In Stillness

The conversation’s changing.

Where we once betted on the odds of rain

or complained about it soaking our shoes again

our sighs are reserved for internet tides,

wifi droughts and downloads shy as brides

while all around a hurricane of data flies

so seek the stillness at its core. If you lean

your curious head out, seeking more

it will toss you about like a toy

but on the inside, everything’s joy.

Watch the furniture dance in its 

ludicrous attempts to allure

watch the frames grow dustier

– it collects as you resist –

and the longer you hold back 

from tumbling in among the grist

in this vortex of desire and need 

of unsatisfying gut-mind feeds

the anger in its frustrated call

blows red and heavies the wind

with firestones and curses.

You counterculture scum – you dare

defy the raging wheel of dunya?

It will pelt you with fearful rocks

pepper you with doubts against your cause

and it seems so hard and physical, but stay

in this tranquillity; don’t take the hooks it throws you,

let them drop. This wall of wind believes 

it will keep twisting on forever.

But it was born of lunar high tides

silent moon gazing in love and

whipping up the whistling waves

that roll in shaggy tubes onto the beach

and end up in rock pools and homes for

crabs, anemones. That force

was forged by other powers

and every one of them 

comes out of stillness

and in stillness it meets

its match.

An Addiction to Storms

  The wind is talking. There’s a thundering around, whistling in low, confiding tones between the orange trees and knocking a shower of fragrant petals to the floor. Of all the imaginary vehicles we’d devised over dinner – to escape a tantrum more than anything else – the wings on this wind seem the most powerful means of transport available: it is a brutal angel, muscular and singing unseen.
  There were no stories tonight, only bitter sobs, and meek children not understanding, stroking my shoulders and seeking peace. The peace came a minute before they dropped off, clinging to my hand and shoulder; it was so exquisite after the exasperation and outrage and despair that I had to turn the light off to savour it.
  I scoured my remembered psychology notes for what it added up to: with every petulant fit my inner parent raged, looking for vindication and respect, while my inner child threw toys out of the pram, causing my inner parent in turn to scold it for doing so. The correct terminology might be: ‘What’s the root cause of my own imbalance that’s playing itself out in our family dynamic?’
 Then I gave up trying to auto-analyse and worked instead on the practical means of handling two kids who’d been whipped into a giddy pair of hurricanes, fighting and flinging makeshift weapons, giggling and howling by turns, and giving me the most unbelievable lip. This time the jargon would have read: ‘What am I doing to spark this conflict, and what can I do to pull the rug on it once it’s already in motion?’


  And then, hours after the crisis had been lulled into post-storm calm, my husband tells me, “Don’t try to analyse it, either what you’re doing or where it’s coming from. Just love your children, say ‘alhamdulillah’ that they’re healthy and well, give them a hug and a kiss when he gets angry. That’s all they need. The anger is coming from that need.”
  I am beginning to wonder if I don’t have an addiction to storms. The build-up, all excitement and nerves, then the physical lift off the ground as the gale builds up into a towering column of fury, and then the hollowing-out as the reason for its continuation is forgotten or falls through, and finally the crashing of all the chairs and trees and cars that had been lifted up into the arms of this torrent as they drop to the ground.
  Nothing seems stiller or more balmy than right at this moment, once the storm has blown itself out. The mental imbroglio that a brain with a reading habit gets itself into over any problem that surfaces suddenly falls quiet, like the sea at low tide. You look out at where the seagulls wheel and lurch without troubling yourself as to why they are doing it.
  These personal thunderstorms can have the rug pulled out from under them, if it is done by expert hands that are not shaking with a sympathetic rage. The guns that anger pulls all melt with the white heat of unconditional acceptance.
  All kinds of analyses run through my mind regarding Islam. It’s impossible to avoid it when you read the news, or have a Facebook newsfeed brimming with Muslim commenters. At every moment we seem to be stepping out of our shoes and assessing ourselves, our ‘community’, with an outsider’s eye.
  It’s an entertaining pastime, but when it comes down to it, the only way I can explain it is that Islam has a direct effect on a person’s heart. It’s like an adaptogen*: it will do whatever your heart needs. If it is rigid, it will shake it up. If it is lonely, it will give it solace. If it is wounded, it will heal. If it is hard, it will melt it. If it is to open, it will give it protection.
  So there is a kind of extreme optimism at work within a Muslim’s heart. ‘Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli hal’ was one of the Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.s.) favourite sayings. It means ‘Halleluyah in all conditions’, ‘May God be praised for every state’. It means streaking right past the raised fists and embracing the fighter with more than love – with gratitude. It is not merely saying ‘I forgive you’ but ‘I thank God for you’.
  What can outrage do with that kind of reaction but drop its weapon in surprise?



