Books Versus Boys?

Works of fiction tend to be composed of a number of different… tropes. Male writers writing tragically one-dimensional, unrealistic female characters, pandering to the ‘Male Gaze’ [perpetually sweet and lovely. Very physically available. Mysterious and exciting, able to ‘liberate’ the man from a mundane existence]; female writers, also, writing tragically unidimensional male characters [dark, brooding, sharp-boned, and uniformed. Effortlessly eloquent and quietly, deeply emotional and passionate].

Works of fiction are fascinating. These particular products of our minds can tend to reveal quite a lot about… ourselves. In works of fiction, characteristics – physical and personality-based; aesthetic and otherwise – are singled out, and detached – liberated – from the quagmires of present, Dunya-based reality.

Fiction can tell us an awful lot about what our innermost desires may be: it is both informed by these desires, and also contributes to fuelling them; shaping our expectations from life, often without our consciously realising.

Our Fitrahs (generally defined as, our ‘innate human constitutions’) are so receptive to things like physical beauty, and ‘idealistic’ ideas. Constantly, it is like a constant reminder that we are not at Home, here: that there exists, between (Dunya-based) reality and (Jannah-promised) idealism this… journey. Our innermost desires do continue to exist, though. It is not ‘wrong’ for us to have these fundamental yearnings, but it is wrong for us to indulge in them here in Dunya.

‘Islam’ means finding peace in submission to the Creator of all things knowable. Therefore, it would be fallacious to attempt to detach considerations of bodily beauty; sensuality; luxury, and other ‘wants’, from ‘Islamic’ considerations.

One cannot act like the Deen of Islam is somehow… separable from all of these abstract elements of the human experience. Quite the opposite, really. From Allah comes beauty and all things good; with Allah is everything that we could ever dream of having, and More. It is just that these are not the Purpose of this present life of ours: this journey.

There is, for example, a rather interesting real-life story of a particular Muslim scholar/Sheikh – a European revert Muslim – whose forays into Islam began when he had been an adolescent, witnessing a scene of heightened (feminine) beauty. Allah’s artistry at play… and he realised that, since there can be such Beauty in the world – such Unity, Proportion, and Harmony of design – for example on the corporeal forms of women — then there simply must be a Creator.

As human beings [when I say ‘human beings’ I feel like I sound like some alien anthropologist, trying to observe humanity from the outside, but anyway… When human beings] enter into maturity – puberty – and actually even in the years before this fundamental transition – we find ourselves naturally beset by… a hyper-awareness of the opposite gender, coupled with little obsessions with… getting a six-pack and good haircuts. Or with being thin, and having glowing skin.

In bodily characteristics; in lightness or depth of voice; in scent, even, and in essence. As far as fleeting attractions go, it is quite normal for – boys and girls alike – to enter into a deep… recognition of attraction. And these acknowledgements are almost daily, for the majority of our lives. We are recognisers of beauty, but we are encouraged to “lower our gaze[s]” when it comes to the opposite gender: gazing is known to fuel desiring. And the stuff of Dunya simply leaves us hungrier the more we chase after it all.

Generally, also, in fiction, there tends to be carved out a particular dichotomy between the ‘Beautiful’ – the ‘bodily’ blessed, and therefore the more physically desirable – and the ‘Brainy’. The male characters who are supposed to belong to the former group are meant to enjoy frequenting the gym; playing football; flirting effortlessly with lots of women. The women of the former group: shopping, makeup, shoes, clothes, and partying.

The men of the latter group: socially awkward and cannot speak to members of the opposite gender, though thoroughly accomplished and knowledgable. ‘Socially’ unsuccessful; economically and professionally thriving, and with numerous differentiating ‘quirks’. And the women of the latter group: ‘unstylish’, neglectful of physical appearance, caring too much about minor details and/or seeming … monotonous, devoid of any proclivities towards lightheartedness and humour. No friends at all, or being… evidently disliked by the friends they do have.

There is Ralph ‘versus’ (the character who is rather unfavourably named) ‘Piggy’, in ‘Lord of the Flies’ — i.e. the ‘popular’ and widely-socially-approved-of, ‘golden-bodied’ ‘versus’ the ‘intellectual’, ‘physically weak’, caring and compassionate, but ruthlessly overlooked. Daphne ‘versus’ Velma, in ‘Scooby Doo’. Zack ‘versus’ Cody, in ‘The Suite Life’… [Personally, I really favoured Cody but in the show, he had been designed to be a little ‘pathetic’, teased by the others. Not particularly ‘respectable’ or ‘enviable’]. Haley Dunphy ‘versus’ Alex, in ‘Modern Family’. The list goes on and on.

But when it comes to defining real people, outside of the caricatures that are necessary in order to make works of fiction digestible and entertaining… People are people. Some people are quite smart and quite good-looking. Some people are quite smart in some ways but not necessarily in others; beautiful according to certain sets of standards, but not others.

When we attempt to fit people into convenient-but-oversimplified brackets like this, we forget about so many necessary nuances. When people admire – or envy – the ‘smart, productive’ one, they do not see the loneliness and restlessness that might be an essential downside of that general experience. When people envy the physically ‘beautiful’ ones, they may not see the behind-the-scenes emotional toils, and all the masking – that may come to form an essential downside of that general experience.

