.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice [fairness, equitability, correctness], as upright guardians, as witnesses to Allah.
Even if it is against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin.
Be they rich or poor,
Allah is best to ensure their interests.
So do not let your desires/lusts cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺.
If you distort it or refuse to exhibit it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.“
— Qur’an (4:135). [Underlinings my own.]
ف loves going to the beach, the stars, and “large bodies of water” in general. She also loves chicken wings, soulful conversations, her cat [first name: Bultoosh. Surname: Ali.] and… politics. In fact, her first degree, and now her Master’s, have been in Politics, so I guess we could say that she’s at least a bit of a political enthusiast. [You walk into her room: you see a placard from a protest casually laying across the floor].
ف lives in an English coastal town, though she frequently commutes to London, for uni.
Yesterday I had worn a black Jilbāb to ف’s house: this consists of a big headscarf, and a long skirt. That question of what to wear: ‘t’has been a journey, for me. I have arrived at this: I love wearing Jilbābs outside. I think they look nice and elegant, a way of honouring myself and reminding myself about my purpose here.
I also think, in line with the Qur’anic explanation, my ‘outer coverings’ are for when I’m around people who are not my Mahram (Mahram = dad, brother, direct uncles, nephews, and so on). When in spaces with Mahaarim or just women, I don’t wear my Jilbāb. I like that distinction, between inner and outer clothes; between the inner and the outer spheres.
And it should never be one to the neglect of the other.
This is something that ف and I had talked about yesterday: physical covering. And I don’t think that the Qur’anic directive to exhibit modesty in certain places and circumstances means that we should go on to neglect certain rites of self-care and so forth, and our right to appreciate (and responsibility to take care of!) the beauty that Allah has equipped us with.
Also: the inner is connected with, and deeply affects, the outer, and vice versa.
Moreover, as with most things within Deen, people are on their own journeys with it. Wine, for example, had not been banned outright and all at once, for the early Muslims. Gradual, one well-intentioned (we hope,) step at a time.
ف also introduced to me quite a nice way of looking at ‘self-care’. It isn’t something that is separate from the rest of life: it ought to find itself woven into our day-to-day doings, and perhaps a good holistic self-care practice should encompass (as well as all the components of health: nutrition, sleep, water, social connectivity, exercise, managing stress levels, and religion/spirituality,) the five senses.
For example, sight: going to places of natural beauty, for aesthetic comfort. Colour psychology considerations. Smell: scented candles, nice-smelling personal care products. Touch: fresh, clean bedding; good skincare, comfortable clothes. Taste: good, healthy and wholesome food. [Cake, too. Sometimes. Self-care!]
Sound: birdsong. The songs of your favourite people laughing. The waves, crashing sporadically against the shore.
On Sundays, also, ف likes to clean her room. Put oil in her hair. Clean, relax, unwind, and prepare for the coming week.
ف’s brother and her new sister-in-law have recently returned from Umrah (from completing the semi-pilgrimage, in Saudi). Yesterday, just as I had been about to ask the first question for this little interview, ف’s sister-in-law, ر, knocked on ف’s bedroom door:
“Do you want to eat cake?” she asked, from the other side. “We’re going to eat cake,” and she invited us to come down and join.
“Do you want cake?” ف asked me.
“Do you want cake?” I asked ف. “Should we eat cake?
As like a glucose-boost kind of thing?”
If you want cake, I don’t mind.”
“…I also want to get that thing from the car.
Would you come with me, pleaaaase?”
“Yeah, I’ll come with you, I don’t mind.”
“…Do you really not wanna go down, ’cause I don’t mind not going down.”
“No, I don’t mind.”
We did end up a) going downstairs, b) eating cake, and c) getting that thing from the car. The thing from the car had been… a cotton bag containing some Body Shop products. I’d missed the Body Shop: they have some really nice (‘self-care’) products containing natural, and nice-smelling, ingredients. [Not sponsored. Unfortunately.]
