Thursday, 29 December 2011

2011; for the Journey!

Before penning down this post, I took a look over my reflections at the end of 2010. Surprisingly, they were positive thoughts; much more positive than I was feeling at the time! It all goes to show that affirmations; if made with sincerity can come to pass; even if they are not always felt in their entirety straight off! Perhaps this line alone paraphrases much of what has gone on for me in 2011! The blog has been quiet, but my life has been far from it! where to begin with this year; Alhamdulillah I was blessed with the ability to financially support myself, after one of the most terrifying financial struggles I’ve ever known! My job is not exactly stimulating, but it provides a halal income for which I will be eternally grateful. It also gives me enough free time to study, engage in freelance work/activism and the things that matter to me. Reza and I are sadly still not living together, however our visa application has been submitted and we are awaiting our decision from the British Embassy, which is expected in Late February. I appeal to all of you to pray for a good result; this is all the more pivotal given that the British no longer have a presence in Iran, which has affected my own paperwork being processed. If we cannot live together here, our marital future will be in jeopardy so duas are seriously necessary! I travelled to Georgia and to Azerbaijan this year; 2 truly beautiful trips which brought me nothing but joy! I also travelled to London, and was honoured with an achievement award for my work with disabled Muslims by Ahlulbayt TV, something I will truly never be able to put in to words; an honour, and a humbling experience to share a stage with the outstanding personalities who joined me that night! I have got back in to writing, and am fully engaged in my English literature studies. 2011 has brought many great new friends, and a chance to further nurture some sacred and long-standing relationships. My health has been poor, and is not in a good shape at all, but despite the challenges this brings; I feel reasonably strong, loved, supported and able to deal with it.
So; what of 2012. As you know, I’m not really a fan of New Year! however this year I’ve been looking ahead much more than I do normally. Next year, Insha Allah, I will be 30; and whether relevant or not, this feels immensely significant. It feels like a departure from the past, from my twenties, from the early part of my life in to a new faze! I always used to ponder 30 through the trauma of my twenties, thinking that by this juncture I’d be settled, with children, or a good career, strong achievements. Of course; we plan, and Allah plans better than us! However; I feel that the pain of the last few years has indirectly given me a lisence to dwell on my sorrow and my hurt. We all have baggage; and some we ditch and some we carry on, but 2012 has to be the year of rebirth, of letting go, of looking forward and ahead. With time comes certainty; and though I’ve had my time, I have to make certainty happen. Since 2007, I’ve been mourning the loss of someone I believe should still be in my world. They are not in my world, for all kinds of reasons and I must accept this and move on. I must learn to celebrate my successes and turn the failures in to cause to reflect. During my early twenties I had a wealth of personal/professional achievements and I need to cultivate new ones! A person’s value is in what they generate for the universe; and I’ve not yet generated enough! 2012, Insha Allah, will be the year of more writing, of planning and action; and the realisation of projects I’ve only been planning till now. In the chaos of recent months, I realise I haven’t devoted enough time to the blog! This wasn’t just about juggling commitments; it was also because I realised that certain figures from the past are reading this blog, and lets just say I’d rather they didn’t! there is allot I’d like to say, but disclosure to their eyes feels destructive! The blog might well be going private next year; but to all those who follow me and message on a regular basis; you’ll be notified and be given plenty of time to join me on the private blog; and of course you can bring friends and associates; I have no problem with strangers becoming friends over here; but when the past tries to reinvent itself on here; its time to break the cycles!
If we reflect on the economy, the violence, the politics and injustices of the current time, there really wouldn’t be much to look forward to in 2012! However change begins with the circle around you. I’m sure we will each have our own hopes and prayers for 2012; but my prayer for the year has to be; asking Allah for the courage to face truth and falsehood for what they really are. To embrace the truth and not run from it. To love and be loved, to nurture and be nurtured, to learn to give as I receive and to act upon my heart when it calls me to action!
May 2012 be a year of discovery for you all; and grant you the blessings you desire for yourselves! Thank you for travelling with me through the year that has past; and I look forward to hearing more from each of you in 2012.
With peace, love, prayers and all good things!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Allah, in other words.

Ever since the commencement of Muharram, and even more so since the Christmas period came upon us, I’ve been pondering the question of my own personal connection with God, with Allah (SWT). It’s a question I think we all return to, and all are forced to reflect upon at various junctures during our earthly journey. Sometimes my connection feels good, feels strong and in sink; but more often than not, I feel detached, disconnected, unable to establish what I often think of as that broadband connection with Allah (SWT) that all believers need as a pivotal force for their continued earthly growth and sustenance. Muharram seemed to bring it home to me, because I was spending more time in the mosque. Cramped up against the wall with chatting women and screaming children all around me, I felt defeated, angry at myself for not getting in to the zone or not being so at ease with the environment as they seemed to be. I felt uncomfortable in the mosque, and disjointed when I chose to worship at home, as though I had let the community down by preferring disassociation. These issues are all connected to other issues, possibly warranting posts of their own, but all of them pointed back to one thing for me; prayer! Salat after all, is the driving force; the backbone of the Muslim’s constant communication with Allah (SWT). I perform ablution, I dress in hijab; and I stand reverently reciting the Arabic words, yet it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel deep enough to reach the places where my heart yearns to go! Often I feel as though, if I could just find the words, not any words, but the right words, then the connection would feel real. I want to be able to communicate with my Allah in the way I can type on this blog, in the way that I can lift the phone to a dear friend, or share a few lines via twitter! And its twitter that answered my question! How often have you marvelled at all the infinite possibilities you can convey in 140 characters? I used to think that some one who rambles as much as I do would never be able to fit in to such a concise little box (you know me, I’m not good with conforming and boxes!), yet twitter works for me and for billions of others around the world! This theme was further emphasised while listening to ‘Something Understood on Radio 4 this morning, as they discussed the 99 words that summarised life! It was deeply moving listening to the poetry, music and words of choice that people had chosen to illustrate the meanings of their respective journeys. As I listened, I realised that I could place the words in to 2 categories; attributes, such as goodness, love, kindness, passion etc, to nouns like birds, trees, flowers, animals, rain. These attributes must surely feel familiar to you; after all, most of them are encapsulated within the 99 names attributed to Allah (SWT). As for the nature and the nouns; aren’t they all designed by the one who holds all manner of beautiful attributes? And how relevant it was, that they chose 99 words, out of all the numbers they might have chosen! That’s when I realised; that connecting with the creator is not quite the great mystery many religious scholars would have us believe! Hadaith tell us that the qur’an can be summarised in 3 recitations of sura ekhlas! Yet the first word of the Qur’an to be revealed was ‘Iqra (Read). Reading will take you on all manner of journeys, to all kinds of exciting or disturbing places, life changing places and mundane spaces, yet to really connect with the creator is to strip back all of the knowledge we try to hide behind. It is to tare open the heart and connect at an elemental basic level, where words and space and time become irrelevant, and only the relationship, the reality, exist. You don’t need philosophy to tell you that, nor do you need mosques books and academia to take you to that place. Use your own words, and trust the connection that is unique to your own soul; live it, breathe it, speak it and follow it; life, and loving Allah really are that simple!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The vallue Of a teardrop

As you travel through the journey that is Muharram, let the below be your guide for all your interactions with the non-shia and those who neither know, nor respect the Ahlulbayt (A.S). While anger and frustration, even despair may come naturally, our imams in their eternal and infinite wisdom show us there is indeed another way, nay, a yardstick by which we measure our own conduct; and if gentleness, courtesy and humility are good enough for our Imams, surely we will be in error who do not hear and act upon their example!

One day Sheikh Bahjat (ra)talked about the generosity of the Imams (as) saying: ‘In Iraq, there is a small town near the place where the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers meet called al-Musayyab. A Shia man used to pass by this town from time to time whenever he went to perform the Ziyarat of the Commander of the
Faithful Imam Ali (as) in Najaf. A Sunni man, too, was residing in this same town.

The latter quite often used to make fun of the Shia man whenever he saw him going to visit the shrine of the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (as), so
much so that he dared once to speak ill of the Holy Imam (as).

The Shia was very angry and he complained about this matter to the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali (as) during one of his visits. During that night,
he saw the Imam (as) in his vision and once more complained to him about this matter.

Imam Ali (as) said, ‘He [the Sunni man] has done us a favour, and we cannot punish him in the life of this world no matter what sins he commits.’

The Shia asked, ‘What favour is it? Did he do you a favour when he dared to speak ill of you?’

The Imam (as) said, ‘No, but he was sitting one day at the meeting place of both rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and he was looking at the Euphrates.
He remembered the story of Karbala and the thirst of Imam al-Husain (as), so he said this to himself: ‘Omer ibn Sa’d was wrong when he killed Imam Hussein
(as) and his followers as they were thirsty, and it was better for him to give them water before killing them.’

A tear trickled down his eyes out of grief for Abu Abdullah Al-Hussein (as); therefore, it became mandatory on us never to punish him in this life.’

The Shia says, I woke up from my sleep and returned to al-Musayyab and met the Sunni man on the road. He said to me in ridicule: ‘Did you visit your Imam,
and did you convey our message to him?!’

I said, ‘Yes, I conveyed your message to him, and I carry his message to you.’

The man laughed and said. ‘What is this message which you carry to me?’

He narrated to him the incident from beginning to end. The Sunni man lowered his head to the ground and kept thinking: ‘O Lord! Nobody at that moment was
near me, and I did not talk about this incident to anyone; so, how did Imam Ali (as) become familiar with it?’

Then he said, ‘I testify that there is no God save Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and that Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, is a
friend of Allah and the Wasi of the Messenger of Allah.’

From the book: “ Uswat Al-Aarifeen A Look at the Life of Ayatullah Bahjat” under the chapter: Tales Narrated by Grand Ayatullah Sheikh Bahjat, title: Clemency
and Generosity of the Imams (as)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A Message from Muharram!

