The [Crocodile] Tears for Afghanistan’s Women — Zimarina Sarwar

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

From Islam21c.com.

“Vowing to save Afghan women

While bombing them.”

“The issues central to their lives did not revolve around the Western obsession of whether or how much they cover, but harsh realities much more foundational. The loss of husbands, brothers, and fathers due to the fighting not only generates complex psychological trauma, but also fundamentally jeopardizes their economic survival and ability to function in everyday life. Widows and their children are thus highly vulnerable to an array of debilitating disruptions due to the loss of male family members.”

To many people, it seems, the matter at hand is reducible to… what women wear. As ‘simple’ as: covered woman, terribly ‘oppressed’ by Shari’ah law. Woman in ‘Western liberal’ clothing, liberated! Huzzah! Even when this is done forcefully, like it is in France.

A very recent memory of the day we heard that Kabul had fallen to the Taliban: so many people talking about it. A woman putting her phone against a wall/bush or something, in order to video call someone. Something like: “Oh, it’s awful, isn’t it?” And, yet again, the way that hijabi Muslim women are looked at. Either: why on Earth would you?! or: you need rescuing. A mixture of ‘pity’ and disdain, and I wonder if women in Afghanistan are looked upon in rather the same sort of vein.

“Where were the tears for Afghan women and girls when reports of Western war crimes were being suppressed? Reports of British soldiers killing children and proven cases of deaths in custody, beatings, torture, and sexual abuse of Afghan civilians are all extremely alarming incidents which have received little attention (let alone tears) thus far.”

“Or consider when Australian Elite troops had 400 people witness prisoners, farmers, and civilians be killed, with even more egregious crimes committed, including:

  • – Junior soldiers were told to get their first kill by shooting prisoners, in a practice known as “blooding”.
  • – Weapons and other items were planted near Afghan bodies to dress them up as militants and cover up crimes.
  • – Additional incidents that constitute war crimes and fall under the rubric of “cruel treatment” were committed.”

“Only when the rage and concern for Afghan civilians remains strong and consistent for all injustices – no matter who the perpetrators are – then the flowing liberal tears for Afghanistan’s people might be worth their salt.”

For example, what might ‘justify’ this:

Where are those similar tears for these, of Afghani men?

Who determines what the ‘ideals’ of ‘civilisation’ are, and do their (ironically quite ‘uncivilised’) means justify their ‘ends’?

I want to learn more about the situation in Afghanistan, Insha Allah. If anybody could direct me towards any resources pertaining to the pre-2000s Taliban, the 2001 invasion and American presence there, the Taliban of today, links between these conflicts and the Crusades, maybe: please do.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Journey to the Heart of Islam: ر , ح and ت

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

Curiosity. Like many Muslims, ر demonstrates a particular sort of curiosity towards learning about ‘Ahlul Kitaab’: the People of the Book. At my favourite bookshop (‘Blackstone’ on Whitechapel Road) there is a section dedicated to the Abrahamic faiths, I believe: the Hanif tradition (that of uprightness, Pure Monotheism).

I joined the Jewish Society [at uni].

I mean, they were giving out free first-aid kits, so I thought, why not?

And ر had also tried to join her university’s Catholic Society, however they, apparently, did not want any Muslims to join. She reported them on the grounds of exclusionary practices, and they… ended up being disbanded.

The Qur’an exists as a manual for we Muslims, and it contains references to Biblical stories that had already been known to many people in pre-Islamic Arabia and its surrounding regions. The Qur’an had been revealed as a confirmation of that original Hanif message, and through it Allah also highlighted some corrections to be made, to the corruptions that had been introduced over time. Yet, still:

“Indeed, those who believe/trust and those who are Jews or Christians [‘Nasaaraa’] or Sabeans – those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and do works of righteousness – will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve.” — Qur’an (2:62)

This makes me want to look further into the scriptures of the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans, Insha Allah*.

Yesterday, I sat with ر , ح and ت. We, being ‘postcolonial [second-gen immigrant] Brits’, enjoyed some fish and chips together, no less. And, seeing as this had been a gathering of (interesting and unique) Muslims, I felt I had to bring out my notebook and pen. I told them to blink twice if they had been feeling exploited. I believe ت had blinked around ten times. [The price of friendship.]

ح explains that Islam is a belief system: it provides us with standards, examples on how to live our lives. This does not mean that the experience of the Deen* is monochromatic; certainly, it does not look the same for everybody.

If one accepts Islam in one’s heart, it necessarily follows that we believe that Allah created us, and this universe. How our faces know to look different; the cadences of our languages. Our different experiences, what is in our (individual) Rizq*. We are all the same ‘thing’: human, and yet in various configurations.

Different versions of the same thing, and no two Muslims are ever fully alike. Generally, the differences may be put down to variations in terms of age/generation, gender, life experiences, (which are linked to) socioeconomic class, ethnic culture, and so forth. Yet, when it comes down to it, as ر explains: we are all leaves of the same tree.

“A good word is like a good tree whose root is firm and whose branches are high in the sky.” — Qur’an (14:24)

When I asked what the non-negotiables, then, are, in Islam: belief in the Ghayb (the metaphysical, the Unseen), i.e. the Jinn*, the angels (and not in the anthropomorphised, feminised way that is sometimes depicted, for example in churches. But in a way that is – at least at present – unknown to the limited human mind), the Day of Judgement. Prayer (the five daily Salāh) also, we agreed. And the Qur’an. Fasting, Hajj, the Prophets, Heaven and Hell; respect, and love and kindness. Giving, I would add, and not exclusively in terms of financial wealth, but also in terms of time and acts of service for others. And the belief in Pure Monotheism, undoubtedly. This is Islam.

Some people merely ‘abide by the rules’, and strongly enforce them, but Islam is not merely ‘rules’: it is a matter of the heart and the soul:

“Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but

[true] righteousness is one who believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakāh; fulfil their promise when they promise, and are patient [and steadfast] in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.” — Qur’an (2:177)

ح’s parents had come to the UK from Lebanon, some thirty years ago. She is currently studying English at university (Masha Allah). We talked about women’s rights and feminism, and ح made it clear that she identifies as a feminist.

She says that “Islam is an inherently feminist religion.”

My current view is that the term ‘feminism’ now finds itself, in popular understanding, inextricable with notions of ‘liberalism’. I think that just as Islamic teachings advocate for the sharing of wealth, we need not advertise ourselves as being, say, ‘communists’ in order to demonstrate this belief. [Islam advocates for the sharing of wealth, and for the taking-care of the weak and poor in society, and for good treatment of people. And, yet, people have a right to be wealthy, own their own things, generate profit. Indeed, Allah made us different, blessed some of us, in certain regards, above others, and designed the ‘economic ways of the world’ so that some people work for others. Demand – wants – and supply – haves.]

ح argues that communism and feminism are distinctively different, since communism is closely associated with its own philosophy, history, and politics. She believes that simply ‘to believe that women deserve rights’ is to be a feminist. But I suppose the issue at hand, as is often the case with these things, is a matter of words, and definitions and associations. Nowadays, ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’ might often be in primary reference to… clothes and to ‘economic freedoms’, i.e. the encouragement towards partaking in more economic (paid) labour. [But is this ‘liberation’?]

I ask ر if she identifies as a feminist. She is more focused on the fact that she’s just seen a spider in the bathroom, and finds herself subtly traumatised by this ordeal.

In terms of women in Islam, this is a long-term, deep-rooted passion of mine. And I agree that often we women do not understand our rights in Islam, as a result of… men who ‘gate-keep’.

Impressions of ‘authority’. What grants them weight and legitimacy? A uniform, a label? A lengthy beard and the knowledge of numerous particular terms? I cannot forget about the time I had witnessed a fairly ‘learned’ man speak ill of a known Muslim scholar, who is a woman. While speaking freely, arguably casually… with women.

As another friend of mine advises, don’t necessarily (blindly) trust the ‘showman sheikhs’, and especially not the ones who… talk too much about women, especially in an unfavourable way.

