Shall I Not Live My Life Principled?

I frequently get asked

if I ever felt like toning down my Islam

or removing my hijab

or compromise in some-

or if I ever felt ashamed of my faith…

 

Sometimes I wonder if I am a walking contradiction.

An irony. A paradox. A being stuck in between themes.

Perhaps stuck in between where I’m at and where I wanna be.

But all I know for sure is that we were told this:

 

:That we are a people prophesized

to be strange

and glad tidings be to the strangers,

he said.

 

It is strange to refuse a handshake 

from a male that is not connected to me

but I carry on the conversation that we were having

because it means so much more to me than a mere grazing of palms

 

It is strange to keep covered

in a climate like this

but I still run errands just as normally as Sharon and Karen

because relax, it’s not made of steel

it billows in the wind and I have PJs underneath most of the time

 

It is strange to order iced tea 

on a table full of Hennessy’s

but my auntie still gets voted best costume every year

let’s just pretend she didn’t just use a niqab

as ninja gear

 

It is strange to excuse oneself five times a day

to bow down to my Maker

to express gratitude for the health, what little wealth 

and life I’m given

and to be able to even say these words

I’ve written.

 

I now take pride in being that weird stranger

with her feet in the sink before every prayer

because if it means being principled

in world void of principles

then I’d rather…be…a…stranger.

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

Keeping my guard up

and my gaze down

boost my grades up

and tone my ego down?

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

With my head covered like Mary

and say a prayer before every nap, exam paper

and fish curry?

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

Rising before dawn before the curtains are drawn

and facing East to release all my worries

unto the very Hands that fashioned me

to receive peace?

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

I ask you who mocked my frock

that you claim to be sweeping the streets

at least I’m doing some community service

no I kid, but I kinda dig this thing that secures my modesty

in this world filled with pornography and nudity

I fail to see how flaunting every part of me

will earn me respect of any degree

but if you believe this gives you dignity

then I can’t force you to see

what I see.

But just…do not mock me.

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

I ask you who ask me

“How are you not ashamed to be so vocal 

about being Muslim in this 21st century?”

I say I am not ashamed of living my entire life

guided by rules that tell me

that backbiting is the same as eating the flesh of your dead brother

that an Arab is no more superior than a black slave and a Chinese merchant

that one does not have complete faith until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself

that I should only speak good or stay silent and love thrice more my mother,

That I should put a good word in for my good brother

put only good food in my good body, 

that the strong person is the one that controls himself when he’s angry

that I should never turn away a beggar

or poke a nose into the business of a stranger.

 

and if die and find out that Hell and Heaven were both fiction

then at least I can look back and say 

I’ve lived a pretty good life

so..

 

Shall I not live my life principled?

 

Keeping my guard up

and my gaze down

boost my grades up

and tone my ego down?

With my head covered like Mary

and say a prayer before every nap, exam paper

and fish curry?

Rising before dawn before the curtains are drawn

and facing East to release all my worries

unto the very Hands that fashioned me

to receive peace…

Advertisements

Something for my Beautiful Souls*

*Beautiful souls is what my group of best friends and I call ourselves. This slightly fun and light piece was originally written for the Global Ummatic Festival 2017 but due to certain reasons, I couldn’t perform. No two of us are of the same ethnicity and background, so you can imagine why I wanted this read at GUF. 3ala kulli haaal.. My plan was to still debut it as a performance, but I was hit with a realization today that I should publish it before it gets old and forgotten :p 

 

The Prophet said souls are like conscripted soldiers.

Those whom they recognise they’ll get along with

and those they don’t, they won’t.

And I think I’ve found my conscripted soldiers.

I call them Beautiful Souls.

 

After 4 years together I reckon

We are all made of the same essence

Even if we are of different colours

Different shades of the same sand

The very sand Adam was made from

Fashioned by the same Godly hands

Hands of The master architect,

Allah. Allahu akbar.

 

I grew up not knowing where to call home

For home was a different city every year

Some say home is where you celebrate eid

But what if you pack eid in a suitcase

And Eid is a plane ticket to a place 4000 miles away?

Some say home is a birthplace

And your homeland

But what if that means nothing beyond a red special booklet

With the ugliest picture of you in the front page?

Some say home is a person

What if the person chooses to walk out the door

Even before you get the chance to say salam…?

 

From Algeria to Kashmir to Kenya and Holland.

From Syria to India to China, Korea and France.

 

I belong here, and I belong nowhere

I am a child of the world,

Born with red and blue rivers beneath my skin

And a bunch of hair tamable only by

a powerful brush of a mother’s hands

Just like you I eat 3-5 times a day

Not including snacks in between meals

I sit down and enjoy tea

Whether it’s teh tarik, teh peng, red tea, green tea, black tea, white tea, shai, shai bilhaleeb, shai ma3a na3na3, chai, noon chai, masala chai, tak ada masalah I love all kinds.

As Kaveh Akbar said in the opening lines of his poem

Yeki Bood Yeki Nabood,

“everyday someone finds what they need in someone else”.

And everyday I find mine in each and every one of them.

 

Meriem taught me what it would be like to have two of me.

I am just as much a mirror to her as she is with me

Suaad taught me to treat others with kindness

no matter the BS you get in return

Murakeen taught me that knowledge of your own identity

empowers you even if your identity oppresses you

(She makes me feel I should at least know the important dates to do with mine!)

Shairah taught me to give a 101 excuses for a person’s misbehaviour

And to hold my tongue at the mention of a name

of a person not present.

Emi pushes me to find my niche in life and harness it-

and though I’m still trying to discover it, I know what’s NOT it- not gym.

