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.

‘Neurodiverse’

I believe that, in the process of writing, one of the most important things is… honesty. Looking back at old blog articles of mine, I worry I may have ‘over-shared’. Certain people might come to know things about me – and about my life – which they may ‘have no business in knowing’. But this blog of mine is mine, and slowly slow, Alhamdulillah, I am feeling less afraid about coming to know truths, and speaking of them.

            If I and my writing are liked, for whom and how we are, then tres bien. We are glad to have you here. If not: we are all entitled to liking or disliking – and being fundamentally drawn to or away from – what we do.

Necessarily, though, when processing things by attempting to produce what may be termed ‘art’ – whether it is, in the end, judged to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – one is forced to filter out certain things, and to pay special attention to some of its brethren instead; favouring them, dressing them up in eloquence and prettiness.

            But what has one to lose, really, in being honest? Pride, we say. And dignity. I don’t think I want to ever change the essence of myself – neither the parts I have deemed to be desirable, nor the parts which have caused me some difficulty along the way – in order to be rendered ‘agreeable enough’. So long as I am acting in line with moral requirements, and making space for others: there is enough space for me to be precisely who I am, here, too.

‘Neurodiversity’. This is a topic that I find, intrigues me very much. Recently, I came across a written publication whose premise seems to be the inherent connection between ‘neurodivergence’ (autism, ASD, ADHD, and more) and creativity and innovation, being (academically) ‘gifted’, and (most notably, perhaps) sensitivity.

I also happened upon a very interesting (fictional, but with real real-world relevance) story-based video: about a young writer who wins competitions and is seen as being something of a lexical prodigy. Eventually, her work gains public recognition: she is invited onto talk-shows, and to write for popular publications and the like. She also suffers from depression. The public are taken by her work; insistently ask her how she became such a good writer; where she gets her inspiration from. Her depression and insomnia. These are what lend her the necessary inspiration and articulateness, for writing — and the art of writing provides an outlet through which she processes her deep and heavy emotions. The story is well-developed: this writer’s depression, as she later discovers through her conversations with a health coach, would appear to be caused by her sensitivity to a particular protein found in dairy. And, because her output with regard to writing had been so reliant on her experiences of depression, the woman in question has a choice to make. Her love of cheese, or the quality of her writing.

At the end, the grand question that is put to her is:

“What’s worth more to you?

The success of your work or the more pleasant state of mind?”

In this world, generally, people really do fear being ‘mediocre’. Instead, people aspire to be more like… the likes of Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and, in terms of historical figures: Mary Shelley, Van Gogh, Mozart. Mark Twain, Edward Thomas, Da Vinci, Albert Einstein.

World-renowned artists; writers; musicians; inventors, mathematicians, scientists and architects: their experiences of bipolar, depression, autism, ADHD. They are flip-sides of the same coins: because, to be different, one must be… different.

It is that, to have the ‘good’ – the plus-sides – of something, one must necessarily experience its necessary downsides, too.

See, people who tend to excel at a particular thing — for whom the underlying languages of particular fields seem to come rather naturally… tend to also easily be ‘diagnosable’ as being, in some ways or others, ‘neurodivergent’.

And the price to pay for the ‘normality’ that escapes these difficult labels and experiences is: relative ‘mediocrity’.

I, for one, have always known that I am ‘weird’. People have always let me know of this fact — not necessarily in a bad way. “Cute,” they say: a label which sometimes irks me. “Quirky”. “Brave enough to be yourself”. “Weird”.

I… am not trying to be “quirky”. The so-called ‘quirky’ things I do and say: they feel so intrinsic to who I am. It is weird to realise, over and over again, that some other people might find these things strange.

Sometimes it has felt alienating. “See? Even Sadia finds that weird!”

And suddenly I am made hyper-aware, again, of the fact that… maybe I need to learn to do things differently, maybe, somehow. I don’t know what to change about myself, but then again, why should I want to change anything-that-isn’t-harming-anybody about myself?

Just because parts of myself might feel… unfamiliar to some?

I guess I am writing this article because recently I think I started to put the pieces together a little. I have always – from Nursery to (what I term The Depressive Year) Year Thirteen done well at school, Alhamdulillah. But I have major problems with being unable to sit and do work for subjects and such I do not have strong, strong interests in. I have pretty much always had a particular proclivity towards words, and writing, and day-dreaming. I am very emotionally sensitive: I absorb others’ emotions pretty much like a sponge. I am quite sensitive to sensory overstimulation. I get socially exhausted pretty quickly, and I have my particularities. Three close friends, and I can really only socialise well when it’s one-on-one. With these things in mind, and more pertaining to whom I have always been, I realise:

I might just be a little on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s, may-haps?) But I don’t think I want to see a doctor, to get an official diagnosis. Because if this is the case, I don’t really see it is an ‘illness’.

Looking back, I realise that many of the people I have admired may have been what is commonly seen as being ‘neurodivergent’. At secondary school, a boy who had been seen as being a bit of a ‘lone wolf’, even though he had friends. He had a knack for making physical works of art; very intelligent (Allahummabārik) and he had particular interests in things like Transformers. We – his friends and some of his classmates – knew him to have been very cool, strange-in-a-good-way, and funny. But it seemed like he had been trying to hide from ‘the masses’, at our school. Secondary school can be an awful, relentless place; one in which anything that makes you ‘different’ makes you… less-than, a ‘problem’, somehow, an easy target.

It must be said, also, that the idiot boys who sometimes taunted the aforementioned one were so, so, personality-less[-seeming], in contrast to him. To be part of the ‘group’ they so desperately wanted to be part of, they simply had to locate and project their insecurities upon some sort of ‘Other’. It is true, though, that “anybody who tries to bring you down is already beneath you”…

The art-loving boy in question ended up becoming a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Being ‘different’ in these ways can be truly painful – especially if/when other people are woefully immature – but those who loved him loved him precisely for who he is, and, to quote the big sister from the movie ‘Wonder’, “you [really] can’t blend in, when you’re born to stand out”. [That is not to say that one should make it a deliberate goal to be ‘quirky’ and consistently ‘not-like-the-others’ and whatnot. But if it happens to be the case, then it happens to be the case, and there is Khayr in it. Allah made you who and how you are, with such good reason].

Sometimes it seems like this very secondary-school-way-of-thinking is what tars modern definitions of what is ‘normal’ and desirable, and what is ‘abnormal’ and not desirable. Be a certain way, or people cannot authentically accept you: how could they? But then enters that classic consideration: that rather edgy 2015-Tumblr-esque statement of rather being disliked for what I am, than liked for what I am not.

