The Art of Beeing

To know that one is part of something greater than one’s own self. What a relief. What a welcome realisation:

The idea that, all around us, we are beset by jars of honey, asking for us to dip into, and out of. Choice paralysis.

And this world: it seems, prima facie, as though it is one of billions of flowers. Feels like there is so much that

Could be done. And therefore, with the limited bee-line timelines we have, here: must be done.

For this to be deeply rich, and meaningful, somehow. The bees, and what they do: scarcely seen, except when up close, thrumming.

Always busy. Playing their roles: from mouth of flower, to hive, and back. It is the essence of things:

of our actions, choices, sitting-places, which count.

I want to be guided by the nectar of things. And not by the ‘numbers’; not necessarily by what other people come to see, of it.

And what about… how other people do things, for example? The communities they are part of; how and where they might spend… Ramadan, for example?

At a grand mosque in Texas, or… walking to the same one, under orange-glowing lamps, in Dickensian(-almost) Whitechapel?

One could be halfway up Mount Everest. Or, on the upper floor of a quiet bookstore in Folkestone. Still, it is the essences of things that count: not necessarily the sizes, nor the colours, nor the shapes, of the petals which adorn them.

[Crying, alone, in a Volkswagen. Or, secretly, in a Lambo. To quote the doughnut-eating boy from a really funny Vine that I tragically can’t seem to find anymore: iz the same thing.]

Whether one man gives his fellow man in need a piece of bread. And if another man is able to provide for an entire village a million pounds worth of food:

It is the weight of things, unseen yet certainly Recorded, which grant them significance. The bees are small, and they are not exactly butterflies. Look how weighty their value:

A single day off, and entire ecosystems fall to the ground. We must never underestimate the roles we inhabit, nor the essences of them, in favour of thinking about the precise configurations of our petals.

Those petals eventually fall to the ground, one, by one, by one. The golden threads of Meaning, Purpose, here, though: small, but mighty. The ‘grand scheme of things’, and the places we inhabit, which cannot do without our being there. Here, or there; this way, or that, but altogether… Undying.

In conclusion: bees are cool. For more evidence on this fact: https://themuslimvibe.com/faith-islam/in-theory/animals-in-the-holy-quran-the-bee

“Actions are but by intentions” [Sahih Hadith]


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Ask: :)))

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Dear :), 

Thank you so much for your kind compliments. You just made my day! I’m glad you enjoy reading my blog articles. Please make Du’a for me! 

My tips for getting started with writing are as follows…

Don’t think; just write. Especially if you intend to publish your works, it may feel tempting to think before writing: to generate criteria to which you plan to adhere, and to intricately plan out what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. But something I find that really helps me to get into the ‘flow’ is this: writing as I think (and, thus, thinking as I write). I never know what my pen’s ink will end up forging. I like to just sit with my open notebook and pen (sometimes under a tree or something; sometimes simply in my room). It does truly help to have around you some material sources of inspiration — at least, in my case, anyway. Vases of sunflowers [shoutout one of my beloved friends for randomly sending me some!] and/or candles, and the like. Ambience. Though, when it truly comes down to it, the things that matter are: your mind, the paper, and your pen [or your laptop or whatever].

And then, I like to just write. I try not to think too much about whether or not my words are sounding particularly beautiful there and then. I sometimes don’t even ask myself if they are making sense. In my opinion, writing is best — and, certainly, most enjoyable — when it is authentic to you. Even if you find they are a bunch of random words that you have messily woven together. Most of what I write is for my eyes only; I like to be as free with my pen as I can be, even if I am not always writing particularly ‘well’.

I find the process itself to be extremely enjoyable and engaging for my mind. As with most activities, if you can reach that wonderful state of ‘flow’ while writing, you will likely find the most possible benefit and enjoyment (and, also, the best end product) as a result of doing it. Flow, flow, flow. Sometimes I simply sit down, tell myself, I am going to fill three whole pages of this notebook. And then, I just write. Even if I don’t particularly feel I have much to write about: my mind finds things. Things to say about the sky, or about… bread. In a similar vein, sometimes I set a timer for five or ten minutes. And I let the ink flow, and I try not to stop before the timer is done.

When it comes to works that I do end up publishing or submitting for competitions, however, I tend to read my work aloud to myself afterwards. Sometimes, several times. I go back and edit; swap some words around, etc. And I occasionally send things over to a particular friend of mine whom I consider to be very trustworthy. If something I have written is a little substandard, or if some of it is difficult to understand, or if it contains some misleading information or something, I truly trust this friend and her honesty. She also tells me which of my articles she has liked the most, and why. I really value her opinion (as well as those of a select few others) and, whenever I am in strong doubt about my writing, I do find I look to them for validation.

If you are looking for some sort of second opinion for your writings, I wouldn’t mind at all if you were to send some of them to me… and I promise to give you my true opinions about them! Feel free to email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com

Also, trust me, my thoughts often feel quite all-over-the-place, too. And this is precisely one of the reasons as to why writing is so wonderful. As an art form, as a therapeutic means. It is logic and beauty, wrapped up together: individual letters and the seemingly infinite ways in which they can be arranged. The beauty and the power of words. Through writing, order can be born out of chaos, while the mundane, the confusing, can be rendered gorgeous and strong and undeniable!

Writing prompts can tend to be quite useful, too. Focusing on a particular word. Like… ‘luminescent’. Or a question — like, “What makes you melancholy?” or, “What do you suppose dying feels like?” And then just writing whatever comes to mind as a result of beginning with such a word or question; thereby creating your own flow, and going with it.

Finally, a belated congratulations on your A* in GCSE English! But, even if you had not managed to acquire such a high grade in the subject, it would not necessarily mean that your writing is ‘bad’: examiners seek out certain tick-box criteria in pupils’ exam scripts. Honestly, I think the best writing is often the type that is… unscripted. Spontaneous and real: fresh out of the oven that is your mind, and true to (and, from) you. 

I hope this has been of some help to you.

Salaam!

 

Ask me a question (or tell me what’s on your mind) here


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

 

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: Home

Yes, when I think of the idea of ‘home’, I immediately think of IKEA. I think about wooden furniture and wooden floors. Keys, walls, defences, dropped at the door. I think of comfort and pillows and plants, and of warm mugs of coffee. I think of friends and of family – the ones who see the worst of you, and perhaps the best of you, too. I think of messy morning hair. And of books and paint and days spent blissfully indoors, in this personal and private ecosystem.

Home is where the heart is; where the heart longs to be. It is your part of the world, an extension of you, and a place that is meant to nurture you. Sometimes homes break, and that is because home is more than a property and some furniture. It is made up, for the most part, of human relationships. And home is where the heart is [I guess I repeated that for dramatic effect or something].

