ز: The Majestic Subtleties of Allah’s Plan. Resilience, and Potential. Karate! And Raising Kids. ‘Success’, a Garden. And How People and Places Can Sort Of Be Like… Websites.

.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

ز [‘Z’] wanted to know if she wanted to order a matcha latte. So, using a little teaspoon, I gave her some to try. I guess she liked it: she went on to order herself a cup of it, along with a slice of carrot cake.

ز loves the colour yellow. When pronounced in Somali, as I learned today, the initial of her name is pronounced more with an ‘s’ sound. We’d gone to the masjid together, for ‘Asr prayer, and…

By the time I’d finished my own four Raka’at [Raka’at: units of prayer], which generally takes about four minutes, I see ز talking to a Somali auntie/grandma in Somali, and then hanging out with a family. Little kids: siblings, and cousins, and I think family friends. Did she (ز) know them personally, previously? Nope. Just met. Grandmother, aunties, children.

[ز says that children are, in ‘people’ terms: “the beating heart” of the masjid.]

And ز has five siblings of her own; the youngest is ten years old now. And, honestly, her being in the company of these children, at the masjid: she just seemed like she had been… their own older sister, Maa Shaa Allah. ‘Effortless’ connection, meant to be, Maa Shaa Allah.

This is a beautiful part of being Muslim: you accept Islam, you gain a wonderful worldwide family. Siblings, aunts, grandparents…

Present at the masjid today had been: little Abdur-Rahman, Yusra, Maryam, Muhammad, and a few more little ones, I think. Running, racing. Doing ‘gymnastics’, [and then saying, “that backfired,” when something went a little wrong]. One of the little girls told us that they are there every Sunday. So we should try to go there every Sunday.

Abdur-Rahman: this little (three-and-a-half-almost-four) little boy’s adorableness might just be forever etched into my heart. He started talking about watches, using the Somali, I think, term for them, which is linked to the Arabic [Sa’aat]. He said he’d left his own watch at home, and then continued talking, adorably and imaginatively about what he wanted to talk about, as kids often do.

ز seemed to have bonded with these children so quickly and well, Maa Shaa Allah. She even reminded the little girls, who would sometimes get a little overexcited, to turn their speaking volumes down a notch. One of the little girls held my hand for a little while as she spoke to me: it’s really nice when a child is enthusiastic about their passions, and comfortable.

And these kids were just so… pure, Maa Shaa Allah. Effervescent, lovely.

Abdur-Rahman had his little arms around ز as he tried to tell her something. He also sat by me, gently took my phone, and proceeded to look through some things, remove some of my running apps, go on Telegram; he had also possibly sent a random sticker to one of my cousins…

Abdur-Rahman’s mum and I decided that maybe it would be better if he were to do something else, after a brief while. And I do not have games on my phone. But I had a notebook in my bag, and a pen. I gave them to him, for him to draw. I think, typically, kids, especially at such a young age, tend to just… scribble. Over the lines, and ‘everywhere’.

But Abdur-Rahman had kept between the lines. Writing intently. Little scrawls, like six spaced-out and individual letters. When he decided he was done, he said the cutest thing, which might just live in my head forever, rent-free.

He said, adorably, and decisively, almost laughing with joy:

Muhammad!”

He’d written, in his own script, his cousin Muhammad’s name.

Children are something, alright. Filled with potential, often demonstrating such wonderful insights, energy, joy.

Abdur-Rahman also said that he doesn’t eat by himself. His mum feeds him. And then his older sister (who, if I recall correctly, is five-and-a-half. Almost six!) relayed the story of the time when, I think she said her dad had been busy for a little while, so she had tried to feed her little brother porridge, and… he kept biting the spoon! I love that she seemed to love this story so much, and telling it, sharing it. That’s another thing: kids tend to make for such good… story-tellers. They want to share, and be listened to.

Abdur-Rahman also wanted for me to write my name down, and then ز’s. And he excitedly showed ز, look! It’s your name!

