ع: Faith and Flowers, Tulips and Türkiye. Chemistry and Hayaa’. Motherhood, Reproduction, and Natural Medicine.

.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

ع’s favourite flower is the tulip.

She is named after, perhaps, the greatest female Muslim scholar to have ever lived, and she currently resides in Manchester, England, while her parents are currently living in Istanbul, Turkey.

ع plays the duff drum, she has her own baking business; she is currently formally studying Classical Arabic, at this prime age of 19. Allah hummabārik (may Allah bless both her business and her studies).

So, what do ع‘s parents do?

“I don’t know what they do, because they do… too many things!

“Before [they were] married, my mum and dad both did a Chemistry degree. My mum did a Master’s, and then went on to do PGCE. My dad got a PhD in Chemistry, in Physical Chemistry [Maa Shaa Allah, Allah hummabārik].

[The time is 22:24, and as I write this up, I’m wondering why I didn’t make a, ‘one could say, they had Chemistry between themselves’ joke earlier.]

“And they both worked for AstraZeneca [pertinent, what with the Coronavirus] and they both were married. They were working in different departments, and, it was a very racist time.

“My mum’s name is Saira, but they used to call her Sarah, and my mum’s from the North of Pakistan. She looks very ‘white’ in complexion, so when they worked there [in Manchester, for AstraZeneca], a long time ago, [others] used to be nice to her, because they thought she was white, not Pakistani. And her surname was Khan, but they spelt it ‘Carne’, for some reason. Because they didn’t know how to write it.

“It was a very, very racist, proper ‘pro-white’ time.

“She’s [i.e. ع’s mum has] told me stories where, my dad would have his walkie-talkie, in one car, and hers in the other, because they used to get lost on the way to work.

“[For a particular period,] my dad was still studying [for his PhD], and my mum was working before that, so my mum was actually providing for my dad [at this time]. And my dad, because he was doing a PhD, he actually lectured my mum at some point.

“And my mum went to school with my dad’s sister [ع’s parents have a four-year age difference between them]. Throughout the whole of high school, she had no idea, until she got married. She saw her, she was like, ‘Oh my God! Is that you?!”

[Pause conversation: a sister at our college asks us, in such a lovely manner, “Would you guys like some baklava?”

Oooh! Yes please,”

ع remarks: “Turkey [where ع’s parents currently are, and where she too has lived and studied Arabic, for a while]. Turkey’s come to me!”

The baklava-bearing sister says, “Bismi Llah [In the name of God].

What are your names? I’ve met you before, haven’t I?

Nice to meet you.” A brief conversation between us ensued.

The sister tells us:

“I live here, during the course [she is studing Islamic Studies], but my family live in Luton. Alhamduli Llah [‘Praise and Thanks are for Allah’], yeah, we’re Lutonians. How are you finding Arabic?”

Intense. Did you do this course as well?”

“Not this particular course. We did the one in Morocco, but Alhamduli Llah, it was good.”]

Maa Shaa Allah, Allah hummabārik, ع thinks her parents have a healthy marriage. They renew their intentions, with their marriage, annually, and also make time for themselves.

“Even when we were kids, they’d have, like, random trips away. They’d leave me with my grandma. Both my grandmas. My grandmas are actually very close: my mum’s mum and my dad’s mum. [She says that her mother’s relationship with her father’s mother is not one those stereotypically strained ones. ع’s mother has lived with ع’s grandma throughout almost 25 years of her marriage].

ع adds: “I’ve lived with my grandma [ع’s father’s mother] my entire life.

“I’ve been so engrossed in the community and family, that I can’t say, ‘just my parents have raised me’. It was a whole community of people. Dhikr [remembrance of God] gatherings, scholars, Alhamduli Llah… many different people.

“My Qur’an teacher’s actually the granddaughter of [a Syrian scholar, who] I’m sure many, many Syrians will know. And his granddaughter lived in Manchester when she did her Chemistry degree, and she’s now got a PhD in Chemistry. She lives in Syria right now. And we literally have Qur’an lessons over the phone, whenever I’m free.

