SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF ON BOREDOM

2007 2019

One of the many negative effects of modern technology is that our memories are no longer what they used to be. This digital age is completely changing and potentially damaging the way we remember things forever. Our reliance on smartphones, search engines, and social media is affecting our memories so much that there has been a key shift in both the way we process memory and our attitudes to memory: we are moving away from the act of remembering, to the act of knowing where to look online for quick answers to our questions. Essentially, we no longer need to remember because anything we need to find, we can simply look up in a matter of seconds.

Many of us have also evolved from a reliance on digital memory to a total dependence on it. Modern technology has therefore resulted in causing us to become obsessed in recording what we are seeing, rather than trying to actively remember it. We are seeing life through how it can later be shared on social media, rather than living in the moment. We record what we want people to see and subsequently we are remembering it through how it has been filtered and portrayed on social media, rather than how it actually happened. It seems that our experiences are no longer ‘real’ unless they are Tweeted, Instagrammed, or YouTubed. Our smart phones and new technologies thus act as our memory repositories, with so much of our lives entrusted to the cloud.

Smart

Most of us can no longer do simple things such as remember phone numbers. We also no longer remember directions, We don’t have to, we don’t the feel the need to. Assuming we could to begin with, most of us can no longer recite poems (something that is almost unheard of now). And even our most personal events are generally recorded on our mobiles. Rather than remembering what we ate at someone’s wedding, instead we scroll back to look at all the images we took of the food. This is just one example of how the act of recording has become more urgent than seeing that which is being recorded. As a result the present is literally being screened out by the digital as the default way of seeing the world, with the unrecorded areas of our lives shrinking fast.

Facebook doesn’t just want to own your images, it wants to own your temporality. Slowly, and steadily, we outsource our relationship to time to a corporation, which reminds us every morning where we were last year, or a decade ago. Not only does it distort memory, it also distorts forgetting, an essential tool of happiness…Facebook randomizes and decontextualizes memory and detaches it from our current self. – Philip Kennicott

It may actually be worse. Some of us may have no control over what gets posted online about us during our formative years. Recent reports suggest almost a quarter of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans to the internet. 92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity. Parents are now shaping their children’s digital identity long before these young people open their first email. What these parents may not be aware of is the disclosures they make online about their kids are sure to follow their children into adulthood. In light of a person recently trying to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent, I wonder how long it will be before a teenager sues their parents for sharing their entire life thus far online without their consent.

Another way technology is affecting us is by taking away our ability to just daydream, to just be bored. In fact, technology has stopped us from just being. Here are four different views on why being bored is more beneficial to us than we perhaps realise:

The gift of boredom is that it can show people that you have permission to not read. You have permission to try to just do nothing. Because that is the way that we do our best problem solving and come up with original ideas. You are not doing that by refreshing your Twitter feed or the headlines again. – Manoush Zomorodi

It’s all too easy to spend hours staring at YouTube as algorithmically generated recommendations feed more and more content into the queue. But to spend hours deliberately looking out a window—virtual or otherwise—is another thing entirely. It requires mental fortitude and endurance. A capacity for boredom. It challenges you to resist opening another tab, to avoid checking for notifications, and to merely observe the landscape before you. – Arielle Pardes

Boredom is not tragic. Properly understood, boredom helps us understand time, and ourselves. Unlike fun or work, boredom is not about anything; it is our encounter with pure time as form and content. With ads and screens and handheld devices ubiquitous, we don’t get to have that experience that much anymore. We should teach the young people to feel comfortable with time…So lean in to boredom, into that intense experience of time untouched by beauty, pleasure, comfort and all other temporal salubrious sensations. Observe it, how your mind responds to boredom, what you feel and think when you get bored. This form of metathinking can help you overcome your boredom, and learn about yourself and the world in the process…Don’t pull out a screen at every idle moment. Boredom is the last privilege of a free mind. – Gayatri Devi

Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency…Despite the lesson most adults learned growing up — boredom is for boring people — boredom is useful. It’s good for you. If kids don’t figure this out early on, they’re in for a nasty surprise…Every spare moment is to be optimized, maximized, driven toward a goal. When not being uberparented, kids today are left to their own devices — their own digital devices, that is…Things happen when you’re bored…You might turn inward and use the time to think. You might reach for a book. You might imagine your way to a better job. Boredom leads to flights of fancy. But ultimately, to self-discipline. To resourcefulness. The ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and to self-regulate…It’s especially important that kids get bored — and be allowed to stay bored — when they’re young. That it not be considered “a problem” to be avoided or eradicated by the higher-ups, but instead something kids grapple with on their own…Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement. – Pamela Paul

Bed Teddy

More alarmingly science is only now starting to determine just how important being bored is to our mental health. The more time we spend online in the digital realm, the less we are listening to ourselves, the less our thoughts wander, and it’s only when thoughts are allowed to wander that they become interesting. Over the past decade or so, neuroscientists have come to recognise the value of a more inward kind of attention. This inward mind-wandering, far from being random neural chatter, is now recognised as the source of some of our deepest insights and most strategic thoughts, thoughts that are crucial to mental health and creativity.

Scientists first started taking mind-wandering seriously after noticing that when people in a brain scanner have no mental tasks to perform and are thinking about nothing in particular, their neurons do not rest but instead become active in a different way. In the brain’s resting state, a web of interacting brain regions called the “default-mode network” kicks into gear. Our minds start roaming through time and space, replaying memories and conjuring future scenarios. We reflect on our personal relationships, simulating encounters with others as emotions such as anger, joy, or anxiety ghost through us. We also solve problems, seemingly without effort, which is why we have the truism that the best ideas come to us when we are in the shower or going for a walk.

