Having Versus Wanting

Bismillah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I shall not want.” [Psalms, (23:1)]

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

The Art of Beeing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Actions are but by intentions” [Sahih Hadith]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Hope and Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

On Deleting Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Olive Tree

Motion, motion, with little time and space for reflection. Trains zooming into view; people hurry on, hurry off. Many of them, there seems to be a little something that their eyes are missing, if I am honest. Dragon eyes, as some might refer to them. Head bent towards phone, top buttons done up, and I wonder if I could ever consider living like this forever. The thrum of the city. Industry, hyper-everything. Something about the energy in the air; something about the way the people walk and do things and speak to one another, around here.

I don’t think I could do it. I’d say there are levels to this: there are the ones who go to work at these tall glass buildings, caught between walls, ever so professional. And then, there are those who live in more… rural areas. Where the natural world is allowed to be more of a priority, maybe: where human life is seen as being a little less dispensable, a little more… sacred.

And, yes, I am generalising hugely here, but have you seen their eyes, by contrast? Something a little purer about them, maybe. Something slower, more reflective, about the way they do things. Walk their dogs as the sun rises, feel the warmth of jumpers and cups of coffee in their hands. Know their neighbours, and know them well. Honour the trees just as they should be honoured, and the geese, and the robins, and pieces of paper on hardy wooden desks, and the sky.

We humans do not fare so well, when we are made to live in zoos, treated in ways that run contrary to how we need to be treated. Enclosed, and smoggy, doing work for the sake of work for the sake of… I know, I know: I am being rather dramatic, here. But these are just my views.

The next level, perhaps, after the ‘rural’ one, is the one that I have been thinking about the most, these days. And I cannot seem to recall who said this to me, or if I had read this somewhere, perhaps — about how some of the most content people in the world that one could possibly meet are the people who make bread near Al-Aqsa Masjid, in Jerusalem. Contentment: make their bread; walk atop those gorgeous cobbled streets under olive tree sun; beckon to the call for prayer five times daily; laugh and eat with their friends and neighbours. It is not “more” that they are ever-in-pursuit-of: it is “enough”. Smile, and smile, footsteps gentle, hearts at ease.

Noble people, I imagine, the ones who live in such a way. Noble, but, to ignorant eyes, maybe not ‘civilised’ enough. Their gentle smiles, their cleanness of clothes and manners, their generosity. Tell me, how is this not ‘civilised’ enough, for you?

These lives: lives in which spirituality might form the lifeblood. For better, and for worse. In which it is firmly acknowledged that if “enough” is not “enough” now, then there will simply never be an “enough”; one might just carry one’s own greed and soul-centred disquietudes to one’s grave.

People first, and worshippers of God — and labourers or whatever else, only second. The Earth is shared, and neither industry nor arrogance, nor any of these substitute names we seem to have generated for them, can replace what it is we seek.

I have never been to Jerusalem myself, though it has always been a dream of mine to go there. But I have come across some very spiritual people (spiritual-in-a-worldly-way people, I mean — not necessarily monks who live alone in the mountains) in places like Istanbul. Cities seemingly designed with holistic humanity in mind, and not centred on speed and mere ‘productivity’.

A lady sitting outside a shop — her workplace — painting. Arabic calligraphy, and with such flow and skill. I asked her where she had learnt to paint like that. Art school, she told me. She told me she was going to be an architect (or, something along these lines) but opted for this job instead. She figured it would bring more “Baraket” (blessing) to her life. She looked rather content, and had a distinctive glimmer in her eyes. And the sun, and the sun, as well as what we, here in the city, might refer to as being this gorgeous sense of…  ‘simplicity’. But, no: it is not they who are ‘simple’. It is simply we who have learned to be too much, so utterly far away from ourselves.

Contentment of the heart, and spiritual connection — and all its different branches. And living life, and really feeling like you are here, on this Earth, doing so.

