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I’m Angry

I’m angry that I can’t be angry without having some buzzword attached to it (radicalised, victimised, problematised, militarised…). Can’t I just have a bad day?

I’m angry that I went to the ‘Middle East’ section at my favourite bookshop just now and found that as always, half the books were by random white people talking about their experiences of the ‘Orient’ (you know, hot summer nights corresponding from Beirut, chilly days in Tehran doing women’s hair and listening to them complain about their arranged marriages) and the other half were sob stories by formerly privileged locals mourning their former money/privilege/marriage/daughter in their ‘lost’ insert-country-here. I’m angry that I kinda wanted to buy one of them.

I’m angry that the simplest things have to be stated as though they were ‘radical’ truths. (No, this isn’t a war in Gaza, it’s a freaking Apartheid colonising brutaliser, you doofus.)

I’m angry that my parents had to live through Apartheid and wear its scars and still, we’re seeing more of the same, and worse.

I’m angry at how much I secretly enjoyed the ‘Happy Muslims’ video, even as I faux-intellectualised about how silly it all was.

I’m angry about the First Anglo-Afghan War, and the ones that followed. I’m angry about Rorke’s Drift and the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and the Bangladesh Liberation War, but I’m even angrier about the wars that never happened, all those silent, greedy capitulations and lines crossed and uncrossed on the map.

I’m angry that I can’t be angry at my fellow Muslims for fear of selling them out or playing into some broader discourse of how I’m the exception, with my nice university degree and nice professional job and nicely enunciated consonants, and they’re the rule. (I’m angry that occasionally, I even believe it.)

I’m angry at just how nice (i.e. cowardly) I am, how I find myself smiling at the racist jokes people make and only raging internally.

I’m angry that sometimes I don’t even pick up on their racist undertones until after the fact, that I  even find myself silently nodding in agreement when they talk about some ‘crazy Muslims over there’ just because I can’t be bothered and want to get back to my breakfast granola.

I’m angry that I even eat granola for breakfast, that my liberal elite bourgeois Muslim-ness is so embedded into my very skin that all I can do is get angry at the silliest outward manifestations of it, like me eating granola for breakfast.

I’m angry that the best minds in our community are in lifelong prisons of our own making i.e. their law/commerce/medical degrees. I’m angry that I’m one of them (not that I’m one of our best minds, but that I’m a lawyer, of all things to be and do).

I’m angry not at my own privilege, which is God-given, but that I do so little with it. I’m angry that there is so little that I can do with it except talk to people who share it, and that many of those people, myself included, will decry bad adab but not bad politics.

(I’m angry at bad adab too, don’t worry. I’m polite to a fault-see above.)

I’m angry that a Facebook status with a quote from Ilan Pappe or Avi Shlaim is enough to assuage my guilt that I’m alive and going home to my Superchoc Drumstick, and that in Gaza the bodies continue to pile up.

I’m angry that I know so much more about what’s happening in Gaza than I do about the Central African Republic.

But most of all, I’m angry that I’m just not angry at all, that this silly little piece of melodrama was cathartic enough to drain me of my residual anger and that I will very easily, almost seamlessly, go back to work and talking about the faulty air-conditioning in my office.

But really, it does make me shiver…enough to make me put on my $200 suit jacket, that’s for sure.


My Article on Daily Life today!

Dear lovely readers,

If you’re not in Australia, you probably haven’t heard of Daily Life, but they’re tagged as Australia’s number 1 women’s website with over 100,000 unique browsers a day. My article is titled ‘Can (Muslim) Men and Women Be “Just Friends”?’ and I’d love to know what y’all think!

Colonialism Under My Skin

“It has been said that the Cape Malays of the present day bear witness by their appearance to the admixture of European as well as of African blood. Alas, that it should be so! In part, this has arisen from the illicit intercourse between the white superior and the coloured female slave which so often has been noted as one of the most terrible results of slavery..”-Anglican missionary, 1800s

A conversation with my cousin in Pretoria, South Africa just yesterday spoke to me of what it is to be ‘Cape Malay’. I told him how annoying I found it living here in Australia, having to constantly try to explain our ethnic background to people. He quickly replied that he has the same problem, that outside of Cape Town even other South Africans don’t understand or know of Cape Malays. For me, this confirmed yet again what strangers we are: strangers to the continent of Africa and its variety of indigenous peoples, though we know no other place, strangers to the white colonisers who enslaved us, married us, became us, and of course, strangers to ourselves, because all we have are scraps of our own stories.

