By: Atiqa Mohsin
Item No. 1078 on my To-do-list is to learn how to tie a tie.
I’m serious. I have more than a thousand things on my to-do list and it has taken me a very long time to realize that my to-do list belongs in the dustbin.
You see, A levels not only brought with it tough studies, zero free periods and cranky teachers, it also brought with it girls. Suddenly I was expected to know what foundation went with my complexion, how to create a flawless winged eyeliner, what the latest trend in make-up was, which lipstick lasted the longest and was lipstick better than lipgloss? If the market had any A line shirts, if the latest trend of short cut shirts was in, were they making the sleeves puffy again, were trousers better left tight or loose and was it okay to wear a shawl as a fashion statement?
Breatheless? Hold on.
I was also expected to know what spices my mom put in biryani, how white dhai baray should be, was chicken a better dish to serve to guests or mutton, did roasted chicken taste better than grilled and if you were on a diet, should you be eating meat at all? Speaking of diets, were leafy vegetable better than non leafy ones, did you count calories individually and then sum them or just count them together per dish, does eating ginger everyday make you thin and is that myth true about radishes making more healthier blood? Oh that reminds me- what’s the best home remedy for a cold, should we give kids medication at all, how strong is one’s immune system when they’re three and how often should one visit the doctor, the dentist and every other person with a medically related degree?
I’d go on but I don’t want you to fall asleep. The point is, they list never ended. When you started with one thing, something else popped up. I mastered the eyeliner, the girls around me were talking about contact lenses and nose piercing and shaping eyebrows. I learnt how to fold paper boats and they were folding paper boxes and intricately folded, fancy looking envelopes. I learnt how to trace and my friends hung their art on the walls of their homes. I bought a pair of very cool-looking boots, the topic switched to vintage converse and wedged heels.
It never ended. It was like everyone was running a race; constantly competing against each other in everything to be the best. They were running, they were sprinting and they were leaping whereas I was down on all fours, doing the famous baby crawl.
And the worst part is, a part of me recognized the competition. This sense of trying to win, trying to come out on top as the victor was so familiar to me and so alien at the same time. You see, I had run in the exact same race before. I had competed with thousands of other girls just like I was in A levels.
The difference? In Kalemah, they taught you that the goal you’re running towards is heaven. The path you take is Islam and the audience you will wave your trophy to are Muslims. And the reason you are competing in this race is to please Allah سبحانہ وتعالی. In A Levels, the goal was to win other people’s admiration and flattery. There was no fixed path--- you could cheat and you could backstab. You could lie, trick, deceive and use any means to achieve you goal. All was justifiable. Your audience? Shallow people who care not for you but for the trophy you will wear. Greedy people who will use the same underhanded tactics to pull your position from beneath you and take it for themselves. And for what? A few moments of glorified attention.
When I stepped into A levels, I stepped into a landmine. And the explosions never stopped. So I did what I thought I should do. I strived to keep up. It took me a long time to realize that trends don’t change every year--- they change every season. This fall it’s red, this fall it’s neon. This winter it’s dark, this winter it’s light. This summer it’s fabric, this summer it’s cotton.
I mean, come on! How many times are you going to change your mind? Magazines, YouTube video tutorials, recipe books, catalogues, fashion brochures--- trust me when I say I tried to fit in with the crowd that had suddenly changed its stripes. I tried hard but when my mom said ‘no, you can’t put lipstick until you’re 20 and don’t even think about foundation,’ I gave up. I threw my hands up in the air and walked away.
It is only now that I realize that one meets many, many different people in the course of their life. One might be good at singing, another might be good at drawing. One might be good at painting the canvas and the other might be talented in origami. And while I have met all these people (and you may as well) it is not necessary to become all these people. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know how to fold a napkin, how to tie a tie or how to make a corsage. It doesn’t matter because we’re not here for fame and fortune. We’re not here to please people. Help them, yes. Please them? Not necessarily.
So the test you didn’t ace? Doesn’t matter. That instrument you never mastered? That’s a good thing, actually. Found out you’re tone deaf? Even better. Lying to your parents? Now that matters. Cheating on a test? Dishonesty is never the best policy. Missing you namaz? Dude, do I need to remind you of that brightly lit, fiercely blazing place called hell? No, no I didn’t think so.
You see, it’s a good thing to know what’s going on. It’s good to sharpen and polish your skills and learn new ones when you can. But to be completely immersed in the affairs of this world to the point that you forget about Akhirah? That’s not advisable.
It seems important to you. It was, to me, at one time in my life: To be able to show off to your friends, to hear them say nice things to you, for them to be impressed. I know it seems very important but it isn’t, not really. And the reason it took me so long to realize this is because when you’re there, in the midst of it all, it is very difficult to stop, pull yourself away from it all and to think about it. To realize what you’re doing is actually meaningless. It’s temporary and that your heart will never be satisfied. But when you’re watching someone else lose their mind over an exam they failed, you find yourself thinking: Why is she kicking up such a big fuss? It’s not that important. What’s important is that Abu gets his food on time and that Ammi doesn’t do any work. It’s important that I don’t forget that Surah I learned and it’s important that I keep track of all the prayers and the fasts that I missed.
You may be at this stage now. You may be experiencing what I am talking about right now. And if you are, I’d like you to take a step back. I’d like you to take a look at every single thing on your list and see if any of them makes you a better Muslim.
Because that list I threw in that dustbin? It had more than a thousand items on it--- DIYs, hairstyles, make up tips and tricks, etc. In other words, all 1078 items were simply a colossal waste of time (and a source of stress when I think about the headache they gave every time I looked at that list). I’ve decided to make a new list. A better one. And my very first item? How to be a good Muslim.