An Important Email from a Friend

Sometimes someone says something, and I want to frame what they have said, and keep it forever. Copied and pasted below is one of those frame-worthy utterances, (or, writings. Typings, even, to be even more precise). An important excerpt from an email my amiga Tasnim wrote to me (in response to one of my emails, to her).

[Follow her art account on Instagram: @Nimartistry. Her artistic abilities are simply amazing, Allahummabārik!]

“Final time I am going to think outside of the ‘here and now’, Insha Allah.”

When I read this bit of your email, it honestly summed up what I wanted to say regarding everything you’ve written. There is a video I saw on Instagram; you may have seen it already. A Somali Muslim guy, visibly blind, quoted the Qur’an and then said,

“Allah promised me, all I have to do is be patient, and I’ll be granted Jannah. I have to deal with blindness for about 80 years, and then be guaranteed paradise permanently? No problem; this is nothing!”

And seeing him act so nonchalant about being blind just truly diminished any sense of struggle and worry I had in that moment. Alhamdullilah we have all our senses, but we are tested in other ways. However, the principle still applies. Be patient, and you will be granted Jannah. That’s literally all it is! 


So Sadia, try to take one day at a time, with each […] emotion, deal with them as they come. Each test, is just an opportunity to stack them rewards boi. Imagine if life went the way we wanted it to: how could we be tested? How would we deserve any blessings given to us? Our Lord is Just. Whatever pain and worry you feel, you will be recompensed. Never doubt that there is a purpose to every twist and turn, to every calamity, to every stress. (A reminder to myself as well). It is simply an opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and
that is the greatest blessing we could ever receive in this life.”

[I (Sadia, that is) will add, here, that the life of this world is, ultimately, a struggle. An oft arduous journey, up a mountain. Or, on an aeroplane of sorts, to Somewhere. To meeting our Creator, and to our ultimate Homes, Insha Allah. Here, we must not allow ourselves to be deluded. There are no utopias on Earth, you will find, “and what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion?” [Qur’an, (57:20)]]

“When I ride in an airplane [sic], I enjoy looking at how small the world seems from a distance. Yet when you zoom in, what seemed so small and insignificant turns out to be very important and major for most of us. The size of the house, the kind of car, the amount of money, and the lifestyle we want. It is easy to get caught up in the routine of day to day life thinking that it will never end. Each day we wake up, go to work, wait for Friday, and enjoy the weekend. Rinse and repeat. It takes a lot of emotional and spiritual energy to stop, pause, and reflect on what is happening and where we are going. We often escape from the thought of our end. Death is a reality every single living creature will experience. No one’s health, wealth, status, or riches ever saved them from dying and being buried with nothing.” — Fatima Karim

“The root of all diseases of the heart is our love and attachment to this materialistic world. We know this world is temporary, yet we find it so hard to disengage from it. May the Almighty guide our hearts into desiring what is lasting — the Hereafter.” — Mufti Ismail Menk

This is certainly something that I need to remember. That, on the flip-side of this more fleeting existence, I am already ‘dead’, departed from this Dunya. In that atemporal realm, I am either somewhere in Jannah, or I am in Jahannam. My current experience, here, is retrospective knowledge for me, over There: a string of reasons as to why I am wherever it is that I may be.

This life is a test. My life is an individualised ‘test paper’, so to speak. I am being tested in particular ways, and you are being tested in different particular ways. Through, to paraphrase that ‘Meaning of Life’ spoken word poem I am so obsessed with, our wealth, our health, and everything we have been blessed with.

And we will surely be resurrected.

Here, I have Salaah. I have the Qur’an. I have all these added blessings, such as food and warmth, good people, and these constant opportunities to learn, and to grow, and to work on bettering myself. Most else… these are supplementary blessings that I do not necessarily ‘need’ in order to fulfil my purpose, here. I must be duly thankful for all of it, Shakoor.

“Everything other than Allah is vanity” — Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

In your grave, nothing of the vanities of this life will remain. Just you, alone, and your deeds: the stuff of the soul (presently seemingly invisible, intangible. But, soon: the only things that are real, that remain).

And, see, death is absolutely certain, while the things of this life are absolutely not.

So where are you going?” [Qur’an, (81:26)]


Sadia Ahmed J. and Tasnim K. Ali, 2020

Returning

People find, or re-find, Islam in different ways. In fact, from my observations, it would certainly seem as though every ‘born-Muslim’ does undergo a distinct period in their lives during which they are presented with a distinguishable opportunity to ‘come back’ to Islam, and as if for the first time.

The latter half of the year 2019 had very much been this sort of period for me. Returning. Coming home to Deen, and yet, things had felt quite new. I knew things, and yet I was ‘re-learning’. I also learnt about a lot of additional things to do with Islam, courtesy of some great conversations with people; YouTube videos/lectures; working part-time at an Islamic bookshop (hashtag free library, basically). And now, teaching at an Islamic school: Alhamdulillah. What an exceptional bank of resources Allah has blessed me with. Even to have access to the internet: the entire world at our very fingertips [but, do remember that Sheikh Google is not qualified enough to answer all our Deen-related questions. Misleading information on the web is, shock horror, very much a thing!]

It is true: as one of my History students pointed out (in one of our class discussions, during which I try with some exertion to make some rather boring parts of History relevant and engaging, somehow, to these young Muslim girls in East London) converts (or, reverts) do tend to be more enthusiastic and ‘strong’ in their faith than people who had simply been born into religion: i.e. those of us who are merely going through the motions.

“So Miss, Henry VIII had basically been a Munāfiq, but Catholic version, right?”

Okay, sure… yes, [student’s name]. Why, yes he had been.”

We like finding things for ourselves; when our love for things has grown; when we have watched and overseen their growing. We love it when things speak to us personally, somehow. To be instructed to do something is one thing; to be truly passionate about doing that thing – to love it out of personal choice, and through personal effort – is really something else.

Now I am going to go ahead and analogise religion with… marriage. Some marriages are entirely ‘arranged’; in some ‘arranged marriages’, love does not grow. Everything is ‘obligation’; ‘spirituality’ is suppressed. Things are rote, and without genuine feeling, love. On the other extreme end of the spectrum, perhaps, there are intense, passionate ‘love marriages’, in which everything is guided by infatuation and ‘passion’. And sometimes, these are quite short-lived, as the ‘fire’ can quickly result in… burn-out.

In some ‘arranged marriages’, though, over time, and with some individual effort towards nurturing the connection, love can grow. With some effort, with some greater commitment to love – through a lens based on reality – one can return to it, over and over again. Inter-marital conflicts do arise, all the time. But it is about what spouses do afterwards, towards resolution (or, in some cases, towards mere escape). Are these arranged marriages not comparable with people who had been ‘born into’ Islam? Some people stay. Some people’s arranged marriages grow in love: sometimes it takes a mere week; sometimes it takes years. And sometimes, people leave.

‘Love marriages’, then. One must learn not to confuse zealousness with ‘love’. Love, I think, sits in some moderate and ‘good’ place between intense and fiery passion, and mere black-and-white rules and obligation. It is like water. Often quiet, often powerful. Deeply nourishing. And dams and other obstacles can be overcome, Insha Allah. If one is truly committed: things can be made realistic and sustainable. Fine balances between ‘materialism’ and ‘spiritualism’ (with the latter remaining the objective) and between ‘Dunya’ and ‘Deen’.

Marriage is about a mutual ‘officialised’ connection between husband and wife. Religion is about an officialised connection between oneself and one’s Creator. With both types of connection, you will likely experience fluctuations in pure ‘passionate’ feeling. In marriage, one may refer to this as ‘romantic’ emotion. In religion, one may refer to this as ‘Īmān’. To make things sustainable and good, we must learn to be moderate; commit ourselves to the ‘Greater Good’ of things, so to speak. Even when we feel too proud to apologise, or when we feel ‘too tired’ to wake up for Fajr. Put Allah first, and you will ultimately be Successful.

Let love grow; be patient with its growing. Patient when (when, not if) it falls short. It requires nurturing. Often, some of its petals brown and fall, and this is okay. If you tend to it properly, new petals will grow: so long as its roots are sturdy, healthful.