Salaam …, hi!
How are you?
Its been a while since we talked; I thought you and I should speak, should reconnect, before the mist descends, before it all kicks off! I know its hard, during the first 10 days of my reappearance to keep the focus at times. Once you’ve begun, it can all get a bit too much; and right now, there is some time, some space to think, but there looms the question, where to begin?
I don’t want to intrude on your weekend, I know you’ve some work to do and some sleep to catch up on! Its just …, I saw you, watching me, looking in to me with a mixture of fear and excitement upon your face. Opening me up again is a bit like opening Pandora’s box, or a chest full of treasure with unknown ramifications. Like a writer, embarking on that prize-winning novel, yet not knowing where the pen should fall. I thought I could make it easier for you. I know you feel a bit estranged from me, after all, you and I have such an odd relationship; we are so distant, yet we know each other so well! You might think I’ve been far from you, but I’ve been watching you; I watch you all the time, from the moment you shed those farewell tears, to the moment when you wash and fold up your black dresses for another year. I watch you torn between drowning in me, and re-entering the real world; the first time you laugh after I’ve gone, the first time you smile or hear music played, all feel like such an effort, such a betrayal. Yet with time it gets easier, I drift in to the sorrow and the wonder of your past for another year; and time moves on, and people come and go, and sometimes you remember me, more often you forget, I remain passive, in pending, just waiting for you to look over your shoulder. You hear my name in different circles, and I watch your eyes; I watch you shiver, freeze with recollection. Time draws in and nearer and nearer, and you sense my arrival with the ice that’s in the air. You look around you at the destruction you create with your own hands and you cry out to me, longing for me to embrace you like the darkest, most anonymous of nights. Pain engulfs you and you come back to your axis; and that’s how I touch you, at a level that’s so elemental, beyond your understanding, as though the scales had been lifted from your eyes for just 10 days, you see me for what I am and so through me, your soul becomes a mirror of my meaning, reflecting my message to the world around you. That’s why I love you, and that’s why I have been longing to visit you again. Don’t fret over arrangements for me, don’t agonise over my visit. You’ve nothing to fear from me! I just want you to be yourself. I love the way you cry for me, the commitment you offer exclusively to me. I love the reality that my tears are the only tears you do not question. I want to renew you, refresh you and energise you through the pain of my message and the depths of its meaning. I desire that you take from it, the direction you need for the many challenges that lie ahead, because I cannot hold you after my departure; each time my Imam dies, a part of me dies with him; and I leave the rest in your arms for you to carry on with you. If I were to ask anything of you, it would be only that you make sure your people know me, truly know me. Don’t let them get lost in rituals, politics or empty gestures. Don’t let my scholars be taken in by the elevated position their speeches in this month give them. They have an important job to do, if they only knew it. Keep things simple, keep yourself away from gatherings if they distract you from these moments. They are special, and they will be unique to you. Don’t curse yourself when you can’t cry on demand! I want your sincerity, your action and those tears that pour out of your heart, that rack your soul so that the pain penetrates to the depths of your being, I don’t need those tears that are lost on the lashes, and neither move me or you! I see you in the last part of the night, remembering the terror of my last day, wishing you had been there and wishing that in your own craving you could understand me better. I will see you after our journey together. You will be tired, run down and burned out. You will sleep, yet be unable to sleep, haunted by lamentation long after I have gone. So take my hand and travel to the desert with me. Lets travel again my friend, in to the moonlight of a new Muharram. Come, see through my eyes and listen to my story of triumph, terror, tragedy and truth. Hold my hand and lets walk together a while. Lets cover some new ground and revisit those recesses within our shared past that bring you back to the place where you belong. Lets experience 10 days, majliss, noha, Azadari and ashura. Lets cry and read and remember, before we drift apart and return to our ways. I’ll leave you, knowing that I live silently within the softest part of your heart, the only part which is incapable of freezing over and which melts when it hears my name. I’ll let you return to sleep, as I found you, knowing that when you awake, its me you will see, before anything else on this earth. I’ll leave you, knowing that after I’m gone, your life will never be the same again.

Until then, until next Saturday!
Wasalaam.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Where Darkness ends ... there is eid!

Eid Mubarak When the Darkness ends
where the darkness ends and time begins..
the monotonous endless suffering of sins..
some possess a host of debatable selves,
fake personalities taken from the wooden shelves,
the complacency of establishment shake our deen,
the conflicts of the contemporary universe forever seen...
where the darkness ends and time begins..
forced to adapt ideas and an irrational finding
honour is shattered and honesty in the bins
our ummah cannot lie for our teeth are grinding
continuously we betray our Lord,.our contradictory influence,
Yet our Lord has never betrayed us..manifesting existence.
where the darkness ends and time begins,
Even now the Universe echoes..Koonfayakoon...
Faith in Allah s.w.t. and everybody wins.
Believer of the final Book, do you not see the crack in the moon,
People of the book- our brothers and sisters -we will meet soon,
Come join us- share our roti and naan-do not stray,
Celebrate with us - as our brothers and sisters spiritually wash their sins away,
we pray for our family-our mothers, brothers, sisters,fathers and neighbours,
we send dua to them at all times- for the rooh never dies,
Please do not deny from our beloved Lord any heavenly favours..
as Darkness ends and the time begins...humankind faintly cries,
For their sins they do despair..gambling..alcohol.womanising..
A deep sense of purpose and meaning to our existence is rising..
Islam binds human consciousness into the heart of a receptive emotion.
Indeed the way is ' salaam'-a genuinely human devotion...
the Haj has ended, the heavens are lit with heavenly light,
haircuts and beads, zum zum drunk and the single sheet so white,
the sins have been vanquished from an indefinable source of inspiration..
our Lord's generosity knows no bounds-the Hajis with their souls glowing bright,
where darkness ends and time begins....its complete aspiration.
So in this fascinating age..Eid Mubarak to one and all.

Friday, 7 October 2011

I wish I was a "Roxana"

As human rights abuses, injustice, violence and oppression continue to plague the lives of many innocent journalists, activists and civilians in Iran, it seemed fitting on the night before the Birth Anniversary of Imam Ridha (A.S), to reflect on the horror pervading the land where this pure soul now dwells (A.S).
The below was written by Roxana Saberi, author of “Between 2 Worlds”, and who, as you know, serves as a tremendous inspiration to me in both my personal and professional spheres. Roxana articulates far better than I can ever hope to, but as you read on ask yourself how many hadaith you ever read about any one being persecuted for their faith or their cause by the Ahlulbayt (A.S). Ask yourself how many minorities were persecuted by the Ahlulbayt (A.S), or how many bribes were taken by the Ahlulbayt (A.S) in exchange for a freed prisoner or slave? If you haven’t been able to come up with any, then you’ll perhaps appreciate how seeing such atrocities taking place in a Muslim land, and more importantly, in a land of the shia, is such an unthinkable evil; and one we are all in part, responsible for changing. On the eve of our Imam (A.S) birth, may he make us people not just of waiting, but of action; and not just of words, but of purpose, consequence and of real substance when it comes to standing up for truth, and instigating change where it counts, Insha Allah.

The Wall Street Journal
Roxana Saberi
Oct. 6, 2011
Just after my release from a Tehran prison in May 2009, an Iranian prisoner wrote an open letter entitled, “I wish I were a Roxana.” Haleh Rouhi, a follower
of Iran’s minority Baha’i faith, was serving a four-year sentence for antiregime propaganda, although she said she was simply “teaching the alphabet and
numbers” to underserved children.

She was happy I was released but wondered how her case differed from mine and why she had to remain in prison. “What kind of justice system condemned [Roxana]
to such punishment,” Ms. Rouhi asked, “and which justice freed her at such speed?”

I asked myself the same question. Why was I released after 100 days, having appealed an eight-year prison sentence for a trumped-up charge of espionage?
What is clear is that as a foreign citizen, I was fortunate to receive international support, while the plights of other innocent prisoners were less known
outside Iran.

Last month, two American men incarcerated in Iran on accusations of espionage and crossing the border illegally—charges they contested—were freed after
being sentenced to eight years in prison. Their release is welcome news and cause for relief.

At the same time, ordinary Iranians are suffering mounting abuses and prolonged imprisonment for exercising their basic human rights, making Haleh Rouhi’s
question as valid today as it was two years ago. Officials from several countries have called for the release of a handful of Iran’s wrongfully imprisoned
men and women, but this pressure is rarely consistent—and most of Iran’s hundreds of prisoners of conscience have never gained the attention of foreign
governments or mainstream news media. The international community needs to apply the same pressure on Tehran to release these prisoners as it has for high-profile
Western citizens.

At least 28 of Iran’s prisoners of conscience are journalists, according to the media rights group Reporters Without Borders, which ranks Iran the third
largest jail for journalists in the world after Eritrea and China. In addition, six Iranian filmmakers were recently arrested for allegedly cooperating
with BBC Persian. (The station insists no one in Iran works for it.)

Well-known attorneys such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, who has been sentenced to six years in prison, also are locked up in Iran. Last month, Abdolfattah Soltani,
who like Ms. Sotoudeh defended many political prisoners, was arrested for the third time. I first heard of his courage from my cellmates in Tehran’s Evin
Prison. I requested that he represent me, but the prosecutor threatened me against retaining “a human rights lawyer.”

Mr. Soltani was arrested while he prepared to defend several Baha’is detained for providing higher education to other Baha’is barred from university in
Iran because of their religion. He was also an attorney for my two Baha’i cellmates, Fariba Kamalabadi and Mahvash Sabet, who are each serving 20-year
prison sentences for various unsubstantiated charges including espionage.

Most recently, the headlines have focused on Youcef Naderkhani, a Christian convert from Islam who faces possible execution after refusing to renounce his
faith.

Many of Iran’s prisoners of conscience have suffered torture—both physical and psychological. It is common for them to be held in solitary confinement for
months, even years. They often lack adequate access to their families and attorneys and go through sham trials. Some are coerced to give false confessions
and inform on their friends.

If detainees are lucky, their captors offer them release on bail, but the amount is typically exorbitant, and prisoners who can post it tend to live in
fear that they could be sent back to jail any day. At the same time, a rising number of executions has made Iran the world’s largest executioner on a per
capita basis. According to Amnesty International, in 2010, at least 23 Iranian prisoners convicted of politically motivated offenses were executed.

The Iranian regime needs to address human rights violations instead of denying their existence. If Tehran has nothing to hide, it would permit the recently
appointed United Nations special rapporteur on human rights to enter the country. Tehran should also grant access to several other U.N. special experts
who have been blocked from visiting since 2005.

U.N. officials—particularly Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay—plus member states and other individuals must
place constant pressure on Tehran just as they have in cases such as mine. This will bring attention and justice to the real heroes, the everyday Iranians
in prison for pursuing universal human rights and demanding respect for human dignity.
International pressure might not always result in their freedom, but at least they will know they are not alone and can gain courage to carry on. And it
can help Iranian authorities realize that the many faces of their justice system will only continue to isolate the Islamic Republic among the family of
nations.

Monday, 5 September 2011

A letter to Bushra ... On your wedding day ...