Being. And not being overtaken by things like greed or pride, or petty wraths or envies. Instead: bread, and friendship. Prayer, and comfort, and meaningful work, and adventure. And not too much, and not too little. Gentle, and known, and held, without feeling a need to be loud, and to then be louder.

Enough. And whatever the stuff of ‘every day’ looks like for us, this will likely make up every one of these days of ours. Wherever one is, it is one’s mind that all is filtered through: it is only the soul that experiences. And there is no dress rehearsal for this life: these are the days that we have been given,

and these are exactly how we are spending them.

 

“Rather, true wealth is the richness of the soul.”

— Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

On Beauty

The human woman is a thing of beauty. This is, without question, how she has been designed and made: beautiful. From her eyelashes to her voice, and to the soul that rests between them, the human female is different to the human male. Both, in general, have differing essences, and each are attracted to differing things, in the other.

In this article, I want to talk about beauty standards. I may also touch on the topics of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like. I want for this article to encapsulate my indignation towards, for instance, the fact that some of the most beautiful women I know think themselves to be hideous; I think current popular conceptions of ‘beauty’ are symptomatic of, well… a world gone mad, taken to deceit, superficiality, and shallowness, among other things.

One of my little cousins, I tell her, she does not need to worry: she is gorgeous how she is, Masha Allah! But she says, no, she is not. Why, I ask? Because, as she tells me, she does not look like her, and she points to a girl she is watching on Tik-Tok, whose face is laden with makeup, whose features are accentuated through the use of certain poses and filters.

The ‘Instagram face’. This is an important concept in today’s world, so it would seem.

I so wish everybody could just know how beautiful they are. A few months ago, I carried out that survey thing, for which the fourth question was about people’s main struggles and insecurities. Everybody responded to this with, looks: they struggle with accepting and appreciating how they look, and this actually holds them back, they find, in other areas of life. People find themselves ugly; want to do away with certain features of theirs, acquire new ones.

What a world we live in, huh? Our notions of beauty are so distorted. This ‘Instagram face’, this template that begins with European features, takes from ‘ethnic ones’, merges them together to create the notorious almost-bionic template that plasters our social media feeds these days. My issue with the culture that this has been fostered by (and then, in turn, fosters) is that we now have humans who are disgusted by some of the baseline stuff of being human: who spend hours hating their own reflections, who look beauty right in the eye each day (when they look into a mirror) but who cannot at all recognise it for what it is.

The media we consume on a daily basis undoubtedly has a massive impact on the ways in which we come to see things. It is all quite interconnected, too: how addictive these platforms are, how much of its content we consume each day (often quite ‘mindlessly’. But it is always having an effect on our minds…), advertising, the cosmetic industry…

The truth is, looks do matter. Of course they do. But it gets awfully political, if you think about it enough: how the ones with the most power, have the power to truly influence how we view things. Like beauty. The thing about beauty is, it is meant to be indicative of goodness [and, I would argue, of Truth. We tend to see things that are unified, proportionate, and harmonious, as being beautiful. I think this points us towards a supreme wisdom, a Oneness. Allah].

An envelope, and then you open it, and there is goodness to be found. But as soon as we come to believe that only some women (i.e. those with European features, lightly infused with more ‘exotic’ and ethnic ones) are truly beautiful, we are also allowing ourselves to believe that they, by nature, hold unique goodness within them. Such ideas – pertaining to both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ – are strongly linked to European colonial ideas. That white women, for example, are more ‘feminine’ and ‘angelic’ than other ones. [And that white men are more civilised and intelligent than other – the more ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ – ones]. Then, these notions of what constitutes seeming ‘angelic’, and how these have, over time, developed into modern conceptualisations of the infantile woman, who is at once childishly adorable, ‘angelic’, and very sexually fecund… doesn’t it all make you a little uncomfortable?

The human Fitrah does ‘naturally’ recognise beauty. Most human beings absolutely love ‘nature’. It is visually, aurally, atmospherically beautiful. But our Fitrahs can be, and very often are, affected by environmental factors. By the media, for example: what we cognitively consume, and just how much of it. These things that can acquire power over you, a hold on you, can in turn deeply influence your thoughts and beliefs.