I like the idea of big windows and a little garden. I don’t know why some people are obsessed with notions of bigger homes being better homes. Ultimately, you can only inhabit so much space at a time. You sit in one particular place, and this particular place ends up meaning something to you. And then you go outside, and you do other things, and you may become sort of homesick throughout the day [I know I do!].

You come home and you get clean. And home is there to greet you with a hug. All is well when you are at home, and safe, and sound. Recuperation, and nurture, and sanctity. Turkish prayer mats and the like.

What else, what else? I like it when I am at home, and when it is raining outside. A beautiful sort of privacy tends to ensue, an unmatchable sense of peace. And you realise that all there is, for you, is your own little world. Your little world made up of the people that inhabit it, for the most part. There are the things that you do outside of home. Like going to cafés, walking around, travelling. But home is the nucleus that calls you back, and it is there for you, every single time.

  • 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: Ageing

Someday – if good friend Time doth permit it, that is – our hair will become made of silver. There will be fine lines – like those cracks that trees sometimes make, in pavements – beneath our eyes, and around our smiles. Our voices will sing of old age; nostalgia will be what sweetens our tea.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to reach old age, though. To look behind at a life nearing graceful completion.

I hope I do accept it gracefully.

It is a relatively alarming prospect, though: the idea of being so dependent on others, again. Coming full circle, almost. That post-birth dependence, then the pre-death one, I suppose.

Life peaks, maybe, somewhere in its middle. But we do not go downhill from there. Maybe we will come to see the entire world in different ways. Maybe senility will give us that gift of child-like wonder all over again.

But I hope that family holds us while we do so. When walking down the stairs becomes harder, and when we ask those same questions, over and over again. Perhaps we will be grandmothers and grandfathers, beloved by those jumpy and joy-giving little beings.

How much wisdom will we be able to impart unto them, for their use? How different will the world look? Will we remember what it was ever like, to be that young?

I’ve forgotten just where I read about this, but often old people – women, in particular – look back on their youthful days, and they think about how beautiful they had been, back then, and about how much they didn’t know it. But they know it now, in retrospect. [Aw!]

I want to live in a complete way; I want to have stories to tell

[Insha Allah!].

  • 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

Book Review: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Tariq Ramadan

There are some books that you may come across, in your life, that are rather subtly powerful. They hold within them the ability to really change your life and your ways of thinking – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. For me, this has certainly been one of those books (for the better). This ‘book review’ series on my blog will be dedicated to my reviewing – and independently commenting on the ideas explored – of different books that I love. I won’t review every book I read – only the ones I feel must be shared in this way. 

Tariq Ramadan, I think, is my all-time favourite non-fiction author and academic. He has an undeniable ‘way with words’, Allahummabārik; he presents some very interesting and comforting ideas in a manner that harmoniously merges clarity with profundity. His works focus on Islam – Islamic ethics and legislation, history, Islamophobia, modern politics in light of ‘Islamist’ movements… I am particularly fond of this work of his – as well as another one of his books, entitled: ‘To be a European Muslim’.

As Muslims living in this current (rather confusing, rather intense) epoch, it is natural for us to deeply question many things. Our place here, how to be.

To be a Muslim (today, always) is to be a stranger – a traveller, as the Hadith goes – in the Dunya. To “be here in order to be better over There”. And how true this is. The most prevalent ways of doing things, of thinking, and of being, here can often be quite antithetical to the teachings of our faith.

What are some of the defining characteristics of this modern world? Undeniably, this is a world that is heavily focused on appearances. Facades, the ‘outside’, shells. Lies (which are widely and eagerly devoured), rumours, scandal-mongering, narcissism, widespread distrust. Brutalisers being convincingly disguised as the respectable ones.

The world of modernity is also heavily focused on the principle of individualism. And these two tenets – that of appearances and that of (an inhuman level of) individualism – marry to render the modern world one that is fuelled, very much, by selfishness and deceit.

The society of entertainment, excessive consumption and generalised individualism coexists with the most extreme destitution and the most total misery”

People churn out ‘wealth’ – sell their bodies and souls to do so; many people end up becoming richer — leading richer lives, but rarely necessarily happier ones. Many become so caught up in these images of ‘plenty’ that they forget about the stuff of actual value. One of the breaking wings of modernity is made of speed, computer science, fashion, blaring music with the most peculiar lyrics, cinematic illusions, facades of ever-growing ‘freedoms’. The other: exploitation, weariness, poverty, loneliness, dissatisfaction and despondency, and the children who die at the hands of those who claim to fight in the name of ‘freedom’. One wing functions as a mask for the other. A colourful exterior pressed atop an inside that is soulless and rotten.

“Modern times have, for our memories, a concern for image, and also the infinite neglect of reality and meaning”

There are many problems around us, which serve as evident threats to our spirituality, to our humanity and to our ‘Muslimness’: they are detrimental to the human Fitrah. Many of these things, we find ourselves becoming increasingly desensitised to: senseless violence, shameless vanity and arrogance, greed and overindulgence, chronic intoxication and/or distraction, widespread nudity and sexual immoralities… The list goes on.

In modern society, secularisation tends to be championed. The sacred is desacralised. Modesty, the beauty and elegance of simplicity, the excellence of manners, deeply caring for and tending to the natural environment. These things become obliterated by the army tanks of the modern world. We are a society of individuals; all that seems to matter is the capitalist ‘value’ we can find in things. Morality comes from nothing but the human imagination; it is ‘decided by society’.

“…modernity renders us so unfaithful to our humanity […] The daily running of the world steals us from ourselves, to the point, sometimes, of rendering our personality double and tearing us apart.”

The interactions between Islam and global politics are also a deeply significant thing to consider, here. Often, ardent nationalists operate under the (highly mobilising, highly unifying) guise of religion in order to do their damage. Religion devoid of spirituality, and whose cold exterior latches onto political (nationalistic) movements actually defeats the point of religion itself: religio, to relegate oneself before God.

What else is ‘modernity’ characterised by? I think Ramadan describes it perfectly. Adding to the aforementioned theme of covering up the truth and engaging in (indulging in) falsehood, much of modern society is composed of examples of one part in direct conflict with another: thus is the basis of all neuroses.

Many comedians, for example, wear happy faces but a lot of them (a shocking number) have revealed that they suffer from deep (exogenous) depression. This pattern of double personalities can also be seen in the wider world of celebrities; in the culture that they collectively champion and foster in others.