[Also, very often: short-term pain, long-term (True) gain!]

The exact way that Allah had brought me back to Islam, and to conviction: I prefer to reserve the details and the steps of this process for a far smaller audience. But, Subhan Allah. It had all been quite… divine, hadn’t it. My doubts, over a certain period, had been driving me a little crazy. But my Rabb guided me. One thing, and then another. All these signs. Incidents, so perfectly placed. I had prayed and prayed for more than mere ‘faith’: it had been conviction that I had so longed for. And Allah did bless me with it, Alhamdulillah. And may it be preserved within me, Āmeen.

‘The Religious One’. I speak about Islam a lot, I suppose, and thus I seem to have earned the label, from some, of being ‘The Religious One’. For some, I know this is as a result of my being, at once, a Hijabi, and an introvert. Therefore ‘serious’ and/or ‘reserved’, and ‘religious’. Boring, not very amicable, and whatever else… Hmmm… Okay. But ultimately,

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ [Qur’an, (109:6)]

For you, your way of life/religion. And for me, mine.

Admittedly, I used to see certain individuals within my greater extended family (my mother’s grandmother had seven children; each of them had between four to seven children. And then most of them each had two or three children. Big, big extended family. Alhamdulillah) as being really ‘religious’. Based on fairly ‘outside’ factors: because some of them wore Niqab, for example. One of them, I believe, chose to not have a TV in his house, and would sit all his children down to read Qur’an for hours a day, after school. And one of them would let her son do some fun things (like taking horse-riding lessons) but refused to let him watch ‘Horrid Henry’. I found this a little extreme, at the time.

But now, I am able to sympathise with such choices more and more. I am not of the opinion that children should not be allowed to, you know… have childhoods… however it would be wholly untruthful of me to claim that all movies and cartoons and such tend to have a net positive influence on children (or, indeed, on we adults, even) …

‘Peppa Pig’, for example, as many Muslim parents I am acquainted with have pointed out: one of the underlying messages of the show would appear to be that it is ‘okay’ to belittle and humiliate one’s own father, on account of his eating habits and such… [This is just an isolated, ‘basic’ example]

Movies and films and books and every societal ill that has been normalised, over time, through them. We now find ourselves so desensitised to immorality — it is ‘innocent fun’; so heedless and in loss. Throughout history: one group of people having diverted from the True Path, busying theirselves in greed and immorality and delusion. Gaining power, and then having the ability to deeply, insidiously, affect others. And, oh, the ease with which these false realities are then accepted, devoured, as though people are hungry for exactly them.

The mass media, and the education system, are powerful mouthpieces indeed. They fill us with information and with ideas; can truly pollute our hearts, minds, souls, and corrupt our Fitrahs. About whom we are; whom we ought to be; what we ought to desire; what we ought to live for. What a powerful hold these outlets can have, over us!

Money, consumerism, exaggerated conceptualisations of romantic love, idealisations of ‘travelling the world’…

These things are meant to ‘rescue’ us, somehow. But they cannot. These things cannot ‘do’ things for us, neither in nor of nor from themselves. Things can only ‘help’ us, in any way, by the Will and the permission of the Almighty. It is He whom we ought to rely on, and He whom we ask for help.

And we must be careful with what we are consuming – via our eyes and our ears – all of the time. Our very limbs, our organs: they may end up testifying against us, on the Day of Judgement. It is not about what ‘everybody else is doing’. Just because everybody else is indulging in massively inappropriate series shows on Netflix, does not mean we can justify doing the same. We, for our own selves, are responsible. And our moral compasses are either aligned with the whims and desires of the masses of people, or they rely on objective Truth for… truth.

The more I seek, though, the more I do find that Islam really is a way of life that is centred upon the principle of balance. We are meant to demonstrate balance in all things, from how much food we consume, to, even, how much we pray. We are not meant to withdraw from society, or force children to read and read, and relate to the Deen in a way that does not speak personally to them. We are meant to steer clear from excess, and from the states of ingratitude and heedless ness that ‘excess’ tends to foster.

The stories of our lives are made up of choices. This thing, or that. And then there are those varying degrees of evil and goodness, from extremely evil, to Ihsān: goodness, excellence.

And when I write about life and religion, I am mainly trying to process my own views on it all. It is an honour, actually, to be seen as a ‘religious person’ on account of my speaking about and writing about Islamic matters. But religion is about one’s relationship with Allah: an affair of not only the mind, but crucially also of the heart, and of the soul.

I am trying, and that is all we humans can do. Comfortingly, Allah does not expect perfection from us; we will all necessarily make mistakes and fall short, and in our religion, monasticism and excessive asceticism are both forbidden. There is beauty in balance, and the best that we can do is: try. Self-reflect. Change some of our habits. Ask Allah, over and over again, for guidance and for help,

“Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly, even if they are few.”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

and try to be more grateful. I have been thinking more about gratitude, lately. Dunya. Consistently, throughout, albeit in varying configurations of this universal truth: all our glasses are half full, and they are half empty. ‘Common folk’ yearn for the riches of the rich, whilst the rich long for the camaraderie and gaiety of common folk. Young people race to start a family and become ‘settled’ already, while ‘settled’ people wish to be young and single, again. And so on, and so on. If only we could bring ourselves to accept this ‘here’ and this ‘now’, as well as whom and where we happen to be in this moment. Recognise that these forms of idealisation only occur as a result of being far away from [the truths of] things. Dunya is Dunya, all around Dunya — no matter where you look.

This was never meant to be ‘home’ for us, and we can either choose to focus on the good that we do have (every bite of chocolate, every new day that we are permitted to meet, every meeting with a dear friend [remembering, each time, that this may well be the last time you see them. So declare your love for them, and speak the beauty in them, which you see; make it known!] every sip of water, every obstacle that provides an opportunity to return to Allah) or we can instead obsess over what we do not have. And Allah promises in the Qur’an that those of us who choose to be grateful: He will “increase” us. This is a truth I had really come to know this year.

Finally, I know: it can be awfully hard to be a ‘practising Muslim’ these days. Even merely performing the basics of… Salāh, for example, are enough to earn one the label of ‘The Religious One’, with all of its unfavourable connotations.

“I bet he doesn’t even know how to have fun. He’s so religious!”

Hmmm… Maybe your ideas of ‘fun’ involve clubbing and speaking flirtatiously with ten girls/boys at any given time. [Someone I know says that “clubbing is for cavemen”. A valueless virtual merit for anyone who can identify and explain the double entendre in that statement…] And perhaps you are preventing others from fully being themselves, in your presence, through blocky labels of ‘religious’ or ‘fun’ and whatnot. But, fair enough; think what you wish to think:

.لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

Muslim males who, for instance, are ‘waiting for marriage’ are not ‘losers’, in any way. Not at all. It is indeed tragic that the diseased ways of ‘modernity’ can fool us into thinking along these lines. And Muslim females who cover up and practise modesty are not ‘prudes’ or ‘boring’ or ‘unconfident’.

The people I love the most are gorgeous Muslims (and one, a Christian) who are fun, and interesting, and lovely. And they do not, for example, need to get a little ‘tipsy’ or ‘high’ in order to be these very things! Blessed, blessed, blessed (according to a Hadith) are the غريب, the strangers/outlandish people!

“Islam began as a something strange and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers/outlandish ones.”

Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Muslim

An interesting video by the Yaqeen Institute:


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

In Sujood

It is about adaptability.

Though our to-do lists and routines do help us in some ways: they provide for us at least some mental clarity, the alleviation of at least some uncertainties [What to do now? And what to do next?] …

We have come to learn that life is very much about adaptability. There is no rigid manual that tells us what to do in every moment; there are no guarantees about what any coming moment shall bring with it.

There is this rainfall. There are those unexpected happenings; those people you happen to come by, cross paths with, even briefly.

There are each of these days of ours. And yes, though some of our lines are straighter than some of our other ones, there are all of these twists and these turns within our lives that we shall necessarily encounter. Inevitable. You do not get to build your steadfast castles here, and time is made to ceaselessly move on.

