Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Positive Islamic news item at last!!

With all the wahabi propaganda out there, its so refreshing to read an article in praise of true Islam, and that too written by an American non-Muslim, who is clearly intelligent enough to see the facts for what they are and even as an outsider, to distinguish real and beautiful Islam from Saudi generated filth!

US Shiites tentatively make a home in America
Associated Press
2010-01-17 07:29 AM


Sayyid Haider Bahar al-Uloom paces before his students seated in two neat rows _ men in one, women in the other. They meet each week in a small but growing
office in an old storefront downtown, its shelves lined with Arabic texts on Islamic jurisprudence.
Tonight's lesson is on justice, but Bahar al-Uloom's lecture ranges wide of Muslim teaching. He cites The Federalist Papers, slavery in U.S. history and
spirituality in "The Audacity of Hope." A 37-year-old Iraqi Shiite, he consumes books on American culture and religion, analyzing the work of mega-pastors
Rick Warren, Joel Osteen and others, to learn their appeal.
"We should not fear introducing people to other ideas," says Bahar al-Uloom, whose title sayyid is for those who trace their lineage to the Prophet Muhammad.
On this night in Michigan, he ends his lecture with the same message he brings to Shiite groups around the country: Your ideals, rooted in Islam, are not
alien here.
"We call them Islamic values, but they are universal values," he says in near accentless English. "If it's a principle or act that would help all Americans,
all I need to do is speak it in a language that is universal."
Shiites comprise less than 15 percent of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and an even smaller percentage of the Muslims in the U.S. Within the wider
Muslim world, they are often persecuted for their beliefs and way of worship.
Islamic law governs even the smallest issues for devout Shiites. Can they wear cologne? Listen to popular music? Sit at a table where alcohol is served?
New interpretations are needed for life in non-Muslim countries.
Pious Shiites have seen threats to their faith from the permissive American way of life and what for many is their first experience of a non-Muslim government.
Worried that voting or other civic involvement would violate Islamic law, many have opted instead to turn inward, focusing on preserving their traditions.
But the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror strikes, the war in Iraq and other world events have prompted some significant changes in the U.S. Shiite
community in recent years. Shiite clerics and activists are pushing community members beyond the protective walls they built, encouraging them to fully
embrace their American citizenship.
At the forefront of the effort is the nonprofit that Bahar al-Uloom helps represent, called I.M.A.M., which tells Shiites they can vote, participate in
the 2010 U.S. Census and hold public office without abandoning their faith.
"In the United States, the law here is not against Islam," said Sheik Mohammed el-Ali al-Halabi, a Syrian who came to the U.S. a decade ago, sitting in
his bare-bones office at I.M.A.M. "I can be a good Muslim and a good American."
Half a world away from Dearborn lies the inspiration for this drive, an unexpected source for dramatic change: an elderly holy man who rarely leaves his
home in the old quarter of the Iraqi holy city of Najaf and who will probably never visit the United States.
Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani isn't widely known in the U.S. outside public policy circles, but he should be. He is one of the most revered thinkers in
global Shiism, a moderate in outlook and a powerful force in Iraq. His behind-the-scenes interventions were key to guiding the country's fledgling democracy.
The grand ayatollah and his advisers lead lives dedicated to religious tradition, but they are also pioneers in using the Web to reach the globally dispersed
faithful. They teach that good Muslims must be active citizens of whatever country they call home.
As Shiites emigrate around the world, al-Sistani sends his representatives along to guide them on how to remain devout in a foreign culture.
I.M.A.M., the Imam Mahdi Association of Marjaeya, is the liaison office in America for al-Sistani.
The organization' s lecturers and scholars crisscross the country to support fledgling Shiite institutions. Al-Sistani is far from the only marja, or top-level
religious authority, with American followers, but he is one of the most prominent, and through the Dearborn office, he is helping shape American Shiism.
"It's kind of a status symbol that you are recognized and trusted by the office of the ayatollah," said Liyakat Takim, author of "Shi'ism in America," and
professor at McMaster University in Canada. "It builds your credibility."
I.M.A.M. opened a year ago under the leadership of Sayyid Mohammad Baqir Kashmiri, a cleric who works in Dearborn and Los Angeles on behalf of al-Sistani
and his advisers.
The Dearborn area has the biggest concentration of Shiites in the United States. The city is home to the headquarters of Ford Motor Co., which started attracting
Arab and Muslim immigrants in the early 1900s with above-average assembly line wages. Now, the city bordering Detroit is filled with mosques, Islamic schools,
Lebanese restaurants and food markets that follow Islamic dietary laws.
Inside I.M.A.M., poster-size photos of al-Sistani and his late mentor, Ayatollah Sayyid Abdul-Qasim al-Khoei, hang above the office reception desk. It is
one of the rare portraits that the reclusive al-Sistani ever allowed of himself, as he, like many of the Dearborn staff and volunteers, consider it a sign
of humility to avoid photographs of themselves.
Bahar al-Uloom, I.M.A.M.'s vice chairman, graduated from Dearborn's public high school and Wayne State University, but his seminary education has been by
correspondence with scholars from Najaf, Iraq, and Qom, Iran _ prominent centers of Shiite learning. For years, teachers mailed him sackfuls of cassette
recordings of their lectures, which he would play in his car as he drove the streets around Dearborn.
He and his cousin, Sayyid Hassan al-Hakim, a 26-year-old graduate student in public administration, often arrive early in the morning to study before the
deluge of calls and e-mails with questions about Islamic law and requests for help. Staff cell phones buzz all day with questions sent by text.
"How far off can u be from the Qibla?" reads a query on al-Hakim's cell phone, about facing in the proper direction, toward Mecca, for prayer.
Volunteers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, share computers crammed into a small room off the library. Among them are the editors and designers of I.M.A.M.'s
glossy educational magazine, Reflections. They have a policy of publishing in English, except for religious references that require Arabic, to reach a
younger generation of American Muslims, along with non-Muslims.
"Muslims should be essential participants in their respective societies while maintaining the beauty of Islam as their code of conduct," reads a recent
article titled "Being American and Being Muslim." Al-Sistani "is known to have repeatedly called for integration with preservation of identity," the author
The same article indirectly addresses the threat of extremism, condemning "so-called `Muslims' who endanger innocent lives." The author urges Muslims and
non-Muslims to report any potential threats to civil authorities and "hold fast to the principles of Islam and protect those around them."
In the spirit of the Najaf scholars, and their embrace of new technology and thinking, I.M.A.M. uses contemporary management tools to aid its cause.
Bahar al-Uloom quotes from the corporate success book "Good to Great." Al-Hakim collects evaluation forms for feedback on programming. The office uses customer
service software to monitor response time for calls to 1-888-SISTANI, the toll-free line.
In side rooms, al-Halabi and other clerics offer counseling on personal and religious issues. Sayyid Mehdi al-Ameen, a resident scholar at I.M.A.M., had
been a judge in a religious court in Lebanon, hearing cases on divorce, child custody and other issues. Three days a week he teaches a class on ethics
and another on the Quran, and provides marriage counseling.
Down a winding staircase into the basement is the organization' s video production arm,
It was created by Aous Asfar, a veteran branding executive, and targets young people under age 35. The shows are in English and include lectures on Islamic
teaching, the importance of interfaith relations, and discussion of workplace and family issues.
An underlying theme of the shows is that observant Shiites can find ways to fit into Western society. On a program for young professionals, Wissam Bazzi,
a 34-year-old who works at AscentTV, holds out his right arm to show how men can create a personal safe zone _ two or three arm lengths _ to avoid being
drawn into a handshake or hug with a female co-worker.
"They don't have to feel like outsiders," says Asfar, a Canadian of Iraqi descent.
The call to prayer sounds at midday. Staff members assemble in a corner of the library with their prayer mats directed toward Mecca.
Houda Fawaz, a 26-year-old project manager for AscentTV, was working at a bank when she thought "there had to be something more," and began volunteering
with the video unit.
She now does editing and post-production work for a women's show called "Sister to Sister" and is planning a new career in media.
Fawaz, who wears a scarf that covers her hair and neck, said she hopes the show reaches non-Muslims as well so they can learn how Western Muslim women think
and move beyond stereotypes _ or what she calls "the whole `women are oppressed' issue."
"I've always wanted a job where I felt I was helping other people," said Fawaz, the college-educated daughter of Lebanese immigrants. "With communications,
you can touch so many people at one time."
The office is open at least 10 hours a day but often far longer. On a recent evening, two young women without appointments dropped in after 9 p.m. seeking
help with family troubles. One woman was upset that her father opposed her decision to become a psychologist. He didn't think she'd earn enough. The second
woman said her mother objected to the man she loved because he had not earned a bachelor's degree. Bahar al-Uloom agreed to talk with the parents.
I.M.A.M. takes its responsibilities to the Shiite community far beyond Dearborn. The group recently organized a meeting of the Council of Shia Muslim Scholars
in North America, a panel revived by lead cleric Kashmiri.. The theme of the event, citizenship and integration, was written in Arabic and English on a
banner across a photo of the U.S. Capitol.
More than 40 turbaned clerics gathered for two days in the conference room of an Atlanta airport hotel, drawing surprised stares from other guests. Along
with the Muslim scholars, I.M.A.M. invited two Roman Catholic academics to explain how Catholic immigrants overcame the hatred that greeted them in a once
overwhelmingly Protestant United States.
The Muslim clerics discussed the challenges they face urging their communities to, as one participant said, "come out of their boxes."
No one is sure how effective I.M.A.M. can be.
Like American Sunnis, Shiites are divided by ethnicity, language and culture. Often, I.M.A.M. is viewed in the Dearborn community as a mostly Iraqi or Lebanese
organization, even though the group works with Iranians, South Asians, African-Americans and others.
Then there are those Muslims who seem beyond reach: the notable number of Shiites who have become so Americanized that they no longer practice their faith.
The staff at I.M.A.M. acknowledge all the challenges to their mission, but they find encouragement in the Shiite history of struggle and survival, and the
success of other U.S. immigrant groups before them. With a growing number of American-born Shiites, just blending in with the larger Muslim community or
hiding away in enclaves is no longer an option, they say.
"Sayyid Sistani emphasizes that you are in this country," Bahar al-Uloom says. "You are citizens here."

