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.
I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…
I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…
The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.
And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.
Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]
Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.
I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.
I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.
The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.
As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.
Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.
In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.
Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.
School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?
When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!
And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.
The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.
And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]
These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]
I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.
I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.
The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-drivenways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.
The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.
And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.
I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.
The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.
In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.
I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.
I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.
Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.
The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: email@example.com
Friday (the 18th) had been, for me, my last day of being nineteen years old – and thus, of being a nominal ‘teenager’ – and it also happened to have been the last day of my first term of being a teacher. Subhan Allah. I have much to write (type) about, in this article. Reflections, random thoughts: about teaching; about what I have learnt; about the art of ‘learning’, in general.
Usually, I scribble in my journal quite frequently; doing so has been, for a long time, a favourite hobby of mine, in addition to being an ‘outlet’ thing. For a while, I would write in my journal multiple times a day. On the train; by the river (Thames, of course. London-born, London-raised!); at school, in class [leading some classmates of mine, at sixth form, to, in earnest, ask me if I were actually some sort of undercover journalist or a spy or something!] But, wow: during term-time now as a teacher, this had been rendered practically impossible. I cannot, of course, simply sit and journal while delivering lessons… and, much of my ‘PPA time’ (the teaching equivalent of ‘free periods’) is taken up by a seemingly endless list of things to do. During my breaks, I tend to sit down for a while, and rest, often with a book. Actually, I have been enjoying listening to audiobooks a little more, lately [Sponsor me, Audible! I’m basically a YouTuber, but written version]
Alhamdulillah times a million, though: this whole experience has been wonderful; a true gift from Allah. But, since starting at this job, I have scarcely been able to sit in peace, and with the necessary energy levels – which are a prerequisite for that crucial feeling of ‘inspiration’ – to simply do nothing but write, to my heart’s (and, to my mind’s) content.
Teaching has been: waking up quite early, even though the beautiful wintry months make me really, really want to remain blissfully in bed; cycling or walking (and, admittedly, occasionally – when I am feeling especially lazy or have too much to carry – taking an Über) to work; getting there before the sun has even risen [I am not, by nature, a ‘morning person’]. What a lovely thing to witness, though: the stillness of an empty classroom; the pinkish, purplish glows of nascent sunrise, glinting off of the nearby high-rise buildings. The light, creeping into gorgeous wintry gloom. And all this, just before that incrementally increasing rush of students walking through the door. Subhan Allah.
“Assalamu ‘alaikum, Miss!”
Teaching has also been: going over things I myself had learnt in Year Seven and Eight and thereafter; it has been learning quite a few additional things, too. Planning, and then some more planning. And lots and lots of (submitting requests for) printing. Also: marking, administrative activities, among other things. Oh, and a lot of eating. Just prior to beginning this job, my aunt had remarked that if there is one thing I ought to know about being a teacher, it is that teaching makes you hungry. And, yes: it really, really does.
[Ah, food. How I love thee, food. Thy sugar and thy spice, and thy goodness and comfort. Healthful foods, and how they are known to nourish, but also some doses of indulgence and chocolate.
Making food; breaking bread and sharing food. Connection. Good stuff.]
At my workplace, there is this lovely ‘middle-of-the-table’ tradition: individual staff members often bring foodstuffs to share with everybody else. Doughnuts, falafel, soup, Turkish food, some good-good (Masha Allah) chicken karahi, once. And anything that is for anyone is placed in the middle of the long staffroom table.
The start, to now
This has all been one of those things: I could never have seen any of this coming. But, oh, how I love these very things. The ones that arrive kind of quietly, and then they show you how powerful they really are. The ones that can, quite quickly, take over significant parts of these lives of ours by storm. This year alone: we moved houses; I stopped wearing makeup to go outside [just a personal preference thing. I really do think it is a problem that most women wear it every day since we have been led to believe that we look “ugly” or “dead” without it. We do not, though. And Allah is the Best of Creators]; we got a cat [the most unexpected happening of them all: my mum has been known to absolutely hate the idea of having pets. And now, this cat is her third child!]; this whole pandemic took place – it has been approximately ten months since the start of all this; I started this job.
“You can only know something when you know it. Not a minute before.”
— Gilbert Blythe, ‘Anne with an E’
It is true that I had been tutoring for a fairly long time, but I had never before been given the responsibility of teaching thirty students at a time. Tutoring involves sitting with between one to about, maybe, six, students at once, once or twice a week. There is some preparation that goes into it, sure, as well as some marking to do. But teaching is, altogether, something quite different. Greater responsibility, no doubt. An honour, and, certainly, an Amānah, too.
It had been my aunt who had encouraged me to apply for this post, actually. She works at the same school as I do – part-time – and teaches A-level Biology there. We tend to walk home together on her workdays. Roughly two weeks ago, I had some PPA time and found I could not concentrate nor do much in the staff room. I went all the way upstairs [the sixth form and ‘Alimiyyah faculties of the school are located, rather interestingly, on its roof!] and sat comfortably at the back of her classroom.
She had started her lesson off by asking her students what the term ‘gametogenesis’ might mean. She then asked me if I could explain what ‘genesis’ means. This made me smile. Biology teacher aunt, and her now-English-teacher niece. A nice moment. But then she proceeded to talk about puberty, and my ‘inner child’ re-emerged, and I wanted to laugh. [Thankfully, I did not.] Anyway.
There had been something quite nice about that particular sixth form classroom. The floors – unlike those of the secondary school ones on the floor levels below – are carpeted. You leave your shoes at the door. Moreover (if I recall correctly) there had been a lot of natural light flooding in, as opposed to glaring and sharp artificial ones. Also, her students had been sitting on the floor, with floor desks before them. Sunnah vibes. Teacher and slideshow at the front; students really paying attention, albeit in a calm sort of way. It had all felt quite serene, (connected, and meaningful) and not at all stressful, sort of reminiscent of some mosque classes I had taken in my early adolescent years:
Spatial escapes from the ever-‘busy’, the autopilot-modes, the grimy, the dizzying, the confusing, the relentless ‘grinds’, searching for things that might, in the end, be so far away from peace. And into carpeted-floor room, all clean. A glow of sorts; frosted windows, softened voices.
There is something about sitting on the floor, don’t you think? It makes you feel more… grounded. Connected. Learning, eating – even sleeping – on the floor, at least sometimes. There is something that is essentially quite lovely about it.
This ‘modern world’. It is fast-paced, rat race, relentless. Dog chase, altogether so industrial. All in the name of ‘progress’, of uncurbed growths. People just do not know where they are headed, but we find ourselves chasing all these abstract uncertainties, regardless. “We are surrounded by all of these lies, and people who talk too much.” [E.S.]. Maybe I am too sensitive, in this sense. But it all makes me ache and feel drained.
A personal preference, maybe: but I far prefer the presences of plants, and of warm lighting. An emphasis on connection, on good mannerisms. Moderation, and not ‘too much’. Places in which to deeply connect (with places, people, the contents of good curricula), and to learn – via mind, heart, and soul – and not merely in which to ‘work hard’: all that stuff of harsh lighting, caffeine-driven sleeplessness, desk-chair, desk-chair, desk-chair, unquestioning obedience. I so believe in holistic humanity being nurtured within places such as schools and hospitals. And, with the former in mind at least, it should not be about the incubation of mere ‘workforce robots’: obedient slaves to some deified ‘Economy’.
