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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Olive Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and these are exactly how we are spending them.

 

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

— Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

The Stars in the Darkness

Warning: this is perhaps one of the cheesiest articles I have ever written

I struggle to understand why depression seems to strike so many of the most sincere people I know- the people with the greatest, kindest souls. Perhaps it is a question of spectral binaries: the people with the most intense light within them also, unfortunately, have the most acute darkness within them, too. For them, existence is not just existing: it is a never-ending battle between light and darkness. There are days- entire months sometimes- when their emotions are pervaded by this darkness. It results in feelings of deflation and hopelessness, like nobody cares about them, and like everything they do is wrong.

Depression does not strip people of the colours of their personality; rather, it shrouds their vibrancy in heavy coats of grey. But they are still the same people underneath. Observers looking in from the outside might mistake their sullen behaviours for obnoxiousness or a lack of gratitude. In reality, depression is overwhelming, and uncontrollable. It arrives unexpectedly, and remains for indefinite amounts of time. The least you can do for friends who are facing the demons of depression by themselves is offer to listen to them, and to do whatever you can in order to aid their recovery. Do not let them face it alone.

The solution to the problem is not as simple as changing one’s routines, or ‘loving oneself’, without really knowing how to. But there are a few things that might assist in lifting some of the heavy manacles that mental illnesses impose: firstly, extracting the weeds that inhibit the growth of your figurative garden. By this, I mean, try to get away from toxic people and habits; the things that broke you simply cannot be the things that fix you. Your body, your life and your mind belong to you, and you hold the power to design and live a life you truly love. Things might seem hopeless now, but at least you still have yourself. You don’t need to be strong all the time, and your life does not always have to be structured or in the pursuit of great ‘success’. I hope that you come to give yourself credit for every little thing you have done, and every difficult day that you have managed to get yourself through.

It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to cradle your own shaking body and watch your tears spill from you. You have been hurt, and parts of you are still hurting. Maybe you’ll never be done with healing, but you are here now. You are a survivor, and I am proud of you.

Life is glorious, and this world is still beautiful, but sometimes it gets messy: trust me, I know what chronic sadness feels like. Other people, irrespective of how ‘close’ they might be to you, will never be able to truly comprehend what you are going through, and the workings of your mind. Your thoughts and experiences are your own, but that does not mean that you need to go through difficulties alone. Although your brain might attempt to convince you otherwise, there are people who love you, and who would, from the bottom of their hearts, yearn for your presence if you were gone. When it comes to emotions, to put it crassly, people can suck. They can go for years without writing to you or telling you how much you mean to them, but they still care about you. Besides, your value as a person does not decrease based on others treating you poorly. It’s their loss, not yours.

To quote Logic, “You’re the reason I believe in life”.

You are loved, you are beautiful, and you are doing so, so well. There are billions of stars scattered within your darkness, and I hope that you soon find the strength to see that.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Stationery

I was inspired by…my pencil case… to write this poem; it is both simple and arbitrary, largely due to the fact that I scrawled it into my journal on the bus ride home from school. 

Take this stapler and staple my heart,

Seal the holes where the bullets pierced me,

Don’t let any more

Blood seep through.

Take this stapler and try to mend my wounds,

Success isn’t guaranteed, but I think you’ll agree,

That the illusion of serenity is more serene

than coming to terms with reality.

Take this highlighter and bring it to my cheeks,

Highlight the creases that are formed each time I smile,

Highlight the good things in life:

Highlight me when I am with you,

Highlight the songs we sang, off-key

that night

And erase the rest.

Erase the feelings etched only in pencil,

Erase my fears and insecurities,

Erase them all, and when you are done,

Take this hole-punch and punch a hole in my soul,

Let the darkness drip out,

Now take a pen and draw me a smile,

Never let me be sad again.