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Attaining spiritual closeness to Imam Hussain (A.S)

A dear brother and friend of mine always says, “Imam Hussain (A.S), draws the line, and the rest of us follow!”. From the moment I came to know about the tragedy of Karbala, and shed my first tears for Imam Hussain (A.S), I realised how true this reflection really is. How blessed are the followers of Hussain (A.S), how great is his intercession, how life changing is his companionship, and how honoured are those who have achieved closeness to him (A.S).

The dream, or the aspiration of all followers is to perform ziyera of Imam Hussain (A.S), in order to turn their spiritual proximity in to a physical closeness, and, although I am the least deserving, shortly after my reversion to the path of Ahlulbayt (A.S) I performed ziyera. My first trip was to Shaam, to meet Saeeda Zeynab (A.S) and Saeeda Sakina (A.S), and to perform ziyera to the church where our Imam’s blessed head was held by a Christian priest over night, as he questioned the Imam (A.S) as to his identity etc. Blood still weeps from the stone where his blessed head was placed, and it is said of it that its ziyera is equivalent of performing ziyera to Karbala its self. I’m sure this is because of the difficulty reaching that place (the journey requires around 24 hours of wakefulness all in all), and is particularly crowded with faithful from a variety of religious communities (Muslim and Christian), thus giving it an air which is truly unique. Of course, my soul dua at that place was that my presence would act as a vehicle through which I would be able to travel to Karbala, and meet the Imam (A.S) myself. Little did I know then that the following year I would be travelling to Karbala, just as I had requested! The story of how I came to be there is a miracle in its own right, and I’ll one day write about it in more detail, but my point here is to reiterate the greatness of intercession: while we cry tears and mourn for our Imam (A.S), the only way to achieve closeness to him, in every sense, is to make his message, his love and his sacrifice a living, breathing and active reality through every aspect of our living, praying, working and dying. Performing ziyera is a beautiful manifestation of this relationship, and most definitely helps the servant to nurture a friendship and connection which is absolutely unique to him/her.

