Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Last word on 2010

I woke up, to a cacophony of fireworks exploding outside my bedroom window. I struggled out of bed, relief setting in as I got to my feet: the worst was over. In the stuffy bathroom, I stood holding on to the sink for support, fighting back the tears. No matter how much I tried to block it out, I reached an epiphany: then, and every year thereafter at this witching hour: and back then, in my apartment in Karachi, I felt abandoned, alone, hopeless! Though I was providing for myself, I was living out of a suitcase, on the other side of the world, no relationship, no future plans, almost entirely estranged from my family, and even though I could list the events in chronological order, my heart couldn’t reason out how it had all come to this.
That was then, that was Karachi, in December 2003. It feels so odd even to write these lines, and thinking about them makes me smile because of their surreal nature!! So much has happened since then, both good and bad, yet my feelings about New Year haven’t changed much, I still dislike it! but if I reflect on my negativity at the turn of every year, its always the same, always ungrateful, always in the negative, and no matter how many good things might be going on, you can bet I’ll find something to be sad about!! This year, I expected to have a field day: after all, almost every thing in my world is up in the air isn’t it? well forget it!! I’m not going there: what good would it do any way!! to put things in perspective, I’ve decided to write 10 bad things, and 10 fantastic things that happened this year: and that …, quite simply, will be that!! If you share my fear and procrastination when it comes to the 2011 move, even though its just a day, and even though Islamicly it shouldn’t matter to us any way! maybe you’d like to do the same, as a polite, yet assertive counter to all that negativity, as well as a fiery warning to shaytan, to just ‘get lost!!
OK: bad first: just to get them out of the way!!

1. Loss of job, (Of course!).
2. 2. Inability to secure more work!.
3. 3. Way too many rejection letters!
4. 4. Separation from Reza.
5. 5. Serious and sometimes dangerous, financial hardship!
6. 6. Way too much depression.
7. 7. Excess negativity which lead to unrealised aspirations.
8. 8. Illness: my own, and that of others close to me.
9. 9. Way too many days, months: weeks! Wasted.
10. 10. Not yet rid of negative people from the past, who just shouldn’t be around me!

OK!! Now to the good stuff!
1. More time to reflect, meditate and spend on ibadat as a result of not working.
2. 2. Muharram this year without travel, work, etc.
3. 3. Enhanced understanding of the real value of life: i.e., the things money will never buy.
4. 4. Time to do things for the sake of good, without agenda.
5. 5. Marrying my wonderful husband.
6. 6. Travelling to Iran, and Azerbaijan, against all odds.
7. 7. Performing Ziyerat.
8. 8. Being able to give sadqa, (all be it only a little), in spite of financial struggles.
9. 9. My new family, gained through Reza.
10. 10. New Friends who mean so much: (Afshaan, and Mariam in particular if you guys are reading).

Interestingly, while writing this, I realised I could have gone on and on with the positive list, and that’s how it should be. To all my readers, wherever you are, the future will be what you choose to make it. If things are dark right now, Allah (SWT) is testing you, and thank Allah that he is: surely its better you go through these tests now, when there is still a chance to rectify your state? And surely its better that Allah (SWT) is aware of you, noticing you, rather than letting you fall around blindly with an inflated sense of ego or imagined success? And if things are good for you, thank Allah (SWT) that they are, that you can smile, that you are happy, and that you have been blessed, you only have to turn on the TV to see billions who are not, who struggle for just a mouthful of clean, fresh and safe water. 2011 might be good, it may even be worse than what has gone before: but do not be afraid, no matter how bleak things may be, you’ll still find plenty to be thankful for, and if we learn to place the positives first, we will indeed be fortunate.
My duas are with you all, May this new faze, this new Year bring you all the good you wish for yourself, and may it be a time of rebirth, of renewed strength, faith, hope, worship and resolve for all of us, aameen.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Yet more Sectarianism I'm afraid!

The below is an extract from a press release taken from the Islamic Human Rights Commission Website. Another worrying Development I’m sure you’ll agree, and just further proof of the wahabi disease that is destroying Islam, and the world beyond it!

***what the newspapers don’t say***
During the Ashura commemoration event on 16th December 2010, JAIS (state religious authority in Malaysia) raided the Hauzah ar-Redah in Gombak, State of
Selangor and arrested 200 people including the local Aalim(cleric) as well as the visiting aalim(cleric/speaker) from Iran. While all of the attendees
at this event seem to now have been released, the two clerics were released on bail and will be appearing at a hearing on 20th January. At this point in
time, it is not clear what the grounds for arrest were as well as a lack of clarity around what the charges are likely to be in court.

On Friday, the Malay newspapers in Malaysia carried this story on their front pages in terms of a shia threat and language reminiscent of a culture of demonization
of Shias within Malaysia. This is in stark contrast to the English newspapers in Malaysia which carried the story of the suspension of the leader of the
opposition coalition, Ibrahim Anwar, and the walkout of the opposition from parliament.

While this may be a mere coincidence, IHRC is worried by the suggestion that the government has used the tool of sectarian demonization in its efforts to
deflect scrutiny of its political actions amongst the Malay speaking masses. The Malaysian government should take its responsibilities more seriously and
not promote this sectarianism which can have dangerous consequences.

Malaysian authorities are bound by international as well as national laws to protect all religious groups from any form of discrimination.

IHRC
*** For more information, subscribe to IHRC Updates or stay tuned to Ahlulbayt TV for extended coverage on the issue.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The I-word in Marriage!

People are always curious about reverts: where they are from, how they became Muslim and so on, but then, if you are married to a Muslim, they become all the more curious: “where is he from? Did you convert for him? How do his family feel about that? Have your parents disowned you?”, but of course, it all starts from “and how did you both meet?”.
This seemingly innocent question, has always been a loaded one for Reza and I! In the beginning, we spent hours debating over how we’d answer it, and in the end, we resorted to different versions for different people! To the local community around me, Reza and I met when I was overseas, speaking at a conference. We say this because, almost every one around me would not only distrust the marriage if they knew we met online, but they’d also assume responsibility: and be put out that their council was not sought through-out! Saying we met through others, overseas, negates their sense of duty, and therefore gives us our privacy back!
To those we don’t know particularly well, we ‘met online, but through an introduction: that is to say, a friend thought I’d be suitable for Reza, the ‘friend got us talking, and we used the net for said communication! This is equally more palatable because of the stigma associated with most marriage websites!
As for strangers: the truth varies somewhere between these 2, depending on the context in which we are speaking: and for the rest, (including the 2 readers who have managed to stick with this blog, Reza and I met on the internet!), yes: we met online, through the self-same marriage websites that every one hates! I’m not ashamed to admit it, even though you might sense guilt from the above. I don’t just hide the fact for my own benefit, but also because I actually do fear for others: marriage websites are not an easy way out for the unmarried, they are actually a test, a gamble, a leap of faith in so many ways, and honestly speaking, I wouldn’t wish them on any one!
I first experimented with marriage websites about 8 months after my divorce. Truthfully, I had absolutely 0 intention to remarry at this point, however I got freaked in to action by another female in a similar position, who informed me that it would take a divorced revert so much longer to look for a partner to remarry, even if I wasn’t serious about things, I should start looking right away, because It would take on average about 6 years, (the worst part about this is, she was quite correct! And it took me 7! Which I’m told is less than the average 10 years). Any way, my look appeared to yield fruit: I met people (men), who I could have adult, civilised conversations with, who were on the same wavelength etc, including one that I began to develop a soft corner for! Needless to say, things didn’t work out, and I soon realised that the vast majority of those surfing the site were at a similar stage to me: i.e., window shopping! Moreover, I soon learned that not every one was the ‘simple, ‘loving, ‘sincere, ‘loyal, ‘practising Muslim he claimed to be! The man who had never been married before, had been engaged 3 times and was casually dating a non-Muslim! The man who had been divorced for 6 months, already had a wife and child in toe and was looking for a second so that he could ‘respectably ditch the first wife without actually giving her the slip in the eyes of the law! And the man who wanted to marry as soon as possible, ran a million miles when things started to become serious! The sites were not for me: so when I did finally get serious about ‘husband searching, I decided to opt for more conventional routes. Those other reverts reading this, or any one who’s followed the blog for a while will know what’s coming! I mean, what’s a revert to do? Every which way you turn, doors will be slammed, unceremoniously in your face! Born Muslim parents will never offer you their sons! Independent Muslim men won’t marry you because, well, you’re a revert, (and in my case, blind as well), and worst of all, you’ll have some kind of a past! If you approach the formal, so-called match-makers, they are likely to shift uncomfortably in their chairs, making small talk for half an hour, the ones with balls tell you to go play with yourself, while the polite ones tell you that they’ll keep looking, and ‘Insha Allah find some one, but you know, and they know, its never going to happen!
So, what next! Well it was off to Pakistan for me: where I lived and worked for 3 years. The culture of the East sucked me in too, as did the many half-baked proposals I received: here, again, people loved the idea of me, but not on a full time basis! Many offered ‘second wife positions like they were offering me jobs! I didn’t want this, not necessarily because it didn’t suit me or that it was wrong, but because I knew such a relationship would only worsen things with my family, and because generally, I think the Muslim male interpretation of a plural marriage is lacking in almost every sense! I didn’t want that. I came back to the UK, broken from yet more affairs of the heart, but I was more certain than ever: I wanted to marry, but if it wasn’t 100%, if it wasn’t the real thing, It just wouldn’t be happening!
So: what next? …, well, a string of other disasters (many of which have already been discussed on this blog), including an assortment of other website encounters! All of this ended in failure, but, just before I vowed enough was enough, I discovered the love of my life, on one of the aforementioned sites, and we began the journey of discovering one another, which ultimately lead us to marriage by the grace of Allah (SWT). Some of you who have been reading my ‘Persian Diaries feature over the past few months have told me how my adventure reads like a fairytale! And mashallah, we are extremely happy now, but its not been easy, there are challenges, and there continue to be tests and barriers to get over. The fact remains that any relationship, no matter how perfect, takes allot more time, effort, research, patience etc, if it begins via the internet! And sadly, its fair to say that the majority of relationships that begin this way, do not have happy endings! The ill affects of said websites are increasingly taking centre stage: only yesterday, Imam Mustafa Ghazwini, usually one of my favourite scholars was on a rant about internet websites and how awful they are! Fine, I get the point, and I’d agree: websites can be dodgy. Sure there are some sincere people who are using them, but for every genuine man or woman, they’ll be around 50 who are not! Fact! And fact too: many of these relationships do not have satisfactory outcomes, (yet these outcomes need not necessarily have any thing to do with the site), rather they are to do with family approval, cultural differences and the like, and of course the inevitable hiatuses brought about by the internet: time, space, distance, understanding and so on. As I said earlier, I am in general, not really in support of these sites! But downing them isn’t the way either! My original question still stands: what is a revert to do? I would be the first person to welcome a return to more ‘traditional methods, but in order for those to work, we need time, equality, support from scholars and community leaders, and in reality, little of this will occur during my lifetime! We need to work towards it, but until we do, there will still be masses of people, be they reverts, disabled people, divorced men and women, those without family, those on the margins, and maybe even a few from in between, who will, resort to the internet.
So, if you are reading this, and thinking of dipping your toe in the water, this post should serve as a cautionary tale! I’m not the kind of person who would say ‘don’t go there! that would be the pot calling the kettle black wouldn’t it!! all I’d say is be careful! Many Muslims (especially new ones), hold on to a sort-of fluffy idea that all Muslims are good, sincere etc, and while it would be wonderful if this was true, it is sadly not the case! In addition, many strangely believe that even if a person is not ‘good, they will at least be honest: and even more bazaar: if they are not, they think the website will somehow have safeguards to route out such people! First, when you venture out in cyberspace, you are alone, completely alone! And second, if you are stupid enough to believe that the generic ‘tick box at the end of every website, where individuals are supposed to ‘swear on the qur’an, that what they have written is true: if you believe that means any thing, you perhaps need a bit of help!! I have every sympathy with those who have been taken advantage of, however, we all have individual responsibility for our own safety, and we must never let that lapse, whether online or other wise. If you find yourself alone, searching for a marriage partner, but with few in the way of friends, family etc to guide you, here are a few tips to help you on your way.
1. Your profile. Take your time when filling in the profile form: think first about what you really want from a potential spouse. Be realistic, yet spesific! “I want a good practising Muslim”, doesn’t mean much in translation: where should he/she be from? Their education level? Will you consider non-UK residents? If not why not? What age range? School of thought? Family background? These things matter, although we claim we don’t discriminate, we don’t want much, in reality, we all have expectations, and aspirations, and this need not be a negative thing! To be clear about what you want, saves you time when surfing out replies and undesirables, and also saves others hurt if they contact you, and later discover they are not meeting your criterion! (that said, I’m obviously not too hot on those who say “I want to marry a Pakistani, who is fair, 5.7 in height, extremely beautiful, from the rajput community only, and who’s father can afford to set me up in my own business!”) (that wasn’t made up, I paraphrased from another website!).
2. Following on from this, there is your own personality: who/what are you? What will you bring to the marriage? Why do you want to marry? What does marriage mean to you? Attitudes: to children? Hijaab? Religion? Etc, look at it this way: the online profile is how you will sell yourself: and it needs to be targeted and pitched as such! There are lots of time wasters online, and if you follow their unprepared lead, you’ll only attract the same!

