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 afro 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 lover’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.

Islamophobia

People often ask me where I am from. This question irritates me in a way that even I cannot comprehend. I was born and raised in Britain, yet the question of ethnic origins appears to be of more importance, despite the fact that I’ve only visited Bangladesh thrice in my life, for three weeks at most each time. Despite my outward features (headscarf, brown skin, dark eyebrows and the like) I naturally consider myself very British.

Perhaps what I admire most about Great Britain is its values of mutual respect and tolerance: how men, women, black people, white people, Christians, Atheists, homosexual people- people across a vast spectrum of diversity- are accepted and celebrated. Though these are the fundamental values of Britain, not everyone is willing to abide by them.

It supposedly all began after the tragedies of 9/11; I was only a year old at the time, and yet the events of this day continue to resonate around me wherever I go. I shuffle in discomfort when the line “Please report any suspicious items or activity to transport staff” is articulated over the Tannoy system on the Tube, and bow my head in discomfort when I am stared at afterwards- sometimes with quick glances of sympathy, but far too often with unmoving glares of hostility. I am seen as not an individual, but a representational piece of the bigger picture- the media narrative that speaks of rapes, bombings, female degradation, beheadings and mass terror. People fail to acknowledge that not all Muslims harbour ideological stances adjacent to that of ISIS. In fact, most Muslims openly condemn the acts of ISIS, as the Quran explicitly advises Muslims to “Enjoin in what is good, and forbid what is evil”.

On one end of the spectrum, I am afraid of ISIS and its reign of terror, and of similar ‘Islamist’ organisations that threaten to deface Islam and invade countries, spreading terror and unrest across the world. On the other end of the spectrum, I am afraid due to the stories I hear from my aunts and uncles, of racist assaults and verbal abuse that they themselves have been victim of.

The word ‘terror’ is now popularly associated with Muslims.
I myself am not immune to being a target of such misconduct. For instance, when I was aged twelve years old, during a boat ride down a river in Kent, a group of men instructed me to “Jump in the lake, for everyone’s sake” and that “EDL will someday destroy” me, and also quite recently, when my two-year-old brother and I looked on as a man physically assaulted our father because he was a “F***ing Paki”.

Whereas before, I was extremely confident, proudly displaying my eccentric nature wherever I went, I am now afraid of lingering alone in public areas, for fear of both being a victim of racist abuse, and of reminding others of the brutal acts carried out by alleged constituents of my faith. I feel as though I must constantly show signs of remorse, despite my prodigious distance from the villains in question. When someone stares at me, I smile awkwardly and apologetically.

Over the past few decades, the influence of mass media has grown exponentially with the advancement of technology, to the extent where people uncritically rely on the media as an objective source of information. With the growth of mass media, the term ‘terrorism’ to describe crimes committed by ‘Islamists’ has become exceedingly popular. The definition of this term according to the Oxford dictionary is:

(n) The unofficial use of violence/intimidation in the pursuit of political aims

So what of right-wing fascist movements? Where are the front-page articles reporting their offences? Where is the generalised vilification of them?

Young British Muslims are somehow externalised from their rightful British identities, unduly forced to choose between their religious and cultural identities, regardless of where they were born, or the colour of their passports. A mere scarf over my head to express my pride in my faith is somehow enough to provoke a torrent of Islamophobic abuse, even as a teenager.

I believe that in a country where freedom of expression and values of tolerance and respect are central societal components, this should not be the case, and that young Muslims should have the freedom to uphold and be proud of both their Muslim and British identities- the two are not mutually exclusive.