I arrived in Karbala with all kinds of expectations: I wanted so much to get close to my Imam (A.S), I wanted to understand Karbala in a new way, through a new light generated from virtue of my being present there. I had so many duas to make, both for myself and for others. More than that, I had a great many issues to resolve, I had personal suffering which I desired to put to rest, I wanted desperately to remarry, and needed the help and support of my Imam (A.S), to not only find the right person, but enable me to sustain and make a success of that relationship. All this I took with me, my heart was heavy but my soul was flying high, aching only for that moment when I could stand in front of the zari of my Imam, place my head upon it and weep tears of peace, pain and release that only my Imam will understand. All exhaustion, trial or tension from the journey vanished as we drove in to Karbala, a strange sense of coming home took over, combined with rich soothing tears for both the pain inflicted upon the Ahlulbayt (A.S) in that place, but also as shukr for the great honour we received for being chosen to place our sinful feet on this sacred pure soil. Unfortunately however, many of my expectations were to shatter before me a few moments later. There were a great many issues and difficulties with the group I travelled in. Despite their initial willingness to have me, as a visually impaired person travelling with them, they seemed incredibly reticent and frustrated by it when we finally arrived, and were faced with the practicalities of performing the ziyera its self! They refused to assist me to move inside the haram of the Imam (A.S), because of the crowds, and so I spent much of my time sitting in the yards around the haram in the baking son, absorbed in the indescribable scent which emanated from the blessed haram, listening to majliss being recited around me, and crying for my own hopelessness: I was so close to my imam, yet so incredibly far from him, in a land I did not know, and with people who really didn’t want to be bothered by me, and the worst part is, I was dependent upon them and had no means of relieving them from this burden which they so obviously did not want!
Finally, on seeing my despair, they arranged for one of the female security staff at the haram to take me to perform ziyerat. She spoke no English and grabbed hold of me lovingly, yet as though she were escorting a cumbersome package from one area of the building to the other! She was a fierce figure to be reckoned with as she bounded aggressively through the crowds of women, beating them with her feather duster and dragging me treacherously behind her! The lack of communication meant that I had no idea where I actually was, and only knew we had reached one of the shrines when she would throw me (literally!), upon it! I tried hopelessly to question her as to where we were, but no answer came! I scanned the crowd with my ears to locate an Urdu or an English speaker that I might ask, but none was to be found! I then tried to use my limited knowledge of the maktal: in terms of recollecting the location of one grave in relation to another, and vaguely made a mental map as to where we might be! I offered my tears and my duas at each shrine based on these estimations, but I felt so bizarrely wretched: here I was: in Karbala, making the pilgrimage I had wept for, prayed for and longed for, yet how empty were my hands, how helpless was my being, how little I had to offer to my Imam (A.S) to his family (A.S) and his companions (RA). I continued to be dragged by the security woman, who had by now begun to wield her feather duster in the vague direction of my wet eyes, telling me not to cry, which I thought was extremely odd! She dragged me to each of the graves before I had time to think, and became irritated with my continual stops to kiss the ground in each shrine, and fill my eyes with its blessed dust for shifa. On the way out, she gave me a broken piece of sajdagah/moher and bid me salaam as she pushed me in the direction of my unwilling group. I sat in the desperate heat of the afternoon, weeping uncontrollably over the emptiness of my offerings and the unprecedented situation I found myself in. As I lamented over it, I became increasingly aware of crying more for myself, for my logistics rather than for my Imam (A.S), which made me cry even more! For surely that wasn’t why I had come here: to end up being self assuming and absorbed! My group got tired of my tears and left me to it, ordering me not to move while they went gold shopping or performed the rest of their zyera without me. We were blessed to perform the rest of our ziyerats in Iraq (all be it in a rather haphazard way as far as mine were concerned), before returning safely to the UK! But I’ve had almost a year to reflect on why things developed in that way, why did my imam wish to place me in such an apparently useless, hostile and chaotic state of being. What did I have to gain from it, and what did I really give to my Imam (A.S). When I came back, people looked for news of my ziyera on the blog, but found little of it, friends asked me about the trip, and were shocked by my lucid mentions of it. People asked me how the group were: and I either avoided the topic, or simply smiled vacantly and said “well, there were a few issues!”. If I confided any thing in any one, it was to beg them to pray for the acceptance of my ziyera: I couldn’t believe that my imam would accept something so pathetic from me: when he had taken me there, provided for my stay and sustainence, yet I had offered so very little. I tried my utmost to cut the memories out of my mind, and ask only that I be given the honour to perform the ziyera over again, with those I love and who know me. I swore that if I was given the chance again, I’d do so much better the second time around (and I still stand by that!). Though the fact is, none of us can guarantee a second time ever coming (some never even get their first as far as ziyera goes), and the point remains: behind every thing there is wisdom, and I hadn’t found the wisdom behind my trip yet! I didn’t think about it again till I found myself in London, presenting the muherram shows for Ahlulbayt TV. Each day, after ‘women’s view went off air, I’d settle down on a leather sofa in Sayed Ammir’s office with a large cup of tea and a plate of biscuits to watch Rebecca Masterton’s live show from Karbala, direct from the shrine of Imam Hussain (A.S). I would close my eyes and listen, and was almost able to perceive the beauty of every sound, smell and vibration from the sacred land, just as I had done when I went there. Rebecca told her own stories, and her team brought a great many back with them. Their experiences tell of how the chaos is perhaps an inherent part of every ziyera: i.e., we might take our own expectations with us, and that is fine, but ultimately “the Imam draws the line”.

I realised something else too as I listened to them: that, while my ziyera was special, my journey really began when I reached home: my work situation worsened, and I had to turn to my imam to get me out of there and on to somewhere better. The work I am doing for Kitaba stepped up a gear, and I began to build strong, affective working relationships with people I never imagined I’d be able to work with. I started to take my Islamic studies much more seriously, attending hawza class and undertaking more rigorous self-study at home, and gaining from it. Then, during muherram, the time when I wanted to run away, hide myself away and surrender to my grief, I found myself in London, sharing the tragedy with millions through the platform of Ahlulbayt TV. Some of the above has been trying, but all of it has been an honour, and testament to the fact that nothing is in our hands. It also shows that there is a higher power directing the purpose, direction and content of each and every thing we do: (as the qur’an says, surely Allah is the best of planners!).
Allah (SWT), in his infinite wisdom has granted us an avenue through which we can draw closer to him, seek refuge from the world and the evil within it, and at the same time, elevate ourselves spiritually: (i.e., the intercession of Imam Hussain (A.S) and his Ahlulbayt (A.S). It is easy to look for the imam in his haram, to restrict the blessed Imam to the soil of Karbala, or even to these 2 months of mourning at the beginning of the year! But until we learn to implement the lessons learned from muherram in to every thing we do, and cultivate a personal relationship with our Imam (A.S), we cannot hope for that intercession, it will only remain something lofty and hard-to-reach, something written in philosophy books: too distant and esoteric for the likes of us! Many of us struggle with the infallibility of Imams, and in particular, we struggle with the idea of Imam Mahdi (ATF) being among us, yet in occultation. We don’t talk of these things openly, we don’t question and worst of all, we don’t study! Instead, we are happy to cry in muherram, go home and put our tears to bed for another year, only really remembering the Imam when a significant shahadat or tragedy comes along! Painful and deeply tragic though his death is, Imam Hussain (A.S) did not sacrifice his life so that we could cry! He did so in order to safeguard the message of Islam, to uphold goodness, justice and equality for all, to safeguard and preserve Islam in its most pristine, original and pure form for those people who open their eyes and truly see it! Today, while we might have wahabis and terrorists doing what they can to blot this message out, the truth remains, and shall remain for all time! But that truth lies dormant in our hearts if we don’t act upon it.

I’ve always found muherram to be my own personal power house for the year: whatever I stock up on in terms of deeds for the year: studying, fasting, crying and prayer: they are the things that shape the months and the year ahead of me, and what over shadows them all are those sincere duas I make through Imam Hussain (A.S). For in the quiet stillness of my home, in the depth of the night, or in the new tranquillity before fajar, my creator is near me, and my Imam listens to me. Don’t search for him in masjids and imambargahs, not in books, stories or poetry, not in history or empty ramblings like mine: these are mere foot paths to get you there: the only place you’ll truly find your Imam (A.S), is in your sajda, in the space between your forehead and the ground when you perform sajda on the cleansed earth of Karbala. You’ll find the Imam in the charity that you give, the time you take out for friends and the needy, you’ll find him in the duas you make during crisis, in your tears, the blood you shed for his sake. But above all, you’ll find the imam in your heart, the deepest recesses of your soul, where goodness stands defined and separate from evil, far from the lower self and ready to guide, support and direct us, if only we would open our hands, our hearts and our minds to letting that change come. Don’t let this period of mourning pass for you like any other: let it be the time that you lay the foundations to creating your own relationship with Imam Hussain (A.S). His sacrifice holds the key to closeness to Allah (SWT), and to the rest of the Imams (A.S), as well as directing your own rightful purpose, whatever that purpose may be. If you are going for ziyera, then how blessed you truly are (and please, do pray for us all!), but even if you are not, you can perform ziyera in your own home: and you can achieve the same reward too: simply by drawing closer to the Imam, and understanding/acting upon his sacrifice for what it really is.

‘Oh Allah, in these days of mourning, bless Hussain (A.S), the family of Hussain (A.S), the companions of Hussain (RA), and the followers of Hussain. Grant us wisdom to connect to you through our Imam, accept those duas which are good for us, and those duas which only grant us closeness to him (A.S), in this world, and in the next, aameen.

Monday, 11 January 2010

I just wrote, to say, ..., I thank you!

While updating the blog just the other day, I stumbled joyfully across the fact that we now have 5 followers! Not only that, but the best part is that only 3 of them are known to me, and joined of their own free will, without any prompting from me!! (No: seriously!).