ز tells me about a phrase, a quote, she has come across:

“I couldn’t tell you where I saw it. But it says, ‘We raise our daughters, but we love our sons. And… it means, we’re making daughters ‘practical’, we’re teaching them to think in a way that’s like, compassionate, and… looking out for others, and being thoughtful. Teaching them to be… hyper-aware of the environment.

“But then, sons are showered with… ‘Just come as you are. We’ll love you regardless.’ Whereas with girls, it’s: ‘You could be better.’

This does seem to be the case within certain families. And then, collectively, families become communities, and the issue can easily become community-wide. Treating sons one way, and then daughters in another way, perhaps as though daughters must work for, and ‘earn’ love. [I do, however, also know of at least a couple of cases where it seems to have been the other way around: unfairness, an unequal amount of pressure on, a particular emotional detachment from, the boys].

Fear Allah and observe justice among your children.

Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Bukhāri and Muslim.

ز says that she, personally, did feel loved as a child. But, she wants for her brothers to be ‘raised’ as well.

“So that we could all… work together.”

[There seems to be a trend within many families, which we can only work on resolving if we look at ourselves and accept that there is an issue: if, and when, the boys are ‘loved’ so much that a blind eye is often turned to their negative behaviours, and if girls are responded to with an inordinate level of chastisement for not being ‘perfect’… Do we not see how these attitudes are then recycled, intergenerationally? The (perhaps a little over-entitled) boy may grow up, get married, and sort of subconsciously expect for his wife to be towards him just as his mother has been.

And if we want for our girls to follow the examples of the female Companions of the Prophet (SAW), surely we ought to inculcate in our boys the prophetic example? Tending to their own chores, busying themselves with helping and being pleasant toward their families, and so on.]

ز says:

“I think I was raised by a father who was strong and emotionally-in-touch. So… ah, if I start talking about my dad, I’ll start crying.

“There are a lot of blessings I’ve had in my life, but one of the very few that will always, consistently, come out on top is my father. My dad, my Aabo.” [Allah hummabārik].

Involved fathers. Unfortunately, not everybody has a present father, but I think it’s quite lovely and admirable how certain men who had absent fathers growing up… grow up to become such wonderful fathers themselves, Maa Shaa Allah.

ز’s father: was there for her, “consistently, throughout… all my life“. Was present in the house, and a part of it, part of the family dynamics. Would take part in cooking, cleaning. Taking kids to school, take them back. Work. Any extra-curriculars the kids do.

“I think my dad was raised by his brother. He was still raised by his father, who’s passed away (Allahu Yerhamuhu [Allah have mercy on him]).

“My dad’s one of the youngest, out of a big family, of like, ten. [Or,] even more than that, I think. But he was raised by one of the oldest. He’s like a half-brother. But, you know Somalis, we count half-brothers and -sisters as full brothers and sisters.

“They went to Germany together. You know my dad, he travelled a lot of Eastern Europe. He went to Russia, he went to Lithuania, Poland… and then ended up in Germany. He was raised by my uncle.”

ز talks about how both her father and her uncle really value education. And this value has been passed down, to ز, her siblings, and her cousins.

To me, ز comes across as a feminine and strong woman, Maa Shaa Allah. A distinctive gentleness, and a firmness.

ز says that her father “teaches [her] to go get what [she wants]”.

“And to always strive to be the best [she can be].”

“They [presumably, her parents] wanted us to be academically competitive. They wanted us to be competitive in everything we did, but there was still an element of, ‘We just want you to try your best. As long as we can see you putting in effort, that’s enough for us.

“I think, by getting me to do lots of different things when I was younger, like, we were going to mosque, we were doing swimming, karateIslam. We did tuition on top of that.

“And that was all on top of school! Alhamduli Llah.

“There were so many different elements in our lives, which we had to juggle. But back then, it didn’t feel like we were juggling things. It just felt like, ‘Turn up, participate, go.’

“And so, by stacking all those things up, building that kind of resilience, I think that makes a person strong.”

“There was a lot of effort [from her parents] that went behind it. But I didn’t see that.

“That’s how I wanna raise my kids [In Shaa Allah]. Like, I wanna give them this variety… If they wanna do gymnastics, take them there. If they wanna do trampolining, take them there. If they wanna play football

“Taking them to mosque, giving them a solid Islamic foundation. All of that’s needed, to give a child… healthy development.”

