Saturday, 26 March 2011

The Iranian Diaries (part 5)

OK; so I know its been months (since before Muharram?) since the Iranian diaries have been updated. Some of you may have lost the stomach or the momentum for it, but I want this record to be written, for myself if not for my readers! And if I don’t get to it now, its going to be our first anniversary! Plus, as Reza’s cousin gets married tomorrow and I spent tonight video skyping with the blushing bride and her family, I feel all fluffy; and remembered how I’d only just written up my niqah! So here you go; we continue! With the morning after the night before!
The morning after our niqah we woke up late, very late! Well, Reza and I did at any rate! The rest of the family had been up for hours; cleaning the house and preparing for the deluge of guests who would start arriving that evening! Despite the early start, every one waited for us to share a late breakfast! While I munched through walnut bread and fresh honey, my BIL powered up the home video we made of the niqah! It felt so strange to watch it back; as though I was watching some one else’s party! All night, Reza kept teasing me about how I trembled continually during the niqah; and was positively shaking during the part where I had to give my consent in Farsi! I shrugged this off, however, when I shook during the viewing of the film at the self-same juncture, I had to concede he was right! Watching the film made me allot more aware of what had just happened, up till this point, I had felt a bit like an outsider looking in on a perfectly forged family, yet here I was, not a part of that family, no longer viewing it through prospective daughter-in-law glasses! And while I expected to feel nervous, I honestly couldn’t have been happier!
We showered, helped mum tidy up, and then ate a light lunch of rice filled peppers, before mum started preparing to pack us off to ‘Oshaan! See, Mum and dad had wanted to send us off to have a bit of ‘alone time after the niqah, but by the time guests left etc, it was way too late for Reza to drive, and every one was too exhausted! We had a day or so of a break before the big reception, so mum figured we could vanish off now.
I packed a change of clothes and the medicine bag that was fast becoming something of an additional limb! Said goodbye to every one, and headed off! We drove through the crippling chaos that is Northern Tehran, and then got on to the Sadr Highway that leads out of the city. For any one who has never visited, Tehran is incredibly vast; for a city, the character of the landscape varies dramatically from North to South, from East to West. People speak, think and live, very differently in each city area. Not only that, but the weather/temperature etc can be vastly different, and you can almost encounter a complete 4 season cycle when travelling in Tehran! As we drove out of the smog and pollution, the air changed; from burning hot, to refreshingly cool! Fluffy clouds darted across the sky, and flanked the Arbores mountains as they came in to view. The car drove higher in to the mountain passes, tackling sharp hairpin bends and worryingly narrow dirt roads. Eventually, we made our way, pain stakingly carefully up a one-way dirt path that opened on to a long low block of apartments; this, was our home, in the village of Oshaan. We opened an automatic gate that gave way to a covered yard with ¾ spaces for cars. A tiny fountain played happily over some marble columns housing some gold fish, while beyond the yard, cherry and walnut Trees leaned over the water, weighed down with the extreme weight of their ripe, sweet-smelling fruit. The whole place looked like a miniature paradise with the mountains in the background, and the wildlife that surrounded it. We made our way up the stairs to the apartment Reza’s family owned. The flat had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a large open plan kitchen-diner with heavy glass doors leading to a pretty balcony overlooking the garden. We threw open the doors and I washed the balcony while Reza brought our supplies upstairs. He later explained to me that there are countless little villages just like this, dotted around the outskirts of Tehran. Students flocked here, along with business people, young families, or those who simply wanted to step off the rat race for a while. To me, there was nothing like Oshaan. Fireflies danced in the trees beneath the Balcony giving out rays so bright I could see them with ease. Butterflies and crickets sang with a tropical allure, and the air was thick with jasmine and tube roses. If you have trouble imagining what ‘Jannah could be, take a visit to this Mountain paradise in Iran! I couldn’t believe that my in-laws had even considered sending us away touring around Iran for our honeymoon, I couldn’t think of any where more perfect for a newly married couple to be!
The cool air was intoxicating to me after the heat of Tehran, so I asked Reza if we could sleep in the sitting room. We brought mattresses from the bedroom and made a comfortable nest on the floor with blankets and cushions. We then drew a screen across the balcony door to keep insects out, but let the cool air in! It was the first night since I had arrived that I actually needed to wrap a fluffy blanket around me; I slept peacefully, without interruptions! And would have slept longer, were it not for a loud persistent knocking first thing in the morning! I woke with a start; Mum had given us some money owed to the building factors, and asked us to pass it over when they called on Monday morning, ‘It must be them, I thought! I neither knew what Reza had done with the Envelope, nor how I’d explain myself to the Factor, so began shaking him awake! “what is it!!”, he asked irritated. “the Factors, they are at the door!”, I insisted urgently. He got up, rubbed his eyes, and then, after surveying the scene and hearing the noise, burst out laughing! There were not any factors, (at least, not at 6.30 AM!), however, a crow who had just caught sight of himself in the kitchen window was franticly pecking the glass, trying to pick a fight with his reflection! Wildlife was never too far away in Oshaan!
Though I had returned to eating normally the day before, my constitution wasn’t having any of it! our friend, DR Reza was consulted once again, and this time he prescribed 2 different drugs for me. Reza went off to the Pharmacy to collect them (sadly, I couldn’t leave the bathroom to accompany him!). He returned with the tablets, and a tray of fresh chicken Kebab! We boiled some rice and ate the Kebabs, and then tried to read Namaz (well, I tried, and had to break them 5 times before completing my prayers on account of my sickness!). We delayed our journey back till later in the afternoon, when my system was a bit settled; and thankfully, we made it back to Tehran without any kind of Mishap! It was horrible to leave somewhere so totally tranquil and perfect like Oshaan, but we knew we’d be back in a couple of days or so; and at that moment, I couldn’t think of any thing else! When I reached home, our house was thick with distant relatives from Baba’s side in Kerman; people I did not know. All had gifts for me and good wishes for Reza and I, particularly Reza’s paternal Aunt, who was quite a character! She would have been Glaswegian, if she hadn’t been from Kerman! Her constant smile, energy and to-the-point questions were quite a culture shock from mum’s gentleness! She was all out there; and kept lamenting to Reza how sad it was that I didn’t know much Farsi yet, she could have teased me and questioned me way more! For my part, I think I was saved a great deal of humiliation; and have made a mental note not to meet her till I’m allot older; and have 3 kids in toe!
Mum was worried about my colour; and frankly, so was I! At that moment, I looked like a ghost with a tropical disease; and that look wasn’t going to make good Bride material tomorrow! I refused to eat, after the horrors of post-lunch bathroom trauma, so opted for tea with honey and lots of hedge mustard and water (its an Iranian thing, check the earlier posts for more on it!). Baba had also picked up my dress from the adjustment people. Mum insisted I try it which didn’t make much sense to me. After all, if it was damaged, there was nothing we could do now! What I’d do if it didn’t sit right, was too tight, too loose etc, was not something that I, or any one else, appeared to have an answer for! Overall thankfully, the dress seemed alright! Given the time they had to fix it, they had done the best they could, and it looked better than before, so we were grateful for small mercies! Reza insisted that I eat a sandwich, which I did, followed by yet more tea and sugar water and then I was packed off to bed! I never thought I’d sleep the night before my wedding (well, reception), but I drifted in to a deep, fitful and nightmare ridden sleep; it was as though my soul knew; that Tuesday was going to be the toughest day yet!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Jasmine and Arnica; a tubelight review!

