Monday, 31 January 2011

Rosha's wonderful war on paan!

Disclaimer: (if you become nauseas easily, or are offended by gutter Urdu, don’t read further!).
…, Well Maybe its nazr: the evil eye if you will. When I moved here 5 or so years ago, people kept asking me how the neighbours were. I was not ideally placed to comment, as I had only met a few of them, the majority professional people like me, who preferred to keep themselves to themselves! That suited me fine: so long as no one was getting in my way! I spoke too soon however! The 2 flats directly above my own belong to a Pakistani landlord, who doesn’t care too much about his reputation in the building, and who rents his flats! His name has become muck in our building for not keeping up with maintenance fees, never removing rubbish from the yard: never acting on complaints! He and I are civil to one another, which is a miracle considering my father punched him following his not returning 700£ to me for mutual roof repairs! Any way, back to the post in question: after the blessed tranquillity resulting from one of his properties remaining vacant for a few months, new tenants moved in! They moved here about a week before Christmas, amidst much yelling, cursing and shifting of furniture! (let that go, moving is stressful right?). As I lay in bed one morning, their putrid Punjabi let me know they were in the house!! (those who are not Urdu/Punjabi speakers should note: Punjabi, is the language spoken in the Punjab. It’s a language of country folk, and has all the same inferences, but still, there is a way to keep it clean if you so desire: lets just say, these people did not desire!). So, they move in, and I wonder if they are Muslim etc: I wonder if they are the kind of people I can call on, or who might call on me, etc. I am becoming too old and set in my ways to rush up to people like a sad wonnabe waving my bangles and shouting “hey yo: I’m your neighbour and I speak Urdu”, so I just waited for us to run in to each other! We didn’t run in to each other however: instead I ran in to something else!! The distinctive, filthy red beetle stains of paan, all down my front door and across the mat at my entrance (oh, and a decent amount settled horribly in the conifer tree I put in the communal area!). I was horrified: now, maybe I’m being a bit too proud or ‘white about this, but come on! I’ve not seen paan spit since Pakistan, and even then, most people waited till they were outside of their apartments before staining the ground with it! rather than becoming all paranoid that it was targeted towards me (I had actually visualised the guy walking downstairs, trying to decipher the right step from which to aim up at my door), I simply cleaned it up and ignored it. Then one day, I was working away on the PC (as you do) (my computer is in a small alcove in my hall), when I heard this Punjabi dood, walk downstairs and stand for a moment at the bottom, before enjoying a good spit and then walking out! I was enraged! What the H*** was that about? Couldn’t he have done it outside? I wasn’t just annoyed because of the obvious mess: paan spit is fowl, it spreads disease, it creates a bad impression: once your building is seen filthy, it gives the OK to all kinds of unsocial behaviours: but apart from all that, paan spit is a nightmare for blind people!! If you get even a hint of it on a shoe, a cane tip or the bottom of an abaya, your belongings will be contaminated, as will any thing else that inadvertently makes contact with the red substance! As I cleaned it up (for the 5th time), I decided that enough was enough! I’d have to speak to the dood when he came back in! any way, it so happened that the following morning I was in the yard putting out my rubbish when this guy was heading out. I walked back to my flat, and left the door open a crack, just to see what he’d do! Sure enough, he wanders down stairs, walks a little past my door (perhaps noting the slight opening), and spits casually in the entrance, before moving towards the exit! I opened the door: (the paan wars begin!)
“Excuse me, sir?”, “yes?”, “aap nay ithir kion thuka?”, “ji?” “aap ni paan kion thuka mere darwazay kay samnay, koee wajha?” (basically: I asked this dood why he was spitting paan at my door every morning).
He stands there in silence, and I wonder if he’s going to answer me! He says nothing, but he doesn’t move on either! So I go “may ni notice kia kay aap rosana curt ho”, …, I want to say more, but I trail off, and then he goes, “may nay to nahin ki”, now, this really brings out the worst in me, because, I figure (rightly or wrongly), that he has clocked the fact I can’t see and will just deny it, and we’ll have a pathetic paan war of words here on my doorstep. That’s when I regret coming over all desi, because the BBC English I speak might have cut the mustard much more affectively! Better late than never I think: and I go, “look: I do not wish to fight with you: but the thing is, I’ve seen you do this every day: and I’m sure you understand, it’s a health hazard, and its really very unfair to the rest of us: I enjoy paan myself as it goes, but I really wouldn’t dream of spitting it all over the apartments: its disgusting, and any way: this isn’t Pakistan”. Then, In case he didn’t get that, I top it off with a bit of the old Urdu, “please janab, ye Pakistan to nahin, buri maherbani next time zara bahir curdain”. He just stands there, like, he says nothing! I hear his door open from upstairs, and then I wonder if he’s been texting or signalling for reinforcements, so I quickly say “any way, nice meeting you: Insha Allah firr milengay, Allah Hafiz”, and disappear back in to my flat! Now, this guy has a relative (I assume his son but I may be wrong), who has a God awful loud voice, the kind that could break sheet metal from a million miles away! So he joins his father (I think) downstairs and asks “kee hoya?”, and his father goes on to tell him about how “vahin, jo gori rehti hain naa? Us Sali ni buri lecture di hi kay aap paan spit curtay ho, nahin curni chahiye”, so I’m listening to this, with a nasty chuckle on my lips, till I hear the loud dood screaming “harami, us ki maa ki …, haramzadi! Us ki baap ca building to nahin!”. This really gets me going, and, without settling my nerves or contemplating my action, I throw open the door and come out, all Karachi, saying “or tera baap ki building phee nahin, hey naa: or haan: or bolna to mere moo pay kehdo, ithir kion gaalian detay ho oonchi awaz main! Agar koee maa behin gaali apnay khurr kay orton pay kehday to aap kesse mehsus carogay?”. Silence! I’m really on a high now! I’ve shocked these pindus in to total embarrassment: 2-0 to the Tubelight! But then, they do something that totally shocks me: they just turn, and walk out! As he passes my window, heading for the train station, he says to his dad “burri cho***** orut hi” (do I need to say more?). I’m totally disgusted at this, and the ego part of me is well aggravated that I’ve not been able to get a proper fight out of it, but hey: I may still be victorious, and after I talk myself down from the urge to go to their place and take up the gaalian issue with their women, I decide to let it go, and see what they’d do! For all I knew, they might stop spitting completely! Just because of my impromptu altercation!
So, lets fastforward a few hours in to day 2, and you guessed it; queue more paan spitting! Day 3 and 4 proceed in the same manner! Clearly my Karachi style rebuke hasn’t swung it! what to do now! I become quite busy for day 5 and 6, and have more important things to worry about than fighting with them, so I choose 0 tolerance: I come home each night, get the bleach out and quietly clean the entrance, saying nothing, doing nothing: not reacting. I wonder if the law of attraction surrounding my pretty plants will attract a paan free zone, but before I get a chance to revel in potential ‘Smug, it all starts, all over again! I’m so sick of this! Plus, with Christmas coming up, I’m determined this gets sorted before I need to head off to my parents: if I don’t, I’ll be wading through paan when I get home, and my precious little nest will resemble a pit fresh from the ‘Itwar bazaar!! The next day, I ask my compatriots on twitter (Roshni_h if you want to follow me), for their suggestions re: the paan wars saga! Journalist mate Martin says I should just bound up to them all ‘Ned and say “quit spittin paan, or I’ll pan ye!”. (for those of you not from Inner city Glasgow, you get the idea: translation: stop spitting, or I shall become extremely violent!!). I like this idea on paper, but given their silence last time, I doubt it will have much affect! But no one comes up with any thing better, and in the end, I opt for something else out of the Ned department of self-preservation: threats! For the next few days, I time my movements in accordance with this guy’s spitting routine (I do have a life guys: honest!). I make sure he sees me, strategically placed, cane out, ready for the business! I wonder if this too might have a shaming affect: and for the first day, it does! But then, as time goes by, I seamlessly vanish in to the concrete and tile surrounds: like many blind people before me, I am simply overlooked! So, after 3 really sad and freakish days of this, I go in guns blazing, mid-spit and tell him: “buri afsos kay baat hi: kion curt ho istarha! Mojhay lagta hi kay aab koee or rasta to nahin, may Yaseen co call curt hain” (their landlord). He disappears upstairs, saying nothing, but as soon as he’s inside his apartment, he narrates the story to his son, so loudly in fact, that I can hear the entire discussion from my own home, with the door shut! The result is that ignorant Punjabi son says “dafa ho: jo mirzi curna: sanu ki! Bawakoof!”, nice! The next morning, I put in a call to their landlord, narrating the spitting saga to him. “is it really that big a deal?”, he says. I take a few deep breaths and say: “yeah Yaseen, it’s a big deal man! I mean, thanks to you, I lived with dry rot for 2 years because you wouldn’t pay for your share to be fixed, but that wasn’t a big deal to me. I had water pouring in to my hall from your kitchen upstairs, resulting in mushrooms on my sealing, and black stains which still remain there, all because you refuse to pay for a painter to fix them, but hey: its not a big deal to me! We can’t get the gutters cleaned regularly, so rubbish builds up and the blocked gutters mean that water pours in to my sitting room at least twice a year: but its not a big deal! You still owe me 700£ from the aforementioned rot, but that’s not a big deal to me! …, paan though? That’s a massive deal! And I’ll bug the SH** out of you till you speak to them and put it right, cause yeah: it’s a massive deal to me!”