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!

2 - I’ve decided to start sending out little email newsletters every now and again! I won’t spam you (or if I do, please let me know that it’s too much) but if you’d like to get updates from the blog, notes on what I’m up to, links I’m reading and the like, sign up below!

May Musings - 14

Folks!

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I write to you from my mobile phone, on a train back to London from Bristol. I just had the most wonderful evening sharing my YA novel, You Must Be Layla, with the Bristol community through an ‘In Conversation’ event hosted by Words of Colour.  

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

It’s been an absolute joy - no pun intended - bringing this book to life and now seeing it in the hands of people all around the world. The Bristol audience was kind, engaged and enthusiastic, and the conversation also reminded me how far I’ve come since I moved to the UK in late 2017.

Times of darkness makes one feel like there is no light. Sometimes, the darkness is so deep, one wonders when there ever was light, and questions whether there will ever be light again. That’s the terrible wonder of darkness, it’s ability to make you forget the very existence of the possibility of salvation. 

Yet living through darkness makes the light all the more sweet.

I felt light tonight, Alhamdulilah, bouyed by the compassion and generosity of strangers. Thank you, to all who came, and to all who contributed to making it happen. I am forever indebted. 

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May Musings - 13

People love a fall from grace.

We’ve all been there. Retweeted gleefully, sprinkled a hot take with a couple of well place gifs, revelled in the schadenfreude. There’s safety in a mob: the herd mentality that takes over when you’re part of a wave of condemnation means you’re no longer acting as an individual, but as a member of a movement, a cause, a mission. The overall goal or intended outcome of that mission is rarely discussed, instead, what is focused on is the destruction. The complete and utter annihilation of the subject of anger and disapproval. There is no space for redemption.

Hey, no shade - I’ve been there too. They have not been my proudest moments, but it felt good at the time. What makes it more interesting is that I’ve actually been on both sides of the coin: a member of an online mob and the one bearing the brunt of it. And let me tell you, as someone who has had their life irrevocably and irreparably changed by the viciousness of the pack mentality, it’s not something you get through unscathed. It’s also very rarely anything to do with the inciting incident. Often, the importance of the catalysing moment gets lost in the melee, making the whole experience all the more tragic.

Why am I writing about this today? Am I making a broad reflective comment on my annus horribilis, 2017? Or a comment on the James Charles situation (lol no, I wouldn’t be unwise enough to wade into YouTube commentary, a world I know little about!). To be honest, my thoughts could apply to all the above, but has been mostly sparked by the conversation I’ve seen building online over the past couple of weeks regarding a large US based media company founded by a young Muslim woman.

I’m not here to name names, though it won’t take you much to ascertain who and what I’m talking about. I’ve been mulling about whether to write something regarding the ongoing conversation for some time: I’ve seen it develop and have questioned whether or not it is my place to get involved or intervene, and if I was to say something, what the most Islamic or ethical for me to say would be.

My thought process was as such: what frameworks do I have for thinking about what is going on? How do I know what is right?

My first step was to think about legal frameworks of wrongdoing. To me, it appeared that what is being spoken about was less as legal and legislative matter, but more a matter of culture and ethics. In cases where someone has been accused of legal wrongdoing, it is easier to know what to do: there is a legal process us outside supporters can push for. In cases where the court of law has been less reliable, say in areas of sexual assault and harassment, it is also slightly easier to imagine what has occurred because of what we know occurs under a major structural power imbalance, say, in a case with a powerful older white man and a younger woman of colour. We have precedents and ways of dealing with such injustice.

But what about an issue of culture and ethics? An issue about the treatment of volunteers, promises of pay that were never followed through, the lack of credit given to creatives? How does one ethically navigate engaging with these conversations?

I guess it depends on the desired outcome. Is the desired outcome for an individual to resign? To make a promise publicly to fix the issues raised and move on? To bring people who have been wronged back in the fold? As this is a question of culture and ethics, once we start digging deeper we may realise that we have different ideas of what it means for issues like this to be resolved. So what does one do? Get a consensus from the community? Who gets to be part of the community that makes this decision? Again I wonder - how do we decide the best thing to do?

I honestly still don’t know the answer to this, beyond asking Allah for guidance. I’ve run a volunteer organisation before, from when I was 16 years old to 25 years old, and have no doubt that I wasn’t perfect. I’m loathe to throw stones. What I do know, however, are the values and principles which I hold dear, and my desire to push for them. I believe it is important to treat the people who work for us with kindness, professionalism and dignity, and if we get that wrong, do what we can to be better. I believe it’s important to credit artists’ work, and if we don’t perhaps that is our ego talking, or something off with our business model. I think it is important to pay people, but - I also ran a volunteer organisation for almost a decade, so I understand the struggle. It’s a balance I am still trying to figure out - and any mistakes I make, I hope to learn from and get better.