I know of people who, for instance… grew up reading ‘Harry Potter’ – repeatedly – in the bathroom. And then they got ‘dench’ and ‘popular’ (i.e. I suppose, easily, readily approved of by people) and grew into a newly developed part of themselves. But we do not ever lose who we are, at our cores, do we? And how many parts of oneself need one shed, in order to fit into any acceptable bracket of categorisation: any simple trope, any fiction?

As soon as we try to simplify human beings in such ways, they are no longer holistic people in our eyes, but ‘characters’. Fictions. And our formerly held convictions will almost necessarily be disproven.

We are just… people. [I really wish there were an actual antonym for ‘just’. For now, I’ll just say:] We are wonderfully… people.

Morality, according to the Muslim Weltanschauung [love that word] concerns: what ought to be done. We are each Children of Ādam; we have souls; we have our ‘selves’ (our Nafs…es?)

What is, versus what ought to/ought not to be (done), and what could be (done).

On the ‘sexual’ level, which is fundamental to us as a species… women love to beautify themselves. Skincare, henna, hair, clothes, and all the rest of it. Women crave male validation; men, certainly, also crave female validation, and also have impulses within them, to gaze at, and to pursue women.

Recently, I learned that, when it comes to sexual drives, the most influential hormone at play is… testosterone. And average men’s bodies tend to contain, within them, over eight times the amount of testosterone that is contained within the female body! [The entire world makes about… eight times more sense now…] It does also thoroughly seem to be the case that, while men have natural inclinations towards the more visual side of things, women have stronger inclinations towards the more… ’emotional’ side of things. Hence the differences in male and female fictional characters that are designed to be uniquely attractive to the two respective genders. ‘Men fall in love through their eyes; women, through their ears’.

Men are in need of women; women are in need of men. We have been created differently, but in a connected way. Complementarily, in a handful of very interesting ways.

I guess, what I am trying to relay here, is that we should not be in denial of who we are, and what we want. But the Muslim way of viewing things is that just because your Nafs beckons you towards something, we need not chase those desires like wolves. Ultimately, if we try to satisfy these desires within Dunya – to entertain non-Mahram people of the opposite gender, for example, or to always thoroughly beautify ourselves in order to go outside, and to religiously follow all these beauty trends pandering to that age-old Male Gaze – we set ourselves up for great disappointment.

That is not to say we should just… ‘let go’ of our outer selves, and ‘not care’. More so that… we have desires; we have animalistic, base parts of ourselves. We also have knowledge; intellect; the ability to discern what is right from what is wrong. There are permissible avenues through which to do certain things; there are also certain prohibitions in place, for us: for our own good. We choose what we do with this information.

As Muslims, one can have spent one’s youth having spoken to hundreds and hundreds of different boys/girls; having been ‘built’ and/or very beautiful, garnering much approval and validation as a result of our physical forms and behaviours. One can have spent one’s youth reading books, focusing on schoolwork, and on personal interests, perhaps (instead?) garnering approval and validation as a result of our intellectual capacities, vocabularies, ideas. Or… a bit of both, perhaps, with added helpings of familial responsibilities and such. Alhamdulillah for what we have been given, here in Dunya; equally and alike, for what we have not been given.

Ultimately, the purpose of Dunya life is… for us to be tested, and to worship our Creator. Pure gold, becoming separated from its ores. And our tests are also blessings; our blessings are also… tests.

With all this in mind: if one recognises – and is complimented on – beauty on one’s face and/or body, if one accepts sacred Islamic laws, one is inclined to cover up before non-Mahrams; thank Allah; ask for protection and for Barakah. If one recognises high levels of intelligence, within one’s mind, the Muslim is inclined towards thanking Allah for it; using it towards Good and not towards arrogant ends: of feigning superiority, disregarding the truth, mistreating others.

And: books ‘or‘ ‘boys’? Being ‘smart’ ‘or‘ being ‘pretty’? Being ‘cool’ ‘or’ ‘pathetic’… ‘religious’ ‘or’ ‘fun’…

Well, on the ‘boy’ front- or the ‘girl’ front, if thou art male – Insha Allah we all… end up with just one. A special just-one. And may they love us deeply: in soul, in heart, in mind, and in body, and may we love them very deeply in return. Sigh. May they also have good hair. Āmeen.

And on the general-life front: we are here to worship Allah, and we are here to be tested. One cannot focus on the body, at the expense of focusing on the other dimensions of our being: [just going to list them again, for my own benefit] mind, hearts, and souls. But! We also should not focus on, say, intellectual-or-otherwise pursuits at the expense of our physical health, and appearances. Whatever brings us towards that which is Good is… good. Whatever brings us away from holistic goodness might… not be so good. Everything about balances; moderation, holism, is the way of the Believer, is it not?

Furthermore, a random question, but one that I find quite interesting to consider:

If you had to choose: would you rather be very intelligent but average in terms of looks or very physically attractive but average in terms of intelligence?

We are judged, first and perhaps foremost, based on how we appear. In all physical social settings: at school, interviews, and more. The Halo Effect: good looks translate into ‘goodness of being‘, in our eyes.

I do care about how I look; how I come across. But people who ‘know’ my face do not really know me. I am not sure how much a face can reveal. Some markers of youth and health, sure. Ethnicity, perhaps [but people frequently guess at my ethnic background, and get it wrong. Including some random strangers who seem to ‘like’ me based on… where they think I am ‘from’. They don’t like me: they just… have some sort of appearance-based particular-ethnicity thing]. But if I am to be known, I would like to be known far closer to my core. Is it better to be shallowly ‘loved’ by the many, or is it better to be deeply loved by a select few?

