س: The Cool Sister, and the Cheese that had been Too Cheesy.

.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

س is thirteen years old, and she is my friend’s younger sister. She is an active, sporty, bright, confident and outspoken young woman: there is this comfortable confidence, Allah hummabārik, about her, which I find to be quite admirable. Being a young Muslim woman should not mean not being confident.

Today, while eating out, س ordered a dessert, while her elder sister ordered a burger meal. س and her sister have a close relationship: they are eight years apart. But, and I know this from having a younger brother of my own, often the realest love does not look like ‘sunshine and rainbows’: it can look like siblings poking fun at each other, and being mean to one another, at least on the face of it. Often, the strongest feelings are there, but are unspoken, for the most part. It’s not ‘grand’ or showy. But we can still hear that love. It reveals itself, makes itself known, in the form of things like:

The fact that when I asked س who the coolest person she knows is, and while her elder sister had been engaged in a separate conversation, with her cousin and our other friend who had also been there, س started talking about her elder sister. Well, س played it cool: she said that she doesn’t really think anybody is the coolest person, since different people have different things that are good about them.

A burger. And some chunky chips

But س  seems to, ‘low-key’ at least, really look up to her elder sister. Her sister has “always been there for [her]”, at times of emotional difficulty and stuff. And, certainly, س‘s sister really wants to be a good example for س.

When I called س‘s older sister to listen, because her sister had just said something really sweet, س informed my friend: “but you’re not cool though.” س‘s elder sister laughs.

“We’ve spent our whole lives together. So that’s why,” she explains.

س thinks that her elder sister is “smart. Gives good advice. And knows how to comfort people.”

س says of herself: that she would like to be… a “smart person”. Have a good job. Get good money. Be a good person. Have a good personality.

According to س, the example of a ‘good Muslim’ is one who: prays. Makes Du’a. Reads Qur’an. And is a “good person” in general, displaying good behaviour, being kind to people, being patient and suppressing anger, trying their best not to transgress boundaries, even during more heated moments, and so forth.

Sort of near our table, at this Halāl (HMC) café/restaurant: a woman had been here, presumably with her younger brother (whose head had been bowed, looking at his phone, pretty much the entire time) and with a potential suitor: the suitor sitting opposite her, and her brother next to her.

Muslims, for the most part, are not ‘Tinder people’, and this is one way we do things, with regard to getting to know somebody before marriage. Meet, as many times as is good, before both parties decide that they either want to take things further, or not. Talk, comfortably, openly. Talk about things like… your favourite aesthetics, places, what your family is like, what sort of person you are, and so on. The kinds of food you enjoy making/eating. But also… we should have what our intelligent little sister س refers to as “good boundaries“. [Then I thought about what my little brother would be like, if I ever went on one of these… chaperoned dates, bringing him along. I feel like he’d throw something at me, or in my drink or something, and then call me a nerd and reveal some embarrassing things about me. It’s all love though. At least, I hope it is. Am I being bullied by my nine-year-old brother?!]

We don’t strive to live a “‘free’ life”, in which we “do whatever [we] want.” Because that sort of ‘freedom’ is ultimately destructive for the human spirit, and س understands that this is why we try to adhere to the structures, and the rules and regulations and “good boundaries” of God’s Path.

س‘s cousin, ن, talked a little about her summer of ‘finding herself’, and ‘being more herself‘, after having put into place a healthy boundary with someone who had been harming her emotionally/mentally. She thinks she really flourished in this time, and this tells me something about the importance of environment, on whom we are.

It reminds me of a question one of my relatives asked me recently: do you like who you are right now? This version, this stage.

And I think: like how س just seems to innately, intuitively be ‘on her own side’. We do like ourselves. And we intuitively know whom we are, at our cores. And any sorts of frictions/tensions we feel, surrounding whom we are (within moral boundaries) tend to be as a result of our incongruence with our environments, or at least with certain aspects of them, which can include certain people.

And then, our other friend, also ن, [this Arabic-letters-in-place-of-people’s-names things has the potential to get a little confusing at times, it seems] who is currently studying for a degree in neuroscience, Maa Shaa Allah, and who taught us some little interesting facts today, here and there, was asked a question to do with whether she has, thus far, failed to realise any of her dreams [these were questions from a set of interesting ones]. And we realised, I guess, that there’s time, for all sorts of things, In Shaa Allah. There are different avenues; different ways of doing things; different ‘timelines’ that can be followed. And how comforting is it, to know that what is meant for you will be made inevitable for you, if it is good. If it is meant to be, even if, for any brief moment, you think that it is ‘gone’ from you: know that God will show you a better way to it, In Shaa Allah.

When the time is right.

To use an expression that ن mentioned: it’s between “what you [think you] want, and what’s [actually] good for you.”

س and her elder sister, in one of those ‘quiet’ moments that reveal the true love and beauty that is present within a bond, ordered their own individual meals, with the intention of sharing them between themselves. س needed her elder sister’s help, I think, cutting into her waffle, so my friend helped her little sister. And then, later, I saw س cutting into her sister’s burger. I think I expressed how cute I thought that was, to which س quickly replied:

“I’m not helping her. This is for me.

She later complained about the cheese in the burger: “I don’t like the cheese. It’s too

cheesy.”

In س’s family, they used to have something like a ‘cleaning rota’, as well as a cooking one. And each of س‘s siblings has a unique personality and role, in terms of home/familial maintenance (financial, cleaning-wise, and otherwise), within the familial ecosystem.

Something that س finds difficult, in general, is schoolwork at secondary school. It’s hard for her to “listen properly” and “hear what they’re saying”, in videos that she might then have to answer questions pertaining to.

“Sometimes the work is difficult, but then I find my way out of it. I find my way to the answer.”

Secondary school can be hard. As س says, you don’t know the answers, and then you have to go and find them.

It’s kind of like life.

س seems like a very nice kid, Maa Shaa Allah, who truly likes herself, and who truly likes others too.

She remembers that her mother used to play Qur’an within the home: Surah Baqarah, specifically, to keep bad jinn away. س‘s mother used to take her to madrassa, and teach her Qur’an.

س also has a cat called Nala, whom she loves very much.

And she says that her elder sister used to advise her to:

“Treat people the way you want to be treated”.

Then, when the rest of us had been speaking a little about books, our cool little sister let us know, emphatically:

I don’t read books.

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