Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem
‘Self’ in relation to others. How we come into this world; how we suffer, sometimes, and struggle always. ‘Trauma’. And the only things that really help: our connections with our Creator, and our relationships with particular people.
In this article, I want to speak a little about identity. And about ‘projection’. Selfhood: whom we are, whom we have been, and where it is that we are going. We already know whom we are: we do pretty much everything in light of it.
‘Projection’, though: when we imaginatively paint, with holographs, atop other people, other things. When things are more or less still – when we only have access to, say, three or four things that we (feel we) definitely know about them. And we can proceed to, usually subconsciously, project, and project, and project. Are they even a human being, anymore, in our eyes? Or do they come to become merely a bundle of all our deep-rooted wants and longings?
Desiring not whom – or what – they are, in their fullnesses, their realities and entireties. But instead attaching ourselves to notions of what they might be. Possibly. The mysterious and obscured projector screen, which is known to fill the gap between Appearances and Reality. It isn’t really true, and nor is it (healthy, or) fair.
Dear Reader, I encourage you to do something a little strange, here. [‘A Little Strange’ should probably be my middle name]. I want you to think of a time when you may have had a crush on somebody, or, metaphorically… on something.
[This is something I had to explain to some of my younger students, while they openly discussed their celebrity crushes in front of me: that it is perfectly Halāl – and natural, and a sign of good internal functionality and all – to have crushes. But it is all about what we do in light of them, that counts]
Crushes, and projection. I have had ‘crushes’ on places, before. For sure. Two academic institutions. One: (a somewhat idealistic part of) my mind convinced me that it would… ‘save’ me somehow. That these were the specific problems I had been facing, and there lay the solution. A still image. Just an image: a series of them. And, thus, as a result of my distance and my fundamental unknowing: my mind’s ability to project whatever it wanted onto this not-a-thing, but-a-concept.
Mystery, and adventure: ostensibly essentially liberating. A whole new sea of people to meet; a whole new ‘better me’ to somehow morph into. But now I know that Dunya is, consistently, a difficult place: an abode of struggle. And the onus on rescuing myself is not on any other person, or on any other place, or on any other ‘time’ or on anything in-between: the onus is on me.
Forgive me for my shameless oversharing once again, dear Reader. Also, some of my students would appear to have (shamelessly stalked me and) found this blog of mine: they might read this part, and it might be a little embarrassing, but it’s okay: it’s normal and it’s human. I want to talk about a couple of crushes I have had, in the past, and about what I have learnt, through ever having them — about myself, and about life. [Netflix should totally make a ‘To All The Boys…’ Desi-Muslim girl version!]
One of them had been very funny indeed. Class clown, effortlessly witty. He had also been, I think, very smart, albeit not in a traditional-academic-sat-down-behind-a-desk kind of way. Quite the opposite, probably, and (not to sound like a wannabe poetic o b s e r v e r again, but) he seemed to have this depth to him that had been concealed beneath that ‘joking-all-the-time’ veneer. And sometimes, in ordinary classroom conversations, he would casually bring up something so thoroughly clever and interesting. A popular and ‘cool’ person who would watch documentaries about the most peculiar things. And he prayed Salāh and cared about Islam! This, for me, had been one of those attractions that had resulted in me questioning my own merits. Was I funny enough? Cool-and-interesting enough? And all the rest of those unhelpful questions.
Then, there was one whom I had not interacted with as much as the aforesaid one (that aforesaid one whom I had known for five entire years). He prayed, and was kind, and reminded me of a humble and happy, intellectually curious and… unassumingly-comfortable-in-himself-and-his-uniquenesses farmer or something. Held the door open for people, with a smile; would zip up their bags if he saw them open; would say “Salaam” on the stairs, in a gentle but cheerful way. By being around him, I learnt much about things like Islamic philosophy; terms like ‘Fitrah’ and ‘Mu’tazila’. He had his [I hate this word but there is no better alternative, I don’t think] ‘quirks’: would bring in entire cakes to school and, if I recall correctly, a butterknife also, sharing slices out, and then proceeding to talk about things like the Islamic perspective on masculine/feminine essences, and about the poems he had helped his sister to write. Or, are these particular discussions the ones that I had paid attention to the most because they spoke directly to my own interests?
How much do people know about the goodnesses of themselves? Do they know how much they have managed to teach and/or comfort other people? How much do we really know about ourselves, in relation to those around us? Subhan Allah!
I think I understand these things, in retrospect, a little better, though. In other people, I have strongly admired such things as commitment to Deen and Deen-related learning; kindness; intellectual curiosity, confident humour and wit, centredness and contentment, and idiosyncratic strangenesses. But: I do not need to acquire these things via a dude. What if I am already these things? What if these things simply indicate to me what I hope for more of, when it comes to my own self, and my own life?
What if I had merely been projecting, all along? My own hopes for myself; my own inability to see that this might already be me! Things that I am; things that I hope to work on. Recognised, via another person, who, from my own limited outside views of them, seems like me but more solid-seeming: painted in a (heightened) positive light!
Truly, there is no time like the present; no time nor place better than the here and the now. I am a living, breathing, thinking, human being, and (although I do not believe in ‘independence’ per se, and strongly believe in the value of love) the onus is on me to understand myself better, and to improve myself: to accept my own place in Islam, and in the world, and to be a better Muslim — to (with Allah’s help, of course) save myself.
