Objects

“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”
—Guillaume Apollinaire

I like to collect objects of meaning. Sometimes, they pile up and I forget why I even own them in the first place. Having to pack and move here three years ago to pursue higher education had finally got me to understand that yes—it was indeed an actual problem I faced. During that time, throwing away objects and having to choose which memories and ideas to keep and dispose of was probably the most time-consuming part of my packing process.

Now—amongst the variety of objects I own, from keychains to cards to post-it notes, I’ve noticed a pattern: everything isn’t as pretty looking as I had thought five, six, or even eight years ago. But that isn’t troubling. I collect and keep objects for what they embody. For instance, I have a chocolate chip scented candle sitting on my desk right at this moment. It’s overused and abused. And its charred edges and rim don’t add much value to it’s deteriorating aesthetic. But I love it. For me, that candle is a gift (like most of the items I own) that symbolizes more than my love for baking. And I sometimes wonder if people who’ve seen my ugly-looking candle question its appearance without questioning its story. I wonder if we, as individuals search for reasons as much as we create judgements. And metaphorically, my chocolate chip cookie candle could symbolize the next stranger we meet—as a person whose very existence tells a story we could never truly understand.

It makes me wonder: most people, situations, objects—things—inevitably have reasons, but do we take enough time to try and figure some of them out? Or are we stuck in our bubbles, waiting for people to figure it out first?

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Books

I tend to buy a lot of books—splurging at used book sales and book stores wherever I may find them. Amazon’s tempting too but I feel like since I can’t physically see the books, it’s a little less exciting. I’ve also noticed that I can’t study in library cubicles next to book shelves (at least in the non-science libraries) because I tend to become so fascinated with whatever’s there. The more boring the work, the more fascinating any books on the shelves seem. I remember trying to understand some German literature books—but looking back I think I was more focused on the beautiful sans-serif typefaces used on the spines and covers than figuring out the English translation of the German words. Regardless, being around books in any location is definitely up there as one of my favourite things to do—ever.

I say this today because I sit here with a variety of books on my desk as they taunt me—challenging me to decipher them. Since now, during the summer, I have what people call “free time.”

I bought a few (dozen) books at a random book sale held at my university a month and half ago. They’ve been piling up. I couldn’t resist. And the books were way too good to be true—with $5 or less for a book. It was there that I discovered Guy Delisle (http://www.guydelisle.com/). I am currently reading his book: Jerusalem. His perspective is one of an outsider since he identifies neither with Judaism or Islam, but he illustrates his experience living Jerusalem for one year with his girlfriend, a doctor who works for Doctors Without Borders, and her children. So far, the book seems pretty interesting and holds no particular bias. I love the way his illustrations are so simple, yet they represent so much more through minute details like facial features and shadows.

Another book I am halfway through is Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad—I find it very intriguing. However, I want to read more biographies after this one. Sounds silly, but I feel the best way to get a foundational understanding of the Prophets (may peace be upon them all) is to read my younger brother’s Islamic children’s books. Serves as a great reminder about important stories I have unfortunately forgotten about from my days of elementary school growing up.

Going back to the topic of books—not the Islamic-children-book kinds—I have realized how hard it is for me to simply stay in one place for a long period of time with just a book in front of me. And I have to admit, I can’t put my phone away for more than half an hour. God forbid, I get a phone call or a text. I’m seriously not joking though. I wish I could place my phone away and focus on the pages for at least 20-30 minutes at a time. SubhanAllah the anxiety that technology brings with it—I wish I had the same kind of attachment to other things that actually mattered more.

I wonder: if I am like this right now, how will people in the coming future be? Everything is marketed as being “faster” and “more efficient” for it to be good enough. Apple, as an example amongst the many, keeps bringing new products into the market, selling them purely on the basis that they are faster than the rest—which makes consumers believe that they must be better. And if you think about it, we type on keyboards instead of writing with pens to work “faster” and buy pre-cut vegetables for our salads to avoid “wasting time.” But what are we working so fast for? Do the means justify the ends? I feel like this “now culture” is making it challenging to do something as simple as reading a book. Reading a book. I remember when my ten-year-old self used to read books every single night before going to bed.

Ah—I refuse to let this happen. I hope I will read my innumerable amount of saved up summer books and will not let this time-obsessed culture consume me.

Sometimes, it’s healthy to step away and realize that the best of things happen outside boundaries of minutes and seconds. Humans are inevitably part of the natural world—our physical being as biodegradable as the next ant or banana peel. We cannot expect ourselves to become robots, dependant on binaries and numerical restrictions. Live and let go. Slow down—I promise it won’t hurt.

April 23

As part of my routine, I usually observe my Facebook newsfeed for updates on a daily basis, scrolling past the vast amounts of information people post every day. Exposed to the variety of graphic images and hundreds of stories about current events—most of them depressing—I feel guilty with each scroll that passes by links worth clicking or informing myself on. And as I see the juxtapositioning of someone’s beautifully decorated food underneath another photo of an orphaned Syrian child, it makes me wonder if our presence in the world actually helps those who need it.

I wonder if all this information has desensitized us to violence and destruction?

I feel like it has.

This thought didn’t really hit me until I starting reading an article published by The New York Times recently. I found it on a friend’s profile—and just like any other article that looked like an interesting read, I clicked on it.

Halfway through the article, my eyes started swelling up with tears. I genuinely could not read the rest. Not only was I tearing up, I was hurting inside—extremely disturbed by what I was exposing myself to. And in realizing my overly emotional response, I genuinely felt surprised. Why had this article struck a chord with me while the other hundreds of articles I had read over the last few months had not conjured up a similar response? Maybe I had had enough. Perhaps the pain I was feeling in that moment was built-up.

This was the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/15/opinion/hunger-striking-at-guantanamo-bay.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

Reading it, I felt useless. I felt weak and almost hypocritical for not knowing about all the injustices occurring behind closed doors. But then again, I could not expect myself to know so. And it made me think: with all the information available, are people merely reading, watching or listening to this news—or are they absorbing it? But then again, with so much information expected to be absorbed, a human can only empathize with so much at once.

In thinking about this topic, I digressed a little. I thought about how everyone expects the Internet to “save” everyone. As if, somehow, the power of virtual communication can inform a wider public about what’s really going on in the world. It is true. It may. But when I placed myself through the eyes of any other Facebook user, I realized something different. Everyone has a unique circle of friends—where the majority of those friends may even hold the same opinion as them—politically, religiously, socially. I, as a Muslim with so many Muslim friends, may be exposed to different news on my newsfeed on a daily basis. News concerning topics from parts of the world others may not even know exist. This news can make me into a well-informed individual, but only in the context of my social circle.

I wonder: does that mean that if I was exposed to more photos of—say—other places I was uninformed of, or even just useless photos of spring breakers partying it up, that somehow what I found to be important would change? I think so. The information we are exposed to can change the way we think. It can prove to stand out as more important than anything else. And I sometimes think that with the rise of information overload, new perspectives are not brought forth to the right demographics as much as old perspectives are being nurtured by the same demographics. So maybe, if we really want to make a difference in the world using the world wide web as our medium, perhaps its time to step outside our comfort zone. It may be best to expose de-desensitized audiences about what it is we are slowly becoming desensitized to.

Just something to think about.

First post

Bismillah. This marks my first official blog post for Hayat Al-Dunya (pronounced: ha-yaat ad-dunyaa, which means life of this world). Hopefully, this blog will serve as a compilation of my thoughts and musings on life in this world. I tend to think quite a lot and though I do prefer to write in journals, I feel some thoughts of mine would be better off shared.

I pray this blog is beneficial for both you and I—enjoy.