Schools should be houses of wisdom, and not factories or… prisons. Warm and inclusive; not cold and steel-gazed, wolf-like. Places in which mind, heart, and soul, are truly, deeply, nurtured: all three.
What I have learnt
As far as ‘learning’ goes, I have learnt oh-so-much, Subhan Allah, from all of this.
My first day at the school had been my observation/interview day. Prior to walking in, I admit I had envisioned Madrassa secondary schools in general as being… stern, serious, sad places. Draconian. No colour: just rules, rules, rules. Scarcely a student laughing, or having fun.
It was like I had (perhaps in part as a consequence of having been away from distinctively Islamic places of learning such as this one, for a while) rather shamefully internalised a particular sort of prejudice. And I had been wrong.
When I first walked in, I noticed the nice colourful displays on the walls. Basketball hoops, martial arts, for PE. The lovely scene – and sound – of a group of students sitting in a circle, on the floor of the hall, reading Qur’an together. The lovely light; how bright and energetic the Year Seven students were. Our first lesson together had gone well, Alhamdulillah [We had discussed how to use different punctuation marks so as to make our writing more effective, and wrote short imaginative stories about going on hot-air balloon rides in Turkey]. And it was thanks to them: my first class. What a funny, ambitious, clever, often downright melodramatic, bunch they are, Allahummabārik.
The art of learning is about discovering new things – information, stories, ideas. It is about piecing things together; making/finding connections between things. And it is also truly about being reminded about certain things that you may already, somewhere in your mind, already know. And you are granted the ability to come across them again, albeit in different, and unexpected, ways. As I have spoken about in a previous article, life is an adventure; a story, and – it is a school.
I have learnt that sunshine is always nice. But storms are what tend to leave us with the best stories, at the end of the day, aren’t they? They are known to bring us something that is altogether more than just ‘nice’. Sure, they can bring up, in us, feelings of fear. Unpredictable, and unknown. And, yet, how woefully, tragically straightforward and bland these lives of ours would be, without them.
One of my Year Seven (English) students had penned – for a competition – the following poem. Its message deeply inspires me [Everyone say Allahummabārik laha!]:
I have learnt things: new and previously-known alike, at this school. From students, and from staff members, alike. From books; from videos. Textbooks, podcasts, sometimes, and from outside of them. But mainly: from people. We humans learn (best) from other humans. We are fundamentally needy, imitative, receptive of and responsive to the subtleties of human connections, relationships.
Like about the temporality of life. It just keeps on moving: one moment, straight to the next, and then to the next, and so on. There is no ‘preparation time’, then ‘practice time’; no clear-cut delineation at all between ‘theory’ and ‘praxis’. There is only life. And here we are, living it. No dress rehearsals: these are our lives.
Our relationships with the past (i.e. before we were born, and also the past[s] of our own personal histories) and our experiences of the present moment, and… notions of ‘the future’. We will meet those (the latter) moments, Insha Allah, as and when they come.
A number of things have forced me to give notions concerning the past some more thought, this term. Teaching History for the first time, for one thing. And, also: back in October (I had started in the middle of the first academic half-term. Hectic!) I had been taking a particular route to and from work. That is, until, I had stumbled upon an alternative route: a shorter, simpler one. And en route this route, I came across a building that my mother, uncle, and aunt sometimes speak about. A quite old-looking tower block: the first home they had dwelled in, actually, upon having migrated to this country.
‘History’ – including our own personal ones – is filled with events, happenings, which we can truly fascinate ourselves by interrogating the following, of them: what if this particular thing had not taken place? What if my grandfather (Allahu Yerhamu) had never made the decision to move here (alone, no less, and as an adolescent!)? And what if my grandmother had rejected his proposal for marriage? Or, what if they had chosen to settle in, say, Kent, or in New York (as some of my other relatives had done) as opposed to in this very part of East London? [What if I had been born a boy?!] And so on, and so on.
So many potential questions. But here we are, in the present (a gift). Much of it: a summation of the consequences of a series of individual decisions. The rest… remains to be seen.
[I am accidentally-on-purpose including quite a few ‘AWAE’ references in this article. You are a certified awesome person if you have managed to pick up on them…]
I think it is very easy to become ungrateful, though, and to take things for granted. But knowledge: one of its key purposes, I believe, is to cultivate and foster deep appreciation within our hearts, gratitude. I, and my family, Alhamdulillah, live in a state of economic stability. But my grandfather had to work hard for this: back when East London (which is now increasingly becoming gentrified) had still been a centre for the British textile industry, he had worked at a coat-manufacturing warehouse. The building is still there: it stands on the opposite side of the road from the bus stop I used to wait at almost every day, after secondary school. Over time, I watched it – the warehouse, that is – be converted into a ‘hipster’-style hotel, all painted white.
And maybe it is true that we humans learn best through experience: I never could have told you what teaching is actually like, until doing it. The strangest of feelings, particularly right at the start: being on the other side of the teacher’s desk. Having to be this responsible, for the first time. I was quite worried, right at the start: What if they won’t like me? What if I don’t do a good job? What if I’m really awkward and they’ll find it off-putting? Worries done away with, Alhamdulillah, as a result of experience. The barrages of (repeated) personal questions, too [“Miss, where are you from?” “Miss, what are your plans for the weekend?” “Miss, are you married?”]; ten students attempting to speak to you, at once; the “Miss, have you marked them yet?” the literal day after they have all sat the assessment. The classic borderline-frustrated response of, “Teachers have their own lives too, you know!”
I think, another thing that has significantly changed – for the better, Alhamdulillah – has been my relationship with ‘work’. It is good, insofar as it is good, in good amounts. But it is no ‘saviour’, no deity to be worshipped, slaved after. I have my responsibilities; I will try to fulfil them. But aside from that, ‘work’ itself does not give me selfhood nor meaning. It… is not my master.
It seemed almost as though different weeks had different overarching ‘themes’ for them, in terms of what they had in store, to teach me. During one week in particular, I believe, I began really thinking about how on Earth other people live. How do some mothers, especially, manage to work for forty hours during the week, and carry out all of their household/family responsibilities, without collapsing as a result of exhaustion?! I remember thinking about this, on my way to work, one day, and I had passed by a (most probably, at least) working mother. Bulging backpack on back, coffee flask in hand, 07:30AM. And she had been on the phone to her (by the sounds of it) young daughter, likely providing some moral support as her husband had shouldered the burden of breakfast duties.
At work, in the staffroom, I am surrounded by some young and unmarried women; some who are newly married; there had been some expectant-mother teachers; some who have a child; some who have a handful of children. Older mothers who are teachers, too: speaking about their children-in-law as well as about their grandchildren. Discussing childminders; speaking on the phone to their kids, at the end of long school days, about homework, and about matters pertaining to ‘playground politics’, and some of the other things that matter deeply, to children. Teachers who are also mothers. How do they do it?! Subhan Allah. The (joys and) stresses that these screaming, energetic children give rise to. Exchanged, at the end of the long academic day, for… those ones (the ones that look half-like them, and call them “Mum” in lieu of “Miss”) …
We are watching, witnessing, as time moves [us] on and on and on. As relatives of ours grow and grow older; as we, ourselves, do much the same thing, too. Our relationships with different places – and with different people – are ever-changing. Sometimes, for the better: development, evolution, we may term it. And sometimes, we find that some leaves simply have to fall, in order to allow for new growth to take place.
Take heart, dear one. Some things will be somewhat (very) hard, some of the time, perhaps the whole way through. But you are more than well-equipped enough to face it, and to get through it all. In a beautiful way, I hope.