Recently, ف has written an essay on the postcolonial perspective in “assessing the viability of R2P (‘Responsibility to Protect’) as a basis for humanitarian action”. This woman exudes coolness, Maa Shaa Allah. ‘Cool aunt’ vibes. ‘International Peace and Security’ is what she is currently formally studying.
At her previous university – one SOAS, London – ف had been the President [read: Queen] of the Bangla Society.
Growing up in the part of Kent where she lives, however, had been a “really isolating” experience for her, in terms of being a Person of Colour, and a Muslim, there.
“And you don’t realise how bad it is, until you’re out of it.
“You meet people that are brown that haven’t really experienced racism, [in the same ways,] in London. It’s crazy. It’s like, you just don’t expect for their reactions to your experiences to be like, woah! That happened to you? This is real? Things like that actually happen?
It’s like, yeah, it does happen. Like, I did have ‘Prevent’ classes in form, where the teacher would just ask things that were very… they would elicit racist responses.
One time, part of the presentation that was given out to every class was this ‘British Values’ thing that one teacher would make up. And they asked, ‘What does a terrorist look like?'”
The people in her class said: “Them people that wear the scarves“.
“They didn’t think of this. Any Muslim in the class would feel on guard. And I did, feel on guard, constantly.”
“When you’re the only brown person in the class, you feel backed into a corner. I sort of spoke out, obviously, but not without me feeling really… angry, and tense. It was constant, like, ‘someone’s gonna say something, I’m going to have to do something about it, ’cause I can’t just let it slide’.
“But sometimes you’ve gotta pick your battles, which I did. Sometimes I just wouldn’t reply. One time, I cried, because… Back in 2016, it was just horrendous, the way people would shout, “Allahu Akbar” [“God is Great”], just randomly.”
“After Brexit, there was a surge in racism. And things just got so tense at school, along with that ‘ISIS stuff’, that really peaked. And you just literally didn’t feel you’re safe, as a Person of Colour, going outside. It was crazy. In 2016, how was it still like this?
Yeah, it just be like that [irony and sarcasm are integral to ف’s personality].
I think the worst part was that I just couldn’t have meaningful friendships [with a lot of people who were around her]. It’s like, you were just waiting for them to say something racist, and when they finally did, you were like, ‘okay, there it is’.“
“I remember, this girl I was friends with […], there was this guy, that I guess she had a crush on. I was [sitting on the floor], so she couldn’t see that I was there. And she was like, “Hey, Will!” and she pressed a button on [the keyboard] and then, it was a bomb sound. And she was like, “Allahu Akbar!” And the boy obviously looked at me, like, Oh my God…, and didn’t laugh. Which I was grateful for, but I wish people would have stood up for me more. Because it was just me, standing up for myself.”
“And there was this constant… ‘I have to be the bigger person’. Even though I’m the same age as them. Because when you are of a different race [to the majority,] you just instantly age, like ‘way older’ than everyone else.
“For everyone else, it’s like, they’re ‘allowed’ to be ignorant.”
But when you are Muslim and not white, if you are ‘good’, then you are likely to be looked upon as an ‘exception’: ‘not like the rest of ’em’, ‘one of the good ones’.
Yet, often, if you make a mistake, or if your child is playing ‘too loudly’, or you didn’t notice that your bag is in a place where somebody else wants to sit: it’s “you people,” “f*cking P*kis, no manners,” ‘exactly ‘like the rest”, and so on.
“We’re just under that microscope. We have to be ‘perfect’, or we’ll be criticised like that.”
What does it feel like, to be the brown Muslim in the room? Or, on the train, or at the airport? People dart glances; sometimes, people stare, and do not cease from their staring, even if you look back. Look at you like you’re a zoo animal, sometimes, maybe, or immediately: like you’re disapproved of, like you’ve done something wrong. ‘Random security checks’. Being called a “terrorist”, outside Sports Direct. Loud whispers, sniggers. It seems we’re often just one little error away from a “you people…”.
