Ushered out of my job, my mental health spiralling, reputation in shambles, I felt a deep, cavernous sense of loss for my once optimistic self.
I originally published this piece on Medium.
Charlotte Wood recently published an incredible essay about the anger of women.
It got me thinking about my anger, my rage, how I processed trauma; of recent experiences, and of simply existing as a Muslim woman of colour living in the West.
I must be clear. I do not think less of anyone for being angry. Often, almost always, the anger is justified. The world is not fair, trauma is real, and anger is an incredibly valid response to the pain the world, society and individuals, inflicts on us. Anger can drive change, and often does. It catalyses action in ways many other emotions do not. It is the fuel behind many an engine of transformation. It has it’s place, and is so deeply part of the human experience that to deny it completely would be folly, and perhaps, dangerous.
But like fire, anger can be the candle that lights a room, or a burning inferno that destroys a home. For the first time in my life, this year, I felt my anger spiralling out of control. I felt it consume the oxygen in the room, slowly creep under the doors. The flames of my fury licked at my window frames and threatened to engulf the safe house I had built myself to survive.
I frightened myself.
Charlotte Wood’s piece refers to this:
I won’t forget the look I’d seen on her face. It was fear, of drowning in her own rage.
My housemate, incredibly thoughtfully, bought a gift for my birthday. ‘It’ll help you get the anger out’, she said. It was a session at The Break Room, where you can break things, and feel good.
It was a wonderful sentiment, but I was strangely and involuntarily repulsed. My housemates were confused; they felt my rage. Surely smashing crockery was the perfect way of unleashing it. ‘I’m afraid of my own anger,’ I told them. ‘I don’t like the person I become.’ They didn’t understand, but how can they understand that sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, of the darkness only we know exists?
We went anyway, despite my sullen mood and protestations. It was a wet Melbourne morning, the weather matching my demeanour. I watched the others take baseball bats to mugs, throw plates against the walls, hurl glasses with pure abandon. Loud metal music drowned the sound of chaos.
I felt sick.
Housemates 1 & 2 insisted that I have a go. I smashed a few mugs. I felt a tendril of satisfaction. Then, I felt sick.
Allowing myself to be violent in response to anger felt like opening the door to the room on fire, the room which once held a candle. The fire was hungry for the rest of the oxygen in the house, and once that door was open — even just a crack — well, that was all the invitation it needed to consume the building.
Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps breaking things would starve the fire, remove the oxygen.
I still felt sick.
My anger was justified, I felt. I had been treated unfairly, I felt.The world was systemically set up against me, I felt. My anger felt safe.
I found allies in the anger, other women and people of colour who were also deeply enraged. Rightly so, because my feelings weren’t off base: the world was set up against people like us. My anger alienated some, but drew in others. I found community, in anger.
Anger, for a brief moment, was liberating.
And then, it wasn’t.
The fire had consumed all the oxygen.
I couldn’t breath.
I don’t like being angry, certainly not when it is without restraint.
I don’t like the person I become.
But anger is an energy, a fuel, and perhaps like energy, it is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed into something different. Petrol engines transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. Perhaps there was a way for me to transform my anger into another form of constructive energy, into an emotion that does not consume the very essence of who I am.
I’m occasionally reluctant to talk about how faith plays a role in my life. Having grown up in quite an anti-religious society, I know how faith based discussions are received. Religion, like Islam, is often mocked and ridiculed, sometimes by the very same progressives who fight for the rights of those who practice the religion. Irony aside, it is obvious that we all have our own framework for understanding the world. Fabulous; the plurality of experiences makes our world the wonder that it is and coexistence is divine. Mine is, and has always been, faith.
My faith allowed me to believe there was nothing I could not handle. That every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. That I could use the fire of anger; contain it, tame it, channel it. It taught me how to use the fire to light 100 candles, rather than let it run free. It didn’t work alone — faith worked in conjunction with therapy, a strong support network and moving countries. But it gave me the fortitude to ask myself how I wanted to use my anger, and what I was going to do about it. I am an engineer, after all. Energy is only useful if it can be channelled constructively.
So yes, I have anger. But I am no longer angry, Alhamdulilah.
I am not so frightened of myself anymore, and god, how that helps me breathe.
The first day of the year often brings with it an opportunity to rest, reflect, restart. As corny and passe as that might be, I revel in and enjoy the chance to stop, pause and think. To give myself the time to listen; to myself, to others, to what the world is telling me beyond the conscious, perhaps.
