Monday, December 24, 2012


going back and forth between familiar places realizing they have become unfamiliar.
going back and forth between comfortable cities realizing they have become uncomfortable.
going back and forth between the same people over and over again realizing they have become strangers.

round and round ourselves in circles, are we really back at this place again? perhaps that's why the earth is round and relationships are circular and everything that begins must come to an end.

escapism doesn't work, hopping on the next plane train automobile wont work, and ignoring you definitely isn't working either.

and suddenly you realize you were born alone in this world, with nothing but your screams at the injustice of natural oxygen, and you will leave this world surely alone, with nothing but your silence at the injustice of inhumane humans.

it's not a fair world, yet we expect stories to make sense, places to stay the same, and people to be kind. we expect linearity of ourselves, yet we change every day. we hold others up on pedestals they never asked for, we want relationships to stay on a straight path with no bumps and potholes, even though there is no such thing in reality as a purely straight line from A to B, a theoretical dream only.

reality will surprise you with people you did not expect, situations you can not understand, and places you couldn't even imagine.

open your hands, receive in anticipation. perhaps the unfamiliar will become familiar again, the uncomfortable comfortable again, and the strangers friends again.

give love graciously; receive love humbly.

Anywhere but here.

It feels like a good night for some quotes.

“Listen a hundred times; ponder a thousand times; speak once.”
—  Turkish Proverb

“Beware of backbiting, for backbiting is more serious than adultery. A man may commit adultery, and drink [wine], and then repent, and Allah will forgive him. But, the backbiter will not be forgiven by Allah until his [backbiten] companion forgives him.”
—  Prophet Muhammad saws صلى الله عليه وسلم‎

“Those who come to Islam because they wish to draw closer to God have no problem with a multiform Islam radiating from a single revealed paradigmatic core. But those who come to Islam seeking an identity will find the multiplicity of traditional Muslim cultures intolerable. People with confused identities are attracted to totalitarian solutions. And today, many young Muslims feel so threatened by the diversity of calls on their allegiance, and by the sheer complexity of modernity, that the only form of Islam they can regard as legitimate is a totalitarian, monolithic one. That there should be four schools of Islamic law is to them unbearable. That Muslim cultures should legitimately differ is a species of blasphemy.”
—  An excerpt from a lecture by Sheikh Abdel Hakim Murad (Tim Winter) given to a conference of British converts on September 17 1997

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder.’”
—  Aldous Huxley

When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.
—Barbara Bloom, on Kintsugi

“Don’t give up on those you love. Give them time, give them space, give them love, but don’t give them up.”
— Shaykh Waleed Basyouni”

“The three saddest things are the ill wanting to be well, the poor wanting to be rich, and the constant traveler saying ‘anywhere but here’.”
—  E.E. Cummings

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Ramadan reflection from this summer in London:

Just when you completely want to disappear in the background, you don't want to be identified, you don't want to be recognized as anyone or anything, the coffee barrista asks you if you're fasting. He doesn't look particularly Muslim but sympathizes with the long days. Says you look so energetic! I tell him I've sat at home the whole day and took the day off. We laugh a bit. As I walk away I want to turn back and tell him everything about how awesome fasting is this year, fasting for the soul truly, not feeling the long days. I want to go back and tell him a better version of the story. But I realize that I told him the truth and that's enough. Its enough for me to recognize my humanity. Fasting is hard, no need to make it sound glamorous. But him just taking the time to ask and see how I've been doing and make me smile about it, that was also enough. Enough to realize that I do want to be recognized. I want to open that door for dialogue and discussion. If people associate hijab with something then that is their issue not mine. I'm not going to change who I am because someone has a misconception about who I am or how I am. It doesn't concern me. I'd rather have honest curiosity than live in the invisible background for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The other day...

I'm watching the security man at McDonalds and wondering what sort of future he used to dream for himself. Is he an accountant? Did he go to university? Did he ever finish high school? Has he ever eaten McDonalds? He's so polite.
He came and removed the dirty tray off my table. He spoke quietly. He was polite. He was kind. I wonder what kind of future he imagines for his children. I wonder if he had to buy these jeans just for this job and whether he would've rather spent that money on his daughter's new school uniform so she wouldn't have to wear the one that's too worn out from last year. 
I wonder about his daughter. What type of life does she lead? Did she go to school? 

Conversations I want to have.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In The Depths of Solitude

"I exist in the depths of solitude pondering my true goal Trying 2 find peace of mind and still preseerve my soul CONSTANTLY yearning to be accepted and from all receive respect Never compromising but sometimes risky and that is my only regret A young heart with an old soul how can I be in the depths of solitude when there R 2 inside of me This Duo within me causes the perfect opportunity 2 learn and live twice as fast as those who accept simplicity"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Anxiety is one of the fine names for philosophy as a practice of insomnia, when it stays up late at night, its forehead pressed against the window, keeping watch over the living and the dead, hoping that the dawn will not come and wipe out every trace of memory. Philosophy is a practice of insomnia. All of us, as living human beings destined to die, are looking for consolation. But the anxiety that inhabits us is not appeased by words. It keeps watch in the face of the greater mystery of what it is to ‘be in the world.’ Why? Why are we here? To what ends? Why is there pain? Why mourning? Why the succession of births and days? We suffer nonconsolation. And from the depths of time we have been speaking of the depths of ‘night.’ What other word is there to signify that which escapes, which slips away, which withholds knowledge of another time, knowledge of myth and mysteries, and keeps us in the dark? Philosophy was born with anxiety, with questioning, with insomnia. It takes upon itself the ills of the world, and thus it cannot sleep. The wound does not heal. Philosophical thought keeps watch at the hour of sleep and dreams. It has to answer for the Other: who? you, him, all of you, everyone, here, now, at once—before any possible acquittal, says Levinas. Insomnia means not being able to give oneself over to the certainty of love, to the self-evidence of words, to the presence of the world. It means being haunted.
Nietzsche - Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Uncle Usama