Sometimes people smile, sometimes people are only curious, friendly, and might just have some questions they want to ask, start talking about the time they visited a Muslim country. Sometimes people say weird things: let racist sentiments slip out, unapologetically.
Rarely, also, some passive-aggression, masked aggression, crawling out from beneath a painted ‘polite’ visage. And people experience worse than this: how quickly a bad situation can devolve into an even worse one!
A word, a scowl, an aggressive barge. [‘Little’ things can still mean a lot].
A punch, a push.
A bloodied nose, a miscarried child, a spit. Pulling headscarves off. Feeling entitled; feeling at liberty to disrupt a stranger’s, fellow human’s, peace. A kick. ‘Legitimised’ by those with power and authority; simply allowed to happen, perhaps because ‘they had it coming’ anyway.
“P*ki”, “f**king terrorist”, the dispensation of threats, even in front of children.
“Sand N-word,” “You people…”. And that classic:
“Go back to where you came from!” [… My mother’s womb?!]
The sentiments underlying those ‘erstwhile’ days of ‘P*ki-bashing’ have seemingly, for the most part, simply crawled under that all-too-recognisable facade of ‘Liberal’, ‘noble’, ‘civilised’ ‘we-hate-you, don’t-worry-we’ll save you’ ‘politeness’. It’s insidious and ubiquitous, it really is.
But the only real antidote to ugliness is… beauty, is it not? The antidote to falsehood is truth; the way to combat evil is through… goodness.
[But if someone attacks you, you’re allowed to defend yourself. In justice: a balanced scale. We have to choose our battles wisely, though.
For safety reasons, and also because, why expend finite energy on meaningless, unfruitful, pursuits?]
Many of us have either witnessed, or heard about, a relative/friend of ours who has been attacked, verbally or physically, on a racial/religious basis. One of my aunts was punched on Tower Bridge. When I was, maybe around seven or eight, a white man, from the window of a nice house, barked something like, “What the f**k are you looking at, you f**king P*ki?!” at me. I’ve seen a male member of my family be physically attacked and called the P-word too; my brother, I’m pretty sure he was there too, and he must have been around two years old at the time.
Fairly recently, ف’s cousin’s little daughter “wasn’t being quiet, or something,” in a public park/garden. So someone took it upon themselves to say, “That’s why you lot can’t…” etcetera etcetera.
A lot of white kids are… simply allowed to be kids. But children of Colour are carrying something with them: skin, being a ‘representative‘, (and thus, sometimes, a vessel for people to really express their hatred) wherever they go.
A few months back, my dad took us fishing, in a place on the outskirts of London, I think. My baby brother (nine years old. I seem to mention him a lot. I’m low-key high-key obsessed with my baby) loves fishing: even as a small child, he used to watch fishing videos on YouTube and spend his time making ‘fish traps’ (to ‘release the fish afterwards’ though) out of recycling materials.
Upon our arrival, the lady who runs the fishing area, without even saying hello to this little boy (who tends to, in spite of how ‘cool’ he generally is, be quite adorably shy around new people) went up to him, and said, in such a (disgustingly,) rude way: “no climbing on the fences. You’re not allowed to climb on the fences. And no running around”.
I just looked at her. Either this woman simply hasn’t interacted with very many human children before, or it was yet another ‘subtly’ racist thing. [Did my brother look like a chimpanzee to her, for this to be the first interaction she had with him?!] Call it a ‘micro-aggression’ [and, yes, something that is difficult about micro-aggressions is that, despite how constant and psychologically distressing they can be, they can be so insidiously ‘subtle’ that they’re difficult to completely put into words]. One of the worst things about things like this is that: often, it is people who preach ‘politeness‘ who behave so rudely, and they get away with it. Their superficial ‘politeness’ seems only to be a weapon, fuel for their unapologetic arrogance.