From an Islamic perspective, we need time to mentally get away from it all so we can spiritually grow. In bodybuilding muscles do not grow in the gym, they actually grow whilst resting and recuperating outside of the gym, assuming they are given enough time to rest. The spiritual brain works in a similar capacity, where it grows when resting (in contemplation), again assuming it is given enough time to rest.

From a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we know there are two blessings which many people misuse, their health and their free time. We also know that the Prophet said that “A servant of God will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his time and how he used it.”

That is one of the reasons why the Prophet would retire to a cave just on the outskirts of the town of Mecca. Since the Prophet was deeply interested in matters beyond this mundane life, he would often spends days in this small cave to get away from his busy trading life, in seclusion with his thoughts, thinking, contemplating, understanding, comprehending, and self-reflecting. He often did this even before receiving the official call to prophethood at the age of 40.

The cave (known as Hira‘ on the Mountain of Noor (light)), which has miraculously survived to this day, gives a very vivid image of the Prophet’s spiritual inclinations. Resting on the top of one of the mountains north of Mecca, the cave is completely isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, it is not easy to find even if one knew it existed. Once inside the cave, it is a total isolation. Nothing can be seen other than the clear, beautiful sky above and the many surrounding mountains. Very little of the outside world can be seen or heard from inside the cave. In fact it was here inside this cave where God revealed to the Prophet the first verses of the Qur’an through the angel Jibraeel.

This idea of contemplation is central to Islam. In multiple places the Qur’an reminds readers that it is itself only a reminder and as such it continuously asks the reader questions of self-reflection such as “Do you not hear?”, “Do you not see?”, “Do you not understand?”, “Do you not contemplate?”, “Do you not reflect?”, “Do you not recollect?”, and so forth. In addition, Muslims are instructed to get away from it all 5 times a day through our daily prayers. 5 prayers a day, every day, 365 days a year. Islamic history tells us that God initially wanted us to pray 50 times a day, but the Prophet managed to bring this number down to 5. The number 50 shows just how much we perhaps need to stop and reflect more inwardly on a regular basis.

My favourite scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, has touched upon this idea many times during his lectures. His are just some of his words of advice that all Muslims should take great heed of:

Hamza Contemplate

The great sin of our time, in my estimation, especially amongst young people, who are preoccupied on their cell phones, is distractibility. This is called ‘acedia’ in the seven deadly sins. The great desert monks called it the ‘noonday devil’. And they say that its quality was always to be like that of the monk, who instead of meditating, would look to the window and would listen to see if anybody was in the quarters. Like people now who check their cell phones to see if they have got any new notifications.

People are losing their ability to sit and be patient in thinking deeply about things. The quality of boredom (malal) and being bored is very important. It allows us space and time for creativity. But now everybody has these machines so they are never bored anymore. They are never left to ‘their own’ devices to think of something.

Contemplation and the idea of actually being alone does not really exist anymore. One of the things now, with all these technologies, is that people don’t get bored anymore, because they just go on YouTube and watch videos, or they text somebody. They don’t have that downtime. Boredom is a very important part of the human experience, because out of boredom comes great creativity. One of the things that Kierkegaard talks about is that we are becoming a culture of busyness, everybody is busy, and he was talking about Denmark 200 years ago. So think about what he would think of our culture now.

St Thomas Aquinas said that every culture has to have certain peoples that all they do is contemplate, and every culture historically had those people. And those people are very important people because they are the Socrates’s of that culture, they are the gadflies. They are the people that challenge whatever the politically correct views of existence are out there. Confucius said when everybody says ‘this is good’ then that is actually bad, if you don’t have people challenging, if you don’t have people questioning these things.

And there’s so many people that they will throw these pat responses: “You’re not against progress are you? You can’t be against progress.” Well, if you are lemmings and your progress is going over the cliff, do you really call that progress? We are committing social communitarian suicide, as a people, as a species. What is happening to us as a people?

We have got a culture of people that have been so dumbed down through this educational process, because they are not given any time to think. They cannot just sit back and think, because thinking is a dangerous thing. But as Heidegger pointed out the word think is related to the word thank. There is a powerful human need to think because thinking is a way of thanking the One who gave you the gift of thought.

BILL HICKS AND FRANZ KAFKA ON WHY WE READ

Bill Hicks Flag

The 26th of February 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of William Melvin Hicks. More commonly known as Bill Hicks, he was an American comedian who is by far my favourite stand up of all time. The Texas born comic died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the obscene age of just 32. Among comedy aficionados he is considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Fellow comics Jamali Maddix and W Kamau Bell say Hicks is their favourite too, as does the always controversial Frankie Boyle, who said of Hicks “He was my favourite comedian. He’s probably the reason I’m in comedy. He’s still probably my favourite comedian.”

High praise indeed. One of Hicks more famous comedy routines comes from his 1991 show Relentless, recorded at the Centaur Theater during the annual Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Canada. The routine involves Hicks ranting about anti-intellectaulism, which he believed was highly prevalent all over America, reaching some what epidemic proportions. Bear in mind this was well before the internet overtook all of our lives, so God only knows what he would make of the state of anti-intellectualism in the world today, with all these social media platforms and a reality TV star in the White House:

Get this! Another true story, this is going to frighten you because it’s absolutely true. I’m down in that town Fyffe [in Alabama]. After the show I go to a waffle house. I’m not proud of it, I’m hungry. I’m eating, I’m alone, and I’m reading a book. Waitress walks over to me. “Hey! What you reading for?” Is that like the weirdest question ever? I have never, ever been asked that. Not “WHAT are you reading?” but “WHAT ARE YOU READING FOR?” “Shit, you stumped me. Why do I read? Hm, I don’t know. I guess I read for a lot of reasons. One of them is so that I don’t end up being a fucking waffle waitress, alright?” Then, this trucker at the next booth gets up, stands over me and goes “Well, looks like we’ve got ourselves a reader” What the fuck’s going on here? It’s like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George outfit or something. It’s a fucking book, I read, there, I said it. Waitress goes “Why read when you can just flip on the tube?” “Because it’s not the same. What do you think I’m reading, Hee Haw: The Book?” She said “Huh?” – Bill Hicks

