Appearances Versus Reality

Today, my friend Tasnim came all the way to my area, and we went on a nice walk, which had been coupled with a conversation that, Alhamdulillah, brought me such comfort; gave me an insightful, wise, alternative perspective on things. We spoke about our lives, and about our thoughts, and about our ideas pertaining to ourselves, and to other people and such.

            A key theme in today’s conversation would appear to have been that of ‘irony’: as a teacher of ours had taught us a couple of years ago, this term, in Literature at least, refers to “the contrast between appearances and reality” [Sidgwick]. A crucial theme in English Literature, because it is a crucial theme in almost everything, when it comes to this human, Dunya-based, existence.

            Irony: between what appears to be, and what actually is. When one character – person – is convinced of something, for example. And life is a collection of various journeys that tend towards the actual truths of things. The images, the stuff of outsides, and of projections and such. Holographs; assumptions; mirages. The temptation of the harmless-seeming apple whose poisons seem impossible, from here. And… when we get closer to their cores.

My little cousin Dawud, for instance, is utterly convinced that the moon glows white because it has batteries in it. I, on the other hand, sort of arrogantly believe that it does so because it is reflecting some of the sun’s light. And in reality, I am only a grown-up (somewhat-knowing, but mostly not-) child. I concede; I accept my weaknesses and fallibilities. I guess I don’t really know much at all.

But, yes, I look for what is true. I want to try to part with all of my currently-held convictions: all save for One. There is, after all, constantly: all these things that we think we know. Maybe they are not true; maybe they never were. Or, maybe they were true once, but are no longer so. You know: how we can be proven wrong about these exact things, over and over and over again. To awe-inspiring (positively surprising) ends, sometimes, or to ‘disappointing’ ones, (on our limited-and-human level, at least) other times.

But I make Du’a for whatever is best for me, which may not seem always quite so obvious here in the ‘now’. I see only a pixel of the (what seems to me, to be a) puzzle, while only Allah has power over the entirety of the picture. And my heart, I suppose, always feels far more at ease when I fall for what is real, and, in a connected manner, focus on what is True.

So maybe, like, say, a headstrong baby being guided away from eating those poisonous household things that seem, to them, most ‘exciting and colourful’: maybe I simply, at present at least, do not know much at all.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

For Wapping

Wapping, a small former parish town in East London, is a place that truly embodies a ‘tale of two cities’. The district begins at the riverbank, where muddied but gleaming Thames water crashes upon small broken-pottery-laden shores. The Met Police Marine Unit is situated there, along with some other small quirks and gems. And Wapping ends where village-like serenity does: the Highway, where trucks, Lamborghinis, and Mercedes-drivers (the latter of which are presumably on their way to their jobs in Canary Wharf and the City) all coalesce.

What I like about Wapping is that it is truly a liminal place. Always moving, yet timeless, caught between times. A village trapped in the midst of a city. Quaint is the best word for it, I think.

Take a walk through Wapping, and you take a walk through a living history book or a museum. This is, I think, as preserved as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London gets, really. The gorgeous and majestic Tower of London on one side, looming over the road to Tower Bridge.

Walk too far one way, and you get to Peckham. A bustling place, full of energy, in its own right, but simply not comparable to this place. Walk too far the other way, and you get to that rather unfortunate little place that is known as Shadwell… and then, Whitechapel. These places have their good parts, too, don’t get me wrong. But (you guessed it.) they are just not Wapping. 

How unique this place is, and how grateful I am to have grown up here. The other day, a friend of mine told me that she had come here for a visit – specifically, she went to the marina part, where chic little cafes overlook a substantial collection of yachts. The ‘Dickens’ Inn’ is here too, a former brewery dating back to the 18th Century.

The teeming waterside life of Wapping’s former days actually inspired some of Charles Dickens’ writing: he used to come here sometimes, as a child. The workhouses, the docks, the warehouses (which have now all been redeveloped, turned into ridiculously expensive living spaces). The way the lazy summer sun hits these still-cobbled streets. The quaint little pubs, the riverside parks. There is no place I have ever been to that is quite like Wapping.