“When men lose morality they find the jungle and become wolves”

To be true to our Muslim identities, in this world today, we must commit to being committed to Truth, no matter what. “[Saying] the truth and [re-saying] it, before God, without fear”. Despite any material difficulties or emotional struggles we may face: we must vow to be true to Truth, in its exactness. And to justice. Authenticity. Goodness, kindness, fraternity, the pursuit of beneficial knowledge. Spirituality — the heart and soul of this religion.

As Muslims, the deceitful adornments of the world should not faze us. The Qur’an and Hadiths tell us about its reality: marry the world, and you actually end up marrying, essentially, what resembles the rotting insides of a camel’s carcass [Hadith].

We really ought to favour ‘Barakah culture’ over ‘Hustle culture’. Our bodies do not exist to be used, in their entireties, by corporations and such. Our Lord is far more important and powerful; our Haqq is more, well, Haqq. We bring Barakah into our lives by favouring three things – worship, the pursuit of knowledge, and the graceful servitude of others. And these things undoubtedly interact with one another: the quality of one affects the quality of the others.

Today, we are just so self-absorbed. We care too much about how we look, and about our titles, and about our social media accounts — about how we can best come across to others. We have lost the art of sincerity, so it would seem; often, things are done for the primary purpose of social recognition, and in the names of efficiency and rationalisation. When we exclusively focus on these particular things, the world becomes one of black and white, and of smog and several other hues of grey.

As Muslims, we do need to tend to our ‘portions in the [current] world’: we go to school, and to work. We eat, we have friends. We partake in creative and personal projects. But, for us, Deen takes precedence over Dunya. Our religion gives true life to our lives. And here, we “live and learn how to die, live in order to learn how to die”.

And prayer should be our lives’ lifeblood. As Ramadan writes, prayer “[gives] strength, in humility, to the meaning of an entire life”.

I love that books like these incorporate history, personal anecdotes, politics, philosophy, and more, all into one. It was fascinating to read about why Islam today looks like what it does, and in various parts of the world; about things like the Islamic Centre of Geneva (est. 1961) for instance, and how it broadcasted a certain form of Islam to several other European Muslim communities; about the growing religious influence of the Saudis, the Islamic World League, how pan-Arab politics both informed, and was informed by, all these happenings.

Our problem is one of spirituality. If a man comes to speak to me about the reforms to be undertaken in the Muslim world, about political strategies and of great geo-strategic plans, my first question to him would be whether he performed the dawn prayer (Fajr) on time”

– Said Ramadan

“Power is not our objective; what have we to do with it? Our goal is love of the Creator, the fraternity and justice of Islam. This is our message to dictators.” 

These days, many influential Muslims are actually, unfortunately, walking epitomes of the notion of religion without spirituality. They may sport lengthy beards, quote the Qur’an almost endlessly. But Islam would not appear to be in their hearts: instead, the love of things like wealth, power, titles and territory are.

There are many things that the Muslims of today – in particular, we youngins – need to unlearn. There are also many things that we must learn and then proceed to internalise. For example, our hearts (if we are to truly find peace) must come to sing the idea that “solitude with God is better than neglect with men”. The link with God is the way.

The concept of modernisation is constantly valorised by those who live under it. Why wouldn’t a person or a place want to be ‘modern’? Granted, there are some ‘positives’ to this whole global project. A certain type of work ethic, in conjunction with certain personal liberties, does breed invention. Innovation, efficiency, improvement, sanitisation, gigantic systems that work (mostly) for the benefit of the people.

In the European Middle Ages, dynamism in this way had simply not been a thing. Feudalistic power structures and the unshifting dominance of the clergy in circles of thought contributed to a certain sort of “numbness”, a stifling of sorts. “Nothing seemed to move; men were as if paralysed…” So today’s constant state of movement may be seen as a welcome change from these erstwhile times. But instead of a steady state of flow, we seem to now be moving recklessly, too quickly. Growth for the sake of growth; it is not healthy.

But modernity is also, unfortunately, the things that are hidden beneath the veneer of shininess. Massive inequalities of wealth and resources. Poverty and exploitation. Pandemic addictions. Increased rates of severe mental illnesses. And, of course, all those other things – what, now, are hallmarks of modernity – that our Prophet (SAW) had warned us about.

There are certainly some good things from the current state of things that the modern Muslim can benefit from; these things are not anti-Islamic. Science, technology, the pursuit of wisdom, and progress. [It is important to note that, in the Christian world, science and progress had come about as a result of that society’s parting with religion, for the most part. On the flip-side, the Muslim world had flourished when it had been more in touch with its spirituality; it declined when this had been lost]. An issue arises solely when people cling to these things in lieu of a link with God. Knowledge should breed Taqwa; what we learn should come benefit our own souls, as well as those of the people.

In (temporary) solitude and seclusion, muddied water – agitated, noisy – slows down; the dirt settles, and then there is peace. Clarity, flow and focus may be achieved here. When Islam is in our hearts; when we are able to exhibit due Khushuu’ in our prayers, life becomes warm. Meaningful. Animated with gratitude and Barakah; a separateness from the cheapness of meaningless chatter. A walk – even if it be a solitary one – towards wisdom and elegance. It slows down; the roses bloom. Beautiful heart, beautiful thoughts, and all the rest of it.

“To be good and do good, before God, is the meaning of this call.” 

And, right now, we all find ourselves in our own houses, quarantined, mostly in solitude. As much of the Islamic tradition demonstrates, there is much Khayr – goodness – to be found in solitude and seclusion: this is where the sacred tends to reveal itself. Where you can train yourself to be a contented observer of the world, in it, but not wholly devoted to it… being somewhat distant from all the noise and the crowds, for here is where one may find clarity.

From the very first pages of its Foreword, I was enthralled by the messages this book contains. I considered it to be very informative, and yet so very soulfully validating. It has inspired me to try to get closer to God; to give my daily prayers their due diligence, Insha Allah; to not be distracted by the distractions of a noisy world that is filled with busy people who talk far too much.

In case I didn’t manage to make it clear earlier, I so love this book; I would truly recommend it.

“Be like a fruit tree. They attack you with stones, and you respond with fruits.”

– Hasan al-Banna


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

On Islam and Feminism

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

There are certain people with whom there is no use attempting to engage in healthy debate. Sometimes these people are white, deeply Islamophobic, truly unpleasant to behold. In their eyes, you are just a terrorist; this view of theirs, no matter how many facts and figures you may direct toward them, is unlikely to ever change. And then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some men who look rather unlike the first discussed group – at least, upon first glance. Muslim, bearded, seemingly quite ‘religious’. They, too, are often terribly unpleasant to behold. They want to debate with you; they want to prove how girlish, deluded and necessary-of-reform you are. They proceed to bitterly call you a feminist, then proceed to take these matters of ‘reform’ into their own hands.  

