Catch hold of that lifeline when it’s thrown to you, and don’t let go. I think I can identify four lifelines in my life, though no doubt there were uncountable more.
The first would be my faith. I was drowning when I grabbed hold of that rope. It didn’t turn my life around immediately, but it kept me afloat. It still does, nearly twenty-five years on.
The second, my beloved, three years later. I know I am so blessed to have been granted a woman like her, forever at my side whatever life threw at us, through unemployment, health issues and my unending lethargic blues.
The third would be an insightful teacher and guide, both learned in the deen and the bleeding edge of scientific research, as comfortable drawing profound meaning from the Quran as integrating machine learning into mRNA research.
The forth, a former manager, who took me under his wing a decade ago to mentor me and eek me out of my shell. Though our personalities were completely different, he saw my potential and pushed me to produce some of my best work.
I’m so grateful for each of these lifelines. Without them, who know where I would be today. I come from a good family, and privilege, but I’ve had serious struggles. I thank God for throwing me a rope whenever I was at my lowest.
I realise now that even if I wanted to remain anonymous, it is impossible, for I have left too many breadcrumbs behind me. Every decision, however long ago, to publish under my real name, whether in print or online, points back to me. So I am found out. Not that it was ever really a secret; I’m not hiding, I’m just trying to tame my ego. But, alas, I am already revealed.
Some battles are not worth fighting. Especially if they’re battles at work. In those scenarios, you have to recall that it’s just a job. Do your best. Do what you have to do. Fulfil your responsibilities. But don’t go busting a gut in pursuit of your ideals and principles. There will always be that team intent on implementing a solution to a problem they have not yet identified or defined. If their answer to the question “Can I read the project brief?” is “This has all been agreed!” know that your input is not seriously required. Let someone else sign off on their arbitrary folly.
The self-congratulating activist, revelling in his mastery of identity politics, can’t help but boast of his radical hatred of the Muslim convert — those irritating upstarts everywhere held in contempt — rallying against their pretence of belonging or their claim to the prophetic inheritance. Real Muslims are sick of Muslim converts, they remind us to great acclaim, their declarations liked, reposted and quoted all over.
You would think our activists, supposedly so rigorous, would think to themselves: “I have tens of thousands of impressionable followers on social media. I really must ensure the information I’m sharing is true.”
Given everything our faith says about being humble, merciful and kind… and about controlling our anger and tongues… restraining ourselves mindfully… one has to wonder: “Why are so many of us such jerks?”
On the train to London the other day, I was fooling about. Seated directly opposite my beloved, I would gaze into her eyes, my toes tapping hers. But no matter how much I tried, her own eyes would not meet mine, but would dart around, taking in the scenery beyond the carriage windows instead.
I can never resist Persian cuisine, and I definitely can’t resist saffron pistachio bastani. Years ago, we knew a wonderful Persian restaurant in Maida Vale, but neither of us could remember its name. So it was that after our appointment in Knightsbridge on Tuesday, we decided to make do with a Turkish restaurant in Bayswater. But as happenstance would have it, on our arrival — after a leisurely scenic walk through Hyde Park — we discovered there was a Persian restaurant right next door. As I say, I can’t resist, so we went there instead. No regrets.
That moment of trepidation after an afternoon spent vacuuming the house… awaiting your beloved’s judgement. Will your efforts meet her exacting standards, or will she spot the bit you missed and get the Hoover out again to do the job properly? I like to think I’ve developed one talent in twenty years.
Blame my irrepressible blues, blame contrition: March was the month of reaching out. I suppose there was nothing new here, for I had spent the month of February a year earlier doing the same, this time apologising to my parents and siblings. Indeed, much of that year was spent looking for those to whom I felt I owed an apology. Only one of them was I able to reach, but by then — twenty-five years on — they said they only remembered me fondly and couldn’t remember anything negative. All of the rest, it seems: completely lost in the mists of time.
I can’t really blame those who wonder if I’m for real. I doubt my own reality sometimes. It’s a bit too much to take in. They’re not the first to react that way. But, as far as I know, this is as real as it gets.
Put away your extremism, founded on your profound ignorance of your inheritance. Delve beyond the racist representations of your heritage, pushed by supremacists in their game of divide and conquer.
