May Musings - 28

Today was a ‘head down, do errands and writing’ kind of day. I don’t have too much to report beyond an interest in this idea called ‘The Right to Repair’.

I took a favourite dress to my local tailor today, as it had a small but growing tear in the armpit region (heard the lyrics put your hands up in the air and I followed those instructions a little too violently). I’ve started to get into the habit of repairing clothes more recently, either myself of at the tailors, in an effort to develop more sustainable clothing habits. It’s possible with clothes, but what I find fascinating is that many items that we purchase today aren’t necessarily designed to be repaired. Companies have been fined for what’s known as ‘planned obsolescence’, but the idea itself is wild: that companies may actually design objects in such a way that we would have to buy a new one once it breaks. Whether though software design (Apple and Samsung fined for slowing down old phones), or by physically manufacturing products that cannot be opened once they’re sealed, it’s not only a pernicious capitalistic act, but it’s terrible for the environment and also frankly robs little kids of the pleasure of taking things apart! it was one of my favourite pastimes as a child, taking things apart…

This movement, the ‘Right to Repair’, is taking off in the US, having recently been endorsed by the New York Times.

“Right-to-repair” is a bit of a  misnomer. The owner of a device generally has the legal right to repair it. The issue is whether the manufacturer allows people and independent  businesses to obtain the necessary information, tools and parts to do the repairs.

Clearly, the movement is picking up speed, gathering momentum. However, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops and whether regulation is brought into play that forces companies to allow consumers and independent businesses to make their own repairs. It’s not really in their financial interest, but it’s certainly in ours…

The other thought bubble that emerges is one around the right to repair algorithms and software. Bear with me on this —

The way machine learning currently works, you feed a bunch of data into a computer and it creates a program or algorithm from the patterns it finds in the data (this is a super oversimplified version of the process). What that means is that often we don’t know what is in the algorithm per se because it wasn’t designed by human beings - it isn’t necessarily in a language we can understand. As such, the ‘right to repair’ is a bit obscure - if you get an adverse output because of a machine learning algorithm (like, you get denied bail unfairly, you are screened out of a job process unfairly, you are denied financing unfairly etc), how does one fight for the ‘right to repair’ the result or outcome? Perhaps it’s better framed as a social justice challenge, but at the core it’s the same: manufacturers, designers, programmers denying individuals the ability to fix a problem because of it’s inherent design…

Food for thought. Holla if you have any ideas!

***

PS Look at this lovely review by Words of Colour on You Must Be Layla. I’m so honoured!

Award-winning activist, broadcaster and former mechanical engineer  Yassmin Abdel-Magied makes a solid mark with her debut YA novel. A  Sudanese-born Australian herself, there are parallels between Layla and  Abdel-Magied’s life as she too grew up in Brisbane, was the first Muslim  female student to wear a head scarf at her exclusive private school  and, at 21, she was the only Sudanese-Australian Muslim woman working on  an oil and gas rig. Being othered was part her experience in Australia,  but there the similarities end.

Filled with Aussie, Irish and Jamaican slang, and a healthy sprinkle  of Arabic terms, supported by a useful glossary at the back, the plot is  pacy and Layla sparkles and crackles with verve, wit and gumption.

Abdel-Magied enthusiastically sweeps away outdated perceptions of who young Muslim girls are – and should be. Hugely likeable, it will not  take long before you want Layla to be your best mate.

There are many laugh out loud moments, alongside a heart-stopping  situation that reminds you of the invidious nature of racism and sexism.  Although the storytelling isn’t complex or multi-layered, it is an  important book for our times.

You Must Be Layla is an enjoyable and easy read, whether you are a 10 year old or a fun-loving adult.

May Musings - 27

Couple of announcements today folks!

I have these events coming up:

The Last Word - In Conversation at the Roundhouse Theatre - TICKETS HERE

This one is pretty cool… You Must Be Layla book event IN LONDON in collaboration with The Other Box - TICKETS HERE!

I’m also heading to Australia for a week or so in June so stay tuned for those details inshallah


What’s on my mind today? Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s May Musings 27. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep up the habit of writing every day when I started the challange - fairly flippantly - sitting in a cafe in Malaysia. Goes to show that a slow, incremental change that you hold yourself to does make a cumulative difference.