I had another friend at school – sixth form, this time – who told me she’d been diagnosed as being on the spectrum. This had come as a bit of a shock to me — I’m not sure why. Probably because, when one thinks of autism, it is very easy to immediately picture symptoms of severe autism, as well as evident, insurmountable-seeming difficulties with speech and communication. And then, I guess, it occurred to me that I had attended a sixth form that had been filled with cool, exceptional, highly knowledgable, strange-in-a-good-way people [and at this school, being ‘normal’ had been the generally undesirable way of being]. In retrospect, many of them probably belonged somewhere on this ‘neurodivergent’ spectrum. They were different, in such awesome ways. [But, see, the idiot boys mentioned above would have probably, if they had come into contact with many of these people, committed to seeing them in a deliberately negative manner, purely towards self-affirming ends]. People are people: how can one fit the entirety of a person, and her essence, into strings of words and diagnoses?

In a world of several billion people, ‘neurodiversity’ is inevitable. Our minds are ‘built differently’, and function along differing lines. Some people are exceptionally good with numbers, or know an awful deal about planes. OCD, dependent-personality-disorders, autism, ADHD… these are all just terms that we attempt to attach to the entirety of a part of human experience. And the more I come to know about different people – from all different walks of life and such – it really does seem as though everybody ‘has’ something.

It’s just that we learn to wear our masks, for the outside world. Generally, our ‘true selves’ tend to be revealed as soon as we come home: to ourselves, and/or to the people who know best of our behavioural tendencies. Phone addictions, shopping addictions, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, mood swings and tendencies towards rage… Yep: it thoroughly does seem as though ‘everybody has something’.

Again, I do not want to seek to get myself diagnosed, and nor do I seek to diagnose myself. But if it is the case that I am ‘neurodivergent’ in this way, I say Alhamdulillah. The things that make me ‘me’: I have certainly come to know their associated downsides and difficulties. And, because of them, I also have the streams of good, which I may often take for granted: my beloved friends, and my personal experiences and stories, the stupid-fun, and the conversations I am able to have on awesome topics, with awesome people, and more.

Also, a poem that I had come across this academic year, courtesy of teaching my beloved Year Seven class:

Sigh. I love love. And not solely the over-romanticised ‘romantic’ type. Love between friends, and between family members. Real love sees not solely the masks that we wear. It sees beyond the ‘whom and how we are trying to be’: the cool, the unaffected, the ‘normal’. Real love notices, in love, our nooks and our crannies. And it promises to love us because of, and not ‘in spite of’, them.

So I am going to conclude this here article by assuring myself that I promise to, Insha Allah, always give myself a try. ‘Be myself’, and all that jazz. And I hope that Allah will continue to bring me to all of the right people; that He will continue to bring all of the right people to me.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Life / Bleach

Yesterday, I decided to peruse over some of my old blog articles. There were some things I had written, which I had long since forgotten about. Some things that, today, make me truly cringe. Things that humour me. Sometimes I wonder if I should go back and delete some of those entries; go over my old journals and cross some things out, with a thick black marker pen.

But, no: truly, I appreciate those times and those experiences. Those days made me. Helped to shape me; I could not have been whom I am now, and know what I do, without them. Our cringe-worthy, awkward days: the ones we are prone to looking back on with equal amounts of fondness and warmth, and regret and “why, why, why?” — really and truly, they shaped us.

And I guess one of the weirdest things about reading over old writings is this: that others see, and saw, of those entries what they see/saw [Tangent time: why are see-saws called see-saws? Why are they not called up-downs or sit-sats?] and I, when reading over them… it’s like I get transported, almost, back to the times in which I had penned – or typed – them. I vividly recall the thoughts and feelings I had been experiencing. All of those former versions of my own headspace. Awesome.

[My childhood best friend and I have chosen to lovingly call these last five years or so of our lives our ‘Kind of just feel like an Idiot’ years. No real regrets, though. Just gratitude, (mutual cringing,) love.]

There are so many things that we may find, we take for granted, these days. Erstwhile experiences, journeys of learning. Fall down, graze your elbow, get back up, be kind and patient: let it heal. From the most elementary things (e.g. our abilities to sit and eat calmly, without getting baby gunk all over our faces, as well as our abilities to read words with ease. Long gone are the days of ‘robot phonics’; of forgetting how to spell ‘beautiful’ or ‘friend’). To other things. Like how to deal with our own mistakes. Feelings. And with failures.

Coming to know other people. The possibilities. How best to take care of ourselves and others when we are unwell. How to be kinder; a better friend. How to fit a duvet cover; how to choose what to repair, and what to leave alone.

The women and men we seek to be. The opportunity presented, within each and every moment, to go ahead be them!

I have a feeling that, in about five years or so, I may (Insha Allah) read over this very article. Recall what I had been going through here and now, at age twenty. I think I will likely half-cringe, half-be a little endeared, then, too.

I think one thing that had followed me throughout this past almost-decade is… caring too much – fearing, even – what other people think. At times, I have aligned my own judgements of myself, with other people’s (perceived) judgements of me. Not great. Arguably quite instinctive and ‘natural’, but, still… not great.

The strange thing is, I never used to care so much. As a child, I did my thing, and I loved doing it. Granted, there were some things that I had done/taken part in that were a little [childish and innocent, but… a little] crazy. [Perhaps I should substitute the c-word for the word ‘spirited’!] I cannot bring myself to regret those things very much at all. Childhood is for fun and exploration. For being you, and for being loved precisely for it.

Seven-year-old I, I suppose, had been… a younger version of whom I continue to be, today: life is sort of childhood continued, but with some additional things added to the grand, often-confusing, mix…

I guess, somewhere along the line, the expectations changed dramatically. And those expectations did not begin from whom I had been already. Abruptly stop, be something else: considerably different, I think, from whom I had organically been in the process of becoming. People expect girls to be [their fixed, superficial, unrealistic idea of] ‘perfect Muslims’, ‘perfect daughters’, perfect in domestic terms, perfect in social terms. We must always, always, be hyper-aware of how we… look.