The following YouTube comment provides the perfect analysis to what this routine means:

So love this. The perfect example of inverted intellectual snobbery. The scourge of every school playground. It’s like “Why do you wanna learn? You fink you’re better than me or what?!” Classic lazy arse bully using the bright kid in class as a scapegoat for their own insecurities. And the bully’s probably being raised to put material gain ahead of ever learning anything. Never trust a man whose TV is bigger than his bookcase. Never trust a man who doesn’t even possess a bookcase. Too cool for school eh? Not so cool when living on welfare thinking the world owes you a living. – Judi O’Regan

There is even a t-shirt that you can buy to show how much you agree with Bill:

Bill Hicks T Shirt

The reason why I mention this nearly 30 year old routine is because it came to mind when I recently read a quote by Franz Kafka. In a letter dated November 1903 the then 20-year-old German novelist wrote to his childhood friend, the art historian Oskar Pollak, describing the type of books Kafka thought were worthy of reading. So perhaps Hicks (whose situation in that waffle house can be ironically described as somewhat Kafkaesque) would have been better placed to answer why he reads if he himself had come across a translation of this letter, for in it Kafka pronounced that:

Altogether, I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us, that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading does not shake us awake with a blow to the head, then what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you put it? Good Lord, we would be just as happy precisely if we had no books at all, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves if we had to. But what we need are the kind of books that affect us like a disaster, that hit us like a most painful misfortune, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished into forests far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe. – Franz Kafka

Combining the wisdom of both Hicks and Kafka, we read books in order to shake us awake by grieving us deeply, we read to smash the frozen sea ice within us. We read words that stab us, and if not stab then at the very least poke us, prod us, enough to get just a few neurons and synapses to fire, to reawaken, to overcome the slumber and numbness brought on by modern living, with its fast food, day time TV, reality shows, and ever demanding smart phones. I am hoping that the following selectively chosen words can do something to combat the anti-intellectualism that we are surrounded, by breaking into the frozen sea in all of us. They cover a wide range of topics, from Trump to Islam to American optimism to Muslim fundamentalism. Let that literary axe fall where it may. Enjoy!


Let’s cut to the chase, folks. We. Need. Wall. Okay? We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border, or ‘the brown line’ as many people have asked me not to call it. That’s why we need wall, because wall works, wall makes safe. You don’t have to be smart to understand that, and in fact it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart. – President Trump, 16 Feb 2019, as played by Alec Baldwin on the TV show Saturday Night Live

I’m so tired of telling Trump jokes. We’ve been making fun of this dude and his dumb ass wall for so long, I gotta be honest, now I kind of want to see the wall. I’ve never seen anybody so confident of such a bad idea. It’s almost charming. I’m not saying we should let him build the wall, but what if we just let him do a Power Point presentation or a dramatic reenactment? I just want to see exactly what Trump thinks is gonna happen when a Mexican cartel sees a wall. What do you think, they’re just gonna shake their fists and walk home? Do you know how motivated you got to be to sell drugs? I know a guy that swallowed a bag of dope, pooped it out, washed it off, and then still sold it. You can’t build a wall to stop that kind of behaviour…This wall is clearly racist. It’s just a way for middle America to blame brown people on their new heroin habit. Why didn’t they build a wall for us black people in the 1980s when we needed it? But the problem isn’t that drugs are coming in, the problem is people really want to get high. Address THAT part. If your wife is cheating on you, she is not going to stop because you built a wall around the house. You’ve gotta get to the root of the actual problem, otherwise you’re just going to come home and find strange men running around in them slats. – Michael Che, 16 Feb 2019, on the TV show Saturday Night Live

Trump has been hoisted high by his vision of the presidency as the world’s highest-rated reality-TV drama. His instinct to escape every previous episode’s failure by creating a new drama for the next episode has served him well to date. But reality TV is ultimately not reality. Government is very real, and hedged by realities. Reality is now exacting its retribution upon the Trump presidency. Ahead looms the fate that the reality-TV star must most dread: the cancellation of the whole crazy series. – David Frum, Feb 2019, from the theatlantic.com article A State Of Unreality

America was “discovered” by white European Christians, who, armed with a papal document called the “Doctrine of Discovery,” authorized them to possess “the new world.” They conquered and colonized the Americas on the bones of indigenous peoples and the backs of enslaved black persons. The European settlers believed that Providence led them to America and was calling them to fulfil their “manifest destiny” of sweeping across and conquering the continent. The killing, conquering, uprooting, walling in — and conversion — of the “heathen” Indians were part of the Divine design. Similarly, the oppression of black persons: from slavery to Jim Crow Laws to segregation to continuing discriminatory economic and physical walls maintained by a white-controlled status quo. A Divine design straight out of the Bible: the white Christians settler fathers and mothers believed that America was Biblically ordained to be ”the light of the world – like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) – Reverend William E Alberts, Feb 2019

Fascism is not an ideology; it’s a process for taking and holding power. A fascist is somebody who identifies with one group — usually an aggrieved majority — in opposition to a smaller group. It’s about majority rule without any minority rights. Which is why fascists tend to single out the smaller group as being responsible for or the cause of their grievances. The important thing is that fascists aren’t actually trying to solve problems; they’re invested in exacerbating problems and deepening the divisions that result from them…Violence is a crucial element of fascism. Whatever else it is, fascism involves the endorsement and use of violence to achieve political goals and stay in power. It’s a bully with an army, really…Fascism is always, in the end, about stirring people up and giving them someone to hate…America is not an example of a good democracy right now, and that’s a problem. We’re not the leader I think we used to be. – Madeleine Albright, Feb 2019

