Sunday, 20 February 2011

Travel tales, and a 2nd Wedding!

I can hardly believe we’ve been back for a full week! incredible! It feels like just yesterday that I got home, (and looks like it too given the piles of washing and unpacked cases!), yet on the other hand, it feels like years ago, as this week has been so busy! This time last Saturday, I was on a train, heading up to my parents to meet my mum for her birthday! I’d been travelling for excess of 24 hours, and was way beyond tired! Oh Georgia, what wonders you gave to us! …, Well, If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll remember that despite being married for 7 months now, Reza and I had scheduled another wedding ceremony, and that too in Georgia! (soon, we’ll doubtless break a record for the most ceremonies in the one 12-month cycle!). This one however, was more out of necessity, rather than frivolity, given our battles with Iran, the UK, and marriage registration: in short, Georgia provided us with the most straight-forward route to get the civil stuff out of the way! so, 2 weeks ago today, I boarded a late night flight to Georgia, arriving in the beautiful city of Tbilisi around 1 AM in the morning! As I breezed out of customs, my wonderful husband was there to meet me. Honestly, words don’t do any sort of justice to that moment! All the months we had been apart, the waiting, the stress, the lawyers fees, the late night calls, the loneliness, all merged in to one moment of pure peace, which, I couldn’t really enjoy because airport staff fluttered around us, and a driver from the guesthouse we were staying in was waiting to drive us home!
Our guesthouse, (which made me chuckle when I clocked the ‘formula 1 sign above it) (seriously folks, that really was the name of it), stood on a steep hill, overlooking the city! The air was clear and the landscape picture perfect! We had managed to negotiate a deal with the owners, and were staying in the only penthouse room with its own balcony and unsurpassed views of its own! My man, being the magnetic charmer and social networker that he is, had already made firm friends with all the guests and the owners of the place, we were well on our way! As I’m always way out of it after a long flight, I crashed for about 12 hours, but woke up afresh! We had a VERY late breakfast! (3 PM I think?), and then decided to take a walk around Tbilisi. We bought sweet almond pastries from a street bakery and wandered through the side streets munching. The more I tour around the caucuses, the more certain I become that we should move there for a few years. Reza is already set up in Baku, and while the infrastructure may not be all that, the beauty, cleanliness and above all, pace of life in the region is something we’ve both come to adore. I don’t quite see Reza settling here in the long term, and sadly, given current events, Iran might be off the cards for the next few years any way, Georgia and its neighbours are very much in focus! We’ve been investigating a few job possibilities and lets just say, the prospects for both of us are extremely promising, but lets see, Allah (SWT) is the best of planners! Any way, after a day of leisure, it was time to get down to business!
Prior to this trip, we spent years (well, it felt like years), researching what we’d need to do on the internet! We made endless telephone calls and bugged Georgian speaking colleagues to ring up certain offices and obtain information for us, it all seemed so simple! When we’d been out walking the previous day, we’d stumbled across an attractive old building, with massive signs for the ‘Ministry of Justice!! Bingo! All we had to do was come here, obtain a piece of paper, take it to the registration agency, and have them perform a civil ceremony for us! So, after breakfast, we wandered down to this building, like we had all the time in the world! Now, first up, neither of us had bargained for the lack of English speakers we’d find! (stupid really!), but truthfully, we’ve honestly always got by! Plus, between the 2 of us, we speak around 5 languages to reasonable degrees from fluent to intermediate, so we assumed we’d find a common means of getting the message through (wrong!). After 20 minutes of trying to convey requests to the man on the gate, he found an English speaker, who told us that while this place was labelled ‘Ministry of Justice, it wasn’t based here any longer, and we had to go to another building! He couldn’t write English, so instead wrote the Georgian address for us! All we could do, was find a taxi, chuck the slip of paper at the guy, and pray he wasn’t a terrorist and would take us to the right place! …, New Office, new chaos! …, more of the same; this time, we were at the Civil Registration Agency, but the section that deals with Electoral registration; not Civil! So, another piece of paper, another Georgian address! (ever felt like you’ve been here before?). Office 3; this time, it was the ministry of justice! (who, apparently, have no real part to play in the wedding business; we needed to visit the Civil Registration Agency!). You’ll be relieved to learn, that we reached office number 4 at 12 PM sharp, and it WAS the right place! (say Salawat!). They told us, to return that afternoon with 2 witnesses, and they’d do the business for us! The only other thing we had to do was have various documents translated and notarised (which we were able to do right outside the CRA), so all was good! We returned to our guesthouse, read namaz, ate lunch, and requested our hosts to be our witnesses! They agreed of course, but seemed embarrassed; they kept saying we should have told them before; they wanted to give us a party! (we explained that we’d already had our formal wedding in Iran etc), but it didn’t make much difference! Now, despite this ceremony not holding much spiritual/emotional importance for us, I had insisted Reza smarten up! I’d bought a new maroon outfit (just because I didn’t get to ware red at the niqah/reception), Reza brought a suit, and contrary to what we expected, our witnesses dressed to kill! They had some stuff to do that afternoon, so we didn’t get back to the CRA till around 4 PM! We feared we might have been too late to register that day, but they said it would be no problem! We first queued up in a room with various reception counters around the walls. Customers came and went, going about their own business! We were given various forms to fill in, which is pretty standard practise I suppose! They asked me if I wanted to change my surname, which I did, but then, they asked Reza if he wanted to change his! This struck us both as odd; and got us in to a rather unhelpful discussion on the Persian equivalent of my name! (those close to me who have since heard this discussion in realtime, know why it is quite so funny!), any way, our hysteria seemed to render us beyond help, and the rest of the proceedings were conducted in Georgian (presumably so that we wouldn’t have a monkeys re: what the H*** was going on!). After the form-filling, I assumed (wrong again!), that, we’d be taken to an inner room/office, where the ceremony would be performed! Oh no! the ceremony started right off, conducted across this medical style reception desk, with all in sundry looking on! From the dood who’s come to file for a divorce, to the woman who’s registering a death! No kidding! We didn’t even take our coats off! And all that dressing up? Ah: we needn’t have bothered! After a stream of Georgian, the registrar asks, “are you both certain you are doing this for love? And not any other reason?”, …, bad move! I start laughing, Reza starts laughing, and the whole thing is in pieces! In my mind, I’m wondering why 2 people, from opposite sides of the world would spend a fortune on air tickets, flying to a country where they have no routes, where neither of them speak the language, to get married in a reception office, across a desk, for any thing other than love! (plus the name business is still making me chuckle), any way, we compose ourselves and assure her of our unfaltering love! More Georgian, after some signatures and lots of stamps and other admin gestures that mean little to us, she tells us that “Under Georgian law, you are now enjoined, man and wife, forever, …, congratulate each other please!”, now, we didn’t really want a mass public display of affection in the reception queue, but our brief hug didn’t seem to do it for her! It wasn’t till we faked a full-on smooch, that she left us alone! Our witnesses greeted us, and, …, what can I say; more laughter ensued! I think it was all relief at how simple every thing had been, coupled with the unique craziness of what had just taken place! On enquiry, our witnesses told us that all Georgian civil weddings are done this way unless they are conducted in a church or wedding palace (I just wish some one had told me!). We got our papers, and on the way home, our witnesses said “we want to cook for you; we will roast a cow!” (they meant beef of course!). I should point out here, that Tbilisi boasted 1 mosque, (which appeared to be Ahmediya but we couldn’t clarify that as it was never open when we past, even at salat time!), we didn’t see any Muslims (other than the Azeri Restaurants we visited), and our hosts, (whether it was their lack of English or lack of knowledge), had no understanding of Muslims and halal food restrictions! We had expected this to be the case, and so we had brought most of our food with us, (tins, packets and instant stuff), the only things we bought there were bread, rice and fruit, (oh but we didn’t miss out on the amazing Georgian ‘Khaja Puri!). So, I’m trying to think of a diplomatic way of getting us past the ‘cow, when Reza pipes up “no no, I will cook for you, really, its tradition in Iran that the groom cooks for his guests, I really want to do it!”. I chew my lip and try not to snigger! Its cute and funny, but I’m worried as well! Now, first off; my husband is an amazing cook, (way better than me as it goes!). He cooks amazing Persian dishes, and his passion for Indian cuisine means he can even cook dosas from scratch! But that’s all back in our very well equipped kitchen at home! Here in Georgia, we have nothing; no meat, no utensils, no Iranian herbs! And he’s volunteered us, and (heck), they have just agreed! We get home and do namaz and I ask him how he’s planning to go about this! After some fighting, (OK, discussing!), we buy potatoes, and Reza makes Persian rice with my favourite potatoes Tadeeq! I prepare 2 salads; one with Aubergine and walnut, and another with olives; I flavour some natural yoghurt, and we heat up 2 trays of instant ‘korma sabzi! (OK, so it was instant, but seriously; if you are visiting your local Iranian grocer; pick up some of this stuff; for instant food, it comes pretty close to the real deal!). So we serve all of this up, and though I’ve yelled at the man for cooking a mountain, it comes in handy! When we bring it all in, our 2 witnesses have multiplied and now include, their 2 daughters, son-in-law, Granddaughter, 2 friends, and a woman who cleaned the guesthouse! We served every one, trying not to make it too obvious that we were having tiny portions to save the others! As it went, our additional guests didn’t eat much, but our witnesses got wired in, proclaiming that Reza’s rice was the best they ever had (I don’t doubt that! But they even suspected he cooked the Korma Sabzi himself! which, rightly or wrongly, we let them believe!). After dinner, we enjoyed coffee and delicious cream cakes provided by our guests. None of the assembled were drinkers (Thank God!), however we were all music lovers, and it appeared our host had been something of a rocker in his day! He got his guitar out, and began a sort-of Eric Clapton does Georgia! Rendition of some folk songs! We couldn’t exactly join in, but somewhere in the middle we just got swept away by the impromptu spontaneity of the moment! We even shared a few Iranian songs with them which they seemed to love! Honestly? I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

