used to refer to a mother’s womb. ‘Rahma’: the way in which a mother cares for a child. The way in which a mother instinctively, freely, delicately and powerfully, loves and expresses her love for even her unborn child: a child that does not even really know her yet.

“Whoever is not caring/compassionate to others will not be treated with care/compassion [by Allah].” 

— Muhammad (SAW)

Muslims do not exactly subscribe to popular conceptualisations of ‘Karma’ (as, for example, a bad thing happening to a person does not necessarily mean that it is the eventual result of something bad that they themselves had done)… however, we do believe in ‘Ajr’.

“Is the reward for goodness anything but goodness?”

Qur’an, 55:60

There is no shame at all in accepting how social, dependent-on-others, we are. A man is not rendered any less ‘manly’ through his yearning, say, for a female companion; mutandis mutatis, women with men.

Yet another term in ‘social psychology’ whose parameters would appear to actually be quite muddy: the notion of ‘codependency’. ‘Excessive’ reliance on another, for validation. In offering love and goodness to our partners, friends and such — at what point can we safely say that their emotional needs from us are ‘too much’?

I guess it is understandable from both sides. On the one hand, it can prove to be quite emotionally draining, to be a person from whom high levels of emotional support are constantly sought. And, on the other hand, these ‘codependent’ individuals: it is rarely ever their own faults that they are deficient, on the love front.

And here is where the Islamic concept of ‘Sadaqah’ may come, strongly, into play. For us, we are essentially encouraged to live lives in which we seek to give (far) more than we seek to take. The term ‘Sadaqah’ (‘charity’ or ‘benevolence’) is derived from the Arabic term meaning, “he has spoken the truth”. Meaning, when we give, generously (from our time, our words, our wealth), to others without expecting anything in return from them, we are implicitly acknowledging the truth that Allah (SWT) is all-aware of our deeds. He will recompense us, in some way or another, whether in this world, or the other (more lasting) one.

“One does not attain [true] faith until one prefers for others what one chooses for oneself”

— Muhammad (SAW)

Some undeniable human truths, here: Adam needed Eve. Companionship, tranquility, and love, from her. And perhaps, by some ‘modern’ yardsticks, he may be seen as having been somewhat ‘codependent’. Some say that reliance on others for self-esteem is ‘pathetic’, perhaps. But to claim this would be to be in utter denial of what human nature really entails. Maternal love, paternal love, brotherly and sisterly love, love through friendship. Communal love, spousal love. We seek it out; we need it. Without it, or when given to us in non-nourishing forms, we find ourselves hungry. Feeling empty. And low in ‘self-esteem’, perhaps.

So if there comes to you, say: a relative or a friend whose wings are a little broken, as a result of being a victim of ongoing abuse… give them love. Generously, openly, outwardly, and without complaint (if you are able to). And know that your Ajr is with Allah (SWT). Know that you will never lose, by giving: Sadaqah does not decrease your wealth [Sahih Hadith]. Even from the secular perspective, we already know that volunteering tends to be encouraged, as a means of boosting feelings of positive self-regard and contentment, by giving to others.

We are wired to like ourselves (more) when we feel others — in particular, those closest to us — like us. This is a strong psychological need of ours, and also explains why fall-outs and such can result in such significant damage to our emotional wellbeing.

And we, each of us, are also in need of some sort of main secure base. ‘Home’. A particular individual who forms the crux of our social world. Without them, we are extremely prone to experiencing high levels of distress. In childhood, our ‘secure bases’ tend to be offered to us in the form of our mothers. In adulthood, this role tends to shift towards our romantic partners. We require close contact with them; affection, the allaying of our (inevitable) distresses.

It is typically when a person feels cut off from their ‘secure bases’ that they may begin to experience self-harming tendencies and suicidal inclinations…

And you are absolutely not weak if, say, your experiences of having been a victim of abuse (and, yes, even sustained indifference can be a form of abuse) have rendered your self-esteem — your cup of (to self-contradictorily utilise the term I have, multiple times in this article, already expressed a disdain towards) ‘self-love’ — lower than it should otherwise be, at present. This simply means that others — in particular, people you had strong bonds with, and thus deeply trusted, and who should have played, for you, the role of your ‘secure base’ — have failed to love you enough; have not done so in the right way. Perhaps, with you, they had been shockingly indifferent, negligent. Or, maybe, they had sought to belittle you, to make you easier to control and manipulate; perhaps in order to help themselves feel ‘bigger’, and ‘better’.

