raw thoughts in Ramadan

When you think about Ramadan you associate it mostly with the nights, beginning at sunset. It feels like all the active worship is happening at night, the constant prayer and dhikr, forcibly waking up earlier than usual just to eat to fuel yourself for the rest of the day. The recitation of the Quran out loud, beatific and ethereal.

The day time feels like the bigger struggle, especially when it’s summer. Pushing yourself against the current, against what feels normal and natural. Desperately ignoring the questionable breath and the parched tongue. The murmur of your stomach before the hunger pangs strike. Fatigue that sprouts its way through your dry bones. You want to sleep until sunset, you want to stave away all eighteen hours, a thousand minutes you want blended into one. Even the last hour feels like it cruelly trickles by, each second dripping away at an infinitesimally small rate.

Surely this a punishment than a blessing?

But then, somewhere along the half way mark of the month, when the moon shines boldly, a lamp in a cloudless sky—something changes. Your body begins to weather the routine. In fact, not eating allows it to heal. And somehow, you need to heal too. Not your physical self, but the self you’ve been neglecting for the past year. The self you’ve allowed to be beaten and bruised because you’re not remembering. Remembering Him.

In Ramadan, it always feels like time has stood still, especially during the day. It’s as if this is on purpose, so that we savour every second and try to fill it with Allah’s remembrance. Try to focus our life and our very breath, our being and our bodies, just for His Sake. The reason why we were created and why we live on this muddled planet, a home that we often feel confused and unsafe in.

But in these drawn out moments where we often find ourselves struggling to push ourselves to the ‘finish line’, that’s where we realise why we’re doing it. We’re forcing ourselves out of a natural habitat so that we become more conscious of God in our lives.

When you think about it, that’s a natural objective in itself—once we emerge from Ramadan like butterflies out of a safe cocoon, we return to the regular ebb and flow of life with a little more mindfulness that our ordinary lives are connected to One transcendentally extraordinary.

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This is your mess

Crack open a can of soda and pour it into a glass. Watch the fizz froth up and spill out over the sides—out of control, a force of its own.

Like that, this world overflows with opinions

Good ones

Bad ones

And in-between-ones too

I find it hard to form my own perspective half the time. Every topic has dozens of different angles, points of view, and stances. It can get very noisy, and makes my thoughts feel clumsy. It affects the way I think, making every decision of mine shaded with doubt. Often, I never feel ‘a hundred percent’ with anything.

Maybe you can relate?

Do you ever get that sinking feeling in the morning when you rise before the sun? Or perhaps your stomach ties itself up in knots before breakfast, contracted and contorted, never relaxing until you finally fall asleep. Even sleeping takes its sweet time to pull you into a dream because your mind is still firing through an abundance of indecision.

Maybe there’s something to be said about it all. Perhaps those billion other opinions don’t matter.

For once, I’m pretty sure about that.

I mean, you can ignore what I’m saying too—I’m just another mind with another opinion—but here’s what I’m telling myself:

Stop asking for advice so much

Stop thinking you need to rely on the words of others to know that you’re okay being you

Turn off your phone

Switch off the laptop

Dim the lights, settle into the darkness

And be okay with it

Be okay with the abstract mess that you are, okay with jumping into your own uncertain decisions. At the end of the day there will always be a billion other souls you’ll be dying to please, but your own life is but a fleeting moment. Don’t forget that.

Doesn’t that scare you more? That they’ll read your name from a weathered gravestone and there won’t be much else to it except the moss growing over the cracks. You’ll be all alone in that dark grave, so you may as well become comfortable with who you are now. You’ve got an entire lifetime and more to spend with yourself.

So I tell myself: do the things in life that makes the knots loosen and gives you air to breathe in the morning. With the people that are just as messy and beautiful like you, all muddling along somehow, because no one really knows what they’re doing. At least we’re trying.

So here’s to the New Year

To finding the balance between being your own pillar and leaning on others too

To being okay with not being okay

To celebrating your successes, glamorous or not

Here’s to celebrating your mess

What? She’s still here?

Oh, hello. Yes, I’m still around. It’s been an uneventful-yet-stressful year that’s nearly over with and I’m staring at the glorious light at the other end of the tunnel. Just a few days shy of an exam that I’ve waited five years to take. I can’t wait to get to the end of July where I’ll be thrown into the wonderful world of unemployment.