My dear friend, my beloved sister. There are days left, nay, a few hours, till your life changes forever, till your existence is no longer your own, till you become joined, physically, spiritually, in this world, and in the next, to another soul, who is forever your own, and you forever his.
Its hard for me to believe this is really happening, and to reconcile that you are leaving us, that geographically, you are leaving this place, emotionally too, your ties to this place will fade as silken threads, fraying till they barely hold; yet all these things, are secrets to you; half-truths the old and the cynical like me tell you, though they make no sense to you. Nothing makes sense to you beyond the red mendi on your hands, the bangles that sing on your arms and the gold that sparkles around your untouched body and anxious heart. Tears fill your Cole encased lashes and fall down your crystal cheeks, you wonder why you cry, what the soul knows that you don’t, but even the tears do not stem the fire that is gently kindling somewhere within you.
Did you ever know? Did you ever believe this day would come? Do you remember when you and I first met; sitting quietly by the wall in the masjid. You noticed something in my eyes too; and you wanted to understand it. Every one wants to understand the token revert; because they are the stuff of curiosity! Still; you saw something beyond the obvious; and we went for lunch. We talked about life and relationships; and after food; you, I and your sister, sat by the water and poured our hearts out. At that time, your sister was engaged, I was in a broken relationship; and you, well, you had a dream! Years have past since that day; and my duas for you have only ever grown with time. I have to confess that, the dream I saw in your eyes felt far, so far from becoming a reality, but time has brought truth and certainty; today, your sister is married to another man; I have found my soul mate; and you, my sister; your dream is coming true this Saturday; for once, for now and forever!

I’m still lost, trying to understand the look in your eye and the innocence on your face. I wonder what that anticipation must feel like, pure virgin innocence and the knowledge that you have waited and prayed, and fought and then been granted your heart’s greatest wish. Only people like me say it though; express the need to contain it, to bottle such expression and passion. You probably don’t even know what I’m talking about! If I could go back in time I’d experience it, I’d know and taste it. For years, I only linked men to pain and suffering, and when I came to know love, I was too broken to see it in its entirety. These are all things light years away from you tonight as your mendi grows dark, yet I know that when you leave and travel far and return to me, that look in your eyes and sparkle that shines bright from your soul will look different. Those big dark eyes will have slept wide shut and saw too much, and I wonder what happiness and joy and sorrow will fill their mysterious depths. No one can guess tomorrow, yet if I could I’d hold it back; I’d be the dam that saves your precious heart. It feels too heavy a burden for your smile and I know the things you don’t, but tomorrow, your journey will begin and there will be nothing that I can do to soften the blows or the feelings of reality when they take you over.

Just the other day, you asked me for advice, for those things that make a happy marriage. I’m not sure I know what to tell you, I’m not sure any one really knows. Shall I tell you a secret my lovely? Right up till I married Reza, and after too; I had doubts; I questioned myself, wondered if I’d done the right thing. I had lived in a world of pain; and wondered if I might break him too with my sharp edges. Moreover, the strange universe I’ve built around me is insular for the most part, with only room for temporary thunderstorms, no space for stability! Yet one day as we drove to our home in the Tehran mountains with the wind caressing our hair, saying nothing at all, some tears stung my eyes; and I hid them in my head scarf. For the first time, tears of joy filled my eyes. They would visit me sometimes, falling down my face as I scrubbed pots at the kitchen sink, as we watched a film on TV, walked in the park or played with his little nieces. I knew I had found my soul mate; and knew that I could sacrifice my entire existence and beyond for that moment alone. That’s what a happy marriage is; no hearts, flowers or thunder storms. Each season has its time; and there is a place for the shooting star and the lightening, but I thank Allah that you saw the beauty of candlelight in your youth.

My dear believe me, all the duas, all the clich├ęd wishes people load upon your head are mine too. I too wish for your happiness, your long life, for love to be placed between you and for your marriage to be a source of refuge, comfort and restoration to both of you; an inspiration to others. Know that this love is a trust to you; it might be strong; but its also priceless as the most invaluable gem; and brittle as glass and gold leaf. Keep it close to your heart; and know that when you cry, as you surely will, those tears must be put away till another day. Each time a leave falls down, I am reminded of my tears; and my husband’s smile. Life is short; and if you are alive, be thankful for the time, the day, the moment, remember that only love should shine with the moon after isha.

As you sleep; under the last sky of your single life; sleep well my sister, enjoy the feel of the stars in your eyes; and the angel wings that propel your body on to a new realm of discovery and being. Carry my love with you in the boxes of memories and new beginnings you take with you. Somewhere in the recesses of survival; always remember there is a place, a refuge for you here; and as long as I breathe; my space is yours; and my heart will keep hoping, keep reaching out, keep sustaining you; where you are; and wherever you need to dwell.

Shaadi Mubarak!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Eid Saeed; on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday!!

OK; so, some may say I’m a little late with this; but …, I’m not!!! So there!!
I mean, some people have still to celebrate eid; and will be doing so tomorrow! Our communities really excelled this year in the disunity stakes! It wasn’t only sunis and shias celebrating eid on different days, but even the shia couldn’t agree; many already announcing eid in the masjids before the marjah they claim to follow had given instructions! Ah well; each to his own! Rightly or wrongly, I’m not going to get in to the moon sighting debate; each one has his/her logic, and Allah (SWT) knows best! But wherever you are, and whenever you chose/choose to celebrate, let me take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy; and peaceful eid from Reza and I! May Allah (SWT) forgive our sins, accept our good deeds/fasting during the month of Ramadhan and make this eid a source of renewal and cleansing for us, both physically and spiritually: aameen!

So: what did I do? Well, eid felt like a bit of a washout this year! if you’ve been following this blog for some time, you’ll know that eid and I have a bit of a strange relationship, somehow, my eid never seems to quite work out right! The only eid that really stands out for me was last year, and the friends I spent that day with were not in town! Our community chose to mark eid today; but the bulk of those around me were celebrating yesterday, which made me feel rather odd! In any case, I was working on both days and that was the major washout factor which cancelled out doing any thing significant! This morning I woke up, took a bath, prayed, then took care of some house duties that needed taken care of! I then popped over to Masooma’s for eid breakfast (chana puri and halwa no less! Very tasty!). Any one who does eid breakfast knows, that all you want to do after it is sleep! But no chance of that for me; I was off to work! I got home around 8.30 and had some friends visit me, bringing eid food, we had a bit of a chill together and a few laughs; I then prayed; and am just about to crash for the night; but wanted to wish all of my readers and followers all the best for the days gone by and/or the eid still to come!
To be fair, I think eid felt flat to me, primarily because Reza is still not here, and I think my subconscious had just decided that I wouldn’t celebrate it till he was here beside me. In general though, I think eid does accentuate the gaps in one’s life, especially if you don’t have family to spend it with! Friends have their place, but eid is a family festival and I somehow always feel like an intruder/outsider when I visit/impose on friends on this day, even if they don’t see it that way!
May Allah (SWT) guide us, and our communities to facilitate ease to others in this position!
As an Aside note, I’ve been invited to a very interesting eid gathering this Sunday! This one will feel like an interesting step back in time! See, back in the day, there were not many Muslims in the town where I grew up! The town was small, with only a few Muslim families living on the outskirts. Most of these were doctors working in the large South Lanarkshire Hospital who didn’t want to commute, and the rest were rich business people who wanted to live outside of the city! Any way; needless to say the stifling all-white environment eventually became too much for me and I left! I still visit the town regularly though on account of the fact that my family still live there. During these visits, I haven’t failed to notice all the changes going on around the town; the housing schemes are expanding, the shopping is better and; …, there are way more Muslims than their used to be! So many in fact, that a group of them have got together to campaign for a masjid to be built in the town! Its hardly possible to believe this, but its true; and they’ve invited me to their eid party this Sunday! (big up the EK Muslims Association!). Life really does move in cycles, that’s really been the theme of Ramadhan, indeed, the last few months for me here; but more on that in another post!
For now; eid mubarak to all of you; have a blessed day/days; and remember us in your duas!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Alvida Ramzan Poem.

I’m sitting in the masjid, back against the wall,
Watching the commotion in the masjid hall.

The last moments of Ramadhan, but no one really cares,
All texting on their Iphones, lost in their worldly affairs.

Its hard to stop the flood of tears, rolling down my face,
Hard to understand the chaos, the smiles that fill this place.

Oh Month of Mercy Ramadhan, its so hard to say goodbye,
While others look forward to eid, all I want to do is cry.

Those nights of worship, reading qur’an, breaking fast together,
As they slip through my shaking hands, who knows if they’ve gone forever!

You ask me why I’m crying, I’d tell you if I could,
But the last moments of Ramadhan are for the most part, misunderstood.

I reflect upon my fasting; I know I found it tough,
Did I give up prayer for sleeping, did I really do enough?

I hang my head in shame, when I think of what I’ve done,
My good deeds are so few, Ramzan was over, before it had begun.

I’m sitting in the masjid, my back against the wall,
The Universe around me heedless, deafened to my call.

I raise my hands in dua, Oh Allah I beg of you,
To forgive me for the sinful things, the wrong I always do!

Oh Allah, Overlook the sin, accept any good you see;
Oh Allah I ask only for your mercy, that you might shower forgiveness upon me.

The last moments of Ramadhan, I’m so sad to see them go:
My heart is heavy, head lowered, tears not failing to flow.

The masjid is so busy, so many gathered here;
Lost in talk of eid clothes letting the blessed month disappear.

Oh Allah, For the good we did, and all that we forgot;
I pray that you accept us, for what we are and what we’re not.

Purify and change us, I beg you from the heart;
Let this month not be forgotten, but be a chance for a new start.

For the good that I’ve accomplished, let it carry on;
Let my iman not grow weak and fail when this month has past and gone.

As the masjid fills up further, the group rush for the food,
Oh Allah try to make them see, speak to them if you could.

Let them not forget Ramadhan, the opportunity they had,
I know its eid tomorrow, but I can’t help feeling sad.

For Ramadhan is jannah, sent down upon the earth;
A month without the shaytan, the chance for a rebirth.

Now the month is over, its so hard to go on,
But its up to us to strive forward, if we want to reach that throne.

I’m sitting in the masjid, just before the Last adhan;
And I’m remembering a hadaith, read it if you can.

It talks about dua in these last moments of the fast,
And says that if their good for you, they will indeed come true at last.

SO as I sit here in the masjid, I beg you with a tear;
Let this not be my last Ramzan, let me fast again next year.

Keep me strong in the months ahead, ever in your way,
So that I get closer to Ramadhan, through my serving every day.
I sit here in the masjid, and warn you every one;
Ramadhan might be over, but the real test’s just begun!

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Who's Heaven Is It Anyway?