I could simply call myself South African, because its beauty speaks to me in a way that no other place does. Under Apartheid, everyone had a place, thus rather effectively keeping everyone in their designated place. Categories and sub-categories made questions of identity easy enough to resolve, if only for bureaucratic purposes. Ours was ‘Coloured-Cape Malay’. Of course, some people rejected this label: it was forced upon us, it was historically inaccurate. Those who stood in solidarity with black South Africans claimed blackness as their identity too, while others focused more on a ‘Cape Muslim’ identity as a way of being.

Here at ‘home’ in Australia, I don’t know how to assume a South African identity. It’s far easier to avoid any line of questioning. If I tell people I’m South African, I feel like a phony because their faces reflect a polite scepticism. But where are your parents from?-they ask doggedly. If I tell people I’m Cape Malay, they assume I’m Malaysian. People see my face and hijab and ask me if I’m Indonesian or Malaysian, but I correct the ‘mistake’. I don’t want to give them an easy way out when I have none for myself. Indonesia is as foreign to me as any other place, and yet I know the features of my face are a legacy of the possible blood in my veins.

Can I claim an African identity, given the soil that has absorbed us for hundreds of years? Am I the transplanted slave from any number of countries of the 17th century? Am I the Dutch/British/French/Portuguese master who married them? This place between coloniser and colonised is an uncomfortable one. It’s a place without words, because all we have left to speak in is Afrikaans, a simplified version of Dutch. It’s a place I inhabit with guilt and shame, because I know that our ‘Coloured’ skin won us a few paltry privileges under Apartheid, kept some of us silent as black South Africans were forced to occupy the bottom of society while we (un)comfortably occupied the middle.

The whiteness spread first to our skin, giving people like my grandmother her prized cat-like green eyes and fair skin. As is the case in colonial outposts the world over, these physical markers of whiteness were (and still are, to a great extent) worn as social capital. But the real ‘whiteness’ seeped into ways of thinking and acting. Gender segregation was almost unheard of, Western-style dating was, and still is, the norm, and my parents seemed embarrassingly lax compared to the parents of my Muslim friends about when I came home at night. If I had grown up amongst other people of our ‘culture’, perhaps I would’ve felt more at ease; as it was all I felt was a lingering sense of uncertainty over what I was supposed to be.

I’m Muslim, this I know with certainty. In prayer I occupy a space that is entirely my own. My guilt is my own, as is my shame. But in the Muslim community I’m awkward, uncomfortable, despite my many lovely friends. I don’t have a tangible cultural paradigm to revert to with associated elements such as dress, music or dance. I’m guilty of exoticising, of borrowing elements from other people’s cultures because I have no visible manifestations of my own. Islam transcends culture, they say. It certainly does, but Muslims need not, and do not. Culture forms an important part of many people’s understanding of both themselves and their faith, and navigating the Muslim community without this easily identifiable lens can be a complex and lonely exercise.

I know that much of my discomfort is of my own creation, that people are much more understanding of difference and shades of brown and yellow than I give them credit for. But this is also contingent upon my own acceptance of multiplicity, and I’m not there yet.  I still find it hard to explain to people that my parents are migrants whose first language is English, but whose skin colour is not white. I still feel unable to call myself African without feeling like a thief, stealing the term from those with more legitimate claim to it. I still feel the sadness of not having a ‘tribe’ or well-established lineage, but it’s a sadness I temper with the recognition that at least Islam stayed with us, if little else.

If I ever have children, I wonder if I’ll teach them Afrikaans. I don’t think I will, given my lack of knowledge or connection to the language, but a word will most likely slip in here and there. (Lekker my bokkie, as I look at their little scribbles.) I would want them to know that their mother was born and raised on Aboriginal land. I would want them to know that the blood in their veins is of Dr. Richard Hartley, the British doctor who tried to raise his children as Christians, but also of Imam Kassiem Gamieldien, who founded Cape Town’s Al-Azhar Masjid in the 1800s. Most of all, I want them to know that there is a space that they can always return to, a space they can inhabit fully: their faith. And if this is the only thing I can give them, I think I will have done enough.

For You

You fear that you’re too ‘uptight’ for some, your pants unfashionably, floppily loose, your parameters too fixed and not obtuse.

You fear that your exuberance scares others,  your smile too toothy and bright, your innate Islamic sensibilities obscured at times and out of sight.

You’ve been told that you’re too ‘intellectual’, your philosophising frustrating,  your constant (over) analysis irrelevant and irritating.