3. So, you receive an Email, and you like the sound of it, the profile is ticking all the boxes: what next? Stay calm and play it cool! Most of us have worked our way through lots of rejecting and rejections when this finally happens: and so we get way over excited! Play it cool! Express your interest without being too over-zealous. Exchange a few Emails, exploring the themes already outlined in your profile. Do this via the marriage site initially, or else set up a separate Email address specifically for this purpose. Over at RMA we have a series of pre-marital questions you can ask. Now, I wouldn’t advise throwing all these at some one in a first letter! (I’ve actually heard of people sending an entire questionnaire to a potential partner!), come on: treat others with the respect you expect! This is not a job interview! Be calm, but purposeful, be relaxed, but not casual! Use the questions as a guide only, to tees out more information about the person. If you like, keep notes from the Emails or info you have been told, this can be helpful for clarifying thoughts later on, and verifying things that don’t add up (remember! Not every one is who they claim to be!). If you do decide to chat on the phone, or on MSN, set a fixed time, and stick to that! I.e., if you plan to chat for half an hour! Do that, and don’t go any more than 10/15 minutes over the time! Why? Simple! No matter how well you are getting on, long web chats tend to become unreal, unchartered and uncensored! They draw you in to a false sense of utopia, distract you from other things, and even from the purpose you set out on! If you sense something truly developing, that is fantastic! But it will still be there tomorrow Insha Allah! Don’t let your heart run away with you! Go slow! And in all you do, remember that Allah (SWT) sees all! If there is a conversation that you wouldn’t have in front of another, don’t be having it at this early stage, just because its online and no one else is monitoring what you are up to!

4. Involve others ASAP!! If you really think there is a potential match here! Get others involved! Now, this can be tricky if your family are not Muslim! If you have a trusted friend, they can help with this, if you don’t have one person you feel you can confide in right away, introduce the other person to your social network! This can work online too: Reza introduced me to many of his friends: those he had studied with in India, back in Iran, and beyond: our communication, all be it virtual, helped me build a picture of the man I wanted to marry: and importantly, the kind of circles he moved in, and whether those were compatible with my own. From friends, you will want to involve families: and generally speaking, it is the Muslim family approval you’ll be seeking first, (that’s not to say the other side doesn’t matter of course! But in my case, we would never have got that approval, even if my man had been diamond plated!). We were fortunate in that Reza’s family approved almost immediately! However this is rarely the case! Its important, particularly for females, to insure the man has this support: if he does not, you can bet he’ll leg it when times get rough! Few men are willing to negotiate with parents, or stand up to them, plus you don’t necessarily want to be the cause of fitna between parents and their children! If you don’t see family approval, even in principal coming your way, you may need to evaluate your position within this thing!
5. 4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, spend as much time together, (that is, real time), as you can before the marriage! Online or telephone time will only take you so far! I know this can be difficult with time zones and different countries involved, but trust me, it’s the only way! It took Reza and I almost 2 years to finally concede that we were for keeps, but I don’t regret the time, the money, the hours waiting in airports! Marriage is forever, and even your istikhara won’t come out clear, if you have doubts yourself which you know some time, some talking and some meetings will iron out for you.
6. This post is dragging on so I’ll end it here, if any one has comments or questions, leave them in the comments section and I’ll respond, or else Email me privately. Websites can be dodgy, but they are not the ‘route of all evil, as some would have you believe! In truth they are sadly often the only way for many reverts etc. They can work, as long as you are realistic, sensible and not overloaded with expectations, and may Allah (SWT) make it easy for all those who are seeking to get married, aameen!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

After Ashura ...

I wrote this poem on shaam-e-gariba, its always the most painful of nights for me, the night when the world relaxes after grief, and the ones who never knew continue existing in ignorance. Below, is a track taken from ‘Karbala, the unspoken word. I’ve included this not only to highlight the desperate need that exists for English noha/poetry, but because I think these guys have done a magnificent job at encapsulating both the tragedy, but also the mystery of Karbala. May Allah (SWT) place us among those who mourn in this world with all we possess, and are rewarded by closeness to the Ahlulbayt (A.S) in the hereafter, Insha Allah.

After Ashura …
A woman weeps for you in the depth of the night,
Far from the crowd, hidden from sight.

Her tears blind her vision, yet they go unseen,
The 10 days are over, and the tears they have been,
Dried from the eyes, the chains put away,
The majliss can wait for another day.
Shaam-e-gariba, and then they sleep,
The tears they could cry will surely keep.
For another day, another year,
Till the moon of Muharram will once again appear.
Its not enough for this woman, she continues to cry,
In the depth of her sorrow she wonders why?
Why has the world continued to turn,
The music keeps playing, the candles still burn.
They come for muharram, but when its all gone,
They close up the masjid and prepare to move on.

For Hussain he was martyred in a terrible way,
But I did my amaal, that’s what they all say.
She doesn’t understand how they turn their back,
Waiting only for the day they can stop wearing black.

Somewhere a woman cries, she begs ya Hussain,
I ask that you grant me this life again,
For all those years that I didn’t know,
My displays of mourning I could not show.
Give me ashura, all over again, and I swear to Allah it won’t be the same.
I’ll cry and I’ll cry till my tears are all spent,
And then be reborn to repeat this lament.

Gift me ashura, and I’ll be sincere,
Or else give me life is a blessed tear,
The kind that falls from a mournful eye,
or make me the blood that fell down from the sky.
Or else give me life as a powerful chain,
Used in Azadari to a sad refrain.
Or give me the life of a cloak or a cover,
So that I may aid Zeynab when she is without her brother.
And when that is done, make me a chadir again,
So that this time I may be a shroud for Hussain.
Or give me life as a masjid table,
Which carries tabaric to feed to the faithful.
Give me life as a bird, so I may fly,
I’ll arrive in Karbala, make tawaf in the sky.
Create me in gold, to be crafted by man,
Mould me in to earrings, for Sakina in Shaam.
Or else give me life as a poet’s pen,
And I’ll write down the tragedy again and again.
If nothing else ya Allah, just create me in sand,
So that I may furnish the sorrowful land,
Karbala’s dust, that’s all I desire to be,
On which Hussain gave his life for humanity.

1400 years have past since Zeynab lost her brothers,
And the trauma of their martyrdom has long-since been haunting others.
Yet when all is said and all is done,
The so-called shias still return to their fun.
Muharram is reduced to a ritual to follow,
These 10 days become vehicles for a temporary sorrow.

She cries for the future, what we have already become,
An eternity of ashuras and it wouldn’t be done.
Grief, noha, matam, should never end,
The broken hearts should never mend.

The shia has no strength for celebration,
His soul incapable of desensitisation.

And so, a woman cries, in the depths of the night,
And if tomorrow comes, she’ll continue the fight,
She’ll devote her existence to a jihad of tears,
And though her face becomes worn, distorted by years,
She continues to lament, to moan, and to cry,
Continues to ask the question why,

For 10 days in Muharram, shias still come together,
But this woman is different, her ashura is forever.

