Saturday, 27 March 2010

Why are you here?

I’ve written about my radio extraordinaire friend Sangeev many times over here. In particular, I took great pleasure in recounting how, after years of separation, we came back together to not only revive a close friendship, but to recreate a mutual passion for radio which had, in the past, resulted in some ground shakers and award winners! We’ve both changed direction now in so many ways, but our creative passion lays open and itching to be let out, so when Sangeev invited me to do some evaluation on his community broadcast project, I jumped at the chance! It was paid work, with a friend who I dearly love, respect and admire, plus it offered a chance to enjoy great food, fantastic conversation and nights of soul searching, the stuff of dreams (and of future programmes!).

Part of my evaluation would involve sitting in on Sangeev’s training sessions, and providing feedback on his performance, as well as attempting to monitor how affectively he communicated his message to the trainees, and in turn, how their learning altered their ability to broadcast (or not, whatever the case may be!). I felt something of a cheat, a trespasser: after all, here am I, mistress of toilet role control jobs, years out of radio, trying to put a figure on the success of one who is light-years more successful than me. “forget it, Roshni” I thought, money is money, and when you can’t fill the fridge, you sit back and do as your told!

The first thing that struck me was our difference in approach. I had conducted a wealth of radio training in the past, and while mine was driven by my personal journey and likes/dislikes within contemporary broadcast media, Sangeev was driven more by a movement for change within. I wondered how his audience were taking this: in my experience you have to know the guy to get it! Here is some one, who claims he is a capitalist, but lives to much more of a socialist ideology. Who has given up on religion, but who has a value base and code of ethics that would give most so-called scholars a run for their money! While most would-be radio presenters are plotting their journey to fame and fortune, he sees broadcasting as much more of a stance against conformity, the chance to become unique, to make ordinary life extraordinary, to make people think, to encourage them to give up the facade that I often refer to as armchair activism and become some one for family, community and self to be proud of.
I marvelled at his persistence: a room full of 18-year-olds, who were forced in their by the department for Work and Pensions, because they had nothing better to do! On the other side were the Asian radio presenters who had been kicked out of sunrise (so they really must be the worst of the worst!), but who still believe they are the best thing since instant roti! And then there are those who just dream of the cheques!
I sat through this almost hypnotic address, cringing all the while and trying to keep my mouth shut, relief only setting in when he got to the bog standard nuts and bolts, and had every one bent over their exercise sheets! The day from there on was more or less as I expected. We had lunch and began the process of winding down. It was 3 PM now, and I had a migraine coming on. I moved to the back and opened the window, downing black coffee all the while and trying to hold on desperately to the power of concentration. As I played absently with my nails and wondered what we’d eat tonight, a phrase in Sangeev’s charismatic closing address stopped me frozen in my tracks!
“ultimately”, he said “you need to ask yourself that most fundamental of questions! Are you here because your parents had a dam good night some years ago, or are you here to contribute something wonderful for the benefit of humanity!”, …, silence, you could have heard a single pinhead drop! I waited for a reaction, but there was none, and when I couldn’t hold it no more, I bent over in uncontrollable fits of laughter!
“I love it, oh jaan I love it!”, I sobbed through my tears and snot! I sat up eventually, feeling all eyes in the room on me. No one quite knew what I was doing there any way, and then, here was this sober looking woman dressed in hijaab and abaya, getting a kick out of an ill placed, rudely delivered commentary!
When later, over dinner, I asked him why he’d done it, he just looked at me blankly as though it was obvious, as though I’d failed to comprehend the very nature or reason for his existence in the first place!
“they need to be woken up!” he said, “to see life for life, to leave the comfort zone, come to terms with reality, I was doing them a favour!”.

Maybe that’s true, I thought, but a favour is only a favour if taken as such, a fertile seed planted on poisoned ground loses its potential to grow the very moment it is placed upon the spoilt earth! When I look at my own community (mainly Muslim), I see an overwhelming sense of detachment, an all-encompassing lethargy which justifies doing nothing, and accentuates the need to isolate one’s self, not just from the community, but actually from doing any thing that might be considered remotely useful!

When I quiz my upstairs Pakistani neighbour as to why he deems it acceptable to spit paan on my stairs, he shrugs his shoulders and passes me by as though I were invisible and we never shared a common building a day in our lives! When I beg friends to assist me with my activism, even though they too as disabled people face the same barriers, the same doors being shut in their faces, they still see fit to leave it to me, contributing only when morose takes over and they find the need to tare my humble efforts apart and throw them back at me!
Lethargy is not new though, its been a common feature of Western societies for years! People become unmoved by changing images on TV screens of nations far away, wars and famine, things too unfamiliar to even touch the fibre of their heart strings! Its far away, and its “their country” and therefore “their problem!”.

I didn’t decide to become an activist one day, after all, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to sit on my growing ass and count paperclips, swig tea and take home a reasonable pay, but in truth I had no choice but to be one! Activism rushed through my veins from the moment I was born, and though my father beat me for questioning “why” incessantly, he knew it was the touch paper igniting greater things!
Perhaps you could then argue that some are born to be activists, and others have their more mundane destinations to reach, so what’s my issue! While that might be true for some, aren’t we, as Muslims supposed to be people of action any way? aren’t the shia in particular, born to be advocates, spokespeople for Imam Hussain (A.S) and his family, and the injustices done to them?
Unlike Sangeev, I don’t believe one needs to change the universe, it is after all, as large as it appears small, and why set yourself up to fail: you’ll only die dissatisfied!
All that I and activists like me would ask, is that individuals take a grip on their respective spheres and look after what is within their capacity to manage and take care of. Miracles aren’t born out of Grand gestures, but rather the small kindnesses grow in to oceans of humility and progress!

