A Muslim Woman's Response to The Witch of Portobello

Title: The Witch of Portobello

Author: Paulo Coelho

Publication Date: February 2008

Genre: Literary fiction 

Source: eBook from library

This strangely mesmerizing book was a source of spiritual inspiration, even if its theological approach did not sit well with me.

Since I approach the world and my reading with a Muslim ethnographic approach, this book was no exception. I took it and enjoyed it on its own terms, but as I did so, another part of me absorbed its spiritual implications for my relationship with God.

This story is about a woman named Athena with a disposition towards high spiritual awareness. She evolves from being a devout Christian teenager to a pagan priestess, reminding me of the transition so many people like myself have undergone: starting from the outwardly ritual-oriented version of institutionalized religion and moving onto defining faith in highly personal and metaphysical terms involving God’s presence in all things and experiences. It is not the story, but the spiritual attitude that is laid out (as fact, true to Coelho’s style) that I feel is worth exploring further.

One of the things whose discussion I enjoyed and that I feel orthodox teachings in Islam don’t have room for is spiritual enlightenment through creative expression. Dance and calligraphy are two ways Athena cultivates her natural way of getting close to the divine. What she says of dance struck a resounding note for me:

[Dance is] a very ancient way of getting close to a partner. It’s as if the threads connecting us to the rest of the world were washed clean of preconceptions and fears. When you dance, you can enjoy the luxury of being you.

Shouldn’t one’s faith involve being able to surpass one’s context to celebrate who they are, as God made them? Even if extending this celebration continuously is, in my opinion, not healthy, isn’t the ability to have those moments a way of affirming our existence?

During the pauses in the music as she dances, or when she has to shift her calligraphy pen to go on to the next word, Athena experiences a void which is both a source of anguish and intrigue for her:

I’ve always been a very restless person. I work hard, spend too much time looking after my son, I dance like a mad thing, I learned calligraphy. I go to courses on selling, I read one book after another. But that’s all a way of avoiding those moments when nothing is happening, because those blank spaces give me a feeling of absolute emptiness, in which not a single crumb of love exists.

As I also discovered while I was reading The Gifts of Imperfection, the modern affliction of ‘busy-ness’ is a way of avoiding those gaps, of avoiding being in moments where one has to just be.

Athena’s guide and mentor Edda, knowing the depth of her anguish and her need for more than a normal life of contentment, instructs her being in a perpetual state of awareness and worship, even in the most mundane of tasks:

When you’re washing up, pray. Be thankful that there are plates to be washed; that means there was food, that you fed someone, that you’ve lavished care on one or more people, that you cooked and laid the table. Imagine the millions of people at this moment who have absolutely nothing to wash up and no one for whom to lay the table.

The boundary between the sacred and the profane—my washing up so that I can sit down and read the Book, for instance—is quite unnecessary. We’re Muslims not because we vocally enunciate words signifying submission: what really makes us Muslim is that we strive to be mindful of this submission as much as we can in such a manner.

Another beautiful moment in the book is when Athena asks someone why he has so many books, telling him:

You hang on to them because you don’t believe. . . Anyone who believes will go and read up about [things] . . . after that, it’s a question of letting the Mother speak through you and making discoveries as she speaks. And as you make those discoveries, you’ll manage to fill in the blank spaces that all those writers left there on purpose to provoke the reader’s imagination. And when you fill in the spaces, you’ll start to believe in your own abilities.

I was immediately reminded of the story of Ghazali and his notes and his realization that true education couldn’t possibly mean being only as good as one’s notes. This has made me think very long and hard about my library, my way of learning, and the physical possession of books and notes as a false form of intellectual validation.

Two final noteworthy points to highlight about this book would be: 1) its celebration of the feminine and 2) its depiction of how non-codified spiritual practices have been historically marginalized. Unsurprisingly, the two overlap in the phenomenon of “witchery,” society’s pervasive fear of the woman who establishes her life on her own terms without caring for the attitudes of those around her. A witch, I now more fully understand, is a placeholder label for a “radical” woman who believes in something greater than herself.

It would be hard to summarize the impact of this book on me, so I’ll just lay out the following symptoms: I’m more mindful of my prayers and have somehow learned to be more in the moment as I perform them. Washing up is a joy. I try to read and learn in a way that doesn’t involve my needing to hold onto an artifact. Most importantly, I’ve stopped feeling guilty for experiencing the void of those empty spaces. Instead of avoiding them, I now understand that it’s a symptom. It’s a sign of the universal human need to live a meaningful as well as a successful life.