*Adaptogen: a medicinal plant that will return the body to homeostasis, i.e. do whatever the body needs in order to regain balance

Around Me Grew a Secret


On a bus stop bench today
opposite Crystal Palace park
a sphere of silver appeared
warped the passing buses
metal melted ads peeled off
bystanders blasted eyebrows singed
the trees flashed sauna-hot
and the curve of grey and drizzle lifted
I hid my laughter that
nobody seemed to notice while
the orb of clutter-thoughts
that dangle round my head
like strips of ripped skirt tied to branches
vanished. Oh! How they’d obscured the view!
Now it is clear those shabby tokens,
gifts given in hope of something else,
could never reach the Giver.
He does not do cupboard love, a
worship born of wanting –
‘Take this time of mine but
give me what I wish for,
with all due respect. No, not that one –
I said I wanted it in red!’
But on the bus stop bench
around me grew a secret:
This is always here
while we in earth robes walk
as though we’re mountains.
This is always here.
Once you’ve been shown it
you cannot unknow it.
This is always here.

And the Prize for the Narrowest Mind Goes To…

That great genius for inter-religious tolerance, Richard Dawkins, has finally come out and tweeted it: “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”


Apart from the obvious steps that will surely ensue, the official banning of Islam in all European nations for being counter to human development, the jetting of all outlaw Muslims to the moon (while the far right complains that it was their tax money that built them the interstellar asylum centre), and the honouring of this day in history as Democracy Day, I have a few points I’d like to make to Signeur Dawkins.


Firstly, how much would he expect to have achieved if his nation was the colonised, rather than the colonising? (Repeat argument ad infinitum regarding various Muslim countries and various, in some cases nearly incessant, occupations).


Secondly, what kind of achievements was he hoping we’d make? The invention of the atom bomb? For all the ‘achievements’ of the non-Muslim world (and that is about as laughably reductive a label as ‘the Muslim world’ is), it has succeeded in destroying more of our natural resources in 100 years than in the entire history of humankind, with no sign of that rate slowing. Nice work.


Alfred Nobel, chilling.

Alfred Nobel, chilling.

Thirdly, what does a Nobel Prize actually constitute? Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and celebrated it by instigating drone strikes on Pakistan. Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres won it in 1994 for their efforts in establishing peace in the Middle East; not sure we saw much of that. Nelson Mandela had to share his in 1993 with the then South African president Frederik W. de Klerk, who sure as hell didn’t have to suffer as much for ending apartheid as Mandela did (and who only seemed to allow it because it was interfering with the country’s economy). How much are Nobel prizes genuine reflections of truly marvellous work, rather than simply reflections of what people want to see?


Come to think of it, the number of women who have received Nobel Prizes are markedly low, too. Could it be that – don’t take this the wrong way – they aren’t up to much either? Did womankind peak in the Middle Ages, as well?


I am frankly astonished that anyone widely considered to be intelligent could judge people’s ‘achievements’ in such grotesquely blunt terms as how many prizes they win. The logical next step is to judge them for how many letters after their names they have, how much money they earn, how many followers on Twitter they have. Could it be that this is the criteria by why Richard Dawkin’s own achievements are judged?


He might as well ask how many Far Eastern countries they have chemically defoliated/nuked, how many massively polluting conglomerate companies they run, how many politicians kowtow to their industries, how many diseases they cure whilst a dozen super-resistant ones emerge, how many useless theories they come up with, how many tons of plastic junk they have to ship to other countries to bury each year, how obese their population is, or how mentally ill they are. If any of these things are a measure of a given society’s value, then the West wins first prize for Unflinching Devotion to the Cause of Humanity’s Destruction.