And so I say this, again and again, its not the first time I’ve written a post like this! I’ll continue writing and people will begrudgingly grant me an hour of their time, or remember activists in their prayers if they can be bothered, providing you don’t ask them again to do stuff!
It does hurt me, both personally and communally, after all, I ware a scarf too, and as long as my head is covered, I am seen as one of the great towel heads who shout lots and do little! On one hand we battle the machine that has branded us all terrorists, while we fuel it with our inability to challenge stereotypes affectively. I get angry because I don’t class myself as one of them, I am not perfect, but I do what I can, yet when all is said and done, to the masses, I’m one and the same!
I don’t really blame Sangeev and others like him who turn their backs on religion: if you judged Islam on those who make it in to the public eye, you’d be put off for ever more!
The activists path is a lonely one, and the further I trudge through it, the more I cling on to my creator for life and inspiration! I am not deluded, and I know that I alone cannot and will not remove lethargy from my people, but perhaps I do have it within me to make them see activism a new: making a difference is not always about making a name for yourself or even seeing returns on what you give, Sangeev wasn’t that far off the mark after all! But once you have ascertained your own reasons for your existence, you might only have to give a little, a smile, a kind word, a prayer and sharing the time of day are the stuff of activists, (i.e., leave the armchair for a minute, and the hours take care of themselves!).
As we lose an hour this evening and revert to daylight saving time, perhaps the poem below illustrates activism/humanity in a far better manner than I ever could, so as you read, smile for me and make a pledge that only you and your creator need know: the world can share it when you truly live it, and in truth: that is the definition of lasting success!

How fine it is at night to say:
"I have not wronged a soul to-day.
I have not by a word or deed,
In any breast sowed anger's seed,
Or caused a fellow being pain;
Nor is there on my crest a stain
That shame has left. In honour’s way,
With head erect, I've lived this day."
When night slips down and day departs
And rest returns to weary hearts,
How fine it is to close the book
Of records for the day, and look
Once more along the traveled mile
And find that all has been worthwhile;
To say: "In honour I have toiled;
My plume is spotless and unsoiled."

Yet cold and stern a man may be
Retaining his integrity;
And he may pass from day to day
A spirit dead, in living clay,
Observing strictly morals, laws,
Yet serving but a selfish cause;
So it is not enough to say:
"I have not stooped to shame to-day!"

It is a finer, nobler thought
When day is done and night has brought
The contemplative hours and sweet,
And rest to weary hearts and feet,
If man can stand in truth and say:
"I have been useful here to-day.
Back there is one I chanced to see
with hope newborn because of me.

"This day in honour I have toiled;
My shining crest is still unsoiled;
But on the mile I leave behind
Is one who says that I was kind;
And someone hums a cheerful song
Because I chanced to come along."
Sweet rest at night that man shall own
Who has not lived his day alone.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Am I paranoid?

NED, in Glasgow speak, stands for (non-educated delinquent), or, as Masooma and I would in our Shields English/apna style (Jimmy Jummy!), you have to know us, or else live in Scotland to get it!
Any way, Neds can be a real problem in UK cities (in England they are called chavs I believe? Only, don’t ask me what Chav stands for: I don’t remember and will feel like a lemon by googling it!), Glasgow is sadly known for Neds, and we are having a serious ned problem in my apartment block right now! I live on the ground floor of a 4-story building. I moved here 5 years ago, and despite it not being one of the better areas of town, by the grace of Allah (SWT) I faced little trouble. My building is located right next to a local train station, and opposite a few busy general stores, so there is little opportunity for trouble makers to congregate. My neighbours were pretty fine: the apartments are mostly private lets, so there is a fast turn around of tenants, but the majority of them are single people like me, or else couples going about there business, so the building is mostly quiet. There is a council owned apartment opposite mine, and the tenants have been (difficult), some of the time, but overall I can’t complain. Like most blocks around here, we have a secure entry system: and the main door is kept locked: those wishing to visit or enter have to buzz the apartment they are trying to contact in order to be admitted. This was one of the main reasons I bought this apartment: I didn’t like the idea that just any one could come wondering in to the building, especially given that most of us are out working and the building is pretty empty and dead till 6/7 at night!

