The Reset: Writing

Thinking out loud and being very transparent about something I hope to get to the bottom of.

Photo by Nicolas Thomas on Unsplash

Five odd years and counting, but how is it in the service of God?

When I was 15, I discovered and was so content with the power of my words that I believed that I would never truly be able to express the depths of my thoughts and emotions verbally as I could in writing (and this is for someone who was very talkative back then, did public speaking like childsplay and was generally always opining on one thing or another to anyone who would listen).

Now, the opposite has become the case. The more of my own woman I become, the more I am able to capture in words but the less I choose to, at least in words that are appropriate for public consumption. In general, I find I speak less and less, or at least I want to. There is a public record of my stating: ‘I find it hard to capture love in short sentences, so we’ll do without’, and the task at hand was simply describing Dublin. Something I have been obsessed with since adolescence is the limitation of the language of words — I have always wanted to know about the ways we speak without talking: with touch, with eyes, with the heart.

The beauty of life that I experience, can only be left to the statement: subhanAllah. I have at times, a passion for matters that seems inadequate in the written form. But then again, I am a very emotional person, so perhaps my judgement is not authoritative. When I write, you can not see my smile, hear my voice, see my gestures and the ways in which I move my hands when I speak. Then again you also can’t see my distraction, and I can edit out my tangents and self-interruption, or my shyness when it comes to making deep eye contact, and my apologies for my rambling and jumpy trains of thought. I have been told that I am a very intense person, not as much as when I was younger, but still have been told that I am a sight to behold when speaking. I don’t know if my writing is quite the same.

As well as this: my most profound realisations are the most intimate, so where is the line I draw between my public and my private, in my relationship with myself, others, and God? I am scared to one day find myself exposed. And to compound this wee fear, I not only find the language of words at times inferior to the intensity of experience itself but also potentially even misrepresentative of what I wish I could say (but then again, maybe this signals that I have not harnessed language well enough).

There is a constant back-and-forth about where I find myself with my words. So here are all the things that cross my mind with the art of the pen:

Finding My Thing

Last October, when my friends came to visit me during my study abroad period in Andalusia, we went on a day trip to Córdoba and were basking in the Islamic history and the generally amazing culture, architecture and art. We were recommended a particular house by a friend of mine in Granada, and told that the owner was an awesome old lady with a life story like no other, taking her all over the world, and finally settling her in Spain. My dear Palestinian friend discovered that she shares a family name with the old lady, as the silver lining of the diaspora allows, and she finessed our way into a part of the museum off-bounds — the grand lady’s actual house. She made us tea and was a woman of brilliant colour and grace from her clothes, including the beautiful turban on her head, to her speech, laced with wise anecdotes and a deep understanding of the nature of life. She asked us girls what we were up to in life, what our passions were. It came to me, and I said writing. She asked me what I wrote. I answered along the lines of ‘a bit of everything’. She said something like ‘that’s no good, you need to find your thing’. And so I said a bit about what I was writing at the time, cultural pieces, my elementary stuff on identity. She told me the importance of sharing my story, and then our story, the Muslim story. And the conversation veered down memory lane, and she told us a story from her life.

But I don’t know if I agree with her. I am still unsure as to my best mode of expression, care little for conventionality, and have the inspiration to dabble and dabble until I find my thing, which may well be something that is not standard or recognised. Naturally and eventually, I am sure I will find my square root (to put it Nigerian-ly). And I am aware that what I write most easily may not necessarily be my best. And — I don’t really write for any motives greater than those I have created for myself, so for now, why put rules and restrictions on something that can and should be a passion project in my life? From my brief experience with paid contributions to programmes via scripts that become radio segments and features on websites: I am told format, given edits and moulded to fit the style of wherever I am — why would I create these limits on myself? I am on my own terms, budding and exploring. I write what I like. For now.

Whether I Like it or Not

I want to wake up in the morning every day and tell myself ‘my writing is gold’ but I suffer from insane self-criticism. Yet, a piece that I published in spite of myself, venturing into a genre I am not familiar with got picked up and published by a bigger publication. And an article that I had written and thought was shallow ended up supporting my application for an internship. And now, within that internship, my mentor is being forced to ignore my protests and hesitations at the completion of an article that is long overdue, because I cannot accept that the expression and scope of my analysis are adequate. I find myself being scoped out as an upcoming artist in an Irish writers’ journal launch. I find myself asking a question to an academic and rather than receiving an answer, I am told that I should explore the question further by writing an article. This writing thing clings to me whether I like it or not. I sometimes wonder, who am I to say no when my qadr says yes?