. (just in case any one thinks this manic tirade is for the benefit of my readers, …, wrong: it really did come out like that!). “theeq hi: don’t worry, I’ll talk to them for sure!”, he says and hangs up, job done! So, I chill down for a while, and give him time to speak to the champion paan offenders, …, nothing happens! Time marches on, and he does nothing! Now, I won’t bore you with the various phone calls it took to finally spin this guy in to action: (needless to say, the paan kept coming, and I kept getting jiggy with the floor cleaner!). Then, eventually, he turns up, something to do with kitchen fittings! And I think he had forgotten about the paan, were it not for the fact that I happened to be coming in right around the time he was leaving! I said salaam and walked inside, hating the fact I couldn’t show him up then and there, but it worked though: he came, he saw, he remembered! And in his finest Shields (Urdu/English blend), he goes “yaar, wo jo hina, yaani you know, paan: yaar the thing is kay, goray nay mojhay call kia hey, you know they are complaining innit, so, yaar its better kay agar paan cariey naa, to zara outside spit caro hina!” (I won’t write any more of that, I know it’s a total ass to read!). So, I’m literally jumping up and down inside my door: result! But then (more shock). I hear the Punjabi dood (the younger louder one), asking Yaseen all about me, telling him about my confrontation in the entrance and so on. It seems he wants to know who I am, and sadly, Yaseen takes full Shields (ned) Pleasure in this! “I know yaar its pure nuts hina? Gori hi, Urdu phee ati hi: I was pure freakin out man when ah heard it innit! I think she’s divorced, but she’s a pucka Muslim: hijab phee curti hain, its mad hina? She said she used to work in Pakistan: so patta nahin why she’s so upset about the paan, and she’s blind too: crazy!!”, The blindness causes loads of hysteria upstairs, even causing the loud dood to call his father and other family members to the door, to discuss this revelation with Yaseen and debate its validity! All decide that I can’t really be blind “ye to buss, ek bahana hi” they decide, because, blind people wouldn’t bother about the paan now would they! But they also start looking for solutions between them (which should be good shouldn’t it?), err …, not quite! Their idea of finding a solution is to say “bechari andhi hi, plus akayli rehti hain, you know, is umer main, admi kay bakher: bohut mushkil hi: fazool baton pay pirishaan hotay hain log, chil renday: koee naa: bechari bhuljaaegi!”. I am so torn here, because part of me is secretly killing myself laughing at all this, yet the activist within screams (assumption, discrimination etc). Reza is horrified! He did his masters in India, and has no sympathy for paan eating at all! Not just because of the mess, but unlike me, he hates eating it completely! So when I tell him about the stairway dialogue, he’s ready to burst! And when the paan spitting continues, that only infuriates us both! I thought their discussions about my blindness (and assumed lack of a life), might have generated some sympathy, but no! they see me out and about, and totally ignore me! So …, time for plan C I think! Now, the thing is that, around this juncture, Muharram came upon us: and as expected, I got far too busy in higher things to be bothered about paan spitting and their ways! In fact, I started to get in to the zone: and feel rather guilty for all the events of the past few weeks! So, one day, as I prepare halwa to take to the imambargah, I make some extra, deciding to take it upstairs and offer it to them. I run up with it, a few minutes before I need to leave for majliss, and while the halwa is still hot and fresh! The auntie of the house opens the door, and as she’s never actually seen me in the flesh before, she doesn’t make the connection, and stands vacant when I say salaam to her! I tell her “mere nam Roshni hi: neechay wali apartment main rehti hain!”, now, I don’t know if she links me with the paan incidents or not, but I tell her how I’ve made halwa for them etc, and from behind a partially open living room door, the Punjabi dood asks his dad “kahin ye wo Sali to nahin? Andhi paan wali?”, at this point, I’m wondering if the guy has asperger’s or something: he must know I can hear him, unless of course, he belongs to the ‘blind=deaf school, as many people do! Any way, he comes out to investigate, and says nothing when he sees me at first, halwa plate in hand, his dad calls “con hi?”, and amazingly, he shouts back “yaar wohi!”. Now he comes out too: so I’m faced with all 3 of them, and I’m still holding out this plate of halwa looking like a lemon! Then the young dood, (you know now right>? The one I really can’t stand) goes “yaar kis nay banaya?”, and when I tell him I made it, he doesn’t believe me. He even says it “yaar to tu andhi hi! Kesse cursuctay hain!”. I so can’t be bothered with this, and its Muharram, and I can already feel the words, “yaar, to dectay hain jab apni G*** saaf curt hain tutti kay baad?” forming on my lips! So, I just say “any ways mojhay kahin jana hi, halwa jildi say calo garam hi, muzza aaega chai kay saath, or haan, wo paan issue ca zara tyan dena plz, neechay bohut burra haal aap logon kay wajessay!”. In a moment of supreme frustration, I bound downstairs, only realising in the serene kalm of my apartment that the plate of halwa is still in my hands! On my way out to the imambargah, I leave the plate on the ledge by their door, and can only hope they find it and take it in! after that, I leave for my parent’s, and don’t see them till my return after New Year! I returned, on the 3rd of January, to be knee deep in paan, and after forcing my father quickly out before he had me evicted for his aggression, I start cleaning it up! in the middle of this, auntie comes downstairs and says salaam to me: she’s come back to return the plate! I thank her, ask if she’s enjoyed the halwa etc, and we make small talk about that for a moment or 2. Bizarrely, despite all our fights on the paan issue, I now feel awkward about being faced with her, while I’m cleaning up her husband’s paan spit! Because I know I’d feel awkward if I were in her shoes, and I don’t want her to feel awkward, but I don’t know what to do! So we both stand there, silent, doubtless only too aware of how much the other person looks like a doofis before the stalemate gets too much for me, and I just get back to my cleaning! As I get down on my knees and resume scrubbing, she says “bohut gand hey naa yahin!”, I don’t know what to say! (yeah I know, ‘who made it!), but I just nod in agreement! She then says “paan bohut buri cheez hi, is co dec kar dil bohut kharab hojahta hi naa!”. This feels even more strange to me! But then, I wonder if maybe, this auntie is as much a victim as me: maybe, she is equally rebuking her men folk upstairs for the filth they are creating, maybe, just maybe, I’ve got myself an ally here! I go: “haan, bohut buri cheez hi, lekin wo kya: bunday jo hoay! Buss itni si baat hi kay saaf curdain, Insha Allah ek na ek din on co zaroor ehsas honi chahiye!”. She agrees, and we spend a few minutes going around and around in circles discussing the evils of paan, and not only is the discussion mind numbingly boring, but I am still feeling conscious about cleaning in her face! So I take my ‘ijazit, and head inside! I’m coming out to take in the bucket of dirty water and empty it, when I hear her spitting in the entrance herself, actually spitting! …, is there any hope for these people! I can’t resist it, I come out, and say “auntie! Kya caroon, aap nay to khud kia hi!”. I am actually laughing as I say it, the irony is too much! and she goes “no baaji its OK, ye to buss khaali spitting hi: paan to nahin hi is main!”. I just have to go inside! I mean, she calls me baaji, and I’m 28, while she’s 60 odd! Moreover, the idea that spitting in some one’s apartment is cool as long as there is no paan in it, just strikes me as bonkers conkers! I empty out the water, and somewhere between laughing and crying, I give up: sometimes, banging your head off a wall is more productive than trying to reason with a Pindu production! So, I let it go: and sometimes I clean the paan, and sometimes I ignore it! and sometimes I find auntie spitting (minus the paan!), and I try to blank it all! I began this post a while ago, not really knowing where it would end! I didn’t see the point of posting it without some kind of conclusion (the ideal one of course being, that I win the paan wars, hands down!), and that couldn’t happen! (or could it?). Yesterday, the Punjabi crew are all coming down stairs: bags in hand, moving boxes, swearing and yelling at the elements, just as they had when they moved in! I couldn’t resist sticking my head out the door and asking one of them “yaar aap log jari hain?”, and when he says “haan”, I feel like the tubelight that’s got the cream!! Coolness: now, all that positive thinking and law of attraction stuff does work! I’m happy, I’m fluffy, I’m visualising the future with lovely, quiet neighbours who compete with me in keeping the building pristine and shining! …, but as all good things generally are, this too is short lived!! This afternoon, I met Yaseen on the stairs and, trying not to appear too excited, I ask him about his plans for his apartment now that the Punjabis have gone “oh! They haven’t gone” he tells me “they are only visiting India: they’ll be back in 4 weeks time”. (great), the paan wars it seems, shall continue!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Who are you?