I wish humanity would just accept its own humanity. I wish we would stop worshipping plastic notions; stop allowing ourselves to be fooled so. Whenever I come across pictures (e.g. at museums) from the past, of people simply having fun, and while looking unashamedly human, I think about the ways of now. How we dress ourselves up so much, to go just about anywhere, and how hyper-aware we can tend to be, of our own physicality.

Sadly, this hyper-awareness stops a lot of people from playing. From having pure, unbridled fun. And from bearing witness to their own inherent beauty. It makes people compare themselves (to heavily engineered images) and then come to consider themselves as being ‘ugly’. It motivates people to go on a lot of these unhealthy ‘diets’, to think about getting nose jobs, bodily implants, and more.

How did we get to this point, at which normal human faces are seen as abnormal? Where, if a woman walks out without makeup, she looks ‘sickly’ and un-groomed.  If she wears ‘subtle’ makeup, little girls come to think that this is how they ought to look without makeup [this is what the ‘no makeup makeup look’ does, in truth].

Nobody is born ‘ugly’, and nobody is born seeing themselves this way. In fact, it goes against the inclinations of the human Fitrah, to see ‘ordinary’ humans as being ‘ugly’. This would be tantamount to denying the beauty within walking definitions of beauty!

I reckon it began with makeup. With the arrival of new potential, for women with ‘ordinary’ faces to look special, ‘exotic’ and sexy: to accentuate their features with the use of substances that blacken and bronze and ‘beautify’. Interestingly, the basis of all these makeup products is the promise of an ‘ethnic’ look, a ‘sultry’ and ‘exotic’ one. With mascara, white women could now darken and elongate their eyelashes. With bronzer, they could achieve that ‘sun-kissed’ look. Lip-liner allowed them to achieve the full-lip look. Other various cosmetic powders and liquids allow for skin to look ‘flawless’, glowing. But women who are South Asian, black, Latina, and Arab (generally) naturally have these features already. So where do they fit in, in terms of how the global cosmetics industry direct their advertising and relevance?

To put it simply, white women started to want these ‘exotic’ ethnic features. They were seen, undoubtedly, as being fascinating, and (thus) ‘sexy’. But some ‘exotic’ features had been left behind, in the conceptualisation of this model: uni-brows, for example [and thick eyebrows, too. These only became ‘fashionable’ far later]. And hooked noses, and certain face shapes, among other things. So, it is almost as though a makeup template for white women had been created deeply inspired by certain ‘ethnic’ looks and features, but then, in turn, ‘ethnic’ women took from the new European-with-hints-of-‘exoticism’ model.

And so, lots of white women rushed to get lip fillers, while lots of black women rushed to acquire straighter hair. Lots of Arab women rushed to get nose jobs. Lots of South Asian women rushed to lighten their skin.

See, the entire cosmetic industry peddles the idea that no, you are never ‘enough’, never quite done yet. You do not yet look like the ‘models’ we have created. So keep going, keep buying, keep ‘improving’. 

And yes, I think ‘celebrity culture’ has played a notable role in all of this. From the beginnings of Hollywood, to the ways of things now, this culture has always relied on some people being presented as being extraordinary, very special, worthy of much popular attention. They had to be set apart from everybody else: talent-wise, and, of course, ‘beauty’-wise.

But, gradually, the cosmetics that only the rich and famous had access to became increasingly accessible to the rest of the public. And, with this ‘celebrity culture’ mentality in mind, of course, people wanted to emulate whom they had been made to perceive as being the ‘successful’. And thus, I think, was birthed these ideas of the most non-human-seeming human things being the most attractive ones. Terrifying, really.

Hooked noses and pointed chins, for example, are not objectively ‘ugly’. And nor are rounded faces, or thinner lips, stretch marks, tummy rolls, or whatever else.