Every one has dreams, hopes, ambitions and Affirmations: Nicola Naylor was no exception!
In her early Twenties, she was full of life, confident, attractive and driven. At University studying languages, she had already completed a few commissions for the BBC, and her forays in to print media were already blooming in to a promising journalistic career. Above all, Nicola dreamed of touring around India and the far East just as soon as her studies were over; in truth, it was her dream that got her through the tedious lectures and the late night exam revision. Only, within months of completing her degree, Nicola began to lose her eyesight, as a result of a lifelong congenital condition. Within a year, Nicola was completely blind! The speed and absolute nature of her new condition drove Nicola in to a chronic state of complete depression and loss. She had been in hospital for a year; and saw no point in carrying on with an existence she neither understood nor desired. The idea of being limited to sighted assistance, guide dogs and white canes was just too much to stomach. She fluctuated wildly between suicidal thoughts, and battling her inner demons to get beyond the fear of the present, and what lay beyond. When she finally found the courage to rebuild her life, she decided to study aroma therapy, and went on to set up a highly successful private practise in London. Despite her many successes however, Nicola still felt like she had not achieved her real goals, there was something more she wanted, something still undone. In this vein, her dreams of India came back to visit! Nicola wanted to tour around India, researching alternative health and the production of natural oils so that she could bring her learning back to her clinic! That would have been fine, only, Nicola wanted to tour India on her own, as a blind woman, with little to no assistance! And that is exactly what she did!
Jasmine and Arnica, is her vibrant, moving and personal account of just how she did it. The book was Nicola’s first attempt at returning to journalism since the loss of her sight, and each word is carefully selected and crafted with the passion you would expect from some one using every atom of their being to reach for the stars and hold them. The book is a roller coaster of emotions that will have you laughing and crying in the space of one page; Highly charged, it takes the reader on a sensory experience of the sub-continent that few fully sighted writers would be capable of equalling. Her account is touching, optimistic and inspirational, but there is allot more to it than that! Nicola tells a unique story, not just because of the undoubtedly unparalleled nature of her independent travel, but because of the realism with which she brings it to life. While there are many novels and non-fiction books about blind/disabled people, most of them are of a heroic nature: strong, yet debilitated souls who battle against the odds and their afflictions to prove either to themselves, or to the world, that they really mean something. Nicola’s book does none of that. Nicola travelled around India because that is what she had to do, because she could, because the question of her being worth it never entered the truth of what she would, and could do for herself. She is no heroine, rather, she gives the reader a free and frank account of the ignorant people she meets and her assertive, sometimes fierce interactions to achieve something as mundane as booking a hotel room for the night! Never before have I witnessed a disabled writer talking so openly about the concentration living can take, and the chronic headaches acquired as a result. Or how the every day trials attached to something as simple as getting the buss or crossing the road can often induce such phobic feelings that its sometimes easier to drag the duvet just a bit higher over one’s ears till the feelings subside! We don’t talk about this, because we can’t! because to inadvertently signal defeat is to play knowingly in to the hands of the silent majority who, though they may not even know it themselves, still believe that disabled people are the stuff of charity. Who need help rather than empowerment, and who need things done to, rather than Independence! Living is often like walking an ever diminishing tightrope between self-determination, and the realisation that, as a non-sighted individual, I shall, whether I like it or not, require eyes from time to time if I really want to equal my rivals!
…, Oh that word! Rivals! Sighted people are not my rivals! Yet in existing, it becomes so! Even Nicola’s wonderful heart-felt book still echoes the capitalist millstone of ‘you are, what you output! I.e., to have a sighted demeanour is to be successful; and to be educated, professional and aesthetically pleasing, is to really have made it! Nicola actually embraces this so intensely that there are feckless accounts of her crossing the road without her cane so that others don’t blow her blindness cover, or pretending to read a newspaper because that is the ‘sighted cymbal of normalcy. That said, while the book made me scream out loud in places, its overwhelming aura was to me, related to regaining one’s sense of self; liberating the soul from the conditioned and acquired baggage described above. While she may be foolhardy, Nicola does accept assistance; and she travels with plenty of contacts and support networks to hand! However she reaches a point, where she knows she has to throw caution to the wind, along with all the other barriers that were gifted to her when she lost her sight! People like me, who were born blind, don’t always see these barriers as other people’s unfounded anxiety, because we are taught to view the world through the sighted lens of our limitations! I used to climb trees happily as a 5-year-old, but was stopped by my mother because, “its too dangerous for you!”. I was bundled off to the ‘special school because “people like you don’t go to the normal school”. Through-out education, and the world beyond it, you are gently, yet firmly indoctrinated in to what you CAN’T and will NEVER, do! You can’t drive a buss, or become a pilot, or read a restaurant menu, or be a doctor, or go out on your own, or study geography, or read a map, or travel without booking assistance first or …, you get the point! Nicola brushes off her guides, assuring them when she gets on her 50th buss that, she has arranged for a friend to meet her at the other end! But, there is no friend, there is no support! And while she takes some arguably senseless adrenaline governed decisions, the earth doesn’t fall apart! She doesn’t get raped, or murdered or hurt! She stays in a hotel, travels around the city alone, and catches a buss safely to her next destination in Northern India! You might wonder, why do that, why put one’s self through such tension and be subject to so many dangers! And here again, its about proving a point! The heroic novels I referred to earlier are cultivated in the same sentiment; to be ordinary is for the most part, to have failed to the world! I remember when my cousin was born with the same congenital eye condition as I, but with an additional learning disability, his Grandmother commented to me; “what worries me the most is that, he will have to spend his life working on a supermarket checkout!”. In the sighted world, there would be nothing wrong with cleaning the toilets for a living, removing the trash or digging the roads! Ultimately, the person is independently earning his/her living! But for a disabled person, its seen as a failing; both in the disabled, and the non-disabled spheres of existence. To the non-disabled, it’s a sign of pity; a poor tragic being who had nothing better to do; and for the disabled, it’s a weak entity who lacked dreams of any thing better, and who let our side down by not fighting! Some people climb mountains, others partake in desert treks, some undertake copious amounts of international charity work for their people; while Nicola and I decided to take off!
Perhaps that’s why I loved this book so much; for a few hours, I was back in my own budding radio career, or back on the plane that took me to Karachi for the very first time, with just a suitcase to my name and with neither funds, nor a place to stay! I totally got where Nicola was coming from; and loved her for telling a story that few have found the guts or the courage to tell like it is! Only, as I read, I kept wondering how/where I lost it. Where had that harsh, zany, unfaltering, uncompromising, feisty female gone, who once stuck 2 fingers up at the world and carved out her own path, to boldly go where no one had gone before! As some of you know, my adventure in Pakistan did not end as well as Nicola’s. I was violently attacked, and was then forced to return to the UK unexpectedly when my Grandfather became critically ill. When I analyse it today, I realise that my biggest mistake was perhaps attempting to fit in to the stagnant life I had left behind. I got a job, because I needed money, and took on a mortgage because my family wanted me to put down routes here. Sure I had obligations, but no one forces another to do any thing; in the same way that no one can live your life for you! I could have stood firm, have gone back; but this realisation has less to do with Pakistan, and more to do with not carrying the learning forward! Pakistan worked for me because, there were no barriers, there was no sighted lens! And I utilised this fact to my own advantage! I created the lens for them; by living, existing, working, and doing every thing just like every one else! 99% of my colleagues wouldn’t have known a blind person if one had jumped up and bitten them on the head; so I had the honour of creating the yard stick for them. When you have no line to follow, you can let your real colours shine through! The hidden soul, the inner child, call it what you will! Perhaps that is why I still yearn for the best days of my life, which I believe were those spent in Karachi, and why, a few years later, I became hopelessly infatuated with an Arab American blind man who had grown up in a similar barrier free universe; where he made the yard stick, and then subsequently broke it with his catalogue of International achievements!
Fast forward to the present; I am married, and relatively happy despite our current uncertainty! But allot has changed; and in reading Jasmine and Arnica, my heart definitely mourned the personality I once was, and will probably never be again! Some people desire to be the first Blind Man on the Moon; I just desire the ordinary! It took me years to find the man I wanted to be with; and when I did, suddenly, cooking rice, hoovering the carpets and nursing babies took precedence over direct action campaigns and changing the world Rosha style! And maybe that’s OK; maybe in embracing the average, the ordinary and the mundane, we achieve real equality; rather than chasing a mirage of acceptance through showy trips and media generating gestures of grandeur. Maybe I just want to be your average stay-at-home Muslimah, and maybe that’s OK for me now; maybe I’ve walked the boards and got all that fighting and pretence totally out of my system! And maybe that’s all good! But as Reza and I discuss a possible overseas move, and as the real ramifications of marital change, children and the like come upon me; I realise just how much I need that precocious Roshni I used to know. Nicola Naylor came back, but she expanded her business, got back in to media and also published Jasmine and Arnica! She went on to publish another book; dealing more specifically with the business of Aroma therapy healing and practise; and then went off on a tour of the Far-East on a tandem bike ride with a wonderful friend who, became so Wonderful to Nicola that, they decided to spend their lives together, and now have a beautiful baby daughter! To regret is pointless, though its impossible for me to read a book like Jasmine and Arnica without feeling a twinge of the same. Still, as Nicola points out, life is just a series of doors that lay ajar, partially opened for us to investigate; and when you can’t see behind them, it becomes all the more necessary to just hold your breath, open a few of them, and jump!!
And Maybe, if Nicola can do it, I can do it again, too!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Calling all Muslimah Bloggers!

