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

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

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

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

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

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

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and give people glad tidings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re aliiive!

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

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

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

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

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

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

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

Something that intrigues me, also:

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

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

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

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

“Come to success.

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

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

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

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

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

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

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

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

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

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

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

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

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

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

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

If porcelain, then only the kind — by Stanisław Barańczak

If porcelain, then only the kind
you won’t miss under the shoe of a mover or the tread of a tank;
if a chair, then not too comfortable, lest
there be regret in getting up and leaving;
if clothing, then just so much as can fit in a suitcase,
if books, then those which can be carried in the memory,
if plans, then those which can be overlooked
when the time comes for the next move
to another street, continent, historical period
or world:

who told you that you were permitted to settle in?
who told you that this or that would last forever?
Did no one ever tell you that you will never
in [this] world
[be quite] at home?


(Translated from the original Polish by Frank Kujawinski)

Subhan Allah. What a wonderful poem, no?


2020

Moving

There is something that is rather special about this generation of ours. I am saying this, now, amid the period of the notorious coronavirus, and of the race-related uprisings. I am saying this having finished watching ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ – a series that looks at prominent social issues in what might be seen as a rather ‘raw’ way – and while partaking in a Zoom seminar organised by a friend of mine, on the topic of ‘Racial Disparities in Mental Healthcare’. 

I may be generalising massively here, but just look at us. We are young, and, yes, we feel a little damaged. There is a fire within us, though, and oh, how it burns. We are trying so hard to be more real, and to be better. A heightened sense of empathy, and a willingness to learn and to self-educate are what characterise us. We yearn for justice, and for healing; we care about dismantling all those frameworks that fail to serve us.

We are the children of immigrants; of religious Facebook users; of helplessly devoted ‘what-will-people-think?’-ers. Of people who are ostensibly quite afraid of their own selves, and of truly facing themselves; who have shaped our worlds to seem as though what might matter most may be… how publicly consumable it all is, or may appear to be… that the ‘undesirable’ things simply go away if you put them away somewhere; if you just paint pretty pictures on top of the rot, perhaps.

Some of them had been jealous; fiercely competitive; often quite emotionally unintelligent. What a mess, with all due respect, we find that they had made. Now, we are here, and we are trying to pick up all the pieces, in the best ways we find we can.

My beloved generation: we speak, often, of matters of race, and of gender. Of anxiety and depression. Some may say we talk about these things far too much, but I mean… why wouldn’t we? We know, from firsthand experience, how ineffective, how damaging, the whole stiff-upper-lip pretend-it’s-not-happening-and-it-will-simply-go-away thing. We are saying, we are fed up of it; of all of it.

Yes, as children, we often ‘played pretend’. Now, though, we are members of the real world – decidedly in it, decidedly of it.

People are suffering quite deeply in this world, and all around it. And maybe it is true that we do not want to pretend anymore; these grand lies, we find that they are irredeemable. The preceding generations – maybe (it could be that) many of their actions had stemmed from some really good intentions, but… they had surely lied to us about certain things.

Did you know, for instance, that the average [American] high school student of today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient from the 1950s? [Leahy]

What had all these dreams really been, that they had been selling us all this time, and why are we finding so many faults upon seemingly arriving at all of it? Why is darker skin still being frowned upon; why do we see some individuals as being superior to others on the basis of mere lineage; why do they say that women who demonstrate femininity in certain ‘other’ ways are somehow ‘doing it irrevocably wrong’?

Why do they tell us that we are intrinsically ‘not enough’, and why do they convince us that mere ‘hard work’ might allow us to ‘make up for it’, somehow?

We are angry,

and rightfully so, methinks. And how can we learn to be angry, but in ways that are with grace, and not without it?

I want my generation to know that we are absolutely ‘enough’ already. I say, we must try not to take much advice nor criticism from those whom we undoubtedly do not want to become like. We start from here, and from ourselves. Self-regulation and self-improvement are wonderful things to commit to, but we must start from ourselves, rather than from expectations that may be utterly alien to who we are, whom we cannot otherwise be — at least, not without the presences of myriad internal conflicts and detrimental frictions.

It is not a shameful thing to struggle – as humans do [and nor is it a bad thing to just write, or paint, or sing badly, sometimes!]. Furthermore, it is the farthest thing from repulsive, to allow ourselves to be real — to begin from there.

“I am human; I consider nothing that is human to be alien to me.”