Wapping Lane: a post office, a pharmacy, a bakery, a greengrocer’s, a butcher’s. A fish and chip shop. A gambling shop, too (rather unfavourably, in my own opinion). A few churches, and my former neighbour – the priest – who laments at the noisiness of the little boys who play upstairs, and at the growing presence of these “thugs” who he says will be borne from the nascent council flats nearby. Then, another pub, and a small café (one of those deliberately vintage-looking ones that charge extortionate prices for almond-based coffee, frequented by all those yoga mums, ‘babyccino’ buyers and and whatnot. But still, I love it).

It is nice that one can set foot into Shadwell, and into Central London, from nucleus Wapping. But, thankfully, there is always this place – peace without boredom, city without too much of it – to return to.

On one side dwell and play the truly wealthy. The yacht-owners, the ones who frequent all these dainty riverside restaurants. Their homes have concierge offices; they are tall and made of glass. The fountains and private rose gardens probably exist primarily to be enjoyed by them, but it’s nice that anyone who passes by can enjoy the view, too.

On the other side, the somewhat less wealthy. The Cockney accents. “‘Ello love!” “You aw’ight babe?” The drunk man who is always fixing something in his flat. The council homes, rows of little ones, and all their washing lines. The lovely old lady who is forever outside, tending to her plants, and feeding the birds. Occasionally, a conversation betwixt two – maybe about the weather, or an angrier one about how certain dog owners do not clean up after their dogs, or about the price of bread at our local bakery.

Dame Helen Mirren lives here. So does Rio Ferdinand. Graham Norton, too: I see him fairly often, actually, at Waitrose.

There are the white working-class people (the ones who chose to remain here, during those periods of ‘White Flight’), and there are all these Bengali ones. There are the sort of ‘hipster’-y people who are increasingly moving in: all these young-ish professionals who live alone; the under-bridge warehouses that have been converted into food places. There used to be a thriving Jewish community here in the East End, too. Here was where the Battle of Cable Street had taken place, years and years ago.

Someday everything that is taking place here right now will be a thing of ‘years and years ago’, too.

And I think I like taking my place, here in the middle of things. It allows one to walk this way, and then that. And you belong to all of it, but you belong to none of it at the same time. There are no obligations; you find yourself untied to anything at all. And, yet, there you are, firmly rooted in the actual midst of things. Everything unfolds right before you. The little wooden bridge that takes you from one side of the canal to the other [the one that used to always be impossibly slippery during the colder months!]

Good things come from balances, from middles. And here Wapping is, you see: caught right in the middle of things.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Forgiveness

“It’s okay — I forgive you.”

Forgiveness. What on earth does it actually mean? Apparently, it is a phenomenon that is separable from forgetting. Somebody wrongs you; it is difficult to forget what they have done. But you forgive them.

You have mercy on them, I suppose, on an inner level. Maybe you try to justify what they have done, in your own mind. The abusive, for example, must have been, at some point, abused themselves. Hmm. I don’t think anyone is ‘good’ and non-human enough to be able to fully pardon people, not without hoping that justice reaches them somehow.

In Islam, forgiveness is encouraged very much. You are meant to go to sleep each night having removed any ‘rancour’ that lies in your heart. I guess much of this can come from the fact that God is the judge. You, holding onto anger, resentment, and all these emotions that run antithetical to feelings of peace and forgiveness… well, they will not really do you any good. So let go of it. Have faith that it will all be taken care of, in due time, by a Being who is far more powerful than you are.

Forgiveness does not necessarily benefit the oppressor, unless they have been forgiven by God too. Forgiving those who have wronged you so much – it benefits you. You show your mercy – to yourself, first and foremost. We are meant to forgive – but not necessarily forget. Forgiving and forgetting renders us fools, I think, because it becomes far easier to allow people to repeat their abuses against us.

Protect yourself, by whichever means are necessary. Maybe some distance is needed from certain people. But do not lash out; do not look back in anger – or, try not to. And know that all is being taken care of. So there is no need to grieve.

  • 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 

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

A Silent Revolution

It is 1965 and she is bleeding.

The ragged edges of their words has managed to cut her once again.

Paki. You do not belong here. 

One end of her crimson Saree is draped over her head,

Her Bindhi sits atop her forehead like a sun waiting to rise.

Her Mendhi seeps into her veins and mixes with her blood,

And warrior bangles cover her warrior arms.

