You or someone you know might help out for a food bank in your free time. Every so often you come across situations where it’s relevant to bring it up, like when someone makes a bold statement saying that the homeless are homeless because they don’t put any effort into their lives. Other times, it might simply be because you wanted to share the pleasure you feel from being able to help. Either way, next thing you know, you’re having to justify your reasons for bringing it up because you were labelled a show-off as a result. You eventually get tired of this trope and realise it’s got nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own insecurities or assumptions, so you learn to brush off these remarks. A day comes when you actually find yourself mentioning it as a boast, only to be told not to show off. They could tell you this in the utmost grace and respect or not, but your habit and past lead you to brush it off and label them insecure like everyone else you’ve dealt with.
Anything we say or do can often be abused. Regardless of whether or not you believe in God, there was something once said by a scholar of Islam which expresses this concept well,
He who thinks that he is free from the criticism of people is a madman, for even the Lord of the Worlds Himself has been wrongfully criticised.
You can have two people advocate for compassion, except one does so out of fear of steering through confrontation, while the other does so to encourage the discussion of doing good. This is equally as likely for the other side of the extreme: someone might advocate for being truthfully blunt because they’re tired of the complacency they’ve seen, while another does so because they don’t want to sow distrust through webs of lies. You might’ve figured out where I’m taking this blog for today. There’s this balance we want to consider where we want to be able to simultaneously take sincere advice and protect ourselves from being corrupted by insincere ones.
I find it’s helpful to be clear on what you stand for and the habits you create to make sure you’re in line with those beliefs. Let’s take that example of compassion for a moment. You have the knowledge you need to know the significance of compassion in making it easy to encourage the good, but it makes a huge difference when you’ve created a habit for yourself to always allow for second chances, to regularly give gifts to both those you know and those you don’t know. When these habits are in place, you get a sense of when exceptions can appear, like when you’re already occupied with supporting someone elsewhere to be able to take something else, without compromising one or both tasks. Regardless of whether someone was to tell you to be compassionate in order to take advantage of you or to remind you to give the best of yourself to give back to the community, you now have a set of standards to fall back to. Give gifts, then when you find yourself short on resources and have to rebuild, you’ll allocate it to those you feel need it most, as well as those who you’ve been neglecting. With this in mind, even the corrupted pieces of advice support you as reminders because each time you went through a purification process of sorts. What’s more, you’re less likely to justify the wrong you’ve done because you focused on what more you can continue to do.
That’s pretty much what I felt like sharing for today. There’s probably more like having to come to terms with the negative associations that’ve been inadvertently attached to being told to be compassionate for example, but as usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts in general about how we might make that distinction between sincere and insincere advice anyhow.
I’d have thought that, more often than not, it’s better to be direct. However, there are times when it’s better to be indirect because it allows you to build on something that allows you to better understand what you were originally after. If I’m going to say that though, I may as well share my thoughts on how to tell when one is possibly more appropriate in any given situation.
The Normal and Abnormal
Let’s start with a quote from The Art of War by Sun Tzu, under the chapter of the spirit of the troops, to set the scene for each side,
In battle, the enemy is engaged with the normal and defeated with the abnormal force.
In a more general sense, you’ll only know if something is possible when you try and try again, but you’re more likely to succeed by being smart about it. Alternatively, the determination we show to get somewhere can be considered a direct means to tackling a situation, while the knowledge we have on the matter indirectly supports the cause.
Balancing the Two
If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know that I tend to emphasise balance and moderation in everything we do. This case is no different. If I want to learn to be patient with the people around me, I have to make every effort to resist the temptation to rush into something and think my actions through, but it’s so vague that I don’t know where to start. When I try and try again, I’ll fail at first. In time though, I have the potential to learn patience through trial and error, through the knowledge I gain as those mistakes happen. Alternatively, I could do my research from the very beginning and get a sense of what’s helped someone to become patient, so I’ve got a clear plan of action from the get-go. Then again, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, so when I fail, I have to be prepared to try again. When I lack determination, I give up too easily; when I lack knowledge, I don’t only fail at what I do, but I fail to learn from it.
Let’s take another example. You fall out with management at work. Your first and only act is to take to Twitter and complain about it and how it could’ve been better. Everyone might agree with you, what you say might have even been genius, but management didn’t hear it, so nothing actually happens. If they come to hear about what you’ve been saying behind their backs, you’ve created a rift of distrust between you and them, you look weak because you couldn’t bring yourself to talk to them when the opportunity was always right there. On the other extreme, you could try to talk to management directly, but you’re always doing so kicking and screaming because you came to think this was the only way anyone would ever listen to what you have to say. Nobody wants to listen to you like that. Your best bet is to aim to get on better terms with management and the people around you in general, mindful of how you do so.