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for one’s own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something…American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others…American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? – Suzy Hansen, Aug 2017

The years since the second world war have brought the US military to country after country. The big wars are well-known: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. But there has also been a constant stream of smaller engagements. Since 1945, US armed forces have been deployed abroad for conflicts or potential conflicts 211 times in 67 countries. Call it peacekeeping if you want, or call it imperialism. But clearly this is not a country that has kept its hands to itself…Today, the US continues to hold overseas territory. Besides Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and a handful of minor outlying islands, the US maintains roughly 800 overseas military bases around the world…None of this, however – not the large colonies, small islands, or military bases – has made much of a dent on the mainland mind. One of the truly distinctive features of the US’s empire is how persistently ignored it has been. This is, it is worth emphasising, unique. The British weren’t confused as to whether there was a British empire. They had a holiday, Empire Day, to celebrate it. France didn’t forget that Algeria was French. It is only the US that has suffered from chronic confusion about its own borders. The reason is not hard to guess. The country perceives itself to be a republic, not an empire. It was born in an anti-imperialist revolt and has fought empires ever since, from Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich and the Japanese empire to the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. It even fights empires in its dreams. Star Wars, a saga that started with a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, is one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time. – Daniel Immerwahr, Feb 2019

One of America’s defining characteristics used to be optimism…America’s national identity is built on the dream of individual aspiration and self-improvement, but for a long time this has existed more as a kind of mental state than a real feature of American society. Actual social mobility in the US is low and declining and inequality is increasing. For all the national myth-making, it’s better to be born poor in Denmark, or any other Nordic country, than to be born poor in the US…These days, one of the few things uniting the right and left in American politics might be the belief that America is on the brink of disaster…American presidents are usually optimists…Trump is different…Trump does not know how to harness emotions such as hope or optimism. – Sophie Mcbain, Feb 2019

Many Westerners mistakenly believe that all observant Muslims are fundamentalists, because they all fulfill the “pillars of Islam,” which include daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most Christians think one day a week is enough to pray, and Muslims pray five times a day. They must be fundamentalists! And when Christians hear that Muslims don’t even drink water during Ramadan, they think that’s terrible — a violation of human rights! And when they hear about the animals killed for feasts during the pilgrimage to Mecca, they think that’s an “orgy of blood.” In short, Americans and Europeans are accustomed to seeing religion practiced a certain way, and when they see something else, they call it “fundamentalism.” – Ebrahim Moosa

Americans live in a culture of immediacy that has created new forms of social and historical ignorance and erasure…Time no longer has a long durée; it has to be instantaneous, pulsating with information that barely adds up to a sustained idea. Time is now connected to short-term investments and quick financial gains, defined by the nonstop and frenetic perpetuation of an impoverished culture of global exchange. Time is no longer connected to long-term investment in community, the development of social well-being, and goals that benefit young people and the common good. Time has become a burden more than a condition for contemplation. The flow of money now replaces the flow of thoughtfulness, critical dialogue and informed judgment. This is exacerbated in a culture of immediacy in which instant gratification rules and thoughtful contemplation becomes a thing of the past. Long-term investments have given way to short-term investments, and in doing so, have erased any long-term commitments to valued relationships, young people, intimacy, justice and compassion. Barbarism presents itself in acts, experiences and forms of suffering that vanish from the mainstream media as quickly as they appear. – Henry A Giroux, Feb 2019

“One attack away,” for Muslims in America means many things. It is a reminder that life can radically change in a split second. An ever-looming fear that the state can, again, strip one’s constitutional rights with tenuous or nonexistence evidence. An existential state-of-being that, in three words, perhaps defines what it means to be Muslim in [the US] best: that all the rights the Constitution theoretically extends — from the freedom to practice your faith freely to the freedom of speech — can be chilled or set aside after an attack by a Muslim, or even a non-Muslim. As a result, the collective Muslim American psyche is in a constant state of fear of what may come after an attack. – Khaled A Beydoun, Apr 2018

America has enormous interests in that region. In the past 30 years, we’ve spent more money, sold more weapons, sent more troops, fought more wars, lost more lives, had more economic and political interests at stake and expended more diplomatic capital in the broader Middle East than anywhere else on the globe. And yet recent polling shows that two-thirds of all Americans can’t point to Iraq on a map, just as many don’t know the year that Israel declared its independence; the same number don’t realize that Iran and Pakistan aren’t Arab countries, and about one-half share prejudicial and stereotypical views of Arabs as angry, backward violent fanatics…How did we get into a situation in which we knew so little about a world where we had so much at stake? It all begins with education – or the lack of it…Education, or the lack of it, isn’t the only culprit. Our political culture also contributes to misunderstanding…Our popular culture is at fault as well, as Hollywood grinds out movies and television programs that have negatively stereotyped Arabs and Muslims for almost a half century. – James J Zogby, Oct 2010

“HUMAN EXISTENCE IS TOTALLY POINTLESS”

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I don’t know about you but I’m finding it harder and harder to understand the world and my place in it. Take, for example, a recent YouGov survey which showed that nearly a fifth of young people in UK do not think life is worth living. This number has doubled in the last decade, amid a sense of overwhelming pressure from social media which is driving feelings of inadequacy, the new research suggests. The report also says that youth happiness levels have fallen most sharply over the last decade in respect of relationships with friends and emotional health, while satisfaction with issues like money and accommodation have remained steady. So we are just as rich as we were a decade ago, but a lot less happy. Why?