But then, you fear that you’re not intellectual enough, your penchant for celebrity gossip distasteful, your hours of watching reality TV wasteful.

‘Be more high-maintenance’-but your attention to detail is too low; your clothes don’t always match, you forget to knot a loose thread into a bow.

You’ve been told that you’re too opinionated and ‘difficult’:  too indecisive and in-between, too prone to hovering between hiding and wanting to be seen.

Some people may perceive you as ‘ambitious’, your bank balance too high; too well-educated and well-versed, your life goals stacked up to the sky.

But then again, you feel out of place with those in tailored suits; your lack of clear direction may not marry well with their high-flying pursuits.

You’re not the person whose face emerges from the crowd, your features are fine, ‘okay’ (Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah);  you’re too sloppy to carry yourself in a refined, dapper way.

You meet people, but then don’t know how to flirt or engage; when they start flexing their charm muscles you get bored/intimidated and exit stage.

You’re told to be unresponsive, to let them ‘chase’-but you don’t like to run. You don’t bother to hide when you like someone; your openness makes the whole thing ‘no fun’.

You like cats, you read the Quran,  Edward Said and the Daily Mail. You try to be more like the lovely (mashaAllah) people whose photos get 50 likes, but you simply fail.

You’re just you: clumsy, clever, fickle, fumbling. You walk on this earth with no one by your side, grateful to your Lord, striving, stumbling.

You don’t need to label yourself or others, nor need you fear being invisible. Marriage is important, but the most important thing is to make your heart and your Creator indivisible.

Your heart should be open and ready to give. But you don’t have to sit around, wishing, waiting, putting together a glory box;  you’ve too much life to live.

You ‘re always told of the marriage half of the equation. It’s a beautiful, rewarding half, but no less beautiful or rewarding is the other fifty percent of the conversation.

You’ve been gifted with time, so build yourself up from your very foundations. Make your faith your fortress, and live life with more joy and less expectations.

Be strong, be brave, love easily and love well. When it works, it’s beautiful, when it doesn’t, it’s another layer to your tapestry, another story to tell.

If marriage is part of your story, then that is truly exciting. But it’s your story, and together or alone, you have to keep on writing.

Just Do It

If you’re in love with someone, tell them. Just do it. There’ll never be a ‘right time’, just do it. (Don’t do it over Facebook chat, though. That’s just silly.)

If you’re not in love any more, tell them too. Just do it. Don’t put it off. Fight for it, try your hardest, but if it’s not working, leave. Just do it.

If you’re missing someone, call them. Go ahead, just do it. It might be awkward and make you look like a weirdo, but just do it anyway.

If you’ve made a mistake, say sorry, then show that you’re sorry. Just do it. Don’t worry about it being ‘too late’, just do it. Even if they don’t forgive you, just do it. (Only jerks don’t forgive, just saying.)

If you’re waiting around for a sign, stop waiting and start doing. Even if that doing is just to pray for guidance. Just do it.

If you’re thinking whatever you’re in is forever, don’t. Just don’t do it. That means appreciating what you have right now, but not forgetting that the only eternal thing is Allah swt. Remember Him. Just do it.

Because nothing is forever. Because everything in this life is transient and impermanent and exciting for approximately thirty seconds. That’s why you need to just do it. Say Bismillah, and just do it. You have the strength. You know you do, because He told you that you do. He said that you would never be burdened with anything greater than you can bear, and you need to believe it.

Because if you do believe it, you’ll try. You’ll try even when things look bleak. You’ll try even when you know it’ll fail, just so that you can tell yourself you gave it a go. You’ll try because you know that you can start over again, and again, and again. You’ll try because you’ve done it before, even as you said ‘never again’.

Hold on. Let go. One step forward, ten steps back. A little bit of grief, a little bit of bliss, a whole lot of apathy and ‘meh’. It’s just how it goes. Before you know it, it’ll all be over and you’ll be food for the worms. So what’s holding you back? Just do it.


Whatever you have will end, but what Allah has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do.


Love, your twin

Dear Sumayyah,

For years being a twin was an accepted reality, rarely thought of. After all, I’d no memories to relive and no grief-stricken moments to repress. We only shared two months of life, you and I. Eleven months, if you count our sacs lying side-by-side in our mother’s womb as she struggled to carry us both. We weren’t identical, but we were born on the same day, me first, then you several minutes after.

You were small and fragile. I, on the other hand, was the picture of health: round, bright-eyed and bald. You wouldn’t live, the doctor said. Still, you held on for longer than they expected before dying in the house we still live in, our mother waiting for the ambulance to come and tell her what she already knew: her youngest and last child was dead.