Is this an ‘either’/’or’ thing? Yes, I think. Probably. We are limited in terms of how much time we have, and energy, to expend. Physical beauty speaks to – is pleasing to – the Fitrah. The stuff of the mind, heart, and soul: these are the abstract worlds that lie beyond what can be seen by the eyes. So much to explore, within ourselves, and others. Night-sky depths; oceanic mysteries, we.

And The Test of Life. It is hard. Dificil. It is meant to be, because the best, most worthy things usually are. But we are here, as knowing worshippers of Allah. This whole life thing: in terms of learning, socialising, health, sexual partnership (‘sexual’ in the sense that it is between the two sexes. More so than being bodily, in Islam we acknowledge that these partnerships are partnerships of the soul).

[With our food, and our books. With the natural world, and our families. Masjids, and our friends. With what is Halal, hopefully, and without what, here in Dunya, is not:]

To paraphrase a line I really liked from one of my all-time favourite TV series [‘Girl Meets World’. Uncle Joshie,]

We are in it for the long haul.

P.S. not to sound like a wannabe Romantic poet-philosopher here, but… this evening I went on a night walk with my aunts and cousins. The sky was uniquely clear here in London, tonight, Subhan Allah, and the Big Dipper (a constellation that I have always loved) resembled a perfect diamond question mark in the darkness. And I remembered and thought about that very powerful Qur’anic Ayah:

“So where are you going?”


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Concise Compositions: Confidence

What is ‘confidence’? And what is it… not?

A friend of mine and I both seek to be ‘confident’ in a particular way. A ‘self-comfortable’ way. Both ‘passive’ – a comfort, a security, in being – but also with a good helping of being ‘active’. Being both deeply kind – but not in a performative, nor over-the-top and ‘cutesy’ sort of way – and strong – but not in a way that ever necessitates stomping all over other people to make ourselves feel superior.

Nowadays, it seems like the image of the cocky and abrasive suit-clad man, and the mean, nose-up and otherwise-indifferent-seeming woman, make for the most popular benchmarks for what constitutes ‘confidence’. Is confidence rooted in power – i.e., the ability to influence others’ thoughts and behaviours? To me, the need to be ‘powerful’ in order to be confident seems slightly paradoxical. I guess it can work either way: a person may feel so secure in themselves that they become uncaring about how they are making others feel: attitudes of superiority might eventually simply come naturally to them. Or, maybe some people are fundamentally insecure and uncomfortable within themselves, and so look to have power over others, in order to compensate, to fill the ‘gap’, so to speak.

One can have power over others intellectually; sexually; professionally; in terms of familial roles, and more. To me, the most authentically ‘confident’ people seem to be the ones who exude this sense of peace within themselves. They do not seem restless, or scared, or desperate for others to validate them; there is a strong sense of trust, from seemingly deep within themselves, and a significant gentleness, that would appear to be indifferent to whether or not the next person agrees with them.

The dictionary definition of ‘confidence’ points to notions of certainty in oneself; trust. My ten minutes have ended here, but I’m going to continue.

At what point does ‘confidence’ lean into arrogance?

From reading the meaning of the Qur’an [and I am still not done yet!] I have learnt that, time and time again, we are told by Allah (SWT) to not be “arrogant”: to not act greater than what we actually are. A hadith (Prophetic saying) clarifies that the definition of arrogance is, a) to disregard the truth [when you know it, I’m assuming], and b) to look down upon the people, and to scorn them — to treat other people like they have little worth, and to treat them without respect.

Islam is, fundamentally, about two things: one’s comportment before, and relationship with, Allah, and one’s demeanour before, and relationships with, fellow human beings: from one’s closest family members, to complete strangers in lands that we do not call our own. With this in mind, then:

Confidence. Trust and strength and peace. I want to have so much trust in my Creator, and in the unique merits of being – inside and out – that He has given me. Shukr: they are not from me. In terms of worth and being deserving of (authentic) respect, nobody is above me; nobody is beneath me, either. Respect for others; respect for myself. No human being at all is high and mighty, or even vaguely omnipotent.

I used to look at certain people I know – male and female, alike – and think that they must be archetypal examples of ‘confidence’. A man who is always taking pictures of himself, always around people, always being pursued by women and being praised. And, no disrespect to him, but then I learned that all this is not always indicative of ‘confidence: he really cannot do without streams of compliments from people.

Women, too: people at secondary school would sometimes say that I came across as being “really confident”… which I secretly found absurd, because a lot of the time, I was actually quite scared [I know not why], and yes, I habitually relied on ‘what other people were saying’ – good and bad – in order to inform my self-view.

Even with people I know who are really beautiful (Masha Allah) and sort of walk around like they own the place: they say they experience anxiety with going up to shopkeepers to pay for their things, for example.

Is anyone fully, thoroughly, and across all different social circumstances and such, ‘confident’, then? Would this not be a little … impossible, without dipping at least a little into delusion? We are all blessed with our own merits, talents, nice physical features, comforts, and more. And we are all certainly quite limited, in various ways, too. We all do need validation and affirmation, though – whether in these ways, or those – and to be told by others that we are doing okay.