Here’s to a 2018 where I learn to live beyond a destructive anger. A year of directing that energy to raising others up, to building, to maturing. A period of time to be treasured, as all time deserves to be.
What does being a woman on an oil rig have in common with being a Muslim in Australia? Watch Yassmin Abdel-Magied give an impassioned speech about what it means to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and culture. What is it like when you show up and don't look like anyone else?
So I was quite nervous about this talk. Everything about it: writing it, memorising it, delivering it. And this is from someone who talks, well, for a living now.
When Andrew Hyde from TEDx Boulder asked me to be a part of the program this year, I jumped at the chance. I loved the idea of the Boulder community, and the opportunity to flesh out a new idea. My initial draft for a talk was on a wildly different topic - one that I was looking forward to sharing because I thought it was new and innovative.
Writing the speech felt like pulling teeth. It simply didn't want to happen. Although I was intellectually committed to the concept, my heart wasn't in it.
So a few days before the event, I threw in the towel and wrote a new speech. This is it. Some of you may be familiar with some of the stories; I wrote about it in my TeenVogue piece a few weeks ago. This, however, was the first time I spoke publicly about in a formal setting - and to a completely unfamiliar audience.
They were kind, rewarding me with a standing ovation. This certainly helped the nerves. But ultimately, this talk is not about what happened to me in Australia. This is about sharing the lesson that so many of us have learnt the hard way - the need for structural and systemic change.
Alas, a 12 minute talk isn't enough to do the topic justice. But here's to being a part of the conversation.
To those who have been trying to tell me this for some time... sorry it took me so long to get it. I guess I always learn things the hard way! *bemused face*
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.
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.
So, I've arrived, Alhamdulilah. Two suitcases, my social media accounts and a smile - that's what I bring with me to this new adventure.
I'm based in Shoreditch for the next three months at least, inshallah. If you're around and would love to hang, let me know. I'm up for all the recommends, all the meet ups, all the things. If you'd asked me a year ago where I would be, I would most certainly have not said 'setting up a new home in a new city halfway across the world', but subhanallah, here we are.
The weather is a little cooler, and I think the cloud cover will take some getting used to... but the bubble of anticipation and childlike excitement in my stomach is hard to contain. Yallah!
…the end came without fanfare.
Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.
I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?
This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.
‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?
Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.
‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.
There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.
I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.
In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.
But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.
Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.
So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.
The first was Brexit. The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.
I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'
Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.
The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.
Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc.
She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.
Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.
Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form. However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective?
The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation?
Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening.
Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.
Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.
Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out.
Note the blue line; inequality within country groups. It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.
According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'
So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.
What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum).
What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations. The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again.
Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.
Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.
Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease.
So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?
It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?
Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society. It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.
The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it. Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief.
We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah...
I haven't written for a while as I have been run off my feet with a few projects - keep up to date via my FB here.
However, the attacks in Paris have given me cause to write a quick note.
We cannot let fear divide us.
Whatever your foreign policy agenda, no matter how badly the immigration officers may treat you, or how uncomfortable life becomes on public transport, let us not turn that into hatred. Because then, who wins?
I am just about to jump on a plane to the U.S. where I imagine borders will be tight. This is what I will be reminding myself of.
There is no 'us' versus 'them', we cannot afford to think that way. Life is not that easy and straightforward. In some cases though, there is clearly and 'wrong' and a 'right', and there is no 'right' that includes killing of the innocent.
Islam does not allow for killing innocents. Ever. Full stop.
Our Prophet Mohammed (SAW) did not turn to violence unless it was in self defence and even *then*, he constantly chose to forgive rather than inflict further pain.
Even the colonisers, when invading Muslim countries back in the day, thought Muslims were 'too lenient'. Governor Hastings, along with his Governor-General of India Charles Cornwallis, felt like Islamic law allowed people to escape punishment too easily, complaining that Sharia was “founded on the most lenient principles and on an abhorrence of bloodshed”.
Why bring that up? To remind us that we do not have to be steeped in blood to be strong.
The world we live in can sometimes feel like it is more unstable, more violent and that the violence is becoming more indiscriminate. We cannot let that feeling override us, because that is what causes further division and allows the space for vitriol and hatred to occur. Acts of prejudice are at the bottom of the Pyramid of Hate, and we cannot afford for our society to make it's way back up that ladder.
We have to find it within ourselves to be kind. We have to find it within ourselves to forgive those who may look at others with fear and see it as an opportunity to build bonds of compassion, to find what unites us rather than what divides. We owe it to our ancestors and to society to ensure we play a part in making the world a safer place and not sit in the ease and comfort of hate.
