Letters to Lost Lovers - A Curation by Ryan Lanji at Kreativ House

A handwritten Letter displayed at an exhibition curated by Ryan Lanji at Kreativ House.

“This Valentine’s Kreativ House and Curator Ryan Lanji unveil an touching exhibition that showcase themes related to love and loss. Submitted by artists, creatives and all walks of life, these handwritten letters are a swan song to love of all different kinds.

From Hemingway to Oscar Wilde, hand written love letters have proven to be one of the most romantic and revered way of expressing emotions and in this age of scrolling and swiping curator Ryan Lanji wanted to invite people back to the powerful way of thinking and processing.

Whether it is a final shout to the one that got away, a thank you to someone who showed you the way, Love Letters to Lost Lovers will be a harmonious room for love, appreciation and most importantly closure.”

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Duality

Submission to Man Repeller 'Writers Club' May Prompt - "This month on Man Repeller, we’re exploring duality. Things with two sides. For this month’s writers club prompt, we want you to explore your two opposing sides. What’s your biggest contradiction? Tell me in 500 words or less."

Things with two sides, you say? Prompting the exploration of duality? Allow me to give you a crash course on what it’s like to bare a duality you have no control over. I am my own biggest contradiction and it isn't because of having “standard” multiple traits. If there’s one topic that covers this months ‘Writers Club’ prompt in a nutshell it’s the condition I live with everyday; Bipolar. A disorder with the literal definition of duality.

I am often met with questionable assumptions people remark when I tell them about it. This is a taster then, if you will, which I hope will expunge some of those pesky misconceptions! Euphoric, exceedingly confident, powerful. Despairing, empty, powerless. Up and down. No in between. From one period to the next my mood and behaviour contradict one another, there are two versions of me that don't reflect how I “really” am. It’s a game of never ending ping pong where no contestant ever wins. 

Five years ago aged 19, sat in an office with a putrid green carpet and the unnerving whirring of an exotic fish tank in the background, my first psychiatrist described having Bipolar to me like this: “You are a house. The middle floor has gaps in it. The roof has holes everywhere, and the basement is beyond repair. Now, what we want to do with your treatment is try to keep you on that middle floor, not shooting through the roof or falling through to the basement.” Suffice it to say, being described as a decrepit house is never anyones #lifegoals. Nonetheless, I have found it is totally true and staying on the middle floor comes attached with its own set of challenges, medicated or not.

Being this house-which clearly needs builders on the job ASAP-isn’t my choice. I don't  choose to want to itch myself out of my own skin when I am depressed because I can’t bare to be me. I don't choose to think I am undeniably the most intelligent, super efficient (and sometimes most beautiful!) person to be around when I am hypomanic. It is simply how my brain operates, constantly in a dual with itself. Even though it can be really tough, I have started learnt the joy of learning to live with this condition. In general, life is abundant with unpredictable moments and outcomes and I have the addition of my mood dictating these things. That’s why a smile anchors itself upon my face when I think about how having Bipolar has taught me to ALWAYS live in the moment. 

Faced with thinking about who I am, the duality of Bipolar has drawn one certain conclusion. I am a walking, talking contradiction. That said, while I may be bound to the weight of this disorder, the idea of just being (which ironically comes with it) creates the greatest sense of freedom. I am whoever I am at any given moment, and that is exactly how I am supposed to be.

Amina, Warrior Queen of Zaria

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

The first of her kind, a Nigerian warrior Queen of Zaria (née Zazzau), Amina broke the bounds of a male-dominated society. A little side bit to note; she was Muslim. While much of her history is that of legend (due to word of mouth tradition) she remains an integral part of Nigerian history, a statue spear in hand, on horse, erect in Lagos. Her legacy remembered. She is amongst the many Muslim women who often go unheard of or unspoken about in history. Moving forward with plans for the National Photographic Exhibition with CTS, celebrating 100 women and marking the centenary of women’s suffrage, it is integral to celebrate Muslim women throughout history. They demonstrate that they have and always will contribute to whichever society they belong, deconstructing the misinformed narrative placed upon them. Here is one amazing example to start with, and plenty more are to follow.