While passing through blog land yesterday, I came across a sister who is trying to collate a directory of Muslimah (Muslim Female) bloggers from across the globe. Whether you blog about Islam, or about cooking, about Travel, fashion, or something way more random! If you are Muslim, and a female blogger; she would like to hear from you!
To have your blog added to the directory, Email your details to Sister Rabiaa Ashraf at: rabiaaisrabiaa@gmail.com
In your Email, please include the following:
Your Name; (and age, if you want to that is!), your location, a link to your blog and the blog title, along with a brief description of your blog. Please also add a note of which category you feel your blog would best be categorised under: i.e., Islam, cooking, general, and so on.
Hats off to SR Rabiaa; it’s a fantastic idea; and a wonderful tool for networking and promoting the great work Muslimah bloggers are doing. Keep up the good work; and to the rest of you, Please do Email the sister and have your blog added to her growing list!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Norooz Mubarak!

Though you may not know it, today is New Year! for quite a substantial population of the world! Yeah! Today! (well, 23.20 PM GMT to be exact!). Its Norooz today, more commonly known as the Persian New Year! its Norooz, Reza is in Iran at home, and …, well, I’m still in Glasgow! It feels significant, and deeply depressing if I let it be; on the night before I left Tehran, Reza’s little niece sat on my lap, crying, wanting to know when I’d see her again. “Norooz”, I promised her. It felt real to do so “Insha Allah, I’ll be back for Norooz!”. That was our plan! We had calculated, (wrongly!), that by this time, Reza would probably just have received his documents. I would fly to Iran to meet him, celebrate Norooz, and we’d come back to the UK together, to commence the more conventional chapter of our longed-for married life! But Allah (SWT) had other plans! This year feels like a great big massive waste! Since our wedding, we have encountered nothing but delays; some of them are government generated delays; others are due to my lack of settled employment. In any case, we are still residing on opposite sides of the earth; and don’t seem to be even remotely closer to altering that situation! There doesn’t feel like much to celebrate; rather this day really seems to be accentuating my feelings of frustration and isolation!
Still, Reza is home; and our family are (sort-of), together! This does give me some comfort; my mother-in-law was quite ill earlier on this year, and we lived in a constant state of fear, that something awful would happen to her while none of us were around, even my brother-in-law was still away on his military service, and of course, SIL has her own kids and husband to take care of! Mashallah she came through it; and I know she will be comforted at least to have her sons around; (SIL and family have gone on a bit of a road trip this Norooz; its quite a break with Persian Tradition, but something they wanted to do; and it sounds like they are having a fantastic time!).

Norooz is a fascinating festival; incredibly ancient and full of unique/complex traditions. It is generally described as a Zoroastrian holiday, yet many scholars suggest its origins are even older than that!
Norooz is celebrated as the first day of spring. At the time of the equinox, the sun is directly above the equator, and the North and South Poles lay directly along the Solar terminator! This precise moment of Astrological harmony is calculated to the exact point each year, hence New Year today being at 11.20 PM! (3.20 in the morning in Iran).
This is not just an Iranian Festival either! The cross-fertilisation and spread of ancient Empires means that Norooz today is celebrated in Afghanistan, parts of India/Pakistan, as well as the Crimea, the caucuses, North-Western China and of course, wherever the Diaspora have settled beyond their countries of origin! Following the Iranian Revolution, moves were made to abolish the festival due to its pagan routes, however these were met with mass opposition and incredibly, the holiday has survived, in tact and celebrated by all! Before the Iranian connection even entered my world, I noticed sections of the south-Asian Shia Community; celebrating Norooz as being the moment when Imam Ali (A.S) extended his finger to lengthen the duration of the sunlight, however I’ve never found any hadaith or other evidence to support this belief; and am not too sure where it came from! There is so much to say about Norooz; its origins and traditions around the world; and if you are interested, its well worth a bit of google time! For now though, I thought I’d write a bit about the festivities going on in our house (which of course, I’m sadly observing from a distance!).
Most people start cleaning the house (translated as shaking the house in Persian), around a month before New Year comes in! We begged mum not to do this given her poor health; but there was no shifting her! Reza told me that there are new rugs in the sitting room, and some of our wedding pictures have been framed in silver and hung around the walls! Clean sheets cover the beds and chairs; and every one has a new outfit to wear for the first day (not THE day however; Norooz celebrations span a whopping 13 days in total!). While mum was cleaning, baba was busy cultivating bulbs and fragrant flowers in the large gardens beneath our apartment; and now, those flowers fill each and every corner of the house; spreading their scent through the walls and beyond. Colourful metal jars of espand burn and create harmony; removing any traces of ‘Nazr (or the evil eye) from the house and its inhabitants. Cooking has been in full swing as well! Despite the fact that the house will be laden with fruits, nuts and other bakery delights; mum insists in making many of her own specialties for the family and visitors to enjoy while they make the New Year rounds! Formal rituals began last Tuesday night, with the Chaharshanbe Suri (or ‘fire jumping). Family members, usually the young men and children, build small fires in the streets or Alleys which they jump over, symbolising the abandonment of the old that is absorbed by the fire, and a progression towards the new. This reminded me of the Hindu ‘Havan/yagna, something I always felt great affinity with and derived great strength from performing. Also on this night, it is believed that departed spirits of ancestors visit the homes of their living relatives. Children often dress up as ghosts draped in white, and run through the streets knocking on doors, looking for treats! (rather like the ‘Halloween celebrated in the West!). As they go, they bang on pots; the noise is believed to banish evil spirits from entering the homes as the New Year approaches.
There are some other interesting rituals on this night, including the breaking of earthen pots, symbolising the breaking of the old, to make way for the new; and a tradition that involves ascertaining one’s New Year fortune from the conversations of those passing by, (similar to the way in which many Iranians open the famous books of poetry, such as Hafez, when looking for an answer or an inspiration at a time of need). None of these are really practised by our family though; they have doubtless been deemed as too much of a departure from Islamic beliefs! Perhaps they are, but for me, the symbolism is incredibly powerful; we honour the flag of Imam Hussain (A.S), though we do not worship it, the physical connection directly relates to the spiritual relationship between the Imam (A.S) and his faithful. Similarly, the physical acts relating to moving on to a New Year, strike me as very healing in many ways; and perhaps, if we had such traditions over here, I’d feel allot better about the New Year concept!
Now for New Year’s day (or night; in this case!). A table is prepared and decorated (rather like the sufrah agt you’ll recall from my niqah!). The table must contain 7 items that resemble the 7 elements; earth, wind, fire, water, plants, animals and humans. The table is spread with a soft green cloth, upon which the following are placed: Green sprouts which are stored to grow in a jar during the days of New Year (If you Follow the America Nepali blog, you’ll remember reading about a similar practise during one of the festivals), Samanu (a sweet pudding made from wheat) (which I really don’t’ like!), • senjed - the dried fruit of the oleaster tree - symbolizing love.
Garlic is also added, symbolising medicine, joined by green apples, representing Health. Somaq; (or dried berries), in honour of the colour of sunrise. Finally, vinegar (representing age, and patience!), (and this strikes a chord; I had allot of patience with vinegar in Iran; all pickle there is vinegar based, something I just didn’t like and couldn’t get used to!).
In addition, the fragrant flowers are usually also placed there, along with a copy of the qur’an, and a copy of Hafez! A mirror is included(symbolising truth), and some gold coins (symbolising hope/prayers for wealth in the coming year). Don’t worry though; there are always plenty of fruits, pastries and fine things to eat; its not all about cymbals! When the moment of the New Year comes upon the household; greetings are shared; and gifts are exchanged! After that, people will probably sleep tonight, (given the odd timing of the New Year coming in!). Tomorrow though, the rounds will begin; it is customary (rather compulsory!), to meet/greet all family members (from near and far), as well as friends, neighbours etc, during the 13 days of New Year! Given that we are both overseas, Reza will have a massive list to get through! He has his own visits to make, and I’ve added a few additional rounds for him this year in my absence (poor thing!). These visits are usually 20/30 minutes long (any thing longer and the rounds couldn’t be made!). Oh! And you never visit a house empty-handed; so a good supply of flowers, fruits and sweets are essential to distribute to the households! Things will be a bit different for our household this year; Reza’s cousin (on baba’s side), is getting married in the desert city of Kerman; so after a few days of home based festivities, every one will take the train over there, (and SIL’s road trip will conclude there too!). On the 13th day, families take to the parks; celebrating the New Birth of spring, and the beauty of nature. They make pick nicks and celebrate with friends; our family will probably take to the mountains bordering Northern Tehran, where we have a beautiful summer house and a wealth of green space to enjoy! The green sprouts which were planted on the first day of Norooz are taken out and dropped in to running water (again, taking away the old, to make way for the new blessings of the New Year. Unmarried women are advised to tie up the ends of the green shoots before throwing them; as an expression of their desire to be married before the end of the Year. Our family have adapted this tradition a little bit, and usually also prepare an ariz (letter to Imam Zaman ATF), which is wrapped in a flour/water mix and thrown in to the ocean as well (you don’t have to even begin to guess what I wrote in my letter this Year!). Once the 13th day is done; people return to work, and to their daily grind; Reza will return to work in Baku; and we both return to the drudgery that is immigration control; and finding a way to simply live together!
To all of my readers; those I know, and those I do not; if you are celebrating today, ‘eid/Norooz mubarak to you, your families and your dear ones from all of us here; and if you have never heard of Norooz in your life; (well, I’ve taught you something haven’t I!). At 11.20 tonight, I’ll offer 2 rakat of salat; and beg Allah (SWT) to bless my family, to forgive me my shortcomings in this year; and that whatever this new faze of life has in store for us, let it be better than that which has gone before; and if it is not better, at least let it be in union with my husband; hardships often cease to be hardships when you are united with the one you love!
May Allah (SWT) grant you all the good you ask of him on this day; and maybe, if you have a tiny corner; you might remember us in your New Year prayers too!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

a Convert Crisis? or something more!