This is why female Muslim scholarship is of such high importance. The legacy of ‘Aisha (RA), arguably the most important scholar in human history (Masha Allah).

ح tells me about the presence of a line of female scholars in Lebanon. They are integral to their communities, and they are educated in Deen, and they teach. They are known as ‘Anisāt’. By contrast:

There is also a strong culture of Western influence – especially from France – in Lebanon (and the same in Syria. Britain in Jordan and Palestine). Secularism, notions of liberation from a ‘Western ‘liberalist’’ worldview. This, unfortunately, is coupled with a seeming obsession with conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards: cosmetic surgery is widespread there.

This reminds me of when I went with my family to Saudi in 2015, I think it had been. We had been going in order to do Umrah (the ‘semi-pilgrimage’, so to speak), and had to spend a day or something in Beirut, Lebanon. The plane had barely even landed, I think, before advert after advert on the behind-seat screens had been blaring information about cosmetic surgeons, cosmetic surgery, are you unhappy with the shape of your nose? And so forth.

Almost dystopian, I would say. Deeply normalised: entrenched. And, the contrast: between the simple white-and-black of this group on our way to Makkah, and the more… ‘Parisian-seeming’, rouged, potently-fragranced and shiny, Beirut, Lebanon.

ح continues by explaining that these encroaching attitudes of ‘modernism’ (by Western ‘liberalist’ standards, deeply entwined with economic ‘liberalism’) are connected to a culture among many modern-day Arabs of looking distastefully at whatever is ‘old-fashioned’: ‘Adeem’ (or, ‘Qadeem’, in Fus’ha – that is, ‘classical’, or ‘proper’ – Arabic).

To many, the Hijāb is ‘Adeem’. I sort of recently saw a video of an Egyptian woman explaining to a white non-Muslim journalist, I think it had been, that she “hates the hijāb”. She does not have to wear it, but she seems to hate it, with a passion. I believe this had come about after a Muslim woman – in Egypt, nominally a ‘Muslim country’ – had been ordered to exchange her ‘Burkini’ (modest swimwear) for something more revealing. She cried; she felt defeated and so upset.

This, ‘in the name of ‘liberation’’. In whose eyes, and for whose gain?

“Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women,

 the believing men and believing women,

the obedient men and obedient women,

the truthful men and truthful women,

 the patient men and patient women,

 the humble men and humble women,

the charitable men and charitable women,

the fasting men and fasting women,

the men who guard their private parts/chastity and the women who do so,

 and the men who remember Allah often and the women who do so:

for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a great reward.” — Qur’an (33:35)

I ask ح about her views on male-female segregation: the general separation of ‘spheres’. This would appear to be a point of contention for many, including a Christian person I know, whose belief seems to be that such a notion ‘belongs in erstwhile times’. [‘Get with the times!’]

ح explains that ‘free-mixing’, in her view, is disallowed in Islam. Non-Mahram* men shouldn’t freely, casually interact with non-Mahram women. In her household, for instance, at dinner parties, the men and women eat in different parts of her home. At the same time, and the same food, but in different places.

I ask her about weddings, then, in her ethnic/religious culture. She said that it depends on the individuals, the families. Sometimes, the men and women celebrate on different days. A Muslim wedding is two parts: the Nikkah declaration, and the Walīma (feast). Sometimes, ح explains, they are segregated events, and without music, but with Nasheeds (Islamic devotional songs) instead. Sometimes, the groom will drop his wife off to the venue, while she is in hijāb (modestly dressed), and while her (female) guests are too. When he leaves, the guests can relax and enjoy themselves. I like this idea.

In line with the topic of ‘free-mixing’ and segregation [an Islamic teacher at the school I worked at for a year taught me about the guidelines that ought to be exercised with non-Mahram men: keeping it public, purposeful, and professional. The three Ps.] I explained to my friends that one of my class groups from the sixth form we had attended had invited me to go out with them to eat. Because it is going to be a mixed thing, I declined the invitation (as politely as I could) but also worried – as I sometimes do – that people would come to perceive me as being this or that: in particular, those of the group who are not Muslim.

But I think they get it. Because two of the non-Muslims in the group made sure to look for Halāl restaurants, for the members of the group who are Muslim. One of my non-Muslim friends from that class is from Albania, and she understands Islamic terminology and such, since members of her family use them. And, also: as I learned yesterday…

Someone from this former class of mine – ethnically Italian, class joker – has taken his Shahādah*. When I heard this, I felt something quite deep: my heart felt something, and I kind of wanted to cry. How amazing, Masha Allah. [It usually is the ‘class clown’, nice type that are actually rather serious and deep thinkers. ‘Behind-the-scenes’.] How exceptional, Masha Allah.

It is amazing because: Allah chose him specifically. How special he must be, in the Eyes of Allah.

Is it patronising of me to write, here, how deeply proud I am? [In Jannah, Insha Allah, we can eat some otherworldly-good cake together. And everyone’s invited].

I ask ح about her views on music. Her view is that it is okay so long as the lyrics are not bad. ر adds that, like many, she found herself listening to music that had a good beat. But actually, the lyrics had been sort of shameless. ‘Hayaa’ (shyness, self-respect in the form of humility, a sensitivity to shame and dishonour) is a part of being Muslim.

These conversations on music remind me of something I have read fairly recently, about linguistics. Humanity is inextricable from linguistics: words carry weight, and they are emotionally heavy, also, and the nature of mankind is emotional. Words mean things that is their point and linguistics can be summarised as the relationships between sounds and meaning.

The Qur’an was revealed in words, and we say ‘I love you’, in words. A human baby comes into human autonomy with the introduction of words into its vocabulary: a shift from guttural and confused babbles and cries. Into meaning, and not solely sound. We express wants, thought processes, our ideals, our selves, through… words.

And words can be violent, too: they make us feel things, and do things, even ‘subliminally’ and/or gradually, over time. They affect how we think about things, and indeed we think through… words.

A lot of modern-day music – even if we argue that we are clever enough to filter away what we do not actually agree with – contains meanings of… misogyny, promiscuity, the advocation of certain lifestyles whose very proponents victims, even are testament to how soul-destroying they are. The drugs, merely to ‘feel something’. The using-women-as-objects, to ‘feel something’. The mindless materialism. And so forth.

As with (perhaps all) Muslims who are mature in terms of age, there are questions that I have. Pertaining, for example, to the nature of Hadīth, and to music, and so forth. Islam is a way of life, and it is a way of life that encourages ongoing renewal, discovery, facing challenges, and learning.

When ر first met ت, she had seen… a South Asian wearing a headscarf. She admits that she had come to the initial conclusions that ت might have been “boring, judgemental, and annoying”. None of us are quite immune from the tendency to make quick judgements of such natures.

But then she got to know her better: the time-and-time-again realisation that there is so, so, much that makes up a human being (Masha Allah. How exceptionally, wonderfully well we have been made). Now, ر and ت are very close, Masha Allah.

ر had been the type of person, at our school, to randomly stop people in the corridors, to hug and compliment them. She also seems to have this strange obsession with… ‘head shapes’, able to discern who has a good, or even ‘perfect’, one.

And it is hard to tell what people are actually going through, ‘behind-the-scenes’, but everybody is. ر’s story is a very difficult one, and this is the person she chooses to be (Masha Allah). Sunshine for others, even when she might not quite feel like it inside. She does not, for example, want to turn out “miserable and hollow” like certain people who really mistreated her. Instead, she would like to do things like help kids in Egypt – her family’s home country.

Islam is something that ر began to navigate ‘on her own’. She talks about the effect of some people who seek to ‘attract’ people to the Deen by being… quite inherently repulsive in their actions. A ‘strangling’ effect, she calls it. Islam, however, is something that must be accepted ‘in the heart’, she explains.

You have to open your heart, and allow the Qur’an to “proper speak” to you.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

“Oh Turner of hearts, make my heart steadfast upon Your Deen.”

