The Muslim Commonplace Book

When I was little, my mom bought me my first diary: it was purple and pink and a tiny silver lock. I was an avid reader and all of my favourite characters kept journals of their innermost thoughts and turmoil. They led exciting lives with rich inner dialogues that I couldn’t WAIT to emulate!

And I did!

For many years, I would write rather diligently the events of the day, my personal thoughts on various people I’d encountered, and my hopes and dreams for the future.

My life was overall rather mundane and I was, at best, an average writer. As I became a teenager, despite some minor conflict with my mother, I failed to really write anything tantalizing. Reading back my diary entries fed more into my feelings of inadequacy than fill me with nostalgia, which book, TV & movie characters had me believe was the point of a diary: to memorialize a grandiose life so interesting it couldn’t be contained to memory alone!

Once I caught my mom reading my diary, I put an end to the practice. I didn’t want to write down anything she could read, and my life being what it was, there wasn’t much to write about to begin with — so that was that!

It was only in recent years that I began to toy with the idea of journaling again. I was inspired by my grandmother’s notebooks in which she would mark doctor appointments and life events for her 14 children (most of whom eventually married), 35 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren (and at least 2 great-great-grandkids)!

She was a very busy woman and wasn’t keeping track of her every thought and feelings. She wrote down one-liners for each thing and sometimes a personal thought. From my mom’s journal, my favourite entry reads: “Stephanie had her tonsils removed on her 9th birthday. I could not visit her as I was in Florida. I had a great time!”

And it’s with her in mind that I began a lifetime journal — keeping track of main life events for myself and now my husband, and most recently: my son!

I also began to keep a bullet journal — much like a daily planner but personalized, and containing all sort of personal data from books to read, to daily moods and habits, to goals and exercise routines.

It is VERY mundane, the most mundane type of journaling I could do. It doesn’t include a lot of fluff. The writing is, I must admit, quite dull, but it allows me to be mindful of each day that passes, and it does keep track of the little every day things that matter.

But I like to write, and while I haven’t made much time for it in the last few years, I would like to stretch that muscle again.

I’ve written on this blog sporadically over the years and I think I’ve done a passable job at writing thoughtfully about my experiences.

With that said, this blog’s drafts are overflowing with one-paragraph ideas that may never see the light and while I’ve dutifully highlighted passages of the Qu’ran that particularly speak to me… they remain highlights in a book that I only review on the odd times.

Last week, I stumbled upon a thing called a Commonplace Book.

Per Wikipedia:

Commonplace books (or commonplaces) are a way to compile knowledge, usually by writing information into books. […] Such books are essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces are used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. Each one is unique to its creator’s particular interests but they almost always include passages found in other texts, sometimes accompanied by the compiler’s responses.

I scrapbook. I also journal. I also like to highlight favourite quotes from books and wish I could write in the margin but feel guilty doing so. A Commonplace Book feels like a perfect fit for the kind of thoughtful journaling I want to do. Not a daily exploration of my innermost thoughts on the day’s events but rather a thoughtful introspection of the works and words that inspire and guide my daily life. Embellished, of course, by doodles lettering!

I have already made a list of works I want to read for commonplacing: The Qu’ran, of course, Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince.

I also listen to a LOT of podcasts so I want to write down lines that expresses facts or figures in particularly vivid ways. I even expect that I will find inspiration from friend’s social media statuses and news articles, even tweets!

I’m beginning my Commonplace Book not as a writing exercise but as an art project — bringing together the words that touch me with the imagery they inspire.

I can’t wait to see what I can do and what it will look like. I see a LOT of potential and I’m quite excited about this project!

This Desmond Cole quote seemed ideal to mark the beginning of my Commonplacing journey — it really sets the tone for the type of

So how will this new tool work for me as a Muslim? I plan on writing down Qu’ranic passages as well as passages that remind me of the values I want to embody as a person, and as a Muslim.

I’m not sure what else will appear in the journal but I’m looking forward to finding out! There are endless possibilities I’ve just got to be mindful of the media I consume!

Peace and blessings!

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