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Aaj Shabbir pe kya aalam-e-tanhayi hai.

Mashallah beautiful Noha, You’ll have seen this with translation on Ahlulbayt TV this week, but its been in my head for days, so thought I’d share. Insha Allah every one is getting the maximum from this sacred month of mourning, may your ibadat be accepted: aameen, Please remember me in your duas.

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Sunday, 12 December 2010

2 years on.

Last year, I wrote about the passing away of my dearest friend and sister, Sayeda Narges Jaffri, on the 1st anniversary of her death. It was a difficult post to write, and one that still makes me cry when I read it, because of the raw emotions that it evokes. Its hard to believe that I am here again, in the same place, the same spectrum of emotion, trying to write a few lines to honour my friend. Each muharram, now carries along with it, a new pain, shadowed by a greater tragedy: yet both tragedies make me realise that in truth there is no differentiation between worldly family, and that of the family of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), how does any one begin to put these emotions in to words, to make connections or not to make them. Death is something we will all experience, and death anniversaries, rather than causing me to contemplate this fact, leave me wondering what is worse: to quit this world, or to witness one you love dying in front of your eyes.
Last night, after the daily evening muharram majliss, we retired to narges’s home again, to remember once again, the life of a wife, a mother, a sister, a great friend, who’s time was written, was over, even though her work was not done, and those around her were neither prepared, nor capable of letting her go.
Ice covered the ground as the visions in black filled the large house. 2 years, exactly 2 years to the date on the Islamic calendar, and here we were. The same people, the same emotions freezing time and space, so that it almost felt like yesterday, when we were laying my beautiful sister in the ground to rest. BR Munawar had commented on this phenomenon in my last post on the subject, he talked about how the pain does not decrease, and yesterday, I knew what he meant. I got busy in making tea, and filling small dishes with keer to distribute after the majliss, as Sura Yaseen began to resound from the room behind me. I had not been expecting this: I had been so busy, with my marriage, with muharram, with surviving, that I had failed to prepare for this day. Ironically, I suppose I did not expect to feel the way that I did, there was no warning, no indication that such a torrent of grief was buried within me. I had been at home all week, unable to get out because of the snow, and therefore, not used to dealing with the circles of people that fluttered around me, chatting to cover any awkward pain filled silence that might occupy the space between the reciters and the people. I heard people speaking to me, asking how my husband was and how muharram was going, but the words didn’t come. I mechanically completed my work, and retreated to the women’s sitting room, which was thankfully much quieter than I had expected. I surveyed the small group of women around me: the same people, friends/family, the lines are always unclear in this house: every one is united in love, concern for the other in this space, regardless of where they come from, and the languages they do not share. Narges’s mother lay on the sofa, racked by fever and pain. She has been ill for the past few months, without any clear diagnosis, and our fear, though none of us air it, is that her own cancer has returned, and given her age, the doctors are unwilling to provide any kind of treatment. She leaves the room to vomit, and my body shivers, despite the intense heat of the packed little room. I look around, and am aware of how much every one of us has aged, only time has shifted, yet as it turns it etches deeper lines of agony upon our faces, so that in reality, we have not really moved on. The only person who has evolved in this time, is little Zara, the innocent baby girl Narges left behind. Zara, now 4 years old and almost ready for school dances around the room, chattering excitedly in eloquent mixes of English and Urdu. I smile at how she does not use Punjabi often, and how proud her father must be of that fact! Suddenly, the noha reciters stand up, and as the room continues to fill Zara becomes tired by the heat and the people, and lays down in Masooma’s lap. At that moment, Narges’s nephew stands and begins to recite the below noha. Meri Sakina co neend ari hi hain. My body froze: its 2 AM, and a child sleeps, a tiny perfect SayedZadi closes her eyes as a house bathed in light, yet filled with darkness mourns one of its own. I cracked. I could no longer occupy the space and slipped quietly out of the room, taking refuge on the stairs, in the same spot where I had mourned Narges, only 2 years before. Suddenly, all of the days and nights in between became one, became an ocean of grief that had not decreased from the very first day it was born in me. I hide my face in my scarf, embarrassed, and fearful of showing my tears to a family who’s sadness is greater than mine. Zara Batool sleeps, and Sakina (A.S) sleeps, and in one mother’s death, is a child’s life, and that life filled with so many unasked questions.
Later, as Zara awakes, she begins her childish play once again. Asking her Grandmother when all this will be finished? She does not know, and she will not remember her mother at all, this is a blessing for her, that’s what some people tell me. In it, I just see pain, and I wonder how Narges deals with watching her daughter grow from where she is, knowing that she cannot intervene, cannot be the mother she desired to be. I sit on the upper level of the house, shaking, crying, trying to understand what I could not understand on that day, 2 years ago, and what I am no closer to understanding now. If you are reading this for the first time, you might think I was questioning the wisdom, or the will of Allah (SWT), but this is not the case. I know that this life is a test, and I know we all have to be strong, yet I wonder how strong we really are, despite the desensitised facade we learn to wrap around our conscience to survive every day. Such pain when revisited, only exposes our vulnerability, and our inability to find the lessons that Allah (SWT) attempts to teach us through all that he gives, and all that he takes away, and as I sit there I wonder some more. I wonder how Imam Hussain (A.S) and his pure family (A.S) lived with the tragedy that would befall them in Karbala, how great was their sacrifice, and how great their resolve, when my own weak heart cannot comprehend what I know: let alone what I do not. I wander around the large house: and I think about the measure of 2 years, and the measure of 1400 years. I know now that what BR Munawar wrote on my blog is true, every year will feel like this, and every year, I will have things to say about the sister I lost, the mood, and the tone of these posts may change, but the pain will not leave them, neither will the aching questions. I smile writing this, for if Narges could read these posts, she’d surely think I had lost my mind! Yet as she sleeps, all I can do is keep her memory alive through my own empty words. In the memory of every sister is the echo of Zeynab (A.S) as she beseeches her father (A.S), and in every broken heart, is the call of Hussain (A.S), as he sets the benchmark for humanity “is there any one to help us?”, our work is to respond, with whatever we have, even if the effort seems meeger. Respond we must, and keep responding, till the earth reverberates with our responses. These are the only vibrations that will reach my sister now, and all those like her.
Sleep well my princess, know that I watch over you, with candles lit and tears fresh. Know that I am one of many custodians of your daughter, custodians greater than me pave her path with ease and beauty, and recite nohay, to soothe her to sleep.

Please recite Fatiha for my sister, Sayeda Narges Jaffri, and pray for her daughter, and all those who live with her loss, and the responsibility of safeguarding her legacy of love and light. Please also listen to the below noha, and may your pursa be accepted, wherever you are in the world today, aameen.

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 4)

Sorry for the lack of updates every one! Just been a hectic week here, not least because of the freak snow Scotland has been getting! Just been busy, nothing negative though by the grace of Allah (SWT). Any way, since you do all seem to be enjoying the Iranian Diaries, I thought I should crack on with things, especially as we are now on the day of my niqah!