Regardless of the fact that Muslims are not immune to the odd Nobel (or indeed any of the bozo-like behaviour cited above), I am deeply suspicious of any argument that seems to judge the worth of a people’s existence by the sort of thing one might put on a CV to impress a future employer. If that is all you have achieved, you have really achieved very little.


The 'achievement' involved in this family crest was apparently subduing a badger with nothing more than a couple of ostrich feathers.

The ‘achievement’ involved in this family crest was apparently subduing a small zoo with nothing more than a couple of ostrich feathers.

You might have written bestsellers, but do you friends trust you? You might have a PhD but do your children hate you? You might have millions of fans but are you incapable of having a loving relationship? You might earn a ton of money, but is it all sitting in high-interest accounts or shares in unethical mining or arms companies, while the people around you are eating tinned dog food? You might have earned the praise and admiration of your peers, but does the old lady at the Post Office secretly call you ‘that pompous, rude git who swans about like he owns the place and couldn’t tell a joke if it bit him in the arse’?


Achievement has about as much to do with what looks good on paper as beauty has to do with plastic surgery. What have Muslims contributed in the last 500 years or so? Many millions of tiny acts of kindness that no newspaper would bother printing and no organisation would bother stumping up the cash for an awards ceremony to celebrate.


Dealing with your own self – though most Muslims certainly don’t spend a whole lot of time doing that – is a far more difficult task than going to university, getting a job, and rising up the career ladder, gathering accolades on the way. You can employ all sorts of underhanded methods in the latter, but in the former, only ruthless self-accounting and discipline will work – and that doesn’t get you any certificate.


Humility, disinterested acts of kindness, generosity, service to others, being the kind of everyday hero that doesn’t demand a medal – these acts are elevated in Islam to the rank of achievement, far more than winning a battle or having your critics pat you on the back for that paper you just published.

The higher you climb in this world, the further you have to fall. In contrast, practising non-attachment to the world whilst caring for it is surely the greatest challenge humanity faces.


Living on a floating island of human debris certainly keeps all the undesirables away, though I can't say it's got a stable real estate value

Living on a floating island of human debris certainly keeps all the undesirables away, though I can’t say it’s got a stable real estate value

Dawkin’s statement rings so loudly with hubris that surely it is only a matter of time before everyone but the far right (who will have to build a high-security settlement on one of those floating islands of plastic in the Atlantic, in order to be free from all these underachieving Muslims and that horribly contagious plague, Shariah law) begins to see through the flimsy smokescreen that worldly success presents.


Now wouldn’t that be an achievement?

The Barricades of Fear


  It’s only been a few hours into the news, but for once I am going to jump in and comment. This time it has just gone too far.

  A man claiming to be Muslim attacks three other men in the street in Woolwich with a machete, kills one and seriously wounds the other two, and then comes to someone filming the event (accidentally, I assume) and explains, the machete still in his bloodied hands, that he (and his accomplice) did this as payback for Muslims killed in Muslim countries, and that citizens of the UK will never be safe until those Muslims cease to be killed by UK forces. The victim seems to have been wearing a ‘Help for Heroes’ T-shirt, an organisation that supports veteran soldiers.

  This is something out of a horror film, not out of a holy book.

  I have recently written an extensive article for a friend’s website detailed precisely why violence against civilians is absolutely forbidden in any circumstances by Islam, but it will be three weeks before that article goes online.

  I didn’t want to write before about the Boston attacks as I have still been reeling from those, in utter shock and incomprehension, and in sympathy for the families who had lost their loved ones to mindless murder. I am also afraid for everyone who might be marked out by far-right neo-Nazi Muslim-haters who have already attacked a mosque in Essex in retribution. Egged on by phony political parties like the EDF, pathetic excuses for racism and xenophobia, there will also be another reaction to every action. It seems like the cycle of hatred and revenge just never ends.

  Anyway, very briefly, this is what my article says:

  1) The term ‘civilian’ in Arabic is ‘man la yuqatil’, i.e. ‘he or she who is not/cannot be killed.’ That alone should be enough to indicate that it just shouldn’t ever happen.

  2) Conflict can ONLY be carried out in a legally valid war, between one nation-state that has openly declared war on another. A splinter group, small militia, or any other band of psychos masquerading as ideologues do not have the authority to declare war or anyone, and therefore can never be legitimately involved in combat. This means that by Islamic law, the Woolwich killer is a murderer and should be tried as one.

