Projections

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem

Dear Reader,

‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.

In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.

‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?

Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.

Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.

[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]

Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.  

Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.

Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]

One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.

Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?

May-haps, may-haps.

How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!

I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?

What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!

Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.

Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.

Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.   

And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.

‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.

[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]

‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.

Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.

“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar

Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.

Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.

So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.

And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.

Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.

And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.

In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.  

[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Having Versus Wanting

Bismillah.

The consumption of fiction, and the significant effects it has, upon our psyches, and on all these ideas surrounding what we want to be, and what we want to have, and what we expect of life. That school is, or ‘should’ be, like a Disney series; travelling is a vlog on YouTube; summer is a poem. Fiction: filtering out the ‘mundane’, the ‘undesirable’, the ennui, the unevennesses, frictions. Taking singular moments, which ‘real life’ may exhale, at certain given moments, unpredictable, un-plan-able. Marketing people, relationships, institutions, experiences… as being fundamentally ‘shiny’. ‘More than’ reality, and thus quite ‘liberating’.

Allah created Dunya in a certain way, and this, we all, after a certain age, truly come to know. And it might feel like consuming fiction, or imagining life in light of it [I am tres guilty of doing this. And hence this blog article.] is relief. But I want to take a (metaphorical) axe, and rid myself of these: my ‘super-Dunya’ expectations. They come about spontaneously, sure, but they can often be… entertained, in this mind of mine.

Yesterday I came across a podcast about ‘bringing blessings (Barakah) to one’s life’. The central matter being discussed was gratitude. A cosmic law, emphasised in the Qur’an: if we are grateful – thankful, using what we have towards goodness and making the most of it – Allah increases us in favour(s).

And I have noticed: when I have abstract expectations, or when I find myself wanting… I feel restless, and dissatisfied, and lost. But when I look down at my feet (m e t a p h o r i c a l l y) and really ‘deep’ what I have, and just live, and do what ought to be done, sans against-fiction expectations… Good things happen!

When I do not want, I know I receive [note: the word ‘want’ has two separate-but-connected meanings. To desire something (that you do not, at present, have) and to be deficient, lacking, in something]. Good, quietly – but deeply – lovely, things, from sources unexpected, but which Allah has given to me. [Ref: a colleague whom I sometimes speak with – I, struggling, in Bengali, embarrassing myself – randomly got me a box of sushi for lunch <3. And then, not to show off, because this was entirely a one-sided thing: my baby brother got me a book, from school (World Book Day). My heart melted, and I asked him how come (I had lowkey been fishing for him to say something extremely sweet) and he just said, unemotionally, in classic Saif fashion: “I had two book tokens and I already got myself the one I wanted so I just got you one too.” Eh. Good enough.]

I know I am a bit of a … romanticiser, at the best of times. I like looking up at the stars; I like it when words sound and feel beautiful; I like to feel the golden glow of things, when I am with people whom I love. But this is not necessarily idealism: the stars do exist, and so does the beauty of words; so, too, does the Divine gift that is family (even with its ups and downs, and little knife-wound betrayals… like when I no longer seem to be Dawud’s favourite cousin anymore. Sigh.) I think I can be quite prone to romanticising things… and I think this is okay, so long as it is all rooted in reality, and not in things that are not real, or real at present, or which I do not know, fully and deeply and fundamentally.

My muddied boots are mine: my reality. The craggy, the uneventful and the mundane. The errands, and the times when things get a little tough — and these gorgeous skies overhead are mine, also, and everybody’s. I need to manage my expectations, and focus on doing what is fruitful. These are the realities with which we are presented, and all fictions are inspired by reality’s best parts.

Reality is a fuller experience, though. Unscripted, and not engineered for the eyes of those of us who, at times, seek escape.

And the opposite of ‘escape’ is… being here, and facing it all. No (or, re-managed) expectations; no comparing my reality with others’. Futile. [To have their blessings, I would have to have their lives’ difficulties/tests. To lose my difficulties/tests, I would have to lose my blessings, also…]

These are the stuff of our lives. And now, what to do with them, or about them… The good, and the bad, and the… greys, the neutrals, also.

I need to focus, truly, on what is there, and not on actually-nonexistent things, like what ‘could’ or… ‘should’ (according to the fictions that we have digested, and/or concocted) be there. Loving what one has, and focusing on here-and-now considerations, and on giving/engaging in acts of acts of service as opposed to receiving, leads to Barakah: to an unmatchable, though quiet, goldenness, which is present even in times of acute difficulty. And Allah Azawwajal takes care of the rest: the outcomes, the Future, and all the rest of it.

[Some Biblical quotes, I find extremely beautiful. So, to quote the Bible:]

“I shall not want.” [Psalms, (23:1)]

Instead, I shall try to say: “Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Aalameen” [Qur’an, (1:2)].