As a Revert Muslimah (i.e., a Muslim previously of another faith), I often receive Emails, telephone calls, enquiries that go something like:
“I have a friend who is interested in Converting to Islam; can you meet up with her and give some advice and support?”. This is something I take great pleasure in; though a great responsibility, its an honour to be of service to some one searching, and potentially a source of comfort to them while they often find themselves rather lost in an intense, life changing, spiritual journey!
It wasn’t ever something I worried about, that is, till I became shia almost 6 years ago. Before adopting the school of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), sectarianism was no where on my agenda! I was, by my own admission, an extremely uneducated Muslim! I belonged to a group of Muslims who were of the view that if you prayed, fasted, appeared to go through the Muslim motions, that was quite sufficient! And while I didn’t start out this way, I soon adopted the label and the seen-to-be attitude! (don’t misunderstand me; I’m not suggesting that all non-shias hold this attitude; however, shia or not, an understanding of Islamic difference is surely pivotal; if nothing else, so that you can mentally justify to yourself and one day, your creator, why you chose one path or another!).

As I was saying, with new Muslims; this is a massive challenge! How do you package sectarian difference? How do you encourage and instil an open mind, while, at the same time, emphasising the importance of the Ahlulbayt (A.S) and their teachings. Late last year, a potential new female revert was placed under my care. To protect her privacy, we will call her Kathryn for the purpose of our discussion here. She is Irish Catholic in origin; living here in Glasgow; she is married, with twin boys aged 6. She has been a practising Catholic for almost all of her life; however, 3 years ago, she began working for the Jaffri Family; (the same, traditional Sayed shia family that adopted me as one of their own many years ago). This family have brought many people to the deen, probably because they have a very holistic attitude to the faith. Rather than preaching allot; they simply live Islam; and extend the love of that living to every one around them; talks about faith are usually accompanied by great food and comfortable surroundings, along with any practical support the enquirer might be seeking. Kathryn had been a part of all that; and clearly started to recognise there was something different in the characters of those she was encountering. The inevitable questions about Islam began; and when the family deemed she was on the verge of converting, they asked her to meet up with me and talk more. I had a few chats with her on the phone; and on our third chat, she accepted my offer of coming over for lunch; (that lunch I recall, began around 1 PM and finished somewhere near 8 PM!!). She had allot to say, and more to ask; every thing from hijaab; how to wear it and how others would feel about it, to doctrine and knowing which path to choose! I answered these questions as fully, and honestly as I could; I shared my own hijaab experiences, and various other revert stories of friends and contacts via RMA. When it came to doctrine, I have something of a stock answer here; encouraging all new or potential Muslims to keep an open mind, to read, study and reflect as much as possible and draw their own conclusions, while seeking guidance from Allah (SWT), and if they do these things, they will surely find the truth within themselves! I gave her some books that had helped me in the early days, and directed her to our own Revert Muslims website. That was all fine until, Strathclyde University launched its Islam Awareness week! Kathryn went along to some of the events held there, and reported on how much she was enjoying them! I didn’t think any thing of it; rather, I felt happy that she was pursuing her interests and going along to these events on her own (she had previously indicated to me that she wouldn’t be comfortable going to a mosque, unless one of us came along with her). Kathryn also asked me if I knew that Strathclyde University ran a ‘New Muslims group in their Student Masjid?
…, Oops! Now, I did know that! I’ve known of the group for some time and some of the leaders are lovely people! But; fair; I had omitted to mention it to Kathryn! The group describes its self as non-sectarian, which is a trait I’d admire if it were true; when I approached them about becoming a mentor for new Reverts; I was refused; and to my knowledge there are no shias in the group (much less any mention of them). Most of the leaders are other reverts. I know some of them personally and know that they are not in the least sectarian; however, those who fund the project are from certain mosques, belonging to a certain country, and have a very CERTAIN Agenda!! People might start out in this group, where there is coffee on tap and every thing is good; but once adopted in to the fold, they then move on to the ‘Certain mosques, and for the most part, are never seen again! Now you might understand why I hadn’t been selling it to Kathryn! But surely, explaining that to her only makes me sound like a paranoid sectarian freak! Plus, I firmly believe that we all have to learn in our own ways sometimes, especially when it comes to making our own mistakes! She asked me what I thought of the group and I was suitably vague, said that I knew some of the members, and that they were nice, etc. I continued to stress the importance of study, keeping an open mind and so on. I then prayed, and left her to it. I actually felt quite good about my decision; after all, I know that certain mosques would banish you out for even thinking about going to a shia Centre; I didn’t want to be doing the same in reverse! She had to see for herself! So, she attends these meetings religiously every Wednesday, and I don’t hear very much from her. The Jaffri family, who obviously meet her at work, tell me all is well and that they think she will convert to Islam any day now! I am shocked that things are moving so fast and discuss my concerns about the University Mosque, but no one else seems troubled by it, so I let it go!
A few weeks later, I get a card in the mail, Inviting me to one of those Mosques with an Agenda, to attend Kathryn’s shahada! I can hardly believe what I am reading and feel physically sick! I feel somehow responsible for this and blame myself; if I’d encouraged her not to go, if I’d done more for her myself etc, this may not have happened! And its not the fact that she will now not be shia, its more the fact that its ‘One of those Mosques! I straight away pay a visit to the Jaffris and ask if they have talked to her about it. They assure me that they have, at length! But she appears to have made up her mind and there is no shifting it. I apologise, but I can tell they do blame me just a little, and this only accentuates my feelings of having done wrong by Kathryn!
After some reflection, I decide not to attend her shahada; I figure I might end up doing more damage than any thing constructive, and now that she’s in to the Other Agenda, she might even resent my presence herself! Only, on the morning of her big day, she calls up to check I’ll definitely be coming! Naturally, I say nothing about my intention not to go, and start digging out the gift I had bought for her! I ask how every thing is going, how her family feel about her converting etc. To my amazement, she says she’s not told them, and that the ‘Other mosque advised it was better just to convert and worry about them later; “any way” she says, “they have no hold on me after I become Muslim; faith comes first!”. I feel panic rise within me; some of this might hold if she was on her own, but she is married, has children who need her and creating such a rebellion in the house might have horrific consequences! As far as her family are concerned, she is working today! “so, what will you do?” I ask, “when you walk in with hijab on, when they see you praying, what answer will you give?”. She is silent; “I haven’t thought about that really. They just told me it would all be OK, I should just convert and Allah will find a way!”. Well, doesn’t Allah help those who help themselves? I thought, but none of this I say; she is already stressed and I sense I’m making it worse. I shower and change, and head down to that certain mosque. I get there just as the congregation are performing Jummah salat; the place is packed, and its clear they have announced that a shahada will be happening! None of the Jaffri Women are there, so I hope she registers my presence on the women’s side! I pray quickly and quietly on my own, and as I say ‘Salaam, the imam is at the point of his speech where he is getting ready to talk about Kathryn! He calls her forward and asks her how she came to this decision. Kathryn usually has a colourful, animated quality to her speech; but today, she somehow sounds like she is paralysed by fear! Sure; nerves are natural in such a strange setting, and when standing before so many unknown personalities, but something strikes me as very wrong here! Her head is lowered; she is reading her notes, and when she gets to the point of reciting a hadaith she has memorised, her breaths seem short, as though her chest is tight and she is straining to get the words out. I start moving forward through the women, though my barging to the front is earning discontent, I feel that maybe if she registers some one she knows, she might settle a bit. The imam then goes off on some rant, I can’t remember the exact words but something like:
“ you do realise that now you are becoming a Muslim, your life must change completely! Islam is a complete way of life; no drinking, no smoking, no eating the pig! You must banish all those negatives from your life now; music, TV, unsuitable literature and mindless talk. You must only surround yourself with those who share your faith; even your marriage is now no longer valid; if he will not convert, you must separate from him and find yourself a Muslim husband! Now, get ready to say your shahada!”. I am shocked! I always imagined Certain mosques holding these views, but I never expected them to be aired at this time, in this manner! I feel totally disgusted and wish I could just get up and leave! Only, I hear Kathryn gasping and then say “stop; sorry, I’m sorry!”. She picks up her things and starts running through the women’s section! I get up, and follow her sound, tripping over women as I go and earning more mutters of discontent. “Kathryn! WAIT PLEASE!”, I shout as I rush to catch up with her outside! 2 of the Jaffri men are there, and we all head outside for fresh air! What happened! She can’t speak, and has covered her face with her hands; tears drip through her fingers, and I feel so desperate for her. I want to hug her, but I sense she wants space! The men keep talking, but I hush them! For want of something better to say, I simply offer “why don’t we forget the shahada for the moment, and grab a coffee some place?”. I regret it as soon as the words are out; but all the same, it seems to strike a chord with her. She wipes her eyes and says “I’d like that, if you don’t mind!”. We are getting ready to leave when the Imam of the mosque storms out and blocks my path, demanding to know what I was doing there! I don’t say any thing; no one says any thing! He glares at the Jaffris and I, and points a finger in my face, saying “this is all your fault, leading people a stray; don’t come here again!”. I feel embarrassed at all this happening in front of Kathryn, who only 10 minutes ago was planning to convert! “and you call yourself Muslim!”, I say as I climb in to the car and close the door!
So, we have coffee, and over the following few weeks, we start to unpick the damage done! We go back to informal dinners and chats with Kathryn; and we invite her husband to some of them. Her boys start playing with the young Jaffri boys, and the 2 families connect on a human level! Kathryn’s husband is curious about Islam, though is so far not the least bit interested in converting! He doesn’t seem to have a problem with his wife converting though, which is unusual in such cases!
Last week, Kathryn took her Shahada in front of me, at home, with the Jaffris, her husband, and her boys; her mother was also there; she is not happy, but does, to a degree, accept her daughter’s right to choose! We had dinner, gave her some gifts; and talked through what support she feels she will need over the next few weeks; learning to pray, telling friends, preparing for hijab etc. She has a long way to go, but she is on the right track and is taking her time! We are all there to support her; and I’m sure that with patience, confidence and courage, she will get there! Its not been easy however, to ditch the Other Mosque! And Kathryn hasn’t left them due to doctrine; (she is currently unwilling to embrace one sectarian label or another), but the ideologies are never the less, in stark opposition! While Kathryn recognises that such a regime would not fit in with her lifestyle and family, she also knows she is missing out socially! Some of what that Imam said was true! Change does have to happen; social change is a massive part of that! Were she a part of them, she’d have sisters on her doorstep day and night! She’d be at the mosque daily; she’d be bombarded with literature, and be so busy that she’d never have time to dwell on the life that had gone before! She might not be learning much of the faith, but she’d be happy, busy, surrounded, and supported in a way that we cannot support her. Too much of this ‘New Convert Hysteria is not healthy in my view, but neither is existing as an Island! I used to think the lack of resources in the shia community here stemmed from the fact that we were a small community, divided along language/cultural grounds. I know that, had I not been an Urdu speaker, I would not benefit from the position in the community that I have today! Kathryn comes to our weekly circles, she visits the Jaffris, and she meets me at home too, but the fellowship of other new reverts, the ability to ask questions and connect with others in her position is something she doesn’t have here, (and which she would have if she were in the other community!), and these problems are not just Scotland-Centred, visit any shia community around the world, and you’ll hear similar discomforts being raised! Reverts, who have been Muslim for over 20 years, yet still do not feel they belong, and may still not have married either because the community doesn’t yet accept interracial marriages, (something which is for the most part, common place among most suni groups!). We justify these things, by talking about shia suppression, about smaller, newer communities, and about all these things taking time! But they all somehow feel like pathetic excuses! We discussed this self-same topic at the RMA Conference in 2008, and look set to discuss it again this year, knowing that little has moved on! Last night, our centre held a debate on the topic of integration, and while all of the above and more came up, few solutions were reached! Every one concluded that integration was easy; and if there are problems, well, …, they’ll take time to iron out won’t they!
My worry is, if we continue on this train of thought, won’t we lose so many more people like Kathryn? Over the years, I’ve seen many potential/new Muslims, visit our centre, and leave, either because they don’t understand, or because no one extends a hand of friendship to them! And back in our own worlds, we continue to divide over marjah, ideology and philosophical abstracts, trying to drag converts in along with us, most of whom rarely get it!
This post wasn’t meant to be a rant, though I’m aware it does look like one. I just think new Muslims are often the mirror before which we can measure our state; sure, when you look at the behaviour of ‘Others, highlighted in this account, you see we have allot to applaud ourselves for! But its what comes next that worries me; that pivotal linkage will potentially be the stuff that holds our reverts, our children, our new generations on the path; and if we continue as we are, I really fear we’ll have a crisis of faith on our hands, where Shias too will be reduced to nothing more than a group of seen-to-be Muslims, who once followed Imam Ali (A.S), but now follow ….,? something?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Treasured Moments in time (dedicated to SR Sakina)