I’m not sure if my writing has gotten any better in this month as I’ve often written squeezed in the moments between five-to and midnight. That being said, I certainly think my fingers are flowing a little easier…It’s also been nice to have a record of my travels and adventures this month.  I’ve got one more trip before the end of Ramadan, inshallah. I really did pick one hell of a month to try write every day!

I’m curious to see if it’s a habit I can maintain. Part of me wants to try continue it for as long as possible, part of me realises it’s probably unsustainable. But then again, some people do continue habits for years at a time - praying, for example, is one such habit. If I reduce the commitment, say to once a week, will that reduce the disciplinary effect? What if I write once a week and focus the energy on developing my newsletter (that I’ve been saying I’ll do for ages?). What if, what if! And that’s not even taking into account that I have to make time for actual paid work that I need to do... haha.

That’s where my head is at, this Tuesday. Where are you? 

May Musings - 26

So I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye, at #HowTheLightGetsIn, a music and philosophy festival in a tiny town on the border of England and Wales. My brain feels rather full, to be honest. I love the festival - it has a special place in my heart - but this weekend was intellectually overstimulating. I listened to a lecture on the ‘History of Consciousness’ which probably needed a degree in philosophy studies to understand, I witnessed a ‘debate’ between a number of politicians and organisers that got really nowhere helpful (an accurate reflection of the current political system) and I listened to a large group of Welshmen in uniform sing in an unexpectedly gorgeous choir…

Guess which one I’m going to write about?

The Blaenavon Male Voice Choir - this isn’t what they sang at the festival but it gives you a bit of an idea!

There was something particularly moving about seeing a group of men, old and young, singing proudly and loudly in their native Welsh. It reminded me of the fact that Wales does indeed have a separate history, culture and language to England, but sadly, I don’t know very much about it - and anecdotally, it appears that if you grow up in England, you’re not really taught that history either (happy to be corrected though?). As a migrant to London, England, it can be easy to assume that the entire UK is fairly similar culturally, but when one travels to Wales, Scotland (or ostensibly Northern Ireland, though I myself have not had the pleasure yet!) it becomes very clear that the UK is not nearly as homogeneous as an episode of Midsummer Murders would have you believe. The UK has it’s own history of colonisation that the English really don’t seem to have made even the slightest amend for. It’s fascinating.

As the Blaenavon Male Voice Choir's sonorous chords filled the tent on the final night of the festival, I reflected on what other traditions, rituals and experiences give men the space and permission to be so earnestly wholesome and wholehearted. They sung about their love of their land, family and laughter, they sung in rhyme and in opera, they sang of deep loss and joyful levity. Their emotion and vulnerability were celebrated, not mocked. It felt unique, powerful and so deeply healthy that I couldn’t help but split my face with a blinding grin. If only more men of all ages had spaces where they could be themselves so fully. If only, everytime men present themselves to their community in ways that fundamentally challenge harmful masculine traits, they are embraced and lauded, rather than told they are somehow deficient. If only the world was full of Welsh male choirs!

Until tomorrow, folks. I’m off to listen to Arglwydd!

***

PS - I also wonder - do the English have the same love of singing and music as the Welsh, Irish and Scots? If not, why?

May Musings - 25

It’s been a couple of days since Binyavanga Wainaina passed. Binyavanga was a Kenyan writer and journalist who wrote widely, including one famous essay I thought it was worth revisiting. It’s titled ‘How to Write About Africa'.

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

On it goes. It’s brilliant, but sad, as you realise the sardonic tone is often missed by the majority of writers outside the continent. Rather, they take Wainaina’s words as instructions. Quartz has shared a lovely obituary here.

Re-reading the piece was timely, as I’m speaking about the ethics of writing at How The Light Gets In festival sharing the stage with another legend, Minna Salami. To my shame, I hadn’t come across Minna’s work before, but her blog, Ms Afropolitan, ‘connects feminism with critical reflections on contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective’ in a wonderfully fresh way. In the interests of sharing different voices, here is a recent piece I enjoyed from the site: What is the role of family?

…in modern society, we oscillate between contradictory ideas about family as a place of comfort and an institution of tradition and dogma, where repressive and outmoded views are upheld.