All praise/gratitude is for Allah, Lord of the Worlds: Lord of every single thing that exists, including [existential moment, here] me…


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

People and Places

As far as visible and tangible things go, we are made up of so many things. Micro and macro: all of these various systems in place, carrying out their unique roles.

And, in terms of the very-real, but which-cannot-be-seen:

We are wonderfully imitative, emotionally dependent, creatures, aren’t we? We learn to eat how those around us do; dress in light of how other people dress; learn to speak and behave in different ways, with different people, in different contexts and places.

We know to adapt, almost effortlessly, intuitively. We are our selves: a space that is, by nature, held for us by who others are; ourselves, in relation to them. Human relationships: the bonds that we have with others, and the connections we have with places, too.

Deeply affecting, and deeply being affected by, other people and places, often even without our noticing. Who introduced you

to the great food place, hidden in an alleyway, around the corner? Whose ‘words of affirmation’ do you value most, and why? From whom did you get the idea, to introduce this new way of doing something, into your way of doing things? Who bought you that water bottle, that you so love? That new word: you learnt it from someone. That particular gesture. Way of sitting. Idea.

We are not individuals who are ‘set in stone’. We are intelligent, learning, conversant creatures: turning towards, and thus in (mutual) conversation with, other People, and with all of these Places.

For me: family, and close friends. Classmates and colleagues, who are/were here for a while. Nanu’s house, and Maryam’s. Local library; local mosque. Tamanna’s house, and our local Adventure Park. Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh. Wapping, Whitechapel, Westminster, and then back to Whitechapel for a while. And where to, next (Insha Allah)?

I do not know. Shall I be content with… not knowing? Nostalgia is a wonderful thing. There would appear to be a lot of space for it, in this mind of mine. But, as much as certain things – places and people – feel like home, in Dunya, for me: I cannot keep running back to the past merely because it is familiar.

I think, I love these places: my current places of living, and of working, and of everything in between, very much. I sort of really want to come back to this school, in the future, perhaps, Insha Allah. But Allah might have different things in store for me: after all, this… acceptance that Allah Knows, while I do not… is precisely how I found this place, in the first… place.

I have learnt so much from these very people. [I also, sort of narcissistically, wonder what they may have learnt, picked up, from me!]

Call this all ‘serendipity’. No, better still: call it Qadr.

How wonderful, wonderfully awe-inspiring, it is, that we carry within us, pieces – souvenirs within our persons – of places and of people, whom we have, in whatever capacity, come to know? How weird a thing to realise that… we are real, too. We have also influenced other people; been meaningful, valuable, and beloved, parts of places.

The makings of marks – even ‘small’ ones. The etchings, stitches, into various fabrics, histories.

Moving forward: I wonder what will change. I wonder what stays the same.

I do so love the things that, at their cores, stay the same. And, yet, what would we be, without those things that change and change and change?

I like the idea that the best people, and the best places, for us, are those that feel, at the same time, like Home and an Adventure. A balanced life: the beneficial inter-plays between two opposite (separate, and unknown) but connected (intrinsically known, familiar) forces.

Who and how and what I may be now: I had no idea how things would pan out, just a year earlier. None of this had been, even in the slightest, predictable.

And I am able to look back on erstwhile times with… the distance, the benefit of hindsight. And, the ‘future’, with… the distance, these imaginative impulses that are known to fill the spaces that are, at present, devoid of Knowing.

But all of it, in truth, is experienced as a series of present moments: right between unbearable suffering, and liberating, uninterrupted euphoria.

People, and places: significant, and yet fleeting, ever-changing with Time. But, sometimes, their effects on our minds, hearts and souls: permanent, valuable, undying. The permanence, also, in contrast to all that is transient: of Purpose (the nectar of things), and of Prayer.

At the end of the (long, winding, unpredictable) day: where do we end up? In a Place that is permanent, Insha Allah, beneath which rivers flow. And, with the People whom we have known – permanent souls, also – and loved: walked beside, and prayed beside. All of these things:

they begin as little specs in the distance. Invisible, even, sometimes. And then, seen from afar. Images; while we know not what lies beyond what we see and (think we) know, of them. And then, with Time, we come closer and closer to them. See what lies beyond the shininesses of prospectuses, websites, social media displays, and otherwise. Closer and closer. Faces, and then hearts and souls. Until our beings feel… a little inextricable.

We define ourselves in terms of our people, and our places.

And to know something, and to also be known by it: we need to experience it, or them, in their (relative) entireties, and in present tense: in the Here and Now. Their necessary upsides and downsides.

“There can be no ‘love before marriage’. That isn’t ‘love’,” says a colleague of mine. [When you are twenty years old and South Asian, you tend to find that a lot of conversations start off as being centred on one thing. And then… marriage is brought up: the trumpeting of that age-old Elephant in the Room. But the point is:] There is no authentic ‘loving’ something – be it a person, or a place, or a time outside of this one – before (or, even long after) being entirely, and truly, present with them. In time, and space, and true, close-up, experience. Otherwise, one claims to be ‘loving’ mere images; lusting after fictions, in place of their up-close and real, truths.

