Concise Compositions: Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

At what point does ‘confidence’ lean into arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Hope and Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Winter

Autumn and Winter. What gorgeous times of the year these, time and time again, prove to be. Just the idea of being cosied up in a couple of layers – or six – and the way the sky falls to dark blue, even hours before night-time is actually due… There is something that is so enchanting and mysterious, so uplifting inasmuch as it is nose-freezing, about this most beautiful time of the year.

Christmastime comes around, and so do all the jumpers. And the endearing little decorated mugs of hot chocolate. Lights and festivities, and all else. I cannot believe that we have now officially reached Winter 2020. These past two years, at least, have felt like they had just arrived, tipped their hats off to us, and left.

Winter is cold, and she is often storm-like. Impels us, through forceful gusts, to appreciate the warm homes that we do have; the safety. The newly-warmed dips on duvets; atop cushions and rugs. Feet blanketed in wool-soled boots, and

Although now is the time that the goblins of consumerism do come out to play a bit more, [think: Black Friday. Christmas. Boxing Day. New Year’s. Sales that compel mankind to obsessively buy, buy, buy. New, new, new. Through creating false ‘needs’, for us, through making us believe that without having these ‘new things’, we ought to feel so very dissatisfiedSigh…]

now is also very much a time during which we can look inwards. Learn to patch things up. A small tear in a top? Why not employ some of our Year Seven D.T. skills and go ahead and mend it, instead? Why won’t we love what we have: it is enough. And when we are grateful — look inwards and commit to truly appreciating these blessings of ours — we are granted Barakah within these very things.

These bodies, and these souls, of ours are the only ones we will have (the former, in this life, at least. The latter, in both this world and Ākhirah…) They are not ‘perfect’; may we love them. Friends, family, school/work. Texture, edges, unpolished, and uniquely yours.

In my opinion, it is far better to live in a warm-enough camper van, for example, which finds itself suffused with Barakah, than in some stone-cold stone castle, in which material possessions may be ornate and many, but where there is no Barakah.

And what are the ingredients that may lead to a guarantee of our having this Barakah? I think it is about sitting on the floor, sometimes, and acknowledging what we really are. Outside, and irrespective of, titles and roles and any of these ever-present delusions of grandeur. Of us, it is our souls that matter, and is this not what Winter does:

It sings to our souls, while our bodies stay at least somewhat cold. Warmth, like most desired and delightful things, is only truly known when juxtaposed with its opposite: cold. And maybe the same could be said, for love: outside, it is cold. The trees look more bare, things look sort of lonely. Inside, however,

a hand upon a hand may be all it takes. Forehead pressed upon ground – on decade-old (though intermittently washed!) prayer rug, a letter of gratitude to your Creator. A heart, which you, its keeper, can silently witness, when it says, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I think I have always loved Winter. She had been the first season I had ever known: I had been born amid her, and she feels like home. Sometimes her rains are furious, and sometimes her snowfalls are more graceful, elegant. Winter sun can be ever so bright, spilling across dew-dropped grass, sending spirals of icy breaths outward and upward. Deceptive, though, for Winter Sun is not usually warm, as it is ‘meant’ to be…

Winter moon often appears when we least expect him to. 4PM and there he is already, all eerie and nonchalant. Silently brilliant: not begging for our awe, for our attentions, and yet receiving them, very much deserving them, anyway. The way he is known to glow – luminescent, and not angry, defensive, or ‘fierce’ – but only when the sky has become dark enough for him to do so.

I want to say, to those of you, dear readers, who have Depression and/or Anxiety, or anything else of the sort, that… I know it tends to get more difficult around wintertime. These seemingly implacable tirednesses, wisps of sadness.

I hope you learn not to feel guilty when the ‘work’ you have to do is not your first priority. Work itself, I think, ought to be for the sake of – for the good of – the soul. Your value as a being is not determined by ‘how many hours of work you have managed to complete today’ and, truly, nor is it about comparing ourselves to others and what they may be doing. Your circumstances are different; your journey is your own. Your needs: sleep, rest, comfort. They matter far more.

