Wednesday, 30 December 2009

well sorry but ..., its NY time again!

Slightly off-topic (I know we’ve been focusing on the muherram series, and rightly so), but as its almost that time again, I had to bring it up: the 2 words (that follow Christmas), and are synonymous with the closing of 1 chapter, and the beginning of another (New Year). There: I’ve said it: strike me down in flames all you New Year haters!

As a child, I was always a huge fan of the climax that concluded each 12-month cycle: as most of you will know, Scotland makes a big thing of it, and to be from such a small family as ours sadly is, having a packed house, lots of fun, food and merry-making was a welcome departure from the norm, and a novel yet homely way to see the old year out and the new one in.
The older I got however, I soon began to see through the rose tinted new Year facade: in reality, the false family feelings of togetherness were really alcohol generated highs, which were dead and buried by the morning, when the rough headache set in (My Father is not a cheerful person to be around while in that state!).
Similarly, with the coming of age (and life experience), I soon learnt that the dying of a year is not really something to be celebrated, rather it’s a time to reflect and meditate on the successes and failures of the year gone by. It’s a time to lament your losses, cherish your gains and give thanks to Allah for all of them, while at the same time, praying that the months to come will be periods in time you can be proud of, rather than blunders through darkness that you’d rather forget!
Perhaps that’s why the Islamic concept of a New Year (that is, the real Islamic concept) wasn’t something that felt strange or alien to me. I remember the first time I observed it, or consciously viewed the New Year in that way: it was the year 2000, the great millennium, about which much has been said (most of it untrue), and even more has been written. It was certainly momentous: something that only 1 in say 4/5 generations has the honour of witnessing, but it was also pretty frightening: the media thought that all would stand still, the religious fundamentalists said the world would come to an end, the cult followers made bunkers out of old crates and scrap metal and stored lots of tins of baked beans in them. The Muslims didn’t make much of it, suffice as to say it was a time of quiet reflection and prayer as stated above. That year it happened to be early ramadhan too (think the first fast fell on the 29th December or something like that), I was in school then, with Adil Latif and his gang!! They invited me to their house for eftar, and when it was over, Fozia, Sumaira and myself all retired to Fozia’s to pray tasbih namaz, make dua and read some qur’an. It was beautiful: like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay there: the family wanted me home for midnight! (maybe in case I turned in to a tin of baked beans like the ones in their bunker), but I remember being torn between a new sense of inner peace, coupled with fear of what lay ahead, and pain when I evaluated the complex juggling act my Islam and my life with my parents had brought about. The year 2000 was the year I would leave school, it was the year my cycle of abuse would finally end, it would be the year I would get married (an event that was to change my life forever), and not necessarily for the better! Little did I know as I performed that voluntary salat on that cold, pending night, that in just a few months my world would be turned upside down, and things would never be the same again. Of course, the year 2000 is just an example: each year brings its own peaks and troughs, and doubtless each of you could recount similar experiences from your own lives based on the one given above: e.g., every one knows where they were or what they were doing on the millennium night, just as they know where they were and what they were doing on 9/11.
That’s the thing about time though, it only decreases: the year past will never, ever come again, the mistakes can’t be wiped off, and the time wasted can not ever be reclaimed. The memories of that time however place deep scars on the heart, some of those bleed from time to time (usually at the closing of a year), others just lay open, exposing inner damage and vulnerability within the emotional landscape of the soul, and then there are others, that simply fade with time, allowing just enough time to elapse before a repeat of the same cycle of destruction all over again!
Man can certainly reach for the stars and aspire to perfection, but he is weak, prone to error, regret and a dulling of the senses, which ultimately leads to his downfall or his misguidance if he does not train the nafs to avoid such things as far as he/she can!
The holy Qur’an describes time perfectly in sura asr, when it states: that by time, man is most certainly in loss, accept for those who are patient and exhort one another to truth. Whether you are Muslim or not, the fact remains that through patience comes certainty, and an inner strength to face the hardest of trials, and through patience comes the knowledge that no matter how great the test or how tragic the loss, such things are temporary, fleeting like the time its self, though the essence that makes up time, (the sands), or the creative cement: is ever evolving: from darkness came light, from night came day: and in a few hours, one year shall lead to another, and begin a new period of revival, growth, death and rebirth again. Just as my marriage began in the year 2000 and ended 3 years later, little did I know that the darkness of its ending would be a source towards guiding me to the light of Ahlulbayt (A.S). Today we mourn the death of Imam Hussain (A.S) and his companions, the evil army of Yazeed, who on that fateful day seemed to have all of the dominion in their hands, but who only a few years later would be hiding in toilets fearing for their lives, and gasping for water in a lonely jungle, lost and alone after a fruitless hunt. I don’t think any one will ever nurture a fondness for New year in me, and I don’t want them to, I want my years to end in reflection and begin in humbleness. I don’t want to party, to look ahead with joy and to make all kinds of lofty resolutions that I’ll forget a few moments later. In reality all a person can strive to do is his/her best, to be true to the self and true to the creator in all things, to never lose the strength to try and the flare to climb higher.
Last year, my parents and I (and their then dog) went for a 1st January walk through the remaining fields behind our house. We took in the frosty new Year chill, greeted those we past and enjoyed nature and its ability to blow the cobwebs away. I can’t really think of a better way to mark this day, if landmarks and time elapses matter to you, and if you are Muslim, perhaps take along a musala and pray a couple of nafl rakats for the blessing of each new day, each second, each moment! If there is one thing a New Year can, and should prompt you to do, is to cherish the moments you have, to say the words you don’t say and fulfil the promises you never keep. We walked happily on the 3rd, and we saw our beloved Narjiss Jaffri leave this world on the 3rd, a day that will forever be etched in my mind as one of the hardest and most painful days I’ve ever experienced. Narjiss might have been ill, but she would not have anticipated her own death, and when I look at how her sister and brothers cherish her final moments, I often cry over what Narjiss might have wanted to say, what legacy she might have left and what guidance she might have given her husband about raising their beautiful little daughter. Its not a myth: life really is too short, shorter than you, or I have the wisdom to perceive! So, if the 1st of January 2010 comes, grab it with both hands, live each moment as if it was your last, cherish the beauty in it and celebrate the newness of creation as though you were a child. Imam Ali (A.S) says, “live life in such a way that when you live people long for you, and when you die, they weep over you).