I do think it is a very human, ‘okay’ thing to want to be beautiful. In general, women in particular have innate desires to be beautiful (on the inside, and the ‘out’), while men tend to obtain the majority of their self-esteem from how ‘strong’ they are (both on the physical, and inward, emotional level). But I think our paradigms of beauty ought to be more ‘from us’. Beginning with us, and ending, for the most part, with us: with the beautiful features and things that Allah has given us, already. The goal, perhaps, ought to just be: being as healthy as we can be. Developing according to our own natures (and this should be true, for us, on both the physical level, and the mental ones).

Hey, did Aphrodite not have tummy rolls? She is, then, perhaps more human than most of us today will, unfortunately, allow ourselves to be.

I worry for my little cousins, I really do. In fact, I worry for every woman – especially the younger ones – who finds herself alive, right now, in this world of ours. I want for beautiful people to know that they are beautiful, even where their faces do not fit with the whole Instagram cut-out template.

If I ever have a daughter, I hope I can teach her how to stand before herself and bear witness to the beauty that is inherent in her, a gift from God. I know I would want to protect her from these never-ending streams of media that may seek to tell her that, in terms of beauty, she is lesser than what she, in truth, is.

Dear reader, I want you to know how beautiful you are. So, for today at least, I challenge you to exchange those critical lenses through which you may look at yourself in the mirror, for ones of appreciation. When you actively look for the beauty that (I promise you) is already there, you will surely come to see it, Subhan Allah. Nobody else in the world has the beauty that only you do.

And why would you ever want to look like anybody else?


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Pretences of Piety

Don’t you find it frightening (and infuriating), for example,

Just how many Qur’an teachers and self-proclaimed Maulanas have abused little girls in their own homes?

The Deen. In actuality, it is meant to protect, not hurt. But, see, we seem to have all these cowardly men who hide under their thobes; what they do is they feign these unmatchable levels of piety. What they do, then, is they slander innocent women (which is one of the major sins in Islam, actually) and they try to control their wives. Some of them sexually abuse little girls. These are just misogynists trying to be Muslims.

And, when they find themselves having been exposed for things like this, swathes of men tend to flock to their defence. We are taught to see them as the bastions of this faith of ours. It seems shameful to exist before them, as women; to look them in the eye.

We seem to commonly mistake image-based expressions of piety for piety itself. What piety necessitates, actually, is a pure heart. The pure-souled do dwell among us, of course they do. Maybe they are not always the ones who sport the longest beards; maybe they do not wear black robes all the time.

Maybe they are what a Muslim ought to be: one who remembers God, and remembers that God is ever-cognisant.

“The best among [us] are the ones who have the best manners and character” [Hadith].

I refuse to trust anyone whose image-based manifestations of ‘piety’ render them arrogant. The attempted ‘holier-than-thou’ mentality: it goes against the teachings of Islam, and pushes people away from it, too.

Beating people into submission, for example. Feeling proud, thinking you are so much better than them. And I am absolutely sick of all of these double standards.

Men who recite the Qur’an in public, for example, and then quietly sanction the bombing of children as they sleep in their cots. Who preach Islamic values, but whose families are oppressed under them. Who secretly lust after and abuse women, and then proceed to blame the female kind for… existing.

Men who maintain that any woman who does not wear a Niqab, and who is not… personality-less and almost perpetually scared, before them… is not worthy of the ‘religious’ title. They call any woman who does not fit their ‘ideals’ a “feminist”.

They tell us not to speak to non-Mahram men. Don’t even look at them. If they say “Salaam” to you, walk away from them. Okay. Why are you speaking to me then? Follow your own rules. Why do you speak to women whom you are not married to, in such boundary-less ways? Who are you to think that you are better than her, because you happen to attend some class every week?

Do you find yourself so insecure in your masculine identity that you find you must now either sexualise every woman you come across, or demean and debase her?

You question all of her actions.

You make the same human mistakes as she does. Yet, in your eyes, she is the only fallible one.