My last post was around six months ago, and I think that was a darker place for me. I’m happy to say that I’ve been feeling a lot better recently, in all areas of life and health. I don’t know, maybe it’s the ever-sunny weather that’s put me in a good mood for most days, or the idea that in a few short weeks I’ll be able to have free time to do what I want to do (sleep, eat, read, write, sleep, eat… and eat more).

I’m writing this in the middle of the night as it’s near the end of Ramadan and I’m trying to make an effort to stay up the entire night whilst off work (trying to catch that elusive Night of Power yeah…). Excuse any incoherence that will inevitably find its way in my words.

Not everything is plain sailing, unfortunately. If you’ve been following the recent events in the UK over the past month or so, your heart must be as heavy as mine. Your conscience must be exhausted, and yet we lift ourselves for another day, hoping and praying for better news. For a miracle, perhaps.

London, my city, has gone through so much in the past few months, especially the past few weeks. It’s enough to make us feel desperate for answers, furious to point the blame at anyone, either rightly or wrongly so. We are sad and angry, and we have every single right to be.

Londoners are hurting. In fact, we’d been hurting for a long while, but now our emotions are spilling over. We want to heal, but how can we when the people responsible seem to slink away in the shadows, away from the scrutiny and responsibility?

When you’ve been at the receiving end of injustice for so long, and everyone is turned against you, you just want a portion of fate or destiny to turn with you. When, for so long, you’ve been held in the limelight of interrogation, probed with questions you don’t know the answer for, expected to represent an entire population internationally when you barely even know how to represent yourself outwardly.

I know I’m being vague, but I would hope that if you’re clued up with recent events, you would know who I’m talking about. Certain communities that are constantly being shoved in the corner and told to keep quiet, not to make too much noise. The working class, the ethnic minorities, the Muslims. How many more international events do you want to put on our shoulders, how much more burden can you give us to bear before our backs break?

There are, however, things that make my heart lighter in these bleak times. When the ordinary people of London–you know, those that don’t have fancy titles or the highest pay grade–rush out to Grenfell Tower. Those unnamed heroes in the emergency services that go above and beyond what we’d ask for a human being to do. There is a greatness in us that is often trampled upon in tragedies, but its a spirit that will not be broken. The same spirit can be found in all places of disaster, if you know where to look.

I had long since realised that if there was greatness in Britain, then it lay in its everyday citizens, and not in its institutions. Britain was not great because of its papers and politicians who relentlessly denigrated us, it was great in spite of them. Britain was great because of the community spirit you saw as soon as a small town flooded, because of the volunteers who turned out in their tens of thousands to act as stewards for the Olympic Games. But that wasn’t a spirit that I felt my country was doing nearly enough to nurture. – Musa Okwonga, The Good Immigrant

New Year, New Goals

My 2017 goals, originally posted on my new blog, Ink Chapters. Check it out!

Ink Chapters

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Another year has come and gone and in all honesty, it feels no different. I won’t be poetic about it. I do think, however, that this can be a good time to set some goals for the year ahead. The word ‘resolutions’ has become too associated with the word ‘broken’, so I prefer ‘goals’ instead. With 2017 goals, you can put your productive hat on and try to work towards something tangible. I won’t be learning a new language or hitting the gym (although, I really need to do both), because I know for a fact that it won’t work out. So instead, I’ll focus on the things that I know I can work towards without completely freaking out:

~Reading~

1. I definitely want to read more diverse fiction. Actually, scratch that. This year I want to read ONLY diverse fiction. My childhood had been filled with the ‘popular books’, and…

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Brave Little Souls

No one can see her tears.

Anguish chokes every fibre in her body. Fear shoots through her vessels until it stops short in her throat. It mingles with the air she breathes. She crouches on the floor, cowering yet courageous. Afraid of what the next dreadful second may bring.

No one can see her tears.

She is a warrior with every heartache she endures. This young heart beats with hope and despair in each of its chambers. Every day braving a battle that exists only in front of her eyes. An existence that formed from the synergy of another’s greed and anger.

How many heartaches does it take to shatter a soul?

She drags her exhausted limbs to glance outside the window. Terror is ridden in her bones.

She waits.

Her dry throat tightens as she waits.

A child screams in the distance, its terrifying echo filling the seconds. There is misery knowing someone else is in pain, but also gratitude that it is not her.

There must be something beyond this cycle, this unbreakable bond of horror. She knows there is; there are people who live carefree, only worrying about the trivialities of a normal, rainy day. Of coming home to a heated house with plenty of toys and books and games. A home that does not rest within rubble.

Gunshots blare out.

The screaming stops.