“Social media has become omnipresent in the lives of young people and this research suggests it is exacerbating what is already an uncertain and emotionally turbulent time,” said Nick Stace, UK chief executive of The Prince’s Trust. To highlight just how turbulent, a good example if 24 year old Tskenya Frazer, a habitual Instagram and Twitter user until recently. Frazer said that she would “feel bad” about her own life when looking at posts from friends about holidays, work promotions, new cars, or new homes. It also made her question her body image. “As soon as I woke up I would be on Instagram, scrolling through. I would be on a page with a girl with the most perfect body…Social media reinforces those feelings of not being good enough, that you’re too fat, and that is toxic. Social media doesn’t induce those feelings but it heightens them.”

And just when I thought this example was bad enough, along comes something even worse and even more weird, something which seems to take the whole idea of “I wish I wasn’t born!” to it’s ultimate level. Raphael Samuel, a 27-year-old business executive from Mumbai, believes it was wrong for his mother and father to create him without his consent. Which is why he is now trying to sue them. Let us ignore the obvious facts that they were hardly in a position to ask him for consent, and he was hardly in a position to give it. Instead let us focus on Samuel arguing that “Isn’t forcing a child into this world and then forcing it to have a career kidnapping and slavery?…The only reason your children are facing problems is because you had them.”

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Samuel is a committed antinatalist. Antinatalism is not those special classes that pregnant couples go to. Instead it is a system of belief which holds that it is morally wrong for people to procreate, and a vast amount of human misery could be avoided by people simply not existing in the first place. This growing global movement has a long and respected pedigree: forms of it crop up in sects of Buddhism and Christianity, and more than one philosopher has argued that the optimal outcome for humanity is extinction.

Whilst Samuel’s suit is likely to be doomed, and the idea also sounds totally absurd, it is nevertheless linked to this serious strain of philosophical thought, which challenges the idea that it’s good to make new people. Antinatalism has been popularized in the West by philosophers like David Benatar, who wrote a book in 2006 called Better Never To Have Been: The Harm Of Coming Into Existence.

Samuel has written on Facebook that “I love my parents and we have a great relationship, but they had me for their joy and their pleasure.” He has also told the BBC that he’s been obsessed since he was a small child with the question of why his parents were entitled to create him without his consent. Because it’s not possible to ask children for consent before they are created, his argument is that therefore it’s wrong to have them at all. He finalised his philosophy by telling the BBC that “There’s no point to humanity. So many people are suffering. If humanity is extinct, Earth and animals would be happier. They’ll certainly be better off. Also no human will then suffer. Human existence is totally pointless.”

It is at times like these that I turn mainly to my faith and, in part, to comedians and satirists. This group of people seem to be the few on earth who currently make any sense to me, the rest just leave me confused at best, and despondent at worst. So please find below several quotes from said comedians and satirists, which I hope provide some clarity amid all the confusion that we are surrounded by. As usual, please be aware of some strong language. We start with the ever controversial Ricky Gervais, from his new stand up Netflix special, talking rather aptly about how kids today are really unappreciative of their parents. Enjoy!


There are reasons I don’t have children. One. There’s millions! The world’s over-populated. No-one’s sitting around going “Rick’s not having kids. We’re gonna run out. Fuck!” Two. Kids are scroungers, aren’t they? From day one it’s all “me, me, me”, isn’t it? “Feed me. Clothe me. Pay for my chemotherapy.” No…no. Not my problem, son. Not mine. Luck of the draw, boy. Luck of the draw. It costs the average household in the West $200,000 to bring up a child. And you don’t see that back, they don’t want to pay you back. They’re not grateful. They don’t go “Oh thanks for having me” every day. They go “I didn’t wanna be born.” Even if they get a top job, which they won’t, you’ll never see that money back. They’ll just put you in a home, okay? And my kid, he’d be born into ridiculous wealth, wouldn’t he? So…he’d be a little c**t. – Ricky Gervais, from his stand-up comedy show Humanity

Making jokes about the news can get a little redundant for me, but every so often you see a picture of a governor in blackface and I’m like “This’ll be fun.” So first, the governor of Virginia admitted to wearing blackface in college for a Michael Jackson costume. By the way, making it the least accurate Michael Jackson costume possible. That would be crazy enough, but then the attorney general was like “You too?! Blackface is my JAM!” And then the actor Liam Neeson was like “Blackface? Hold my beer. I didn’t want to bring this up ever, but for a week I was trying to kill a black dude with a baseball bat. Anyhoo, so my movie comes out Friday.” This has been a tough week. Not to mention, we also found out the rapper 21 Savage was deported for being British, which is kind of like finding out Adele is from Atlanta. 21 actually had to leave the UK as a kid, probably because crazy ass Liam Neeson was looking for black dudes with a baseball bat. – Michael Che, 09 Feb 2019, from the TV show Saturday Night Live

I don’t know about you guys but my British values are very important to me. If I’m in town and I overhear someone speaking Spanish or German I say “Why aren’t you integrating?” – Bilal Zafar

I enjoy living up here in Scotland. I’ve got myself a Scottish girlfriend now. She’s Glaswegian but she is half Omani, her mother is from Oman in the Middle East. I feel like I need to explain myself here: she’s not half a man. It’s this Geordie accent of mine. Her mother is from Oman in the Middle East. She’s Arabic, she’s a Muslim, she’s wonderful. And I feel like I need to share this with people, I feel like I need to fight the good fight, because every day I read a news story that tells me in the newspapers every day and on TV that Muslims are trying to kill me. It’s propaganda. And then I go to my mother’s house and that woman makes my lunch! It’s very confusing. If anything she’s trying to keep me alive. The only thing she has ever blown up is an air bed. But I hate reading this bullshit that I see in the news, because if a guy is a dick, if a guy is an arsehole, then I don’t need to know his religion. You wouldn’t give me other useless facts about the criminal, like you wouldn’t put down that the gunman was a Sagittarian. I know some people believe in star signs and they’ll all get angry and say thing like “Argh! Sagittarian bastard! Go back to Sagittaria.” It’s just so dumb. I think the best way I can express how I feel about this entire situation is if I word it like this: I think every time one Muslim commits a crime, commits an act of terror, and ends up on the news, ends up on TV, the rest of the Muslim community must feel exactly how I feel whenever the TV show Geordie Shore comes on. – Kai Humphries