Seeds of Certainty
All this said, there’s still the matter of my thoughts on how to tell if you’re better off tackling a situation directly or indirectly. For me, I imagine the default is to be direct and try because that’s the only way you’ll see if anything happens or not. You’re indirect when you’re pretty much clueless and need something concrete to go on. Once you do though, being indirect is about how you approach it. It’s like you realise you don’t get anywhere by kicking and screaming, so you first consider how else you can go about it, then you try that and see where you feel like it went wrong, then rinse and repeat until get to where you want to be. There’s this quote attributed to Thomas Edison I absolutely love,
I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that won`t work.
Sometimes you find something that works, but like the journey from a seed to a rose, you have to be patient. Until then, you’re going from place to place until the flickers of hope–the seeds of certainty–appear.
Assuming you agree, you ever find one approach easier than the other for you? Otherwise, I’d love to hear your thoughts about being direct and indirect in general.
There’s this narration in Islam that I find relevant in many cases to the way it can be misunderstood today. It’s this idea that anyone with even the slightest faith in God will be saved from Hell. This often comes across wrong; among the questions people begin to wonder, someone can ask, is it fair that someone with no faith and does good has no guarantee, while someone with faith and doesn’t do any good will?
I believe that when people ask about this idea, they often have Christianity in mind. I’m not sure how they respond to this, assuming that’s truly what it says, but I thought it’d be interesting to share my thoughts on how this is viewed in Islam and how it’s influenced the way I tackle some situations. For the record, to those who already might know how this can be addressed, I’m aware that this idea can be expressed in terms of the length of stay, but again, this is on my own thoughts in a way that I hope doesn’t necessarily contradict what’s already commonly known.
The Source I’m Going on
Let’s start basic and share an actual saying that confirms this idea in Islam,
Once Mu’adh was along with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as a companion rider.
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Mu’adh bin Jabal.”
Mu’adh replied, “Labbaik and Sa’daik [I’m here for you], Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)!”
Again, the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Mu`adh!”
Mu’adh said thrice, “Labbaik and Sa’daik, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)!”
Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “There is none who testifies sincerely that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger except that Allah will save him from the Hellfire.”
Mu’adh said, “Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ)! Should I not inform the people about it so that they may have glad tidings?”
He replied, “When the people hear about it, they will solely depend on it.”
Then Mu’adh narrated the above-mentioned Hadith just before his death, being afraid of committing a sin.
Whenever I read this, I’m often more interested in what was said after the lesson about faith, rather than the idea that faith itself will save someone from Hell.
“When the people hear about it, they will solely depend on it.”
In response, the person who heard it chose to withhold the knowledge until his dying moments, in fear of having committed a sin.
In Islam, it’s wrong to withhold knowledge on one hand. On the other, the religion acknowledges that some types of information can do more damage than good when presented to different people. In the Art of Thinking Clearly, Rolf Dobelli describes a phenomenon coined as information bias, “If you have an enemy, give him information”. (Credit where it’s due, but this was him paraphrasing something Nassim Nicholas Taleb said in terms of banking.) From students to experts, there are cases and studies whereby those with less information do better than those who had too much. It’s not that the information was bad, it was that the information was irrelevant, sometimes skewed. For the latter, it’s that you wanted to be fair by presenting both sides of a claim equally, so you present five proofs of equal weight from each side, even though one side had a hundred strong points in total, while the other only had six. In turn, the people think that it’s a matter of perspective, when in reality it’s a matter of exception. Alternatively, it’s when something you know without a doubt to be wrong becomes a trend, except you can’t help but make excuses for it because you struggle to understand how so many people could be so wrong. You might have even taken your time to hear them out and their justifications, only to realise they still make zero sense.
How it Ends
So how does information bias relate to idea of faith leading to paradise in the narration?
No one knows who they’ll turn into tomorrow.