The rest of the week was fluid and unforgettable. We toured Tbilisi, taking in the rivers and the ancient churches and ruins that fill the city boundary. We ate well, talked allot and laughed even more, it was rather like the honeymoon we always dreamed of! In a strange way, we talked about the future in ways we never had before, either before or after marriage. Despite being married for 7 months now, I think the pressure of our uncertainty had always hung over us subconsciously, but now, with every thing in hand, we could both see an end in sight, a light, that we’d never seen before, we felt, Insha Allah, safe enough to lay foundations for a blessed future. Even when we parted last Saturday, the sadness I felt was nothing like the sadness before. I knew that we wouldn’t be apart for long, and that our time, would surely come soon.
I have to take this opportunity to thank all of our friends, family, contacts, my readers. Those who know us and those who don’t, your support on this journey has surely brought us to where we are today. We might have happiness now, but many of you know how long it has been in coming, there have been many tears over this year, but they only make the joy of success so much more sacred! We wouldn’t have an inch of what we have now, were it not for every one’s love, encouragement and support through the good and bad times, and all the duas that have been made for us, from near and far, from those we know and those we don’t! There are so many people I want to thank, but some don’t want to be named, and for privacy reasons, I don’t want to name others, so I’ll simply say, from my husband and I! Thank you, each one of you! For all that you do and that you’ve done! You all know who you are, and be assured, your love and support for us means more than you’ll ever know. We still have a very long way to go: visas, jobs, other logistics to sort out. I also have some major surgery coming up soon and we need allot of prayers for that, but surely Allah (SWT) never abandons those who try and do their utmost to be sincere in his way: and regardless of what we both want, we always pray only for that which is good for us (in both worlds), and we request all of you to do the same!
So, with our Georgian adventure safely in the bag, we continue on our way, knowing, and dreaming, of the best that is yet to come!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Don't Forget Iran!

Another most eloquent article compiled by the inspirational and motivational journalist, Roxana Saberi. Please forward, paste and circulate as much as you can: the Iran situation is complicated: Muslims disagree vehemently on the way forward, let-alone the non-Muslim majorities, but much of this has to do with the misinformation regarding Iran’s complexities, and our responsibilities as shia Faithful towards changing things, so keep the momentum up, and insure your brothers and sisters do not forget Iran!

Roxana Saberi
Keep the Spotlight on Iran’s Protesters
February 18, 2011

Iranian demonstrators who took to the streets on Monday in what organizers called a rally of solidarity with protesters in Egypt and Tunisia are in many
ways facing a much more arduous battle than their counterparts.

Unlike the Egyptians and Tunisians, Iran’s protesters stand against the Basij and Revolutionary Guards, security forces charged with defending the Islamic
Revolution and said by the regime to number in the millions.

Unlike their counterparts, Iran’s demonstrators face a regime that is less dependent on the West’s good will and whose allies such as China and Russia are
less likely to hold it accountable if its use of violence does not stop.

And while authorities in Egypt and Tunisia used force against peaceful protesters, Iran’s regime has shown much less restraint, and its efforts to silence
opponents by blocking mass communications have been more severe and effective.

These are just a few reasons that, as Iranians peacefully pursue basic human rights, the international community must work even harder to keep a spotlight
on their struggle.

“It’s much more difficult to fight dictatorship in Iran than in Egypt and Tunisia,” an Iranian journalist told me on Tuesday. “So the people of Iran really
need international support.”

While some foreign journalists were assaulted and forced into hiding in Egypt, for the most part, international news coverage from the ground continued—live.
Contrast that with Iran, where the few foreign journalists left in Iran were prohibited from even witnessing the protests.

In Egypt, Google executive Wael Ghonim’s emotional interview on a private Egyptian channel reignited anti-government protesters after his release from detention.
Iran, however, has no private TV or radio channels on which to air the voices of opposition.

At the same time, repression of Iranian journalists carries on. Reporters Without Borders says 32 journalists and 11 bloggers are now imprisoned in Iran,
including two arrested on Wednesday, making Iran the largest jail for journalists in world.

As limitations on professional journalists have tightened in Iran, the role of Iran’s citizen journalists in providing accounts and images of what they
see has grown increasingly important. Yet this, too, can be dangerous. Human rights activists have reported that some citizen journalists have been arrested,
including one Iranian who called BBC Persian to share details of Monday’s events.

The Islamic regime has also jammed satellite TV signals into Iran and slowed down or disconnected Internet access for many users. Facebook and Twitter have
been blocked, though many of Iran’s tech-savvy youth have found ways around the filters and slipped some information through.

While Iran’s authorities have tried to hide their violations of human rights from the rest of the world, the oppression has deepened. The regime has gone
on an execution binge, executing at least 86 people since the start of 2011, according to human rights groups. Iranian officials say most were drug traffickers,
but the executions have often taken place after unfair trials and without due process, and activists say at least eight people executed in January were
political prisoners.

Human rights advocates say around 500 prisoners of conscience, including student and women’s rights activists, attorneys, and political opposition figures
remain behind bars, while accounts of physical and psychological torture in Iran’s prisons continue to surface.