Additionally, people who grew up in countries that were colonised by the West must grapple with the intersection between typical Western ideas of family and their traditional ones. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I witnessed how the polygamous family and the Western nuclear family were entangled in ways that, at times, made them more vibrant, but also compromised women.

Going back to the question of the ethics of writing. It has been termed as ‘cultural appropriation’ in the program but that term is so ill-defined I find it unhelpful. Conversations like these mildly interesting, but often miss the point. Why do we even have a conversation about who can write what? In a truly equal society, where no group was deemed supreme, then there wouldn’t be a problem. However, we don’t live in that world - we live in one with structural inequalities, ethnocentric supremacy and ‘epistemic injustice’. In writing, this last term is quite relevant: it refers to the idea that there is injustice and inequality in who gets to ‘know’ things in society, and whose knowledge is respected, deemed worthy of listening to, deemed true. Is a young black man’s testimony of a crime worth the same as a senior, white male engineer? If a young woman accuses a powerful man of sexual assault, is she believed? If an indigenous grandmother speaks of an injustice on her land, is that given the same weight as that of a farmer named Bryon? We might not legislate the differences in how these testimonials or ‘knowledge’ is treated, but society reflects deeper inequalities in this way at every level. I can tell you that my grandmother fasted on Monday and Thursday every day for years and that the Islamic tradition encourages this as good for your health, but the moment that same intermittent fasting regime is published in English, it becomes a down-right phenomenon.

So, in a world with such injustice, how can we say that we can write without an acknowledgement of the responsibility that accompanies that creation?

The thought led me to Orwell’s essay, ‘Why I write’.

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books..

Sigh…

May Musings - 24

Today marks the first day of the last ten days of Ramadan. Bit of a mouthful that, but the last ten days of Ramadan are the holiest, and always seem to rush by faster than any other ten day period in the year. 

Tranquility - a moment from my recent trip to Dubai 

Tranquility - a moment from my recent trip to Dubai 

How has my Ramadan been? I’m not going to lie; it’s been a tough one. I’ve found the constant travel has made it difficult to have the regular Ramadan routines I took for granted growing up. I also seemed to have struggled quite a bit with caffeine withdrawal, and the long London days take their toll. All that said, Alhamdulilah, I’ve been able to push through and channel that mental discipline Ramadan requires. It’s funny, even as I write this I’m reflecting on the fact that many of my recent Ramadan months have been tough - I’ve been on tour, working on rigs, away from home... it hasn’t been the idyllic childhood scenario for a few years now. What has been wonderful about my time here in London though has been finding a new community to share the month with - some Muslim and some not, some living at home and some on their own; all of us on a journey with our faith but with a commitment to the practice, the tradition, each other.  We’re creating our own communities now - as our parents did so for their generation, so must we for ours. 

How has your Ramadan been? What’s your relationship with the month?  

May Musings - 23

Hey folks! Happy Friday!

What’s on my mind today? Well, I’m preparing for the How The Light Gets In festival which I’m appearing at on Monday inshallah - will any one you be there? It’s one of my favourite events of the year - Music and Philosophy, I mean c’mon!

Folks, I made it to the fourth line on the posters. I’m pretty much a headliner. SUBHANALLAH!

Folks, I made it to the fourth line on the posters. I’m pretty much a headliner. SUBHANALLAH!

I’ve also started a super cool gig as a regular contributor on Midori House, one of my absolute favourite current affairs show. I did my first show last night, and I honestly feel like I may have made it (hehe). You can listen to the episode here. We talked Indian elections, EU elections, Japan’s new (or old?) name convention and childhood books…

Click to hear the episode.

Click to hear the episode.

I feel very blessed Alhamdulilah to be doing things - speak, broadcast, write - in spaces and with people I’ve deeply admired for years. It’s amazing, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘what’s next’ mode of thinking: planning the next step, focusing on the next challenge, rather than taking stock and sitting in gratitude for where one is now. I’m reminded of the quote: where you are now, is where you once dreamed of being (or something along those lines). Subhanallah, indeed. I remember when I was in third year university, I was invited to be in the audience on Australia’s current affair show, Q&A. A fellow engineering student was giving me advice on how I should act, before I realised he thought I was on the panel. ‘Oh no, I’m not on the panel,’ I told him. ‘Wow, if that ever happened, I will have truly made it.’ Two or so years later, I was invited to be do just that - sit on the panel of the live TV show. It felt like the biggest, scariest, most impressive thing in the whole-wide-world. After a few appearances, that feeling faded… but it’s nice to reflect on how much one has grown, and be grateful for every step along the way, Alhamdulilah.

