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).

1162EA67-49FD-4B49-A402-0754D0DDAD13.JPG

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

C5881337-BFED-4CE8-8ECA-BC28F4E1B441.JPG

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!

FullSizeRender.jpg

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!

***

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?

***

May Musings - 10

Today’s been a quiet day, well suited for the pace of this break and allowing for moments of reflection. It reminded me of the idea that the way we perceive time isn’t in the discrete seconds, minutes and hours of a clock, but in ‘experiences’. This explains why a holiday in a new environment can feel like it goes on for ages, while we can barely remember the discrete days of going to work, or school - they all blur into one ‘general’ memory.

***

Connected to the piece I shared yesterday referencing men and their lack of close friends, I found this article on Venture Capitalists backing companies that purport to have a mission around ‘creating connection’ and battling loneliness. Capitalism hates a vacuum, indeed.

As someone who has moved to three different cities in the past six years, I’m familiar with the challenge of moving to a new environment, and the difficulties associated with building close friendships, the kind that truly sustain you. To think that one could monetize that process seems… not only concerning, but in some ways missing the point of what friendships are built on: vulnerability, authenticity, respect.

The piece does differentiate between those who are temporarily lonely and those who are chronically so. Those who are temporarily so are looking for jump-starts to connections (something that is truly helpful when relocating to a city, especially as a freelancer without a pre-set social group to join), while the chronically lonely may find the process of overcoming social pain excruciating.

Placing someone whose brain is in overdrive into a social setting with strangers “could actually make things worse,” Cole says. These companies are attempting to address a clear societal need, but “we get confused by the hunger and what it’s for.”

Reading articles like this often deeply saddens me, as it seems like a uniquely unfair affliction in a world full of people. I often wonder how we can better design our societies so folk do not find themselves chronically alone, and question how such a cultural change would occur: is it about legislative change (don’t think so), economic change (potentially, given captialism’s role in our obsession with productivity above all, including relationships) or even changes in the religious institutions and expectations in a society? Bear in mind that these reports are often Anglo-centric. A cursory look online unearthed a few interesting reads on the capitalistic and Western nature of this ‘modern’ day phenomenon:

One of the more insightful pieces was on a favourite website of mine, Aeon:

The contemporary notion of loneliness stems from cultural and economic transformations that have taken place in the modern West. Industrialisation, the growth of the consumer economy, the declining influence of religion and the popularity of evolutionary biology all served to emphasise that the individual was what mattered – not traditional, paternalistic visions of a society in which everyone had a place.

The author raised an interesting point though that I hadn’t really considered (highlighting my own blind spot!)

Presuming that loneliness is a widespread but fundamentally individual affliction will make it nearly impossible to address.

…loneliness can exist only in a world where the individual is conceived as separate from, rather than part of, the social fabric. It’s clear that the rise of individualism corroded social and communal ties, and led to a language of loneliness that didn’t exist prior to around 1800.

It would appear that ultimately, the way we currently organise ourselves in the West will continue to produce chronically lonely people. The focus on the individual is damaging us: the individual as separate from the social fabric, as wholly responsible for and focused on themselves alone, and as primarily economic-value-producing assets - this individual is not set up for success.

Ah. It makes me grateful for having grown up in a household of religious and communal obligation (despite my grumbling at the time!) for at least I understood I had a place.

The question becomes, how does one maintain that place when you move? When you leave those bonds of community and obligation to a place nobody knows - or cares - who you are?

A question for another day, perhaps. In the meantime, enjoy this pic of me in my new hijabi hat: the Papakhi, the woolen hat worn by men in the Caucasus. Whaddya reckon? ;)

Not my actual hair.

Not my actual hair.

May Musings - 09

1B08C6B8-7185-49E6-9C0A-F3883BD0F756.JPG

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 - 08

Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi, Georgia

I write to you from the city of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. I’m on a rare excursion to a new country for the main purpose of pleasure rather than business: a privilege I treasure, Alhamdulilah, and one that I am lapping up with rich delight. It’s my first trip to a post-Soviet nation; an introduction to a whole new history which I know embarrassing little about. I look forward to that changing, inshallah!

Tonight won’t be the night I write about Georgia, however. Partially, this is due to only really having spent a few hours walking around the city, and what does one know of a place after only a few hours bar superficial observations like ‘people stare a lot’? I mean, girl - when you’re wearing bright mustard trousers and white sunglasses, what do you expect?