If you’re a billionaire thinking about running for president, just become a Batman instead. – tweet from Jess Dweck (@TheDweck), 01 Feb 2019

It’s hilarious that you can be a billionaire and think to yourself “Hmm…I don’t think I have enough. I should be president of America.” But then when people ask for basic healthcare it’s like “Whoa! Entitled much?” – tweet from Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker), 29 Jan 2019

Marriage is like the witness protection programme: you get all new clothes, you live in the suburbs, and you’re not allowed to see your friends anymore. – Jeremy Hardy

My co-workers wanted to pick my brain about Islam, that wanted to learn more about it. One of my co-workers asked me “What is your criteria for getting into heaven?” I told them there’s the five pillars of Islam. There’s a testament of faith, which is that there’s one God and Mohammed is His messenger. There’s zakat, which is paying a percentage of your annual salary to charity. There’s Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. There’s praying five times a day. And there’s fasting during the month of Ramadan. Or you could just blow yourself up in a crowded market. That’s kind of a shortcut, it’s what’s known as the ‘Super Mario Brothers method’ where getting into heaven is much like jumping into a magical pipe that transports you there. It’s mainly designed for people who want to get into heaven but don’t want to go through 80 years of pious living until they die a natural death, because that takes a long time and it’s hard to do. This way you can let just a few strategically placed sticks of dynamite rip a heaven wormhole for you. It’s like KA-BLA-MO and you’re there! It’s that quick. It’s like that TV show Sliders, but with more limbs flying around. – Fahim Anwar

My daughter wanted a new pair of trainers. I told her ‘You’re eleven, make your own!’ – Jeremy Hardy

People expect me to have some sort of big opinion on racism because unfortunately I’m not white, no matter how hard I try. But it’s something I’ve only really experienced once and that was when I was walking home late one night and someone driving past quite fast actually shouted something quite racist out at me, but I forgave him because he crashed into a lorry. – Bilal Zafar

Saying “In my opinion…” is a brilliant line of reasoning. In your opinion anything can be right. In my opinion if Hillary had won the election in 2016 then we would all be strawberries now. That’s my opinion. And I can’t be proven wrong. – Trevor Noah, Feb 2019

The only way you can ever accuse a Conservative politician of hypocrisy is if they walk past a homeless person without kicking them in the face. – Jeremy Hardy

What I’ve noticed is that the more Muslim I look, the more chicken I get in my shawarma. I kid you not. So now I play my Muslim card hard! I open strong, I show up and I’m like “As-salaam-alaikum my brother. Can I get a chicken shawarma please?” And as he’s making my shawarma I just look at a random white guy and I say “Infidel! Infidel!” And he skips the vegetables and I get more chicken. – Ali Mehedi

ISLAM HAS BEEN THERAPEUTIC FOR MY MENTAL HEALTH

Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury

The issue of mental health was never too far from the front pages of 2018 and the way things are going, this subject looks set to dominate headlines in 2019 as well. 2019 began with social media tech giants being told to take a moment of reflection after the suicide of British school girl Molly Russell. Her father pointed a finger directly at Instagram. This was followed by schools up and down the land wanting to ban smart phones from their premises. The impact of social media on children has never faced greater scrutiny, and it is a scrutiny that seems to grow day by day. Another recent example comes from a New Statesman article in which the following dark observation is made:

Mental illness is surging even in the world’s happiest countries…In Norway, the number of young people seeking help for mental illness increased 40 per cent in five years. In Finland, named the happiest country in the world for 2018, suicide is responsible for a third of all deaths among 15- to 24-year-olds. – Sophie McBain, Jan 2019

Over at the Guardian another article is also making similar observations:

By mollycoddling our children, we’re fuelling mental illness in teenagers…We talk incessantly about how to make children more “resilient”, but whatever we’re doing, it’s not working. Rates of anxiety disorders and depression are rising rapidly among teenagers, and in the US universities can’t hire therapists fast enough to keep up with the demand. – Jonathan Haidt and Pamela Paresky, Jan 2019

Staying in the US, according to recent reports the two ancient practices of yoga and meditation are now officially the most popular alternative health approaches in America, each used by around 35 million adults. The big growth in yoga and meditation is clearly linked to better availability, with a boom in studios, classes, and apps, some of them free and online. But as more Americans find they are struggling with mental health issues like anxiety, distraction, and physical issues like chronic pain, they are seeking therapies that do not involve pharmaceuticals. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin Madison and founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, said that:

Many forces in our culture have conspired to elevate anxiety and stress, in part due to a lot of messages related to fear in the media, and this makes people unsettled. I think there is an increasing interest in strategies like yoga and meditation that can help people adjust to modern circumstances. – Richard Davidson

Going back to 2018, the year saw many professional athletes open up about their mental health struggles. Olympic legend Victoria Pendleton admitted she contemplated suicide in 2018. Former England footballer Rio Ferdinand recently documented in depth his struggles after the death of his wife Rebecca Ellison in 2015 to breast cancer (Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad won the Best Single Documentary award at the British Academy Television Awards last year in May). Danny Rose, current England and Tottenham Hotspur footballer, spoke about his recent struggles with depression, just ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. In recent years the many additional household names who have shared their experiences have included Jonny Wilkinson, Kelly Holmes, and Marcus Trescothick.

