Category Archives: Uncategorized

2015

‘Only bad things happen quickly.’

I read this in a book (‘Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart’, if you’re interested) and agreed wholeheartedly. Anything good seems to take time and effort to build up, but things can change in an instant for the worse. A car crash. A job termination. A careless word spoken in anger.

But this year, something wonderful happened quickly. I met someone wonderful. Within a fortnight, we spoke about getting married. And just a couple of months later, we were.

We sometimes joke that we need to invent a more exciting story about how we met. Truthfully, there was nothing dramatic about how we came to be.  We’d seen each other around. We’d spoken a few times in the tentative manner of Muslim-not-yet-couples. I’d formed an impression of him as being serious, but sweet, and when the idea of us was suggested, we both ran with it.

I always wondered what it meant when people said ‘you just know’. I still do, actually. For me, it was less about ‘knowing’ and more about doing. Plenty of people can feel things for each other –amazing, powerful, fuzzy feelings. But things come horribly undone when it comes to doing. They’re vague about your plans together. They’ll say ‘it’ll happen soon’, but it doesn’t. They disappear, then reappear. They’ll say now isn’t the right time for that conversation and that confrontation, all of it masking the fact that you aren’t the right people for each other.

So if you want to know how I knew with him, here’s what it was.

Everything he said he’d do, he did.

He was always kind, and he always listened.

He had unshakeable faith in Allah.

He made plans for our future, not just the lofty fantasies, but the nitty-gritty logistical details too.

He trusted me, and I trusted him in return.

Such simple things. Such rare things.

It wasn’t a ‘fairy tale romance’. He didn’t ‘complete’ me. We were two complex humans with complex backstories when we met, which inevitably meant there would be bumps along the way. We’d been disappointed before, but this only made us more careful not to disappoint each other. The stories we’d lived through individually became shared ones, moments to relive and dissect and analyse together.

I’m married now. But I won’t presume to offer condescending pieces of advice like ‘it’ll happen when you’re least expecting it’, because some people can spend their whole life not expecting and then not receiving.

I won’t say ‘work on yourself first and it’ll happen’, because that implies that married people are somehow superior to singles. (They’re not, and I’m not.)

I won’t even say ‘it’s all naseeb’, because my naseeb could just have easily been to remain alone.

I will say this: this year has been a dark one in so many ways. Desperation in the sea. Indifference, cruelty and blind privilege on the land. The widening gap between rich and poor and the continual denial of #blacklivesmatter. I don’t fool myself into thinking that this will change any time soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate our personal triumphs, our little everyday joys, even as we raise our voice against injustice.

I pray that as this year ends, you find a companion, if this is what your heart longs for. I pray that you find peace and tranquility in company or in solitude. I pray that you keep fighting and keep holding onto your faith. I pray that you eat delicious things and see wonderful places while remembering those who can do neither. Most of all, I pray that you find the strength to keep giving and receiving love in all its wondrous, unexpected and beautiful forms.

11202091_10153877725859873_152702512016764405_n

Advertisements

Muslim parents and marriage

In an ideal world, parents and children would all hold hands and embark on the wonderful road towards marriage in harmony and sync. The fact that I couldn’t even write that sentence with a straight face should tell you that this is not always the case. Unfortunately, parents and children are frequently at loggerheads over who to marry, when to marry and how to marry. Even in the absence of serious conflict, your parents may not necessarily be all that helpful in the search for a partner. This may be through no fault of their own, but it only serves to make a complex process that much more awkward, icky and painful.

Parental obstruction or lack of assistance can take on any number of forms. Let’s take a look at some of the most common forms:

1.) The Inflexible Parents

‘She must be Lebanese’

‘He must have a house and a bank balance of $100,000.’

‘No one from that part of Pakistan.’

These are just a few examples of conditions set by parents. Sometimes these are communicated through direct warnings and ‘advice’ sessions, and sometimes they are entirely implicit. Some of their suspicions are grounded in prejudices about other cultures. Sometimes they just can’t be bothered dealing with anyone or anything outside of their comfort zone. Sometimes there are real fears about loss of control and identity if their children were to marry into the unknown, and very frequently, it’s all of these things mixed together. Whatever the case may be, their inflexibility is going to leave you with the choice of either falling in line and abiding by their rules or trying to open up a space for negotiation.