I do not identify as a feminist. I used to, yes, but I no longer do. One need not be a ‘feminist’ in order to appreciate that women should not be taken for granted nor abused, just as one need not be labelled a ‘communist’ to appreciate that the welfare system – taking care of the most vulnerable in society – is a good idea.

Now, what I find most infuriating about these particular groups of Muslim men – these ones who tend to be rather outwardly ‘pious’ – is that they do not practise what they preach. They seem to lust relentlessly over women; they, at the same time, seem to despise us. I know people who, pretty much all they do is: praise Allah (SWT) – the most noble of things to do – and then proceed to ceaselessly complain about women. Women: the root of all evil, for them. And, yes, misogynists certainly have their equal but opposite counterparts among women. “All men are trash!” some women are known, religiously, to complain.

Some Muslim men, though, undoubtedly do it right. They are evidently soft-hearted, but they are still very masculine. They have a sense of protective jealousy over female relatives, but they are not so weak and insecure on the inside that they will blame the women under their care for the faults of others, nor do they seek to feign excessive levels of authority over women, in order to compensate for such insecurities. These particular men – the Good Ones – do their parts. They are not hypocrites; they are Haleem: gentle, mild, patient, understanding, able to regulate their anger. They understand that they will never be able to fully empathise with the struggles that women may face, but they do not downplay these struggles., either. That is what we (well, I mean I) truly like to see: men who are deeply comfortable in their own masculinity. Comfortable enough to be strong, polite, open-minded. See, healthy masculinity does not generally translate into mindless, meaningless, misogynistic anger. Nor is it shutting down conversation by insolently and freely insulting women – acting like we are all brainless, valueless (except when it comes to male sexual gratification), naive dolls.

I am not opposed to feminism. I am simply not a feminist. I am a Muslim. My main contentions with the ‘feminist movement’ at large is that… it would appear to be intrinsically confused. A lot of it seems, ironically, to promote the ‘liberation’ of women by encouraging women towards a traditionally masculine template. We are encouraged towards hailing the women in pantsuits; who are ‘badasses’, and who refer to themselves as ‘kings’, and not as queens.

The Islamic view, then: gender roles do exist. The divinely-ordained Masculine; the divinely-ordained Feminine; they have much intrinsic value. Islam promotes the upholding of our masculine and feminine essences – these products of our Fitrahs (our innate human constitutions) – and of their associated roles. There are no rules that dictate that a woman cannot go out to work, nor any to suggest that men cannot play key roles in the upbringings of their children, on a deeply emotional level. No… but men are physically stronger; they are built differently, and they think differently, to women. Men have certain rights over, in tandem with responsibilities towards, women. And vice versa. And both parties have their respective, though often overlapping, responsibilities to carry out, towards God.

Men are meant to be, ultimately, the protectors and providers of women. The Qur’an describes them as our ‘overseers’ – a rough translation of the term used. Breadwinners: they must spend their wealth on the maintenance of their families. Women, however, have a right to their own wealth; we need not share with anybody. Men must pray, as much as possible, in the mosque, in congregation. Women need not, and we get monthly ‘breaks’, so to speak, from Salah, which last for a week. Women are vessels through which life is brought into the world – and this is done via the womb, the word for which, in Arabic, shares the same linguistic root as that meaning ‘mercy’. Men have their essence; we have ours. [And so on]. God is neither male nor female; gender is a creation of His. Some Divine qualities (like beauty and mercy) women have relatively more access to the diluted subsets of. And others, men have more access to. Unfortunately, what a lot of modern feminists tend to do is this: they are known to de-sanctify the Divine Feminine at its core, thereafter pitting it against the Masculine, in some sort of strange competition…

I never really understood what it meant when, upon telling certain friends and family members I was a ‘feminist’, they would tell me that they themselves are just ‘Muslim’. I understand this now: Islam is against oppression and interpersonal transgressions – irrespective of who happens to be carrying them out. They are dire sins. And Islam also encourages the preservation of gender roles. So the Islamic way is not necessary ‘liberalist’, but, in many ways – for example, in its unique take on female sexuality – it is not traditionally ‘traditionalist’. Islam is Islam. It is my Deen; it provides the necessary framework for objective morality. At my core, I am not a liberal (while the moral bases for ‘feminism’ are pretty much inextricably tied to the liberal ideology). I am Muslim.

Deep down, we know that many feminists will clap more for women who have sacrificed everything for top professional positions, while neglecting the mothers who choose to be housewives, and whose central concerns are to make their homes a good place for their families – to bring their children up in the best possible way. As usual, the liberal ideology in question is strongly tied to economic considerations. But we Muslims must favour the spiritual ones, before anything. Love of God, and tending to our God-given rights and responsibilities, and love as our central motivator…

Feminism also seems to argue that women should not do things to cater to the Male Gaze. But then the majority of feminists advocate for makeup usage, nudity, and sexual looseness. Because it’s “all about choice”. Do they not see that human ‘freedom’ is always contingent on being enslaved to something – whether to economic ideas of success and the Male Gaze, or… to God? No woman is an island; there are motivations behind our actions. There is no use in pretending that we can exist outside of all societal considerations and such. And for Muslims at least, it is far more meaningful to submit before God, in lieu of whatever else before the people…

As Muslim women, for instance, we really should stop responding to questions like those pertaining to our headscarves with, “Because it’s my choice”. No – we observe the Hijab because we are enslaved not to our own desires, nor to the eyes of men, but to Allah (SWT). All human beings are enslaved; to be enslaved to God is the most noble avenue for our human inclinations towards servitude. 

And, yes, ‘intersectional’ feminism does exist. But I would argue that this branch of feminism is the most deeply confused one. It started off by saying “Yes, ALL women!”. That is, Hijabi women, black women, white women, disabled women – and ‘yes’ to how they might each respectively choose to live their lives… But then it subsumed the efforts of LGBT movements, and those of race-based movements, sexual ‘liberation’, pro-abortion-no-matter-what, and even some movements that pertained to the liberation of men under certain circumstances. [So… why continue to label it ‘feminism’, which linguistically implies a focus on women]?

Anti-oppression. This is part of Islam. But anti-oppression… in line with God-given guidelines and commands. 

Gendered transgressions that are not in line with the Islamic way of life include domestic violence, certainly. But, for example, sexual irresponsibility is not to be promoted either, according to us; this, in its own way, is a transgression.