So, I’d love to hear from you! How do you know when you’ve ‘made it’? What does that look like for you? Have you ‘made it’ and then moved the goal posts? Let me know!

***

PS - I thought this was cool! Muslims to lead Birmingham Pride parade for first time in event’s 22-year history:

Muslims will be launching Birmingham Pride celebrations for the first time in the event’s history as they march alongside prominent gay school teacher Andrew Moffat at the very front of this year’s parade.

While Moffat has been selected to front the Pride parade this weekend, event organisers are adamant he will be flanked by LGBT+ Muslims and their allies as an expression of solidarity following anti-LGBT education protests outside Parkfield Community and Anderton Park primary schools in Birmingham this year.

May Musings - 22

If you haven’t heard of my lovely friend from afar, Thordis Elva, you should. She’s an incredible writer and activist who I met a few years ago at Sydney’s ‘All About Women’ festival, where she was touring with her book, ‘South of Forgiveness’. If you haven’t seen her TED talk, it’s a great place to start. It’s a masterclass in bravery and courage, but also creativity and honesty when it comes to storytelling.

Thordis also has great Instagram game, and I’ve enjoyed following her journey in the years that I’ve known her through the online platform. She is a uniqely wonderful storyteller through that medium, making people from around the world feel like close friends. Part of that magic comes through the way she has brought us into her life: the way she shared her powerful pregnancy experience last year for example, was deeply inspiring, in the truest sense of the word.

Thordis was carrying twins. Her water broke early, and she was then forced into bedrest for weeks. The journey was harrowing, but against all odds the Icelandic powerhouse gave birth to two healthy boys (mashallah), despite doctors telling her that they would almost certainly not survive the early trauma. As she shares pictures and videos of the boys growing up, I feel like a far away God-mother they don’t know they have. The ‘army of light’ she calls us, those around the world who prayed and wished good luck from afar. Every time I think of Acer and Swan (the two boys), I think of the power of motherhood, community, and the possibility of social media for good.

Watching Thordis’s instagram story yesterday, I was greeted with something a little different. Elva is an activist for women’s equality and rights - has always been - and as such had been in vocal opposition to the recent Georgia abortion ban. Seemingly some folks had taken it upon themselves to question her legitimacy in doing so. Thordis responded with a history of her work, the many films, books and policies she created, and presented a CV that very clearly tells a story of a woman dedicated to the cause. ‘You go girl!’ I thought to myself, as I learnt about what this woman - who I knew was powerful but didn’t know the specifics - had achieved over the years. I reached out and shared my admiration, but also my personal struggles with owning my history and narrative. Thordis replied with such wisdom, I thought I must share it with you all today.

She talked about how even though talking about what we’ve done may not always feel comfortable, the reality is that as women (and in my case, especially as Muslim women or women of colour), our histories and legacies are so often forgotten. Not even just forgotten, they’re actively erased, eradicated, pushed out of the record books. It hurts, but we’re surrounded by that truth. Take a walk through any museum, art gallery or history section in the library. Even Muslims, following a religion that was founded on the idea of equal rights for all - have found ways to sideline the stories of women, ignore their perspectives and minimise their contributions. It’s so important, Thordis said to me, that we share and record our own achievements and histories. We must shout them from the rooftops, not just for our own egos, but for those who come after us. So that the work we do is not forgotten, is not scratched out, so that people don’t continue reinventing the equality wheel and imagining noone else has done it before.

It made me reframe two things in my mind: one, the importance of sharing what I have been able to do (with the grace of Allah, of course) so that people know it can be done and it has been done. Secondly, it made me question the number of times I have been considered the ‘first’ to do something - wear a headscarf in a particular school, company, department, the ‘youngest’ to start a youth organisation, the first Muslim to do XYZ… how do we know there haven’t been others? There may well have been, and we’ve just forgotten. It’s a welcome, humbling and urgent thought.

What do you think? How important is it for us as individuals to be involved in maintaining and recording our legacies and histories? What do you think about all of this?