May 2010 bring you health, happiness, spiritual elevation, and all the goodness you wish for yourself, aameen.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Fasting on the day of ashura

I am really tired of receiving Emails and texts about fasting on the day of ashura! While I’ve always known that this belief exists among the suni, (and even participated in it before I knew different!), I seem to have received more Emails and other assorted propaganda about it this year than any other year!

Its true that this year has seen a palpable movement among the suni towards change, I like to think our efforts through Ahlulbayt TV have gone some way towards changing this: there are certainly large numbers of sunis watching the channel judging by the calls we get. We have seen more sunis attending our muherram majliss this year, and we’ve even seen the newly formed ‘umma TV channel producing a documentary series entitled ‘the truth behind Karbala. Regardless of its authenticity, the very fact that a suni Muslim is even referring to Karbala is a massive achievement! Those who read this blog regularly won’t have failed to notice the fact that I normally refer to ‘wahabis, when speaking about those who display sectarian sentiment, and this for the most part is true, but with regards to fasting on Ashura, we see remarkable unity between the various branches of suni Islam with regards to its authenticity!
I find this remarkable given the unreliable hadaith sources that they take their ‘prescribed fast from! Whether I claim to be suni or shia, hadaith (sayings of our Prophet PBUH) are a very precise science! If I am quoting hadaith, or basing my practises upon them, I want to be able to examine the chain of narration, I want to know exactly who said it to who, and who was the original source who heard the hadaith narrated straight from the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). During this critical analysis, it falls to me to not merely rely on secondary sources (some of the Emails I’ve received quote “local mosque” as their hadaith source!), I want to identify each and every one in that chain of narration, to insure myself that they had no agenda behind their narration (or innovation), before I can be sure that the hadaith I am following or implementing in my life is genuinely accurate and correct. In short I want yakeen (certainty), or as close to it as I can get, before I will trust, or act on any hadaith I am shown. I am shocked when I look at Islam today and see the overwhelming lethargy that exists within followers of all branches: no longer is there a desire to study, introspect and reflect, it is enough to quote from 3rd rate books and Emails, and accept blindly what self made leaders and teachers tell us. I am not a scholar by any means, but I came to the path of Ahlulbayt through hard fast facts, through truth and truth alone, no spin pamphlets, no fanatical speakers or indoctrinating TV shows, through basic logic and reasoning, I saw how I had been fooled and fooled some more by those claiming to be on the path of Allah (SWT) and his Prophet (PBUH), yet displaying something different through their actions.

Back to the topic though: even if we are to suppose that the hadaith used to justify fasting on Ashura is correct, surely this would not override the importance of debating and reflecting on the tragedy of Karbala? The sacrifice made on the 10th of Muherram by Imam Hussain (A.S) and his family is one of the most profound sacrifices this world has ever seen. The tragedy of karbala is neither shia nor Suni, neither is it Islamic or Unislamic (the sacrifice might have been performed to purify Islam, but it was not performed for the benefit of Muslims alone!). When we examine the tragedy of Karbala we are faced with a reality that hits the heart on a level which is so elemental: good verses evil, and regardless of the outcome, the truth shall always prevail in the long term: Hussain may have lost his life, but the reality of the good that he stood for lives on and always will by the grace of Allah (SWT) and those who uphold justice and fight against evil. Yet in today’s world, Karbala is almost a curse word within certain suni circles, it is never mentioned, never discussed, never remembered during muherram. The suni say, that they honour the day of ashura because it marks the liberation of the children of Israel, and celebrates a time when good overcame evil! While we wouldn’t “celebrate”, we would most certainly support those principals: after all, aren’t those the precise ideals held by Imam Hussain (A.S) and his family when they fought and died at Karbala? Isn’t Karbala, the very essence that should bind us together as an Umma? Regardless of our sectarian differences? Shouldn’t we be giving thanks for this sacrifice and sharing the message it holds with all we know: Muslim and non-Muslim?
Perhaps we should! But what we see manifested today is a very bitter, very different reality. Saudi funded masjids spend millions on promoting this fast: leaflets, lectures, reminders and the like. The spin doctors get to work generating the accompanying texts and Emails that clutter your inbox at this time of the year, and if you are to visit wahabi run regimes such as Saudi, the propaganda being spouted during muherram with regard to this fast is absolutely phenomenal (stop me if you are seeing a pattern forming here).

Below, I shall try to unpick some of the falsehoods that are attached to this hadaith, and try to encourage my dear readers to take a slightly different view (my purpose for doing so is not to destroy another person’s beliefs, as many do to us, but simply to encourage us to look closer, reflect and study the facts for yourselves, don’t take my word for it, but go back to the sources, read and analyse for yourselves, then draw your own conclusions! And Allah (SWT) knows best.

