Category Archives: Muslim

The Spirituality of Tidying; My thoughts as a Muslim on Marie Kondo

I was fortunate enough to watch ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ on Netflix without having been exposed to too much of the criticism currently being posted about her on social media. I think I probably came across one meme of her with a speech bubble saying something about books. I’d seen the show come up on Netflix recommendations but never really paid attention to it till I saw her name popping up on Twitter a couple of times. I’m not big on home décor or lifestyle programmes and so it wasn’t something I considered my territory – that is, until I watched the first episode.

Marie Kondo met her first clients – a married couple with children – and asked them if she could greet their home. I thought her request would be met with amusement/cynicism/something negative (as I’ve later seen to be the case on social media), but I was pleasantly surprised when the couple said; ‘I love that!’, and she proceeded in her ritual. They even joined in with her and sat in silence, taking in the atmosphere of the house. And what’s more – they felt emotional doing it, feeling the significance of the silence. It was clear that they were visibly moved when Marie had finished.

This glimpse into Marie Kondo’s spirituality had my attention. (For more on the culture behind her spirituality/philosophy see this great Huffington Post article tackling the negativity being posted about her on social media: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/marie-kondo-white-western-audineces_us_5c47859be4b025aa26bde77c)

As I continued watching, she went on to present other aspects of her beliefs (aspects which form the basis of her philosophy of cleaning): that we should keep a hold of items that make us feel joyful, that we should hold onto what we would like to go into our future with, that we should remember the significance of the objects we possess so as much as to thank them when we do let go of them. I can well see how all these things promote a healthy outlook to living – helping one to move away from an unhealthy possessiveness, hoarding or the indifference which allows clutter to build up within our living spaces, and help one be happy with what they possess. What’s more, Marie’s spirituality is one that is accessible to people of no religion just the same way that Rumi’s translated poetry is – in that there is no mention of ‘God’ to frighten away the atheist, there is no gratitude towards a divine deity. The gratitude is posed upon the object, the house, the memory, the experience, really – upon ourselves. And I think spirituality – even in this form – benefits the person practicing it, giving them a basis upon which to feel something greater than themselves without having to give that something a name if they feel uncomfortable doing so.

This is the reason why Marie’s show really got my interest. As I watched her process of tidying, I thought about my own spiritual beliefs: to want less, to possess only the things that matter, to have a healthy relationship with everything around me (including my memories). When she tells her clients to thank their clothing, I think about how I could thank Allah for the objects I hold, how I could thank Allah for giving me the means to have them even when I am choosing to let something go.

I have heard teachers of Islam say that we should live like travellers in this life, that we should develop good habits, live with meaning and purpose, and work to clean our souls. I have heard stories of great people who have lived with very little – the objects they did possess being those of great worth to them. I have also looked at the millennial trend of minimalism and seen how this can apply to a follower of Islam who wants to rid themselves of the many material possessions which, in reality, they have no need for. And yet I never made the connection between tidying and my own spirituality as clear as I did when I watched this show. It was like the knowledge was there, but the practical means were not. And now…I’m thinking of the many things I want to donate to charity, the many things I own that I want to pick up and say alhamdulillah for before placing them respectfully into their rightful places around the house. These are not small acts, I see this also as part of dhikr.

And so, I’m grateful to Marie Kondo for fearlessly being herself and presenting her philosophy to a Western audience – even at the risk of it being ridiculed or completely misunderstood. It was a breath of fresh air which helped me to consider something seemingly mundane as tidying as having the potential to be spiritually cleansing. I would like carry a greater purpose with everything I choose to include in my life, and if I can handle objects as gently and gratefully as I see Marie teaching her clients to do, I’ll know that I have achieved a greater appreciation for what God has given me.


Dear Diary: Confessions of Inertia

Ya Lateefu, Ya Lateefu,

My husband told me that tayammum, the dry ablution, the washing of the skin and soul with dust, would not have been permissible with the earth if the beloved Prophet’s (pbuh) feet did not walk upon it. The beauty of this haunts me, drowns my lungs as something outside of my surroundings. Different – just as consciousness is different to matter. The epiphany is beautiful. I need it as fruit to devour, to survive, to transcend above survival in the grip of the darkness I feel inside, falling as I am into that same earth the Prophet (pbuh) walked upon with such purpose, humility and grace. I do not know how to rise to its surface, but keep digging at the dirt to try and find a way. He (pbuh) made the earth move with his steps, but I can only suffocate in it – cannot even become it.

