.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Islam, to م, is: “my religion. Like, my heart.“
م is thirteen years old, and she is Maghrebi by ethnicity: her dad is from Algeria, and her mum is from Morocco. م is the second eldest child, out of four girls, and one boy:
م’s little brother’s name is Abdur-Rahman, and this, as well as Abdul-Llah, is one of the best names that a Muslim baby boy can be named.
Abdur-Rahman is adorable, Maa Shaa Allah. He is currently five years old, and, when I first met him, he had these little metal cups that he liked playing with. He also did that adorably cute thing that kids seem to sometimes do: they just turn the phone screen, with whatever they might be watching online, to show you, too. So fundamental to whom we are: this wonderful and fundamental need to learn, and then to share things.
Abdur-Rahman likes to watch a YouTube channel called ‘A for Adley‘. He pronounces ‘Adley’… quite like ‘ugly’. [Initially, when he said he likes to watch ‘Ugly’ on YouTube, my anxiety flipped that to telling me that maybe he’d been calling me ‘ugly’, for some reason. Ah, anxiety. Wherefore art thou like this?]
Today, Abdur-Rahman started talking about planes. About the trays on the backs of the seats; about how you can have lunch-time on planes! You can sleep on them, comfortably! [My eight-year-old tutee Erik loves planes too. He’d been talking about, for example, those snazzy first-class seats on Emirates flights.]
You put your bags on this “line” above the seats, according to little Abdur-Rahman, this certified cutie-pie, Maa Shaa Allah. I said you have to be tall enough to do that. But Abdur-Rahman says that he’s neither short nor tall: he’s “medium“.
He also spoke about some aspects of school: his teacher (whom he seems to talk about quite a lot!), about how there’s two bins in the classroom. How he has a pocket on his shirt; he can hide “candy” in it! He said that he’s going to have KFC today, but that he can’t put fried chicken in his pocket: it might get dirty!
He told me about the three new sofas in their living room, and… kids just tend to just be… effortlessly, organically, mesmerised by these various aspects of life, don’t they. These ‘little’ things that we find we can often easily just see as being ‘mundane’, take them for granted, as adults…
م’s dad loves birds. The family have got a big shed in their garden, which he has turned into a birdhouse. Personally, I didn’t even know that people in London kept birds in their back gardens, but, you know, some people even have chickens in their gardens! Here, in London! So far, I’ve only come across Middle-Eastern people who have/have had birds/chickens in their gardens.
But: approximately a year ago, my Didi wanted to have ducks, and she and her family managed to find some little ducks. [I, personally, haven’t been watching ‘Bridgerton‘. I think the real drama is all around us, right here in ‘real life’, after all. But Edwina Sharma calls Kate ‘didi’ too, doesn’t she? It means ‘elder sister’ in Hindi, and thus also in Bengali: a loanword.]
Well, unfortunately, those little ducks ended up… defecating… too much. All over the bathtub, when they first got them, I think. So… now Didi and her family have a cat in their home instead. Called Coco.
Didi took Coco for a drive the other day. “Seeing the outside world” and all. Coco “loved it!” apparently.
م’s mum serves guests drinks on a large decorated silver plate.
In Islam, honouring our guests (and, indeed, our neighbours) is a big thing, and this is why, if you go to a [fellow, or otherwise] Muslim family’s home, you’ll likely experience something of beautiful hospitality.
In Ramadan: if you have Muslim neighbours and acquaintances… food often goes between the houses. You might get a random knock/ring at the door on any given Ramadan night, and… a platter of food, biryani, samosas, pastries, and/or pie: for you and your family.
م loves going back to Algeria/Morocco, to see her family. “Every year, there’s something new.“
She says that she has gone back home more times than she can count: they go regularly, and alternately. Morocco, then Algeria, then Morocco…
“My mum, she told me that every summer, [when she was young,] they used to go to the country. Basically, this year, my grandpa took me, and my auntie took me, to the countryside. And it’s really pretty.
“So, they took me there, to see how it was. And my mum told me stories, about when… she has a lot of siblings… how they used to go, like, all of them, hiding in the truck. [A fruit truck. So they could be driven around, basically.] Every summer.”
م loves art. She loves sleeping. And: she loves to cook. Recently, she’s made some homemade sushi.
She also loves chicken, and salmon.
In Ramadan, م thinks she, and her family, tend to “eat healthier,” too.
“In Ramadan, I get obsessed with fruit.” Mangoes, in particular. [Mangoes are awesome. How can you not love mangoes???!!!! Not necessarily just the green-and-red type, but if you have never tried honey mangoes… please, do! Around a tenner a box, from Whitechapel Market…
I just read, in an article online, that one honey mango is thought to contain… 100% of your daily recommended Vitamin C needs! And they are so delicious, Maa Shaa Allah.]
م’s family also pray together at home, Maa Shaa Allah, Allah hummabārik.