– Terence 

I think it’s really interesting, actually, how the best conversations of all are those ones that just feel like they are the most ‘real’: the ones, I suppose, that do not stem from premises of obsessions with particular image constructions and/or maintenances.

Human beings are really quite… awfully real things… and I kind of love that about us — don’t you?

And it is true that some of the stuff of these lives of ours can be quite humouring at times. What a wonderful thing laughter is: it is emblematic of a body failing to contain its own joy!

But – and – life is also necessarily grief, and this, too, must be known. Sorry to be morbid here, but life, in addition to those moments of simple glee… it is also the thought that, within this lifetime of yours, you may have to attend the funerals of one beloved person or two. Things begin; they end. But we must always have faith in the things that may come after them.

You know, it is rather cool indeed that no two moments in our lives will ever be – nor even look – the same. And we shall never again get this very time back – never again.

And this day, much like Life itself, it is going, going, (gone). I really hope that, in the meantime, the waiting days, and on these days of action and of adventure…

I hope love, even on the days that you feel intensely lonely — I hope it finds you in all those little moments between the confusion and the grief, interweaved between all of Life’s gifted damages, a satin ribbon.

I hope we always find it within ourselves to be brave, and to be honest, and, dare I say: this, in a beautiful way. You know, there is much beauty in you; nobody else does Beauty the way you do. So, from here, may we begin, and, no matter what, may we never lose ourselves;

and as ourselves, may we keep moving, and breathing, and being.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Contentment: An Islamic Perspective

Mainly a reminder to myself, and, hopefully, to my future self.

I am challenging myself to see the world in different colours. My soul already feels lighter, and my mind feels freer, as a result of this. This blog article will probably fail to provide you with an immediate and profound sense of internal peace, but hopefully it will provide you with a reminder of certain things that might help to put the hardships present in your life into perspective. Although I know I am probably going to come across as a condescending ‘newly enlightened’ hippie and/or a Buddhist-wannabe, I am approaching the issue from a mainly Islamic perspective. I hope that what I am going to discuss will prove at least somewhat useful to my religious – and perhaps even some of my non-religious – readers.

Sometimes, the weight of the world might seemingly become too much for us to bear; this is an unavoidable truth that we must deal with. I know I personally sometimes experience lengthy anxious and depressive episodes, coupled with an intermittent and inexplicable unpleasant feeling that makes me feel like my brain is rotting. I know I cannot simply dispense with all the negativity in my life once and for all, but I do aspire to get rid of this baseless internal restlessness for good.

I feel as though I am starting to re-discover my religion; I find myself exploring the beauty of the Deen on my own terms, and as if for the first time. Recently I had become so invested in the materialistic and superficial issues of the Dunya – the fears of inadequacy, in terms of how I look and how I behave, for instance – that I had almost completely forgotten about Islam. The deep feelings of insecurity, emptiness, and loneliness I had been feeling, I think, had come as a much-needed reminder to me that Allah is there for me, and that instead of ruminating over unfortunate parts of my past, or anxieties – about my own perceived inadequacies, others’ perceptions of me, and about my future – I must learn to be content in the present moment. My reasoning behind this stems from the idea that if my contentment is more or less unconditional, it cannot suddenly be taken away from me by life’s sporadic setbacks.

Further to this, I have come to realise that if I cannot find happiness in the here and now, I will simply never be able to find it. Expectations and idealistic thinking – the practice of comparing our current selves and our current lives to our ideal ones – tend to lead to disappointment. If, instead, we can train our minds to focus on gratitude and positivity even in the face of adversity, we will undoubtedly experience a more substantial and long-lasting form of contentment and peace within ourselves. Ultimately, I have decided, I would rather live a quiet but generally content life than an ostensibly highly ‘successful’ one, which, in reality, would probably translate to a constantly frenetic, hypercompetitive, and fundamentally discontent one.

Surah Duha

I think that, for too long, I have been living too much in other people’s heads, trying to gauge, and respond in accordance to, their expectations of me – and my own lofty expectations of myself, of course. I have worried excessively about how others might perceive me; I have spent many a sleepless night replaying and dissecting many of the  critical comments that have ever been directed towards me. But I am gradually coming to realise that people’s vocalised negative perceptions of others are often mere projections of their own insecurities, and so what if they think I am strange, unpleasant, or lesser than them in any way? I simply need to be kind to people, and learn to worry less about what they think of me. All I need is my own love, and Allah’s. As a good friend of mine recently reminded me, Allah made me – and He also made our glorious universe. What a beautiful idea to focus on.

