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.