On Reading “In the Footsteps of the Prophet” by Tariq Ramadan

Beauty.

Beauty.

As I mentioned in my last post, over the past several days, I’ve been reading Tariq Ramadan’s book “In the Footsteps of the Prophet, a biography of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) that seeks to highlight lessons and points of reflection from his life and mission for the contemporary reader. It is a book that needs to be experienced for oneself, but below are a few reflections on lessons I gained from the read.

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What Will You Do With The Things You Notice? (the beginnings of Idea Steep)

Near my bedside table are Thoreau’s Walden, and a book of essays and lectures by Emerson. Both are books that I can only read a few pages at time, and something different speaks to me with each reading. Today upon opening Emerson I came across the following passages:

What help from thought? Life is not dialectics.We, I think in these times, have had lessons enough of the futility of criticism. Our young people have thought and written much on labour and reform, and for all that they have written, neither the world nor themselves have gotten on a step. Intellectual tasting of life will not supersede muscular activity. If a man should consider, the nicety of the passage of a piece of bread down his throat, he would starve. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Experience.

I am thankful for small mercies. I compared notes with one of my friends who expects everything of the universe and is disappointed when anything is less than the best, and I found that I begin at the other extreme, expecting nothing, and am always full of thanks for moderate goods. (..) If we take the good we find, asking no questions, we shall have heaping measures. The great gifts are not got by analysis. ~Experience, Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Emerson’s words remind me of conversations with a mentor of mine last term, where I would be upset about something going on in international, national, or local news, or something that happened to me personally, or a program or policy that I thought could be designed better, or about the exhausted feeling I would get sometimes answering a question about the hijab/my ethnic background/Muslim women that I’d answered a million times before. Really whatever the matter would be, the question I would always get after I had finished my rant was what are you going to do about the things that you notice? Are you simply critiquing and making conversation, or do you have the ethical commitment to initiate change? And what will that change look like? What is the purpose of your professional and personal life Shagufta?

It’s a blessing to have someone ask you such questions. And that is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of graduate school, (though I hope it continues after school is done): you are surrounded by people who are brighter than you, more accomplished than you, who have more skills, who are more well-read, and who are actively striving to understand more about the world and what their place in it is. In such company, you find yourself marvelling at how different everyone’s research interests are, how inspiring their intellects are, and you grow because the company you’re in demands it.

I grow the most though, when the company I’m in is not just of fellow students who are genuinely interested in the questions they’re pursuing and are actively thinking about how they can make contributions outside themselves, but is of people who are also engrossed in the task of becoming better people. One of the best descriptions I’ve read of this kind of company is Rehab al Buri’s blog. (If you haven’t heard of her, she was an ABC News staffer who passed away on March 6th 2011 from cancer, at age twenty-five. ABC News wrote an article about her here, which is where I first heard her story). Her blog was about her reflections and thoughts about her illness, and in one of her posts, she writes:

“I’m also trying to keep company with those who are committed to leading meaningful lives…who don’t think making du’aa  (supplication) at the end of a get together is cheesy, and who won’t think I’m trying to be a goody-two-shoes for suggesting worship instead of entertainment, and who will call me out when I’m wrong.

Living up to the person I promised Allah I would become is a struggle. But I figure I can set myself up for success by making struggle my new normal.

Like Rehab, I too would like to keep the company of those who are committed to leading meaningful lives. Before moving to Toronto, I helped organize an event called Terry Tales, which was basically a gathering every couple of weeks at the University of British Columbia with tea, cookies, and awesome people. The event was originally supposed to be something similar to The Moth, but when we ran the event we discovered people were more interested in sharing ideas and reflections and gaining inspiration from one another than hearing stories passively, and there were really neat projects that came out of each session (just from engaged people who do wildly different things being in the same place, chatting and deciding they liked each other enough to actually work together). We also almost always blogged about the experience afterwards. Since moving to Toronto, I’ve been wanting to try something similar and call it an Idea Steep, and since my heart still feels so heavy and painful over leaving home, now seems like the right time. I think I’ll be hosting it at home (makes it more doable with school) so it’ll be small and simple, but I will blog about our reflections here. And if we come across a magical space with tea I’ll post the details here too.