And that, right there, I think, is the key word. Look. How things seem, often centrally at the expense of what things are. Perhaps, ‘ideally’, I would… wear a Selwar Kameez all the time; a neat, crease-less headscarf. Know when to speak; be neat, never slip up. Perfect grades, but no… opinions. Smile flawlessly for pictures. Creativity only in secret, perhaps. Be so instinctively great with screaming babies. Be social, but talk about a limited range of ‘acceptable’ things. [But the standards and goal-posts seem to always be shifting, changing!] Nothing ‘too much’. Maybe: how school is going. “Good”. How work is going. “Good”. How are we. “Fine”. Nothing that really makes you a person, but… some un-fault-able impression, a picture of one. Keep everything else hidden. Keep a house spotless. Faultless. Nothing that ‘people’ could ever single out and fault. I’m [not really] sorry, but:

Spotless things must be quite intrinsically unfortunate: they would appear to be devoid of what life is really, truly, all about. They do not exist. But if they did, I really do think they would be missing out. Growth, and learning, and trying, and failing. Stories can only really stem from things… happening. Taking place. One cannot have a cake without a(n at-least-somewhat) messy baking process. And even if we could be extremely neat and precise: I think the joy would be extracted from it all. Everything would be controlled and systemised. Predictable, and character-less. When everything blends in: nothing really stands out.

Bleach is a chemical product that tends to leave things spotless. Faultless. So… clean. Bleach also happens to be a substance that effortlessly kills things that are organic, alive. Life. Is simply not meant to be so (to paraphrase something my friend said, which really stuck to my mind) efficient and sanitised.

I so love exploring the field of Child Psychology. Children, you see, come into the world telling us who they are. They cry: they (and we) need food, warmth, comfort, love. The first seven years of our lives tend to be when we express what our personalities are. Over time, personality is honed, moulded into character. First, this responsibility of nurture is placed, primarily, on the families that are entrusted with our upbringing and care. And then, when we reach an age of understanding, we acquire a personal responsibility. A duty of care over our own selves; our souls.

Ideas pertaining to innate personality are supported, for instance, by a particular Hadith, which informs us that the first seven years of a child’s life are to be dedicated to play. Through play, we get to clearly see that some children are more outgoing and imaginative. Make battle-ships out of see-saws [that word-of-mysterious-origins again, semi-deliberately re-employed]. Some children are very emotionally sensitive; need more hugs, more loving words, than others do. [And are so terribly sweet that it just makes your heart melt.] Some like to sit and play alone for hours on end: there are whole entire worlds, whirring away within their brilliant (and, also, highly impressionable) minds. Some children get a little kick out of using swear-words; want to feel all grown up. Lipstick and big words. Some love making others laugh. Some are so completely captivated by washing machines, cars, and Iron-Man. Some do not like to get their clothes dirty, and do not like to share. Some get socially drained very easily. [Why don’t we just let them, for example, have a rest and sleep, rather than making them feel bad for not being like this or not being like that?]

Yes, ultimately: perfection is not to be expected of anybody. Maybe it is something that we sometimes think we want, but not really. We have an objective moral code to follow. For example, Allah instructs us, in the Qur’an, time and time again, to not be arrogant. Do not act superior; like you are mighty — something you are fundamentally not. I think I would rather be exactly who I am (Alhamdulillah) than some delusional arrogant boaster who picks at others’ flaws, while overlooking my own. Convincing myself that I am… superior.

I really do believe in the inherent beauty of looking at – and loving – what is there, and not singling out and exaggerating what is not there: perceived faults and inadequacies. Watering those former flowers, instead of those latter…weeds. People are not problems. Every human being, complete with our own stories, strengths, weaknesses: is a blessing, a Divine gift.

Maybe if ‘perfect’ men existed, ‘perfect’ women would exist too. Maybe if the women who seem to expect us to be ‘perfect’ were ‘perfect’ themselves, we would have ‘better role models’ to take after… But they don’t; we don’t. We are real, and full; each of us is unique. We are too cold sometimes; we cry; we forget to do something; misplace our keys. Run into interpersonal frictions; get stressed; get insecure. Our houses are a bit more messy when we find ourselves a little more occupied with other things. We are former babies, with gunk everywhere, and then we learn, over time and with due patience, how to eat more neatly. Not robotically, though. Each person has a style: of writing, of eating, of speaking, of being. How to pronounce the word ‘scone’. How to write a polite email. We are not born knowing how to ride a bike; how to change a nappy; how to please the probing eyes of every insolent busybody with access to a phone line. How to stop being scared of things that need not be so scary any more.

We will run into shortcomings, mistakes, faults. We are designed to be able to work on things; learn, practise, fall again, get up again. I love, love, love this. It is not ‘perfect’. Thankfully, it is interesting, though. Fascinating, not some predictable conveyor-belt porcelain ‘picture-perfect’ straight line. So worthwhile, and deep, and unexpected, pleasure-and-pain, and complex.

This matters to me because, to me, it is life and death. And I need to know: it is not boring, character-less ‘perfection’ I ought to expect of myself, just so others do not talk; so that people do not express angry disapproval. Besides, how boring a thing to talk about: what appears to be ‘wrong’ with others and their lives. And, how indicative of self-delusion and arrogance!

Expectations of ‘perfection’ are sort of a ‘double-bind’ thing. You either become that quiet, ‘normal’, ‘perfect’, negligible character with nothing vaguely interesting to do or talk about. A walking picture-frame, trophy, silent-for-the-most-part accessory. Or, you understand that there is an innate you, a personality. A complete, living, breathing human being, within whose rib-cage is this wonderful beating heart, beating for life and for love.

A character you are going to, Insha Allah, work on, for the rest of this life of yours. You will be tested, over and over and over again; you will learn and grow and develop. Other people: I suppose you’ll continue to see who is good to hold, within your heart. And who… might not, so much, be. Let people approach you – from their own perspectives, biases, attitudes, values, demeanours. Alhamdulillah, we are mature enough to decide on things for ourselves. Commit to certain things; set our boundaries and make them clear; choose these things, or those. This whole entire thing: it is between you and the one in whose very Hand is your very soul; your whole entire being:

‘Quirks’, ‘flaws’, uniquenesses.

Sharpnesses, capabilities;

softnesses, fragilities;

thorough, undeniable humannesses —

life, unbleached — and all.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be you;
I don’t know what it’s like but I’m dying to


So tell me what’s inside of your head:

No matter what you say I won’t love you less” — S.M.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Rugged Charm

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

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


Dear friend,

Most are known to spend

their evenings in search, searching,

For some other life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaking buckets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, remember, the graceful tenacity of the birds:

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

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

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

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

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

.إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

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

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

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

— Surah An’am, Holy Qur’an

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

‘Self-love’ (?)

“Love yourself.”