One of my dad’s very good friends is Uncle Usama. We’ve known him our whole lives. Ever since I was a child the things I would remember the most about him was that he was a doctor who took your blood (a phlebotomist I later learned), that he smoked a lot, and that he had the crinkliest eyes when he laughed, which was all the time. He is one of the kindest men I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, so let me tell you a story about Uncle Usama.

My sister sent me this photo a few days ago, asking me if I remembered this envelope. She’s spending the summer with my dad in Egypt and Uncle Usama came to visit them for dinner, bringing this letter along with him. Unopened, this envelope has been with him for at least 17 years. On the front of the envelope, in English and Arabic, it says: From Susan to dad. There’s also a gruesome-looking heart with an arrow going through it, and a pool of “bloud” (blood) draining out of it.

I had no recollection of this mysterious envelope whatsoever. Uncle Usama handed it to my dad, apologizing for the superbly late delivery, and told him that a very long time ago when my dad had gone to Egypt for the summer without me, I found out Uncle Usama was going to Egypt as well, and asked him to give my dad this envelope. Inside the envelope is a letter to my dad, sealed, and signed with a gruesome heart on the front of the envelope. For unknown reasons, Uncle Usama was never able to give my dad this letter, and it has been sitting in his paper collection for almost two decades. He apologized profusely and said that for whatever reason, every time he would see my dad he would forget to bring along the letter. But this time he remembered! The envelope is still sealed and the gruesome heart is just about starting to fade away, but Uncle Usama remembered this little letter from a little girl to her beloved dad.

As my sister was telling me this on the phone, tears welled up in my eyes. I remembered that as a child I used to love writing little letters and giving them to people, usually with candy and chocolates inside the envelopes as well. I specifically remember drawing this heart on many envelopes for some bizarre reason, and just the beautiful fact that Uncle Usama held onto this letter for this many years, reaffirmed in me that great people still exist in the world.

I talked to my dad on the phone and he was so happy, I could feel his happiness from thousands of miles away. He promised to hold onto the letter and not open it until the next time I see him so we can open it together.

Incredible people still do incredibly small things to make this world a better place. Thank you Uncle Usama.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Paths to Respect

(Sunrise from the top of Mount Batur, May 2011)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. Inspiration often arrives in unlikely places, but almost always at the bookstore, and I have serious difficulties in reading just one book at a time. I recently picked up the new anthology of short stories, Love, InshAllah about the secret love lives of Muslim American women. In the imminent rush to read the book, I inhaled it instead. Yes, it has generated much controversy. Yes, it’s about all types of loves and intimacies. Yes, it’s about all types of self-identifying Muslims. But at the very core of each story is a woman’s search for her place in the world, and that’s what makes it such an interesting book. One particular story that stuck with me ended with this quote: There are as many paths to God as there are people on this Earth.

A few days after finishing the book, I attended a leadership discussion with The Leaf Network, an organization supporting community and social action projects, where we reflected on the importance and difficulties of staying true to yourself at the intersections of faith and leadership. One of the speakers, also at the end of his talk, which focused on staying true to faith, said the same phrase as above: the number of paths to God is the number of people in the world. In two very different contexts, within a few days of each other, the world was handing me this idea to contemplate, and so I must.

In its vastness, it’s sheer size, and the number of people on it, our world is anything but uniform. It is anything but narrow. It is anything but a straight line from point A to point B. I like to imagine that when the author and speaker said the phrase above, they meant God and Love to mean the same thing because, in my mind at least, it’s one and the same. So what is this path they speak of so fondly? The path to Love is, I believe, a journey inwards. A quest to define what exists within (which reminds me of another favorite book, The Quest for Meaning). And as each one of us looks inwards, reflecting on the life that is outwards, we are each bound to come to realizations that are very different from one another. With that idea in mind, I am naturally confused by those who want to define an ideal, ultimate, or universal path in life. How can there be one type of path, one idea or goal of a path, that somehow applies to every one of us? When did we start focusing on building such narrow paths with such high, limiting, borders?

The point here is simple. Assuming that only one type of journey will lead 7 billion people to one goal is not only unrealistic, but also unforgiving. It makes zealots out of well-meaning people and builds our walls higher and higher against each other. It is high time we recognized that each person is on a different quest, journey, and path. Whatever the ultimate goal is - Love, God, power, success, wealth, compassion, or any other - there truly are as many paths to it as people who are trying to get there. Each person needs the time and space to find and create their own while realizing that it will be completely unique and different from any other person’s. So while we come to recognize these different journeys, we must also learn to move beyond tolerance and into the realm of appreciation, celebration, and respect. Because once we truly understand the concept of respect, mere tolerance becomes such an ugly idea. The paths are many and all are beautiful so let’s celebrate differences and respect individualities.

(A version of this article first appeared on the SpeakOut website)

Parisien Stranger

(Monsieur Eiffel, June 2012)

So many stories to tell about Paris I dont know where to start. Perhaps the end is as good a place as any other.

