أ: Between Biryani and Irn-Bru.

Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.

أ’s name, in Urdu, according to a quick Google search, means ‘independent’, or ‘brave lady’.

أ is indeed a ‘brave lady’ (Masha Allah) and not solely because of how she is taken to… eating biryani and macaroni cheese together, on the same plate.

Born to two Pakistani parents, and having moved from Scotland to Derbyshire in England, to London… back to Scotland, back to London, and then to Cambridge

أ says that, despite being born to a Muslim family, she had not encountered Islam “properly” until having thought about it personally.

She had grown up knowing Islam in a more “cultural”, “more Pakistani” way. She recalls going to the mosque as a child, and once getting a book about prayer.

At the age of nine, أ had gone with her family to Makkah, in order to do ‘Umrah (the ‘semi-pilgrimage’). She remembers the strong mix of emotions she had felt, while there, and says she had “such a good time” there.

أ remembers sitting with her father in Makkah, while he read and explained to her (from one of the copies of the Qur’an in the grand mosque there) the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and the well. The story of the boy betrayed and mistreated by his brothers; thrown into a well; sold into slavery, and eventually being given such rank and authority in Egypt (Masha Allah). [أ says that quite a few of her conversations with her father end up returning to that crucial theme of religion.

‘Religion’ = our being dependent on, our subservience to and connection with Allah. And we are nothing at all without it.]

Yusuf (‘Alayhis-Salaam*, may Peace be upon him) had been chosen by Allah. An honest, wise, knowledgable, man, who had also blessed by Allah with extraordinary good looks, for example: this prophet had been beloved by his father Ya’qub (Jacob, may Peace be upon him), and his own brothers had been envious of him.

Ya’qub (‘AS) had bore the difficult time in the absence of his child with great Sabr — patience, steadfastness. Even as his eyes became ‘white’ as a result of his grief.

قَالَ إِنَّمَا أَشْكُو بَثِّي وَحُزْنِي إِلَى اللّهِ وَأَعْلَمُ مِنَ اللّهِ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ

He [Ya’qub ‘AS] said:

‘I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah,

and I know from Allah that which you know not.‘”

Qur’an (12:86)

A story of envy, betrayal, tragedy. Sabr, and not despairing of hope in Allah. Supplication; calling upon Him. Īmān, and how things, by Allah’s Will, can change.

‘Yusuf’ is a theophoric name (i.e., one that bears something to do with Allah) and it means ‘Allah increases/increased/will increase‘ [or, gives/gave/will give]. Yusuf (AS): ‘increased‘ from being a soul, alone and betrayed, at the bottom of a well. To one with high socioeconomic rank and respect. He had trust in Allah’s plan for him.

In the same vein, ‘Jesus’ (Yeshua in Hebrew, ‘Eesa in Arabic. May Peace be upon him) for example means the Lord – Allah – saved. This is a creedal difference between Muslims and Christians: we Muslims do not believe that ‘Eesa (AS) ‘died on the cross’, and nor do we believe that Allah took a son. We believe that, like Moses, Joseph, Isaac, and all the others (may Peace be upon them), Jesus (‘AS) had been a prophet of Allah. Beloved by Him, but not… Him Himself, in any way.

أ’s own surname is also a theophoric one: it means ‘Most Merciful’, an attribute of Allah. Interestingly, its root word also means ‘womb’. In Islam, we believe that Allah’s Mercy is in part demonstrable by how a mother’s womb (by Allah’s Grace) nurtures and nourishes its child. This is how we, as fundamentally dependent beings, are being nurtured, moment by moment, by the Most Merciful.

[أ is currently studying Medicine, Masha Allah. If she becomes, say, an obstetrician/gynaecologist in the future, then, in light of her surname, this would be an ‘aptronym‘: a name fittingly suited to its owner. If this very field is in her Qadr*, then her first name would also become more of an aptronym, as only brave ladies do that sort of work.]