If this is you: if you find you have suffered at the hands of those who should have, really, watered you, I just want you to know that hope is absolutely not lost, for you; that you can certainly be re-watered; you may re-bloom… much like how rose plants do. Sometimes their buds and leaves wither and wilt for a while. But you, like they, can be revived. Through Allah’s Rahma, and through the vessels of his Rahma that may be with you, and/or await you, among creation.

True self-worth (or ‘self-love’, or whatever. Indeed, the labels we might ascribe to are far less important than what we are attaching it to) is reliant on those external sources of love that are deeply entwined with our souls. Divine love — Rahma — is what had brought you into being, in the first place. And the love(s) of our loved ones is what sustains us. Ultimately, it should be on the Divine category of love that we rely on the most, for it is He who is the supreme constant, while most else upon this Earth is fleeting and fundamentally changeable.

And true self-worth/-esteem/-love is rooted in just that: truth. Sincerity. Not in being taken by mere image-based projections, reflections, of ourselves (nor in how we may compare to others’ similar image-based projections). Nay, true acceptance and love may only be found when we come to accept the truths of we: Who it is who had created us, and why. How we are human: complete with our merits, and our flaws.

“You should be sincere to your brother in faith, be he present or absent.”

— Muhammad (SAW)

No human being is a mountain, although the people whom we might come to term as being ‘narcissists’ may think of themselves as — or, simply present themselves as being — such. Truthfully, we are not ditches, nor valleys, either, although abusive individuals, and the powerful forces of consumerist and hyper-competitive propaganda, may lead to your believing this.

So why don’t we learn to ground our levels of self-worth to a place beyond the skies?

A good amount of self-worth and self-esteem would, perhaps, entail our deep recognition of the fact that we, each of us, walk upon level ground. Beneath sky, and above earth. Created by the very same Creator. All from One.

“Behave like servants of Allah and as brethren in faith”

— Muhammad (SAW)

‘Narcissism’ is rooted in delusion. Arrogance, and coldness, a detachment from soul-centric warmth, while humility entails an acceptance of Truth, and of all its associated truths. Humility gives rise to warmth, and to flow states (internally, and between people) — and thus, to sincerity, and true connection.

Humankind. We are, undoubtedly, capable of magnificent feats – like the inventions of such things as aircraft and the internet, by the permission and the Rahma of our Creator. And also, each of us, princes and paupers alike, are susceptible to embarrassment. And to illness. Chained to biological callings; hooked to where it is that Time, by Allah’s commands, is taking us: death. And what will follow.

“In a world torn by rivalries and conflicts, polluted by discrimination and dehumanisation and tormented by terror and wars, the healing touch can come only from [the] re-establishment of the supremacy of [our] moral values [and the] promotion of compassion, brotherhood, fellow feeling, tolerance and graceful acceptance of each other as members of human fraternity. Hatred can only beget hatred. It is [only] love and grace that can heal [our] wounds and mend the fences.” 

— Khurshid Ahmad, Foreword to ‘Interpersonal Relations: An Islamic Perspective’

Concerning feelings of ‘worth’, there exists a spectrum, perhaps: from delusional over-confidence (which makes one feel they are superior to others, and behave accordingly) through to healthy levels of self-esteem, humility. But these may quickly descend into undesirably low levels of self-worth: the key defining feature of such maladies of self-esteem is when one thinks oneself unworthy of love.

And maybe you seek to attach ‘reasons’ to this feeling, brought on by, or at least intensified by, (current, or former) outer social circles and peer groups, ideas that are constantly (stealthily) touted by the media, etc. You are… ‘too weird’, or ‘too boring’. Not ‘handsome enough’; not ‘smart enough’; not ‘strong enough’. Something, this or that, perhaps ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity’: you are not doing right at all. And this, in turn, somehow renders you, perhaps in a particular area, or maybe in all of them, ‘less worthy of love’.