I have been told the impact that my words can have on others, which is definitely a gift from Allah. I also know how therapeutic writing can be for me, as I have been writing out my feelings since I was a child — diaries, letters, poems about myself and how I felt, things that, for all my talkativeness, I felt too shy to say our loud. As I might say in Yoruba, my mouth wasn’t worthy enough for the weight of the words I wanted to say, but as I say now in English: my keyboard and pen certainly always have been.

Allah, Glorified and Exalted

So with this gift from Allah of expression, how do I show gratitude? By using it. And not using it any old way, but in a way that pleases Allah. This is by writing things that are positive, and beneficial and encouraging mindfulness of the truth. Words that are comforting, supportive and pleasant for people to read. Though it is hard for me to write about the things I love most (including and especially my life-changing spiritual journey), it is imperative for every single thing I do to contain Islamic principles and implicit or explicit Islamic references. This isn’t hard though, because alhamdulillah it is my lifeblood, and never fails to cross my mind in all I do.

And I also think of a female Muslim writer I know, who offers mentoring for other Muslim women who want to publish their books. She speaks about their writing as a sadaqa jariya, an ongoing charity, the concept of which is a good work left behind after your death that you still get returns from, because people benefit from your legacy. An example would be buying someone a Qur’an, and being rewarded each time they read from it. Or donating a wheelchair to a hospital, and being rewarded every time someone uses it. Another beautiful example is raising a righteous child who continues to pray for you after you pass. There are so many more: planting a tree that gives shade or fruit, teaching someone something that they also go on to teach etc. It is truly a beautiful concept. And the fact that she described writing as something with this kind of profound metaphysical significance, the epitome of the concept of ‘leaving a mark’, reaffirmed to me that everything we as Muslims do, can and should, with the right intentions, be intended as an act of worship dedicated to Allah alone, and benefitting the world and its inhabitants as we do so.

Reality

At the time of writing I have a great running joke in progress: 40+ drafts sitting on Medium alone, and countless others elsewhere. I am not a starter-and-not-finisher really, I just care so much about crafting something that I am wholly proud of and that is as polished as possible and as full of the full expression of what I want to say as possible. I love each piece, as wildly different as they are, and am in a perpetual state of excitement to finish them — I dream of months on end when I hope to be living in freedom from academia and other responsibilities, and believe this will be the writing retreat I so badly need to perfect the things I want to say. But I know my own criteria will never be satisfied because of the way I am. This by no means indicates that I have to lower my standard, or stop attempting to achieve ihsan in all the things I do, but it does mean that I have to let go and let out the words, when they are as close to (inevitably short-lived) satisfaction as possible.

Further, upon reflecting: I have been told many times in my life to start a YouTube channel or podcast, and I see Medium as the YouTube of those who would rather express themselves in the written word. One of many reasons that I never started a YouTube channel was my acceptance that I am not techy enough to have amazing editing, but would also not be content to put out what I would see as subpar content due to the lack thereof. So if the same eternal dissatisfaction (the curse of the human condition) finds its way into my writing, that would mean I do not bake a cake for fear of lumpy icing.

For the most part, I write what I like. I have principles, purpose and standards. What more do I need? I write what I like.

Responsibilities

Meaningful writing is imperative. Meaningful does not always mean serious, but there is no point in writing for the sake of nothing in particular. Whether imparting some subjective personal truth, or proliferating something of wider benefit, there is something about the dispensation of knowledge that is necessary and powerful.

And then the responsibility to put out what is permissible and pure. I take this from the Islamic injunction for Muslims to only eat food that is wholesome, and apply this to writing because what we read is a form of consumption.

Submitting a bio for myself for a literary event, I tied myself to this purpose:

‘Her writing, mainly published on her Medium blog, aims to be inspiring, provocative and inquisitive. Her current creative projects aim to contribute to the unique niche of orthodoxy in contemporary art, with stories and essays drawing from cultural and Islamic tradition.’

In this mind, this is work that holds high quality in both spiritual substance and literary poise. This means a return to fiction, my humble and bohemian origins.

I want my stories to inspire a connection with Allah’s favour, stories that are dramatic in the turnings of hearts of the everyday. The boldness to propose that shock factor need not be the only element that grips us when we read, to show that a slice of life can be profound and beautiful too.

It’s good to be back, and I am glad to be able to put out this awkward and very honest statement of my renewed intentions.

Thank you very much for reading this and sharing in all my thoughts and feelings, and thank you for following, clapping, commenting and supporting in every way.

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Fadilah

Fadilah

183 Followers

A young woman attempting to seek and express reflections of knowledge and truth, trying to find meaning in everything under the sun.