The hadaith in question says that when entering Medina, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH), saw the people fasting, when he asked them why, they said they were fasting in honour of the children of Israel being liberated from Faro. He is alleged to have replied “I have more right over Musa than they do”, and then advised the people to keep this fast. Then, one of the companions is alleged to have asked why the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) who had come to perfect religion, would innovate, and adopt a fast from the Jews in this way (a question I often asked of myself when I read the hadaith), but the Prophet is then alleged to have advised the people to fast both the 9th and the 10th, to avoid “biddah” (innovation), its not like our Prophet to innovate/invent as he goes along now is it? moreover, if he was to adopt this hadaith, there are so many other events narrated in the qur’an which would justify the observance of a fast on this day: i.e., Prophet Yakoob’s eyesight was restored to him on the 10th of Muherram, Prophet Ioube’s illness was cured on the 10th of Muherram, Prophet Abraham was rescued from the fire on the 10th Muherram, and of course, Prophet Noah’s people were rescued from the ark on the 10th Muherram. yet somehow, many of us choose to accept this hadaith!
Fasts in Islam come under various categories: wajib (compulsory fasts), mustahab (preferred/recommended), macru (disliked), or mubbah (days/fasts which are neither one nor the other), and haram (forbidden). You might then expect that, if such a hadaith existed, that the fast might be forbidden/disliked, even indifferent! But this particular fast is said to be ‘mustahab (preferred/recommended).
Moreover, we see that the issue is not even with the source, as the hadaith in question can be found in at least 2 reliable hadaith collections: Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi. As discussed above, when examining the Science of hadaith, we should not only look at the secondary source (the book/collection, or the advice of later narrators), but should examine the chain of narrations for authenticity and accuracy. We all know that after the death of the Prophet of Islam, a great deal of money was generated by the selling/propagation of false hadaith, and so we need to insure the hadaith we are referring to do not fall under this category. If you study the hadaith regarding fasting on Ashura, you’ll notice 4 particular names who appear in one/all of the chains relating to the above hadaith.
1. Ibn Abbas. (who was 4 years old at that time when the hadaith was revealed). According to many scholars, (and understandably so), a 4-year-old is not a reliable source to quote hadaith from (unless he was a Prophet etc: e.g., nabi Eesa who had the gift of speech and intelligence as an infant).
2. 2. Muawiyah Ibn Sufyan. (who didn’t convert to Islam till the 8th year of Hijra, so wouldn’t have been in Medina at this time either). Moreover, we all know who/what Muawiyah went on to become and the vile actions he displayed during the tragedy of Karbala, so he is hardly a credible source for accurate hadaith regarding this particular period in Islamic history!
3. 3. Abu Musa al-ashari (who converted 3 years before hijra, and was then told to go to Yemen and spread Islam there), and therefore, wouldn’t have been in Medina at that time.
4. 4. Abu Hurera, (who was also not found in Medina at that time and was also in Yemen). Historical accounts of the companions, and their links (or lack of them) to the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), are unanimous in finding him an unreliable source of hadaith. Some point to this being a consequence of how little time he actually spent with the Prophet (PBUH) during his lifetime, but most point to the fact that following the Prophet’s death, Abu Hurera was a leading light within the practise of inventing/altering hadaith for money (usually bribes), to change the context/commentary or content of a hadaith to reflect the agenda of a particular leader/khalifa at that time.
5. In the book of al-tabari, Omer Ibn Al Khatab chastises Abu Hurera for selling fake hadaith and extorting the ignorance of others: thus making depending on such a chain less than useless. You must have by now noticed the obvious issues with the reliability of this chain of hadaith! But even so, could there still be some truth behind these claims? After all, surely the emphasis placed upon this fast today have to count for something: is there some fact in it somewhere?
6. To answer that question, we need to first look at the meaning of the word ‘ashura. According to most Arabic language scholars and linguists,
The word ashura has an old meaning and a new meaning. The old meaning is the 10th of any month, while the new meaning came after the death of Hussain (A.S) in Karbala. (ibn Akheer), and a statement also found in books of hadaith/Islamic history. Therefore any hadaith recorded before the 61st year of Hijra, must refer to the 10th of any month, not necessarily the 10th of Muherram.
On a practical level, if we want to know about Jewish fasts (past and present), can’t we ask the Jewish community if such a fast exists or not?
The hadaith said that the Jews had a fast on the 10th of the Jewish Month Tishiri, and that at this time it fell on the 10th of Muherram.
The only time 10th Tishiri fell on the 10th of Muherram was on the 28th year after Hijra, (not corresponding with the dates given in the hadaith either). Moreover, the 10th Tishiri fast does not relate to Jews being liberated, rather it is to mark yom Kipoor (Yom Kifara), the day of atonement, the day when Prophet Musa (A.S) found the Jews worshipping a calf and had to seek forgiveness from Allah (SWT).
The Jews were saved from drowning and oppression from Faro on the 15th of Neesan (which fell during the last 10 days of the Islamic month of Ramadhan (23rd ramadhan to be exact!).

When the Prophet of Islam entered Medina, he did not enter during muherram, he entered during rabi-al-awl. The hadaith was clearly written by some one who did not understand the compilation of the Islamic calendar: i.e., the Prophet of Islam said that the Islamic year will begin with the Month of Muherram, rather than from the date of Hijra.

