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 - 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 - 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 - 16

On growing up, authority and permission.

How I feel about being an adult.

How I feel about being an adult.

How does one decide what is ‘good’, or right? Are they even the same thing all the time? When we’re kids, often it’s simple: what are parents tell us, what our teachers tell us, what those in positions of authority around us decide. Who is in positions of authority? Often, when we’re young, that’s also simple too: those who are older than us. Ah, for the simplicity of childhood…

I think the moment I realised I was growing up was the moment I realised I may be different to my parents in some ways. Not from a knee-jerk teenage perspective either, but from a ‘I think we have different viewpoints, habits or lifestyle, and I don’t think I’m changing significantly any time soon’. I don’t think I can recall for certain when that moment was, but I remember it being a slight shock. The idea that my life might look different to the life of my parents, and that maybe it was okay for that to happen, felt downright scandalous, and in some ways a betrayal. I’m almost certain that they wouldn’t say it was anything of the sort, but the idea that my life looks very different to that of my folks has sometime felt morally reprehensible, despite it simply being different. Why does it feel so uncomfortable?

I think it all fits into this idea of trying to do what is ‘good’ and ‘right’, and that direction and permission often coming from my folks, and the community they symbolised for me. I’ve been a kid who often tried to do what I was supposed to (and often failed, lol). But striving to be like my parents, and what my parents approved of, felt like the ideal to strive for. It felt almost like a religious obligation! However now, with a life that looks and feels so different to theirs in many ways (where I live, what I eat, the places I go…), who becomes the weathervane? Who is the authority? Who gives permission?

Scary to think it’s perhaps, just me. And of course, my faith, so Allah - and of course, the people who I love and are around me… but ultimately, growing up is about deciding what is right for yourself. And then having the moral conviction to stick by it. That’s a lot of responsibility, if you ask me. Yet, here we are…

How do you feel? Is this something you have found yourself grappling with, or has growing up been all gravy?

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 - 12

Today’s been a day of transit, which has meant many a podcast was listened to, and I almost finished knitting scarf #2!

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I was ready to share a slew of thoughts with y’all about democracy (inspired by this podcast episode reviewing a film called ‘What is Democracy?’) however, I’ve just heard the news of violence kicking off again in Khartoum, Sudan, and I can’t quite concentrate. 

There have been reports of shots fired, people beaten, harassed and martyred. Ina Lilahi wa Ina Ilayhi Rajiun. I haven’t verified these reports personally, and there is still speculation around who is responsible, but the escalation of violence is a reminder of the nation’s instability. The stalling of negotiations, electricity cuts and water shortages and the influence by foreign interests (UAE, Saudi, the like) all contribute to the pressure cooker and make the Sudanese Uprising Project all the more fragile. Khair inshallah. I hope everyone is safe, and I’m going to get onto WhatsApp right now to check just that, inshallah. 

May Musings - 11

Even the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan have wifi. 

Even the ancient ruins of Petra in Jordan have wifi. 

Lots of thoughtful responses to yesterday’s post on loneliness; it seemed to resonate with many of y’all! Thanks for your comments, questions and open-hearted sharing.

Someone asked about why I thought the way we ‘organise’ was conducive to a lonely society. In brief, I think it’s about what we center in the design of our workplaces, families and culture, as well as what is given priority in our social fabric. For example: in work, for one to be successful, the expectation is that your career must come first, ostensibly at the expense of all else. This is implicit in the ‘hustle hard’ messaging we are surrounded by, both in the traditional corporate world and in the gig-economy. Those who are celebrated aren’t those with balanced, healthy lives, they are those who have sacrificed everything to achieve some business or financial success. There seems to be little tolerance for any other priorities except perhaps a certain type of ‘self-care’, which again centers the individual rather than the communal. I’ve not seen posters emblazoned with ‘Hustle Hard but Remember to Make Time For Your Family, Friends and Regular Volunteering Work’ in any workspace I’ve been in… Now. This is not a damning criticism of either the hustling hard attitude or the push towards self care, but a comment on how these ways of life, in absence of all else, are more likely to leave us estranged from our community than anything else. It’s up to us to decide if that’s what we want, I suppose.

Another reader pointed out the strange reality where living with family is disparaged, and living alone is valourised. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen into this bias and trap, and it’s interesting to question why we again, seek to raise the individual who is on their own rather than connected to others, and what that does for the society we are all a part of.

Thanks all for your feedback and conversation, and keep it coming!

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Today’s piece I’m musing over is on language, the author reflecting on the limits of hers.

…fluency is more than merely knowing the language. Fluency is seeing past the hard edges of definitions and vocabulary to the softer, nebulous contours of conceptualisation. Fluency means living in a language fully.

The short article is opening a series I am excited to follow, called Living in Translation, ‘a new series of articles, guest edited by Nanjala Nyabola, exploring the worlds our languages have built across Africa.’

The piece made me reflect on my relationship with language, especially as a member of the diaspora. I have a complicated relationship with Arabic. I can speak, read and write it Alhamdulilah, but nowhere nearly as fluently as I can in English. I’ve spent time in Sudan in an effort to improve my linguistic skills, and that worked for a while, but in the years since, living among English speaking peers, my tongue has again gained weight. Lisaany tageel, as we would say in Sudan. My tongue is heavy, unable to lightfootedly flit across the syllables like someone for whom Arabic is home. Alas.

Speaking of the diaspora, I enjoyed reading this piece on the hidden worth of the global African community.

Diaspora-ness is a tricky state of being. In their adopted homes, diasporas are referred to as ‘immigrants’, a term that often elicits a sense of unwelcomeness. In their original homes they are thought of as ‘runaways’ who want the best of both worlds – the first to trace their roots when it’s convenient and exotic but also the first to pack and leave when the going gets tough.

But these same diasporas, by some miracle, are expected to make a contribution both in their adopted and original homes. Hypocrisy arises because no matter how much their adopted homes look down on them, for instance, they do not waive their taxes. And even when they are referred to as ’them’ in the third person, the original homes do not refuse their remittances. By their adopted and original ‘homes’ alike, diasporas are treated as resources that should be carefully tapped rather than embraced.

Indeed! I’ve often thought of myself as a ‘resource’ for my land of residence to tap into, rather than as a human being with an inherent right to exist comfortably in a space. That is in no small part due to the lived diasporic reality, but it is also a frame of mind that I haven’t found the courage yet to challenge. Perhaps because it hits right in gut of an insecurity many of us share: where do we actually have the right to belong?

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