We crave permanence, don’t we? This sense of… feeling entirely at home. But I regret to inform you (both you and myself, dear reader) that that is not what this world is for. This whole experience – this maybe eighty-odd-years-long one – is an essentially dynamic one, and it will take you by surprise, over and again. The best thing to do is to locate Earthly home in Sujood: this is what stays. Your soul, in conversation with its Author, Creator. Everything else, you see, is etched only in sand. A gust of wind, or two, and then it is gone.
Here for a time, and then it falls, to dust.
Here, I have learnt (been aptly reminded) about how actions are but by intention [it is the intention behind an action that counts. So we ought not to concern ourselves too much with the outcomes of things. Even with regard to numbers and such… the Qur’an tells us that saving one life is equal to saving the whole of humanity (5:32). The weight of a deed is derived from the intention(s) underlying it]; about the art (the beauty, the tender humanness) of sincereapology; about the rich complexities that individual minds can house. Sometimes, even eleven-year-olds are quite ‘mature’ in demeanour: they have been through so much.
I have learned that we often learn things best as a result of stumbling and falling. That when it comes to deeply difficult things: Healing and Patience are lovers. That it is good to take rest when it is good to; you can then begin again, at a good pace, when the time is right. When you are ready.
That there is no use in ‘crying over spilt milk’ [or spilt Coke, to make reference to something that actually, for some reason, took place] as the aphorism goes. These things happen. Mistakes are made; you will also likely have done and said (and will continue to do and say) some utterly cringeworthy things, during this lifetime of yours. But it is okay. We grow from them; look back and laugh at them, even. Time and other considerations move us on.
That staple-gunning can prove to be an excellent way of releasing aggression. That ‘Resource Rooms’ are, to stationery lovers, what drug dens are to drug addicts. [My gosh, I sound like Amy Santiago here…]
My Bengali-speaking skills have improved, too, Alhamdulillah, as a result of some conversations with a particular colleague of mine, in Bengali. At first, I was not too confident in speaking with her: my Bengali skills had been rather rocky, disjointed. Altogether, in my own head at least, quite embarrassing a thing to behold. ‘Benglish‘. But my gradual improvements in this regard have not gone unnoticed!
A key word, that one: gradual. Trial and error; some things work, some things do not. We learn, and we develop, and this all happens over time. Reflection, then effort. Some courage, maybe, and then patience. God’s Command.
I think, yes, learning is illumination.
And “اللهُ نورُ السماواتِ و الأرضِ” [Qur’an, (24:35)]. Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Truth is Light, and in truth’s absence, there is darkness.
“What is school for, do you think?”
“…to get a good job, innit.”
“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do,
— Lord Alfred Tennyson,‘Charge of the Light Brigade’
Work is only meaningful when it has real meaning. Otherwise we (ultimately) find ourselves doing for the sake of doing. Work for the sake of work. ‘Growth’ for the sake of itself: the ideology of the cancer cell [E.A.]
Do we learn solely towards economic-benefit, and/or social-status-related ends? [A good job, in order to earn good money. To provide for my family. To give back to society.]
Fair enough. Economic and social considerations are all well and good — they are deeply important, actually. But, as Muslims, we know that the absolute queen of all these considerations ought to be: our relationships with Allah. Helping people is a noble thing to do; providing for one’s family is also a noble thing to do. Social connections are wonderful, but some of them may come to fray, or be lost. Money, beyond what is needed for survival and to fund for necessities, is not everything. The way of God ought to be the path we seek to always be traversing; the consideration that all other ones are tethered to. This is Light; this is Truth; this is true Purpose and Meaning. This is concerning your Origin, and your place of Return, and this is concerning every single moment,
after moment, in-between.
And in the absence of truth, what is there? There is only darkness and delusion. Looking for these things where they cannot ever truly be found.
Some things that we encounter will seem quite a challenge, at least at the start. But we learn through experience; we [pardon the cheese. A little statement, that one, which ought to extend over the entirety of this blog of mine…] grow through what we go through.
It is quite nice, at times, to look back on things, and to see how we – and our circumstances – have changed, progressed. When, at the start, in conjunction with the hectic novelty, I had been given an actual form class [whom I now, thankfully, share with a colleague, so I now only have them for certain days of the week. We joke that we are like a divorced couple: we have shared custody over the kids] I had found myself feeling quite overwhelmed. I thought it would be a sign of ‘strength of character’ if I just continued, grinned and bore it. But my aunt had noticed how stressed I had seemed that week; she persuaded me to go and speak with the Assistant Principals. Then, the aforementioned changes were made. ‘More’ does not necessarily mean ‘better’!
Kind of linked to the above: a certain family member had remarked that he thinks I should become a headteacher someday. Which had been a nice thing to say. But, firstly, I have realised that in order to do ‘good’, and to do it well, you do not always need to have a ‘big’ official role. And, secondly, I am really trying not to think too much about ‘the future’, while here. Where I am now is where I am now, Alhamdulillah, and I do not want to fall prey to ‘destination addiction’ or idealising, again [looking at other than who and where – and, when, and why – I find myself]. Over-contemplating secondary school while at primary school; thinking so much about sixth form while at secondary school; university, while at sixth form. Being married, while being single. Always obsessing over ‘the Next Thing’. Besides… once, in Year Eight, I had shadowed my school’s headteacher. What a gargantuan, stressful, role, Subhan Allah. Meeting after meeting; I do not think it is for me. I do not know where I will be, this time next year; I do not know what Allah has planned for me, for the rest of my Dunya-based existence…
For now, here I am, as I am. The ‘here and now’. I want to honour it, as best as I can. Very soon, this moment will be gone. The next one arrives; takes its place.
This is a big one. For we are crucially, essentially, undeniably, social beings.
Your family, and then, your friends (i.e. the family you come to choose for yourself). The people you love; your sources of joy, goodness, comfort, security.
The love of your life, too (Insha Allah). If it is in your kismet to find them, you will find them. All you have to do is… be exactly who you are (not anything ‘more’, not anything ‘less’) and you shall be loved precisely for it: for you!
Other people are other people. Allah (SWT) is Allah (SWT). Other people have no ‘power’, of nor from, their own selves.
اِنَّ اللّٰہ علیٰ کل شی ءٍ قدیر
[Perhaps best translated as: “Indeed Allah is, above allthings, Powerful and competent”. Qur’an, (2:109)]
We do need other people, though. We need to love, and to feel loved in return. And in these very endeavours, there is a great amount of ‘vulnerability’ (openness) that has to go into it. Maybe we need to speak our minds and explain our hearts better and a little more often, to those whom we wish to share love with. Maybe we need to also do a better job at listening, understanding. Stopping; turning our hearts toward them. Giving our loved ones, whom we have been blessed with, the time of day. Chasing whatever it is we may find ourselves chasing: that all can wait.
We absolutely need to make time for ‘the boyz’ (this is a non-gender-specific term). Surround ourselves with good company, which, as a particular Hadith explains, can leave us with the mark of its good fragrance. (Just as unfavourable company can leave us with the mark of its stench).
And our Salāh, Du’a (the weapon of the believer), Adkhār, and so on. The relationships we servants have with the Almighty. This ought to be the fundamental consideration, for us.
What is the point of ‘learning’?
I would like to continue to be both a teacher and a student, Insha Allah, in this life of mine. I have to think about what my learning is to be ‘for’.
