Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Untold Tales of Tahruf.

Iranian culture is governed by a complex, little-known social system of rulings and behaviours, known as Tahruf. I don’t have a literal translation for this particular concept; but if you can picture a state, balancing somewhere between politeness and faking it, (and leaning quite heavily to the right!), then you’ve got what tahruf is about! Arguably many (if not all!), fazes of polite conduct are riddled with insincerity, but somehow, tahruf takes it to a whole new level! The other problem is that there doesn’t appear to be a get-out for those newly inducted or who slip up on account of not knowing the lay of the land! If you fluff it, you are deemed disrespectful, without shame, beyond help! When I realised this, I became quiet, introverted, almost phobic about socialising in Iran and showing my in-laws up! As some one who likes to speak, to be heard, to engage others, the likelihood of me embarrassing my in-laws to the point of exile was always a very live possibility when I was around! And even if I had accidentally done just that, they were far too polite to tell me! And that is the biggest issue with tahruf, it manifests its self most of the time by people never saying what they mean! Let me give some examples; if a guest comes to your house for tea, you must ask him to stay for dinner. Even if your guest says “thank you, but I have another appointment and really need to leave shortly”, you must insist, violently pressing your guest to stay. The guest (for his part), must eventually give in with good grace and accept the dinner invite, even if it means that the rest of his day has been thrown in to disarray!
Another social example; if you have a group of guests visiting, you must quickly identify them in order of age, position and rank; serving tea to the eldest first, and working your way steadily down the line! This isn’t always easy to do if you haven’t been briefed on the family dynamics in advance! You might serve tea to a cousin first, rather than your mother’s sister (they are the same age, but mother’s closest relative would come first!), or, because Iranian women are so obsessed with body image and are almost always incredibly preened and beautiful! You actually can’t always pick out a mother from a daughter from a sister and so on! In your presence, people will laugh this off, but behind your back, they are thinking what a useless wife you are and how little you understand the intricacies of family life!
When we got married, we had to sit down with a book and write down who gave us what gift! I assumed this was so that we could send out appropriate thank you notes! But no; it was to make sure that we exceeded these gifts when their sons or daughters would marry in the future!
It took me some time to get my head around all of this. I initially didn’t think that tahruf was such a big deal, because even though I’d seen it in action, no one had specifically pointed it out to me! No one had taken me aside before my Niqah and said “Right tubelight! You are now an Iranian wife! There are certain things you must know and say and do! And God Help you if you get any of them wrong!”. If some one invited me to dinner, and expressed an interest in keeping in touch! I was all smiles and exchanging Email addresses! I didn’t read between the lines and see “OK, so you are my husband’s friend’s wife! I invited you here because it was the right thing to do, and I’m saying we should keep in touch because I want to be friendly, not because I actually mean it!”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that every one in Iran fakes it, far from it! but the problem is that tahruf governs so much in Iran that it becomes almost impossible for an outsider to determine what is genuine, and what is just playing along as it were. I discussed this with a German friend who has been living in Tehran for around 30 years now! She neither reassured me, nor snubbed me out:
“If you don’t understand tahruf Roshni, neither do I! Its been 30 years since I came here, and I don’t understand all of the Dos and Don’ts! Ironically, my daughter, who has been raised here, gets it more than I do; and I often refer to her before attending a party in case I make some awful unconscious gaff in the offing!”. This didn’t yield well for me! I imagined myself as a ridiculous blind bumbling idiot! Always being painfully slow on the uptake, and catching the drift light years after missing the boat! Clinging desperately to the lifeline of my children and only enhancing the generation chasm in the process!
Reza doesn’t talk about these things either! He laughs them off, assuring me that I’ll get it in time! Though, I don’t really know what it is I’m supposed to be getting! I neither know where to begin, or where it will end! You have to know what questions to ask, in order to seek out the right answers and act upon them! Here in lies another major problem with Tahruf; its not just that what is said lacks intent; rather, what remains unsaid, is what you should really be worrying about! As Muslims, we are advised to hold our tongues, to watch our speech, behaviour etc, however I have never interpreted this as a lisence to avoid dealing with that which needs to be resolved, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. I also thought that distance played a part in this too; Reza and I don’t have that much real time in which to connect (all be it virtually), on our current schedules! And when we do get the chance, its easier just to enjoy each other’s proximity; rather than getting lost in subtexts regarding mortgages, visas and employment!