I am so happy-sad for everything that has passed. I still even miss people and places that had been in my life over a decade ago. But I am grateful, too. How strange that I will never know them, in the same ways, at least, again. But (necessary) losses often come to form openings: spaces for new things to grow. For other things, whomever, and whatever, they may be.

I am (a little worried, but also) very curious – excited for what is yet to come; trying to be as content with what Allah has written for me, as I can be. Life, as we know it to be: is Process. Toil and hardship, and our moments of levity and ease. And only Paradise is Paradise.

But how quietly wonderful an experience it is, this human one. And how… bittersweet. So many people and places and parts of oneself, to come to know: if only for a while. And then, when the leaves fall: though on the same branches, new ones do grow. Life moves on, and things (which we find we may only be able to half-love, in the present moment, at least) change — just as it is in their nature to.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Islam is

Islam is: beginning right from where you are. It is finding Peace, finally, amid all of tumultuous Dunya’s numerous tribulations.

It is Ultimate, life-giving, life-restoring,

hope-fuelled

Surrender.

And — Islam is not solely for the man for whom the Arabic language is his native tongue. It is also for… the Bengali woman. Malaysian, Nigerian, French, Argentinian. And for kings and nobles, and for their sons, and for seamstresses and chai-walas, and for their daughters.

Islam is for the ones who grew up going to — some call it Fora, others call it Maktab; some call it Dugsee — every weekend. And it is also for the ones for whom the words of the Qur’an are, at present, wholly indecipherable.

For the ones who grew up in Roman Catholic households. Or Hindu ones, or otherwise.

The truth is, we do not know, and we are truly not aware of

which of us truly are the Best of us.

How can one look at another and be convinced that we know what their intentions are? How can we look at another and be sure of where they stand, at present, before God?

Islam is also for the heroin user whose family chose to disown him, for his one fatal error. It is for the chronically sick, and it is for the young, and well, and wealthy, too. It is for the ones who know the most, and it is also for the ones who simply cannot wait to learn.

When I say that Islam is Universal, I mean: everything that exists — everything, of which we are a part:

We come from One. Are loved, and nurtured, primarily and ultimately, by One. Are being Tested by One. And it is to One, that we return.

When Allah explains to us that we are human, He means, necessarily, that we can choose between Good and Evil, based on the knowledge that we, individually, subjectively, possess, and have access to.

And that we are, all of us, fundamentally flawed — and that many people are stitched up with Good intentions, while others destroy themselves, through arrogance. But for the most part, these things remain invisible to the fallible human eye.

Fundamentally, goodness is something that must be shared. Trying to meet people where they are; trying to love them, as they are: these things are Sunnah. There is no room for violent tribalisms, where there is true Islam.

Islam is for anybody who, even in the slightest, cares — enough to seek forgiveness; to ask for Help; to try. In your own time; in your own beautiful ways.

Islam is for the human being who is uncertain, in himself, or as herself. We are not Necessary Beings; we forget and we make blunders.

We struggle, and we fall; we can come, crawling, or walking. If we are able, we can come running.

Islam is for the one who has “always felt a little bit Muslim at heart”. Who, eventually, started carrying a prayer scarf around, in her bag. Used the prayer room at Westfield, once, and amassed the courage to say Salaam to an auntie, a different time, outside the mosque.

For the man who is consciously trying to “lower [his] gaze” when it comes to women, contrary to the pullings of his Nafs (loosely translatable as ‘inner-self’). For the one who feels broken, breaking, alone. Trying to speak to his Creator, under the soul-baring covers of good night.

Islam is Meaning, and it is Purpose. It is Love, and it is Comfort. Beauty, Truth, and Goodness, concerning the Mind, the Heart; our Bodies and our Souls. Beginning: fusing together. And Ending: coming apart (for a while). The centre of the Universe, and the very fabric of our being.

Ever-a-continuation: a personal story, journey. And, always, a beginning-again, too. Right from where we are.

[Allah knows, while we do not.]

And every good thing that we (endeavour to) do, here, in submission to Al-Rahman

is growing into something Unspeakably Beautiful (we hope,) over There.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Art of Beeing

To know that one is part of something greater than one’s own self. What a relief. What a welcome realisation:

The idea that, all around us, we are beset by jars of honey, asking for us to dip into, and out of. Choice paralysis.

And this world: it seems, prima facie, as though it is one of billions of flowers. Feels like there is so much that

Could be done. And therefore, with the limited bee-line timelines we have, here: must be done.

For this to be deeply rich, and meaningful, somehow. The bees, and what they do: scarcely seen, except when up close, thrumming.

Always busy. Playing their roles: from mouth of flower, to hive, and back. It is the essence of things:

of our actions, choices, sitting-places, which count.