If Abu Hurera is such an important figure, why isn’t money being ploughed in to other hadaith related by him? I.e., he relates hadaith about fasting on the 27th Rajab, (yet no one invests such time and money in promoting this fast). If this man claims to love the Prophet of Islam, why didn’t he speak out about other sunnah acts being changed (the wording of the adhan?). Why is it that he sat back and did nothing when the 2nd Khalifa invented ‘tarawi prayers, the “good biddah”, which were never performed as communal prayers during the time of the Prophet of Islam?

Laws within Islam are generally permanent, fixed and unchanged, though can/have been changed on occasions to perfect/protect the religion: e.g., drinking alcohol was permitted until the qur’an made it heram for the believers. Generally, every one and any one was permitted to meet with the Prophet (PBUH), to converse, study and learn from him, yet there was a time when payment was taken for such visitations, in order to meet with the Prophet, in order to prevent certain people surrounding him, pushing their own agendas. Therefore, if there had been a fast on the day of ashura, wouldn’t it have evolved to include the tragedy of Karbala?
When all is said and done, even if there really was a fast that used to be performed on the day of the 10th of Muherram, we learn from the hadaith of Mohammed Bakir (A.S) the 5th Imam of the shias, and great-grandson of the Prophet (PBUH) who clearly states, that any fast previously performed on the 10th of Muherram was superseded by the death of Hussain (A.S) and is therefore no longer valid. Given that Imam Bakir (A.S) belonged to the family of the Prophet, isn’t he more likely to be acquainted with the real facts of the matter?
This is further emphasised by the 6th Imam, Jaffer Saddiq (A.S), who says, that even if a person fasts on the day of Ashura, he should not fast the whole day, and when he breaks his fast, he should do so with something small (as the people of the Ahlulbayt had empty stomachs on that day). He also says that if you fast, you should break your fast 1 hour before sunset, as this was the time that our beloved Imam Hussain (A.S) was martyred.

Even after reading all the above evidence you still insist on the fast, perhaps you will take the propaganda surrounding it allot more seriously! Even as a shia Muslim, my argument here is not with the act of the fast its self, its with the concerted efforts made to use a weak hadaith and a powerful media machine to divert people away from the tragedy and the evil crime that was performed on that day, and that diversion too being nothing more than a political convenience rather than any thing spiritual!
Today, we see Muslims looking for celebrations, seeking blessings in a day of sorrow, how many of us celebrate funerals, or the deaths of our ancestors? Don’t we generally observe such days as days of mourning for us? As days that force us to reflect on our own mortality, and the need to perfect our lives, character and actions? Imam Jaffer Saddiq (A.S) has said, that any unnecessary actions performed on the day of ashura: i.e., idle chat, work, shopping etc, are all completely fruitless. This is not a day of blessing or forgiveness of sins, it is not a day for sound, for activity or any kind of merry-making. It is a day of great tragedy, a day when even the Western History books report on the sky raining pure blood, and rising and setting in red every day for 40 days. The earth trembled and shook, and people of truth were left to shiver in fear, and marvel at how the deaths of these pure souls signified a protest against all that is evil, and a stand till the very end to protect all that is pure and sacred. When you next listen to a so-called scholar, or are sent a forwarded hadaith Email, investigate the source, research the chains within it, and end all of that study with a dua to ask Allah (SWT) to grant you knowledge of good as it really is, and falsehood as falsehood really is, and may we all be blessed with soundness in judgement, and truthful guides to the path of huq in all matters we encounter through our journey through life, Aameen.
May Allah bless Mohammed (PBUH), and the family of Mohammed (A.S), and the companions of Mohammed and his family (may Allah be pleased with them all), and may Allah curse and dam the evil doers and the killers of Hussain (A.S) and his family, for now and always, and may he grant us the confidence, knowledge and akhlaaq to stand up against those who try to suppress his message, so that we become true representatives of the truth, and servants he can be proud of for all of eternity, in this life, and in the next, Insha Allah!

Otowi: Karbala When Skies Wept Blood

Otowi: Karbala When Skies Wept Blood

This video will always stand out for me as it was the first vehicle through which I shed my first muherram tears, and drew myself yet closer to the tragedy of Karbala. Despite understanding the majority of the Urdu majliss, I still struggled with the language, and there were elements of the speeches I did not understand, co8upled with the fact that generally, if you have been raised and conditioned in a Western, non-Muslim environment, its pretty difficult to open your heart and shed tears when you have an audience. I remember that on the night in question, the martyrdom of Qasim (A.S), nephew of Hussain (A.S), was being commemorated, I remember how the pain of his tragic and violent death at such a tender age moved my heart, I remember how my body trembled when a coffin entered the masjid and how I shook when I placed my hands on the silken bundles placed upon it to represent the pieces of his broken body, and how when I lifted my hands from the cloth they were stained red as though with blood. I remember how I could not eat the dry fruits and other offerings of niyaz as they seemed to remind me of the pieces of his body (probably my lack of understanding). I felt sad, alone and frustrated, so many emotions pent up inside that I could not express and had no where to go with, I felt that I was not a good enough shia, and was doing something very wrong that I could not share the pain of every one else. With a heavy heart, I went home and turned on the TV (at that time, we had no shia channels, but DM digital used to show special broadcasts during muherram), and the below film was being aired: I tuned in at the exact point where Qasim’s martyrdom was being recounted. I fell down on the ground in shock and horror, weeping uncontrollably. The film terrified, shocked and saddened me, but it brought me much closer to the tragedy and deepened my personal attachment to karbala. In his lectures, Sayed Mahdarasi says that in order to draw non-Muslims or new reverts to karbala, we need to repackage the message and take it back out in to the world in a language, culture and packaging that is understood by the natives of that country/community. This film makes an excellent job of doing just that, and should have been promoted much more widely than it was. If you haven’t watched this, then please do, and encourage others to do the same.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

On the night of ashura.