“Even though I can read it with Tajweed [Tajweed: proper and melodic pronunciation of Qur’anic recitation], and I’ve learnt Tajweed, Alhamduli Llah, I would still never [want to] lose that student-teacher feeling. Because it trains your Nafs [Nafs: ‘inner-self’, or ‘ego’]. I think that’s something I’m always conscious of, as well. And it makes you get back in your position, like, you’re not a ‘teacher’; you’re always a student. A student first.

“Every teacher [even,] should always be a student.

What was I talking about? My parents! Yeah.”

“And they would defy all these [cultural] ‘Asian standards’, and: ‘What will people think?!’ It was never that, it was, your religion first, and then your [ethnic] culture. That’s a big thing, because my mum was not practising, when she was younger.”

“She had a very different life to my dad as well. She was also brought up in a massive community, cultural family, but my grandma was always ill. She was rarely there for my mum. So my mum was a very strong-minded person, and she was brought up around brothers.

“She’s got three brothers. And I’ve got three brothers. And my dad’s got four sisters.”

“My mum was a high school teacher as well. That’s why, you said, What does my mum do; I can’t say it, because she’s doing… so many things. Right now, she’s doing a degree in Naturopathy and Islamic Medicine. And she’s a Tabeeba. But before that, she was a high school, A-level, teacher, and before that, she was a chemist, a scientist, a pharmacist… It’s just, so many things.

In terms of teaching: “My mum has […] taught kids in, like, a prison school. Like, a juvenile detention centre.

“And then, she’s been to a Catholic school, and taught Catholic kids.”

“She’s been through a lot. And, when she worked in the labs, she was pregnant with my younger brother, who’s now got special needs. In the labs, there was something there, which made most of the women there, if they [got pregnant] later on, have a genetic mutation in their children. And they only found out, like, years and years later.

“So, my brother, he’s got ‘tuberous sclerosis complex’, and epilepsy and autism, a whole umbrella of things. [He’s] very special needs. But he walks and talks. Developmentally, [he’s] ten, [but his actual age is] almost eighteen.

“I also have a brother that’s ten. We’ve been brought up with special needs children, seeing children die constantly, like from cancer, terminal illnesses… all his [her 17-year-old brother’s] friends. Because he went to a special school for special needs children.”

[The sister with the baklava returns to us, after going around the room. In her lovely manner: “You want some more?”

“No, thank you.

It was really nice.”]

“It never changed my faith, seeing children die [and she says that this fact has been questioned by some people].”

In Jannah, there is love without separation.

“My mum embedded my religion, love of God, and God’s love of me, when I was little. The first thing I remember her saying to me was, ‘Allah loves you. And you should love Allah.

“‘He loves you so much that He’s given you this, He’s given you that. It was never like, ‘God ‘hates’ you, because He’s given you a special needs brother, who probably won’t live that long’. He will never grow up to see your children, probably, he will never get married…

“But he asks, like, ‘When I’m older, can I be… a paramedic,’ or… ‘When I’m older, can I be a hairdresser’? But you know that, [in his head,] he’s gonna be, like, ten/eleven. Even when he’s, like, thirty.”

ع also mentioned how some people have been cruel enough to suggest that God gave her mum a child with special needs sins ‘on account of her sins’. But we Muslims believe that difficulties are (often replete with blessings in disguise, and are also) trials from Allah: to see which of us will be best in deeds.

Why are ع’s parents in Turkey right now?

“They constantly come back [to England], but they live in Istanbul because they wanted Sulayman, my youngest brother, to have a Muslim upbringing. He’s lived nine years in a non-Muslim country, he’s living this next year in a Muslim country. In summer, it’ll be a year, he’s been there.

“But we’ve been there [Turkey,] since we were little.

“He [Sulayman] has [private] online school. It’s British, Western school. So when they tried to teach him sex education… He’s only ten years old, they’re trying to teach him asexual, sexual, reproduction in humans. How a woman’s body changes.”

