.بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
*Note, before we begin! The Arabic letter ‘ا’ is not the same as the English ‘I’...
Alif (ا) is the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and is equivalent to the English, ‘a‘.
ا says that she thinks she’d be able to daydream for… six hours straight, if given a chance to.
ا’s first name comes from a Persian word, meaning: legend / story / myth, fable.
Her surname is Arabic: ‘praised one’.
And: ا’s home name comes from a Sanskrit word, meaning… ‘beloved‘.
A Bladrin and a Best Friend.
“I’m kinna rich, you know.”
Our interview begins. I don’t know what she’d said this in reference to. Maybe upon finding some money in her bag that she’d forgotten about or something.
- ا is my “bladrin“.
- And I am her “bludski“.
Our fathers are brothers, and ا is two months my junior.
We find that we have some things in common, and some things between us are (enrichingly) different.
For example: ا grew up in a coastal town in Kent (England). She attended a grammar school there, Maa Shaa Allah , and… decided, at some point: that the colour theme of her room should change from pink, to… black. Black walls and everything.
And an extensive fragrances collection, Maa Shaa Allah .
Meanwhile, I’ve grown up in a village-like place amid bustling, urban London.
Near ا’s family house: the beach. The ocean. Near my house: Tower Bridge. The River Thames.
Currently, and because she has been studying here, ا is living in Central London, with her “best friend”: her maternal cousin م.
ا showed me an excerpt from an old journal of hers, from almost a decade ago, (when she was eleven) in which she wrote that some day, In Shaa Allah , she’ll share a home with her best friend م.
“I wrote in my journal, when I was eleven, something about… missing م, ’cause she was on holiday. And I was spending the Summer without her.“
The excerpt from her old journal reads:
This holiday was fun, but it would be better with my best friend م.
When I grow up, me and م will buy a house and live together because she’s my best friend for life.
[Allah hummabārik ‘alaihumaa. I hope that makes grammatical sense in Arabic…]
And Allah Knows the wishes of the heart…
Roughly a decade on, ا’s wish is now her reality, AlHamduli Llah .
ا still has and wears a piece of jewellery that her maternal grandma, her nan, had gifted her, over two decades ago now: when ا had been born.
It’s a gold necklace. [‘Gold’ in Bengali: shunaa. It’s also used as a term of endearment sometimes. In Arabic, ‘gold’ is: ذهب’. ذهب’ also means ‘he went’, i.e. to go (somewhere).
People tend to go where the gold is…]
ا had also been wearing, that day: two gold rings. A gold-and-green bracelet. Gold-and-green earrings (which were a present). This girl is good at… fashion, Allah hummabārik.
The Abaya she’d been wearing that day had been from “I don’t know. Some random store. In East London Mall.
In Green Street. At the back.”
ا loves “everything” about her maternal grandma, her Nan. Like: how she’s “funny.” How forthright, how direct, she can be. Things like: asking her grandchild whom she’s dressing up for. “Who’s your Zamay? [‘husband’ in Bengali]”
ا says that she can also quite ‘direct‘ herself: she tends to say things how they are, and without sugar-coating.
[Apparently, when a girl reaches maturity, she’s not only carrying around (half) the genetic material of her (potential) unborn children: she’s also already carrying around the genetic material of her (potential) unborn grandchildren. If this is true, then:
Your maternal grandma, in a way and at some point in time: carried you, too.
How special, Maa Shaa Allah ].
Back home in Kent, ا has a friend, ج, with whom she would sometimes go on drives, and they’d spend time talking to one another in the car. Car therapy.
“You know them friends that you have, they’re like, more considered family by your whole entire family?
“Amma and Abba [‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ in Bengali] call her, ‘Our other daughter’.
“I’ve known her my whole life, innit. She lives up the road.”
Another friend of ا’s is… ن.
“ن is… a great human being. [Allah hummabārik ‘alayhaa]
“She’s younger than me, as well, but she’s so wise.
“You know when you just go through so much, you learn so much that other people don’t know about. ‘Cause you have more experience. And hers is like that.”
“ن: if I’m feeling really overwhelmed [after ‘over-thinking’] with something, I’ll always go to ن.
“Like, I’ll FaceTime her. Her first thing is like, she’ll just kinda be like, very supportive…
“Then, she’ll just tell me [some practical things to do].”