  3) Even in a legally valid war, a civilian can only resort to lethal violence in the extreme case that a man’s country is invaded suddenly, without having had a chance to prepare for the attack, their army has been totally overwhelmed, the enemy is literally knocking on their door, and he will still be killed and his wife raped if he surrenders. This is, needless to say, and inordinately rare situation.

  5) Anyone living in any country that is not their country of origin, if they are living there with a valid visa, has effectively entered into a pact with that nation and is obliged to live by their laws. As the Qur’an says, “Allah’s earth is vast”; i.e., if you are not happy with the laws in the country you live in, go somewhere else. The Prophetic example of Hijra, or migration, to escape persecution, is so important to Muslims that it defines the birth of our own calendar.

  6) The principles of futuwwa, or spiritual chivalry, are such that even in a valid war, combat must be between people who are both armed, no treachery must take place, or bodies mutilated; fruit trees must not be cut down, or wells poisoned, or crops ruined, or any other act that will prevent the enemy’s civilians from maintaining their livelihood. Pleas for mercy must be listened to. Killing must never be done out of anger. While the Qur’an allows for the continuation of the Mosaic Law of ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’, this phrase is always followed by ‘But forgiveness is better for you.’ Forgiveness is always the preferred course of action, and the overall sense you get from the laws regarding warfare is that the minimum harm should be done in order to effect the maximum amount of peace.

UPDATE: 7) Any war, in order to be legal, may only be defensive, and never offensive.

  Apart from all the legal technicalities, which are amply known to any Muslim teacher worth his salt, there is this sinking, curdling, brooding feeling that attacks like this engender among Muslims (and, in this case, among Blacks too). It’s this: no matter how much we might despise acts like this, reject the hateful ideology that accompanies them, and wish that there might be change, none of us have ever really spent any time with one of these nut-jobs. How can we hope to access the source of this bile, or encourage it to take a more peaceful tack, without venturing into very shaky territory ourselves? We shrink away from people like this – so how can they be helped to change their minds?

  It gives an unsettling, hopeless feeling that we must barricade ourselves inside our faiths, our homes, our cultures. All of which will only lead to more of the same. Each side only seems to be retaliating against the other. No-one knows when the original offence took place, or by whom. The British division of the Middle East? Did it go back even further than that? Are these resentments that have rumbling way back into the era of the slave trade, African colonialism, the Raj? Are we still hunting the past for reasons to blame someone other than ourselves for our current problems?

  It also makes it even more difficult to have the opinion that European and American forces should indeed pull out of Afghanistan, for instance, lest we find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as the thugs.

  My heart goes out to Woolwich right now. And if anyone has any suggestions on how to cut this cycle of revenge short, the world is listening…

“Hello, Armageddon/New Age of Abundance!*” *Delete as appropriate


It’s been an emotional week. Possibly something to do with rushing to hospital with Caveboy, who turned out not to be having ecstatic hallucinatory fevers for fun, but because he had pneumonia. Or because immediately upon returning to pick up Cavegirl from Grandcaveparents we had to whip her down to Urgencias too, with an ear infection. And then sending them off to the UK, and later to Scotland, with their dad for Christmas with a couple of bottles of antibiotics in their case and a certain amount of trepidation in my heart.

These are small things, put into perspective. But where has perspective got to these days? Hello, Perspective, are you out there? – out there…out there…out there… Damn you, eerie cybernetic echo.

So when a friend sent me one of the usual mass mails, this time with some elaborate message about the world spinning faster and faster until eventually the poles will switch and bringing on massive catastrophes, which we have to overcome by thinking positive (thanks to giving me those catastrophic images to work on), I began with skeptical hoots of laughter and ended with frantically combing the net for a decent debunking of this myth.

37 million search results later, which I couldn’t be bothered to read fully (there’s only two more days of life as we know it, don’t ya know), it seems that there are virtually no sites properly demystifying this claim. If you haven’t already been pelted with the same email, I’ll sum up the premise briefly for you:

In 1953, the idea (previously vaunted in the 1830s) that the earth has a ‘pulse’ was mathematically proven by someone called Schumann; this pulse, which has for as long as we  know been set at 7.8 hz, is called the Schumann’s resonance after him.