I have watched as an elderly woman cried beside me about the son she lost to illness at an age too soon, and I did not hug her. This haunts me. I have held her a million times in the confines of my thought, sharing her grief as my own, but unable to make my rock-like bones move in reality where it may make a difference. I think about the times I have hesitated due to overthink, running something over in my head so much that my body became stiff. The times I have not spoken when I should have. The times I have not cried when I should have. I despise the way my voice comes out from my throat, barely audible when greeting strangers. The times I have not acted when I should have. The times I have not followed a decision because all I could do was stare into my thoughts trying to find a way to get up from the floor. The peace does not come. I did not call my mother the night I missed her so terribly that I lost myself to a living sleep, but the morning after numbed my brain into the routine of the day. I switch off. I put things off for years. I can put people to the side for a long time, and in that time they live inside my thoughts. I speak to them, apologising, praying for them, hoping that one day perhaps they can benefit from something I have intended although I have not done for them as I should have when required. To just be there for someone is a beautiful thing. I have never underestimated the strength of those who show their faces where they must, as propriety demands. As is a Muslim’s right over another.

For all of these regrets the dear diaries have been trapped inside my head. It is hard to release a great many experiences locked within their time which could not be written in the moment. It is difficult to write when most in need, just as it is difficult to talk to someone and get a grip over the subtleties of tears and madness. My husband holds me and does not give up. It is not good to submerge into water to deal with oneself. It is selfish.

I write now with a stronger hold over my mind than in such times. But the thick of battle offers no mercy. That battle is between one’s life and one’s limbs. I write after it has taken place – in retrospect, missing how the breaths of those moments wheezed out from my throat, how mind-numbing the onslaught of anxiety was. Internal darkness is a reality, not part of a diagnosed state of being, but a hardship with its own reasons that are above and beyond my understanding. But the depth of the heart’s abyss reveals itself in times of sorrow, showing how the human being has a great deal more inside than what the surface of happiness can expose. This darkness is not simply to be sad or in grief or in anxiousness or fear. It is the inability to move. It is inertia that takes over. A great weight bears down on me, as if a huge shadow is holding my body, engulfing my mental and physical form, and hugging tightly my heart. All I want is to have the strength to swing it off me, and by the same movement be able to get up and do something; to do what I should do, to follow propriety, duty, act justly, act mercifully, give myself to something other than this lull,

“don’t fall into a lull,” he says,

this silence, this extended pause, this spiralling thought. Something other than it.

This is not simply a wish, this is a desire, this is a prayer, this is dhikr.

Ya Lateefu, Ya Lateefu,

my love holds the hand of my inertia, rocking it back and forth until I get up with him and pray.


Dear Diary: A Step into the ‘Real World’

I said Qabool and realised that this is an act of ibadah.

I said Qabool and saw the sky turning red, and the gates opening for many, and the world having the potential to come to an end because that is inevitable.

I said Qabool and felt the strength of Allah pushing down on my shoulders as I understood the weight of my responsibility in what I was agreeing to, and felt my whole being ready to fulfil it.

Life has been moving fast. Not ahead of me. But fast. Like this car journey on the first day of Ramadan. To London. For reasons too complicated to explain. Our surroundings are blurred. Cars keeping the same pace as us are normalisers. We’re afloat. It seems as though we’re not moving, but still getting to somewhere important.

Things only feel like they’re zooming when you write them down in an effort to explain what’s going on, for someone to understand how crazy things have been. That’s why it makes sense to me that people write in their pauses. When moods are low, the mind allows you to magnify a water droplet in order to compare it to your tears. People understand such sentiments. Small things, insignificant at other times, but appreciated when you slow down. We can’t handle being aware of too much you see. The mind sometimes switches off all those parts of itself that help compose essays and poems, analyse arguments, verbalise abstract thoughts, form conclusions to theorised notions, or develop philosophies for how the human consciousness can be identified so that we can show people we’re not near-dead matter simply oiled by chemical reactions.

I can’t function as such right now. Life has been moving too fast to think in detail and my body and mind is in survival mode. There’s not much space for analysis. I’m in action. Action is like fighting. That’s what you do in survival mode. You fight or you run. When I look at my legs I don’t think they’re running, so I’m doing the former. Fighting to understand the passages I’m entering while attaining what God has assigned for me. I’ve said yes to fate’s directions. I have found what I’ve been looking for, and I feel the warmth of the gift.