I want to be guided by the nectar of things. And not by the ‘numbers’; not necessarily by what other people come to see, of it.

And what about… how other people do things, for example? The communities they are part of; how and where they might spend… Ramadan, for example?

At a grand mosque in Texas, or… walking to the same one, under orange-glowing lamps, in Dickensian(-almost) Whitechapel?

One could be halfway up Mount Everest. Or, on the upper floor of a quiet bookstore in Folkestone. Still, it is the essences of things that count: not necessarily the sizes, nor the colours, nor the shapes, of the petals which adorn them.

[Crying, alone, in a Volkswagen. Or, secretly, in a Lambo. To quote the doughnut-eating boy from a really funny Vine that I tragically can’t seem to find anymore: iz the same thing.]

Whether one man gives his fellow man in need a piece of bread. And if another man is able to provide for an entire village a million pounds worth of food:

It is the weight of things, unseen yet certainly Recorded, which grant them significance. The bees are small, and they are not exactly butterflies. Look how weighty their value:

A single day off, and entire ecosystems fall to the ground. We must never underestimate the roles we inhabit, nor the essences of them, in favour of thinking about the precise configurations of our petals.

Those petals eventually fall to the ground, one, by one, by one. The golden threads of Meaning, Purpose, here, though: small, but mighty. The ‘grand scheme of things’, and the places we inhabit, which cannot do without our being there. Here, or there; this way, or that, but altogether… Undying.

In conclusion: bees are cool. For more evidence on this fact: https://themuslimvibe.com/faith-islam/in-theory/animals-in-the-holy-quran-the-bee

“Actions are but by intentions” [Sahih Hadith]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Jordan Peterson: Career vs. Motherhood

Jordan Peterson: quite controversial a figure. I do find many of his talks and explanations thoroughly insightful.

Yes, I also scrolled down to the comments section for this one. Here is one comment that particularly stood out to me:

“Modern feminism has really been a punch in the gut to me. Raising children is not the honour it needs to be. I always felt that I was a burden even though my husband and family never made me feel that way. Grew up with a hardworking stay-at-home mom. When I went to work, the guilt and inability to juggle it all was unbearable. My family was not priority according to my work. I hope a new feminism brings back the mystery of women, the value of femininity and the strength of it in its own right. Also the value and the strength of masculinity.”

What matters? One’s health and wellbeing matter. One’s family. If you choose to work, your work may matter to you. Some people only partake in economic labour because they must, while others really only partake in it as a hobby thing: an enjoyable and productive way to pass time.

Some women get extremely bored and unhappy when they stay at home. Some women become extremely unwell when they commit to carrying out high-demand economic labour roles.

The most crucial considerations, I think, ought to be: what is truly, holistically good – best – for you? For the people you most deeply care about? For your Deen?

What ought not to play such a significant role: Mere appearances. What other (no offence, but for-the-most-part-irrelevant) people think. These people… will almost undoubtedly always be thoughtlessly ‘thinking’ things.

“She doesn’t work and only stays at home? Why doesn’t she do something useful with her life?”

“She’s only a pharmacist? Why isn’t she a doctor?”

“She works all day and sends her children to daycare?! How pitiable!”

“She earns more than her husband does? Ha!”

“Her husband’s an engineer and she doesn’t work? He should’ve married someone more educated!”

“Why is she tired all the time? Surely it isn’t that hard to have two young children and have a high-flying career?”

“Why can’t she go to work all day and clean the entire house top-to-bottom every day, by herself?”

“How dare she have her own opinions? The insolence! I should never have let my son marry her! She should just keep her mouth shut and cook and clean and say ‘Yes ma’am, whatever you say ma’am’ to everything I say!”

These busybodies, so violent with their words, necessarily a) only see the outermost parts of things, and b) have committed themselves to identifying the perceived negatives in lieu of the positives, so as to soothe themselves, and so as to entertain themselves through gossip. Have no fear, though: all they are really doing is depleting their own Ajr-ic [this should be a word. i.e. relating to Ajr] reservoirs, while contributing to their victims’…

You face your own reality. You know what it is like to be you.

The truth is, when you choose one thing, you necessarily forgo its alternatives. Life, and all of its various aspects: blessings and tests. Necessary upsides and downsides, to each part of it. You inherit a ‘good’ thing: you also inherit its unique ‘downsides’. Mutatis mutandis, ‘bad’ or difficult things, and their unique perks and ‘upsides’.

Ours is a world that finds itself marred by crises: of home; of family; of loneliness and hyper-‘individuality’. Of meaning; of mental wellbeing. It is also true: sacred things like marriage and motherhood are generally no longer looked upon with due sanctity and honour.