ا talks about how ن has helped her with Namaaz (another word for ‘Salaah’. From Persian origins, I believe).
“She would call me, to make me do Namaaz.
“You know when you just need that extra push? And it’s not, like, force or anything. It’s just that little extra push that you need. That’s what she was to me.”
ا carries on speaking about her friend ن.
“She also got me into reading books. She’s the type of person that will always relate everything back to religion, which is what I needed.”
“A lot of people don’t really do that.”
ا talks about how other people seem to advise towards things like “therapy” in lieu of religion, when it comes to ‘feeling sad’.
“I don’t want therapy.”
I say that therapy’s good (i.e. can be good) as well.
“Therapy would be good. But I’m training to be a therapist, so I know how everything works.“
She knows the system by now, you see… It therefore probably doesn’t really ‘work’ on her…
[Also: we need more Muslim, Islamic therapists, counsellors, etc. in the Ummah.]
Chaotic Good, or something like that.
“I don’t really go to uni much. Even though it was around the corner. I don’t really go to it much.
“Everything’s getting posted online anyway. So I’m like, what’s the point of me going in at 9 AM?“
She’s done it, Maa Shaa Allah : ا has now finished Third Year, and she’s graduating, In Shaa Allah .
Not a ‘Morning Person’.
Earlier that day, ا’s elder brother had come to our house, in order to visit my dad, who’s not been well. The previous day, he’d come to London for a barbecue with, I think, family and family friends.
I asked ا’s brother where ا might be.
He replied saying something like how everyone knows that ا doesn’t do mornings.
“Yeeahhh…” says ا. “Yeeaaahhh.”
Staying up until Fajr. And… avoiding social interaction in the morning.
[Back home in Kent, in Year Thirteen: ا says that she’d come home from school, having had only afternoon classes (save for a morning start on Wednesdays) since she had some say in the timetable she’d wanted. And she’d pray, eat, and then sleep. Until about 10 PM.]
“I don’t like working. But night shifts are probably the ones for me.”
Some things that ا loves:
Burgers. Sleep. Her friend م.
Flowers. The ocean. Going out with friends.
Skylines. “‘Cause they’re pretty.“
Rooftops. “Like, any type of rooftop. I just love rooftops.
“I like heights. Like, I like being able to see a lot of things.”
Satin, when it comes to fabrics. And:
“My Prada bracelet that I lost the other day.”
And ا’s favourite car: is the Nissan Silvia.
Favourite colour: “You know, my whole life, purple has been my favourite colour. But, it’s always just different shades of purple.” She is currently in a lilac phase.
A Childhood Favourite Book.
ا’s favourite book from childhood:
“I love that book, so much. Which makes no sense, ’cause it’s such a sad book!”
“The storyline is, there’s this girl that’s like, a little rebel. And then, she gets sent to boarding school. And then, she becomes good over time. She learns a lot of things about life.
“In the end, she’s, like, getting close to her family as well. And then her family come down to visit her.
“And I forgot the process of how it happened, but, like, she fell from the roof of [a building, possibly a church].”
“Yeah, she died.“
- “I do like sad things. Sad things are cool.”
“You have to learn about your religion yourself, even if you’re born into it.
“I started getting way more into it, and reading up about it in First Year, when I had moved out.”
Because when your heart’s in it… Religious obligations are not some ‘chore’: they form the very soul of our very lives.
ا had grown up in an area where there are definitely not many Muslims. And I’ve grown up in an area where, AlHamduli Llah , there are many Muslims.
But commencing uni in London meant that ا had found herself immersed in more of a “mixed place”.
ا talks about having “random phases” when she goes through her social media and ‘cleanses’ her followings.
She says she has three close friends: م ,ن and ج.
“And I’m more than content with that.”
She speaks about how they’re all different. And on their own personal journeys, essentially, and also walking their paths together.
Threats to Integrity.
ا mentions two factors that can negatively affect… let’s call it, religious integrity.
People adhering to ‘culture‘, even when some aspects of it are antithetical to Islam. For example: having mixed weddings in which ordinarily hijābi women might take off their headscarves ‘for a day’.