No. Today I write about two things on my mind. One, this brilliant article on the Castor Semenya case, written by a woman who formerly raced against her:

I competed for Australia in the 800m against Semenya at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Today I am convinced that the court of arbitration for sport’s decision to endorse rules aimed at excluding Semenya and other women athletes with naturally high levels of testosterone is the wrong one.

The author talks about how she initially was in favour of the decision to exclude Semenya, but later changed her mind, as a result of her sociology studies, an education in the history of these sorts of exclusions, and befriending women who have naturally high testosterone. Key was this final point, and it reminded me that nothing creates empathy and the potential to change minds like the deep simplicity of human connection. She goes on to say:

As a sociologist, I have now spent several years immersed in this  issue, interviewing elite track-and-field stakeholders from around the  world including athletes, coaches, officials, managers, team staff and  media personnel. In their accounts I have seen so many echoes of my own  experience in Berlin: an astounding lack of information, an absence of  alternative viewpoints, a fear of the unknown, weak leadership from  national and international governing bodies, and a stubborn refusal to  dig a little deeper and reflect critically on where their views come  from and what biases might be underlying them. The path of least  resistance is to turn away from information and perspectives that might  undermine one’s investment in the simplistic notion that sex is binary  and testosterone is unfair (at least in women).

A worthwhile piece, I thought. Check the rest out here. What do you think about the decision?

***

The second thing on my mind is related to an experience from this afternoon at a local Georgian mosque. I had no idea I’d find one, given the country is largely Orthodox. Perhaps, I thought, they might have a hostile attitude towards other faiths. On the contrary, the mosque had a clear sign pointing to it from the main street in the old town, loud and for all to see. Off I traipsed, hoping to catch the Maghrib prayer before the time was up.

At the front of the mosque stood a man who I immediately understood found me an object of interest. I quickly queried the whereabouts of the women’s wudhu section and after providing directions, he followed up with asking whether or not I was married, where I was from, and whether or not there would be a chance of hanging out the next day. I learnt he was a football player who’d lived in the city for two years, but he had obviously found it tough, especially during a month like Ramadan. So I was sympathetic to the idea that he was looking for friends. But it was also clear that he was interested in more, and this was a sentiment I neither shared, or was willing to entertain.

Herein lies the rub: in a simple world, I’d love to be able to help a Muslim brother out. I’d love to feel like I could make connections with folk on my travels who share the same faith and the same love of a football club (Liverpool!). But so often, I find myself forced to choose between my urge to connect with a fellow from the Ummah and my safety as a woman. Even more tragic is when the individual is a man of colour, as this man was, because my urge is to think well, life in Georgia must be lonely, and it’s hard to find community at the best of times…!

Ah, the interaction underscored the complications of living at intersections. It reminded me why the concept of intersectionality is so useful. Intersectionality names the challenge of say, being an Arab speaking, black, Muslim woman. The culmination of all these identities reveals that an appraisal of the world through each one of those lenses alone is not nearly enough to understand it’s complex lived reality.

***

In the end, I bid the man a farewell and kept him in my prayers. That’s all the capacity I have for the moment. Khair, inshallah. But it’s certainly a stark reminder of how much longer we have to go.

***

The old town

The old town

May Musings - 07

When a person with privilege is uncomfortable talking about the issues in which they enjoy said privilege, it’s known as fragility. For example, white folk uncomfortable talking about race, or able bodied folk uncomfortable discussing disabilities. However, I’ve recently found myself uncomfortable - or somewhat resentful strangely - on all the discussion around the environment, and I’m trying to figure out why. Is it a erroneous sense of entitlement? Is it the privilege of not being directly impacted by the changes? It is a residual annoyance having come from a background of oil and gas, with years of friends telling me what I was doing was evil? I’m not sure.

It’s also not to say my behaviour hasn’t changed - I use less plastic, own a keep cup and metal straw, rarely eat red meat and don’t own a car - so my daily habits reflect an environmentally considerate ethos. But something about the conversation rubs me up the wrong way and I just can’t figure it out. 

Maybe, it’s because it’s a reminder that there’s none to blame but ourselves? 

I promise, I love the environment. Me in Switzerland pretending to be in the Sound of Music. 

I promise, I love the environment. Me in Switzerland pretending to be in the Sound of Music.