In any case, you are a being whose (limited) wealth is time. And health and energy; the ultimately finite amounts of attention you can give to different things. Family. Talents, skills, interests. Allah is Al-Mālik, and

you get to figure out what might be holistically best for you. Seek His guidance: sometimes certain things, decisions and such, may be hard, but

We submit to the Creator, and not to (the fleeting, incomplete, and often-exaggerated takes of) creation. Your life. Between you and your Lord, and also concerning the people whom you love.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Hope and Snow

This morning, here in London (UK), we had woken up to heavy snowfall. Pellets of white, darting down from the sky. So graceful; so redolent of that fine word: hope.

Today, it is Sunday. A snow-day on a Sunday. On Friday, my brother and I went on a walk through our local area. The conversations he and I have together really do tend to be… something else. I am not sure if he sounds mature for his age, by consequence of living with three adults, or if I sound like an eight-year-old boy, by consequence of spending so much time with him… Probably a mixture of both.

I told him that I was a little sad that it did not snow this winter.

His response was quick and endearing, and said with conviction: “What do you mean? It could still snow this year!”

In my mind, I sort of dismissed this statement as a product of his ‘child-like optimism’. ‘Not rooted in reality’. It seemed to me as though the peak of wintertime had already come to an end: now was going to be that time when Winter begins to transition into Spring. Cold, golden, sunny days. Not snow.

I so love that young children tend to be so deliberately hopeful. I think it is something of a tragedy, that many of us lose this sense of hope along the way. Scepticism’s tenacious fingers tend to, over time, establish this terrible stronghold within our hearts.

While on last Friday’s walk, my brother wanted to stop somewhere and sit down for a moment. He went and sat on a boulder. We had been talking about the significance of making Du’a, and he decided to sit down on a street-side boulder, in order to make Du’a, there and then, for… a horse. Strange child [but then again… he is my brother.]

Du’as do come true. I know this for certain. My brother himself: I see him as a product of Du’a. When I was younger, I prayed and prayed for a little brother. Someone to do cool things like karate with, and art and baking, and to take out to Nando’s after Parents’ Evenings, and to sort of spoil just a little. Some family members, back then, sort of dismissed my Du’as as childish, foolish optimism.

Since then, I have been well-acquainted with good reasons so as not to internalise others’ scepticism, but to… rely on my Lord, and to have hope and faith and trust in Him; in His supreme wisdom and ability. Even if you doubt and doubt: sometimes extremely ‘unlikely’ things happen, just like that.

It is so okay if other people doubt. So long as you have faith. Those things that you are praying for: know that if you are humble and sincere in your prayers… everything you are praying for is yours. It may take a little time: these things will come about in Allah’s faultless timing, not in ‘your own’. We must be consistent, hopeful, and know

That Allah (SWT) does not reject the Du’as of the sincere. You either get those things that you want, a little later (and there is Khayr in the delays). Or, you get them almost immediately. Or… you get something that is better [for you].

Hope-like snow. And eyes filled, at least at times, with wonder and fascination. It is not exclusively ‘childish’, but good and… human-ish. We need a little bit of sunshine, and a little bit of snow.

A little bit of rain, too… [This is how good things grow.]

We really must not lose hope, nor despair in the Rahma of our Lord. Faith and reason. Hope and rationality. Optimism and scepticism. Questioning things deeply, and having trust. Dichotomies, but actually, each one is ever-in need of its other.  

[And I really hope that, one day, I will get to see my little brother sitting on his own horse. I hope that I will be able to remind him of that fine Friday, in lockdown, 2021, when he sat down on a random boulder solely in order to make Du’a for it.]

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

“Indeed, Allah is with those who have Sabr*.” [Qur’an, (2:153)]

*Meaning: a mixture of patience, discipline, steadfastness, self-restraint, perseverance, endurance


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Life, Death, Happiness, Meaning, Purpose, etc.

TW: Some people simply cannot bear to think about, or talk about, death — and that is understandable. But if this is you, dear reader, then… you may wish to stop reading, here. I think about, and talk about, and write about, death — and life in relation to it — quite a lot.

[Truly: if talking about death makes you uncomfortable and/or anxious, please don’t continue reading]

Death scares us because it is the necessary point at which certain worldly things that we may have cared much about – or, had invested much of our time and energies into, obsessed over, perhaps – come to an end. The unwinding miracle of life, and it is constantly coming undone. It is inescapable and inevitable:

“Every soul shall taste death” [Qur’an, (3:185)]

The more one explores the Qur’an, the more one comes to understand. The life of this Dunya really is little more than “play and amusement and decoration/adornment and boasting to one another, and competition in increase in wealth and [in terms of your] children, amongst you”. [Qur’an, (57:20)]

Some of us are known to (attempt to) invest so deeply in an abode in which we are – and we know we are – only passing travellers.

Are you prepared for death? If you were to die right now, would you have any regrets? Do you think you are worthy of Jannah?