She is sugar, and she is spice, and she has a heart that is made of ice,

She is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A bird without her wings,

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution.

It is 2016 and he is bleeding,

Arms outstretched, lying helplessly on the ground,

He can’t breathe. 

Justice may be a hypocrite, but he is a king,

His wispy woollen hair is his crown,

And each tightly-wound curl is a fist,

Fighting between love and pain and melanin.

His dark skin is his kingdom- but it is bleeding now.

They say he smells of deviance and drugs,

But he smells of his wife’s arms, holding him, telling him desperately,

You are loved, and your life matters.

He is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A black-feathered angel without his wings,

A criminal whose only crime was being brought into existence-

a black man- the darkest shade of rejection.

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution. 

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that minuscule, seemingly insignificant, actions can lead to significant reactions- a ripple effect, if you like. This term is typically used in meteorology, to describe how even a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other. The phrase can also be seen as a metaphor. The fragility of the atmosphere can be compared to that of human emotions: the little things we do can have remarkable consequences. A simple smile or a hug can illuminate a person’s otherwise miserable day. A ten-minute conversation over coffee can be the thing that dissuades a person from committing suicide.

We must acknowledge, firstly, that we are all in need of each other, and we should be more reflective upon our actions.

The Human Condition

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

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error. These were wise words, spoken by Marcus Tullius Cierco. Based on these words, every man is an idiot. In fact, humanity itself is characterised by idiocy, for after centuries of opportunities to learn from our endless mistakes, we find ourselves in a new age, continuing to make the exact same errors as our long-deceased ancestors. 

John Keats, Simone de Beauvoir, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath… All of these wonderful writers of old have one thing in common: they write about the Plight and Pain of humanity- about the dangers of greed, power, jealousy and love. Every book that has ever been published since the beginning of our existence as a species has sought to teach us at least something, but we persist in repeating these errors. How many more books must be published in order for us to comprehend that pain is an intrinsic component of certain pursuits?

We are a rebellious kind- we are willing to risk everything for certain things, and certain people. That is the unalterable flaw that we all share- it is the nature of the human condition. We make a mistake, and then

We make it again.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Career Crisis

At fifteen years old, I have recently withdrawn myself from an intense existential crisis about my personal identity, however I now find myself entering a new phase of crisis: a career crisis, even though I have never actually had a career. 

It genuinely surprises me how often the topic of future career options springs up in daily conversation. I am habitually asked about what I would like to become in the future, by my friends, my parents’ friends, teachers, and even fellow passengers on public transport. I am a very ambitious person, and I would undoubtedly like to make something of my life by impacting the world in a positive way, but in truth, at present, I do not know precisely what I wish to become in the future. There are tens of thousands of potential choices out there, and I cannot narrow my options down at this point- I have yet to take my GCSE exams, let alone decide unequivocally on what my life will look like in ten years’ time.

The incessant questioning regarding my desired career path has led me to think about the world of work, and where I would fit into it. I have realised that our society and every single industry within it shares one particular thing in common: they each rely on human problems. Businesses exploit problems to make a profit; doctors solve health-related problems; lawyers deal with conflicts, which are a human problem. Problems are absolutely essential to the progression of our society, but society will never be perfect. As humans, we have all found ourselves in this futile search for perfection, both on a personal and wider scale. When people ask me about what I would like to become in the future, I now rephrase the question in my mind, and instead, I ask myself: what qualities, skills and interests do I have, and how can I harness these to solve a particular set of problems in society?

Ideas about my potential future career choices have changed drastically over the years. First, I wanted to be a teacher, and/or a journalist. Then, my interests changed for a while, and I wanted to become a doctor…then I was absolutely certain that I would become an astronaut…but then I developed an interesting in the field of engineering…and then (more recently) I thought about becoming a lawyer, but not one who defends criminals. Instead, I wanted to be a lawyer who would defend the human rights of civilians in war-torn areas of the world, such as Palestine and Syria. When I told my prying teachers about this potential choice of career path, I was met with strong disapproval. My teachers assured me that there were ‘better’ options for me out there- options that would make me more wealthy and ‘successful’.