2.) The Clueless Parents

These parents are supportive in theory, but can’t or won’t offer much in practice. They just aren’t quite sure how it’s all supposed to work. The way they met and got married either just doesn’t work in your context, and their suggestions are just not all that applicable to you. This is often because they lack know-how and social connections i.e. there’s no waiting auntie brigade to make suggestions. Maybe your parents aren’t practising Muslims or into the cultural scene. Maybe your parents aren’t Muslim at all. Whatever the case may be, you’re pretty much on your own here.

3.) The Hands-off Parents

These parents expect you to do all the legwork. This may be because they just think it’s your life and you should decide what you want to do and how you want to do it, or maybe they just don’t really care if you get married or stay single. Bring them in towards the end when you’ve already made up your mind and they’ll be fine, but again, don’t expect much help from them along the way. (But if you’ve been raised by hands-off style parents, you’re probably used to doing things of your own volition in any case.)

4.) The Pushy Parents

These parents are keen to get you married off. Embarrassingly keen. They’ll take any opportunity to push you in the pathway of eligible prospects and have little regard for whether the person is actually compatible with you or not. They’ll guilt-trip you into meeting just about anyone who ticks their boxes, regardless of whether the person ticks any of yours. They think you’re ‘picky’ and immature, but you think they just don’t get it.

5.) The Inconsistent Parents

These parents send mixed messages. They claim to be  fine with someone of a different culture, but if you actually bring it up they’ll shut down the idea entirely. They’ll say the guy must come over and formally ask for your hand, but then freak out if any guy actually wants to come over. There’s one rule for one sibling and an entirely different rule for another.

I don’t want to paint a picture of parents being horrible bogeymen out to destroy their children’s lives.  It’s not easy for parents to see their children diverge from their traditions and accepted norms, but it’s certainly easy to be a child whose parents are inflexible and difficult to communicate with. Some compassion and empathy is required on both sides to make the situation work.

What are your parents like when it comes to marriage? Are they very involved or are they more hands-off?

Between Skinny Jeans and Abaya

I made a bit of a faux pas the other day. I’d come straight from work and went to pray taraweeh in an unfamiliar place, still dressed in my winter work staples: a knee-length coat with fitted pants to be easily tucked into boots. I realised on my way that I’d probably be the only woman there in pants, let alone fitted ones, and I wasn’t wrong. I cursed my own stupidity and vowed to carry an emergency abaya in my bag for next time.

This dance between skinny jeans and abaya isn’t a new one. When I first started wearing the hijab in my late teens, I was fascinated by maxi skirts and maxi dresses, the uniform of the MSA faithful. Later, I gave myself a little bit more leeway, adopting a uniform of dresses over jeans. Given my propensity to trip over my own feet, it felt safer and more practical to be wearing pants. I’d already had a long skirt caught in an escalator twice and I had no intention of repeating the experience.

But I never felt quite right in skinny jeans. I didn’t feel like it reflected where I was at, nor where I aspired to be. My mum and closest friends would half-jokingly tease that my pants were too tight, and I’d half-jokingly agree, but then just keep on wearing them. I felt self-conscious if I had to unexpectedly go somewhere ‘Islamic’, tugging at my shirt-dress as if to magically lengthen it. I decided to charity-bin the skinny jeans once and for all. I threw them out and resolved to only wear dresses, skirts and the occasional pair of baggy pants henceforth.

For a long time, I stuck to my resolution, even with my daily trips up and down the giant escalators at the train station. I wore business jackets with maxi dresses and maxi hijabs and maxi everything. I felt slightly uncool, but in the coolest way possible. But it wasn’t to last. Somehow, the lure of skinny jeans drew me back in to its orbit, and this is where I’m hovering at now, between skirts and skinny jeans, depending on the occasion, context and precisely how lazy I’m feeling. I’ve developed my own internal modesty-meter, and although it may swing and tip over from time to time, it’s important to me to at least think critically about what I wear and why I’m wearing it.