Certainly, ours is a ‘proselytising’ faith, in that we are meant to do works of ‘Da’wah’ (‘calling’ people to the faith). We explain the principles of our belief, we are meant to embody said principles in our actions. But, at the same time, to paraphrase ح, “you keep your business to your business.”

لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ

“For you is your way of life and for me is mine.” — Qur’an (109:6)

ر talks about the Muslim’s relationship with the Qur’an. It is about, to paraphrase her, taking the words, understanding them (and their linguistic subtleties, for example, and their historical contexts), putting them into your heart, and acting upon them. In ‘spirit’ (essences, principles, intention) and in ‘letter’ (laws, commands, directives). The heart/soul and the body.

We talk about the ‘LGBT’ movement too, and about the reactions of some Muslims. A very ‘reactionary’ way of addressing the issue at hand, in that the ‘rainbow movement’ seems to function as yet another symbol of encroaching ‘Western ‘liberal’ modernism’.

Some resort to verbal and physical abuse against proponents of the views of non-heterosexuality being okay in practice. ح states that this abuse is un-Islamic.

Here, I remember seeing a man dressed in a certain way – effeminately – walking past a group of young men (who are Muslim, I assume). They jeered at him, made him feel very uncomfortable. Would they have done the same to, say, a man walking with his girlfriend who hadn’t been wearing a headscarf? I think not, and it isn’t right either.

ح argues that these same seeming ‘ardent Muslims’ who sometimes violently oppose these individuals do not seem to harbour or demonstrate the same energy against… adulterers and such. ت comments on the major sins that have seemingly become quite normalised, even among Muslims: backbiting, people cheating on their spouses. So to cling inordinately to this singular issue might be indicative of… a ‘pick-and-choose’ version of practising Islam, and not necessarily one rooted in… sincerity, perhaps.

How can one attract to Islam by being inherently repellent in nature? By having an altogether-‘strangling’ effect?

“Make matters easy (for people) and do not make them difficult,

and give people glad tidings

and do not repulse them.” — Hadīth* (Sahih Muslim and Bukhāri)

ح is a ‘Sayyida’. Her lineage can be traced back to Muhammad (SAW)*. Some people are known to truly honour Sayyids and Sayyidas, but ح does not hold the view that it makes her ‘special’ in any way.

It is interesting how I met these beautiful people (Masha Allah) and others. Secondary school was one thing: at times, a day-in-day out, monochromatic uniform, conveyor belt into exams. People mainly from ‘my’ particular community, and then into a pocket of Central London we had all respectively, from our different secondary schools and parts of London and backgrounds, been plunged. The places and the people we have, and will, come across: Allah’s Divine Plan for us.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes that you may know one another.

Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most God-cognisant of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” — Qur’an (49:13)

Yesterday, I learned a new word from ح: ‘Ikhtilaaf’. It means ‘differing of opinion’. I ask something along the lines of: what is truth?

And: there is Objective Truth, and part of it, perhaps, is subjective experience. The Islamic view is that this life is a test. Each of us is being tested, based on what we, individually know. At various stages in our lives, in accordance with our individual circumstances. What we have access to, how sincere we are, in relation to Truth.

Sensitivity Warning from here onwards: themes of animal meat and slaughter

ر is a passionate environmentalist (Masha Allah). She feels that Alhamdulillah, we’ve been given these amazing, beautiful things that we’ve been given. We should embrace them, and take care of what Allah has given us.

“And it is He who has made you successors/vicegerents upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” — Qur’an (6:165)

I’m not quite sure how our conversation had arrived at… animal welfare, but it did. ر talks about the Halal method of slaughtering an animal for food. The animal must be raised in a clean space, where it is allowed to move around freely. She talks about the “way the human dies” too – animal! She means animal! [Freudian slip?]

The animal is not allowed to see the blade. It must be a sharp blade. Other animals cannot witness the slaughter. If it is done right, and with the right, calming prayers uttered: the animal tends to submit.

Sometimes, the animal twitches after its death. ح, an English student, talks about the theory of ‘galvanisation’, which had been prevalent around the time when Mary Shelley had written ‘Frankenstein’. [I also know about this because I had to teach about this book last academic year]. ر adds that twitching doesn’t necessarily mean:

You’re aliiive!

And I forget if it had been ح or ر who had said this, but:

“[This] Earth is so beautiful.

Our bodies are so complex.

Pregnancy is mad.

[Masha Allah].

To be Muslim: to know that we are being tested. What is Halāl is Halāl and what is its opposite is its opposite. To know that Allah made humans, and made this Deen for us too. There is room for humour, and for personal inclinations and such. It is not about being ‘free’ in terms of beckoning to every whim and fleeting fancy, inner desire we might have. It is also not about feeling spiritually ‘strangled’.

To be Muslim also necessitates an intellectual humility, since:

“Allah is the only One that knows everything.”

Meanwhile, what we refer to as ‘science’ is “ever-developing”. Empiricism: relying on observation, sensory experience. But we also know, perhaps even empirically, that our minds are quite limited.

 ح explains that we ‘know’ that the moon is a circle. “Sphere,” ر corrects. ‘Science’ is a thing of theories and disproving theories. We could find out, at some point in the future, that, contrary to our previously-held convictions based on observation: the moon is actually… a square. [“Cube,” I imagine ر correcting, here.]

Islam and Science. I’d like to find out more about ‘scientific’ and knowledge-related developments under the Golden Age, Insha Allah. Under Islam, we have an epistemological grounding, a framework. That Allah Knows, while we can know, but still, in limited ways, and only by His Will.

ت adds that part of being Muslim is being comfortable in this ignorance. We have to live by that, in terms of understanding the world, the universe, our own lives. We have to put our trust in Allah.

We are fundamentally unsure about things. We’re tested through matters pertaining to knowledge, too, arguably. But we can ask our Creator, regarding them. And then we have to be patient.

“And when My servants ask you, [O Muhammad], concerning Me – indeed I am near. I respond to the call of the caller when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided.” — Qur’an (2:186)

Branching off from the topic of galvanisation, we talk about that age-old ‘dichotomy’ between ‘science’ and ‘rationality’, and romanticism. ‘Sense’ versus ‘sensibility’: a key topic of thought in the 19th Century, and it still is, today.

Oh, stop being so irrational!” might effortlessly say the ‘rationalist’, to the ‘religious ones’. But, sure, there are numbers, and science, and logical trails. Things that happen ‘instantly’, and things that ‘click into place’ without resistance. Allah has designed this world of ours so that there is also such beauty (Masha Allah) and poetry, and harmony. Stories, and complexity; so many variables, perspectives. How could one side of the world (‘male’: ‘rational’, ‘logical’, ‘scientific’, precise and ‘numerical’, strategy and decisiveness) be isolable from its other? [‘Female’: intuitive, beautiful, spiritual, flowers and complexity, emotional and poetic, colour and culture]. By the Design of Allah, the world is made up of, and in need of, both.

We touch on the topic of ‘mental health’, also. People truly are iceberg-like. Everybody knows to hide certain things; people are fighting harder battles. Even the one who seems ‘happy and outgoing’ all the time. We show different ‘faces’ to different people. Many seemingly ‘effortlessly social’ people actually have “massive social anxiety”. Perhaps a rephrase is in order, however: the most ‘anxious’ of us usually care the most.

‘Depression’ is widespread, also, though not always apparent. Allah does say in the Qur’an that, in accordance with the Islamic view of this Dunya (this world) being a place of test: we will be tested in our own selves too.

ر spoke about the things that people do, in order to ‘escape’, and/or to ‘feel something’. These are often the basis of many of the images that it is easy to look to, thinking that those things might show what ‘truly living’ must be like.