Speak to any Reverted Muslim about the challenges they face, and he/she will almost certainly flag up the issue of family. I don’t just mean the day-to-day disagreements over food, dress, lifestyle, alcohol etc, but rather, what comes after all that. Whether we admit it publicly or not, most of us reverts worry ourselves constantly about family, and about the idea that if/when we ever reach Jannah, will our families have made it there too? How difficult it is when a loved one passes away, and although he/she may have been close to you, they were not on deen and therefore their future remains for the most part, uncertain. I’m no exception; I worry about this too, yet whether its utopian or unrealistic of me, I’ve always found discussions/speculations about jannah very difficult to handle! Of course, growing up an in extremist Christian family, I knew about heaven and hell; and I knew who was expected to go there. It wasn’t just the non-Christians who were under threat in our world; I was conditioned to believe that Catholics, Baptists, Adventists, in short, any one who did not believe in our specific cult/brand of Christianity would have “conditional leave to remain” stamped categorically across their heavenly passports. Even in my childhood, I began to view heaven as something of a ‘inner sanctum boys club, where every one wore wool suits, sang loud hymns and didn’t smile very much! and if you are smiling at this description, you shouldn’t! the apple didn’t fall far from the tree when it came to Islam! Speak to any Wahabi/Salafi, and they’ll be only too happy to tell you about all the shias/Sufis and ahmadiyas and so on who won’t be getting to Jannah, till you’ll be left reeling at the idea of an empty expanse of beautiful gardens, with no one to live in them! Some religious schools have speculated about hell, and wondered if the trial and the fire are merely metaphors; and wonder whether the test is really referring to the misery of this world; and who can blame them! This is after all, a tough place to be; and if we can’t reach a consensus down here, will the life to come really be any better? Is it really possible to even start envisioning a world better than this world in our current transitory state, or are we simply too desensitised to this existence to understand jannah for what it really is. I was reading a blog post yesterday which got me contemplating all this and really brought the desensitising point home to me. Just as I did above, the sister lamented issues with non-Muslim family, the stress caused etc, but she then went on to say that she was comforted by the idea that in jannah, we won’t cry, we won’t be sorrowful, won’t have negative thoughts etc, coupled with the fact that, every one will be so concerned with his/her own fate on judgement day, that by the time they reach jannah, they won’t much care about who is and who isn’t with them! This really made me shiver! Can Muslims really be so unfeeling? Is all of our striving and struggling in this world only so that we can reach an even higher plane of ‘detachment? Do my tears fall just so that I can attain numbness in the life to come? I don’t think so and I pray that sister is wrong!
The truth is that when it comes to Jannah, we just don’t know! In the same way that Allah (SWT) has only shared snippets of his wisdom with us, with respect to our limited intellects. We are given the raw materials, and some of the tools to interpret them via the hadaith, but there are gaps, there are grey areas and questions, and I prefer to think those exist to stop us falling in to the value judgements we still seem programmed to drag up! Call me a dreamer, but I can’t quite get my head around the “Only Muslims get a good akhira” school of thought, I’m not sure I’m the person to make that call. Who is to say that one of another faith was not stronger in their practise, their tawheed than I was? And who is to say that one of no faith at all didn’t have a better sense of human values, of community, than I did? My mind just doesn’t accept it! and similarly, I can’t imagine a heaven where we all float around like clouds in our own unique bubbles of “me, myself and I”, it hardly seems worth it! isn’t that what so many of us spend our time doing down here? I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t seek out our families, our loved ones, our friends, and those who inspired us in this world. I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t ache to be close to the Ahlulbayt (A.S) and to our prophet (PBUH), that we wouldn’t ache for their closeness and long to spend hours learning at their feet, what would have been the point of all this suffering if not to finally bask in the environment of those who truly bring us tranquillity?
Its not just about happiness either! I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t cry for my Imam (A.S) in Jannah, that I wouldn’t pray and worship and not be overcome with shukr for the tests I’ve past and the barriers I have overcome. For some one like me who has never seen with my eyes, wouldn’t I run like a child through beautiful pleasure gardens of fruit and flowers, thanking Allah (SWT) for his creations I can now see? For the paths I can now walk freely without a cane or without a guide?
I sometimes wonder if our abstract interpretations of Jannah come from the fact that most of us can’t/don’t talk about death, or relate to it in the way we relate to our living, breathing selves. The life to come is remote from us, just as death is seen as distant, yet the irony is that the finality of death is the one thing we shall all share/experience, and the life to come, if we believe in it as a fundamental of our faith; is something we will all share too, regardless of where/how we view it manifesting. Visit any major city, and you’ll almost certainly see a monument to death at its centre; whether the cenotaph in London, or the Shrine of Imam Hussain in Karbala; both tell a similar story! Some might argue that the monuments are simply evidence of a growing city’s need to defend its self and sacrifice for its acquired assets, however I wonder if it is more to do with our need to reflect, even in our hectic lifestyles and ever increasing sense of ‘here and now, to be reminded of what is real! And that’s how I think of jannah; as reality, and as seeing reality for what it really is. Sure; I pray there are gardens, and beautiful things, and peace and no negativity, but does that really mean veging on a recliner with endless supplies of virgins to attend to your every need? I don’t think so! Surely the only way to attain lasting tranquillity is to wake up, to connect the soul to what is real, so that the inner sight is the vehicle through which we see; and the soul hears songs of truth; rather than fleeting fancies from the self!

As Ramadhan draws to a close, I pray that we all awaken our hearts to what is real. I pray that you, that I, and all reading this, continue to strive for, and Insha Allah to attain, the heaven beyond this world; and that if/when we reach it, that it is a place of learning, sharing, seeing each other as equals, and opening our eyes to all those essences we were blind to on this earth, and Allah (SWT) knows best.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Fake Shaikhs and Engineered Aalams!

On the 14th of August, while Pakistan was basking in the glory of its Independence day Celebrations, a whole new brand of high Drama was slowly unfolding for the country, a drama that would take the internet by storm, and that would cause the Muslim world to debate the ethics and standing of one of Pakistan’s biggest modern-day scholars!
Every one is talking about Amir Liaqat, and as has become common place; their talking for the wrong reasons!
For those of you who are not Urdu speakers, and therefore not familiar with the man; let me go back a little! Amir Liaqat Hussain is a former politician, turned TV personality. He was born to a Shia father and Suni mother, and the intersectarian nature of his life affected his judgements considerably (though it is debatable whether in a positive, or negative manner!). Amir Liaqat was a member of the MQM, even rising to the position of Secretary for Religious Affairs in 2005. He was in post at the time of the ‘Red Mosque crisis, where he was criticised strongly for his leniency towards the militants, even though verbally, he spoke out against extremism and terrorism. He was promptly demoted from within the MQM, thus initiating a new Chapter of his life, the Chapter which relates to the incident in question. He became heavily involved in sectarian/interfaith dialogue, as a result of joining Geo Television, where he became lead presenter of ‘Aalam online, a show featuring scholars from both suni/shia schools, inviting debate/questions and answers from the viewing public. The show brought Amir Liaqat a meteoric rise to fame, generating public speaking engagements from the likes of the Saudi King and the Arabian Interfaith Council!
I first came to know of Amir Liaqat when I joined Geo back in 2003. Though I did not work directly for Aalam Online, I did work within the team that produced it, and Amir was one of those larger than life figures who is impossible to ignore! I was interested in him, not least because of his apparent passion for interfaith! However, as is often the case when faced with such charisma, the myth did not cut the mustard when under scrutiny! Amir Liaqat was quite the showman, a trait which is arguably par for the course when broadcasting across 4 continents to the Muslim Nations of the world! However, he took the show/drama of the whole thing to the extreme! He seemed obsessed with inducing shock and violent reactions, he once presented a programme sitting inside a grave (you’ll find clips of it online), in order to highlight fear of death. He would also stir up a frenzy of tears and anguish while performing duas, particularly during Shaban and Ramadhan, only pausing to ask the staff in his control room “kessa tha mera drama?”. It was when I saw for myself his question about whether or not he had generated enough hype during a show, that I began to wonder if the man was all that he seemed! I often watched him bating suni/shia clerics off against each other, almost urging them on to fight! Such things might seem trivial to those reading this from outside of Pakistan, but in a country where sectarian differences run deep, and where literacy levels are still dangerously low, such ‘bating can potentially have devastating consequences! He began bating shia scholars well in advance of Muharram, on popular suni misconceptions regarding Azadari, the Caliphate of Muawiya and the events of Ashura. His blatant denunciation of shias created hysteria in the community, causing mass attacks on Geo TV Offices in Karachi. Glass was broken, offices looted and staff members injured! The channel desperately wanted rid of him, but what could they do? How can a private channel, already walking a precarious tightrope with the government take an Independent stand against such a huge figure? For all Liaqat’s enemies, his supporters had the potential to generate equal hysteria in their own way! His Production team were helpless. I lived in a shared flat in those days, and it was always filled to capacity each Sunday with journalists who came over to eat parathas and drink a whole lot of masala chai! Liaqat sadly formed the bulk of many a Sunday debate! While many hands were tied, emotions ran high and people were already planning ‘direct action! I clearly remember standing in my Goolshin Flat, waiting for another kettle of tea to boil! A Famous producer (you know who you are, I heard you in the video and I know you read this blog!), was with me and commented “I have so much behind-the-scenes footage of this man you wouldn’t believe it! Roshni, all I have to do is release it to the public, and then watch!”.
Now, I’m not saying this individual was responsible for last night’s events, however its easy to see the touch paper for the video was born way back then. I left Karachi in 2005, thus leaving Jang to fight their own battles with Amir Liaqat! It would be another 3 years before Geo could finally put Amir’s drama to bed! In September 2008, Amir held a TV Debate on the subject of Ahmadiya Muslims, and whether or not they fall within the boundaries of what is considered Islam. His views were extremely encyteful; with one of his fellow scholars saying that Ahmadiyas could legitimately be killed by Muslims for their ‘false beliefs! 24 hours later, 2 Ahmadiyas were shot dead in a district of Rural Sindh! Only then, were the real questions asked, MQM Finally revoked his membership, thus granting Geo the green light to close the door on Liaqat once and for all!
Amir’s story didn’t end here however; and within months, he was appointed Chief Executive of Q TV (the Islamic Channel owned by the ARY Group), where he presented ‘Aalam or Aalam, which was essentially a rebranded version of Aalam online with extra added Liaqat! His bating went on pretty much as before, only with the International power of ARY behind him, he appeared invincible once more! That is, until last night! Just after midnight on August 15th, a video appeared on the Leading Social networking sites entitled “Behind the Scenes with Aalam Online”. The film was composed of a series of uncut clips, depicting Amir’s behaviour on set, but away from the eyes of his viewers! The film shows him using some of the most fowl Obscenities, making crude hand gestures, making fun of Islam/scholars and certain schools of thought, swearing with religious texts before him or in his hands and verbally abusing members of his staff! Despite having allot of direct contact with Liaqat, the footage was allot worse than any thing I had ever seen before! To say I was shocked, was an under-statement! I might have expected this 5 years ago, but why now? And who had been sitting on this material for this long? Within hours, the film had gone viral! Amir appealed via his lawyers to have The video removed by Geo, given that technically the material belonged to them, however Geo were fighting a battle they had already lost! The film was every where; and people reposted links as quickly as they were taken down! Today, Amir Liaqat devoted around 15 minutes of his TV show Aalam or Aalam, to condemn the film and say it is fake, that it is an inside job made by a “certain channel”, designed to create enmity and prevent Islam spreading! If you’ve seen this film, I welcome your thoughts! As a journalist however, I do have to question how/what he means by calling the film fake! Of course, it has been edited; but it is a series of clips from incidents that did take place involving Liaqat, many of which have been witnessed by 7 plus people from his production team, not including guests or any one else who may have been on set. At least one of the incidents highlighted took place in my presence. A woman had telephoned to ask a question regarding suicide in Islam. I should point out that, because the programme is recorded, all of Liaqat’s calls were screened and only recordings of the questions played! A woman rang to ask if suicide was forgiven for a woman who performed it to save her own honour/modesty, doubtless connected to the practise of honour killings which still exist in parts of Pakistan. The Aalam present began to answer the question, while Liaqat burst in to uncontrollable fits of laughter and could not be consoled by any of his team! Interestingly, the accompanying scholars did not offer any Nasiha or try to stop him; whether out of fear or collusion, I don’t know, but they remained quiet! I did not think too much of the incident at the time, other than to recognise that it reaffirmed my disgust in the man! However seeing it before me on the net today reminded me of sitting in the MCR watching it happen! There was also the “kessa tha mere drama?” question which I also witnessed. Whether it was the same clip I don’t know, however a close friend of mine was present in the clip uploaded. The thing is, to say the film is “fake”, would suggest someone had engineered/created images that did not take place, did not exist in real, but significantly, Amir Liaqat has not implicitly denied being the subject in the video, of course: it would be impossible for him to do so! Say for example someone got hold of my 2 wedding films. They made a simulated film of my first marriage and my marriage to Reza, and mixed up the order. They may try to say this is proof I married my first husband last year. The statement from the film would be inaccurate, however it would not detract from the fact that 2 marriages had taken place! Its impossible to tell what will happen to Amir Liaqat; on one hand his superiors at ARY may choose to take a blind eye! After all, any one who’s worked in Pakistani media knows how charged life is, what’s a few ma/ben gaalian among friends! On the other hand, it seems the evidence against Liaqat keeps on piling up, and I doubt those behind the video will give up now! Even if they try; the video has already gone viral online; and in many respects, the damage is probably done!
The whole scandal also brings in to question the status enjoyed by these individuals, re: the title of this post!
There is no denying that Amir Liaqat is in the wrong here, but, who elevated him to such a position where his wrong-doing would create outrage on epidemic proportions?
Geo took him on, but his political position alone was not enough to make him stick; Amir rose to fame, quite simply because the international community gave him a lisence to do so! I’ve heard of at least 3 well known Islamic scholars in the past week or so who have been engaging in, lets say, questionable behaviour, yet should we really expect any different? After all; we are all human, we are all prone to sin and error. While we might expect knowledge to generate higher levels of conduct, I’m personally inclined towards the view that the higher you climb, the harder you fall!
5 years ago, a Pakistani newspaper investigation in to Liaqat found his degree certificates (both BA and PHD), were fake, yet this didn’t appear to impact upon his mass popularity. What do we learn about a society that puts personality over knowledge, that places rhetoric above fact, confidence above legitimacy?
I wonder if what really hurts about the Liaqat drama is the knowledge that we created aspects of it with our own hands! I can only pray that the TV officials and the inner sanctum around Amir Liaqat find the courage during this blessed month to do the right thing, and that the rest of us start to serve as the yard stick to measure excellence, rather than the measure of self-made success!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Jug Jug Geeay mera Pyara Watan!!

