Sadia hikes Helvellyn, a mountain in the Lake District, North-West England, with friends. She reflects on her experiences, community and on life more widely through her religious faith in Islam. This piece was first published on her blog, Sincerely Sadia.
حiking حelvellyn [Sorry, I حad to.]*
Bismillahir Rahmānir Raheem.
*ح is the Arabic equivalent to a strong ‘h’ sound.
Yesterday I went with a group, organised by the charity Human Aid UK, to climb my first [literal, since we are all climbing figurative mountains in our lives, aren’t we] mountain, Alhamdulillah. Her name is Helvellyn, and my oh my, is she gor-geous (Masha Allah). Green, and hilly; coniferous, evergreen trees [I had been hiking with my friend who is a Geography teacher; here I am, trying to show that I have at least some ‘Physical Geography’ knowledge…].
My dad dropped me off at the meeting point just before 4am, I believe; my mum came along to drop me off too. Geography teacher (Samaiya) and I waited around for a bit; prayed Fajr, and then boarded the coach. A while ago, during Ramadan (so, April) I had come to yesterday’s meeting point area, in order to see some of my second cousins and aunties and such, at a charity dessert stall they had been running, after Ifthar. That evening, I had mistakenly thought that one of the sisters there (who had her face covered) had been my cousin Jameelah, so I’d greeted her enthusiastically as such. That… was not Jameelah.
Yesterday I got to properly meet the woman whom I’d thought was my cousin. Her actual name is Faika; ethnically Bengali and having grown up in France, Faika had come here at the age of eleven. She is a key volunteer with Human Aid, Masha Allah, and has completed her BSc in Psychology. She had sat, drinking her coffee, at the side, in the Human Aid office, while I prayed.
The coach journey there had been nice, Masha Allah. Restful. We stopped at two service stations. One had been somewhere in Lancaster I think. The people there had been really nice (based on our interactions with a couple of them). You know the sort: apologising for walking in front of you, saying thank you for little things. Niceness is nice.
At the site of the climb, one of the (Mancusian) men in charge explained some things to us, and he and his wife, and her sister, helped to distribute lunch to everyone, with the intention of eating it once we reach the summit [the other two people who had been in charge there had been my aunt (Jeba Khala) and her husband. They’d gotten married quite recently, Bārak Allah ‘Alayhum, and had a ‘COVD wedding’. And what better way to nurture a spousal bond than by… climbing a mountain together, for example?!]
Naturally, I chose a tuna sandwich. And I also got a packet of cheese-and-onion crisps, with the intention of putting the crisps into the sandwich, for added crunch [if my aunt’s friend Nazia’s little son Hishaam were there, he might have laughed at me and called me the ‘crisps girl’ again, after seeing me sprinkle crisps on my pasta a couple of times. ‘Tis my honour to be the weird crisps girl. I eat my crisps weirdly with honour!].
At approximately 12PM, we set off, up a particular trail, to the top. But then! About five minutes in to the journey, it turned out that we had been taking the wrong route. So we turned around, and started over. Just a little taster, before the real thing.
Probably less than twenty minutes into the actual hike, I genuinely thought I could not make it to the summit. But as the Mancusian brother had told us, this is mostly mental work: a thing of mindset. Someone else had said something similar, while on the climb. Now, normally, I am someone who is tragically out-of-breath after climbing up two flights of stairs, but Subhan Allah, Alhamdulillah: yesterday I walked and climbed, for roughly, apparently 4km on the way up, and the same on the way down.
That trite but true saying, I guess: “if you put your mind to it…” I think I have really realised, by now, that, Subhan Allah: Allah really does not “burden a soul with more than it can bear” [Qur’an, (2:286)] and if there is a possibility to do something beneficial, even if it seems mountainously difficult… this is your Lord, who can make entire seas split for you, if you have due trust in Him [an idea that is echoed in my cousin Moosa’s amazing GCSE English Lang speech, Masha Allah]. We absolutely can do it, but our beings are always, always, always, reliant on the Most Merciful, The Subtle, Able, All-Knowing, All-Wise.