What if I told you that the stuff of this first life of ours is essentially cluttered and cumbersome? Things change; get swept away with little gusts of wind. You attempt to simplify, simplify, and all the while: new dilemmas, problems, struggles, are made to arise.

Sand-like, these worldly attempts at permanence, constancy, faultlessness, immortality, power over our own selves. We find we are fundamentally mistaken. And that we must learnt to focus on those things that are a little more substantial (i.e. what our souls are earning,) instead. Bring it all back to Truth, to what we know, at least five times a day: only these things (and one day we will come to know this) are made of materials that are truly fulfilling, for us: that last.

First life, to last. Journey and destination.

I think, at times, I have tried to control things a little too much. ‘Write things down’, make lists, neaten certain things up, plan and idealise. But then: global pandemics happen, sometimes, or I did not manage, for this reason or the other, to catch a good night’s sleep that night, so now this morning is being spent in a hurry… I plan, but I find I do not know much at all. I am only a visitor, here. Temporary, and a traveller.

There are, interspersed throughout our days, little obstacles, as well as little opportunities. Things that sort of stay the same; things that change and change and change. We are not in control, here. Not sufficient in and of and for ourselves. It is Ar-Razzaq who is our Sustainer, our Ultimate Provider.

So how ought we to learn to live, here? We must accept the reality of Dunya: the reality that we already, deep down, know. Glass half full, and half empty. And we must learn to ‘flow’, and move with it all. Pick up the good, know the bad. Seek the Khayr in it all – all of it – somehow. It is always there.

We fall, and we get up. And we make these plans, but they are penned in impermanent inks, through fundamentally unknowing nibs. Erase that, scrap that, try again. Look at the resources we have access to; try to, in a way centred on ‘rugged charm’, make do, carry on. Make it beautiful. We live, experience, we get through. Adaptability, we find, is already a key element of our human constitutions.

Witness the flurries of our days, and sit amid those moments of calm. Meet new situations in life – unforeseeable ones – and adapt to them. Take life as it comes: our plans and such are only rough outlines. Drawings in sand – somewhat useful – as opposed to carvings in stone.

What is Dunya, but dirt — first within our skin, and then beneath our feet. And then we are buried in it; we stay there for a while.

While we have the ability to, we must return to Allah, over and over again: however many tries it takes to really feel like we are there. Make all these choices; choose to walk this way, or that. Here, we are campers. Our main concerns ought to be survival: ‘enough’, materially, and as much as we can, spiritually. Look up at the sky for reminders; remember Time, from time to time, and we come to locate Earthly peace and home, right here,

in Sujood.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Rugged Charm

This blog article is based on some important conversations that I have had this week.

I find I am quite mentally exhausted after a very full week, so please do excuse the possibly rather shoddy writing quality of this one!


Dear friend,

Most are known to spend

their evenings in search, searching,

For some other life.

Sometimes, it seems, the more we come to think about, or are made to think about, the overarching reality (and its manifestations, the ancillary realities) of these worldly existences of ours… the more we seek to escape from them. Act. Deny certain things; plunge ourselves into certain other things, instead.

And then, we may start comparing ourselves and what we are doing – and, thus, what we are ‘being’ – to what others may be doing; how they may be living; feel the weight of ‘societal pressures’ atop our shoulders. Our peers. Some of them seem like they are so very ‘put together’. Like they could not possibly be struggling in the same ways as we find we are.

But if anything, this pandemic period in particular has exposed to us the essential sharedness of human truth[s]. That it does not matter if you live in the suburbs of London, or in a quaint little seaside town in Kent:

The truth is, to be human, upon this planet, is to suffer. The essence of humanity is essentially the same between one man and the next. But these essences may be expressed in varying ways. We each have eyes, for example, as well as these large organs that we refer to as our skins. Same things, between us, but in varying ways (hazels, gingers, blues, ‘peachy browns’ [this is what my brother, when he had been a baby, enthusiastically used to say his own skin colour was. To this day, we have no idea where he had picked this description up from]).

To be human is to feel fundamentally incomplete. To suffer, and to feel bored, and to experience moments of happiness, and heart aches and sadnesses. To be susceptible to disease — physical, and mind-related. It is also: to look for warmth, and for nourishment, in mind, body, and soul. And to search for eyes that…understand.

Furthermore, you know where our true homes are? They await us, Insha Allah, in a place that has been designed with our innermost desires and longings in mind. The destination: its fullness, its finality. Finally, after however many years of sustained dynamism, struggle, fragmentation: there shall be stillness, a destination where complete goodness lasts.

Nobody here feels complete. Nobody here feels completely settled, at home, either. It is simply, absolutely, not in our natures to warm to the totality of this Dunya so much.

We each walk atop rugged paths, try to muse at all the little flowers, which are interspersed along the way, and which sprout from between some of these cracks in the mud; we can call it… rugged charm.

We try, somehow, to account for, for example, how Van Gogh’s starry skies were the products of his very humanness: an expression of hope from somewhere within the depths of his depression. Try to paint things like these into alternative truths, use alternative lenses to look at what is there; ones we find satisfactorily cheerful, for us: we viewers. We let the difficult-to-accept things fester, as untouched as possible, beneath polished shells. Admire picture frames and works of art. Touch the surfaces, the canvases, and satisfy ourselves with illusions of, yes, this is all there is.

Most of us lie, or succumb frictionlessly to lies. Lies are often more convenient, can be more effective, easier than truths. And, whether in these ways or in those ones, all of us are suffering.

To be human, human, human. To allow ourselves to be. Breathe. What a concept.

Reality can be difficult to accept. This much, I know, is true. And Islam tells us, and reminds us, of the truths of this transitory experience. People drowning themselves in vanities and amusements; decorating outer shells; competing with, and boasting to, one another. Subtly, strongly, fairly obsessively. And, competing with regard to the collection of wealth and possessions; competing with others through their children, too.

We were created in struggle. This world is but an arena: an abode of trials.

وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ.

The final, ultimate, lasting life is better for us than this first (present) one.

Your life, without a doubt, dear reader, is a bundle of difficult things (personalised trials) which are complemented by some nicer ones. There are the things that scare you, disappoint you, bring about ache in your heart. And there are the things that soothe you, and hold you, bring you small springs of joy, delight, and comfort.

It is cold outside. But rather than pretending it is not, I suppose we must learn how to dress most appropriately for the weather.

The state of naïveté is known to bring about all of these ‘expectations’, conceptualisations of some sorts of (actually, currently impossible) worldly utopias. But our ‘futures’, when we arrive at them: when time renders them real, for us… they do not necessarily ‘rescue’ us. And neither does anything else ‘worldly’, for that matter…

This life: this one. What is it? I promise you. It was only ever meant to be a journey [back to] home. We are not meant to feel entirely settled, at ease, here. And it is quite impossible to do so, anyway.

The only legitimate, substantial, and lasting means of being ‘rescued’ from the essence of this life (that is, ongoing struggle, and peppered with some elements of ease) is through – you guessed it – death. Acceptance, finding a way to live, while being centred upon reality. And then, we pass on.

Do you feel quite lonely, sometimes? I think the world, right now, is pretty much collectively experiencing a crisis of most things good. Crises of family structures, and of true friendship [arguably, this is a key reason as to why the psychological counselling/talk therapy profession is proliferating in both demand and supply, these days]. And of nutrition, and of faith, and of mental health. And all these crises are inextricably linked to one another, let’s face it.

You are not a factory machine or a computer or a robot, and nor should you be sanded down, your mentality rendered antithetical to the callings, the sayings, the deep-down knowings, of your own soul.

The ways of the ‘modern world’ are centred on such a travesty of… call it, spirituality, and of the things we, truthfully, know to associate with Khayr, goodness.

I know it is often quite hard. And it is quite scary too. You may feel so alone here, and quite alone in thinking along those very lines that you often do. But, no: alone is something that you certainly are not.