I’m told I cried all day, alone now in the cot we’d shared. Of course I have no memories of that time, of the funeral, of the silence and the dirt hitting the ground as they covered you. I did know from infancy that I wasn’t always the youngest in our family. But it was knowledge without heaviness, easily discarded. I’d hear Mum and Dad speak of you and feel detached, as if it were somebody else’s story they were telling and not an integral part of my own. I presented my birth certificate at job interviews, slightly embarrassed at the ever-present description of me as the ‘the elder born of twins’. I told approximately four people about you because I just didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t want anyone’s awkward, sympathetic silences. I didn’t feel I deserved it. Mum and Dad maybe, but not me, free from all conscious memory of you.

I thought this complacence would only become more marked as I grew older, but oddly as the years passed my thoughts turned more and more to you. I found myself looking for the few photos of us, the one of Dad writing your name out on the gravestone moving me to sudden and inexplicable tears. (He looked so young, barely a day over 30, and already burying a child.) I found myself marking my birthday not as my own, but as ours. I began to wonder what life would have been like, had you been here. Would I have been the ugly twin? Would we have been best friends, completing each other’s sentences? Would I have felt shackled, hating to be constantly referred to as ‘the twins’? Would you have talked me out of wearing the dreadful clothes I thought were trendy as a teenager?

I find myself sitting here now, wondering if the loneliness I feel sometimes is because I wasn’t always alone. It’s silly, I know. The fact is that you were sick, that you’d never have grown up to be well. It was Allah’s will and I don’t question that, nor do I feel any resentment. But there’s a sense of empty space that never quite goes away. I have my own room, but we could’ve shared it. I have my own life, but it could’ve used your input. As the youngest child in a family of independent adults, I could’ve done with being needed by someone too.

I look at twins and people with siblings close to them in age and I see how they squabble and bicker but most of all, how many of them seem so anchored to each other. I don’t have that anchor. I’m free to define myself as I please without being known as so-and-so’s sister, but it would’ve been nice to have some yardstick by which to measure my own beliefs. I’m free from the constraints of having to constantly share or vie for attention, but I have too much of everything. Too much space, too much solitude, too much reliance on the TV blaring when our parents fall asleep after work. (I also have way too many hijabs. I’m sure I could’ve shared, despite my attachment to each and every one of them.)

Sumayyah, I hope to meet you again someday. I hope to live my life in a way that won’t make me ashamed when that day comes. Until then, I promise to think of you always. I promise to pray for you. I promise to love, laugh and give the phrase ‘eating for two’ a whole new meaning. I promise to remember you without the aid of memory, and I promise to do so until the day my life comes to an end as yours did. InshaAllah.


your twin.

Shout-out to the Lurkers

I’ve never really introduced myself properly on this thing, but I’m really curious as to who all you lurkers are. Surely the hits on this page aren’t all from my mum, right? (Unless my mum is somehow managing to be in a dozen countries at once, I’m fairly sure it’s not just her reading this.)

So for all you lurkers, I have a couple of messages to pass on.

1.)  I didn’t want to personalise this blog at all because it’s really weird to talk about myself in this sort of context. Besides, it seemed unnecessary because a lot of people who read LH already know who I am. But for the complete strangers, I’m Zeynab, nice to meet you 🙂 I live in Australia, study Law and Communications and no, before you ask, I’m not married. Here’s a shot of the side of my head. Ok, so it’s mainly a shot of the Alhambra, but that’s a lot more interesting than my face.


2.) Join the Facebook page! It’s a lot more interesting than just reading the entries because people get into some really great discussions, and that way you always know what’s happening. I also like to share stuff in addition to the entries on here, so there’s another reason to get it on the action. Share it with your friends as well, the more the merrier 🙂

3.) If you ever have a suggestion, query or burning confession, I’ve set up an anonymous survey thingamajig for you to let it all out. And yes, anonymous means that even I won’t know who you are, so go nuts. (Note: that was not an invitation to troll. Again, that was not an invitation to troll. Please don’t troll me. Please?)

4.) I’m happy to take guest contributions, whether anonymous or not. It’s your chance to vent to hundreds of people in a way that won’t have you arrested for public nuisance.  Hooray! If you want to contribute, send a message through to the Facebook page or send through your ideas anonymously using the link above.

5.) There is no five, but four was just an awkward number to leave it at. And yes, I did just make it even more awks. Until next time iA 🙂