Amina was born in 1533, 200 years before British colonial rule, to the ruler Bakwa of Turunku and resided in the city state of Zazzau. She grew up surrounded by wealth as her family traded in imported metals, cloth, cola, salt and horses. Her time was spent improving her military skills with the Zazzau cavalry warriors. Her devotion to the military practice led her to become a leader of the cavalry, over which time she accumulated notable wealth and numerous military accolades.

One of the many beauties of pre-colonial Nigeria was that men were not threatened by power and strength held by women, which made Amina’s forthcoming role as Queen all the more respected and a matter of commonplace where assertion of female authority is concerned.

Throughout Amina’s reign, she faced relentless competition to expand her kingdom amongst the Hausa states. These states belonged to neighbouring powers of Zazzau,  where she ruled. There lay three trading routes through northern Africa which connected the Sahara with the south and western Sudan. These routes were imperative to hold power beyond her own kingdom. To conquer these sites, she conjured an army of 20,000 men who went on the serve a 34 year long war the length of her reign, expanding her kingdom to the largest in its history. With this expansion, she brought indescribable amounts of wealth to the lands, introducing new skills and trades to the people. Amina's skills knew no bounds, looking beyond her military life she also established her architectural skills whereby the earthen walls around the city became a prototype for all Hausa states.

Refusing to marry and never to have bore children, Amina instead chose to take a temporary husband from foes whose legion had been vanquished after every one of her battles. She disposed of them shortly after and left no heir, her brother assuming the throne after her death. Her legendary tales led her to be the model for the television series Xena Warrior Princess. She truly represents a woman who is not as capable as a man, but in this case, more so. She is the perfect case to show that Muslim women have and always will be challenging the narrative by, simply, existing.

Social Media, To Use or Not to Use?

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter, nearly all of us are using at least one of these if not all and it’s safe to say that the word sharing encapsulates best what these platforms do.“Sharing is caring,” as we all know, but how much of this has been elevating the opportunities of people from minority backgrounds, in particular of Muslim women and how much of it has really been not caring at all?

I decided to explore why social media has become instrumental in putting many Muslim women on the map, working to challenge many of societies preconceived notions about them and about Islam. However, some of the darker realities of using such open and accessible platforms also became very apparent. That doesn't mean to say the downsides have been a deterrent in every case, especially when you look at those building their careers through social media, using it as a podium for their voices to be heard. I mean, even I am getting myself set up and ready to go to ensure that my writing is seen on these platforms. Sadly though, no matter the person, it seems to have a resounding impact on who and how we use them. The recent negative press surrounding Amena Khan’s L’Oréal campaign related to one of her tweets about Palestine in 2014 highlights exactly this. Suffice it to say that due diligence probably wasn't done thoroughly enough on L’Oréals part, it ended up with Amena taking most of the backlash, from both Muslims and non-Muslims. On the other hand, there are plenty of great examples of Muslim women who are going very far with the use of social media like Dina Tokio, Nabila Bee, Zukreat, Habiba Da Silva, Sabina Hannan, Huda Kattan, Nadia Hussain and those are just to name a few.

In order to make the most of these platforms, Muslim women have to create the fine balance between deflecting the negative and actively participating. 

We all have a multitude of opinions and social media allows for these to be heard. Working on the campaign Change the Script has given me the scope to understand why some Muslim women are often reluctant to use it nowadays, even if it means being silent. For most, it's largely about the current icy climate blustering in their direction. How can you blame them? When you put yourself out there, it's a given that you will be thrown some kind of abuse no matter who you are. But in their case, it's pretty extreme. The thing is, not everyone you come across in life will like you, and I think that's just the point. We spend a lot of time singling ourselves out because of the current state of affairs, and of course, it makes sense to if the whole world seems to be highlighting the fact to be a Muslim comes hand in hand with being an irate extremist. It's whats always presented on the media for the wider public to form their opinions on. 