May Musings - 21

Today is the 22nd of May, the anniversary of my London-Family, Habibtown (most commonly referred to as H-Town).

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Remember a while back, I wrote a post on loneliness? Many of y’all responded, with stories about moving to a new city, and the unique, acute loneliness you felt. It seemed an burden that was hard to shake.

I felt that deeply. I’ve moved to three different cities in five years (Alhamdulilah), each time learning a new neighbourhood, finding new hang outs, searching for new people. It’s not an easy process, especially if you move as a single unit and a freelancer, without the structure of a regular work environment and team to show you the ropes.

That’s what makes H-Town even more special to me. We’re an unlikely group - covering almost all the continents, all with different interests and career paths… but we found each other in a time when we all needed one another. Subhanallah - in a way, I think this group of people - and the extended family that we have around us - has made London feel like home in a way no other city in my adult life has done. This city feels like a place that I will keep coming back to, time and time again, inshallah. It has a special place in my heart, as do all of H-Town. Here’s to many anniversaries, habibs. Inshallah xx

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May Musings - 20

It’s nice to have gotten into a writing rhythm. I’m not always sure what I will write about, but it’s nice to be forced into the discipline for a bit.

I recently watched the film, Mary: Queen of Scots. Have you seen it? I’ve never traditionally had much interest in films and TV on English monarchs, it feels a little unfaithful to suspend disbelief and enjoy the entertainment without thinking about the bloodshed and havoc the various reigns were responsible for. What was interesting about this film however, was the focus on two female monarchs with very different attitudes on monarchy, marriage and their crowns.

I recommend the watch, if only for Saoirse Ronan as Mary. Her ability to so completely inhabit the persona of the monarch makes for a powerful performance. Hers is a character who is so willing to serve and give her life for her people, but who also so deeply believes that these people are her subjects. She is their Queen, and expects the accordant deference. Juxtaposing Ronan alongside Margo Robbie’s Elizabeth the First didn’t do Robbie’s character a huge favour; the protagonist was very clearly Mary. But the film did give some insight into the challenge of being not only a monarch, but a female one at that, in a court where literally everyone around you is plotting and scheming in some manner. ‘A lonely job’ doesn’t do the isolation of that position justice. It would have been utterly exhausting.

I have such mixed feelings about monarchy, brought into sharp relief now that I live in the heart of the empire: London. I am confronted with regular news of this land’s Royals on a daily basis - the very same descendants of those in the film. How is it a moral or ethical system? Do we accept it because of their ‘tourism value’, as one Brit told me, or because ‘they are the true essence of the country’? I’ve been told the Queen holds the country together, and is at least the one thing people can believe in above the mess of Parliament. Perhaps these attitudes are credit to this particular Queen rather than the institution itself.

I find myself instinctively uncomfortable with the concept of monarchy, but who am I but an uncivilised Sudanese Australian, a double colonial subject? Either way, I am still not of this land. Perhaps it makes no difference what I think about it at all.

May Musings - 19

On the True Nature of a City

Day Two in Dubai was a whirlwind of The Modist’s operations center, studio and offices, followed by a glorious iftar and suhoor in a majlis setting - the traditional seating of the bedouins, a little more jazzed up (exhibit A, pictured).

The entire trip has been a thought provoking experience, providing many moments of reflection as I pack my bags to leave the city. It’s intriguing to note that although I have been here many times before, this trip has somehow been so different. Perhaps it’s because I am not traveling with family, because I am not wearing the more traditional clothing (of a jalabeeya or abaya, that I would usually wear in the Arab world), perhaps because I’m a little older and wiser… it’s likely a combination of all the above. But I’ve had the pleasure and honor of seeing Dubai and the UAE in a light I’ve never seen it before, and that’s largely due to seeing it through the eyes of it’s many types of inhabitants.

It reminds me of an old film I saw by a director named Ali Mostafa that my father took our family to see at the Arab film festival years ago. City of Life was a film about Dubai’s parallel existences. It was almost never shown, due to it’s very real depiction of life in the UAE with all it’s light and shade, however a last minute pardon from the country’s ruler meant it graced our screens. It broke box office records, toured internationally and launched the career of Mostafa, who has gone on to make successful Emirate films across various genre (comedy, thriller, etc). Word on the street is that City of Life 2 is in development, so I look forward to it, inshallah!