But there’s a lot of stress here. A lot of oncoming responsibility, a step into a new place in life, and each step carries an incredible amount of weight. You begin to realise why it’s necessary to switch off all of the you that thinks too much. If that part of me stayed on I’d be going crazy right now thinking of all the possible ways things could go incredibly wrong.

I’ve only had to deal with negative thinking for brief moments when the stress has overloaded and the practicalities have felt like a slap in the face. A couple of weeks before the big day, I was sitting in a diner with my closest friend having some ice cream to sooth my nerves and telling her that everything was getting too much to handle.

I need to get my life sorted. I can’t be a dreamer anymore. I can’t be me anymore. I need to be conventional. I need to take on responsibilities, act as others do when they’ve settled down and become someone’s life partner, someone’s daughter-in-law, someone’s sister-in-law…

‘I need to enter the real world’.

What real world?’ She asked.

‘The real world. Reality.’

‘There is no real world. This is reality.’

I understood.

We don’t just wake up one day and get pushed into the ‘real world’. Just like we don’t wake up one day and suddenly become adults. Despite the way our culture makes it seem so, the fact is that everything is a constant preparation for what’s ahead. If you look to Allah you realise how He has always prepared you to face what’s coming and shown you how to face what’s already here. As humans we’ve been given the ability to adapt to change, but adapting doesn’t take the same form for each individual. Just because I’m taking a certain step in life that most take at some point doesn’t mean I will conform to their conventions or become like them. I can already feel the realisation setting in of what is happening in my life; however I can also feel how life has been teaching me to deal with what’s taking place the way that only I know how, and that’s what I’m doing. The one requirement of me, my being, is that I stay close to Him, grow close to Him i.e. that I please Him, not displease Him.

On one of the occasions I was expressing my worries and what-if’s, and we were talking about rights, obligations and the difficulties a woman faces when leaving home, someone special told me something that stuck;

‘Whatever difficulties you face in future, whatever happens, just remember that where Islam comes in, everything else stops.’

And then he added as more than an afterthought; ‘Don’t stop dreaming.’

_____________________________________________________

This post stops here, so by all means stop reading if you have better things to do (understandably!), but thank you for taking the time to be here 🙂

A friend sent me a message after reading the above and I felt like it should be shared, not only because of the way in which she related to this post, but also because of the wider issues she thought of which I’m realising a lot of women (mostly of Asian origin) may relate to. Note: This isn’t the full message, just the parts that apply. So here it is;

“Roszeen,

I really enjoyed reading your blog post…I like in the beginning how you related the concept of agreeing to get married to a very weighty description of what I thought was judgment day.

The fear and uncertainty that you felt while at the same time realising this was ‘what you’ve been looking for’, the fear that you felt at having to change to be like everyone else ‘when they’ve settled down’ and the fear of not being a dreamer anymore and having to mould yourself to a predetermined thing, conceptualised and put forward as THE way to be in asian societies; that fear resonates with me. The fear of not being true to yourself, of being manipulated and moulded by backward traditions cultures and family. That is what frightens me the most, not celebrating the way Allah created you in terms of your personality and having to be a robot or in a cult like everyone else.

It reminds me of a quote by mark twain: ‘to wish you were someone else is to waste the person that you are’.

It’s inevitable that you’d feel the emotions described in your blog; fear, anxiety, uncertainty and stress. It’s such a huge new transition in your life that you’re getting yourself into. When you lamented at having to get out of dreaming and becoming a ‘daughter in law’, it reminded me of the conventional norms of the society we live in. Many married asian women I know seem to literally be chained to the kitchen sink and have no time for anything else. They are literally slaves to their husbands family and they have no opportunity to grow or learn.

I’m glad you came to the conclusion that just because your going through a process countless other people have gone through, it doesn’t mean you have to be like them. I’m also glad you realised and linked in Allah towards the end and how at the end of the day it is Him that only matters.”