ز says that her father had emphasised education for all his children. He also “wanted all of us to be physically strong.” He’d want everyone to help out, in the family.

The way that ز’s father speaks to his children, at home:

Subhaan Allah…

“I can only picture… the way Muhammad (SAW) spoke to Fātimah (RA).

In a kind and gentle way, ز explains, her father will greet her with, “Hello, doctor! [ز is currently a medical student at Imperial, Maa Shaa Allah, Allah hummabārik!]”

“‘Hello, princess! How are you?'”

Soft-spoken, laughingCheerful, smiling.

Being a “smiling person. Holding your hand.” Showing affection through “hugging and kissing”. “Very, very easily saying, ‘I love you’.”

[This reminds me of the Hadīth through which we learn that Muhammad (SAW) had been a very affectionate man. A man had seen him (SAW) kissing his own grandson, Al-Hassan. The man boasted: “I have ten children, but I have never kissed any of them”. Muhammad (SAW) replied:

إِنَّهُ مَنْ لاَ يَرْحَمْ لاَ يُرْحَمْ ‏

“He who does not show mercy (e.g. towards his children), no mercy would be shown to him [from God].” [Sahih Muslim]].

ز says that, if there’s a “problem” going on with her Aabo, she has to “dig it out”. “He’ll never show me on his face.” And that while her mother is more affectionate in the things she does, her father is more affectionate in the things he says.

ز says that this is what she wants to do with her kids, if/when she has them, In Shaa Allah.

If there’s a problem, “I don’t want it to be on my face. At the very least, I wanna be smiling.”

ز’s father, even now, reminds her:

“ز, make sure you don’t have any regrets later on. Make sure you put yourself to work now, even if it’s difficult.”

Resilience. Doing what you can, working hard. Not being stagnant. Keep moving: we cannot confuse the concepts of resilience and Sabr as simply… standing in the same place. This is actually not ‘putting our trust in Allah’ in the right way.

ز says that one step forward, a half-a-step forward, a tip-toe forward, is better than remaining stagnant, making no progress at all.

There are things that we can (relatively) control, and work on more; there are things that we can’t, very much, actually.

Acceptance, and then… problem-solve, to get out of it.” And put your trust in Allah, the Most Able.

A particular book that ز has referenced, several times: ‘Atomic Habits’, by James Clear. Concepts like ‘habit-stacking’: increasing the likelihood of doing a particular good thing regularly, by reinforcing it with other connected actions. E.g.: following a routine of drinking some water, then doing Salaah, then doing some more work towards, say, your personal business. Each thing following its previous: it’s likely to make you more likely to do them.

“He [the author, James Clear] basically got hit in the face with a baseball bat, one day. And got crushed, basically. He borderline died, but Alhamduli Llah, he didn’t.

“And he went through a very slow recovery process. Was a very fit person, but that all declined, and he felt quite embarrassed in middle school, high school, in collegeHe wasn’t ‘the person he was before‘.

“Since his dad was a baseball player, he wanted to be one.

“And… only when he got to uni did he learn: ‘I can’t just feel sorry for myself. Even though I’m trying to walk again, I’m trying to do all these things… I have to take action with my life.

“He spoke about having a structure, some sort of discipline in his life, where he was waking up at the same time, going to sleep at the same time, making sure he was eating healthy.

[The Adhaan is audible, from the East London Mosque. “You can hear it?” ز seemed surprised that we could hear it from inside that café.]

And, resuming with the story of James Clear:

“He knew that he couldn’t fix everything in his life, in terms of health, so he would work on what he could. In terms of his grades, in terms of… getting fitter, in terms of getting healthier sleeping habits and healthier eating habits.

“And even though he didn’t see anything ‘fruitful’ for the next four years, by his last year [at uni,] he managed to be recognised by his university, for his ability to get very high grades.

“He was in the record books, in terms of academics, a lot, even though he wasn’t ‘academically inclined’ to begin with.”

To form a habit, explains ز, you must do it consistently, regularly, enough to meet the “threshold” where it becomes an almost ‘automated’ doing.