I’ve developed a newfound respect for paganism and think that it’s spiritually perhaps a much harder journey to take. Because there are no established ways for spiritual practice, one has to find the one they have the greatest aptitude for. However, as much as I think I’d like to worship in a creative way, I’m still thankful for Islam’s structure and moral code. I’m glad that I’m given ways of doing dhikr while still being able to say duaas in free form. As a Muslim, I feel like I have the best of both worlds when I preserve fiqh and practice tasawwuf.

But hey. I’m all for the idea of the Muslim witch.

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On Conveyance and Connection

Once upon a time, Yann Martel visited the office where I was interning. A toast to Beatrice & Virgil was followed by a book signing exclusively for the staff at the publishing house. I was not exceedingly nervous or jittery, but the weight of the occasion pressed upon me: how do I convey to this man, in the space of the five seconds he took to sign my book, what it was like for me to read Life of Pi? That that book came to me during a time of severe spiritual drought and emotional isolation, that it kept me company for some long evenings of my first Canadian winter, that its difficult ending was incredibly self affirming to me about where faith and the story-telling experience intersect?

Of course I didn’t say all that. He took my book, asked me my name, and as he did so I managed to squeak something out about the life-affirming bit. A polite smile and nod, and his attention shifted to the next person.

In another more recent experience, I saw a scholar deliver a brilliant talk about being Muslim women in today’s age in a manner that pierced me, that recognized and gave meaning to the fact that I once tried to work in publishing, that suggested that perhaps the journey is not over yet. After the talk, she was inundated by members of the audience, and once her attention was finally on me, I forced something out that tried to do justice to what her speech had done for me. She nodded, still in a bit of a daze from the last woman who had tackled her, and before getting dragged away by the event coordinator, managed to say that she was glad to hear it.

These people didn’t mean to disregard or skim over what I was trying to convey. They just had their hands full, their minds full. Their cup overfloweth, and they are cognizant of and grateful for it.

Knowing all of this doesn’t at all change the despondency that comes from not being able to connect or reach those people in the windows of time that were presented to me.

It’s not about having heroes and expectations about their enthusiasm for my enthusiasm. It’s about the greater issue of how a person can only communicate so much to another, a phenomenon that gets especially pronounced when the parameters of time, space, and the connection of speaker/listener are more definite.

Sometimes I think that heaven is free, unfettered communication, when everything one wants to share and express to another flows freely and is received in its wholesome, original form without judgment or background noise to drown out the message.

Next time something like this happens, I’ll try not to be sad about the confines of worldly existence. I’ll try not to fret about the fact that the person really didn’t get what I was saying. I’ll convey what I can. The rest, I suppose, I’ll just convert into duaas and good vibes that hopefully turn into blessings. They may not need my validation, but if there’s a way I can give something else, something they need, so be it.

I’ll do that, and I’ll dream of a heaven that transcends our conception of connection.

All I Know About Blogging I Learned From Here

Several friends ask me what got me to start blogging, and some who have been considering starting one themselves have asked me for advice. This post is a consolidated response to both queries.

Until very recently  I was anti-blogging for several reasons:

  • I didn’t think I had enough to talk about.
  • Even if I did, blogging seemed to require a considerable degree of self-absorption, and the thought of being a person capable of that has always been repulsive to me.
  • I’ll admit it: I was vain enough to worry about other people stealing my content and putting it out as their own.
  • I was wary of criticism, especially criticism founded on some assumption on what I am.

Nonetheless, I tried my hand at blogging a few times, but it didn’t seemed right. Every time I hit ‘Publish,’ I had this feeling that the world was doing me a favor by letting me have my say. Blogging is the thing that all aspiring writers seemed to do, were supposed to do, yet although I was going through the motions, I had no desire to share my work with others. I then stopped and paid it no more heed.

But then a series of things happened that completely transformed my approach to blogging. These things were:

1. Reviving the Islamic Spirit

When some of the most outstanding scholars and speakers are pleading with you to take charge of the ummahs future, it’s difficult not to take that to heart. I attended the RIS convention in Toronto the first and so far only time last winter, which was December 2010.

I went in a feeling a little lost, plagued by the feeling of purposelessness that pins one down when life isn’t dealing them any card of any kind. I didn’t have any grand aspirations. I went because I had never been. I went because it had been a long, long time since I had felt like I was part of a greater community of faith.