This process of self-reflection and self-auditing is hardly unique. Some women wear turbans in some contexts but not others. Many consciously change and adapt their clothing to suit their environment, whether out of fear of censure or simply out of respect for the culture of the organisation. The complexity of why we dress the way we do is difficult to capture. Does a person wear abaya because they think it looks cute, because they feel it’s the most modest option or because it’s the most commonly worn item in their social circle? Does a person wear skinny jeans because of ease or because they think it’s trendy? Any act which involves an element of public consumption is going to also involve an element of performance, of trying to project a certain image, and those who wear hijab are no more immune to this than those who don’t.

hijab

I find that discussions on modesty tend to be dominated by two discourses, both of which I find at least somewhat problematic. The one discourse places inordinate and often grossly inappropriate emphasis on women’s bodies and dress. In its crudest form, we see women’s clothing being explained through references to lollipops, burritos and any number of rude ‘this is not hijab’ comments on Instagram. This kind of policing is often grounded in deeply misogynistic ideas on the role of women in helping to ‘control’ men’s lustful gazes and that a woman’s outward appearance is inherently linked to her virtue, chastity and sexual availability.  It also places undue emphasis on substance over form, ignoring the fact that a skirt or a dress can be just as tight and form-fitting as a pair of pants.

As awful, cringe-worthy and offensive as these ideas are, the push-back has often been expressed in counterproductive ways. Just as outward appearance is given disproportionate weight by the lollipop brigade, those who oppose them are frequently guilty of stomping all over the importance of modest dress for both men and women. We are told that what you wear means nothing, that it’s all about what’s on the inside. We aren’t allowed to make any references to people’s clothing out of fear to be seen to be ‘judging’ them, even if they are people we know well. In some circles, reverse snipes about the supposed bad behaviour of women in hijab are common. Even those who defend hijab often do so based purely on super-fun-happy liberal notions of freedom of choice and the supposed empowerment it affords its wearer. The increasing commodification of hijab into a cool and hip fashion accessory serves as yet another means of desacralising and sanitising the conversation for a modern audience.

I don’t think I’ll ever quit wearing pants entirely, but who knows, I may just convert my skinny jeans into a dusting cloth sometime in the not-too-distant-future. (If my mum had her way, she’d be polishing our coffee table with them right now.) Inner and outer modesty is a journey, and like all journeys, it’s easiest when undertaken both self-reflexively and as a collective effort. This means thinking about what we wear and how we can strive for both better inner and outer standards of modesty, and it means picking each other up when we fall with kindness, diplomacy and with no references to edible foodstuffs whatsoever.

10 Reasons Zayn Malik left One Direction that only Muslims get

While the world cries over Zayn’s shock exit from One Direction, Muslims knew this day was coming (inshaAllah) from the time their very first track was released. The clues were there, if only you knew where to look. I know, I know, maybe you’re not as familiar with 1D’s back catalogue as I and my fellow Zayn Malik fangirls. (For evidence of said fangirlery, please see below for an image of my 1D concert buddy in her 1D socks.) For the uninformed, I’ll lay it out for you here:

1.) He finally figured out that the song ‘Kiss You’ wasn’t referring to the private life of a married man and woman in the confines of their house and ran the other way in embarrassment.

2.) The song ‘Midnight Memories’ wasn’t about praying Tahajjud-the only thing any good Muslim would be creating memories of at midnight.

3.) He was bored because he already knew the answer to ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go'(straight to the masjid, of course.)

4.) He noticed that the song ‘You and I’ had the lyrics ‘not even the Gods above can separate the two of us’. (Polytheism AND blasphemy combined, astaghs.)

5.) ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ didn’t have a single reference to hijab, niqab or burqa.

6.) The ‘Little Black Dress’ in question was just a bit too little for his liking. (Only floor-length abayas do it for Mr Malik.)

7.) ‘Steal My Girl’ just didn’t make any sense to him. Ain’t no need to steal anyone’s girl when you can have four wives of your very own waiting at home.

