“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Rugged Charm

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

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


Dear friend,

Most are known to spend

their evenings in search, searching,

For some other life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

وَلَلْآخِرَةُ خَيْرٌ لَّكَ مِنَ الْأُولَىٰ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaking buckets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, remember, the graceful tenacity of the birds:

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

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

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

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

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

.إِنَّ مَعَ الْعُسْرِ يُسْرًا

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

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

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

— Surah An’am, Holy Qur’an

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

‘Self-love’ (?)

“Love yourself.”

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

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

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

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

“I am beautiful. And intelligent. And awesome!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You matter immeasurably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Qur’an, (49:11)

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

“Is the reward for goodness anything but goodness?”

Qur’an, 55:60

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

— Muhammad (SAW)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Qur’an, 10:65

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

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

“What wonderful red hair!”

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

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

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

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

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Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

“Depression”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have Depression.”

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

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

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

“Well, —”

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

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

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

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

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

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

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


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Friendship

A friend is someone who holds your breath. Friendship. It is such a wonderful thing. If you are blessed enough, in this life of yours, to have at least one amazing friend, then you are truly blessed indeed. How awful would it have been to be alone – without friendship – in this world?

A friend is someone who looks into your eyes, and understands. Friendship is sacred, even if, these days, we often act like it is not. It takes things like trust and effort, yes. Humour, love, adventures. Sometimes just sitting in silence, enjoying one another’s company.

You are indeed who your friends are. Well, you are you, a separate entity. But so much of you will be dependent on who they are. They will be reflections of you, too. So choose wisely.

You know, we sometimes act as though every person we have met, whom we perhaps shared a class at school with, or whom we worked alongside as colleagues – we (or, do I mean I?) act like these are ‘friends’. But, no, I think, realistically, these are…acquaintances. They might be circumstantially somewhat close acquaintances, sure. But I think the term ‘friend’ ought to hold far more weight.

Friends are here for the best of your times. They are equally there for the worst ones. Your happiness and sadness becomes theirs, somehow, and vice versa. Friends are the family we are fortunate enough to be able to choose for ourselves; their lives become intertwined with ours, in parts. We end up sharing some of our flowers.

Okay I’ve got like twenty seconds left. I love my friends; over and over again, I would choose them. I love having good food with them. Good food, good friends. And FLOWERS. Life complete.

4 seconds left. 3, 2, 1.

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

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Boxes and Labels

Social ideas pertaining to identity and self-definition are constantly changing. Gender, class, religion, age and ethnicity are said to form the core of one’s personality… or, rather, how we can concisely define ourselves when we do not have enough time to explain what our personal views, experiences and ideas might be, and, likewise, how others can place us into easy boxes when they are too lazy or strapped for time to explore the deeper intricacies of who we are. The nature of human identity is arguably one of the most complex and fluid concepts that social scientists (among others) are forced to grapple with constantly; limiting the definition of one’s qualities and traits to ethnic categories on application forms is both futile and regressive; the ‘ethnicity’ section of such forms is an insult to people’s individualities, and their individual assets. “The times”, as Bob Dylan put it, “they are a-changin’”, and it now feels like the right time to open up an extensive debate about the relevance of ethnic labelling in the modern world.

I must admit, however, that I am no stranger to the intrinsic human urge to feel like I belong to a group, (or, to several). I am a member of numerous friendship groups and online ‘fandoms’, as well as worldwide communities – from the global Marvel Comics fandom to the nearly 2-billion-strong international Muslim community. Although I belong to these various groups, I still see myself as a unique individual; my personality cannot fully be captured by simple strings of words, or by lazy labels like “Muslim”, “teenager” or “Bengali”, let alone by an inane blanket label like “black”, “white”, or “brown”.

Human conversational tendencies are a peculiar thing, especially in first-time conversations, and those centred on ‘small talk’ (which is an intrinsically detestable thing, if you ask me). In such situations, people tend to drift towards discussing trivial matters like the weather, or Trumpian politics, or ethnicity. Revealing one’s ethnicity, from my experience, tends to give rise to responses of fascination, bewilderment, or downright confusion.

 

Really? You’re Bengali? Oh, so you’re basically Indian, right?”

“No way! I thought you were Moroccan. You’re too pretty to be a Bengali”

“Oh, wow. So do you eat rice and curry everyday?”

“Will you have to get an arranged marriage?”