It is the night of ashura: the 9th of muherram, and how hard it truly is to find words on this most tragic of nights. Leading up to this day, I spoke so much on TV about muherram, about Karbala, I began by speaking about how one should prepare for this month, I talked about spreading the message of this month to non-Muslims, and I talked about all the lessons contained within its tragedy, yet today I have no words, only an aching heart, a trembling form and eyes painful, swollen and filled with tears. This is the night that proceeds the most evil act of murder and carnage humanity shall ever see and ever know, yet it is also the night that proceeds the most selfless, most high and perfect of sacrifices that the world will ever witness. This night is enormous, filled with tears, pain and blessings, filled with worship and repentance, yet so few know it for what it really is. I spent days talking on TV, trying to demystify muherram, to draw others closer to the truth of this month, I even planned to launch a series here exploring these concepts (Insha Allah I still will fulfil that promise in the days to come), but now, I only have tears, and the reality of this night. In a few hours, the sun shall fade from the sky, our imam (A.S) and his companions will gather in their tents to reflect and prepare for the painful day that lies ahead. The women will tremble and console each other in quiet voices trying to give hope and patience to one another. In a few hours, my imam (A.S) will dim the lamps of the tents, he will stand before his soldiers and give them the option to stay or to go, to run and seek ease in the land of indifference, or to stay with him, to fight on and seek the honour of martyrdom along-side him. In a few hours, we too will dim the lights, we will embrace sorrow and tears and will once again, grab hold of the rope of Hussain (A.S), refusing this world, denouncing falsehood and disassociating ourselves from the axes of evil, choosing a purer way, reaffirming our allegiance to Imam Hussain (A.S) and his blessed progeny (A.S).

There is so much I have said, that I can say about muherram, so much I want to say about muherram, but it is the 9th of Muherram, the chill and the darkness of the night hang heavy around me and take my words from me, from you and from all of us who feel the magnitude of the pain of Imam Mahdi (A.S) on this night. On this night, we, the shia unite in pure grief and pure worship, may it be accepted from each of us, may it act as a source of intercession for us all and may it elevate us in word, act, thought and deed. I have so many expectations and duas on this day, but for now, my heart only bleeds, and I can only leave you with my prayers, and your own tears and duas which bind us together.
‘Oh Allah, bless Hussain (A.S), the family of Hussain (A.S), and the companions of Hussain (A.S). Oh Allah, make us shia that you and the Ahlulbayt (A.S), may be proud of. Forgive us our sins, and make this night a vehicle of intercession, and a vehicle that brings us closer to you, and to the ahlulbayt (A.S). Surely you are the most forgiving, most merciful to those who strive in your way and the way of your prophet (PBUH), and your Imams (A.S).

Thursday, 17 December 2009

My life post London: and what came next!

I have been hugely neglectful of my blog lately, something I promised myself never ever to do! With good reason though: since London: all has been chaos: let me explain for those of you still listening in!

The trip to London was good, all useless shopping was done, friends were met, dosa was munched, churrian changed: and most importantly, the programme was a huge success by the grace of Allah (SWT).
I was certain it would flop: I was all nerves and fear: so bad in fact were my nerves that we were in Asda only moments earlier having me spew my guts out in the bathroom! But when we reached there I just said ‘bismillah and went for it! though the topic was supposed to be ‘equality in Islamic thought, the presenter tended to focus exclusively on my disability equality and campaigning work. This turned out to be such an unexpected blessing: not only is this the area of work I am most comfortable with, it also seemed to generate a huge amount of interest: more than I ever could have anticipated in fact! I don’t know how many of you managed to check it out, but if you did I’d welcome your feedback: (good, bad or indifferent!).

I must have done something right: as only 2 days later they called me and asked me to come and present some muherram programmes!! I really didn’t want to do this: since returning home, I’ve had a violent attack of food poisoning/gastric flu which I seem unable to shake off completely. Not only that, I couldn’t understand where I would stay, how I’d manage the commutes etc, and with it being so close to Christmas, I was hugely fearful of bad weather high flight prices and what my parent’s reaction would be! After a few short sharp discussions with friends, I was reassured thoroughly and told (quite rightly), that to refuse the opportunity to talk about Imam Hussain (A.S) and Karbala to the world, is a great honour and should not be refused: such things happen for a reason and such opportunities may not come again. Moreover, deep down inside I do pray that these programmes might lead to more structured, continued or sustainable work for the channel. Its not about the money: it never has been! Its to do with having purpose, direction and meaning to your actions, and to the paid work with which you support yourself: nothing would give me more pleasure and satisfaction, than to work for my imam full time, please, please pray for me!

So: with that in mind, I fly off to London tomorrow! This will be a very different muherram for me, (the third I’ve known), and I think this one looks set to be about the will of Allah (SWT) as apposed to the things I try to lead on myself!
Any way, if you want to tune in, the programmes go out between 10 AM and 11 AM daily on Ahlulbayt TV, and I’ll be discussing the following topics:
1. Physical and spiritual preparation for muherram.