When I started this blog last year, I had absolutely no idea how it would turn out, where I wanted it to go or what direction I anticipated taking it in. For this reason, I didn’t tell friends about it, didn’t promote it on any mailing lists: the lower the profile, the better I thought, especially if I was to mess up!
From the beginning, I simply had 3 broad objectives in mind: firstly, I didn’t want it to be a purely religious blog: many were doing that, and I personally don’t find these types of blogs interesting: spirituality on the net only works for me if it is personalised, other wise why read such things: get a book, listen to a lecture and have done with it! I also wanted it to focus strongly on my disability work and campaigning work, but in a practical way rather than simply somewhere where I rant and dump (though I’ve done my share of that too I hear you cry!). Finally, I wanted it to be focused on the Ahlulbayt (A.S), there are so many suni blogs on the internet, and of the few shia blogs that do exist, either they skip sectarian differences completely, or else make little mention of being shia and the differences. While I am all in favour of Islamic unity, I feel that we, as followers of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), are usually the ones who inadvertently play our religion down, for fear of reprisals from the other side. This does little personal damage to us on the outset, but in the longer term, it is easy to begin doubting your standpoint, or to stop researching it because you are not challenged enough upon it. In my own small way, I wanted to create a space where we can be shia and proud! And where others can learn about the truth and the beauty of our school of thought. Over and above that, I just wanted to create something that was Uniquely ‘Roshni, something that served as a written log of events in my chaotic little world, and even if no one else read them, I knew I’d enjoy musing over them a couple of years or so down the line. I never ever expected to generate 5 followers in the first few months, and that’s not including the Emails I receive and comments sent via my blog profile! I am no writer, am certainly no scholar, and there are billions of blogs that are way better than this one in content, style and layout! But if even one of you has gained something from this humble effort, then I’m delighted: it gives me a strange sense of hope, warmth and enthusiasm to keep going when I see a new visitor to the blog or see that some one has taken the time to read one of my posts (and better still comment on it!). I have a fair few blogs that I follow religiously, and am always on the hunt for new ones. During my net travels I stumble across all too many blogs that have been lovingly instigated, only to be abandoned a few months later when either updating them has become too much, or the writer hasn’t received the instant gratification they expected! For my part, neither is a chore and neither aspect of this has been disappointing! Sure I want to put much more in to the blog this year. I want to update it more regularly and want to make it allot more colourful and interactive! But I’m delighted with the response to it so far, and the encouraging beginning: as I always say, with small ripples come large waves!
Thanks to all of you for your comments, your support, your feedback (good and bad), and all that comes in between: it actually means allot more than you probably realise! I pray you really do like the blog, and pray I can strive to make it allot better for you (feel free to drop by and tell me when I’ve got it bang-on, or when I’m way off the mark: that is the only way to climb higher!).
I for one am thoroughly enjoying my journey with all of you, and don’t plan on giving up any time soon, largely due to all of you:
So Thank you one and all: do keep visiting, and now that our followers are increasing, you might just feel confident enough to tell a friend!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Love notes to Allah (SWT)

This is a really beautiful article which I stumbled upon via an Email list. Some of the points the brother raises were things I touched on during my muherram programmes on TV (namely spiritual and physical preparations for muherram and cultivating closeness to Allah (SWT) and his Ahlulbayt (A.S). But although I touched on them, I certainly didn’t achieve the passion, depth and wisdom displayed by the brother in this article. Judging by some of the references he makes, it appears the brother was a Christian minister, and is now a revert to the path of Ahlulbayt (A.S). I don’t have any more information about him other than that, and certainly hope he doesn’t mind me doing a copy and paste job on his words! But this one was too profound, practical and beautiful to ignore: enjoy!

***** Love notes to Allah (SWT).

The most important thing we as Muslims can do to promote our faith to the world is to live it. This is especially important in light of the attention being
give these days to the fanatics by the news media. The radical element in Islam has defined what it means to be a Muslim in the minds of many in the West
-- and unfortunately for many Muslims also. When we see doctors and bankers' sons radicalized, then something really does seem to have gone wrong with
our faith.

It does little good on our part to condemn the latest terrorist attack when many of us have anti-West attitudes and demeanors. It does little good to condemn
terrorists when our spiritual lives are little more than a rote exercise of prayers with perhaps a dua thrown in and some mosque attendance. The fanatics
are willing to die for their beliefs -- there is nothing rote about their faith.

Ashura has passed and most of us are probably settled back into our routines, promises and resolutions already beginning to fade. Unfortunately our response
to ritualized tragedy is often the same as to what we see on the TV. Ashura is a solemn occasion. We shed our tears and then drink tea, eat cookies, and
laugh. It is all so ho-hum.

Ever since my days when I stood every Sunday in the pulpit (some 30 plus years ago), I have pondered how to make my faith alive -- how to take it out of
the realm of intellect and ritualism and put it into my heart, a fire of love. I can't say I have all the answers. Not sure I even have much of an answer.
But I think I may be on to the answer.

Last night I listened to lecture five from Abbas Virjee's wonderful Muharram series in Toronto. The subject was contemplation. Virjee presented an array
of Quran texts and traditions from the Prophet and the Imams, which command us to the act of contemplation. He went even further and showed how the Prophet
and the Imams even advocated a certain amount of asceticism in our lives. I found this all quite interesting for I found the same being advocated in Christian

His words set me to thinking. If I am to eat less (a mild form of asceticism), for example, how do I make this a personal spiritual act as opposed to just
doing it because the Prophet or an Imam said to do it? Intellectually, I know if I eat a lot at each meal I become sluggish physically and mentally. But
how do I move this information from my head to my heart? In Ramadan, how do I focus on the blessing of fasting instead of what time is iftar?

I think the answer is deceptively simple: love God. Virjee encourages us to take a time out each day to reflect. To think about where we are at, what we
are doing, and where we are going. I would add to this we should take a few minutes each day to love God.

Think about when you were in love. In the fever pitch of new love, that is. Your lover was ever on your mind. And you took every opportunity to talk or
write: phone, letters, email, text message, you name it. You cherished tiny details of your lover. Your vocabulary was rich with words of endearment. I'm
proposing you do the same with God.

I think we put too much distance between God and us. He becomes so other we can no longer relate to Him. I propose we write love notes to God. Doesn't matter
if you use the computer, a typewriter, email, a journal, loose-leaf paper, a fountain pen, or a crayon. The point is to take out 10 minutes each day and
tell God you love Him and why -- just like you did (or are doing) to your lover.

Writing is a tactile and visual process. Writing puts our thoughts into a form we can see and feel, which reinforces those thoughts in our minds. And as
we pour out our emotions, our feelings of love for God, the flames in our hearts will grow very bright and will consume all of those unloving things we
do, think, say, and feel. We will become lovers of God. Truly.

The concept comes from my years of reading devotional material, the writings of mystics, the works of those advocating heart-centeredness in prayer, works
on meditation, and theological tomes. Yet this simple practice eluded me. I've tried all manner of methods and none have worked other than short-term.
But this one is simple, easy, and combines aspects of psychology which can change outlook and behavior.

Since I journal every day, I am going to incorporate my own Love Notes to God into my journal. You should find what works for you. God willing, we can all
become lovers of our Beloved and move the world. The fanatics, who scream "Allahu Akbar!" and then blow up themselves and whoever else they can, have a
faith they are willing to die for. What I'm proposing is a spiritual fire which brings a message of life.