The day sort-of crept up on me! I’ve been lost in the beauty of Ramadhan, fasting, praying, finding energy reserves I never knew existed before! Then, I had a wedding to attend last night, in which I was heavily involved! By the time we had the niqah, ate and did the clearing up, it was 2 AM! I came home, prayed, had sehri and was in bed by 4! As you might expect; I resurfaced very late on in the day, only to be greeted by national songs and Pakistani flags bursting out from every angle at me via the TV!! Of course: it was 14th August; and you know the drill; and wherever you are in the world, you can’t fail to be reminded of exactly what this date means! Yom-e-azadi!
I’ve written before on this blog about my relationship with Pakistan; and how this Independence day contains such mixed emotions for me: happiness as I celebrate with those far away, yet sadness that I am not with them. Despite my strange international connections, there is a portion of me that will be forever Pakistani! And that’s why some very different emotions filled my heart this morning as I surveyed the scenes of celebration! I wondered how the nation could find joy in this day that fell among strikes, sectarian violence, homelessness incurred by the flood damage and political turmoil! I wondered if it was really possible to smile, to sing, to forget, even for a day, just how much had been lost and how dangerous the road ahead still remained!
Yet as I watched the national commemorations presided over by Pakistan’s prime Minister, I saw something new in the faces of the participants. This year’s festivities were entirely devoted to the leaders of the future, and Subhan Allah! What leaders they are! The youth performed poetry, songs, naats and reflective spoken word items. Urdu was not the predominant language; instead the youth chose to perform in English, and that too, English speeches delivered with such eloquence you’d struggle to identify their mother language was something different!
Contrary to previous years, the poetry was not all about 1947, and was a welcome departure from the flowery rhetoric which carries little resonance with the situation on the ground! Instead, the participants spoke of the trauma around them, they wrote of the disasters and spoke of the trials before their generation. Yet through the difficulties, they clearly recognised the brotherhood which the floods had brought out! They talked of the spirit of sacrifice and what it has done, and continues to bring to their nation. Their lectures were powerful yet realistic, passionate, but not idealistic! Call me naive or out of touch, because I may well be! But this new generation is a new phenomenon; a brand of youth I did not have the pleasure of meeting during my time in the country! They are inwardly focused, yet outward looking! Significantly, they talked about the dangers of a brain drain on the country and stressed the importance of staying to develop the country to their peers! In their different tribes, languages and cultures, they represented diversity at its best; and this is something I can relate to; for how embracing is a nation of diversity when a troubled, Ethnically confused soul can find her home on its shores! The news headlines from Pakistan today reported 4 members of 1 family had been drugged, shot and left to fester in a locked house by the father of the family, and that yet more bombs had exploded in Balochistan! Yet through it all, a new generation has new plans, and a fresh, much-needed change, and they are ready to make it happen! While we can’t dream, can’t force them to run before they can walk, its impossible not to wonder if the sectarian, racist nature of parties such as the MQM, or the questionable motives of the big 3 might just find themselves outlawed in this new land of tomorrow’s leaders!
When all is said and done, Pakistan has the potential for a bright future, but it is up to us to make it so. Even if we are far away, only by supporting and nurturing the passion of days like this and of ambitions such as those displayed by the young people, can we ever hope to progress from the state we find ourselves in. There is always hope in the darkest of nights; one candle has the power to light thousands, but its up to us to take that step, to spread that light. Celebrate this day as you must, but never lose sight of what you can and should do, and never let go of those hands that are striving for a brighter day, an Independence day to be truly proud of.

To the land that I love, and the land I left behind. You may be far from sight, yet you live on in my heart, and whenever you seek light, I shall be there to decorate your skies with the moon and the stars to light the lanterns of your precious soil,
Pakistan Zindabad.

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's Burning!

