Sitting down to put pen to paper is a daily ritual. My writing meanders through the realms of politics, Islam, needlework, and philosophy. Steered by a quest for knowledge and an unwavering pursuit of justice, it imparts clarity, mends the fractures within my soul and, at times, ignites rebellion. As I start my day I am inundated with a flood of emotions: shame, humiliation, and anger course through my veins, each more potent than the last. I am a Muslim and in the eyes of the West that is enough to render me a target for discrimination, hatred, and violence.
The Islamophobic tropes woven into our society’s fabric demand nothing less than an uninterrupted inquiry, especially following recent events, such as proposed “Muslim bans”, a global refugee crisis and the proliferation of Islamophobic hate speech on social media platforms. Yet so many people remain oblivious to the harm that they cause when they speak out of ignorance and perpetuate harmful stereotypes and false narratives. They turn a blind eye to the suffering of those different from them, quietly complicit in the slaughter of Muslims.
The West, a mirage of dreams that offers promises of freedom and liberation, has become traumatic for many. I am a product of this disillusionment; my past generations were uprooted from their homeland and displaced in a country where we are supposed to thrive and prosper. There’s a persistent yearning within me that longs for a place I have yet to experience. This liminal space offers me one of many reasons to write. I write to be disobedient, to protest and resist.
The love of the West is conditional, and I am still trying to figure out those conditions. I am expected to reap the benefits of my birthplace, but the baggage of my ancestors and the distress of my childhood have left me wounded. Moreover, the West’s progressive values do not free me from the complexities and nuances of my identity as a person of colour and a faithful adherent to Islamic traditions.
The suffering that I carry is not an illusion of my imagination. It is a reality I live with daily, from the voices that haunt me of Palestinians, Uyghurs, Rohingya, Yemenis and thousands of Muslims whose bodies float unrecognised in the Mediterranean. Despite the weight of this collective sorrow, I find solace in the sacred Quranic verses that I chant and continue to endure.
Starting any new day is threatening as another headline attempts to malign me and others like me. As I sit on the number 44 bus to Princess Street, I am immersed in Edinburgh’s achromatic hues and earthy colours, but my heart aches for my ancestors’ language, aesthetics, and sacred spaces. I listen to the haunting melodies of ghazals by Abida Perveen, Iqbal Bano, and Farida Khanum, played on an endless loop, as if attempting to reclaim the stolen rhythms of the Urdu, Persian, and Arabic lexicon that once belonged to me. In my writing, thoughts, emotions, and experiences weave together across linguistic boundaries, giving rise to a richly textured tapestry of expression upon the page.
I take a break from my performative writing routine and walk to the calming shores of Portobello beach. As gentle waves lap at my feet and hushed calls of seagulls fill the air, I notice Ukrainian flags and their vibrant hues adorning numerous windowsills. I pause, slowly inhale and exhale, and give myself permission to believe that I, too, am worthy of love and dignity. Where were the Rohingya and Uyghur flags at the time of their genocides?
As I try to reconcile my broken parts I am reminded of the weight of generations before me. My soul gently reminds me of the teachings of Tasawuf – compassion, love, and justice. It fills me with a renewed sense of purpose and vitality. The divine energy pulses within me, a constant reminder of the power I carry wherever I go. I recite the lines of Allama Iqbal, Mevlana Rumi, and Attar and let the healing begin.
Those who fear, stereotype and insult Muslims have invaded, colonised, and ruled over us for centuries. They have tried to extinguish the illuminating light that we carry within us. But my soul remains loyal to Allah even in the face of chaos and disorder. I choose compassion over cruelty, love over hate. Before every action, I whisper Bismillah (In the name of God), calling upon the divine to guide me on my path.
As I arrive back to my desk to write, after every walk I make peace with myself, I feel weary, yet I wrap myself in the cloak of humility, one of many armours I put to disarm the oppressor. The continuous interplay of reflection and the recollection of bygone and contemporary experiences informs my perception of the literary craft, the human condition, and the social milieu. In my writing, I meticulously etch the multifaceted intricacies that arise from my experiences, fuelling my creative drive. However, there are moments when hushed murmurs of apprehension seep into my consciousness. Such is the reality of crafting prose as a Muslim in contemporary times. This literary work serves as a testimony to the myriad calamitous occurrences that loom on the horizon, an expressive chronicle of the challenges we face and the resilience we embody.
Adil Iqbal is a Scottish Pakistani cultural practitioner with a background in Textile Design and Anthropology. He utilises collaborative practice, narrative art, and digital media to bridge western and indigenous craft culture. His focus is on centring voices from the global majority, particularly at the intersection of contemporary Islam, queer identities, and cultural heritage. Adil resides in Edinburgh, Scotland.