And on the topic of well-known statistics like how ‘women make seventy-six cents to every man’s dollar’: well, promulgating this statistic in isolation leads to the overlooking of much nuance. Take, for example, the fact that many women choose to only carry out part-time paid work, and many leave their jobs for extended periods of time in order to look after their growing families. What’s more, the Islamic view is, as aforesaid, that men and women are different. Men have varying attitudes, physiques, motivations, and responsibilities in comparison to women. Our goal here is not to be ‘equal’ in terms of the things we are and do, to them. Nor is our goal, here, to be ‘free’. Relatively free, sure, from oppression and such, but we also have religiously imposed limits that we must not (be arrogant and) rebel against.

“It is true that you [men] have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Tirmidhi]

The goal is to allow men to nurture their masculinity, and to allow women to nurture – and not reject – our femininity, in a healthy manner, and in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. And we must be committed to showing considerable amounts of concern for issues that may concern women (like the fact that most victims of domestic violence tend to be women), and those that concern men (like the fact that disproportionate numbers of men silently suffer from excruciating mental illnesses and suicidal urges), alike.

There is a concept that exists that is known as ‘equality’. There is also ‘justice’. Finally, there is ‘liberation’.

Screenshot 2020-04-16 at 10.23.09
Source: Unknown.

Now, if we imagine the concept of height used in these pictures to only be representative of gender-based differences and not necessarily of the superiority of one, we see that the people in question – in picture – are different. Different perspectives and builds. Now, ‘equality’ involves the same being given to everyone. No considerations of differences, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It is harder for the person in the purple top to see. This is what happens when we only use masculine ideals as the template for everybody.

Next, equity. The same is being done here: we want the others to reach the height of the tallest one. Now, everyone can see. But it still asserts that the smallest one is, by nature, inferior. They cannot ‘see’ without aid. There is still a barrier. This approach does not want to acknowledge the different perspectives.

Finally, liberation. Everybody, from their own individual perspectives, can see the field. No barriers, no proposing that one or the other is centrally inferior. In my view, Islam is liberation. The ‘same field’ is the fact that the spiritual value of a woman is the same as that of a man. We are made differently, and we see things from different perspectives. But that is totally okay. We celebrate our differences, and we are enriched by one another; our value is dependent not on how similar to the man we can be. Rather, it is innate, and then it is dependent on our “piety and good actions” [Hadith].

Though I do subscribe to the ‘live and let live’ way of seeing things, I do think that liberalism has this innate tendency to trample all over the value of sacred things… humanity, true familial connections, the value of rest, the value of gender roles [for the liberal ideology, if you can convince a woman that her professional positions are superior to her role as a mother, you have won. More profits. Even if it means that the woman now has a dual burden – a ‘triple shift’ – to fulfil. See, everything that Islam maintains is sacred and of great value – like worship of God, even – liberalism and capitalism will find a way to distort and redefine, and to gear towards the generation of more profits. Nowadays, many people worship not their Creator, but their bosses at work…]

Generally, it is healthy and (to many) quite attractive for a man to be in touch with his ‘feminine’ side, and for a woman to be in touch with her ‘masculine’ side. But a man’s ‘feminine side’ is not the same as a woman’s expression of the Feminine. And a woman’s ‘masculine side’ is not the same as a man’s expression of the Masculine. And imbalances do, undoubtedly, evidently, lead to issues: issues within the household, issues within individuals, and to greater societal issues… There is Divine wisdom behind gendered roles and obligations! 

Moreover, on the question of whether or not ‘Toxic Masculinity’ exists [this is something that feminists quite often vocally disapprove of]… Imbalances in gender identities and subsequently, in gender-relations, do exist. But it can go both ways: a man may behave in, say, a hyper-aggressive manner towards a woman. A woman may become vain and prideful, and sincerely think that she is better than a man on account of her physical beauty. These things happen.

But the Islamic tradition states that a distinction is to be made between being ‘male’ and being a ‘man’, and mutatis mutandis for women. ‘Males’ may recklessly chase after multiple women; may display numerous angry outbursts; may walk pridefully upon the earth. ‘Females’ may see their source of value being solely dependent on their sexual appeal; may never be satisfied with what the male members of their families do for them; may allow hyper-emotionality to cloud their better judgements. But human ‘men’ and ‘women’ are more noble than those who are exclusively ‘male’ and ‘female’. Men and women, for starters, do not exclusively act upon their base instincts. The strongest of men, for instance, as the Prophet (SAW) told us, is not the one who can wrestle the best, but he is the one who best controls his anger when he becomes angry. And the best of women are those who can practise modesty, in person and in appearance. Gratitude, too, and other virtuous qualities…

From a Muslim perspective, women should not try to imitate men, nor should men try to imitate women. Read: the part about imbalances. And, for we women, our ultimate role models shouldn’t really be… the celebrities of today, nor those women who exhibit ‘ladette culture’. Not the ‘cool girls’, not the ‘badasses’. Our purpose here is different. Likewise, for the men: no rap artist, no footballer, no whatever should really take the place in our hearts that belongs to Muhammad (SAW). The greatest and most paradigmatic of human beings to have ever walked upon the Earth.

Islam recognises a constant loop of nature that is nurtured in a particular way. This breeds certain actions and outcomes, which in turn informs our ways of thinking. The phenomenon of gender follows this pattern: men have their hormones and intrinsic inclinations, and we women have ours. What we do as a result of them matters too. We should never be given to excess in anything, so the tendencies of any sort of ‘hyper-male or-female’ is to be frowned upon.

And, both the Masculine and the Feminine are meant to (be whole in and of themselves but also) deeply enrich one another. Allah (SWT), as the popular Qur’anic Ayah tells us, “created us in pairs”; we are meant to be sources of a unique sense of “tranquility” for one another.

We shouldn’t be given to criticising women wholesale, nor men wholesale. Individual men and women might display ‘trashy’ tendencies, but it is not a bad thing at all to be a man or a woman. It is not bad for a man to want to be shown a certain kind of respect; this is in his nature. Nor is it bad for a woman to crave a certain kind of love; this is in her nature. We must respect these differences; be extremely wary of detrimental imbalances; focus on ourselves and on our own behaviour.

There is undoubtedly much more to explore in terms of questions of gender identity from the Islamic perspective. And there are some Muslim men who are utter misogynists; they are transgressors. There are some women who transgress their Deen-related boundaries, too. And I believe in relative liberation for people in line with what Islam says, and not through things like the utter devaluing of gender, nor in the central attachment of a person’s worth to their career-based positions.