Even if images and information about these human rights abuses are hard to come by in Iran, the international media must continue to report on them.

This will help galvanize ordinary individuals around the world to cry out against human rights violations in Iran, Iranian activists tell me. If other countries’
citizens rally for Iranians, they say, governments will step up their pressure on Iran, and the Iranian people will gain more courage.

Governments must also keep speaking out, and with more unity and intensity. They can use the upcoming meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to
demand a special UN envoy to investigate and report on the human rights situation in Iran, (a position abolished in 2002), as well as to call for other
independent UN human rights experts to be allowed to enter Iran.

Travel bans and asset freezes for a number of Iran’s human rights violators, announced by the U.S. State Department last year, can be extended to include
other individuals and adopted by other countries. Many civil society activists inside Iran have expressed support for such targeted sanctions, even if
they are largely symbolic.

Companies and trading partners with Iran can do their part by using any interactions with the Iranian government to make clear that Tehran’s human rights
practices must improve in order to sustain and justify economic ties.

To empower the Iranian people through communication and information, the international community should more seriously explore ways to counter the Iranian
government’s jamming of satellite signals and restrictions on Internet access. And journalists and human rights advocates who fled Iran need humanitarian
aid—first, to survive and second, to act as a conduit of information between Iran and abroad.

When the world remains quiet about Iran’s human rights offenses, the Islamic Republic believes it can act with impunity. When the international community
speaks out, at least some decision-makers in Iran take notice, as I have seen in many cases, including my own.

Iranians calling for change may not agree on whether they want reform or revolution, but they agree on what they don’t want: the status quo, in which violence,
intimidation and human rights violations continue unabated.

The writer was detained in Iran’s Evin Prison for 100 days in 2009. Her book, “Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran,” chronicles her experiences
and those of her fellow political prisoners.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Urdu and beyond!