Musicians have also recently come to the fore to reveal their inner demons. Lady Gaga told The Mirror in 2016 she has blocked out the memory of rising to fame. “It’s like I’m traumatised. I needed time to recalibrate my soul.” Demi Lovato, who has bipolar disorder, was admitted to hospital last year for a suspected drug overdose but has since been in recovery and often shares updates on her wellbeing with fans. Zayn Malik, who overnight became one of the most talked-about people on the planet after One Direction came second on the 2010 series of The X Factor, has anxiety so severe it has forced him to cancel several solo tours. A few years ago he wrote a first-person account in his book Zayn which addressed the multiple issues fame had either caused or exacerbated:

When I was in One Direction, my anxiety issues were huge, but within the safety net of the band, they were at least manageable. As a solo performer, I felt much more exposed, and the psychological stress of performing had just got to be too much for me to handle – at that moment, at least. – Zayn Malik

Arguably one of the biggest mental health advocates to emerge from last year is world heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury. In 2015 the 6 foot 9 inch man-mountain defeated Wladimir Klitschko to take three world heavyweight titles, fulfilling his lifelong dream. But feeling no subsequent sense of purpose he spiralled into madness. “When you’ve won all the world title belts there’s nothing else after that,” he said. He fell into depression, closely followed by its good friend addiction. He looked for salvation in alcohol, drugs, and grimy strip clubs. “I’ve been living like a rock star. But that ain’t a great thing.” He received a drugs ban and suicidal thoughts led him to nearly drive his Ferrari off a bridge at 190mph. “I prayed for death on a daily basis,” Fury said.

Yet in 2018 Fury had shed 10 stones, along with his demons, and was taking on hard man heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder on December 1st in Los Angeles. Help had come to Fury in the forms of a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, family support, regular exercise, abstinence, and a renewed faith. In the 12th round of the fight with Wilder, which Fury arguably won, he was brutally floored with a Wilder hammer-blow. Fury was out cold, horizontal, eyes rolled back, and with the umpire counting him out. But somehow Fury peeled himself off the canvas, regained his feet, and saw out a dramatic draw.

Afterwards he said “I ain’t a special human being. I’m just a normal man. But with the right help and the right guidance, anyone can turn their life around.” The controversial decision to call it a draw robbed Fury of one of the great sporting comebacks ever. Not that he seemed to care. Post-fight he pledged to donate his £8m fee to the homeless and declared “For all the people out there with mental health problems, I did it for you guys.”

A few weeks later, at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in Birmingham, he was asked about that knock down. His prominent resurrection earned him a deserved nomination. Fury delivered an emotional speech just before cyclist Geraint Thomas took home the main prize, as he looked to raise awareness for mental health:

Many men would have stayed down after getting knocked down heavily by Deontay Wilder, but I wanted to show the world that anything was possible, and that no matter what you’ve been through in your life and no matter what you are going through, you must always, always get up and keep going forward and fight back. Because the mental health story…we need to spread the word on mental health more in sport because there’s a lot of people living in darkness and are too afraid and come out and speak about it in public. But if I can do it, the big heavyweight champion of the world, 6 foot 9, 18 stone, I’m supposed to be a big tough guy, anybody can do it. – Tyson Fury

As a practising Muslim I am also interested in how mental health issues are viewed in the Muslim community. From everything I have read on this topic so far, a common theme among those Muslims who suffer from such issues is that you simply cannot use your faith alone to remove any anxieties you may have. Here are a few opinions on this:

As a Muslim, I wish people would stop telling me that I can just ‘pray away’ my mental health problems…At worst, it can feel like drowning under constant waves. Obstacles that appear in life are dismissed as simply “tests from God” rather than anything concretely worrying. I’ve lost count throughout my life how many times I’ve been told that any doubts and difficulties I encounter are due to a weakness in my faith. As a young British Asian Muslim struggling with all sorts of things, it’s one of the worst responses to hear, something that compounds your sense of desolation and worse: creates a feeling of guilt for having these doubts. What happens when faith doesn’t cure the feeling of emptiness? Does that mean God hates you? That you’re not praying properly? The standard answer to your doubts simply leaves you with more of them. – Rabbil Sikdar, Jan 2018

When I see people undermine the validity of someone else’s struggle and pain by saying “Mental health is due to low iman (faith),” I automatically remember the story of the Prophet. There is a year in the Prophet’s life known as ‘the year of sorrow’ where he lost his wife and his uncle and this led to extreme emotional distress. He was the best of humanity yet his sorrow extended over an entire year! We have to be more understanding of people and the different thresholds that we all have. Rather than seeking to understand people, their stories and experiences, we superimpose our notions of weakness and religiosity on them. Imagine someone with postnatal depression or with a mental illness that is genetically linked being told that their illness is a result of low faith? It’s demoralising and squarely places blame on them. Faith without work is fruitless and considering that the crux of Islam is about faith (iman) and actions, it does baffle me when someone speaks about their mental health illness and the only response they get is to pray, ignoring the work and the help that’s needed which often includes therapy and medication. Faith and action work hand in hand. – myrihla.com, Jul 2017

It can kind of get worse because us Muslims also believe in jinns (evil spirits) and the fact that, should you be possessed or affected by them, you can get an imam to exorcise them from your life. This is why sometimes when a Muslim has a mental health disorder they are perceived to be possessed by said jinns, rather than having a medical condition for which there are valid medical treatments. By extension, the help Muslims receive can be limited, as family members often end up seeking treatment from religious figures who may perform these exorcisms. This can be hugely damaging to the person suffering. In a recent article Aisha S, a social worker, said that:

Exorcisms still happen, particularly when someone is suffering from psychosis but it is believed to be a jinn. These exorcisms are quite dehumanising. Imams (Islamic leaders) really need to play more of a role in educating themselves and their communities. Prayer is helpful but so is a holistic approach. You wouldn’t be able to pray away cancer, so why is prayer the only answer to curing mental health problems? – Aisha S, May 2018, in an interview with metro.co.uk

But it is not all doomy and gloomy. Islam does have some positive impact on those suffering from mental health issues:

Islam has been therapeutic for my mental health, I don’t care what people have to say…Whatever your opinion, my religion has been good for my mental health…My internal stability – my thoughts and actions, how I perceive myself, both good, bad – or in other words, my mental health, have all been coloured by my religious beliefs…when I gets bouts of anxiety or feel myself sinking into a depression, it’s God I turn to. It’s these times when I feel like there’s nothing left and I can’t bear to be around people and it feels like I’m going to burst, that having a God I believe in is especially helpful…When I’m anxious or obsessing over a problem, it’s by praying and talking to God that I find solace. I’m not part of a cult, I swear. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you can pray away mental disorders, and they can affect even the most pious of people. But personally speaking, I feel it’s my God, my personal idea of God at least, that’s allowed my emotional wellbeing to be in good working order. – Faima Bakar, Mar 2018

However, the best example I have come across of someone who hit rock bottom but then used their Islamic faith to bounce back, is from Australian stand up comedian Khalid Khalafalla. I hope this 38 minute speech inspires you as much it inspired me. As always selected quotes are transcribed. Enjoy!


I guess that’s where my struggle begins, if I have to think really philosophically and deep about it. It was the idea that essentially I chased this sense of connection with people, thinking that it would come through my work, or thinking that it would come through comedy. Except comedy is one of those things where, it looks like you’re connecting with people but you’re not at all. You’re speaking at people but not with them. And so at the end of every show people leave and they know everything about me and I have no idea who any of the people I just spoke to are, or what they do, or anything about them, but the only thing I know is that they like to laugh. That’s about it.

I started turning to the wrong people, and I started turning to substance. Around that time it was cigarettes, it started off as just cigarettes and stuff, and I thought I was like “Well, my dad smokes.” So at first I was justifying it like “Well, my dad smokes and he’s a doctor, so he should know better. In fact, he’s basically killing me.” So I did that for a little bit and that makes things worse, because when you’re stressed and you think that you have a coping mechanism for stress, you’re wrong.

There’s nothing that will help you cope with stress better than dealing with the thing that is stressing you, and if you don’t know what it is then you have to stop and think about what it is. And to find out what it is you need your full mental faculties, and that’s not going to happen if you use a substance which is going to numb you down and stop you from being able to deal with the thing that you’re stressed about. For me, I was too young, I didn’t understand that and cigarettes escalated to other things, other things escalated to other things. And it started going into everywhere in my life, I exhibited addictive behaviours in everything that I was doing, not just with substance.

So for example I started taking tolls, going towards the city on the freeway and then going “I’ll pay it later.” Saying “I’ll pay it later” because I genuinely was desperate that I was going to make it in comedy, so that I could please my parents, so that I could make money, and I’ll just pay off the tolls and that’ll be the last of my concerns. So now I’m stressed, I’m using substance, I’m taking tolls, I’m taking risks, I’m slowly doing very irresponsible things and I’m shaping myself to be a human being with unique habits that do not fit with any of my friends now. So I’m alienating myself from friends, I’m becoming more irritable, I’m doing things that are unbecoming of someone who has genuine love in his heart and wants to help other people. And from there, weirdly, the comedy community enables that. So I was suddenly becoming better at being a comedian in the eyes of people who were in pubs and clubs, while at the same time alienating people, especially around this time, in Muslim communities as well.

I feel like any judgment that I can get from people is not nearly as bad as what I went through myself, and what I put myself through.

I think that there’s a huge commercialization of being present and being in the moment and doing meditation and listening to the words that you’re saying and listening to your breath. All of that is just prayer! I mean, we Muslims came up with ages go, so hey! And I remember when I first was depressed, I thought my parents would just look at me like “You know you’re just so sucky, you’re lazy, and you don’t pray enough. That’s what it is.” And I’d be like “You don’t get it, it’s not just praying.” And then it’s a full circle and you come back and you’re like “Yeah, it is.” If you do that then you’d be in the moment.

All the things that Islam teaches you are really the little things that I can tell you that I would tell a room full of white people, which is build momentum, have faith that things are going to happen, be good to other people, the best service to yourself is service to other people. That’s the purpose. When people say things like “What is my purpose? What am I doing?” find out what you’re good at doing for other people, and that’s what’s going to make you happy. And for me it came back to that, it went full circle and I realized what I want to do is make other people happy. And laughter for me is that really big thing.

Every substance I believe is a substitute for connecting with people. It’s something that, when you find the gaping hole, it gives you the same rewards that you would just connecting with people. And you can get the same high connecting with people and having a good conversation. And if that seems false to you it’s because you haven’t been doing it enough. I think the more I quit substance and had to confront that gaping hole that was left, I realized that it was lack of people and that lack of people I had done to myself because, for that entire period of time [I was taking substance], I was the most important person [to myself].

Good people will never turn you down if you ask them for a favour. It’s really that simple. It takes more out of you to ask for a favour than it does for the person giving a favour, because when you get to a place of happiness you realize that it’s your pleasure to do something for someone else. And I’m in a place right now where I’m looking for things to do for people, and they’re not enough, and you realize that it’s because you’re of no value to people unless you’ve been trying to help people actively.