There is something of a tag, or a trend going on in Blog land right now that I rather like! its about getting to know your readers! It can be interesting, especially if you are like me, and didn’t really push your blog to your friends and contacts. In my case, I didn’t plug it because I was keen to see if I could generate readers on my own, if I could make friends, if I could spark interest without having to ‘beg people to read! Now that we are a year and a bit in, we’ve got 15 followers (out of which I personally know about 4), so that’s not bad going! And that’s just the followers: I’m sure there are a fair few folk who scout around in here on and off (if the Emails are any thing to go on!).
So, now I’m throwing the floor wide open! I want to know more! Drop me a line, leave a comment at the end of this post, tell me who you are, where you are from, and what brings you here (and if you come back, why!!). I am more than happy for you to leave feedback: likes, dislikes and things you would like to see, or think I can improve on. If you ‘Lurk, and you like it: that’s cool! You must still comment though: you can do so anonymously, or under another name if you like! so readers: the floor is yours! Please do respond, other wise I’ll look like a bit of a doofis when this thing falls flat! huge grin

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Arbaeen: a lesson.

40 days on. Its hard to register the fact that only 40 days have past since the tragic day of ashura: the most devastating, yet the most beautiful: the most painful, yet the most insightful day the world will ever see. No number of ashura days, no number of infinite Muherrams ever seem to be enough in which to tell of this grief, the beauty of the divine sacrifice. Then, 40 days on, we stand back, as though viewing the tragedy, not so much from a distance, but certainly within the framework of individual perspective. Ashura shook my world this year, (as it does every year), but this time, as I was at home, not working, not travelling, as the country was on holiday and I had no major deadlines to meet, I perhaps connected with Allah (SWT) and my Imam (A.S), with a depth I am not conventionally able to reach during these days, owing to external influences. The Muharram that has past is one I’ll never forget, and just as soon as ashura had past, Christmas came and went, (so badly placed this year), and New Year, and work issues, and health issues, and paperwork, and lawyers: and more and more!! We all have our own realms to keep us busy! But as I reflect on Muharram this year and the lessons it has taught me, one of them surely has to be the need to step back from the complex mesh of duties, long enough to see the needs right in front of my face!! I have a friend; a colleague, for the sake of his privacy here in Blog Land, we shall refer to him as Arif. I have known Arif for a number of years now: though we live on opposite sides of the world, we are close friends, and we try to be around for each other, as much as we can be, keeping in mind the constraints of distance etc! Arif is younger than me, but in our relationship, we have perhaps become more of mentors for one another: (with age, comes some sort of experience: whether positive or negative, its experience none the less!), and he too has skills I have been able to benefit from over the years. Any way, around this time last year, Arif contacted me, seeking my help. Again, to protect his privacy, I won’t go in to the issue: lets just say he had got in to a pretty big mess, far from home, and was looking for some guidance from me. To be honest, I was furious with my friend for being such an “idiot”, (sadly, those were my words!). I was shocked at one who I respected so much, being such a useless, feckless IDIOT! And doing something that I just knew he was bigger than and better than. I expressed my disdain, but offered little in the way of comfort or solution for him. After all, I was busy: I had a marriage to organise, a wedding to plan, journeys to make, jobs to find! My own life was in chaos at that point: and besides, Allah helps those who help themselves right? I figured my friend would either sink or swim, but he’d made his bed, …, what was it to do with me! Well, on one level it has nothing to do with me: every one is ultimately responsible for his or herself, only ever accountable to Allah (SWT), first and foremost. A year on however, I see my friend more and more entangled in his own chaotic web, and now that the dust has settled for Arif and I, the guilt has been able to set in. If you think I should be feeling disgusted, well, I do! I regret not helping when I could have, I regret not being a good listener, the counsellor, the friend, the support I think I am, the friend Arif needed me to be, when he needed me to be there. While we all have our own duties, our own tiny spheres to look after, we are not Islands, nor should we expect others to be so. While we may think that the West allows anonymity and desensitisation, Islam certainly does not! And while we may kid ourselves in to thinking that if our tiny microcosm is safe and secure that we’ve done our bit, we most certainly have not! Now, I’m not expecting that we all stretch ourselves to breaking point, but how many of us really know the impact our behaviour can have on others? Just a word, a smile, a prayer, a piece of advice from the heart, a small gift, an Email, a telephone call! Tiny things that take maybe 5 minutes from a person’s day, yet can mean so much! I often like to think that as a journalist, as an activist and so on, my contributions are valuable, and perhaps, in my weaker moments, I let myself believe they negate the more practical, ground-level responsibilities that I have. When I think about Arif, I don’t like myself very much at all, and on this arbaeen, my response to Arif warrants an apology, and some vows for the future. To Arif: my friend, my brother, I’m sorry I was not there for you. I am sorry I didn’t listen when you needed me the most. While you chose your way, I can’t help but think you’d be in a better place if I’d listened, done something, given you some practical advice. I want you to know that I’m better than that, I let you down and I let myself down. I can’t promise never to make mistakes again, but I can promise not to make this one again. I want you to know that you are strong, brave and courageous. I know that whether you stay in this situation or outgrow it, you’ll be successful in whatever you do with your future. The place you are in now will change your life’s course forever, but this need not be a bad thing: woonds that hurt are lessons learned: and once you’ve let the pain come, ache and go, you’ll dust yourself off and move on, because you can, because you must, and because you are strong enough not to let other people and places and circumstances get you down. I know that as disabled people we often limit our possibilities because of our social conditioning, and because of the boundaries we grow to believe we must exist within. I know that if I had spoken out, you might have come to see that other doors were open for you, but I didn’t, and this is my fault. I want you to know that I’m not mad at you though: who’s to say I wouldn’t do the same in your situation. I could say allot, most of which would be of little consequence now, but just remember: if you need me, I’ll be here: there is a door open: I’ll pray, I’ll help, I’ll do whatever you need me to: I’ll always be your friend, and your sister: and I’ll always believe in you to be the best, to do the right thing.
And to my readers, don’t leave a stone unturned, don’t fail to reach out when others call on you: help, and sometimes help at the expense of your own duties: for you will always get back, what you put in, so give, and don’t fear: for in heeling others, will be your success. If you take any thing from the message of Imam Hussain (A.S), it surely has to be giving for others. Give to humanity, so that next Arbaeen, Insha Allah, you look back on promises affirmed, rather than a garden of forgotten regrets!

Monday, 17 January 2011

He's back! Osama Wins Prizes!

Greetings ya all!! So, here we are again: (if you feel like you’ve been here before, …, well, you have, in a manner of speaking!), that is to say: you’ve never quite been ‘HERE Before! And neither has the man in question! I’m sure you’ll all recall the man who wanted to be, a ‘MSP! (woohooo that rhymes!). Yeah, of course we are talking about the Wahabi’s friend, Osama Saeed! After being kicked out of the Scottish Islamic Foundation, attacked by the Newspapers and losing out on the Central Glasgow seat in the General Elections to a fellow Muslim crook from the Labour Party, you might have expected me to be running in to MR Saeed during my weekly visits to the DWP!! But no chance!! Osama is above all that! The difference between he and I is that, he gets paid to waste time on Twitter: I don’t (yet!). Rolled up trousers has definitely brought home the bacon (bad euphemism I know, but made me chuckle). In a shock tweet this Afternoon, Osama informed his faithful that he’d be joining Al Jazeera as “their International head of Media Relations”, and he’s “really excited!”. I bet he is!! I mean, how many X-Ekhwan followers with fraud allegations to their names and an equally dodgy political past on the record get such a gig!! As I reflected on this news, and started forcing my head past ‘what the …., why? …, I started to try and picture the gig, I’m sure you can pretty much map out the job description can’t you? A man with a proven media track record, an accomplished journalist, some one who has a contacts book to kill for, and who has worked in conflict resolution (as apposed to conflict generation of course!), who is non-biased, qualification in International relations: …, I don’t need to go on do I? So, I’m sitting here in my freezing flat, thinking of all my super talented journalist friends who are still on the shelf, not recognised for their work, or else, stuck in third-rate positions because they are women, or disabled, or disabled women, or Muslim, or because their face doesn’t fit, …, and then, I’m imagining the ‘sofa talk at the top: “Hey dood, I know this dodgy guy, he used to be a terrorist, but then he realised hot air pays more, and of course you live longer: he’s always blogging, always on twitter, he ran off with allot of Scottish Government Money, but what’s cool about him is despite all that, the Governing SNP in Scotland still wanted him to stand for them! He lost! But who cares: he’s still among the top 10 most Influential Muslims in the UK! We need him on our team!! Some one who’s been there, who can equalise the Evil, you know what I mean? Some one who can talk, ‘Osama to Osama!”. If you are not familiar with this guy, you soon will be, he’ll be repeating on you like an overdose of achaar on a television screen near you!! And if you are familiar: its all one and the same isn’t it? how many of us, whether in the UK, the US, or beyond, suffer governments, religious leaders, self-proclaimed founts of wisdom who, just because they come from the ‘right families, or know the right people, develop ideas, and postings, way above their stations!! How many of us, despise and loathe these individuals, but when they make it in to the mainstream, those self-same haters contribute to their ‘saviour status, by bigging them up, or voting for them because ‘its better the devil you know than the one you’ve witnessed in embryo!
Cream ought to rise, but these days, its hot air that rises among Muslims: and for the most part, we silently suffer the kinds of leaders we generate. All the same, its very easy for a pumped up wonnabe to install himself as the leader of a poorly represented minority! Whether it be Islam, Disability etc, every community has them! What worries me however, is when once respected media outlets choose to install them based on their own adopted labels! People like this were laughed all the way back to their front rooms when I worked at the BBC, and though their impartiality has been called in to question in recent years, the Beeb have largely held on to their original stance on this. Al Jazeera however, has recently become the first port of call for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, looking for an honest, unbiased, alternative view of world events! Its an accolade they have gained, not through their political positioning, but through cutting edge reporting, the kind of content that attracts the Likes of David Frost and Rageh Omar! But …, Osama Saeed? I’m somehow not feeling it! I can’t make up my mind if it’s a box that needs ticking, or some kind of new Minority political affiliation designed to boost the rating figures! After all, who wouldn’t want a wahabi made good, (or not least, a wahabi who can string 3 words together and fake intelligence!). (if Al Jazeera want any more, I know a few BTW: and some of them were the real deal in Afghanistan too!).
On a serious note, what worries me is that, by appointing such self-styled leaders is that, their massive salaries and 24/7 blogs and twitter presence eventually dupes media bosses in to believing they actually know what they are talking about, and thus negates the need for journalists to engage with the real world, and actually talk to real Muslims, (the silent majority as it were). I’m ashamed to say that I know way too many journalists today who’s day begins and ends with the computer screen as they flutter their mouse between blogs and wires, basing a story entirely on hearsay, or online insults aimed at their opponents!
Reporting Islam is a complicated business these days. Saudi has one agenda, Iran has a very different one, but the severity contained in non-compliance is one and the same, and then there is the US and the UK pressure to ‘play safe and avoid all agendas in the East (and follow their own). People like MR Saeed might not be well-versed in media, in the common opinion, or in the real politics of conflict analysis, but they know how to shmoos, what to say and to whom they must say it, they know when to spout hot, and when cold, when to roll up the trousers, and when to keep them at ankle-length, and sadly, that, seems to be all you need! Good luck Osama, not that you’ll need it! how does that saying go: …, the System looks after its own!
Now excuse me, I need to get back to the Jobcentre!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Oh City of Lights ... Honouring Karachi!