So, it seems every one’s talking ‘Language in blog land! And I seem to recall that a while ago, Lucky Fatima asked me to write about my own journey to fluency in Urdu! So, I’ll talk about that, but in relation to my current battles with learning Farsi!
Battles? You might wonder why I say this, after all, the inherent skills needed to learn one language should be transferable, shouldn’t they? When I asked a German friend who has been living in Tehran for 30 years how she learned Farsi, she said “I just did!”, and here in lies my problem! If you ask me how I came to know Urdu, my answer would be exactly the same! You see, I didn’t come to Urdu through some guy, through work or any other apparent whim, Urdu was a part of me almost from the day I was born! Its hard to explain: Muslims don’t really do the ‘reincarnation concept, but if I were Hindu, I’d swear that’s what had happened to me! I was magnetically drawn to all things Asian, and even had dreams in a language I didn’t understand (which I now know to be Urdu). I used to use the words in my daily vocabulary while playing, till one day, a family friend who worked in India started quizzing me about how I knew this and that! I didn’t have an answer, and when I saw how freaked out every one was I stopped using those words completely! Still, I was drawn to Urdu like a moth towards light! When I was around 11 years old, my mum and I went to see an Indian dance performance. My family would never normally have gone for something like that, but what fascinated them was the fact that all the participating dancers were blind! The performance was mesmerising, for the blind and the sighted alike, and on discussion with the organisers at the end, we learned that they ran community education classes in my area (one of which was for Urdu!). While they were initially reluctant to take me on, I battled with my parents to let me go! I already knew I could do it, not just because of my Urdu passion, but because I was already scoring high when it came to language! As a primary school child, I had the misfortune of attending a school which was exclusively for blind children! The building was dull, under resourced and thoroughly uninspiring in every possible way! moreover, as most of the students had additional support needs beyond their vision, I found I was being taught absolutely nothing, as the so-called teachers simply didn’t have time! Now, some one, who apparently saw some potential in me, suggested I join the senior kids, in their French classes for something to do! And while they too resented having a 9-year-old in their senior study groups, It soon became apparent that language was my home! Within 6 months I was sitting (and passing!) oral exam papers, and found the whole experience a total joy, even when the tests before me were tough! I always say that, had I not married at 18, I could have easily realised my dream and become a linguist within GCHQ! Any way, I joined the Urdu class, and found equal, (if not more!) pleasure and satisfaction through learning! The structure of these classes was very different from my school French: as a blind person, no one over there had any idea how to teach me! It would have been pointless for me to learn the Urdu Braille code, all I wanted was to be able to understand, and speak! The teachers couldn’t get this however, so I resorted to making notes on an old fashioned Braille Type writer (I just let them think I was noting down their Class dictation), and as long as I could recite it back to them from my phonetic English copy, they were satisfied! The classes were only taking me so far however! Most of the class attendees were young children, who needed much more attention! The only other students apart from me, were 2 middle-aged male social workers who now had an ‘Ethnic remit, and thought Urdu would be helpful to them! In reality, it was me who was helpful to them: spending most of my class time correcting their very ‘gora pronunciations! I knew early on that to get speaking, I needed something more! I believe that what made my French classes work for me, was the fact that our teacher lived, breathed and adored France! She was a native speaker, who just emanated ‘Culture from every inch of her being! She got us reading French literature, singing French Songs, and we even spent one lesson sampling a variety of French Cheeses! The ‘Real live Language was what I needed! As it was, my Urdu classes were now Teaching me more Gujerati than any thing else, because one of the mother’s was a Gujju speaker, who spent time with me while her daughters studied! I was not Muslim at this point, however had an interest in world religions, so asked my teacher if she would permit me to accompany her to the mandir! As a devoted ‘pooja Devi, she had no issue with that at all! The Mandir was a revelation to me, (and deserves a whole post on its own!), but once I’d got my head around the religious aspects, I soon began to make friends, and see how these friendships would elevate my language expertise! I started attending the mandir in secret (you’ll appreciate that, in a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren family, you don’t mouth off about how you now spend Sunday in a Hindu Centre!). I took my meals there, took an Indian dance class, and volunteered to clean the Pooja Thaalis so that I could practise with all the aunties! They were all fascinated by me! It was their curiosity, rather than genuine friendship that brought them to me, but that didn’t bother me much! they would invite me to their homes, give me Hindi films to watch and got me in to playback songs! This is where I’d say the law of attraction comes in to its own: as my soul was seeking Urdu, so it came to me! A Pakistani woman moved in next door to us, and she soon took over my daily lessons! My family also had cable TV fitted right about then (that was a big deal back in the day you know!), but cable, meant Zee TV on tap! At this point, I could easily spend 24 hours a day, thoroughly steeped in Urdu and never even having to think English! After that, I only went to one other language class! This was a one-on-one session, taught by a retired doctor! I met him at the home of another friend, and requested him to do some work with me on Grammar (any one who’s studied Urdu knows just how complex the grammar can be). I won’t say I’ve really come to understand how each of the rules (or lack of them!), work, but I know the principals and despite the odd pathan inspired error, I get it right, 99% of the time! In those early days, I had some confidence issues around speaking, even though in theory, I knew the language well enough, but through my reversion and later marriage, (and of course working in Pakistan!), I soon got myself over all of that! And the rest, as they say, is history!
