Gift Wrapping & Bows

Your rejection is one of the most beautiful

double edge sword gifts you’ve ever given me.

The cut contact, cut ties, cut pictures,

is the sharpest cut I’ve ever seen on a gift bow.

 

Your indifference wrapping paper is the perfect compliment

to the glassy ice cold sellotape,

carelessly and economically placed on the sides.

The emptiness within the box is packed so neatly,

How did you manage to get it all in?

 

And the reverberating silence that bounces back

when the dialling tone comes to a

stop

 

after unravelling the layers of decoration

and the death cold room temperature

that reminds me of my own source of heat and energy

 

How did you manage to get all of that into the emptiness?

 

The jagged velvet skirting of the blank card,

and air bubbles trapped beneath the wrapping,

bulging with the pressure,

I can see you’ve already squished them down

 

I imagine a thousand different messages you could have written on that card

I imagine the invisible ink bleeding into its thickness

but you were right to leave it blank,

all the right words could never have fitted onto this little card

 

Your gift is not desirable, it’s necessary

And those are the best kind of gifts to receive.

 

I didn’t want this nakedness

that has forced me to feel so lonely

that I had to remember what it was like to build myself up,

to remember what it was like to be alone before you came

but there was something therapeutic in stripping all the layers of wrapping paper away,

its bareness almost heals,

It forces me, reminds me, that I do not need you to be whole,

that I was whole before you came.

 

I used to be naïve,

Your last gift was packaged in a much smaller box

bearing a glimme-ring rock

with a much bigger card,  ‘ti amo per sempre‘ 

Now I know that there is no promise,

no obligation that external love should become a permanent tenant in my household

Back then I had met you, only as far as you had met yourself 

 

This is not a love poem for you,

do not think for one second it is,

It is a love poem for myself,

for the tears I shed for myself,

for the part of me that I’m mourning,

the part that I lost when I lost you,

tears of joy I cry for the rebirth,

the rediscovery of self

that became so clouded, so engulfed, in my search for the gifts I wanted

but were not needed.

 

Today, I’ve met myself again,

So thank you,

for allowing me to give the most beautiful,

and necessary gift I could give myself. 

 

Thirteen Reasons Why: A remake of An Inspectors Call?

I first heard about the series Thirteen Reasons Why from my students whilst I was teaching English in Sicily, and one of the very first things I learnt about it, before even knowing about the plot, was that Selena Gomez was the executive producer. Growing up watching Selena Gomez on the Wizards of Waverly Place and starring in Princess Protection Program film, I couldn’t help but feel like this series would be sprinkled with a touch of ‘Disney-star-trying-to-grow-up’. In the end I decided to watch the series, approaching with the attitude of ‘you can’t judge until you’ve seen it for yourself’ and I was actually pleasantly surprised to be so captivated with everything from the script, to the directing style, and the actors’ and actresses’ performances. 

Whilst the series definitely had a more ‘modern’ touch, I couldn’t help but feel like the storyline was one as old as a time. The demoralisation of an individual, malicious acts, coupled with the perhaps seemingly harmless ‘unkind’ actions that cuts deeper than expected, all sound like the base plot for any allegory about restoring altruism in humanity. So where had I seen this all before? Back in my GCSE English Language class of course, studying J.B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. 

Not only does Tony’s character fit the bill of the Inspector’s role, seemingly just as enigmatic and mysterious as ‘Inspector Goole’, and sent of behalf of Hannah to torment the conscience of the other characters, but also the strong resemblance between the two main female characters, builds for a streamline correspondence between the two texts.