There are instances in which the fiercest enemies of Islam became the strongest advocators for it, alongside stories whereby those thought to be closest to God traded their faith for the life in front of them. Faith wavers day to day–it can climb high on and drop low, or it can disappear altogether if you aren’t careful. When people begin to rely on faith alone, it creates a paradox. God is good and commands the good, so you start to wonder what’s going on when someone who claims to believe in God wants next to nothing to do with Him. In theory, faith guarantees Paradise; in reality, we can never be sure if we’ll end with any. If we genuinely believed that someone we perceived as having passed away with no faith had nothing but good in him, then we wouldn’t have to worry because a God that knows everything would’ve noticed it and granted him his faith somewhere sometime. Everything else is irrelevant in the general sense, so we don’t entertain it any more than it needs to be.
If it ain’t Broke, don’t Fix it
It’s weird in hindsight when you think about it. The narration itself suggests that the idea of even the slightest hint of faith being a guarantee for Paradise shouldn’t be referred to often due to the potential bad it can bring about, but it can be these days. If someone asks me about it, I’ll act almost as if I hadn’t heard what was said and respond with something else. By that, I mean something like encourage doing good deeds, dependant on the context. Someone might think I’m trying to dodge the question, but I’m trying to encourage the expression of faith itself. You could ask me to give you a clear response and so yeah, I’m obliged to tell you in fear of withholding knowledge, only for me to add that no one knows whether such and such–including ourselves–will have it during our dying breaths. It’s not that I’m ashamed of the view the religion holds on faith here, I’m trying to emphasise its preservation in an age where it can be so tempting to throw it away, by encouraging someone to do good deeds.
In general, I’ve learnt that sometimes you need to be a little indirect by building on something that will ultimately help them to understand what they were after in the first place. Sometimes. Addressing something directly can sometimes makes something worse because they don’t yet have what they need to make use of it in a helpful way. In that, I’m reminded of a saying… if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. When someone asks for something that’s potentially bad for them to know about, you can help them to understand by directing them to something better than that. You don’t need to redefine what good they already know in the hopes that it’ll fix everything else they’re a little off on unless those foundations are genuinely missing to begin with. Otherwise, it seems to only confuse and so slow them down.
There’s one final thought I wanted to add that pretty much sums up what I’ve said. It starts with another narration,
A man asked the Prophet (ﷺ) about the Hour (i.e., Day of Judgment) saying, “When will the Hour be?”
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “What have you prepared for it?”
The man said, “Nothing, except that I love Allah and His Apostle”.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “You will be with those whom you love”…
A man once asked a question no one except God knows the answer to, so he was instead asked to consider whether he had enough to get him through it. He responds with something that suggests a passion to do what’s good, so we leave it at that and give him the good news.
I feel like writing about something nostalgic today, something from way back I can’t help but smile at when I think about. Maybe I’ll add a thought or two eventually, maybe not. Regardless, I’m grateful for these moments and feel like writing this specific story up today.
So my brother-in-law is great, he somehow manages to make my life more chaotic than it already can be. However, he lives in Malaysia and I’m in the UK, so I don’t get to see him too often. I got the chance to stay in Malaysia for a few months and one day during Ramadan (30 days of fasting), he begins to wonder if there’s a way we could grab the coconuts from this really tall coconut tree nearby. It’s like two to three stories high. I take a glance at it and I’m thinking like, oh no, this looks like it can be climbed. Oh no because when something can be climbed, I’m game. I’m walking on the streets with my family, I’ll whoever’s next to me know when something looks like it can be climbed. I go to a bridge, I have to resist the temptation to climb the structure. However, this time, this time, my brother-in-law wanted coconuts to break fast with, so now I have an excuse to climb. I tell him to give me some time and I’ll see if I can climb it to the top. Oh yeah, it’s on.
The Rise and Fall
I take out a little time every few days to attempt to climb the tree to no success. It’s Ramadan and I’m fasting, so for the most part, religion was the priority, this was more the stuff I got into as I took breaks. I get like halfway and realise I don’t have enough stamina to last the rest of the way, so I drop back down. It’s maybe like a couple of weeks in and I notice some of the leaves hanging down and can’t help but wonder how strong the leaves are. I start tugging at it and notice that these leaves are incredibly strong. I try hanging off of it and it’s even managing to support my weight! What if–entertain me for a little–what if, I used the leaves as a rope?
I’m climbing up using the leaves as rope. I manage halfway again, surprise surprise, the leaf snaps. I’m falling down and my instincts take over. There’s actually a second leaf hanging by, and I race to stretch my hands out to it. I don’t know how, but I barely just managed to hold onto it. Phew. Snaps. Down I go again.