So maybe authentic confidence – and two particular people come into mind when I think about this – is about these recognitions, simply in line with the truths of things. In a way that acknowledges that it is all from Allah, and that we are also very limited: I quite like myself – 10/10, would be friends with – and you are very likeable, in your own unique ways, too — though there will almost undoubtedly be some people who may dislike your personality, and disagree. I have my merits, and my flaws; you have yours, too. You, by nature, deserve my (authentic, not-restrained, but also not-excessive-and-performative) kindness and respect; I, by nature, deserve yours, too. You are allowed to dislike me; to fundamentally disagree with me, and I am allowed to dislike and/or disagree with you, too. But we walk on the same plane, in terms of core worth and value; in terms of the wombs from which we are born, and in terms of the earth we physically become part of, when we are gone.

And there will be mutual respect, here, or nothing.

Treating others how we ourselves would like to be treated. Oh, and also, treating ourselves how we like for those whom we love, to be treated. ‘Confident’, and at peace, as and within ourselves.

(Authentic confidence in people definitely leads to a magnetic sort of attractiveness: good vibes and all)

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. Have fun writing! 


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Spider’s Web

And just how does the spider – that most humble and noble creature of them all – know exactly how to spin, ceaseless – until the job is done, at least – and with such instinctual grace, even its very first attempt at a web? [Yes, a thought inspired by my recent re-watching of ‘Charlotte’s Web’!]

By the grace of Whom, is this life-giving, life-sustaining and -beautifying, information imbued? Our innermost longings, for example, and those tendencies of ours towards desiring… purpose, and justice. Connection, and love. Our instincts for language-acquisition. The resulting ability we are given, through which to reason, and then decide, and to ask that most fundamental of questions: Why?

Our own versions of the spider’s web: what we can spin, and produce, with what we feel, and through what we can claim to have of power: our words. And with our muscles, and with our hands. And what we know already, and have known — from invisible spec, to developed human being. And all those spaces within us, which are so well-pre-disposed, inclined, to coming to know.

How does it know how to work so quickly, and in producing a thing of such utility and geometric beauty, and a strength so seemingly antithetical to how altogether… silk-like those structures may seem?

            The knowledge that, within us, is just so utterly powerful and instinctive. Woven right through our veins, and through our skins; between our finger-tips. Fundamental. I think I know, by now, what love might be. It is a type of knowledge that, within me, feels quite innate. Like I am afraid, for what may or may not happen. And yet, there is something in me that tells me to have faith; give it a fair chance — it seems thoroughly strong enough — and give it time.

It caught me at a weird time. Which had, mysteriously and yet without doubt, been the right time. Would appear to be quite fluffy and fragile; that one wrong turn and that is it, and it is gone for good.

I think it means something very special when these things come. Out of the blue, and quickly, and so intricately, gorgeously designed. A spider can settle on the decision to build its home between (almost) any two sets of walls. Or bars of a fence. Or between the plastic wires of an outdoor drying-rack. Gets to know its space. Proceeds to simply go ahead, and do what it would appear to do best.

I think I know, most ardently, though not in a way that might render this heart of mine restless, nor despairing, that there is something very special, very important, that I want to protect, here. And, well, here is to quietly hoping and hoping, that you might see, in this, the inherent truth and its beauty, too.

            Even the most obstinate of soul-denying ‘materialists’, whose (no offence but) muddied-over-time intellects seem to prevent them from seeing the inherent, intrinsic beauty of things: the dangling legs of the spider, for example, its clockwork, tapestry-like missions. Even they cannot deny that we are born of love, and we are made of love, and we know that we love. That most noble and humble of our interpersonal pursuits. Between (almost) any two suitable walls, or metal rods, or tree branches, or twigs. A glistening thing, and so quietly, unobtrusively brilliant. How much strength there is, in softness.

The spider sits in its centre and knows. The mystery of its own beauty; the core, undying knowledge – that gentle, determined flow of artistry – that has guided its work. A labour of love, so clear and inspired. Albeit, seemingly transparent, almost, to those even only moderately far-away from it.

Yes. How encompassing, expectation-defying, dizzying, dazzling

(and fragile, and yet enduring)

and unpredictable

a thing is love.


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

Windows

“People are the best show in the world. And you don’t even [have to] pay for the ticket.” — Charles Bukowski

You find yourself gazing through some of their windows. Wondering: how on Earth do other people live? How do other people choose to live? Who are these people? Where – and whom – have they been? And where are they going? [And, who, what, when, where, why am I?]

Head resting upon hand, leaning over the table. Wide windows make for real-life television screens, almost. Sort of accidentally-on-purpose. Stage-curtains drawn, dynamically, apart. Or, via Instagram: individuals, and the art galleries they have curated for themselves. What do we come to make of it all?

A glimpse of them practising ballet in their front room, perhaps, canal-side. Painting a picture; carrying out their skincare routines. A selfie. Or, maybe ten. A new boxing hobby. Picking at their skin a little; pulling at their eyebrows. Stretching. Snacking. The ins and the outs, and every single passing moment.

The closer one gets, to a person, the more one tends to come to know, of them. How they might always obsess over the tiniest of details, or how they can so easily get swept up in day-dreams. What they do as soon as they wake up; their go-to composition for a lazy breakfast. The manner in which they come and sit down – or, melodramatically slump down – for lunch. How they prefer to sit, when watching TV. That far-away expression that paints their face, when they are lost – deep in thought. How – and when – they recite Qur’an. Their most favourite parts of their days. Why they may seem so certain, at certain times. And yet, so fragile and falling, almost, at others. [When? And… why?]