Hannah Baker, just like Eva Smith, does not appear onstage in the ‘real time’ of the narrative, but rather both are absent figures around whom the action of the narratives revolves. The protagonists are both subjected to mistreatment at the hands of others, and although the realities and setting of the narratives are widely different (Eva Smith is an unmarried, working class woman in the 1912 and Hannah Baker is an unpopular, new girl at high school in the 21st century), they both unfold through their ‘diaries’ (in Hannah’s case, in the form of a tape collection). Both women have been drastically let down by society, so much so, that they feel that their last resort is to commit suicide. It is no surprise then that the theme of ‘responsibility’ is central to both narratives, and the dangerous repercussions of not upholding our social responsibility we have to one another is exhibited in both texts. Throughout the course of the stories unfolding it becomes increasingly clear that the characters act as a microcosm of the people in society who change and those who don’t, and so both women serve the ultimate overriding purpose of  embodying the lessons which each of the guilty parties must learn individually. 

“One Eva Smith has gone– but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hops and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” (An Inspector Calls)

Essentially, the underlying lesson to be learnt in both pieces are one and the same, and one which is highly important, irrespective of time: not assuming our social responsibility towards one another can ruin an individual’s life. Eva and Hannah die because no one takes responsibility for their actions against them. Just as the Inspector’s final speech is not only directed to the characters, but also to the audience, we too are expected to reflect and learn that each and every single action, no matter how big or small, has a consequence and potentially, a repercussion. 

Italy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Over the past year that I’ve been living in Sicily and the years of travelling Italy, I’ve experienced it as a rich country, full of beautiful architecture, delectable dishes, passionate and fiery nationals in a very incongruous nation of conformity and non-conformist where the regulations are secondary. At first taste, this whirlwind of a dichotomy can seem overwhelming, so whether you’re passing through, staying a while or a bit longer, here are my personal good, bad and ugly that I think you should be prepared for! 

Il buono: 

In Italy you will definitely learn the importance of eating well. I don’t just say this coming from my scanty life before as a heavily indebted university student- when I’m back at my family home in London, I do eat nutritious and delicious home cooked meals, but what I mean is eating well, and actually sitting to enjoy food rather than  just eating to keep fuelled. Cooking and eating in Italy is a sensual experience which cannot be rushed. I feel like in the UK especially, the eating culture is very ‘on the go’ and sometimes we forget the simple pleasure of sitting down to enjoy food for food’s sake, and not just to satiate our needs. In Italy food is celebrated in all its glory and for no other reason that the fact that it is worthy of each and every second spent on it’s dégustation.

In Italy the pace of life is much slower, which acts as a gentle reminder that life is meant to be leisurely and that we weren’t born to simply work ourselves to the point of exhaustion. Even in Milan, the economic capital, life seems to be kissed ever so slightly with the Italian laissez-faire attitude, making it distinctively unhurried compared to London, Paris and other European capitals that I’ve visited.  

Language barriers do not exist in Italy. Even if you don’t speak a word of Italian, you can still have a full on conversation! Italian is just as much about your body language and gestures as it is about the vernacular language. You have to think that before Italy was united as the Italy that we know today, there were hundreds of different dialects (some of which still exist today but are slowly dying) and so gesticulating was the universal mode of communicating.  In my experience, I’ve found that Italians are much more willing to want to understand you than in the UK for example. If you don’t speak English in the UK, you might have a harder time than if you don’t speak Italian in Italy.

The rules can often be bent in Italy. Now, of course this has its advantages as well as disadvantages, but you know what they say, if you’re going to tell any lies, white lies are the best- I feel like the same unspoken rule of thumb applies here in Italy. ‘Smaller’, less ‘important’ rules seem to be more flexible. When I was visiting my ex-boyfriend and travelling from Palermo to Paris with hand luggage only, I bought along with me a 180g, half eaten jar of pistacchio cream (in my defence, I didn’t realise then that ‘creams’ counted as a liquids). Desperate to bring the cream for him to try, I proposed to the security lady that I scoop the cream into my empty plastic bottle, however, either moved by my determination and desperation to get this pistacchio cream through, or perhaps just not very bothered at all, she allowed it to pass through, just giving me a pat on the wrist and telling me not to do it again. So it just goes to show that sometimes bending the rules does work in your favour! (only sometimes though… I’ll get onto driving in Italy in a bit.)