I’ve said this before; but its true! When I started this blog, I didn’t tell any one about it! I was keen to see if it could generate any interest on its own, and also, like many bloggers before me, was keen to use it as a platform to meet, and connect with, other like-minded bloggers from around the world!
Inevitably, a few friends from blog land did come to join me here, though to date, the only person I have actually met in the flesh (from my followers that is), is our own SR Masooma!
So, imagine my shock when, after a lecture at mosque tonight, a beautiful young sister comes up to me and asks “are you Roshni?”. Now, given that I’m involved in a range of community activities around here, and have done some work for Ahlulbayt TV, I assumed she knew me through one of those mediums! I was totally shocked however when she said, “I know you; I actually read your blog!”. That was just awesome; and that has never happened before! Moreover, she assures me that she reads it, and actually liked it! (well, in particular she enjoyed the Iranian diary series; which I promise I will get back to and finish, at least before our first anniversary!).

Seriously though; it was a lovely feeling to connect with this sister, it reaffirms the feeling that our community is small, intimate, loving and caring, and that, wherever you are in the world, you will find Muslim sisters to bring noor to your path and brighten your moments.
I want to thank the sister for approaching me, and also welcome her to my city (she’s studying away from home!). I pray you find a second home here; and now that you actually know me (in person), be sure to let me know if I can help in any way! Moreover, feel free to post here too; let others know you so that we can share the love, and build the circle!

What also touched me about meeting this sister was the reality that, in some small way, these random musings of mine can actually touch other people! Whether they enjoy them or not, agree with them or not, if they act even as a medium to bring people together, I am satisfied with that. Of course; if they laugh, smile, or learn something along the way, then I pray that Allah (SWT) accepts that Insha Allah!
So; my message? If you have a fellow blogger that you enjoy, (and that you know!), pop up and say hi to them; take it from me, after the difficult week I have just had (read the earlier post), I swear this sister made me smile; and I’m very grateful to her for that!
And hey; if any more of the Scotland crew are reading, why don’t you drop by and say hi too! Its amazing what a bit of Muslim Networking can do!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Should we stay, or should we go??

Most people agree that the first year of marriage is definitely the hardest! And, well, I, personally, emphasise strongly on the DEFINITELY!
Add uncertainty to the mix, and you’ve really got the year from hell! Reza and I often joke, that if we get through this year, we can get through any thing; and he is right! Honestly; I went through a first marriage (which sadly failed), and countless other prospective situations, which subsequently failed, and even though Allah (SWT) has now guided me to the right one, its not all a bed of roses! Marriage is a really tough business, and I think its important to stress that, particularly to those who are looking in to it, or who perhaps skim this blog and imagine us living in some sort of Persian/British Utopia! Trust me, that couldn’t be further from the truth! I think it is hard to admit struggles when you are in a cross-cultural relationship, because you often spend so much time fighting for basic things; family acceptance, immigration rights; community acceptance, conflicting cultures within the home; and so on, that you build a constant subconscious line of defence around yourself at all times! Sure; not every one wants to air their disagreements on the net, and we all know of the dangers related to displaying dirty linen in public! But all the same; there is a need to acknowledge things can be hard! Admitting it takes the pressure off from both parties, it enables you to start defining a path forward; and of course, for any one reading this who is considering a cross-cultural marriage, you’ll either see that you are not alone, or else be prepared for the struggles and not freak out when they happen!