8.) The ‘One Thing’ in question was something other Allah.

9.) The dance to the ‘Best Song Ever’ wasn’t a dabke to the dulcet tunes of Sami Yusuf or Maher Zain.

10.) He didn’t want to ‘Live While We’re Young’, he wanted to ‘Give While We’re Young’. Zakat, that is.

This may be a sad day for many people, but for us Muslims, it’s a day of great celebration. Zayn, your creeping Sharia days may be over for now, but I have no doubt that your many talents will be put to good use, like single-handedly increasing attendance rates at your local masjid by about 5000%. Welcome home, brother.

On modern life

Wake up, press snooze. Press snooze again. It’s ok, the alarm is set for ten minutes earlier than I know I need to get up for this exact reason: to maintain the illusion that I’m getting a bit of extra sleep.

But my body doesn’t buy it. I drag myself through the morning rituals to make my face slightly more fit for human company, pulling on the clothes I ironed the night before. Spray, rinse, brush, pin, tie up, belt and button, and I’m ready to go. I mutter a goodbye to my mother, father. Even though I won’t be in the company of someone I love for many, many hours, I’m far too tired for upbeat pleasantries, and I know they are too.

I stand at the same door to enter the same train carriage on the same train I catch every day. That same bearded guy in the too-short pants who reads Quran on his Ipad is sitting a few seats down from me. He doesn’t look up. Why should he? Everyone knows that deliberate eye contact is something only freaks do on public transport.

I do a little experiment on the second train I have to take to get to work and try and catch someone’s eye. But even the guy who is barely 50cm away from me wants none of it. (This is one of the paradoxes of modern life: we’re all forced to compete for increasingly tight spaces, whether on trains or in the housing market, but we barely acknowledge the existence of the person next to us.) The woman on my other side has smudged mascara on her eyelid. I think about telling her, but she has headphones in and so do I, so why bother?

Ah coffee, that wonderful, socially acceptable drug. One, two, three, however many it takes to still the dull ache in the temples and the ever-present threat of stress and boredom. It’s also one of the few legitimate excuses to leave the office. To say, I’m going to go outside so I don’t crawl under my desk and bore a hole into it with a drill, is to invite mental health audits and polite concern, while to pop out for a coffee barely warrants an upward glance from our double screens.

Keep snacking. Just keep snacking. Buy that eight dollar cold-pressed juice. Buy that ten dollar salad. Throw half of it away after it sits out next to the keyboard all afternoon and gets wilted and soggy. Get up and go to the bathroom just for the sake of it, even as the emails flood in. Pray in the corner that the Muslim guy in IT used to pray in. (There’s always a Muslim guy in IT.)

Spend time with friends and family, going to festivals and events and cafes we’ve seen on Instagram. Many people are on their phones at these gatherings, not wanting to miss a moment of capturing these ‘memories’. We’re so busy all the time. I need to schedule my catch-ups days in advance, weeks even. I have three email addresses and am part of about seventeen Whatsapp groups. I’m ‘connected’, accessible to just about anyone who feels like talking to me, except most people don’t.

Is this what people dream of when they’re children? To work in jobs with nondescript titles like ‘Accounts Supply Chain Executive’ or ‘Client Project Officer’ and revert to banal phrases like, I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday, every single Wednesday? To spend all our daylight hours around people who don’t care about us simply to pay for things for the people who do? To scramble for space, attention, just a moment of someone else’s time before they lose interest and stop replying, even though Whatsapp helpfully informs us that they’re still online?

I cannot think that this is what it was all for, the migrant dreams of our parents, whose blood and tears poured into our homework, our white coats and practising certificates. And yet we are the lucky ones, the ones whose only real challenges are prosperity and excess. We are safe and comfortable and our bellies are full, but so many of us are under-stimulated and tired and constantly plagued by the question: is this it?

If and when I ask this of anyone, the answers are often pragmatic, straightforward. Do some online shopping. Go out more. Just be grateful. Get some more hobbies. Book a holiday. Find a job you’re passionate about-as if to suggest that there are enough jobs for everyone (see this Four Corners story), let alone enough jobs for every single person to have one they love. Move to a different city, a different country.