…, You might think I’m being a bit simplistic or flippant about this, but seriously, that’s just how it was! I never continued with my French, yet recently, when I took myself along to a conversational class at the French Embassy, I was blown away by just how much I had retained! A teacher once said to me, that you know when you’ve truly mastered a new language, when you can think in it, and now, I really can do that! I often think in Urdu, and often get frustrated when I can’t express my feelings in that language, particularly if I’m stressed out or emotional about something! When I returned from Pakistan, my English grammar was shocking, because I’d got so lost in the whole Urdu zone as it were! Now, obviously, every one learns differently, and what worked/works for me won’t necessarily work for any one else, but here in lies my second difficulty! If you ask me how I learned Urdu, I’d have to recount all of the above, and let you make of it what you wanted! A bit of classes, a bit of culture, and a whole lot of immersion! Those are the reoccurring themes I know, but they don’t really combined to make much of a structure for learning a language properly do they! Besides, there is definitely something about being young and being a sponge for learning almost any thing! (OK, I’m only 28, but you get the point don’t you!).
Before I met my husband, I knew it was time for a new language. I was toying with Arabic (for religious reasons), and Russian, (because I had just taken the Civil Service Exams, and all the diplomatic jobs were demanding it), but then I met my man, and of course, Farsi became the order of the day! I didn’t think much about how I was going to master it! after all, Urdu was born out of Farsi, and every one kept telling me that if I could speak one, I’d totally walk the other! So with my ego sky high, I began, (only to come crashing down much sooner than I thought!). You see, while I’d got on by the seat of my pants with Urdu, I couldn’t do that with Farsi! My new man wasn’t around 24/7 to drown me in his new poetic language, and there wasn’t much of an Iranian community here to speak of! I got the conventional ‘teach yourself Farsi CDs, but they only taught me what I already knew! And all the more advanced software on the market simply wouldn’t work with my screen reader! I put adds online, on Email lists and in shop windows for a Farsi teacher, but no one got back to me! I found a website where I could watch Farsi TV, and even got myself a sky connection to it! this provided some of the immersion I was seeking, and the best part was, I could now see that part of what my friends had been telling me was indeed true! I could listen to spoken Farsi, and get the basic just of a conversation! (currently, I’d say this comprehension is around the 35% mark!). While that’s not bad going for a beginner, it doesn’t address my speech problem! I went to Tehran for the wedding, all broken and dejected that I couldn’t engage with my in-laws the way I wanted to! So much of Iranian life is about talking, there is really no such thing as non-verbal communication among Iranians! You talk it all out! Even when you are between the lines as it were, you talk! You talk when its good, when its bad and when all you can do is talk yourself around in circles! You talk, (unless you are Rosha that is!). They talked, I listened! And responded with the few stock phrases I knew could be relied upon to generate a reaction! We were far too busy during the wedding period to fret over my lack of language, however, when I was alone at home with mum, I realised that if I could only spend a few months in Tehran, I could master Farsi within weeks! Seriously! Forget CDs and husbands and classes, mum was my best teacher yet! She was calm, patient, and despite knowing virtually no English, she did know precisely how to get through to me. She’d speak to me slowly (without being patronising though), with a great deal of animation! She’d repeat things over and over till I got them in to my head! Even if I didn’t know all the words, I’d repeat them and show some degree of comprehension, before checking the words out later on. She would bring me objects and name them, or take me to things, or simply keep rephrasing sentences till I got the just of what she wanted to convey! My mother-in-law rocks any way, but the whole language thing brought us closer than we perhaps would have become during such a short visit, Mashallah! But when the wedding was all over, and we returned to our countries to fight the good visa fight, I didn’t have my new mother to teach me! I had no one to teach me in fact, and this is my problem! In my nightmares, I see me and my kids stuck in a stuffy classroom, trying to learn Farsi together (and that’s so not on my agenda!). I don’t subscribe to the American concept of one language per parent, I want us to speak to our kids fluently in both languages, so that both become as natural to them as any thing else, and Iran isn’t just ‘dad’s thing (marriages break down due to that level of fragmentation). When I married, I took on Iranian Nationality myself, something I’d retain even if this relationship broke down, and what’s unique about this set of circumstances is that, I see myself as Iranian in a way that I perhaps wouldn’t did I not have a Persian passport of my own! I have become part of this country, and language is a basic fundamental pivotal to this ‘Fitting in process!
So, while this post probably poses more questions than it answers, what I’d say to you is, if you are struggling with Urdu (or any other language for that matter), maybe the book isn’t for you, and perhaps some culture, some real life and a whole lot of immersion might equally do the business for you, as it did for me. Don’t learn a language because you feel you have to, do it because you desire it, for you! Language is a living entity, it grows and evolves with every new speaker! If I learned Farsi simply for my in-laws, I doubt I’d be motivated in the long term to stick with it! look beyond your family at all the possibilities it opens up for you (in the case of Farsi, I can study poetry, go to Hawza, become an interpreter, or even a human rights activist for my people!). Integrate the new language in to your life, try and visit the country, make friends, watch TV in that language, adapt your life to fit your new vocabulary! (I even sleep with Farsi TV on, because I believe the subconscious picks up on way more than we fully understand!). Finally, but by no means least, keep speaking! Even when you are talking rubbish and your speech resembles that of a 4-year-old, do it any way! surround yourself with 2/3 trusted speakers who will laugh with you (rather than at you), and keep putting words together, making sentences and experimenting with what you know, most of the time you’ll be surprised with how much you’ve already absorbed!
Insha Allah my experiences will help you, (if not just proving to be an interesting read!). And, if you fancy spreading a little love/thanks my way, maybe you could direct a Farsi teacher in the direction of the tubelight please! Believe me, you shall be rewarded! By me, by the man, and by both universes: now and always! So get to it!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Belated Eid-E-Zahra Mubarak!