“Everything’s different for everyone, but… if you’re not repeating something regularly, multiple (maybe twenty-one, maybe one hundred) times…

“The relationship on the chart is, the more times you do things, the more something becomes ‘automated’. When you ‘automate’ something, you don’t have to think about it. That’s when things become a ‘habit’.”

ز relays a particular story she’s learnt about, from a book: “the story of these… ‘chess sisters‘.”

“So, these three sisters who became [experts] in chess. And that’s because their father wanted to do an experiment.” [I find it so funny that some parents do ‘experiments’ on their kids. I’m pretty sure I’ve attempted some ‘social psychology’ experiments on baby brother mine too, in the past.]

“The father wanted to prove that… hard work beats talent. And that, you could ‘create’ a genius. So, when his three daughters that were born, from the day they were born…” he had adorned his home with things relating to chess. He’d encourage them to play chess a lot.

He’d chosen chess since it’s kind of an ‘arbitrary’ thing, and also more objectively measurable: by the number of wins they’d get.

“So he wanted to prove to people, ‘I could get these girls to be geniuses.'”

“And he was right. By surrounding them [so much, with chess] in that environment, by [them] having different people to play chess with […] they were breaking records, the three of them.”

“The eldest sister was good. The middle sister was better. And then the last daughter was the best, out of all of them.

“It got to the point where, I think, one of the girls woke up at night, just to play chess. And the dad was like, ‘Can you just put the chess pieces down?’ and she was like, ‘They’re not leaving me alone. They just want me to play.‘”

Nature’, or ‘nurture’?

[‘Talent’, or ‘effort’? Fatalistically ascribed ability, or is it determinedly achieved?]

‘Nature’, or ‘nurture’? Or, a needed combination of the two? The notion of ‘potential’ is amazing. What the human brain is equipped with; how children develop, and how we learn things. How children learn their mother tongues; how we learn to walk. Stumble, fall, get up again. And again. And again.

How certain traits seem to be fairly ‘genetic’; how others might appear to be a bit more… ‘individual’.

ز says: “I don’t think clever parents [necessarily] give birth to clever kids.”

Genuinely, ability, potential, and genius: are from Allah.

“And it’s also mind-blowing to think: how many people out there think they’re ‘useless‘, they ‘can’t do anything‘, but they just haven’t stumbled on that one thing that’s for them.”

Potential: how entire oak trees are essentially contained within… a single seed. [“That exact phrase you said, I read,” said ز, “today, I read.” Ah, ‘coincidences‘.] And they also require sunlight, and water, and good soil, in order to grow and flourish.

How a baby’s babbles can turn into eloquence; how what once has been ‘hard’ can become ‘easy’, through resilience, time, practice. Whether it be: computer programming, or baking, or archery, or karate, or whatever else. At age five, or ten, or seventy, and onwards. [Some of our hobbies and ‘talents’… might remain to be found, at present]. Subhaan Allah.

ز also told me about her first year of uni: her end-of-year exam results.

“And I didn’t pass one of the exams.”

She’d been used to doing consistently well, academically, Maa Shaa Allah.

“And now, it was like, ‘I failed an exam?! That’s it! It’s over for me!‘” [She says this while laughing].

“On that day… I remember just sitting in the garden, like, ‘Hoyo [Hoyo: ‘mum’ in Somali], Aabo [‘dad’], just to let you guys know… there’s one exam that I need to resit, and I’m so sorry’.

“And they just looked at me, and they were like, ‘You know… these things happen! [Laughing,] These things happen!

“And here I was, having an existential crisis, saying, ‘This is it. My life is ‘over’. I failed an exam.

“And they were just like, ‘You know, ز, you just have to pick yourself back up again.

ز’s parents had also described a “beautiful metaphor”. The “hard work that we do,” in terms of a garden.

“A garden doesn’t start off beautiful. You have to wear clothes that are like… replacement clothes. You get dirty, you’re in the mud, you’re using your hands. It’s messy.”

It might take a while before you start to see growth, new improvement and development.