Saturday: I woke up for fajar feeling faint and cold, for some reason. I went to make wudhu, only to find my stomach was severely upset, in every which way! I couldn’t believe it; I hadn’t felt well the day before, but today? The day of my niqah? It couldn’t be happening! As I finished my namaz, Reza came in to the room: “you are not well?”, maybe its because I’ve lived alone for years, or because my family live very individual lives, but I’ll never know just how Reza’s family never manage to keep any thing from the others in the house! I remember falling back on the bed and just saying “I’m not feeling well, don’t let family insist that I eat!”. An odd thing to say maybe, but any one who is familiar with Asian culture will know exactly why I said it! I tried to sleep, but could not, in the end, I got up for a shower, was sick again and then nursed a glass of sweet, black tea, trying to hide just how awful I felt. I couldn’t rest that day, not just because of the niqah, but because we had an appointment to keep: Reza, myself and the neighbour who had pooled me apart the day before, were all taking my wedding dress to be adjusted for the reception on Tuesday. That would have been fine, only Reza got the times drastically wrong, and so we ended up waiting for the dress shop to open for well over an hour!! It was too hot and congested to stand waiting outside, so we sat in a restaurant drinking water etc; that was fine too, till they started frying burgers and I had to keep running outside, dry-heaving on the pavement! In my head, I was rehearsing the few lines of Farsi I would need to read during the niqah “bay ejazeh, mama, baba, Bale”, (with the Permission of my parents, I accept). Not only was that a contradiction in terms, but I kept stumbling over the words, and as I threw up, I imagined not only forgetting them mid-flow, but also saying the opposite, (without the permission of my parents, I accept), which would have been closer to the truth I suppose! As this fear grew, I also added in throwing up all over Reza for good measure! This day was turning out to be a nightmare!
Finally the shop opened and we 3 rushed in with our dress. I changed in to it, already over-heating and realising, with horror, that mum had been right all along, and this dress really was far too heavy, and hot for Tehran. We asked the shop owner if any alternative dress could be bought/rented instead (it couldn’t), so all we could do was pay a ridiculous amount of money to have it adjusted. I was dragged and pooled and clucked over, while the women marvelled at a white Western woman choosing to wear full hijaab at her wedding, when few of the local women do it! according to them, it was the first wedding dress they had ever seen with a matching hijaab! Reza then went off to collect his new glasses, and some other stuff, while the neighbour and I travelled back in the taxi together. Thankfully, she spoke English, so no awkward Farsi, or equally awkward silences! Mum took one look at me when we got home and began making “worried” sounds. She discussed the dress fitting with the neighbour while feeding me boiled water laced with honey. When the neighbour left, she told me to sleep, but for some reason I felt better sitting up. She called Reza, and started saying something about the doctor: great! I’d be getting married, via the local hospital! My Reza, knows another Reza (OK: 90% of men in Iran are called Reza!), and the other Reza (do keep up!), is a doctor! His wife had also befriended me by Email even before I visited Iran! I asked my Reza to call him and see if he could recommend any drugs (any thing I had used so far hadn’t worked!). Drugs were duly brought over, and I downed what I later learned was benzodiazepine!
I was shocked! But apparently it would “bind”, me (sorry, but you did say you wanted details!), and would also calm my shattered nerves! It seemed to do the trick, but thankfully didn’t make me fall asleep which was what scared me the most! Mum spread a sheet on the floor, followed by a silver tray of herbs, and a large wooden board covered in small bread squares and packets of cheese! These were to make up small sandwiches which would be distributed to guests after our niqah. No formal meal is served on this day; all that is saved for the reception, so the small food items were just to “sweeten people’s mouths!”. Reza helped mum make them up, and I offered to help too, however given that I sat with my head facing the wall because the smell of cheese makes me sick, coupled with the fact that my attempts at smart tight cylindrical sandwiches looked more like cabbage roses! So I was politely told to but out!” (well, take rest, but message received!). There wasn’t time to rest however, so instead, I ironed my niqah dress (a green and maroon salwar suit with matching dupata), and then headed off for a shower! Green is the colour of weddings in Iran, but as I couldn’t locate an all green salwar, and because I always visioned myself in a red lehenga, green and maroon felt like a compromise. Once changed, my sister-in-law arrived to help me get ready. They all had lunch, while I played ‘dodge the food! And once done, they set to work on me! I had wanted to have my eyebrows threaded, but there was apparently no one to do that, so my sis and mum each got a set of tweezers and got plucker happy, while I, with tears streaming down my face sat nursing my aching stomach and focusing on the forced smile I’d just coined! Plucking over, they began on my make-up. This was a real worry for me; I don’t wear make-up normally, and my experiences in Karachi meant that I was already having nightmares in which I looked like a cross between a ghost and a clown! Thankfully though, my pleas to Reza hadn’t fallen on deaf ears, and he kept emphasising “light”, which seemed to do the trick! They then tied my hair in to a tight bun on top of my head, and covered it with a white cotton rusari, and finished the look by draping it with a green and gold shawl: I was ready!
In a flurry of aftershave, boxes and photographs, Reza and I made our way down to the waiting cars. I was fairly relaxed at this point: that was, until we entered the registry office! I had always envisioned something like a masjid! But the venue for our niqah was nothing like that at all! It resembled the British style Registry offices, and was located next to a court! We entered a room where around 30 people could be seated at a push. There was a small raised platform at one end with a sofa on it, where Reza and I would be seated. In front of that was a long table, on top of which mum was preparing the ritual wedding items. The niqah in Persian is known as the Aqt (or swearing ceremony), and the table arrangement is known as a sufreh Aqt (sufreh meaning spread or cloth). For a picture, and more info on this, see: http://www.iranchamber.com/culture/articles/iranian_marriage_ceremony.php or: www.sofreh.com/sofrehaghd.htm
The arrangement for us consisted of 2 matching candle sticks, a qur’an, some herbs, a complete works of ‘Hafiz Poetry, a mirror, a silver tray containing our rings, and a small pot of honey, and 2 large cubes of sugar!
As mum got busy with all this, my sister and the rest of the family went out to welcome their guests. Reza and I were called in to a small office outside of the main parlour, where a woman, who looked like an administrator took our details and copies of our passports. She seemed shocked that I was a foreigner, and didn’t speak Farsi, and demanded I recite Shahada in order to confirm I was a “real Muslim”, something which made me smile! She didn’t do a very good job of relaying all this to the ‘moulana, who was to read our niqah either! Reza had met the moulana we were expecting, who also turned out to have previously served in the Iranian Centre here in Glasgow! So we were shocked that he didn’t seem to get it! A few moments later, in walked another moulana, and the huge hour-long explanation began again. I found it all irritating, but as I couldn’t understand or respond, I had to let poor Reza deal with it. When every one was relatively satisfied that I wasn’t dodgy, they began reading out our marriage contract (with intervals for Reza to translate). Once they had read through the mahr (which oddly enough, I realised we hadn’t ever talked about!), we hit something else I hadn’t accounted for! The moulana asked me if I wanted to have the right to divorce: that is, to demand divorce without my husband’s consent! If I did, it meant I’d have to give up the right to my mahr apparently! Huh? I had no idea! What did I do in this situation! The moulana, and the contract writer were in front of us, we had no time or space to talk. In reality, because of my past experiences, I did want the right to divorce, yet it was such a horrible thought when in reality I should be focusing on building a marriage, not breaking it! “er, …, what do you think?”, I asked Reza nervously “its entirely up to you!”, he rightly said! But how could I make that decision, and what would mum and baba think if they read that? I hesitated, and then shook my head, negating the right and fighting down a sudden nervous panic that grew in my chest. I was relieved when it was all over, and as we re-entered the parlour, many more people were waiting there to greet us!
I sat nervously on the sofa, adjusting my rusari and covering the odd stray hair. I silently recited Salawat, praying that Allah (SWT) would bless our marriage, and this sacred new chapter Reza and I were opening together. The moulana began to recite dua, and that’s when it struck me; this was really happening! Mum and my sister stood behind us, and raised a large green vale over Reza and I. Between them, they began to grate the large sugar cubes over us (cymbals of a good, or sweet, married life!). the mowlana introduced us, and surprisingly, talked about my journey to Islam, how blessed I was to find the truth, and how blessed the family were to be able to welcome a new revert! Which I thought was a nice touch! Mum then Spread open a large qur’an on my lap, and I looked nervously at Reza, wondering if I was supposed to read something (I wasn’t). The niqah progressed, as niqah ceremonies always do! Till we got to the part I was most worried about! The moulana asked me if I gave him permission to recite my niqah with Reza. In Persian Tradition, the bride does not consent the first time she is asked, and I had to fight the urge to reply as the room fell pensively silent! Instead of my answer, as per tradition, my sister responded and said, “the bride is picking flowers!”. The audience smiled as the moulana asked “how does a Western Bride know of such things!”, mum laughed and said “well, we taught her, and she learns fast!”. The moulana asked me again asked for my permission to recite the niqah, this time mum said “the bride is collecting rose Water!”. The moulana again laughed and said “yes, and next you’ll tell me she is returning from Kashhan!” (a town in Iran famous for Rose water!). Now it was my turn to speak! The moulana asked me a 3rd time, (According to Reza, I was shaking at this point!), but thanks to Allah (SWT) My few lines of Persian came out alright! The room erupted with joy, and I appeared not to be the only one who was relieved! As the room dissolved in excitement, the poor moulana had to remind every one that he wasn’t finished! And hadn’t recited the niqah yet! I laughed, but then got nervous again as I remembered he hadn’t asked Reza’s consent yet! Within a matter of moments it was over; minutes, that would change my life forever! In those moments, in a few sacred words I had completed my religion, I had become half of one being, 2 people joined as one in marriage, a gift, a miracle of Allah (SWT). Many get married, few have the honour of being with their true soul mate, their source of joy and the reason for their every smile, and mashallah I had it all that day, and Insha Allah forever!
Food was distributed, and family came to greet us. When they settled, Reza and I fed each other honey (another wedding tradition), and then exchanged wedding rings. Then came ‘the giving of the gifts! These were not the main wedding gifts, but were mainly gold and jewellery for the bride. Its not just given either! The gold has to be presented to the audience, along with details of who gave it, and if possible, the bride has to wear it (I ended up with 2 beautiful heavy necklaces tied tightly over my rusari so that I thought they would surely break!). Gold show over, it was time for the guests to return to our house with us. I sat in the back of the car with my husband, smiling and more relaxed than I’d been since I arrived in Tehran! The house was a buzz with excitement, people came to greet us again, and the music centre blared out Persian pop! Members of the family began to dance, and Reza and I were ordered to do the same! We span gently around the room, and were given money by aunts and cousins each time we circled it! I then danced a little with my sister, and a little more with her daughters, and then with baba too! I was happy that I belonged to a family who were not so formal that they didn’t enjoy these moments too! Every one was eating now; cake, fruit etc, but I just kept asking for tea and drank as much hot, sweet liquid as I could. As the family left, new guests arrived; this time Reza’s friends! Some I had met before, the rest were people I had only spoken to via the net, so I had fun trying to identify who might be who! We talked, and it was a relief for me to be able to laugh and joke a bit in my own language! The atmosphere was so relaxed, I prayed that night would never end! Sitting there in the presence of family and friends, I felt as though I had reached the last in a series of journeys or connections. Ever since meeting Reza in 2008, I had prayed for this day, never really believing it would actually come. That night, I slept, and didn’t have to dream; my duas had been answered, our life together had just begun. I woke up several times in the night, almost imagining I was dreaming, but then realising it was true; I was some one’s wife, I was married, and was truly, madly, exquisitely happy in every way! indeed Allah (SWT) is the best of planners!
*** Below is a video of a popular Persian wedding song, which echoed frequently during that night and the days proceeding our wedding; if there is one piece of Music that transports me back to the magic of Tehran; it is this one; enjoy!

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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 3)