[Sulayman (‘Solomon’, in Arabic) also shares the same name with one of our teachers’ baby son. She had brought him into the college yesterday, and had been teaching Logic, via the Arabic language. Her son. Is. Gorgeous. Allah hummabārik.].

“He [the older Sulayman, ع’s brother] has Hayaa’ [Hayaa’: modesty, shame/shyness, decency. Self-honouring, dignity].

“He went to my mum and was like, ‘Take my laptop away! I don’t wanna participate in the lesson!’

“He speaks like a little old man.

“And he’s okay with ‘not having friends‘, he doesn’t really want what we call ‘friends‘ [in the popular areligious sense], he doesn’t wanna ‘fit in’ with anyone.”

“My older brother [22 years old. And in her Mancusian accent: ‘brootheh’], he’s the complete opposite to me. He went to normal state school, took a year out to work, he is a businessman at heart. He’s good with community, people. He’s not as ‘academic’, but he’s very intelligent, [Maa Shaa Allah].”

“We have a really deep conversation [together] once a month or something. Like, randomly, once… I haven’t actually told anyone this… He drove me, like midnight, to a field, somewhere, where you could see all the stars. And he goes, ‘This is where I go to’.”

“He was telling me about what he wants to do with his life, and things that have been bothering him, and how he’s missed my family.”

[As women, we should really try to be there for our Mahaarim male relatives. It’s really sweet. And vice versa: the men in our families, for us.]

And then, later: back to reproductive education: how does ع think we should go about teaching kids these things?

“I think, teaching them when you know, as a mother, or a father, [or, perhaps, as a close guardian] that they’re ready to understand it… Because he [Sulayman], of course, he can have his innocence [right now]. He’s only ten years old.

“But when it comes to that time, naturally, when he’ll be questioning it… He’s so free with his words: he will [likely] just ask me, or my dad.

“For example, when he was in Year Two, and they were talking about ‘LGBT’, straight away, I had a conversation with him, and I told him everything. I was like, ‘Ask any questions. It’s fine! You’re allowed to ask questions‘”.

“I’m like his mum. When he was born, I looked after him. And I was like his little mother. So, we have a very different bond, almost. Because my mum was really busy with my younger brother, who has special needs: he was really ill at that point, so I was looking after my youngest brother. She was looking after him, [but] like, we’d swap [sometimes].”

“When I had that conversation [with him], I was like, ‘a ‘gay’ person is this‘. ‘Islamically, we believe this‘. ‘Some people say this‘. If kids ask questions, obviously they’re intelligent enough to know about it. Do you know what I mean?”

She says that Sulayman had been “talking about philosophy, at such a young age [Allah hummabārik]!”

“It’s like, when they ask, ‘What food is in this dish?’ You tell them,” in a tailored way. An organic conversation. Different children learn, and see the world, differently. [E.g. you might want to explain the vitamin contents of broccoli to one child, but tell another one that they’re mini trees that are waiting to be gobbled up!]

So, how should we approach, as Muslims, conversations regarding sexuality and reproduction?

Firstly, we should see it for what it is: creation, in the form of the human being, is so sacred. It is not some mere accidental amassment of random cells: it is designed by Allah, and chosen. And physical intimacy is something that has been given to us. Not solely toward the objective of producing children (although, that is awe-inspiringly amazing. ع showed me the rough size of a woman’s womb: tiny. And then: how it stretches and is made to adapt, to hold, protect, and nurture, a whole human baby).

“Surely in the heavens and the earth are signs for the believers.

And in your own creation, and whatever living creatures He dispersed, are signs for people of sure faith.

Qur’an, (45:3—4) [underlinings my own].

There is also a strong emotional and spiritual component to sexual intimacy, and we, as Muslims, should know this.