“But then, there will be a day [In Shaa Allah] in the future, when you invite family and friends over, when the sun will just be… about to set, as well. And the lights will just be coming on in the area. And it’s warm, but it’s not too warm. And you’re all just sitting there with a drink, and you’re all sitting there, chatting away, and laughing, wearing lovely clothes.

“But until then, you have to put in the physical, manual effort.”

What if success, in this life, is a process? A garden? Frostier at times, and filled with spring-like growth at times. ‘Failures’ tend to make eventual successes taste… that much more sweet. Provide that source of ‘impetus’.

There tend to be, within these gardens that we are day-in-day-out tending to, ‘little’ beautiful things to appreciate. Beams of sunlight, filtering in through the trees, and so on. “How everything’s so quiet and dewy in the morning.” Even, and perhaps especially, if things are not ‘perfect‘: in this life, ‘perfect’ sounds a little boring anyway. [Imagine actually ‘reaching all your potential’, and so on. What would there be, left, to do?

Life isn’t ‘perfect’. And we have things to do.]

ز reveals that Imperial “was not, actually, the place I was ‘meant’ to go.”

We’re talking about… failure.

“So, Imperial wasn’t my first [choice] uni. My first [choice] was Cambridge.

“I loved preparing for interviews. I loved preparing for entrance exams. I loved preparing for… all of that stuff.”

[ز, from what I have heard of him, sounds very much like her father’s daughter!]

“This is the first time I was doing this, so I was excited.”

She says that things kept going ‘right’, one after the other. Until… things started to feel like they were going a little ‘wrong’, after ز had acquired her offer from Cambridge.

The ‘good’, and the “special attention” (which ز doesn’t really agree with). And then things “took a turn for the worse”. ز says that the first half of sixth form, and the next quarter, had gone well for her in terms of academics, Alhamduli Llah.

But then things felt like they’d been going ‘downhill’ in that sense. After one particular lesson:

“I just put my head on the desk. Because… I didn’t want to be seen crying.

A particular teacher had pulled her aside to essentially tell her to pull herself together! “‘Why are you crying over this subject?

I know you’re gonna do fine. You know you’re gonna do fine.'”

“Fast forward again. I don’t do ‘fine’. Even though my [grades] were still ‘good’ in the eyes of the country, in the eyes of my school, that wasn’t enough. So, I didn’t get in [to Cambridge].

“That was the first time I cried, in a bad way, [at school] on results day.

ز thought, then, that she didn’t ‘want’ to go to Imperial.

But she realised how “fun” it is there.

ز asks me how I know of her sixth form’s headteacher.

My cousin had attended that same sixth form; some of my friends from secondary school are ز’s friends from there. And we only found out about these additional connections when we did. [I had also attended one of ز’s sixth form’s open days. Who knows? Maybe she had been there at the same time too, and perhaps it had been Allah’s plan all along: that we only become acquainted with one another a bit later… via a group that I, and a friend of mine from the sixth form that I had attended, decided to set up together…]

In the moment, ز had perceived her place at Imperial instead of the aimed-for Cambridge as something like… “failure“. She’d been worried about disappointing people, disappointing her teachers…

[In retrospect, she says she realises how absurd this sounds!]

“The kicker is… This is the punch-line… I achieved grades that was below Imperial’s minimum.

“Usually, at Imperial, they set it at a certain level. And I thought that was fixed. But for some reason, in my email, back when I did an interview, and I got accepted, they had lowered that offer. And I didn’t see it as anything big in the moment…”

“That’s exactly the grades that I ended up getting on the day [results day]. So what they moved, by the Will of Allah, for some weird reason, they lowered the grade boundaries they expected of me. Everyone else I asked, there was like a minimum of, ‘I need to get these three grades’, and it was the same for everyone.

“For me, mine were lower. And I was like, ‘Wait, are they insulting me by saying they don’t think I can achieve what I think I can achieve? But on results day, that’s exactly what I had managed to achieve.

“So, had they not changed that, I would have had nothing.”

It had just been one grade that Imperial had decided to change, for ز’s offer requirement. And thus had been Allah’s Plan for her. Through all the little subtleties: what is meant to happen happens, and what is not meant to happen… will not.