So, this was all fine and good, till a couple of months back: our refuse collection team started hassling us about how they couldn’t get in to collect rubbish during the day because there was no one to open the door. The postmen had the same gripe, as did other utility staff. So, on the day the bin crew were coming, one of the residents would leave the front door on the latch so they could come and go without bothering us. Whats the problem I hear you cry? Well, they stopped locking the main door before they left! And then, before we knew it, folk were leaving the door on the latch all day, every day! And new tenants coming in thought this was a matter of course, and wouldn’t lock it either! We have a Somali family living above us, who seem mystified by the entry system and think the only way to get in when the door is locked is to scream to the top flat where they live while kicking in the door simultaneously! So when they discovered the latch, we all heaved a sigh of relief: that is, only till the ned thing happened. I’d heard there were a few undesirables lurking around our building, but I didn’t encounter them till yesterday: a group of about 6 wondered in to our building and commandeered the main stairs for the afternoon: laughing, drinking, taking drugs, shouting, swearing and every so often breaking in to song and drumming (seriously, they did have a drum with them!), all this against a God awful din from mobiles playing a mixture of rave and gangster rap! Given that they were camping out right next to my house, my computer room was filled with a sickening smell of hash smoke and putrid alcohol! I felt sick, angry but above all, I was terrified! What if I’d been going out that day: I surely would have had to cancel: there is no way a blind woman in hijaab could pass such a group: that is, if she wanted to remain alive at the other end!
After 4-hours of them raging chaos, they left, leaving a trail of crisp bags, bottles, hash ends and even syringes in their wake!
I was amazed by how unsettled all this made me feel, I was angry with them, with my careless neighbours, but above all the fear, the imprisonment that such potential behaviour would result in for me was too much to take. I first thought of paying my neighbours a visit, stating my case and attempting through love and anger, to convey all possible ramifications of this should it develop, and above all, how significantly it would limit my movements should it escalate! Then I began to analyse: why would they single out our block? Out of all the buildings on my street? After all, not all of them had entry systems after all, and our building is a good way along from the end of the road seen as the problem end (the lower class end). I pondered some more: the apartment opposite has been silent for the past 2 days, no noise, no movements: and one of the neds did look incredibly similar to a relative of theirs (I know, I know! All neds look the same: …, but still!). Eventually, I opted for no action: I didn’t want to be singled out as a nuisance myself, especially if one of our neighbours is related to the mob, or if others don’t see this disturbance as much of a problem (we have lots of maintenance and other assorted discomforts with our building, but few take any action about them!).

I remained troubled by it all evening, mulling it over and torn between acting or hiding out. Eventually, I fell in to an uneasy sleep, only to wake up screaming 4 hours later as I thought I could hear our door being kicked in! shaking and reading doorood, I shot out of bed, only to find nothing was happening!
I hate these useless teenaged drains on society for making me feel like a hostage in my own home! I worry for our community and future generations and pray like hell that I don’t raise such apologies for human beings when I have my own children! With a clearer head this morning, I opted to write a short letter and circulate to all residents advising them to be mindful of our security: that we all have a collective responsibility to ourselves and one another to keep our homes safe, and securing doors and the rest of our building is a big part of that. Today I do wish to go out, and can only pray they don’t return, and that the tranquillity of our building and the harmony between our neighbours does not single us out as easy targets for thieves and other forms of antisocial behaviour, oh the joys of communal living!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Read, reflect, admire and love!

There really aren’t that many advantages to being unemployed/feeling redundant generally! But one that is definitely prominent is having a unique opportunity to take time out, meet friends as much as hibernate, to pray, read, reflect and attempt to rediscover a new, rejuvenated self, incorporating the best of the old and the originality of the new, through reading, developing, evolving and learning!

Even before I gave up work, I loved my blogs! But having this time means I’ve been able to devote more time to keeping up with them, enjoying regular ones and discovering new ones!
And so, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few of my favourites: who knows, you might find a few to add to your own google reader!

One of the first blogs I started following was that of ‘lucky Fatima. An American born and bread, Fatima is a Muslim revert, married to an Indian Muslim and with 2 little daughters. She straddles the US, Dubai, India and Pakistan with ease, humour and sheer skill, and through her love of all things Asian, she gives a unique slant on the country and culture based on her own diverse heritage, not regularly updated sadly, but a must-read! Luckyfatima.wordpress.com

On a similar note, Fatima’s blog lead me to ‘the Gori wife life! Quite apart from the fact that this is a total genius name for a blog, the gori wife follows a similar genre to Lucky Fatima, but as a slightly newer entrant, her humour, bewilderment and aw make you smile, sympathise and in many cases, reflect over your own cultural idiosyncrasies! Thegoriwifelife.blogspot.com

Slice of lemon as an award winning blog that just gets better every day! Created with love and devotion, Sabrina’s blog is quirky, personal, reflective, funny and a different yet welcome voice from the Muslim blogging world, that is generally more dull than different! If only we had a few more like Sabrina out there! sliceoflemon.com

Livin in Layla land!
Stacey AKA Fahaeema is an American version of me in so many ways! An American Christian (well, I think re: the Christian part), Stacey tackles religion, culture and sectarianism head on! But with love, interest and incredible insight! Her 2-year-old daughter Layla offers a playful backdrop for a blog that educates, while the text is punctuated by colourful poetry and love for Somalia: the culture Stacey has adopted and blended so seamlessly in to! This blog gives a beautiful insight in to a new culture, and a peak in to the life of an inspiring motivational activist sister! Livininlaylaland.blogspot.com

Qunfuz is a blog that I came across fairly recently! Though I had discovered the author a long time back: Robin Yassin Kassab is the son of a former work colleague and who never fails to educate and impress me! His writings, (both factual and fiction), are the kind that often make you squirm: you have to think to read them, and be prepared to dig deep in order to find your own answers! His blog is stimulating and intellectual, but what sold me on it was that it remains practical, without being too academic to be any earthly use. (note to Scottish Readers: Robin will be appearing at the Salaam Scotland book fair this Saturday along with some other Islamic writing stars: so be there if you can!), www.qunfuz.com

Inside the revolutionary mind.
Adonis Vlahos is a half Greek, Half Turkish revert to Islam currently living in New zealand, who not only desires to change the world, but (in my humble opinion), has the mind, soul and genetic make-up to make it happen for himself! A natural born activist and leader, his interests span Liberalism, Islam, youth and young people and criminal justice. His blog remains sparse on updates, but entries when added combined love, Shia Islam and personal reflections which only build on one’s admiration of this young future mover and shaker
Thevitalissue.blogspot.com