Just as I was walking into the train departure waiting area in Paris heading back to London, I look out of the window down onto the street outside. We’re only about one floor up and it’s a smaller street. A young man and a young woman are sitting on a step smoking. The man happens to look up right at me just as Im looking down at him, and then, he smiles a big smile and waves. It takes me half a second to register that it’s me he’s waving at and so I smile back and wave. Im sure my smile was too big but he kept smiling up at me anyways.

This is why I love strangers.

Melanie Nind

Melanie Nind took us on a small private tour of the back streets of Oxford after our official tour guide proved ineffective. She talked about hoping the weather will be nice in Southampton this summer so she can go swimming in the ocean a few times. She must be in her 60s. Healthy, vegetarian, quiet, funny, serious. Professor of sociology I believe, and a researcher to boot.

I remember thinking very clearly, I want to be like this woman when I grow up. Calm, dignified, respected, humble, down to earth, with sensible shoes, living near the beach, and working at something I love.

This was at the ESRC conference a few weeks ago in Oxford and Ive been thinking about the impression this woman left on me ever since.

I wrote down a new goal today: to grow into a dignified, respected woman who has achieved something that has positively impacted others in the world, who radiates peace and is filled with contentment.

In sensible shoes.

Professor Abbott

I met Professor Andrew Abbott of the Chicago school of Sociology at the 2012 ESRC Research Methods Festival. I was sitting having breakfast at the large dining hall the morning of the last day of the conference at Oxford University and there was no one sitting in the two seats in front of me. Long tables all set together to encourage interaction. He came and sat diagonally across from me, said good morning, and proceeded to take out his own croissant and pain au chocolat from a paper bag. He offered me a slice. He said he couldnt be this close to the best bakery in Oxford and not have some, so he went over there this morning and bought this. Maison Blanc. I said thank you and promised to go over there myself later on the day. It rained. He was a great storyteller.

We chatted and he told me a few stories. I was very quiet for some reason. After having attended the Lyrical Sociology morning session with him the morning before, I knew I was in the presence of someone very intelligent. And very peaceful for some reason. Perhaps it was his age, even though he wasnt that old.

He had a 'valley girl' student. "Like oh my God Professor Abbott!" He even imitated her voice and hand actions. She was in his class and was doing fine but then one day emailed him and said she wont be returning to the fall semester as she has to undergo chemotherapy. His valley girl had cancer. Professor Abbott told me he sent her an email every day during her radiation with a job posting in each. "What do you think of being an air travel controller?" Anything to keep her going, he told me. But anyways, she was a valley girl with cancer, but she was still a valley girl. She came back the next semester. I was sitting with a master storyteller.

The point he was trying to make was that we have to question why we shy away from being critical of someone’s work just because they have some sort of condition, that they often can’t help, for example AIDS or cancer. We fear that people will think we are criticizing the illness or the person themselves, when indeed we are critiquing the work constructively.

The only point that came across to me was that I was not only sitting with a master storyteller, but with a master teacher as well.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost, 1915

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Seven Steps

Take back your life in seven simple steps - read this article.

Schwartz suggests:
1. Focus on what you're doing with your attention.
2. Spend a few minutes every day writing down what you want to accomplish the next day
3. Do the most important activity in the morning (really important, I think)
4. Eliminate as much insecurity work from life as possible
5. Keep a running list of everything on your mind
6. Ask yourself "Is this the best use of my time?"
7. Train your attention systematically.

But really, it's a short article so go read the whole thing.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Yesterday, somewhere between loving my post graduate education and hating exams and wanting to hear the sound of the ocean and having no idea where I'm going to be living in three months, I was overcome with a very sharp and overwhelming sense of restlessness. My brain was frazzled and I couldn't keep a single thought in my head for longer than about 5 seconds. So I did the only thing I could imagine doing: curled up on the couch with a good book for a while then watched a movie. They helped calm down the frazzled nerves for a bit. But why did I feel the need to control this restlessness?

I woke up this morning and remembered reading this post on Prolific Living last week and the best sentence ever:

Your greatest regret will be to ignore your hunger and to deny your restlessness a chance.

What are you restless for? There is a common obsession with living calm lives. Why is restlessness shunned? Why is it deemed a negative source of energy? Being restless doesn't mean that your inner peace has somehow vanished or that you are aimless.

Not all those who wander are lost.

So I have made a decision today. I will love my restlessness. I will harness its power and feed it into positive change. I will utilize this beautiful effort and energy and I will stop telling my brain to calm down. I know that I am at peace within and if my energy decides to flux and go insane for an afternoon or a whole week I will just let it be and use that energy to stay positively restless.

Change the mindset. Learn to view what makes you tick in a positive light and it will be so.

Paris vs NYC

I saw this photo on a tumblr last night and immediately wondered if this book was real. My teenage dreams of living in NYC (even though I have yet to visit) and my constant love of all things Parisian collided into one book! And what's more is that this book is not just real, it's also a visual memoir. C'est plus que parfait. Merci to Vahram Muratyan and his dandy blog for reigniting my love of both huge cities :) Can't wait to get my hands on this inspiring book!