The deepest depressions, too: in the Catholic spiritual tradition, there is a phenomenon known as ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’. I think I have been through mine already (2019, perhaps). It describes a time of… enhanced, amplified, feelings of ‘lostness’, depression, hollowness. It tends to be extremely hard – like ‘rock bottom’, perhaps, and then even further. But: what is actually happening is, perhaps, that “the egoic sense of self” is dying:

“The “dark night of the soul” is a term that goes back a long time.  Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event, some disaster perhaps, on an external level.  The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death, for example if your child dies. Or you had built up your life, and given it meaning – and the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before.  Really what has collapsed then is the whole conceptual framework for your life, the meaning that your mind had given it. So that results in a dark place.  But people have gone into that, and then there is the possibility that you emerge out of that into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain.  Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper, which is no longer based on concepts in your mind.  A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life […]  It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death that you die. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died there – only an illusory identity.  Now it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realized [sic] that they had to go through that, in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process,

the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.” — Eckhart Tolle

The ‘phoenix falling [deeply], the phoenix flying [Masha Allah, Alhamdulillah*]’. I think, if this really is a somewhat-universal (though, of course, very individually experienced) experience, then: this is when we really come to realise what… the life of this Dunya* is:

“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.” — Qur’an (57:20)

For more on this Āyah*, including a closer linguistic look at the words employed: https://muslimmatters.org/2010/05/12/eye-opening-words-in-the-quran-describing-the-life-of-this-world/

ر goes on to talk about one of her Science classes back at sixth form [I am the only one in this group who hasn’t been to university. Yet, Insha Allah, and] the others agree that they found their ‘people’ neither at secondary school nor at university. But, there: at our sixth form. [What a unique experience, Masha Allah, being at that school. So stressful, yet very special indeed.] In this class, ر’s teacher had managed to convince everybody that bananas are painted yellow. She (ر) might have been the only one who disagreed.

“What? Do elves come and colour them brown or something [when brown spots start to appear]?”

The conversational emphasis is on critical thinking. Trusting ‘authority figures’. Even teachers can be challenged (respectfully). Public figures, ‘famous Islamic scholars’. ح says that some of these bearded ‘part-of-a-mosque’ figures use religion as a tool – a weapon – to justify their ‘misogyny’.

She does not think that complete ‘obedience to one’s husband’ is a part of Islam, like how some make it out to be. This is also something that I would like to look more closely at, Insha Allah.

Cross-culturally, in general, there are four different ‘schools of thought’ in terms of how Islam is, on the whole, practised: Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali, and Māliki. In the subcontinent (which comprises India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and arguably parts of certain other countries too, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka) the Hanafi school seems to be the most popularly-followed one.

Personally, I am yet to come to a conclusion on which school I follow, but Insha Allah, I’ll know more about that as time (and my life, and learning) goes on.

Islam points to the Oneness of God. It is not robotic, monochromatic and homogenous. It is not an absolutely-homogenising factory. We have been made into nations and tribes, to come to know one another. With our own individual stories, journeys, cultures and experiences.

ح argues that the attitude of strict ‘homogenisation’ is prevalent among Wahhabis [an Islamic revivalist movement and doctrine that started within Sunni Islam and it is associated with the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. 18th Century]. She thinks that this movement is one of ‘rules, rules, rules’, and adds somewhat vehemently that the movement is one about ‘living by hate’.

“Can I write that?”

Of course.”

She thinks that the opposite of ‘Wahhabism’ is ‘Sufism’: believing in, living by, love. Her view is that if Muhammad (SAW) had been alive today, he would have been labelled a ‘Sufi‘, perhaps.

We go on to talk about more sometimes-controversial topics, and some more that are often ‘brushed under the rug’. Sexuality, for example. A Muslim is meant to have Hayaa’, and yet matters pertaining to sexuality should be discussed. These things are inextricable from humanity, reality. Heavy-handed and in-denial ‘repression‘ in these regards is more… Victorian than anything. [The early Muslims, I believe, quite-‘openly‘ discussed these things. This Deen is Designed with… humanity in Mind]

‘Slavery’, also. Islam advocates for the freeing of slaves. And ح explains how important context is. That there are rules outlining how ‘slaves’ should be treated… because it had been a part of the socioeconomic reality, the cultural fabric, then. With Islam having been introduced to pre-Islamic Arabia, where there had still been slaves living with families, they had to be clothed, fed, and treated well.

Nowadays, ح argues, people trying to reinstate practices of slavery (whose definition and associations have seemingly changed over time) have got it wrong, and there are all sorts of moral issues with the practice. In 2017, for example, details about the slave trade in Libya had become publicised: people being treated like cattle, trafficked. The Qur’anic directive is not to instate the practice, and especially not in these ways. But, instead: to liberate enslaved people from bondage.

Another ‘controversial’ issue that would appear to come up, again and again, in discourses pertaining to Islam, is that of war. ح says that Muslims in war, especially in contrast to European combatants, had displayed good conduct. ‘Honour’ is an important word in Islam, and to cultures with strong Islamic influences.

Meanwhile, says ح, the Europeans had been killing mercilessly, destroying culture, raping, murdering, forcing Christianity onto people, and while depicting Muslim civilisation as being the “barbaric” one. ‘Saracens’, and the like. It could be argued that such narratives are continued today: the present moment is a continuation of all those ones that have preceded it.

She says that, for example, when the Muslims had entered Spain, culture had been allowed to be retained. But with the introduction of Islamic principles. Numerous people had come to Islam of their own accord and will, after witnessing the Deen in action. [I do want to learn much more about Islamic history, Insha Allah].

The ‘modern world’ is one that is built on war. And war, like many things, is driven by… economics. Profit. The Taliban, for instance, had been funded by the Israelis and the Americans. When the ‘enemy’ had been… the Soviets. Written as clearly as day, even in British history textbooks. [The Taliban: another thing I want to learn much more about, Insha Allah]. The US: exploiting Middle Eastern lands and peoples for… economic gain. Power.

Afghanistan, through Western-political eyes: less people and human/environmental care. And, more: oil. Minerals. War. For money. ح and ر argue that the Taliban have been, and are being, used as a mere puppet. And as an excuse for intervention, and for further (profit-generating) interventions and conflicts.

An effective way to justify forcefully taking control of a region: look at these women! We need to ‘save’ them! ‘Liberate’ them!

By… destroying them, their homes, their children.

“It’s classic orientalism.”

And so, where is the Western ‘sympathy’, the interventions, for… the Uyghurs in China, for example?

I ask ح and ر if they think the Taliban’s intentions might be in the right place.

“I mean, I don’t speak to them,” comes ر’s response.

Something that intrigues me, also:

ح says something along the lines of them (the Taliban) being ‘pawns’ in a giant geopolitical chess game. Or, even less significant than a pawn: “truly” so.

And it is all connected, without a doubt: colonialism, orientalism, notions of ‘civilisation’ and ‘reform’ and ‘education’, even. Economic ideals of ‘development’, the manipulations of narratives towards particular end goals.

Coming back to the heart of Islam, however,

in ح’s words, even within Islam:

Everyone’s truth is different.

It’s not black and white.”

Even our Holy Book, the Qur’an: I forget where I had come across this idea, but it has been authored for the fisherman and the philosopher alike. Different eyes and minds look upon the same message, and understand it relatively differently. Some: perhaps, more literally. Some: more abstractly.

But internalising those words necessitates a sincere, open and humble heart.

The key words, here: Pure Monotheism. Sincerity. Heart. Context. Soul, and not merely some cold ‘body’ without one. Critical thinking.

Here, time goes on, and each ‘leaf’ that makes up this ‘tree’ is distinct. Still, the words and meanings of the Qur’an, and the essence of primordial religion, remain timeless.

“We have not sent down to you the Qur’an that you be distressed.

But only as a reminder/remembrance for those who fear [Allah].” — Qur’an (20:2-3)

We ended the day by sitting on my brother’s trampoline and gazing up at the sky [and later on – in the evening – the stars looked pretty amazing too, Subhan Allah*], and by playing a game my uncle had introduced me to:

‘Most Powerful Memory’ or ‘Foremost Characteristics’ or ‘A likely flaw’. Depending on the title of that round, you stop at each person, and the others go around and share their thoughts of, for example, the most powerful memory that comes to mind of the person whose turn it is. Well, what I had been reminded of yesterday is that… people remember how you made them feel. The human being is not only body, but: mind, heart, and soul. The company we surround ourselves with is integral to our experience of Īmān, and life. People are always going through things that we have no idea about: the faces we present do not show everything – not at all.