You put certain other men on pedestals. Yet, for women, you erase, in your mind, all the good that they do. You expect so much of them; what do you give them, back?

You slander female Muslim scholars for… being scholars. (Wait… I thought you thought we – this monolithic ‘Modern Muslim woman’ – are not educated-in-the-Islamic-sciences enough for your liking?) You call her names, because she happens to be pretty. You say, she is despicable – attracting men by standing there, speaking.

And yet you are willing to give your fellow men chance, after chance, after chance. Hide their sins, you say, for them. But, for women: if she breathes, you say that she is blameworthy.

Misogyny – the like of which has no place in our Deen – is what pushes many Muslim women towards notions of Liberal Feminism. We should remember, though, that while women do have certain responsibilities towards men, men have certain responsibilities towards us, too. We also both have rights over one another. I think modern feminism sometimes forgets that we are, in fact, an intrinsically dimorphic kind. I think modern Muslim misogynists often forget that Allah has given us certain inalienable rights. Like the right to not be treated like worthless little objects, like misbehaving children, just as an example.

Seeing is not believing. I refuse to look at the clothes a person wears to gauge how ‘religious’ they may be. The words of many of these revered ‘Maulana’ types, I refuse to ever take as gospel. He is a human being, just like I am.

And if he ever treats me like I am somehow lesser than him, well then, I already know that he is lesser than me, at least with respect to respect ⁠— to Akhlaq and Adab. These are the words. They beautify the human being.

Maybe some of the (actual) best Muslims alive right now wear football shirts. Maybe they skateboard. Maybe they are primary school teachers, painters, boxers.

The sincerity of your soul, and its being in servitude of God ⁠— well, this is between you and your Creator, actually. The eyes and minds of the people, these are fallible. But, with regard to the people, know that it is a command of God to serve them, and not to walk with pride before them.

Justice, humility, compassion, mercy, honesty, trustworthiness. These are what make a man, a Muslim.

“إِنَّ مِنْ خِيَارِكُمْ أَحْسَنَكُمْ أَخْلَاقًا”

Verily, the best among you are those who exhibit the best character. 

[Hadith]

 

“أَلَا أُخْبِرُكُمْ بِخَيْرِكُمْ مِنْ شَرِّكُمْ خَيْرُكُمْ مَنْ يُرْجَى خَيْرُهُ وَيُؤْمَنُ شَرُّهُ وَشَرُّكُمْ مَنْ لَا يُرْجَى خَيْرُهُ وَلَا يُؤْمَنُ شَرُّهُ”

Shall I not tell you what distinguishes the best of you from the worst of you? The best of you are those from whom goodness is expected and people are safe from their evil. The worst of you are those from whom goodness is not expected and people are not safe from their evil.

[Hadith]

And, a Hadith that I particularly love:

خِيَارُكُمْ الَّذِينَ إِذَا رُءُوا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ

The best of you are those who, when they are seen, inspire others to remember Allah Almighty.

Whom have I come across, who have inspired me to remember the Almighty upon looking at them? I think these are the ones with radiant faces, and they have this peace about them. They are humble before fellow creatures. Their hearts gleam. Their mannerisms tend to be quite soft, their laughs hearty, their levels of emotional intelligence quite high.

I aspire to be like them. Light – Noor – radiates from them; it is hard to express such a thing through words. They smile often, and they are humble, at peace and quite integrated within themselves, it seems, and rather true.

I do try to be open to and welcoming of advice – Naseeha, sincere counsel. But I think there is a distinction to be made, between sincere and empathy-based advice, and unproductive criticisms that come from a place of clear haughtiness and/or hypocrisy.

 

True piety beautifies, and the truly pious remind you of Allah, almost as soon as you look at them. It is difficult to not have a strong affinity towards people like this. They walk the walk of Islam, true Islam, while others bark as they mostly talk a talk, frequently stomping all over others as they do so. 