The difficult days: may they strengthen us, and may we be strong enough to get through them, always, Āmeen. And I also wanted to say:

As cliché as these words do sound, over time, it does get better, Bi’ithnillah. Seasonal Affective Disorder: the sun eventually does come back up, doesn’t it? These things work in cycles…

Generalised Anxiety: it is there. At times it makes you quiver and quake, but you know what it is. It is powerful, but it will not win, Bi’ithnillah.

When you are tired, dear friend, please do let yourself sleep. And when you are sad, do cry, even if it means that your whole body sobs with crying. It really is okay sometimes. And when you are in prayer, do thank Allah over and over again. When you are reciting Qur’an, recite with melody; feel your heart become still, become calm: recollected, reconnected.

Social anxiety: that uncontrollable feeling of terror, of being seized. But at just what, though? What are your fears? That you will be disliked? Why have such thoughts, over time, solidified into beliefs, in your mind? Are you loved? Of course you are… Then, the extent of your fears is fundamentally unfounded. This may be difficult to hear, but…

Maybe, new seasons within our lives ask for new versions of ourselves, to come through. To meet the present challenge; to embrace present blessings, too. Maybe this season requires of us some newer ways of thinking. Maybe the world had been one thing, to us, then. Maybe – most likely – it is something altogether quite different, now.

You had been afraid then, maybe. Perhaps with good reason. But you do not require those same modes of thinking in order to survive and/or ‘thrive’, now. Look around you. Things have changed, haven’t they. Sometimes, what it takes, is to say to these erstwhile, obsolete thoughts of ours, a simple but strong:

Nope.”

You belong here, I promise you. And, atop this Earth, you walk along as a person who is loved. Beloved. It is truly a blessing.

Depression, though: what a thing. Albeit often misunderstood. On some winter mornings, you will feel the heaviness a little more acutely than on some other days. But looking inwards rather than unfairly, unrealistically, unhelpfully outwards… really does help, I think. Make Du’a, and when you are ready, you will get up again, Insha Allah.

To quote a Moroccan proverb I have recently come across:

Drop by drop,

the river rises.

Dear friend, give a little time to yourself. Some more space, some more depth of understanding. Winter can be hard. Anxiety and Depression: the Winters – the less favourable parts of it, I mean – of these minds of ours. We must trust, though, that the sun is about to come up again. It usually, and sometimes when you least expect it, does.

Your personal journey may look rather different to my own one, but they are likely to be fairly similar, in terms of essence. This is what happens: time goes on, and things change. We adapt, and we learn and we grow. Step by step, we come to overcome certain things. And, drop by drop, drop by drop, the river rises, becomes.

There will be some more difficult days; sometimes it may feel as though things are rapidly, and right before our very eyes, becoming undone. But we trust our Lord, do we not? We take care of our tasks – put our effort in – and we leave it all to Him.

When I think of strength, and when I wish to be reminded of the sort of progress that due trust and reliance upon Allah can bring about, I think of my infant cousin, Siyana. Born prematurely, two-and-a-half years ago, and placed in the ICU. Her fingernails had been as tiny as short grains of rice; her clothes smaller than the ones that little children are known to put on their little dolls.

How fragile and how strong this child is. We now see her running around, strong and spreading such joy, that characteristically quizzical expression on her face, frequently sending my nan and we into fits of laughter. Trying to lift her father’s weights. It has taken some time, though. From those early months, during which her parents would mostly take it in turns to be with her at the hospital. Get her milk ready; those sleepless nights of theirs. Over time, though, things, in this regard, got easier. Siyana grew in strength. Seeing pictures of her from 2018, in comparison to the animated character we know her to be now… Oh, how she has grown. And from her story, I do take quite some inspiration.

As well as from the stories of some other individuals I have had the fortune of having been acquainted with, this year. Ms N and Ms Z stand out. What kind people; what (quietly, secretly) strong individuals they are. They have told me about (parts of) their own journeys. Exceptional. Embodiments of how Allah rewards As-Sabiroon (the patient/steadfast ones).

We begin from somewhere; drop by drop, or millimetre by millimetre, we grow. Through time, via experience, and as a result of our choices. We adapt, and we fall, sometimes; we get up again.

[What counts is what you do [now]]. ‘Philosophical presentism’ and all [Thank you Tas, for teaching me about this…]

Khayr, khayr, khayr. May we learn to focus on it, and give it and receive it.

And may we realise that when we give it – the good – due love:

it does grow.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020