I kept looking at her, to make it clear that I was not happy with how she just spoke to my brother, who was just standing there, a bit shy, and so excited to start fishing. I think the woman eventually softened, because later she started (‘gently’) talking to me about Christianity and stuff. But I wish I’d just said something like: “Don’t worry, climbing fences doesn’t really constitute my brother’s main hobby. But he does love fishing though.”
When my little brother had been around three years old, we had been sitting in one of those buses, at the airport, which take you from your car to the terminals. [ف had been there too: we’d been coming back from a trip to Spain]. My brother has always been an excited, adventurous kid, and we had all been sitting sort of near each other, but my brother had his own seat. A (grown) man and a woman, a white couple, had been standing behind him. The man started to prod him, quietly, harass him, again and again, make him turn around. Found it funny, sniggered. Later told his partner something like, “He’s actually kind of cute though”. And with these things, again, I’m not sure if these people just don’t know that it’s not okay to touch and harass a random small child. Do these individuals just not like children? Or, are they seeing the brown child as some sort of zoo animal, some plaything? Back then, I had fairly bad social anxiety in situations like those: that tenseness, a hyper-vigilance. 2016. I didn’t quite know whether to say something, ‘make a scene’. Had I been overreacting, over-thinking, in my own mind? I know, it might seem like that man had just innocently been ‘playing around’ with a little kid on a bus. My brother would look behind him, inquisitively; he was maybe a little confused, and he had not been laughing or smiling with them. You can tell, when an interaction between an adult and a child is more pure and playful (when you smile at a child, and make him or her feel comfortable, talk and laugh with them. Stop when it is clear that they’re not enjoying the interaction), versus when it is a little more ‘subtly’ sinister (make him or her feel uncomfortable, a little stressed, laugh at them).
We are not mere postcolonial pets, or playthings. Or, projects, or props, to entertain anybody or to help them feel ‘superior’ against us. And even if a child ‘does not look like you’, he/she actually does look like you. Eyes, nose, hair. Human, bleeds. Why don’t we talk to children as though they are our own children?
The very image of innocence: a child.
I had written part of this article at my local Pret, here in London. While sitting there, I had been right in the middle of sending ف a little voice note, when… a man with a tote bag that had the name of the exact coastal town that ف is from written across it had walked in! ‘[Town name here] Food Market’. Ah, ‘coincidences’. They are only reminders that the Best of Authors, Allah, is the One who is writing these magnificent stories for us, and we are only witnesses.
Prets find themselves dotted around London. In Central London in particular, perhaps, you see one Pret, turn a corner or two, and there’s another one! [I can’t believe they manage to sell some spinach leaves and a boiled egg in a cup for maybe £4, and call it a ‘Protein Pot’].
I also used to have ‘Pret-PTSD‘, after a white middle-aged woman decided I’d been taking up too much space at a table, discussed that, rudely, with someone who had been there with her, and then she had decided to take it upon herself to arrogantly push my laptop towards me. [It would literally just have taken a, “Sorry love, would you mind moving your laptop a little for me please?” Anyway, I think I said something to her like, please don’t touch my property.
Nobody told this lady to sit opposite me anyway.
I had also tweeted about the incident, and then Pret got into contact with me, and sent me some compensatory treats to my house. Chocolate-covered raisins and stuff.]
After secondary school, I had gone to a sixth form in Central London. The notorious EDL (known for their loud, brash, and unapologetic ‘Muslims out! P*kis out!’ disdain towards Muslims and brown people) had come to ‘protest’, in that general area, once or twice. Angry, aggressive, large in number. And some of we hijabi (i.e. headscarf-wearing, Muslim) students sort of hid in the school library for a while. Weird racist/anti-Muslim incidents happen in Central London anyway [for example, a boy from my school had been brought to tears when someone had carried out a racist action, on a ‘normal school day’, in that general area]. On public transport, on the streets; it can be very stressful to experience.
And those sorts of people (members of the EDL), quite notoriously, do all sorts of things to people that they perceive as being ‘the enemy’. Am I ‘overreacting’ by saying that maybe our school should have done or said at least something, maybe to warn us/encourage us to keep an eye out for our own safety?