In coming into adolescence, we naturally grow a developed understanding of ourselves, in terms of physicality, in terms of attraction. And the Islamic way is the way of the middle: Hayaa’. We shouldn’t freely indulge, shouldn’t freely talk about it in a crass way, with people with whom we are not married. Shame, shyness, is a protective feature.

And also: your Lord made you. He knows (you better than you know yourself, and) and has equipped you with a more physical gnosis of yourself… We are not ‘creating‘ ourselves – in this sense – as we go along, per se: we are discovering whom and how our Creator has created us.

There is no monasticism in [this] religion’, but there is moderation [We are, to use the Qur’anic expression, a ‘middle community’, so]:

To not shy away from sexual matters entirely; to not treat our bodies and selves as though we are materialistic, mechanistic robots; to not ‘monastically’ bar ourselves from what Allah has made lawful [e.g. eat and drink, but don’t go overboard. Fast, and break your fast. Have fun in life, be compassionate, and also: take serious things seriously; there are rules in place too. Talk, but try to only speak good words.

Enjoy having sexual relations, but only with whom is Halāl for you.]

At the same time, I think, some people, in some communities, ‘shy’ away so much from conversations about sexuality that… they show a reluctance to even speak about it. [Sex isn’t Harām. Extramarital sex is. In a similar vein [or, intestine], food, and enjoying it, isn’t Harām. But eating at times when you should be fasting, is.] I think ‘shying away’ from talking about sex excessively is a ‘cultural’, and not religious, feature. And also:

Acting like marriage, and physical intimacy, should be mainly focused on male gratification, and so on: no, both the man and the woman have desires and rights, and a woman is a complete human being, endowed with a Divinely-gifted soul, also. A woman is not solely an object; a wife is not a mere ‘walking womb’.

So, definitely, between treating sexuality like it is an inherently ‘bad’ thing altogether, and over-indulging, being obsessed, pursuing relations via illegitimate avenues… There is a way, and it is the best way, for both the male and the female; Allah has made it so.

It also does sadden me that some Muslims seem to operate on some basis that seems so… detached from the awe-inspiring facts of creation, the sacredness of things like our bodies, male and female, Qur’anic paradigms… and seemingly, instead, excessively, harshly and with a lack of sensitivity, focus on… whether a strand or two of hair is accidentally showing from beneath a woman’s headscarf, or on… wrongfully shaming a small child for having pink nail polish applied onto her nails or something. [Where on Earth have these attitudes come from?!]

I love that many Muslim parents have established and nurtured, within their homes and families, environments in which things can be talked about, comfortably and openly, and even humorously. Some Muslim young people tell their parents, without thinking, when they fall in love, or when they might be confused about something. And respect is still shown, and Hayaa’ is still demonstrated. [I love this.]

And what about the topic of LGBT? From the Islamic perspective, having extramarital relations, and having homosexual ones, is forbidden. The people of Lut (AS) [Biblically, Lot] had been the first men to have practised their sexual desires on men, instead of women; they had practised sodomy.

Behold, their brother Lut said to them:

“Will ye not fear (Allah)? I am to you a messenger worthy of all trust. So fear Allah and obey me. No reward do I ask of you for it: my reward is only from the Lord of the Worlds.

Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!” 

They said: “If thou desist not, O Lut! You will assuredly be cast out!” 
He said: “I do detest your doings.”

Qur’an, (26:160—168).

And his people gave no answer but this: they said, ‘Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who keep themselves pure!

Qur’an, (7:82).

Allah has created us in pairs: male and female. And I, as a Muslim, do believe that ‘LGBTQ…’ is sexual immorality. Like how adultery, arrogance, associating partners with Allah, and so forth, are sins. I do know some people who identify as ‘LGBTQ…’ and my personal view is that, these people are unaware of the Truth. I detest the sin, and find it repulsive. However, since they might not be acquainted with the Truth, perhaps they aren’t blameworthy.