Self-Expression & the Clear Image

If you’ve read my piece; ‘Twitter-Presence; Identity, Death & Jahar’, you’ll know that questions of identity have been important to me. People rarely acknowledge that categories of identity classed as normal are not ones anyone would accept outside of their cultural and social framing. Patriotism is really an odd concept if you’re in an environment where you’re not reminded of its signs – if it has no real function to your daily existence, as I’ve found in my life. I think that my dad did talk occasionally about a ‘Kashmiri pride’, but it felt more like he was speaking of it out of interest, like he was referring to it as something tangible now only because we’re away from it, something that might be used like a piece of clothing to wear the way tourists wear ‘I heart New York’ t-shirts. They don’t wear them all the time, they change their clothes, but perhaps there’s a sentimental attachment in so far as it holding memories of a place they once visited –maybe a few family members live in New York, but there’s not much more than that.

I don’t know much about our family background and haven’t been taught to love our ‘heritage’ or ‘land’ or ‘country’, but the lack of knowledge of such things has made me interested since youth. In fact, I was quite bitter as a child about knowing nothing of these things. As a result, an interest in the idea of culture developed. Reading fiction hasn’t helped when filling my head with stories of ancestors, family bonds, destinies, blood lineages, inherited character traits etc. But to take an interest in something you still have a detachment. If you really love something you go beyond taking an interest, you own it, it’s yours. But I’ve always treated culture as something interesting to look at; aesthetics, history, anthropology. I’ve held a fascination for traditions, been drawn to tales of conflict, aggression and suffering. I am my own orientalist. Or – maybe not. Because with this kind of thought all ‘culture’ ends up holding the same superficiality if expressed only as outward show, something fake, an unnecessary addition to an individual. What I realised was that – perhaps because I’m so drawn to writing – real culture is carried within the languages people use.

And so, in opposition to the conscious outward shows of expression of a ‘culture’, or an allegiance to something that would label one as ‘a patriot’, I’ve  always found something more liberating in the idea of the ‘self’ – the ‘individual’; something free of a set category, something much closer to the truth of one’s being.

If you spend a lot of time in reflection, in wonder, writing, drawing – if it’s something you’ve become accustomed to since childhood, you’ve already made yourself very aware of a self – unpolluted by the tyrannies of social flows. You learn how to let your self speak out freely in whatever way you’ve found. Artistic expression today is centred on this. People find themselves and try to make their life more bearable (beautiful even), expressing things people generally don’t want to sit and talk about. You can lay your soul bare on a social media platform, a canvas in a public art exhibition, on a stage blinded in your spotlight.

You realise through the expression you’re able to justify the behaviour that has put you on the edge of acceptance for so long. It’s such a vengeance. Anthony Anaxagorou’s; ‘The Sadness of Art’ comes to mind (http://anthonyanaxagorou.com/post/33585598795/the-sadness-of-art). In fact, I remember reading his piece and feeling so justified afterwards. I don’t even know how to describe it. It just felt like finally not being an oddity anymore. Actually – it still felt like I was an oddity, but I didn’t despise myself for it. I remember someone saying to me jokingly once; ‘You’re weird, you know that?’ And I thought to myself; yes – I am – but wait till I’m comfortable with it. That was my ego. In fact, all this self talk is perhaps from a dark place.

A lot of my expression really kicked off from Hip Hop. I don’t go out of my way to hide my previous obsession for it during childhood to teens. It’s not like an unspeakable part of my life or anything like that. What’s actually happened is that I don’t think much about it anymore. You may find my mention of Hip Hop hard to understand – an odd thing to connect to someone like me. The problem with today is that Hip Hop has so many false connotations attached to it; it’s shown as a joke. I came across a lot of middle-class snobbery at university where students only knew it as far as their stereotypes – and I was personally offended by their talk. I don’t need to be an African American born in South Bronx, New York to be offended. Hip Hop knows that because if you ever listen to any serious artist speak on the subject, they’ll tell you it’s all about being comfortable with you. Confidence is key. If you want more insight on that check this speech by Lauryn Hill; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1cq0bhSrq4. And if you want to know about Hip Hop as an art form, check her spoken word; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpXJs3CtDfE. While you’re at it, you can also look at the likes of Amir Sulaiman, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Suheir Hammad.

Who now remembers the roots of Hip Hop as a flow of culture that didn’t even know itself, before the superficial categorisations that come now? Like a flower growing out of the brickwork – like The Rose that Grew from Concrete. I’m not even talking about music; I’m talking about kids on the street rhyming about their day because it’s the only way they felt some kind of agency in their lives. I’m talking about identity ownership in political lyrics and writing and graffiti, where downtrodden people rebel against hegemony and create their own narratives.