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

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

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

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

“I am beautiful. And intelligent. And awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You matter immeasurably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Qur’an, (49:11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

“Is the reward for goodness anything but goodness?”

Qur’an, 55:60

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Qur’an, 10:65

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

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

“What wonderful red hair!”

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

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

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

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

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Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Friends

We live in a world that would appear to be characterised by — nay, marred by — this widespread sense of anxious individualism. We are known to focus so much on ourselves, eagerly rush to decorate our own egos, find ourselves caught up in all these — what some may term, — ‘rat races’. But, for what?

I think the truth is, we are all seeking love, that mysterious, sometimes elusive (yet profoundly well-known) active and flowing force. Real love. And not just that often over-romanticised ‘romantic’ sort. [Indeed, some theorise that a key reason as to why Western media and society seem obsessed with ‘romantic’ love is because of this drastic lack of far-reaching communal love. A strong, and true, sense of community. The feeling of truly being held by the people around us.]

Living the way most people would appear to live, today, can have its challenges, on the ‘love’ front. Some live alone, in small city apartments. Some live with others, yet feel equally atomised, are equally alone. Where our needs for love (which are so completely ingrained within us; they are fundamental to our emotional and spiritual health) remain unmet, a void is left, unchecked, in their place. It longs for true company; not just a type that is limited to exchanging pleasantries, discussing how bad the traffic has been all day…

Almost unconditional. The knowledge that one can lean back, and love is there. A simple, perhaps even unsaid, promise. That I am for you; will you be for me, too?

Today, we find, so many of us try desperately to ‘protect’ ourselves, and to glorify our own images, through the use of egoic shields. We try not to discuss any of our difficulties, but are fine with subtly announcing some of our ‘better’ achievements and qualities; we demonstrate hyper-competitive tendencies; we can often be very wary when it comes to trusting others. This is, without a doubt, an age of pandemic aloneness, of paranoia, of sovereign egos.

And this is precisely what many of the ways of ‘modernity’ do: they take these (Fitrah-aligned) ‘pure gazes’ of ours, the original, sincere ones, and they try to make us swap them for snake eyes. We find we are hungry [but for what?]; our egos are writhing, restless.

Undoubtedly, this can all get in the way of our being able to truly experience deep connections.

Throughout the courses of these lives of ours, our souls will (Insha Allah) incline strongly towards, and come to love, other souls. Love is just that: the non-finite, immaterial, often inexplicable, currency, or messenger, or fruit, of the human soul.

For this — love — to be allowed to truly take hold between us and others, one must be willing to let those egoic defences come down, quite a bit. The pride, the fear, the excessive Othering. Our fictions, too, like those pertaining to ‘perfection’. And, one must allow oneself to be what modernity might term, ‘vulnerable’. But this is a somewhat…lugubrious term, is it not?

As if the base state should be one thing, and then whenever we allow ourselves to be a bit more… true, we are being ‘vulnerable’. The term is redolent of… someone sitting outside in the cold, without a coat on, maybe. Vulnerable. Like exposing oneself, an embarrassing nakedness: shame.

We can safely and easily exchange the term ‘vulnerable’ for ‘sincere’, methinks. And, in fact, in reference to the aforesaid analogy, sincerity [a good dose of it, without allowing ourselves to slip into…excessive and uncurbed honesties…] actually brings warmth. It is when we are not in denial of what we are; when we allow others to be beautifully human, and are enough at peace within ourselves, to allow ourselves to be so, too.

The soul simply does not fall in love with egoic decorations. It does not fall in love with pretence, nor with fraudulent human beings who are sometimes in denial that sometimes the sky does give rain; in doubt that, at a certain time, death will come. The soul recognises truth — though sometimes the glass through which it can look, is rather muddied.

No human being alive is lesser than you; no one is better than you, either. One might find a ‘soulmate’ in someone who looks completely different to you; whose general egoic labels might be radically different to the ones that might be ascribed to you. We all find ourselves upon this Earth, slightly existentially disconcerted, perhaps. Requiring water to hydrate our skins, and sleep to restore our energies. Food with which to fill our stomachs, and love with which to fill our hearts; to energise our souls.

In a world that is not centred on love, our souls become tired. We require the stuff of the soul to energise us; we find that nothing else will do.

I believe in the critical value of family: in the ‘connections of the womb’, the ‘relationships of mercy’. Perhaps even more so than this, I so believe in friendship. The true kind.

The English word — friend — has its roots in an old Indo-European word that means, ‘to love’. A deep affection; truly seeing (knowing, understanding), and smiling upon, others. Interestingly, the word ‘free’ also shares this same root.

In tandem with our more ‘physical’ selves, we human beings are also, at our very cores, an emotional kind. So many ‘mental’ ailments that plague us today would appear to be, at least in part, caused by a lack of love. And I do genuinely believe that so many of our ills can ultimately be cured through it, too. Even if our faculties that are primed to receive and return it become a bit dusty here and there, over time. Perhaps due to a lack of our exercising them, or maybe due to some traumatic injuries to them. I believe that love can heal us; it is the only thing that can allow us to flourish, like roses coming into bloom. Right through the dirt: a Divine gift. Like how sunflowers are known to grow towards the sun, does the human being not grow towards love?

The general Arabic word for ‘friend’ is ‘Sadīq’. This word finds its roots in the word for ‘sincerity’. One cannot have a true friendship without sincerity. Sincere friendships are the ones that are sans deceit, sans lies and delusional ways of thinking (e.g. thinking oneself ‘better’ than another), sans that egoic pride, springing from glitter. Friendship is a connection of equal-but-differents, a golden bridge from one soul to another.

And, in Arabic, there is a different word that describes a particularly close friend: a ‘Khalīl’. In terms of imagery, this word is linked to the action of ‘Khilāl’: when one interweaves the fingers on one hand, with those on the other. A special kind of intimacy, and you are a fortunate person indeed if you have, in your life, at least one Khalīl.

A true friend is someone who one feels entirely comfortable with. Enough to let the walls come down; enough to be true, in your relative entirety. Someone with whom one can speak to in the later hours; someone to experience significant, and small, parts of one’s life with. Between true friends, there is true care, and trust, and openness. A fine balance, with neither pity nor envy, nor any such similar things that may threaten to tip this balance, in the mix.

In a video by ‘The School of Life’, Alain De Boitton outlines four criteria for a truly good friendship. They are as follows:

  1. Reassurance

The life of this world can often be hard. We are frequently met with individual trials and tribulations. Sometimes we feel tremendously lonely; sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, or about our places in the world. Confused, and so tiny, especially beneath all those exceptional stars.