On Thursday morning I woke up early! And that too all by myself! But I’d slept early and needed the rest! I was still slightly jetlagged, but was heaps better than the day before. After another breakfast of my favourite bulgha and more coffee, mum told us to get ready soon as we had to do some important shopping for the niqah. I was quite shocked that Reza and I were being involved in this, but I was comparing it to other Muslim weddings I’d seen, where the bride and groom are hardly present at all!
We got ready, while mum was busy preparing bottles of water and jars of haaq-e-Sheer (or hedge mustard). Since arriving, mum had decided I had a temperature (my body was naturally hot, though I didn’t sense any fever). Hedge mustard boiled in water and its seeds consumed is apparently the best cure for internal heating, so we took a load of that with us and bundled in to a taxi!
We were to travel to the Bazaar in Tehran, which I assumed to be a pretty standard Eastern Market (not quite!). The taxi could only take us so far: the areas leading to the bazaar are blocked off to normal traffic, and only registered drivers can operate, taking people their and back in busses, cabs and bikes! I thought this was some kind of security issue: (in reality it was because only drivers with a death wish, or a razor sharp reaction time would dare drive in that area!). I’ve travelled across Asia and the middle East, but never have I seen driving quite like it. We travelled in a broken down van which took us to the desired area of the bazaar, which was like nothing I’d ever seen before: it was utterly huge! To try and describe: well, quite a few of you here know Karachi, so if you can imagine Sadr Markets multiplied by 10, and Tariq Road, LK and Zamzama added on and multiplied by 5 respectively, then you’ve got the Tehran bazaar! Its mad, huge, fast and busy, 24/7! You can buy any thing here: clothes, carpets, books, you name it. Reza estimated it would take you at least 10 days solid to explore all of it, and he’s not wrong! We didn’t see much of it though: our task was to visit the gold and silver markets!
We started in a tiny packed jewellers shop owned by one of Baba’s friends. After they exchanged pleasantries, a wedding invitation and some tea with biscuits, they got down to the business of choosing my wedding band, (I say they did, but really we all did!). This was something else I hadn’t expected, I always thought Reza would have done this himself! Together, Reza and mum poured over trays of rings, while I sat on a ledge at the back of the shop, seriously feeling hot this time and draining jars of hedge mustard by the second! Eventually after what felt like hours, they picked out 2 rings, and asked me to choose between them. I asked Reza to pick: he would not, neither would mum, in the end, I picked the more unusual of the 2, praying that mum liked it too (she later told me it was her favourite, and I sure hope it was!). Off to a silver shop after that, where we found a silver version of the gold band I had chosen for Reza. We bought mum a silver ring too, just as a sort-of thanks for all she was doing for us. All this took us to lunch time, and we headed down a spiral staircase to a basement restaurant to eat. We had to battle through for a table: because apparently they served some of the best food in Tehran (they did!). We had a truly delicious meal of Kebab and fluffy rice with olives, and although I didn’t feel hungry when I sat down, my huge oval server was quickly cleared! After washing hands etc we headed off to another silver shop, this time to buy a mirror and 2 silver candle sticks (both integral parts of the Persian wedding traditions). The shop did not have what we wanted, so we visited another, then another, and then another!! That day I learned just how difficult shopping can be with my new family. Reza and mum in particular, can never ever decide on what to buy and take hours fretting and lost in indecision: quite the opposite to me with my rather grab-and-go attitude to frivolities! Eventually, we found what mum was after, and then baba went off to buy money stamps (again, for our wedding rituals), while Reza took our rings to be engraved with our respective names. Mum and I were tired, so we settled ourselves on the edge of a pretty fountain within the central courtyard of the bazaar. A few women joined us, enjoying the coolness coming from the water. Suddenly the jets behind us increased, and I noticed mum turn around and thank the young guard for cooling us down (I followed her gesture: wrongly!). I later learned that the young guard had been trying to move us on: mum explained we were waiting for baba and Reza: and that I was from overseas and feeling hot etc. The other woman who had joined us also explained she was simply waiting for her husband and would shortly leave: but when we did not comply with the guard, he turned up the water to try and shift us out of there. As usual, mum’s character took over and she thanked him (all be it sarcastically!), for increasing the water flow and cooling us with the spray: thankfully, the men folk returned before things became any more heated!
We went back in to the bazaar, looking for a wedding dress shop (which was apparently no longer there). We visited another gold shop, where mum bought a gold set (she didn’t show me it then though: it was for the wedding day). With our shopping over, it was time to head home. It took longer to get out of the bazaar as the afternoon was well on. Between the 2 taxis and the rush of traffic, it took well over an hour to travel a relatively short distance! We were all relieved to be back in the cool tranquillity of the apartment. We drank water, before retiring to rest: (Iran was the only country in which I both revelled, and took full advantage of, the afternoon nap routine). I woke to hear baba singing quietly as he boiled the kettle for chai: my favourite time of the day! That evening, Reza’s parents had to attend a qur’an khatam for a relative who had past away. They apologised for leaving us, but said they simply had to go: I asked Reza if perhaps we should attend, but he said it wouldn’t be appropriate (at least before the wedding). Plus, my brother-in-law was coming back that night for the wedding, and I was looking forward to meeting him! The absence of parents gave Reza and I a bit of alone time, the only time we’d get before the niqah proper. It was good to be able to share my experiences, hopes and fears and all my new joys with him, and just to unwind in the impromptu pleasure being together brought about. Mum had left us fresh bread, salad items and spiced meat, and we began preparing to eat when the door bell rang and Reza’s brother arrived home. After his 6-hour journey from the provincial city of Shahroot where he is completing his military service, my new brother was tired and drained, but happy to see me, as I was to see him. He was incredibly shy: something I’d not expected at all given the loudness of every one else! But he was friendly with it, somewhat overwhelmed by all the happenings around him. I soon became a massive fan of his: all my life, I’ve dreamed of having a brother: and now I had! Despite being in his mid-twenties, Reza’s brother fully embraced the role of ‘baby in the family! He demanded washed clothes, cooked food (of his choice), and general waiting on in every sphere of life! Normally, I totally despise such behaviour, and am always rebuking my friends for doing it to their brothers, but for some reason, it just made me smile in Reza’s brother. Although he was shy of me, and didn’t talk much because he supposed his English to be bad, he soon warmed to me when he learned that I’d fight his corner, defend him even if he was wrong, and most importantly, slip him cash when he wanted to go out! Maybe it was wrong of me, but if you can’t spoil a younger brother then when can you!
I woke up on Friday morning to hear children yelling and sounds of merry-making coming from the living room! Bleary eyed, I threw on my roopoosh and scarf, before heading out of the bedroom to investigate! “what is going on?”, I asked sleepily.
“nothing!”, Reza retorted sarcastically “just Baba’s second childhood!”. Here, I was witnessing a new Friday morning ritual, which exists for me to this day! I.e., watching Fitileh! Roughly translated, Fitileh (or candlewick), is an old school stage-show children’s programme, comprising music, stories, theatre and general hilarity! I fell in love! Any one who knows me well knows that, despite my eccentricities, I’m a massive kid at heart! The show reminded me of how children’s programmes used to be, before all that American invasion and special affects. I was hooked; and already making mental notes to take my nieces to see it live next time I visited. (clip below).
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Fitileh was also a fantastic learning tool; even if you attend language classes, use books etc, there really is no substitute for TV shows in the learning process, and kids shows are the best by far, the sentences are short, the language is simple! If after watching this you are similarly inclined, (which I very much doubt!), you can visit www.glwiz.com and watch it on jaam jam1 on Friday mornings between 9 and 1, Iranian time. After breakfast, and way too much TV, mum asked me to try on my wedding dress and show her. I hadn’t really wanted to do this as the idea was for it to be a surprise! But she insisted, and I guess it wasn’t a surprise really since almost every one at home had been involved in choosing the design! I wasn’t quite prepared for mum’s reaction though; she didn’t like it, I could tell! Not that she disliked the dress per-say, but there were problems with the fitting; I knew that! In truth, I’d not had time to put them right! Getting this dress had been a jihad in its self! No where in Scotland could I find a white wedding dress that complied with hijaab, Reza said the situation in Iran was even worse as apparently many women, even if they observe hijaab will not do so on their wedding day, (which just feels like an odd contradiction in terms!). Any way, we trolled the internet, and found a dress design we all liked. We then found a company who were willing to make it, custom made at a reasonable price! The only problem was, this company was in Portugal, and they took way longer making the dress than I’d anticipated! It was nice, but very heavy (mum thought it was too hot for Tehran), and was extremely loose at the back, (which I thought could be pinned, or just hidden by my vale!). The vale was a problem too; it was fitted at the top (a bit too fitted for my larger than large head!), so that it didn’t cover my ears and much of my neck, thus not really fulfilling proper hijaab. I had sort-of been aware of these things, but had chosen to ignore them, (in the interests of time, I’d not really had any other option but to ignore them!), but now, standing in front of mum, I realised it wasn’t suitable at all! Neighbours were called, women poured in to our apartment from every direction examining me, poking me, pooling me around and around and stretching me and the dress in to all kinds of uncomfortable contortions! I wanted to cry, but could not! Eventually, I went to change, had a quick cry in the bathroom amidst a heated discussion outside, …, what would I do? Was all this really a good idea? I wanted to go home, I wanted my mum, and was frighteningly aware that I was on my own here, and on that most life changing of days, not one person I knew would be by my side.

Friday afternoon was spent with my sister-in-law, she invited us all for lunch, as family were starting to arrive for the big day. The lunch was attended by all of our crew, along with my sister’s neighbour (and best friend) and her family, along with Reza’s uncle, my sister’s father-in-law (hope you are keeping up with this), and her own sister-in-law and her family: the house was packed! My sister’s house was a constant source of noise and chaos, which I loved for the most part, but at times over the month to come I’d often wish it would stop: reading namaz for example, is a battle in their house; there is no free space, and if you find some, you need to be careful of unexpected children and elders bursting in and knocking you over with the door! We all enjoyed a delicious lunch of khimeh (meat with potato chips in a sort-of stew over rice). I didn’t have much to say, partly because the dress experience had left me spent, but mainly because I was enjoying just soaking up the atmosphere, the sense of family being together, which up till now, I had only experienced at a distance, through friends, but now, it was mine, I was part of this family, and could hardly believe that Allah (SWT) had granted me this honour I had prayed for all my life!
The eating and talking went on till the early evening and I felt odd and bloated. I asked Reza if it was possible to go for a walk some place, mum and baba didn’t feel like it, so they dropped us both off at a park within walking distance of the house. The park was beautiful, filled with exotic sweet-smelling flowers, tall shaded trees and hidden paths to walk along. It was busy for a Friday evening, lots of families and groups of friends out for a walk. Some were lounged casually on the grass under the trees, others were practising marshal arts, and others were exercising on the out-door equipment you find in almost all Iranian parks, an idea I was fascinated by! If we used our parks like this at home, maybe we wouldn’t have so many people with weight problems! (though we probably don’t get the weather for it!). After walking for around 40 minutes, we sat on a bench and watched the world go by. I confessed to Reza that I was not feeling well; my stomach was starting to ache and I’d been rushing to the bathroom all day! He confessed to being the same way, and we both laughed. We started dissecting last night’s dinner, claiming it was to blame, before we both decided that we were frightfully nervous about the wedding (well, I confessed to that part; Reza wouldn’t have it!). As we sat there surrounded by jasmine flowers, the magrib adhan began to sound from a distant masjid. The last adhan of my single life; the sun was setting today on my previous life; and whatever was to come, would be clouded in the sacred tranquillity of togetherness, and would, Insha Allah, make even the hardest tests in life, so much easier, and so incredibly beautiful.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Awakening time

Men weep for you today in many lands
and on their breasts in bitter anguish beat
and in sad, mournful tunes the tales repeat
of how you lost your life upon the sands
You nobly spurned the tyrant’s base demands
And chose death to prevent your soul’s defeat
Became a martyr with unflinching feet
For these well may one weep who understands.