So many – the majority, I would say – of human beings living under the Western, liberal, capitalist model are fundamentally in conflict with their own selves. Intrapsychic, or soul-based, conflicts: arguably (according to Ustadh Freud) the very basis of all neuroses.

Doing what you are ‘meant’ to. But… why are you ‘meant’ to?

I guess it must have had all begun with the dawn of popular secularism. An ‘Enlightenment’ period whose premises had been, a) a rejection of God, and b) ensuing cancerous obsessions with growth and gains, for the sake of growth and gains, for the sake of growth, ‘progress’, and… Essentially, much of the world had been left with all these humans with nothing, actually, to live for. And they had all this time on their hands. So: at the crux of all everything, human beings had been left with two real options. Suicide, or creating and religiously adhering to pseudo-truths, cyclical reasoning, false gods to worship. The ‘worshipping’ impulse is, without a doubt, one that is ingrained in our natures.

Leaking buckets.

The capitalist model very much exploits these inclinations. Beliefs on which to stand. That the value of a human being depends on its economic activity; ‘productivity’; how efficient it can be in producing things. Things that are visible and palpable, most usually, somehow. False gods: worshipping materialism. An alternative way to organise one’s time. Associated values: competition, with regard to the fundamentals of the capitalist faith, with one’s peers, in particular. Fuelled, sinisterly, effectively, by these ballooning virtual worlds. The projections of shells; the denying of, or determined reconstructions of, truths.

That is what we are: in denial. Of Truth, of truths, of the truths of ourselves. We accept what we are presented with. That here are some notions of how to exist in the ‘right’ way, here. And if you fail to meet these ridiculous, immoderate, conducive-of-societal-disease expectations, then it is you who is wrong.

Are these societies (urban, hyper-‘productive’, solipsistic, and all the rest of it) not… characterised by neurosis?! We look at people who ‘procrastinate’; who become sick under these sickly models. And we are meant to say that it is they who are defective, ‘wrong’. But no. They are neither: they simply do not, from their cores, blindly subscribe to whatever pseudo-god of capitalism and industry that they have incessantly been propagandised to believe in, worship, devote their existences to. Idols: things that people may worship, but, see, these things have no capacities for seeing, listening, or knowing. These abstract models cannot save you.

Some people spend the entireties of their lives in submission before idols – both physical and abstract ones, imagined. In the end, these things only take and take from you and your time, and they cannot give you anything Khayr in return.

How do other people live? Many people root their lives, almost without question, in the capitalistic model. The meanings of their lives are in pursuit of their career aspirations, and their careers are, whether they will actively admit this or not, what give their lives ‘meaning’, for them. They attach their worth as human beings, fundamentally, to the work that they are able to carry out, and how much of it.

Let’s face it, these ideas, we are very much inculcated with within the state education system. After all, why on Earth wouldn’t we be? These are difficult things to unlearn: they really are.

In your life, dear reader, what is the centrepiece? For some, everything comes back to their professional occupations and such, or to ‘impressing’ others. For others, everything comes back to Divinity, and to submission to God, rather than to abstract gods. Both of these streams of ‘religion’ entail their observers and adherents seeking a sense of self, and self-worth, and meaning, and purpose, a feeling that their time is being spent most fruitfully, through Whom or what they worship. Both streams necessitate some sense of conviction, and belief, in addition to much trust.

You are walking a certain way, towards something. And you will find that some people are walking in the same direction as you. Parallel journeys; arms linked, perhaps.

We need to surround ourselves with good company. Like the young People of the Cave did. They found brotherhood in one another, and shelter away from the heavy toxicities that had been prevalent within their society at that time. We need to re-educate ourselves; with Haqq in mind, as opposed to the invented truths of the current model, which, perhaps, holds the mighty and abstract ‘Economy’ as being the most sacred thing, more sacred than the holism of the human being, more sacred than religion: than submitting to God.

And, yes, it will likely take a whole lot of bravery. Nobody wants to feel like an ‘outcast’, ‘different’ in some strange, alien way. Outsider. And, yet, is this not what, for example, Ibrahim (AS) had to face? A sense of being exiled: because the people of his society, including his own father, were so busy with, so utterly deluded by and caught up in, idol worship. But to them, he had been the deluded one, the madman.

Ibrahim (AS)’s life story, I find very interesting indeed. He had grown up within a family, and a wider society, of idol-worshippers. But, from a very young age, he had been full of questions — ‘philosophical’ ones; would challenge his father, family, his people, and even the Emperor (Nimrood) on their beliefs. A man – a prophet – of sharp wits, and of deep faith and bravery. [Notably, also, Ibrahim (AS) had asked for signs from Allah, so as to strengthen his faith. ‘Asking for signs’ is permissible, in Islam, and Allah (SWT) will respond to you, in phenomenal ways, so long as you are deeply sincere, humble, and patient; so long as you do not speak from a place of arrogance and/or in a manner that shows hastiness.]

These widespread ‘modern’ ideas, after all this time, after all these mass media- and education system-emanating reinforcements: they do necessarily find themselves quite deeply ingrained in our psyches, by now. Produce, and produce. And work, for the sake of work, (for the sake of…) work and be worried about work, in immoderation. For what? Though, like all things when indulged in in immoderation, work becomes unhealthy, bad for us, when not delicately balanced with all of the other things that our souls need: this widespread ideology manages to convince us that if the purpose, meaning, the very crux of your life is not devoted to occupational and economic production, you must be lazy, unaccomplished, and you are fundamentally ‘wrong’.

Is it not scary how, nowadays, we seem to have internalised the idea that if you are not always at least a little ‘stressed out’, that you are not doing things correctly, somehow? The absurd things, that in this world, under these notions of capitalism and modernity, have been normalised! The ‘Protestant Work Ethic’, but on steroids…

The Muslim model, in contrast, in retaliation, then. The value of you is already there. As a fundamental fact of your existence. You require and deserve good, nourishing food. And good, nourishing social relationships. Opportunities to connect with your Creator. The natural world: for healing, too. And whatever work we engage in: it is to benefit our own souls, and other people, and our own lives. We are to work (and eat, and sleep, and even pray) in moderation.

So, at present, what unrealistic expectations do you find yourself holding yourself to? What are the downsides to those lifestyles that you may find yourself working, obsessively, within and towards?

Who, in the world, has got this life thing quite ‘right’?

The ones whose lives are centred, in a stable and steadfast manner, upon Truth, of course. Who are firm; who are able to accept that some people will necessarily think differently, think you are the one consumed within falsehoods. One must have enough Yaqeen (conviction) and enough trust to say goodbye to some things, and to be okay with it.

Oh, and also: we must, somehow, come to fully be at peace with the fact – yes, the fact – that every single individual that exists will have some who likes, approves of, loves, even, him or her. For exactly who they are. And we will each also have at least a handful of people who disapprove. May even dislike us; hate our ways of seeing things, our ways of being. This is okay. Just as you have a right to have your opinions of others, so too do they have a right to make personal judgements of you. Take what is good (Khayr) and balanced. From your beloved friends and from your ardent supporters, and from your critics, too. Disapprovals from others need not result in personal crises, within ourselves, not at all. See, there are usually always at least two ways of looking at things – at elements of different personalities, etc. You are fine, and you bring such beauty to the world, you do.

Some people, you will connect with. Organically, quietly-powerfully, almost effortlessly. And some other people… not so much. And this is okay. There are so many complexities, when it comes to human interactions and relationships, that we must consider. Individual circumstances, daily happenings. And simple incompatibilities, for this reason, or the other. And this need not be a reason to feel stressed or disheartened. These are only well-known and unalterable facts of life.

Here, you will walk. Sometimes solitarily, sometimes with people who are walking the same way as you are. But even when the beings you love feel so very far away, you are never alone. The forces of the soul: these are more powerful, more fascinating, more enduring, than even gravity, you know. Sometimes, undoubtedly, you will slip up and fall. Trip up, find some parts difficult to climb, to overcome. But you will not be alone, and you are also strong – and well-equipped – enough to get through this.

Here, there will be rainy days spent indoors. There will be cups of tea and intoxicated-with-laughter moments galore. Chills and surprises, comfortingly charming little things.