Il cattivo:

The downside to breaking rules is that when they’re not broken in your favour, it often leads to inefficiency, which I think is a really big issue in Italy- especially when it comes to getting paid on time. When I started working in Sicily as an English Language Assistant for the British council and MIUR (the government’s ministry of education and research), I wasn’t paid during the first four months that I was working due to a lot of miscommunication and unnecessarily convoluted bureaucracy. It will come as no surprise that I still haven’t been paid up to date for the last 3 months of my contract… 

Supermarkets will shamelessly shortchange you, for the sake of their ‘conveniency’. Now call me cheap (which I am), but in a lot of chain supermarkets the cashiers (and perhaps even the management too) think that it is acceptable to round up your bill because they don’t like dealing with small change. 5 cents might not seem like a lot but when you think of how many customers those supermarkets serve everyday, nationwide, those pennies really do add up!  

Italians are a nation of gossipers. Family rivalries, relationship problems, work drama– you name it, it’s bound to be going round in a large number. People love gossiping, wherever you go. We can all agree on that. The only difference is that in the UK  people generally don’t do right in front of your face. One thing that I really didn’t understand at first when I arrived was that whenever I met someone new, instead of asking me questions directly about where I am from or who I am, they would ask anyone else but me, even though I was within hearing range. The awkwardness doesn’t just stop there I’m afraid. There have been many times that I’ve been in situations in which I have literally been a metre away from the subject of gossip and couldn’t help but feel swamped with guilt and embarrassment. How am I suppose to respond to the fact that you’re telling me, within hearing range, that Mr barman over here is cheating on his wife? 

Il brutto:

As a life-long asthma sufferer, smoking in public is one of my biggest qualms. Unlike in the UK and other European cities, where there are more regulations implemented and reinforced in regards to smoking in public spaces (in 2007 in the UK, smoking was banned in enclosed public places), in Italy the etiquette is a lot different. There aren’t any clear cut ‘rules’ (used lightly) about smoking, and as a whole, people don’t seem to take much notice of others and their surrounding. 

Italians drive like crazy. Italians may have gifted the world with the Ferrari, but their driving is far from smooth cruising through country lanes. Italians are some of the most reckless drivers that I have personally seen in my short 20 years of existence. Their lack of regards for the highway code would make you think that one doesn’t exist. But this non-conformist and rebellious attitude takes a sour and quite sinister tone when it is no longer a case of jumping a red light or accelerating a bit over the speed limit, but is actually life-threatening behaviour, such as not wearing a seat-belts, controlling the steering wheel with your knees, or overtaking at the most inopportune and dangerous moments. If you want to drive in Italy, I would highly recommend you to think twice. 

Femminicidio, systematical violence against women, is not of course specific to Italy, but I was surprised to see how highly prevalent it is there. There is no denying that Italy is still traditional in many ways, and many remnants of the patriarchal society has settled in it cobble paths, especially in the south. ‘Freggio’ scars, an odious part of Neapolitan culture, in which men purposely disfigure their lover’s face as a sign of ‘possession’ or as a warning to any potential rivals, act as a symbol of what femminicidio has come to mean in Italy. This sense of male domination and possession is still very present in Italy, with everything from catcalling, to more physical acts of violence being carried out. 

Istanbul

Istanbul, home to 14.8 million people and a cultural capital in its own right, has been on the top of my list of travel destinations for a while now. Turkey is a great destination if you’re travelling on a budget– the conversion rates from GBP to TL is not only very good at the moment (approx. £1- 4.3TL) but also the food, accommodation and museum entry fees are all quite cheap compared to many other destinations that I’ve travelled to in Europe.

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Flight/Transport: 

We flew into Ataturk airport from London Heathrow with British Airways. Although British Airways is one of the more expensive airlines, we chose to fly with them because of their (general) reliability (that said, they are going on strike on the first week of July) and also because my mum is registered with their executive points scheme. It’s important to note that if you are planning on travelling with British Airways or to selected Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia) that the UK government has temporarily implemented a technology ban, allowing only for mobile phones to be bought on the aircraft.