Stay tuned (and if you have ideas of potential places, feel free to comment!)

Libraries, Planning Education, Thesis-ing and Holiday Reading

I was down with a cold recently and sounded too awful to podcast (though ironically, had to do two term project presentations with my sniffly voice) but I’m all mended now, and back to doing these short audio reflections. I’ve been worried about microphone quality and not knowing how to edit, but as a teacher told me tonight, the important thing is to begin and not worry about having the right equipment, and then the skills and other pieces can develop over time. Otherwise what sometimes happens is that you can become so worried about having the right tools that it becomes an excuse for never beginning the project you intended to begin in the first place.

And so with that reminder in mind, I am back, and ready to learn more through trial and error. All tips and feedback welcomed! In today’s episode, I’m reflecting on some of the things that I learnt through my term papers this year, the discipline specific reading I’m looking forward to over the break and asking you about what you recommend reading over the break. Look forward to hearing your comments!

The Magic of a Library Card

A couple of weeks ago, I disconnected my Facebook account to carve out space in my day to read more. Not that reading online isn’t lovely (I hope you like this blog for instance) but time is finite, and I agree with Farhan Thawar‘s advice at the recent Nspire Discovery Series “The Modern Tools of Creation”  that it is important to prioritise your reading, so “if something is temporal, unless it’s the Harvard Business Review, just stop reading it and do something else”. He explained what he meant by saying “my own reading hierarchy is books>mags>blogs>twitter, and I always have a book with me. If you check my bag at any point, even tonight, you would find one there.”

And while I still love Twitter,  I’ve been taken aback by the difference more books and less social media has made to my happiness level. When I first moved to Toronto, I couldn’t get a library card right away because I didn’t have any paper bills yet, and then when I finally started receiving mail, I was so swamped with actual school reading and work that I just never made it out to the University of Toronto libraries or a Toronto Public Library branch to discover new book friends. But this all changed with the new semester, and in the past couple of weeks I’ve read two lovely books. I’m amazed at how this simple addition has made such a huge difference to daily joy, and my ability to be critical of myself and aware of my own shortcomings while still being kind and hopeful about progress on things I find difficult.

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When You Put It That Way, It Sounds So Simple

After nearly 10 weeks (!) immersed in planning classes and agonizing over where I belong in the world outside the classroom, this week’s readings in my theory class provided some much needed reminding that the world is in desperate need of all kinds of planners, and regardless of what I decide to do in the future, I want to really develop and polish my writing thinking and speaking skills during my time at U of T. (There certainly are enough assignments to help with that goal, now to focus and deliver my best effort).

 

Planners who hope to pursue an equity agenda must speak and write and as well as think and calculate. They must develop an articulate voice, organizing attention to issues and maintaining credibility even when data are inadequate and tempers are short. They must face the challenge of being persuasive without being manipulative. They must face uncertainty without being paralysed by it. Faced with the real complexity of housing or transit or service delivery problems, they must select which issues to focus upon and which to put aside. They must be articulate organizers as well as clear-thinking analysts. Gauging what to say and what not to say, when and how to speak to be understood, whether to be challenging or not, encouraging or not – all these are practical problems of rhetoric, of speech and writing..”~ Krumholz and Forester, Making Equity Planning Work

If planners consistently place before their political superiors analyses, policies and recommendations which lead to greater equity, and if they are willing to publicly join in the fight of the adoption of these recommendations, some of them will be adopted when the time is ripe. It is this process conducted with verve, imagination, and above all with persistence, that offers the planner challenging and rewarding work and a better life for others.~ Norman Krumholz, A Retrospective View of Equity Planning Cleveland 1969-1979

 

Small p planning

Similarly, Otto von Bismarck said, “Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” In that sense, the first step to dealing with procrastination isn’t admitting that you have a problem. It’s admitting that your “you”s have a problem.

I was exploring Hart House the other day and found a lovely room filled with magazines called “The Hub”, and so sat down to eat my lunch over a recent edition of the New Yorker. And while I was reading, I came across a lovely article about procrastination (ironically, putting off readings in the process) by James Surowiecki. You can read the full article here.

What are your thoughts? What do you think the reasons are for procrastination? Is it a planning fallacy or simply a case of divided selves? Or something else entirely perhaps?