So, our current struggle? Well, its not new; it’s the same one we started with really! Immigration; more than immigration; where we will live, reside, put down routes! This has rather shifted up a gear in the last couple of weeks for varying reasons. As I write this, I am reminded of the song; ‘where shall you and I sleep my love, where shall you and I sleep!
Re: Georgia, I didn’t want to go! I knew we had to deal with the civil stuff, but honestly; I knew that 7 days with my husband would only exacerbate my feelings of isolation and sadness at being without him. After Iran, I felt sad, but I got in to a routine of sorts; getting by; doing what I needed to, but Georgia brought it all back to the surface, and after the euphoria of getting our certificate, it was down to earth with a bang! One thing got me through it though; the power of 6! Let me explain; now that we are both Islamicly and civilly married, there is only one final obstacle standing between us living together here in Scotland; WORK!! See, in order for Reza to be granted a visa; he needs a sponsor (his wife), to be in work, and for the marriage not to resort in any kind of recourse to public funds! If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll remember the Inclusion Scotland saga, and how that cost me my position; and the following job offer that fell apart! Since all of that, I’ve applied for more jobs than I can even remember, and while I’ve secured enough freelance work to make ends meet, its not been enough to demonstrate a decent income, or to prevent resorting to public funds to pay the bills! The power of 6? Well, I had 6 key job applications in the pipeline. 3 were jobs with companies owned by friends who had been ‘putting in good words for me, 2 were with positive action programmes run by the government for disabled people; and the final one was a company who had already shortlisted me through a gruelling 3 interviews! We had high hopes, and knew that all we had to do was swing one of them! None of these were really dream jobs, and let me be clear; I’m way past the ego thing about work equalling my qualifications, (work that pays will do fine!), once I’d got it, we could submit our documents to the homeoffice, and within 2/3 months or so, Insha Allah, all would be over; visas, together; tranquillity, and …, starting a family maybe?
I past the post-Georgia period by thrusting every last ounce of my energy in to the pivotal power of 6, and waited! Slowly, ever so slowly, the results came in! 1 rejection, 2 rejections, 3 rejections and 4, 5 rejections, 6 rejections; could I take any more? 6 rejections, game over! the final nail in the proverbial coffin of 6 came last Monday, and I admit it; I absolutely fell apart! Call me irrational, ungrateful, whatever, but I actually fell down in sajda weeping! Crying out “Allah what did I do wrong! Do you hate me? What did I do wrong! All I wanted was halal rizq! And not for the money, just so that I could live in peace with my husband! I know I am not a good Muslim, I know I could be so much better, but am I that evil? Am I that hated?”. This was the tone of the whole day, and when the evening came, I could hardly get the words out when Reza called; that’s the thing about distance! How do you express ‘broken on a long distance skype line! What is the point of showing your tears; only to distress the other person! How can you derive any comfort, when you can’t share a hug, a cup of tea, or just that reassurance that comes from not being on your own! How do you work out solutions when you can’t go for a walk, cook some comfort food or spend a whole night talking it out till you both find peace at the end! At most, Reza and I talk for maybe 1.5 hours a night! We are both on totally different schedules and have a 4.5 hour time difference to contend with; neither of which can be changed much, and which only hinder communication to the maximum! I must say here, that we both have very different ways of resolving conflict, (or not, as the case appears to be!). We don’t really fight, we are not in to that, and avoiding fights was one of the things we promised in our marriage contract, especially when we are living like this! So no raised voices or indecencies here; but while Reza is effortlessly optimistic, I am not! I wouldn’t describe myself as negative necessarily, (though maybe I am!), but living alone for so many years has developed an introverted response to tension; I hide; disappear, cut off from the world, go to bed and drag the blankets over my head (literally!), till the dust settles! I contain so much inside myself that, when it does eventually spill out, (as it did last week), I realise just how spiritually and emotionally tired I am, and that what I’m actually dealing with is something more like a miniature breakdown rather than a pretty average upset! But again, how do I convey all of this at a distance! The thing is, one of the many endearing qualities that drew me to my husband was his iman! He has one of the strongest, unshaken, most routed forms of faith I’ve ever seen! He actually doesn’t worry, stress or flap, he says he isn’t sad, and he means it! his stock answer to most things is, “there is a solution, its just that we haven’t found it yet!”, or, “Allah has something better in store for us, we just have to be patient, sit it out and wait!”, or, “haven’t we both faced so much worse? We will have our entire lives beyond this year; it isn’t such a big deal at all!”.
Now, I love these sentiments, I know they are correct, I know they are the Islamic way of responding to things; and when I’m feeling positive, I can see, respect, and act upon all of them! But when my back is against it and I’m low, it just bugs me to pieces! Now, you might be saying, ‘come on! Its just a job! (or 6), and you would be correct! On the surface these are just jobs; and I know very well they were not in my naseeb! When I applied for each of them, I took out sadqa, and simply prayed “oh Allah, if these are good for me, give them to me; if they are not, help me to accept that and be patient with whatever you decide for me!”. I accept that, for reasons I do not know, these jobs were not right for me, but this doesn’t change where we are now! Without these jobs, (or something similar), we can’t move forward! We don’t have the support of my family, or any one else here who can support Reza! (you know the script; if you want something doing, then do it yourself!).
So, where are we now, and what do we have?
We can still submit a marriage application to the homeoffice based on what we do have (though, there is like maybe a 2% chance of it being accepted!). We can sit it out, continuing to live like this and praying I find work, (keeping in mind that, its been over a year already, and nothing; and as a visually impaired person, like it or not, I am bottom of the unemployed pile, which mostly contains non-disabled folk who are deemed better catches!). We can wait, and see if Reza can come here by other means, some other kind of visa (HSMP etc, though such visas are becoming even harder to get in the current climate). Or, we could move!! As you know, Reza and I always had moving on the cards! The UK was not necessarily a long-term solution! Our plan had been; to come here, sort out his UK nationality and my Iranian Passport; work for a few years, save some money, Insha Allah start a family, and then, think about where to go next! Perhaps back to Baku if he got a decent job in oil; Perhaps back to Tehran if politics and the like got better; perhaps somewhere different entirely! But now? Well, moving now is a very different game entirely! First off, we are from 2 different countries, with different immigration rules, we have nothing to bind us other than our marriage certificate! It may be that I can stay easily in one country, but Reza’s passport doesn’t allow him to. Should we have children overseas at this point, their nationality will be a massive problem for us! Where will they go; who’s nationality will they inherit! There is something else too; if we move now, the UK won’t grant us both entrance for 4 years! Yeah, 4 years! This is the only further claws they have regarding UK citizens marrying foreign nationals; the foreign spouse is granted right to remain, if the couple have been living together for 4 years in some other country! This will mean leaving my family, leaving my mother to deal with the care responsibilities she has to my Grandparents, and knowing all the time that there is no one else to help her. Both of us are only children and therefore, very dependent as a result. My Grandparents have never really got past the idea of me being 5! And so can’t comprehend marriage, let alone moving away! I still remember one of the late night calls I got from them in Karachi; “If we die, while you are away, its your fault, because of the tension you caused us!”. While I know all of this is emotional blackmail, do I really want to cause such upset to elderly people, and to my parents at a time when they are still not very supportive of Reza and I? So many questions, so few solutions! So, I prayed, and prayed, and continue to pray, and its almost like there is an internal battle within myself; sometimes I am so committed to just getting on a plane and leaving! I.e., another incident with the paan brigade last night made me think, “is there any point in fighting to be here?”. Then at other times, I think of the potential struggles that will come from leaving now, and more importantly, returning with nothing! How will we cope, how will we get through it! And so it is, that Reza continues not to worry! Over the past week, we’ve discussed so many options, I’ve even gone so far as to question him on the relationship; i.e., whether he thinks it is worth suffering so much? not because we don’t love each other, but because I just wonder if his life couldn’t be easier in another way! I love him, and want the best for him!
I don’t have much in the way of a conclusion to speak of, accept to say that this is a work in progress! We are sort-of waiting, and sort-of taking matters in to our own hands. I do realise that one should not question the wisdom of Allah (SWT), he is the best of planners, the one who brought us together and the one who will define where we should be, but I am interested in your thoughts on this, particularly if you’ve faced similar relocation or immigration challenges; how did you face them, how did you reach decisions about where to base yourselves. How do you keep the relationship stable and vibrant when there is so much uncertainty and negativity around!
I went for a walk yesterday, and got lost in the trees, (as you know from my poetry!). 2 of them, had become twisted; tangled up resulting from a bad storm! They were still strong and growing correctly, but twisted together so that it became hard to decipher which was which! Insha Allah we will be the same as a result of this experience; and when we emerge, wherever that may be, we will be 1 entity instead of 2, who value each moment and never take our blessings for granted! For now, we just have to huddle close, and struggle against the storm!