All I really want from this life is contentment, and I have come to the (arguably rather obvious) conclusion that contentment lies in the following things: Salah and the remembrance of Allah; the deflation of one’s ego (as this significantly reduces unpleasant emotional reactions caused by the fear of criticism and embarrassment, toxic competitiveness, etc.) and, of course, smiling, even in the face of adversity. I am not trying to promote an unrealistic continuously positive outlook on life, nor am I saying that I think I suddenly have it all completely figured out. It is simply my view that it is possible to train oneself to hone a strong sense of inner peace that proves to be far stronger than the potent forces of the calamities that will inevitably befall us in life.

Previously, when people have asked me about what I want to be in the future, I have always responded with something academic- or career-related. But now, and in truth, I want to be exactly who I already am, and I want the light – the Noor – in me to grow (as a result of my nurturing my spiritual, mental, and physical health). I want it to radiate from me, in the form of kindness and positivity. This is what my religion teaches me to do, and this is what is giving me an ongoing sense of comfort and strength.

These re-discovered realisations feel like a breath of fresh air for me, after being underwater for so long; they are making me love and appreciate the little things more – things like the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I smile at somebody and they smile back (even if a handful of people choose to scowl in return instead).

I think I am finally starting to see life in different – better – colours. And I have my faith – and the glasses I am trying to at least mildly rose-tint – to thank for that.

I hope that reading this article has benefitted you in one way or another; I would like to remind my friends (and, of course, the anonymous followers of this blog who should definitely become my friends) that I am here if you ever need somebody to talk to. We all struggle sometimes, and we are all better off with each other’s support.

Now cue somebody singing a Halal version of La Vie En Rose.

لَا تَحزَن إنَّ الَلهَ مَعَنَا

“And be not sad [nor afraid]. Surely Allah is with us”


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

A Silent Revolution

It is 1965 and she is bleeding.

The ragged edges of their words has managed to cut her once again.

Paki. You do not belong here. 

One end of her crimson Saree is draped over her head,

Her Bindhi sits atop her forehead like a sun waiting to rise.

Her Mendhi seeps into her veins and mixes with her blood,

And warrior bangles cover her warrior arms.

She is sugar, and she is spice, and she has a heart that is made of ice,

She is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A bird without her wings,

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution.

It is 2016 and he is bleeding,

Arms outstretched, lying helplessly on the ground,

He can’t breathe. 

Justice may be a hypocrite, but he is a king,

His wispy woollen hair is his crown,

And each tightly-wound curl is a fist,

Fighting between love and pain and melanin.

His dark skin is his kingdom- but it is bleeding now.

They say he smells of deviance and drugs,

But he smells of his wife’s arms, holding him, telling him desperately,

You are loved, and your life matters.

He is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A black-feathered angel without his wings,

A criminal whose only crime was being brought into existence-

a black man- the darkest shade of rejection.

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution. 

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that minuscule, seemingly insignificant, actions can lead to significant reactions- a ripple effect, if you like. This term is typically used in meteorology, to describe how even a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other. The phrase can also be seen as a metaphor. The fragility of the atmosphere can be compared to that of human emotions: the little things we do can have remarkable consequences. A simple smile or a hug can illuminate a person’s otherwise miserable day. A ten-minute conversation over coffee can be the thing that dissuades a person from committing suicide.

We must acknowledge, firstly, that we are all in need of each other, and we should be more reflective upon our actions.

The Value of Money

When people think of success nowadays, the amount of monetary income one receives usually springs to mind. The youngsters of my generation habitually mistake the pursuit of money- mere tokens of exchange- for the pursuit of happiness. The idea that money is an intrinsic source of happiness is centred on an exceptionally flawed premise. Children nowadays are indoctrinated with the idea that hard work leads to a higher income, and that, in turn, a higher income is somehow synonymous with happiness- with finally being at peace with oneself. 

In reality, the accumulation of wealth does little more to the soul than threaten to poison it with greed and eternal restlessness. As human beings, it is wired into our nature to constantly pursue things that give us a temporary rush- a fleeting escape from reality. We want and want, and we receive, yet still we are never satisfied. Ultimately, I can only compare the blind pursuit of money to one concept: attempting to fill a void of despondence with paper money, unaware of the fact that the money will simply disintegrate and decompose.