I fall on my head and back onto the grass, rolling in pain. Fortunately for me, the injury wasn’t too bad, it was my confidence that took the biggest hit. I roll to my side, only to find a rock somewhere between the size of my fist to my head, like a metre away from my head. I’m thinking to myself, if I’d fallen onto that, the fall could’ve been fatal. I needed some time to recover from the injury anyhow, but I knew I was now afraid to climb it again. I made some minor attempts to climb it every so often to quell the fear, but for the most part, I’m done.
Hold up, My In-Law Swoops in with His Own Genuis Idea
This isn’t over. It’s almost the end of Ramadan and my brother-in-law gets this crazy idea. What if, what if, we tape together two or three makeshift rods around the house, then fish the coconuts out of the tree?
I like the sound of that, I’m all in.
His nephew is nearby. He’s like, you’re all crazy, I want nothing to do with this. Anyways, me, my brother-in-law and his nephew go out and spend a good number of hours trying to fish out the coconuts, only managing five altogether. We bring out the ladders, change angles, take turns to fish it out, our drive rekindled every hour or so with every coconut that falls. As time goes by, I’m staring at the tree, slowly building my confidence to climb it again. I use the ladder to get halfway, climb the rest. Alhamdulillah, coconuts! Sweet, beautiful coconuts! There’s still the matter of getting down, but let’s forget about that part. Afterwards, well, my brother-in-law is the better cook, so he prepares them and we’re able to break our fast with it.
I decided to start using Facebook again a few months ago and since then, my account seems to have devolved into what is now purely my cooking adventures. I’m not sure how it got like that.
Anyhow, cooking isn’t easy for me. Actually, cooking may be one of the most difficult skills for me to get into. It’s not the cooking itself I’m bad at, it’s everything else that comes with it. This isn’t an exhaustive list of the obstacles I face, but I’ll give you an idea of what I mean when I say I’m bad at everything but the cooking itself. Ingredients come in lists; instructions come with numbers. For most people, this makes cooking easy enough for people to make sense of. Not me though. To me, a list still comes across like a book with no chapters or page numbers. It’s like a never-ending paragraph, which makes referencing a nightmare to do. If I were to go through every ingredient in the list one by one, I’d still manage to miss something by the end of it all.
I kept at it though. There’s this drive I have which makes me want to cook. I have a general tendency to assume I’m on my own with everything in life, yet I’ll act and move as if I were in a team. In terms of cooking, I assume that no one’s going to be there to cook for me, that I’ll have to go out of my way to cook for everyone else. In reality though, both my wife and I cook, and I’ll encourage my children to join in and help. Not only that, but both my wife and mother are amazing cooks, so I’m taking advantage of this and taking lessons from them when I can, so I kept at it again and again whenever I had the will and time to try.
As the years went by, I came to pick up on a few personal tricks to make cooking easier for myself. When learning about myself, I learnt that bright colours make something stand out. If I placed a box near the front door and left all the stuff I needed to go out with there, I was more likely to notice it and so less likely to forget anything as I went out. I’ve been trying to cook for like more than ten years. Meanwhile, I probably learnt about the use of colours to make something stand out for myself about half that time ago. However, it only occurred to me within these most recent months that I could’ve used this to my advantage whenever I was taking note of a recipe.
As an Example, this is what I do now
Instruction No. 1
Add sugar, baking powder and salt to a bowl. Right. Make some space in the recipe book for the ingredients at the beginning, then write down the this first instruction in green. Sugar, baking powder and salt: have its details written in the ingredients in green too.
Instruction No. 2
Make a well, adding oil, egg yolks, water and extracts to the well in that order. Okay, sure. I’ll colour code this is instruction and its related ingredient in blue.
The Actual Cooking
This goes on and on till I have my recipe; I write down some notes as to what to expect and tips to make my life easier with it, voilà!
I get around to cooking, I collect every ingredient together, then put them away as I’m done with them. It feels so good to see every ingredient going away one by one, the clutter getting less and less.
I Feel like All I did was Show Up to Things Until I had my Ah-ha Moments
For more than ten years, it didn’t occur to me that, to make a set of instructions easy for me to view, all I had to do was have a recipe colour coded. Until that point, they looked like essays to me. All of a sudden, cooking feels so much easier. Let’s be fair, I shouldn’t ever expect a single person to have thought to tell me to write my recipes this way. For many, this wasn’t an issue for them, which I don’t blame them for. They might even give me a weird look and tell me it’s a waste of time the moment they see my recipes written this way, it’s not necessary for them. For me though, it means so much. Bit by bit, I learnt stuff about my life which would help make it easier to cook and vice versa.