Finally, in the struggle to understand religion, and self, and world: it is not… so simple. Mental illness, for example, happens. We’re anxious. We’re not perfect. But how wonderful is it, that others will remember little things that you did, and said, and are? Things that might be ‘first-nature’ – not even just ‘second-’ – for you: the people who love you, know.

[And sometimes they ‘exploit’ you a little, so as to post something on their blog.]

In any case, life happens, in all the ways in which it does. ‘Your world’ can break, come undone, right before your very eyes, or even in the hiddenness, the privacy, of your very mind. Islam, and with the right places, and people, and

with the heart in mind:

Be still.

It is a calling from your Creator.

Like one of the statements in the Adhaan*… drop what doesn’t actually really matter. And:

“Come to success.

Things I would like to learn more about, Insha Allah:

  • Christianity; the stories of the Prophets, the Bible
  • Hadīth verification
  • The Taliban: past [going back to the time of the Crusades, even], and present.

*Insha Allah — ‘God-Willing’, in Arabic.

*Hadīth sayings attributed to/about the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

*Deen — ‘Way of Life’.

*Dunya this current, transient world, before the eternal one (which is known as Ākhirah).

*Rizq provisions from Allah.

*Masha Allah ‘God has Willed it’. To express that good, beautiful things are from and by Allah.

*Alhamdulillah ‘Praise and Thanks are for God’.

*Jinn — beings that cannot be seen by human eyes. While humans are made of clay, they are made of smokeless fire.

*Mahram — for a woman: her husband, father, direct maternal and paternal uncles, sons, direct nephews, father-in-law, etc. and with her women. With these people, a woman can show her beauty and be more casual and close.

*Shahādah — declaration of faith in Islam. Bearing witness to the fact that there is no god but Allah, and that Muhammad (SAW) is His servant and Messenger.

* (SAW) —  an abbreviation for, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in Arabic.

*Āyah —  Qur’anic Verse, and/or ‘Sign’ [of Allah]

* Adhaan — the Islamic call to prayer.

* Subhan Allah — Glory is Allah’s; God is Perfect.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Once in a lifetime, these moments do come

You know when it is raining, suddenly, in the darkened part of an otherwise busy city? Even at this moment in time: here in lockdown. The cars jetting past, and you can almost hear exactly what the pitter-patter might sound like, from the inside of each and every one of them, inhabited by different people, coming from entirely different worlds.

That feeling of being snug, and warm. In good old-fashioned checked pyjamas, maybe; safe from the cold, and from the wet, the racing, the Anonymous and Alone.

On rainy evenings, it seems like everybody is simply in a rush to get home. Umbrellas look drizzly and forlorn; streetlights glow orange, while makeup, we find, begins to drip into something a little grotesque. Suits, also, at such times, do not look all that comfortable to find oneself wearing.

            Some shield their lacquered heads with newspaper, or scarves; crouch and, in the whirring, pouring noise, make that face: the one that looks rather like disgruntlement. Phone pressed to their ears; water getting hopelessly into their eyes.

Children, in fur-coated hoods, fixate on the excitement of puddles; stoop towards them, in fascination, ready to jump and splash and see themselves again (much to the annoyance of their parents, whose primary concern it now is to get home as quickly as possible, and to make something suitably comforting to eat). Faces rippled: recognisable, and yet, at the same time, hilariously zig-zagged and distorted.

Wellington boots, roof windows for a better view, and acrylic-coloured mugs of hot chocolate. The ‘little’ things, but why on Earth are we known to call them ‘little’? What might the ‘big’ things be, then, in contrast? The… loud, the shiny, the demanding-our-attention? The distracting; things that are extravagantly hard-to-get, the hundred-things-at-once, or the… once-in-a-lifetimes?

This here moment is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Even if it is quiet, and seems ‘unremarkable’, and ‘everyday’: it will never, ever be here again. Not like this, anyhow. And everybody you know and love is getting older, and this here world of yours will never be the same again:

Everything, dear friend, is going to change. As they always have done, and as they always will do:

(until the End, that is).

And I hope we get to see the rain again. Here, perhaps, and in another place;

Another time, another age, and maybe in an altogether different way.

Alhamdulillah for the rain, though. And for the feeling of it on our hands and on our cheeks: Barakah, Rahma, and hope. And for the ability to go home. To close the door. To feel warm, and dry; your entire world, and that you are not alone.

Because it is a big, big, big world out there. Bee-lines, and busy bees. Loneliness and exhaustion; superficiality and disease.

Tall shiny buildings, buzzing away with productivity. A million and one things to buy, and to own, and to try to feel powerful — seen — through. Cars racing through traffic, and the like. But would this life not be… a little unbearableterrifying, actually – without this peaceful slice from all that madness,

which we are thoroughly fortunate enough to call our own?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Dunya and Gratitude and Barakah

In the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that one is to be considered a ‘youth’ – a young person – until one reaches the age of forty.

Forty may therefore be seen as the ‘noontime’ of one’s life, so to speak. Before then, we are ‘young’: we are coming into being, into brightness. And after then, generally, (if we are permitted to live that long, that is) we come into ‘wisdom’. Our hair becomes grey; our faces marked with lines of experience: story-lines.

I am, at present, twenty years old. In temporal terms, I have an entire ‘nother lifetime to live, before I arrive at my ‘age of wisdom’. Until then, I must really think about how to spend this time, and the other resources, I have.

Recently I have been thinking much about the art of ‘making do’. The ‘Blitz Spirit’. Opening the cupboards; seeing what is there. And then, after a process of reasoning and of engaging one’s creative capacities: making the best of it. Make it beautiful, somehow.

This is a game my cousins and I used to play, when we were younger: the ‘Masterchef’ Game. Collecting a handful of ingredients that are already there, in the kitchen. Preferably, ingredients that are likely to otherwise go unused, to waste. Make it a little competition, to see who can produce the most tasty plate of food, and the one that is presented in the best, most aesthetic, way – under timed conditions.

An important Islamic principle to consider, in life, is the following: that, as humans, we are wanting creatures. But Allah promises to ‘increase in favour’ those of us who are grateful. Who love what they have; whatever is there. And I think this is the essence of ‘Barakah’. If you are from a Muslim country, have you ever come across a particular person, or a family of people, who live in such a way that may seem to be responded to with pity from those of us who live here in the West, but who actually, upon looking a little closer, seem to lead such Barakah-infused lives?

I know of a particular family who are like this, in Bangladesh. Here in London, very few people, I think, would aspire to live that kind of lifestyle. Tending to cows [sigh. I actually quite miss even the pungent stench of the cows!]; fishing in the village’s pond. Making soup over an open clay oven; going to work, during the day, ‘in town’; playing boardgames at night; dancing in delight under monsoon rains. What, to us, does it seem like they may be lacking?

In truth, they have Allah. And they have family, and fruits, and books, and rain. This is how they are living their temporary, directly-determining-of-how-they-will-spend-their-forthcoming-eternities, Dunya-based lives. They may not have all of those ‘shininesses’ that may immediately catch our eyes, here in this part of the world – and nor would they appear to care much for those things, anyway. But they sure do have that Barakah; that soul.

When my grandfather first arrived in this country, he lived in the same area that we still (Alhamdulillah) live in, today. I went to [secondary] school right near where he used to work. I currently work right near where he used to live, and near the mosque he used to attend. Recently, I believe the Imām of that masjid passed away. My uncle shared the following bit of writing, with me, which he had included as a caption under a post about the mosque, some five years ago:

“Prayed salat at my father’s masjid (mosque) after so long. Much has changed but the unconditional attachment of a small group of men to the masjid has not. Theirs is a silent and sincere yearning for the beauty of worship and the comfort of Allah’s home. Masjid, Salat, Qur’an, Du’ah. […] At one time I thought this meant so much else was missing, but only later did I realise this simplicity is what paves their short, unobstructed route to Allah. Their world extends little beyond the walls that call to worship. What space is there in that small world for anything other than what pleases Allah?”