Friday, 8 January 2010

The wonders of Ziyerat Ashura

Once Christmas, Ashura and New Year were through, there was only one question people were continually bombarding me with: “when do you start your knew job?”. I’m not entirely surprised by this: I’d made a huge issue of the fact that on the 18th December I would finally escape THAT job, (yeah, THAT one!), but with respect to the happiness an exit would bring about in my world, I’d given little consideration to the reality that a confirmation letter without a start date would doubtless lead to some time without a salary! Apparently, no one else had thought of this either: (presumably they expected me to have taken care of such logistics appropriately when I resigned) (I hadn’t!). So, whenever I am asked this question I shake my head, look down and say “I don’t know!”, causing those around me to either shut up, or look at me with “huh?” looks of horror spreading rapidly from one ear to the other!
For my part, I’ve been busy with the TV programmes, with muherram and a few upcoming kitaba projects, and above all was revelling in having time to recharge and unwind, and so wasn’t really giving this a second thought! It wasn’t till a very close friend who knows me better than I know myself, (you know who you are!), dropped me a line saying “don’t worry about the job and the forthcoming degree programme: you’ll walk it!”, that the fear reached abnormally high levels of fractiousness! After a rood, urgent and panicked Email yesterday, I was told I’d “hear something on Monday”, and be given a start date in “a few weeks!”. That Email calmed me some what, but given the fall-out from my last job, and my former manager’s attempts so far to darken my reputation, you can understand my being unable to put this to rest! After spending countless sleepless nights, I figured I should quit feeling sorry for myself, and resort to some of my own advice (yes I know: generally never use it, but should!). Within the context of our blessed religion, we have cures for every illness, every disease, be they of the body, mind or soul. One that we often utilise for issues relating to health, wealth or unresolved matters, and resort to even more during these days of mourning, is of course ziyerat ashura. Much has been written and spoken about the miracles contained within it: our 6th Imam (A.S), said, “Whoever raises his hands and recites ziyerat ashura, from near or far, will be granted all of his righteous desires. He will be interceded for, and will receive the power of intercession, and reciting it is as though he has reached the thrown of Allah (SWT)”.
In addition, daily recitation of ziyerat ashura, with full understanding of its meaning and content, is reported to be a sure and certain vehicle to insure a visit from the Imam of our time (ATF). Ziyerat ashura is read for protection, safety and success, not just in this life, but in the next as well: it is said to ease the suffering of the grave and the passing of the day of judgement. Mullah Mohammed Yazdi reports a story relating to a relative in his family who past away: he was perhaps not the most religious person in the world, and so the mullah got a shock when he saw his friend in a dream, informing him of his well-being, peace and ease in the grave. When he asked him why, the friend said it was a result of a woman who had been laid to rest next to his grave. The very next day, Mullah Yazdi began to investigate as to the identity of the woman. He eventually traced her back to being an in-law of Mowlana Haddad, and yazdi visited him to enquire about the nature of this woman, and how she might have benefited the akhrit of his friend. He questioned mowlana Haddad about her prayers, fasting, reading qur’an etc, and found that there was nothing exceptional about this woman. Finally, he asked Mowlana Haddad if there was any thing in particular she recited regularly or made her habit, and he reported that she read ziyerat ashura on a daily basis. Mullah Yazdi said “I can bring you good news of your relative, and tell you that because of her recitation, her suffering has not only been removed from her, but all who are buried along-side her).

When I first heard ziyerat ashura being recited, and was not familiar with its meaning, I was shocked at how it affected me: it brought me to tears, but almost seemed to make my heart stop. It reached me at a very primeval level: as though it leaked from my soul: as though I had heard it before. When later on one uncovers its meaning, the affect is even more stark. Ziyerat ashura is perhaps like no other hadaith Qur’anic ayat or dua that you have ever seen before. It is fierce, loving, passionate and concise. It is the fuel of activism, and is the most profound statement of enjoining good and forbidding evil that you will ever see and hear on this earth. This is because ziyerat ashura is not some man made statement against the killers of our imam (A.S), as many outsiders seem to think. It was not even compiled by our Imams (A.S), or by our Prophet (PBUH). Ziyerat ashura is in fact hadaith khudsi (that is to say, the revelation which our Prophet received directly from Allah (SWT), thus the profound, other-worldly nature of its content and style.
Ziyerat ashura is perhaps characterised most significantly for the ‘Lannah contained within it. Shias are often criticised for the Lannah that we sent on the killers of Imam Hussain (A.S), those who supported them and those who simply sat back and watched the tragedy unfold. We are also criticised for the Lannah we send on other so-called companions, who claimed to be close supports to the Prophet (PBUH), yet who were happy to kill his beloved daughter (A.S), to fabricate hadaith and to deny Imam Ali (A.S), his god-given right to leadership.
Lannah is even viewed by many shias as “abuse”, and something to be discouraged. While it certainly has a time and a place (and some of our brothers would do well to remember that!), it is certainly not “SAB” (abuse). A literal translation of Lannah is “Disassociation”, (i.e., requesting Allah to disassociate you mentally and physically from wrong-doing, and asking Allah to remove his mercy from those people that you condemn).
When I first learnt about Lannah, it seemed the most natural thing to me in the world: just as love has and requires various levels/channels of expression, so does the faculty of hate! As Islam is not a religion that denies the human essence as many organised religions do, it would not expect a person to swallow their hatred, deny or ignore it. After all: ‘Lannah, as a concept, was taught to us by Allah (SWT) in the qur’an.
In Sura 5 verse 73, Allah (SWT) tells us how Prophet Daood and Prophet Eesa (A.S) sent Lannah on the children of Israel, because they disbelieved and turned away. Allah also sends Lannah on Shaytan, on account of his questioning the superiority of Prophet Adam (A.S). The most poignant examples of Lannah in the qur’an relating to ziyerat ashura can be found in sura 2, verse 159, where Allah (SWT), sends Lannah on those who covet knowledge and prevent the truth from reaching the people (the very make-up of our Muslim communities today is testament to this practise: how many have heard of Karbala? How many people know who the Ahlulbayt (A.S), truly are, and how many know of the tragic death of Fatimah Zahra (A.S), and above all, who was behind it!).
Finally, and as if it wasn’t obvious enough!! Sura 33 verse 37
“Those who hurt Allah and his Prophet, Allah sends Lannah on them, in this world, and the hereafter).

If Allah (SWT) sends Lannah on the killers of Imam Hussain (A.S) and those who caused pain, suffering and torment to the family of our Prophet (PBUH), and advises us of the same in the qur’an, then how important is it for us to do the same?
Discovering Lannah was something almost heeling for me: strangely tranquil. Whenever I lamented on the tragedy of Karbala, I could never understand why the earth did not stop, why the skies weren’t still weeping blood, and how humanity carried on regardless, ignorant of this horrific atrocity (that is Muslim and non-Muslim). Lannah seemed like the most natural thing in the world: it took me beyond my tears, and a simple verbal disassociation from these acts: Lannah is something that begins in the soul and transfers to the external. It also puts a moral and social obligation upon the one sending Lannah, to insure his/her behaviour does not contain elements of the ignorant and cursed ones (drinking, listening to music and other associated acts of haram).
One of my favourite Persian poets puts it beautifully in one of his stanzas: “they tell me not to send Lannah on Yazeed
So I send double the Lannah!
For if Allah can forgive one as evil as him,
Then surely he will forgive my sending Lannah!”.
I remember reading a story about an elderly Iraqi woman who tripped and fell while out shopping, and cracked her rib on the pavement. They said that all the way through her surgery and recuperation, she continually sent Lannah on the killers of Fatimah Zahra (A.S). When she was asked why, she said that her injuries had given her just a glimpse of the pain that Fatimah Zahra (A.S) must have encountered leading up to her death. She said that if she felt this pain as a humble human being, how much greater would that pain have been on the blessed daughter of the Prophet (A.S).
My purpose of writing all this is not to further alienate certain communities who don’t believe in Lannah, but to try and demystify the concept, and perhaps to increase our own awareness of it as followers of the Ahlulbayt (A.S). Just as the tears we shed in muherram are sacred and heeling, ziyerat ashura has the power to do the same. It has the power to transform lives, to soothe the mind and remove all kinds of illness, as well as elevating the soul to new spiritual dimensions and heights of closeness to the Imam (A.S), and Allah (SWT).
Below, I have pasted an English translation of ziyerat ashura: if you cannot read the Arabic right now, at least try to make the translation a part of your daily rituals: do not take my word for these things: implement them in your life, and watch the difference and the miracles unfold!