On the one hand, with one person I know who practises the above, I have mentioned that, because of my religion, I don’t agree with the practice: we disagree on religious grounds, and I sort of make it clear that I don’t want to talk openly about it. At the same time, I won’t take it upon myself to ‘aggressively condemn‘ them and so forth:

In Islam, the worst sins are arrogance and associating partners with Allah. I find it strange that some Muslims will be good to people who are arrogant, perhaps, and good to people who associate partners with Allah. They might be friendly with people who do the other things that we see as being sinful. But they might treat the sin of sexual immorality with a whole different energy. I’m not sure if heightening the status of these sins over all the other ones is indicative of… sincerity.

[Equally, though: how much it is all being propagandised, at schools, at various workplaces and institutions…]

Moreover, one of my personal views on the subject is that… the male and the female have been created as partners: one of the miracles and signs from Allah.

I think, some men naturally have something strong of the feminine essence within them, and perhaps this should be honoured, in moderation: not denied, and yet not indulged in so much that they now seem like women. Likewise, I think some women have a decently strong ‘inner masculine‘: it doesn’t make them men, and nor should one let one’s desires run so ‘free’, unbridled, that one comes to internalise the notion that either she is now a ‘man’, or that her ideal sexual partner is somebody of the same gender.

[Personally, I know that I would like to eventually marry, In Shaa Allah, a man who has a decently strong feminine essence about him. Yin and Yang. The presence of their more ‘feminine’ qualities does not render them ‘effeminate’, nor women. And also, I being, in part, attracted to their more feminine qualities does not mean that I should be with a woman.

Men who… have facial hair and everything, and are overall distinctively… men. And can also cook well, and are also quite nurturing and gentle and poetic and emotionally-in-touch…]

As Muslims, we should strive to be people of sincerity. Balance. The middle.

Next: ع’s parents are chemists who have worked for AstraZeneca. So, what are their views on the [coronavirus] vaccine?

“Because my mum looked at, she was working in breast cancer research, looking at medicine, all sorts of treatments… [She talks about radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and about the development of cancer treatment, over time].

“So, they [her parents] think that it should be tested more, of course, because we are the trial. If it’s ‘so effective‘, why do they keep coming out with ‘boosters’ and ‘second jabs‘?

“If you look at the flu vaccine, it still doesn’t work. And the corona… will eventually turn into a flu. That’s why, now, we don’t have to wear a mask, because it’s like catching a flu.

[Someone is calling the Adhaan from upstairs. A beautiful sound. Break for prayer.]

Back. What does ‘health’ mean, to ع?

She talks about how her parents, academically, come from ‘scientific’ backgrounds, and have worked in the pharmaceutical industry. And then, they went into naturopathic medicine. Because the human being is a complex and holistic thing.

“And I actually did classes in iridology [looking at the iris, for indications relating to health. Another reason why the human body is so awesome, Maa Shaa Allah: signs of health/illness can be seen in things like facial skin, hair, fingernails, and the eye].”

“For example, one of the first times I tried it, on a woman who had PCOS, I was like, [before knowing that she has PCOS,] ‘You’ve got an issue with your ovaries…?!'”

ع tells me more about iridology; she also shows me a complex chart on her phone, about it [“I can actually show it you right now.”

“Did you say, ‘Show it you’?

“Yeah.”

We don’t say ‘show it you‘.”

“What? Why?”

“It’s like a Manchester expression.”

“Is it?!”

“Yeah!”

“‘Show it you?’

“Yeah.”].

“So… here it is. This is your eye. Your eye, you know how they say, ‘It’s the window to your soul‘? The eye is also the window to your health: body, mind, everything.”

ع explains parts of the chart to me.

“As an Islamic [naturopathic] doctor, what they do is, I know it [sounds] strange, but they can map your whole body out, just by looking at you. They can see what’s wrong with you. Just one glance, ’cause they’re so experienced. You come in, you [say,] have a spot on your chin [and it looks] a certain way… you might have a yellow complexion… Or, you might have very little hair on your eyebrows, or a lot of hair… Straight away. You don’t even have to see the hair, on the head.”