But everything those world-renowned scholars said struck a deep chord in me. That 9/11, tragic as it was, gave us an opportunity to show the world what we were really about. That it’s a time for change. That we need to garner courage and define a new, vibrant identity for ourselves.

A lot of people tell me that this enormous uplifting sense of inspiration goes away within days of attending a RIS. For me, by the grace of Allah, that inspiration stayed. It nestled and planted a seed in my brain that shone and started to grow. I knew I had to do something with my weird, idiosyncratic Muslim self. It was just a matter of finding out what that something should be.

2. Gary Vaynerchuck’s Crush It!

As that seed grew, something else happened. Having just found out that I was to be kick starting the ebook program at the small press I was interning in, I looked for ways to learn about digital promotion of the authors we represented. And so I came across and started reading Crush It!

Just a few chapters in, I had forgotten whom I was reading for. The book wasn’t speaking to me as a digital product marketer. The book was speaking to me.

This book lays out the steps to identifying your passion and building a platform based on your contribution to the conversation about it. It’s a guide to utilizing what the digital world has to offer.

I’ve always known the importance of going digital generally. What I realized upon reading this book was that I owed it to myself and the world to start blogging. And, more importantly, my blog couldn’t be arbitrary. I had to find something I was passionate about, something I could spend eons writing and conversing and reading about.

Not too soon after, I realized what it was I wanted to focus on. I had to write about books and faith. Religion and the writerly mode of being. Reading this book made me realize that I owed it to myself to make the most of this passion, and I finally set up my blog and started to publish all the drafts I had been writing. I could no longer be the quiet hijabi who happens to be a publishing intern, or a publishing intern who is a quirky and intriguing supplement to a book-lined office. I was tired of being an exception, of straddling two worlds I loved. I had to make them fuse, even if it was only through my thoughts.

The confidence that stemmed from this realization was staggering, and I was no longer afraid of sharing what I wrote in the vein of this passion. That, and realizing that sharing was just as important as creating, led me to finally set up my blog and publicize it through social media. Am I, as Vaynerchuck would put it, crushing it? Perhaps not. But I now am understanding what it takes.

If you don’t get around to reading this book, know its most important lessons are that you need to:

  • Find something you are very, very passionate about
  • Figure out what you can bring to the table in terms of current conversation regarding that passion
  • Find your form (blog, podcast, and/or video) and start churning out your content
  • Reach out. Join every conversation out there about your subject of passion.

3. Steve Pavlina’s post, How to Build a High-Traffic Web Site (or Blog)

My father forwarded this post to me not long after I started blogging, and I devoured it. Although Crush It! was an excellent guide in its own way, it keeps purporting the idea that the blog should be a means to an end, an end where some publisher comes knocking at your door, where you are called for speaking engagements, where you are officiated as a product reviewer for whatever it is that you love. Much as I respect the entrepreneurial spirit and the ethic of hard work, I’m not the sort of person who is driven by those kind of goals. I needed to be driven by something grander, especially since my area of interest was not quite monetarily lucrative.

Personal development guru Pavlina, like Vaynerchuck, also became successful by virtue of having highly lucrative online content. The meaning he gives to how this process happened, however, is something that greatly resonated with me. I needed to be told that the length of my posts, their frequency, this whole keyword and SEO nonsense, makes no difference in the long run. If content is good enough, if you are passionate, if you have something startlingly unique and timeless to offer, the word of mouth is more than enough.

And a genuine desire to help, to be a source of inspiration and insight, is what really makes one’s authenticity shine through. So does engaging with those who enjoy your content. I love pointing Muslims in new directions and making them think in different ways, but I’m too wary of the messiah complex to think that it all ends there. I have to keep seeking to learn from others. Conversation and meaningful engagement–including highly critical responses to my pieces–add to the process, not take away from it.

Plus, a genuine desire to help is not something that Muslims should have to learn. It’s something that should be driving them anyway. It’s not terribly hard, therefore, to do an Islamic reading of Pavlina’s post and apply it to help beget a spirit of generous honesty and bounty by means of collaboration.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk on Nurturing Creativity

Every sentence Gilbert enunciates in this marvelous talk is a polished gem of wisdom. I’m not a big fan of Eat, Pray, Love, but after watching Gilbert speak about the writing process and the terrifyingly high bar she allegedly has set for herself, I found myself gaining a respectful reverence towards her humility, honesty, and sense of humor about her writerly self. I also loved the way she talks about her acceptance of the fact that she may never write anything as good. But most of all, I was struck by the beauty and incredible relevance of her proposal: that we look at the pitifully rare but much-needed depth of creative insight as a kind of miracle, a blessing from some grand, external dispenser of all creativity.