I walked a little too far down ‘memory Lane this evening, and found myself missing Karachi like mad! Below is the result of said rambling: enjoy! (or at least reminisce with me!).

Oh city of lights, this is my song,
I’m still very broken, not yet growing strong.

Oh city of lights, what I left behind, beneath the soil of Gulshin, you’re sure to find,

My hopes, my dreams, my love dwells with you,
All those ambitions that will never come true.

Oh city of lights, your light like a mirror,
Reflecting the broken shards of my soul forever.

Oh city of lights, does the sun still burn,
Do you still create passion, does that restaurant still turn?
Oh city of lights, do you remember me?
Does my spirit still wander alone by your sea?
Oh city of lights, how are my friends?
And what of the traffic jam that never ends?

Roshnian ca sheher, that was your name:
Your light and my Roshni somehow the same.

2 broken entities, misunderstood,
We’re dirty, and annoying, and so bad that we’re good!

Oh city of lights, I have every thing, yet,
Alone here in Scotland, I just can’t forget.

Your streets and your truck art, your capray, and bling,
The pathans, the music, …, every thing.

Karachi, I love you, I dream about you all the time,
And I know you’ve a corner that will always be mine.

I miss all the fun stuff, that we used to do,
The mad dusty chaos that encapsulates you.

The UK, its comfortable, but it doesn’t mean jack!
If I had my way, I’d be flying straight back.

Those long summer days, and sultry nights,
Bathing in the rain, and then flying kites.

Oh city of lights, you live on in my heart,
United in longing, we never shall part.

Oh city of lights, I’ve not much to give,
Yet still I beg to return and live.

Though you took away every thing, you gave me so much,
And from this cold climate, I miss your warm, friendly touch.

There is lots I could say, but I guess I should end,
But on my unfailing loyalty, you can always depend.

Some say your hopeless, falling apart,
But to me you are beauty, the garden of my heart.

Karachi, know this, that I’m not here to stay,
Come Hell or High Water, I’ll return some day.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Convert Figures Debate!

This article perhaps poses more questions than it answers! While there has definitely been a rise in the numbers of those converting to Islam, no one really knows how many, why, where they are from, what schools of thought they belong to, the retention rate, how well they integrate: and so on. The research highlighted in the article is the first of its kind, and boy do we need more! DR Kathryn Spellman of Aga Khan University is conducting the first UK-wide research on Shia reverts and sectarianism, while at the Revert Muslims Association, we do have allot of anecdotal evidence re: some of the above, but, we do need more! .., did I say we need more?
All the same, the below gives an interesting insight in to the issues facing new Muslims, and the diversity from which they originate: (look out for the BNP voter who turned Muslim, I’ve already visions of him up against Nick Griffin on the BBC ‘This Week programme!).

Extract from:

The number of Britons choosing to become Muslims has nearly doubled in the past decade, according to one of the most comprehensive attempts to estimate
how many people have embraced Islam.

Following the global spread of violent Islamism, British Muslims have faced more scrutiny, criticism and analysis than any other religious community. Yet,
despite the often negative portrayal of Islam, thousands of Britons are adopting the religion every year.

Estimating the number of converts living in Britain has always been difficult because census data does not differentiate between whether a religious person
has adopted a new faith or was born into it. Previous estimates have placed the number of Muslim converts in the UK at between 14,000 and 25,000.

But a new study by the inter-faith think-tank Faith Matters suggests the real figure could be as high as 100,000, with as many as 5,000 new conversions
nationwide each year.

By using data from the Scottish 2001 census – the only survey to ask respondents what their religion was at birth as well as at the time of the survey –
researchers broke down what proportion of Muslim converts there were by ethnicity and then extrapolated the figures for Britain as a whole.

In all they estimated that there were 60,699 converts living in Britain in 2001. With no new census planned until next year, researchers polled mosques
in London to try to calculate how many conversions take place a year. The results gave a figure of 1,400 conversions in the capital in the past 12 months
which, when extrapolated nationwide, would mean approximately 5,200 people adopting Islam every year. The figures are comparable with studies in Germany
and France which found that there were around 4,000 conversions a year.

Fiyaz Mughal, director of Faith Matters, admitted that coming up with a reliable estimate of the number of converts to Islam was notoriously difficult.
"This report is the best intellectual 'guestimate' using census numbers, local authority data and polling from mosques," he said. "Either way few people
doubt that the number adopting Islam in the UK has risen dramatically in the past 10 years."

Asked why people were converting in such large numbers he replied: "I think there is definitely a relationship between conversions being on the increase
and the prominence of Islam in the public domain. People are interested in finding out what Islam is all about and when they do that they go in different
directions. Most shrug their shoulders and return to their lives but some will inevitably end up liking what they discover and will convert."

Batool al-Toma, an Irish born convert to Islam of 25 years who works at the Islamic Foundation and runs the New Muslims Project, one of the earliest groups
set up specifically to help converts, said she believed the new figures were "a little on the high side".

"My guess would be the real figure is somewhere in between previous estimates, which were too low, and this latest one," she said. "I definitely think there
has been a noticeable increase in the number of converts in recent years. The media often tries to pinpoint specifics but the reasons are as varied as
the converts themselves."

Inayat Bunglawala, founder of Muslims4UK, which promotes active Muslim engagement in British society, said the figures were "not implausible".

"It would mean that around one in 600 Britons is a convert to the faith," he said. "Islam is a missionary religion and many Muslim organisations and particularly
university students' Islamic societies have active outreach programmes designed to remove popular misconceptions about the faith."

The report by Faith Matters also studied the way converts were portrayed by the media and found that while 32 per cent of articles on Islam published since
2001 were linked to terrorism or extremism, the figure jumped to 62 per cent with converts.

Earlier this month, for example, it was reported that two converts to Islam who used the noms de guerre Abu Bakr and Mansoor Ahmed were killed in a CIA
drone strike in an area of Pakistan with a strong al-Qa'ida presence.

"Converts who become extremists or terrorists are, of course, a legitimate story," said Mr Mughal. "But my worry is that the saturation of such stories
risks equating all Muslim converts with being some sort of problem when the vast majority are not". Catherine Heseltine, a 31-year-old convert to Islam,
made history earlier this year when she became the first female convert to be elected the head of a British Muslim organisation – the Muslim Public Affairs
Committee. "Among certain sections of society, there is a deep mistrust of converts," she said. "There's a feeling that the one thing worse than a Muslim
is a convert because they're perceived as going over the other side. Overall, though, I think conversions arouse more curiosity than hostility."

How to become a Muslim

Islam is one of the easiest religions to convert to. Technically, all a person needs to do is recite the Shahada, the formal declaration of faith, which
states: "There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is his Prophet." A single honest recitation is all that is needed to become a Muslim, but most converts
choose to do so in front of at least two witnesses, one being an imam.

Converts to Islam

Hana Tajima, 23, fashion designer

Hana Tajima converted to Islam when she was 17. Frustrated by the lack of variety in Islamic clothing for converts she founded Maysaa, a fashion house that
designs western-inspired clothing that conforms to hijab.

"It's true that I never decided to convert to Islam, nor was there a defining moment where I realised I wanted to be Muslim. My family aren't particularly
religious. I was interested in religion, but very disinterested in how it related to my life. I grew up in rural Devon where my Japanese father was the
ethnic diversity of the village. It wasn't until I studied at college that I met people who weren't of the exact same background, into Jeff Buckley, underground
hip-hop, drinking, and getting high. I met and became friends with a few Muslims in college, and was slightly affronted and curious at their lack of wanting
to go out to clubs or socialise in that sense. I think it was just the shock of it, like, how can you not want to go out, in this day and age.

"It was at about that time that I started to study philosophy, and without sounding too much like I dyed my hair black and wore my fringe in front of my
face, I began to get confused about my life. I was pretty popular, had good friends, boyfriends, I had everything I was supposed to have, but still I felt
like 'is that it?' So these things all happened simultaneously, I read more about religion, learned more about friends of other backgrounds, had a quarter
life crisis. There were things that drew me to Islam in particular, it wasn't like I was reaching for whatever was there. The fact that the Qur'an is the
same now as it ever was means there's always a reference point. The issues of women's rights were shockingly contemporary. The more I read, the more I
found myself agreeing with the ideas behind it and I could see why Islam coloured the lives of my Muslim friends. It made sense, really, I didn't and still
don't want to be Muslim, but there came a point where I couldn't say that I wasn't Muslim.