Lately however, as our distance remains fixed and we appear not even remotely closer to an immigration solution, I feel the need to take the proverbial by the horns and talk it out! “don’t ever question your husband about these things!” my Iranian friends advise. “If you do, he will think you are looking for a way out, that you are not committed to the relationship, so that he, in turn, will lose interest in you as well!”. This struck me as absurd; after all, if my husband approached me and wanted to talk about where we go from here, I’d respect the fact that he recognised how this situation was tearing us apart and seriously damaging our relationship, and how pivotal it was to bring it to a conclusion one way or another! But the panicked warnings of Iranians who understood good Persian Marriage conduct far better than I did, meant that I just skirted a path around it! Occasionally, I drop in to conversations with my husband: “do you think we should talk about where we go from here, I mean, are you worried about things?”, he smiles, and assures me that he isn’t worried, and says there is no need to talk about it; and if he believes I buy this, then we don’t know each other at all! But floating aimlessly down the river of the great unspoken appears to be perfectly acceptable in Iranian life! And so that is what I do! At night, as I try to steady my shattered nerves and focus on my night prayers, I find my mind straying in to what else might now be tainted by tahruf imposed silences: (you need to lose weight, you are not very attractive these days, I’m sick of waiting around for this visa, lets call it a day! Do you have to be so sad all the time? Why can’t your family get over themselves and just deal with us!). This morning, I returned home after a crippling 24 hour session on the film script. Sangeev and I had been putting it off; and now, the film council were demanding funding proposals; and we had to make the final edits! The day was long, exhausting and ‘all work! But it was less dramatic; not following the usual pitch battles for particular scenes and nuances that we usually joust over! “something is really wrong Roshni; you haven’t even argued with me!”, he commented, and as I tried to settle myself down, an uncontrollable fit of tears came over me. Try as I might, I was waling, howling like a baby; and that too in the presence of a work colleague! I bit hard on my bottom lip; almost drawing blood! And 3 large glasses of water later, the lump in my throat cleared enough for me to get the words out! I couldn’t explain what was wrong, neither to him nor to myself! I just bleated on about “life being really hard right now”. (see: tahruf really is taking over my life!). Then, somehow, we got in to discussions about relationships, and Arab American guy and the cycles of error we both seem to perpetually fall in to. “the problem is Roshni; you need to determine reality; all of the games we play, the words and deeds we fake, the aura we create around ourselves; can it hold out under pressure? Can you really be yourself with the other person? It really is that simple! If the cards all come tumbling down with the first gentle breeze, you know its not real!”. And maybe that’s my problem, in my battles to survive, whether illness, overseas living, violence, divorce, and now unemployment/marital distance, I’ve never given myself the time to analyse what is real and what isn’t! Karachi felt/feels real, so real that I still remember the smell of roasting corn from the window below my room, or the action required to clean cockroaches from the studio floor in the mornings! But this situation, this limbo doesn’t feel real; it just feels like a drug induced hays! Like a dream you have when you are only half awake, so that when you finally emerge from sleep, you cannot pinpoint the portion that existed in your minds eye, and the part in which you were fully functional!
I listened to Sangeev talk about reality, and started making a paper plane out of my last page of notes. The plane was beautiful! I still possessed the childhood skill for it! crafting each wing, each propeller, but then I got bored and started making nail prints on it, and crumpling the fragile frame, so that in the end, I simply had a ball, with wings! I opened the window and let it fly; seeing myself in that crushed piece of paper; a butterfly maybe, hanging fearfully beyond the smog of Tehran, Tahruf and uncertainty, praying only that the fog will clear so that I can see the land below for what it really is; good, bad and indifferent; and then maybe, when I see it, I will be able to move on at last!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