The reason why the film is so powerful is that it depicts what I still feel about Dubai, despite having a slightly richer understanding: the lives of folks are so separate from each other. Emiratis, who make up less than 20% of the population of the UAE, may go to the same schools and universities as the expatriates, but rarely marry foreigners, and seem to keep their culture - as rich as it is - close to home, reserving it for family and close friends in a way that is different to say, the Levant folk just nearby. Expatriates love the place for its opportunity and luxury and comfort, but feel slightly out of sorts by not being able to really ever have a path to citizenship, making one feel like a visitor no matter how long they’ve lived there. As for the service folk - the majority from South East Asia and the Sub continent - I wasn’t able in my time here to have a conservation that was beyond the superficial, but it seems to the observer to be a system whereby they are not afforded the same comforts citizens and expatriates enjoy. Why they are not even considered expatriates - given they are here for work - is a clue into the informal caste system that has somehow found it’s way into the development process of the region…

I could wax lyrical about my feelings and reflections. At the moment they are poorly formed, vague inferences rather than solid conclusions. However, what I do know is that I have been treated so kindly, welcomed so warmly and made to feel so comfortable - mashallah - that one thing is for sure. The culture of hospitality is alive and strong, and runs through the Dubai DNA.

(PS - they also seem to revere Sheikh Mohammed and Zaid in a way I haven’t heard of a leader - alive - who is respected in the same way. Fascinating! But for another day - I’ve gotta catch a plane!).

Much love,

Yassmin

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

Just figuring it all out, ya know 😅😇

May Musings - 18

On Energy and Vision

I’m always this excited.

I’m always this excited.

Sometimes, one has to make a choice about where they will place their energy. Choosing to ignore the small fights for the bigger win - the illusive deferment of gratification - is ultimately, for the best.

I type this after having spent maybe an hour longer on twitter than I needed to today though, so perhaps I’m taking to myself more than anyone else.

How much energy do you need to spend setting the record straight? When people are implying falsehoods about you, do you challenge every one, or accept that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, and find another way to fight the good fight?

The longer I live (Alhamduliah), the more I think the latter is the wiser strategy. Brute force will not win when you’re out-gunned, out-manned, out-numbered, out-planned. We gotta make an all out stand… Now, I’m no political strategist, but I look forward to seeing what different ideas come out over the next days, months and years as we figure out how to collectively keep pushing for a society that is safe, prosperous and fair for all, inshallah.

***

On a similar(ish) note, today was my first day in Dubai for this Modist press trip I am on, an experience which is *absolute* honour and privilege. I’ve never been on a trip quite like this before, and so I am doing all I can to learn, absorb and hopefully add value. I’m always curious about the ethics of a trip like this - being supported by a brand, but in my case, not to write about it directly, but perhaps to inform my ‘audience’ (I guess that’s you, my lovely reader!) about the brand, and what they’re up to. For what it’s worth - the Modist is worth checking out, as they’re a modest clothing platform founded by the most wonderful woman. Ghizlan Guenez - who is as charming as she is stylish, mashallah - has strong values around modesty as a choice, around breaking stereotypes and around empowering women and girls. I mean, all the things I love. So, Dubai or not, I’ll do what I can to support a woman with that vision.

***

And vision has been on my mind today. We spent some time in a museum, learning about the history of Dubai in a way I’d not really spent time considering before. My father often talked about how the leadership of Dubai was visionary, how Sheikh Mohammed built a global city out of nothing, how we had to learn from his example and his entrepreneurship. I never really paid attention to my dad’s Sheikh Mohammed sermons though, for whatever reason - it wasn’t not-interested, I just didn’t connect the dots. Until today.

Like it or not, Dubai has turned itself into a city that millions of people know about, visit, invest in. It is highly functional, safe, and there is a system that works. You might not agree with the system - and it’s definitely not a democracy - but the lives of citizens are good, Alhamdulilah. This is something that has been achieved over the course of less than a century - a few decades, even - and when you stop to take stock of the change, that’s an impressive and laudable achievement. Yes, it has it’s problems. It is important to note the questionable and unIslamic treatment of overseas workers that built said prosperity. However, I don’t think that negates the overall point re vision. Dubai works - and that’s something you can’t say about many other countries in the region.