Muslim women can have careers; can be extremely successful within whichever fields they wish to enter. But these are not the defining points of our worth as human beings. We are also friends; nurturers; mothers; seekers of knowledge; teachers; vessels of mercy and of much beauty. In old age, we are de facto counsellors – wisened elders. God made us women, and in our womanhood we shall rejoice. We must try to disrupt not the balance, nor allow anyone (e.g. domestic abusers) to disrupt the balance, either.

We must oppose the traits of Jahiliyya (ignorance) which may reach us – irrespective of where they may come from. Some of these traits are, unfortunately, demonstrated by Muslims themselves, and others are hallmarks of certain branches of ‘feminism’.

To a person who does not believe in God, liberation may appear to lie in ‘choice’. And Muslims should subscribe to this principle, as we do believe that people are not to be compelled in matters of religion. But, once the choice to be Muslim is made, indubitably, liberation lies in Truth. And Truth encompasses the respective roles, expectations, and rights, both of the Man, and of the Woman.

Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!

Sadia Ahmed J, 2020

“The best of you [men] are those who are best to their women”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Tirmidhi]

The Scenic Route

Dear friend, 

 

Two roads do diverge, at a certain point, in a yellow wood;

Do we take the one that calls out to us? Or do we take the one they all think we ‘should’?

 

Tie up your shoelaces; wrap up your headscarf: tonight and forever, may we always choose to take the scenic route.

Treacherous, at points, though the journey may be: may we battle all the elements, exhibit patience; the enchantment of the views will surely follow suit.

 

And it matters not how many have tread this path before us; it only matters that we commit to following our truths.

It matters not if we succumb to cliché, or if we are ‘different’; if we, at points, part with all considerations of rhyme,

For true beauty is not to be found in identical iterations, but in the order that can be found in utter chaos – if one chooses to look – to take the time.

 

Dear friend, 

 

You and I are not afraid of the dark, nor have we ever really been.

We surely have God to thank for this strength, and our own minds, and this, our wonderful Deen.

 

On the days when nothing at all is certain, the following things will undoubtedly call us home:

Darkness, the stars, Adhan, local mosque’s gold-and-blue panelled dome.

 

You are doing just fine, love. Even on the days when you struggle to get out of bed –

When meeting with the world again just doesn’t sound very enticing; when you would rather cease to exist instead.

And maybe depression will unfavourably make a bit of a comeback sometime soon; maybe the people will, again, simply not understand.

But this is the scenic route. [Like when, suddenly, in daytime, Hey, look! The moon!]: we have known its shores before, we have found ways to come to adore its sands.

 

Dear friend, 

 

Ideas of ‘smooth’ are quite boring; we were not made for that sort of life:

You take a slightly rotting apple, redefine it, give it new form through skilful use of carving knife.

We like the feel of friction, quickness, slowness, followed by the energy of a small breakthrough.

We are lovers of darkness and of light, of fields of yellow, and of oceans of blue –

alike. And as usual, it probably won’t make too much sense right now. These things only tend to truly come together

in retrospect.

 

Dear friend, 

 

The scenic route. Boots laced up, cloaked by the trees’ lowest branches. Rose-gold rings and splendid dark humour. And, Ameen, may we always be part of one another’s armour.

Sunglasses will decorate our eyes on some days; crystal tears, almost unstoppable, on others. But we rejoice in the fact that they are as much our own eyes on those latter days, as they were during the former.

Someday we will laugh at every single thing that did make us cry.

Standing atop mountains, the trail behind us, below us. It will all make sense: the why

 

Of every single heavy day; the shackles tied to our very minds,

All the twenty steps forwards, ten steps back. The feelings of progress; the unhappy rewinds.

 

My friend, you have always been, for me, an iron shield:

On the days when my mind felt like it was rotting; on the days when (in decay’s place) there were daisy fields.

 

And you and I belong right there – upon the scenic route.

On some days, our branches shall be cold and bare; on other days, we will bear much fruit.

 

But each day will be beautiful. Never boring – whether happy, empty, or melancholy,

I have been blessed: part of my armour is you, and the more fragmented landscape doth beckon me –

 

Moorlands, forests, and indented shores,

Peaks, and troughs, and muddiness galore!

And it need not be smoothened at all, not now, not ever:

It is we who must learn how to climb: in every season, amidst unfiltered sun, and right through gorgeous rainy weather.

 

What is The Good Life?

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

A few days ago my best [is it childish to constantly point out that she’s my best friend? Perhaps] – best – friend and I sat down to record an episode for my podcast, which we had decided to entitle, ‘The Good Life’. It is made extremely evident, simply by taking a look at the world around us, and by having a couple of sincere conversations with people, that many people are simply not living ‘good’ lives, for the most part: many of us live in metropolises – human zoos, if you will – in which our lives are characterised by confusion, stress, dissatisfaction, and the endless endeavours we commit to, so as to distract ourselves. 

Now, there was a slight issue with the podcast app that I use; this episode has been ‘uploading’ for days now. It is likely that the end result will never actually end up coming into publication. So, and while I am still able to recall some of the unexpected but meaningful things that Tamanna and I spoke about, I present to you a blog article on the topic of ‘The Good Life’.

For this episode-which-is-now-an-article, I decided to conduct some (qualitative) research: I carried out some interviews – some face-to-face, and some via online platforms. I amassed a sample that was (hopefully) as representative as I could make it. It contained some Muslims; some atheists; some agnostics; some Christians. Men and women; some little children. Working-class individuals; middle-class individuals. White Brits; immigrants. People who identify as ‘genderqueer’ and such; people who do not. Introverts; extroverts. Students; professionals… I posed four specific questions to each of them, and examined their answers. Their responses were rather interesting… in particular as a result of how similar they were, between these individuals who are rather different to one another on the surface level.

1) What is a good life? 

I think that, although the interrogation of people’s minds with this particular question tends to give rise to a lot of deep-in-thought “I’m-going-to-need-a-moment…or-a-hundred” expressions, the answer to this highly pressing, pretty much universally asked question, is already within us.

Most of the respondents agreed that a ‘good’ life is not one that would be rooted in idealism. Rather, it is more about sustenance and contentment: having enough money to get by, a satisfactory amount of love around you, and being in a content-enough state so as to not find oneself excessively comparing oneself and one’s life to others and their lives; being exceptionally okay with oneself, irrespective of external considerations like salaries or relationship statuses, at any given point in time. Almost everyone who took part in this survey also spoke about the pursuit of knowledge, and learning, as being crucial to the Good Life.

After gathering and analysing the responses I had been given, I realised I did not have any respondents, in my sample, who were over the age of seventy. But I came across a video online in which an 105-year-old woman, Jessie Jordan, shares her views on the ingredients needed for a long and happy life. “I think peace is more happiness. Peace. Having peace in your heart,” she tells us all.