For the Love of a Son: A Life-changing Novel!

What would you do for justice? I mean, how loud would you shout? how much would you be willing to sacrifice? how much danger would you face? how much degradation would you tolerate?
Would you suffer in silence because that was just easier or would you stand up, dust yourself off and just go on fighting?!
The truth is its not something we really have to think about here in the West. Our activism, though necessary in its own right, often feels sterile, weak, diluted to the point of being desensitised from every thing! That is why the above novel reached me at a level so elemental, so deep, so real. The reality is that this world of ours rarely meets the like of Maryam Khail. Women, who did not ask to be activists, but the reality of life thrust these duties upon them from the moment they exited the womb, and boy did they meet it head on!
In this compelling, moving and deeply passionate true story, Maryam charts the journey of her life. Spanning Afghanistan, India, America and Saudi Arabia, she discusses the struggles faced by her gender against a backdrop of oppression, war, indignity and tribal loyalties. She displays with sensitivity yet raw honesty the complex trials Afghan women face; simply raising children, living peacefully with husbands or trying to buy bread from the shop can be issues sparking a multitude of torments, mental and physical cruelty of the most barbaric order.
A forced marriage, leads to the birth of a beautiful baby boy, and in the birth of her son, a new chapter of Maryam’s horror shall begin. As her violent home life spirals out of control, her fear for her baby’s safety escalates, but who knew; as she walked in to the bathroom to wash her face, the smile she offered to her baby boy on route would be the last smile she would lovingly send his way.
Where did her baby go?
Will she ever see him again?
How does a mother reconcile such grief, loss and suffering and still carry on?
Maryam’s incredible journey poses all of these questions and more, yet despite her loss and despair, the novel also offers great hope. It demonstrates practically how, and why, a woman like Maryam does not give up. It shows that where there is life, there is a basic human compulsion to go on, to keep fighting. Maryam Khail possesses a God-Given strength that I believe is rare among our women today. There were times during her novel where I would squirm, almost willing her with all my heart not to take a particular route, not to follow through with the so obvious risks she was taking. Yet one has to admire her confidence, tenacity and daring to do what she knows she must; you wonder what our world, and what woman kind could be if there were just a few more Maryam’s on our earth!
To talk about the book, or the plot, in detail would be an utter injustice; so I’ll simply emphasise how much you MUST read it!
For the love of a son, by Jean Sasson can be purchased from Amazon; and for all of you, like me, who are addicted to the Kindle, a digital version is available too! I was so moved by this beautiful heart-felt biography that I took the liberty of Emailing Maryam my thoughts; my comments, and her reply, are pasted below.

Salaams Maryam Jaan. I hope this note finds you well. You do not know me, though after reading your book, I feel as though I do and felt the need to write you a few lines. I am a disabled human rights activist, living in the UK. I read the reviews of your book, and because I have a particular passion/interest in South Asia and women’s rights, thought I knew what to expect. Nothing could have prepared me for reading your book. None of the novels; neither fact nor fiction that has come out of the region even comes close to it. Nothing could have prepared me for the love, passion and heartache with which you tell your story. I read the book in almost one sitting, I feel it is the kind of book to be reflected upon in this way. It is the kind of book you cannot put down, yet when it is over, you look at the world around you with a completely new lens, realising that every thing around you is still the same, yet you have changed so much from within. I can’t begin to imagine how much you have hurt, and how you live with your trauma on a daily basis. Nor can I imagine the innate insight and strength it has taken for you to share something so traumatic, so personal, so intimate with the rest of the world. The book exposes you to others, but also to the dangers that have come before and lay ahead, but still you took this risk. I have immense, immeasurable respect for your courage, strength and determination in the face of adversity. I read this book, reflecting on my struggles and thinking that my life was hard. By the end, I had been humbled to tears over and over again in the depths of the night as I thanked my creator for the life I have, but also for giving me the opportunity to glimpse in to your own. Though I do not know you, I think it is impossible to read this book and not feel involved, or feel an intense, indescribable need, to reach out, to express emotions and to do something about them. In my humble state I feel hopeless to make your life better, or even to express myself in a more eloquent manner. Since reading your story there has not been a day, a moment where my heart does not pour fourth with prayers for your present and your future. I pray only that the good you seek for yourself and your family is granted to you, for surely after hardship, ease must dilute the suffering in the end! I want and wish I could do so much for you. I am an activist myself, some of the causes we work for are the same, others are different, yet the principals remain the same. Ultimately, people like me who are not from Afghanistan are feather bedding! We can only empathise so much and travel so far in our campaigning. We need angels of light, cymbals of hope, understanding and justice to come forward and share their truth with the world. Many dream of doing what you have done, few have the courage to carry it out. Your entire life stands as an example of liberty, freedom, equality, dignity and an unbreakable, beautiful soul. I feel honoured to have read your book, and even more honoured to have been able to write you these few lines. I am only your servant; your well wisher, expressing myself; and it goes without saying that if I ever can, or could be, of assistance to you, I would, and will always be available for the same. For now, All I can do is thank you, and admire you from a distance. May you be blessed in both worlds for your sufferings and your strength through adversity. I pray that this book spreads like a star of light and hope across the world and generates the good, the confidence, the activism and empowerment among women and campaigners that you seek, Insha Allah.

With love, duas, and respect.
Your sister,

***Maryam’s reply ***

Dear Roshni Jan,
Thank you very much for your beautiful E-mail. I really appreciated your thoughts about my life.
I'm very happy that you are an activist for our gender and people like you can help and make a difference for those of us who are oppressed because of the
ignorance of the society we live in.
Please do spread the wards and put my story as an example.
with kind regards,
Maryam T

Monday, 4 April 2011

My Journey to light: how it all Began!