Ultimately, the average salaries of people in different industries will, no doubt, be a relatively important contributing factor to the career path I end up deciding on, but for me, money is certainly not a central element. I would like a job that will be decently financially rewarding, but most importantly, I desire a job that will be morally uplifting- a job in which I feel challenged (enough to feel fulfilled) and secure and satisfied – a job that will harness my abilities and constantly stimulate my mind. In the meantime, however, I will live most contentedly in the present. I will work hard and focus on expanding my mind and bettering myself as a person.

And I will stop and smell the roses. 

The Faults in the British Approach to Tackling Extremism

In a bid to raise awareness of ways to go about preventing and combatting violent extremism in the UK, David Cameron made the following (extremely alarming) statement whilst outlining the parameters of the new counter-terrorism bill:

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.

So, essentially, Cameron intends to bring to life the sort of dystopian England described in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. Whether or not you are breaking the law, the government holds the right to identify you as a potential extremist. Even stepping slightly out of line may result in disastrous consequences, and the government has urged teachers, doctors, dentists and other professionals to be vigilant and receptive of ‘signs of extremism’ in children as young as three years old. Aged three, I was a huge fan of guns and play-fighting. Would I have been reported to the authorities as an extremist in the making?

While I strongly agree that it is down to the government to combat extremism to make Britain a safer place, I do not believe that paranoia and excessive suspicion is necessary- it may even be harmful. If you constantly scapegoat and suspect young Muslims, they will grow up wishing to fulfil the expectance associated with them. In sociology, such occurrences are referred to as ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’. For Muslims, religion is a very significant aspect of their identities. Constantly drawing attention to the expectation of young Muslims becoming extremists will undoubtedly result in an adverse reaction of some sort.

“We live in a damaged and volatile world and, like us, young people are trying to make sense of it, like us, they’re trying to come to conclusions about cause, effect and solutions, and like us they want a space to discuss it.” – Alex Kenny, Executive Member of NUT

Teachers (according to my aunt, a geography teacher) are being asked to ferret for the following (highly irrational) signs in children, and the new counter-terror rules aimed at exposing radicalisation require schools to report suspicions about pupils to the police.

  • If a student has recently started to wear a headscarf or similar religious garment/ ‘sudden and rapid’ changes in religious practice
  • If a Muslim pupil is extremely outspoken/ politically active (me!)
  • Secretive behaviour (all teens)
  • Risk-taking ‘hedonistic’ behaviour (again, all teens)
  • Expressing or questioning controversial views
  • Showing sympathy towards extremist causes
  • Low tolerance for other communities and religious beliefs
  • Travel/previous residence abroad

The National Union of Teachers says the rules are stifling debate in schools. Some believe this is somehow a positive approach to preventing extremism- averting discussion. I believe this is utter nonsense. How can you expect a highly impressionable and confused child to resist radicalisation without guidance from teachers?

One Wandsworth teacher, Jan Nielsen, said: “We are expected to be front-line stormtroopers who listen, spy and notify the authorities of students who we are suspicious of.” Surely this is unreasonable- being suspicious of all Muslim students due to the faults of three girls (whom, had they been given the appropriate guidance beforehand, probably wouldn’t have made the trip to Syria). I believe Muslims are being demonised and unfairly turned into suspects.

Indeed, groups such as ‘ISIS’ are technically ‘Islamist groups’, however the people they senselessly murder are also mostly Muslims. This proves that there is a whole spectrum of interpretation surrounding Islam. I am a proud British Muslim, and nobody may deny me of my right to practise my faith whilst being a Brit (more specifically, a Londoner) because of a particular group, and what they do.

What really agitates me is society’s general conflation between immigration and Islam in the UK. The British public make foolish and ignorant comments such as “Muslims should follow the British values or go back to their countries!” To generalise here is pretty stupid, as there are 2,786,635 Muslims in the UK, many of which are your average everyday Brits who go to school/work, have families and contribute to British society. Other people express more intense political opinions, ordering Muslims to renounce their faiths, or get out of Britain, as though Britain does not belong to British Muslims as much as it belongs to others.

Well, I for one, am a rejector of the status quo. I say, to all my Muslim sisters and brothers, it is our collective right to exist as we are, as servants of Allah, and it is our collective responsibility to show the world what it really means to be a British Muslim.

© Sadia Ahmed 2015