I suppose we cannot ‘blame’ ourselves, in particular moments, for what we do not (and cannot) know. But: in retrospect. You’ll understand why, In Shaa Allah.

ز says that she doesn’t want to let her degree become her ‘identity‘.

“One day, that might go away. That might disappear. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, between now, and the end of… graduating.

“And I don’t wanna be remembered as, ‘Oh, she’s the girl who went to this uni, and did this subject’. I wanna be known as… I’m ز. I’m a Muslim, and I’m… here for you guys. That’s all I want to be remembered for!”

“When you have Muslim friends, and they remind you of Allah, what was once just a ‘failure’ and ‘pure disappointment’, they manage to transform into relief, and gratefulness.”

وَاصْبِرْ نَفْسَكَ مَعَ الَّذِينَ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدَاةِ وَالْعَشِيِّ يُرِيدُونَ وَجْهَهُ ۖ وَلَا تَعْدُ عَيْنَاكَ عَنْهُمْ تُرِيدُ زِينَةَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَا تُطِعْ مَنْ أَغْفَلْنَا قَلْبَهُ عَنْ ذِكْرِنَا وَاتَّبَعَ هَوَاهُ وَكَانَ أَمْرُهُ فُرُطًا

“And keep yourself patient [by being] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His countenance.

And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever [in] neglect.”

Qur’an, (18:38).

To seek out and favour good friends who encourage you towards goodness. And to not favour, instead of them, individuals who might possess/exhibit the adornments of the worldly life: wealth, nobility in Dunya terms, and so on.

ز talks about someone she had met the previous day; she had a conversation with her after an exam.

“She was reflecting on first year and second year.

“She was like, ‘I feel like I met the wrong type of people [for myself] in first year. I met people who seemed ‘exciting’, but were quite [in the girl’s opinion, in terms of what they would typically do] … substance-less. They were loud, they [drew attention].'” And there had been a lack of “intimate conversations” going on between them.

The student who had been speaking to ز felt ’empty’ in the presence of these particular people. So maybe they weren’t the right friends for her.

ز talks about a particular revision website, [Physics & Maths Tutor], which is a website that might seem ‘not-exciting’, perhaps ‘underwhelming’, upon first glance. She calls it an ugly website, in terms of how it looks. “This feels so evil [to say]!”

[I remind her that she’s cussing a website, here. She expresses her gratitude to the site’s owner.]

“But… in terms of content… They pulled together all these past papers. They divide the content based on topic, and put mark schemes together.”

“It didn’t matter how it ‘looked’, because when you went on the website, you knew there was purpose to that. You knew what you were looking for.”

I think this is how having religious friends [and going to religious places] and so on can appear, maybe as a result of Was-Was [Was-Was: whisperings, i.e. of Shaytān]. ‘Nothing much’, and so on. And we can so easily be magnetised towards… glitter, which can, in actuality, lack substance.

Personally, I know that having religious friends is one of the biggest blessings I could ever have, Alhamduli Llah. I can’t let my eyes overlook them, even if other things might seem ‘glittery’ at times.

Some words of advice from ز:

“Don’t give up, for the things you love. Be resilient.” And:

“Don’t be afraid to throw away the plan that you have, and react to the stimuli around you.

I tell ز about my own personal/academic journey up until now. It’s strange how neither of us had known these things about one another previously.

To cut a long story short for the blog: I’ve done UCAS [UK university applications] three times now. The first time: I hadn’t been sure as to whether to study English, or for an interdisciplinary humanities degree. I felt quite lost in general. I got an offer from a particular university, and then lost it, and I remember feeling a sense of ‘failure’, I suppose, in terms of: what other people might now think.

The next academic year, I applied for a different interdisciplinary course, at a different university. Went through the process again, and I ended up getting an offer. But I ended up losing that offer too. I remember, on this second results day, knowing that Allah has a different plan for me; the subtleties, the signs, had always been there. But I can’t lie: I did feel, quietly, the weight of all that uncertainty, on that particular day.