Anyway, I haven’t talked like this in a long time. I just want to show you that I’m writing about a Hip Hop very different to the one you’ll probably have heard of. This is the ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, Def Poetry Jam, Amiri Baraka, ‘I am not my hair’ kind. At 15, I read Tupac’s poems published in ‘The Rose that Grew From Concrete’ with only one thought in mind; I can do that. When I started writing I was in contact with people who were also doing the same thing. The Hip Hop base of poetry doesn’t really talk abstractly in the same way as contemporary poetry. Unlike postmodern poets, Hip Hop artists run on rhyme. What the culture also does is centre itself very much on hyperbole. The way you write is from feeding off other people’s work, you find your mind working to play with language in a way that specifically shows your skill in metaphors, rhyming that doesn’t sound forced and of course – at the highest end of Hip Hop lyricism – references to politics and popular culture. It’s all about leaving the onlookers silenced. When you have people to compete with, the interaction improves the writing and performance. I was never good at the performance part, but the written stuff; rhyme, referencing and metaphors – I used to enjoy a lot.

Away from the hyperbole, what I also realised was that Hip Hop spoken word artists would play on the emotions of their audience. Their subject could be something personal, but it was heightened in such a way that purposely brought about an emotional response. If they talked about history and politics and culture, they would sometimes romanticise certain concepts. I had a conversation with someone not long ago which began with them asking me about whether or not it’s right for an artist to want to ‘feed off’ an audience or have the audience impact their art. And is it right if the artist manipulates the audience’s emotions? Sometimes such expression becomes an intoxication to find something new to be moved by. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that – I haven’t figured that out yet – but it becomes a problem when the thing we’re moved by is our own pain or insecurity, when that becomes an addiction. With this conversation, the self-expression I had always held up as righteous was for the first time being questioned. At first I fought it, I said that artists use the emotions of others to enhance their creativity, that the artist can be moved by his/her audience or the people he/she is creating for by taking their stories and making them into a piece that others can relate to. I also said that artists can’t stand on their own; they come up with their best work by feeding and in competition. And I said to myself that there is beauty in being able to justify one’s own cuts and bruises, in seeking vengeance and helping others to acknowledge themselves. There’s beauty in trying to enhance one’s abilities by seeking to perfect the word so that we can be moved every day.

And then I had to take a step back and think about my own writing and the reasons why I stopped finding peace within it – which is what happened when I became too involved in the concept of mastery over something that was essentially meant to be about sincerity, not self-indulgence.

I stepped away from a lot of stuff. Or actually, a lot of stuff stepped away from me. The ability to write had actually left me not long after I moved away from Hip Hop. Hip Hop was replaced by contemporary poets and literature. I thought the fault was that I was no longer seeking the same inspirations that made me want to better my writing technique, and that if I went back to the lyricism and trying to compete maybe I’d be able to pick up again, but I realised that it felt empty. None of it was me; I was trying too hard to make an identity which didn’t fit – something I previously resisted.

I considered all of these things. I also considered what I loved about the artists from contemporary poetry and literature whose words impacted me, what I was drawn to in their art of expressing and trying to make people feel profound things. I realised I had gone to the excess and I wrote an article which I decided not to publish on here because most of it was half-thought and not well articulated – as much as I tried to make sense of what I was trying to say. But here is an extract;

 ‘The emotionally intelligent, the artists, the poets, the writers, the ones creating those things which cut through you and send you spiralling in awe – do you know how much they’ve got you idolising their creation? I know that passionate mind-set very well. You almost want to be crushed in the strength of human expression because you feed off it. You want to feel something deeply. You need fine concepts, abstract ones that can’t fill in their own spaces and don’t want anyone else to either. The leaders of this movement masquerade as the intelligent, the elect, the darkness, the misunderstood understanding. They’re the ones who weave to you those stories you go to bed with. They’re the Majnuns of this time, forlorn in the effort to call out to Laila. You’re in love with their tears.

They want everyone to read their poems. And they love their scars.’