If this happens to be the case with you, please know that you are worthy of love, exactly how you are. Sans comparing you to whomever you may find yourself comparing yourself to — be they siblings of yours, or celebrities — and in spite of what anyone may have said to you, to the contrary of this truth. Beginning from you, and ending there, too.

“And let not their speech grieve you. Indeed, [all] honour [due to power] belongs to Allah entirely. He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”

— Qur’an, 10:65

Here, I will rather shamelessly include (yet) another ‘Anne with an E’ reference. In the show, Anne absolutely despises her own “horrible hideous horrible” red hair. But why? Why does she hate such a… harmless (actually rather beautiful) feature of hers, with such fiery passion? Because she has been taught to do so, over time. First by the jeers of the girls at the orphanage; later by the subtle (and, sometimes openly insolent) insinuations and remarks of the adults around her. Red hair, according to them, is ‘ugly’, and quite undesirable, somehow; this is clearly a strongly culturally-ingrained idea of theirs, one they have seemingly passively accepted, and one they now actively contribute to the perpetuation of.

And yet, when Mr. Blythe opens the door to Anne and meets her for the first time, one of the first things he says to her, in earnest, is,

“What wonderful red hair!”

Same thing in question. But looked upon with fresh eyes, an alternative (better) perspective.

Not a person exists who will have some who will love her, and some who will dislike her. Everything about you that some (the wrong ones, for you) may perceive as being negative traits: the way you do things, how you speak, your interests, your thoughts… some others (the right ones, for you) will perceive as being absolutely, undeniably, wonderful. And these, the latter, will not stifle you: rather, they will, Insha Allah, help you to bloom, blossom, grow.  

I can promise you this much: with your ‘right’ people, you do not have to try to be anything else, other than what you are. And they will love you precisely for it.

So may Allah bless you, dear reader, in this lifetime, with people who are your ‘right ones’, and may you find you are very right for them, too; Ameen!

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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 kindness/nurture/care”. 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 goodness.

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 Rahma” (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 us, 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-deprived 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 

Islam and Sex[uality]

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

Human sexuality. How human beings express themselves sexually; how we experience sex. The phenomena this idea encompasses are at once centrally biological, physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual. And is it weird to place these two words – Islam and sex – next to one another? Many Muslims nowadays treat the entire thing as if it is something wholly shameful; something that should not be talked about. But Islam offers a complete way of life to its proponents. And sex is an intrinsic part of the human experience. So what is the Islamic take on it?

Muslims are human beings too. We believe in fulfilling our biological and emotional needs: eating, sleeping, exercising, getting married and having sex. But many of us display a knee-jerk negative reaction of sorts when it comes to discussing sexual matters. It is an implicit expectation, in many Islamic sub-communities, that we all display utmost levels of Hayaa’ (modesty, shyness) when it comes to the topic of our more carnal desires, until the time for marriage comes along… and then we are supposed to somehow just know everything.

Within Islamic circles, it has not always been this way: in fact, from the advent of Islam onwards, there has been a notable amount of positive literature (in particular, written in the Arabic language) published on the topics of sex and erotology. This is entirely Halāl – permissible – granted that the discussions take place with regard to activity within a marital framework. So why is there a stark lack of Islamic sexual literature written in the lingua franca of the modern world – English – today?

The truth is, the common widespread tendency to circumvent all talk of sex and sexual relationships and such, within Muslim families and communities, is as a direct result of the introduction of Victorian ethics into Muslim cultures – whether directly, through the forces of colonialism, or a little more indirectly, through gradual ‘soft’ colonialism. Yes, I refer to the same British Victorians who were known to have covered table legs so as to prevent ‘unnecessary arousal’ in men.

It is true that Hayaa’ is a key part of the Islamic faith. We are meant to display Hayaa’ in how we speak; walk; dress; eat. Feelings of shame are important when it comes to preventing immoral behaviour. But talking about sex is not improper or immoral at all. In fact, such discussions are an indigenous part of the Islamic tradition, and sex is a fundamental part of the human experience. 

