• Aliyah Khan from ELEVEN

The Turmoil of Turning 21

Everybody hypes up your twenty-first birthday. Usually, it’s celebrated with fervour – a grand party, a long guest list, a fancy place booked for the evening, and being surrounded by all your loved ones. A happy occasion, I’d say. I admit that this was how I had envisioned my twenty-first birthday to be like when I was an adolescent who had so much hope and zest for life, a girl who was not yet disenchanted by birthdays.


You may have already guessed – but I was not at all excited to turn twenty-one, especially amid a global pandemic. How could I possibly embrace adulthood with open arms, knowing that everything on the other side was filled with daunting unknowns, endless possibilities and no certainty of anything remotely good? I couldn’t even bring myself to fake some positivity – the prospect of beginning my adult years during a pandemic was so disheartening and heart-wrenching. I am losing my youth – the one thing I am desperately holding on to – to a pandemic.


There were so many days, evenings and nights when I was consumed with rage and an overwhelming sense of injustice at my reality. I asked Allah SWT, ‘why?’ a million times, even though I knew deep down, that this was all part of His divine plan. Of course, it gave me some comfort rationalising it that way – but it was painful to accept regardless.


I think becoming an adult also comes with a set of expectations; primarily that you have it all together, that you know exactly the trajectory your life will take. I’ll be frank — I do not have my life together. At all. This realisation induced a severe sense of unfulfillment and doubt in myself, my life, and everything I had seemingly accomplished. I had tortured myself by constantly belittling my past achievements, convincing myself that I was the most incompetent and dull almost twenty-one-year-old the world has ever seen. I remember writing in my journal: “If my younger self could see me right now, I think she’d be disappointed…”.


The days leading up to my birthday were difficult. I’m aware of how stupid and trivial this sounded , considering the more dire issues present in the news. But I was on the edge of despair. I was struggling to find meaning in every day – I felt like a failure trudging through life. I was just sad and lonely in every means of the word. About a week before I turned twenty-one, I bawled myself to sleep, woke up with swollen eyes and still couldn’t stop crying – while getting ready for school, during my classes, and even more so while praying.


“If God knows of any good in your hearts, He will give you something better than what has been taken from you, and He will forgive you: God is forgiving and merciful”

Surah Al-Anfal, Verse 70


This is a quote from the Quran that I come back to a lot, simply because it gives me a degree of comfort I can’t quite explain. It encompasses everything I need to hear to feel better, no matter what I’m going through. And I truly felt like it helped me through the turmoil of emotions I was experiencing at the time.


So what if society has a preconceived notion of success – of what I should be accomplishing in adulthood? I finally realised that there are no expiry dates to ‘life goals’ – my life’s journey was written by Allah SWT, and He will always give me what is best for me, at the ideal time.


Once I internalised that, I viewed my twenty-first birthday with a fresh lens. It suddenly wasn’t as anxiety-inducing as it was before. Though I still wasn’t in any way excited for it, I wasn’t dreading it either.


Alhamdulillah – now that it’s over, I can admit that I felt nothing but gratitude as I turned twenty-one. I felt a surreal serenity on my birthday, something that was absent in so many birthdays prior. I felt nothing but appreciation for the little things in my life that amount to so much and learnt the miracle of putting your trust in Him no matter how hopeless the situation might seem.


The future is never certain – so let Allah SWT be that constant in your life. To anyone who is struggling with life’s uncertainties and feeling lost – your feelings are valid.


I hope you find comfort in the knowledge that

“If Allah helps you, there is none to overcome you. And if He abandons you, then, who is there to help you after that? In Allah the believers should place their trust.” (Al-Qur’an, 3:160)


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