This was to me a poison of the nafs – the self – in a form that had completely gone unnoticed in my understanding of things. It was a self-indulgence that not one of the artists I loved could have told me about. Most of them don’t want to believe in a greater force, in God. And just as the rest of post-modernity, their art is what takes the place of morality, love, humanity, goodness – making up for the lack of certainty that the human by nature desperately needs. I felt like I had been playing with something dangerous. When it revealed to me its own loneliness – which is all there is to self-indulgence – and its road away from genuine help which is nearness to God (the only One always there when no one else is) I just didn’t understand what was left as an identity to hold onto when I had to cut out the things people normally find grounding in (first culture and patriotism, and now artistic self-expression).

My reaction wasn’t to say that I had completely removed artistic expression. I don’t think I could ever do that. But what I found was a truth; people can find themselves in an unhealthy addiction and false identity, even if they’re trying to oppose those things. But not many people will understand this, because most of us don’t know how high the bar can go, we think we know the expanse of the sky, but we don’t. We actually do have the ability to purify ourselves; an attestation to this is the stories and teachings of those saints who came previous to us. It’s just that we don’t know how. And if you think you can’t relate to this post and I’m just talking madness about artists etc. then please understand that most of us are clinging onto meaningless identities, desires and ego-boosters. And we’re all addicted to something – if not many things – it’s just a case of figuring out what it is for you individually.

I’ve started at page one again and am writing from scratch – this time trying to lessen the control of the nafs, instead trying to find the best way to describe the real essence of things. The truth is that individuality and expression is a God-send. But there’s no better identity than a clear mirror – which is the ultimate aspiration for every human being. The identities we get told we are or should be are like a fog over the clear image. What you’ll find is that it’s far harder to try to remove the unnecessary – especially when you’re trying to grasp what the unnecessary actually is. And the hardest thing in the world is trying to reconcile that clear image (of someone at one with God) with the baggage of this life.

I haven’t meant to attack the vulnerable artist here – far from it. It’s that artist’s disposition that will give them a new way to find Him. It’s just that when you’ve found your passions you have to direct them to the right path. And the final destination of elevation is to only have one passion; the passion towards Him – to want to know Him – which I don’t know how many of us will get to without also having passion for other things. But one thing I do know is that a person who is weakening themselves in a sincere love – even if in excess – is much easier to correct in their object of love (like what happened to Hafiz). It’s much easier to straighten such an individual than someone with arrogance, pride, or who is in the enjoyment of fitting in via superficial categories of identity. In sincere love, people try to do something they genuinely believe is right. And in a selfless love people don’t try to hurt others, which is what I think makes the difference.

Anyway, as an endnote; this post was actually meant to be about individuality, self-expression and hijab, but took a life of its own! So I might write about that next time. You may or may not agree with what I’ve written here, which is understandable because I’m not sure how many would share these views. But whether or not you agree, if all of this makes complete sense to you then you’ve accomplished more than I can at this current point in time. Maybe you can teach me.


The Way I Began ‘Practicing’ Islam (in answer to Muslims who freak out)

I’m a ‘born Muslim’, but I came to Islam properly at 17 years old. I wish I could tell you all the details of how that happened, but I wouldn’t be able to explain it. There are always different angles to things if you look into them enough. But I’d really like to share a few things to help someone who is coming back to their Deen. I’d like to talk to you about where I was before taking Islam seriously and how I approached Islam when I (formally) came to it.

My Limits

When I was explaining to a friend that my approach to life is pretty open-ended; I’m a relativist in most cases and can pretty much understand and be accepting of any situation/idea/person if I know enough about it/them, she told me I’m not. I was a bit taken aback wondering how she was here telling me what I am and am not, I mean, not in a conceited way, I was just surprised that she had read into me. She said I’m not a relativist because she’s noticed I have these limits to the way I approach life – things I will just never ever do, and no matter what happens she knows they won’t change. I realised then that I shouldn’t go round telling people that I’m open-ended in case they take the wrong understanding for their own lives. I knew what she was talking about in regards to my boundaries.

Here’s one example; when I first started secondary school, in year 7 all the kids were swearing like they’d just learnt how (which they probably had). It was anarchy – the way young people are when they go to uni and realise they can drink and be as promiscuous as they want. It’s that feeling of having a new rule to break, because you can; it makes people go crazy. But I just never liked the way swear words sounded, or the way they made people look when they said them. I made an oath on the way back home from school one day that I wouldn’t swear – I made that oath to God. This was before I was ‘practicing Islam’, but I held tight to it for the most part.