"Telling my family was the easy part. I knew they'd be happy as long as I was happy, and they could see that it was an incredibly positive thing. My friends
went one of two ways, met with a lack of any reaction and lost to the social scene, or interested and supportive. More the former, less the latter."

Denise Horsley, 26, dance teacher

Denise Horsley lives in North London. She converted to Islam last year and is planning to marry her Muslim boyfriend next year.

"I was introduced to Islam by my boyfriend Naushad. A lot of people ask whether I converted because of him but actually he had nothing to do with it. I
was interested in his faith but I went on my own journey to discover more about religion.

"I bought loads of books on all the different religions but I kept coming back to Islam - there was something about it that just made sense, it seemed to
answer all the questions I had.

"I would spend hours in the library at Regents Park Mosque reading up on everything from women's rights to food. Before I went to prayers for the first
time I remember sitting in my car frantically looking up how to pray on my Blackberry. I was so sure people would know straight away that I wasn't a Muslim
but if they did no-one seemed to care.

"During Ramadan I'd sit and listen to the Qur'anic recitations and would be filled with such happiness and warmth. One day I decided there and then to take
my shahada. I walked down to the reception and said I was ready to convert, it was as simple as that.

"My friends and family were rather shocked, I think they expected there would be some sort of huge baptism ceremony but they were very supportive of my
decision. I think they were just pleased to see me happy and caring about something so passionately.

"I grew up Christian and went to a Catholic school. Islam to me seemed to be a natural extension of Christianity. The Qur'an is filled with information
about Jesus, Mary, the angels and the Torah. It's part of a natural transition.

"I do now wear a headscarf but it wasn't something I adopted straightaway. Hijab is such an important concept in Islam but it's not just about clothing.
It's about being modest in everything you do. I started dressing more modestly - forgoing low cut tops and short skirts - but before I donned a headscarf
I had to make sure I was comfortable on the inside before turning my attention to the outside. Now I feel completely protected in my headscarf. People
treat you with a new level of respect, they judge you by your words and your deeds, not how you look. It's the kind of respect every dad wants for their

"There have been some problems. Immediately after converting I isolated myself a bit, which I now recognise was a mistake and not what Islam teaches. I
remember a lady on a bus who got really angry and abusive when she found out I had converted. I also noticed quite a few friends stopped calling. I think
they just got tired of hearing me say no - no to going clubbing, no to going down the pub.

"But my good friends embraced it. They simply found other things to do when I was around. Ultimately I'm still exactly the same person apart from the fact
that I don't drink, don't eat pork and pray five times a day. Other than that I'm still Denise."

Dawud Beale, 23

Dawud Beale was a self-confirmed "racist" two years ago who knew nothing about Islam and supported the BNP. Now a Muslim, he describes himself as a Salafi
- the deeply socially conservative and ultra-orthodox sect of Islam whose followers try to live exactly like the Prophet did.

"I was very ignorant to Islam for most of my life and then I went on holiday to Morocco, which was the first time I was exposed to Muslims. I was literally
a racist before Morocco and by the time I was flying home on the plane a week later, I had already decided to become a Muslim."

"I realised Islam is not a foreign religion, but had a lot of similarities with what I already believed. When I came back home to Somerset, I spent three
months trying to find local Muslims, but there wasn't even a mosque in my town. I eventually met Sufi Muslims who took me to Cyprus to convert.

"When I came back, I was finding out a lot of what they were saying was contradictory to what it said in the Qur'an. I wasn't finding them very authentic,
to be honest. I went to London and became involved with Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the political group who call for the establishment of an Islamic state.

"But while I believe in the benefits of Sharia law, I left this group as well. The problem was it was too into politics and not as concerned with practicing
the religion. For me, it is about keeping an Islamic appearance and studying hard. I think we do need an Islamic state, but the way to achieve it is not
through political activism or fighting. Allah doesn't change the situation of people until they see what's within themselves.

"I have a big dislike for culture in Islamic communities, when it means bringing new things into the religion, such as polytheism or encouraging music and
dance. There is something pure about Salafi Muslims; we take every word of the Qur'an for truth. I have definitely found the right path. I also met my
wife through the community and we are expecting our first child next year."

Paul Martin, 27

Paul Martin was just a student when he decided to convert to Islam in an ice-cream shop in Manchester four years ago. Bored of what he saw as the hedonistic
lifestyle of many of his friends at university and attracted to what he calls "Islam's emphasis on seeking knowledge," he says a one-off meeting with an
older Muslim changed his life.

"I liked the way the Muslims students I knew conducted themselves. It's nice to think about people having one partner for life and not doing anything harmful
to their body. I just preferred the Islamic lifestyle and from there I looked into the Qur'an. I was amazed to see Islam's big emphasis on science.

"Then I was introduced by a Muslim friend to a doctor who was a few years older than me. We went for a coffee and then a few weeks later for an ice cream.
It was there that I said I would like to be a Muslim. I made my shahada right there, in the ice cream shop. I know some people like to be all formal and
do it in a mosque, but for me religion is not a physical thing, it is what is in your heart.

"I hadn't been to a mosque before I became a Muslim. Sometimes it can be bit daunting, I mean I don't really fit into this criteria of a Muslim person.
But there is nothing to say you can't be a British Muslim who wears jeans and a shirt and a jacket. Now in my mosque in Leeds, many different languages
are spoken and there are lots of converts.

"With my family, it was gradual. I didn't just come home and say I was a Muslim. There was a long process before I converted where I wouldn't eat pork and
I wouldn't drink. Now, we still have Sunday dinner together, we just buy a joint of lamb that is halal.

"If someone at college had said to me 'You are going to be a Muslim', I would not in a million years have believed it. It would have been too far-fetched.
But now I have just come back from Hajj - the pilgrimage Muslims make to Mecca."

Stuart Mee, 46

Stuart Mee is a divorced civil servant who describes himself as a "middle-of-the-road Muslim." Having converted to Islam last year after talking with Muslim
colleagues at work, he says Islam offers him a sense of community he feels is missing in much of Britain today.

"Everything is so consumer-driven here, there are always adverts pushing you to buy the next thing. I knew there must be something longer term and always
admired the sense of contentment within my colleagues' lives, their sense of peace and calmness. It was just one of those things that happened - we talked,
I read books and I related to it.

"I emailed the Imam at London Central Mosque and effectively had a 15 minute interview with him. It was about making sure that this was the right thing
for me, that I was doing it at the right time. He wanted to make sure I was committed. It is a life changing decision.

"It is surprisingly easy, the process of converting. You do your shahada, which is the declaration of your faith. You say that in front of two witnesses
and then you think, 'What do I do next?' I went to an Islamic bookstore and bought a child's book on how to pray. I followed that because, in Islamic terms,
I was basically one month old.

"I went to a local mosque in Reading and expected someone to stop me say, 'Are you a Muslim?' but it didn't happen. It was just automatic acceptance. You
can have all the trappings of being a Muslim - the beard and the bits and pieces that go with it, but Islam spreads over such a wide area and people have
different styles, clothes and approaches to life.

"Provided I am working within Islamic values, I see no need in changing my name and I don't have any intention of doing it. Islam has bought peace, stability,
and comfort to my life. It has helped me identify just what is important to me. That can only be a good thing."

Khadijah Roebuck, 48

Khadijah Roebuck was born Tracey Roebuck into a Christian family. She was married for twenty five years and attended church with her children every week
while they lived at home. Now, divorced and having practiced Islam for the last six months, she says she is still not sure what motivated her to make such
a big change to her life.

"I know it sounds odd, but one day I was Tracey the Christian and the next day I was Khadijah the Muslim, it just seemed right. The only thing I knew about
Muslims before was that they didn't drink alcohol and they didn't eat pork.

"I remember the first time I drove up to the mosque. It was so funny; I was in my sports car and had the music blaring. I wasn't sure if I was even allowed
to go in but I asked to speak to the man in charge, I didn't even know he was called an Imam. Now I wear a hijab and pray five times a day.

"My son at first was horrified, he just couldn't believe it. It's been especially hard for my mum, who is Roman Catholic and doesn't accept it at all. But
the main thing I feel is a sense of peace, which I never found with the Church, which is interesting. Through Ramadan, I absolutely loved every second.
On the last day, I even cried.

"It is interesting because people sometimes confuse cultures with Islam. Each Muslim brings their different culture to the mosque and different takes on
the religion. There are Saudi Arabians, Egyptians and Pakistanis and then of course there is me. I slot in everywhere. A lot of the other sisters say to
me, 'That is why we love you, Khadijah, you are just yourself.'"

Thursday, 13 January 2011

My name is Light!

My BFF Mariam is currently undertaking a creative writing course, something I wish I’d always done given that I sort-of fell in to writing, like I fall in to every thing! Any way, one of the first tasks her group were given was to write about their names! Given that my BFF has such a beautiful name, she had an abundance that could be potentially covered in the article! I was so excited by this that part of me wanted to write it for her! But then, I got to wondering if my readers might be interested in how I acquired my own name! After all, as a convert, you’ll appreciate that I didn’t start out as Roshni! Its strange for me too, because although I obviously put some thought in to this, part of me has never spent any real reflecting time on it till now (Yeah I know, there’s a pattern here!).