What makes a terrorist?
An anarchist? A lost soul? What is that fundamental tipping point that places one in such a corner where violence/destruction are viewed as the absolute, only options?
This is a theme which has been buzzing around in my mind since reading ‘Growing up Binladin, by Jean Sasson. When examining the life of Osama through his son’s eyes, we see that he was not simply a jihadist in embryo, as Western Media would have us believe! Rather there is a process, an alienation, a gradual decline in One’s ability to rationale, to logic, to meaning, which eventually has to manifest its self in mindless terror, but what is it! how does it happen and how can we change it?
While on a different scale from the violence exhibited by Osama Binladin and his cronies, The ongoing Riots in London are forcing UK government/law makers to ask very similar questions! Like millions around the world, I woke in horror on Sunday morning to see the dramatically altered Capital city that lay before me; a place I didn’t know, a place I did not want to know! According to media reports, the violence was sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, a young man who was apparently shot by the police, allegedly in self-defence! Initial reports claimed Duggan was carrying a weapon, and had apparently fired on the police, however new evidence suggests the bullet found on the police side was one of their own, with no traces of Duggan’s DNA on it. The Police Complaints commission are currently undertaking an in-depth investigation in to Duggan’s death, but just like the riots in Libya, Tunisia etc, Duggan was the straw that broke the proverbial Camel’s back! The violence is rather the result of deteriorating relations between the police and the youth of deprived, inner-city localities across Britain! Many also blame government cuts and their disproportionate affects on the poorest in society: similar riots took place in London during the eighties, and significantly; during the previous conservative government lead by Margaret Thatcher!
That, is the ‘Official line, the book response! That’s what they say; and it doubtless helps to have a stock answer! But what is the real truth? What, how, and above all, why!
I’m the last person to answer those questions I’m afraid! However, I do want to share some observances thus far! To start with, forgive me for stating the obvious, but what does random hate-filled violence against local businesses have to do with protesting against the police? Seriously! As a disability activist, I’ve engaged in plenty of direct action in my time, and even been arrested for my troubles! I’ve chained myself to railings and I’ve indulged in the odd random sit-in! Direct action has always equalled the demonstration of commitment that is required when words simply aren’t enough! It doesn’t mean violence, but it means action; a display of solidarity and decisiveness! There have been some prominent names in direct action/socialism fluttering lasciviously on the fringes of these protests, including the poet and fellow disability activist Jody McIntyre! It shocks me that none of them saw fit to take the disillusioned youth in hand so that they could at least channel their anger more affectively! Moreover, even if violence had been condoned, one would expect them to be targeting government buildings, police stations and town halls! I’m not suggesting for a moment this would make it OK, however it would offer an explanation and a statement about the route cause of the violence! This morning, I remain haunted by images of African and Asian shopkeepers, local business owners standing shocked and weeping beside their life’s work; their burnt out shops, praying and wondering how they’ll ever be able to rebuild a legacy for their children. The violence escalates and spreads; first Tottenham, then East London, West London, even the tranquil leafy suburbs of Croydon were hit! Tonight, the riots make an appearance in Northern England, and who knows whether Scotland will be next! Jody McIntyre and co remain strangely silent! Moreover, social networking sites have been jammed with their empty justifications and attempts at solidarity! The media, desperate for a scapegoat, blames said social networking for the violence, and people who don’t have the conviction to hit the streets spread the news and the latest looting locations because it makes them feel like they’ve contributed, claimed a slice of the cake! Its all so difficult, so mindless, so impossible to comprehend!
A friend politely and definitively suggested to me that I may be too old to get it, and maybe that’s true! Yet though my heart doesn’t accept it, I do understand aspects of the pain! There is something fundamentally wrong with a society that allows young people to believe that such violence is the only way they can be heard. Even the most basic psychology tells us that one who feels part of his/her community would absolutely not loot it from within, yet this is exactly what we see taking place! Some might think it an easy place to be, but as some one who spent around 18 months drowning in unemployment and honestly not knowing how I’d keep a roof over my head, I feel allot of what they express! They leave their homes, adorned with labels saying “Poor”, “black”, “young”, “uneducated”, “product of single-parent family”, “long-term Unemployed”, …, and so it goes! These labels are an instant appellant to those who potentially could unlock their marginalisation, and so they turn their backs, and another door is locked for them. I wear labels too as a disabled Muslim woman, I’ve experienced the discrimination and the locked doors; and I know there is a very fine line between seeking out meaningful rebuttals, or simply letting go!
To my Muslim readers, I don’t want you to think for a second that this is simply a Western Issue! Most of you are old enough to remember the Bradford Riots, and if not, learn about them! Granted, faith leaders have turned out to help with the clean-up, and the mosques have opened their doors offering food and shelter to those affected by the violence, a welcome and a positive change! However, what happened before that, to bring us to this point! When did we, as Muslims, as an umma, reach this place, where “Im the only one that matters”. A place, where, as long as I can lock the doors of my large, suburban house and feel safe, it doesn’t really matter what’s happening outside! Call me harsh, but this is the reality for many Muslims these days and Its something I for one am not proud of! We are fantastic at giving charity, Mashallah, but how many of us send fortunes to the East, when people are dying, homeless, hungry and suffering here at home! Muslim youth, and the state of our communities is a whole other subject, but as another night of violence unfolds on British Streets, let us start to ask what we, as a people, have left undone! Let as ponder upon the message we want to send out to wider society as a result of the said violence, and most importantly, let us reflect upon the questions I asked at the beginning of this post: what makes a terrorist? An anarchist? A lost soul?
Maybe, if we identify the components and tees them apart, then maybe we can stop the next generation of youth fighting the same misplaced fights, and facing the same locked doors!

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My Reasonable Ramadhan Adjustments!

Earlier on today the BBC Ouch team were in touch with me, you may recall I made a short film regarding my Life/activism for them last year! They got in touch because they are putting together a series of articles on ramadhan; in particular, looking at how disabled people observe this blessed month!
While talking to them, it occurred to me that some of you might be interested in my own observances, as a visually impaired person, and so I’ll talk about some of them below; the good, the bad, the bazaar and the truly beautiful!

Of course, given that my impairment has been with me from birth and does not affect my general health, it has no baring on whether or not I can fast! Unfortunately however, I also have a chronic migraine condition which is controlled by medication, exercise and a special diet regime. I have pain almost every day that I am fasting, but most of the time it is bearable; if the pain becomes too much, then I sometimes have to miss out on fasts.

My preparations for Ramadhan begin well in advance! Starting with the saga of time tables! I don’t know how things are in your respective cities, but here in Glasgow we have a staggering 6 timetables! These usually float around the masjids, and are rarely put up online! If they are circulated via Email, its usually in Arabic/PDF or graphics texts which my computer cannot read! So, I usually visit my mowlana in advance, determine with him which is the correct timetable and note down the timings for each day either in Braille or on my computer!
I then do my food preparation: you know, the stuff most women have to do; preparing/freezing dishes in advance, stocking up the cupboards, making spice mixes and grinding up herbs to make juices and syrups!
I also take a quick look through my wardrobe, not that you need special clothes for Ramadhan! But as you’ll be rushing around, and will be at the mosque quite often, you usually need 2 wash and wear abayat, an extra long Al-Amira hijaab and a comfortable prayer chador, these will get you through!

Normally, people try to withdraw from the computer, internet etc during ramadhan, but not so for the visually impaired Muslim! I usually find I spend more time online during Ramadhan, than any other time of the year! this is because so few Islamic books are provided in Braille, Audio etc. I do most of my book reading online, via sites such as al-Islam.org
I enjoy reading my duas from duas.org because I can access Arabic with English translations on the site with ease!
I also use the internet to access Radio Ramadhan broadcasts from around the world, and as I often carry out research and programme sourcing on behalf of Radio Ramadhan Glasgow, I end up with a lot of late nights online!

An important part of Ramadhan is reciting, reflecting, and learning from, the noble Qur’an! However, there is a bit of forward planning that is required for the visually impaired Muslim! For those not familiar with Braille, the language of the visually impaired, it is very bulky in its written form; and very few books are actually produced in Braille! It has only been in the last 3 years that English translations of the qur’an in Braille were made available to purchase off-the-shelf in the UK! So: what to do! I have the qur’an in text-HTML format which I use for reading in English, (see? Too much time on the computer!). I also have Arabic Audio CDs of qur’an which I use for Arabic memorisation. Earlier on this year, I was very kindly gifted the Amazon Kindle, and this has made reading a whole variety of material a whole lot easier! I have a qur’an on the kindle too! But, I really wanted an English translation that was enjoyable to listen to, and wasn’t computer generated! This was realised for me last week, in the form of the product I pointed you to, www.hearthequran.com
One of our local masjids is running a programme entitled; ‘Journey through the qur’an! This takes place daily during Ramadhan, and involves a reading of a selected Qur’anic portion per day, with a brief explanation of the chosen sura/suras. I attend this and benefit greatly from it, which brings me nicely to my next subject: transport!
This too has to be planned for well in advance! Public transport is incredibly difficult for me to use. Trains/tubes and trams work fine for me, because they have audio prompts informing passengers of each stop as they arrive, so, if I know where I’m going I can travel perfectly well on my own! Busses do not yet have this facility in Scotland, so, I inevitably end up splurging a whole lot of cash on taxis during Ramadhan! Friends do help out when they can, but hey; if you want to do something immensely helpful this Ramadhan, seek out the disabled attendees at your mosque and ask them if they’d welcome assistance with transport. Even if you cannot commit to this regularly, do what you can! Only this morning, I had to travel to my friendly halal grocers, I took a taxi; and what do you know; my driver was a Muslim brother! He dropped me off, waited for me to shop, helped me home with bags; and didn’t take any money from me, despite my insistence on him taking it! We may never meet again, but I will continually remember this brother in my duas for his generosity!

Since we’re on the subject of the mosque, let me have a small rant here (hey; I’ve been fasting all day: indulge me if you will!). While it’s a joy to break fast, pray, and connect with friends and those you’ve possibly not seen in a whole year, the masjid can be filled with hazards for the visually impaired Muslim! Though I am very familiar with my local mosque and can move around it with ease, the centre will doubtless be filled with new people I’ve never met, and who do not know me. They have most likely never seen a blind person, so whenever I get up to get more food, go to find some one, use the bathroom; whatever! They insist on running behind me, grabbing my abaya and demanding to know what I want, so that they may take me there! Even if they don’t grab me, there will be rice, babies, dirty diapers and all manner of filth on the floor which can make walking around risky!
There are also those who don’t seem to register the fact I’m visually impaired, even though my white cane is on display! So, if I do trip or walk in to them, they yell “can’t you see?” …., No! daaa!
Being a revert, you usually attract curiosity and questions! I know some people find this annoying, but I can tolerate it (to a point!). The problem is, when you are blind and a revert, the questioning takes on a whole new level! People stare at you, they ask questions of your friends in front of you (as though blindness and deafness are part of the same package!). Some even want to take pictures with me and bring their friends over to see my Muslim freak show too! Last night at the masjid, one of the Urdu speaking Aunties took hold of my hijab and yanked me in the direction of her white, newly converted daughter-in-law! She told me, in Urdu, and in no uncertain terms that it was up to me to educate her on being a revert and living in a Pakistani house! The poor girl didn’t seem remotely interested in Islam, and only brightened when I sensed an exit and got myself well out of her way!
I certainly don’t want to be perceived as being ungrateful, or having an unfeeling dig at the masjid; that is not my intention! I know that even the worst of these actions is well intended, and I know that for every one who behaves in this way there are hundreds more who show real friendship and caring, but all the same; we need to have a think about our actions; and its only through acknowledging the things we get very wrong, that we can start to get them so right!
The remaining aspects of my Ramadhan observance are probably no different from yours! However there is one activity that really steps up a gear during this month; and that is my activism! See, during Ramadhan, you have captive audiences in masjids, community centres, on Islamic TV Stations etc, so why not utilise this opportunity to indulge in some disability activism! I give talks, hold workshops and write for Islamic publications during Ramadhan, all relating this month to the importance of Equality, Choice, Dignity and control for disabled Muslims! What do I talk about? Hmmm; well, pretty much all the things you’ll find me ranting about on this blog! I talk about the need for accessible mosques; and the fact that just because a person is blind doesn’t mean they need a wheelchair and need dragged by the ears to the nearest/safest sofa! I talk about my home/married life and discuss how my husband really is my husband and not a hired carer! I explain the most basic facts about how I cook, clean, travel, work etc. Stuff that many of my readers know about, but which seem to spark stunned fascination in my audiences!
Whatever your own cause/purpose may be, its important to realise that Ramadhan is not just about fasting and secluded worship. The community comes together and we have to be part of it, both for our own Development, and for the sake of the education we can bring to it.

Like every one else, I am devastated when Ramadhan is over. I always cry on eid and struggle to fulfil all the eid invites I have through my sadness. This year, I looked forward to Ramadhan in the way that I used to as a new revert. It’s a beautiful feeling and I’m enjoying the lessons and the beauty of each day.
My message; well, as far as disability goes; its simple; be kind, be open, be helpful, be empowering, not patronising, and never be afraid to ask!
For Ramadhan; grab, beg, plead, ask, crave, yearn, cry, make dua, request all this from Allah (SWT) and rebuild your own truly intimate, unique and personal connection with your creator, so that the gifts which he (SWT) presents you with on eid are truly earned, and are the fruits of your own pure labour as you strived for closeness to him (SWT), Insha Allah.

