.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Nobody is ‘mistakenly’ put into our lives. These are all with Divine Intention: we have things to learn and grapple with, and people to grow with.
Recently, a tutee of mine and I shared a cab journey home [this blog is not affiliated with Uber.] Travelling from one of my tutees’ homes (the first student J’s best friend’s) back to our own area, courtesy of J’s mother, who is lovely, Maa Shaa Allah.
J and I had been talking about something relating to an interpersonal situation I had found myself in [I like the notion of bringing in that integral humanness into that very human role of teaching. I am fortunate enough to know about some of the goings-on in some of my students’ lives, and I care about them, and love them in that capacity. They know about some of my own goings-on too]. The situation in question made me feel anxious; though seemingly, perhaps, a ‘small’ matter, I don’t think I had properly acknowledged the low-key stress it had been responsible for, within me.
Without intending to sound all ‘edgy’, I think I am someone who thinks a lot, and who feels a lot, too. For worse, and for better. Anxiety sometimes gives me ‘butterflies’ in the form of moths, I think. It makes me feel a little sick; I would say I am quite averse to conflict.
In others, I think I have loved when people seem to think and feel a lot. These traits endear me much, Allah hummabārik. A person who thinks and feels a lot might, for example, be especially attuned to things, your feelings, observant of your ways, understanding and forgiving and forbearing.
Yet, in myself: I am aware of what this anxiety, or these bundles of anxieties, can feel like.
The driver apologised if his car smelled like food: I think he had mentioned just having eaten lunch, despite it being… around seven in the evening. He then picked up on what we had been saying about anxiety and all, and also apologised if he’d been being intrusive.
The thing is, I believe in Allah, and I believe in His prescribed way: Islam. And no human being alive is perfect: I feel I am tested, in life in general, and through certain aspects of faith. For some people, praying at the prescribed times is struggle; for some, the desirable trait of humility does not come easy; some Muslim women find modesty a somewhat difficult thing to grapple with. One thing I am yet to fully understand my general way with is: non-Mahram interactions (speaking to men who are not my brother/father/direct uncle/grandfather, and so on). [At the Islamic school I teach at, one of the Islamic teachers advised that, in such interactions, we keep it ‘public, purposeful, and professional’.]
The driver spoke about such things that I would summarise as being related to intentions, and balance. You are you: you are essentially entitled to decide on whether you, for example, prefer taking the bus or the train (the driver’s example). Intentions: a wonderful and crucial aspect of Islam is that our intentions are what count and matter.
If I were to intend to do something good, or generally morally neutral (e.g. prefer to take, say, the bus or the train) and someone ended up interpreting my actions as being bad/evil, they are not right. My intention is what counts. And, living among people, as a person myself, it is about finding that balance:
Between authenticity of self, and compassion, and accommodation of others. The former, without being at the egotistical expense of the latter. And the latter, without becoming a grovelling mess with no personal boundaries or strength, no relative security of self; when catering/accommodating for others harms the self much.
Security comes from Allah. If we allow ourselves to always tie our understandings of self to others’ eyes and thoughts, this may well ‘work’ for a while. ‘The people seem pleased’ with the work we are doing; with whom we are, and so forth. But what about whenever we diverge a little from their expectations, to be more true to ourselves? Does everything fall down? If they say we are wrong for choosing something for ourselves, does that make them right?
But if we put our trust in the One who created us [the people did not create you, after all. Meanwhile, Allah is Aware of every movement of each of your cells; every heartbeat, every breath.] then: He is our Guide, Protector, Provider, Nurturer, and Teacher.
The balance. I am aware of what my intentions are, and to an extent, who I am [although to an extent, this is not ‘set in stone’. As a beloved friend of mine points out, part of being, for the human, is not knowing… Hence, perhaps, why ‘defining ourselves’ seems practically impossible]. I also want to make others feel comfortable; meet them where they are, In Shaa Allah. It’s not ‘me versus other people’. More: I must be good to, and honour, other people, while also affording myself similar treatment. Actually, although I and others are ‘separate entities’, we also… are not, if that makes sense.