 

The obsession with ethnicity seems strange when compared to other factors such as social class. Adults nowadays are unlikely to bring up age or social class as a topic of initial conversation (so as to instantly assign labels and stereotypes to people they barely even know) and yet the question of ethnicity somehow retains its place at the tips of our tongues. Similarly, although young people are unlikely to include their social class or political beliefs in short social media biographies, they are willing to embellish said ‘bios’ with flag Emojis and statements of ethnic pride. This is, by no means, a bad thing, however placing excessive importance on the differences between ethnic groups, as opposed to the innumerable similarities we share with every other human being, places pressure on people to perceive members of other groups as strange, or at least, distant from them. It is this very concept that provides the perfect breeding ground for racism, as well as ideas surrounding ethnic superiority and inferiority.

Nobody here in London can claim to be an authentic, uncontaminated representative of a singular race. In fact, nobody in the world can make this claim. Several large-scale genealogy experiments and projects have proven, time and time again, that humans have been migrating from place to place for millennia- since we first came about. Cultural heritage, like race, is an illusory concept.

Now, with the impacts of immigration and globalisation, many cities- London being an archetypal example- are cultural melting pots, and the lines that separate distinctive lifestyles and cultures are gradually being blurred. Even my grandmother, who epitomises ‘Bengali culture’ with her myriads of superstitions and customs, enjoys having the occasional Chinese take-away for dinner, and wears Norwegian slippers around her house. Second and third-generation immigrants find it even more difficult to adhere to the de facto laws of their ‘inherited’ cultures: we are exposed to different ideas, lifestyles, cuisines, philosophical perspectives, and clothing styles on a daily basis. We are able to actively pick and choose what we like and dislike; we are, for the most part, free to shape our own identities.

Despite this, there are examples of subsections of the wider London community that are, arguably, secluded, alienated, and according to some (such as certain highly enlightened Daily Mail journalists), not ‘integrated’ into wider society. The 2011 census showed the Bangladeshi and Pakistani community is mostly concentrated in East London, Arabs have established their ground in parts of the North Western region, the majority of Chinese Londoners reside in Southwark, and so on. It seems that people are eager to cling onto others who resemble themselves, but in doing so, they only scratch the surface of potential points of similarity, focusing on skin colour, recent ancestral linkages, and other artificial similarities, as opposed to overlaps in terms of, say, preferences. The amassment of certain groups in certain areas has been proliferated by relative minorities in those regions being made to feel like outsiders, and thus the phenomenon of ‘White Flight’ comes into play. Unfortunately, the issue is only sustained by other groups moving away from areas with predominantly homogeneous populations. The only way to break this chain is to force ethnic dissimilarities to become less significant, both to ethnic majorities in certain regions, and their minority counterparts.

Due to harmful stereotypes about race and ethnicity, people of colour here in Europe frequently experience ‘microaggressive’ forms of discriminatory behavior. People who are visibly of European descent are treated with extra attention and politeness, whilst individuals of colour are often made to be on the receiving end of acute impatience, and, at times, even aggressive behaviour; this can be observed almost everywhere, from planes to post offices, and it is deeply regrettable that this sort of prejudicial behavior is perpetuated by members of ethnic minorities themselves. Similarly, in certain Arabian countries, South Asians are seen and treated as inferior. Racial hierarchies are, unfortunately, still ubiquitous in the modern world. In some places, race-based slavery somehow continues to exist: countries like Libya and Saudi Arabia are a hundred steps behind when it comes to diminishing the relevance of ethnicity.

Ultimately, it is important to acknowledge that ethnicity is a mere social construct; although it is socially ‘real’, it is not biologically so, and, like all forms of societal categorization, placing consequential importance on ethnicity renders it a powerful force of division and discrimination. Evolutionary biologists (such as the renowned ‘celebrity atheist’ Richard Dawkins) argue that ethnicity might simply be a remnant of instinctive human tribalism: we feel the urge to behave altruistically towards our immediate family, as well as our neighbours, and people we physically resemble, but only when we all surrender to the truth of humanity being a singular species, without any actual morphological sub-species, will we ever be able to truly become ‘global citizens’.

“Nationalism,” Albert Einstein once said, “is a disease”. Excessive pride in one’s ethnic identity (or, in the same vein, the unbridled loathing, collectivising, and misunderstanding of other groups) is a huge barrier to achieving global peace and unity. This widespread obsession with ethnicity has led to, and still leads to, stereotyping, discrimination, and even genocides (Nazi Germany and the Bosnian Wars being prime examples of this). It is disturbing to think that miniscule, constructed differences such as religion, dialect, and skin colour can lead to such divisiveness and animosity, but the fact of the matter is, ethnicity is of such profound importance to our species solely because we allow it to be.