The Pale Blue Dot

Did I ever tell you that I wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger? I used to draw the solar system and make planet models and wonder about how far the stars are. I wanted to go to Pluto and look out to see if there's anything else behind it. I then discovered that physics was a lot more difficult than it sounded, so that dream ended quite fast. But still, what lies beyond this Earth remains one of the world's unsolvable mysteries; actually, we've barely begun to know anything about our own Earth at all. Such a humbling place, such an experience. The video above has been one of my favorites ever since a friend showed it to me a good few years ago. I watch it every now and again to remind myself that at the end of the day, we humans spend much more time bickering over a fraction of a pale blue dot, and that in the grand scheme of things, we really need to stop that.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Where did we go
And what did we do?
I don't remember it all
But it was just me and you
We lay on our backs
And watched the stars
And promised we would stay like this
For all of our times
Don't ask me if I remember
I don't remember it all
But what I do remember
Is all of those stars
And no matter how much has changed
And how much time has passed
What we had was golden
Yet we'll never be the same.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Siwa Oasis, Egypt

January 2011, right before the Egyptian revolution, I was hanging out in the Siwa Oasis and went hiking in the desert with some friends, way out near the Western boarder of Egypt. I took this photograph and my university picked it for their monthly photo gallery.

It's a lovely memory.

On Simplicity

Honestly, if you can't declutter your life, it will take you so much more time to accomplish anything you set your mind to. Inefficiency and un-productivity will rein supreme. Guaranteed. Here's a quick summary of a great 99% article.

1. Simplify access: de-clutter your physical space and centralize your materials.
2. Simplify your space: there's a reason yoga studios don't look like your grandmother's attic.
3. Simplify your tools: when was the last time you actually used pen and paper?

Of course, the master of simplicity is Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. So much love.

Be simple, live the moment, do the work, accomplish life.

Lois Weisberg

Hey, can you do yourself a huge favor and read this article? The Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg is a must read for anyone interested in networking, social work, social research, community organizing, human beings... Ya. It's longish. It's delightful. Go forth and read lovely people.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Small Coastal Village

Such simple beauty.
(sorry it's a bit blurry, didn't write this but Ive seen it around a bunch of times)

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Beautiful morning inspiration on the Spring in Palestine by Joseph Dana. The daily stories of real people - we need more of that. Do read.

On Appreciation

Why do we take people for granted?

A question I’ve been wondering about recently. We seem to fall into this vicious cycle of losing someone, vowing to appreciate our loved ones, forgetting that vow, losing that person, and on and on and on. But why?

I don’t believe that it’s a human flaw. I believe appreciating the people around us is a cultivated habit and most of us have just not learned it properly.

Here are four things we can do to break that cycle and teach ourselves to appreciate:
1. Break arrogance: learn to say sorry, stop holding grudges, stop building walls to keep people out. These things will carve out our egos.
2. Learn to trust: be brave enough to give people second chances and trust people with your appreciation. Don’t do it to gain their appreciation, do it for yourself. And if they drop the ball, pick it up and show them more appreciation for being human.
3. Balance in everything: showing someone you care does not mean allowing that person to trample all over your life. Find your balance. Avoid excessiveness, give compassion, strive for excellence. Balance is a reciprocal and reiterative process.
4. Nurture hope: find the strength within you to push yourself towards continuous compassion and appreciation in order that your own spirit may grow.

But why bother? Learning the habit of being appreciative and compassionate is hard work and, fair warning, will almost never be recognized. So what is it all for?


It’s always been about love and it always will be about love. True, capital letter, Love. To know the Love, to show the Love, to share the Love. It is a process. A long and difficult and daily process to not only feel that true Love within you for another, but to be able to transform that into true appreciation as well. Before it’s too late.

The good news is that it is very achievable. Let’s put in the effort and together we will learn to break the cycle of taking people for granted and we will create habits of Love instead.

Steal Like an Artist

I read a lovely post on Brainpickings on this book, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I dropped by the bookstore for some procrastination and found they had the book, which to my happiness turned out to be more of an experience than a book and turned out to be absolutely steal-worthy. Except that I bought it. Cuz that would be criminal activity where I live. And I finished devouring it in less than an hour.

Anyways. Here’s the low-down:
1. Steal like an artist
2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started
3. Write the book you want to read
4. Use your hands
5. Side projects and hobbies are important
6. The secret: do good work and share it with people
7. Geography is no longer our master
8. Be nice (the world is a small town)
9. Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done)
10. Creativity is subtraction

Dispersed with interesting quotes, this one was my favorite: “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” - Jessica Hische.

What do you do to procrastinate? I read and make up conversations and scenarios in my head and talk to myself and daydream. Don’t psychoanalyze that.

OK this book is inspiring, get on it!


I was thinking about you
Thinking about me
Thinking about us
What we’re gonna be
Open my eyes
It was only just a dream

Traveled back
Down that road
Will you come back
No one knows
I realized
It was only just a dream

(Nelly - Just a Dream)

Friday, April 27, 2012


Yesterday I was the Porcelain Doll and you were the Shadow, and I wish it wasnt so. Nostalgia is painful. I dont want to live in the pandora's box of y(our) memories anymore. Wake me up from this beautiful mess and let's create something new.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Step outside.

Happiness is a state of mind.

I'm trying out this new thing where I learn something new on a regular basis. Outside of formal education, life-learning is much more exciting. One of the things Ive recently been teaching myself is to drink milk. Ya, it's not a very exciting learning process, but my mama would be proud. 23 years later, Im realizing how milk-deficient my life is. My addiction to cheese is detrimental in many aspects unfortunately, but Ive never been able to enjoy milk. But for some reason Ive decided it's the challenge of the month. Ive had four full cups so far, and not gagged. Progress I believe. Slow and steady.