“Hayaa’ does not bring anything but good.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW) (Hadith, [Bukhari])

 In fact, not talking about sex – refusing to talk about it – results in a number of counterproductive adverse effects. Sexual repression is a very real thing, and this practice does not simply ‘turn off’ sexual desires in hormonal teenagers until they get married… The sexual essence of the adolescent human will remain. If you choose to speak to them and educate them on the matter, they will have some clarity, and someone to talk to, and to be advised and guided by. However, if you allow it to remain an untouched and taboo issue (like other stigmatised issues) it will not simply cease to exist: the subject will merely be pushed underground. And it will grow, resulting in such things as porn addictions, unhealthy views pertaining to sex and body image and human sexuality, and, even, perhaps, to future hyper-sexuality and related perversions.

Sex is undoubtedly a gift from God. Unlike some of our fellow People of the Book (of the Holy scriptures) we do not believe that the sole purpose of sexual activities is procreation. We strongly believe in the merits of the whole pleasure element. It is a sacred, pleasurable, spiritual act. In fact, Muhammad (SAW) likened having sex with one’s spouse to “tasting the sweetness of [each other’s] honey“.

According to the Islamic tradition, marriage is a very sacred institution – “half of faith” itself, according to one Hadith. And healthy marriages are made up of love, trust, and respect. Sexual activity is to be partaken in both as an expression of conjugal love – a communicative device – and as a general augmenter of it.

Neither the Prophet (SAW) nor the early Muslims were shy to talk about the human reality of intrinsic sexuality. But they did not recklessly indulge in every worldly desire they may have had. Muslims believe that, in this world, we must live lives of conscious moderation; of curbing our base desires for the sake of being noble human beings, and good Muslims.

Sex is not disallowed in Islam. Extramarital sex is impermissible, sure. But Islam is wholly against things like monasticism and lifelong celibacy. We are also not meant to give into our desires of uncurbed sexual activity in this life – with as many sexual partners as we please. “Do not commit excess,” the Holy Qur’an commands of us. We are to eat, and to drink, and to socialise with one another, and to have sex with our spouses, and to enjoy our lives as much as possible, but we are to do all this within the given constructs of Halal and Harām, and we are not to be given to over-indulgence and excess.

Between a married man and woman, mutual pleasure is seen as an obligatory facet of the blessed relationship. In fact, and this may come as a shock to anti-Islamic Western feminists, Islam places a great amount of emphasis on the sexual (and emotional) gratification of the wife in a conjugal setting: she even has the right to initiate a divorce with him if he fails to satisfy her sexually! 

Human beings have all sorts of intrinsic needs, desires, wants, and motivations. According to the Islamic tradition, some of these should be actively nurtured, while others should be actively restrained. And the nature of the human male is such that he finds himself extremely attracted to femininity and the beauty of the female form. Our Creator knows this – and instructs men to “lower [their] gaze”; to avoid “unrestrained glances”. This is an example of ‘inner Jihad’ – of self-overcoming, for the sake of God.

Likewise, human females – we like to beautify ourselves. We like to experiment with makeup, and with clothes that show off our figures. Many women are given to undergoing cosmetic surgeries and such to further indulge in these desires. And we, too, are attracted to masculinity. Thus, our test, the point of our self-overcoming, here, is to be modest in our attire outside, and also to “lower [our] gaze”.

The Islamic view is that spouses have a right to each other – to each other’s comfort, and to each other’s time, and to each other’s sexual richnesses. An unmarried Muslim man is not allowed to have premarital sexual partners now because his future wife has a right to him. This is the same for married individuals: adultery – and even ‘soft adultery’, like kissing a person of the opposite gender on the cheek, or indulging in watching pornographic content – is not allowed, irrespective of how much modern Western society normalises this sort of thing.