And: people trying to ‘modernise’ things. e.g. some Muslim parents ‘allowing‘ their kids to be involved in premarital relationships. Maybe: because ‘everyone else is doing it.’
But: the ‘majority’ is definitely not a determiner of truth. The ‘majority’ is certainly not our guide.
.وَإِن تُطِعۡ أَكۡثَرَ مَن فِي ٱلۡأَرۡضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا ٱلظَّنَّ وَإِنۡ هُمۡ إِلَّا يَخۡرُصُونَ
“And if you were to obey most of those on Earth, they would lead you away from Allah’s Way. They follow nothing but assumptions and do nothing but lie.”
— Qur’an, (6:116).
Falling in Love With Your Religion.
“I think, it doesn’t matter what age you are.
“As long as you find your own way to fall in love with [Islam].”
ا talks about how even if we sin. Even people who drink, do drugs and so on: if there’s even a slight bit of guilt and regret that they feel afterwards: this is a sign of still having faith.
ا’s family and mine have been to Saudi, to do ‘Umrah, together, AlHamduli Llah . Makkah and Madinah.
Some things that ا remembers from this trip (back in 2016):
What was special about it?
She says: “Everything.”
- “The air being fresh.”
- “The Pepsi can.” [Soft drinks cans tend to be tall and thin in Saudi, if I’m not mistaken].
- How, one day, we were running late for Namaaz at the mosque. And, on the road: “The cars all stopped, and everyone got out their cars, just started praying on the road.”
- “I remember the ground. The white marble outside. It was really clean. It was always clean. Everything always smelled nice, and fresh.”
- “I remember how hot it was, in the coach, from Makkah to Madinah.”
- “I remember visiting the Prophet (SAW)’s grave.”
- Date palms.
- She remembers how she and I ran around, and the glass lift in the hotel.
- She remembers the cuts on her brother’s head, after his hair was shaved.
- Wheeling her nan around, in Madinah, in a wheelchair.
Popularity isn’t everything.
Some advice that ا would give, to people who are younger than her:
“Popularity isn’t everything.”
“I’ll admit, I cared about it too. But then, it’s always… The ‘popular’ people [tend to be] the ones that are mean… [acting cold, and ‘closed off’.]
And/or: acting unintelligent.
Sometimes: getting into fights, and behaving aggressively. Maintaining a ‘shock factor’ and some sort of image in this way.
Trying to be ‘popular’ and ‘respected’ and ‘memorable’ in those ways. Being ‘liked’ on account of them.
But: to be truly loved by (the right) people is… better. Truer. etc.
- ا had been voted as having the ‘Nicest Smile’ at her End-of-School Awards Ceremony, Allah hummabārik. Meanwhile… the ‘Most Likely To Be Remembered For The Rest Of Their Life’ had gone to… A girl who ended up moving to live with her dad, in Canada, after being involved in violent fights at school.
Within the parameters of Truth, there is more than enough room for you to be you.
Whether you’re a: Muslim with Persian roots. And/or with Arab ones. Desi, and/or… with a… Celtic, or Nigerian, or Danish, or Native American heritage.
Between Muslim and Muslim, numerous things may vary, and these differences, we find, are enriching:
- What’s your favourite car?
- Do you prefer burgers or chicken wings? Or, both? Or: neither?
- What kinds of shoes do you typically wear?
- Do you prefer silver jewellery, or gold? Or… rose gold? [By the way: in Islam, men are not allowed to wear silk, and gold. For this very reason, my aunt had to contact an Etsy seller when she’d been trying to order a calligraphic ring for her husband: an anniversary gift… To check if the gold writing had been made with actual gold.]
- Beaches, or mountains, or both?
- Are you the eldest child, the youngest, or are you somewhere in the middle?
- What’s your favourite element of Islamic history?
- What’s your favourite designer brand, if any? [Here, I imagine at least one of my cousins saying, “Primark“.]
- Do you know much about your ethnic history / lineage?
- What are some of your favourite scents?
And so on, and so on.
Muslims, Muslim men, Muslim women: we believe in the One true God, and in His Angels, Books, and His Prophets and Messengers. We seek to follow the Sunnah of the final example: Muhammad (SAW).
And, when you also take the time to zoom in a little more:
We find that we have been Created with such diversity.
And it is beautiful, AlHamduli Llah .