Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
“My Islamic journey started with ح [a friend of hers].”
In Year Thirteen — the second year of ‘sixth form’ here in the UK, equivalent to being a ‘senior’ in US high schools — and with roughly twenty minutes remaining before a mock exam, ص and ح thought about how they could spend that time.
One of them suggested that they “meditate”. And then they both looked at each other, apparently, somewhat incredulously [are we for real?], and thought, why meditate, when they could do Salāh instead?
This had been a ‘turning point’: a volta [‘turn’, in Italian] moment for her. She has not given up on her Salāh ever since. The two friends had made Wudhu* and prayed Dhuhr together.
Volta: ص feels as though when she started praying, she started ‘seeking more’. Over time, she started putting in conscious effort towards building on her knowledge and practice, watching lectures and such.
Then, on the 31st December 2020, another ‘turn’, perhaps. ص had, building on an earlier hope of hers, co-created a Muslim sisters’ circle. And, since we had been in the middle of a pandemic, we used Zoom for it. It is amazing how things happen, Masha Allah. All we have to do is work on our selves and our intentions. And Allah grants Tawfīq (blessing, prosperity, success) to whom and what He Wills.
Our stories are Perfectly Written already.
Over time, Masha Allah, Allahummabārik, ص had found herself making more Du’a; praying Tahajjud, thinking about Dhikr*, after particular sessions, which had been led by different respective members.
ربِّ زِدْنِي عِلْماً
“My Lord, increase me in [beneficial] knowledge.” — Qur’an (20:114)
Perhaps ص’s biggest inspiration is her mother. Her mother who had grown up without a mother or a father. ص’s maternal grandmother had passed away when ص’s mother had been three, a toddler. ص’s mother’s father had passed away when she (ص’s mother) had been ten. She had been “on her own” in that sense. But she had Allah.
ص’s mother is a driven person (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik), and she is originally from Somalia.
ص explains that her mother had come from a financially privileged background (Masha Allah), and she pursued her education, for Deen and for Dunya. Accounting, at university.
Back in Somalia, ص’s mother would wake up for Fajr, then learn some Qur’an, then see her Qur’an teacher. Then return home to make breakfast for everybody. Then go to uni to study, and then come home to study some more.
She (ص’s mother) had started observing the hijāb at the age of eighteen: her first head-covering had been gifted to her by a friend.
ص’s mother advises that we befriend ‘the people of Deen’. “They’ll always be there to help you”. In terms of close friends whom her mother would do much beneficial learning alongside: over the last few decades, they had dispersed geographically. Finland, America, Australia…
Because, back then, Somalia had been in the midst of a civil war. This had been in ص’s mother’s final year of university; she had been on the brink of entering into an internship in accounting. When suddenly, volta:
She had to migrate to Yemen. Alone, and with her young nephew to look after. Back then, in desperation, family members would ask their sisters and such to take their kids, keep them safe, if they had been leaving.
Eventually, ص’s mother had ended up in Finland. This is where she had met ص’s father. ص had spent the first five years of her life in Finland (Masha Allah).
She says that her mother is always encouraging her to be a better person; to maintain her connection with Allah, with the Kitāb (‘book’, which is also known as the Qur’an).
“You need the Kitāb in your life.”
Recently, ص’s other grandmother (who used to live with them, before going back to Somalia for a while) returned to Allah. ص has been dealing with the grief. Grief, after all, is just love that wants a way to continue.
“This life is nothing.”
What is waiting for us is inevitable: the physical return to mud, and the spiritual returns to our Lord. “That’s what’s waiting for you.” And:
“What are we going to do, to make the best out of this world?”*
ص’s mother later came with her family here, to England. With limited English in her vocabulary, she would still courageously (Masha Allah) take her (six!) children, alone, to the library, and to the park, and to museums, regularly. While ص’s father had been working, her mother had been very “on top of things” (Masha Allah) with her children and home. She had not been the kind to neglect any single one of her children.
I ask ص about what one of the foremost characteristics of Somali Muslims might be: something that might be special about, or unique to, them. She talks about how Somali Muslims really tend to prioritise the Qur’an. In terms of memorisation, learning, looking at meaning (Masha Allah, Allahummabārik).
ص talks about an element of guilt she feels, when she reflects upon when she had been younger, looking at her religious mother in contrast with the ‘cool’ mums around her: talking English, allowing music to be played in their homes; her mother’s encouragement of modest dress codes, also.
But Islam’s rules and regulations are a guardrail, we actually find, as we grow into maturity, and not mere ‘restrictive wall’.
“Because of my mum, I am who I am.”