So what is it that we all find ourselves chasing: peace or pleasure?

2) What would the ideal life entail? And how would it differ to the ‘good’ life? 

People tackled this question from a number of different angles. The more religious respondents were inclined towards talking about Heaven. I, personally, would agree with them: in the temporal, highly physically limited states we currently find ourselves in, in this world, although we may have the faculties to be able to think idealistically, in reality, we are simply not suited towards living such lifestyles, right now.

Right now, in this temporal world – in the Dunya – problems are pretty much ever-present; everywhere. But this is how we work, and this is how the societies that we each find ourselves part of work: we experience problems, and we discover great meaning and purpose in the pursuit of solutions. The role of a doctor would have been utterly pointless if human illnesses did not exist. The role of a teacher would have been futile if all possible knowledge had simply been pre-ingrained into our minds; if we were born in a state of omniscience, as opposed to one of utter ignorance.

People’s idealistic fantasies tend to revolve around things that are plentiful, luxurious, unearthly and fantastical. Heaven. Paradise. Right now, we are able to fantasise about such things, but these things would do little to bring us long-lasting peace and happiness in the (earthly, impermanent) here and now. If we were all to achieve all our idealistic fancies here in this life, there would be an evident incongruity between our human conditions, and the lifestyles we would be living: we could accumulate as many supercars, castles (etc.) as we could fathom, but human nature would surely, quickly, catch up with us. We would get bored and restless.

Some people did approach this question from a quite ‘down-to-earth’ perspective: quite a few of the respondents said that their ideal lives would comprise things like having a widespread, meaningful, truly noticeable impact on the world; the ability to go on long bike rides in the countryside…

3. When do you reckon, over the course of your life thus far, were you the most happy? Why? 

Unsurprisingly, most respondents said that they were happiest during their childhoods. Some pointed to specific memories that contributed to this being their truth: memories of waking up early solely in order to watch Disney Channel shows; being given glasses of milk by their mother before going to bed; being, for the most part, stress- and responsibility-free. Another thing that was evident, from a number of these responses, was that a significant factor that contributed to this childhood state of happiness was the fact that back then, we did not care what others thought about us. We were so blissfully unaware of things like our own physicality, while we were playing; so heedless of negative social judgement.

One respondent made a particularly interesting point: she said she thinks that “happiness can exist only when you know sadness”; that it is all a game of relativity. Thus, according to this view, because we may be sad now, or have come to know deep sadnesses since childhood, we have come to see our childhoods as having been the ‘happiest’ times in our lives.

4. What do you think most people dislike about themselves [and that acts as a barrier to their acquisition of the Good Life]? 

The most popular theme that respondents touched upon, in response to this final question, was this one: people’s looks. Most people are insecure about certain aspects of their (or about their entire) appearances. This can have several secondary unfavourable effects: insecurities with one’s looks can affect one’s self-identity, as well as one’s behaviour around other people, and in the classroom or the workplace, and it can all take up a great deal of time and mental energy: how we feel about our appearances has the power to mould our entire realities. And sadly, we are living in an extremely visual and consumerist world, and the combination of these aspects tends to be particularly noxious for those of us who look like, you know, human beings. Stretch marks, chubbiness, skinniness, large birthmarks, uneven facial complexions. We want to air-brush these things away; look like the people we see in magazines, and on Instagram. It would appear as though we have collectively fallen in love with illusory cyborg appearances. We delude ourselves, by our own volition, with all this – once again: we know that ‘natural makeup’ is not natural at all; that, after a certain point, enlarged biceps stop serving a functional purpose in the real world [um…how many crates of apples do you intend to carry with those arms?] and yet we blindly consume from the funnels of all these outlets – these outlets whose job it is to create an evident separation between the ordinary (and real) and what is extremely elusive and difficult to attain: the stuff of Übermenschen. 

The second most popular topic that was touched upon, in response to this fourth question, was about individual talents: discontentment with one’s abilities – academic, creative, professional – and a consequent ongoing feeling of being inadequate in comparison to others – leads to many being unable to taste the sweetness of their own lives, unfortunately. But it really does come down to that thing that we tell young children when they come to us and tell us why Maths could never be their favourite subject: “I’m no good at it”. But what is the point of being good at something, if you do not enjoy doing the thing in the first place? Personal enjoyment is far more joy-inducing and desirable, surely, than the knowledge that you have outshined others at what you are doing? Self-comparison truly is a notorious thief of joy, and it turns otherwise nice things – like the process of learning, or the arts of writing or painting – into mere competitions and boasting festivals…

The question of the Good Life has perplexed, fascinated, and inspired philosophers, poets, writers, artists, and humanity in general, alike, for centuries. What might a good human life look like? What are the barriers that prevent us from getting there? And how can we satisfactorily deal with said barriers?

We are, each of us, living on borrowed time; we are mere walking compilations of breaths – finite, and yet powerful. So small, and yet so inherently magical. And it is strange, really, how we all seem to know what decent and happy personal lives may comprise, but we still find ourselves rather stuck in our ways, stubbornly pursuing what brings us restlessness – in the absence of peace. These things, these ideas, may grant us some momentary kicks, perhaps, but they appear to leave behind them a lasting sense of discontentment.

It is truly peculiar, as aforementioned, how almost all of us know what the Good Life looks like, deep down. And yet we continue to romanticise and idealise the lives of YouTubers; music artists; athletes; models; extremely wealthy individuals… We hear all their emotional testimonies that perceptively bring them back down to the ordinary human plane: how sad they are, and dissatisfied, and confused. But yet, we continue to see their lives as the great ideal.

Celebrities buy flocks of super-cars (often) to compensate for erstwhile feelings of low self-worth. Cheap sex, cigarettes, drowning out unpleasant thoughts in alcohol and wild partying. The ‘Rich Kids of Instagram’ run out of even minutely meaningful things to do with their money; they come to realise that money actually exists as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself. It is just paper. Models obsessively pander to seasonal beauty trends; undergo various surgeries and learn numerous makeup practices. Many of them, in spite of the millions of positive comments and such they receive on their pictures, still feel like they are ugly. The goal that we are injected with, constantly, is to always aspire to be richer, prettier, smarter, faster: to amass as many roses as possible, without giving ourselves adequate time and space to actually smell the ones in our possession.

A good life, as we can all fairly unanimously agree, involves the following:

  • Spirituality. This can generally be defined as the possession and maintenance of a positive connection with one’s soul, in conjunction with a sense of connectivity with the universe around us – and which we are a part of – as well as everything else it inhabits, including our fellow human beings, and animals. From all this, we benefit from an enduringly enriching sense of peace and purpose.