Well I learned a lot, going up that mountain. I learned more about my friend Samaiya, whom I love, to quote my little cousin Dawud, “big much“. This might sound cheesy, but I knew I loved Samaiya from the moment I saw her. Something about her heart, Masha Allah, and about mine, which loves her. I learned about Faika, and bits about the other climbers with us. We also came across a number of solo hikers [how cool, to sit with a book, with your legs dangling, on the edge of a mountain, for example?!] and couples, and families. I must admit, I had been proud of myself and Samaiya for doing this – our first mountain – at the age of twenty and twenty-two… until, that is, we’d come across a five-year-old kid doing just the same thing. [Cliché motivational message here, about how there is no comparison! Your journey is your journey!]
I think the first twenty minutes had probably been the hardest. And then: it probably did not get easier, but we likely adapted. Is the human body, and the mind, not remarkable (Subhan Allah) in how it learns to adapt to situations?
For a while, about every five minutes or so, I would sit down. Have some juice; some snacks. Recuperate. These breaks had been extremely useful, Masha Allah. Getting weary and achey; then sitting down for a while. Good bursts of energy ensued, I think.
“It’s hard. It’s bloody hard, but it is so worth it,” to quote (or perhaps paraphrase, since I am writing from memory. This is usually the case, with these articles of mine) what a (perhaps sixty-something-year-old) man with a very classically British accent had said. Me being me, I said that this is what mothers tend to say too, after giving birth. He said he has nine children and grandchildren in total, so yes, that’s true: he knows it to be. He had also been intrigued by the T-shirts some members of the group had been wearing, advertising what we had been doing there [Human Aid’s campaign for solar-powered water wells in Yemen] and he and his family had been interested in contributing towards it.
He also told us that he is a member of the ‘Lions Club’, and that he was in Qatar for a while I think. That thing about people trying to communicate warmth and friendliness, and establish connections by trying to figure out who you are, while saying things from who they are. Ah, humankind, thou dost continue to continually fascinate and endear me. [On the (long, winding, kind of quite achey) way down, an auntie who had been walking with Samaiya and me had been talking about her elder brother, who had passed away from COVID in December, Allahu Yerhamuhu. She had been talking about how charitable he, a businessman, had been. Suddenly, we had heard a voice talking about his grandma, I think it had been. How charitable she had been, and the work she would do with the church. It had been a man lying on the mountainous grass, on the side].
The ‘Lions Club’: I’ve just researched it a little. A charitable organisation, some of whose tenets are: to foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world; unselfish service to others. Their motto: “We serve“. Apparently, entry into the club is by invitation only. [Somebody invite me!]
Some of the people we’d crossed paths with during the hike had been extremely kind and friendly. Others: not so much. [This is life. But doesn’t the presence of the a-little-less-than-lovely people mostly serve to augment the value of the wonderful ones? I think so.]
We’d come across, for example, a lovely group of originally-Polish people. A woman who seemed to really love the colour blue. People who told us how long we’ve got left to climb, roughly. People encouraging us to keep going! Remember why you’re doing this! In Northern accents, no less. Imagine ‘accent classes’ were a thing, like language classes are.
Oh, and kids: kind of fearless, Masha Allah. Practically running up the more ‘treacherous’ parts. One boy, I think, had asked his mum for five hundred pounds if he makes it to the top. I told her my brother’s like that too. Just casually, randomly: “Get me a PS5!” and charging me five pounds for a hug, and things like this.
I’m kind of sure I also saw a YouTuber whom my brother used to watch, while on that mountain. Or perhaps the mountain air had been making me a little kooky.