Good friends give one another comfort and reassurance. Hands to hold, loving listeners to speak with.

2. Fun. Positive ways of spending time.

A friend is someone whom one enjoys spending time with. And this, of course, will depend on one’s own subjective ideas of fun. Sports, watching movies, simply going for walks. Good friends inspire in their friends, authentically positive feelings.

3. Knowledge. Better understanding oneself, and the world

A good friend helps you to understand yourself, and various aspects of the world at large, better. A ‘Sadīq’ will thus share with you ideas, things that they have come across or learnt, as well as tips on such things as improving your diet, or perhaps on particular topics that are relevant to your specific current situation. Such as things to do with childcare, if you are a new mother.

With a true friend, one can explore through self and other. Without losing oneself to the other, nor burying considerations of other beneath self. Equals.

4. ‘Networking’

Every human life has a general ultimate direction towards which they turn. For some people, the highest attainment lies somewhere along a certain career path. For others, Jannah is the ultimate goal, while other worldly objectives are considered as being only ancillary or secondary. This fourth component of friendship-based excellence refers to the ability of one’s friends, and the ability of one to help one’s friends, in developing towards our life objectives; good friends certainly inspire us to do, and be, better. They genuinely want for you what they want (i.e. the good, the Khayr they want) for themselves.  

Do you find you share the same purpose[s] and values as your friends? Your decisions on who your friends are absolutely crucial things to think about, for they will naturally, and deeply, come to influence your values, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of doing things.

Very fascinatingly, one of the bases of the successes of friendship-group-based sitcoms, like ‘Friends’ and ‘New Girl’ is the fact that viewers often connect with (or, to — since the phenomenon is evidently rather one-way) on-screen characters, as a result of the human emotions and such they (the characters) portray. A bond that mimics friendship begins to form, and people can become extremely invested in their favourite friendship-based TV shows. We may begin to identify very deeply with their (fictional, on-screen) woes; we may find ourselves imitating certain small things that they do. Subconsciously, we feel like those are our friends [we may thus find ourselves entangled in ‘para-social relationships’]… and friends, as aforesaid, tend to come to have some very powerful (emotional, ideological, behavioural) influences over one another.

With your favourite TV show characters, you can become very familiar. The process of growing in perceived familiarity, with fictional characters just as with real people, necessitates a lot of time spent with them; a feeling that you ‘know’ them, and/or ‘understand’ them.

Perhaps one can tell quite a lot about the sorts of people — the types of personalities and such — that we are more intrinsically inclined towards, by examining the TV characters we have been most fond of.  Perhaps these particular personalities offer us reassurance, through ‘relatability’ (our ability to identify with them and their experiences, etc.) or simply as a result of ‘tuning in’ to these characters’ shows when we are feeling a little down. Or, maybe their personalities are fun; we find that it is enjoyable to spend time with (or, watching [that sounds creepy]) them. Maybe they have knowledge to offer us — about the world, or about ourselves. Or, perhaps they (in line with the ‘networking’ criterion) occupy a certain social or professional role that we may seek for ourselves, and thus inspire us in this regard…

Something that is actually rather alarming about the norms of ‘modernity’ is that so many of us would now appear to be spending far more time — emotionally, and in terms of our presence — investing in those ‘para-social relationships’ of ours, than in our actual (two-way) social ones!

I think a particular, particularly important, form of friendship is, perhaps, the type that is (or, should be,) shared between spouses. Marital friendship. For what good is a marriage, without friendship as its fundamental basis? I maintain (though, at present, I find I am quite experientially unqualified to have an opinion on this) that the best of marital relationships are the ones in which a person truly feels like he or she is married to his or her best friend; in which marital life might feel like one big on-going sleepover with one’s closest companion. In Islam, the Qur’an states that the purpose of a marriage is so that one may find tranquility and affectionate love in a significant other. Ideally, as well as this, one’s husband or wife should, I think, be someone whom we can learn from, and have a good time with — in a truly comfortable way. They are, I think, friends, with that added facet of what we may term ‘romance’. [Dear reader, if you are to get married in the future, may you end up with a husband or wife who is also your Khalīl; Ameen!]

It is true that you will not manage to find friendship in everyone. You may not end up feeling that connection of the soul with certain people with whom you might have pre-imagined it. And, see, when it happens, it just does, and your soul just knows. There is no use in forcing it with anybody.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it is true: with most human social dispositions (think: ambition, work, friendship) there are ultimately two paths that one can take: the path towards the ego, or the ‘spiritual’ path — the path that is greater than oneself (one’s ‘Nafs’). Some may say this, the latter path, is towards ‘love’ itself. Others would say that this is the path towards Allah. [I would personally argue that what is generally termed ‘spirituality’ today is simply the name we give to ‘secularised religion’. I think (‘modern’ notions of) ‘spirituality’ is very much interchangeable with the idea of ‘a connection to the Divine, without explicit mention of Him’.]

Yes, I do think that the best friendships possible are rooted in a mutual love for Allah (SWT). Such friendships tend to accommodate a uniquely top-down experience; when done right, a decidedly more… ‘sincere’ and (sincerely) spiritual one. True adherence to Islam, for instance, can prevent or deeply regulate such threats to authentic friendship as hyper-competition, a reluctance to forgive and overlook small faults, etc.

And so, on these very notes do I challenge myself to love more openly, outwardly, and sincerely. I must apologise for any mistakes I may have made along the way; try to be better, Insha Allah. I should remember that it is only sincerity that brings about, and allows the maintenance of, true love: love for Allah, and for others, and for fellow components of creation, and indeed for oneself.

Love accepts and forgives. It nurtures and helps heal. It grows; it allows us to grow along with it. It is kind and true; appreciates the good, is understanding when it comes to some of the ‘less good’ bits, too.

And I must have great trust in love, and trust that herein is where great change — mighty good change – oft happens. In loving the fact that one never loses, by giving love: this is not how the stuff of the soul works.

Say it is all too abstract, call it fairy dust.

But, oh how real and powerful and necessary-for-life we (innately) know love to be.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

“Depression”

Around this time last year, I had been struggling with a major episode of depression (and anxiety).

[Sometimes I feel concerned that I may be sharing excessive facets of myself and my life on this blog of mine. But I sincerely believe that these things must be talked about, therefore I suppose this is a risk I am willing to take.]