For me, the insights from this talk have become the antidote to the powerlessness I feel when the words don’t come. If they don’t, it’s up to Allah to do what He wills and I strive wait patiently, just as a person of taqwa is to endure with patience any kind of trial from Him.

I may not be a blazing genius or a writer with enough stamina to sustain a novel, but that could not matter less when the writing process is an end in itself. That such a thing was possible has in itself become a source of contentment. Just like one should be humble and simple in the clothes they wear and the food they eat, it really shouldn’t take much for a writerly Muslimah to find her grounding and to savour this process for what it is.

That’s why it’s more than enough to be living in a time where I have an unprecedented ability to be heard, to have even a handful of people read something I have written and have it resonate with them. I have a long way to go, and there are, I admit, things I want with this. But blogging is very much of a process as opposed to a means to a destination. It is a matter of finding bliss in the moment as well as the drive to excel further.

On Writerly Courage: Rhino Skin and God Consciousness

My post on singlehood was recently published in AltMuslimah, and, for the first time, I experienced what it is like to have my thoughts disseminated to a much larger Muslim community.

Before I started blogging, I was warned to be ready for the inevitable: not all readers, I was told, will be happy about what I’ve written. So I braced myself. It wasn’t easy, but I dealt with it a lot better than I would have had I not been aware of the need for rhino skin and God consciousness.

I’m luckier than the many, many people whose lives are under threat because of the things they write. I am far more blessed than those who live under siege, who make sacrifices to say what needs to be said for the betterment of their political and social conditions. I’ve got nothing over these people. But I will whine. I will indulge. So bear with me.

See, the irksome paradox is that in order to be a writer who has to be heard, you have to say something original, and in order to glean insight for that originality, you have to be sensitive. So when you have to write the damn thing, you employ all the hypersensitivity you are blessed or cursed with. But when it’s time for the readerly public to deliver their verdict, it’s time to don the cloak of rhino skin: supremely thick skin. The sensitivity that was such an asset in the writerly process becomes a liability, so you just have to suck it up, maintain some semblance of dignity, and stand firmly by what you say.

Tom Petty’s Rhino Skin got me through a lot of rough times because it’s such a tender, honest testament to the stark reality of being in this world. The name of the song has entrenched itself in the part of me that tends to take things too seriously. “Deep breaths. Rhino skin. Rhino skin.”

It took a very thick skin–rhino skin–to read comments from people who disagreed with the piece and took out their metaphorical label makers to make all-encompassing generalizations about Muslim women generally and myself specifically. My friends plead with me to not take it to heart, to not even read such feedback, for that matter. But I can’t do that. Readers who have issues with what I’ve read glanced into my mind, and they didn’t like what they saw. Again, that’s inevitable. Some will love what they see, some will hate it, some will think it’s just meh. But I can’t just surround myself with praise and flowers and sunshine and pretend everything’s fine. There is no right and wrong way of reading anything. Who am I to say that a commentator with the finesse of an oaf and the empathy of a dull three-year-old is completely and utterly off the mark? Maybe that dullness, that oafness, allowed him to see something that would have been completely missed by the rest of us.

So I can’t filter out that kind of feedback. I need rhino skin and God consciousness to handle it. Rhino skin dealt with actually fielding the arrows shot my way. But I realized that I wasn’t alone in doing so. I had a source of strength, the strength that comes from this comes from turning to Allah, doing a writerly duaa, and in it acknowledging that He alone knows what my intention in writing that piece was. He alone knows what a struggle it was to be able to think the thoughts needed to write that piece.

Am I a fitna-mongerer? Am I pushing pushing singles over the brink into a zina-infested existence? I pray that that it not be so. I’m not one to rule out that possibility. But Allah is.

The assumptions of people thinking I am glorifying something illicit hurts, and the thought that there is any sliver of truth in what they say is what haunts me. What it does in the long run, however, is make me turn to Allah and pray that the things I say only be a source of good, and that I keep being blessed with the courage to write, and that I do so in a way that brings others closer to His light, not away from it.