She drops beneath the window and presses herself against the wall, scared through her teeth that the wall will break and she will snap. She wants to whisper a prayer but her mouth is frozen in shock. Her heart hammers a thousand times. Perhaps her heart will break the wall. Perhaps her courage and strength will defeat them all.

No one can see her tears.

Night envelops a grey sky, drowning the street in darkness. She lays on the ground, broken concrete scratching her cheek. She wraps her arms around her like the way her mother used to. The soldiers’ voices have filtered away into the noise and cacophony of the chaos outside. The chaos of her neighbours and friends, shouting for each other, trying to converge back into a broken community. She drags herself up against the wall, her eyes heavy with sleep and sorrow. A baby cries in the distance, but it is not her baby brother. His cries stopped many months ago.

Grey sunlight pours through the broken window across her face. Hunger gnaws its way through her guts, threatening her life with its hollow fangs. Her head lolls against the wall and she blinks to regain consciousness. Her clothes are ripped and filthy but that is the least of her worries.

A hand ruffles her brown curls. She looks up weakly, straining to keep her eyes open. A woman stands outside the broken window with a stained green scarf and wide eyes. Her skin is set with wrinkles and relief washes through her aged features. Two children stand beside her, both unsure and unaware, one sleepy and the other scared. The woman reaches her hands over, pulling the girl to her feet. The girl staggers a little before regaining her strength. She yearns desperately for her mother, knowing this woman is someone else’s.

No one can see her tears. She no longer cries herself to sleep, because she is already broken inside, and has no more tears left to give.


I cannot begin to express my grief and horror at what is going on in the world. It’s even worse to feel absolutely helpless, because many situations require political solutions that we cannot bring about alone.

The situation in Aleppo and Myanmar are frequent in my thoughts and prayers. The least we can do is talk about it, and not let their suffering drown in silence. If you are able to, please donate to help send aid to the Syrian civilians in Aleppo and/or the Rohingyan community in Myanmar.

Thank you.

Catch the sunlight

In these early hours of the morning, when all the dreams and wishes of the world lay in the palm of your hand, everything seems possible. Sunrise stretches over this ancient earth, but each morning it feels as soft and supple as a newborn baby,  like fresh snow awaiting footprints to carve a path into its canvas.

Push past the dreary remnants of sleep, the exhaustion that fills your bones, and the dread of the coming day. Push it all to the side. Listen to the songs of the morning birds, those that are ready to chase their purpose with every fibre in their tiny feathers. Those that chase the sunlight.

Spread the prayer rug out and let your forehead touch the worn fabric. Whisper words of wishes and hopes, to the only One who listens. Listens to the fears of frightened souls who have hearts too fragile to hold the world’s pain.

Go outside and embrace the breeze–cold and shocking at first–and feel goosebumps tickle the surface of your skin. Then catch the sunlight as it rises across a sleepy sky, until the warmth spreads over and fills you up from the inside.

In those earliest hours of the morning, when everything seems possible. When years of muddled confusions evaporate and you are left with a clarity as clear as polished glass. A clarity of purpose, of intention.

Take a deep breath. Look in the mirror and see your future staring back at you, waiting for you to take hold of it. Waiting for you to catch it in the palm of your hands, your eyes ablaze with the euphoria of eternal victory.

Crybaby

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I used to keep a baking blog here, but it took up too much time and I had far too much leftover goodies than I could eat myself. I kept the blog up for the nostalgic factor, but regardless, here’s what I made for Eid this year–a carrot cake that actually turned out pretty nice (if I do say so myself). Enough to get me back into baking! (Note: I realise I need to be more conscious about what I eat, but this cake was too pretty not to post!)

This post will probably be all over the place but to be honest, that’s how I feel right now. It’s as if I’ve been dragged out of my own body and plunked me into someone else’s, someone who’s more emotional, more tired, more fed up. And every day I keep saying “this isn’t me, this just isn’t me”.

I’m reading more into hypothyroidism/underactive thyroid because I want to learn more. Because the doctor can’t tell me more than is possible in a 10 minute consultation. Because I hadn’t realised how deep this condition can go (I’m still struggling to say the word ‘illness’). The more I do it, the more emotional I feel. Even the word ‘emotional‘–makes it sound like I’m getting teary for nothing. And honestly, I was never the type of person to cry over these kinds of things.

Was.

I remember being adamant that I only cried at ‘physical pain’, not emotional. I toughed myself out. Never used to cry at films. All that sort of stuff. Sure, maybe I put it on a little, but I wasn’t a crybaby. Now, these days, I’m having to take deep breaths. Tell myself to calm down. Don’t let myself get overwhelmed.