Otowi!
I first came across SR Masooma when she joined the Revert Muslim Association as a teacher, moderator and great friend! Though I stumbled in to her blog months later when looking for some muherram material. Her blog is very close to my heart, not just because she is a close friend, but because she is one of a very small minority of shia bloggers out there (we need more people!! Are you listening?), her blog is a testament to the depth of her faith and how she lives it in such a powerful realist manner as the only Muslim in her area, and in a family of non-Muslims. The blog tackles maths (SR Masooma is a math teacher after all!), science, fiction, creative writing, poetry and in-depth Islamic thought, reflection and meditation!
Masooma.blogspot.com

Stop! … look at it from this perspective!
Munawar Bijani is a US based disabled shia Muslim, and a politician/activist at heart! His youth, insight and innovation make his blog stand out from the crowd by a long shot! Munawar’s blog is primarily a contemporary commentary on current political, social and religious complexities facing our world, major issues tackled with ease, knowledge and a slant that is calculated, thought provoking and a very interesting read!
Munawar0009.blogspot.com

Finally (and in my view, I’ve saved one of the very best to last!).

The World through the eyes of a blind Traveller.

I’ve written about Zuhair Mahd in so many blogs, texts and subtexts over here that I barely remember them all! Regardless of the fact that we were once very close, Zuhair’s blog entries remain a place of learning and refuge for me when the pace and burden of life become way too much! His life is the stuff of fiction (too amazing, unique and courageous for reality), his reflections will blow your mind, his film choices will educate you and his personal accounts, poetry and short stories will bring you to tears! By far my favourite section of this blog are zuhair’s travel accounts! As a visually impaired person, he tells travel tales never before narrated and an untold story of disabled people needing to cut it in this field of writing and not yet gaining the recognition they rightly deserve!
Due to ill health, this blog too hasn’t been maintained of late, but if you are new to it, there is plenty in the archives to keep you busy and addicted for months to come! Zuhairmahd.blogspot.com

Enjoy! Oh, and if you have any favourites of your own, why not send me the links, or else add them here for the world to see in the comments section!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Shaadi or Barbadi?

Shaadi is a Hindi/Urdu word meaning marriage. In recent times however, Shaadi has largely been taken to mean the ceremony its self (Niqah), rather than the institution, and the ramifications of this are far-reaching! Before I even came to Islam 13 years ago, I was fascinated with all things Asian. I listened to Hindi music, and dreamed of becoming a playback singer, even though I had no idea what I was singing about. Churrian, payals and sarees were a regular feature in my wardrobe, and of course, taking on Asian culture meant that I was constantly bombarded with images of Asian marriage/Shaadis! Indian films, dramas, music and dance, largely evolve around romance, love and ultimately marriage, and thus the ideal of every Asian female is to find a tall dark Prince Charming (not too dark mind!), who will appear on a white horse dressed in raw silk, while she waits for him, adorned in red and gold and with exquisitely patterned hands of hennah. Islam too promotes marriage, in fact the observance of it is considered to be half of one’s faith! However the simplicity of an Islamic marriage/niqah is not something that has largely been embraced/welcomed by the Asian Diaspora. The glitz, glamour, red/gold and hennah have all been carried forward by the majority Hindu sub-continental descendents who came to Islam centuries ago. Not that there is any thing wrong with culture in principal: however, what troubles me about all this, is that most women become so drawn in with the theatre of a perfect wedding, that the life after is rarely considered (I did the same!). Moreover, families view marriage as something of a business transaction: just something you HAVE to do! And because you HAVE to, there are a great many expectations pivoting on the right match i.e., wealth, children, respect/izat, family honour and the general preservation of faith/culture. This too, would not necessarily be a problem in theory: after all, aren’t these traits to be desired within a life partner? But they manifest themselves in the exclusion of a great many in our community (if you are not Sayed, you are out! If you are disabled forget it: you’ll produce dodgy genetically modified children! If you are a convert, forget it: your family drink and you are probably a closet spy/drinker too! If you are dark: forget it: you will produce black children) (their views, NOT MINE!!).
And, so the list goes on, and on, and on!!
It is sadly now common place to find stock piles of both men and women, unable to marry because they spent their twenties being rejected by others, and are now considered too old, (and perhaps also possess some of the above aforementioned evils!).

As a convert, I was something of a novelty to people, I was not desired marriage material because of my visual impairment, but my eloquent Urdu and supposed Ethnic disposition made me rather more accessible than other reverts, coupled with the fact that I started looking for a husband at aged 17 (for reasons we’ll discuss in another post!).
Any way, a husband was found for me, fresh from Pakistan, an asylum seeker who’s prime concern was securing UK citizenship! You would not be wrong for asking (why? Was I completely stupid? Marrying a man I knew would eventually cheat/leave me?), perhaps I was, but I had my agenda too: I needed to leave home, and my new husband provided a respectful opening through which to do so. Despite my many reservations, at aged 18 I was taken in by his gifts, the attention he lavished upon me and his beautiful Urdu poetry (which I didn’t understand at that time), it was all good! I spent weeks preparing the perfect Asian wedding (red clothes, ornaments, flowers hearts and great food), only to have it all blow up in my face, when my parents approached the police in an attempt to stop me getting married! Clad in a yellow mehendi suit and with a face dripping in oil and turmeric, I struggled to make the police understand that blind people are not necessarily brain damaged and can actually make informed balanced decisions about whether or not to marry!
Given that I was above the legal age of consent, there was little my family could do, and so they returned home, and I got on with my niqah (only on a much lower key than my original frivolous desires had longed for!.