As for our day-to-day, moment-to-moment, experiential realities, a wise friend of mine once (i.e., earlier today) said:

“There is no ‘right’ way to live. All we can do is make the most of what we have in the moment, do what seems the most natural in that moment, and continue to live”.

I know the past is important. And so, too is the future. One has shaped you; has been your reality. The other is an unknown that you are forever walking into. Both are, at least somewhat, significant. But to behave in real terms: we must behave as though this moment is all there is. This is (temporal) truth, for us, right now. Look around: this is your life.

And how much comfort and joy I find in the fact that, Subhan Allah, I am not alone. My ‘people’ are here, though they may not always be most physically proximate. Gorgeous beings with whom to have interesting, wisdom-seeking conversations; who, by simple virtue of their beautiful characters, remind me of Haqq. And to fantasise about Korean chicken with. To share the intricacies of these days of ours with: the goodness, the difficulties, awkwardnesses, and all the rest of it. And to pray beside. [After all, friends who pray together, stay together.] We find we are walking the same way.

When your feet become blistered, and when walking starts to hurt,

Remember, remember, the graceful tenacity of the birds:

How they swoop and loop and fly their own flights, one beside the other,

Find a fellow bird, or two, flying the same way as you are; call this man your brother.

And in a moment – however long this may take – or two,

The aureate sun, morning light, will surely break through.

Welcome to Dunya. Abandon hope[fully] all ye who enter here. This first world of ours is difficult; it is not [ever] without its frictions. But, comfortingly, in this Dunya at least, to be without frictions — to be completely ‘polished’ and ‘smooth’ — is also to be quite… character-less. Bored, and boring. On these journeys of ours, we have quite come to love the things of ‘rugged charm’, have we not?

.إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

With difficulty, there is also ease. And so may we relax, dear reader, and may we lean into what is True.

(Oh, and know that nobody — nobody at all — makes it out of this place alive...)

“My prayer, my sacrifices, my living and dying are all for the Lord of the universe”

— Surah An’am, Holy Qur’an

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 

Notes on the Qur’an: Surah Fatihah

 

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. 

The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 

Owner of the Day of Judgement.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help. 

Guide us to the straight path, 

The way of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, 

Not the way of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray. 

Ameen.

 

Surah Fatihah. ‘The Opening’ Surah. Root letters: Fa, Ta, Ha. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, these root letters are conjugated to indicate decision-making, too. Another word that stems from them is the Arabic word for ‘key’ — Miftaah.

The word ‘Allah’ has been retained throughout the translation, since there is no corresponding word in English. The word ‘Allah’ has neither feminine linguistic form, nor plural. It has never been used to refer to anything but the unimaginable Supreme Being. The word ‘Ilah’, however, means ‘God’ in the general sense of the word. 

This Surah is otherwise known as Umm-a-tul-Qur’an, the Mother of the Qur’an. It aptly summarises the Holy Book’s essence.

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

Now, we must remember that point about how all translations of the Qur’an happen to be, by nature, reductive. As aforementioned, the Arabic language – and, more so, Fus’ha Arabic – is an unbelievably rich and vast one. The words that have been selected, from English, to represent what the Arabic says are only the best possible options.

The word that has been translated into “Praise”, here, for example – Hamd – is actually quite an encompassing word. It encompasses the meanings of “praise”, “thanks” ⁠— all praise, and all thanks.

Second, ‘Lord’ of the Worlds: the word used is ‘Rabb’. This is another ‘encompassing word’. Lord, Sustainer, Maker, Cherisher, the Most Supreme Being, all wrapped up into one concise word. Rabb. 

Lord of the Worlds, of the ”Aalameen’. Root letters: ‘Ayn, Laam, Meem. These can be conjugated to mean things to do with knowledge, and things to do with different worlds. Essentially, Allah (SWT) is the Lord of all knowledge, all that we can gain via experience, all that can possibly be known; all that exists.

Owner of the Day of Judgement

The word ‘Malik’ is used for ‘owner’. This means owner, as well as one who has power over something. Sovereignty.

The Day of Judgement: ‘Yawm-ul-Qiyamah’. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Yawm’ does not necessarily refer to a ‘day’ as we know it here on Earth, i.e. consisting of twenty-four hours. It refers to a given period of time, a stage. For example, the Universe had not been created in seven days per se, but in seven differing stages.

We need to remember that we will die, and that we will be resurrected. There will come a day on which our deeds – good and bad, and their degrees – will be measured and presented before us. We will exit from temporality, and we will enter into eternity.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help.

As Muslims, we should worship God, and God alone. We should not worship Jesus, as the Christians do. We should not worship our own desires, either. And nor should we worship any of these false Gods that modernity has given birth to, after the rise of Existentialism.

It is Allah – our Rabb – whom we ought to ask for help. He is the ultimate provider, and the sustainer. We always need Him, even if we think we do not.

Guide us to the straight path

Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem: the straight path, variously translated as being the path of middles. [If anybody knows what the root letters of ‘Mustaqeem’ are, please do let me know…]

All life is a thing of acquisitions. We choose things; we acquire good, and/or evil, and thereby choose our paths. There is Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem, on which we are bestowed with Divine grace, if we walk upon it. And there is the path of the astray, the ones who have earned God’s anger. The Christians, for example, went astray after redirecting their worship from God to one of His Prophets. The Jews earned Allah’s anger by altering His words to befit their own desires.

 

So, this is the opening Surah of the Qur’an. One down, 113 to go. This Surah summarises the essence of the Book. It encapsulates themes such as our belief in and reliance on God, and God alone. It tells us about life, and how we choose the path(s) we walk upon. And, ultimately, we shall be judged. There will come a ‘Yawm’ of judgement, of Divine decisions.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Notes on the Qur’an: Introduction

The year is 2020. Quarantine year. It has already been over a month since we bid farewell to Ramadan. This year, Alhamdulillah, I essentially re-embraced Islam. It took a lot to get here – to this state of Yaqeen (conviction). Much exploration, many helpful conversations and realisations.

This blog series of mine will document my attempts at developing a far stronger bond with the Qur’an, first and foremost. I mean, I am trying to learn Arabic [fun fact: you know how vast and complex the English language and its vocabulary are? Well, Arabic is more complex and contains at least 20 times the number of words that English does! Over 12 million words, in comparison to English’s approx. 600,000…] and I do believe – well, it is known – that fluency in this beautiful language allows for a better connection with our Holy Book. I do hope to become fluent in it one day, Insha Allah (God-willing) and to then acquire a good grasp on classical (Fus’ha) Arabic – the language of the Qur’an.

Perhaps I will write and publish a ‘revised edition’ of this article sometime in the future, once I have (again, Insha Allah) actually mastered the Qur’anic language. For now, however, this series will comprise some of my notes on the Pickthall explanatory translation of the Qur’an. I will include some random facts and some of my thoughts. And I would greatly appreciate it if you shared your own thoughts, questions, and other additions, too [you can leave a comment below, or you can email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com].

The Qur’an is a fascinating book. Of course it is. Even many secular scholars – linguists and the like – find themselves utterly enthralled by it. Its words are undeniably symphonic and rich with meaning. It is a book of guidance for humanity, and so, naturally, it contains information on things like social rights and responsibilities; matters of Law and of Philosophy; economic and political guidance, and more.  Linguistically, terms and idioms from other languages – like Ethiopian, Syrian, Assyrian, and Persian – are also employed in the Qur’an.

For more about the Qur’an – about the questions it presents, historical information, structural methods, contextual points, and more – do check out this wonderful (highly recommended) book, made available for free by the iERA [the Islamic Education and Research Academy]: https://iera.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/iERA-The-Eternal-Challenge-Shop-EBook.pdf

The articles in this ‘Notes on the Qur’an’ series will mostly be in bullet-pointed form. I will include, for the articles on individual Surahs (and there are 114 of them!) a link to some live recitation, as well as an English translation [and do bear in mind that English translations are markedly ‘less than’ the essence that can only be conveyed through Arabic – the language it has originally been authored in], followed by some of my own notes, thoughts and findings.