On Writerly Duaas

A few years ago I made a writerly discovery that to me has been the most immense source of spiritual bliss, the place where writing and faith began to merge for me.
Before going for hajj in 2002, I attended a talk in which the speaker encouraged us to make a list for things to pray for. That’s when I first planned my duaas in the form of a list. Studies. Health. My family’s well being. Success in my academic and professional pursuits. A decent husband. Kids who are not emo. (Yes, at sixteen I was already worried about that.) Forgiveness for my past sins. Death in the best state of iman. All that jazz.

But lists are boring. Lists are bland. You make a list to shop for groceries. But when it comes to making duaas: a list? Does that really suffice? When one looks down at each entry, can they call upon the emotions associated with each item as they pray for it?

A duaa is not just a tangible thought. It is also made up of the emotions associated with that thought.

During a dark time when I was writing out my thoughts to try and understand my situation, I suddenly pressed indent and typed:

Ya Allah.

An unbridled narrative unfolded. I laid an exposition. Took on the responsibility for all the things I knew I was accountable for. Tried to understand the sources of anxiety, all the while stressing that, like Yusuf’s father, I wanted to complain to no one else. Once I finally had the calm that begins to settle after a cathartic release, I built up to a plea, based on everything I had laid out. I mapped out the ways in which the thing I was requesting could make me a better servant, daughter, sister, friend. I continuously injected the understanding that I cannot know what is best for me, but that I ask only what I think is best for me, given what I know.

All of this while asking for just one thing, and one thing alone.

It’s not like lists aren’t important, and a comprehensive list of things to pray for can be invaluable. But a list is nothing more than a collection of reminders. There is more to duaas than just acknowledging them. To me, the perfect duaa is the one that is fashioned from emotion. And emotions often visit with no more than a moment’s notice.

Writers are told that when something hits them, they must drop everything and write. Same goes for duaas. One might be sitting on a bus. In the middle of a social gathering. In the middle of an enormous project, even. But can he afford to not give in to the sudden well of emotion, the need to address what makes his heart heavy, to the divine?

It’s one thing to pray for my parents’ physical and spiritual well being. It’s another thing to revive memories of crisp autumn evenings in Pakistan that my father spent teaching me how to ride a bike. When one remembers something like that, the duaas grow in themselves. With those memories, the yearning to take care of him and be good to him and never cause him any pain is so overpowering that there is no need to look for the words to ask for them.
Perhaps duaas don’t even have to put in words. Perhaps they’re just memories and feelings and images. Memories of the past, feelings of hope, and images of an ideal future that optimizes the best of deen and duniya.
Ramadan is drawing to a close, and very soon I will no longer be in a position to ask for something in the same way I am at the iftar table or during Laylat Al-Qadr. When the emotion is there, I draw it in and fashion it into an original duaa with as much ardor as I can. When it isn’t, or when I am pulled away by other things like serving iftar and bonding with my family, I say: “Dear God. I’m not really feeling it right now. But remember that whole spiel I gave You about my parents and how amazing they are and how I never want to upset them? Please accept that, emotions and all, as if I am asking for it in this blessed moment.”
May Allah make us more ardent and eloquent in our asking Him. And may we never tire of asking Him.

On Changing Gears: A Farewell to Publishing?

Publishing has been awesome. But it’s like it was too awesome to be true. It was like a love affair that, incredible as it was, simply wasn’t meant to last forever.

Something had to change, and my quarter-life crisis (Yes, I was having a crisis. I hid it so cleverly, didn’t I?) was about what that something had to be. Based on the paths I was considering and praying on, I was getting myself ready to write a post entitled either “On Changing Gears” or “On Selling Out.”  The latter post would have been if I became a slightly well-paid editor for the communications department of some big auditing or IT firm. Thankfully, I haven’t sold my soul just yet. So “Changing Gears” it shall be.

What on earth am I on about? I’m going back to school. This fall, I’ll be starting my graduate studies for a Masters in Information Studies from the University of Toronto.The reasons are several:

1. The need to broaden my horizons, career-wise. It’s really hard to find full-time work in book publishing. Internships are great, but after a point it’s hard not to start resenting oneself for being yet another overprivileged twentysomething working full time for a pittance.

2. My parents were hatin’ on me for being such a smart aleck and not having a Masters degree. That’s how awesome they are. That’s how blessed I am.

3. I do believe publishing is important, and books are too, and I don’t regret a single moment of the time I spent studying publishing and working in it. But let’s face it: the industry keeps failing the noble ideal of putting out authentic, original, quality content. Publishing is not dying, but it’s definitely flailing. There’s not only the transition to eBooks–there’s considerably shorter attention spans that cannot withstand the length of a book. Hence, there’s the decline of an audience of book readers as people turn online to be informed, inspired, and most of all, entertained. (I’ve talked about the irrelevance of traditional publishing from a writerly perspective here.)