While living in Derby for a while, أ had, using that book she had acquired at a mosque in earlier years, taught herself Namāz (Salāh, prayer). She had been around thirteen years old, then.

Moreover, in terms of the Qur’an, she feels reading It has tended to be an “exercise” thing, until around two years ago, when she had really started “delving into it”.

In terms of her relationship with her ‘ethnic identity’, أ has visited Pakistan once, for a family wedding. She remembers the experience of family there: her mum’s side and dad’s side cousins, the food, “so much love and belonging“.

However, she says, rather than feeling exclusively tied to any single place, her personal experience of moving around a lot has led to her realising that, actually, “you make your place wherever you go.” She feels that her practically lifelong experience of ‘rootlessness’ has actually been “a very big blessing”.

Be in this world as though you were a stranger or a traveler/wayfarer.” — a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), (from Bukhāri*).

In Ramadān, أ’s family table tends to see those seeming staple Pakistani-Muslim favourites: Rooh Afza (a syrup drink) with milk, Vimto. Biryani… with… macaroni cheese.

At home, أ speaks “some Urdu, some English” with her family; she has “no strong feeling towards any place.”

In أ’s view, Islam is: Taqwa (Allah-consciousness) and implementing this into one’s lifestyle.

It’s “a beautiful thing: the God-cognisant lifestyle”.

The future doctor (Insha Allah) says that the Islamic way of living has many “healthy benefits”:

Principles of balance; living in harmony with the cycles of the natural world: waking up at Fajr time (for the pre-dawn prayer), a midday nap, perhaps (in line with what we know of the Sunnah*), and sleeping after ‘Isha (night prayer). It is simple and beautiful.

There’s not much need for overcomplication.”

She says that ours is not a religion of just “empty rules”. Everything is there for a reason, and there is harmony.

أ’s life advice? “Don’t take life advice.

But she goes on to encourage having “a digital detox if you’re feeling overwhelmed”.

Go outside, experience nature. Have some sensory experiences, socialise. Feel alive, and not in an “extreme stimulation” (e.g. from our phones) kind of way. Embrace simple stimuli“.

Some more life advice from the very she who advised against taking life advice, then:

In thinking about the rules within Islam, reflect upon the principles that they appeal to. Moderation and balance? Truth? Modesty? Gratitude? And so on.

She says that if you think critically, you will eventually arrive at Islam:

It makes sense.

Moreover, in terms of character traits أ fundamentally dislikes, hypocrisy is a big one. Saying/claiming one thing, but then doing others, for example in our day-to-day interactions. In Islam, the dissemblance between ‘appearing good and religious’, while not truly being (doing) so, is considered a big sin. So is arrogance: another thing that أ greatly dislikes. For example when certain individuals might be insincere and opportunistic, and might only use religion as a tool so as to attempt to enact ‘superiority’ over others.

أ is very interested in the links between the Abrahamic faiths.

And once, while we browsed through books at an Islamic charity shop together, and while she had been worrying about something to do with religion, she had opened up a translation copy of the Qur’an right to the verses:

“طه.

We have not revealed the Quran to you to cause you distress,

But only as a reminder for those who fear [Allah].”

— Qur’an (20 : 1—3)

Every week, a relative of أ’s (a Naanu, grandmother, of hers) video-calls her in order to read Qur’an together.

Along with Vimto, Biryani, and macaroni cheese, أ also is also a lover of Irn-Bru and Scottish fish and chips…

*sometimes abbreviated to ”AS’.

*Bukhāri — a collection of Hadīth (recordings of the sayings and traditions attributed to Muhammad (SAW)). ‘Bukhāri’ is named after the scholar (who had been born in Bukhara, which is in the land today known as Uzbekistan) who had compiled this particular collection, in the 9th Century, CE.

*Du’a — supplication. Calling upon Allah.

*Qadr — Destiny; Divine Decree, Allah’s Power.

*Sunnah — the Way, shown to us by Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

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