Eid-e-Zahra Mubarak to all my dear readers, your families, and your loved ones. I sincerely apologise for being a day late, but I do have a valid excuse! (but that’s for the next post!), for now, enjoy this month of multiple blessings and extend my greetings to those around you. As those close to me know, eid-e-Zahra is my favourite eid, (if its possible to have such a thing), not least because it marks the day on which I formally joined the school of Ahlulbayt (A.S), but also because I believe eid-e-Zahra is a celebration of justice, just as ashura is a protest against the greatest injustice ever known. This eid is the conduit on which journeys connect, a day of rejoicing, on which every one receives their due for all that they did (be it good, or bad!). It marks the start of 3 months of celebrations for the purified household (A.S) and for all of those who love them. Many say that eid-e-Zahra should not be celebrated, as its not especially “politically correct”, and I think that’s sad! If our Imams (A.S) honoured these days with happiness, it is for us to only follow their sanctified examples. If there are misconceptions about eid-e-Zahra, (or any other eid for that matter), it falls to us to address those with love, compassion and above all, factual education! I pray this eid was a peaceful, joyous one for you and your dear ones, and that this month showers its rahma upon you, those you love, and all that you do, Insha Allah!

9th Rabi-al-Awwal 1432 A.H. - Eid-e-Zahra(s.a.). Also known as Eid-e-Shuja.

This is the day of Eid for Momineen and Mominaat and marks the end of the mourning period after the events of Karbala. According to Ulema, this is the day
when the key murderers of Imam Hussain(a.s.), Umar ibn-e-Saad(L.A.) and Ubaidullah ibn-e-Ziyad were killed and sent to the Hell. When their heads were
presented to Imam Zain-ul-Abideen(a.s.) by the forces of Hazrat Mukhtar-e-Saqafi(a.r.), Imam(a.s.) prostrated and thanked Allah(swt) that HE had granted
him long enough life that he could see the heads of the killers of Imam Hussain(a.s.).

This was the first time since the events of Karbala that the people saw smile on the face of Imam Zain-al-Abideen(a.s.). Therefore, the faithfuls of Prophet
Mohammad(sawaw) and his Ahl-e-Bait(a.s.) should celebrate this day as an Eid day. Allah(swt) has reserved great reward for anyone who declares and celebrates
this day as Eid day.