London Heathrow is always my first choice when travelling out of London for two main reasons. Firstly, it is probably the most accessible airport in London with the Piccadilly line terminating at terminals 1-5 and because of that, it is also one of the cheapest airports to get to, costing you only up to £5.00 to get there by tube.  Once we were in Istanbul, we asked our airbnb host to arrange an airport transfer for us which costed only 60TL, approximately £13. I would highly recommend to avoid using yellow taxis as they tend to up the normal rate, however if you find yourself in a situation in which you have to, make sure you always agree on a price before hopping in and that no money is handed over until you reach your destination.

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Visa:

Although you can purchase an e-visa online before arriving at Turkey, you can also purchase it at the airport at the visa information desk or using one of the self-service kiosk. The cost at the airport is £20/ $20 in cash and it is valid for 90 days from the date in which it is validated with a stamp (at the airport). You can apply for a visa up to 3 months in advance online and can pay using a credit or debit card. The official UK government website has some useful information about applying for a Turkish visa.

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Accommodation: 

Travelling light as we were only staying three days, we decided to book an Airbnb right in the heart of Istanbul, a stone throw away from the Blue Mosque. Airbnbs are my preferred type of accommodation because they often tend to be a lot cheaper, located in local areas and usually offer the a space to cook or prepare light snacks. If you’re unfamiliar with airbnb, I’ve got a video all about how I plan a budget holiday often including my staple airbnb accommodation.

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As I mentioned, I’ve wanted to visit Istanbul for a while now, with everything from the food, to the TV series, art and architecture influencing my decision, however with the increasing terrorist attacks worldwide and the media’s propaganda of which countries are ‘safe’ and which aren’t, I was a little apprehensive to visit. When I told most of my friends and family that I had booked a short trip there, most of them would ask me whether that was a good idea, which of course made me even more uneasy. I’m really glad I did visit though because we were met with nothing but openness, kindness and a heartfelt welcome from everyone. Waking up to leave for the airport on Monday morning and hearing of the terrorist attack that took place near Finsbury Park Mosque and in Virginia, I had to stop and question myself– is Istanbul really anymore dangerous than anywhere else in the world? As with everywhere, you need to be cautious of your surroundings, but we shouldn’t be dissuaded from experiencing a culture firsthand by the media’s portrayal of certain countries. I personally couldn’t have felt safer and more at peace here.

If you’re looking for somewhere to learn about Islam, go to Turkey. The Blue Mosque in particular had very useful information scattered around the premises, with everything from the history of Islam, to an explanation of what hijab means, to the family tree of the prophets. I felt so emerged in Islam, waiting to break our fast with the adhan and not just with a countdown on my watch– It was such a unique and spiritual experience for me. I truly feel that the people there were so genuinely kind and friendly, everyone we met was so humble. Anywhere we ate or bought food, or gifts from, they thanked us so much for choosing to visit their country and to buy from them. If you look lost, you won’t even have to ask, someone will be waiting willingly and eagerly to point you in the right direction. The hospitality and goodwill nature is something you must definitely experience firsthand. 

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If you want to see what I actually got up to whilst I was in Istanbul, here’s our daily vlog:

When Home breaks down

Amongst one another, it is often hard to identify and experience the full sadness, happiness, or pain of another individual. We reply on what others report to comprehend their pain and we often try to relate this to a time in our own lives in which we felt that way. 

Since the longest time that I can remember, reported pain and mishaps seem to take up a large bulk of the news. I can only say that I came into semi-consciousness of the reality of it when I was around the age of 16, but even then, I didn’t feel like I was fully able to appreciate others’ suffering. 