Heba taught me the beauty in resilience

and how to soar despite the weight pulling down my legs.

Asma taught me how to be comfortable in my own skin,

and that a thing is much sweeter when paid by your own sweat and blood.

Rafa taught me what a good companionship is like

Yusra taught me that power exudes even through a face veil

Amra’s generosity is more than what is hers is also mine

 

I may have never stepped foot in the Forbidden city or wang ting lu,

or smelled crossaints baking on the 18em arrondisement in Paris whilst

admiring at the Eiffel Tower in the morning

or drove along Bab Sharqi in Damascus,

or listened to EXO’s Monster for the 10th time in a cafe in Hongdae,

or swam in Nahr An-Neel dreaming in the breeze of Khartoum

or sat watching the matatus roam the streets along Juja Road Estate,

or strolled with a loved one among the Swedish trees in Bokskogen Torup,

or munched on couscous in Seb3ah Share3 Mohammed 3abdou in Muradiyyeh,

danced in my colourful sari in Lal Bazaar in Hyderbad

or had tea in a boat on Dal Lake Srinagar

or picked berries in the backyard of a 16th century modern Dutch house on Mariendalsevegh 12,

But my heart has seen these places through the eyes of my beautiful souls

Though my eyes havent.

During the summer break whilst I bike through all the park connectors of Singapore

Braving the humidity and blinding greenery

-it can be blinding when you’ve spent 10 months In the brown, dusty Shari3 Sitteen of Sanaa,-

I experience these places through

The stories my beautiful souls narrate to me

Where they grew up became my home

What their tastebuds are used to become my preferred delicacy

Where their eyes are used to resting,

mine too take comfort in.

 

Differences do not scare me

Uniformity does.

That it almost hurts me.

 

I despise your refusal to bend your tongue

To speak my native tongue

On the basis that it is foreign

I despise your refusal to shake my hand

On the basis that my eyes are of a different shape and colour to yours

I despise your seeing me as a different class –or caste

Based on the lineage of my forefathers

which I had no part to play in

I invite you

Dear brother and sister

To embrace this once in a lifetime opportunity

Know your neighbour

Love your neighbour

Defend your neighbour

Be a neighbour

to a neighbour.

 

The Prophet said souls are like conscripted soldiers.

Those whom they recognise they’ll get along with

and those they don’t, they won’t.

I think I’ve found my conscripted soldiers. And I call them my Beautiful Souls.

Qalb

The Qalb is that which qallibs

The very nature of the word tells us that it turns

on its face as it turns on its heel

 

It turns so much in a day,

a month, a year-

that i wonder if it ever gets dizzy

from all the turning

it does

 

When I am happy it flutters

When I am sad it aches

When I am nostalgic it hurts

When I am angry it pounds

like a prisoner in a cage of bones

When I am anxious it feels like it is not there

there is a void;

a hollowness

an abyss

of uncertainty

of what has gone wrong.

 

Often when that happens

I’m reluctant to ask

what’s wrong this time

because I am afraid of the answer

 

that i already know

but am too proud to admit 

 

my heart is a little too indecisive

yet i mostly rely on it to make decisions

they call it instinct or gut feeling

although it has nothing to do with the gut per se-

it is the heart that turns and churns

that the entire body becomes affected by its turning

the gut,

the fingers,

the pupils,

the temples,

even the feet.

 

my heart turns a whole 180 degrees

at the mention of a convincing word-

of please, and i beg you, and you’ll look good in this, and that and you can pray later, asr is not until an hour.

in a split second

in the time it takes to bat an eyelid

or less than that

it turns its back on You.

***

 

I am a woman

and my heart gives a little too much

they say it can be taken, stolen and broken,

but despite how much it gives, it also takes

the bullets, spear wounds and cuts

from the very people that 

have vowed to protect it

 

how much more can the heart take?

how much longer can it hold-

before it explodes into a million pieces

and becomes unrepairable

but until then it remains 

the toughest organ i have

in my body

 

Though in the back of my mind I ought to ask

ya muqallibal quloob

thabbit qalbee 3ala deenik

I bite my tongue

from uttering them

lest it changes what i want

what I desire

lest what I desire clashes

with what my Lord has in store for me

 

how easily do I forget

that the One that turns the Hearts

also turns the hearts of everyone else

and not just mine

 

so

why

am

I

so

insecure?

 

if He can make me want something

He can also make that something want me too

 

I forget

that the one that is in charge of my life

is not me

 

I forget

that

rather than following

its whims and desires

I should be giving it what it needs-

and what it needs is 

whatever that is best for it.

***

 

Be still,

my wavering heart.

Be still while your Lord chooses for you

Be still while your Qadr unfolds under your nose

Be still even whilst you are being squeezed to your limits

Be still even whilst the sharpness of words from the child you bore pierce through you

Be still even whilst an intruder enters without an invitation and makes himself at home,

Stand your ground and defend your fortress 

Be still and waver no more

although /that/ is in your nature.

 

It’s like telling the river not to flow

and the sun not to shine

 

The Qalb is that which qallibs

The very nature of the word tells us that it turns

on its face as it turns on its heel

 

It turns so much in a day,

a month, a year-

that i wonder if it ever gets dizzy

from all the turning

it does

 

One day it is full of spots of sins

The next day I’m scrubbing it clean

One day it drives me worried-sick

and the next day it’s as peaceful as the gentle waves on the shore on a Sunday afternoon.

 

That is why I’m not asking it

to go against its course

I’m only asking it to turn

towards You.

 

[Performed at Twins of Faith 2017, Kuala Lumpur]