Overpowering suicidal urges, piercing and burning pains throughout one’s head, issues with focus and memory, an unmatchable feeling of exhaustion. For roughly two months straight, my entire existence felt like one giant walking panic attack. Nervous lump in throat, heart always pounding, not able to truly be ‘here’ at all.

Some people chose to think that I had been making it all up, or that I myself had chosen to be in such a difficult state. I can assure you, nobody at all would ever choose to go through such things. In truth, I think I am a rather optimistic person. I am especially fond of the idea of persevering; of… mountain-climbing. And I know that neither anxiety nor depression, nor bipolar, nor all these other mental health conditions, are indicative of any sort of personal failure. Some people can make it all the more difficult, though: by being ignorant, or even angry towards you, when all you are trying to do is get better.

All in all, I do not feel as though the terms we commonly ascribe to these conditions are that useful or… accurate. Because we use the term “depressed” to describe both the impossibly challenging neurological condition (which, often, like a 20-foot-tall dark monster, appears out of nowhere, and brings to your being the most pain you have ever known) and the reactive emotional states of misery/sorrow, alike. Same with ‘anxiety’. If anything, the phrase ‘atrophy of the mind’ might be most fitting when it comes to Depression (that severe inexplicable type that would appear to plague certain families, I mean: there is undoubtedly a genetic element to it). And, since the mind and body are so deeply integrated with one another, mental atrophy is something that every millimetre of you comes to feel.

Mental atrophy is: disorientation, and it is extreme fatigue. It is wanting, desperately, to know why, yet discovering that none of it can be rationalised, reallyIt is the seeming decay of one’s mind, before one’s very own… mind. Suicidal thoughts, pounding voices; a feeling of poison being injected into both sides of one’s brain. Headaches, body aches, wanting to eat too much, or wanting to starve oneself (without actually…wanting to). All I can say is that it is the worst thing I have ever known.

And, Alhamdulillah, for me, in this moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. [It is barely even here!] But I sort of want to really hold onto my knowledge of the severity of the formerly quite intense experience. I want to remember how important it is, to truly be there for anybody who tells me they are suffering from one of these diseases of the mind. I want to remember how important it is, that we work together to find true solutions. To mental atrophy; to other mind-generated ‘implosions of the self’, including anorexia, complex-PTSD (etc.)…

And, perhaps a better term for ‘anxiety’ (i.e., the disorder) would be… ‘life-destroying fear’. [What am I afraid of, though? There is no explanation. Such things, one finds, cannot be intellectualised]. And it all comes out of nowhere, and it will not let you sleep at night, or rest during the day. Everything in your head flips, upside-down, and your whole universe is sinking. Total suffocation, and… nobody else can hear it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

Right now, it would appear as though most of the ‘treatments’ humanity has found, for these neurological/mental health conditions are… woefully experimental. Trial and error. Unsure of themselves. A mind-numbing pill here, some talking therapy there. And, on the whole, there is this emphasis on ‘managing’ the conditions, not necessarily on trying to resolve them, once and for all.

There is so much to learn about mental diseases; so much stigma to work on eradicating. And there is a cure, out there somewhere; not merely one that dulls all feelings, causing patients to walk around like apathetic robots [this, along with intense sickness and insomnia, had been one of the terrifying side effects of a particular medicine I had been prescribed]. There is much to be learnt about; much to be found.

Indubitably, there is a significant ‘biological’/neurological component to consider. Mental health disorders are evidently quite hereditary by nature. I wonder if the theories pertaining to ‘inherited trauma’ are true. Or, perhaps, it is something about the nervous systems of particular individuals that renders us more susceptible to… being so badly affected by stress? 

If stress (and stress-based conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD) are analogous to a bushfire, then what we term Depression is the aftermath of the destructive blaze: a mental forest that has been burnt to the ground. Bare and seemingly utterly destroyed. So, some key questions that arise might be: 1) What, exactly, makes certain forests more flammable than others? Overactive minds? Larger amygdalas? 2) Just how does stress manage to affect so many mental faculties at once? 3) How best can we make the ground fertile and good again; how can we rebuild those forests that had been lost to the flames?

And, how can we prevent fires that occur in the ‘more flammable’ forests from becoming massive and destructive ones, in the first place? I think emotional intelligence undoubtedly needs to come into play, here. Especially if a child, for example, might have a high genetic predisposition to Depression, his or her emotional needs should really be looked after, at home. A little bit of emotional nurture can go a long way. Sadly, in some families in which the levels of predisposition to mental illness are high, adults can be extremely dismissive of, and even abusive towards, children. Thus, ‘the forest’ is quick to catch on fire, and quick to burn right to the ground.

Does stress always precede mental atrophy? [When it comes to ‘endogenous’ Depression, those who suffer from it more often than not also suffer from one or more anxiety disorders, OCD, etc.] Is the condition, then, in concise terms, a holistic and ongoing sense of exhaustion? 

[Stress (as a result of life events) is typically the factor that ‘realises’ mental health conditions in people, though some have a particularly strong genetic predisposition to them. This is explained by the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model’]

“I have Depression.”

“…Oh. Why don’t you try thinking more positively?”

“No I mean, I suffer from the neurological condition that is commonly referred to as ‘Depression'”

“Oh. You should exercise more! No matter what you do, though, do not take medication. You can sort this out by going jogging, and by eating more fruit and veg, and drinking water. Also, have you tried meditation?

“Well, —”

“You should go and spend time with your family members more. And cheer up! Smile more! Stop being miserable. There is so much to smile about! I feel sad too sometimes, you know! I normally just get some ice-cream, watch a movie or something, and it goes away.  It’s all about emotional resilience! Everyone goes through what you’re going through, you know…”

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

There are ‘biological’ things to be considered, when it comes to Anxiety and Depression, and related disorders, certainly. But, what is unique about mental health is that there are also spiritual, social, and emotional things to consider. The way in which our societies are organised, and how they function. Stresses, and stress relief. And, just how accurate might, for example, Freudian views on such things, be?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/depression-awareness-mental-illness-feel-like

An “implosion of the self”, a flood of leaden waters. And you cannot stop them.

So if/when somebody tells you that they suffer from, say Depression: please try not to dismiss them. When it comes to family members and friends; when it comes to your ‘boys’ who may even laugh off their own experiences of it. I hope you do not attempt to speak over them, or to look past them.