Not the war in Syria, not the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria, not the droughts in Eastern Africa, not the attack in Manchester, not the attack on London Bridge, not the pain and suffering anywhere else in the world urged me to do much more than just donate money except the inferno that took place in Grenfell Tower yesterday morning. Waking up for suhoor, I tend to scroll through my news app on my phone and the event unfolding at that time had been reported as another ‘fire block outbreak’. It made me think back to last August when a fire broke out in another block of flats in Shepherds Bush Green and finishing my meal and getting ready to sleep again, I didn’t think much more than that– until I woke up later on that morning to the devastation. 

Seeing first hand the West London community’s (and beyond) efforts to help those effected by the fire was really breathtaking. It made me think back to the Dakota Access Pipeline controversy that blew up in the news last November, where even though I was outraged, when a friend on the ground recounted her own experiences attending the protests, I felt so detached and disconnected from the actual action and reality of the situation. 

For the first time yesterday I actually did something more than sending money to help. It was so heart-warming and encouraging to see the community come together and not simply brush aside other people’s pain and suffering. It was through perceiving this suffering firsthand that I realised that if everyone showed this amount of care and concern for everyone’s suffering worldwide, then there would be a much bigger driving force for collaboration and change. Ultimately, however, I think it takes the action literally hitting home for us to be jolted into action, because when it happens at home you cannot just change over the news channel or continue scrolling through your Facebook feed. ‘Far way’ pain is hard for individuals to connect to and appreciate apparently. 

Seeing the Grenfell Tower ablaze yesterday really bought alive for me how this is the only reality for the hundred of thousands who are living in war zones everyday. One tower block was on fire and it devastated a whole community- can you imagine thousands of buildings alight? How many friends and family members, how many lives lost, how much suffering. 

I believe what has really given strength and some possible comfort to the community is the effort, emotional support, and resources that have been pulled together from all over London and the UK to help those affected. Hope in the hardest of times is the one thing that keeps us going. My heart sinks to think of the individuals in war-stricken zones receiving no help– they must feel so alone and so helpless. How do they keep on going? Who is going to help them keep on going?

This event has really opened my eyes to the importance of community- and not just in times of need. Our community should not stop at just 20 minutes down the road. Our duty and our love for one another should and must run much deeper because misfortune can fall on anyone of us. 

Why it seems like the world is falling apart

If you turn on the TV to watch the news, I can completely understand why you might quite literally think that the world is falling apart. We are bombarded on daily basis with terrorist attacks, attacks which cause terror but aren’t labelled ‘terrorism’, Donald Trump supposedly making America great again, and friction in the European Union becoming more deep-seated– the list goes on. But is any of this really news?

A graph created by Statistia for the Huffington post shows that in fact the number of fatalities from terrorists attacks in Western Europe between the 1970s and 1990s sum up to considerably more than those killed between 1990 and 2015. Yet people still seem to believe that things have never been this bad, that the world has reached a point of no return. Perhaps our historical perspective might just be a little bit distorted.

One only has to think back to the fact that the Holocaust, one of the biggest atrocities of human being’s history, was committed in the 20th century to realise that perhaps this rise of terrorism is not much more than a revival of a dark time in history, when various political groups though it acceptable to massacre thousands of innocent people. Not much has changed today. Although ISIS and many similar groups may be ‘religious’ by name, the birth of these groups and the way in it which they have been continually sustained has very little to do with religious endeavours and much to do about politics and the power tug-of-war. Put into context, perhaps that golden age is much more further out of reach than we first thought– perhaps it never existed to start with. 

If you still aren’t convinced that things aren’t as bad as the media makes out to be, then you only have to put all of this into perspective with terrorist attack carried out in other parts of the world. Since the beginning of 2015, Africa, Asia and the Middle East have experienced almost 50 times more deaths from terrorist attacks than both Europe and America. Between 2001 and 2014 Iraq had seen one of the worst period of terrorism with over 40,000 people dying. In that same period, over 100,000 people were killed worldwide due to terrorist attacks, of which 420 deaths occurred in Western Europe. So if we really want to denounce terrorism, we first need to broadened our scope much farther than the shocks just felt at home, and if we really want to ‘pray’ for the European cities trouble-ridden with terrorism, we ought to start including all those other places in our prayers too. 

