Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Last word on 2010

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Yet more Sectarianism I'm afraid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The I-word in Marriage!

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 December 2010

After Ashura ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Aaj Shabbir pe kya aalam-e-tanhayi hai.

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

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Sunday, 12 December 2010

2 years on.

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

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

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Thursday, 2 December 2010

The Iranian Diaries (part 4)

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

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

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