Shaadi, rimes with ‘barbaadi, as in the title of this post, another Hindi/Urdu word which translates somewhere between captivity and ruin! The phrase is used more generally in jest, however, as life after marriage is rarely thought about by the sub-continent, the phrase has more truth/resonance than many care to admit! People thrown together in a bazaar mutual dependency, sometimes against their will, and more often than not with little in common, most marriages fall in to a droll set of rules and living arrangements, with more low points than high ones, and a relationship built on the need to exist and fulfil the wishes of others, rather than one another!

Allot of this pressure comes from family, but in the case of my former husband and I, the pressure worked in reverse: both his family and mine were united in one thing and one thing alone (the desire for us to break-up, as quickly and painlessly as possible, and ideally without children involved to prolong unwanted relations between us and them!).
By the time my hennah had darkened and faded, I realised I had made my proverbial bed: I was alone, yet stuck in a marriage that I had to preserve, because I had chosen it (consciously or unconsciously), because Islam demanded it and because, if nothing else, I had to prove all those enemies wrong! I learnt Urdu, learnt to cook and did my best to satisfy my husband, but 0 and 0 do not equal 1, or 2, or any thing: they merely emphasise yet another nothing! The years swept by, and when my husband was certain of his citizenship and my lack of resistance, he left for Pakistan, and was never seen again!

On his departure, I threw myself in to work: I went off to Pakistan, worked 18 hour days and banished all thoughts of what might have been: I somehow kept my head above water, clinging only to the reality that I NEVER, EVER wished to marry EVER again!

Our Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), advises never to embrace extreme hate or extreme love, as these emotions may reverse one day: similarly, he (PBUH), advises that promises made in haste rarely hold true: and both proved all too telling in my case! I felt neither love nor hate, simply indifferent about my former husband, and as I got older, I became increasingly aware of my isolation: from family, from community, even from those I called friends. The world around me was moving on, marrying, settling: and I wasn’t keeping up with the pace, the only way was to attempt to resettle myself, to look for a spouse, only, one who was slightly more on my level, who was an open-minded practising Muslim, and, above all, who could see me for me rather than getting lost in the divorce/revert/visual impairment baggage Allah (SWT) has asked me to carry!

And so it was that my search began again! When I expressed the same in the community I was met by uncompromising silence and uncomfortable looks of pity and grief. They felt for me, the poor divorced blind woman who every one wanted to “help”, but no one wanted to be married to! I was viewed as an unattainable wonder woman with a guaranteed insurance policy to jannah because I was blind, yet despite this blessing, I was oh so fragile, helpless and useless (I still spend my visits to the masjid fending off stupid questions about how I cook, clean and know what clothes to put on each day, what hijaab matches my dress and so on).
It wasn’t long before I reached for the websites: most reverts ultimately do as they somehow think that those resorting to the net will either be braver than the traditional conformists, or else divorced like them, or else other reverts who don’t belong any where else! All of the above is true in parts: but most of those I met were either others out for an easy visa, some casual sex, or an affair (or all 3!).
I had a few offers of marriage via the net, but mostly from people who wanted to marry me because “it is a good thing to do”, because “I’ll get to jannah if I take care of you”, or because, “I have a first wife who can look after you”, great! At aged 26, I’d be a trophy object, an asexual figure with no hope of a passionate, vibrant future, with children and that would right all the wrongs I had previously experienced. I was so disillusioned with the internet that when I eventually met my husband-to-be, I ignored him completely! After all, he did not fit my own picture of my ideal, he was from Iran (so out for a visa), he wouldn’t appreciate, value or understand me because (well, he just wouldn’t!). He pursued me for months before I’d even talk to him in real time. I agreed to chat simply to get him off my back, and because, as a determined soul myself, his perseverance was something of admiration for me! Little did I know that I’d fall in love with him the very first moment we talked: his smoothness, loving nature, commitment to his faith and his quiet confidence were dreams I thought were unattainable for me. The chemistry was amazing, yet it took yet more years for this wonderful man to win me over: I set traps for him, expecting him to fall at every turn. When it came to my visual impairment, he knew nothing, and fell in to all the traps around political incorrectness, he made no apologies for these: only expressed a desire to know and learn more. His Iman fascinated me, and above all, his commitment to nurturing what we had and not give up on me as so many others in his position would have. Now that we are soon to be married, I often find myself riddled with guilt for all that I put him through, yet on the other hand, had I not done so I would never have discovered the immense depths of this magnetic man: the like of which I have never encountered before. Moreover, had I stuck to my rigid empty image of what an ideal husband should be, would I simply have let this man slip away? Would I still be alone for fear of taking a risk with the one man on this earth who could love me for me and give me real happiness?
How many are prepared to settle for second best rather than trust their hearts and fight for number 1, How many marry the person who ticks the boxes, rather than the one who stirs their very soul. I have a young male friend who can list me the physical characteristics he desires in a wife, but his list doesn’t venture far from the external, and I often wonder what he’d do with such a woman when she reaches her thirties and forties and loses the looks he craves: moreover, what worries me is that he is so intoxicated with what the media has told him to look for, that he is even prepared to leave Islam to find it!
I came to Islam because of its foundation in divine love: how indescribable is the love of Allah (SWT) for his creation, how elemental is the love of one who submits (a Muslim), and how complete is the love of a man for a woman, and a woman for a man for his (SWT) sake. I chose a man with love, faith/Iman, but who filled all gaps in between simply by nature of who/what he was, a unique beautiful divine entity who was created for me, and me for him, and by the grace of Allah (SWT) my heart was not too closed to see it!