Working from home: her industrious typings at the dining-room table – and she also happens to be intermittently fasting – while his chosen space is on the middle floor, caught between two monitors. Phone in hand, spinning on chair. And maybe they have a small child, too. Napping on a sofa somewhere downstairs, for the time being, while Alexa is humming for her a lullaby. A view of picturesque, drizzly and grey England cuts right through their bedroom windows.

Pearl-white light.

Their laughter: four young daughters, playing. Pumpkin plant; apple tree; a cat that has given birth twice within the space of just over a year. The tree’s branches are bare for now, but it tends to come into fruition come late Spring. Equations, incomprehensible-seeming, scrawled across the window in whiteboard marker. The garden table; ceramic ashtray at its centre. You witness these auditory snapshots of their laughter. Hear snippets of heated arguments, too. The echoes that manage to emanate beyond high brick walls.

You’ll feel the good, and

you’ll have the bad too. Because we are made of dirt; of fertile, nourishing earth. Secrets, and laughter, monotony and sighs. Moments, and moments; how time is always passing, and how we spend each of our nights.

Today I learned that the word ‘human’ is thought to be derived from a (proto-Indo-European) word that meant ‘earthly being’. Human: a thing whose corporeal being comes from the earth. And also, back to the ground do our physical forms decay.

The word ‘humble’ is thought to stem from this same root, too. Since we are, each and every one of us, on the physical level, from and of and destined to return to the earth: what justifiable reason could any of us possibly have, to act with Istikbar – arrogance – as though we might be mighty and superior, somehow?

And worldly life is just that, usually: mundane. [From the Latin mundus, meaning ‘world’]. There are the shininesses; the dressing-things-up to show; the snapshots and the images. Zeena, in Arabic. And there are the more complete truths. What goes further than the mere surface level. What we know these lives of ours to be. Deeply, and truly, and in their relative entireties. But also,

Every single thing that you have: did you know that you are likely, in one way or another, enacting somebody else’s dream, right now? You have, for example, the sort of physical ability that they so sorely miss — the type that has long been left behind, to some aged, fading-in-memory days of youth. Back when their elbows and knees did not creak or groan so much; when a walk in the park had been just that. A walk in the park.

Food that fulfils. Rest that regenerates. Cushions for comfort.

Water that flows. Exactly who, and how, when and where, you are here, and now.

Every living, breathing moment. All that is calm, and all that is a little chaotic. The ways through which we learn things. Usually, from others. But in ways that speak best to whom we already intrinsically know ourselves to be.

Also: irrespective of how well-informed or put-together any fellow neighbour human being may appear… Remember that, just as this is your first (and last) time living this life; having this earthly experience… this is everyone else’s first (and last) time here, too. How tender; how actually-rather-reassuring, and conceptually uniting, a thing to think about. That we are all learning – and being – precisely as we are going along. All of us come from rich, humble earth. And, certainly this is where each and every one of us are headed back to.

To live, somehow, a life that does not feel superficially ‘shiny’ or constantly-sunny. And nor should we ever expect for it to. But, to take the necessary good, and the necessary bad. Write, somehow, right between each of these lines. The loops that go up; the curves that extend down. I hope, Insha Allah, that it is a thing of calligraphy that ensues.

I know all this might sound a little cheesy. But, no … all of it does not truly, neatly, ‘efficiently’, ‘make sense’ to me. And I genuinely love that. No two days – no two moments – are ever quite the same. Pouring bleach over all of this, so as to clean it… these beautiful things would also come to die, in the process.

Right now, you see, there are all of these questions; this mystery. This is, kind of quietly, quite the adventure. And one ought to find peace in the fact that this was always meant to be a journey; this was never meant to be the Destination.

You are alive. Human; earthly being, and there is all this grass right there, at your very feet. It is, at once, blessing, and it is struggle: test. You may either stoop down and water it; tend, with due love, to your own garden. Or… you may spend your days imagining that greener grass must exist here atop earthly cradle, but… somewhere other than here or now, in some patch that is simply other than yours.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Dunya

Maybe it is true that the world feels a little smaller now. And, in that, it also at the same time feels a little bigger, no?

There is time, we find. There is time enough to sleep in a little — at least until your body informs you that, yes. You are now sufficiently ready to begin. At a good pace. Not rushed, and yet, not so slow that it feels sort of aimless. But a good pace in-between. A relative peace, finally devoid of, or at long last being ‘detoxified’ of, that all-too-common-to-us sensation of restlessness. Though, we do still find, that at times, at some points, there is also

this and this — oh and this — to do. And things get misplaced; some things might get a little hard and go a little ‘wrong’; things hurt; you might start thinking and thinking and thinking but —

Hey, the day is young; you are alive, upon this Earth; we are deeply fortunate to be here, as and how and as who we are.

We require the approval of our Lord; we should not seek out permission to be (ourselves) from anybody else.

Days and days: it feels, sometimes, like they are falling rather like how dominoes do. I want to say that they are always coming and leaving ‘gracefully’. Yes, sometimes it is quite graceful. Elegant. Serene walks in the park; tinges of orangey sun; a ‘perfect’ line of tick-tick-ticks, upon your checklist. And, a neighbour of mine, complimenting my bike. I had frequently seen her around, since I was very young. But never once had we had a conversation together, until that day.