Reaquaint yourself with hundreds of years of coexistence and mutual respect. Rediscover friendships across traditions. Appreciate shared love for the greatest of poets, held in esteem by all traditions.
Do not be destroyed by your ravaging hate, nor let your ravaging hate destroy all others.
The chromosome disorder I have been bestowed doesn’t manifest itself as a critical condition, seriously detrimental to one’s day to day life, as we’d consider the likes of cystic fibrosis or spina bifida. In my opinion, the impact of my condition is mostly psychological.
They say blogging is dead. They said that fifteen years ago. But people still blog and people still read blogs. Blogging is all about expressing yourself, expecting nothing in return.
If another asked me today if they should start to blog, I’d say, “Why not?” If that’s the medium they felt most comfortable expressing themselves through, I’d say go ahead. Join the club. I’ll read it too.
I meet the born-again kind of faithful, bouncing off the walls in their ecstasy, whirling around convinced that they’ve found spiritual enlightenment. Good for them, but I don’t wear my faith that way.
I must concede that it’s a blessing not to have a regular commute. This is the obvious conclusion of a day out in London, setting off early from home for an appointment at the consulate in Knightsbridge. The Metropolitan Line, as usual, was delayed and slow running due to signal failure at Moorgate, so the journey took nearly two hours door to door.
Where are the cool headed folk who verify the news they receive? Where are those who pause to probe when they receive alarming information via social media, which seeks to foment and stir up communal tensions? Where those whose first question is, “Is this true?” Where those who will reserve judgement until all the facts are known? Where are those who recall what is written in their Book: “Do not mix truth and falsehood!” Where are those who remember anything of their faith at all? Won’t you please stand up?
I once tried to delete my face. It was the spring of 1997, during my second term at university. My face wasn’t the cause of my actions directly, but it became the target of my unrestrained rage. The cause was my decision to unapologise to a friend I had earlier apologised to at length, telling them now that I was not sorry and that everything was their fault. As impulsive and emotionally immature as I was, I wrote this down in the form of a letter, which I then trust into their hands in the university library.
Without fail, every Friday at 1.30pm, the same thought hits me: “We must make hijrah to another town.” By then, I will have missed the Punjurdlish speech, but will have caught the short English bayaan midway through. And what can I say? To be polite: it’s utter nonsense, always.
I confess I have never been worldly-wise. I don’t know why. I never had the drive or ambition to pursue an outstanding career. Was this simply the legacy of that decade at school being told over and over that I was a lazy fool who would never amount to anything? Or does my lack of aspiration drive deeper? For sure, I have never yearned for opulence or those markers of wealth and status all around me pursued with vigour.
Repeatedly, my lower self calls me back to what is of no benefit at all, neither for me nor any other.
Sometimes I resist, closing that door firmly shut, recalling, “We have been here before.” Sometimes I succumb, giving in to those inner arguments: “What harm can it do?”
This is my life, over and over. Yesterday I responded to its call. This morning I petition myself: “Repent, return, reform.” This battle within never ends, it seems. These skirmishes, offensives and counter-offensives. On and on.
It’s hard to close the door on desirous things, which bubble up from the deepest recesses of the soul. They call me back. But I know I must call back too: “Not this time, o nafs! I’m seeking something higher than this.”
I belatedly log into Twitter. The first thing I see: two profiles, each of them tweeting a photo of a pretty young African woman wearing hijab, purportedly themselves. Twitter suggests I may be interesting in following these accounts. I presume this is a paid advert, promoted by a followers campaign. For sure, no algorithm could determine my interests from my meagre output.
Before you listen to those petitioning young Muslim women not to go to college and university, ask yourself who will benefit from that decision. I confess that it makes me angry that we have highly educated people amongst us — graduates themselves — actively discouraging young women from studying. Why? Who gains from their illiteracy? Does our community gain anything? Does society as a whole? Do they as individuals?
Often, many of us have a primitive mindset, mixing honouring people with telling the truth. By and large, we prefer honour to truth. In reality, though, criticism is a positive force. The approach that something is true because it is old or is found in our books is very problematic. It could be true, but it might not be. Everything has to be investigated on its own merits.
I was the first person to think the best of a stranger in our midst, even when I had no reason to. I was the first to defend them from mockery too, though for that my friends lambasted me. I also thought the best of them the longest, even as the decades flowed past. I have always thought the best of them, and always will.