Everything you want in life is right outside your comfort zone. - Robert Allen.

What are you challenging yourself with recently?

Article: On the Road

From the very lovely 99 Percent website, an article on how to produce great work while traveling. A talk with some of my favorite authors Rolf Potts and Chris Guillebeau.

Morning inspiration from me to you :)

Monday, April 16, 2012

On Excellence

(In the garden of a Buddhist temple in Singapore, May 2011)

Excellence is a common theme in many spiritualities and religions. It is the intention to strive to do your best in every act you do.

I recently went to two theatre productions here in London, The Lion King and the Shen Yun Chinese folk dance performance. Both of them completely breathtaking and absolutely brilliant. And they got me thinking about the amount of effort and sheer excellence that artists put into their work. This happens every time I attend any sort of artistic performance. Spoken word, folk dances, story telling circles, it's always just pure creative energy. Rehearsed and practiced for hours on end attempting to reach human perfection, attempting to reach something deep within each of us.

What if we made a decision today that every action in our lives would be taken with purpose, every action will strive for excellence. This is not a call for an obsession with perfection. It is a call to try harder. To make every action an excellent performance. What if we woke up every day and decided today would be our best performance yet?

If that doesn't change the world, I don't know what can.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Holding hands

A little old couple
Holding hands
Walking down the street
Making plans

And while they walked so slow
And held up the alleyway
No one seemed to mind
Watching them
Stole my mind
Caught my breath
Held my eyes

They took a walk today
To their old streets
Sat in the park in the square
Where they used to meet

She whispered a story
Of once upon a time

We sat near the cool pool
At the foot of that sand dune
You lay your head on my lap
And we watched the clouds float past

Do you remember that my love?

And so they sat in the park
My little old couple
He lay his head on her lap
And as they watched the clouds float past
All that needed to be said
Was spoken in just
One moment
One lifetime
Of silence.

Friday, April 6, 2012


Exhale only love. -Rumi

Traveling leaves you speechless - then turns you into a storyteller. - Ibn Battuta

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hierarchy: London

The transport hierarchy in central London is simple enough.

The double decker buses are at the top of the food chain. The buses rule the roads. They don't care about anyone or anything in their way. The buses are out to get the cabs. The cab drivers are rude and in a hurry. They're trying to get past the huge buses. The cabbies are out to get the cyclists. The cyclists are everywhere. Scurrying left right and center. You don't see them until they're past you. The cyclists are out to get the pedestrians. The pedestrians. The lowly pedestrians are huffing and puffing their way down the sidewalks. They try to cross the streets without dying. Finally, the pedestrians are out to get the tourists, those people who decide to take painstakingly slow strolls at lunch and rush hours on Oxford Street and hold up the whole population.

And the tourists have no bloody idea of this whole mess.

Know your place and stick to it. Any deviants will not be tolerated. This is a well oiled machine my friends.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Important question

Q: How can you be traveling alone, isn't that not allowed in your religion or something?

I can't tell you how many times Ive gotten this question from Muslims and non-Muslims. And to be honest, Im quite tired of answering it again and again, so Im writing it down for reference.

Short answer: It is permissible for Muslim woman of any responsible age to travel alone.

Long answer: (warning: this is a technical answer)
Point 1:
Islam is based on your intentions as well as your actions. You can not have sound intentions, but knowingly do wrong actions, and you always have to have pure intentions for anything that you might do. If you have good and pure intentions for something, but the act leads to a negative consequence, even though you tried your best, then you learn from it and try not to repeat it. If you have good intentions and your action turns out good, then you are rewarded. If you have bad intentions and go about doing a bad action, then you are negatively rewarded for it. If you have bad intentions, but something good comes out of it, even though you tried to do bad, then you will be rewarded for the action and not the intention. Therefore, it is important to always have sincere intentions in everything we do, not only religious acts of worship, but every movement. It is a way to remind ourselves of the fact that we are here to worship.
If you are Muslim, you will most probably already know this. This was related as Imam Al Nawawi's first hadeeth of the 40 most important hadeeths (sayings) by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Please see Hadeeth 1 on this website:
Are you still with me?
Ok cool.

Point 2:
A human being is created to worship God. (Quran 51:56 "And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.") There is absolutely no other reason to be here. A woman was not created to give birth to children. A woman was not created to complete a man. There is only one purpose for every human being and that is to worship God. Worship comes in many different forms. In every act we do, there should be an element of worship. If a woman chooses to educate herself by going to university, there is worship in that. If a woman chooses to raise children, there is worship in that. We were created to worship. And we were given a brain to make choices.

Point 3:
Men and women are equal in front of God. (Quran 3:195 "I shall not lose sight of the labor of any of you who labors in My way, be it man or woman; each of you is equal to the other"). There is no difference between a man and a woman in front of God in terms of actions and deeds and worship. If there is a physiological difference, then that is only intended for the reasons of potential procreation here in this life (in this dunya). In reasoning, spiritual, religious, responsibility, accountability, and all aspects of life, there is no difference. The fact that purely cultural traditions have inflicted horrendous breaches of inequality - (dis)honour killings, forced marriages, prescribed dress codes - does not mean that these things have anything to do with Islam. Please get to know the difference between embedded cultural traditions which differ (in good and bad) from each region to region, and the true definitions of Islam.