There is beauty in balance. And there is value in fewness. Thus, one of the purposes of restraint until – and, with regard to other people, during – marriage is to beautify and enrich the marital experience. If you actively lower your gaze, trying not to look at the beautiful physical forms of men/women you are not married to (and restraining yourself from even being emotionally vulnerable with them) you are more likely to see your future (or current) husband or wife as the most physically attractive person, and the best confidant you have ever had; your eventual sexual and romantic experiences will hopefully be more meaningful, and more rich, as a direct result.

Sadly, in the modern world – this world that appears to thrive on hyper-sexuality [almost everything is sexualised, here!] sex is something that is seen as easy and cheap. This is because sex sells. In line with the norms of consumerist culture (which also promotes other spiritual malpractices and ills, including arrogance, gluttony, and deceit), the sacred practice is commodified. Individuals’ sexualities are presented as products that can be purchased. People consume sexual content without restraint. But, and as we as Muslims know, although such things may bring an immediate sense of pleasure – a momentary explosion of pleasure-giving neuro-chemicals – there tend to arise, from these activities, a number of personal and societal ills, in the long run. And we are not meant to be slaves to our base instincts and desires: the guidelines presented to us in the forms of Qur’an and Hadith are for the physical and spiritual good of ourselves, and for the good of the people around us – for those we have moral responsibilities towards.

I would highly recommend the following podcast episode (both Part One, and Part Two) for a better grasp on the issues of the highly sexual, ‘porn-ified’, culture around us: Deenspiration [on Spotify] -> Episode 11

And, for a better understanding on Islamic takes on sexuality and erotology, check out the following podcast episode: Coffee with Karim [on Spotify] -> Episode 16

These are conversations that we need to start normalising, within Muslim circles. We need to be able to communicate, in a healthy manner, about marital rights and responsibilities; porn and the prevalent detrimental culture of unrestrained glances and sexuality; sexual dysfunction; sexual health; sexual abuse. If we brush all these pressing issues under a rug, they will not simply and effortlessly disappear. Rather, they will remain there, and they will grow in severity, until we are forced to address them.

Sexual repression is not a healthy practice. Neither is the general phenomenon of hyper-sexuality, which often manifests as a result of extreme stress. Balance, balance, balance. Islam encourages such things as early marriage; voluntary fasting for those who struggle with hyper-sexual tendencies; the beautification of the marital experience. But nowhere in the native Islamic tradition does it tell us to refuse to talk about sex altogether. We are simply told that sex is a beautiful and sacred and highly pleasurable gift, designed to be participated in within the blessed companionship that Nikkah – marriage – ought to offer to the individual.

 

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Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

One day, They say

One day, they say,

A man will sweep me off my feet,

And catch me in his loving arms, just milliseconds before

I hit the ground.

He will tell me that I am beautiful, and that there is no other girl like me-

No better woman to devote himself to,

 

No better prey to feast on.

 

One day, they say,

A man will save me.

He will swoop down from the heavens, in a tuxedo, no less,

His perfect hair complementing his perfect face,

He will swoop down and rescue me.

With muscular arms,

He will extricate me from the dirt of this life,

This ditch that I seem to have dug for myself,

And then he will ask me to marry him.

 

One day, they say,

I will lead a perfect life as a trophy wife,

Raising children on a diet of love and picket fences,

While the demons are kept at bay

By my brave, brave soldier.

He will take the broken glass of my soul,

And embrace me so tightly that somehow

The pieces will all come back together.

 

Sometimes I wonder if he will realise that broken glass, even when fixed, is still

Broken glass.

 

The abyss will be filled with red roses and

Teddy bears, stuffed to the gills with love,

Expensive meals at restaurants, spontaneous adventures,

Cute couple pictures, movies and laughter,

Piles of unwashed clothes to take care of,

A life of servitude and sadness,

Remnants of what once was and what could have been,

Constant feelings of inadequacy,

Until every silence becomes awkward

And every conversation becomes an argument.

 

Until the diamond ring on your left hand becomes

A noose around your neck,

As you plunge deeper into eternity.

 

You have not grown your love- your life from seed,

Just to let it be stolen by someone who is hungry for it.

You are your own woman,

Not an empty shell that exists to be filled

By some man’s oversized ego.

 

Save yourself.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2017