Monday, 7 March 2011

OOOO Another Award!

Hello, .., Happy Monday!
So, Sis Tara over at FHWS (Future Husbands and wives of Saudis), has
generously past me the 'gorgeous blog award! This award is gifted to
all Awesome bloggers! All you have to do is answer the 5 questions
below, then pass the award to 5 bloggers you think deserve the award!
So, here goes!

1) when did you start your blog?
2) Back in May 2009! I'd been thinking about starting a blog for a
while, but one Saturday night when I was bored, I finally got to it!
If you'd told me I'd still be here, around 3 years later, with some
dedicated followers and some great new friends I've met through
blogging, I would have had a great laugh! But I'm still here, and I
love the fact that this blog stands as a testament to lots of joys,
sadness, highs and lows, yet with your love and the grace of Allah
(SWT) I've come through it all! What is the saying; if Allah brings
you to it, he will bring you through it!

3) What do you write about?

4) Well! Every thing and any thing! My personal thoughts, reflections,
views and ridiculous moments! I share articles, comment and Islamic
materials, as well as topical issues of interest; particularly those
which don't get much in the way of a mainstream airing (such as the
FGM series). More recently, the blog has taken quite an Iranian slant
(for obvious reasons!), but I like the fact that it is fluid and keeps
taking on new dimensions, (oh, and it goes without saying; if there is
something you'd like me to write about, or just a question you've been
dying to ask, leave it in the comments section and I'll get to it!).

3) What makes your blog special?
Hmm! You tell me!! I don't know that it is special; I've read many
blogs that are way better! But certainly I can't think of any other
bloggers who write from my perspective; (blind shia convert, divorced,
remarried, etc). There are allot of different facets to me, and to the
blog. Not every one will relate to them all, but many will relate to
one or some of them, and that gives me some comfort in that I am
reaching out, or creating a voice for those who are often not
represented/heard. I think one thing that is special about this blog,
and all blogs for that matter, is the fact that it is a living record
of the life cycle. This kind of writing used to exist in diaries, yet
with a blog, you are able to bring so much more of yourself; media,
poetry, music and so on; not to mention the ability to make new
connections with new people; While I often fret over blogger crashing
(I've no backup!), I really believe that blogs will act as the history
of the future, and it somehow feels like a real honour to be part of
that!

4) What made you want to start writing a blog!
6) Well, I think I've sort-of covered that one! People like 'Lucky
Fatima really inspired me; I could see the potential blogs can have
for learning, educating and creating access to a world view from the
ground as it were. Plus, while I've worked in TV, radio etc, I haven't
experimented much with print media and the blog was a good sounding
board from which to do it, as well as floating ideas for my book, (but
only you know how well I'm doing), (or not!).

5) What would you like to change in your blog?
Hmm, the layout I think, needs more pictures, more exciting template,
Insha Allah when Reza and I are together he has promised to do some
facelift work on the blog, so watch this space! Other than that, I'm
fairly happy for it to grow organically as it has been growing! Of
course a few more followers and better web stats would be nice, but
lets not be greedy! Allahu Alim!

So, while there are far too many of you to honour, there can only be 5 winners!
Mine are: Lucky Fatima,
Sis Masooma (otowi),
Kanwal, from Kanwalful meets world, (because she was the very first
person to give me an award!).
My cousin Irena from 'On Our Journey,
And last but not least, to jan from 'Gori Desi Rishta, for being
another one of the scarce few blind bloggers out there! Pick up your
award, answer the questions and don't forget to share the love, and
pass it on! (oh and I do love the rest of you; so feel free to pick it
up, if you really want; that wasn't a Michael Jackson moment; you
really are awesome!).

Friday, 4 March 2011

Shifting sands in Persian lands!