This isn’t me!

I tell myself I should stop reading into it and just give my brain a break–but in between all those moments of my brain fogging out, I’m thinking about this condition, because it’s starting to define me.

And I am so, so worried about that. It’s like having a cold define you. Or an itchy rash. It sounds ridiculous, right? So why should I let my underactive thyroid start to become me, because it’s not. I am so much more than my health, though my health is such an important part of me.

This is a strange post, I know. I figure writing it all out will help me sort myself out to a certain extent. It’s such an unsettling feeling, not being as reliable as you used to be. Reliable to myself; forget other people. I’d like to think myself as an independent person, always have done. Solitude isn’t frightening to me–that’s the perks of being an introvert. But the importance of asking for help is something I need to work on. It’s okay to feel weak, but asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It’s not something that should be looked down upon.

It’s like I have a dimmer switch in my brain that keeps going brighter or dimmer with a single thought. One moment I’ll be struggling to pull things out of my memory; the next, I’ll be jumping from one anxious thought to another, too quick to recall what I had thought the previous moment.

It’s frustrating.

Brain fog

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I’m tired of being tired.

I’m tired that my paper thin patience can snap at a moment’s notice because of something incredibly insignificant. I’m tired of feeling that way, and I know I wasn’t always like this. I’m anxious that I’m becoming more anxious;

a tiny thing I did yesterday is riddled in my thoughts today;

I feel embarrassed about doing something that other people barely noticed–or did they?

I am so concerned over these small things… and then not concerned at all. Not bothered and not caring–but not carefree. I just want to spend an entire day–twenty four cosy hours–in the security of my bed. Not having to speak to anyone. But I’m tired of feeling like I have to mentally pull a ‘let’s-be-social-now’ jacket over myself together just to talk to someone.

My bones, my muscles, my blood, feels tired. I can’t bear to drag myself up again, but I have to.

That’s normal, right?

But those are only the bad days.

I used to be carefree. I used to have the energy and zeal to spend time with others, to be able to make others laugh, be concerned about their well being. Now I fear that I’ll be too concerned, so I step back.

I don’t want to get hurt either.

I step so far back that I feel like my mind is in another room: boxed away, sterilised and sanitised; yet here I am, talking to you. You probably don’t notice all these things spilling around in my mind. Confusion upon confusion. Layers of fog.

I literally just forgot what I wanted to write next. I’m tired of that too.

I hate conflict, yet I feel like I want to start one whenever something ticks me off. I never used to be like this, I promise.

This isn’t normal.

It’s as if there’s a strange storm thundering inside me, wearing me down, straining me on all pressure points–and in the next instance there is nothing. Not even a calm sea–just nothing. I could stare blankly at a wall, neurons dimming, chemical circuits flickering; my thoughts too weak to resurface.

And then I’ll fall asleep, wake up, and the day will renew. It can be better. Sometimes I go back to normal, my normal, where I feel balanced and whole inside once again. But then it can get worse, and I’ll feel like grey clouds are filling me up, top to toe, bringing misery wherever I go.

It’s awful when you realise you’re no longer interested in those things that you loved to do. Not every day, thankfully, but sometimes I can’t bear to look at a book or pick up the pen. That could be classed as usual behaviour, but this isn’t just “I can’t be bothered”. It’s more a hollow non-feeling, where you have no connection to that activity, as if I’d never picked up a book in my life. A strange and unsettling thing.

It is terrible and tiresome when you have to contend with yourself. When your mind is telling you that nothing is going well, but there’s that silver voice that goes over the negativity, the voice of some-kind-of reason, telling you to get yourself together. Telling you it’s all okay, you’re just crying for no reason, you’re being scared for no reason. There’s no reason why you should stay in bed all day. There’s no need for this.

This is the fog that I fight through, and it feels terrible, because battling with your own thoughts is exhausting.

I don’t know where the end is. I don’t know for how long I have to carry on like this. I hope, well and truly hope, that I can manage this. You can never know what cards you’ll get dealt, but you can’t swap them or throw them back to the dealer. This is your lot in life, and you have to get on with it. Through every tear, every cry of frustration, each and every miserable morning where I don’t want to get up–I can do this.

It’s gonna be difficult, but that’s okay.

Not everything comes easy.

Just take it slowly, one foggy day at a time.

Our Innate Ignorance

You were not born with hatred, but with curiosity.

You were born with an intense thirst for knowing, even if you didn’t know that.