ص has an older brother, for instance, who studies in Leeds. He organised Jum’uah (congregational Friday prayers) for members of the SomSoc (Somali Society) during the lockdown period. She has a younger sister whom she is particularly close with too: a “big character” and a “tough cookie”. ص would like to try to be a better role model for her.
She admires how her mother gets through life. Gets up, gets on with it. Because with Allah, “nothing can knock her down”.
She would like to work on not listening to music anymore (Insha Allah) and on not wasting time. Exhibiting Ihsān in prayer, having more discipline, and focusing more on the Qur’an.
ص loves the confidence that comes with being a Muslim — or, a ‘Mu’min‘ (one with Īmān: faith and trust in Allah). Her session at our circle had been on this very topic yesterday, actually. [And the ‘level’ of faith above being a Mu’min is being a Muhsin: a good-doer, one who demonstrates excellence in what they do.]
“[To be a Muhsin, i.e. a person who demonstrates Ihsān] is to worship Allah as though you see Him, and though you do not see Him, you know that He sees you.” — Hadīth (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim)
We talk a bit about struggles with observing the Hijāb. The truth is, women have desires, and men have desires (in a similar but different way). Women, in general, want to be [and be seen as being] beautiful and attractive. Men are attracted to women. Our Creator Knows this, and this first life of ours is a test.
Do we succumb to these base desires, or, using our free will and intellects, do we ennoble ourselves [with the hope and knowledge that in Jannah (Heaven) we can have everything we want [Qur’an, (41:31)]. If we exhibit due trust in God].
It takes a lot, for example, for a woman who knows that her physical features are beautiful to then cover. I imagine it also takes quite something for a man to ‘lower his gaze’: to be intentionally modest in looking at the opposite gender.
Favouring Allah and the next (eternal) one over this (temporary, on-the-whole unsatisfactory) one.
[Here, I think about the orientalist/anti-Islamic views about the verses in the Qur’an that refer to the women that men will get in Jannah (the Hoor al-ayn). The fact of the matter is that we (Insha Allah) will get whatever we want. Many men, naturally: that is what they will want.
Some women think men are simply abhorrent for how they are different from women, in these regards. But there is nothing wrong, intrinsically, with being male. It is all about the choices we make in light of certain desires and such: the Grand Test].
ص teaches me what ‘Quruxley’ means in Somali. It means ‘beautiful’. ‘Jameel’ in Arabic, and ‘Shundor’ in Bengali.
[Note that in Somali, ‘x’ makes for a ‘h’ sound, and while ‘c’ makes for a strong ‘a’ (i.e. ع) sound. When some Arabs text, also: ‘3’ represents ‘ع’, while ‘7’ represents ‘ح’ — a strong ‘h’ sound].
The life of this world, and those continued desires pertaining to ‘sexual selection’. There is more to this existence.
ص recalls being in Year Eight, and when certain boys would hug her friends and then try to hug her too.
“No, please don’t touch me,” she would say, perhaps somewhat curtly, with her hand out.
She explains that she’s “still on this journey” in terms of Islam. Sometimes she might worry that her desire to take her Islamic learning more seriously might lead to people thinking she’s ‘too serious’ or some such. But the truth is that people will always ‘think things’. We simply have to decide on what is worth hearing the (pretty much to-be-expected) oppositions, disapprovals, criticisms, for.
She talks about jealousy too: a natural proclivity. But she adds that — another thing mentioned in our sisters’ circle — if you feel you want what you perceive to be good about another / about their life… you would have to take their struggles / tests too: their human experience here in this Dunya is a holistic one, just like yours is. This life is only a test. And:
To be honoured by Allah. I think ص’s mother must be. I don’t even know her personally, yet she has inspired me (even before this interview, Masha Allah. Just hearing about her). To develop and maintain a connection to the Qur’an, to have Sabr* and to put my trust in Allah.
ص’s mother currently works as a senior carer at a Somali agency in London. ص also works for this organisation (Masha Allah). There, each employee has their own folder, filled with notes from training, and with compliments and praise. ص’s mother’s folder is (Masha Allah) filled with training things, and with good things that people from work have said about her. This makes ص “so proud. Like, yeah,
that’s my mum.“
إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا.
“Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” — Qur’an (9:40)
*Wudhu — a particular method of washing — purification — that Muslims do mainly before Salāh (prayer) and before touching physical copies of the Qur’an.
*Dhikhr — remembrance, reminders.
*Hadīth — a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
*Sabr — patience, steadfastness, constancy. Even when things get rocky and difficult.
*Quotations may be slightly paraphrased and not 100% verbatim, since I am writing them from jotting-downs and from memory.