Point 4:
The Prophet, peace be upon him, gave the good news that women will one day be able to travel alone:

Adeey b. Hâtim narrated:
I was beside to the Messenger of Allah. A man came and complained for his poverty. Later, another one came and complained for the bandits that waylaid people in order to rub them. The Messenger of Allah said:
- “Adeey, have you seen Heerah?”
- No. I have not seen, but I heard about it.
- “If you would live long enoungh, you will see a woman, inside her strongbox over the camel, traveling from Heerah at Ka’ba for pilgrimage, without fearing from anything, except Allah.” He said.
I was surprised and I said to myself: “What with the bandits of Tai tribe, those who fired the sedition and mischief all over the towns?…
Adeey continued his words: I saw the woman traveling from Heereh and walking around Ka’ba, without fearing from anyone, except Allah. (Bukhari, Stories, 25)

(Heereh: İt is a town established over a meadow near Euphrate, in the South-East of Kinidre, which is 5 km in South of Kufe, between Kufe and Havernak, today related to the province of Nejaf in İraq.)

In this hadeeth, the Prophet was claiming that there will come a time when women will be able to travel alone and safely without fear of anything or anyone but God.

Point 5:
There is a concept in Islam called Ijtihad. It is when Islamic rulings, those that are neither in the realm of halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden), and those that are not prescribed rituals, are studied in their current context by knowledgeable scholars. The issue of Muslim women traveling alone has been regarded by many knowledgeable and modern day scholars who have permitted the traveling of women alone, given that her safety will be taken into consideration. These new rulings were given in many fatwas which can be found online. For example: Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, a prominent Islamic scholar, said the following:
"If security is guaranteed and fear is no more present, a woman may travel, particularly nowadays when travel has become easy, whether by air, train or coach. In all these means of transportation, company is available and security is realized for the Muslim woman."
This is from the European Council of Fatwa and Research (
This website also has a comprehensive view on the matter: (read to the end)

All this being said, there are numerous hadith that did primarily state it as being unpermissible for women to travel alone, due to the lack of security and due to the context that the Prophet lived in: in the Arabian desert fifteen hundred years ago. However, many prominent and very learned scholars have stated that should the woman take her safety precautions, it is permissible to travel alone.

I believe that we can put these five previous points together:
If we add having pure intentions in all that we do (point 1), the purpose of worship in all that we do (point 2), the equality of men and women in the eyes of God (point 3), with the good news that the Prophet gave about women being able to travel alone in the future (point 4), as well as the contextualized ijtihad of current learned scholars (point 5), then I think we can conclude that women are indeed permitted to travel alone.

Important note:
I am not a scholar. Please do your own research on this topic and follow what you believe to be correct using your reason and your heart. I have simply provided the reasons that I have come to my own conclusion, which also happens to be an opinion shared by many. If there are parents who believe that their girls should not travel alone, then there might be other issues, such as a lack of trust or not identifying the girl as being responsible or independent enough. However, I believe that a woman of age, should be able to make her own reasonable decisions, given the advice of loved ones and of trusted mentors/scholars. Once again, this is a blog post, not a fatwa.

Honestly, I will defend this right to freedom and independence until the day I die because it is so central to who I am and what I believe in. So there it is. I have said it. And Allah knows best :)

On Balance

(The view from the train window, somewhere between Fez and Marrakesh, Morocco, October 2010)

Let me tell you a story, in three parts.

Scene: Two weeks in Morocco, end of the fall, 2010. No, this is not a story about love. Well, not that kind of love anyways.

Part 1
Often, when people ask me what my favorite country or city is, I say (after mentioning that all places are beautiful): Fez or Singapore. Singapore because it’s basically incredible. Fez, in Morocco, because it feels like I left a part of me there. I only spent three days in Fez, lovely magical Fez. I would wake up early in the new downtown area, in a shabby little hostel run by a creepy middle aged man. I would make my way over to the old medina souq, often walking the whole hour there. The medinal ateeqa (“ancient city”) is the oldest, largest, still in tact and fully operating souq in the world. It’s absolutely huge and loud, colourful and smelly, with the narrowest streets, and the tiniest shops and stalls. I would spend the day ambling and getting lost in the souq, getting heckled to buy something, messing up the still-wet henna on my hands, taking a calligraphy class, having tea in an old minaret that’s now a cafe. And then, I would find myself at the centre of this incredible mess: praying in the oldest established and longest running university in the world: Masjid al Karawiyyin. Listening to the birds chirruping, the water flowing, the people reciting Quran. And then, I would see my friend. Someone I met in Turkey, a long time ago, we barely spoke the same language, we came from opposite ends of every world imaginable. And yet, exploring another person’s mind never felt so good.

Part two:
I remember feeling such sadness and isolation. I left Fez and took an eight hour train ride to Marrakech. It was one of the strangest eight hours of my life. So many thoughts and conflicting ideas going round and round, and nothing to keep me company except the most beautiful countryside scenery outside. That train ride is embedded in my mind. I will never forget those three skinny cows grazing on the grass in a farm on a rolling hill as the train ambled past.