— M.A.

I think: to be a Muslim means to care. Deeply, tirelessly, truly. About trying. About speaking to, and calling upon, one’s Creator, for help, and for guidance. Giving charity, and helping others. Fasting. Qur’an. Family. Thanking Allah for rain. And for soup. And for our eyes, and our siblings, and our friends. Being Muslim means being given responsibilities: motherhood or fatherhood, a family member with a learning disability, a brother or a sister, marriage, a masjid, a student, a school. And honouring them with our lives.

Life, sin duda, is a test. Allah tells us in the Qur’an, in Surah Kahf:

“Verily, We have made that which is on Earth as an adornment (decoration, beautification) for it, in order that We may test them (mankind) as to which of them are best in deeds (works, actions)” [Qur’an, (18:7)]

In each of our metaphorical ‘cupboards’, we find there are different ingredients. Circumstances, blessings, difficulties. Daily struggles, daily blessings. And it is our job to use these lifetimes of ours to make something of them. Something beautiful, hopefully. But, necessarily, what we make of them will look and be different from what those around us make of them. We begin from different places and things; make different resulting choices; end up with different products, in the end.

What matters, at the end of these limited stretches of day, is… what we have done, with these lives of ours. And the intentions underlying our actions.

The majority of people may be living life in a particular way. They may perceive that the purpose, the point, of life, is this or that. What do you perceive the purpose of this life of yours, to be? And does the mentality you are currently, primarily operating under, align well with this life-view? Are certain things particularly difficult, for you, while others might feel like deep, quietly-flowing blessings?

Recently I shared, on this blog of mine, an article authored by my most favourite scholar ever: ‘Suffering as Surrender’, by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. While reading it, I felt like I was shrouded with this unique sense of peace, Alhamdulillah. Sabr and Shukr: these are integral elements in the anatomy of the Muslim. The Muslim struggles; is tested, through his or her health, wealth, through other people, etc.

The Muslim is blessed. Lungs, limbs, water, chai, pillows, plants, and more. Still, though: the very point is to not get too comfortable here. What is it that we take, when we go?

Right now, it may feel like there is this great amount of social pressure on us. Here, in our twenties. To ‘be’ this, and this, and this, and that. To have this, and also that; to focus so much on collecting wealth, and to become super ‘educated’ and ‘cultured’ in a particular set of ways, physically brilliant, and more. Fair: as Muslims, we are not meant to extricate ourselves entirely from what is termed, in Al-Quran, as ‘The Life of Dunya’. However, at the same time, that is certainly not ‘all there is’. Nor is all that stuff the very point of life.

I guess, there is this more private-facing life we must tend to. Taking care of our relationships with our Creator; taking care of ourselves; taking care of our families. Yes, there are our more ‘public-facing’ considerations, too. There might be some pressure; some fear. But remember: many of these things are momentary. Tips of the iceberg, that some may see fleeting glimpses of. Your reality, and what comes after it, are what are truly True. What can either fulfil, or leave hungry, spiritually starving. What endures.

For some people, billionaires and tech moguls and such serve, in their minds, as their ultimate human role models. For others, individuals like Muhammad (SAW), Ibrahim (AS), Yusuf (AS), more so, are. Muhammad (SAW) lived in a very modest way. I cannot seem to find the exact Hadith right now, but, when asked why he lived in such a manner – sleeping, for instance, on mere palm leaves on the floor, sometimes – while Byzantine rulers, for example, enjoyed their palaces and worldly riches, Muhammad (SAW)’s response had been something along the lines of: their riches and such are theirs now, here in this world. Ours may not be here now, but wait for us, in the life after this one.

This is not to say that Muslims are barred, in Islam, from acquiring expensive possessions and such. A nice house, if you are able; a nice car. The point is: as Muslims, we are Muslim no matter what. If owning a Lamborghini and two hundred Gucci belts leads to your sinking so deeply into the temporary comforts of Dunya that you come to forget the life of your eternity: what have you really won?

Yusuf (AS), for example. Once thrown into a well, sold as a slave, in Egypt. Later, appointed as Egypt’s Minister of Finance. Consistent throughout, though: his recognition and remembrance of Truth.

These prophets had been human. They had families; specific difficulties – health issues, interpersonal conflicts and problems, and more. Examples for us to remember, and be comforted through the remembrance of. Examples for us to, in our own ways and in line with who we are and what our own present circumstances may be, follow. They had not, for example, been utterly ‘fearless’ individuals. The point is: at times, they had been deeply afraid, uncertain, upset by the maliciousness of certain people in their lives. They had felt the dark immensities of grief, heartbreak, worry in terms of how they would provide for their families, or about what ‘people’ had been saying about them.

Fear, grief. Deep, and human. You are not alone. Triumph, peace, friendship, and Īmān.

We’ll get there, Bi’ithnillah Ta’aala [with the permission of Allah, the Almighty].

The point is that our blessings lead us to thank our Lord, while our suffering makes us surrender to Him, more. We are always dependent on Him, and a truth we must never forget – until we die and meet the truth, unobstructed, for ourselves:

To our Lord we belong, [and He has Power and Control over all matters,] and to Him we shall return.

“Know that the life of Dunya is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children.”

Qur’an, (57:20)


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

Friend,

An icy glass of water, held in hand. Decorated with water droplets. Both comfort and necessity. Friends are the ones who love you, in truth. And you love them too, and you love them in truth. [If you do not love a person in truth; if you are ‘friends’ with them as a result of shallow, or merely-circumstantial considerations, I do not think this counts as a friendship. But maybe the term ‘acquaintance’ sounds a little too harsh and devoid of any emotional attachment…]

            Truth: the truth is that we are in need and in want of nourishing, authentic friendships. As, and between, complete and complex, wonderful (and in certain parts, a little-at-times difficult) human beings.

And if a friend can be defined as someone who loves you in truth, then how wonderful a thing it is that sometimes people are friends with their siblings; with their parents; with their grandparents, or with their cousins. The best, most desirable, human relationships are necessarily centred upon friendship; for we Muslims, the best relationships are rooted in love, in truth, and towards and bound by Truth. Direction, and connection. How beautiful a thing is it, when some family members, we choose to take as friends, while some friends, over time and as a result of due presence, become family?

Some friends are here practically all the time, even when they are far away. Daily conversations – while others, one may only see or hear from once or twice a year. Cousins and siblings, though: these are the friends who cannot ever run away from you [Mwahahah].

Truly, I think the strongest bonds come about as a result of spending the later hours together, especially. When the defences come down; secrets are shared, ideas, laughter, food, downright idiocy. Those parts of one another that very few others will likely ever come to know. When it feels like the rest of the entire world is asleep, sapped of its energy, sort of far away. All that you have – what you are blessed enough to have – are a physical space, enclosed and, in that, quite freeing. Eyes that look like coming home. Food, and a night sky. No near-strangers to attempt to impress; nobody to only pretend that you are, or might be; nothing to prove, or disprove. Just real presence, (once again, downright idiocy,) and goodness. Nothing but everything.

            The things that make up my everything, I think, are: Islam, my friendships (which certainly include certain family members), my relationships with other human beings, my relationship with myself, and myself in relation to the [natural] world. What is mine, in this present universe; I, in continued conversation with each part, all of it. Spinning Earth, and my own world. And also, no: there is no ‘I’ without ‘we’. Not at all.

And there are, have always been, and will (Insha Allah) be moments of such unbridled joy. There will be witty exchanges, sarcasm, stepping on one another’s feet, sometimes. There will be spillages, misunderstandings, a few moments of tension, clashes. Stupid inside jokes; understandings, both of the spoken, and the more silent, sort. A national lockdown, or two. Or three. Things to get through, as friends, together.