Bueno. Let us begin, then.

Muhammad (SAW)’s Early Life / More Background Info 

  • Muhammad (SAW), son of Abdullah, son of Abdul Muttalib, had been born to the tribe of Quraysh, in Makkah. His father had died before he was born; he was looked after first by his foster mother, Halima tus-Sadia, and, after the death of his mother Āminah (when he was six years old) he had been looked after first by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib, and then (after his grandfather’s death) by his uncle, Abu Tālib.

 

  • The Makkans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael (indeed, Arabs today are known as ‘Ishmaelites’, while Jews are known as being ‘Israelites’). The Ka’bah had been built by Abraham for the direction of worship towards One God – a God unimaginable and not wholly intelligible to we mortal and fallible beings, what with our limited frames of reference and capacities for understanding.

 

  • During Abraham and Muhammad (SAW)’s times, respectively and alike, many people had been given to worshipping idols. Indeed, Abraham had used his capacities for reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that his father and those around him had been wrong to direct their worship towards inanimate beings. He left his father’s house, and decided to abandon the culture that he had been born into.

Aristotle had been correct in saying that the thing that separates humankind from other animals is our ability to reason. Our capacities to use logic, to arrive at various conclusions and decisions. Abraham had used his personal reasoning faculties – those abstract processes that we collectively refer to as the ‘mind’ – to arrive at the conclusion of monotheism, even in spite of the fact that everyone around him had been given to other practices. 

Once, when there was nobody inside the community’s temple, Abraham crept inside, and used an axe to destroy the idols there. He demolished all but one of them – the biggest one. He left his axe hanging around this remaining statue’s neck.

When the people had returned to the temple, they expressed shock and anger, demanding to know who had done this to their ‘Gods’. Abraham wittily told them to ask their ‘God’ over there – the one with the axe around his neck. They responded to this by arguing that doing so would be absurd: the idol cannot speak, cannot hear, cannot defend itself. So Abraham questioned them: why do you worship it, then? 

Abraham’s claims made sense to them. There is One God, [and it is not in the (current) nature of the finite to comprehend He who is Infinite] and He is the Source and the Cause, and the only one who is worthy of worship. Even though this message of Oneness (Tawhid – Pure Monotheism) had appealed to the God-given hearts and minds of these people, they had refused to embrace the message, as a result of pride, and because idol-worship had been the practice of their forefathers. So they became the rejectors – Kuffar [linguistically, ‘Kāfir’ comes from the linguistic root meaning, ‘to cover up’. To know the truth in one’s heart, but yet rejecting it, not rushing to embrace it, refusing to activate it, as a result of things like pride and pride in antithetical traditions].

The opposite of a ‘Kāfir’ is a ‘Munāfiq’ – a hypocrite. One who, by flipped contrast, does not accept Islam in his own mind and heart, yet outwardly claims to be a Muslim.

  • Modern idol worship: We are told to worship none but Allah (SWT) – the giver and the sustainer of life. To worship something or someone is to devote one’s life to it; to think about it often, to make decisions in light of it, and to commit physical acts of servitude towards it. In modern times, it is not very common to worship idols in the sense of their being shiny or clay statues with anthropomorphic features. Rather, the idol worship of today tends to take a more abstract form: people worship (the interrelated) notions of capitalism, materialism, individualism, and more. Terrifying, and terrifyingly normalised.

You know what? Nowadays, much like how Abraham had been ostracised for his beliefs, we tend to see those who actually, devotedly, adhere to Pure Monotheism (Islam) as being ‘strange’, or ‘uncool’, or ‘no fun’. But look around: everyone is worshipping something. Some worship materialistic delusions; some worship their own reputations; some worship women; some worship capitalist structures; all these abstract ideas, these ghostly idols. These things that, rather like the idols that Abraham himself could destroy with an axe, cannot really love you back in the same way. They either have no power to, or it is not in their interest to.

Would you not rather devote yourself to the Creator of the Universe?

It is not irrational to do so – (even if the rest of the entire world manages to convince you that it is): it is quite the opposite, actually.

  • Muhammad (SAW) had received revelations over a period of twenty-three years. It is important to note that, for the first thirteen of these years, the Muslims had found themselves under much persecution and humiliation, and facing ostensible failure, coupled with unfulfilled prophecies. These had been the ‘Makkan’ years. The following ten years had been remarkably different to the pre-Hijrah period. These years had been marked by a number of consecutive (and miraculous-seeming) successes. Ultimately, this one man – a shepherd, who had been offered riches and even royalty on the condition that he ceased from his preaching – managed to alter the very fabric of pre-Islamic Arabia:

In the latter ten years, Muhammad (SAW) had turned Arabia from being a society centred on idol-worship, misogyny (where baby daughters had been buried alive, and where women had the social and legal statuses of mere chattels), drunkenness, ignorance, rampant vanity, senseless violence and other immoralities, into one where men loved God, sincerity, honesty, and knowledge.

Rather interestingly, the Surahs that had been revealed in Makkah are the ones that focus on the human soul. On the command to prostrate to God, and to God alone. Pre-Hijrah, Muhammad (SAW) had been a preacher only. By a series of fortunate twists, however, he ended up becoming the ruler of a state, which then later grew to become the empire of Arabia.

The Surahs that had been revealed in Madinah contain a different nature of guidance, for the most part: they give guidance not only to the individual human soul, but to a growing social and political community, and to the Prophet as lawgiver, reformer, and an example for mankind to follow.

I really do believe that it is important to focus on the individual soul, one’s personal relationship with God, before concerning ourselves too much with the community aspect of things, though both are certainly important.

  • (Human) Reason, and Revelation are the two lights of guidance that we have been granted. We must use them wisely.

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Simplification

Simplification. A very good way in which to come to do things. Focusing on that which is elemental; that which forms, for you, a solid and life-giving core. The things that will actually come to bear fruits as a result of your focusing on, and tending to, them, in place of all else. All else, you see, is sort of additional, peripheral. Sometimes, it is true: bridges do rot; sometimes they burn. Sometimes you finding yourself standing at the -bank on one side of a river, wasting your time wishing for some concrete structure to just materialise. You need, need, need, to get to the other side

There are billions upon billions of ways in which to walk upon this Earth: you are the living embodiment of one of them. Entire world, contained in mind, and part of a much bigger one… and, yet, you exist also as a mind-boggling and complete one, in and of yourself. Your eyes, you see: they observe, scan over words, and seek

to carry out excavations into the hearts of your fellow people. Roughly eighty-six billion neurons work almost ceaselessly, in order to process it all, for you. Colour is created, and the rest of the world falls silent, unimportant. Your world is populated by all these (sometimes latent) faculties that are (quite magnificently) already within you.

Boundless, yet, bound

by matters of time and gravity. Awesome and unspeakably complex, and, yet,

it is quite awfully simple sometimes. Your eyes just know

to dilate, to make space, for those whom your heart has, at long last, chosen to love. And, where on Earth do words go,

During chai and conversational to-and-fro,

With soul first, and where mind follows,

the wholeness of your body in tow. 

It is simple, really. Simple, yet profound. The wonders of the human body; of the remarkable ability that your mind has, through which to think things; lightning, thunder, and all the rest of it. I say, we ought to simplify. I mean,

How else do we come to truly appreciate things; to direct our entire selves towards our own lives, worlds, and towards that which we know ourselves to love? May God come first, for us; to walk towards knowing Him is to surely walk towards a sense of self-unification that is necessary for peace, and for

profundity,

With Truth first, and where goodness follows,

the wholeness of beauty necessarily comes in tow. 

It may take sixty days to get there; it may even take a hundred. And that is okay. After all, our journeys here are towards Death, and all that shall come after it; in comparison to this, other aspirations fall a little short. The world sighs; castles made of sand come crashing down.

I think this particular verse from the Qur’an summarises it quite well:

“Do not worship [any] except Allah, 

And to parents do good,

and to relatives, orphans,

and the needy. 