I hope you try to look into their eyes, and try to be there for them; try to really listen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

To Feel Seen, and Smiled At

I fear what other people may be thinking of me. I am almost certain that so too, do you. It is in our nature, in our design, to want to seek acceptance and approval from people: from authority figures, from people we would like to befriend. And we want to feel, on some deep psychological level, safe and sound, truly at home, and not in any way rejected or attacked; we want to feel like we belong. 

Deeper than this, we do not merely seek to be ‘tolerated’, nor even merely ‘accepted’. But appreciated, celebrated. We seek true validation. And nobody at all really wants to feel cast out; alienated.

We tend to look for validation specifically from people whom we perceive to have power. Professional, or social. Maybe they have certain traits that we may, ourselves, desire. For one reason or another, we find ourselves trusting them, as well as their judgements.

 

From the very first days of our existences outside of the womb, what we know to first seek is a validating type of eye contact: to feel seen, really seen, and to feel loved for being. A look, and a smile. A “welcome to the world. You are welcome here, truly.

 

“I see you, and I love you.”

 

And the ways in which we are mirrored back: these little messages continually tell us who we are. This is especially critical in the first seven years of our lives, for this is when the cruxes of our personalities are formed, [what ought to be] a delicate to-and-fro of “this is me,” and, “yes, this is you”. And it is the job of a child’s caregivers to continually make the child feel seen, and known, held, praised, and encouraged.

Such instinctual psychological desires do not just up and leave us, after these particular definitive years of ours, though; they are here with us, throughout our lives. At school, within our peer groups, at work — we find ourselves forever in pursuit of the eye-and-smile thing.

“You are truly seen,” it tells us. “And truly appreciated.” 

Relax. Without any sort of need to impress or overcompensate. Nor to always come across as being especially funny, or smart, or anything else. Just as you are: you are worthy of love.

But what if, whether in infancy or at some crucial point thereafter, we did not feel seen (i.e. seen in truth, and not merely via the masks we may have learnt to wear, in order to attempt to simulate that essential validating experience we so sought) and what if we did not feel smiled-at, appreciated, cherished?

One of my little cousins, for example, is really rather awesome. She likes to write her own songs, uses gifted makeup sets so as to paint on paper, plays football competitively. She is a gorgeous little creature (Masha Allah) and, as aforesaid, I think she is awesome. But she has all these strong doubts about herself. Thinks herself to be, among other things, ‘inadequate’ as a girl.

“I don’t want to be ‘unique’. Unique means weird.

“Well, I think it means singular and extraordinary!”

Cole Mackenzie and Anne, Anne with an E

Sometimes she finds she is excluded from certain little friendship groups. On account of being who and how she is, apparently. When I try to remind her of the beauty of this ‘who and how she is’, she is able to remember the good of herself momentarily, but then forgets, in the faces of those strong oppositional forces.

How difficult it is to build a building: brick-by-brick. How comparatively easy it is to knock the entire thing down. 

When one feels seen, yet not at all smiled at: this can prove to be a rather terrifying ordeal indeed. Put under a spotlight, feeling mortified and exposed, prodded and gawked at. Like you are a lab rat, some strange creature. Undeserving. Not belonging; social death.

Or, of course, on the flip-side, one may find oneself feeling smiled at, and yet, not truly seen. When one hides the truths of oneself, defensively, for acceptance, maybe; for fear of not being approved of. The smiles themselves: we may find that they do not fulfil. They can feel rather inauthentic… because it is not truly you that is being smiled at, is it?

Finally, rather tragically, one may come to find oneself in a state of feeling neither seen, nor smiled at. Whereby one’s truths are hidden, out of fear of not being accepted by others. Whereby masks are not worn, either. It is like such people have come to accept utter defeat; are now shrouded in a state of feeling completely societally rejected, and subsequently quite hopeless, fearing always floating, never belonging. But I think they are still there, somewhere. Our true/potential selves do not simply die while we ourselves remain alive: they can get unfavourably covered up for a while, sure. Or neglected, or hindered. But they are never lost. And, in due time, and with the love and support of the right people for us, oh how we find we can grow! 

Children (and indeed we, us over-aged children) need to be reminded, time and time again, of who we are, from the perspective of those who truly love us [us. Not whom they want us to be!] and whom we, in return, also love. That ‘to-and-fro’ thing, again. And, over and over again. Because, (when it concerns qualities that are not distinctively morally wrong) there are always at least two ways of looking at things.

“Too quiet”, for instance, can be exchanged for “contemplative”: a brilliant quality to have, actually. “Weird” can be swapped for “spirited”. “Shy” can be rephrased as “endearing”.

And, on matters concerning physical appearance, no baby is born feeling that he or she is “ugly”. But often, all it takes for a child to suddenly feel bad about one or more of their qualities is… a single comment.

“Different isn’t bad. It’s just not the same.

— Anne with an E

From back when I had been the same age as the aforementioned cousin of mine, I remember how much the tiniest comments would affect me. For example, an aunt of mine had taught me to think that having ‘baby hairs’ was a bad thing. So, at home, I tried exceedingly hard to scrub it all off. But now I know that many people consider these baby hairs to be a positive and desirable thing to have. A similar occurrence, concerning my slightly-upturned nose. A relative of mine teased me about it, calling it a “pig nose”. So I would exert myself to push my nose downwards, in the hope that it would become permanently like this, someday. But, now I know that many consider upturned noses to be “cute”, actually.

A final example, concerning the colour of my skin. As a very young child, my skin had been very fair. And, as a result of some deeply colourist South Asian standards, I had been complimented for this, quite a lot. An aunt of mine even made jokes about wanting to swap her own daughter for me, since I had been fairer than my cousin.

[You know, it is not uncommon for people to comment, as soon as a child is born, on the colour of his or her skin: on how (apparently, consequently) ‘pretty’ or ‘ugly’ the baby is, or will turn out to be. And these attitudes are quite disgusting.]

Anyway, I did not care much for the fact that my skin colour had been granted so much value in the eyes of certain relatives of mine. I liked to play outside in the sun; let my skin turn browner. A particular relative of mine started to insult me, calling me “dirt-coloured”, and treating me differently. But, I did not care. I told her that she, by contrast, was fair, just like bacteria, and just like the bottom of my feet.

A bit savage, I know. But I figured I did not need nor want the approval and acceptance of a person who wanted to determine the value of a child by how fair or dark their skin was. This was not a value that I had aspired towards: so why should the disapproval of someone with such a value have mattered, to me? I guess I chose to give this particular person less power in my eyes. Who was she, to determine any ‘truths’ about me, anyway?

No, I did not feel like I ‘belonged’, with a person like her. But, nor did I want to: the apparent criteria that would have been necessary for this were simply not worth it!