Now, it appears – according to New Age gurus and their shadowy internetic propagandists – that this resonance has been rising since the 1980s, to the point where, in theory, the planet is spinning much faster than previously, meaning that we now live 16 hour days instead of 24 hour days. This is backed up by the well-known scientific fact that “time passes so much more quickly now than it used to!!!” Yes. And Walker’s Quavers used to be so much more cheesy, too.

Apparently (that all-important world), the earth’s resonance is currently at 12 hz; the limit on Schumann’s resonance is 13, at which point the poles will reverse and time will, technically, end.

How that will work in practice is a bit of a mystery. Would plane schedules no longer run as planned? Has Ryanair been secretly a harbinger of doom all this time? I wonder if school will just sort of happen, as some children arrive at random times throughout the 24 hour period, doing their sums very very quickly, while other children are playing with Lego at a different speed in another corner of the room. Are we going to stop ageing?

Supposedly we have caused this acceleration by placing things like railroads across the earth (scientists apparently found that Schumann’s resonance leaped to 17 hz next to a railroad), while greater and more invasive uses of technology create overlapping electromagnetic fields that cancel out the earth’s natural one, thus encroaching on the ordinary balance of resonances.

However, it is also thought that the change of poles has happened to the earth before, and may happen every few million years, just for a laugh. Hey, you lot! Thought you lived in the Northern hemisphere, eh! Look who’s laughing now!

So it’s not all our fault. On the other hand, as the doomladen email so helpfully pointed out, there is this concept of ‘Manifestation’ that is very prevalent in New Age (crop) circles, which is essentially that whatever you think or imagine will come true. John Lennon was an notable Western philosopher in the Manifestationism tradition.

I like to keep my skepticism sharp, just in case a massive chunk of indigestible Cheddar comes my way and needs slicing up for examining. Manifestation, though great in theory, has serious flaws.


One, it puts a heavy burden on people whose brains are by now so full of Armageddon scenarios, mass shootings, earthquakes, unjust occupations, polluted biosphere etc. etc. that it makes us feel guilty for ever thinking something negative about the world. And two, paradoxically, it makes us appear to be far more powerful than, I believe, we need to feel.

My take on it is that it is our lens that makes life appear to be slanted in golden shafts towards us, or cruelly gloomy and empty. Lens half full, lens half empty. A person can be in the middle of an earthly paradise and still be complaining about being bitten by bugs, taxed, or ignored by their father as a child. By the same token, a person can experience their closest friend die young of cancer and find some way of redeeming the situation, with wisdom, with acceptance, with letting go.

Telling ourselves that what we imagine will come to be reality is, I think, not the whole story. I certainly never imagined I would be a single mother of two at the age of 28, running a small farm, living partly on a building site. Life sometimes throws you a curve ball, dripping with fetid goop, and what counts is what you do with it.

In so many cases, my own included, the most painful severances can be exactly what’s needed to clear the way for something so beautiful – unimaginably so – that you have to start wondering what other forces are in play in the universe. We aren’t just us.

Having said that, visualising a wonderful, peaceful, harmonious world in which children aren’t gunned down at school, mothers don’t brainwash their adolescents about the necessity of guns and (ahem) the fast approach of Armageddon, and life is sustainable for all, is still a great way to find some inner calm. As Rumi advised, replace a negative thought with a positive one. Basic 11th century Neuro-Linguistic Programming.

So here are the most gnomic responses to the 21st of December shrieking that I’ve come across, and I’d like to share them with you.

First, the girl in my local cyber cafe, who remarked: “Well, if it’s going to end, there’s not a lot we can do about it anyway, is there?” Mass meditations on world peace can’t harm, but whatever happens is, ultimately, beyond our control. Thinking otherwise gives us an inflated sense of importance that doesn’t help create above-mentioned wonderful harmonious world.

Second, a comment on a Sciforum thread on this subject, by a certain Marv, namely that if the earth has sped up in its rotations, thus causing clocks etc. to speed up with it, then surely our brains would have adapted to this process, too? Ah, yes. Somehow I had thought that my brain existed in a pocket of the time-space continuum that was unaffected by planetary movements.