2. The Message of muherram: Equality, justice and human rights.

3. Conveying the message of muherram to non-Muslims/misconceptions about muherram.

4. Hijaab, haya and gender segregation.

I’d dearly love your company for a journey of exploration together in to these subjects. Insha Allah on my return, we shall begin a special muherram series here on the blog: a series of perhaps 10 posts discussing various aspects of these months of sorrow. If you are new to what muherram is all about, or if you are just curious, please do check back to read those!

For now, excuse me: need to get back to my packing: wish me luck, offer me your prayers, and join me for the first programme on Saturday, Insha Allah.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

time for ..., time out!!

Well …., I’m off to London!! Tomorrow!! No kidding! …, without warning I hear you ask? …, well yes!! Its strange, because I’d been looking for excuses to visit London for months! I’ve not set foot in the city since arriving back from Iraq, and that too for 1 night, most of which was spent in the bathroom due to all the nasty germs I’d picked up on route! The time before that was for the conference we held in the house of Lords, the time when I had an extended visit with Rubab (this was by far the hardest visit to return from). Over the last year, Rubab and I have bonded in a way I never thought possible, sure I’ve got close friends, but Rubab is truly my soul sister: she understands me at a level that I don’t think any other human can bar family relations, and visiting with her and Shabib and my cute little jaan Shayr Abbas is just like coming home, thus leaving them behind is so very hard! Rubab is in Pakistan now, she’s ill, and having intensive surgery as we speak (please, please make dua for her!), and visiting London without her being there somehow felt like a betrayal! All the same, I desperately needed a change of scene, and wanted a break before muherram badly!
I planned and plotted and engineered, but either I didn’t have free funds, or couldn’t secure a place to crash, or just didn’t have the time (or all of the above!). This visit was initially designed in an attempt to collect my visa for visiting Azerbaijan (yes: the saga continues!). After Reza and his manager being told that ministry clearance was not required, I was then told by London that it was! So, they had to go back to the ministry, spend hours in yet more lines, and pay/bribe the officials to send my invitation, stamped and authorised to London! (not least because London had decided I was some kind of terrorist, all because the clearance wasn’t granted!) (you are glazing over already!). Any way, after all that was done, they casually informed us that the ministry clearance would come through next Monday (the 14th December, and the day I fly back home again! With my passport! Which they need! For the visa!). By that time, I’d booked tickets, and made plans and simply couldn’t allow any more time south of the border, so the whole thing will now have to be submitted by post, which will be a race against the clock if I’m to get the whole lot to London and back before the mail service (and every other service), shuts down for Christmas, and I don’t want to be bothered with it during muherram either!

Back to the aforementioned trip though: while it was fast looking like a self indulgent waste of time (Allah does work in mysterious ways!). The Ahlulbayt satellite channel (Sayed Mahdi Mahderesi’s new venture), have invited me to ‘Ahlulbayt Live this Sunday, to debate ‘equality in Islamic thought, with DR Rebecca Masterton!
I am more nervous about this than the House of Lords conference, than any job interview, exam or any thing else I’ve ever done in my life! Sure it’s a great honour, and sure I’m delighted to be helping out the channel! But me? Next to such a learned scholar? And that too, representing the Ahlulbayt? (A.S). To make matters worse, DR Masterton had requested me to study as much as I could before hand, as the majority of women who have appeared on the programme to date have been weak in referencing and evidencing (so no pressure!). I have had a manic week (aren’t mine always?), so haven’t got as much of this studying in as I’d hoped! Last night was earmarked for it, then I got sick, and got side tracked in to something else (for another post!). Will try to do some tonight in between packing and sorting the house out, tomorrow morning Shaykh Abdal Aziz and I have a meeting with the EHRC, and then I’m off! Will try to get some research in while I’m there, but its unlikely I’ll get any thing meaningful done, so keep me in your prayers please! If you have nothing better to do, you can see me this Sunday afternoon on sky channel 842, and on satellite in North America and Canada on Ahlulbayt TV, between 1400 hours and 1600 hours GMT (would love your feedback: no matter how awful: if its honest, I’ll take it all!).

My London trip won’t be all work though: I wanted a break, and I’ll be sure to take one! I want to check out some Hindi films, want to wonder around aimlessly on Green street buying bangles and other things I don’t need, want to meet friends and sleep allot! The food is also a big pool factor in London: these days, I’m hooked on South Indian food (for any one who hasn’t sampled dosa etc, you are just missing out on life entirely!). Chenai dosa is my new hang-out, and I’m already dreaming longingly of my masala dosa, chicken rice, idlis, sambar and khuthu paratha!! This kathu paratha came about thanks to Rahul who recommended it: basically, it’s a paratha, mashed up and mixed with lots of coconut achaar, mixed spices and yoghurt (has to be tried to be appreciated!), not to mention the famous ginger tea that only they can make (OK I’ll stop going on about food now!).

I’ve also got some house keeping to do: in particular, have gold churrian which are too small and to be exchanged for bigger ones, and sundries to stock up on (most people go to London for Oxford street, to take in a show or to buy unique gifts for Christmas), I go to buy sandalwood soap, hair oils, ayurvedic headache preparations and other assorted Asian delights not available in Glasgow. As last time, I’ll be crashing with Waleed, Rehan and Abhi in their student pad: only, in a new location: they’ve moved to Layton, and have a disused attic space (with on sweet etc!), with ‘Roshni written on it! this will save me sleeping on Maya’s bedroom floor or on a dodgy half baked sofa!

So: the tubelight travels again: stay tuned for more adventures of the dosa variety!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Training the trainers: all about Equality!