Personality-based features (again, when they are not rooted in immorality), and appearance-based ones: one may find that there are always different perspectives that one can choose to have, on any given thing. Positive, or neutral, or bad. Being tall: desirable to some; a neutral thing to be, for others. And an awful thing to be, in the perspectives of some. Being bookish: desirable, neutral, or terrible.

See, on the level of people, there are as many distinctive ‘truths’ as there are pairs of eyes! And, different eyes [can choose to] see different ‘truths’, about the very same thing: whether this be concerning the entirety of a person, or about certain isolated features of theirs. Brown skin. Or ginger hair. Freckles, chubby cheeks, mono-lid eyes. They can be seen, and are seen, by different groups of people, as being good, or neutral, or ‘bad‘. Now which group, of the three, would it be best for you to agree with, when it comes to you and your attributes?

You might find you are “too religious,” for some. Perfectly so, for others. “Too boisterous,” for some. Brilliantly so, for others. “Too into […] stamp-collecting [?],” for some. And splendidly so, for others. And there will always, always, always be some people on this Earth who will deeply approve of you, as well as some people who will really not. 

The ones who will really see you, and therefore love you… I hope they are the friends that you will have, through life. I hope they know to honour you, and you, them. And your respective colours. And how the jigsaw pieces might fit together. I hope the soil nurtures your growth and theirs, really and truly.

Anyway, what certain people say, and the ‘standards’ that are decided as a result of these opinions: these are not the ‘gatekeepers’ of Truth. Even when it comes to things like beauty standards: do you not see how these fashions ebb and flow, and change, and what they are, altogether, in light of? Quite frivolous, for the most part. Sometimes fleeting, often unsubstantial.

If you ever find yourself having been insulted for a trait or feature that you may have, I challenge you to try to immediately remind yourself that “there is another way of looking at this“. Whatever they may be saying, there is another thing that can be said, regarding the very same thing: a more positive outlook. Now, just what could this be?

Who had taught you to think the bad things you might think of yourself, currently? And, why should they have the authority to be able to make such a decision, concerning you? Why should you have to believe them?

I promise you: where there is a choice to see beauty, and when you then choose to see it, beauty grows. In you, and in others.

You are a brilliant pear tree; why should I complain about your ‘failure’ to produce apples? You are a gorgeous wintry sun; who am I to expect, from you, heat? Or, you are a sunflower. Why ought I to be disappointed to find that your petals are not red and pleated?

Be whom you are, my friend. And bloom from whom you are. You will have your ‘right’ ones who notice and appreciate; you will have your ‘not-so-right’ ones who find they cannot do so. And this is okay, for you are you, and they are they. There is no need to meet everybody’s seeming ‘expectations’ of you: no, for you may just completely lose yourself in the process.

We all, from the places of our very cores, seek to be smiled at, after being seen. And, there is no substitute for real (love-based) connections, which are rooted in the very aforesaid phenomenon. Some people might seek seen-ness and smiles from others, through avenues such as fame. But no, no. Mere popularity is no substitute for the real stuff: it is no substitute at all.

 

Just whose validation is it that you seek, and why? And whose disapproval do you fear so much, and why? 

 

Now, if you are able to do so, dear friend, I encourage you to look into a mirror: any mirror. And right into your own eyes. It might feel quite strange and intense at first, but… be sure to soften your gaze a little. There. I hope you feel seen now. And now, smile. A most sincere and welcoming smile. Feel seen, and in a most accepting, appreciative, supportive way. Even if some of the people around you are unable to do the same: herein might just lie the first step. Being on one’s own side, while standing on the other side of the mirror. And then, simply choosing to focus on what is good and true. 

“It’s not what the world holds for you.

It’s what you bring to it.”

— Anne with an E

Somehow, one must try to root oneself in soil that will help one to grow; to see others, too, and to smile upon their existences, also. To be with people who love you; to love them right back. To feel connected; to want to always be able to look into their eyes; to miss their smiles when they are not there. To discover more about them and their lives; more things to smile for, and to support.

To really feel seen, and to also sincerely feel smiled at. Is this not the basis of all human love? 

And one must give out this willingness to try to understand, and to appreciate, others, with the sincere hope that you, too are deserving of such treatment. Whether this is granted to you from the hearts of many, or solely from the hearts of a few. 

The greatest thing one can aspire to in life is to love, and to then be loved, too. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Family

Family. The people you recognise as being your own. The blood connections (known, in the Islamic tradition, as being the ‘connections of the womb’), and, indeed, the non-‘blood’ ones. The people with whom you find you are quite… familiar. You may share your space with them. And much of your time, much of your efforts, and your energy. Emotional bonds; family gatherings, inside jokes. Things you do not really share with anybody else.

I have one sibling: my baby brother (no longer a baby, but that classic comment about how he will forever be a baby, in my eyes). Before his birth, I had my cousins as siblings. We share so many memories together; we continue to make new ones as the days go on. Our relationships are funny and lovely. But they have not been without their frictions, their times of difficulty.

I wonder how these current inter-familial relationships will turn out to be, in the future. We will likely grow up and fly away from the (general) nest. We might move to different countries; be able to see each other far less. I hope we never reach a point where seeing one another becomes a mere ‘formality’ thing: the polite hugs, the small talk, the lack of offensive humour.

This gorgeous sense of the ‘familiar’ (notice how similar the word is to ‘family’), it does not rely on one being particularly similar to another. It just depends on the bonds between you, and how these are nurtured. I find that I am unbelievably different to some of the family members I am closest to. Though sometimes, it is wonderful to notice facial similarities, and personality-based ones, between me and my brother, or my little cousins. Recognising them as being my own, albeit different to me.

I love the American sitcom ‘Modern Family’. I think it shows quite well how nuclear families can successfully be meshed together, into functioning extended ones. Different houses, but they see one another quite often. They rely on one another, for comfort, for entertainment, and more. I think we all need this: families that are larger than small nucleic ones.

And, the thing is, over the courses of our lives, we will likely gain new family members. Through marriages, through births, and, indeed, through the forging of excellent friendships. Some friends become family: they are the people you distinctively come to recognise as your own; they become like siblings. You feel awfully ‘yourself’ with them, in the best ways possible.

Some family members are like friends, to us; some friends are like family members. It was never a dichotomy, to begin with. There are simply those connections that begin with blood, and those that do not necessarily. But what is important is the actual social bond, which tends to take some effort to maintain.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020