Institutions, and ensuring that their students/members feel safe and welcome. [Our school allowed for there to be an LGBT society, and a Christian one. But not an Islamic one. ‘Because ‘exclusive’ societies are ‘bad”. Not everyone plays ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ either though, so how come there had been one of those societies there?]. The boys who would make racist jokes, over and over and over again. The things we would overhear; the things teachers would say and do sometimes.
‘Little things’ mean a lot, and they do add up.
Teachers: ف’s professor didn’t ‘like’ the fact that she’d written about ‘R2P’ from the postcolonial perspective. ف is no longer at SOAS, and she has some… reservations about some aspects of her current university.
It’s like something I read in a newspaper (the TLS) recently: basically, that anyone, or anywhere, that has the capacity to teach, also holds the capacity to mislead. Is the act/art teaching not an inherently political (power-based) enterprise? [I think my brother, in Year Four, for example, has been ‘taught’ that macro-evolution is an indisputable ‘scientific fact’. So we had a bit of a conversation about that together.]
The other day, I had gone to pick my little brother and my little cousin up from school. My little cousin is in Year Six, and… his teacher, Michael, used to be our class’ TA, back when I (and my little cousin’s elder brother) had been in Year Six (some ten years ago, now) in that very same classroom! Michael is a really kind and relatable teacher; he’s my cousin’s “favourite teacher”. And, my little cousin’s friend, David, told me that, apparently, Michael holds philosophical debates (about things like fate and free will) in his classroom, with his Year Sixes!
Just after my little cousin’s friend had told me about the classroom philosophy that Michael had been encouraging, I faced a little personal philosophical dilemma of my own. I’d decided to walk up a mini hill, in the park where the football pitch is (where my brother, my cousin, and their friends, like to play football). My shoes had enough grip on them for me to comfortably walk up. [A little boy, maybe a year old, and soooooo adorable, Allah hummabārik, came to the bottom of the hill, and his smile had been so bright and cute that it just melted my ol’ heart. ‘The little things’. But that had not been the philosophical conundrum I’d faced there, that day:]
Another small child, this time, a girl (maybe of… Hispanic descent?) who had been carrying two little sticks, decided to bravely… climb up the hill! She’d essentially walked up, too, and as she had been walking up, she didn’t seem so stable. So I tried to ask her if her mummy or daddy had been around. I don’t think she could speak yet, and there hadn’t been an adult watching her in sight! So, my inner questioning:
Do I help this child up?! In this general pandemic period, and what if I slip, and she falls while I had gotten involved?
Or, do I, a stranger to her, leave the child alone to climb, with her tiny hands occupied, a dangerous hill?!
It just didn’t look safe, so I tried talking to her, while helping her up. We played with the sticks. What a cute kid, Maa Shaa Allah. When she had tried to climb down, I tried carrying her down, and thankfully, a guardian of hers (a middle-aged lady, maybe her nanny) had eventually come to the scene. [All good: the lady had appreciated, and had not been offended by, the fact that I’d carried the little girl. Whew.]
Kids are so cute and funny, Maa Shaa Allah. Like the time a little boy, presumably one of the football boys’ little brother, decided to make a pile of the boys’ coats and bags to ‘sleep on’, while a match had been going on. And the way that smaller boys tend to look up to the older ones, because we naturally know to imitate what we admire (like my brother’s little friend, Zayd, towards him, my brother).
In other news, post-colonially, ‘Liberalism’ is disgusting, and it is a plastic mask ‘concealing’ something far more sinister. It looks like extreme ‘politeness’, and it is arrogance, so much hypocrisy, and entitlement: the aftermath and the birth-child of white-supremacist invasive colonialism.
“If they’re ‘Civilised’,
I’d rather stay ‘Savage’.” — Mona Haydar.
In other news, I would like for my baby brother to grow up to be a beautiful person, and a strong one; one inclined towards justice, and kindness and humility. To love whom he is, how Allah has made him, and to never let the ugliness that (parts of) this world has to offer cause him to internalise it.