I being kind to myself helps me in being a better I to and for others, In Shaa Allah. And I being good to others, In Shaa Allah, helps me, my wellbeing, also.
Ultimately, whom we are is dependent on Allah, and then on other people: we’re interdependent. You might be: a sister, a friend, an aunt, a colleague, and so on, and these roles are in relation to others. With them.
The essence of our relationships, also, is conversation. Conversation: two beings (distinct, separate,) turning towards one another. It reminds me of a poem I quite love:
The Gestalt Prayer, by F. Perls [though I’m not quite sure why it’s called a ‘prayer’]
I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.
And then, in response, a person called Walter Tubbs wrote:
If I just do my thing and you do yours,
We stand in danger of losing each other
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations;
But I am in this world to confirm you
As a unique human being,
And to be confirmed by you.
We are fully ourselves only in relation to each other;
The I detached from a Thou
I do not find you by chance;
I find you by an active life
Of reaching out.
Rather than passively letting things happen to me,
I can act intentionally to make them happen.
I must begin with myself, true;
But I must not end with myself:
The truth [on the human level] begins with two.
People can ‘disagree’ on what is valuable/desirable. In terms of aesthetic values, in terms of moral and religious ones. In terms of what is enjoyable to do; ideas of evenings well-spent, and so on. We are people, living among other people; sometimes we will agree, and sometimes we will not. We were made to live with others, and to also not be exactly the same…
Furthermore, and incidentally, people thinking something about you does not necessarily make it true. For better, for worse; no matter ‘how many’ people come to think a thing, of you, too. People might just craft images of you, and commit to them, for various reasons. Maybe it makes them, somehow, feel better about themselves. More powerful. For instance: if they commit to calling you… ‘incapable’, over and over again… Maybe the purpose behind this is for them to feel more capable, and more ‘powerful’, by contrast.
Deciding on what our boundaries and values are might be useful, and, of course, some of our views may change over time, and with new experiences and learning. What are you not willing to compromise on? For example, if a job you apply for insists on you not dressing like that, or shaving your beard, if you are a man: is this something you will stand for?
If someone you know… calls you habitually, even late at night… and even if a ‘people-pleasing’ part of you wants to ‘be nice’ and answer: doesn’t your peace matter too? For the believer, that balance is crucial. We don’t subscribe to these ‘modernist’ notions of ‘self-love’ so much that our actions border on arrogance. We don’t like ‘cutting ties’; rudeness is not ‘admirable’, even in the name of ‘self-love’ or ’empowerment’ [We, after all, try to be ’empowered’ through humility]. And, also: we are firm as believers. We take care of our relationships with our Creator; we try to take care of others (neighbours, family, guests, friends) and indeed of our own selves too. Also, a strength and security in Deen: what a thing of honour, Maa Shaa Allah.
I suppose ‘little’ things tend to mean a lot, to me. For better, sometimes, for worse. For better: for example how J’s mum wanted to accommodate for me by ordering Halāl meat, for a meal she invited me to. Is fine with me arriving late, on account of the winter prayer schedule [the earlier onset of Maghrib]. The ‘little’ things tend to mean a lot; they become quite memorable, meaningful, to me.
Recently I have been wearing a Jilbaab while outside. And, yes, I have these little anxieties sometimes:
Will people say something? [Will I be assaulted on the street, even, by somebody who hates Islam?] Will people think things [e.g. ‘extremist’, ‘too religious’, and so on, and so on.]
Yes, people do, and likely will, ‘think things’. ‘Disagree’. Disapprove. But even if the entire world were to ‘think a thing’… this fact alone does not render the thing true. [Sensitivity, also; the capacity to feel and think a lot. It’s not all bad; in some ways, it truly is a blessing. To be highly ‘attuned’.]
At the end of the day:
They are they, and you are you.
If possible and good, [with some mutual understanding, and collaboration (with due compromise),]
then perhaps you could be two:
Together, and still distinct: it’s beautiful.
[And if not, then:
it simply cannot be helped.]