Peace be on you, O Abu Abdullah!

Peace be on you, O son of the Apostle of Allah!

Peace be on you, O son of the commander of the faithfuls, the forebear of the successors!

Peace be on you, O son of Fatimah, the choicest among the women of the worlds!

Peace be on you, O the select, surpassing, chosen in preference over all good of Allah, and son of Allah's (such) good.

Peace be on you, who was martyred while fighting heroically in the cause of Allah, the son of Allah's fearless warrior, you were isolated and had been attacked
with a vengeance!

Peace be on you and on those souls who had gathered in your camp, and strided along with you, in your journey. I pray and invoke Allah to keep all of you
tranquil and restful, for ever; so far I am alive, this is my prayer, and till nights and days follow each other.

O Abu Abdullah! unbearable is the sorrow, nerve-racking is the agony, you put up with,

for us and for all the (true) Muslims, crimes committed against you also shocked and unnerved the dwellers of the heavens, one and all.

May Allah condemn and damn the people who laid the basis and set up the groundwork,

to wander astray and turn aside from not only you and your family but to take liberties and bear hard upon you.

May Allah condemn and damn the people who tried to obscure and deny your office and status, willfully neglected your rank and class Allah had made know
in clear terms. May Allah condemn and damn the people who killed you.

May Allah condemn and damn the abettors who instigated and had a part in your murder. I turn to you and Allah, away from them, their henchmen, their followers
and their friends,

O Abu Abdullah, I pray and invoke Allah to send blessings on you. I make peace with those who make their peace with you,

I make war on those who go to war against you, till the Day of Judgement.

May Allah condemn and damn the family of Ziyaad and the family of Marwaan;

may Allah condemn and damn the group and the tribe of Umayyah, one and all, altogether;

may Allah condemn and damn the son of Marjaanah;

may Allah condemn and damn Umar son of Saad;

may Allah condemn and damn Shimr;

may Allah condemn and damn the people who bridled the horses and errected the saddles for your martyrdom. I, my father and mother are at your disposal.
Profound is my sorrow for you. I beg Allah, who honoured you above others, to be generous towards me on account of you, and give me the opportunity to
be with the victorious Imam, the descendent of Mohammad (blessings and peace be on him and on his children from Allah) at the time of the final and decisive
war against Allah's enemies.

O my Allah make me attend to Your cause, sincerely, in every respect following in Husayn's footsteps, in this world and the hereafter. O Abu Abdullah, I
pray and invoke Allah to send blessings on you. I come nearer and seek greater intimacy with Allah, with His Apostle, with Ameerul Moomineen, with Fatimah,
with Hasan and with you, with the help of your love and patronage, cutting off every connection with those who took up arms against you and killed you.
I disconnect all links with those who, in the beginning, took the first steps to take liberties with and bear hard upon you, I take refuge with Allah and
His Apostle (blessings of Allah be on him and on his children), free from the guilt of associating with those who laid the foundation for (your suffering),
devised and carried out their corrupt plan of action, boldly gave currency to reign of terror and cruelty to oppress you and your friends and followers;
I detach myself from them and present myself to Allah and to you, I (first) seek greater intimacy with Allah and then with you to win your love and patronage,
and to make friends with your friends, cut off all links with your enemies, and with those who planted the seeds of hostility against you, and reject and
discard their associates, their followers and their friends. I make peace with those who made their peace with you, I search out and confront those who
waged war against you, I make friends with those who stood by you, I strive against those who came in conflict with you, therefore, I make a request to
Allah to acquaint (me) with the awareness that perceives you and your friends, to set me free from the corrupting influence of your enemies, to make me
keep company with you in this would and in the Hereafter, stand firm beside you and follow your footsteps closely in this world and in the next world.
I beseech Him that he helps me to reach your highly praised station, given to you by Allah, (to meet you), that He provides me the opportunity to fight
for justice and fairplay alongwith and under the leadership of the rightly guided guide (in your progeny) who surely will come and speak the truth. I beseech
Allah in the name of your right and the purpose He assigned to you, that He overwhelms me with grief in memory of your sorrows, more than the personal
grief that torments any one who is in great agony, sorrows which have no parallel and overshadow all calamities that took place in the history of Islam,
for that matter, through out the whole universe.

O my Allah, in my on the spot situation, treat me like him (or her) who obtains from You

(Your) blessings, mercy and forgiveness.

O my Allah, bring me to life again, after death, in the place Mohammad and his "Aal" (children) are dwelling, and make me depart from this world like Mohammad
and his "Aal" (children) had left,

O my Allah this day is a day of rejoicing for the "Bani Umayyah", the herd of hardened criminals, the eternally damned and accursed group, a fact that had
been made public by You and by Your Prophet (blessings of Allah be on him and on his children), who, in every place and at all occasions, drew attention
of people to this truism.

O my Allah condemn and damn Abu Sufyaan, Yazid son of Muwa'awiyah and let it be an everlasting curse upon tem from You. Today the descendants of Ziyaad
and Marwan make merry, laugh and dance because on this day they killed Husayn (blessings of Allah be on him).

O my Allah, therefore, double up the curse You brings upon them and also the punishment You decrees for them.

O my Allah, I seek nearness to You today in this frame of mind, cutting off all links with them for the rest of my life, denouncing them because of my love
for Your Prophet and his children, peace be on him and them.

Then again say 100 times:

O my Allah condemn and damn the first tyrant who unjustly and wrongfully usurped that which rightly belonged to Mohammad and the children of Mohammad, and
bring curse upon those who, after him, followed in his footsteps.

O my Allah condemn and damn those conspirators who vexed and harassed Husayn, showed eagerness, agreed mutually, and joined hands to kill him. O my Allah
bring curse upon all of them.

Then again say 100 times:

Peace be on you, O Abu Abdullah, and on those souls who came to your camp to put themselves at your disposal.

So far I am alive and the days and nights follow each other I invoke Allah to send blessings on you for ever and ever.

May Allah not make my this pledge of close association, physical as well as spiritual, with you the last fulfillment.

Peace be on Husayn, and on Ali son of Husayn, and on the children of Husayn, and on the friends of Husayn.

Then say:

O my Allah, let the curse I call down on the head of the first tyrant stick like a leech; and stay put for ever on the first, then the second, the third
and the fourth.