Another limit example is lying. Lying is not my strong point. It’s something my parents generally kept us away from by showing us that they believed what we told them. I never had a reason to lie to my parents – ever – because even with the worst of things, I could tell them the truth without getting in trouble. Lying has always, therefore, been pretty pointless. In school I was around a lot of kids who used their growing independence to find every opportunity to get up to something that they could lie to their parents about. I realised I didn’t have that need and I could actually tell my parents where I was going if I was going out, and they wouldn’t stop me or even ask where, who with, what time I’ll be back etc. It actually made me feel strangely guilty if I didn’t give them the details because they were passive in their trust, so I myself told them where I was going, who with, what time I’ll be back etc. The only time this started to change was when I was around 15/16 and I began getting difficult by not communicating with them much. This was the same time I started keeping a poem-diary and went through the usual swings teenagers go through.

Anyway, yeah I came to Islam when I was 17. I won’t go into why, but at that age I was in the middle of trying to change my appearance. I thought by doing that I could also change my personality and become more outgoing. I had a tough time in previous years in a friendship with a girl who made most of my school life pretty hellish. But I wanted to not be insecure anymore; I had certain (superficial) ideals I wanted to embody. Islam was the last thing I wanted to slow me down. I mean…I was starting to look like I was somebody. The problem is I never acted like one – my limits were always there. In those years I tried and I tried to be as rebellious as the kids I was around. I was adamant, but I couldn’t go far enough. I was too afraid of the consequences.

Relationship with God & Guilt

I mentioned previously that I made an oath to God in year 7 that I wouldn’t swear. It might make you wonder what importance God had to me then for me to be making an oath to Him – before I started ‘practicing’ Islam.

Well, I guess even though I knew very little about God and Islam, what I used to do when I was young is I would ask God things all the time. Literally all the time. To me a prayer was basically making a wish. I don’t even remember what my wishes were because they were silly things, but they were constant. I had conversations with Him. I remember one time – it was in a flat where we first lived so I couldn’t have been older than 5 or 6 – I watched my mum sitting on the sofa, reading the Qur’an. I didn’t know what the Qur’an was, my mum just told me it was an important book and I knew it must be because of the way she was reading it. She was rocking back and forth, she had a scarf on her head – I mean people don’t read books that way if it’s not an important book. So the whole time I was watching her, I just kept talking to God asking Him what’s in that book that’s so important. I sat making up my own stories which I’m not going to go into now in case some die-hard Muslim has a heart-attack reading this at the thought of my frivolousness as a child.

My other conversations with God consisted of asking for forgiveness for the stupid things I did, like wasting too much paper by gluing them together to make a big carpet, or making fake tears to convince my parents I was upset because I wanted a new toy (which never actually worked out because I’d start laughing), or bullying my little brother for no reason other than the fact that I could. I asked forgiveness a lot, even while doing those things. I had a relationship with God that no one knew about and if you came up to me then and told me about God, I would’ve tested your version to the God I felt I knew. If your version was not matching the closeness I had with Him I would’ve moved away from you – which is pretty much what happened with me and a lot of the Asians (mostly my mum’s friends) who claimed that this or that was haram (unlawful).

One of my friends (also Asian) said to me one time on the way back from school that I should start praying salah. She came from one of those same crowds who were always saying everything was haram. I didn’t see such people embodying any grace in their characters, all they did was condemn. Their’s wasn’t an Islam I wanted to embody. I outright told her that even though I don’t practice, I think a lot about ‘religious things’. I told her that my worship was spiritual, not practical and I was happy like that. Now I was around 13/14 at the time, I didn’t have a clue what spirituality was, but I knew I was a thinker. And yes I felt guilty not praying salah because I knew that’s what Muslims do and I wasn’t doing it, but I didn’t know what to do about that. She of course told me that it’s not enough and I shrugged. I wish she’d known how, despite everything, any conversation about Judgement Day was enough to bring me to tears because of the fear I felt. I just didn’t know how to go about making a change.

Coming to Islam (baby steps)

One time in our sixth form library, a girl who was newly trying to wear a scarf on her head took it off in our group of girls and some of the girls were trying it on just to see how they’d look in it. They passed it to me saying they wanted to see how I’d look. I remember how uneasy I got; I became so defensive saying I didn’t want to try it on. Inside I was in fear of how awful I’d look with it, and I think I actually walked away from them with some excuse that I needed to go onto the computers.