And I guess that’s the thing that makes me the most uncomfortable, and feels like a thorn in my side. I wonder to myself, what if I was in this founder’s position? What would I do? How do I redeem myself? Is there any room for growth? What do people want from me?

It’s a scary place to be in, because in one moment you have the expectations, desires, hopes and dreams of a community projected on you, and in another moment you are the epitome of everything they despise, everything they think is wrong with the system, the physical manifestation of structural inequality. The irony, of course, is that it has nothing to do with you as an individual. You no longer become an individual with fears and feelings. You’re an image, a projection on a screen, a reflection of whatever people want you to be. One could argue it’s an impossible ideal to live up to.

I’m not here to be judge and jury. Far from it. It’s sad to hear that a media organisation has left such a sour taste in the mouths of many who have worked for them. It’s sad to see a reasonable request for artistic credit snowball into something so messy and personal. It’s sad to know whatever I write about this, it will make someone unhappy - whether because I am seen as weak and not taking sides, or taking the side of one over the other, coming out too late, coming out too gently, whatever - I have no doubt that people will be upset. However, that’s not why I write this. I write this because it is important that we have measured, critical conversations about what it means to build a healthy community, online and off. What it means to treat each other with respect and dignity, in the way of our Prophet (SAW) - and that includes fair treatment in the workplace as well as when we hear bad news about people we respect. I write this because I am still figuring out the best way to engage, but that is certainly not to negate the experiences of those who are frustrated, angry, hurt and disappointed because of their experiences. For what it’s worth, Aima from @niqabaechronicles is an amazing graphic designer and content creator, and you should commission her - I certainly will be doing so as soon as I need one, inshallah.

Khair, inshallah. Allah knows best, and I pray that He guide me in tough moments like these. I’d love to hear your thoughts - respectfully - on what you think the best way to engage in conversations like this online are, and what you have thought / learnt / reflected on after reading this piece. Much appreciated x

May Musings - 09

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My Best Tourist Self

Day Two in Georgia, and what a delight!

Before I begin, I want to make an amendment. I was alerted by a reader yesterday that referring to Georgia as a post-Soviet nation may be seen as disrespectful, as it more acknowledges a political experience visited on the nation rather than the true ethnicity of the people themselves. As such, I’ve learnt, the ideal way to refer to the region is the Caucasus. Interestingly, it’s where the term ‘Caucasian’ comes from - so rather than the term simply meaning ‘someone who is white’, as I’d always imagined, it means ‘someone from the Caucasus’, a specific area between the Black and Caspian Sea.

Fascinating, right? It is also a reflection of my ignorance regarding this region’s history. It’s humbling to be reminded that although one may have deep expertise or knowledge about a particular part of the world, that knowledge is hyperlocalised. In my case, I am most familiar with the North African and Middle Eastern context, as well as Australia, but I’ve studied near nought about the Soviet Union, or the history of the Slavs, Central Asia or the Caucasus.  This makes being here in Georgia particularly thrilling: learning about a totally different history feels like gaining an understanding of a completely different way of being in the world, in a way I’ve not previously understood possible. 

It has also been interesting to notice that the tensions associated with travelling as a Muslim or a black person in Europe are virtually non-existent here.  Obviously, it’s only been a few days, but the lack of hostility has been remarkable - until one remembers that their political history is markedly different. Georgia doesn’t have a history of African slavery, for example, or indentured labour from South Asia. Its tensions are related to Russia and the Soviet Union, and so it’s much less about colour and more about ethnicity, language, and ostensibly, politics.  I’m curious to talk to Muslims and people of colour who live here though, so hold that thought until I do a little more digging…

All in all though - loving Tbilisi so far, and my, the Georgians are kind. Mashallah!

***

In other news, here’s a great read on Harper’s Bazaar on men, how notions of masculinity are toxic and how women have shouldered the burden for too long.  If this is an area of interest for you generally, the article might not present new information but it does give a good overview of the changes underway (or needed!) for men to be their whole selves. It also sites a shocking recent British study which reports ‘2.5 million men admitted to having no close friends’. What a state of affairs indeed.

After several failed relationships, Scott Shepherd realized that despite  being an empathetic, self-aware guy, he was still missing a key element  to his emotional health: a few good (woke-ish) men. 

The article reminded me of the many conversations I’ve had with my self-aware, male friends who enjoy speaking about personal and vulnerable matters with me, but have said they struggle to do so with their male peers. One hopes that, inshallah, these things are changing. However, it’s also one of the few areas that I personally - as a woman - don’t think it’s my place to get directly involved in. Yes, women can uphold the patriarchy and notions of toxic masculinity in many ways, but we will not be the ones to change it. I do believe men need to be brave and take the leap themselves. Other genders can support those who are driving the change, and help provide an environment amenable to it, but ultimately, the change needs to come from within.