My given name, or Christian name, as chosen by my parents, was Ruth. They also gave me 2 middle names: Isabel, and Emily, (the names of my maternal, and Paternal Grandmothers respectively). From as early as I can remember, I was never able to get this name combo, it felt so dull, boring, unimaginative. I didn’t know any one else called Ruth at the time, and the middle names just felt like an inconvenient mouthful added on to bulk it out, a bit like that God Awful analogue stuff they add to processed cheese! When I started attending Nursery School, every one had pretty names: Lucy, Lisa, Deborah, Catherine, Gina, Jessica, and so on, and then .., Ruth!
“Why did you call me Ruth?”, I asked my mother one day? “well, it’s a bible name” She said, “besides, it’s the only name your father and I could agree on!”. Now we were getting somewhere: I thought! “why: what did you want to call me?”, “well, I liked Chloe”, she said, and I flinched! What was worse! “and dad?”, “oh, he wanted you called Barbara!”. Right! So its official: Ruth is now not that bad at all! But the relief over my parents not getting their way was only temporary, the name was still boring! During those early years, I created 2 imaginary friends: Carol, and Sandra! These friends kept me company during the days when it was too cold to go out, and through those panic episodes when I’d been seen climbing trees or crossing roads (things deemed unsuitable for blind folk), and my mother was keeping me under lock and key! I don’t know what attracted me to these names, and they were names by the way! Carol and Sandra never had any spesific endearing character traits (although, I seem to remember Sandra’s husband died from dermatitis of the kidneys, and Carol gave her baby to the binMan!), but what was interesting was that Carol and Sandra were not always separate identities, they sometimes became one and the same, and sometimes became yours truly! Which I think had more to do with being desperate to take on a new name, or a new identity than a craving to play houses in suburbia!
About a year or so after I started school, my Grandparents gave me a book for my Birthday, entitled “the Story of Ruth”, (no, not some one’s early sketches of my biography!), rather, the “bible” Story, my mother had alluded to all those years ago! When I first studied the book, Ruth was not some one who inspired me much, she seemed about as dull as my Name’s sake could expect! However with age, comes wisdom (called baggage), and some degree of appreciation for the character of Ruth!
From what I could gather, Ruth was a pretty average Jewish Female, however it was her marriage, that made her significant! She married in to a family descending from Prophet David (A.S), a farming family, doing what they could to survive during a time of famine, (which makes farming a pretty suicidal sector to be in during such a plight). Any way, tragically, Ruth’s Husband, and his brother both died as a consequence, and her mother-in-law encouraged Ruth, and her sister-in-law to leave and return to their homelands for a better life. The sister-in-law reluctantly departed, but Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law, preferring to struggle along-side her, more as a daughter, than a daughter-in-law! They travelled to the home of distant cousins, where Ruth began to work along-side the men in the fields, gathering in the harvest for her and her mother-in-law. A man named Boaz, a distant relative of Ruth’s former husband extended his kindnesses to the 2 women, and when Ruth recounted this to her mother-in-law Naomi, she advised her to seek his protection, and guardianship through marriage. Boaz accepted to marry Ruth, the 2 had a son together named Obed, and from then on, drifted in to insignificance from what I can see! (not very attractive to a 6-year-old I’m sure you’ll agree!). Over the years however, I have slowly come to recognise the quiet patience and self-sacrifice of Ruth, and I’ve drawn other parallels too: migrating to a foreign land to begin her married life, her self-minded decisions, her desire to sacrifice for others, the way in which she chose her mother-in-law for an equivalent role as mother, how she worked along-side her male counterparts as their equal rather than some shrinking violet, and of course, how despite her first marriage failing, she found a second one which ultimately proved successful for her. Ruth is a pretty neutral figure within Christian Literature, but is held in high esteem by Jews, there is even an entire Chapter of the torah Named after her. The book of Ruth is often referred to as ‘the Love story of the Bible, and in addition, the Masonic movements attach allot of reverence and ceremony to Ruth, (for reasons that are way too complicated to go in to right now!). Though the name had redeemed its self a little in my eyes, I still wasn’t mad on it! part of me wanted to change it, but I knew I couldn’t, and by the time I had entered high School, I realised that many people hated their names, and it wasn’t cause to limit one’s identity because the title didn’t appear to match the goods! And I agree with this! A rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet! And don’t people go crazy over durian fruit, despite the awful stench? (I do wash BTW!), any way, back to topic!
As many of my followers know by now, as I entered Secondary Education, a quite different, but not unrelated story was unfolding. My fascination for all things south-Asian was growing, and would ultimately lead me to Islam! In the beginning though, it lead me to Asian radio, where I became not only the youngest presenter they’d ever had at aged 14, I also became the only non-Asian one! The name, presented a problem! I mean, can you imagine: “salaam S’aameen, mera nam Ruth hi!!”, doesn’t work does it! on any level! So a name had to be found. For a while in my teens, I acquired the name Ritu, (meaning spring), but it was more a given name than a chosen one, and as some one I’d soon come to hate was in part responsible for its prolonged usage, it was quickly dropped! The radio station tentatively suggested the name Qiran, which they thought suited me, and from somewhere around that juncture, the first Rays of Roshni were born! To this day, I don’t remember where I first heard the name, but I assume it jumped out at me from some Urdu Gazal or item of poetry. I liked it, and the radio station liked it, So Roshni was my radio name and no one at home or other wise had any problem with that! After all, its very common for radio personalities to adopt on-air identities of their own! Plus the Roshni concept gave me an arguably more healthy outlet for escaping Ruth! That wasn’t the end of the story however, because 2 years later, when I’d come to embrace Islam, the name question came up once again! As a convert, a name had to be found! And sadly, as I was moving in rather wahabi style circles back then, the mention of Ruth being a bible name was met with horror and disgust! It must be dropped immediately! And faithful were queuing up with potential suggestions, just as they had lined up to peel the Bindi from my forehead, which I had always relished in wearing pre-Islam! In a diplomatic move, I dodged the name suggestions, wishing to take some time to get to know the community, my faith, the general lay of the land as it were, before labelling myself one way or the other! And while the sisterhood claimed they accepted that, a contingent among them had already begun calling me Aisha!! …, Not a bad name I thought! A wife of the Prophet (PBUH) etc, however, when I became initiated in to the Convert Clans, I met quite a few Aishas, who couldn’t have been more different from me! As most converts will know, when you are a new Muslim, there are always groups of reverts who have been there, done that, and know more than you, and can do things better than you, and because of this self-proclaimed betterment, take it upon themselves to thrust their supposed wisdom down your throat, whether you asked for it or not! In the female fraternity, all of these wise ones are called Aisha! They are big personalities, married to bigger Arab men, with 9 children a piece! They preside over you like fierce warrior matriarchs, waiting to strike you down, rebuke you at every turn! They all wear black, all of the time! They are covered in hijaab and niqab and gloves and abayas, with just a menacing set of eyes so sharp, that you fear they will materialise in to blades, like something out of Islam does Bruce Lee! And cut you in to tiny pieces to feed to their massive!! I’m not exaggerating at all here: these became my Aisha Encounters, and dread began to cling a little too closely to the name. From a boring dull Ruth, I worried that I’d metamorphosis in to an unbearable Aisha, loathed by all, even my own ego! (no offence to any of the nice Aishas out there, and I’m sure there are some!). There were a few departures from the Aisha epidemic however, I met the odd Ghadija, and a few Fatima’s. Back then, I didn’t know all of the reverence and superiority attached to AlZahra (A.S), however, I did know that Fatimah was a daughter of our beloved Prophet (PBUH), and therefore, I didn’t feel qualified enough, not regal or pure enough, to be a Fatimah! For a very short time, I began calling myself Sharifa in my writings, and on radio. I liked the sound of the name against my surname, and I liked the meaning too: presumably a subconscious belief that Islam had brought out my ‘Shareef side, (and the Hindi reference to fruit!), but it didn’t stick. Though the wahabis were on to me, I’m thankful to say they didn’t completely take me over! I’ve subscribed to them in varying degrees over the years, but never got sucked in so much that I’ve lost my ability to logic and do things my own way, (no wonder I’ve got more Muslim enemies than friends!). I liked Roshni, I had chosen it, what was wrong with it? I reached an epiphany one day while reading Sura Noor, in particular, the verse that describes the light of Allah (SWT). The aya affected me deeply, because, while as Muslims we do not recognise Allah (SWT) in a physical manifestation, the verse was the closest I could find to a vision of his magnificence, as well as a description of pure ‘Noor, something I had equally not uncovered in writings before. Again, I didn’t feel pure enough to be a Noor, something that because of the Ayat, I had relegated to more angelic realms: but Roshni? It had a powerful meaning, a meaning to both inspire, and aspire to. Roshni had entered my life in the form of Iman, and Roshni, was a gift I could give to others, if I only worked hard enough and gave enough of my essence to the world around me. I too could be that candle, that would light other lamps here on earth, guiding them to everlasting Noor with Allah (SWT). Maybe this sounds a little idealistic, but honestly: those were my feelings about the name. When our local Radio Ramadhan, called their daily Sehri show ‘Roshni, I wept: and Roshni became official! …, ah well, to me, that is, and those who knew me! But here’s the crazy part! As much as I loved the name, and as much as every one in my social and professional circle adopted it, I never found the courage to change my name via deed pole. My new name tore my family apart, the saw the name, along with Islam, as a vehicle for escaping my Scottish Identity, of denouncing every thing that they stood for. This was true to some degree: any one who’s suffered enough of this blog, will know that I had a fair bit of baggage warranting an escape! But at the time, those were not my intentions at all! I became Roshni, because in my heart, I felt I had always been Roshni, time just needed to deliver her to me. I had lost her in a hays of Carol and Sandra and life and education, (and maybe even the odd Aisha), Roshni was like finding the real me, getting comfortable in my own skin. I do realise however, that perhaps I loaded a few too many expectations on top of the name: when my marriage ended, I took on the new online identity of Hira, and wondered about officially changing my name. After all, no one from my early Muslim days knew me then, and I felt rather like a rough ‘Hira, who had been boiled and battered and chipped in to shape, yet the gem/diamond essence somehow, somewhere, remained! This was only compounded during my first visit to Pakistan when, as an immigration official studied my passport, he came upon my middle name (yeah, the Emily one), which he likened to ‘imlee, and burst in to spasms of uncontrollable laughter, while parading my travel documents around the airport for all to see! I came through that crisis though (Roshni still in tact!). I knew that Roshni had stuck, when soon after my niqah, my mother-in-law wanted to change my name to Fatimeh: and seemed pretty upset at my rejection of such a pretty name! To my amazement, Reza answered on my behalf: “no” he said firmly: “Roshni is her name, she chose it, and it suits her!”. This made me wonder if maybe every one should change their name, or at least be named later on in life as some American Indians do, when the child’s identity has been given a chance to form. What was so beautiful to me, was that if a man who does not know Urdu, and does not know all the procrastinating that went on before Roshni came in to being, if this man believes its suits, then man did I choose well! “the thing is” I told Reza’s mum “Insha Allah, our first daughter will be named ‘Fatimeh!”. This naturally made her exquisitely happy, and as she ran off to share the potential good news with neighbours and friends, it was my turn to cringe: how history repeats its self: here I was, dissing my mother for her bad choices, yet here I was, using an unborn, (no, not only unborn, a yet-to-be-conceived daughter), to get out of a stick situation with the in-laws! …, I should take a handful of water and drown in it! I thought! …,
Who knows, maybe my daughter will end up calling herself Carol one day, after spending a lifetime pondering my own predestined choices for her! .., and so it goes!