Death. Sometimes it is a mere ‘theme’, which often finds itself being trivialised in works of fiction. We also hear of deaths as numbers: statistics. When one hears of passings-away in the news, we hear of mere numerical figures, in the dozens, hundreds, thousands. Anonymised. [We are a little desensitised.]

You, also, dear reader, are going to die. If Allah has decreed that you, for example, are going to die of ‘natural causes’, then… if, like me, you are in your twenties, you have already lived through about a[n entire] quarter of the time that Allah has allocated to you. And that is only if you are to die of senescent causes. People can go, though, in so many different, and unexpected, ways. Accidents, viruses, aneurysms… Here one day, and gone, the next.

The Truth is, we were created; we were born. We live: we have some time. And these bodies and minds and hearts and souls of ours. How do you make life count, then? Well, it depends on what you come to accept that life – or, if you are an existentialist, perhaps: ‘your life’ – is for. And what death is. A passing-on? Or are our cells, collectively, our respective existences, in and of themselves?

The different parts of you that make up you. We know that we are brilliantly complex in nature; we know that the different (material) parts of ourselves are in constant (awe-inspiring) communication with each other. You either believe in One God. Or, in billions and billions of them: little atoms, with self-sovereignty and intelligence and will and ability, coming together to produce you.

“But, I’ve got time,” we think. We plan for our ‘futures’. Dream of beautiful things; dream of them lasting. Give the majority of our lives to certain things, without due consideration of the Divine. Yes, you might get those beautiful things you may be seeking. An excellent job, a wonderful family, lovely group of friends. Social prestige, maybe, and other things. But you, as well as every other human being upon this Earth, must – and will – die. You will have to part from those things. This is not Home. This is… we are… camping, for a while – for a given time.

The things that remain: your deeds (what you have done with your time — with your life) as well as the fellow sempiternal souls of your loved ones. In life, you make choices. There are the forces and influences of environment, upbringing, circumstance: all these other things at play. And there is you, intelligent and capable of choosing from a given range of options. Do this, or do that? Take this person as a close friend/role model, or that person? Carry on with this particular vice, or work on it, in tandem with making Du’a?

The following video is one that I had come across after seeing the ‘Happiness’ video come up a number of times, on my YouTube homepage. This is a reaction video to it, by the Deen Show [I’m not sure what his actual name is, but his videos are truly engaging and insightful] [Update: his name is Eddie]

Life, death, happiness, meaning, purpose. Time, reality. And more of all that good stuff. Earlier today, I had come across this snippet of Qur’anic recitation (with translation) which links to these themes.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

‘Asr

Surah ‘Asr. There are, in total, 114 chapters in Al-Qur’an-il-Kareem: the Noble Qur’an. Each of these Surahs are of varying lengths, and explore different topics.

Surah ‘Asr is one of the shorter Surahs. Composed of three Ayahs (meaning verses, and otherwise translatable as ‘signs’) in contrast with Surah Baqarah’s 286, Surah ‘Asr is succinct, yet strong. Small and mighty, hard-hitting and enlightening.

As with many words in the Arabic language, so it would seem: the word ‘Asr has a number of contemporaneous meanings. ‘Asr (عصر) means Time. A period of time, whether this be a century, a season, a day, or a night. Another meaning this triliteral root word has is one that is related to the action of pressing. Squeezing, wringing, things out. Extracting the juice from a fruit. Indeed, one cognate form of the word ‘Asr is ‘Aseer (عصير) which means ‘juice‘.

We Muslims also refer to one of our five daily prayers as the ‘Asr prayer. It occurs right before the end of the day: when the sun begins to wane. The day loses its vitality, its عصير.

Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic is so fascinating, Subhan Allah. I love, love, love it.

Surah ‘Asr, then [an English translation]:

By [the passage of] Time. (1) Indeed, mankind is [certainly] in loss. (2) Except those who believe/have trust (have Īmān) and carry out righteous deeds/actions/work, enjoin [with one another] in Truth, and enjoin [with one another] in Patience (3)

Time. Like when you go to juice a fruit. You begin with a complete fruit: full and ‘youthful’. The juice gets squeezed out, until there is but a carcass form of the fruit left. Human beings. What do we have? Our wealth, our main concern, is Time. It is being wrung, juiced, out. Every second that elapses is another second

Lost. Another drip of juice, extracted from the fruit.

When it comes to Time – this wealth that each of us has been bestowed with… Are we spending it fruitfully?

[I much prefer the word ‘fruitful’ over the word ‘productive’ when it comes to reflecting upon whether or not we are using our time well. ‘Productivity’ as a value implies that time is spent well – or, best – when something is being produced. But that is not all we are: we are not merely, solely ‘producers’. I mean, I could spend all my time constructing… a toothpaste factory model. That, for instance, would be time spent ‘productively’, but not necessarily…

Fruitfully. The imagery of a fruit being juiced. Gradually, perhaps, but truly and undeniably, still. Drip, drip, drip.]