If we all try to find a way to unite, particularly in a way which is inclusive, in the words of Kendrick:
"We gon be alright!" (inshallah)
Take this moment to also remember those in other nations who suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khair inshallah. #Lebanon #Syria #Beirut #Sudan #Iraq #DRC
When I was 13, I read a book that changed my life (so dramatic!)
"It was a book about Sabrina the Teenage Witch..." the tale always begins.
Sabrina, in her infinite wisdom, had erased herself from existence, but could see what life was like without her. Her aunts didn't talk to each other because she wasn't there to broker peace, her boyfriend was in jail because he had gone off the tracks without her guidance and her best friend was dating an abusive guy because Sabrina wasn't around to help show her she was worth more.
In short, Sabrina understood that even though she might recognise the impact she had on the people around her, every interaction she had - her very existence - changed the world around her, for the better.
I decided, at 13, to make that my mantra. Life was to become about making every interaction one that would have a positive impact on the world around me.
Easier said than done, of course.
Sure, it is the ideal framework to have in mind, but it can often fall to the wayside while going through #life, or simply struggling through life's challenges. When things are busy or challenging, it become much more difficult to consciously be thinking about the impact we are having on those around us. Instead, we are focused on how to take the next step, how to get through every moment.
After graduating from University, I spent near-half a year with my family in Sudan, attending the International University of Africa to learn formal Arabic. It was a crazy experience and was actually the inspiration to start this blog - many of my early blog pieces were about trying to understand what was going on around me.
The classes I attended were made up of young women from various parts of Africa, often mothers who brought their kids to class and who lived incredibly different lives to mine. It was eye opening, enriching, enlightening - but also, incredibly tough. I tried to be myself in a world that had a very strong view on what I 'should be' - and I wasn't playing by the rules. I had to learn how to navigate a new system I didn't quite fit in, and so often disconnected.
I made friends, some of whom I still occasionally talk to today, but unfortunately, I lost contact with most of my new friends and colleagues. That is why a recent email in my inbox caused me an unreasonable amount of joy:
Oh! Interesting, I thought. My curiosity was piqued.
That is what makes it all worth it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spice of life. To know that our actions are having an impact on others in ways we cannot even imagine, is incredibly humbling. To know that a conversation that you have - a single conversation - can be remembered, is powerful, because it reminds us of the potential of every.single.interaction.
We must never forget that.
I recently met a guy who left his high paying job as a lawyer to start his dream company. When I asked him why he studied law, his response was further proof of the impact of small moments.
Now that 'important guy' may not even remember the conversation he had with a young graduating student, but his comments shaped this man's life.
What keeps me going? Knowing that any of the conversations I have, the smiles I share and the paths I cross has the potential to be life changing - for me, or for those around me.
The same applies to you! Without realising it, you could be giving confidence to the next Mohammed Ali, helping out the next Malala or giving the nudge needed for the next Elon Musk.
How exciting is that?!
He sat across from me and asked.
Does Allah talk to you?
Do you hear him?
What do you pray about?
Does he answer your prayers?
I don’t even know what I said, but what a question indeed.
I didn’t know how to articulate it, and I don’t know if I ever will.
I didn’t know how to say that knowing Allah is there, all the time, that was all I ever needed to know.
That I hear him in music that moves, see him in the outline of mountains against the sky.
That my mortality frightens me, an intense fear that I may not be doing enough… a fear that my life is too easy, a fear that these blessings are in fact my hardships, and that I am failing the tests.
That sometimes, not very often, but sometimes...
I buckle. Doubled over, during sujood. Tears not merely from my eyes but from somewhere deeper, racking me raw because I am so humbled to be in His presence, Subhanallah.
My heart begs Him to guide me, to forgive me, to use me, to save me from myself and my own weakness.
Because I am oh so weak, and without His blessings, I am nothing.
“And how could we not place our trust in God, seeing that it is He who has shown us the path which we are to follow?’ ‘Hence, we shall certainly bear with patience whatever hurt you may do us: for, all who have trust [in His existence] must place their trust in God [alone]!’” [14:12]
It's a little frightening, writing so publically about religious faith, particularly to an Australian audience. We are not comfortable with it, and often I think that my secular friends are surprised by how much Islam means to me, particularly on a spiritual level.
Politics aside, Ramadan is fast approaching, and it is a time for reflection. It is time for that spiritual (and painful caffeine!) detox. It is a month to remind ourselves of our temporary nature, and what we are living for.
What is it that we live for?
Well, each of us has to answer that alone...