To me: when I think about ‘health’, I think… soundness. Balance. The absence of excess; the absence of inadequacy. Needs being met, and things functioning optimally.

“Follow the Sunnah, and Hadīths.

“The way… even just drinking water affects your body. If you stand up and drink water, naturally, it actually affects the way you digest [We’re supposed to be sitting when we drink]. If you… lie down and eat, it affects the way you digest.

“Even when sitting on the toilet… squat. Have a ‘squatty-potty’. […] Your knees should always be above your hips when you’re on the toilet. Stuff like that”

[Away from talking about toilets… How can I make a smooth, authentic transition here?

Peace signs, peace signs. New whiteboard.]

ع also recommends putting a slice of cucumber inside a date, when you eat dates: because a date has a very ‘hot constitution’, and the cucumber would help to counterbalance it with coolness.

“I think everything’s just in the Sunnah, when it comes to nutrition. [But she says that this knowledge can often seem more ‘hidden’]”.

She talks about bodily/personality constitutions, and about how we all aspire to be more like Muhammad (SAW).

“Subhaan Allah, it’s really beautiful: the idea of nutrition. But definitely, follow the Sunnah. Follow natural medicine, because… why put artificial, chemical things in your body, when you’re made of ‘natural’ substances, you know? Even though it takes longer to heal, but isn’t that what [nature] is all about?”

ع talks about a Chinese medical practice: if an elderly person has cancer, “you don’t tell them. You just let them die, live their life. They actually live longer.”

“Chinese medicine: you used to be able to not tell the patient, and tell their family, and they would keep it from them. And they would just live their life normally, and they would live longer, because they say… The thought of you dying kills you more than the actual, biological thing, as well”.

“Natural medicine, Islamic medicine, it’s a whole unexplored world. I think that’s what my mum, and other Tabeebs and Tabeebas are trying to bring out in the world.”

“Your body’s an Amānah [from Allah]. You have to look after it.” [Amānah: a trust; something that is entrusted to you]. “‘Cause God gave it you. Your soul is just ‘renting’ your body, right?”

To Allah we belong, and we have to look after ourselves “mentally, physically, spiritually, as well.”

[The sister who had shared the baklava is leaving. “As-Salaamu ‘alaikum! It was nice to meet you! Take care!”]

ع talks a little about the modern milk industry: the hormones, the preservatives, and so on.

“At one point, [my mum] just got everything from the farm. Even though it was so expensive, [and] we had to stop after a while…”

ع says that ghee (clarified butter) and certain other fatty and whole foods are “really good for a woman“. She also says that the region around a woman’s womb should be kept fatty and warm. “‘Cause it’s effectively protecting your womb. ‘Cause my mum specialises in the womb.

ع gets up her mother’s Islamic/health Instagram page. “My mum’s got more followers than me!

She shows me some of the Instagram posts. “Stuff like: ‘Women are Sacred!'” Greco-Arabic (‘Unani’) medicine. Mizan Therapy [reproductive and emotional healing techniques]. Herbs. Hijaamah [which means cupping,] and fire-cupping, “which I love, personally speaking! It’s one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever had to experience”.

“It’s a deep tissue massage, so all your stresses, everything, just goes.

“But, obviously, it’s a bit different, having your mum do it. I would say, it’s less comfortable having your mum do it…”

When is the best age for a woman to have kids?

“There’s no ‘age’. Obviously, in natural medicine, quite young. Because your womb, it… ages, you lose eggs. I guess it’s common sense, but… that’s when your body’s ripe to have a baby. It’s like… imagine eating fruit that’s too ripe, it’s about to go off, d’you know what I mean? That type o’ thing.

“Your womb… I guess it’s like an oven. It’s ‘pre-heated’ perfectly. [She laughs as she says:] You wanna put a cake in the oven at the right time! You know? That’s how I would think of it.

“And people, after a certain age, they have issues having babies. Like, my mum’s dealt with fertility [issues], and if IVF hasn’t worked for someone, when they finally have a baby, they’re like, ‘Thank you so much!’