Now: this academic year, I applied for (yet another) set of different humanities interdisciplinary subjects from the previous two years. [I guess I just… really like humanities subjects, but perhaps can’t pin it to a specific one]. This time: I got the offer from this university, and I got in. For Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics. And I tried to like it, I really did. But I came across the notion that learning about religion from a secular perspective: it’s like the study of the study of religion. I agree. It feels… detached, to me. And not entirely where my passions may lie.

[In the meantime, between UCAS applications, I’d also applied to an Islamic institution in California. I got put onto their waitlist. I know, this whole story might sound a bit mad.]

Finally: what had been meant for me all along, I guess. An Islamic Studies degree course, but first I have to complete an Arabic language prerequisite programme for it, In Shaa Allah. There’s also the offer of contextual modules in humanities topics like sociology and world religions, as part of it all. Subhaan Allah, Alhamduli Llah. Like it had been waiting for me, all along.

I think: maybe some people might see, and continue to see, my story, and perhaps ز’s, as stories of ‘failure’. But: they don’t know the full story. And, couldn’t that just mean that we might just have… varying ideas of what ‘success’ is?

They are they, and we are we.

What matters is: irrespective of strangers’ eyes, do I like what I am doing? Is it good for me? What is success, to me? And, what is it not?

I know that this whole personal story of mine is an example of how Allah has always known me better than I’ve ever even known myself. And it’s making me realise that it is not primarily, exclusively about lots of other (detached, far-away) people ‘validating’ and ‘approving of’ (or at least ‘not speaking badly’ about) what I am doing.

To have faith in the beautiful and majestic nature of His Plan. To know that your Lord is with you, Hearing and Seeing and All-Knowing.

“I know how we all say this after the event happens, that things were meant to be the way they were, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

And: “I don’t wanna be [fundamentally] associated with a degree. Or, associated with a college, or a university, or a sixth form. Because when things go wrong, they won’t defend you. They [the institutions themselves] won’t look after you.”

“The people… If you have direct relationships with teachers, the teachers will look after you. The students that you were close to, they’ll [look out for] you. They’ll help you out. But in terms of the ‘name’, like, ‘this sixth form is going to look [after you]’. No!

Those things can’t… defend you on the Day of Judgement.”

“We should be sad, because we’ve [i.e. people in general have] reduced each other to nothing but… ‘achievements‘. They’ve been conditioned, as well, into thinking: ‘This is what you ‘should’ be’.

“‘We don’t care who you are. We just know that you ‘should’ do ‘well’. And the moment you don’t do ‘well’: ‘We still don’t care about who you are.’

People are not walking numbers, letters, and grades. Number of figures in our salaries, or anything else quite so reductive.

ز talks about some people she knows who do not go to the ‘flashiest’ universities with the biggest research budgets. She talks about how happy and healthy they look, Maa Shaa Allah. How much they’re enjoying what they’re learning.

ز also spoke about the importance of being reassuring, as a doctor. She says that there is a thing known as ‘doctor syndrome’ among certain patients: when they come into a doctor surgery primarily for… reassurance.

“You want to sit and talk with them, about why they’ve come in, today. [You don’t say,] ‘Nothing’s wrong with you. Go home.’

You still have to explore their needs, she explains. “There’s a reason why they’ve come in.”

“Medical illnesses are no longer gonna be just… physical.

“We’re moving towards a time where our problems are not going to be easily seen. So you need time to speak to patients.” She talks about the importance of genuine listening.

I also find out from ز that there is a particular café in Poplar (East London) that has a Qur’an on display, with a sign underneath it, saying, “If you have any questions about Islam, please ask us”. I love this idea.

ز loves sports. Like karate, and she even ‘admits to liking’ running, now. She loves sunrises and sunsets. “It’s so ‘cheesy’ to say, [but] they hit me on a spiritual level.”

Singing. “It’s actually therapy.”

We talk about music. Singing (for women, in the presence of Mahaarim) and using duff drums (or “cartons of milk,” as might be used at some Somali weddings, ز explains) are compatible with Islam, from what I know. Science and sports are things that are harmoniously compatible with Islam. But music is not, really, as it is generally agreed. And:

“To me… it [music] doesn’t really hit the soul like that.”