Some things I found to be quite adorable, Masha Allah: a brother had accompanied his little sister on this trek. There were some families there too, including a couple (married twenty-five years, I think she said, Masha Allah) who had stayed in the Lake District for the weekend. And their son and daughter had come with this group, meeting them there; they all climbed up the mountain. There was a family with a Turkish father and a Bengali mother [I think I find mixes like this inordinately cool, Masha Allah. This family: apparently the sons of the owner of their local Turkish grocery shop contributed £150 each towards the wells in Yemen, Masha Allah. “They treat us like family and are so proud of us”. How lovely, Allahummabārik!]. A sister who had been accompanied by her son and nephew, I think they’d been. Two sisters, also, and their brother, and one of the sisters’ husbands: gang. Family tingz. And I had with me my friend who is my sister:
Together, we make up Sam-dia, and we are thinking of starting up our own (monetarily-free-but-spiritually-valuable) Asian matchmaking service, since one of the aunties (the one who’d been spending the weekend in the Lake District) asked us to ‘look for someone’ for her (23-year-old, Bengali, Haafidh) son, but apparently he has better things to be doing than ‘chatting up girls’, so she’s looking for him, even though he probably doesn’t quite trust her individual judgement on this. [If you, dear reader, would like to help Samdia kickstart our introduction services, then… do get in touch Insha Allah! I’m not sure if we’re joking or not, but if it happens it happens].
Well, the higher and higher we climbed, the more gorgeous the view became, Masha Allah. There is just this incredible sort of… silence, up there. The God-given grandeur of these mountains and hills, converging by ways of streams. And forests, dotted about, here and there. And majestic, majestic shades of green, and blue, and browns. And patches of purple – from the thistles – and of grey – from the slate [‘Physical Geography’. As aforementioned, I’d been hiking with a Geography Teacher: the Pakistani from Jhelum whom I’d spent Pakistani Independence Day, so I’d learned, with]. Aside from a subtly profound silence, you could only really hear the intermittent rustling of things, footsteps on ground, the bleating of mountain sheep. Uphill conversations. Catch-ups, and nice-to-meet-yous.
Just keep climbing, just keep climbing.
A while into hiking, I’d assumed that there it is: I can see the peak! Turns out: this had only been a jutted-out rocky part of the mountain, past which you have to keep going, and going, to actually get there. About a third of the way in, I’d assumed we were almost done. But, alas, alas, alas.
Faika let me use the hiking stick she had been walking with. “Is it helping?” I wasn’t sure. But placebo effect, maybe. So, in turn, I think it did work, if not as a distraction, and with its secondary functions (as a sword, or a sniper. But not when there were other people around. What if they’d… assume certain things about me?)
Inarguably a rewarding experience though, Alhamdulillah. After a certain point, Samaiya had hurried ahead with some others, while Faika and I had sort of been struggling. We thought we were the last ones in the group, but we weren’t. We kept carrying on, then sitting. Talking for a while, Capri-Sun and stuff. Samaiya had reached the summit about twenty minutes before I [traitor!]. We sat together to eat (my beloved tuna sandwich) somewhere on the way down. We saw some people who had been running down the mountain paths; mountain-biking, also.
“Why would you do that?!” Samaiya exclaimed something like this (not at them), I think. Like Aya, when she’d seen those… ordinary runners (not to them) … “Why are you ronning?!“
Admittedly, there were a number of small occurrences that could have, perhaps, led to injuries on this hike. Like the almost-slips on the way down [hence why it was advisable for us to have brought a Mahram with us. I would have liked for my uncle (Ranga Mama) to have come with me, however it had been his and Suto Mami’s anniversary (Allahummabārik) yesterday. Next time, maybe I’ll encourage my dad to come along]. Whenever I would almost-slip, and be propelled forwards a little, Samaiya would shout, lovingly(!), “Speed!”