Despite the fact that the UK has taken to priding its self on its so-called culture, equality, freedom of speech, justice etc, the last week or so has shown me, (yet again!!), just how much “difference” defines our attitudes, choices and voluntary exclusions within Scotland today, and how on the surface we might claim to embrace difference rather than turn it out, to celebrate it rather than cast it off, in reality, the exact opposite is done!
The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), have just issued a press release promoting their latest venture: “non-sighted tours!”, a bit of a contradiction in terms maybe, but the idea here is that you are either blind folded, or given special (oops I used that word!), simulated spectacles to wear which apparently mimic the experience of those going through sight loss! Some of you, (probably those of you who are fully sighted), might be wondering what my problem is here! After all, isn’t this only going to increase/promote awareness and understanding in the longer term! …, may be, but while you contemplate its benefits, ask yourself why you don’t pile on the boot polish in order to experience the prejudice people of colour face, or why you don’t drag out your pink stockings and tart wear to experience the prejudice faced by those who opt for the drag look! Such things would provoke nothing less than a national outcry: “discrimination” they’d yell, but hey: who cares, its fine for “the blind!”.

Some people reading this might accuse me of having ‘a chip on my shoulder, and perhaps I do, and maybe the chip is responsible for the curiosity that seems to be surrounding me these days “Blind and Muslim? Huh?”, no kidding!! I’ve written about this before, but its getting worse! These days, I’m continually bombarded with requests from researchers, PHD students, anthropologists, social networking professionals, non-governmental change movements and journalists (to name just a few!). I’ve tried to pin point a particular aspect of little old me, that they would find so captivating! …, (I’m still looking!), but from the outset, it seems to be the full package: if they can’t fit you in to one box or another, exploring the choice not to homogenise is a project in its self: (Blind, Muslim, convert, shia, Urdu speaking, divorced, …, whats she all about!).

Curiosity can be beneficial too: while I might sound hostile, in truth I have no objection at all to any one asking questions! But it’s the nature of the questioning, and the motive behind it I have an issue with! Particularly when much of today’s questions come from those who know little, and choose to remain isolated: (a colleague today actually believed that a channel called ‘shia soldier TV existed after a comment I made), and, when asked if such things as ‘florescent hijaabs existed, to help Blind Muslim women when out at night, I retorted “no, we have a choice: glow-in-the-dark scarves, or hijaabs designed with LEDS built-in”, my colleague (bless her!) replied “really? How clever!! I’d love to see one!” I’ve taken to inventing these way-out, cynical responses as a way of breaking the monotony: sure the first few enquiries stir a smile or 2, but when the probing by the ignorant becomes a daily occurrence it starts to be more than a little tiresome! My point behind ranting about all this is that society in the UK encourages it for the most part: “difference” has become a business (I’ve worked for that business, and contributed to it significantly through-out my working life!). Diversity (as they call it), needs to be measured, quantified, put in a box, and in many cases, watered down to meet the needs of the white Anglo-Saxon protestant! (race equality training, LGBT training, equality training, gender equality training, disability equality training), …, to name but a few, though the list goes on, …, and on!
All of these courses are prepared, offered and taught to government officials, private sector staff tasked with preparing ‘equality duties in most cases, or those suckers who “just find diversity fascinating!” They are taught by people, all too willing to showcase their life: “see? I’m ONE of THEM, I’m disabled too”, who apparently see nothing of the blatant contradiction, and seem content to be a worthy freak show for the day (all in the name of the movement!).

I’ve been a disability Equality trainer for the past 3 years now, and while many have claimed to find my courses helpful, I think it has more to do with their own underlying attitudes: if they are open, inclusive and humanitarian in outlook, the need for disability Equality comes as no surprise for them: essentially, giving every one a fair crack of the whip is something they subscribe to already! There are those, for whom the training is nothing more than a policy exercise and a bit of elevator talk for when they return to work: least seen soonest mended! And finally, there are those who don’t get it, who did not get it and who never will get it, the “it”, being equality in general!
A suggestion was made to send my manager (you know, the problem manager), for a few sessions of equality training, to broaden his outlook! But, unless the training incorporated NLP or hypnotherapy in its delivery and style, it would be unlikely to make a lasting impact on some one with such deep routed and aggressive attitudes to others!

The issue of unnecessary emphasis on difference worsens when you hear those who (you think should no better), extorting fame, fortune and recognition out of the same: I’m not just talking about the medical/academic publications the subject generates, but there are now generations of bloggers, people on twitter, self made ambassadors and spokes people for the ‘difference society! Many of these are intercultural blogs: websites and experiences born out of a mixed race relationship etc, and some of them are highly enjoyable, reflective and amusing! But sadly, the majority still hang wearily between the patronising and the world of ‘white Western dilute in my view (how can you compare tinned fruit with the real thing!) (poor analogy but you get the point!).
This whole entry was in fact inspired by something I read on ‘gori girl’s blog, “the 10 questions every intercultural couple should ask before marriage”, (have we become so sterile about difference that we need questionnaires to assist us with analysing whether or not this “difference” would be compatible in our world of white comfort and privilege!). What shocked me, was that allot of the questions draw pretty close parallels with the stuff parents, teachers and professionals are taught about disability in the early stages: “don’t be afraid to talk about watching TV, looking out of the window, or other common sighted activities: blind people use this phraseology too and it is as common place for THEM, as it is for US”, in short (you might have a cane and a vacant stair but you are just the same as me!), and what they don’t say: (if I tell myself that often enough, I will, in all likelihood, start believing it!).