And speak to people good words [ i.e. kindly]

And establish prayer 

And give alms.” 

– Holy Qur’an, (2:83)

That first line, then. Nothing, nobody else in this entire Universe deserves to be worshipped, other than God Almighty.

To worship a thing is to place the thing at the core, the centre, of one’s existence. To build one’s days around it; to think about it often. You find that you are willing to sacrifice much for the things that you…worship. And this is scary, because, today, the unfortunate practice of idol-worship might take a number of (different) subtle but equally insidious forms; the things that threaten to take the place in my heart that should belong to my Creator instead. I could do without them for sixty days, you know. Maybe even a hundred.

This world – what is superimposed upon it, by the…Godless (God-heedless) masses…it is one built on deception and distraction. And the evidence for this is everywhere; it is frankly quite unmissable, if you open your eyes a little. And what the Qur’an says on these matters are the supreme testament to Truth. So what are we doing? [and, where are we going?] Do we seek what is true in that which we know already to be so (intrinsically) very false?

Let it be known, to myself, first and foremost, that no connection – not even a billion and one of them, in cooperation – could ever make up for a frayed relationship between oneself and God, and, most secondarily, nor can these things ever compensate for a poor connection between you and yourself. Distraction will not help, here — not for long, and not really, anyway.

Blessed be the strangers, however, who take religion from God Himself, and not from people seeking Him in Godless things. These are the ones who actually worship God, and they worship Him alone.

Do good to parents — and to relatives — and to orphans — and to the needy (to anybody who may need your help), the Qur’an says.

And speak kindly to people; speak to them words of goodness.

And establish prayer – five daily ones. For, verily, they form the spiritual lifeblood of any day; they are sometimes a necessary respite from the way in which this world has a tendency to spin.

Give Zakah – alms, that is. Purify your wealth, and forget not that any material considerations ought to come only second from, and rather long after, the spiritual ones. Without Meaning, you see, all these things are all utterly meaningless.

I love this Ayah so. While it does not cover everything in and of itself, it is, I think, a very good summary of what our Islamic principles are based on. Tawhīd (pure monotheism) and worship. Social rights and responsibilities; the importance of family, and of community. Justice, gratitude, helping others. Routine and remembrance. Quite simple, yet

Unbelievably profound.

Subhan Allah.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Jealousy

Jealousy, envy, covetousness. Feeling (perhaps fiercely) protective over one’s own possessions, or, indeed, over one’s perceived possessions – such as social statuses and particular positive characteristics that are heightened, relatively, when compared to those of others. Or, resentfully yearning for the things – or the particular hues and degrees of these things – that others may have. Beauty, wealth, intelligence, material achievements, personality, attention from a particular individual, perceived likability. These are all things one can feel rather jealously protective of in oneself, and/or covetous for, in our perceptions of others. 

Almost indubitably, we have all come under the Green-Eyed Monster’s cunning clutch at some point in our lives, becoming either a tad obsessively territorial (maybe following the birth of a new baby sibling, whose newness, whose effortlessly adorable countenance threatened to steal away the parental doting that we had previously held a monopoly over), or feeling rather helplessly inadequate, perhaps when witnessing a crush seemingly flirtatiously conversing with (gasp!) somebody who isn’t you! 

Insecurity – that is the word (especially when it comes immoderate levels of jealousy/envy) here. And protectiveness – that is the other word. Feelings of jealousy and/or envy are not, in and of themselves, the worst things in the world. They are actually rather ‘natural’, instinctive, a fairly universal human emotional phenomenon. And, as a matter of fact, such feelings can actually prove fairly useful at times: a jealous protectiveness over one’s academic status at school, for example, can really motivate an individual to work very industriously indeed. Envy can also inspire a little, can motivate people to realise their desires to be better in various ways.

In Islam, for instance, men are indeed encouraged to have Gheerah – a kind of protective jealousy – over their womenfolk. This is not to say that they should be oppressive nor abusive in any way. The term encompasses a sense of earnest care and concern, combined with a certain degree of protective zeal. We should want to protect the things we have rights over and/or responsibilities towards. We should also take inspiration from people who have the things we ourselves wish to have: a good work ethic, a certain professional position…

But these things can, and often do, quickly slip into such uglinesses. Men, for example, can become quite abusive and obsessive under the guise of Gheerah. People can work themselves up into ongoing furies as a result of envy and envy-related ruminations. Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. It can be a rather suffocating ordeal to be the object of it; it can be a potentially equally torturous thing to be the one whose mind generates it.

In Islam, we accept that all blessings are from God, and that no person is superior to another (not in terms of race, nor ancestry, wealth, gender, or other factors) except as a result of piety and good action. The ultimate objective – Heaven – is open for everyone, non-finite in this regard. This is the ultimate goal, the lasting Peace and Happiness. Everything good in this world (according to a Hadith, is either an adornment or a provision and) can be a tool to getting there; on the flip side, these things can lead to us becoming arrogant, and to our losing sight of what is truly important.

On this Earth, youthful beauty does fade, and intelligence can just become a dormant and futile thing if not used. Wealth does not buy lasting happiness: it can quickly just be wasted, and the super-wealthy can be overcome by intense boredom and restlessness. We can find ourselves piling these things up, spending our time being jealous and envious. But eventually, all of it goes away. In the case of wealth, for example, it all may go to those who come after you, while your corpse rots in its grave [apologies for the morbidity here, but hashtag reality].

“If you are grateful to me, I will surely increase you [in favour]”

– Holy Qur’an, (14:7)

Maybe it is true that we all want to be unique, special, somehow. And when the perceived ‘things that make us special’ come, in our eyes, under attack as a result of competition (or, indeed, if we long to be ‘special’ in a particular way, but feel inadequate, and feel a heightened sense of this inadequacy when we juxtapose ourselves with people who have what we wish we could have had) we become a little hyper-competitive, aggressive, maybe a tad unreasonable.

But if this is a fear of yours (losing your ‘uniqueness’, your ‘specialness’) fear less, for you are you. To quote Dr. Seuss, “There is no one alive who is you-er than you”.

You are entirely unique – in terms of all your experiences, thoughts, the daily reality of being you. It is futile to compare you to another (although it could, at times, be useful to isolate a particular habit or behavioural trait, and look to others’ expressions of the same thing as a source of inspiration).

You must be easier on yourself, and fairer on any person who may be the object of your jealous or envious tendencies, too. Humanity certainly has its good parts – its golden, shinier parts. But all human beings also trip up and fall; must use the toilet on a daily basis; eventually… die. In honouring our humanness, we must know that we – and they – are not computers, nor dolls, nor anything else that is materially possess-able, manufactured via machines, or quite predictable. We are never-ending projects. There is good and bad in you, and the same (but expressed differently) in them.

God has decreed for you to have certain challenges and certain blessings; other people too – irrespective of who they may be – have their blessings and their challenges. Allah (SWT) is the granter of blessings, and He is also the one who is testing us – through our blessings and our challenges: through our intentions and actions. 

Ultimately, the only real competition you have in this life is… yourself. Your own bad habits, your own limiting beliefs, perhaps some of your own delusional ways of thinking [e.g. the quality of my life would be so much better if I just looked like him, or if I were as photogenic as her]. We all want to improve our personal experiences of Life; we are all in this pursuit of Happiness. But drastic changes – like suddenly coming into the possession of much wealth, or becoming the most academically adept person, or beginning to look like an Insta-model: in reality, these things might bring you a high or two. And then, perhaps, some secondary highs from the external validation you may receive. But eventually, our minds seek to normalise all novelties. It all just becomes ‘daily life’, nothing special, to you. You can observe this phenomenon in many people you may admire or envy because they are very beautiful, or very intelligent, or very materially successful. Many of these people just become used to themselves and their lives; what we see as enviable and special in them, they may simply overlook. And likewise, there may be some very wonderful, externally very admirable or enviable things in you that you are prone to overlooking as a result of familiarity with yourself.