She says that a woman’s emotional state and trauma can also affect fertility.

I say: “I need to meet your mum”.

“In Shaa Allah.”

Turns out: ع’s mum, at the time, had been in Antalya, Turkey. ع’s dad had taken her there, as a surprise. [Allah hummabārik, may Allah bless their relationship].

“Unfortunately, it rained once they were there.”

I say: “Rain’s a blessing.

“Yeah, I guess. But not when you can’t go to the beach!”

ع speaks a little more about her mum: a woman who had been in the habit of regular prayer, even from a young age. She had grown up in a “massive family,” with aunties and uncles living on the same road, in South Manchester, and she is a “very fiery, feisty kind of woman”.

For their honeymoon, ع’s parents had gone to Istanbul, all those years ago.

“She went into Topkapi Museum, and in Turkey, you cannot go into any mosque, even if you’re a tourist, without covering your head [and clothes must go below the knees].

“They literally keep Abayas on hangers.”

ع’s mum later explored “different routes within Islam”, and became more practising.

ع is a trained singer of Qasidas [odes, poetry], and also plays the duff drum. Since she was seven years old, she says, she’s been singing in Arabic; now, what with her formal Arabic language studies, she understands what she’s been singing!

On expectations on women:

Although, in some ethnic ‘cultures’ and families, women might be overburdened with chores, and ultimately dishonoured…

“In Muslim countries, being a housewife is a beautiful… [many women] want to be a housewife. It’s like, you don’t have to work. It’s literally called ‘Rabbatul-Bayt’ [meaning: the Lady/female Lord of the house].”

“Like, when I was in Turkey, I was in shock. I remember coming home to my mum, I was like, ‘They believe that… they all want to be housewives! Why would they think that?’

ع talks about how her mother would call herself a “stay-at-home mum”. ع was like, “‘No you’re not!'”

ع’s mother would teach, be connected with her home, and also take her family to a traditional knowledge gathering, every Saturday. There, they would sit on the floor, listen to a Shaykh speak, take notes; there would be a partition between the brothers and the sisters.

Apparently, in ‘Turkish culture’, there is such an emphasis on the sanctity of the female, and a high level of respect for mothers (and, connectedly perhaps, for female teachers/scholars). In Islamic history: ‘A’iyshah (RA), whom ع is named after, had been a prolific scholar, and she has also been given the title, ‘The Mother of the Believers’.

“Your mother is your teacher, your mother is your guide, your mother is your best friend.”

ع thinks that self-care means looking after herself spiritually, first and foremost.

“You know in the West, you’re taught to put things above your religion. Like, when you get a job, at your interview, do you say, one of the first things, if they ask you if you have any questions, ‘Do you have a place where I can pray?’

“It’s not ‘normal’ to say, here. You go to a [Muslim] country [like Turkey,] they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you have a break on Friday, this long, because you need to pray Jummah.’

“These things… looking after your ‘Islamic health’, if that’s a thing. Your self-care.”

The ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’ go hand-in-hand. And we should not neglect these sacred, sacred gifts of our selves: both the more physical aspects, and the spiritual ones.

[Brief interruption: someone asks, “Do you girls know whose rucksack is in the front office?”

“Are you guys here for the Arabic course? I’m Safiyya, I think I’ve been emailing you. It’s just nice to put faces to… As-Salaamu ‘alaikum. How are you guys finding it?”

“Good, Alhamduli Llah”.

“Are you finding the commute okay? Once a week, I know it’s a bit… effort.

The sister who had been speaking to us had been… the daughter of Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, who is a scholar, Maa Shaa Allah. And then her mother had walked into the refectory as well. [Refectory: a new word that ع and I had come to learn. A dining room, generally of a religious higher institution.]].

ع talks about how we should hold onto our femininity.

“Keep connected to your womb. Let things out. Cry it out. Be emotional. Be in touch with yourself: I think that’s the best thing. Even when you breathe…

How blessed we are, as women, to have our feminine cycles. Like how the seasons, and the sky, follow their cycles: these are sacred and beautiful, designed and calculated, things.