And third, a long comment also posted on the same thread, summoning us to stop rushing carelessly through life, neglecting to be there for what’s actually happening here and now. Look up, Riathere says; look at the trees, or the vertiginous slopes of the cityscape’s canyon, and watch as other people see you and start looking up, too. Have a bag of cookies for dinner. Jump on the sofa. Laugh and grin at nothing special.

I would add, look into your family’s eyes for a long moment, aware of their returned gaze, instead of rushing them constantly to the table, the bathroom, the car, bed. Look into your lover’s eyes for a long moment, deeply, attentively. Look about you as if everything was new, and yet as if everything could fade away at any moment; as the Qur’an says: “Everywhere you look, there is His Face.” Live this moment now, in all its imperfect glory, and instead of reliving an imagined past or trying to force an unnatural future, there is calm and connection and clarity.

I wish you, dear Cavereaders, many of these moments. Or, perhaps, just one is enough.

Chivalry for the YouTube Fatigued

Don Quixote, the original chivalric hero. Flawed and funny and wonderful.

Lately I have been feeling divided in my experience of Islam. It’s as if half of the time I am within it, and the rest of the time I am on the outside looking in with my nose pressed against the glass.

The binariness of this experience is disquieting. On the one hand, if I pay too much attention to nasty comments made on YouTube clips or facebook miscellanies about Islam, I sink into the depressing awareness that all the dirty laundry of the Muslim world is there for everyone to see – and it ain’t pretty. It’s easy to dismiss provocative remarks as being the result of ignorance, though this is incontrovertibly true; any time I have sat down and researched an upsetting feature of Islamic history or Law, asking people who really know their stuff, I’ve found that there’s little that can’t be explained with a bit of intelligent scrutiny and, most importantly, context.

However, if we were to go through all the ins and outs of Islamic law, its history, the regard given to women, the stories of the Prophet’s family life, hadiths and rulings and squillions of other considerations, we’d not only spend whole lifetimes on our research but also likely get bored and go outside to doodle on a wall or do some other minor criminal act. In short, we would end up with heads stuffed with information but no perspective to view them all from.

On the other hand, if I just relax my critical analysis of Islam, two things happen. First, my head stops hurting. Second, I start to feel uncommonly happy. Not just a passing glee that comes of bingeing on French and Saunders on YouTube, or finding a Noa Noa cashmere jumper in the market second-hand for €2, or finding a recipe online for almond and mandarin cake which people positively festoon me with flowers for serving them.

No, it’s something much lovelier than that. It’s a feeling of basking in a lagoon, the water virtually the same temperature as the air, salt sparkling like scraps of silver leaf in all directions, nothing harmful below in the turquoise clarity of the water, nothing but petal-like permutations of cloud basking with similar delight in the sky overhead. No thoughts. No arguments. No fears.

So when I found this quote below in a glossary of key Arabic terms I am currently translating, I was heartened. It made me remember some of the things that I love about Muslims, and anyone who appeals to me as a true person. I have had enough of demarcating Muslims in a category separate from ordinary humans, as though aspiring to the Truth somehow ought to render a person perfect. That belittles our humanity, as it does anyone we push away with bigotry, mockery, slander.

This is what I want to see in society, not a Shariah Law Britain, not an invasion of Muslims into corporations, not a wholesale conversion of the world to Islam.

This is a manifesto for a better human experience.

futuwwa [futûwwa]: Vigour, strength. It is characteristic of…a generous and valiant person, one who has no fear, who defies adversity. People who are allied in futûwwa swear loyalty to one another and call themselves ‘brothers’ or ‘friends’, since this lends their bond a transcendent importance. Futûwwa means responding to the duty of honour in the spirit of chivalry. Some of its characteristics are as follows: never listening to bad things said of a brother; not whispering nor recording the defects of a friend; practising true humility and modesty; putting oneself in the service of others without discrimination; seeing one’s own faults; being indulgent with others without judging them, appreciating their good qualities; feeling a deep sadness at one’s separation from one’s brothers and doing everything necessary to be close to them; forgiving the damage that one has done you; giving without asking anything in return; remaining constantly loyal to a person who was one’s companion in difficult times.

(Original glossary text copyright Webislam,