It’s funny how this all turned out. The tips I needed to become more confident in cooking actually had little to do with cooking, a lot to do with knowing myself.
Have you ever had that sort of moment? Like a moment where the solution was something so far off from what you expected it to be.
Oohhhh, do you have any cooking stories or aims to share either?
I’m the reserved type, as in solitude is my preference. Regardless, I did what I felt I could from early on to mingle with and get to know everyone around me. Among my attempts to do this, it was that I went out of my way to visit family friends in my free time and was thankfully able to get along with everyone in general. I’d like to believe it helped that they were happy to know I visited to begin with. As a teen still trying to make sense of everything around me, I couldn’t help but pay attention to the parent-child dynamics whenever I did. Let’s say on one hand, I could feel the children sulk when their parents banned them from certain websites for example, but I guess I was mature enough to see why the parents were so cautious of letting them access those sites to begin with.
Eventually, I got married in my early twenties. I was young enough to still relate and get along with the students around me, but being married meant I could further relate to and get along with other couples and families better too. Sometimes I got to see how these relationships between the parents and children changed as time went on. I learnt stuff. Even though there are other stories I could bring up which bring about a similar point, there’s one in particular that hits hard. It helped me to understand the concept of respect so much clearer, I’m not sure how I could’ve had it shown to me any easier. Let’s start then.
(As usual, out of respect, the conditions won’t be one for one.)
Like Father, Like Son
I’m away from home, visiting a city I was once familiar with and out with friends. You know how rumours happen. You might be lying down, minding your own business, then you hear chatter of such and such. In this case, it was to do between a father and son. Whatever. At that moment in time, I couldn’t tell how much of it was truth, no reason to think I could make it better if it were true, seemed more likely I would’ve made it worse by interfering in someone’s life simply because of a rumour I heard in passing, so I didn’t entertain it. Coincidentally though, while out and about, I bumped into the son of the supposed conflict. He couldn’t help it, he absolutely had to complain about everything that’d happened between him and his dad. You could tell from his voice the pain bleeding out as he described what he called a history of neglect and manipulation, how the dad became distant when the mother passed away and placed every responsibility on him. He pointed out this moment where he was stressed out of his mind with his upcoming exams and how his dad didn’t care to ask except to check if his grades were okay and how he could study better. Apart from that, he argued his dad only ever wanted him around as child labour who could do everything he didn’t want to have to do as a parent. He’d had it in mind that decided enough was enough, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with his dad anymore and was going to leave the home and as far from his dad the instant he got the chance.
Years went by, the son had left the city. Eventually I had the chance to talk to the dad in one of my visits. We’re catching up with each other’s lives and at one point end up touching on his wife’s passing. He became sad. He began to talk about how they used to complement each other, how she was everything he wasn’t and vice versa. He talked about how his wife was always the one who was better at comforting the son, but she always struggled with teaching their son the lessons he needed to get through life, which he was always great at. Right after she died, he came into a number of financial difficulties and had to double down on earning an income, all while struggling with the loss of his wife and the impact it had on his son. He did everything he could, but he’d always come home tired. Sometimes he’d arrive home late at night simply to collapse on his bed with the house a mess and tell himself he’d clean the mess in the house eventually, only to find his son had gone ahead and cleaned it all for him, so he was thankful. He ends up pointing out a moment in which he’s particularly struggling and decides he can’t do this alone anymore, so decides to make some house rules for himself and his son. He tells his son he’s a responsible adult now, that it might be worth cementing some of the roles he has around the house. That’s the moment everything blew up and they had a huge argument. He mentioned how from then on, they became distant and stopped talking altogether.
You’d think that this in itself had so much to reflect on already, but none of this had taken the spotlight for me. Stories are difficult enough to sift through, each side has their own bias to account for if you want to get a clear sense of what’d actually happened and how every moment lead to what it did, but that’s something else. Strangely enough, I didn’t actually prod into either of their lives at any point, they simply offloaded when they saw me with little to no input from me. What truly hit hard for me was what he said in hindsight, after having told me everything that’d happened from his side. He said he still feels angry about his son’s reaction, but at the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to be angry at his son. He said he knew him too well for that; he could see himself in his son. His son saw life as a set of absolutes, so as to say parents are parents, that they shouldn’t fail as parents because they’re parents. All he could bring himself to accept at the end of the day was that his son was a mirror of himself; if he were in his shoes, he would’ve acted the same way.