She says that some people tend to talk about music as though it’s a ‘religion’, about ‘who you follow’, and so on. She says that some people become so dependent on it that… they might sleep with it, and be practically unable to sleep without it.

I think I’m able to see how music can become so addictive. Combine a particular mood with a song whose lyrics and tone seem to ‘get you’ and go with your mood so well. ‘Transport’ you. An apt recipe for emotional dependency, may-haps.

“There’s something so mechanical about it, and so… repetitive. It’s not very soulful.”

ز does, however love stories. And spoken word poetry. She shows me a spoken word poem by Boonaa Mohammed. “The best way I can describe Islam,” she says about this poem.

A love poem. Video below, followed by its script.

For the Love’, by Boonaa Mohammed.

You should only say “I love you” when it is completely obvious,

And does not actually need to be said.

So I pray to God that I love her,

Until my very last breath.

Wa Llahi, she is perfect.

Everything about her just makes perfect sense,

And every time I get lost or confused,

She is a true friend.

Ever since I was a child, we used to study on the weekends.

And, I mean some of the brothers liked her, and some of the brothers were obsessed,

And at first I didn’t really get it. I mean, what made her so different?

Until my eyes were opened wide to our sweet romance and,

Wa Llahi, she is perfect… did I mention that part yet?

“Brother Boonaa, he is going crazy. He really needs help.”

Please judge me all you want, but keep the verdicts to yourself,

‘Cause no matter who you love, there will always be obstacles and critics.

And good looks aren’t everything, but hey, it’s all I’ve really got.

And I want to get close to her because she is close to God,

So I cry my heart out, I let it all go, ’cause after every rainfall must come a rainbow,

And trying to forget someone you love is like trying to remember someone you never even met.

So I can’t turn back now. I can’t pretend to be ignorant,

And I can’t go around acting like she doesn’t have me on lock.

Has me lowering my gaze because she is always on top,

Of my mind, designed as a kind gesture to all mankind,

So I could still see her beauty even if I was blind.

And I believe everything she says, because she is yet to lie,

And if you could point out a contradiction, I would gladly say goodbye.

But you can’t, so I can’t get her off my mind.

No word of a lie, she is a dime.

Eleven out of ten, a-men!

… I mean, “ameen.”

And I love the fact that she always has me thinking,

‘Cause to live without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

People have a lot of questions about her, and so, you know, I don’t mind explaining,

Because she has absolutely nothing to hide.

Her house is your house, and so you’re all allowed inside,

But what bothers me is when people who don’t know her talk bad about her behind back,

Uneducated chit-chat.

But she is perfect, why can’t you all just see that?

Why don’t you learn about her before you cast your stones?

We never blame love, even though love has caused plenty of wars.

You’ve never seen the wind, but you still know that it blows.

So trust me, there is no point in trying to break up our happy home,

‘Cause the struggle only makes us stronger, the changes make me wise,

And happiness has its own weird way of taking its sweet time.

She’s my other half, my sidekick on the side.

She makes me, me, we. Are partners in crime

Where she is, I am not far behind.

And if she’s in danger, then my life too is on the line.

And it’s not just a crush anymore. I want to learn everything about her,

Everything that happened before, to all of her friends, and all of her misguided foes,

And to be honest, I don’t really like arguing about her,

Because I don’t want to do her the slightest of harm,

And I’d love to stay and entertain your battle of wits, but most of you are clearly unarmed.

I love and respect her like I have been taught to love and respect all women,

So to you is your love, and to me is my religion.

Some men manipulate her and use her for greed,

Kill in her name, but her name comes from peace,

So I stand by her pillars proud, she keeps me grounded.

Reminds me to be humble; through her are all the answers,

To every question even worth asking,

And to love her, you must be able to love all human beings.

They deserve to hear her words and learn of her teachings.

She represents what’s within, all my sisters and brothers,

Practised by my kin, and praised by my mother,

A gift from Allah, sent from way up above.

She is Islam,

And I am in love.

وَرِزْقُ رَبِّكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَبْقَى

But the provision of your Lord is better and more lasting.

Qur’an, (20:131).

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