If you too are a part of this industry, or, if you are so far away from it that you still endorse its benefits, you may well think me bitter, unfair and twisted (or all of the above). While it is certainly difficult to quantify the long-term affects of such interventions, or indeed any intervention that requires lasting attitudinal change, a scan of the relevant research on the subject soon reveals that there is absolutely nothing to indicate that these approaches are working, or making any kind of a difference for those they are supposed to be helping/integrating! The reason: simple! They start from a reference point that is inherently unequal in nature: (you don’t fit in, therefore, we need to train people to deal with you).

When I first got acquainted with the disability movement in the US, I was shocked to learn that such training (conditioning), is not a common feature of the employment/development culture over there. Society simply addresses the barriers, thus kerbing (not eradicating of course!), but significantly limiting the possibility of blatant discrimination occurring! Moreover, when I lived and worked in Pakistan, (a country where all such concepts are alien), I didn’t feel the need for them, nor did I feel I was at any kind of a disadvantage for not having them. Sure I faced barriers that I do not face here, but nine times out of 10, those could be resolved through direct communication with line managers, members of the public, or by simply living your life and going about your business as a fully functioning Blind Muslim: by existing, the problems/barriers (which largely exist within the head of the other person), fail to be an issue any more!

Some of you might say: if we were all to take this approach, would we then need to abandon the dynamic disability movement we have today? Is the racial justice struggle over? is gender inequality a figment of the imagination? Answer: of course not! There are mountains to climb and battles to be one! That is sadly a reality which I doubt will change much in my lifetime! My points have more to do with the current work priorities these movements are forced to undertake these days: most of them centring on counteracting the cultural conditioning I spoke about above! Perhaps if the “training” and the “policies” were put to bed, (or at least toned down), the movement could empower disabled people (and non-disabled people), to get on with the business of living, working, existing, rather than justifying that very existence in the first place!
They claim that these very policies were written with the “marginalized” in mind, but in practise that couldn’t be further from the truth! If we were, only for a second, able to throw it all out, write our own history and determine our own futures, the very landscape of equality would change dramatically, might even fail to exist, which should be the ultimate aim of any so-called equality movement any way (disability, race etc). A leap in logic it may be, but the way forward for sure (only, those at the top may require related training on precisely how to let go), I’m told your own box is a pretty comfortable place to permanently reside J

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Eid Gadeer Mubarak!

Salaamun alaykum, my greetings to you and sincere congratulations to all of you on this most auspicious of eids: the event of eid Ghadeer.
It was on the 18th of Dhul Hijjah, 10th Hijrah, in the hot sands of a place called Ghadir Khumm, not far from Mecca, when the Prophet (sa) was returning
from his last Hajj, that the following verse of Quran was revealed:
يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ بَلِّغْ مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ وَإِن لَّمْ تَفْعَلْ فَمَا بَلَّغْتَ رِسَالَتَهُ وَاللّهُ يَعْصِمُكَ مِنَ النَّاسِ إِنَّ
اللّهَ لاَ يَهْدِي الْقَوْمَ الْكَافِرِينَ
[5:67] O Messenger! deliver what bas been revealed to you from your Lord; and if you do it not, then you have not delivered His message, and Allah will
protect you from the people; surely Allah will not guide the unbelieving people.
Realizing the importance of the divine command, the Prophet of God (sa) gathered his companions to make the divinely ordained announcement of the wilayat
(leadership) of Imam Ali (as) after him. Prophet (sa) prayed for Imam Ali (as) and the Companions congratulated him.... It was an occasion of joy and
happiness....
May god bless us all to benefit from the teachings, ideals and words of wisdom of Imam Ali(as), the gate of divine knowledge of Prophet (sa) of God.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

something to fill a stop gap!

So …, I haven’t blogged very much lately! And yes …, I do feel ashamed! Actually, its not just the usual: (health, sleep etc), allot of good things have happened! And many of them deserve blog posts in their own right! I’ve just not been able to focus my mind on writing them up: and when I did have a stab at it on Monday night, I accidentally wiped every thing I had written!! And couldn’t gather the motivation right then to start all over again! So there you have it …, stop gap!
This was inspired by a job interview I had on Tuesday morning! After reaching the office in question, and realizing I’d forgotten my ID and qualifications, and making all relevant embarrassed efforts to cover up my forgetfulness, blushing, and then fretting over when/how I’d come back to them with the required paperwork, one of the interviewers stuck his head in to the reception area …, and then it clicked! (David Riley!!). I’d known David from a previous job, and really loved the hard-line activist that he was, that, coupled with the fact that I’m positively obsessed with Alex Riley these days meant that I couldn’t resist singing “there’s always a big surprise, in MR. Riley’s pies!” (I think its safe to say I’m most definitely not getting that job!! Any way, MR. Riley, (no relation in case you were wondering), then had to return to his fellow grillers to inform them that we knew each other, and to seek their approval to interview me (he was told he could not), and could only observe! The End result was that I interviewed horribly (I just took 1 breath and spouted out rubbish like a clockwork toy unable to pipe down). It was a behavioral based interview (give us an example of) style of questioning, which I’m worst of all at delivering! All the while, MR Riley sat sniggering at all my in-jokes and subversive references concerning the voluntary sector! All very awkward! And outside of the interview pressure, I struggle to work my notice and to juggle every thing else that is going on: oh the pressure! To help you cope, (or maybe just to satisfy my love for the puerile), here’s some more MR Riley to keep you busy till I actually get around to posting regularly again!
Enjoy!


Part 1.

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Part 2.

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