Acting with Dignity
In this, I better learnt to see the nuances of respect, of patience. Heated conflicts often turn into a struggle to win, but that often means someone has to lose. Not to say that it’s always the fault of the children, but like when a son or daughter outright rebels against a parent, they sometimes try so hard to not be their parents, they end up either falling into the other extreme or failing to recognise themselves repeating the flaws of the parent. If you intend to kill off everything that makes up the other side, you can end up destroying part of yourself too. If you were to insist on an argument about justice versus compassion, only for one side to get the upper hand, the other is often sacrificed in turn, so we’re once again in a matter of extremes. We’re either punishing someone for a mistake out of their control or letting them go for an error they deliberately neglected. I don’t think extremes aren’t something we want to get into. Most times, I get the idea that someone intends to fight, they often intend to destroy too, but this backfires when the other side actually has some meaning to it. There’s this skill in being mindful of what you fight for. We sometimes get into the habit of believing that everything has to be fought for, only to miss that golden opportunity for us to understand one another and smooth out the wrinkles. The idea is only to tackle what’s a hundred percent bad while doing what you can to preserve the good associated with it, otherwise you’re ultimately going to end up harming yourself as collateral.
A Possibility for Prevention
There’s this temptation to view every disagreement as conflict without need. It’s like a parent constantly watching everything you do like a hawk, out of fear you’ll fall into error–it often backfires by stressing the child and prevents them from maturing. When it comes to my thoughts on the prevention of needless conflicts, well, I’ve mentioned before and earlier in this post about how the observation has helped me to understand its possible substitute, patience. Maybe it’s worth viewing the concept of patience in relation to respect. When I say respect, I’m referring to the second type of respect that a simple google web search defines it by,
“Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.”
The tempting option can be to straight up tell someone they’re wrong, slap them in the face with proofs and then insist they be stripped of any credibility and authority before they even have a chance to respond. Then again, you could instead ask them how they came to believe what they did, why you believe and feel differently, and allow them an opening with which they can mend themselves–assuming it turns out that they were actually in the wrong to begin with. In doing so, everyone has the chance to be develop, nothing good has to be lost, all while the bad is done away with. In doing so, you’ve preserved their dignity and yours. That attempt to preserve is what leads me to call it as aspect of patience. Afterwards, they can then either choose to build on it or discard it to their own loss. You might not be able to influence that choice any further, but at least now you can’t be faulted for doing what you could to bring out the best in everything.
With all this said, I’m reminded of this verse I’d say is fitting for how I ended everything on,
And [the servants of The Most merciful are] those who do not bear witness to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.
When we look at how art is defined, we find it’s about how we go about expressing ourselves. Although what may first come to mind is of paintings and the like, so is writing or acting an art, or even in matters like listening. I believe the relationship art has to knowledge is pretty much like considering the significance of example to truth… I’ll show you what I mean.
Everything we know can be considered in terms of the foundations we set ourselves on. Everything else can only be as strong as they are; when they’re weak, so too is everything else.
If you were to browse through the posts I write, you’ll probably notice that many of them are expressed through Islam. Believe or not though, I mostly write assuming no one has any interest in learning about the religion. I figured this idea would make for an interesting post, so I’m going to take you behind and scenes and get a little into what I account for when I write.
My Intention for Writing
Let’s start with the basics. I grew up in the UK, so I’m grateful to the country for allowing me to stay. I’m also grateful to my religion for all its taught me. Though the majority of people in the country aren’t followers of the religion, I insist on giving something back. On the other hand, credit where credit is due, so I’m not about to pretend that everything I do has nothing to do with my religion. One day, I decided to start a blog sharing my thoughts on whatever I feel like in the moment. The purpose of my blog isn’t actually to talk about religion, I simply so happen to love writing about it. However, I figured I could give back to the country I’m living in by writing about the religion in a way where absolutely anyone–even those who hate the religion–has the opportunity to draw some good from it, even if all it did was make them think a little more about their own lives.