The only thing that can truly sustain and replenish our souls is love- love for people, for concepts, for the beautiful existence we share. Money cannot make a person infinitely happy. Granted, it can buy you certain material goods that will give you a short-lived taste of ‘happiness’, but no number of designer handbags or super cars can ever replace the inherent bliss that stems as a result of the shared human experience: love, friendship, laughter, peace.

The evidence for this is everywhere. The world is full of inconceivably wealthy men and women who possess everything their hearts have ever desired, and more. But these people forget about the aforementioned human experiences- too often we read about celebrities who have developed severe mental disorders or resorted to drug abuse because the money they owned did little to sustain them spiritually. In the same vein, the world is also filled with people who only possess bare necessities- young children in rural parts of Africa and India who own little more than a few rags they wear as clothes, yet they still somehow manage to be happy. Their happiness is prolonged and genuine; it does not rely on something as soul-destroying and illusory as money.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Meanwhile in Syria…

Recently, many regions of Syria (Aleppo in particular) have been subjected to mass airstrikes and bombing- a furious war between extremists, rebels and Western interveners claiming to be carrying out their innate responsibility of “defending democracy”. Caught between the crossfire are little children who once lead ordinary lives, going to school, talking about superheroes and princesses, and living the boundless, colourful lives that children are supposed to live. 

A lot can change in a few years. Whereas before, the children of Syria went about their daily lives very much like the children of Britain or America, their state of being today is a whole different story. Countless documentary-makers, journalists and photographers have sought to capture the daily plight of Syrian children in photographs and films, and although these productions give us a glimpse of their struggles, we can never truly understand what these children are being forced to endure on a daily basis.

A chilling picture drawn by a Syrian child: Notice how the dead, mutilated corpses are smiling.

Two days ago, a very overwhelming image of a little Syrian boy was released, and took the world’s media by storm. His name is Omran Daqneesh; he is around five years old, and he was pictured sitting dazed, afraid and alone in an ambulance, after being rescued from the rubble and remains of what was once his home; the other three children within the vicinity sadly passed away. Their last memories of this life were of missiles, shouting and being trapped under piles of rubble.Thousands of Syrian children have been killed, scarred for life, and forced to grow up beyond their years due to the atrocities they are being subjected to incessantly.

A CNN newsreader breaks down on live TV as she reports on Omran Daqneesh

These children should not simply be dismissed as ‘collateral damage’. They deserve to enjoy the deliciousness of childhood without the constant anxieties associated with bombs and attacks. In truth, Western intervention is largely counterproductive; airstrikes by Russian and other Western governments are, in reality, feeding the flames and sustaining the war and merciless bloodshed. These incendiaries are destroying Syria’s remains of centuries of rich history; they are killing children as they sleep in their beds; they are killing newborn babies as they fight for their lives in incubators, and then heartlessly denying these children entry into their lands. Where is the humanity?

A powerful political cartoon by Khalid Albaih: Omran Daqneesh’s home in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, and he was extracted from the rubble. Aylan Kurdi (right) drowned in the sea after his family tried to escape a similar fate.

Ultimately, there is only one clear solution, and that is to stop bombing Syria. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Twitter: @sadiaahmedj | Instagram/Snapchat: sadiaahmedj | Youtube

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Here in Britain, we are fortunate enough to have the collective right to freedom of speech. We are allowed to outwardly express disapproval of the actions of certain governments; our favourites to criticise include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and of course, our own government. When people criticise North Korea and Saudi Arabia, they rightfully speak of oppressive restrictions and abuses of universal human rights. I do not deny that the Israeli government has violated numerous human rights and UN laws, however I do not believe that people are justified in their criticisms when they blame ‘the Jews’ or, worse still, when they allude to the Holocaust.

Expressing disapproval towards the actions of a certain government should never- not ever- be used to convey racist (namely anti-Jewish) sentiment. The Holocaust was a very dark period of history- many Jewish people lost hundreds of relatives and ancestors to the unspeakable genocide, and we cannot use such a sensitive matter to convince people that Israel does not have the right to exist. In truth, both Palestine and Israel share equivalent rights to existence, but neither state possesses the rights to self-determination.

I am strongly in favour of a two-state solution. From an objective viewpoint, I am able to discern that the answer to the issue lies not in war and bloodshed, but in talks of peace, acceptance and unity.