What do you think? Are these changes something all genders need to be involved in driving, or should it be led by men?

May Musings - 05

I’ve spent a lot of today knee deep in a couple of creative projects: one, reworking a script that I’m developing with the amazing Tania Safi called SAME SAME, and the other a more corporate podcast that I will be sharing soon, inshallah. I’m also stoked to share that my latest episode as host of the BBC World Service show ‘The Conversation’ was released today: on the politics of body hair. I talk to two different women, one Irish and one Turkish, about their relationship with body hair, it’s removal, and it’s relationship to feminism. Would love for you to listen and share your thoughts!

Click through to listen to the episode

Click through to listen to the episode

How has everyone’s first day of Ramadan been? I’ve kept my energy expenditure low, and have bittersweetly welcomed that moment when you wake up and think - oh, I have all this spare time because I don’t need to eat or drink anything before I Ieave the house…

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If today has taught me anything, it is in the importance of setting aside one’s ego in creative work. It’s a relatively new thing for me, in the sense that the profession I was trained in - engineering - is very much about numbers, an outcome achieved by following a set process that will allow you to arrive at the correct conclusion. ‘Creative’ or artistically creative work seems to operate quite differently in that we each need to find processes that work for ourselves and the specific thing we are working on at the time. Now, I may be creating a false binary here between the creative and the technical, but I certainly feel the shift.

The good news is, when you are able to focus on the work and not the ego, the outcome is invariably improved. Yallah, Allah give us strength to keep putting ego aside.

Khair, inshallah.

Huffington Post: #JusticeForNoura

Huffington Post: #JusticeForNoura

What do we know about Noura Hussein? The 19-year-old Sudanese woman is currently on death row in Omdurman, Sudan, for killing a man in self-defense. She was convicted of murdering her husband, who raped her on their “honeymoon.”

The Guardian: Is taking down white men like Josh Denny always a victory for equality?

The Guardian: Is taking down white men like Josh Denny always a victory for equality?

Humiliation, belittlement, dehumanisation: these are the tactics the oppressor uses. We need to be better than that.

Seeing yourself reflected...

It was my first night settling in. I wiggled into a comfortable nook in the couch, put my feet up on the edge of the coffee table and switched on the TV. 

...only to release a high pitched squeal.

Fatima Manji

There was a hijabi lady reading the news, in Britain! THERE WAS SOMEONE WHO KINDA LOOKED LIKE ME! And she wasn't even talking about terrorism, or women's oppression! 

My first instinct was to send a pic to my insta story, the next to tweet about it. I had to share my excitement, after all. 

That's honestly been the most remarkable thing thus far about this move. Seeing myself, reflected.

I can't quite explain what it is like to walk around a city - an English speaking city at that, which, for better or for worse, feels more like 'home' - and see myself in the faces of those around me. London is (visually, at least) truly multicultural in a way no other place I have been is. To think of myself as becoming part of that is something that feels remarkable, subhanallah.

It's delicious. I'm walking around and seeing hijabi women - of all the colours - wearing all the styles wander past me. I am yelling 'Al-Salamu Alaikum!!' to every single one of them, my toothy grin in their face.  They look at me with bewilderment, but that's fine. Their confusion increases my joy. Because who they are isn't unusual here, and I guess that means I am not unusual either. Who would have thought it would feel so good to be 'not-unusual'? I mean sure, I've only been here for a few days, so it might be hubris, and sure, I am proud of who I am wherever I am, and sure, I love standing out...

...but for the first time, I know what it's like to be one of the crowd.

To have people say 'oh you're from Sudan? I love Sudanese people!' instead of being the first Sudanese person they know.

To walk around and see my aunt, uncle, brother...

...to hear my aunt, uncle, brother, grandmother.

And to see them right alongside my neighbour, my boss, my colleagues.

What a gift. 

Subhanallah. 

Whitepaper on Cultural Diversity and Inclusion

I'm so excited to share with you the second part of the whitepaper I've written on cultural diversity and inclusion.

Part 2 is focused on how to create a workplace that is inclusive, and links to a lot of the Diversity Council of Australia's work in this space. 

Want to learn more about cultural diversity and inclusion? Download the whitepaper today!

Part 1 - Diversity Beyond Gender

Part 2 (NEW!) - Re-thinking Diversity

Let me know if you have any thoughts / feedback on the papers. If you're interested in having the paper presented to your organisation, feel free to get in contact and we can organise a time.

Enjoy!