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Gori Girls, and the long silence!

I must have been around 13 years old when I first heard the word ‘gori. Back then I nurtured dreams of becoming a Hindi playback singer, and as the moovey bazigar was in its prime, I too sang ‘ye gori gori gaal, in all innocence. I learnt that ‘Gori meant white, but I took it literally, as in the ‘colour white, or at worst: some sort of slang! I had no reason to think any thing different, it was always played down to me! Obviously, aware of my ethnicity, my language teachers always skirted around the reality that ‘gori was a derogatory word, used when referring to white women, so I figured it wasn’t that big a deal, after all, how many Scottish Neds talk about ‘pakis, and though its not right, no one with any sense takes notice of such things! It was in fact much later, when I became Muslim, when I spent time mixing with all kinds of Muslims, and Asian people from different backgrounds, that I came to comprehend the full implications of this word. As my Karachi colleagues used to say when talking of those from NWFP, “pathan to ek qom to nahin, ek kafiyat hi!”, (pathan is not a people, it is a state of being!), and so is ‘gori, or so it seems! The word, in general terms, holds 2 meanings! On one level, it means white, fair, the desired state for every young girl who is seeking marriage. The preferred colour choice for offspring, and the yearned-for affect when applying ‘fair and lovely! On the other hand, ‘Gori/Gora, or Goray are words used to describe white, indigenous people. At best it is slang, a word used without care or inflammatory intent, but at worst, ‘Gori carries all kinds of negative baggage and implications. If you trace its origins, you’ll find the word came in to being during the reign of the British Raj. The British were referred to as ‘goray, (Ghora meaning horse), and the inference being ‘the horseback riders, as they were seen by many. The word has stuck, and perhaps initially, its continued usage stemmed from the need to define British rule in Asia for precisely what it was, i.e., oppression/slavery! More recently though, the word is used to define modern-day interpretations of ‘the White people. Why am I writing about all this you may ask? Well, one of the most horrific modern-day sexual abuse cases brings this word and its ramifications firmly in to focus once again! A group of Asian men from the North of England were recently exposed for their roles within a highly sophisticated sex ring. The men abused several young white girls between the ages of 12 and 17, using alcohol and drugs in order to enforce rape and other sexual crimes. In other cases, the men were said to have lavished attention on some of their vulnerable victims, in particular those in care, or from single parent families. They would gift them jewellery, money, and provide emotional support, before either raping the girls, or demanding sexual favours in exchange for the debt owed as a result of ‘gifts given. On Friday, as 2 of the ring leaders were sentenced to indeterminate jail terms, the judge emphasised that he did not perceive a link between the men’s ethnic origins and this sort of abuse, however a row was sparked off in political circles after the Former UK Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said he believed there was an issue within certain Sections of the UK Pakistani community, resulting in young Asian males perceiving White girls as “Easy Meat.”
Naturally, social society activists and experts in criminology have spoken out against the dangers of stereotyping an entire community along racial lines when it comes to violent and abusive crime, and in particular, Muslim community leaders have highlighted the potential marginalisation for Muslim men, at a time when many in the community are already victims of media hype and Islamaphobia!
And my view? Well, …, somewhere between the lines, you’ll find the truth! You see, while Muslim leaders condemn Jack Straw’s comments (and that too, with a degree of reason), not one of them has spoken out to condemn the horrific abuse the young women endured. Not one Muslim leader has distanced the rest of us from this disgusting criminal act, nor have they encouraged the Muslim Community to take this opportunity to look within, in order to begin addressing this problem. Some may feel Jack Straw is not best placed to pass judgement on what they see as an internal Community issue, which would be fine, if Muslims were actually doing any thing about it. Any one who is involved in youth work, counselling, awareness raising etc, within the Muslim community, will tell you about the epidemic of abuse which is going on, completely undetected and unrecognised by families, leaders and faith institutions who choose to shut their eyes to it. Since I started this blog, and since I got involved in disability activism within a Muslim context, I have been continually shocked and horrified by the numbers of adults, who have approached me with an abusive story to tell. Unlike the scars incurred through physical violence, the emotional woonds of sexual abuse do not heel. They continually ooze heartbreak, and it is up to the survivors to find ways of living with the horror of what they have endured, which is not easy, when you are perceived as the problem. Many Asian victims of abuse are disowned, thrown out of their homes, or simply marginalized within the community, till they do leave, because there is no other option for them. Others tell of being given money, houses, cars, material goods to buy their silence, because ‘respect in the eyes of others is more valuable to them than telling the truth! And this is only the internal abuse! I’m sure by now you will see where I am going with this. The word ‘Gori on its own does not explain racially motivated sexual abuse, but it does however, illustrate how negative associations can result in the above. For many British Pakistanis, the first time they hear the word ‘Gori, is when they are taught that the ‘White People have a different value system (or lack of one). That they drink, smoke, sleep around, do not cover themselves, do not practise their religion, do not uphold the same moral code and so on. This indoctrination helps to nurture self respect, especially in areas like Derby, where the ring leaders came from, and where BNP and UDL rhetoric are common place. Because of the unspoken, yet accepted inequality, you’ll see many young British Pakistanis having white girl friends, ‘sowing their wild oats as it were, before marrying virgins from back in the Mother land. You’ll also see issues for the most Practising of Muslims, when they wish to marry a white Muslim convert female, yet know that they cannot take such a proposal to their families, who will not accept it along cultural grounds. Please do not misunderstand me, as a Muslim myself, I am not for a minute suggesting this discrimination stems from religion, but when culture is so strong for some communities, the lines between the 2 become blurred, especially among those groups were aspirations are low, and literacy levels are even lower. An outsider, reading these words may be horrified, they may wonder how such damaging beliefs persist! But lets not full ourselves, after all, it wasn’t long ago that slavery was common place, Apartheid was the norm in south Africa, and 6 million Jews and Disabled People were massacred in Germany. Each community has its own vices, but the point of this article is to pressure Pakistani Muslims to take ownership of the problem. To me, Jack Straw’s assumptions were honestly chillingly accurate. In a BBC Interview, he said: "These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they're fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically.
"So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care... who they think are easy meat."
While our leaders are roused up today, the tragedy is that they will have forgotten the issue by tomorrow and move on to another, more popular brand of chaos. The government will not speak out: the issue is a ‘Pakistani issue, and therefore, arguably, a Pakistani Community problem. But as Muslims continue to sit on the fence, I can only package this as an appeal to our so-called leaders, to take action in this regard. The abuse issue is not going to go away, and should we continue turning a blind eye, we will only belittle ourselves in the eyes of our own, and in the eyes of our creator. This case however is significant, because it magnifies the growing divide between Muslims, and indigenous communities in many areas of the UK Today. While there is no justification for utilising the media as a means to evoke community tensions and hatred, the strength of any group is that they look within, to see what they themselves have left undone. Outsiders can often inject a level of objectivity, and frankly, it is abhorrent that a non-Muslim MP has to inform Muslims that sexual abuse is a criminal offence, and absolutely wrong, regardless of time, space, circumstances and race!
Don’t forget, that if a female is not your sister in Islam, she is your sister in humanity! I wonder if our silent majority of Muslims would act rather differently if the shoe were on the other foot!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Me?? or my Mission!