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be concerned or don’t have the right to fear terrorism. Of course we should not just sit back and accept these terrorist attacks as the new norm. If anything, I think it’s important to acknowledge the past history of terrorism, and with the lessons which we’ve (hopefully) learnt, find an effective way to deal with it– one which doesn’t simply including feeding more terrorism abroad, because we all know how that ends. 

If you’ve taken anything from this at all, I would like it to be this, to ask yourselves: who benefits from my fear?

Don’t wig out

Following on from one of my previous blog post, Cultural Appropriation? An American Invention (which if you haven’t read it already, be sure to check it out), this post continues down the slippery- slope of Euro-centric features, focusing specifically on the trending issue of wearing a wig. About a year ago now, I conducted a “social experiment” (used in the slightest of terms) to divulge whether wearing a wig is really a Western taboo, or if it actually depends on who the wig wearers are. It’s undeniable that we’ve all seen in the media the increasing trends of celebrity postiches, and even more so by the unusual suspects in recent years, with it becoming more common for white people—celebrity or not—to be fashioning weaved or braided hairstyles. The trend, which arguably leaked into popular mass culture through the cumulative appearance of RnB, rap and hip-hop singers in the early 2000’s, has lead to the standardised use of braids in mainstream fashion.

Exhibit A:

Pictures: Left: Bo Derek ; Middle: Christina Aguilera; Right: Fergie 

Sadly, what has come with the modification and diffused use of traditional ‘ethnic’ hairstyles, is the lost of meaning and value behind various hairstyles. Ted Gibson, celebrity stylist and salon owner elucidates the thorny subject in an article posted on the Huffington website of how traditionally, braids were worn in Egypt as a sign of royalty, or if they were to be worn by the ‘commoners’ only during ceremonial events. He continues to explain how braids even played an important in social classification in the Native American culture by distinguishing between those who were married (hair would traditionally be worn down) vs. all those single ladies who would have their hair braided up and often adorned with flowers as a means to ‘seduce’ men—you can see how wrong Disney got it in Pocahontas by not doing their research.

When I was 11, my Gambian aunt, a hairdresser and salon owner, showed me a documentary, called 400 Years Without a Comb– most probably unknown to many of you. I don’t think I appreciated it as much at the time as I do now, and I can only say that I’m glad that after all these years I have still been able to rediscover it and hopefully this time, fully grapple with its important message. The documentary is itself a long and hard journey through the years of slavery in which, forced to travel across oceans, Africans left behind, amongst many of their cultural relics and traditions, the comb. Yes I know, today a comb might seem to be a banal object and hardly one worth crying over, but under the category of a ‘simple’ object is most definitely not where the comb fits in. These combs were not only crafted specifically for Afro-textured hair, but perhaps more significantly than this, each comb told a story of its owner. Traditional carvings in the handle of the combs often held pockets of information about the individual’s occupation, social grouping (otherwise known as ‘tribes’) and interests; often a gift from a beloved.

Pictures: Left; Middle; Right.

More detrimental than losing a cherished cultural object are the repercussions, which are still felt today. Perhaps some of you will find it an exaggeration or a ‘leap too far’ in my suggestion that the change of mental state to one of dislike or complete rejection of afro-textured hair is somewhat rooted in the experiences of African ancestors being consigned to an environment, whereby their hair type was seen as ‘other’- but other in a bad way. Without proper access to the correct and warranted care for their hair, the idea of their hair being ‘bad’, and ‘unruly’ was really only just a matter of ill-equipment, perverted into the impression that their hair was inherently disagreeable. Of course, each individual has his or her own personal reasons for modifying their natural hair texture, however speaking from my personal experience, when at the age of 5 I kept begging my mum to ‘make my hair straight’, I think it would be very ignorant to believe that the media doesn’t have any power or influence over the hierarchy of what is viewed as ‘beautiful’ hairstyles in society- but hey, this is just my opinion at the end of the day.