I wish to extend my felicitations to Prophet Mohammad(sawaw), Imam
Zamana(a.s.), the Ahl-e-Bait(a.s.) and to all Momineen and Mominaat on
this day of Eid and celebration.


Monday, 14 February 2011

Schwartz, telling it like it is!

This is a long read, but believe me, its well worth it! If I wrote something like this, I’d probably be crippled by hate mail etc! I may still be! But hey; he is a non-Muslim, he said it, I didn’t! and while I debated for all of 5 minutes over whether or not to post this, I figured that the comparison is too important to be let go. If you dislike this article, be you shia or wahabi, perhaps you need to question your comfort zone, rather than any one else! And before any one shouts me down for causing fitna between Muslims, all I’ll say is, open your mind, read, and then just let the evidence speak and be your guide, after all, wasn’t it the qur’an that advised us of their being no compulsion in religion?

Part one

The Good Ayatollah

Stephen Schwartz

Weekly Standard | July 12, 2004

Much hope is presently vested, by friends of a free Iraq, in the 74-year-old grand ayatollah, Sayyid Ali al-Husseini Sistani. Ayatollah Sistani acts as
a marja, or religious guide, for many if not most Iraqi Shia Muslims from his residence in the holy city of Najaf. Since the Shia make up about 60 percent
of Iraq's population, it is a matter of some interest to know just where the grand ayatollah would lead his followers.

Sistani has thus far been an unwavering advocate of elected government in Iraq (far more steadfast than the Coalition itself). And now it is possible to
ascertain his views on another important matter--relations between Muslims and non-Muslims--thanks to a volume of Sistani's pronouncements (fatwas) offering
guidance to Muslims living abroad. A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West was dictated to Abdul Hadi al-Hakim and translated by Syed Muhammad Rizvi
from an Arabic text approved by Sistani's office in the Iranian religious center of Qum. It can be downloaded at
or bought from Islamic booksellers.

For the novice, any work of Islamic jurisprudence might prove difficult to navigate. Certainly, there is much here to disconcert the reader unfamiliar with
the strict Shia sect. The book begins, for example, by warning that Muslims should not emigrate to non-Muslim countries unless they are certain that doing
so will not undermine their faith or that of their relatives. Its pages mention numerous customs and notions alien to outsiders, like the prohibition on
attendance at musical concerts intended purely for entertainment, rigorous habits of personal modesty, and acceptance of "temporary" as well as "permanent"

But more instructive than looking for exotic features of Shia teaching is a comparison of Sistani's views on key questions with those propounded by Wahhabi
Islam, the official sect of Saudi Arabia. Wahhabi teaching is propagated via websites, newspapers, sermons, and lectures, in thousands of Sunni mosques
and by Islamist organizations throughout the world. It is the contrast between Sistani's teaching and that of the Wahhabis that shows quite plainly who
are our enemies and who are our friends.

A good place to start is the question whether Muslims living in the West may participate in electoral politics. Sistani answers yes, the Wahhabis answer
no. And the difference between them in tone could hardly be greater.

The Ayatollah Sistani not only states that Muslim citizens of Western nations may vote, he goes on to counsel that they may, and sometimes should, run for
office: "At times the higher interests of the Muslims in non-Muslim countries demand that Muslims seek membership of political parties, and enter parliaments
and representative assemblies." While he specifies that such decisions must be submitted to consultation with "trustworthy experts," his view is that Muslim
citizens of countries like Britain should participate in the political process on an equal basis with non-Muslims.

The Wahhabis' attitude toward elections was on display during the recent vote for the European Parliament. In Britain, which has a Muslim population of
at least 1.5 million, widely reproduced Wahhabi propaganda posters, flyers, and website commentaries bore the headline "The Messenger Muhammad (S.A.W.)
Is Our Example--Did He Ever Vote?" (S.A.W. stands for Sallallahu Aleyhi wa-Sallam, or May the Peace of God Be Upon Him, and is usually abbreviated in English
PBUH.) One might as well ask whether the Messenger Muhammad ever rode a bus, spoke on the telephone, or wore glasses, but that was not the point. Rather,
the intent was to keep Muslims removed from the political process of a democracy.

A typical Wahhabi rant under this headline may be read at the pro-bin Laden website al-Muhajiroun. It declaims, "Muslims must not vote for anyone in the
present election, even if they say that they are going to get you some schools or other benefits for the Muslim community." That "some people go to Parliament
or local councils and legislate and others vote for them to go there and do so" is "clear-cut shirk," or idol-worship. "How can a Muslim say there is no
legislator except Allah," asks the piece, ". . . and then vote for someone else to legislate [the unbelievers'] law and order?"

Such blandishments accurately represent the all-or-nothing mentality of Wahhabis living in Britain, according to whom no government is legitimate except
an Islamic one--which is why they fully intend to establish an Islamic government in place of the country's present parliamentary system.