When I started this all too long post, I was unsure how to end it. On Saturday, I watched ‘the invention of lying with my family. Though a comedy film, it struck a great many chords with this very subject: in particular, the fickle nature of man, and how we have become so programmed to accept the superficial. It is indeed a sad day when Muslims equally base their marriages on genetic perfection, how much is in the bank and how culturally compatible the partner is (praying, hijaab, intellect, values and above all, love, rarely figure!). If we have high divorce rates in our community, it is because when you strip back the demands, the money and the fleeting nature of media defined beauty, there is very little to hold our marriages together, yet we blame the other person, certain that in blame there is refuge, and in disregarding Islam, there is progression and success, rather than reverting back to basics and reviving the parched heart within through divine love and the unfailing beauty of togetherness and companionship.
I end this post with an extract from a moving poem on marriage by Naeema B. Roberts. Perhaps if we opened our souls, expose our vulnerabilities and ask the questions that hold us back from aspiring to love and perfection, we would truly get somewhere and take our marriages from institutions of confinement, to vehicles of spiritual excellence that elevate us higher and higher, setting a bench mark for ourselves and our children to grow on!

And now that my first buds are about to open, they have entrusted me to you.

How will you tend me?

Will you coax my buds to unfurl with words of love and kind attention?
Or will you pluck them before they’re ready, crushing their new petals and delicate stems?
When I bring forth delicate blossoms of talent and inspiration,
Will you smile at their dreaming petals and share in the blush of hope?
Or will you watch as blossoms wither under your disapproving gaze,
Your criticism, your scorn, and your self-righteous censure?
Will you guide my wilder branches, gently, coaxing them to grow straight and true?
Or will you simply break off the ones that displease you, trampling them carelessly underfoot?
And when, insha Allah*, I come to bear your children, will you continue to water me?
Or will you pluck those precious fruits, one by one, and turn away from the empty branches?
And when my trunk grows wide and thick with age, will you marvel at my strength?
Or will you recoil from touching my rough, brown bark?
When the years have become mere memories, will you admire how tall we have grown?
Or will your restless, selfish heart long to reach out for another sapling?
When I am as weak as the waving branches of a weeping willow – will you protect me?
When I am as strong as the trunk of the mighty Redwood tree – will you support me?
When I am as wise as the age rings of the old, old oak tree – will you respect me?
When I am as foolish as the fickle blossoms of early Spring – will you be patient with me?
When I am as fragile as the flowers of a jasmine tree – will you keep me safe?
When I am as bold as the roots that break through concrete – will you believe in me?

How will you tend me?

For now I have shown you my heart, its dreams, its hopes and fears.
Look carefully as we stand at the edge of the water.
Are you willing to bare your soul and show your heart to me?
So that I feel safe as the two of us swim on out to sea.
Remember that I am like a sapling, a creation of Allah.
Take care when you hold me between your fingers.

Friday, 19 March 2010

The suckers draining our sector!

For the past couple of years one of my closest friends, and most admired disability activists, Zahid Abdullah, has been Dawn’s resident writer on disability issues. Only last week, he sent them this rather in-your-face article, but to our mutual amazement, it was not published!

Raw though this is in parts, I felt I simply had to publish it here: regardless of the reaction: whether we acknowledge it or not, the article speaks a bitter truth: and there are plenty out there looking to make a quick buck out of disability be they in Pakistan or beyond!
We all know this exists, but in general what I see in the movement is an unspoken denial, which somehow justifies their actions! You can guess the subtext: after all, with 95% of visually impaired people being out of work, and 70% of disabled people generally living below the poverty line, what is wrong with making a few pounds out of the only thing we have to offer!
So, our people don’t challenge it, and the mainstream wouldn’t dare either for fear of our lot crying discrimination!

This particular dichotomy has always troubled me: why preach on for equality when one’s actions are in direct conflict with the right being demanded? Disability is not the only perpetrator either: only yesterday a well-known Islamic scholar refused to speak at a seminar my friend was organising, because she couldn’t pay him 1000£ for his presence! Our Prophets (peace be upon them all), and our Imams (A.S) never ever made religion their source of income: even though their knowledge might have justified it, yet somehow we feel we have a God-given right to do so!
As Zahid rightly points out, those cashing in are the very people plunging the disabled community in to new depths of discrimination by playing the victim card, and those of us battling the movement and the world outside are overlooked and ignored for being too harsh or inaccurate in their eyes!
The cycle then continues, and it seems Dawn’s refusal to publish this says more about the tragic success such ignorant beings are gaining than any thing else!

Lords of Disability

Zahid Abdullah
Disability as a product is one of the easiest ones to be marketed and sold in Pakistan. Since disability is largely viewed by most Pakistanis as punishment for the sins committed either by the person, his parents or by the forefathers, they love to help the disabled out of fear that the similar fate may not be visited upon them. This has led to the emergence of ‘lords’ of disability who are adept in the art of exploiting primal emotions of pity and fear for the personal advantage. There cause is helped by a state that has decided to leave its weakest link on the mercy of market forces, international donor community and government officials that needs their assistance in their work on disability issues and the common people who want to ward off evil spirit and book their places in heavens through charity to the disabled.