And so after this mini-detour, this post regresses back to its original topic: the interviews about wigs. The interviews themselves were conducted in the university library, whereby I, along with the help of a couple of friends, stopped random library-goers and asked them their opinions and experiences with wigs. I think the video speaks for itself in terms of people’s general thoughts. Given the limited scope of these interviews (e.g. generally the same age range of people answered the questions), I decided also to carry out a survey to widen the recipients, the full details of which are available in the video’s down-bar.

Concluding words? If any, it should be this: Don’t wig out (unless you really want to). You’ll just get an itchy scalp.

References for this Article:

http://blacknaps.org/2011/05/10/400-years-without-a-comb/

Aching

Everyone’s journey is unique. I tell myself this all the time. Especially when it comes to personal success– I mean it’s called personal for a reason right? And yet I sometimes find myself tangled in my preoccupations with how well others are performing, forgetting that everyone has their own measuring stick, as my mother would say. That said, I can understand why we get so caught up with how successful we are in relation to other people. Society has been built up in such a way that our brains are programmed to interpret success as equal to acknowledgement, display of public gratification, and figures. What I’ve never really understood though, is why people compare their own spirituality and tailor made journeys to others. How can something so largely intangible be manifested in material, and therefore be put in comparison with others?

I and another 1.8 odd billion people are Muslims by name, but by no means, shape or form are our journeys entirely parallel. I don’t wear a headscarf. I don’t know Arabic very well. I didn’t always eat halal meat in past. Despite what may seem to some as haram (sinful), I still pray five times a day, observe Ramadan, pay zakat, and try my hardest to lead an ethical life on a daily basis.

My spirituality is however like undulating waves which peak and then recede. Some days I am consumed with the daily happenings of right now that I forget to take a minute to step back, breathe, and reflect, and so I am always thankful for that twitch upon the thread that draws me back into contemplation. Often, I feel closer to God in times of need and perhaps postmodernists might see this as a ‘comfort mechanism’ but we humans are naturally quite self-centred in that we often search for love and reassurance from a loved one when we cannot give it to ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care for our loved ones in other periods, but it might just mean we need their presence the most then. I know I am guilty of this when it comes to my relationship with Allah.

And so in an effort to keep those waves culminating, I’ve been trying to read the Qu’ran every night before I go to bed, even if it’s just one surah and even if that’s in translation. Tonight when I was reading the Qu’ran I came across a beautiful passage, which has been lingering in the forefront of my mind for the last couple of hours:

“Those who are already firmly established in their homes [in Medina], and firmly rooted in faith, show love for those who migrated to them for refuge and harbour no desire in their hearts for what has been given to them. They give them preference over themselves, even if they too are poor: those who are saved from their own soul’s greed are truly successful.”

– The Gathering [of Forces] 59: 9-10

Although this passage refers to the Prophet Muhammad’s PBUH mission to spread Islam in 626CE, there is still so much that resonates with present day in terms of lessons to be learnt, especially in our treatment of refugees internationally. And so to go back to the beginning of this post, what it means to be truly successful is to not be controlled by your own volition and insatiability. It has nothing to do with the outward appearance of ‘success’ but everything to do with the battle and the victory over one’s own soul.

I often read the Qu’ran when I need solace, which I cannot find within myself, but tonight when I was reading it I in fact felt sad and hurt for the first time. How can so much beauty, both in meaning and language, so much peace and altruism be overlooked? How can so many killings be carried out in the name of Islam when the Qu’ran teaches that to kill an innocent person is like killing the whole of mankind (The Feast 5:32)? How can a book, which has the very purpose of “healing” (The Night Journey 17:82-83), be the cause of so much pain?