I want to be a good Muslim, Insha Allah. To improve; to develop. I want for the awe and the wonder that learning often exposes me to, to bring me closer to my Creator. I want it to help me in serving people (my wonderful students, for instance) for the sake of Allah.
The process of learning illuminates. Our hearts and minds. Places. We learn; use our intelligence and knowledge, pass it on.
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.“
— Sahih Hadith
We learn for good; to make us better. Towards beauty, too. Truth. A Muslim – a human being – is, at his or her very core, a learner. And may it all drive us to say “Subhan Allah” and “Alhamdulillah” and “Allahu Akbar“, over and over again, Āmeen.
[Below, I have included a list of some ridiculously awesome facts, taken from this article. How astonishing are the creations of the Creator!]
– The journey which the sperm makes in order to get to the egg is equivalent to us sprinting for 150 kilometres nonstop. The journey is not straightforward. Many obstacles and hurdles await it, yet it overcomes them without losing direction. [Subhan Allah!]
– Your heart weighs around 321 grams. Its size is around that of your fist and beats around 60 to 80 times per minute. On a yearly basis, it beats around 40 million times and pumps around 2200 gallons of blood per day, and approximately 56 million gallons of blood per lifetime.
– The blood which the heart pumps to the brain returns back to the heart within 8 seconds, and the blood which it pumps to your toes – the furthest distance from the heart – returns back to the heart within 18 seconds.
– The blood is home to around 5 million red blood cells per cubic millimetre of blood. If red blood cells from one human were to be placed side by side, they could cover the surface of the Earth 6 to 7 times over.
– Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognise damaged blood vessels. A normal platelet count ranges from 150,000 to 450,000 platelets per microlitre of blood.
– The human body is home to over 600 muscles, and the average sized muscle is comprised of approximately 10 million muscle fibres.
– The human body has around 2 to 5 million sweat secreting glands to regulate our body temperatures.
– The brain is home to approximately 100 billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections.
– Neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.
– The human retina contains about 120 million photoreceptor cells. How it communicates this information to the brain, and how the brain then processes this information bringing about love, hate, hope, despair, fear, security and so on, is a completely separate and highly sophisticated discussion.
– The tongue has a role to play during the process of chewing, swallowing and tasting food as well as for speech and sounds. It has 17 muscles to allow it to move in any direction. The surface of the tongue has 9000 taste receptors to differentiate between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
– One kidney weighs around 150 grams and is made up of about a million filtering units called nephrons. Each hour, it filters 1800 litres of blood and about 1 and ½ litres are extracted in the form of urine. Consider the difficulty experienced by those who are undergoing dialysis treatment. They are required to spend around 12 hours a week connected to 150kg worth of machinery, let alone the side-effects, in order to carry out what your 150 gram kidney is able to carry out within moments.
– Your outer layer of skin, the epidermis, replaces itself every 35 days. You are given a new liver every six weeks. Your stomach lining replaces itself entirely every 4 days, and the stomach cells that are involved in digesting food are replaced every 5 minutes. Our entire skeletal structures are regenerated every 3 months. Your entire brain replaces itself every two months. In fact, the entire human body, right down to the last atom, is replaced every 5-7 years.
How is it, then, that if one’s brain replaces itself every two months, they can still retain long term memories? The nerve cells in the human body are the only exception to regeneration. If they did regenerate, say, once every six months, you would need to relearn your language every time.
Consider also the sounds from within the digestive system following the consumption of an apple, the sounds of a real factory at work. Consider how matters would have been if people were able to hear such sounds from each other, whether at interviews, marriage meetings, circles of knowledge, communal prayers or around the dinner table. One would need to escape to a remote corner to eat and drink in dignifying solitude. This dilemma has been, by divine design, overcome.
The briefest moments of reflection on creation are sufficient to leave one lost for words, and such bewilderment will only ever intensify as time progresses and discoveries are made. Our only words are therefore:
فَتَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحْسَنُ الْخَالِقِينَ … So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators” [Qur’an, (23:14)]
“Does He who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?” (67:14)
Of course, He who created you knows you better than you know yourself. Thus everything He commands, prohibits, or sends your way is, as the āyah above alluded to, out of His Subtlety towards you, and out of Him being Acquainted with you.
Trust Him, […] and watch how you will live in [true contentment] with Him.
This year. Did you feel it too? When our world felt itself grind to a halt. We had to stop. Turn back. Grief took over. It was hard. Hard to get out of bed; hard to do much at all. Hard to not question and question and question things. Hard to escape.
It had not happened without reason. A number of reasons. And it was – and is – so difficult.
The acute feelings of entrapment, loneliness. Uncertainty: that anxiety. Heavy, and at the same time: minds whirring, whirring away, feeling almost detached from our bodies. The disruption, and the difficulty. That terrifying sense of stagnation… and nobody really knew what on Earth to do.
Did you feel it too?
Mental unwell-ness. Not feeling particularly mentally ‘healthy’. Anxiety, depression, and all the rest of it. These things do not signify ‘character failures’. It need not be some ‘shameful’ secret, which you carry: which you pretend is not there, does not exist. It is something very real; something we can go through. And it might take years. Maybe we will never completely be rid of it: maybe depression will continue to dawn on us on those days on which we may least expect it. Anxiety often takes us by surprise too; turns our very nerves into jelly. But, over time, things do get better. And Allah does not burden a soul with more than it can bear [Qur’an, (2:286)]. You are strong enough.
A few articles, by ‘The School of Life’, which I have loved and benefitted from:
I want to be open and honest with the people I love; I would hope they feel they can be open and honest with me, too. And I will love them no matter what. Sometimes up close; sometimes from afar. In light of the texture, and never ‘in spite’ of it.
It might feel as though you are quite alone in this. While others go ahead and just ‘live’. ‘Nobody gets it’? But people do. Many of us are pretending. Depression, for example, is a fairly widespread reality. It often results in people taking their own lives: suicide, unfortunately, is the leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
Why is it important to better understand mental health conditions? So many of us suffer as a result of them.
So many people are hiding, because they feel they need to. And, I get it: you do not want to be seen as being ‘broken’ or ‘defective’. But you are not. We are all fundamentally imperfect; we are our essential ‘upsides’ and we are our ‘downsides’, and you are neither somehow ‘evil’ nor some sort of ‘failure’ by consequence of this. Pardon my cheese again; this ongoing cliché. But, you know what we are? We are human beings. Not shiny robots; not filtered pictures, carrying ourselves around; not made of porcelain. Insān. Allah is closer to us than our own jugular veins are, and He knows, even while others may not know. Other people do not somehow hold the keys to the truth(s) of you, anyway. And we can get through this, together, Bi’ithnillah: it will (likely) not be easy — but it will be worthwhile.
Acceptance can be hard: that first step. I have certainly found it to be liberating, though.
Rejecting hyper-individualism, hyper-‘productivity’, hyper-competition; these obsessions with images. Depression, for instance, is a reality, and one whose numerous (dumb) stigmas require some doing away with. So that some of the ridiculous pressure might be taken off from the shoulders of those of us who experience it.