As good as it feels to bash book publishing for not always being a good content filter and pruner, I don’t mean to pose my course of study in opposition to it. It’s about a blurring of boundaries, not a stricter delineation of those boundaries. Which leads to my next point:

4. Publishing is just one form of information dissemination. This reason was a huge factor in my personal statement for my application to the program. Nowadays it is much harder to be somebody because of writing something; one must be someone before they are published. Plus, forward-thinking people recognize that content-sharing is far more important.  And to be enrolled in a course of learning focusing on the classification of information has a thrill for me. I feel like it’s more relevant to the challenges we face today.

Also, although I love books and have a genuine passion for the role of publishing, I sometimes feel like a fraud. I don’t nearly read as much as any publishing professional should. My tastes aren’t nearly as eclectic as a book nerd’s should be. This is an issue I have beat myself up about, but rather than continuing to do so I can extend my love for the books I do read to love for the process of curating information in general.

So. How will that change affect this blog, my online presence, in all its glory and tweetiness?

Some things won’t change. I’ll still do book reviews about Islam and do the Islamic slants on books not directly related to Islam. I’ll also keep talk about the writing and creative process, and strive to cover pretty much anything that has to do with Muslims and publishing. If my course of study lends itself to the nature of this blog, great. If not, no problem. I’ll simply be an information scientist by day, the ghost of my former bookish, writerly self by night. And if the impulse to go on a whole different tangent altogether is strong enough, I’ll simply start another blog, assuming of course that I decide that sleep and a social life is something I can do without. (Joking, of course.)

I may no longer be able to stay as current with publishing trends as I would like, but my foray into the industry has been more than worth it. I’m going to explore options in freelance manuscript evaluation and eBook creation, and I’m I am still very open to discussions and questions regarding publishing, especially when they relate to the word in a larger sense and not just its literal papered, inked, and bound definition.  What I wanted to make clear in this post, however, is from here forward I will no longer be talking about publishing as one who is currently in the field. I’ll simply be someone who has studied it and has had enough experience to have a good idea of where books come from.

Time to get back into a student frame of mind: assignments, readings, projects, late nights. I’m both nervous and excited.

Let’s see how it goes. May Allah pave the path for better things for all of us.

On Divine Ordinances through Literature

“Tool’s music,” said a friend as we readied ourselves to chow down on our burgers, “Taught me so much about God.” I love being part of such conversations. But at the same time, I was wary.

Such statements don’t scandalize me, but I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that art is the means to a transcendence, to knowing and being in awe of that which is incomprehensibly divine. I associate such ideas with hippies engaging in the idea of free love, or creative types duping themselves into thinking they have something over the rest of the world.

But a gem of the truth shone through to me one day; a truth that stunned me because it made me think of something I usually rarely ever give thought to.

I was reading Annabel, a story about a hermaphrodite who is growing up in a remote part of Labrador in the Canadian north. At one point in the story, the child’s mother is wistfully missing St. John’s, a much larger city compared to Croydon Harbour the small town she married and settled down in. She especially misses the fact that she could lose herself and escape from her thoughts in the cinema in St. John’s, whereas there are no such distractions in Croydon Harbour. This place was founded in order to be cut off from the rest of the world. Its residents–especially the indigenous inhabitants around the area–were too absorbed in nature to need such frivolities:

. . . if you were one of the Innu or Inuit . . . you had no need of cinema. Cinema was one of the white man’s illusions to compensate for his blindness. A white man, for instance, had no idea of the life within stones. Imagine that.

I love my films and music and shows and think such mediums are eye-opening in ways that day-to-day experiences cannot always be. But because of this passage, I for the first time saw a deeply compelling case for disavowing such forms of entertainment.

What if music, films, and TV shows really are illusions for the blind ones, the ones who commit kufr not in its misconstrued, hackneyed, and demonized sense, but in terms of concealing the reality of our world and the universe?

When there is  mention in the passage above of the life within stones, I was reminded of something a shaykh told me once: that all matter is continuously in praise of Allah. And I wonder if it’s possible for us, those who literally and figuratively live in places with millions of distractions, to be in tune with nature in such a manner so that we are doing dhikr with it.

We are told that there is life within stones and that nature is worshipping God. But if we could be aware of the life within stones, within trees, within the earth, we wouldn’t need to be told so.