            We do each have our own lives. Obligations. Streams and streams of things to do. And I do not ever want to forget what is truly important. The bulk of what I do must be intentional. As much as possible, directed towards those very things that matter. As much as possible, organically connected. Water good things; know that they will not grow in straight lines, ‘perfectly’. And there is too much beauty in precisely these facts of present ruggedness. We are not alone, and we are not ultimately in control. And things may be right, and then go a little wrong. And wrongs can be worked on; put right. This life would be quite pointless indeed, without all of its wildflowers.

            I love how many examples, similitudes, one can find upon the Earth that Allah has created for us. Sometimes, as a result of distance, perhaps, some friendships, for example, can feel a little frayed. But, in the end, things become okay. Things can be revived; can regrow. With the things that matter, there will be wounds and obstacles and difficulty. Little fall-outs, perhaps, among other things. But wherever the wound occurs: these tend to be the places from which new sprouts emerge. From the same space, and yet, more alive, almost. Stronger. Adaptable, and adapted. To varying circumstances, places, added considerations, and times.

Some friends have been there, in chronological terms, from the very start. And they are still here, Alhamdulillah. Some come along a little later, but this fact does not, in any way, detract from the value of their present presence. Some friends, one can be apart from for an entire year, and yet, when you see one another, it feels like an effortless continuation. A comfort of being, and of blooming. And some good friends: [how strange a thought,] we do not, at present, know. Elements of Allah’s plan for us, whom we are yet to meet.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Dunya

Maybe it is true that the world feels a little smaller now. And, in that, it also at the same time feels a little bigger, no?

There is time, we find. There is time enough to sleep in a little — at least until your body informs you that, yes. You are now sufficiently ready to begin. At a good pace. Not rushed, and yet, not so slow that it feels sort of aimless. But a good pace in-between. A relative peace, finally devoid of, or at long last being ‘detoxified’ of, that all-too-common-to-us sensation of restlessness. Though, we do still find, that at times, at some points, there is also

this and this — oh and this — to do. And things get misplaced; some things might get a little hard and go a little ‘wrong’; things hurt; you might start thinking and thinking and thinking but —

Hey, the day is young; you are alive, upon this Earth; we are deeply fortunate to be here, as and how and as who we are.

We require the approval of our Lord; we should not seek out permission to be (ourselves) from anybody else.

Days and days: it feels, sometimes, like they are falling rather like how dominoes do. I want to say that they are always coming and leaving ‘gracefully’. Yes, sometimes it is quite graceful. Elegant. Serene walks in the park; tinges of orangey sun; a ‘perfect’ line of tick-tick-ticks, upon your checklist. And, a neighbour of mine, complimenting my bike. I had frequently seen her around, since I was very young. But never once had we had a conversation together, until that day.

You know, sometimes Tuesday morphs quite effortlessly into Wednesday, and then Friday just appears, as if out of nowhere. Someone FaceTimes out of the blue; my brother helps me to cook, one day. The next day, we order some takeaway. Sometimes, something kind of strangely wonderful occurs. Someone says something that clings to your mind sort of like a butterfly. Beautiful enough to stay; to linger.

Things are delicate. Sometimes, an entire week might feel like just one, tumbling, ongoing day. The laundry always smells fresh; there is enough time, at the very least, to neaten up the books; there is a (re-)emergent sense of community, here. Some palpable-almost feeling of togetherness. Bonds between people; between people and places. With that third crucial consideration: time.

There are the things I just really want to do, and these are finely interspersed between those things that I must do. There is enough time, and there is much goodness in it.

Weekday mornings: there is a quicker pace to them, in contrast with Sundays, at least. I quite like the relative urgency of them – the former (but, this, only in moderation). Get up, get ready, first online lesson of the day. Admin, admin. The joys that are part-and-parcel of the fact that our school has instructed us to only use the audio feature — we need not show our faces on Teams. [Yay!]

All of this speaks rather deeply to my introvert-y inclinations. I love people; people are wonderful, and deeply so. As friends, as family members, and as… subjects for quiet (without intent to sound creepy, here…) observation. And, yet, I find: being around people for lengthy periods of time, and/or in large numbers… quite exhausts me.

For the time being, however, the staffroom at work is no longer where I am spending my breaks in-between lessons. My own room is my ‘staffroom’. Sometimes, the stairs are my classroom. And sometimes, the sitting room, also — but not whenever my brother is gaming… [He is the type to shout at the screen, and to become so invested in Fortnite that he begins to act like his actual life is on the line while playing it.]

I do find I like — the state of being that is described through — the word ‘busy’. But only when it really feels meaningful. And when it feels like it is in healthy moderation. You have things to do; responsibilities, obligations to meet. People to care for, in varying ways. A self to be. You adapt.

Not too much… and not too little. In Dunya terms, I reckon that is precisely where the ‘good life’ lies: between over-excitement, -stimulation, chaos, and boredom and day-in-day-out day-in-day-out routine and sameness. Too much to do; there is too little time. Too little to do; there is too much time. Ah, but: that good place in-between. Quite enough to do, and quite enough time.

This time has not exclusively been one of rainbows and butterflies and of unceasing sunshine. No. It has also been a time of uncertainty; bittersweetness; grief. Our household receiving phone call after phone call about extended family members and family friends and such who have contracted the virus. We were informed, again and again, about a number of passings-away too.

People are human. Whole, and complete. Spinning worlds, individual minds. Some people have lost their fathers; their cousins; aunties; friends, over the last ten months. Some people find themselves shrouded in profound lonelinesses. For the time being, at least, and forever, too: headteacher or student. Chronic illness or not. Seven years old, or sixty-two. Materially wealthy, or poor. Human is what we are, and

This time, like everything else that Dunya comprises, is not ‘perfect’. It does not feel particularly ‘heavenly’. No fanciful cut-outs from picture-perfect magazines or movies. There are obstacles; tensions; moments of sadness, or of anger, or of stress.

But what would life be without all these things that make it… other-than ‘perfect’? It would be Jannah. But this is not Jannah, and we are not [yet, bi’ithnillah] the Jannah-worthy, Jannah-inhabiting, versions of ourselves. Dunya: we dwell within the shadow of Perfection. Though, of Perfection, we do – would certainly appear to – have a deep-rooted, innate understanding.

Good: Khayr, fil ‘Arabiyya. One must, first and foremost, have true trust (Īmān) in one’s Lord. Undoubtedly, He is the One who knows you best. And then, we must acknowledge that in the more evident and immediate blessings: the morning almost-spring air; the kind and unexpected words of affirmation; the fledgling flower buds, and so too, in the confusions and in the slip-ups and in the delays. There is Khayr in it. If we are willing to look for it.

Down at our feet. Shoes muddied, scarred – embellished – by all of our experiences and adventures. Careworn, life-worn. So full of character, I would say. And, also, up at the stars: due recognition of the facts of our being, and of our personal journeys, of our destinations. You are here, dear reader. Dunya. It is an honour for you to be you. Exactly who, and what, and when, where, and why, you are.

Our time here is long. And it is short. It is always upsides and downsides. Making the best of things. Wanting other things: sometimes, I think, this is nice. It keeps things moving, at a good pace. Introduces some novelty. But we must be realistic about things. Dunya is Dunya; life is life. Dear reader,

Through what (more evidently and immediately, perhaps) might present itself as being ‘good’ and what might (more evidently and immediately) present itself as being bad, I so hope we make the best of it. Scars, and our muddied shoes, our blessings and our tests, our losses and our gains, the gifts from God that we never could have foretold, and our hearts and minds filled with good stories, Insha Allah.

Here, from the very midst of this life. Welcome. Smooth, easy, and straightforward? Rarely. But, worthwhile? Always.

And, appearances versus reality. What is, versus what one may perceive (or want) of it. Things often look quite different from afar. The moon, for instance, might, from a distance, seem as though it is only a bright side. Without its bumps; without its craters.