Although, in recent times, many have attempted to wholly secularise the concept of spirituality, presenting it and the notion of religion (i.e. the worship of our Creator) as  being two centrally separable things, I think – and psychologists know – that the instinct to worship, in humans, is an innate one. Atheists have actively unlearnt – subverted and re-channelled this instinct (mainly into following liberal ideologies, in tandem with these newly engineered notions of ‘secular spirituality’); meanwhile, theists are acting upon an in-built human desire.

I think that religion itself is a sort of ‘organised spirituality’. But, of course, within organised religion, spirituality can often be (counterproductively, and antithetically to the aim of religion, which seeks to connect humans with our Creator, and with the rest of His creation) taken out of the equation. Religion sans spirituality is like a body without a soul: lacking animation. Or like knowledge without wisdom: lacking purpose.

 

  • Tending, with great care, to our mental landscapes. To a great extent, life is what we each make of it: every experience we will ever have will be filtered through our mental landscapes. We must train ourselves to be more grateful; more able to see the good in things; more resistant to being susceptible to image-based and ideological deceit and delusion.

 

  • Also nurturing our physical wellbeing; acknowledging that our bodies, minds and souls are inextricably linked. This means eating what is Tayyib (pure, good) and Halāl. Doing what humans need to do: drinking water. Exercising. Sleeping. [Playing!] In this temporal world, we are, like everything else that is physical, a system of parts. Overall physical health relies on the health of individual systems – cardiovascular, ocular, respiratory… all of it.

 

  • Being content with who we are, at our cores. And [thus] embracing authenticity. Truly realising that comparing ourselves to our perceptions of others and their lives; trying to be other than what we are is unbelievably futile, and a waste of our (finite, precious) time on this planet. Everybody is made up of darkness (flaws, faults, past mistakes, and more) as well as light (talents, skills, merits, etc.). Perhaps true self-contentment  would rely on our acceptance of the darknesses; our ventures towards self-improvement (and not perfection); our consciously choosing to focus on the good, thus forcing it to grow.

The achievement of a true, deep sense of self-contentment naturally results in the enrichment of our social connections – which we can healthily, meaningfully, take from and give to.

 

  • Living a life of Mediums. The Qur’an and various Hadiths tell us that we Muslims are to be a nation of middles; that we should not commit excess in anything. No excess in food, nor in worship, nor sleep, exercise, consumption of news and information, studying… All this – this being given to excesses – disrupts the crucial balances that are needed for goodness. The Good Life is one that is not too quiet, nor too loud. Not too busy, nor too still. Not too routine-centric, nor too unpredictable. You get the picture.

 

  • Personal pursuits. Creative outlets; personal projects; businesses; our career-related pursuits. It is an innate human need to have to feel at once connected and communal, and like individuals, at precisely the same time. In conjunction with spirituality, our personal pursuits imbue our lives with a sense of purpose.

 

  • Reflection. Silence. Slowness. At least some time and space in our weeks – our days – for these necessary things. The world around us, in modern times, is just too frenetic, and too loud. Silence is one of the most beautiful melodies; it allows us to hear ourselves.

 

So many of us have been living in perpetual states of dissatisfaction, denial, delusion, and distraction, for so long. I think it is time for an awakening – a quiet but profound one,  and one that thrusts us back into the sorts of lifestyles we should have been living all along: the Tayyib life – the ‘good’, human one. We are due for a good, deep spring clean – of our minds, bodies, (living spaces,) and souls. We can all find our ways to the truly Good life, but first, we may require a slight reminder of what it actually means to be (and live in accordance with our being) human… 

Less: Materialism [“Things are just things; they don’t make you who you are,” – Macklemore. It is not about what we have, but about their functionality, and about what good we are able to (make ourselves) gain from them]. Jealousy. Restlessness. Exhaustion. Monotony. Over-thinking. Stress. Doing things for external approval or validation, rather than for the contentment of our own souls. Anger. Self-criticism; gratuitous criticism of others. Blind consumption of things that do not bring us peace [and this might include ‘muting’ certain people online; resisting the urge to check the news before bed; cutting down drastically on junk food].

More: Purpose. Helping others [“The best among you is the one who benefits others most.” – Prophet Muhammad (SAW)]. Intelligence: spiritual, emotional, worldly, historical, linguistic… Connection with nature [which we habitually forget that we are a part of. Caught between the terrestrial and the celestial, we human beings are…]. Positive experiences [after all, people don’t really want Lamborghinis: they want the experience of owning and driving one]. Learning. Love. Gratitude. Romanticisation of our lives [that cup of coffee in your hand is the best. Your train commutes in Spring are gorgeous, serene, like a cut-out scene from a Studio Ghibli movie. Romanticisation is not an identical concept to delusion. It is simply about taking heed of the fact that all human reality is experienced subjectively; through the vessels of our individual minds. Therefore, if you say to yourself that who you are, where you are – this very moment in time, and this point in space – and what you have are wonderful, and that it does not get better than this, this will become your personal truth – your reality]. A sense of connectedness. Self-comfort and -confidence. Making feelings of contentment far less conditional – whether on future periods of our lives, other people, or other places. Reflection. Becoming excellent – masters – of our personal pursuits. Hope. Īman. Excitement. Laughter. The goodness of life is to be found in all the intangible things.

It is, at once, entirely understandable, and yet quite surprising, just how many reverts to Islam – ex-avid partygoers, celebrities, people who had previously truly indulged in the adornments of this world (drugs, alcohol, sex…) without limit – have commented on how much peace the decision to accept Islam brought to their hearts and lives. The ‘sweetness of Īman’, they say, is worth more than all the pleasures of the world, put together.

“Alhamdulillah (thanking God) means everything. Drinking a glass of water – Alhamdulillah. Having an opportunity to speak to you – Alhamdulillah. Seeing my wife and kids – Alhamdulillah. I always have my creator in the front of my mind.

Look, I chased girls. I drank alcohol, spent lavishly and thought I was someone that I wasn’t. I lived that life and, in my experience, what did it give me? Hollowness and emptiness in my heart.”

– Sonny Bill Williams, New Zealand Professional Rugby Player 

This is who we are: these are what our faces and bodies look like [Alhamdulillah]; these are our interests and hobbies; these are our financial situations; these are our histories; our ethnic cultures; our homes; these are our merits and talents. These are what our lives look like. The question is not about how much we can fantasise about being other people, about living different lives. The real question – the one whose answers can be conducive to us actually living Good Lives – is this one: how are we going to make the most of it all? 

“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment”

– Holy Qur’an (57:20)

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Sadia Ahmed, 2020