I believe, in order to create the balance I mentioned before, there are three steps you can try to take. Accept, deflect and utilise.

1. Accepting the negative sides of social media isn't about condoning the abuse you might get, but it gets you a lot further by showcasing your identity just as any non-Muslim would, especially when you take into consideration that it will challenge the very stereotypes which created that negativity in the first place.

2. Deflecting it obviously won't make it go away, but being exposed to it when using social media shouldn't be a reason to stop you. In fact, just use it as a tool to strengthen your determination in whatever it is you are doing.  

3. Lastly, utilising the hell out of it is important whether it's to endorse and build your own career or for the bigger picture by challenging the narrative the world has on Muslim women.

It isn't for everybody, and I spend much of my time fighting against it. But, as with anything you do, its about being prepared and rolling with the punches along the way.

Noteworthy Women in Islamic History

Blog piece featured on Change the Script. A campaign led by The Hon Baroness Uddin.

Nusaybah bint Ka’ab, Fatima al-Fihiri, Razia Sultan.

These are three extraordinary Muslim women, amidst many, in history whose stories are more than just exemplary; they are awe-inspiring and most importantly empowering. All three played pivotal roles in their communities as a warrior, educator and ruler. These roles of monumental power that Muslim women held centuries before us should be used as examples to encourage a continuance of empowerment today. 

Advocacy of women’s rights isn't anything new in Islam, in fact, Nusaybah bint Ka’ab is said to be one of the first to note to have done so, being one of only two women to have pledged her allegiance to Allah and his messenger in the religions early years.  Her most notable role was her defence of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) at the Battle of Uhud. When he was left vulnerable by archers uphill leaving their post in a moment of false victory, she was the first to his defence from the enemies acting as a shield, utilising bow and arrow to protect him. She was wounded 13 times in the process. This bravery wasn't just demonstrated on the battlefield but in her questioning the Prophet about why only men were mentioned in the Qur’an. It was because of this that Ayat 35 of Surah Al’Ahzab was later revealed, where we first see the acknowledgement of women as well as men to be rewarded a place in Heaven for their faith in Allah (SWT).  

Education and academia being of significant importance make it striking to note that the worlds oldest operating University was opened by a Muslim woman in 859 AD. Al-Qarawiyyin in Fes, Morocco is recognised in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the oldest institution in the world that operates as a university which grants degrees. The library itself holds a 9th century Qur’an still in its original binding. The woman behind it? Fatima Al-Fihri, a Tunisian who migrated to Fes. After the death of her Father, Fatima used the money that she inherited to establish what was first a Mosque and later became a university. It was one of the first in the Islamic world. The subjects available were diverse, ranging from mathematics to music, encouraging people from all over to study there. It remains today as one of the most respected universities in Morocco, where both women and men can study. 

A Mamluk Ruler in the 13th century, the first and last that Delhi saw of that kind; a Muslim female. Her name was Razia Sultan. She is one of the few females in all Islamic civilisation to have had a role as magnanimous as this. Ordinarily, the females were referred to as Sultanas, meaning wife or mistress of the Sultan, but she refused to be known as either. During her reign from 1236 to 1240 she broke away from conservative Muslim tradition by adopting male attire and not wearing a veil, having coins minted in her name as “Pillar of women, Queen of the times, Sultan Razia, daughter of Shamsuddin Altumish.” Even though she broke religious traditions she remained not only respected but also her faith did not falter; establishing schools and public libraries that taught the works of the Qur’an. Despite not having a female ruler since the time of the Mamluk dynasty, her example demonstrates how the role of a woman in Islamic society is contrary to peoples perceptions today. 

Growing up, I wasn't taught about the role of women in Islam from a historic stance. At 24, the ability to learn more about Islam has not only played into my love for history, but it’s also allowed me to rediscover the religion on a personal level. On top of that, it has given me the understanding of the roles I have as a woman. The past is what makes much of the present, and with examples like these, there is certainly hope which can inspire Muslim women to challenge and break stereotypical perceptions of who we are.