From far away, Earth might look like she is still. And serene, and not spinning. As though her whirlwinds – hurricanes, earthquakes, and all the rest of it – are only mere brushstrokes on spherical canvas. But, look a little closer.

Things can, and ought to, be known. Loved, too, in their truths and in their (relative) entireties. And if you would like to know a thing – be it a time, or a place, or another person, or yourself – all you have to do is… look a little closer.

Dear reader, if you find you are currently struggling, on a particular front, with a particularly stormy sea, then: I ask Allah to grant you a kinder sea. If things are good, right now, I hope the goodness endures; that you are able to have and hold, in that mind and in that heart of yours, all those cherished little moments that take you entirely by surprise. I wish you learning and products of your learning that bring about light and wonder and fascination (and love) in your eyes. Āmeen.

.وبسم الله

Also, movie recommendation: ‘Wonder’. What a gorgeous one. The feels.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021

Race to Nowhere

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf (Mark Hanson) and his wife Nabila Hanson discuss education and ‘modernity’, in addition to other things like wellbeing and methods of learning.

So, so, so, so fascinating.

[Again, you may wish to view (listen to) this in chunks]

As always, please do share your thoughts and views, Insha Allah

“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

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-driven ways 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: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

“Depression”

Around this time last year, I had been struggling with a major episode of depression (and anxiety).

[Sometimes I feel concerned that I may be sharing excessive facets of myself and my life on this blog of mine. But I sincerely believe that these things must be talked about, therefore I suppose this is a risk I am willing to take.]

Overpowering suicidal urges, piercing and burning pains throughout one’s head, issues with focus and memory, an unmatchable feeling of exhaustion. For roughly two months straight, my entire existence felt like one giant walking panic attack. Nervous lump in throat, heart always pounding, not able to truly be ‘here’ at all.

Some people chose to think that I had been making it all up, or that I myself had chosen to be in such a difficult state. I can assure you, nobody at all would ever choose to go through such things. In truth, I think I am a rather optimistic person. I am especially fond of the idea of persevering; of… mountain-climbing. And I know that neither anxiety nor depression, nor bipolar, nor all these other mental health conditions, are indicative of any sort of personal failure. Some people can make it all the more difficult, though: by being ignorant, or even angry towards you, when all you are trying to do is get better.

All in all, I do not feel as though the terms we commonly ascribe to these conditions are that useful or… accurate. Because we use the term “depressed” to describe both the impossibly challenging neurological condition (which, often, like a 20-foot-tall dark monster, appears out of nowhere, and brings to your being the most pain you have ever known) and the reactive emotional states of misery/sorrow, alike. Same with ‘anxiety’. If anything, the phrase ‘atrophy of the mind’ might be most fitting when it comes to Depression (that severe inexplicable type that would appear to plague certain families, I mean: there is undoubtedly a genetic element to it). And, since the mind and body are so deeply integrated with one another, mental atrophy is something that every millimetre of you comes to feel.

Mental atrophy is: disorientation, and it is extreme fatigue. It is wanting, desperately, to know why, yet discovering that none of it can be rationalised, reallyIt is the seeming decay of one’s mind, before one’s very own… mind. Suicidal thoughts, pounding voices; a feeling of poison being injected into both sides of one’s brain. Headaches, body aches, wanting to eat too much, or wanting to starve oneself (without actually…wanting to). All I can say is that it is the worst thing I have ever known.

And, Alhamdulillah, for me, in this moment, it is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. [It is barely even here!] But I sort of want to really hold onto my knowledge of the severity of the formerly quite intense experience. I want to remember how important it is, to truly be there for anybody who tells me they are suffering from one of these diseases of the mind. I want to remember how important it is, that we work together to find true solutions. To mental atrophy; to other mind-generated ‘implosions of the self’, including anorexia, complex-PTSD (etc.)…

And, perhaps a better term for ‘anxiety’ (i.e., the disorder) would be… ‘life-destroying fear’. [What am I afraid of, though? There is no explanation. Such things, one finds, cannot be intellectualised]. And it all comes out of nowhere, and it will not let you sleep at night, or rest during the day. Everything in your head flips, upside-down, and your whole universe is sinking. Total suffocation, and… nobody else can hear it.

“There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its treatment.”

Muhammad (SAW), Sahih Hadith

Right now, it would appear as though most of the ‘treatments’ humanity has found, for these neurological/mental health conditions are… woefully experimental. Trial and error. Unsure of themselves. A mind-numbing pill here, some talking therapy there. And, on the whole, there is this emphasis on ‘managing’ the conditions, not necessarily on trying to resolve them, once and for all.

There is so much to learn about mental diseases; so much stigma to work on eradicating. And there is a cure, out there somewhere; not merely one that dulls all feelings, causing patients to walk around like apathetic robots [this, along with intense sickness and insomnia, had been one of the terrifying side effects of a particular medicine I had been prescribed]. There is much to be learnt about; much to be found.

Indubitably, there is a significant ‘biological’/neurological component to consider. Mental health disorders are evidently quite hereditary by nature. I wonder if the theories pertaining to ‘inherited trauma’ are true. Or, perhaps, it is something about the nervous systems of particular individuals that renders us more susceptible to… being so badly affected by stress? 

If stress (and stress-based conditions like Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD) are analogous to a bushfire, then what we term Depression is the aftermath of the destructive blaze: a mental forest that has been burnt to the ground. Bare and seemingly utterly destroyed. So, some key questions that arise might be: 1) What, exactly, makes certain forests more flammable than others? Overactive minds? Larger amygdalas? 2) Just how does stress manage to affect so many mental faculties at once? 3) How best can we make the ground fertile and good again; how can we rebuild those forests that had been lost to the flames?

And, how can we prevent fires that occur in the ‘more flammable’ forests from becoming massive and destructive ones, in the first place? I think emotional intelligence undoubtedly needs to come into play, here. Especially if a child, for example, might have a high genetic predisposition to Depression, his or her emotional needs should really be looked after, at home. A little bit of emotional nurture can go a long way. Sadly, in some families in which the levels of predisposition to mental illness are high, adults can be extremely dismissive of, and even abusive towards, children. Thus, ‘the forest’ is quick to catch on fire, and quick to burn right to the ground.

Does stress always precede mental atrophy? [When it comes to ‘endogenous’ Depression, those who suffer from it more often than not also suffer from one or more anxiety disorders, OCD, etc.] Is the condition, then, in concise terms, a holistic and ongoing sense of exhaustion? 

[Stress (as a result of life events) is typically the factor that ‘realises’ mental health conditions in people, though some have a particularly strong genetic predisposition to them. This is explained by the ‘Diathesis-Stress Model’]

“I have Depression.”

“…Oh. Why don’t you try thinking more positively?”

“No I mean, I suffer from the neurological condition that is commonly referred to as ‘Depression'”

“Oh. You should exercise more! No matter what you do, though, do not take medication. You can sort this out by going jogging, and by eating more fruit and veg, and drinking water. Also, have you tried meditation?

“Well, —”

“You should go and spend time with your family members more. And cheer up! Smile more! Stop being miserable. There is so much to smile about! I feel sad too sometimes, you know! I normally just get some ice-cream, watch a movie or something, and it goes away.  It’s all about emotional resilience! Everyone goes through what you’re going through, you know…”

“It’s not like that. I don’t —

Never mind…”

There are ‘biological’ things to be considered, when it comes to Anxiety and Depression, and related disorders, certainly. But, what is unique about mental health is that there are also spiritual, social, and emotional things to consider. The way in which our societies are organised, and how they function. Stresses, and stress relief. And, just how accurate might, for example, Freudian views on such things, be?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/19/depression-awareness-mental-illness-feel-like

An “implosion of the self”, a flood of leaden waters. And you cannot stop them.

So if/when somebody tells you that they suffer from, say Depression: please try not to dismiss them. When it comes to family members and friends; when it comes to your ‘boys’ who may even laugh off their own experiences of it. I hope you do not attempt to speak over them, or to look past them.

I hope you try to look into their eyes, and try to be there for them; try to really listen.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020