1. We must live right now. As Muslims.
2. When the time is right / if it is in your Qadr. (When Allah decides.)
3. You are going to die. And you will return to Allah.
We are Muslim in the morning, when we open our eyes. Muslim before we start eating; Muslim after eating, too. Muslim, first and foremost, when we choose to don additional titles. Doctor, lawyer, engineer [I am very Asian indeed for instinctively listing these three occupations…]. Muslim in the courtroom; Muslim when in scrubs. Muslim when young and healthy; when older, when sick, when out-of-work, for a while, perhaps, too. Muslim when driving our cars; Muslim when riding our bikes. When standing on stages before thousands; when all alone, in the dark. At 5am, at 5pm. In Winter, in Summer, in the less-easily-definable bits in-between. Muslim when it might feel like the entire world is at our feet; Muslim, still, when it feels like the entire dark sky weighs somewhat heavy upon our chests.
We are Muslim. And may we be so, first, last and always.
There is so much to (possibly) do, here, in this big world, and so little time. This fundamental conflict can bring about quite a lot of… worry, ache. So many things that can potentially be known; done; written about. But so little time. So we must focus on essences; we have to be quite selective. And if we focus on the Why of things, all will be well – swell, even, in the present and in the end, Insha Allah.
I think, for me, the essence of this general time is captured very well by Siedd’s [whose works my students seem obsessed with] song, ‘God Knows’:
Back when I was eighteen We used to live in daydreams Then woke up in our twenties Life passed us by so quickly
Said I’d put You above me But been so busy lately Out all these hours daily Been driving myself crazy
I’ve been losing myself each day Losing my rest each day All these things I want for me Oh I’ve been Caught in distractions Oh lost in my passions I don’t know where this road will lead
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows Oh God knows, God knows, I’m trying Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying
Been soul-searching for purpose Is there more to life than this? Been carrying these burdens Hoping this will be worth it
It’s not as I imagined I’m losing all my balance Take me from all this madness I just don’t understand this
All these bills and burdens A jester in this circus From midnight till the morning Can someone save me from this
I know I’ll be buried ‘neath the same ground No matter rich or without a pound The only things that matter now Is finding You somehow
I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
‘Cause I reach my goals and see another three I’m never satisfied, always wanting to be No mountain of gold can feed my soul I get and I get and I just want more
Oh God knows, God knows, God knows God knows I’m trying.
I am not perfect; life is not perfect. And nor will I, or this life of mine, ever be. That is what I need to let go of: these ideas that I must be ‘smooth’ and sort of perfect. No. I am so anxious, at times, and I am quite awkward. I get socially drained, quite quickly. Sometimes I find myself feeling inexplicably, profoundly, sad. Sometimes I am very quiet; sometimes I talk far too much. And it shocks me that my loved ones can still love me this much, even with all of this.
But, then again, what on Earth would I be without all of this? I would be… character-less. Smooth, and shiny. No texture, to allow for authentic love’s grips to grip onto.
I have held, in my head, all these unrealistic, over-simplistic, standards and ideals for myself. I cannot live up to them. Today, I (metaphorically) burn them all. They are not fair. Besides, these fancies of simple perfection are quite boring [nothing to learn, no challenge, no storms nor surprises!], in reality, aren’t they?
I worry, sometimes, that I do not deserve patience, or chances. But this, too, is so untrue. All humans deserve these things, don’t we? God knows I am not perfect. But sometimes parts of my mind tell me that I am crucially, fundamentally, terrible. This is… not true.
God knows, I’m trying. Learning, developing. And this is what matters.
Things can change a lot, as they do. And, they should be allowed to. The present moment, also, is beautiful. And I am thankful for every historical twist and turn that has led me to this here, this now.
For both you and I, dear reader: may Allah grant us so many answers to our questions. And may some things take us completely by storm and by surprise. May they cause our skins to quietly fire up with awe, sometimes [have you ever felt that? When something is so lovely and/or amazing that you feel (what feels like) light wash over your entire being, somehow?] and wonder. May they make us say, over and over again, “Subhan Allah”. Āmeen.
May it be true wisdom that we seek; may it all make us more human – better Muslims – and not less so. Haqq-rooted, Deen-rooted, learning. And not merely towards ‘the life of this world’ (الحیاة الدنیا) which, as the Qur’an clarifies, is “only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children” [Qur’an, (57:20)]. Things of illusion, and then they just up and wither away. And I think: our learning ought not to simply be for amusement, nor for the collection of titles and ‘glory’. We should not perceive it as being ‘wealth’ – stuff we can ‘own’, and through which we readily compete with others. May our learning be truly and everlastingly meaningful, dear reader. And may it benefit us on Yawm-ud-Deen: Āmeen.
وَقُلْ رَّبِّ زِدۡنِىۡ عِلۡمًا
“And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in [beneficial] knowledge'”
From our Lord, Allah, did we come. He sustains us, every breathing moment of every living day. And to Him shall we return, at the end of this journey; after the final full-stops of these stories of ours; at the end of these school days:
when the lights are turned off; when the tables and floors are cleaned; when the boards are wiped blank. After all the learning; the fun. The structure and the unpredictability. The getting-into-trouble here and there, as well as those feelings-of-triumph. The time we are given for eating; for chilling. The streams and streams of things to do. At the end of the school day, we pack up; say goodbye to our friends, and then we make our (own) ways home.
Jannah, dear reader. For you, and for me. Good, and better, and the best.Eternally. Āmeen.
Work, work, work, work, work [ad infinitum]. Today I am thinking about ‘work’. This week I have been ‘blessed’ with the task of having to mark one hundred and eighty-odd books. Spelling, grammar, PEE paragraphs, and all. And this, amid preparing for and delivering lessons. And all of those additional[ly numerous] pastoral considerations.
Alhamdulillah, though. ‘Work’ is truly a blessing. To be able to be concerned not with things like whether or not I will be able to eat tonight or have access to fresh water (etc.), but about things like whether or not I have printed out the Year Eights’ worksheets for tomorrow. To be financially secure, and to have this structure to my days, reminiscent precisely of all of my own former school days. [Teaching is definitely a befitting career path for stationery addicts and school-lovers!]
I have so much to do… I really like it, though sometimes it feels like the stress is enough to give me a stomach ulcer or something. There are always ‘pay-offs’ at play when it comes to work (and, indeed, when it comes to all things in life!) I can either make that History lesson as wonderful as it could possibly be: carry out some more research for it, tick all the boxes, every single one of the statutory ‘criteria for success’. Or I can focus more on those English lessons, instead. I cannot ‘do it all’, and I cannot do things ‘perfectly’. I can only assess the circumstances with which I am presented, and do my (realistic) best, given them.
I must always adapt. And try my best. عمل and تَوَكُّل. Work, and Trust.
Put the work in, and then put my Trust in my Ultimate Provider, Governor of all outcomes.
Gosh, today I am tired. My work day had begun approximately twelve hours ago. It is nice there: I like the environment. A group of lovely Muslim women, a nucleic, rather comfortable, staffroom. We are a rather ‘homogenous’ group, maybe, to outside eyes. But how different these personalities are, how various and multifaceted, when one is able to look a little closer.
That is a very important thing, in matters of work: the people, ‘work family’. Community, environment. Places – edifices and such – and the people that inhabit them, shape them, make them. I so enjoy working in a Muslim environment; I feel like my Deen is being nurtured well here, Alhamdulillah.
Also, the nature of the work you undertake is important. Sometimes, it will just be you and your work, alone. And that state of ‘flow’ that ensues, at the best of times [although marking feels like painful hackwork, at the worst of times]. You, feeling fulfilled and challenged. Like you are ‘good’ for the work, and like it, too, is good for you.