I’m currently reading Malala Yousafzai’s book, I am Malala, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone and everyone. As well as talking about hers–and many others’– on going fight for their right to education, it also gives a good insight into the complex nature of Islam, and demonstrates how easily a religion can be corrupted and used as a political weapon.

I know that some people see Islam as being an ‘oppressive’ religion, which has no place for respecting women or their rights. There is no denying that Islam means both peace and yes, submission­. Islam is the ultimate form of submission, but for us Muslims, it is also the ultimate form of freedom, because this submission does not mean submission to material things and it most definitely does not mean submission to mankind. Islam teaches us to submit to Allah because by submitting to him we ultimately gain our freedom. We do not become slaves to our desires, to money, to corporal pleasures, to materialism, to another person.

I think we do a disservice to the Qu’ran to forget the historical context in which it was divined. Revealed in 609 CE in a patriarchal society, women of course got the bad end of the stick. The everyday women did not have autonomy in affairs such as inheritance; she had very little rights in marriage, and even less when divorced. What did the Qu’ran do? It gave women a chance to be self-governing when it came to inheritance, giving them the entitlement of half that of their male counter-part (Women 4) when previously they had none. It gave them protection against maltreatment in the case of divorce (Women 4; The dispute 58) and it showcased female strength. Maryam (Mary) is mentioned 34 times in the Qu’ran, and her strength, devotion and endurance does not go unnoticed. Hazrat Khadijah, an independent businesswoman and the prophet Muhammad’s PBUH first wife, is another strong female figure who both commanded and received great respect and has become one of the leading female figures of Islam. Perhaps looking at these examples in present day, might make them seem like a poor, sub-standard effort for women equality. Undoubtedly, it is ‘outrageous’ in our Western society that women in this day and age should receive half the inheritance of that of a man (that said, we only have to look at equal pay to really find out it isn’t that ‘unthinkable’ as we may think), but in a period in which society was essentially male-dominated, the establishment of these rights were perhaps more than a woman of that time could have hoped for. Yes, I know that for Muslims, the Qu’ran is a universal guide for all of time, but I think the essence of what was being realised can still be transferred and applied to the conditions of modern day society, without the need to apply the rigid law, or risking the lost of the meaning and sentiment– I’m still trying to figure out the balance of historical setting and cosmology so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Islam also gets a lot of backlash for Muslim women wearing headscarf. Now you might think I’m not really in a position to talk about this, given that I myself have chosen not to wear one in this period of my life, but since everyone seems to want to have a say on it (hjiabi or not) here’s mine. Firstly, I think it’s important to clear up the common misconception that ‘hijab’ simply translates into ‘headscarf’ or a piece of cloth on a woman’s head– although I have no illusions that there is no universal agreement of the translation even amongst the Muslim community. Yes, hijab means ‘barrier’ or ‘partition’ but it also has a much broader meaning– it is essentially the principle of modesty and not just for Muslim women, but also the conduct of Muslim men as well. In fact, the Qu’ran states that men need to observe the hijab even before women:

“[Prophet], tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them…and tell believing women that they should lower their glances, guard their private parts, and not display their charms beyond what [it is acceptable] to reveal.”

-Light 24:30-32

In essence, the burden should not fall on just one sex nor the other.

There are so many distortions and misconceptions about Islam and the Qu’ran– many of which are fuelled by the current climate of terrorism, the language of the media and unfortunately, also by the confusion which is caused by the lack of universality even within the Muslim community.

I cannot speak for all Muslims, and being a Muslim can only speak so much for me because each of our Islam are inevitably different, because each one of our spiritual journeys follow a slightly different course.

My personal efforts of trying to eat just halah, dressing more modesty, and making more of an effort to implement the teachings of the Qu’ran in my daily life are not the result of any human figure imposing these upon me, it is through my own free will that Allah has provided me with that propels me to want to do these things.

Everyone’s spiritual journey is unique, and we mustn’t ever forget it.