Like true salesmen, lords of disability know fully well the ‘pitch’ that needs to be employ to different set of audiences. They have a different set of vocabulary for different set of audience. Use of Jargons like ‘inclusion’, ‘mainstreaming’ and ‘capacity building’ does the trick in the case of international donor community and addition of flattery to these jargons helps them deal with the officials. When the funds have to be elicited from the trading class, the communication takes place within the religious framework and jargons employed in the case of international donor community give way to the concept of ‘swab’ (reward in heavens’). It does not require rocket science to figure out that each disability has its specific characteristics and that the needs of persons with disabilities are characterized by the nature of their different disabilities. Furthermore, notwithstanding certain commonalities, issues pertaining to blindness, speech and hearing impairments, mental and physical disabilities are different in nature and special needs of blind persons may be entirely different from those of a person with speech and hearing impairment or, for that matter, with any other disability. Instead of working for one specific disability, the lords of disability enter into wholesale disability business using the term cross disability issues. The fact that they are disabled themselves, visual representation of disability to different audiences is not their major concern. However, in order to lend a touch of ‘objectivity’, they employ persons with different disabilities who parrot different sentences according to the dictates of the situation. These flesh and blood human beings with disabilities are dehumanized to the extent by these lords of disability that they become ‘items’ on a disability show-room. They are not paid for their services; often they have to contend with the crumbs that fall off from the tables of these ’lords’ of disability or, at best, frequent free meals, travel and lodgings with promises of trips on international disability tourism circuit which is always availed by the ‘lords’ themselves.
The dream of any educated disabled is to find job in the mainstream and become a productive and functionally active citizen of the society. Ironically, ‘lords of disability do not work in the mainstream because the amount of money they can earn in the disability field is far greater than the job in the mainstream. Interestingly, they pay lip service to the need of the disabled getting jobs in the mainstream job market-jobs the ‘lords’ of disability never tried to do themselves, or, in some cases, quitted in the mainstream for greener pastures of disability field. Whereas a disabled person working in the mainstream has to cope with the physical barriers and the attitudinal issues of the non-disabled at the work place, ‘lords’ of disability have to edge out fellow ‘lords’ and genuine disability leaders in the quest of getting hold over resources committed by the international donor community. The emphasis of the staff of international donor community is often on getting workshops, consultative meetings and conferences ‘done’. This tendency helps the cause of the lords of disability who help them conduct these events through their rent-a-crowd, edging out genuine disability leaders.

What disability movement in Pakistan needs is a sense of direction. Disabled have been oppressed in all societies in all times and the states everywhere have not been particularly willing to give them their rights. Wherever the change has come, especially in UK and US, it has come through direct action, a tall order for disability lords ever willing to be co-opted by the state and its officials. There are genuine disability leaders but their wonderful work for the disabled people has limited outreach and should serve as a role model to the state. It is the massive outreach of the state that can protect rights of the disabled scattered all over Pakistan and belonging to the poorest of the poor section of the society. Disabled people will have to organize themselves in order to launch peaceful protest rallies to shake the state out of its perennial inertia and make it responsive to the needs of the disabled.

Writer is a visually impaired rights activist based in Islamabad. E-mail:zabdullah68@yahoo.ca

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Twitter oh Twitter, I lay down my arms!

Despite my best efforts, I’ve ultimately had to succumb to twitter!! I registered a long while ago (when every one else was doing it as it appeared cool!), but afterwards, the more I looked at the site, the more I disliked it! twitter reminded me of the mass impersonal nature of facebook: no scope for creativity, no space for connecting with new people or engaging in debate and dialogue! I’d type messages for twitter, only to find they were too large to fit in to that oh so tiny box!! To reinforce my disdain, I read an article on how facebook and twitter would eventually be held responsible for the death of blogging, as bloggers themselves were opting for twitter rather than a more drawn out entry, and the fast paced nature of life today meant that twitter was more conducive to news catching on the go! So there you had it: enemies for life!

When did I switch sides you may ask! I never did really: a few close friends (well, my Reza, to be exact!), drew my attention to links they had posted there, and I was forced to dig out my log-in details to check those out! On appearing active with updated details/info, a whole deluge of people clicked on my page and decided to follow it (generated from the Ahlulbayt TV shows), so I could resist no more! There you had it! I am still pretty aloof, and my love for twitter has not developed any! Its not particularly accessible, and for some unapparent reason if you are using keyboard access commands as I do, your messages somehow appear twice! But if the mood so takes you, then feel free to join me there (and I will be the one person who won’t diss you for posting all but once a year!).
Do not see this as a victory though, oh evil social networking sites: facebook, Beebo, Orkut and Ryze: DIE, sign out, be gone! I remain a proud puritanical blogger, and wish there were a few more of us out there, especially from the shia community!

Any way, should you wish to make my acquaintance over a tweet or 2, You’ll find me by searching for Roshni_h and with any luck you’ll source a whole bunch of other interesting people and groups as well!
Happy tweeting/twitting/twittering/ …, (said tubelight, drowning in a sea of surreal terminology!).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

So! ... Where am I now?

I’m sure you’ve been left reeling by the blog over the past few months: posts are few and far between, and those that are sent your way are usually hugely disjointed and lacking in content: my defence? … I don’t even know if I have one! Since Azerbaijan, my life has been thrown in to a strange state of disarray, disorganised chaos all the while, leaving me with every thing and nothing to say.