Khayr. We seek the Khayr in things. And know that we do not ‘work’ merely for the sake of work. We must take a balanced approach. Ultimately, the supreme consideration in our lives ought to be our submission to Allah.
That is another nice thing about working in a Muslim environment: when it is prayer time, you can simply pray. There are Wudhu facilities, and prayer mats.
My official time is up now, but I feel I must carry on. I want to write about ‘work’ some more, in a future article, perhaps. How important a thing it is, to talk about.
It is the thing most people in the ‘modern world’ find themselves centring the majorities of their days on – devoting their existences to, in both ‘direct’ ways, and indeed in ‘less direct’ ways (e.g. planning for family holidays around work demands). Our identities – who we are – are largely defined by what we do.
“Who are you?”
“I am [a firefighter / an accountant / the CEO of a salsa dip company].”
People are known to define themselves, almost instinctively, through their professional (or academic) titles. People are known to attach purpose and meaning, intrinsically, to these very things, too; ‘work’ finds its way to the very core of their existences.
As Muslims, we are told to partake in society; ours is not a tradition of any sort of sustained monasticism. Study, work, mingle with others. But ‘work’ in and of itself need not define us, nor give us ‘meaning’, nor be the ‘be all’ or the ‘end all’ of it all.
Because, first and foremost, we are Muslimeen. We are privileged enough to be acquainted with Haqq. The foremost consideration in our lives ought to be Deen: servingAllah. Everything else – including ‘serving’ our superiors at work – is subsidiary, and we must link everything else to our ultimate purposes. And the ‘workaholic’ ways of the ‘modern world’ around us had come about as a direct consequence of some of our fellow People of the Book having come to favour Dunya and materialism over Deen and spirituality. Trying (futilely) to satisfy the yearnings of the soul with… ‘work’, and with material ‘success’, which they had looked upon as being indicative of God’s grace and favour upon them.
“Hard work, self-denial, plus the threat of eternal damnation for the lazy” [The Guardian], and running after profits and material indicators of ‘success’, so as to (attempt to) fill gaps in meaning, and towards objectives of personal status and existential ‘legitimacy’. Do these phenomena sound familiar to you? Of course they do! Just take a look at the ways of the world around us!
As Muslims, though, we must learn to be Muslims. Our purpose, meaning, honour, and success come from Allah, as a direct consequence of bowing before Him, and not before the abstract idols of any of these capitalistic ‘workaholic’ models.
Within our considerations of work, I think we must ask ourselves: is this occupation Khayr for me? Is it Deen-friendly? Is it something I truly enjoy? Am I working in moderation; am I balancing it well with my other responsibilities and such, e.g. with giving time to my loved ones (who are constantly, with time, growing older/old), and with nurturing a good home?
It is true that working forty hours a week (and this is just a nominal number. Because I do often have to take work home with me, too) is not for everybody. And this is okay. I do not know if it will always be for me. Maybe, in the future, I will work ‘part-time’, at least at certain points in my life.
The key lies in seeking and pursuing whatever is most Khayr (good) at the time. For example, if work becomes a little too stressful one week, it is okay to take some time off and away from it all. This adage is something I have, for a while, known, but two weeks (I believe?) ago I was reminded of it, when I came home from work, more tired than is normal for me, on Mondays, and I left everything I had ‘to do’ downstairs, and simply went upstairs and relaxed, away from it all. For, what is the point of ‘work’ if it is not Khayr for me? If it eats away at goodness; if it, as a different example, begins to negatively affect my relationships with my loved ones?
And, ultimately, these well-needed rests result in better long-term relationships with our work. [The next day, I had been able to complete my tasks more happily and efficiently.]
I do not want to be a person who is ever simply ‘busy’ for the sake of being busy. And, for my work to have true ‘meaning’, I must always consider it against the backdrop of life at large. I already know what the purpose of my life is. In my work, there shall be Khayr, if I turn towards Allah throughout it all, far more so than to any considerations of salary [that age-old remark about how teachers do not get paid enough, here!] or of societal praise and recognition.
Remember Allah, and remember your Divinely-ordained rights and responsibilities (including those you have with regard to your family). Remember that ‘work’ ought not to be the beating heart of your life, and that Deen, family, health, are far more important. Let work be ancillary to them.
And explore; [come to] know yourself. What is good for you; what is not so good for you.
An example of a rather interesting academic/professional journey, I think, is YouTuber Subhi Taha’s one:
The ‘work’ part of life is not, in actuality, experienced as a series of tick-box accomplishments and such. From your (the experiencer’s) point of view, ‘work’ will not be a trail of LinkedIn updates. And ‘career stages’ are not merely transitory experiences, whose sole significance is to get you from A to B. This is life, and these are, at present, true parts of it!
You will wake up in the morning, do what you do, have breakfast (hopefully with a loved one or two), travel to work (whether by car, by train, by bike, or – if you work in Greenwich, for example, or in certain parts of Bangladesh – by boat). You will sit, surrounded by your colleagues. Talk about the news, or about your home life, or about the work you all have in common. Follow your work timetable: a meeting here, a lesson there, your lunch hour. But timetables certainly do not account for everything: they are only outlines, inherently liable to change. You do not know what each day will bring.
You do your job; try to impart Khayr onto others, and upon yourself. Our relationships with Allah, and with others (our work ‘superiors’; the people whom we serve – students, or patients, etc.; our colleagues) and with our own selves (being challenged, learning, developing, enjoying). This is what work ought to be more deeply considered in the context of. Oh, and nature! No place is a good place without some incorporation of the natural world. An orchid plant, or a bonsai tree. Or a tree to sit beneath, during your lunch hour, sometimes. Or maybe, just maybe, if you are fortunate enough, you have access to an actual cave. Sigh. A girl can dream.
This life is a test and the life of Muhammad (SAW) is our ‘exemplar paper’ to follow. He had been a statesman, a prophet. Muslim, father, husband, friend. Human being: he would tend to his own household duties, such as mending his own sandals and garments. He would climb that mountain, sit within that cave, and he would reflect.
Also, there may come some points in your life when you need to, or decide to, take some time off working. Maybe, to spend some more time with your children. Or maybe, you get a bit sick. You take a ‘year out’ to travel. Who knows? Life is, at once, so vast and so small.
What is the core of yourlife? Why is your work Khayr and important? And are you beginning things with ‘Bismillah’?
“Like sands passing through the hourglass, look around you: these arethe days of our lives.”
The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself ten minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Have fun writing!
[Interesting, isn’t it, how dopamine is strongly believed to be the neurotransmitter that is responsible for both high levels of stress and fear, and for high levels of excitement and energy… So, between ongoing states of worry and those of (positive) excitement [both are centred on some sort of motivation, to do something]… is it all just a matter of being able to channel what would appear to be responsible for both states alike, into one mode of being or the other? Perhaps, perhaps!
Bipolar disorder is another deeply fascinating thing to think about, here. When ‘stress’ brings about a state of hyper-‘excitement’ (otherwise known as ‘mania’). And how these tend to be accompanied, at different points in time, by states of depression. Depressive disorders also tend to be co-morbid with anxiety ones. So perhaps ‘depression’ comes about whenever our dopamine levels become ‘burnt out’?]