My passport is well-liked almost everywhere, so why not? The UK will have me. So will Canada or New Zealand or just about anywhere where English is sought after, which is just about everywhere. Borders are not closed to me with fences and patrols, unlike the majority of global ‘citizens’. I can do a third degree, retrain as a midwife or a zoologist or an animation designer. Sure, I don’t have the inexhaustible privilege of a 40 year old white man, but I have enough of it to do many things with my time and money.

But all these answers merely disguise the fact that something is fundamentally wrong with the neoliberal foundations of our greedy, lonely society, and many of us realise it without realising it at all. I remember all too vividly a discussion in my old workplace in which several people admitted that they either needed to be planning a holiday or have one booked to get through their working weeks, but within minutes we were all back to our desks and clicking on  Bruce Jenner’s face on the Daily Mail.

So many of the issues which plague us are related in ways we barely think of, let alone understand. Our obsession with anti-ageing creams, stretching the confines of what constitutes youth as we stretch our skins. The swiping of screens just to meet someone new.  The posting of selfies and videos of dogs doing tricks and the obligatory something about human rights abuses. The loneliness which has reached chronic levels (see this article in the Guardian) and the shortening of our short attention spans, satiated by memes, clickbait articles and Candy Crush. There’s the soar in housing prices and the arms race and the weddings which now cost us $28,858 on average.

Those who are persistently troubled by such things often move to places like Jordan or Yemen, in search of a life centred around worship. Some schedule in doses of spirituality in ten minute spurts and do the occasional spiritual getaway in an attempt to keep it together. Some pursue passions in academia or the community sector and are happy enough for a time, but later find themselves crushed under the wheel of grant applications and ever-increasing casualisation. Some seek temporary solace in getting lots of likes on Facebook or cake-decorating classes or hourly news alerts, and some are just fine with the way things are-just as long as there’s another holiday on the horizon.

What is the life of this world but amusement and play? but verily the Home in the Hereafter,- that is life indeed, if they but knew.

 

 

 

2014

I’m sitting and listening to the rain fall for the umpteenth day in a row, and I wonder what on earth to make of this year.

Up until the age of eighteen, I kept regular diaries. At the end of each year, I did this fun little exercise where I’d evaluate its pivotal moments, its highs and lows, triumphs and tribulations. I don’t keep a diary anymore, but this particular habit is a hard one to kick.

What did the human race learn this year? Precious little, I suspect.

Systemic injustice prevailed in Ferguson, and yet again with Eric Garner. (We seemed surprised to know that it happens here in Australia too, and with just as much impunity.)

Gaza bled.

ISIS became ISIL became IS became the latest horrible thing to condemn/bomb/ignore state-sponsored terror.

The Ebola virus bothered us a little when it was contained in Africa, but bothered us far more when it threatened to hit our shores.

Malaysian Airlines shareholders everywhere winced, then winced again.

Iggy Azalea embarrassed Australia only very slightly less than Tony Abbott.

In short, it was pretty much the same as every other year: those suffering continued to suffer, the privileged few dug their heels in that little bit deeper and we, the comfortable masses, continued to share articles on Facebook to temporarily assuage our guilt.

What did I learn this year?

I learned how to run in high heels and that dabbing, not rubbing, gets stains out of my suit jackets.

I learned to look at the judge and only the judge in a packed courtroom.

I learned that if you put a cold teaspoon on your eyelids in the morning, it doesn’t look like you were up crying late last night. (Well, not quite as much.)

I learned that more often than not, the obvious answer is the right answer.

I learned that the Swiss like their beds hard and that the French are really quite friendly if you show them the basic courtesy of saying s’il vous plait as you order one of their delicious salted butter toffee crepes.

I learned that if you think things can’t get any worse, you’re usually wrong, but if you think that they can’t get any better, you’re usually wrong too.

I learned that you can miss things you hated, like tutorials and lectures and even, God forbid, writing essays.

I learned that pain, anger, anything at all, is preferable to stagnation and inertia.

I also learned how to bake really, really good brownies.

