One of my students recently asked me why I have a tattoo. I don't think there was anything disapproving in the question, like the way a grandparent would ask it. And I thought about it; I thought about why I have tattoos. Of course this isn't indicative of everyone and every tattoo, but I like to have at least two reasons to do everything that I do, and here they are: Do you ever use sticky notes? I asked that student. What are they used for? They're used to remind you of something, right? You put a sticky note on your door to remind you to grab your medicine from the fridge before going on a trip. You put a sticky note on the side of your computer to remind you to send that email. It's a reminder. My tattoos (at least) are reminders for me. But they're not reminders that can go on a sticky note; they are reminders for every minute of every day. There's no situation I can think of where these are not helpful reminders. And they're reminders to me and to those around me, as well.
This comes from one of my favourite stories in Islam: on the 23rd of Ramadan, 609, Muhammadﷺ was chilling in his cave (as he does) when all of a sudden, this blinding light fills the cave. And the light started speaking to Muhammadﷺ, it said: "Read!" and Muhammadﷺ, who was (and I guess still is) illiterate was like: "No." And the light said: "Read!" Muhammadﷺ said: "No." And the light kept going, it said: "Read in the name of your Lord who created--created man from a clot. Read and your Lord is the most generous, who taught by the pen--taught man what he knew not." You might recognize that as the 96th chapter of the Holy Quran, Surah al-Alaq. I personally find it fascinating that the first word of Islam (if you don't count Arab Christianity which was pretty much Islam, before Islam was a thing) was: Read.
It's such a powerful command, and it's deeply resonant to me even today. And it's not because I'm an English Major, or some sort of book nerd; it's because nobody does it. Here's an example: I was at the Tim's express, not too long ago. Now, while the coffee is kept in thermoses that you can then serve yourself from, the tea is brewed right there. While the tea is brewing there's a sign blocking the pot saying something along the lines of: "Don't touch this teapot, use the one on top" with an arrow pointing to a warm pot of steeped tea that you can then serve yourself from. Now, I went through and I got some tea and I went up to pay. While I was paying, another guy behind me interrupted the cashier (Popi, she's pretty cool) to ask what's going on with the tea. There was one thing (the sign) preventing him from reaching his tea, and he didn't read it, even though it would solve his problem (pointing him to tea). As another example, I recently had a friend that couldn't print out his paper because he didn't have cash. "The printers take student cards, too," I said. But he insisted that they were cash only. I pointed to a sign above the printer that said: "We take cash, cheque, and student card." We live in a world, where everything is labeled. Information is absolutely everywhere. There's absolutely no excuse to not know anything. All you have to do is read.
Use the code: SPRING16 for 15% off your "Read a Book" book bag, if you agree.
As you probably know, spreading knowledge is kind of my jam. I've wanted to be a teacher my whole life, and I've always got a fun fact up my sleeve. The act of spreading knowledge happens in two parts: you gotta learn something, you gotta share what you learn. And the cool thing about the word "iqra" is that is doesn't just mean "read." Iqra also means "recite." So, the word "iqra" contains both parts of spreading knowledge within one word. It's pretty cool.
A little while after I got my tattoo, my girlfriend (at the time) asked me what it said. I said: "iqra" and she said: "who's Iqra". It was then that I learned that people name their children Iqra, sometimes. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that; it's a beautiful word with a powerful meaning. But the word on my wrist did not come from anyone that share's the name (despite how deserving they may be).
In niz bogzarad
This is a fun one, too. Attar of Nishapur was a poet. I guess he's still a poet because his poetry didn't die, he did. You may know him for his Bird Conference. He wrote other stuff too, and one thing that he wrote is a story about a pissed off king.
Once upon a time, there was a king that had riches beyond belief. But he was unhappy. Yes, he had feasts where he smiled and stuffed his face and socialized with his subjects. But the joy was exceedingly fleeting. His depression started to affect his judicial rulings; he started losing his temper very easily. So his close council of advisors set up a meeting to figure out what to do about their melancholy king. One wise man claimed that he could make a ring that the king could wear and never be sad again. Intrigued, and running out of options, the council allowed him to create this ring. The wise man didn't imbue the ring with any magic (although that would be hella dope) instead he affixed a large diamond to one side and engraved the phrase "nothing endures" to the other side. The king and the council scoffed at the idea: how can three words change a king's entire outlook? But the king decided to try it because when the smartest dude in your kingdom tells you something will work, you at least try it.
So the king wore his ring. One day, when he was particularly angry about taxes, or something, he shook his fist in the air out of rage. The sun caught the diamond on his ring caught the sunlight and flashed his eyes. The king instinctively raised his hand to shield his eyes, and that's when he saw the inscription: "nothing endures". He realized that the frustrations of the tax situation shouldn't affect him as much as they did and he calmed down a little. Later, he learned that his wife had failed again to give him a son. He was reaching older and still didn't have an heir. In despair, he cupped his face in his hands and wept. That's when he saw the inscription, and resolved himself to try sex-things at his queen again. After a while, the king was feeling much better, so he returned to his council to commend the wise man.
"Thank you for this gift," he said, shaking the wise man's had vigorously. "My life is so much better. I may not need it much longer." But the wise man shook his head and replied that the king should wear the ring in times of joy as well. The king asked him why and the wise man told him it will remind him to enjoy whatever happiness he has, because that doesn't endure either.
As you probably know, I've been suffering from depression for the past decade(-ish). Many times in my life, I've felt that things are coming to a close, that things will be terrible forever. I wish that at that point I had a reminder that things will become (not necessarily better, but) different. It's something to keep me in check when I'm at my darkest points. And now that my life seems to be getting better, it's a reminder to not take any of this for granted.