Well, while, (virtually,) in the middle of one of my Arabic lessons, (while physically in Pret,) my teacher asked me to translate ‘I love striving in my religion’ into Arabic. The word for ‘striving’ is ‘Jihaad’, of course: a very misunderstood term [it can also, in certain contexts, mean legitimate religious war]. I wrote in chat that… I’d prefer not to say that one out loud, since I’m in a public place right now. My teacher laughed a little, and said she understands. She then gave me a different phrase to translate.
“I remember when I was really young,” says ف, “and me and Abba [‘dad’ in Bengali] were walking towards Tesco’s, and some kid was like, ‘f*cking immigrants’ to us, and we were like, ‘what?’
“I was gonna say, ‘I know more English than you, so…’“
ف and I spoke a little about (civil rights activist) W. E. B. Dubois’ theory of ‘double consciousness’, which describes the feeling that one has more than one social identity (e.g. how white people are seeing me, how I see myself,) which can make it difficult to develop a more ‘organic sense of self’.
Being a brown Muslim in the UK does often feel like constantly considering how we view ourselves, and also how others are viewing and treating us. That heavy feeling of responsibility to ‘disprove’ particular narratives, when we are just trying to be… ourselves.
“Especially with the media. Coverage on us is overwhelmingly negative,” [and this really affects how we, as individuals, are then viewed and treated].
Which aspect[s] of ‘Politics’ does ف care about, the most?
“Justice. That’s all I care about, honestly.
I love holding people to account, I love uncovering issues that aren’t talked about enough. And I love writing about things that people don’t know about, the issues that people don’t know about.”
ف writes for a group called the ‘Student Association of British-Bangladeshis’, which her friend started. She has written, for example, an article about the role of women in the Bengali language movement.
“It was crazy, with the amount of stuff that the women did for it. Like, when people would be wounded from the protests, they [the women] would go door-to-door, to raise funds for them.
One of the nurses would cover for the wounded [protesters]; when the police came, they would say that they were just patients.
‘Little’ things like that, but also ‘big’ things, like signing petitions, marching, being part of the processions.”
ف has also written about important issues such as domestic abuse, and about institutional racism: about “how the language we use is important, and words have a weight, and a meaning.” [That is what language does: it carries and conveys meaning!]
An excerpt from this particular article of hers:
“‘P*ki’ is not ‘banter’: the power behind the trivialisation of language.
“Words are often underestimated in their effects on our ontologies: how we view the world, and how it shapes us. Language is significant because of the implicit meanings behind them, that can, in part, be difficult to break down, and express.
“Words are expressions of thoughts that have contextual, historical, emotional, and intangible value. We shape our worlds through words. And these words mould our experiences of it.
“Narratives build upon other narratives, to meld into each other’s individual experiences of the world, until it takes a life of its own.
“‘P*ki’ not only personifies violence, but its dehumanisation of the human subject also ‘justifies’ it. Essentially, vocabularies form the microcosm of institutional racism.“
She had also written about how we often lack the tools to expose institutional racism, and “we need institutional change to recognise, let alone challenge, institutional racism.”
The coolest places that ف has travelled to: as aforementioned, she really loves… bodies of water. “I really love waterfalls, man.” She loves Islamic architecture too: how the beauty of all the inscriptions can come together to look so awe-inspiringly beautiful.
“Like, when I went to Spain and Morocco, I saw that.”
ف has visited the University of Al-Qarawiyyin in Fez, which is the world’s oldest university, founded in the 9th Century CE, and by a Muslim woman: Fatima al-Fihri.
“Yeah, that was cool.”
And if ‘home’ is the place in which, and with the people around whom, you really feel like you belong, and are loved precisely for being you, then:
“When you’re in a place where you’re ‘supposed‘ to belong, but you don’t, it’s even more alienating.”