You know, sometimes Tuesday morphs quite effortlessly into Wednesday, and then Friday just appears, as if out of nowhere. Someone FaceTimes out of the blue; my brother helps me to cook, one day. The next day, we order some takeaway. Sometimes, something kind of strangely wonderful occurs. Someone says something that clings to your mind sort of like a butterfly. Beautiful enough to stay; to linger.

Things are delicate. Sometimes, an entire week might feel like just one, tumbling, ongoing day. The laundry always smells fresh; there is enough time, at the very least, to neaten up the books; there is a (re-)emergent sense of community, here. Some palpable-almost feeling of togetherness. Bonds between people; between people and places. With that third crucial consideration: time.

There are the things I just really want to do, and these are finely interspersed between those things that I must do. There is enough time, and there is much goodness in it.

Weekday mornings: there is a quicker pace to them, in contrast with Sundays, at least. I quite like the relative urgency of them – the former (but, this, only in moderation). Get up, get ready, first online lesson of the day. Admin, admin. The joys that are part-and-parcel of the fact that our school has instructed us to only use the audio feature — we need not show our faces on Teams. [Yay!]

All of this speaks rather deeply to my introvert-y inclinations. I love people; people are wonderful, and deeply so. As friends, as family members, and as… subjects for quiet (without intent to sound creepy, here…) observation. And, yet, I find: being around people for lengthy periods of time, and/or in large numbers… quite exhausts me.

For the time being, however, the staffroom at work is no longer where I am spending my breaks in-between lessons. My own room is my ‘staffroom’. Sometimes, the stairs are my classroom. And sometimes, the sitting room, also — but not whenever my brother is gaming… [He is the type to shout at the screen, and to become so invested in Fortnite that he begins to act like his actual life is on the line while playing it.]

I do find I like — the state of being that is described through — the word ‘busy’. But only when it really feels meaningful. And when it feels like it is in healthy moderation. You have things to do; responsibilities, obligations to meet. People to care for, in varying ways. A self to be. You adapt.

Not too much… and not too little. In Dunya terms, I reckon that is precisely where the ‘good life’ lies: between over-excitement, -stimulation, chaos, and boredom and day-in-day-out day-in-day-out routine and sameness. Too much to do; there is too little time. Too little to do; there is too much time. Ah, but: that good place in-between. Quite enough to do, and quite enough time.

This time has not exclusively been one of rainbows and butterflies and of unceasing sunshine. No. It has also been a time of uncertainty; bittersweetness; grief. Our household receiving phone call after phone call about extended family members and family friends and such who have contracted the virus. We were informed, again and again, about a number of passings-away too.

People are human. Whole, and complete. Spinning worlds, individual minds. Some people have lost their fathers; their cousins; aunties; friends, over the last ten months. Some people find themselves shrouded in profound lonelinesses. For the time being, at least, and forever, too: headteacher or student. Chronic illness or not. Seven years old, or sixty-two. Materially wealthy, or poor. Human is what we are, and

This time, like everything else that Dunya comprises, is not ‘perfect’. It does not feel particularly ‘heavenly’. No fanciful cut-outs from picture-perfect magazines or movies. There are obstacles; tensions; moments of sadness, or of anger, or of stress.

But what would life be without all these things that make it… other-than ‘perfect’? It would be Jannah. But this is not Jannah, and we are not [yet, bi’ithnillah] the Jannah-worthy, Jannah-inhabiting, versions of ourselves. Dunya: we dwell within the shadow of Perfection. Though, of Perfection, we do – would certainly appear to – have a deep-rooted, innate understanding.

Good: Khayr, fil ‘Arabiyya. One must, first and foremost, have true trust (Īmān) in one’s Lord. Undoubtedly, He is the One who knows you best. And then, we must acknowledge that in the more evident and immediate blessings: the morning almost-spring air; the kind and unexpected words of affirmation; the fledgling flower buds, and so too, in the confusions and in the slip-ups and in the delays. There is Khayr in it. If we are willing to look for it.

Down at our feet. Shoes muddied, scarred – embellished – by all of our experiences and adventures. Careworn, life-worn. So full of character, I would say. And, also, up at the stars: due recognition of the facts of our being, and of our personal journeys, of our destinations. You are here, dear reader. Dunya. It is an honour for you to be you. Exactly who, and what, and when, where, and why, you are.

Our time here is long. And it is short. It is always upsides and downsides. Making the best of things. Wanting other things: sometimes, I think, this is nice. It keeps things moving, at a good pace. Introduces some novelty. But we must be realistic about things. Dunya is Dunya; life is life. Dear reader,

Through what (more evidently and immediately, perhaps) might present itself as being ‘good’ and what might (more evidently and immediately) present itself as being bad, I so hope we make the best of it. Scars, and our muddied shoes, our blessings and our tests, our losses and our gains, the gifts from God that we never could have foretold, and our hearts and minds filled with good stories, Insha Allah.

Here, from the very midst of this life. Welcome. Smooth, easy, and straightforward? Rarely. But, worthwhile? Always.

And, appearances versus reality. What is, versus what one may perceive (or want) of it. Things often look quite different from afar. The moon, for instance, might, from a distance, seem as though it is only a bright side. Without its bumps; without its craters.

From far away, Earth might look like she is still. And serene, and not spinning. As though her whirlwinds – hurricanes, earthquakes, and all the rest of it – are only mere brushstrokes on spherical canvas. But, look a little closer.