So, what do you know about Iran?
…, Forget the tabloids, Bush’s Bombing ambitions and the great kebab, what do you really know about Iran?
If you can’t see any thing that stretches remotely beyond the above, don’t worry! Before I met my husband, I might well have been somewhere similar. I like to think I wasn’t completely ignorant; I knew a few words of Farsi, I knew about the rich historical legacy, the great poetry, beautiful buildings and loving people! I was a fan of the food, and had a keen desire to visit! But as a shia Muslim; I, like billions of my fellow faithful; had a unique connection to Iran; an almost unconditional love, that transcended time, distance and circumstances; and why? Simple! Iran was a shia country, yeah! A REAL shia country! A home, a haven, a place where we belonged, a tiny corner of the east where all was good and peaceful; where Islam was as it is supposed to be; a place where we could go, and where we would be accepted! Any religious minority will relate to this sentiment, but perhaps the shia experience is a little more profound! As a Muslim convert who is shia, I am rejected by my family, my friends and my country, and if I try to integrate in to the mainly salafi Muslim community around me, I am thrown out and accused of being a kafir; hence the great homage to Iran! When Reza and I first became serious, every one around me heaved a sigh of relief, not just because it looked like I’d finally settle down, but because “He’s from Iran, he’ll be a real Muslim, a real shia, he’ll teach you so much, you’ll be able to visit Mashhad whenever you want!”. I have to admit that, before I had even said salaam to my in-laws, I was so in love with these comforts and aspirations that even if I’d been treated like an outcast I don’t think I would have noticed! I don’t remember when, or more importantly, how often, I projected my dreams or my images of Iran on to my would-be husband, but I do remember when the house of sand started to come tumbling down! Back in the day, when Reza and I were still “formal”, and assessing where the land lay so-to-speak, I wrote a paragraph or 2 on the wife of the late Ayatollah Khomaini. I commented that I’d noted with concern the decline in her health and was interested in how Iranians were gathering to pray for her, and what he estimated her legacy to be in terms of preserving her husband’s wealth of knowledge. He didn’t reply, but when we next spoke on the phone, he said in passing; “oh, and about Khomaini’s wife, nothing is happening in Iran; no one knows about that, and no one will really care!”. I didn’t say any thing, but was shaken; was he serious? More importantly, this wasn’t the ultra extreme shia I had identified from between the lines! (not that I necessarily wanted an extreme husband, but an extreme shia would surely be an acceptable compromise!). During the sacred month of Muharram I questioned my husband as to why his parents were not attending daily programmes in the masjid. I was palmed off on this one, by being told that Muharram programmes were controlled by the government, as were jummah programmes, and that any self respecting Muslim preferred to worship at home, or else attend privately organised Islamic events! This was a real leap in logic for me! Call me naive, but where was Islam, and where was the government! In the shia utopia that non-residents like myself have created, the 2 are one and the same, and any hints at dictator are merely born out of western Supremacy and insecurity!
“One thing you need to know about Iranians, is that they are obsessed with conspiracies!”. This was taken from an Email conversation I had with another European woman who had married an Iranian, and made her home in Tehran! She went on to say: “despite living here for 30 years, I have made no close friends among the indigenous Iranians. This is because every one is suspicious of every one else! No one knows what persuasion/side another falls down on in reality, so it is better to keep every one at arms length for fear of associating with the wrong sort! Plus, Iranians think that Westerners are spies, because they often use students, journalists and elites as spies when they migrate overseas”. Iranian spies? This was all sounding way too much like the Wahabi propaganda I had attempted to escape soon after converting to Islam! Was there any truth in it? let me fastforward to the time our marriage was being set; every thing was final, it was just a case of ‘When! Being in Scotland, and being new to the system, I was having some difficulties communicating with the Iranian Embassy in London! I mentioned this to a friend who was a frequent traveller to the Islamic Republic; not just because she’d been around, but also because her husband was a big shot in the Islamic Centre of England (which is, for the most part, 100% Iran funded!). She told me there would be no problem at all in contacting her husband, and that he could resolve my visa issue! Now, I can’t name this individual, but most of my shia readers know exactly who I’m talking about! An Email was sent, requesting assistance! His response?
“sorry sister, we have researched on your spouse, and we have reason to believe he does not support the regime!” “NO NO he doesn’t!” I assured him! “he doesn’t endorse the government at all! He is an independent, sincere, free thinking Muslim, and his family appear to be from the same mindset! You need have no worries on that score!”. You guessed it; I got this one horribly wrong as well “sister! What are you thinking! Marriage with an Iranian is very dangerous! Before you can say yes, you must have references! You should know what masjid he attends and be able to give me the names of ulamah who can vouch for him and his family. You must have police checks done on him and his family; you should be able to identify at least 2 government representatives who can guarantee his character! If you can’t do these things! Any thing may happen to you, and there is no way we can assist you in marrying such an indecent man who doesn’t supply these things! I strongly advise you to untangle yourself from this relationship, if the above cannot be given to you!”. Ah well! My husband has no adoring ulamah at his disposal! He has no government chums (thank God!), and the police checks? I assume this was to insure he hadn’t been chilling with those germs called liberals and protesting! But hey, I want a real man don’t I, not a regime puppet! So we go ahead; and all is good! Only with one major change! I see Iran through very different eyes now that I’m a part of it, and soon to become a national! So, we visit Iran, we travel, meet, greet and interact with a wealth of different people! Most of them are as keen to work me out, as I am to learn about their side of the fence! Some people let me talk, others don’t, and there are others still who I am not permitted to talk to! (apparently for my safety as well as their own!). I am told not to talk about being a journalist, and not to discuss my political/religious ideologies, or my work within the Scottish national Party! A seemingly innocent discussion about ziyerat ashura suddenly becomes very uncomfortable! My SIL’s father-in-law (hope you are keeping up with this), got me in a pincer movement after lunch one day, quizzing me on what I thought about the Lannah contained within the ziyerat! “I see nothing wrong with it”, I say. “Lannah is basically disassociation from evil and wrong doing. People choose to interpret it as discrimination, or cursing, either because it fuels their hatred of shias, or because shias abuse Lannah as a means to let off steam about wahabis!”. “nonsense” he retorted! “Lannah is an outdated phenomenon! It is most certainly abusive! For the sake of unity, we should not be using it! surely its common sense to you that insulting Umar in a ziyerat is not going to be acceptable to the suni majority!”. I think about this, and suddenly flush red as I can see where he is going! In my mind, I want to tell him that Lannah is basically a form of spiritual protest, I also want to correct him, the Lannah about Umar is not pointed at the khalifa of the same name, its actually Umar ibn Saad! But its too late; he’s asking me “what books do you read?”, and that’s when I know I need to get out of there! I excuse myself to pray, and spend the rest of the afternoon chilling with the children, in case I am cornered again! By the end of the trip however, I had come to see precisely what was going on there. In particular, I am caught between the massive disparity in the every day Islam of the masses, and the politically generated version! I am not permitted to attend any of the masjid programmes, but the Government TV broadcaster IRIB pumps out a fair few of them, which I watch with interest! The lectures do contain Islamic content, but each and every Islamic reference is further referenced back to a ministerial policy! E.G:
“In the sacred qur’an, Allah is described as the light of the heavens and the earth, just as Mahmoud Ahmad Inejad is the light of Iran, the absolute just leader!” (OK, that was my own example, but you get the point!). Here is a real one that I did see on TV;
“the 7th Imam, Mousa al Qadhim (A.S) spent so much of his life in prison, abused and rejected by his people, and today, the people of Iran try to do the same to our president. This will not reduce his power however, his right to rule and his divine knowledge. He will continue to fight the evils of the West and the American backed Rebellions of his people, till his dying breath, and thereafter!”. There were countless other examples of this, but I’m sure you are feeling sick by now, and certainly understanding why most Muslims prefer to keep their faith to themselves! While there are sometimes pitch battles between the government and the communities of Islamic scholars in Iran, most of them do not extend very far! It is in the interest of the scholars to toe the political line, moreover, only those government approved scholars are legitimately permitted to implement and exercise their rights to statute Islamic law! Only recently, a growing group of Islamic scholars who were campaigning for the need to return to pure, authentic Islam were imprisoned for speaking out against the government! I leave Iran, with a great deal of sadness; I can’t forget the love, kindness and generosity I experienced at the hands of each and every one I met, yet the great suppression they suffer, and the so-called Islamic rule they are subject to, all seem set to crush this beautiful Paradise! Now, I know what some of you will be thinking, …, Didn’t the Iranians choose this at the time of the revolution? Well, in a way, they did! Switch back to the Seventies, the promises that ayatollah Khomaini offered the masses, a chance to clean up the country from American backed puppets, the chance to self determine, to live freely and with pride as the God fearing, just and honest Muslims that Iranians know themselves to be. The promise of jobs, education, women’s rights, a return to a golden age of truth and sincere human values was not something any sane individual would ignore! You only have to study the spiritual works of Khomaini to understand the elevated soul he possessed, and which generated these affirmations for his people; in particular, his work on Salat is one of the most powerful and moving pronouncements on prayer I have ever had the fortune to study in my life! But somehow, when the dust settled, it all went horribly wrong! What the new Muslim law enforcers hadn’t bargained for was the liberty of the people! Through-out History, Persians have been a proud, Independent, free flowing movement of humanity, self determining and above all, free! On the outset, this doesn’t contradict Islam in any way shape or form, but how do you contain such a people, in order to even come close to making your dreams come true? …, bring on oppression! Over a systematic period of time, Islam became the stick with which to beat the masses; impose hijaab, ban music, limit access to external media reporting. Control communications, employ spies from among the people so that humanity lives in a perpetual state of fear and insecurity! The part about their being no compulsion in religion, seemed to be lost on the governments of the time! There was another issue too; the promises! The pledges about jobs, about free fuel, about justice for all, about cleaning up corruption, …, you guessed it; none of them materialised! People felt, and continue to feel, a growing sense of desperation and anger; the regime they bought in to, believed in, supported with all they had to give, was now the very regime that was keeping them down, preventing them from speaking out, or from remotely realising their own personal dreams of success! And today? Well, unless you are an insider, (or else horribly deluded!), you don’t really support the regime as it stands! But this hasn’t stopped Iran, nor has it lost any support! It is easy to endorse the regime and its policies if you are not a part of it, and that is what Iran has done; its supporters live overseas! Just as Saudi has done with its funded wahabi masjids, Iran funds Islamic centres, exports scholars and promotes propaganda to the non-residents! Converts to wish to study in the Islamic Republic are given star indoctrination, in the hopes that they take the regime back to their countries of origin! The Iran backing for the Iraqis during the fall of Saddam certainly earned them points among the UK based refugees! Only last week, a member of the Iraqi community called me up accusing me of being a heretic “how can you point fingers at the regime! You don’t know what you are talking about! There is every reason to believe that Ahmad Inejad is Imam Mahdi himself!”. This, believe it or not, is a view promoted by some sections of the propaganda machine, but its so disgusting, I refuse to even entertain writing about it further on my blog! Perhaps I am taking a risk, maybe I shouldn’t write about these things, but stepping inside Iran, I had only one question for my shia faithful; “why don’t you help the Iranians?”, I was even asked this by Iranians during my visit “why don’t your people help us?”. As shias, we have become lost in a false sense of hot air and goodness; we see what we want to see when it comes to Iran. We fail to understand the protests and the Iranian uprisings because the Western media frames them as a cry for Western Democracy, while the Muslim leaders condemn them and don’t take the debate any further! Its easy to say we support a regime we know little about, and when we have all of our freedoms in tact! We don’t support the Western governments who claim they are “giving them freedom!”. We can see, quite rightly, that freedom lives among the paraphernalia of emotional intelligence; along-side love, happiness, liberty. You cannot give these invisible commodities to any one, but you can certainly curtail another person’s access to them, as is being done in the republic! The Iranians continue to suffer, continue to protest, while the young shias of London and related cities live off the funds the imported ayatollahs give them. Only recently, I heard of a young group of Iraqis who requested money from such a scholar, apparently, to be used in spreading the teachings of the Ahlulbayt (A.S). The money was given, no questions asked! The youngsters subsequently rented a pleasure boat and went all out on the Thames having a weekend chill down party with their mates! With alcohol, with music, the whole 9 yards! But hey, they support the regime! Really, when will we wake up! When will we, as shias, put our passion, our knowledge, our energies to good use! When will we wake up to the truth as it really is!
Last week, the 2 main opposition leaders in Iran were arrested with their wives and families. There has so far been no word from them and human rights organisations fear torture. My husband wept when he recounted this news to me;
“you don’t understand, if you don’t have freedom of speech, if you can’t express yourself, you have nothing, absolutely nothing! My people have no dreams, no contentment, no future! Nothing to look forward to or aim for. The only options are to try and get out, …, or to die!”, he said.