Children are little students of life. They don’t have a pen and paper ready but they make notes in their minds as they crawl, walk, and run; entranced by everyone and everything. The first dandelion they hold is the sun in their hands. They stand at a mountain’s peak every time their wobbly legs hold them upright.

We don’t know about hatred until we are taught. This raw, horrible feeling that riddles your emotions and clouds your judgement. Making you less human, perhaps.

There are people who have been taught to hate others. To hate a certain group of people, just for being different. But that ‘different’ is what allows us to grow. It’s what children need to learn;  anything different is a new universe opened to them. But there are people who will continue to hate others because of their difference. And when the seed of hatred grows within them, they water it with malice. It takes over their limbs and lungs.

They breathe with venom. Can’t go without the spite.

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Why?

Does making someone else feel disgusting, make you feel better? Do you feed off their tears? Do your ugly words taste like honey to you?

Because somehow constantly telling yourself the lies made them the truth, and you’re blinded by your truth. But really, deep inside, you let your curiosity wither. You let the hate grow.

Do you fear the colour of his skin, or the strange accent traced in her speech? Do you hate the scarf on her head, or his language that you don’t understand?

But what would have happened if you called out a question instead of an insult? What if you asked him—hey, that’s a lovely accent you have. Where you from?

What’s your name? That’s a cool name, what does it mean?

Your clothes are nice, is it from your culture?

Children rely on that curiosity to discover the world. They are explorers of the Strange. Adventurers in the Mysterious. They ask questions, perhaps one too many at times. But that’s how they learn. To learn is to be human.

And we, as shameful adults, decide that asking questions makes us feel stupid. We feel defeated by our innate ignorance. By denying our natural curiosity—the thing that challenged us and let us grow—we turned to fear the unknown. As we feared that which is strange, we instinctively want to lash out at it. To hurt it. To put it away somewhere so that it doesn’t affect our cosy familiarity.

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These are just some thoughts I’ve had about various events happening across the world, related to racism and intolerance. It is heartbreaking to see people who believe that one race or people are inherently better than others. To even say that other races came ‘from animals’. It makes me sad that they cannot see past their ignorance, that their curiosity has died within them and given rise to something vile. It is a small minority that have these attitudes, but often times this minority shouts the loudest.

But know that the world is filled with decent people. In every country, on every street corner, in every home in this tired world we live in.

Hatred breeds hatred; don’t add fuel to the fire.

 

Streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All photos taken by me.

Celebrations of Faith

The sun is setting on another Ramadan. We prepare ourselves to welcome the day of Eid al-Fitr, but I can’t help but feel that Ramadan itself is a celebration. It’s a celebration of faith, and something that I feel blessed to be a part of.

A lot has happened this month that has made our hearts heavy with sadness, worry, and fear. But I can already feel the comfort that Ramadan has given me, one that I’m sad to leave behind. This solace we find as we swing from long days and blessed nights, from the breaking of the fast to the dawn prayer, and from the supplications we make and the prayers we recite.

Some may ask why we would even allow ourselves to go without food or drink for hours on end, for thirty consecutive days (dawn to sunset, that is!). It is a whole month that tests our self discipline, not just in the kitchen, but also within ourselves. But do we really need to go through the rituals of Ramadan just to prove we can become better people? Is it really necessary?

I ask you, is anything worth achieving in life easy to come by?

Finishing a degree. Getting a job. Buying a house. Becoming a mother or a father.

Anything that is worth something is never easy to attain. For us Muslims, Ramadan is about attaining the quality of being conscious of God. This precious trait is at the core of our faith, a crucial characteristic that helps us to govern the way we live. It’s a state of knowing that God is aware of our actions and that we should be accountable for the way we carry ourselves.

Should I have spoken to my mother in a more gentle tone? Should I have listened to my colleague, who seemed upset about something, instead of rushing to go home? Should I have offered to go to the shops instead of my father as I know he’s exhausted from work?

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These things are minute details in our lives, but no one ever said we had to save the day. It’s all about making sure we’re trying to do the little things right. The things that no one really notices, no one tweets about, the things that slip into the cracks of our fast paced days.

So how does fasting help with this? To me, keeping myself away from food and drink is almost like a gateway to help me discipline myself in other ways. Ramadan helps us to slow things down, take life in perspective, and provides a mechanism for us to improve ourselves.

This month holds a special place in our faith. It celebrates the Qur’an and its guidance in helping us become people who are conscious of God in the every day details of our seemingly busy lives.

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Masjid Negara in Kuala Lumpur. Pictures are my own.