This sorrow at your death, despite the years
Is still as fresh, which time as failed to quell.
In every heart this day new pain appears
And of your sufferings men each other tell.
They see a vision through slow-falling tears
Of that lone battle where athirst you fell.

It is nearly that time again, the time when life, time, circumstances, all become irrelevant, when we leave the frivolities, the chaos and the material behind, preferring pain, tears, sorrow and grief over all else. A time to reflect, switch off, recharge, drown in darkness so intense it threatens to end all life, yet darkness, in an Islamic context is always followed by light; and reflecting on the light of Imam Hussain (A.S), brings more insight, more tranquillity, more opportunities to aspire to perfection and elevate the soul, than we can ever imagine.
This year, a group of us have decided to prepare a muherram blog, just as we did for Ramadhan. The link to the blog can be found on my reading list, or you can connect with it by clicking www.muherram-blog.blogspot.com
As I am one of the named contributors to this blog, my muherram posts, comments, reflections etc shall be posted over there for the most part (in case any one thinks I’ve neglected my duties!). Do check out the new blog as it grows; and if you want to contribute material of your own, drop me a line!
May Allah (SWT) accept all of your worship during the forthcoming months of sorrow. May you emerge from these months recharged, with a deeper sense of iman, and a renewed connection to Allah (SWT), Insha Allah.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

unplugged Mistakes

I had lunch today with a well-known disability activist and a former colleague: it felt good, really good! (note the use of the word former). Since losing my tribunal last year, I am fast falling in to the trap of discussing ‘people I used to know, colleagues I once worked with: when I had a life, and stuff like that! I used to think it was ego that made me hurt about all of this, but now that I’ve had 12 months in which to do nothing but analyse it, I now believe it has more to do with the isolation, marginalisation, the reality that I am misunderstood, that hurts the most! Now that I am unemployed, I stop being a human, a woman, a useful member of society: instead, I am a parasite, a scrounger, one who lives on benefit, one of the ‘disabled, who are a drain on resources. Then, if they want to take it up a gear: I become a Muslim, a terrorist, a weird white woman who wares a head scarf and so on. This stuff is nothing new to any of us though, and I could actually handle all of it, were it not for the changes that came about among people who were once friends. People I trusted, relied on, may not have been close to on a personal level, but at least could share the time of day with and could work highly affectively with professionally! I thought that the dust would settle: I mean, who really cares about my pathetic sacking when there is a recession to worry about? But its continued, intensified and all the awkward silences, the ignored Emails and the pretending not to see me in the street are all becoming too much! When I had lunch today with said activist, I didn’t quite know how to put it, so instead, let it all pour out!
“why are people avoiding me? What the F*** did I do? They might not agree with my decision, but is all this closed ranks stuff really necessary? Was I that bad a friend? Or was I that crap at my job?”.
He just smiled sympathetically:
“Roshni, you’ve got it all wrong!” he said, “its not that they hate you, they feel ashamed! They avoid you because they don’t know what to say! Its easier to blank it all than have to face the fact they failed you, so they look the other way!”.
“that’s crap!!”, I retorted!
“well, …, that’s what they tell me! And I wouldn’t lie to you Roshni!”.
This whole altercation struck me as so odd! For a few seconds, it soothed me: so, I hadn’t lost my mind! I wasn’t in the wrong all of the time! They were embarrassed! I get it! but then, …, no! I don’t get it! the whole thing felt like an excuse for an explanation, and it wasn’t enough for me! I was angry! Why should I be made to feel like the problem! Why should I be the victim of some one else’s insecurities about their own behaviour! The whole thing felt curiously reminiscent of the aftermath following my first marriage, and I won’t go here again I thought!
It’s the evening now, and I’ve had time to cool down. How many of us have screwed up, handled things badly and wished we hadn’t, said things we can’t take back etc. Truthfully, I’m not looking for retribution, its too late for them to make their behaviour right, all I want is for them to acknowledge me, not treat me like some kind of leper! If they really feel that bad, why not just approach me and say: “Listen Rosh, we really made a balls-up of your case, and we feel crap about it and we’re sorry for screwing up your career!”, believe it or not, that would actually put every thing right for me! I don’t do grand gestures, I’m a straight down the line kinda person! I am not complicated and not demanding! Honestly! Any one who knows me will tell you! In my life, I’ve messed up too, but part of growing up is surely about taking responsibility! I might have blanked people in my teenage years, but I certainly don’t do it now! Even if I were to meet my X-husband in the street (and Insha Allah I never will!), but I’d be civil, say salaam and walk on! I wouldn’t do the ‘ignoring routine! What is wrong with the world! Is the blanking just a consequence of all the desensitisation we see all around us? Or is it something deeper: where every connection is superficial, where every one has an agenda and where you really can’t trust any one? My vague optimism doesn’t permit me to go there, though I’m terrified it may be true; when I was a journalist, I had quite a cut-throat attitude to people and connections! If some one wasn’t a name in my contacts book, they were clearly an arch enemy! But when I entered the voluntary sector, things became much more grey than the black/white I was used to! The disability movement made this reality even more stark: the entire philosophy of disability equality often hangs between one smoke screen and another, because disabled people remain the forgotten minority, misunderstood by others, and often, not understanding their own condition because of the inability on the part of society to teach them their heritage/history! This is where I have the problem though: why would a misunderstood community purposely marginalize an individual who is supposedly from among them? …, my quandary continues!
I started this post not really knowing how I would finish it! my Grandfather, before he past away once told me, that the older you get, the less you understand life! I’m not sure how true that is: I like to think that through my travels, my happiness and sorrow/life experience, and in particular, finding Islam, I’ve come to understand life, its purpose and the goals I aspire to within it, but one thing is certainly true: the older I get, the less I understand the duality of the human psyche: the less I understand, the more fascinating I find it: and the more fascinated I become, the more disenfranchised I grow in return: perhaps psychology will always remain a mystery!

Eid Al-Adha Mubarak dear readers!

Well! …., better late than never eh?
Just a quick note to wish all those who take time out to visit/read or follow this blog, ‘eid mubarak. I pray you and your families have had a blessed day, whenever and however you have celebrated, and that the remaining days of eid are sources of joy and rest for each one of you.
I want to also thank those of you who have sent me eid wishes, Emails and generally enquired about me, and about mine and Reza’s situation. Believe me, you might not think these things mean much, but they really truly do: the reassurance that people care, they are concerned and they are praying for us is an immense source of comfort all the time. I appreciate the fact that you stick with this blog, even when there is nothing enlightening to say at my end! And I’m honoured to have a few new followers over the past couple of months, especially Lucky Fatima who is such an established and prolific blogger herself: thank you all, from the bottom of my heart!

Before I sign off, 2 virtual eid inspirations for you: firstly, the dua of Imam Sajjad (A.S) for the day of eid,
http://duas.org/sajjadiya/s48.htm
This is beautiful and I recommend you read it, even if you just run through the translation, I can guarantee the peace you will feel transcends words.
Also, the BBC World Service released a programme yesterday which I assisted in making. Hajj on wheels, explores the experiences of disabled people who have successfully performed the hajj, its really beautiful and is sure to motivate/inspire.
To listen, visit www.bbcworldservice.com and search for ‘hajj on wheels, its under the heart and soul category.

Once again, eid mubarak to you all: enjoy and be sure to eat some extra barfi for me (better still, just bring some over!).

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 2)