Realising this left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It brought home the depressing impact a lack of visionary leadership can have on a people. Sudan is a wealthy nation: it has oil, minerals, agriculture and at one time in its history, a thriving public service and lively intellectual tradition. I have often blamed all the country’s woes on the post colonial hangover, and yes, that impact cannot be overstated. But does the example of Dubai provide an interesting counterpoint? Perhaps. Yes, their histories are different; Sudan’s population is 60 times the size of Dubai’s, contains a multitude of tribes, and a legacy of both Arab and English rule, yes! I understand all this. But walking around today, a small part of me wonders what Sudan would have been like under a visionary leader who wanted to build a society for the people. Hopefully, maybe, that visionary leader is hanging out in the sit-in today, hatching plans to make an all out stand. Khair, inshallah. One can only hope.

***

Aside from my musings, I have two bit of news to share.

1 - You can now purchase my YA fiction book, You Must Be Layla internationally through my store here on the site! Order, leave your name and I will sign it for you inshallah.

PS If you have already read it or when you read it, if you could leave a review on Goodreads or Amazon that would be so very appreciated, thank you!

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May Musings - 17

On Power, Change and Balance.


I want to say I was surprised by the result of the Australian election, but I am not. Rather perhaps, I am filled with a disappointment I was hoping not to feel, but am prepared for. It’s a hollow feeling though. I left the nation to live in London over 18 months ago, fed up of a politick and a rhetoric that I seemed unable to influence for the better. How can I feel disappointed when I am not one of the people who campaigned for change, who put up with the hate, who threw their hate in the ring, did everything they felt they could, and yet still find themselves defeated? In the Australian election, I am the critic in Roosevelt’s quote, not the famed ‘man in the arena’. That is my cross to bear.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Shortly after the results of the Aussie election rolled in, I found myself watching the recent Dick Cheney biopic, Vice. Have y’all seen it? Wow, did it take me back to the heady days of my teens, protesting on the streets against wars in the Middle East that seemed to just keep coming. Guantantamo Bay is still open and yet is so far from the political consciousness one could be forgiven for thinking it was old news. I guess there are newer, hotter, wildfires to put out. It’s one hell of a climate crisis out there.

The biopic reminded me of Cheney’s reprehensible legacy yes, but also made me wonder about the nature of power, and how we - and by we I mean those interested in working towards a fairer world for all - do that. How do we keep picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, fighting for fair, despite all that is ahead? How do we continue taking the high road, continue treating those who oppose us with dignity, continue to meet hate with love? It’s not as if anyone is immune to the heady effect of power, either. The hard left - communism - doesn’t have a stellar history, the same way that the hard right - fascism - was responsible for atrocities beyond imagination. Having visited a country in the Caucauses recently, the first place I’ve visited that experienced Soviet Rule, I cannot say with confidence that an extreme version of the left is something worth aiming for. Indeed, no extreme is ever worth aiming for, in my opinion. Indeed, Islam recommends the middle path, always. Surah Baqara says:

وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا

Thus, We have made you a justly balanced community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you. (2:143)

One version of the tafsir, or interpretation is as follows:

أَنَّ الْوَسَطَ حَقِيقَةٌ فِي الْبُعْدِ عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ وَلَا شَكَّ أَنَّ طَرَفَيِ الْإِفْرَاطِ وَالتَّفْرِيطِ رَدِيئَانِ فَالْمُتَوَسِّطُ فِي الْأَخْلَاقِ يَكُونُ بَعِيدًا عَنِ الطَّرَفَيْنِ فَكَانَ مُعْتَدِلًا فَاضِلًا

The justly balanced (wasat) in reality is the furthest point between two extremes. There is no doubt that the two poles of excess and extravagance are destructive, so to be moderate in character is to be furthest from them, which is to be just and virtuous.

(Note that there are many interpretations, and this is one from this site. I have found the page on moderation useful but cannot vouch for everything else on the site).

I wonder - how does moderation win over extremes? Is it a matter of time? Or simply a question of faith? I’m not sure. Allah knows best, and indeed, that is all I have for now. Khair, inshallah. All I know is that we all gotta get into that arena.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.

Christian Bale acting as Dick Cheney, in VICE.