Things can, and ought to, be known. Loved, too, in their truths and in their (relative) entireties. And if you would like to know a thing – be it a time, or a place, or another person, or yourself – all you have to do is… look a little closer.

Dear reader, if you find you are currently struggling, on a particular front, with a particularly stormy sea, then: I ask Allah to grant you a kinder sea. If things are good, right now, I hope the goodness endures; that you are able to have and hold, in that mind and in that heart of yours, all those cherished little moments that take you entirely by surprise. I wish you learning and products of your learning that bring about light and wonder and fascination (and love) in your eyes. Āmeen.

.وبسم الله

Also, movie recommendation: ‘Wonder’. What a gorgeous one. The feels.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Felicity

Felicity sat with her legs dangling, feet hovering right above the stream. There had only been mere millimetres between the tips of her toes, and the icy wetness of the water. She recalled a question her father had once posed to her: “Is water wet?”

This had been back when he had been around, for that brief period, at least. Felicity had been around ten years old. She would spend her evenings, that year, curled up under the mustard-coloured fleece blanket in the orangery, ruminating over possible answers to her father’s many random questions. But, more often than not, there were no concrete answers. Only one thought, giving way to another, giving way to a dozen more: words spilling like tree branches.

Then, there were those bursts of thoughts about what ‘big school’ might be like: that entire presently unbeknownst adventure. And there were the orchids and the orange trees, which, when the house had been empty (as it often had been) Felicity would speak to. They had been her truest friends. Sometimes, they would end up being her only companions for the evening: on some days, her father would come home, would make himself a mug of hot chocolate, would sink comfortably into his armchair. A half-stranger, in the only home Felicity had ever known.

On other days, however, he would not come home. Half here, her father had been. And mostly not. 

She found herself thinking about her father quite often, these days – about his health, about that enduring sadness of his – and about that tree in the garden (the one with only half its leaves there — and even the ones that remained were quickly becoming more and more yellow) that she found had quite resembled, in nature, her mother.

Did the presence of two half-parents come together and equate to one sort of ‘whole’? Half a mother, and half a father. But, also, elsewhere, the entirety of a world, contained within the glass panes of that orangery. A room, a tiny universe, which had been quite alive, quite quietly. Known to let the sunlight right through, and on those blessed cloudless evenings: entire constellations, too.

But, even despite the delightful company of her floral friends, Felicity did often feel quite alone in the world; this had been a persisting feeling. And even at school, where she had not been without friends; even when swarms of other people would come around: when her mother would finally emerge from her tower, would come downstairs with her sorrows masked in powder and lipstick, would almost look… whole again. Like the moon, periodically coming into fullness, even if for a mere moment: even then…

Felicity felt alone. But she knew that love was there, out there and everywhere. She would wear that little old fleece blanket as a cape most evenings, walk outside and sit on that large rock by the stream. And she would remind herself, beneath the silver glow of the moon: that her father, too, was still there, somewhere at least. That the truest of loves never really do ‘die’, do they? When it is true, it cannot be destroyed.

That, rather than peering out with binoculars onto the outside world; seeking to come to know all of it, and to find all that could ever possibly be found…  The world, in its largeness, could often be quite dizzying, Felicity found. And everywhere, there had been destruction. Millions and millions of all these other people, and other lives, other concerns, and…

Maybe the orangery had been enough of a world, for Felicity’s own good. Maybe she did not have to worry so much. It had been God that had placed her there, specifically, in that half-glass world of hers, in the first place.

And it is He who puts love between hearts. And it had been He who had placed watchful old moon right there, right there, thousands of miles above Felicity’s head.

And “he who is not grateful to the people is not grateful to God”. God gives us, in our lives, certain people. And certain orange trees and orchid plants. And it is through love, Felicity concluded, that God oft speaks — and in this knowledge she found a unique sort of peace. That word, that word in Arabic, what had it been, again?

“Alhamdulillah.”

Had it not been in the bittersweetness of her aloneness, that Felicity had found God? And, would any other person, any other fellow creature — be it her father, or a dear friend, or a boy — be able to give her something (love, perhaps, and warmth) which God had not ordained, decreed for her? Nay. For it is God, as Felicity had told her assembly of orange trees, with all due conviction, who places love in the hearts of mankind, between one man and another, between a sister and her brother, between son and mother.

We receive what we receive. And we nurture certain things. We pick and we choose. And some things do blossom, do come into fullness, while other things… fall. What to do next, Felicity wondered. What to do, what to do, though, about her fallen, autumnal – moon-like – mother?

Regardless of the heaviness of these crepuscular thoughts of hers, which had followed her all the way to sleep: as the first rays of dawn broke through the glass panes of the orangery that nascent morning, Felicity looked all around her. Something had surely changed; she wanted to pay attention to, study, all the little changes. Things felt rather more real, more alive, and Felicity felt a remarkable sort of satisfaction in this morning’s aloneness. Mother, asleep still, but birds, though: wide awake, and quite loudly so. Sky streaked with a line of pink.

Other people will be other people, Felicity concluded. Including mother and father. Friends will be friends. Orchids, and birds, and orange trees. But in all those hours and crevices in-between: there is only she, in truth, and there is always God.

أولا وأخيرا ودائما

First, last, and always.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Rugged Charm

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

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


Dear friend,

Most are known to spend

their evenings in search, searching,

For some other life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaking buckets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, remember, the graceful tenacity of the birds:

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

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

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

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

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

.إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

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

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

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

— Surah An’am, Holy Qur’an

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Dear Moon,

Dear Moon,

You are still you, even when the sky renders you ‘half’-seeming, sometimes, and not entirely ‘whole’.