First there was the Iran visa, then my Grandfather got seriously ill, then I got seriously ill, then we both got better, then we had an 80th Birthday party to arrange for my Gran, then my Gran went in to Hospital, then I had to apply for unemployment benefit (job is still pending after all this time), then I somehow got myself involved in filming a short piece for the BBC! Oh and there was another disability conference somewhere before all that, and then, there was the Iran visa!
To break some of this down: basically, the Iranian Embassy are doing every thing they can to stop me going there, and the painful drawn out process is stressing us out (well, me more than Reza as usual!). The illnesses: well, my Grandfather was at death’s door (no kidding!), till the doctors finally worked out that he had ulcers, and they were bleeding! (something both mum and I had asked them to investigate months ago, but were told in no uncertain terms that we were not doctors, and should keep out: nice!). My own illness: well, ear and throat infections that left me unable to speak, eat or sleep (sadly, I didn’t lose much weight though). My hearing and balances were affected, and I got used to living in a drug induced limbo because of all the pain killers and antibiotics (don’t think I’ve ever really got myself out of it!).

In the middle of all this, we held a joint conference between Kitaba and the EHRC, it seemed a great idea at the time: bringing disabled Muslims together to discuss and debate the key issues of concern with decision makers, and even work some way towards forming our own movement! But as per usual: few of our people came, those who did were quite happy to let a “carer” speak for them, and people who had no interest in contributing to the organisation or the content of the day, saw fit to criticise us all and ripped the event to pieces! Needless to say, I reverted back to my hibernation zone and tried not to stick my head out!

My Gran goes in to hospital tomorrow to have minor surgery on her hands (nerve damage as a result of her chronic diabetes). Organising her care has been much harder than I anticipated, and harder still is the resistance she and my Grandfather put up when any kind of practical help is on offer. Neither of my parents are coping: my dad is little help and my mum is just exhausted, I am the evil one in the family because I became Muslim, I insist on them accepting care help (because they need it and because mum needs a break), oh and because I became Muslim!

Oh! And the job: well, what to say: I left my job in December, with lots of hope and promise of beginning a new one, only to find out it had been delayed because of restructuring and other assorted excuses. I resisted this delay for a long time, believing foolishly that it would somehow all come together! Well, needless to say, it didn’t, and I’m now one of the great unemployed! I’ve never been in this state (accept for a few short months after I returned from Pakistan). Those were dark days, and in many ways these days are darker still, because should I fail in securing work, I will be forced to lose even more! There is a tendency as a disabled person to measure your value against what you output (because society renders you non-existent if you cannot stand on your head while tuning pianos as a blind woman). Despite my Islamic work, and other stuff for the movement, in my mind, I am not earning, therefore, have little use/value. On top of that, I am not mixing in the community much because I cannot afford to do so! Rather than friends forcing me to come out or popping around, they have all kept their distance too, which has sort-of given me licence to disappear deeper and deeper in to myself! This might sound like self-pity: it is not supposed to however: its actually fear for what I might become: the chaos of the present day, the unemployment, the harassment in my previous job, my health problems and my hibernation, have all knocked my confidence in ways I truly hadn’t anticipated. I do worry that I am not able to return to an active life with the same passion, creativity and lustre I once possessed (or tried to display any way). It is sometimes hard to see a clear path forward when every thing you touch seems to darken along with you. While I do know Islamicly that all of this is sent to try me and I have to be patient, it is easier said than applied! For now, all I can do is sit tight, try to relax rather than fret (again, very easy to say!), pray, try to undertake more in the way of Islamic studies, clean the house, work on maintenance of sanity, and just maybe, update the blog with something other than misery on toast!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Blogger goes random!

Did any one notice how all of my blog videos have become muddled: i.e., do not correspond with the posts they have now been matched with? Despite trying to put them all back together last night, they are still forming a bazaar random disorder and refuse to conform no matter what!! So, I guess I’m apologising for them: sorry for the madness: but hey, I guess it might be fun to keep you guessing (say the videos, any way!).

The chaos continues …

Monday, 1 March 2010

"I have come: thus spoke the voice of love"

Why is life far from you so painful, moments stretch in to hours, days to years and years to infinity. Each second spent away from you hurts more than the second that past before: hurting me more than I thought it was possible to hurt, yet pushing me to new heights in love I never believed I could attain.
So many struggles, endless battles, a glimmer of hope barely able to shine out of the darkness of uncertainty that surrounds our union. Oh my love, what I wouldn’t do to draw closer to you, what I wouldn’t give up in order to attain oneness in your arms: somewhere in the frantic nature of your existence, or the solitude of your nights, I pray only that my love envelopes you against the cold of distance, and that my aches reach you and comfort your dissatisfied heart. To the one I love, listen to the cravings of my soul and make them yours, let your desires become wings that carry you to me for all of eternity, let the intensity and sincerity of your rightly guided prayers eventually bare pure fruits of completeness that bind us to each other, oh my love, my angel, oh you who forms the only goodness that exists within my being, these simple words are for you, my living and breathing has always been for you, had I only known it. Let my love carry and protect you, and my words decorate your lips in the divine smile which only you possess. Try to smile through the tears and banish evil feelings of despair, for some day if our creator is willing, your hands will dwell in my hands, your soul will merge with mine: our laughter, tears and songs will be as one.
Oh my love, my angel, …, my every thing.

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