The way up the mountain was struggle, and beautiful: Azwājā. And I am in love with Islam, and with people who love Islam and Allah, and with these values of family, and brotherhood/sisterhood. The marvels of this universe, which Allah has created; the minds with which we have been gifted, to begin to make sense of it all. To quote what is on the shirts we’d been given yesterday:
“We can’t move mountains. But we can climb one.”
The way down was tough, and we kept shaking (probably from slight over-exertion). We walked, for instance, with that auntie, who is a nurse for patients who have breast cancer. She has this wonderful mentality of (maintaining boundaries, and yet still) being friends with her children. They tell her things; her daughter thinks she might want to be a nurse, like her. At the bottom of the mountain, after having climbed it, I saw how she comforted her (maybe fifteen-year-old daughter), asking her if she wants a hug. On the outer levels, perhaps, we outgrow babyhood. But, still: ‘small’ shows of love like this are essential, and may Allah bless their beautiful family, Āmeen. Just the way the brother had been looking after his little sister, as well: the fragrance of this family’s essence can quite easily be sensed, Masha Allah.
The mother of the family also said something which I so loved. It melted my heart, basically. She said that she and her siblings would meet up to eat, without their partners or children. The sibling bond, chronologically, came first. Siblings are a part of you, she said. How cute; how special; how amazing!
Some of us did Salāh outside. At times, admittedly, I would be self-conscious about doing Salāh in front of certain people, strangers. But: so what. I’m standing before my Creator, and that is what matters.
Yesterday, I found myself reassured at the fact that… it’s possible to, for example, memorise the Qur’an. Like Miss Maryam did (Masha Allah) at the age of twenty, in Egypt, I think. You can be, as some members of the group are, a quiet, gentle, kind Muslim. You don’t have to be the centre of attention, for example. The way you are: some will perceive it as the best, most desirable, things, while others may see something of the opposite, on the whole. May you always have people who see the things that make up you, specifically, through the most beautiful eyes/ways of looking: Āmeen. Your ‘peaks’ and your ‘troughs’. May this be part of the beautiful things that encourage you to… just keep climbing. Āmeen, Āmeen.
I think people’s essences shine through, especially when they’re just doing their thing, without showing much consciousness of who might be around, or looking. Our essences matter; what we do and say might be our petals, while our hearts are at their centre.
Well, after the climb, I thought I’d lost my watch. And my glasses. The glasses: it turned out that someone in our group had seen them, and had left them on the side, on a fence. I asked if I could go back to get them, but two of the men in the group kindly said they’d go [I felt bad, but also I’d done too much exercise in one day already. One is weak]. As for the watch, ‘t’had been… in my pocket all along, as I’d later discovered.
On the way home, we stopped at the services. We came across a rowdy group of (a lot of drunken, so it very much seemed) men. A football game had just happened, I think. “You all right, girls?” said one of them. “They’re everywhere,” it sounded like another had said, while I prayed Maghrib on the side of our table at the open service-station Costa.
Someone had thrown a food item at my Jeba Khala, while she had been turned around, and while her husband had been praying. A teenager, maybe. She being she… called them a coward, and told them to be braver, and throw it at her face next time. We had a random conversation, some of us, on the coach, after this. At certain schools, for example, South Asians who are in a populace’s minority might be seen as the ‘meek, studious’ ones, and treated as though they won’t do anything to defend themselves from things. I’d say with speech, it might be better to not say anything, or to just say “you too”. With direct acts of physical aggression: if they attack you, you can retaliate in equal measure, although to forgive is likely better.
Mountains: it’s a metaphor for life. I said this, on the way up Helvellyn, I think. And a woman who’d crossed paths with us had laughed at this, and I do quite love it when people appreciate my dad jokes.
Insha Allah, this is my (and Samdia’s) first mountain of a few, or of many. Doing enjoyable things, and with Purpose. Another thing I love about Islam: there’s room for different sorts of people, with different sorts of hobbies, dispositions/personality types, and inclinations. Alhamdulillah.
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.