You know life: it is hard. It is ups and downs and squiggles and jagged lines. It is loss and gain; pleasure and pain. It is necessarily challenging. And, as Muslims, we know:

We begin with Īmān. Faith, recognition of our Creator. Next:

Righteous deeds and works. These may include, according to Qur’an and Hadith [I am just going to list some that I know of, off the top of my head…]

  • Offering our five daily Salah, with due attention and respect
  • Doing Dhikr (active remembrance of God)
  • Smiling [It counts as Sadaqah!]
  • Making Du’a
  • Helping someone in need
  • Saying “Assalamu ‘alaikum” to people
  • Seeking forgiveness from Allah
  • Reciting Qur’an
  • Expressing gratitude to Allah
  • Seeking beneficial knowledge
  • Passing on beneficial knowledge
  • Being good to one’s neighbour
  • Reconnecting with family members with whom the ties of kinship had been cut
  • Walking on the Earth in a humble manner
  • Responding to ignorance with words of peace
  • Maintaining good personal and spatial hygiene
  • Restraining anger
  • Being good to animals [e.g. an example from a Hadith: giving water to a thirsty dog]
  • Fasting
  • Visiting people who are unwell
  • Accepting invitations to others’ houses; inviting them to your house, too, and being a good host [post-Corona, Insha Allah]
  • Planting a tree [even if it does not end up growing]
  • Serving our parents
  • Can you think of any more examples of good works ( الأعمال الصالحة)? Please do drop them in the comments section, below!

Finally: Truth and Patience. Being bonded with others, in Truth (and encouraging one another toward it, and toward remembering Him). And, encouraging one another toward, engaging in, Patience: Sabr – which is otherwise translatable as: discipline, self-restraint, steadfastness, perseverance. Because life is a thing of struggle.

So, the four things that render our ‘spending’ of Time fruitful, and not, ultimately, a grave loss:

Belief. Good actions. Enjoining in Truth. Enjoining in Patience.

A good video about Surah ‘Asr, by Nouman Ali Khan. I would certainly recommend viewing his lectures on YouTube, if you are looking to (more deeply) explore the Qur’an and its contents.

May we all have a fruitful week, dear reader. And may we all have a fruitful Dunya-based life. Āmeen.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

On Deleting Instagram

A couple of friends of mine have, since my having deleted Instagram earlier this year (after having had it for approximately seven years!) asked me whether or not this decision has ‘changed [my] life’, and if so, how. And I wanted to write out – or, type out – the relative completeness of my thoughts surrounding this.

I think that, the truth is, so many of us feel quite ‘existentially isolated’. [After all, why wouldn’t we? Just look at the norms, the ways, of this world, today…] And Netflix’s ‘Social Dilemma’ documentary summarises it aptly when it refers to how we are prone to using our smartphones – and the colourful social media apps that dwell within them – as “digital pacifiers”. We feel something; we must purge our emotions on social media. Lonely, bored, happy, sad, confused. We are known to turn instinctively to social media in order to assist us in ‘processing’ our emotions, or in blunting them altogether.

I believe that social media – the ‘newsfeed’ apps, that is (and this is less so the case with the private messaging ones, like WhatsApp) – facilitates and normalises ‘quasi-social-relationships’. We ‘connect’ with others virtually, but in doing so, it seems the majority of us have lost the art[s] of real, complete, human connection.

I find it rather tragic indeed that, when close friends, for example, get together these days (or, at least, in those golden pre-Corona days) silences and less ‘exciting’ moments are filled by everybody turning to their digital pacifying devices. Instinctively. The same phenomenon can be witnessed within families, too. In those ‘quality moments’ that young children in particular are meant to remember fondly throughout their lives, parents are obsessively checking FaceBook, or WhatsApp stories, or Instagram. Being made to feel inadequate, in this way, that way, or the other, as a result of all these engineered images of ‘good times’, ‘perfection’. And then, they generally contribute to said phenomenon, by engineering and posting some images of their own.

Distracted from (the completeness, the truths of) one another, we find we are; sucked into digital vortexes. Scrolling, scrolling. And the sheer amount of information that one is made to come across, on a daily basis, and to process. Over-stimulation, with mere glitter, and not with media and information that always necessarily nourish us. Often, we find, our minds are, at once, being put under so much stress and pressure (you must do this and do that and buy this and be that!) and that they are being chronically… numbed down.

I admit, Instagram had been quite fun to use, at least at times. Aesthetic pictures, wonderful filters, funny people, interesting knowledge, a way of knowing about fellow human beings; a way through which to observe humanity. But the app is also, by nature, addictive. Image after image, post after post. The things we consume through our eyes and ears do ultimately have effects upon our minds and our hearts. Islamic teachings make us well-aware of this fact.