Monday, 1 August 2011

As Ramadhan begins ..., Somalia is calling you!

Mogadishu, once was the city of flowers,
of vines full of fruit, and of minaret towers.

Mogadishu, did not know the meaning of aid,
The city was flourishing with international trade.

Mogadishu, did not know the word ‘Extreme,
It was home to the Sufis, and the scholarly cream.

Mogadishu was beautiful, Somalia’s heart,
Till that beauty was ravaged, and torn apart.

Mogadishu, where are your fragrant flowers,
Only dust remains of your minaret towers.

Mogadishu, where are your fruits and your rich laden vines,
The Sufis, the poets, the saints and the shrines.

Mogadishu, the traders are no longer here;
And those who remain live in constant fear.

They say its Islam, what they’ve done to you,
But Mogadishu, this is not the Islam you once knew.

The strong independence, the thriving free trade,
Replaced now with convoys, surviving on aid.

Young men and soldiers line the pavements, all dead,
Children search dustbins, crying to be fed.

20 years of war and we’re no closer to the truth,
3 generations have sacrificed their youth.

Mogadishu, what will become of you now,
As the Crescent is sighted, I take one more bow.

I ask Allah to bless you, to revive you a new,
To restore your young men, and your beauty to you.

Ya Allah quench their thirst, grant the starving food,
Let those who cry for peace be at last understood.

Restore Mogadishu to the people, the land for the free:
Remove all fear, injustice and uncertainty.

Mogadishu, this goes out to every one,
With our prayers and our patience, change will, Insha Allah, come.

Darkness is followed by light; dear readers, do what is right, Please, this Ramadhan, donate whatever you can to your starving, wounded, abandoned brothers and sisters in Somalia.
Whether big or small, amount is irrelevant, any thing you can contribute will make a massive difference to those in desperate need. Subhan Allah, how much do we waste on lunches out, icecream, coffee, cakes etc. Even donating the cost of one coffee will feed a family for 3 days! And come on; its not like you’ll be having your 11 AM caffeine breaks this month will you!
The Disaster emergency committee is an alliance of aid organizations working in the area, covering humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement. You can donate to them online by visiting: www.dec.org.uk
If you are not acquainted with DEC, then donate to any organization that you know well and trust, the point is not who you give to, but that you give and make a difference.
If you watch the below video, you’ll be moved to see beautiful images of the city described above: Mogadishu, as it was back in the Seventies, before terrorists tore it to shreds and brutally forced civilians from their homes. Only yesterday, I watched a mother on TV, describing how hyenas savaged and killed her children as she traveled to refuge in Kenya. Still gripped by shock and trauma, she recounted how, as a result of her own weakness and malnutrition, she was unable to defend her children against the attack, and could only watch helplessly as her innocent children were taken from her. Can we even begin to comprehend such suffering? What that would feel like? Please, let the mercy of Ramadhan change your hearts this year, donate whatever you can to the people of Somalia. Pray for them, and recite qur’an for them: if our fasting does not move us to act, where is the value in that fasting!


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Thursday, 28 July 2011

What do ya say to Triangles?

At least 6 of those in my closer circle of friends are in plural marriages, and there are around 20 couples I know in my wider circle who are ‘second wives (for want of a better term). While no one can speculate about what goes on behind closed doors, from what I’ve seen the bulk of these families are deeply disjointed and unhappy!
This of course raises the issue of whether or not their unhappiness is purely due to the polygyny involved? Well, probably not entirely! In fairness, I do know of many polygynous families where every one is happy! But as a humble observer, here is my 2P on the subject!
It seems to me that a great many Muslim men have missed the point/points, when it comes to polygyny. Of course it is halal and perfectly permissible, even though many of us might prefer to turn our noses up at plural marriage, mutah etc, our likes/dislikes are not a reason to dismiss them. Similarly, our liking doesn’t seem like a reason to support the practise either! I.e., I can’t tell my husband not to take another wife just because I don’t like it, nor can he tell me he wants another wife “just because!). You may say that polygyny is halal (which it is), but so are many things! Night prayers are halal: nay, they are recommended! However if I’m not performing my 5 compulsory prayers, it is questionable whether my night prayers will hold any special value for me! Food is halal, but if I over-eat and damage my health as a result, that food may well become haram for me!
What I’m getting at here, is that often, polygyny feels like a symptom to me, rather than a solution!
Before even contemplating a second, third or fourth wife, men need to consider the following.
1) Equality!
Hadaith teach us that while polygyny is permitted, if you fear you cannot do justice to your wives, it is better for you to marry only one!
How can you do justice to a second wife when the country you live in does not even permit polygyny? Of course, there is nothing to stop you performing an Islamic ceremony and living as married, but your second/3rd etc wife will not be considered as your partner in the eyes of the law, she will not be entitled to welfare support/pension contributions through you, and will struggle a great deal when you leave this world as a result!
This brings me on to my second point:
2) Honesty!
How honest can you really be with your wife/colleagues, neighbours, people in the community etc. Polygyny carries a stigma, even within Muslim communities today. Forget the fact that often men take a second wife in secret, how will your lack of honesty impact on your new wife, and any subsequent children you have with her?

3) Family unity.
Secrecy naturally brings its own discord, but if your wives do not get along, your home is likely to dissolve in to pieces! Of course, your wives have the right to demand their own homes: which, if you live in a non-Muslim country, may be pretty impractical for you to afford!
4) (and most importantly!), benefit!
Whether taking a new job or buying a new TV, we all run through a subconscious analysis in our head: cause/affect! How will this job/purchase change my life? Will it benefit me? Will it benefit those around me? Can I afford it? do the disadvantages outnumber the advantages? Or vice versa!
How many men do this when it comes to a second wife! Maybe she is young, beautiful and more appealing than your first wife with whom you have tired, but of course, she too will not always remain like this; and what is there to sustain the 3 of you when she has a few children and is beginning to age herself! Will she enhance your physical/spiritual life? Will she benefit your first wife?

Now: relax all of you who are thinking that Reza is searching away from home! We did talk about polygyny and its not something he is in to! (Thank Goodness!).
Does this mean I am completely against the practise? No! however I think there is allot that men/women leave undone! A friend was asking my opinion on the subject yesterday and that’s what prompted this post!
The way I see it; if you have been married for a significant period of time, and especially if you have children, a plural marriage is something you both have to grow in to. You both have to be on the same page re: whether or not to go for it, your reasons and how to go about it. Living in the west means that your children will likely be unfamiliar with the practise and this too has to be considered in terms of impact. Frankly; if my husband wishes a second wife, I need to know about it; and both she and I need to be involved in the bigger picture, from searching for potentials to initial meetings. It is only fair that she and I meet in private before any thing is decided, so that she knows my feelings on the subject and I know her perspective. We need to be able to get along. Sure we may never become best friends, but we need a level of shared vision in order to sustain and maintain our husband and mutual family. All 3 of us need to have strategies in place for dealing with difficult issues, and be very clear about our own boundaries and how these will translate within the new domestic situation. Many revert sisters have the additional pressure of non-Muslim family, who may or may not know about their changes in circumstances! Only they can make the call as to whether or not their relatives can cope with the knowledge, but it often seems that this too is just another oversight on the part of many men!

I don’t mean to have a rant against the male species over here; and I do know that many of our brothers act with taqwa in mind and with the best of intentions, but for every brother who does, there are 10 who don’t and the numbers of broken families we see today are the horrid legacy of such one-sided thinking!
The majority Pakistani community in which I currently reside, boasts many plural families: men, who married back home, but then took a Western wife on their arrival in the UK to “stay away from haram!”. Years later, wives/children come to know of one another; and the results have not proved favourable! Families are often cramped together in poorly maintained apartments, lost in poverty and loathing the sight of one another! Some say that the fact they remain together is testament to the strength of the marriage, and maybe so! Undoubtedly those women who show patience and perseverance in the face of such tests will Insha Allah be rewarded, but what of those who oppress them unjustly on this earth? Moreover, there are the tests sent to us by Allah (SWT), and there are the dramas we make for ourselves, which cannot be attributed to divine self-Development!
It is worth remembering that our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him), never took a second wife during the time of Khadija (A.S), and those wives that he (PBUH) married after her death, were often performed out of necessity: to protect the dignity/honour of widows, divorced women and those without any other form of protection (there was no welfare system 1400 plus years ago!).
Justifying our wants and desires under the banner of sunnah acts is cruel and unjust, whether we are talking about polygyny, or any thing else!
To any one facing such a test, may Allah (SWT) grant all of you insight to be merciful and understanding to one another, and may you find the wisdom to distinguish between the right and the wrong in such a situation. As for the rest of us; at the end of the day, the key is to think before you leap; if you have doubts, leave it alone! And if you believe polygyny is right for you; think some more; the marriage should make 3 lives beautiful, rather than causing 3 car crashes!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Ramadhan Preparations Begin!