Reza and I once had a discussion about my writings. It was partly to do with this blog, but had allot more to do with my activism! He struggled with the fact that I would want to write about issues which are so close to the bone as it were. Abuse, divorce, discrimination, disability, sexuality, gender and so on, are not topics that are openly discussed in most Asian societies. The issue was not just the obvious taboo for him though, he was more concerned about what others may say/think and feel if they came across the blog: family, friends, those who do not know about the ‘other life I have. That is to say, the real life I have, the one that is not about sitting pretty in hijaab with my mouth shut! I struggle allot with this issue: if I thought for a moment this blog was causing conflict, I’d shut it down, end of! Its not important enough to cause friction! But that said, every day I’m shocked by the people who read this, the web statistics and the people who contact me. Every day, I receive Emails, comments via my profile here, people asking for support, and others talking about how liberating they find some of the topics discussed here. Initially, I wanted this blog to be a shia resource, given that there aren’t many shia blogs on the web. I then wanted it to be a vehicle to bring my friends together, and for other wise unrelated strands of society to gain a better understanding of each other through it. And then: …., then I don’t know! I suppose I just let my heart free: and this blog, is the result! And while this remains a sensitive issue, there is a larger part of me that feels this platform is too important to be let go. Perhaps its nature may change, its content, name, position etc may evolve as it has evolved, but in general, I don’t think I’m ready to give up blogging just yet! It is a cathartic process, and even if I stopped updating, I’d want the content that is here, to remain here. This blog is not any thing special of its self, but it remains testament to the fact that there is more to a Muslim woman than cooking, cleaning, babies, and the black cloth she wraps around herself. Moreover, it is the voice of those who’s reality couldn’t be further from the above. That is where the activism comes in, and as for activism, that is something that can’t ever be separated from me. Whether I’m good at it or not, its what I was born to do, what I believe in, the life blood that courses through my veins, and keeps me fighting and surviving even when every thing within is crying out for me only to give up!
Perhaps the poem below describes this tentative balance far better than I could: I wrote this, while in the throws of fretting, ultimately, it really is all about priorities. You don’t necessarily need to give up one for another, but you do need to recognise what is important, what defines you, because when life is gone, when marriage is gone, when love is gone, when you are stripped bare and you stand alone, it is only your legacy, your life’s work, your ideals and your actions that will speak for you! Remember that!
To all my activists, …, this is for you!

Why bother???
By Roshni.

My dear one, forgive me, for causing you this hurt,
Though I aim for the stars, its so hard to leave the dirt.

My dear one I’m sorry, for making you shed tears,
But I’ve been crying too now, for weeks, months, and years

My dear one, I’m sorry! I don’t mean to do wrong,
By writing my poems, my blog, my song.

My dear one this expression is what keeps me alive!
Lyrics are my passion, and change is my drive!

You are so beautiful, so pure and so real,
When you’ve lived in sacred innocence, you can’t know what I feel!

It’s the written word through which I expel my pain,
There is only so much that one heart can contain.

When I married you, I ached to let go,
Of the anger, the sorrow and the hidden tale of woe.

But this is my reality, forever more,
Not all of one’s baggage can be left at the door.

You can reinvent your being, and travel so far,
But beneath the plastic exterior you are what you are.

My dear one, I love you, oh keeper of my heart,
But from all of this anguish, I simply can’t part.

One doesn’t suffer trauma, just to hide away and cry,
You need to speak out, tell the truth, don’t be shy!

You want me to forget, and that too with good reason,
But silence and activism, each one has a season.

I’ve hidden too long, now its time to come out,
To overcome my enemies, to bring change, and shout.

I know that you worry, about what others may say,
But my dear one they’ll say it, judging me any way!

I’ve searched through my misery, only to find,
A reason to survive, a clear path defined.

I know you don’t get it, but what can I do?
I’m just trying to be honest, explain it to you.

Survivors are born, they are not made,
And other victims need them, to come to their aid.

Sure I can stay silent, ignore the past,
But fake smiles and pretences rarely do last.

You ask me in anger, what is the use?
Of speaking so bluntly about sexual abuse?

Though you don’t perceive it, life is dirt and grit,
Few smiles and love songs contained within it.

I want to show others, that life can go on,
Not all of the joy, and the hope has gone.

Though I strive for the future, I pay a high price,
Don’t want the same mistake to occur here twice.

Our next generations, they deserve a new start,
But how can that be when its all locked in my heart.

Allow me to speak, to release what’s inside,
By Allah I need you, your love and your pride.

My dearest I’m so sorry, for causing this strife,
But first I’m an activist, and then I’m your wife.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

2011: the story so far!

Well hello there! welcome to 2011!! Isn’t it great!!! …, OK, I’ll stop that now: back to reality! As depressing as I know January can be, isn’t it just lovely to get back to normal? You know, to call up an office and get a response, to get your mail on time, to have a daily routine, to no longer be obligated to endure extended family visitations! (I love my parents, but I realise after Christmas that I can love them much more in digestible chunks rather than excess!).

Any way, as I’m not feeling particularly creative nor interesting, this is just a short January update on the story so far, as it were! My year didn’t get off to a great start: had the migraine from the deepest depths of hell for nearly 6 days! It took me back a bit, as mashallah I’ve been keeping fairly well recently! Of course, I knew what had brought it on: interviews! I was supposed to have a job interview yesterday, and though that’s not a big deal on its own as I had plenty last year! but this one was supposed to be my first back in the disability sector. I didn’t expect to get an interview, and when I did, even through the shock I knew I wouldn’t get selected. I knew I had nothing to lose as such, but as it drew closer the tension built, making me violently ill! It wasn’t doing the job that worried me, it was managers and stress and deadlines and potential, ‘bill Campbell’s in embryo, and above all, the painful realisation that I hadn’t really recovered from all the Inclusion Scotland business of last year, rather: I was almost phobic about repeating it! I was trying to rationalise all this when the phone rang: it was the HR team of said Organisation: they wanted to remind candidates to bring their documents for an enhanced disclosure check. I would have done that any way as its standard practise, however they thought they should remind interviewees as they hadn’t included it in the letter they sent out. I should say here, that while fretting over the interview I’d been worked up about what to wear: this was a youth job, and I didn’t know whether the standard suit was required, or a more casual look was favoured! So I took the opportunity to ask the HR consultant “well, smart but casual is probably your best bet”, she said. “I wouldn’t turn up in denim, but a suit would be too much! not that they should judge you on clothing any way, but of course it does make an impact! The best thing is to be comfortable, in principal you could pretty much wear any thing: not a burkha of course lol!! But any thing!”. I flinched, had she really said that? No: surely she didn’t say that!! It was the voices, trying to put me off! “what did you say?” I said, trying to disguise my shock, “ya know: the terrorist look: it might scare the board! But other wise, any thing goes!”. I had not mentioned any where on my application that I was Muslim, though some of my extra curricular activities might have given it away. That didn’t make sense either though: no one would openly discriminate would they? Especially in the days of telephone tapping etc. Was she doing me a favour? After all, some women do take their hijaab off for a job interview, though I’ve never quite got that! They’ll see you in it at work won’t they? So what’s the point of faking for half an hour! “terrorist look” she had said it! but why did it matter to me? I wore a head scarf, which was not particularly conspicuous, and I wore normal, conventional western clothes along with it! I covered myself of course, but did not cover my face, and did not look like a terrorist (well, if any one who knows me thinks different you may say so NOW!!). As I hung between fear of both the known and the unknown, the potential panic was just too much for me. Call me weak, cowardly, soft, any thing you like, but no one but no one jumps headlong in to the same frying pan twice! I cannot go through all that again. I don’t want to fight discrimination cases, don’t want to walk on egg shells, don’t want to feel deficient just for being me, don’t want to continue making myself ill! Life is too short, and indeed too precious! So, the upshot was I did not attend, and the impossible job search continues. Let me begin 2011 by saying this loud and clear: I need work, good, honest, halal employment through which I can pay my bills, heat my home, eat, and above all, sponsor my husband to come live with me! I’ll do any thing (well, almost any thing), I’m not proud, and have no ego when it comes to earning. I do not want charity, I need the opportunity to earn, so, if any one with either a business or influence is reading this, you know what to do!! CVs available on request! In other news, Reza and I are planning a trip to Georgia at the end of the month, …, why Georgia? You ask? Well simple: if we register our marriage in Georgia, we shall be given a piece of paper, which will be acceptable to both the UK, and the Iranian governments. With this piece of paper, we can apply for Reza’s visa through the normal marriage application channel, rather than jumping through hoops as we are doing now. We can apply, pray and then maybe, just maybe, we can get on with ‘living! Please remember us in your duas. I am also awaiting news from WF regarding funding which I applied for, to take the Muslim Chaplain Certificate this year. Given that no one else seems to be addressing the disability issues facing our community, and given that Kitaba no longer want to work with me because I’m shia, I’ve decided to take the course with the aim of developing holistic and spiritual interventions for disabled people and their families. I applied to WF, partly because they have the money and I don’t, but also because I want to be based in one of their jamats for the practical application stage of the programme. Their feedback has not been favourable so far, again, it boils down to people simply not understanding why such interventions are necessary, so the saga continues! More later:
…, 2011, don’t ya just love it!!