O my Allah damn and call down evil on the fifth, Yazid son of Mua'awyah, and bring a curse upon Ubaydullah son of Ziyaad, ibna Marjanah, Umar son of Saad,
and Shimr, and on the descendants of Abu Sufyaan, on the descendants of Ziyaad, on the descendants of Marwaan, till the Day of judgement.

Then go is Sajdah and say:

O my Allah! (All) praise is for You (alone); praise of the "Ever-thankful to You", who glorify You whatever come to pass. (All) praise is for Allah for
my deep-felt intense grief. O my Allah make available for me the recommendations of Husayn on the day I present myself before You, let me stand firm in
safety before You on account of my sincere attachment with Husayn, alongwith him and his comrades, who sacrificed everything they had (heart, mind, soul
and life) for Husayn, peace be on him.

Monday, 4 January 2010

To a flower of jannah

3rd January 2009.

It was around 4 AM when it happened, the tragedy that shook our sheltered little world. The qur’an says “every soul shall taste death!”, but when some one is so young, vibrant, passionate, a New mother who is full of life, dreams and ambition, the taste of death feels like light years away!
4.30 in the morning, while I slept: I’d had a blinding headache the night before, and as it promised to be a lazy Sunday after New Year, I planned on spending it in bed while I prepared to return to work after a pleasant comfortable break!
I crawled angry from the bed for breakfast when mum called me: I was staying at home in those days while the renovations on my flat were completed, and try as I might, couldn’t adjust to waking up at 8 AM even on weekends! I turned on my phone, not expecting to have had any messages or important calls during the night! But as I turned to walk downstairs, my phone sounded a message had arrived: it was from Anees:
“Maasi Narjiss past away at 4.30 this morning: …, come over.”

I was stunned: it couldn’t be true: surely it wasn’t true! A further message arrived a few minutes later: Masooma, telling me the same! I was in shock, sat for a few moments holding the phone out in front of me as though it was contaminated, as though it had lied to me and would confess any second! I ran downstairs and told mum, who was fairly unmoved by the whole thing: (one of the many difficulties with having non-Muslim family is that, you move in completely different circles, and therefore have little understanding or connection with each other’s worlds!). I ate something, took my medication, showered and changed in to a black abaya and scarf. My father, not normally the most charitable in such matters agreed to run me over to their place rather than have me pay out on a cab, which meant allot. Before leaving, I called a few friends, thinking that they perhaps didn’t know or had slept in just like me. To my horror, every one was there, doing afsos etc, reading qur’an: I’d be the last to arrive! I was still reeling as I got in to the car: hugging myself inside my abaya and coat to avoid the morning chill! It still seemed like a dream: a horrible nightmare come to life! Dad tried to make polite conversation with me, but the air hung heavy: I was anxious about what I’d find and what I’d face, I couldn’t cry in front of dad, and I couldn’t talk to him, because I just knew he wouldn’t get it! he played music in the car, was quite casual about things, asking me “when will you be back?”, like I even knew what the next few hours held for me!
The screams met me as I began walking up the path to Masooma’s family home, the place we call “big house”, not just because of its size, but mainly because of the love, unity and togetherness this place represents, particularly to people like me who are not technically part of it, but who have evolved to be so. That walk down the path seemed to take forever, my feet not willing to carry my body, and as I reached the first step I wondered if I’d make it to the 4th one and the doorbell. One of the kids opened the door with Anees behind him. Behind her, Masooma was walking down the stairs: she let go of whatever she was holding and ran in to my arms. Her frail thin body shook violently with each sob, her temperature fluctuating wildly between hot and cold. I kept kissing the top of her head, telling her it was the will of Allah, to be strong, for Zara, for the family: for her Grandparents. Behind me, the men’s sitting room was choked with screams and tears, Uncle Shabber cried the loudest of all, unable to breathe, speak or focus, he came to the door way just as I was about to walk in to the women’s sitting room, he gathered all his courage between sobs to say “Roshni, my daughter: your maasi is dead, she is dead Roshni, she loved you so much, she would have been so touched that you came, she is dead Roshni: hi she is dead!”. I began to shake too: I had never seen him like this! Uncle Shabber: my friend, my scholar, my brother and my rock, shattered in to pieces! The most frightening of all was perhaps uncle Najaf, who stood vacantly under the stairs, unable to speak, to cry, to do any thing.
Bari Ami jan (Narjiss’s mum), lay on the sofa, racked by tears, unable to stand, her daughter and sister-in-laws flocked around her, joining in with the cries at regular intervals. A number of people were silently seated on the floor reading qur’ans. Little Zara played innocently with Hasan and Hashim, not quite sure what was going on, while Anees and Anam tried to shade her from the grief. It was like walking in to a nightmare, I found a chair in the corner, slightly set back from the others by the heavy curtains. I hid my face in my hijab and cried silent tears: Narjiss, our beautiful fragrant flower that was Narjiss had left us: forever!