Jealousy and envy can push a man – or a woman – to do crazy, heinous things: things like repeatedly violating a partner’s right to privacy by rummaging through their personal belongings; displaying otherwise obsessive and stalker-ish tendencies; displaying abusive behaviours; torrentially slandering the objects of one’s envy, thus leveraging social power over them in their absence, seeking ways to belittle them, to make yourself seem ‘better’ than them, in some respects, by comparison. And, of course, there is that timelessly obnoxious habit that can arise when one becomes a little too intrigued by another person’s being and achievements: interrogation, excessive questioning, wanting to find out about them and their lives, as much as you can…

There is a fine line between sentiments of admiration and those of envy. This line, so it would seem, is remarkably easy to cross. Even when it comes to ostensibly harmless feelings of admiration for a person, one finds oneself treading on dangerous ground. Why? Because when you put human beings upon imaginative pedestals, you essentially dehumanise them. The human imagination is an exceptionally creative thing. You may begin to ascribe features and ideas to this person that are not necessarily true. In doing so, you are not being very fair to them [for they are a fellow human being, and are thus flawed, unbelievably complex, multifaceted] nor are you being very fair to yourself, seeing yourself as being ‘far less’ than they are.

Today’s celebrity culture certainly unabashedly promotes things like the idolisation of people, and envy, and focusing on things like others’ beauty, relationship statuses, and levels of wealth. Audiences wait with bated breath, sharklike, waiting for a person to slip up. Media outlets forever find themselves gathering evidence – reasons to place certain people on some sort of spectacular angelic plane – while also seeking reasons to debase them – perhaps partially as a result of collective envy, to demolish the pillars that might hold these people’s pedestals up. All this happens on this wider scale, and it can tend to happen on far smaller interpersonal ones, too.

“One is not a Muslim until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

And, of course, demonstrating the above can be hard at times. If you pride yourself on being the funniest or the prettiest or the smartest in the room (or whatever else) for instance, jealousy can overcome you. You may end up displaying some hostility towards someone else who happens to also be rather funny or beautiful or academically competent. But we need to have faith and trust in Allah. We must seek to overcome our egos and to support others; indeed, according to the Qur’an, the reward for excellence (and of related self-overcoming) is “nothing but excellence”. And we must seek to be good to the people and to be grateful to God; verily, He multiplies blessings.

Interestingly, another Hadith tells us that when we pray for good for others, an angel within our proximity says, “And for you, the same.” 

Remember, firstly, that there is more than enough beauty, enough wisdom and intelligence, enough positive character traits, to go around! 

And, secondly, know you are the custodian of your own life; spending your time attempting to peer into others’ lives does not really do anything good for yours.

So, the jealousy cure, then: a tranquility-giving concoction of trust; acceptance of Divine Decree; remembrance of the nature of life as being a test (both in terms of our tribulations, and in terms of [what we do as a result of] our blessings); expressing gratitude to God and asking Him for His protection over the blessings we have; accepting that we can be prone to cognitive distortions (e.g. when, as a result of distance, we come to believe that some people’s lives are pretty much perfect; that appearances are more substantial than substance itself); praying for and working towards the things we would like to have (while knowing that we are indeed each unique. One person’s beauty or intelligence will naturally look rather different to another’s); accept that it is okay to take inspiration from others, but you are you:

focus on yourself. 

 

Addendum: I do believe that many jealousy and envy issues can stem from childhood. This is just an observation, but it would appear as though many only children and first children are more territorial – more jealous – than others. This may be because they are more used to ‘not sharing’ things, and to being ‘special’.

Moreover, it may be true that those with envy issues want what others have a lot of the time because they were compared to other children by caregivers in childhood; made to feel inadequate – like they were lacking, while others were not.

Of course, this ties into what I speak about a lot – questions of Free Will and Blameworthiness. Envy is seen as a ‘destroyer of deeds’ [Hadith] in Islam. But to what extent does he or she have agency over such sentiments? Insha Allah I hope to delve further into such questions in a (near) future article.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Through Time

Dear friend,

Life is a period (relatively long and relatively short)

of continued striving. It is a thing of comedy, and

it is a thing of tragedy.

 

I know that, on some nights, there are certain things that mercilessly rip your heart apart, without you ever asking them to.

And I know how you hide. It’s so hard to ‘open up’ when, in the past, doing so has led to your spirit being thrown onto the ground, stomped on, thrown to hungry wolves,

over and over again.

It’s okay if you need some more time to heal; I’ll wait for you here while you do.

There’s a nice sunflower outside I want to try and sketch. It is undeniable, and

it reminds me of you.

 

Dear friend,

How real is the smile on your face, and how often is it so?

How frequently do you forget who you truly are, when your heart feels numb and its love feels this low?

 

Dear friend,

It feels quite like we are alone in this world, doesn’t it? Like it is terribly easy to become this cold;

To reach for anything that might shield our souls from the elements – walls, perhaps; to be a little quieter, more defensive, less bold.

 

It feels like forever missing something you can’t quite put your finger on, and nothing else on Earth can ever fill its space.

You cry and you mourn and yet nothing comes. How is the thing to know it is being called,

If you can’t even recall its name, not even the first letter, not even at all.

 

Dear friend,

Yes, you are simultaneously blooming and you are fading, here.

We are on this Earth like mere travellers. But oh, the things we will see; the stories we will tell.

And there is a great promise of Something Else beyond here, a beckon to an ocean through vessel of seashell.

All life, on a spinning planet, inches forward every hour. And someday, there will be no hours left.

 

Dear friend,

Perhaps on your bad days, we could sit here together and attempt to imagine what timelessness might be like. Someday we will exist in that state, you know.

Nothing from the past really matters (except, of course, everything. It has all led us here, it is everything that might have helped us to grow.)

Some days, I am so scared and I feel like almost everything is out of reach, beyond me.

Going through the motions, almost unreal; is there any other way to be?

 

Dear friend,

I think you are wonderful. Nobody else can quite do the whole ‘you’ thing the way you do:

Your funny tales, catchphrases, forever doing the opposite of what you’ve been told.

I think the ends of your smile sing of beauty, your hair of genius, your heart of gold.

And I think we must be brave here. Nobody knows of the pain that floods your entire mind from time to time;

few know of the terrible notions you were made to believe, and which have replayed themselves in your head over and over in your mind.

See, on a bodily wound, one may kneel and place a bandage, grace and hope.

But the soul, you see, tends to sing of a different kind of pain.

Dull, amorphous, insidious. There would appear to be no escaping it.

 

Dear friend,

What do we do? We tie our camels and we trust Allah. Helplessness is not in our vocabularies: indeed, the help of your Lord is near. 

You have to make a choice. You are the custodian of this life, and when you take certain chances, good things will appear.

Roses really bloom when you choose to really trust God; you will witness your Du’as unfurl, one by one.

 

Dear friend,

Today, we forget everything that we have known,

And we remember all that we have learned.

You know, I have always wondered if there will come a time in our lives when we will be able to say that “we made it.”

Good things will come; be patient. But, no: here in Life, things do not stay still, and time is always in a bit of a hurry.

 

Dear friend,

We humans were not designed for black and white, nor do we find ourselves having been programmed by binary.

Humanness is amorphous, colours, often not neat.

 

It does not really matter where you’re from. You might want to keep the good and forget the bad – a justified price.

It will all be of value, but it will not matter – not when you take that first step into Jannah – to Paradise.

 

Dear friend,

Nobody will ever know you

The way only your Creator can do.

People do not create Truth, and so it is okay if people look right through your eyes without understanding you.

 

God Himself chose to create you: a thing of beauty, wonderful. The entire world could end up hating you and still it would not matter:

 

You are not better than anybody, and nobody at all is better than you –

That is, not except by piety and good action.

 

Dear friend,

Maybe I do not know you personally, but I do so believe in you.

May the loudness, for you, quieten. May your journey through be filled with little lantern Du’as that all come true

 

one by one. Even in the belly of a whale; at the bottom of a well

Allah surely loves the one who puts their trust in Him;

so, dear friend, tonight we tie our camels, and through Time, Allah will tell.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020

 

“We are surrounded by all of these lies and people who talk too much.”

– Ed Sheeran