Part three:
I spent three days in Marrakech. Bustling, insane, absolutely bonkers yet beautiful Marrakech. I went to the Jam al Fena, the huge open courtyard, that gathers thousands upon thousands of people every night of the year, in a mish mash of street food, story tellers, magicians, cobra charmers, belly dancers, souq. I rode behind a girlfriend on her vespa all over town. I experienced a real and very steamy women’s hammam, the local traditional bathing house. The Yves St Laurent garden, planted, designed and inspired by the man himself, in all it’s glory. I played with the kitten on the street. And then, a friend took me home and introduced me to his family. Harmless harmless introduction. Accompanied with homemade Moroccan bread and couscous and probably the kindest and most genuine host family I’ve met in a while. Needless to say, I feel in love with Moroccan food in Marrakech. And after it all, I took a train back to Rabat to say goodbye to some friends, have a last cup of my favorite tea in the world, and to go on to Mauritania. Before I left, I got an email from my friend in Marrakech. It was an honest and beautiful message. Full of potentialities and courageousness.

This is not a love story. This is a story about love. Not the mushy lovey stuff that turns your brain into baby food. It is Love for another person’s spirit. Unwarranted, on any side. Unasked for, on both sides. Undeniably inevitable. Love for all the potential possibilities. Love for the Love.

Yet, it still amazes me, that in all the time I spent in Morocco, in Rabat, Casablanca, Meknes, Fez, and Marrakech, and all the soul-defying experiences I had and beautiful souls I met - it is those three skinny grass-eating cows in the countryside that continue to stick with me wherever I go. Every time I think of Morocco, I remember that train ride. That in-between day, filled with neither heres nor theres. And when I look back at it now, I realize that it was that train ride which was the mid-point of the see-saw. There is balance in everything we do, but why do we often enjoy letting ourselves teeter and totter here and there? That train ride was the ability to give love and receive love, it was the ability to not pursue either and yet find the balance in between.

And to just keep appreciating that balance.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

On writers

"It’s quite bizarre. Most writers are solitary beings who wrote because they were sent to sit in the margins for too long and now suddenly they’re thrown into the light where their straggly hair and obscure ideas are celebrated."

I came across this interesting article called The glamourisation of the writer. Enjoy:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Pitter patter rain

Pirate gypsy wayfaring soul.

There is something about gentle morning rain that makes me think about life and choices and life's choices.

The more I try to define You, the less I know.
The pieces are starting to come back together again, but they still like to tumble around, bouncing on the walls, doing somersaults. Like a child who can't get enough, can't even stop. Coeur d'enfant. Coeur de pirate. Take what you can, rummage around, find what's lost, and bring it back again. But above all else, just keep going.

Now bring me that horizon.
Bring me my horizon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


It continues to amaze me how completely and utterly petrified of change some people are. Someone recently called me an indecisive five-year-old. I've been thinking about getting my nose re-pierced recently but I haven't made a final decision yet, wavering between actually wanting that pierce again, and not being bothered to go through that pain all over again. And this person bluntly said to me: you just keep changing your mind and you can never decide on anything. This person was making a general statement about my life.

Excuse me? Yes, I enjoy living a spontaneous life. I enjoy not having a boring routine. I enjoy moving from one place to another. I enjoy having new and exciting experiences. This does not mean that I live life without goals or ambitions. It does not mean that I am indecisive or that I don't stick with my plans. Once I set my mind to something, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I will get it done. And this person saying these things to me was someone who supposedly knows me well. So why the misguided statement?

Guess what. I find the concept of change to be an exciting one. Not scary, not unstable, not useless, not without aims or ambitions or faith or love or joy. In fact, I seek change.

Do not pity me because I have wholeheartedly embraced positive change. I understand that maybe we won't see eye to eye on this matter. But I hope, for your sake, that one day you will learn to see the beauty that exists in the difference of ideas.

Monday, February 13, 2012

This Emotional Life

This is the most perfect little video that you must watch right now. 2 minutes of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) on how humans are dealing with their emotional lives, looking at it through Schopenhauer's Porcupine Dilemma.

Friday, February 10, 2012

How to be alone

Have I posted this video before? It's great. It follows nicely from what I wrote about below on being alone. Give it a go :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Just sayin.

Life is unbearably quiet without you. And all I wanna do is dance with you under the stars to the music that exists only inside our minds.

Friday, February 3, 2012

On Being Alone


(On June 11, 2011, at Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha temple, a man gives alms)

“What are you escaping from?”
“What are you looking for then?”

The idea of traveling for travel’s sake is difficult for many to understand. The journey, the concept of moving from one place to another, has always been more important to me than actually arriving somewhere. And for me, the best part of any journey is the time I spend alone. It’s those moment spent sitting on the train in the middle of the raw countryside in central Morocco watching the skinny grass-fed cows that stick with me. Mostly, it’s the reflection process that takes place in those moments. Reflecting on the days that past, the people I met, the conversations we had, the moments we created. Reflecting on the next few days, the hope of some more moving trials, the dream of interesting people, food, experiences, thoughts, ideas, of more chipping away of the shell. Reflecting on my life, my ambitions, the way my brain works, the way this life is supposed to turn out. This is at the heart of why I prefer to travel alone. This world is jam packed with incredible and interesting people and experiences, and I’ve been blessed to meet and know so many.

There is something about having that time to yourself that brings about a certain dialogue that can not exist in the presence of others - the dialogue with yourself. The emphasis seems to always be on fostering dialogue with others, which is important. But what about that internal conversation you never have? The one you always push away and tell to shush. The one you think is a negative invading process, that gut feeling, those ideas, voices, geniuses, whatever you want to call them. They’re there, waiting for you to perk up your ears and listen closely. Know very well that the less you understand about yourself, the less likely it is that you will ever truly know anything about others.