Is it not just that… we grow awfully used to our own selves, over time? We do not recognise that there are things that we are – effortlessly – and spaces that we occupy – effortlessly – which, collectively, are ours, and they are nobody else’s in the world’s! How cool a thought. And, you see [as a big sister to one brother and five little cousin-brothers, the phrase “you see” gives me PTSD. ‘Dhar Mann fam’ and all. If you know, you, rather tragically indeed, know…] every human being alive is just that: a human being. A collection of unique good things; a realistic helping of flaws, edges, fears, sorrows, misgivings and such.
Anybody can – if one were to deliberately attempt to whittle the entireties of their beings down to a set of desirable-seeming traits – be romanticised. Little things: them being kind to their elderly neighbours; crying unexpectedly while watching certain movies; making their favourite meals while humming their favourite songs. The ‘quirks’ that their family members know them for; when they are known to burst out with laughter, and for what, precisely.
And the glass is always half-full, half-empty, with every single element of Dunya, including with these current versions of ourselves. Everybody is beautiful. And everybody is messy. Apathetic, at times. ‘Hangry’, at others. Unfocused, and/or worried, and/or so prone to misunderstanding things. You are a living, breathing human being, well-acquainted with the facts of (the fullnesses of) your own humanity. There is room enough, in the here and now, to breathe, and to be (you, and to) Believe. And to know that we must live right now: it does not get ‘better than this’.
‘Projection’. When one decides that one thoroughly likes a thing, without first being well-acquainted with it: the only thing that can fill the spaces of unknowing is… projection. What it feels like one may lack in one’s own self, one’s own life, perhaps. Ideas, ideas, notions of ‘in the future’, fortified, as a consequence of constant rumination… into convictions. Thrown onto the unperturbed-by-reality stillness of the object: place, or person.
[But the onus is on us, most crucially, to live. Fully. Not always ‘prettily’. And to become better]
‘Projection’ also works in the reverse way: when it comes to people placing other people – even their own siblings, or their own children – on (or, within) the opposite of pedestals. Pits. When people are deeply unhappy with their own lives, and with their own selves, and when they, perhaps, feel entitled to ‘better’. The more ‘still’ a person is, or the more distant, or even the more nominally ‘close’ they are: the easier they become, to scapegoat.
Crushes and scapegoats. Both of these things operate based on the acts of projection. Cognitively treating a fellow human being not like a human being anymore; instead, being quite unfair. These things tell us less about the objects of the projections, and more about their origins. When people’s minds are, for better or for worse, not very fair towards another: the other becomes a sort of picture frame, coming to frame the origin’s expectations and insecurities and such.
“Since I’ve learned (the reality of) people, I don’t care who praises or criticises me, as they will be excessive in both.” – Malik ibn Dinar
Only when things are real are they real. And when things are real, I reckon they feel far more balanced. More ‘here’ than anywhere elsewhere; focused on whatever is, in preference above what we imagine might possibly be.
Ultimately, we are all human beings; not mere singular images, caught in time, and then painted over and glamorised, or (on the flip-side) denigrated and blamed for everything that is wrong in the world or in another’s life [‘tis our intentions, which matter]. We are not mere ‘concepts’; we are not ‘perfect’ in the way that motionless porcelain dolls are. We are not fundamentally terrible and undeserving of love and affection, either. Ever. We, here, must move, and move, with Time. And grow, and grow. Know pain and struggle; experience the lightnesses of their opposites, also.
So long as our intentions, in general, are kept in good order; so long as we are doing right by other people… We do not need to be other than ourselves, in order to be loved and to feel worthy. Not a thing. There is, for example, no need to be quieter. Or, louder. Or, more ‘cutesy’, or less fake-aggressive and playful. Not less logical; not more ‘sure-seeming’. Growth is always important, but it is desirable and meaningful when it is organic, and when it is beginning from whom we already are; whom we already (Alhamdulillah) know ourselves to be.
And maybe this is it: this is life, and there are no things, here in Dunya, that it is the primary function of these particular chapters in our lives to ‘prepare us for’. No part of Dunya-based existence is only a prequel to some other part. Life does not ‘begin’ with university, or with marriage, or with a job or some such. Every single thing we do; every moment counts. And the onus is on us.
Maybe we are already whom we had always been dying to ‘be’. Maybe, whenever it is not full and real (here, and in the now) then it is, quite simply and intuitively, incomplete and false.
And maybe, actually, and rather comfortingly, grace does not require anything more – or less – of us, nothing ‘other-than-we’, in order for us to be readily accepted into it. If it is real, and if it organically speaks to whom we are: it will be effortless. Friction-ful, as things are, in this world, and yet, on a greater level: frictionless.
In Dunya, it is true that we are fundamentally incomplete, imperfect. And yet, even then: in all that we are, and have been, and are not, and will, perhaps, never be… we are reflections of Magnificence. And what an honour it is, to be precisely here, in this very moment of time, exactly how and as whom we (already) are.
[There is a possibility that tonight is Layla-tul-Qadr: the Night of Power/Decree. Remember to make lots of Du’a tonight, Insha Allah. And… if you enjoyed reading this article and hope to reap some Ajr, please consider donating to my LaunchGood campaign to raise money for formula milk for babies in Yemen and Syria. Jazak Allah Khayr (may Allah reward you with goodness), Āmeen.]
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.