The Effect this has on what I Write
Let’s say I’m looking back on my life and how my prayers gave me a sense of peace and clarity in my life. Whether I was at the beach or under pressure to study, I threw it all out my mind and focused on my prayer what I was able when the time to pray came. Eventually, I realised that my prayers made sure I was never carried away by life’s rush in all its forms. It reminded me that the pleasures of the beach were fleeting; my life isn’t defined by an exaggerated dedication to a successful career, even when it felt like everyone around me prided themselves on it. When it came round to writing something on my blog, I’d write all this, then go on to consider how life can feel like it wants us to run everywhere and in every direction. I might go on to talk about how crucial it is to set up moments of mindfulness throughout the day, moments that remind us not to be slaves to everything around us. If I wanted to, I could’ve then begun to consider the difference between prayer and mindfulness, but believe me, this can drag on and on. If I told you how I believe prayer had an advantage against mindfulness in general, I could as easily go on to simplify the idea to fit anyone, to which you could once again ask about the nuances in taking it religiously. Eventually, you have an essay.
I don’t want to write an essay.
It’s interesting to consider the way our environment affects how we go about doing something. If I were to move to a country with a Muslim majority, I’d then be grateful to them for allowing me to stay there at the moment in time, so I’d probably start to talk more often in terms of pure religion. To some extent, I believe each of us has something external that affects our how. You could attempt to accommodate for literally every circumstance, but you’d have to be aware of every single circumstance out there first, then go on to define every exception in everything you say. This isn’t realistic, nor is it necessary… unless you’re writing for academic purposes, but then that’d mean you’re no longer writing for your regular everyday Joe, which is a paradox.
I’m getting off topic. When I’m grateful for something, I feel the need to give back. That’s how you make sense of the way I write.
That’s it for me for now. How about you, how much of the environment do you think affects what you write about or do?
In a way, you can pretty much consider this a follow-up to what I’d written on patience a couple of posts back. Back then, I’d mostly written out some of my thoughts on what brings a people together, as well as what separates them from a religious perspective. In short, it’s that patience and conflict can be considered at odds with each other: patience helps to bridge differences, needless conflicts can exaggerate them further. I wanted to take this a little further today and look towards what makes up these differences we have.
A Set of Signs
Like last time, this part looks into it from a religiously technical perspective, then switches it up into something simpler and gets less riddly. (Yes, I understand that’s not a word.) Let’s get to it then.
And We have not revealed to you the Book except for you to make clear to them that wherein they have differed, and as guidance and mercy for a people who believe.
If you were to consider the life that grows as a result of the rain, it’s diverse. Whether we’re talking fruits or flowers or trees, there’s a lot. And yet, they all grow from the rain.
The water can be said to be the blessing of God with which life thrives and the life that grows can be said to be all the different types of good growing in turn. The differences we have can be thought of as something similar. It’s as if our differences have a single hinge that can be said to link us all. If two people are at opposite ends with how they believe children should be raised, the link might express itself as a common wish to have them grow up in the best possible way.
The Cattle that Feast
As we start to read the next verse, we find ourselves introduced to the cattle that eat from the life that grows,
And indeed, for you in grazing livestock is a lesson. We give you drink from what is in their bellies–between excretion and blood–pure milk, palatable to drinkers.
Sometimes we go through trials we didn’t want, only to find we come out of it as better people. All the sweat, blood and tears can bring about a version of us we didn’t believe was possible before. Different people undertake different journeys, each giving them a perspective we may not be even remotely familiar with. It’s not that they’re wrong, sometimes it’s that their response reflects their journey and what they’ve come to learn.
Alternatively, sometimes we get a little lost. The opportunities pass by, but they might be hidden behind the immediate attractions in life and our desire to run after them. We might feel the need to prove ourselves through our children or find an excuse to reduce the time we spend on them so we can spend more on ourselves. On one hand, we want to give our children the best shot at life, but our own lives get in the way instead. The life itself is pure, what we make of it might not always be the case. We eventually have to make a choice.
And of the fruits of the palms and the grapes– you obtain from them intoxication and goodly provision; most surely there is a sign in this for a people who ponder.
Amongst all the differences we have are some shared truths that stand tall. When it came to the example of the palms and the grapes, I likened them to choices in which we can do good or bad. Now it’s about the differences that appear as we strive for the same end. Many of us can agree that everyone should have the right to an education, what we believe is significant for them to learn might vary or suit different circumstances. If a parent is skilled in design, it makes sense for some of this knowledge to be what he or she decides to pass onto their children, but this won’t turn out well for another parent who has zero experience in that field.
The Source of Knowledge
No matter what, the idea remains the same in every example. It needed God for everything to thrive,
And Allah created you, then He will take you in death. And among you is he who is reversed to the most decrepit age so that he will not know after knowledge anything. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Competent.
We began with a set of verses talking about the differences we have in our understanding, yet we end with a reminder that these differences ultimately came from what God taught us. When I likened the rain to be like the blessings of God, we might now say that the blessing itself was the knowledge we were given to make the best of.