ف is a girl from a coastal town in Kent, who did not go to Kent University, but instead chose to go to SOAS in London. She has, however, felt like an ‘outsider’ at both places, at times, for varying reasons.
But, on the ISOC (Islamic Society) at SOAS:
“I loved ISOC. It was so good. Especially compared to [her current uni’s name, which I shall not include, for avoidance-of-libel reasons].
“They [at the SOAS Islamic Society] were literally so friendly. There was this one girl called Siraat, who welcomed me in, so nicely. And I attribute my positive experiences with ISOC… to her.
“Also, when you just go to the first events, and you make friends there, then you see them again and again and again, I think that’s great.”
“The point of ISOC is that you’re supposed to be welcomed in.
“The thing is, I did have negative experiences too. But it was more… outside of the ISOC setting, but with people that went to ISOC.”
At her current university (though she says it had not been like this at SOAS,) ف found that some Muslims who are part of ISOC make it a little ‘clique-y’, and aren’t particularly friendly and welcoming towards everybody. It’s sad, because Muslims should embody Islam, and what is any body, without its spirit, its heart and soul?
When people are warm and friendly, it “makes you wanna be like them. Like, you [then] wanna exude that kinda energy for someone else.“
ف felt inspired, in terms of religion, when she “went out and found the knowledge myself […] and when I went to ISOC events and learnt stuff, that was so interesting. I really liked it.”
ف and I spoke a tiny bit about natural remedies, like using ‘rice water’ in order to strengthen one’s hair.
ف’s mum had also cut a big leaf from her aloe vera plant, and asked ف if she wants any: aloe vera is known to be good for skin, and for eating/drinking. ف said she isn’t particularly a fan of completely–natural skincare, since it doesn’t contain preservatives.
Somewhat connected to skincare, and caring for our exteriors: ف does not like it when people focus too much on exteriors, for example in terms of religion, at the expense or to the neglect of, the interior. It just “baffles” her, when people do so; when people use ‘religion’ as a tool for aggressive social control.
Prayer, fasting, charity, should be towards the goal of being a good person; religion should not be used as a tool for arrogance, and in a hypocritical way. That would be such a fundamental irony.
Sometimes, people come to care more about ‘what people might think’, than… the heart, and what is actually true.
Then, ف and I talked a little about the ‘Male Gaze’, and about whether or not the ‘Female Gaze’, also, exists. I ask ف if she thinks I’d be an ‘alpha’ if I were male. She says no. Which is good, because if I were male, I think I’d want to aspire to be an alif male, and not an ‘alpha’ one, anyway. [Alif: first letter of the Arabic alphabet. Alpha: first letter of the Greek one].
After that: colourism. A rampant issue within a number of Asian communities. ‘Fair’ is beauty, for some, while ‘dark’ is ‘ugly’. In Bengali, unfortunately, the word ‘shundor’ (‘pretty/beautiful’) is used as a direct synonym for ‘fair’; to them, ‘shundor’ is ‘fair’ just as much as… ‘water’ is ‘H2O’. It’s ‘indisputable’. It’s hard to explain to some people that dark is beautiful too, because in that case, linguistically, that would be a contradiction [‘ugly’ is ‘beautiful’ doesn’t make linguistic sense. Words shape worlds, and they are also shaped by them.]
“I only started appreciating my skin colour, how nice it looks [Maa Shaa Allah: beauty is from Allah!] a couple years ago.”
ف adds that she’s lucky that her dad would reassure her: “your skin colour looks beautiful. People pay to have your hair, people pay to have your skin.”
Again, in the faces of uglier forces, ف advises that we ‘choose our battles’ wisely: we know what might prove mentally draining, and fruitless, in the end. “You can’t fight everyone. It’s just gonna take too much out of you.“
Environment matters so much too, and this is a great form of self-care: if you have a choice, choose the better environment, the better people, the better friends, for yourself. SOAS over Kent Uni, maybe; a particular friendship group over another option.