I so love these random staff room conversations. Each different personality here brings something a little different to the table — to the literal wooden table, that is. The Psychology teacher, the other English ones, the teachers of Biology…
Ms. N, one of the Maths teachers, is telling me about how she has, over time, amassed the courage and the ability to, with ease, and regularly, dine alone, outside. Even at biryani restaurants whose tables find themselves crowded with large groups of hungry men. She is okay with finding a nice little corner for herself, ordering her meals with confidence, truly enjoying her meals in her own company. Ms. N is able to find peace in alone-ness, even when surrounded by all these strangers. “You’re either worrying, or you’re enjoying,” she explains.
We are talking about riding bikes. I do love riding my bike, but I have been hesitant to start cycling to this present workplace. In certain pockets of East London in particular, people are known to… stare. But ‘different’, attention-catching – both negative and positive – though it may be, is not ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, and I need to always remember this.
This morning, I did ride my bike to work. Channeling those ‘Call the Midwife’ vibes, as much as possible, as well as those of one of the best fictional teachers, at least in my opinion: Miss Muriel Stacey, from (you guessed it…) ‘Anne with an E’. I know it is seemingly no outrageous thing: I am simply cycling to work. But, trust me. Some people here are so deeply accustomed to one thing, so rooted in their own convictions, conventions: that, often, anything done a little differently is deemed ‘wrong’. A hijabi?! In a bright jacket? Riding a bike? How very unbecoming!
I truly love people, though, whose minds and hearts are open and active. And I also so admire those who are authentically confident in their ‘weird’. These people have won the entire game, I think. This is what I need to do, a bit more. Believe; have faith in the value of ‘strange’. To beckon not to ‘norms’, always, solely for the sake of doing so.
Yes, what stops people from being open in their ‘weird’? What are we afraid of? People disapproving. Not accepting us; not warming to us. Because there is something about us that, perhaps, they are unable to understand. But the ‘right’ ones always do. Their hearts are open – so they are able to be deeply endeared by, appreciative of, difference. And their minds are open – so they try to understand who you are, and where it is you may be coming from.
Some people have… more closed minds, don’t they? Solipsism may be the word. And, more closed hearts. A tragic coldness: these may just be the other words. We can outgrow these people, though; refuse to grant them power over us. Respect the fact of their being older than us, and related to us, perhaps, in certain ways. But we can also question their authority over us – their abilities to influence our hearts and minds and ways of doing things, and being. What are these norms that they have collectively decided on? And, what is the actual value of them?
‘Call the Midwife’. But, instead of midwife-nuns in East London, we are instead teacher-Muslims, here. We sit at a long central table, in the staff room, just like those fictional midwife-nuns do. We eat together, speak to one another about our work days, and about our lives, little random things, some ‘academic’ topics. There are the older, more ‘matronly’ teachers, who sometimes make soup for the rest of us, and whose strong sense of humour frequently makes all of us cackle. And there are the expectant mother teachers, and the ones with infant children whose humorous personalities and doings we are frequently told about. The ones who love talking about Politics, and about nutrition, and the ones who are good friends with one another. I want to say that ‘sorority’ is the word, here. Sisterhood. Sans the Haraam partying and stuff, of course.
Throughout this second lockdown of ours, schools are remaining open. Personally, I am unsure as to how I feel about this governmental decision. If there ever was a space in which a catching illness would find it quite easy to spread, secondary schools would be it! However, I am also glad that I will not have to stay at home for a month. With the ability to physically go into work, the world does feel a little bigger, for me.
I will continue to cycle into here, Insha Allah, maybe on some (blissfully!) emptier roads. We – the teachers – each have to wear visors here, at all times. And, preferably, disposable gloves, too. I feel like a beekeeper, at times.
Truth be told, I do love this. Not only does it all add to the aforementioned beloved-TV-series-of-mine vibes… it all also speaks deeply to my hygiene [some may call them:] obsessions. I would simply call them ‘inclinations’, though. These are something I have pretty much always had: I would always carry hand sanitiser and wipes with me, wherever I went. People (namely, my cousins) would tease me for this, at times – for how much of a ‘germaphobe’ I had been… or, am. So I suppose I tried to temper it all, as much as possible, at least when with others.
But, oh how the times have changed, and how the tables have turned! I am very glad that my loved ones in particular now share my… enthusiasms… for these things. Ms. N is quite like me, in these regards. Our first conversation had taken place when I noticed how she carries a little travel bottle of disinfectant with her, at work.
We started talking about the (perhaps slightly) ‘odd’ things we do so as to ensure good hygiene. A slightly peculiar thing to ‘bond’ over, perhaps. We got a little too excited, [the feeling of disinfecting our work materials at the end of the day brings about quite an inimitable feeling of goodness!] thus earning a certain amount of side-eye from the teacher who had been trimming worksheets, next to us.
Yes, I very much love being able to talk about all these things. Random things, particular things, and important ones. Bonding with fellow human beings, and not merely with the ‘outer shells’, mere images, of them.
It is also interesting that some of the things that are commonly, quickly, ‘pathologised’, these days, also carry with them a fullness of experience.
Some people who may, quickly and easily, be diagnosed as having social anxiety, for example: one person’s fullness of their personal experience will dramatically differ from another’s. And, ultimately, for instance, people who have some degree of ‘social anxiety’, I think, also tend to be the ones who are able to love most deeply. Likewise, have you ever noticed how those who tend to be collectivised as having what is termed bipolar disorder, often have the most magnificent and creative minds? Some people who are on the autism spectrum are extremely clever and interesting. I think we ought to see people first: their fullnesses, their complex truths. And labels are only for convenience; they ought to be used, only insofar as they are useful for explaining. But they should not be relied on. Not at all. What is a mere word or two, when compared with the unique and un-fully-graspable complexities of an entire human being?!
We are more than black and white; we are a series of all those greys, complexities, in-betweens. Throughout my adolescent years, for example, I have lived with what may be categorised as anxiety and depression. And I am a full human being; more than what may come into mind when one thinks of these words, these diagnostic labels, in isolation. “No man is an island,”(J.D.) and these things never do occur in ‘isolation’.
Crucially, in the Qur’an, Allah tells us that He created us as a series of counterparts (Azwājā). Some people only focus on the more ‘marital’ implications of this verse. However, the word ‘Zawj’ literally means ‘counterpart’, in Arabic. The day is Zawj to the night, and vice versa; man is Zawj to woman, and vice versa. One partner, with the other, makes for a completion, a fullness. Everything in creation exists within some sort of dichotomy, at least from our points of view, of experience.
I firmly believe that every ‘good’ thing has some sort of unique downside to it. Maybe it is also true that every ‘bad’ thing also has a unique ‘good’ side. I think every single one of the great (‘classic’) writers whose writings I have thoroughly enjoyed, for example, had suffered from depression, or from severe alcoholism.
An up-side, a downside. Things, and their counterparts.
Every way of living life, too: you will necessarily find a unique ‘good’ side to it, and a unique and particular ‘bad’ side. Dunya; these universal human-experiential laws.
One thing I had quite liked about ‘Call the Midwife’ was how the show gently, in a truthful and compassionate way, depicts things like addiction. Alcoholism, addictions to medications. The drama is ‘soul-ful’: sentimental, heartwarming. And also, the characters are imbued with a human fullness, an authenticity.
It shows how — the ways in which — life is often quite beautiful. Often in the places, and the moments, that are the least expected ones. Unplanned, ‘imperfect’. Tender moments, and heart-touching ones, and poignant ones. And there is also sisterhood, and joyous times; inside jokes amid long and tiring work hours, and there are all of these individual journeys. And yes, there is a great deal of suffering, too. An intrinsic and undeniable part of being human is suffering. Losses, anxieties, traumas, addictions: both of a somatic nature, and those of a more psychological kind.