The first person to meet me was Reza’s father, (who I will call Baba from here on), he blessed me and kissed the top of my head, welcoming me to Iran, and to his family. Baba was exactly as I imagined him to be. He was the only member of the family I had spoken to on the telephone as he knew fluent English. To me, he was just an older version of my Reza, yet with all the love and patience and infinite kindnesses that grow when you’ve been a father for more than 35 years!
My new mother was next, Reza’s mum embraced me for a long, very long time, neither of us could communicate, yet we seemed to be connecting on a level that transcended all language. Mum would speak to me in Farsi all the time after that, whether I understood her or not, and the beautiful thing was, even if I couldn’t respond, and even if I understood no one else at home, mum always made sure I did, and I miss her so very much for this. Last, but by no means least, was my sister-in-law. From the moment I met her, I was captivated by her: she was so fascinating to me, and I thought: if I’d had a sister, she would either be like this, or else I’d desire her to be so. My sister-in-law (who soon became my sister in fact), had a perpetual smile on her face which would make any one warm to her. It wasn’t her smile that drew me though: she was loud, curious and incredibly precocious which I adored! She wanted to express every thing and be understood, all at the same time! She loved joking, learning, talking, creating the heart and soul of any gathering. She was loving with it though, sensitive, fragile and immensely caring: she was a Virgo like me, and though language and culture separated us, we had so much in common that it blew me away! Once introductions were made, we moved out of the airport terminal towards our car. A light cool breeze blew through the desert landscape that surrounds the airport, making me think Iran was much cooler, temperature wise, than I’d been given to understand (how wrong I was!). Once on the road, I found my eyes drifting shut: road travel and a gentle air conditioner reminded me I’d not slept for at least 3 days! But yet I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to talk, learn and connect with every one. Mum and sis bombarded me with questions re-laid through Reza about my journey etc, while baba began to describe the landscape beyond the car: the road leading to Qom, the shrine to Khomaini, the trees, and so on. I was so deeply moved by the fact that he instinctively knew to do this: no one had told/requested him to do so: this incredible personality was indeed my father, and how blessed I was to be one of his children. As we entered central Tehran, the morning traffic began to spill in to the narrow roads unceasingly. Was this the Tehran I had entered only 30 minutes before? Now I believed the stats I had read proclaiming Tehran to be a city of no less than 50 million inhabitants and rising. When we entered the famous underpass connecting South to North Tehran, I began to panic that we’d be trapped in a jam there, fighting for oxygen against choking petrol and exhaust fumes, but mashallah we were quickly out of there. The highway lead to a wide, leafy suburban passage, which marked the start of Northern Tehran where our family home was. The outskirt area was cool and a great deal more tranquil than the down town areas we had just past through. Bordering as it did on the mountains beyond Tehran, the air was fresh, and housing complexes gave way to beautiful green spaces, tall trees, parks and small hidden avenues: I couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect place to reside! We dropped my sister off at her house, promising to meet later, before travelling a further 5 minutes on to our own home. Baba went off to park the car, while mum, Reza and I headed inside. A metal door cut in to a dirty brick wall, which lead to a drab, standard looking compound yard. Beyond the yard though, I had to catch my breath: the tall complex walls gave way to a flourishing Persian garden, filled with herbs, saplings and fragrant tropical flowers. Bird song filled the air, and the fresh morning due combined with the scent of musk, vegetables and gently brazing meat from the apartments above our heads: none of this felt strange to me somehow, the unbelievable pool, the sense of having come home was so great, so completing and so peaceful, I truly wanted for nothing else in those moments. A small elevator took us to the second floor, Where Reza’s family home was: a few neighbours greeted us on route, curiosity obvious in their awkward, questioning smiles. Mum opened the door and Reza followed her inside, telling me to wait there. My standing on the threshold of my new home, new life reminded me of the nazr utarna rituals in Hindi films and brought a cheeky smile to my lips. They returned a few moments later with a silver tray containing the qur’an, some auspicious herbs, and a burning pot of sfand: a blessed seed, the origins of which date back to the time of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), who used it to ward off evil, and as protection from nazr/black magic and the evil eye. They circled me with the burning pot, and placed the qur’an over my head as I walked confidently towards Reza, in to my new home. The apartment was large and airy by Iranian Standards. I would soon learn just how small most Iranian houses are, (space restrictions I assume). The apartment was built around a large communal living hall dominated by 4 pillars. 2 of the pillars flanked the kitchen, while the other 2 hid the rest of the living quarters at the back. Behind the first pillar was the entrance door and an eastern style wash room, while the other hid the bedrooms, and a western style bathroom. The other 2 flanked a large, low-level breakfast bar which divides the living area from the medium sized kitchen. The back wall contains a large bank of East facing windows, letting in the best of the morning sun, lighting mum’s face as she cooks. I washed my hands, face and feet, freshening up before rejoining the family. Reza’s mum placed a silver chain around my neck, and a matching ring on my finger, (engagement gifts from my in-laws I was later told). Both the ring and the chain contained an exquisite green stone, which I learned originated from the mountains surrounding Tehran. Mum made tea, while Baba reappeared with my suitcase and began preparing breakfast. To my delight, Reza had brought ‘bulgha bread from Azerbaijan (a breakfast special I’d fallen in love with when I visited him earlier on in the year). Bulgha are round bread rolls topped with black seeds and filled with more black seed paste and assorted herbs. I ate my fill and drank my customary 2 cups of strong morning coffee (I was so touched they had gone to the trouble of buying Nescafe for me, especially as no one else drinks it!).
As all of us had been awake all night, we soon retired to sleep. As my younger brother-in-law was still engaged in his compulsory military service, and therefore away most of the time, I was settled in his room, the largest in the house: the room was minimalist, with fitted clothes cupboards, a bed and a computer on a desktop. Beyond the bed was a heavy glass door, which lead on to a pretty balcony overlooking the front compound garden, and flanked by potted plants which mum tended lovingly, and which the neighbourhood cats enjoyed knocking over in the depths of the night when they wouldn’t incur family wrath! I changed, read 2 nafl for my arrival, and opened the glass door, hiding the inner view with the thin layers of drapes that hung at its opening. Mum spread the bed with a crisp, Arab cotton sheet, and covered me with a green coverlet she had brought from Hajj, whispering peaceful Persian words and telling me to sleep. My curiosity didn’t let me sleep easily, but eventually, the beauty and peace of my new surroundings brought my lashes together, and I fell asleep with baba’s words, and my new sister’s smile foremost in my mind.
I dozed more than I slept in fairness, waking constantly, and infrequently forgetting exactly where I was! Finally, I sat up in bed, officially awake as it were, around 1 PM. By this time, the time difference was getting to me, I was more tired than when I’d gone to bed, and the stiffness incurred by the long flight made me feel feverish, and somehow as though I’d been run over by a bus! I freshened myself, and put a black roopoosh over my pajamas, before joining the family for lunch! I learned that every one had slept, and slept well, so I faked the same in order to be polite! I also learned that my sister had called, saying she missed me already! I don’t think I ever regretted my non-existent Persian more than when Reza’s sister was around! I drank water, and found to my ecstasy, that mum had cooked one of my most favourite Persian dishes of Fesan jaan! For those not familiar, fesan jaan is a Persian stew, combining chicken, walnuts and a delicate pomegranate sauce, served over fluffy Iranian rice and potatoes tadeeq (or burnt potatoes). I was in my element! And ate 2 heavy plates of food without embarrassment nor apology, much to mum’s delight! I read namaz and took a shower. While bathing, mum had raided my suitcase and decided that my long simple abayas were not at all appropriate for the raging temperatures in Tehran, she wanted to know if I had any thing else? I felt awkward and embarrassed, but moments later she returned with 2 curtas which could be worn over trousers: a beautiful pastel coloured one, and a green one she had brought from hajj (thankfully, both fitted perfectly). These curtas seem to be the staple dress among Iranian women, they are knee length, mostly made from Soft cotton, and rather more casual in design than most Indian/Pakistani curtas, they are comfortable all the same though and complement hijaab well. After a cup of fragrant Iranian tea, Reza reminded me of what I’d been trying to forget: we had a dental appointment! The purpose of this apparently was to have our teeth whitened before the wedding, so that we didn’t display brown rotting specimens in our wedding photos (in time, you’ll come to know just how image obsessed some Iranians can be!). The dentist surgery was located around 10 minutes away from our home, in a downtown apartment block, reminding me of the eighties conversions back home: new offices, that just cannot hide their former residential status! The dentist herself was a middle aged, rather stern woman (though not entirely unfriendly). Reza had gone through his torture, so it was my turn: as she prodded my mouth in to impossible cavernous contortions, she began the 200 questions we both became used to: “where is she from? How did you meet? When are you to marry? Where will you live? Has she always been blind?”, etc. Reza took it all in good faith, and somehow, I didn’t find the questions as invasive as I did while in Pakistan (I later put this down to the fact that I didn’t understand every thing, and my lack of Farsi meant I wasn’t the one having to do the answering!). The dentist bleakly informed me I had the beginnings of gum disease. She cleaned my teeth violently with some kind of prehistoric machine: only 20 minutes of torture, that was all it took to leave my face aching and swollen, with blood dripping from my bottom teeth! “welcome to Iran Rosha!”, I thought as I cleaned the mess from my lips with a cup of cold water. I was told my teeth could not be whitened owing to the infection and the heeling time required, but at least they were clean. She sent me away with a putrid mouth washing solution, and a new rigorous set of cleaning instructions, and after purchasing said items, we rejoined baba in the car. He asked me various questions about how it had gone, and I replied through my swollen aching lips, I wanted nothing more than to go home and feel sorry for myself, but after my clothes being declared unfit for purpose earlier in the day, it was decided we would go shopping. Reza and I were dropped at a small suburban shopping mall in Northern Tehran, where my sister and her 2 daughters awaited us. It was the first time I had met my new nieces, and I prayed they accepted me! The eldest (aged 12), greeted me sweetly but formally, while the youngest (aged 5) was too irresistible to me! I swept her up in my arms, showering affections on her cuteness! She didn’t seemed too fazed by things though, and looking back, once they had got over the shock of me, my eyes and my lack of Farsi, they were pretty much settled with me by day 2 itself!
Shopping in Tehran wasn’t really an enjoyable experience! Clothes were all odd sizes, and the shops were tiny and claustrophobic! With great difficulty, we salvaged 2 curtas that fitted me, but couldn’t find any of the al-Amira hijaabs I prefer: not at all what I imagined! Shoe shopping however, is a wonder! Shoes are well made, reasonably priced and the most comfortable I’ve ever worn! Trust me: if you know some one who is going, ask them to bring you shoes! That day, I picked up a smart, yet casual green pair, suitable to be worn on the day of our niqah. We bought the girls icecream (which I avoided after the dental torture), and were heading back to the car, when my sister called “Roshni jaan? Do you want to buy underwear?”, my inner prude was horrified!! She wanted me to buy underwear? In front of my soon-to-be husband and her daughters? No!! I couldn’t!! I politely declined at least 3 requests from her, but she went on regardless, leaving a rather stunned Rosha standing outside with the kids, and a hysterical Reza looking on. In the end, she bought underwear any how, but then proceeded to display it to me in the mall, in full view of the passers by! I’m not normally conservative (at least not to that degree any way), but perhaps I had very different ideas about the Islamic Republic, and how it would be!
We all retired to my parents house, where my sister’s husband was waiting to meet us too. He too became a brother to treasure: an amazingly intelligent man, fluent in 3 languages and one of the senior most figures in his career. He adored films, the arts and debating, and so he and I always had a wealth to talk about, and still do. I freshened up then, and after showing off my purchases to mum (who thankfully approved), I began to distribute the gifts I had brought for the family: they were not much (my out-of-work state didn’t allow for any thing elaborate), and Reza had rebuked me for bringing any thing at all! But I brought make-up and scarves/bags for the women, toys for the kids and aftershave/wallets for the men. Every one seemed so overwhelmed I initially thought they were faking it: after all, back home these would have been pretty average small gifts! But I later learned that they had been genuinely embarrassed and hadn’t expected me to do any thing at all! Small kindnesses go a long way in Iran, and never ever go unappreciated, something I came to treasure during my time there.
Mum spread a wax cloth on the floor, and we all sat down to a light dinner, of something mum called ‘curry! It consisted of potatoes, herbs and some grain (no spices though as mum can’t tolerate even a hint of curry powder). The whole thing was odd, but homely: sitting around on the floor with all my family round me just felt so right, it was all I had ever dreamed of, and in those moments, all of my childhood wishes and agony all felt worth it, jus for these moments alone, mashallah. We prayed together, and then enjoyed tea, with a rich fluffy sponge cake my sister had made (I marvelled at how she intuitively knew I just love this type of dry, uniced cake without any one telling her!). The family soon left, and this time, sleep was well and truly upon me. Mum told me to rest, and I needed no persuading! My head hit the pillow, and I later learned I did not stir, not when mum checked on me, and not even when attempts were made to wake me for fajr: I was out of it: 9 hours solid sleep, and one of the most restful, complete dreamless sleeps I’ve ever had, restoring me to start another day.