I do feel less… suffocated by the presence (now, absence) of a burgeoning bright-light world of hundreds of people that sits on my phone and sends me daily notifications. [I have also, this year, realised how unfavourable it really is to be so readily and easily accessible, all of the time. Slews of notifications, from Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp… nay, sir. It is not for me, thanks]. A world that had held hegemony over my attention, and thus, over my mind. One I would escape to, but also, paradoxically, needed escaping from, and one whose norms are actually quite scary: all these ills that are known to be promoted, so very easily, through this app.

To have such a frenetic world at my very finger-tips. Sometimes, these days, I do feel I may be ‘missing out’. But, on what? There are so many people I have met, known, briefly crossed paths with, whom I used to have on Instagram. But if we are to maintain (real) social relationships with one another, even small ones that involve an occasional conversation a couple of times a year, I would much prefer that we have an actual conversation. Not based on curated images; not based on fragments of information we each send out to large audiences. Real conversations, one-to-one, maybe over WhatsApp, and then (post-lockdown, perhaps) over coffee [Hello Poli, you get a shout-out here, my dude]

I do wonder sometimes, by being off of Instagram, am I ‘missing out’, somehow? The truth is, I do not think I am. I now have a mind less burdened, (less… intoxicated by incessant and on the whole uncontrollable inputs) and I want to invest my time and energy into my truer connections. Beginning with religion. A good relationship with Allah, I feel, necessitates a cleaner mental space, as well as diminished valueless-media consumption. Snapshots, images: that make you idealise; that are designed to make you feel, in some way or another, dissatisfied; that give you false impressions; that eventually lead to your living this life of yours more vicariously than individually.

This is my life. Its peaks, its troughs, its sometimes-rocky roads. I want to experience it, in its truth and in its wholeness, and firsthand. I need not ‘escape’ from it, through (over-)using Instagram, which is often (if I am to indulge in a bit of bitterness, here) merely a marketplace of delusion.

A good relationship with Allah (SWT) and good, healthy, nurturing relationships with my loved ones. I hope each of us can truly be here for, and take care of, one another. The hyper-individualistic, deluding, isolating, often-quite-detrimental ways of ‘modernity’… they are not for us. These ‘toxic’ cycles that Instagram often gives rise to, and facilitates: making people feel lonelier, and increasingly inadequate. And then, where humans are wired to look to established and true social groups for comfort, support, and belonging… instead, we look to these quasi-relationships. Everyone is entrapped. Real friendships, deep bonds, are in major crisis.

How awful is it that, in order to nurture a good social bond with someone, these days, we feel we must schedule little appointments with them roughly a month in advance?! I know, I know… life gets busy. But if we are putting our ‘busy-ness’ way before the connections of our souls, really and truly, we are doing things wrong. What is the point of ‘busy’, if it means losing out on so much true goodness? Priorities, sister!

Deleting Instagram has certainly been ‘worth it’, I think. Perhaps it is true that I now know less about two thousand people I have once known; that they now know less about me. It is also true that it is no longer ‘normal’ for me to continuously consume so much pointless and/or obviously detrimental media. Also, feelings of ‘boredom’ and such, when faced, can be quite useful: they allow us to truly, meaningfully, reflect. On the things that are actually important. Seven real friends, in lieu of two thousand not-so-real ones [And whose approvals are more important? Higher quantities of surface/image-based approvals, or deeper ones from those who know you and love you most deeply?] And the ability to face our feelings head on – including ‘awkward silences’ in our face-to-face interactions… This is far more conducive to a better holistically-human experience than… compulsively quelling or purging our feelings by plunging our minds into a virtual world that actually ends up making us feel more restless, dissatisfied, and overburdened with information. A conveyor belt of images, to which we are known to turn in order to escape truth[s].

See, between states of boredom (‘under-stimulation’) and those of anxiety (‘over-stimulation’) there is a place. A ‘middle way’, call it, which is centred on order and routine, and is also decently challenging and exciting. Constancy, with some much-needed interspersed novelties. This is a worthy state of being to strive towards, methinks. However, the issue with Instagram is that it exploits states of ‘boredom’ and then propels us, whether we are, at the time, conscious of this or not: into hyper-stimulation

Even months on, from my having deleted Instagram, I am still working on this: I am known to think, from time to time, about pretty much everyone, and everything. I think I absorb others’ emotions and such like a sponge. I need to normalise, within myself, concerning myself only with that which truly concerns me. And if a true social connection between I and another is meant to be, then, quite simply, Bi’ithnillah, it shall be.

Mine to be concerned about is this: my own ‘small world’. With these people, in it. A world that truly concerns me, and which does not dizzy, deafen, or delude me, as a result of my engaging with it. Purpose, validation, motivation, comfort, belonging: surely I can obtain fulfilment, within these particular things, from more substantial and true avenues than… Instagram.

My Rabb; nature; interpersonal connections of the soul. These, I find, are all I really have, here, and these are all I really need.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020