In previous years, there was always a defining incident or person or characteristic. 2002, the year of discovery. 2006, the year of deaths. 2009, the year of change and renewal. But it’s been a while since ‘the year of’, and I have a feeling that this is just how things are now. Occasional spurts of wonderful and terrible, of love and loss, are mixed in with the steady trickle of average, and I think to myself, what will I remember of this in fifty years’ time?

Up until the time I finished studying earlier this year, life followed a certain pattern. There was always a deadline, some kind of theoretical boundary of time looming in the distance. When I was in high school, it was final exams. At university, I lived from semester to semester, while simultaneously counting down, four years to go, two years to go, just five days to go. (I did two degrees in five years, so there was a lot of counting going on.)

But with ‘adulthood’ comes the realisation that this is it. Time stretches out endlessly before you, before me, and we can do whatever we want with it. We can work dead-end jobs, or mediocre jobs, or no jobs at all. We can get married, or not get married, or we can even leave a marriage (or two, or three) after we’ve entered one. We can stay in the same place and catch the same train and eat the same sandwich for lunch, or we can move from place to place, leaving little pieces of ourselves scattered across the earth for others to find. The only real deadline is death, the only real constraint is what sits outside the realm of possibility.

So I suppose this is what I’ve learnt this year: that life has no set path to traverse, that there is no overarching framework except faith, that there is no one ‘passion’ or cause to be defined by, that there are multiple lives just waiting to be lived at the press of a button or a swipe of a card. There are infinite possibilities, and this is as terrifying as it is beautiful.

What did you learn this year?

Love

For a blog called ‘Love Haqtually’, there really isn’t very much about love itself on here. That’s simply because it’s just so darn hard to do justice to the concept. Much of what’s written about love focuses solely on romantic love in its early stages. Sure, love is transcendent and magical and may just involve locking eyes and lightning bolts and dodging giant boulders just to be together. Those love stories uplift us from the drudgery of our everyday lives and are the lived experience of a select few. But love is also an everyday occurrence, and to deny its everyday manifestations is to deny ourselves so many chances to be grateful for its quiet, unceremonious presence in our lives.

Love is when you get up for Fajr and stub your toe because you’re trying to keep your eyes closed (it’s easier to get back to sleep that way, right?), but instead of getting mad you just laugh because you love Him enough to try it again tomorrow, this time with at least one eye open.

Love is all those times when your mother tells you to do the dishes, but you ‘forget’ and she quietly does them herself.

Love is that look spouses give each other across a crowded room which says, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go home and eat ice cream on the couch.’

Love is this morning, when my mother ironed my shirt for work because she knows my ironing is terrible.

Love is every time my father tells me to hold my folk like I’d hold a pen. Love is when he persists in telling me, even though I get annoyed and keep holding it like a bag of potatoes just to annoy him back.

Love is when your best friends take you out for hot chips and gravy because you’re miserable over some boy/girl who didn’t want you. Love is when they pretend to be interested every time you moan about some boy/girl who didn’t want you, when all they really want is to eat their hot chips and gravy in peace.

Love is in the silly nicknames your siblings have for you and all the times they forgave you for snapping at them over who got the remote control.

Love is me staring at my wriggly baby niece, marvelling at her wrinkly fingers and toes and spongy head.

Love is snoring on each other’s shoulders in front of the television. Love is folding socks and taking out the garbage on a Tuesday night and passing each other the butter across the table before being asked.

Love is remembering those who are no longer here and sending up a brief prayer for their forgiveness, not often enough because you’re forgetful, but often enough.

Love is knowing He forgives, always.

Love is posting a soppy status about your wife on your anniversary and getting 50 likes.

Love is sitting in the passenger seat as you drive home in silence, sleepy and full of food.

Love is not giving up even when you just can’t be bothered. Love is holding your tongue when you know it would be the most satisfying thing in the world to say, ‘I told you so’.

Love is those thousand forgettable moments of tiny kindnesses and concessions amongst the few memorable chocolates and flowers and fancy, overpriced dinners.

Love. The extraordinary thread running through and holding together the ordinary. This is love.