Like, “I like who I am, when I’m with you.“
Environment: people, in a particular place, because of their background, may not consider you to be attractive (physically, or in terms of interior) at all. And then, environment shift, and perspective shift: the boys at ف’s former school, in that coastal town, would make fun of how she looked. That didn’t make it ‘true’ that she is unattractive: at SOAS, of course, things were very different. It takes the right eyes to appreciate real beauty!
At her former school: “I remember, I was called a chocolate bar, as well, by one boy.” [What a terrible attempt at an insult.]
In that former environment, “[she] matured a lot quicker than everyone else. And even the teachers wouldn’t say [anything]. It was crazy.“
Finally, that evening, ف and I had spoken about expectations on women. It’s not Islamic that a woman, a female child, should be treated unjustly, and overburdened. It’s not ‘Islamic’ that a boy should just learn to be so entitled that he does not help out, and when he does, say… wash a plate or something, he is commended so extortionately as a result of that. These are ‘cultural’ features (for example, in many South Asian households), which find themsleves recycled throughout generations. In other families, things are more fair. A woman is to be honoured, and not overburdened and belittled.
Nowadays, how do some people expect that women do “all of it”, in terms of doing all the housework, emotional care, upbringing of children, caring for the elderly. Managing the household, getting an excellent education, and maintaining a brilliant career. Oh, and a good social life. How do people become upset, disappointed when we prove, time and time again, that we are human?
[Just a random example of hypocrisy: how some will use ‘religion, religion, religion’, as a form of social control. ‘Be like Muhammad SAW’s wives’, and so on. But Muhammad SAW himself helped out in the home; did his own chores, humbly.
And when his daughter, Fatima (RA), would enter a room, he would stand up, kiss her, take her by the hand, and seat her where he had been sitting. We should definitely follow suit, and tell our girls that they are beautiful; treat them like princesses!]
ف’s favourite things about living in the seaside town in which she does:
“The beach. Bike-riding around [the town]. In the summer, it’s such a vibe.
“I love just ringing up a friend, and being like, ‘let’s go to the beach’, [and them being like,] ‘yeah, I’ll see you in half an hour’. I’m like, ‘cool’. We talk about things, get ice-cream, get chips. We try and run away from the seagulls. We go to the ice-cream shop as well, in the summer, when it opens back up.
“Me and my friend Sharn, we tried every single flavour at the ice-cream shop, this summer. Except for four [e.g. liquorice. And rum, which has alcohol in it, so she can’t have that one].”
“The carrot sorbet one was surprisingly good.” [Love it when we try something new, and actually like it. There are so many parts of ourselves that we just haven’t met yet! What a thought.]
“You’re constantly learning about yourself. It’s cute.” And also:
“The sea is therapeutic. I love just watching the waves. It makes you feel so calm.” And also also:
“I’ve taken up sewing. Now I hem my trousers. It’s great.”
“Going outside helps massively. Like, you [i.e., people in general] get in your head so easily. You just overthink and overthink. Sometimes you just literally need to touch grass. You need to go outside, just… take a breather, just realise that everything’s in your head.“
“Feeling your feelings: really important. You can’t just go without things, and push things down. […] You need to take some time out of your day to think, ‘okay, what am I actually feeling?‘ And then you need to connect it to where you’re feeling it, in your body. And it helps you feel.“
Both ف and I, and ف’s friends, have, for example, gone through depressive episodes. Seasonal depression too. It’s ‘normal‘. And, in those times, things like journalling help, at least a little.
ف keeps a journal “on [her] computer,” now.
“Sometimes, you just need to make things accessible for yourself. Whatever form, whatever shape it takes.”
We find that there is no rigid, universal ‘manual for self-care’. It’s what is best for you.
Anyway, places that should maybe sponsor this blog now: Pret. The Body Shop. The TLS. The ice-cream shop in Folkestone, and also its food market. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin, Fez, Morocco. Anywhere where I can get good, nutritious food/self-care products, some good intellectual stimulation, and maybe some cake also, free of charge, really.
Love whom Allah has made you:
love whom you do be.