Saeeda Narjiss Jaffri was a part of my life almost from the first day my journey in to Islam began, (perhaps even earlier than that!), my deep bond and love for her was what drew me in to the Jaffri family and made its members my own. Her brother (Masooma’s dad), presented a regular show at Radio Awaz (he still does!), and when I went there, I asked him if he’d help me with my learning Urdu (at that time I was still struggling with phrase books and Zee TV). He said he was rather busy, but that his younger sister, Narjiss, would take up the task! I telephoned her and exchanged introductions: sadly she too was rather busy, but she did keep in touch with me and inquired about my well-being from time to time!
Later on, (still at radio Awaz), her nefues would meet me (Masooma’s brothers), who also became firm friends and the brothers I always wished to have. I then got married, went to Pakistan etc and had little contact with the family, but after becoming shia (a whole other story!), I met Narjiss in person, at our imambargah! It was the first time I’d attended a public event there (eid-e-Zahra celebrations), and as niyaz was distributed, Narjiss was the first to come towards me.
“Salaams sister”, she said radiating light through her smile “I have some niyaz for you! I guess you are new as I’ve never seen you before: welcome here, I am Narjiss by the way! my family are known here, and if you need any thing you only need to ask me!”. I smiled with quiet recognition and thanked her: I knew who she was! But I didn’t quite know the impact she’d have on me! Narjiss went on to be an amazing sister, friend and support to me in so many ways. She integrated me seamlessly in to her beautiful family, so that they soon became closer to me than my own blood relations! She insured I always had lifts to the masjid, whether her brothers did it, or she did it herself! She made sure every one bonded with me, and its probably because of her that Masooma and I are best friends today! She constantly prayed for me, motivated and inspired me. She’d share her thoughts, her happiness and sadness with me, we’d often laugh together, and I’d play fight with her husband against her on the old Urdu verses Punjabi debate! She’d always be bringing me food, inviting me out and having me come to her house. I say she was a sister to me, but in reality she was much more than that! She assumed something of an imposing figure: I was younger than her and new to the community, and therefore needed guidance, which she provided (usually forcefully) but always lovingly! Her humour, hard working nature and unfailing commitment to religion and family set her high above most women I knew!
Her only sadness, was not being blessed with children: for the first 4 years of her marriage her womb remained bare, and so you can imagine our delight and trepidation when she informed her close friends she was pregnant! A tense 9 months ensued, but by the Grace of Allah (SWT), all went well, and Narjiss gave birth to a beautiful baby girl (Saeeda Zara Batool Nakvi) at the end of 2008. The following year, she fell pregnant again, but seemed to be taking it much worse than she had with Zara: she was constantly sick, dizzy, weak and wasted, and despite constant visits to the doctors, she was always dismissed with “regular morning sickness, nothing to worry about!”. Finally, one day when she collapsed with what appeared to be dehydration, she was rushed to hospital and tests were carried out. It wasn’t long before they found a huge lump occupying the upper portion of her stomach (cancer). They told her that radio therapy should clear it, but in order for the treatment to work, they’d have to terminate her pregnancy! Left with little choice and shattered by this devastating news, Narjiss agreed, with sure and certain hope that good would prevail, that Allah (SWT) would cure her and bless her with more children in the future if he so desired. Despite the abortion, the growing foetus of a little boy did not die, and so Narjiss was told to wait, to proceed with a natural induced labour and see what they could do to save her child. Her little son, (Sayed Mohsin Nakvi) lived for just 1 day before he died, another fragrant flower of innocence who honoured this earth with his fragile visit, before returning to the gardens of paradise where he belonged, leaving just enough scent behind him never ever to be forgotten. Almost immediately after burying her baby boy, Narjiss’s treatment began. She had good days and bad days, but was mostly low: she had little energy and couldn’t eat, at first she stayed at home with her husband and little daughter, but in the end, moved to her mum’s when looking after her family and home became too much. She permitted close family to visit, but wasn’t too comfortable with outsiders, and although I was close to them all, I instinctively withdrew at that time: I knew she’d be lost for words, and that I would too, so there was little either of us could have done to create ease or beauty from my visits. On the night of the 6th of muherram, Masooma stayed home with Narjiss while the rest of the family went to the imambargah. Masooma was full of hope and stories: they had watched majliss on TV, and talked about the imam, they had talked about past and present and Narjiss kept returning to the fact that she wanted to see masooma married in the next year or so.
None of us really remember how the following day developed: the family have tried to recall it over and over again, but they all return to one horrid reality: at 4 AM, they heard Narjiss getting up for the toilet. On entering the bathroom, they heard a crash and all came running. She had been sick, and had fallen on the bathroom floor. The boys carried her to their mother’s room and laid her on the bed while an ambulance was called. She appeared to be conscious and although she could not speak, was making shallow breaths and her eyes were open. Sadly though, by the time the medics had arrived, Narjiss had breathed her last, the doctors later told us that a heart attack had been the main cause of death rather than the treatment proper. She died on the 7th of muherram, aged 33, a life cut short, a flower torn from the route before it had a chance to bloom: a flame extinguished: a beautiful source of comfort and joy and inspiration, lost to us forever. That Sunday I spent the day with the family, reading qur’an and doing what little I could to help. Masooma and a few others went to the imambargah in the evening, while I travelled back to my parents to update them and to make arrangements for the following few days I would spend there. work gave me the days off I needed (all be it reluctantly!), and by Monday lunch time I was back at their place. More and more people came: by this time we were reading steady strings of qur’an, kalmas and dhikr for her and some degree of calm had descended (that was, till they brought her body home). The hospital released her at around 2 PM, and Masooma and the women went to collect her and travel to the masjid to perform her gusl. It was around magrib time when they returned with her body. I remember how we crowded the tiny sitting room where she lay, the air heavy with incense and fragrance and yet choked with our grief: we cried uncontrollably: reality somehow finally hitting us in full as we set eyes on her beautiful silent form. I remember the cries of her mother, begging her to wake up: how her brothers clung to her, shouting at her and demanding to know why she had left them as they brought Zara to take a final look at her mother. I remember how little Hussain fainted and shook uncontrollably in my arms while I tried to hide my own tears. When uncle Shabber stood before me a few minutes later I just couldn’t hide my tears: I was sad for him, for the fact I had lost my sister, and because I knew (maybe selfishly too), that this little patch of tranquillity I called home would never ring with joy and laughter ever again. I remember the subsequent day and night in waves: I remember spending hours in the kitchen forcing her brothers to eat. I remember making tea and rebuking the aunties who spent more time chatting and resting than they did reading qur’an. I remember how irritated we were with the guests from London, who seemed more intent on picking fights than any thing else. At around 3 AM, the mowlana came from Edinburgh and began reciting majliss. The men gathered on the tiny sitting room where Narjiss lay, while we women settled ourselves on the stairs, on the floor: any where there was space around. I sat on the huge stair case pressed against the railings when the matam began. I remember how I wept through the matam, trying to hide my tears from the men, yet through my thick film of tears I saw pure noor reflected out from the room where Narjiss lay. I don’t know whether it was my mind playing tricks on me or a true vision (Allah knows best), but as I turned my head to my right and peered through the railings, I saw her, I saw Narjiss immerging from the back kitchen. She stood in the doorway, smiled and told me not to cry, she seemed almost overwhelmed by the guests and the outpouring of emotion: these days were hard, yet somehow I knew that my sister had found peace.

Narjiss was laid to rest on the 8th of muherram, after a 500 strong jinaza prayer was recited (definitely the largest jinaza Glasgow has seen for a while). Her burial began the long laborious process of trying to put one’s life back together after such a tragedy. Each time I look at her little daughter, I am struck a new with the horror of what took place: a beautiful little girl, with grace and intelligence beyond her years as she learns to walk, talk and read, achieves her respective mile stones with such confidence and poise that her mother would be proud of, yet will sadly never witness. I look at her parents: once old, yet now aged before their time, each time they visit her grave they revisit the tragedy a new, a great loss which in their remaining lives they will doubtless never get over. This family: the one that Narjiss held dear, that she grew from and then nurtured is a strong one, grounded in Islam and cemented by love. They are united in a desire to care for the legacy left by their daughter and sister in the form of her little daughter. She has developed a very strong bond with Masooma (perhaps because she looks so like Narjiss), and I am certain this connection will be a source of great sharing and comfort for her as she grows and learns to find her way without a mother. Last night, we recited majliss in that same room for Narjiss (her first barsi), 1 year on, the shock and unbelievable loss is almost as new as the day it happened. In this year, people from far and wide have come to know Narjiss, through her words, her legacy and the great love others have shown for her, even my mother commented that she couldn’t believe that Narjiss had been gone for a full year!
Such tragedies are the kind the heart never recovers from. They are a reminder to us of the temporary nature of this world, and how one day we too will have to face death. With each person who leaves us, a tiny portion of the soul is torn away with them, and though most of the time we react adversely: holding on to the world for dear life, we are, in reality faced with an intersection in our thinking: either to live for the world, or live in such a way that we live for the hereafter: pray each prayer like it is our last, cherish each moment, love unconditionally and share all those words, thoughts and experiences we dream of and hold back.

When Imran Sabir past away, Shaykh Abdal Aziz Ahmed concluded his tribute book with a beautiful poem, which I here dedicate to my beloved sister and Friend Saeeda Narjiss Jaffri. I request you all to recite Sura Fatiha for her when you read this, and may her death stand out as a bright light of remembrance: for the things she held dear and for the untimely ending of her invaluable life: may we be illuminated by her example, her living and her dying: now, and always.

Sleep well my friend.

Last night you slept alone

sleeping the slumber of the spouse

Your breathing eased

No more struggle, no more pain

Last night I cried alone

They mustn’t know how I loved you

Your new found ease

brings us new found pain

Years of chasing your breath

guided you to well earned rest

Your questions, your smiling eyes

How long till I see them again?

I’ve lost many a loved one

But none like you

I don’t know why I feel this pain

You’ve moved on to happier days

I cry for myself and my loss

Not for you and your gains

Sleep well my friend

We will meet again