 

Remember that Islam is for you too. We are all imperfect; most of us are just sinners doing the best that we can. But know that if you are sincere, then Islam is for you.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Notes on the Qur’an: Surah Fatihah

 

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. 

The Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. 

Owner of the Day of Judgement.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help. 

Guide us to the straight path, 

The way of those on whom You have bestowed your grace, 

Not the way of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray. 

Ameen.

 

Surah Fatihah. ‘The Opening’ Surah. Root letters: Fa, Ta, Ha. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, these root letters are conjugated to indicate decision-making, too. Another word that stems from them is the Arabic word for ‘key’ — Miftaah.

The word ‘Allah’ has been retained throughout the translation, since there is no corresponding word in English. The word ‘Allah’ has neither feminine linguistic form, nor plural. It has never been used to refer to anything but the unimaginable Supreme Being. The word ‘Ilah’, however, means ‘God’ in the general sense of the word. 

This Surah is otherwise known as Umm-a-tul-Qur’an, the Mother of the Qur’an. It aptly summarises the Holy Book’s essence.

All Praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

Now, we must remember that point about how all translations of the Qur’an happen to be, by nature, reductive. As aforementioned, the Arabic language – and, more so, Fus’ha Arabic – is an unbelievably rich and vast one. The words that have been selected, from English, to represent what the Arabic says are only the best possible options.

The word that has been translated into “Praise”, here, for example – Hamd – is actually quite an encompassing word. It encompasses the meanings of “praise”, “thanks” ⁠— all praise, and all thanks.

Second, ‘Lord’ of the Worlds: the word used is ‘Rabb’. This is another ‘encompassing word’. Lord, Sustainer, Maker, Cherisher, the Most Supreme Being, all wrapped up into one concise word. Rabb. 

Lord of the Worlds, of the ”Aalameen’. Root letters: ‘Ayn, Laam, Meem. These can be conjugated to mean things to do with knowledge, and things to do with different worlds. Essentially, Allah (SWT) is the Lord of all knowledge, all that we can gain via experience, all that can possibly be known; all that exists.

Owner of the Day of Judgement

The word ‘Malik’ is used for ‘owner’. This means owner, as well as one who has power over something. Sovereignty.

The Day of Judgement: ‘Yawm-ul-Qiyamah’. It is interesting to note that the word ‘Yawm’ does not necessarily refer to a ‘day’ as we know it here on Earth, i.e. consisting of twenty-four hours. It refers to a given period of time, a stage. For example, the Universe had not been created in seven days per se, but in seven differing stages.

We need to remember that we will die, and that we will be resurrected. There will come a day on which our deeds – good and bad, and their degrees – will be measured and presented before us. We will exit from temporality, and we will enter into eternity.

You (alone) we worship, and You we ask for help.

As Muslims, we should worship God, and God alone. We should not worship Jesus, as the Christians do. We should not worship our own desires, either. And nor should we worship any of these false Gods that modernity has given birth to, after the rise of Existentialism.

It is Allah – our Rabb – whom we ought to ask for help. He is the ultimate provider, and the sustainer. We always need Him, even if we think we do not.

Guide us to the straight path

Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem: the straight path, variously translated as being the path of middles. [If anybody knows what the root letters of ‘Mustaqeem’ are, please do let me know…]

All life is a thing of acquisitions. We choose things; we acquire good, and/or evil, and thereby choose our paths. There is Sirat-ul-Mustaqeem, on which we are bestowed with Divine grace, if we walk upon it. And there is the path of the astray, the ones who have earned God’s anger. The Christians, for example, went astray after redirecting their worship from God to one of His Prophets. The Jews earned Allah’s anger by altering His words to befit their own desires.

 

So, this is the opening Surah of the Qur’an. One down, 113 to go. This Surah summarises the essence of the Book. It encapsulates themes such as our belief in and reliance on God, and God alone. It tells us about life, and how we choose the path(s) we walk upon. And, ultimately, we shall be judged. There will come a ‘Yawm’ of judgement, of Divine decisions.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020