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Iranian Diaries: (part 1)

Given that I’ve not been blogging much, and that life is still pretty horrendous right now and not really worth writing about, I thought I’d get myself around to doing what I should have done way back in July: and that is, start writing up my Persian adventure! I don’t know how long it will take me to finish it, but I have to start somewhere and I want to feel I’ve started before 2010 is out! So here goes: come and attend my big, beautiful Persian Wedding!

It’s the 14th June 2010, and I don’t want to go. Seriously, I don’t want to go to Iran. I’m nervous, terrified in fact. My head hurts, and I’ve not slept for days! I don’t want to go! But why not? And where has this come from? I love Reza, I want to be with him alright, but weddings? Me and weddings don’t go together! I don’t feel ready, its not the right time! What if I get ill, what if I let him down, what if his family don’t like me, what if there is a visa problem and they send me back? What if my parents kick off: I’m so tired of thinking that I can’t sleep, can’t switch off and …, I don’t want to go! By the afternoon of the 14th, most of my packing is done, and on completing my salat, I fall down in prostration and dua for an undefined time. I don’t say much, but I remember just begging Allah (SWT) to help me. If this marriage is meant: let it happen, give me peace about it, and let it last: but if it is not meant to be, keep me in this cage, this familiar space of no where and things and dead ends that is better than the fear of the unknown, most of the time.
I reply to Emails, listen to the radio and tidy the house a bit. I eat a light dinner, and then Masooma comes over and we go to the supermarket to buy chocolate and finally take the pictures needed for our niqah documentation (the last official task on my to-do list!). I buy more migraine treatment, still terrified about how I’ll keep well and hide my chronic pain from my new in-laws should it appear!
I reach home, where Rizwana is waiting for me. She gives me a beautiful burnt orange salwar suit, and wishes me all the best, and then, I’m all alone, my last night before the big one! I’m so exhausted that I crash without question, rising around 7, to begin the rest of my life!

It’s the 15th June, I’m still terrified, but the familiar pleasure of travel adrenaline is beginning to set in. I listen to radio four’s, ‘a History of the world, thinking of how many out of the 100 objects I’ll miss when I’m gone: if only I could take radio 4 with me (I know that’s sad). I make last minute calls, pray 2 nafl for my journey, and by mid-day, I’m out of the house!
My flight to London runs smoothly and is perfectly on time! My only hold-ups caused by airport staff who are desperate to peak at my wedding dress!
At Heathrow, the assistance I booked shows up right on time for a change! Not that I’ve far to go and an issue with time! When I reach the waiting area though, I realise just how much time I’ve got: my flight has been delayed for 5 hours! Great! I call Reza and tell him: the only saving grace being that he and the family will get a better sleep! The assistance staff help me buy coffee and something to eat (I suddenly realise I’ve not really eaten all day!). In the waiting area the staff are friendly, all chat away to me and are fascinated by my Persian adventure! The Pakistani guys love my Urdu and the Somalis want to induct me in to their community as well: coolness! On the other side of the waiting room, I spot my first Iranian, she is an older woman: a wheelchair user. She seems funny and friendly, though is behaving oddly, at first I assume she’s just tired from way too much travelling, but as I observe further, it soon becomes apparent she is totally inebriated!! Her behaviour madly fluctuates between aggression to laughter and uncontrollable grief, and I pity the staff who are trying to deal with her. She curses me for my hijaab, and I quietly relay the story to Reza who is totally disgusted! We are delayed for yet another hour, and I don’t think we’ll ever go!! But we are moving to the gate now, and that’s a good sign! A group of 3 women are seated next to me, one of them is talking on the phone, clearly distressed, and soon crumples in to floods of shattering sobs. The other 2 women cradle her, trying to settle her. My broken Farsi leads me to understand that her mother has died, back in Iran, and she is travelling back for the funeral. My heart honestly breaks for this poor woman, I wish I knew enough Farsi to tell her how sorry I am, how I want to read qur’an for her mother, but I don’t have the language, and I’m possibly too overwhelmed to speak any way: how one person’s journey of a lifetime can be another’s hell on earth, is a reflection I never can forget! Finally, I’m on the plane, sitting by the window, and blocked in by 2 heavy set Iranian men! I don’t like this location, or the fact that the 2 men also appear to have downed a good amount of the black stuff, but hey! I’m finally on my way! I pray with all my heart as we leave the ground, and enjoy the liberating feelings of letting go, being free, being on my way! The British Midland staff were fantastic: helpful, talkative. I eat dinner, watch BBC world news and listen to some qur’an, between 2/3 short naps. The flight time passes much quicker than I expect! And now: we are here! Finally here, and my heart can’t really take it in. Contrary to what I expected in Iran, the assistance that showed up was wonderful! 3 of us needed assistance, and I was entrusted to a young Iranian Christian man named David. Despite the fact that I told him my Persian was terrible, he insisted on engaging with me in Farsi, but seemed happy enough that I understood the just of what he said, even though I answered back in English! We left the buss which delivered us to the main airport terminal, and rushed through customs via a VIP queue, where my passport was stamped, no questions asked! Mashallah! And all those months I spent fretting over letters and embassies and potential pitfalls, what did I know! We took a lift to baggage reclaim, and as we exited, I was shocked to find Reza waiting for me! I hugged him for a long moment, kissing his neck and drinking in his scent, before remembering I was standing, fully covered, with my not-yet-husband, in the Islamic Republic! Reza brushed it off though, and filled my arms with a beautiful fragrant arrangement of Mariam flowers! I was home, I had arrived: I was here! We stood in the gleaming airport terminal, quiet now in the hour before fajar prayer, despite my fast exit, my bags seemed to be the last to come out! After what seemed like an eternity, Reza was pushing my too-heavy bag, while I branded my dress in 1 hand, and my flowers in another. I gestured wildly in the direction of the glass windows, beyond which stood my parents-in-law, sister-in-law and her 2 beautiful daughters. I took a deep breath as we stepped off the escalator: this was it!
(read the rest in part 2)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Lauren Booth: the next shia revelutionary???

If you watched my hero, Andrew Kneel doing his stuff on ‘this week earlier on, you would have seen Lauren Booth discussing her reversion to Islam, in relation to the treatment and suppression of Muslim women in the west. I had heard she had reverted, but as I lay dozing half-way between sleep and wakefulness, my ears pricked up to hear her say her embracing Islam was the result of a life-changing experience in the shrine of Bibi Fatimeh Masoumeh (A.S), in Iran! Was she shia? Could she be? Further internet research suggests the potential is there, though her appearance on this week showed her silhouetted against a well-known London Wahabi book store. It is doubtless too early for her to start brandishing Muslim labels, and rightly so! but we can only hope that the depth of her spiritual experience in Iran prompts her to search for its unique origins rather than being indoctrinated by the Saudi massive!
Lauren Booth is flawed: an unlikely recruit to Islam in any form: brash, outspoken, loud, opinionated, and with something of a reputation (I know what my friends are saying right now!). Naturally the UK press have kept quiet about her reversion, and responses thus far remain rather tongue-in-cheek! But to me, doesn’t the above actually make her the perfect candidate to the path of Ahlulbayt (A.S), if she is able to make the link between her hardliner activism and compelling journalism, and how these will work together with the shia legacy of justice, given to us by Imam Hussain (A.S), if she makes this link, between the sacrifice of Karbala, and the responsibilities she can embody through her work, then she’ll definitely be a sister to be proud of! After all, how many “spiritual” Muslims do you know, so mystical are they, that their heavenly nature makes them of little earthly use! If we had only a few modern-day Saeeda Zeynab (A.S) type figures in our midst, then I can say with certainty that our only limits would be our imagination and aspirations!
There is allot of potential here, my being only shivers when I imagine the good her sister could do on the path: definitely one to watch, and a sister to keep in your prayers!

http://www.thenews.com.pk/25-10-2010/World/11811.htm?sms_ss=email&at_xt=4cc660fd3cefb8af,0

Blair’s sister-in-law embraces Islam

LONDON: Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s sister-in-law has embraced Islam after visiting the holy shrine of Fatima al-Masoumeh (AS) in Iran’s
holy city of Qom.
“It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy,” Broadcaster and journalist Lauren Booth
told The Mail.
The 43-year-old half-sister of Cherie Blair now wears Hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque.
“Now I don’t eat pork and I read the Holy Qur’an every day. I’m on page 60. I also haven’t had a drink in 45 days, the longest period in 25 years,” she
added.
“The strange thing is that since I decided to convert I haven’t wanted to touch alcohol, and I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two at the end
of a day.”
Booth, who works for Iran’s English-language Press TV news network, decided to embrace Islam six weeks ago and converted immediately after she returned
to Britain.
Booth did not refuse the possibility of wearing a Burqa and said, ‘Who knows where my spiritual journey will take me?’
Before her holy experience in Iran, Booth had spent considerable time working in Palestine and was “always impressed with the strength and comfort it (Islam)
gave.”
She travelled to Gaza in August 2008 along with 46 other activists to highlight Israel’s blockade of the territory and was subsequently refused entry into
both Israel and Egypt.
In a public letter she wrote to Tony Blair during her visit to Iran last month, Booth expressed hope that the former Labor Party politician would change
his presumptions about Islam.
“Your world view is that Muslims are mad, bad, dangerous to know,” she wrote in her letter, asking Blair to acknowledge the International Quds Day, an annual
event on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramazan when Muslims express solidarity with the Palestinian people and protest Israel’s occupation of Al-Quds
(Jerusalem).
“Here in Iran they feel proud to suffer in order to express solidarity with the people of Palestine,” she said. “It’s kind of like the way you express solidarity
with America only without illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths.”
Booth, who had moved to France with her husband and two daughters in 2004, returned to Britain after her husband suffered a sever brain injury following
a motorcycle accident in April 2009.