“Did you actually know, when [there’s] a full moon, the blood in your body rises. [She talks about the relevance of this, to Hijaamah].

“There’s Sunnah days to do Hijaamah as well”.

ع says that things are “connected”: for example, her mother can tell when ع’s brother is likely to have more seizures on a particular day — when it’s a full moon.

“I feel like humans have lost touch with the universe“. [I think it’s when people started losing religion: a loss of the sense of the sacred naturally follows suit. But I think the Fitrah [Fitrah: innate human disposition] seeks to be guided back.]

“There’s also this idea of grounding yourself, as well, in natural medicine. For example, walking barefoot on grass in the mornings. So you feel the Earth beneath your feet”.

“Looking at the trees and the birds and stuff.”

Relatedly: recently a Muslim architect from Bangladesh (Kashef Chowdhury) has won a global prize in architecture. He’d designed, Maa Shaa Allah, a hospital that is inspired by, and in harmony with, nature.

ع is from an area in Manchester where the people are mostly Jewish.

“Half of it is actually predominantly Jewish. Synagogues, Jewish schools…”

ع also knows quite a bit about Christianity, Maa Shaa Allah. She attributes this to her aunty (uncle’s wife), who is Ukrainian. She reverted to Islam, “and her child, my cousin, is a Ukraisian. She calls herself Ukraisian. She’s like, eight. So, I live with her as well.”

ع’s aunt had been a practising (Orthodox) Christian. “When you go to [that] church, you don’t sit down. You kneel, to pray. You wear hijab.

“She always had this inclination, towards Isa (AS) [Isa: Jesus] and Maryam (AS) [Maryam: Mary]”.

At the moment, and largely because of what is going on in Ukraine right now, ع’s aunty is going through a very difficult time.

“Her sister, she lives [in Ukraine]. They bombed their local airport, so she had to migrate to a village near them. And they’re living in their village house. […] And her husband’s a police officer. He’s had to go into training, for the army. And she has two little kids.

“They don’t know where to go, they don’t really know where to go. They hear bombing at night. They can see it from their windows”. We stand, unquestionably, with the oppressed Ukrainian people; may Allah help them against the aggressors.

ع talks about spiritual abuse: how some people who might ‘seem’ practising abuse their ‘status’. Might treat others cruelly. Maybe: aren’t sincere. Don’t actually pray, or fast, and perhaps who don’t know very much about the Deen at all. Some of them seek to demean women, or abuse children, manipulate people, for example.

[Outside: the stars are quite visible. Stars make me feel sort of starstruck. Part of, and a witness to, something quite magnificent.

Like I am a sacred being, walking through Allah’s sacred Earth, a living, breathing, animated part of His sacred universe.]

What fascinates ع about Judaism is how Jewish people seem to be “so rooted in their tradition,” and also their belief in Monotheism. “Oneness”. Although, she adds that deliberate ‘segregation’ and a belief in ‘exclusivity’ (‘God’s Chosen People’) can be problematic.

And, about Christianity, she loves the emphasis on compassion, following in Jesus (AS)’s example. But: a lack of proper regard for rules and tradition can be problematic.

We, as Muslims: we are people of the middle. We follow our rules and our traditions; there is also a big emphasis on compassion and mercy in our religion. Not too ‘restricted’, and not too ‘unbridled’.

Islam, to ع, is “a way of life. And I feel like it’s in everybody.

Finally, a bit more on Hayaa’: the word, in Arabic, is derived from the word that means ‘life’. Hayaa’ is an essential part of our faith and practice: to hold back on certain things (albeit, not in an extreme way, e.g. not eating/speaking for days, or downright denying one’s sexual nature). To practise humility, restraint, and modesty. Practising Hayaa’ brings goodness, and it is a sign of Īmān; an enabler of beauty.

Having Hayaa’ allows for spiritual life; losing it results in spiritual death.

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