Although I will always be fascinated by my ancestral origins, my mother’s mother tongue, and the exquisite practices I have always enjoyed, I do not want to be known as ‘the Bengali girl’, nor do I want to be the token brown girl at my future workplace. I want people to see me for who I am, and not through a distorted lens of misunderstandings, preconceptions, and the popular sin of wanting to group people together, making them sacrifice their individuality for an amorphous, ambiguous collective identity based on the pontificated truths of ethnicity. Sure, my family is originally from Bangladesh: I have brown skin and dark hair, I eat curry regularly, and I (am forced to) attend countless extravagant family parties… but the next time I am asked about where I am ‘from’, whether on a form or in a fleeting ‘small talk’ conversation, I might just tick the box next to

prefer not to say’.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Gender Socialisation

Assalamu ‘alaikum. I wrote this article when I was fourteen years old. Since then, my views of things, especially in regards to Islam, have changed and developed.

Recently, during a school trip to Kings’ College University, I had the privilege of meeting the head of the university’s Psychology Department- Professor Richard Brown. Having a keen interest in societal ideas of gender, I naturally became very fascinated by the nature of one of Professor Brown’s observations:

In a social experiment, Professor Brown laid out a complex scientific activity. He put the participants into groups according to gender, and timed how long it took for the groups to obtain the correct answer. He found that, whilst the girls were interested in organisation and the avoidance of conflict, the boys were far more assertive, if slightly aggressive, and this allowed them to delve into the finer details of the task at hand. They called each other “idiots” and were far more competitive in their approaches. They favoured competition over cooperation, as opposed to the girls.

Much has been written about how boys are typically more ‘independent, assertive and competitive’ than girls, even at early ages, but are these characteristics biological or learned? Many sociologists argue that the idea that they are intrinsic and ‘critical to the survival of our species’ is wholly mythical, and that such characteristics only arise as a direct result of gender socialisation.

From a young age, boys are encouraged to play with cars, action figures and science sets. Thus, they are channelled into their gender roles as ‘protectors’, and favour careers in science and technology.

Meanwhile, young girls are, and are encouraged to be, sensitive, passive and supportive. They are often canalised into playing with dolls, tea sets and simulation toys, and tend to come to favour careers in teaching, nursing and other nurture fields.

In my view, gender roles are fundamentally stupid: they are restrictive and irrational, and damage young children and young potential. [This is what fourteen-year-old me thought. In truth, now, I believe that Allah has made men and women differently. Spiritually, also, we are equal.]

Do you have any views on this topic? If so, feel free to comment below. 

Alternatively, you can email me at sadiadventures@outlook.com, and I shall endeavour to respond within three days. 

A Question of Gender

Assalamu ‘alaikum. Please note that I wrote this particular article when I was 14. My views, as I have come closer to my Deen, acquiring more Islamic knowledge (Alhamdulillah) have changed a lot since then.

Since the age of four or five, I have always considered myself a ‘tomboy’, and would always argue vehemently if someone called me ‘girly’ or ‘feminine’. These terms are usually associated with being dainty, polite and graceful, and having an intense admiration of the colour pink. I am not so dainty or polite, and am about as graceful as a physically unstable elephant. I am fond of all colours, however pink is not exactly a favourite of mine. Can I still be considered feminine?

According to the Oxford dictionary, the definitions of ‘feminine’ is as follows:

Having qualities or an appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness.

Relating to women.

If this is the case- if the genuine definition of the word ‘femininity’ simply means ‘relating to women’, there can never exist a prototypical woman, not in this day and age. According to the second definition of ‘femininity’, women who have pixie cuts, women who have long hair, women who cover their hair, women who enjoy wearing sweatpants and T-shirts, Jewish women, Muslim women, women who enjoy wearing make-up and skinny jeans, transsexual women, sporty women, tough women, outspoken women, shy women, smart women, wild women, women who are obsessed with pink, women who are obsessed with black- these women are all feminine, simply because they are women. However, the lives they choose to lead should not be defined by this term,  for a singular adjective can never wholly define a completely unique being.

I am often considered ‘masculine’ and a ‘tomboy’ purely because I happen to express myself freely, and feel comfortable in sporty clothes. When I wear a tinge of makeup, my aunts ignorantly comment, “You look more like a girl!” I am not ‘masculine’, for I am not a male. The term ‘femininity’ for me is completely subjective to each individual woman. I am ‘feminine’ solely because I am a woman. I do not believe the term should come with a set list of rules, expectations and prejudicial associations.

I am a female. I am therefore feminine. Calling me ‘masculine’ or otherwise will never dissuade me from being who I am.

Please share your personal opinions below!


Thanks for reading!

© Sadia Ahmed 2015