Spinning world. The ease with which, you find, it can dizzy you, tire out completely your very soul. And

maybe in five years (or less, or more) you will find yourself still there, yet overlooking some different world:

still the same one, but some things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Or maybe in a decade or less, you will find yourself over there instead:

in that place you will necessarily meet before standing at the gates of Eternity: your earthly bed.

One small push, and into a whole new world we go.

But before that time, maybe, there are some things that you and I must do, some new people and places that we must come to know.

Dear you,

There are some undeniable elements of radiance in you. Maybe bringing them up and out will require an excavation of sorts, but I have complete faith in you;

with certainty, I do. Even in every single wrong turn you have ever taken; in every single ‘blunder’ you have ever made.

Far from home, as you have been. Trying and trying.

Still, do not fret too much. No more. I think it’s completely okay; wherever you are going, it will all be understood retrospectively, at some point, some day.

You make your own efforts; exert yourself. Tie your camels, and then remember to have hope, trust, faith. There is a fine balance between all this trying, and then it is this grand old waiting game.

Right now, it confuses, doesn’t it? It burns, then stagnates; it is tremendously elusive.

The truth is, your mind simply cannot fathom something it has never (yet) known. And though the imagination may seek to do exactly what it tends to — it cannot, at present, tell you exactly what.

Your state of mind finds itself in a rush, sometimes, doesn’t it? To get there. Where? Somewhere. That tyrannous abstract timeline of yours.

And to actually listen to all that others might have, to say about you. To worry about their receptions, perceptions. Those ones who put you on some unfair pedestal, and the ones who may do the exact opposite. Praise and criticism: people are excessive, biased, and unfair in both. Do they hold the keys to the full picture, anyway?

And, what? Is it they whom you exist for, Moon mine?

Divine Plan, I promise you. And the knowledge that you were fashioned by the very same supreme Being whom you pray to. So keep going; trust that the destinations are worth this extra mile.

Allah is closer to you than your own jugular vein is, and there is not a single tear that has fallen from your eye that He has not heard fall; accounted for.

So doubt the intentions of others, sometimes. Doubt the veracity of their words, but of Divine mercy, at least, always be sure.

It is He who cures; who, even better than you, at present, are able to: understands your hurt.

“Indeed, I am near,” He tells you, while you are struggling to emerge, a little seedling being brought forth, right through all this dirt.

And come, the rain will, too, won’t she? See, even if you can’t quite say what it looks like just yet, grow towards pure light, I so hope, will you.

It honestly matters not what others see or hear of it — or don’t. But always, at least, “To thine own self, be true.” [W.S]

And so, be there for yourself. In all your own colours, every single one. Maybe those seven or so years of mostly-greys will only be preparatory, for gliding steps towards a whole different experience. New knowledge, a new place.

And Jannah. For some people, such a place is already promised.

Another thing that is promised: that the life of this world gets intensely hard, at times. To each, their own individualised set of tests. And it will all tear at your soul, and at times, you will fall. Some of those moments, alone, when it feels like nothing but the entire sky is pushing you down. Have faith in those moments, too.

The word for trials, tribulations, and obstacles, in Islam is ‘Fitnah’. Imagery-wise, based on the process of separating gold from its ores. But first, a necessary melting process. It may threaten to tear you down to your very core. And here, I think, something, perhaps, quietly shines.

Perhaps they will be seven harder years, marred by all those thoughts and such. Same old silences, absences, aggressions. But be still. And know.

Then, perhaps, seven easier ones. This is what life does: it works in cycles, it ebbs and flows. And, dear Moon,

Maybe you cannot put words to it all now. There is seemingly no preciseness at all, not here. These current experiences of ours. No fences with which to neatly encase everything that has happened. But I can promise you this much: it is with purpose — all of it.

When Moosa (AS)’s mother lay her baby son into that basket atop that river, it had been her heart that bore the brunt of that pain. An entire heart made “empty”. And it was Allah who had then mended it for her. Brought it all back together; everything in place.

And it was Allah who brought you, dear Moon, into being. And the sun. Conception, and life. Everything necessary to bring us here, and to keep us going. As well as everything that we share this planet with. It is not at all beyond our Creator to change things completely, for you. And every ‘Fitnah’ that you experience is with noble reason; without a doubt, this much is true. Jannah is reserved for those of mankind who will choose to, and struggle to, become Pure Gold, at the end of it all.

And, yes, it can sometimes get mighty hard. Seemingly impossible. All these things that it feels like nobody else will ever understand.

Just know that, even in darkness, your light still sings, dear Moon. Some will hear your songs; they understand. The ways of its ebbs, and all of its flows. And they have complete faith in you.

So doubt that things have been that ‘good’ thus far. If you so wish, doubt this well.

But do not doubt in hope. In all the good stuff that is yet to come. In the hard bits that you will, Insha Allah, get right through.

Doubt most things about yourself, sometimes, but do not doubt that I believe in you.

The clock is ticking now. It always has been. So, with due knowledge of all that has taken place, do remember, do forget.

And worry not too much for whenever night, once more, begins to set.

No more. Shed old skins, farewells and hellos, and on new adventures, allow yourself to freely embark.

For is it not true that you have always loved the stars too fondly, to ever again be afraid of the dark?


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