The Good Ayatollah

Stephen Schwartz

Part Two

Moving on to actual friendships between Muslims, Christians, and Jews, Sistani welcomes them, the Wahhabis forbid them.

Sistani writes, "A Muslim is allowed to take non-Muslims for acquaintances and friends, to be sincere towards them and they be sincere towards him, to help
them and they help him in fulfilling the needs of this life." He notes that Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, the founder of Shia jurisprudence, said, "If a Jewish
person comes to sit with you, make that a good meeting."

Wahhabis teach that such relationships should be avoided at all costs. (The Muslim Students Association is especially pernicious in spreading this view
among Muslim college students in North America.) The authoritative Wahhabi website Islam Q&A declares that "a Muslim's relationship with Muslims is different
from his relationship with others. . . . With regard to non-Muslims, the Muslim should disavow himself of them, and he should not feel any love in his
heart towards them. . . . If [the] Muslim has to be with [non-Muslims] physically, he should not be with them in his heart, and he must avoid mixing with
them unnecessarily. . . . The rights of Allah and His Book and His Prophet are more important than our personal rights. Remember this, for this is one
of the things that will help you to hate them and regard them as enemies until they believe in Allah alone."

Some Wahhabis have adopted a viewpoint slightly less harsh. Abdullah Ibn Abd ur-Rahman Jibreen, a prominent Saudi cleric and state religious functionary
whose fatwa against hijackings has been used to paint the Wahhabis as enemies of terrorism, concedes, "It is allowed to mix with the disbelievers, sit
with them and be polite with them as means of calling them to Allah, explaining to them the teachings of Islam, encouraging them to enter this religion
and to make it clear to them the good result of accepting the religion and the evil result of punishment for those who turn away. For this purpose, being
a companion to them and showing love for them is overlooked in order to reach that good final goal."

It is true that Shia and Wahhabi leaders have one unfortunate point of agreement: Both call on Muslims in the West to boycott Israeli products. Wahhabis,
however, are instructed to go the extra mile and boycott American products as well. The differences between the dour, rigid mentality that Saudi Arabia
seeks to impose and the moderate views of Ayatollah Sistani, meanwhile, extend to matters as trivial as depictions of human beings (Wahhabis command that
such paintings be destroyed; Sistani accepts them) and as grave as punishments for adultery (the Wahhabis kill an adulteress; Sistani writes that "it is
not permissible for [a Muslim man] to kill [a Muslim woman who commits adultery], even if he sees her in the act").

Most important, perhaps, Sistani's book makes no mention of concepts, dear to Muslim radicals, such as the goal of establishing Islamic rule in Western
countries and the duty to fight jihad in non-Muslim lands. Instead, Sistani exhorts the Muslim living in a non-Muslim nation that when he has made a commitment
"to abide by the laws of that country"--as he implicitly has in signing immigration documents--he must keep his promise.

The lesson here is simple and essential: The Ayatollah Sistani does not seek to promote a clash of civilizations or a conflict between religions. He does
not teach the necessity of aggressive dawa (Islamic evangelism) or jihad against non-Muslims. The Saudis and their Wahhabi servants insist on both.

And that, of course, is a major reason why extremist Saudi clerics incite Muslims to kidnap and murder Americans and other non-Muslims on Saudi soil. It
is also why Saudi Arabia so fears a democratic, Shia-led Iraq on its northern border, and why Wahhabi preachers urge pious Muslims to kill and die fighting
all who defend the new Iraq.

The contrast between the mentality of Sistani and that of the Wahhabis is even starker when one turns to the simplest level of participation in community
life: Should Muslims extend Christmas and New Year's greetings to their Christian neighbors? Sistani says yes, the Wahhabis say no.

Sistani states very simply: "It is permissible to greet the Jews and Christians and also [other non-Muslims] on the occasions they celebrate like the New
Year, Christmas, Easter, and the Passover."

If we turn to the Wahhabi website,
representing the "Islamic web community," we find a diatribe by Jamal al-Din Zarabozo. He writes that "it is not allowed for Muslims to congratulate the
non-Muslims on their holidays and festivals. . . . It is one of the greatest sins in Allah's sight . . . a greater sin than congratulating them for drinking

Zarabozo, whose rhetoric is notorious among Muslims for its excesses, cites a reported opinion by Abdullah ibn Umar, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad,
that "whoever stays in the lands of the foreigners and celebrates their New Year's Days . . . shall be resurrected with them on the Day of Resurrection,"
that is, excluded from the Muslim hereafter. Zarabozo also cites an opinion of Ibn al Qayyim, a fourteenth-century disciple of Ibn Taymiyyah, the forerunner
of Wahhabism, holding that Muslims should not even "sell Christians anything they may use in their holidays of meat, blood, or clothing, nor should they
loan an animal to ride on, nor help with anything concerning [their] festival because all of that would be a way of dignifying their idolatry and helping
them in their [unbelief]."

Stephen Schwartz, an author and journalist, is author of The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa'ud from Tradition to Terror. A vociferous critic of Wahhabism,
Schwartz is a frequent contributor to National Review, The Weekly Standard, and other publications.