That was the way I felt about wearing a scarf, but along with all of the other reasons I came to Islam, one of the biggest was the conduct I saw of the girls who practiced hijab in our sixth form college. They were just like us non-hijabis and weren’t in-your-face about the fact that they were practicing Islam and we weren’t (if they had been in-your-face at that time it would’ve alienated me from them). One of them – one of my closest friends to this day – had/has so much zeal for life that it’s hard for you not to love her. I remember asking some non-Muslim friends about how they’d be around me if I started practicing hijab, their response was that they wouldn’t feel as easy talking to me, and then I reminded them of that girl and one of them said; ‘Oh yeah, I talk to her just fine, don’t even notice she has a scarf on’, and I laughed at this.

Anyway, when I started taking an interest in Islam, it really started from when I came across a lot of religious friction on social media sites (this was before Twitter). I began watching lots of videos of lectures by certain Muslim figures which were going round on those social media sites, and then started searching for more videos on my own. As much as I see Muslims ridiculing it, the internet was the only exposure I had then to any Islamic knowledge (other than a beginner’s guide for children which we had in the house). And I was just soaking in everything I learnt. When I came to Islam – and this is the main bit I want you to take – I took baby steps and I defined those steps for myself. By saying this I’m not saying I defined my own path to knowledge and that’s what you should do, not at all. What I mean is, I defined my own pace and I trusted myself.

The more I learnt about Islam the more I wanted to practice everything. I took a month learning how to pray salah by having a beginner’s guide to prayer open in front of me until I didn’t need the instructions and transliterations anymore. If you ask certain people if this is permissible, they’ll outright tell you; ‘You can’t have a book open in front of you while you’re in prayer, your prayer doesn’t count’. And that’s the kind of mentality I rejected. I’ll give you another example of this. When I started practicing hijab, do you know how I did that? I had a pashmina around my neck. Literally, that was my first step to hijab. The same girl who had told me I needed to pray when we were 13/14 was now telling me; ‘I know you’re trying Roszeen and I really don’t want to put you off, but you know that’s not hijab don’t you? There’s actually no point if you’re going to wear it like that.’ And again, I shrugged her comment off because I didn’t care what she thought about what I was doing.

In that summer I had the scarf covering my hair with my neck still showing, but then time after that I was practicing the scarf the way you see now, and now the abaya awaits in’sha Allah. I acted this way because I trusted myself. The same instinct that told me I was ready to be serious about Islam led me in all of the steps I was taking within it, and I didn’t care what anyone said about my progress, why? Because I considered myself to be starting from zero. I knew that whatever I added to my current state could only be an improvement from the way I was before. From not praying at all, to praying with a book open – even just once a day – was a definite step up. It reduced the guilt I’d previously felt from being purposely ignorant. It put me in a state of struggle where I felt comfortable to keep growing, hoping God would be pleased with me.

But along with that, I’d also like to say that my limits (that shape my character) helped define the boundaries of the way I learnt about Islam. That whole not swearing, not lying, keeping away from certain rebellious stuff etc. fit well into my Islamic ‘practice’. This is why I can’t tell you to start from absolute zero, even though I’d been telling myself the whole time that I did. The fact is that I was blessed with parents whose teachings have helped me, even if they didn’t directly link them to Islam. My friend made me realise that I had already built boundaries from my upbringing (and perhaps a guilt complex), which have been helping me in this journey, although I make countless, countless mistakes (Lord knows).

But I’m not going to say you need to build up character before you start practicing Islam. Why? Because they’re the same thing. Even though people don’t tend to pay as much attention to Islamic teachings on adab the way they do about controversial topics, it’s really important to stress that those little limits you get taught as a kid have to be upheld. Go back to them if you’ve long left them behind. Draw those boundaries, make those principles. They’re promises you can make in your head AT ANY TIME; don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t talk rudely, don’t raise your voice, don’t break your word etc. etc. and if you follow them continuously you change everything.

On top of that base you add your actions – at your own pace, but with determination – and start embodying Islam, bit by bit. We may not be classed as reverts, but we’re not far off. It takes a lot to break out of the excess we’ve fallen into. But coming back to Allah takes trust in Him, through which you have trust in yourself, and requires going back to your fitrah (natural state) as a child so you can build again. Whoever presents you with a negative image of this Deen doesn’t know God themselves.  So take your steps. There’s no need to panic.