And so, spend time inside your own head, take long train rides alone, walk through busy markets with nothing but your thoughts, and maybe a camera or a notebook. Learn to spend 24 hours completely by yourself. Be balanced: you don’t need to disintegrate from society to do this, you just need to take some time off. Come to an understanding, and then keep that understanding and that conversation alive - with yourself. Unfortunately, there is a societal (mis)understanding that people who enjoy spending time alone must be introverted or shy or somehow dysfunctional. Because most of the world has no idea how to be comfortable inside their own heads, it shouldn’t influence your decisions. The word ‘alone’ becomes automatically translated into ‘lonely,’ which are two very different ideas, and is a clarification that everyone needs to understand well. Embrace yourself while working on embracing others. There is no reason to become a hermit in a desert cave to accomplish this. You can chose to stay home for a whole weekend, take a course without anyone you know, attend a concert by yourself, go for a swim, travel to the next city, country, continent, without knowing anyone there.

My dad recently warned me that I will soon become lonely in this way of life. He said it will become more difficult to keep up and in touch with friends and have a stable circle of loved ones, which is something I have already begun to experience. But it is not loneliness that I fear, it is not understanding who I am that keeps me awake at night. It seems the harder you try to carve your own path in this world, the less likely it is that someone will want to walk with you. The uphill trek to the top of the mountain - whatever that mountain may be - is a path by which most are either intimidated or discouraged. But find that courage anyway. Challenge that mountain, find the brave souls who are also scattered along the barren terrain, find the faint traces of the trails others have left before you and let them criss cross your own trail, and just keep pushing through, carving that path, making those new trails. Bring your eyes down from that peak and look right under your feet. And one day, you will realize that the best thing you ever did was that you stopped looking for something and had the ability to understand that the journey, and that dialogue with yourself, matter more than the destination. And that ultimately, each of us is on their journey alone.

(This article I wrote first appeared on the SpeakOut Poetry Blog on February 3, 2012:

The habits that crush us

On the very lovely Zen Habits website by Leo Babauta, I came across this interesting article: The Habits That Crush Us
It's a different perspective on why we have all those unproductive (and often destructive) habits. Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012


When was the last time you had an intelligent conversation with yourself? Was it productive? Did you learn something new?

Did you feel weird?

Do it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Last week I tried to decorate my place. I've been living in London, UK, now for the past 5 months or so, and for me it seems like it has been quite a long time. My walls were bare and the place felt cold. But for some reason it didn't bother me. It feels like you can place me in pretty much any place with a bed and running water and I'll make it work. But 5 months on, it felt like the next logical step would be to try to make this place a bit more interesting. So I started to hang up some of my favorite items. My world map, my postcards, my calendar, my poster of two kittens cuddling, my Chinese-Arabic calligraphy map. I made a little shrine on top of the bookshelf of things I've collected from different countries, the three monkeys from Malaysia, the seashells from Brighton, the wooden jewellry box from Bahrain, and some other random stuff. I had a feeling being surrounded by my things would make the place feel more "homey." It felt necessary, like that's what big kids do when they move out. They hang things. They stare at their things. They enjoy staring at their little attempts at being adults who have finally started to settle down.

But it's just not working for me. I'm not sure why... It could be that I see this place as just another transitional location, technically my lease ends quite soon (but I'll be extending I think). Another part of me feels like all of this effort will just take too much time to take apart when I have to go again, I wont be able to just pick up my bags and go. And to be honest, it feels a little fake. I love looking at my things, they take me back to those moments. But I dont want to live in my past. I want to make new good memories! Which I'm trying to do. But that's like people who dwell on their past mistakes or their past good times and forget to live in the present, I dont want to get to that point. So why was hanging some of my stuff on my walls in my place such a strange experience? Maybe I just need time to get used to it... Then it'll be time to go again. Which I'm perfectly happy about actually. It's never about wanting to leave a place, it's just about wanting to go somewhere new and experiencing another life.

I guess only time will tell whether or not this little tree will ever allow herself some roots :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012


The hills
remind me
of you

Not because they curve soft and warm
lovely and firm

But because
a long time ago
you stared at them
as I am staring now.

- Irving Layton (1912 - 2006)


Act with kindness but do not expect gratitude. - Confucius

Oh external worshiper, know that worship without heart is motions. Oh seeker of knowledge, know that knowledge without purification is a dangerous weapon of the ego. Oh activist, know that work without orientation if the heart is fruitless. Oh lover, know that love without God is pain. - Yasmin Mogahed

Monday, January 2, 2012


It's all because she laughed too much and loved too much and took a chance on this world and took a leap of faith with you.. Too bad she landed alone among the thorns. And it's too bad youre not watching her still laugh and love and take chances and take leaps. Or are you? Where are you? That place you filled is emptying out. Or is it? She cant decide. To keep you or to let you go, to be better or to stay the same. But wasnt that what you did? Kept it together, made it better. Then it fell to pieces. Why? Not the leap of faith imagined. And all she did was wonder if a good thing could get better, not best, yet, but better. But you showed her how to rebuild those walls and then disappeared. And left her standing across the moat slightly confused, disoriented, not sure whether to laugh or cry, love or hate, take a chance or hide behind the walls, take a leap or grow those roots. And yet she stands, watching that horizon, waiting for a sign. But her mouth is itching for that Laugh, her heart for that Love, her soul for that Chance, her legs for that Leap. And she wont be able to resist them for long...