We each have a choice to do good or bad, but there’s this additional decision we have to make relating to the good we’d like to pursue. If someone decides to pursue business, another pursues medicine, and another pursues agriculture, I believe it’s inappropriate for either side to argue about which field is better, regardless of whether one actually was ultimately better than the other. This applies even to religious knowledge for those who are religious–it’s called arrogance yo. Money, health, food, morals–if any of them are absent, the rest is held back because we’re now having to divert our focus into whatever was missing. When they instead support each other, they cover for one another, they allow each other to be the best they can be without worry. When the people have a genuine interest in doing good, they’ll run towards wherever however they can once it becomes clear to them.
The way I see it, each of us has a direction, something we’re pursuing. Of them, some are actually striving towards the same end, whether or not we notice. Like you don’t need to be in specific career to be family orientated. When that’s the case, we can choose to look at their flaws, or we can instead choose to encourage their strengths through our own. Sure, we won’t always be there for them, but we’re not saying they can’t fill in the blanks once we’re gone either. Who knows, maybe they’ll come to recognise what we know exactly because we were an example of the good to be found there.
If you read my post about my attempt to blog through my phone for last month, then have I got a surprise for you today. I’m going to paint a picture of the month in an entirely different light. I wouldn’t fault you if I end up making you believe everything I said about last month was a lie.
My Swimming Journey
Last year, my wife told me about a woman she knew around her 60’s who would go swimming in a lake at 6 in the morning every day, even during winter. I was not only inspired to aim for something similar (that is so cool!), but ashamed to know I was afraid to go for anything less than a super hot shower.
Come this most recent summer, I made it my aim to get into the habit of swimming regularly in a lake, so that I could have a shot at getting used to swimming in the winter and so hopefully turning this into a regular form of exercise too. (When I said summer, in reality it seemed to only be during August.) Fortunately for me, I’ve now got a habit of journaling my days and so I’m better able to tell you how I progressed throughout the month.
Attempt Number 1
I’m not going to lie. Massive failure. I didn’t go in.
Attempt Number 2
20 minutes in the lake. 15 minutes slowly and painstakingly submerging myself in the water, 5 minutes questioning my life.
Attempt Number 3
Although I aimed to stay in for at least half an hour, I only lasted 20 again. However, it only took me 5 minutes to entirely submerge myself into the water, 15 minutes swimming.
Attempt Number 4
I lasted 40 minutes alhamdulillah. In my previous attempts, I could only go into the water once. The instant I got out of it, I was too afraid to get back in. The biggest success here is the fact I was able to repeatedly get in and out of the water at will, 5 times altogether. Although I don’t seem to have written about it, I believe it was after this attempt I noticed I was beginning to have cool to cold showers.
Attempt Number 5
This was scary, like what was I thinking?! I got on an inflatable boat with a cousin, rowed to the middle of the lake, then swam there for a bit. At its shortest, that lake had to be about at least a mile in diameter. I also had someone ride a bit out into the lake, then swam to it from shore. Apart from that, I was mostly close to the shore. Additional win, but I was able to skip the slow burn at the beginning and get straight into it. Altogether, I was swimming for about an hour.
Attempt Number 6
After the last swim, I took this a little easy and swam for about half an hour. The water was colder than usual anyhow, so I made it my aim to get used to going in and out of the water, which went well. I managed 5 times, but each time, I did go swimming and began to dive under too.
All in All
That was all I managed for the month in terms of swimming. My aim now is to see how far I can continue this habit into autumn and winter, but no pressure. I’m also excited to attempt a swim from one end to the other at its shortest length. No pressure for that either. As nice as that’d be, it’s not a priority in my life, it’s more of a bonus than anything. However, especially given how swimming is one of the more encouraged forms of physical activity in Islam, it’s definitely something I’m hoping to get into.
Alhamdulillah, I’d say it went well. I kept at it, made some progress, raised some questions about my life decisions when I realised I was swimming in near-open waters, then came out of it a different person.
Now, how did do this as I blogged on a phone throughout the month? Maybe I learnt to type with one hand as I paddled with the other. Maybe it was actually the friend I went out with who typed it all as I told him what to write. That’d totally explain why my writing style was so different. Yeah, I’d say the second one makes more sense. Swimming in a lake is scary, 10/10. Much lessons, very lessons.
That’s it from me for now. Is there anything you learnt last month you’d like to share from yours?