When we speak about what is often, these days, collectively stamped with the term ‘mental health’ (how many entire worlds these mere two words are forced to contain!) my experiences will necessarily be different from yours. But there will likely be some ‘common ground’ too. Sameness and difference, as ‘Zawjayn’ to one another. They are different, but they are also inextricably united, deeply linked. Partners, counterparts.
‘Mental health’ experiences are always a good thing to talk about, I think. The fullness of all these experiences can often make for some very interesting conversations, you will find. And, heart-soothing ones. Necessary reminders that you are not alone: not at all. As a human being, the ‘bad’ of your experiences is deeply partnered with the ‘good’ of them. And here, you will necessarily have to face some feelings of grief, and some of fear. So why don’t we be braver; talk about them a bit more?
And, do you not yet understand? Everything created, for us, exists in dichotomous states. To love a thing fully – to have the ‘day’ of a thing, one must learn also to love its night, in a similar but different, different but similar, manner. Every single personal characteristic, every way of being, and of doing things. Every space, every place in time, every other patch of grass… is composed of dichotomies. This is Dunya; there are no Jannahs on Earth.
And, here, to come to know, and love, a thing: one must come to know, and love, it in its fullness. Including the Zawjayn of it.
If you are to accept the praises and acceptances of people, for instance, you must also come to accept that there will be some criticism and intolerance, from their Azwaaja. The ‘right’ people, as well as some ‘wrong’ ones.
To focus exclusively on the exteriors of things: the appearances, the shells. And on the ‘day’ – on one potential Zawj – of things. To let one side dramatically outweigh – or to completely outshine, make us forget about the presence of, even – the other side. To let one’s imaginations run wild, while not being tethered to reality; its fullness. This is the nature of idealism: a type of naivete. When we idealise other times in our lives (be they past or future) or other places – away from here, or other people’s lives, because we have not (yet?) experienced them. Naivete is foolishness, essentially, that comes about as a result of lack of experience: the absence of knowledge of the fullness, the reality, the Zawjayn, of things. So stop idealising; stop focusing on one Zawj only, and allowing your imagination to grossly magnify it. In the same vein, do not overly focus on the negative, and be neither overly cynical nor defeatist.
What a world, what a life, this is. In which we should try to seek to accept the fullness of things — one side, and the other; locate Haqq in balances, in the middles of things, and between them. And walk on, young traveller. The grass is green, and it is also necessarily straw-like in some places, no matter where you walk. For there is no ‘essentially greener grass’, except in Jannah. [I travelled to work through some splendid autumnal scenery, today, and, later on in the day, saw another coffin being transported, just outside the Masjid. So, naturally, I am thinking about the goodness that is present in my life, Alhamdulillah. And I am also thinking about reality, and about my ultimate destination.]
You are human, and I am, too. Our selves and our experiences are full, and they are also intrinsically dichotomous. You know what it is like, to be human. And so too, do I. This is your first time doing this thing: living this life as a human being. And this is my first time being here and doing this, too. We are similar in these ways, though we may be quite ‘different’ in many others. We have been created in ‘pairs’, in dichotomous states. Won’t we pay attention to both sides of things; to these true fullnesses of ours?
“I am human; I consider nothing human alien to me”
This article has been written at the request of a certain young lady who goes by the name of Tasnim. Therefore, this article is dedicated to a certain young lady who is called…Tasnim.
Stress. That feeling. The biological push, an instinctual thing that urges us to get something done about something. Fight, flight, or freeze.
‘Stress’ is not a bad thing in and of itself. It can be an excellent motivational force, when experienced in moderation. Aside from urgent biological threats (e.g. the intense ‘stress’ we may feel when some threat of physical attack looms before us) we tend to stress about things we care about.
A drive to get things done, always towards some end goal, towards some overarching philosophy. You might experience some stress when thinking about your to-do list. “I need to get these tasks done. Send this email. Check this essay.” Why? “Because the deadlines are coming up. I don’t want to be scolded by my teacher.” Why? “Because I care about my education. It adds some meaning to my life; it is a part of me, and a part that I fear losing.”
‘Eustress’ (‘good’ stress) is, well, good. Without it, we probably would not do much at all. We would not care about doing things. With eustress (see: the left side of the given curve – a theoretical curve that shows stress that is good; where this peaks; then, where it falls – where the stress becomes more harmful than ‘good’) we are driven to carry out the work-related tasks we need to complete [we care about doing well, about not losing our jobs, about maintaining our social reputations and our self-expectations] and we are also motivated to, for example, pray on time, feed babies on time, and to do things for the people we love.
In our heads, we think about the potential rewards of doing certain things, and about potential negative reinforcements and punishments if we fail to do them. The stress, I believe, comes mostly from the latter. And also from the internal and self-inflicted punishment that may arise, if we end up missing out on the rewards, or if we end up losing certain things – like our jobs, or our statuses, or beloved elements of our identities.
The allostatic curve is probably quite an important thing to bear in mind. It is also probably a very subjective thing: some people work better than others do when under lots of stress. What is represented by the ‘optimum point’ on one person’s curve may be different to that of another person.
And, beyond our optimum points, we can quickly descend into harmful stress: the type that may, for example, result in sleeplessness, psychosomatic pains, and more. The key difference is that eustress tends to result in action and ensuing satisfaction from this action. ‘Bad stress’ – after the optimal point – tends to result in inaction. Worrying so much, for example, that suddenly, stress ends up doing the opposite of what its ‘job’, so to speak, is to do.
Threat, stress, action, result. But, sometimes, there are no obvious courses of action to take, against certain perceived threats. This is when stress can balloon, multiply; it has nowhere to go, unfortunately. Nowhere to go but everywhere inside of your mind. Somehow, we need to teach ourselves to mentally minimise these particular ‘threats’ – the more abstract ones.
Moreover, I do not think that stress is an inherently bad thing – again, when experienced in moderation – but I do prefer it when there is also a good helping of that other sort of motivational force. Call it passion, maybe. Stress may make us worry about letting a friend down when they have tasked us with something, because we do not want to disappoint them; we do not want to compromise the friendship in any way. But that other type [passion?] makes us joyfully run towards doing certain things, because we cannot wait to see the smile on their face when we do this thing for them. Yes, stress is about the avoidance of negative reinforcements, driven by thoughts of negativity. Passion is about positive reinforcements – about a drive towards gaining something, maybe a new lovely experience.
Doing things towards love and towards a want to be appreciated: I do not think these forces count as being ‘stress’-based ones. Also: simply enjoying the process. Stress may drive you towards completing work-based tasks and such [which is great when in moderation – if it helps you to get the required things done, on time, and if it prevents all those potential negative consequences from eventuating]. But passion will make you enjoy the process, too!
Furthermore, I came across an interesting idea [I forget where I came across it, though, as I tend to do] that general considerations concerning the allostatic curve ought to be reflected in one’s day. The calm part in the morning, some eustress – preparing you, building up, for an optimum point. This might be during midday, when we should aim to be the most productive. And then, wind down time. It is certainly a bad idea, for instance, to put pressure on oneself to experience one’s optimal performance immediately, right at the start of one’s day, or right before one intends to go to sleep…
So, the allostatic curve then. A wonderful idea, and something that is very useful to think about, especially right now, in a busy world driven, so it would seem, by freneticism and stress. The health component, and the passion one, ought to be deeply considered, too.