Yesterday, for Ifthār, م and her family had pizza, and macaroni cheese.
I, meanwhile, at my own house, had lamb chops, some chips, and some spring rolls, and a little bit of melon; my aunt and two cousins had come round, bearing treats. And… a Dior hand sanitiser present for me, since my aunt says that she knows I’m into my hygiene!
[Even before the pandemic, I’d been a wipes/sanitiser-carrier, and I’m not ashamed of that. Everyone else seemingly joined me when it… became ‘normal’ and all… Sarcasm intended: I know that sanitising doesn’t make me special.]
I am trying to eat and drink more… Tayyib [Tayyib: good, pure, wholesome] In Shaa Allah, so little to no fizzy drinks at all, for example, but… I do still love a somewhat hearty meal with fat oven-baked chips from time to time.
More about م’s little brother Abdur-Rahman, who seems to really love his elder sister, Maa Shaa Allah :
“I remember when he was first born. We had no boys in the family, so I was so excited!”
She explains that her mum had to spend quite a bit of time at the hospital, and م had missed her mother, and also wanted to see him, her brother. And, when م’s mum had finally come home with م’s baby brother:
“I remember, I didn’t want to leave his side, because I was just so… attached to him.”
She also tells me how, once, when Abdur-Rahman had been even younger, he had swallowed the lid of a yoghurt pot (i.e. the plastic flap kind of lid) and “I was so scared!” [She’d managed to remedy the situation, independently, Maa Shaa Allah. Sometimes, as a big sister, you find you have got to think/act fast.]
“I don’t have a ‘favourite sibling’, but, like, he’s the first brother that [I] have.”
Abdur-Rahman seems to be quite attached to م too, Maa Shaa Allah, Allah hummabārik. So comfortably perched onto his sister’s lap.
“Yeah, ’cause I take him out a lot. I buy him stuff.”
م and I talked a bit about fried food. Like Korean gochujang chicken, which, by the way, is just…
Delightful. Maa Shaa Allah
But: fried food tends to make م sick, and her dad, she says, tends to be quite the same in this regard.
م has a close friend who is Bengali, like me, and when م had eaten at her friend’s house, she’d noticed how much fried food there had been there.
And this is making me want to write about ‘culture’, now. Because it is something of a norm for us to have lots of fried foods on the Ifthār table. And:
Interestingly, ‘culture’ is not some ‘solid, reified’ thing. There is no ‘handbook’, we find, on how to ‘be’ Bengali, or Moroccan, or Algerian, or anything else.
There tend to be common practices and such between people: a person might adopt something, and then pass on these things to family members, wider relatives, acquaintances. And thus do things become ‘adopted’, culturally.
‘Culture’, the ways of living of particular people, is very much an alive thing: just as alive, and dynamic, as… the people who make it up! [It’s not just… costume. And material things. And so on.]
My experience of being Bengali, for example, is… my experience. Not so reducible; not static. And not merely: gold jewellery, and Mendhi, and mangoes, and samosas.
And, always: things change, and are changing. I might, say, learn, like and then pick up, something from a Moroccan friend of mine. Pick it up, adopt it within my own household. My fellow-Bengali family members and friends might come to also like this thing; introduce them into their own lifestyles and homes. And this is how we can affect our ‘cultures’: it is fundamentally ahistorical, and against… the truth of things… to suggest that ‘culture’ is unchangeable; that we don’t, and have not pretty-much-always, shared and learnt things from other peoples.
This is a change I would like to instate in my own self, In Shaa Allah : to eat more Tayyib! And to, hopefully, speak, and do, and live, more Tayyib. Irrespective of where ‘culture’ may seem to clash with Tayyib things…
‘Culture’ is what I make of it; I need not, to paraphrase the Qur’an here, just follow [precisely and everything] that I ‘found my fathers doing’. I try to take the good of it all, and make improvements in my life, In Shaa Allah, where things can be improved. Honouring [the good parts of] history and tradition, while also honouring… the present, the ‘me’, a part of my ‘culture’, who is alive and breathing, AlHamduli Llah!
So, maybe: more of those samosas and spring rolls could be… air-fried, for example. Some seem to also make… Nutella samosas, nowadays, actually. Culture is a breathing, moving, adapting, thing.
It’s Islam that is (I hope!) the most important thing, for me. The non-negotiable. Allah’s rules and regulations, what He encourages, and His prohibitions. Other things are, I find, more dynamic, more fluid and shapeable… Ancillary to Islam.
يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.
“Verily the most honoured of you in the Sight of Allah is (he who is) the most God-wary of you. And Allah has full Knowledge and is Well-Acquainted (with all things).”
— Qur’an, (49:13).
Some advice that thirteen-year-old م would give to people who are around her age, and Muslim, then:
“Don’t let people try embarrass you [about] your religion. Don’t feel embarrassed of your religion.
You need to embrace your religion, and be proud of who you are.”