With the blessed month of Ramadhan just around the corner, I decided to commence my preparations with a gift for myself! (nothing frivolous though, I assure you!).
While surfing TV channels this morning as I ate breakfast, I stumbled across an interview with Aurangzeb Iqbal! I didn’t know who he was or initially, what he was talking about, however something about his light, passion and magnetism held my interest. Aurangzeb Iqbal entered the Muslim consciousness earlier on this year, when he recorded the first ever audio Tafseer of Qur’an, exclusively in English!
Of course, there are plenty of print translations of the qur’an, as well as Arabic CDs with mumbled translations following a group of Arabic verses, however this audio version is something new. Aurangzeb Iqbal has recorded a continuous running translation of the qur’an in English only, taken from the Yusaf Ali translation. Its not just that he has read the qur’an in English, but that he has adorned his recitation with the appropriate emphasis, respect, passion, emotion, love, anger etc. His deep connection with the qur’an is evident in every word, and there are many junctures in the recording where he simply dissolves in to tears!
I had something of a twilight zone moment while watching him on TV today, as I recalled how many times during my early days as a Muslim when I craved something like this! Braille qur’ans were unheard of back then, and while you could read it online, most of the sites used flash, or imbedded the text along-side the Arabic which made them totally inaccessible to the screen reader which I use. The Arabic/English CDs are, in my experience, impossible to follow, whether for Arabic learning or for English comprehension! As it is, I have a separate Arabic only CD set with minimal adornment, but good tajweed! This enables me to learn new suras with ease! As I’m on the move allot, I really wanted a portable English qur’an which I could continually study during the month of Ramadhan, wherever I happened to be; and mashallah I found it!
The TV show was very moving, especially when viewers began to call in, commenting on the translation they had listened to. So many of them had never even heard the translations of the basic suras they recite in prayer each and every day, 5 times every day!
While there is no substitute for studying/reciting the qur’an in Arabic, the Arabic its self is completely useless without real understanding of the words being recited. How can we even begin to apply the qur’an in our lives if we do not understand its meaning? We need to understand the qur’an in our native languages, but most importantly, we need to understand it in the language of our hearts. Aurangzeb Iqbal commented on the numbers of non-Muslims who have heard his recitation. They have been struck by the rich language and poetic stanzas and have been drawn to find out more. He has even signed a deal to supply hotels, cruise liners and public transport providers with audio English Qur’ans; what a wonderful opportunity for Dawah! Later this year, the audio qur’ans will be made available to purchase via Amazon, as well as via Itunes and aps suitable for the Iphone. May Allah (SWT) reward and bless this dear brother for his passion, hard work and innovation, and may all who hear his recitation be moved, blessed and transformed by the power contained within the sacred text.
If you would like to purchase yours, or find out more about the project, visit: www.hearthequran.com

Continuing the theme of preparing for Ramadhan, SR Masooma is re-launching the very successful group blog she administered last year during Ramadhan. To find out more or to join the blog’s writers for this year, Visit SR Masooma’s blog and sign up!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Building a bridge

Around 12 years ago, at the time of my first marriage, my mum called me late one night to say “you can’t get married, your Grandfather may have cancer!”. That was the height of the sentence, and the subsequent conversation! Now, any outsider looking at this would clearly see it for what it was, i.e., emotional blackmail! However, for me, as an only child, an 18-year-old with a small family and little worldly wisdom, it shook me to the core! I went ahead with the marriage, all be it with a great deal of guilt on my shoulders. There was no wedding party, no celebrations, in fact I spent the 6 days proceeding my marriage in floods of tears! I’d got it in to my head that my Granddad had cancer, was critically ill and that somehow, this was inextricably linked to my marriage: I’d not listened, I’d gone ahead and so his ultimate death would be exclusively my own fault!
Of course, he did not have cancer mashallah, and all lived to recount the tale! However remnants from that painful period in my adult history still haunt us all! 5 years later, while working in Pakistan, mum called me again, late one night. This time, it was to tell me that my Grandmother was in the hospital. I offered to come home, but mum insisted that it was not serious! I stayed where I was, mainly because I had neither money for a flight, nor leave to take from my job in Karachi! Yet every night I lay awake, listening for the telephone and being overcome by nightmares involving the deaths of my closest family members! Only when I returned home permanently a year later, did I learn just how serious my Grandmother’s illness was. She was in the intensive care and the family were called for on 2 occasions, as doctors believed she was breathing her last! Had she left this world back then, I would never have had the chance to say goodbye, never had the chance to do my duty by her. It was hard to forgive my mum for not sharing this knowledge, however I understood that she too felt guilty for the lies she had loaded upon me, all those years ago!
Last year, when I went to Azerbaijan to meet Reza for the first time, I learned that my Granddad was in hospital, just as I landed back in to Heathrow! Doctors were running tests on him, and we did not know exactly what was going on. My Grandparents had not known I was out of the country (they have the idea that blind people can’t travel and so, whenever I’m overseas, we have to tell them I’ve got work in London, or else they plague mum with late night phone calls filled with dread!). While there was some debate over why I’d not been to the hospital sooner, every one was happy to have me there and I was able to take over and relieve some of the pressure from my mum.
Why am I recounting all this you may ask? Well; one of my aunts on my father’s side past away 2 weeks ago, and her funeral was last Tuesday. SR Masooma had also been talking about the death of a loved one on her blog, which meant that these subjects were at the forefront of my mind. The day after my aunt’s funeral, my Grandmother went in to hospital for a hip replacement operation. This is a fairly straight-forward surgical procedure in most cases, however, if you are 81, diabetic, visually/hearing impaired with multiple ulcers and IBS, it becomes rather more complex!
The surgery went well, but in the subsequent 5 days, she has taken a reaction to the morphine, (which had me running to the hospital at 3 AM to try and calm her down and stop her hurting herself!), severe blood loss and a sky-high blood sugar level!
She is undergoing tests to try and determine the cause of the blood loss, which have revealed nothing thus far! Every day I watch her deteriorating, and feel a painful sense of foreboding deep in my stomach!
Losing a loved one is painful, and although my Grandparents are not dead, the process of losing them began a long time ago!
During my childhood, my maternal Grandparents largely brought me up! My mum started working and did not have time for me. My parents had all kinds of emotional/marital problems of their own, so it was in my Grandparents home that I enjoyed the real stuff of childhood: baking, planting flowers, daytrips to the seaside, lunch out; picnics, songs, stories and so much more! As their only Grandchild, they poured allot of love in to me. When I was sick, they took me to hospital, They did every thing they could to satisfy my childish desires; my Granddad even took me along to Indian dress shops to buy me bangles and ornaments when I began studying Hindi! They were also responsible for my religious education; and perhaps this is why I lost them, or rather, the reason for the severity of the loss!
My Grandfather was a religious scholar, and often took me along to his lectures and bible studies. My Grandparents belong to a little known Christian cult (The Plymouth Brethren), so its understandable that aspects of their doctrine did not make sense to me! However even in my early teens, I had begun to realise I had questions that Christianity could not answer, spiritual gaps in my world that the religion of my birth couldn’t come close to addressing.
The journey to Islam was slow and gradual, yet the absorption in to the faith was immediate, instantaneous and complete, hence the depth of shock experienced by my family. They could not accept my life changes and their rejection was as extreme as my own lifestyle change!
2 years, 4 years, 15 years went by; and some things have changed in that time. My parents, though unhappy, do accept the fact that I’m a Muslim; and that is not likely to change! They prepare halal/vegetarian food for me when I visit, and even buy Halal Turkey at Christmas! They greet me on eid and though they would never attend a mosque, have attended Muslim weddings or programmes in the homes of my close Muslim friends. Last year, my dad walked out with me in hijab for the very first time, something I know was a massive step for him. His family never talk about my Islam; it is the elephant in the room; and I don’t really know what they think; whether they expect me to grow out of it or if they think that just like a foreign disease, this too shall pass!
My maternal Grandparents however, have never got over it. Initially they were very aggressive, banning me from their home and making no secret of their disgust, sharing it with any one who cared to listen; be they neighbours, postmen or other church members. For years, I could not walk freely in my home town without being plagued by brethren, recounting my Grandparent’s pains to me. Talking did no good, it only inflamed; and silence seemed to make them think I’d given up on them entirely!
So, somewhere in the years that followed, I fell in to an indifferent space; I met them every fortnight and enquired after their well-being! I attended Christmas parties and other family celebrations, always feeling like the outsider I knew I was!
Then, things took an unexpected upturn when, while striving to improve my spiritual practises, I began attending my local Episcopal Cathedral! I didn’t tell my Grandparents about this, fearing that they’d view it as a rejection of Islam. My mum however, couldn’t wait to tell them; and the inevitable happened! They were delighted! You have to understand that, the Brethren, rather like Wahabis, believe that all other forms of Christianity other than their own are false! So accepting the Episcopal Church was a big deal for them! However, I guess on a scale of “evil” ness, it ranked higher than Islam in acceptability! So, I was accepted back in to the fold, (that is, for a time!). As soon as they learned that I attended the Cathedral as a Muslim, not as a Christian or potential revert, I was way back down the ranks to where I’d come from, that is, until this most recent hospital episode! See, mum works full time, and I work from home, only having to attend an office base for a few evenings per week! this means I’m on hand to call social workers, attend care plan meetings, run around town in pursuit of the best fitting incontinence pads, order medication, collect said medication, maintain the empty house, …., you get the picture! Sure there are times when I’d rather not do this, when hours spent filling Dosette boxes could be more pleasurable spent in bed with a good book, but I do it; and moreover, am glad to do it. Allah (SWT) is the best of planners, and somewhere between resentment and impatience, I started to see the wonder in what I was doing. I began to see these apparently mundane chores as a means for regaining a level of closeness with my Grandparents, a way of building bridges, a way to celebrate the common good/values that we can and do share. When my Granddad asked me to track down a particular book for him, I did so. I spent a ridiculous amount of money purchasing an original copy from Amazon, but it was worth it to see the joy on his face; and, last night, when I was about to head back to my apartment, I stayed an extra night in my home town, so that I could visit Gran in the hospital! She was ill and unhappy, yet looked pleased to see me; and somehow, I did seem to make her smile!
I realised something else too; I used to believe that, when my Grandparents accepted my choices, every thing would be OK! Moreover, the Wahabi fuelled version of Islam I initially adopted taught me that non-Muslim family weren’t really worth the effort if they weren’t interested in converting! Thus I subconsciously saw my family as a commodity, who received conditional affection subject to converting on request! Life is short, and the memory is shorter! The animosity that had built between us meant that I could no longer see the commonality which, in reality, our faiths gave to our respective lifestyles! Attending the Cathedral helped me to see that; and translating it in to action, as I’m now doing, enables me to use/live out my learning. I do not know if my Grandparents view all this as I do, but for me, if the time should come for one/either of them to leave this world, I’ll live easier with the pain knowing that I had a chance to repair our relationships; and to translate the present in to something comfortable, sometimes even beautiful, for all involved. I am married, in to an Iranian family. Aspects of my life now, and my life to come will no doubt prove different, or even difficult for my Grandparents to take on, but in this case, my Grandmother’s illness has proved a healing, not just for her, but for me as well. I have learned how to maintain routes that she can sit upon, while stretching out my branches wide enough to grow in to a better wife, a better Muslim and, Insha Allah, a mother some day.
If you are facing something similar, take heart/hope from the above, and remember the importance of building bridges. It is not necessary, rather, its impossible to knit your 2 worlds together seamlessly, but a bridge if well-built, creates a platform for both worlds to travel upon, and maybe even to meet in the middle. It might not be what you want, but the bridge will help you to find beauty in what you’ve got! Life is about stories; your stories, their stories; and how each universe crosses over to meet the other; after all; what is Islam, what is any faith; if it can’t stretch wings/bridges of humility out to the other worlds that surround?
…, PS: Please, do remember my Grandmother in your prayers/duas, and pray too that we, as her family, maintain the strength and patience to support each other, and to care for her, to the best of our abilities.