This may not be the best written article in the world, but I stumbled across it while looking for something else, and thought I’d share it! I’ve shared aspects of my Reversion story on the blog, but never in its entirety! This was published in the Indian addition of Roshni magazine in October 2010, and I’m posting the original English Article below. May Allah (SWT) bless all those who have found his path of guidance, and may he (SWT) continue to bless us and keep us on the straight path: aameen.
Roshni: mere zindagi ca safar,

By the Grace of Allah (SWT), I have been on the path of ‘haq now for around 14 years, but never the less I am still amazed and fascinated by revert stories. While all of us are born on the ‘Fitra, the innate truth of Islam, we are inducted in to our respective lifestyles, faith and circumstances as a result of the setting we exist in, some of us find truth, others don’t, while some simply never get the opportunity, but one thing life has certainly taught me is that some are chosen by Allah (SWT) for his blessed deen, and their journey to realise their destiny is truly the stuff of miracles, and reflecting upon their stories reminds us of Allah (SWT) grand designs and how he (SWT) is indeed the best of planners.

In my case, I was born in to a fundamentalist Christian family. My parents, respectively belonged to 2 extreme protestant factions of the faith: my father’s family were Baptists, while my mother’s belong to a little known sect: the Plymouth Brethren. Despite their strict backgrounds, neither of my parents were especially religious, though they had agreed that I would go to church and be educated in the faith as they had, so, I went to church on Sunday, followed by Sunday school and bible class. My maternal Grandfather is a recognised scholar of his community, and as I got older, I began attending the intensive bible studies he conducted in his church. From a very early age, I was struck by the strange duality, or double standards reflected in the lifestyle of my family. There was an obvious split between what their faith instructed them to do, and how this manifested its self for them. While none of us are perfect, some things, I thought, were obvious: i.e., if the bible instructs you to avoid alcohol, you would avoid it wouldn’t you? But all of my family drunk (not to excess), but drunk all the same, and feared all the time that a member of their church might catch them in the act of buying alcohol! My Grandparent’s brethren church regarded all forms of frivolity to be sins: i.e., excess in spending, Television, extravagant gatherings and so on, but my Grandmother in particular was obsessed with sopping, especially for clothes and make-up, a habit she hasn’t given up even now that she is in her eighties! When I asked questions about these dichotomies at bible study, I was never given any straight answers. The avoidance continued, even when my questions became more spiritual! I wanted to know about Jesus being the son of God? I couldn’t work out how it was possible: and if it was, who then is greater, who is worthy of worship: the father, or the son! Again, no straight answers were given. I was only 13 at this point, but for the first time in my life, I began to doubt my Christian faith. Studies of world religion in school stirred something in me, a feeling that there was more out there than I was experiencing at home. When I told my parents that I wanted to investigate other faiths, they were enraged! They strongly forbid me to do so, and seemed almost terrified whenever I raised the topic. Their fear intrigued me, and lead me to believe that I had been raised on nothing more than a brain washed idea rather than any thing factual! And so it was, that my quest began. In my early teenaged years, I developed a love for all things Indian: an uncle of mine worked in Deli, and often brought me clothes, bangles and curiosities, and my love of these things had lead me to take Hindi language classes. My teacher was a Hindu, so my obvious first choice was to visit the Mandir with her. I was instantly drawn to the Hindu faith because of its beauty, its emphasis on individuality, and all paths being equal providing they reach to the supreme being. To this day, it hurts me still when people abuse and find fault with Hindu’s, because they loved and nurtured me on my journey, and contrary to popular misconception, the majority of Hindu’s believe in Tawheed, the same as Muslims do. I also studied Buddhism, and other branches of Eastern philosophy and mysticism, and for a long time, this was enough for me. Islam, was no where on my agenda, because I’d been raised with a belief that Muslims were backward, violent extremists who treated women badly and forced them to dress strangely, and as I’d grown up with extreme Christians, the last thing I wanted was to exchange one breed of fundamentalism for another one!
All that would change however, when I was around 15. In terms of academic study, there was another trend that was developing along-side my language interests, and that was for radio/broadcast journalism. At only 15 years old, I’d managed to secure work for the BBC making children’s programmes, and also worked for several Asian community radio networks. One day, while browsing an Asian food store, I came across a poster advertising something called ‘Radio Ramadhan: a station that would be broadcasting in my area for 30 days and needed volunteers! At this point, I had no idea that it was an Islamic station, but got in touch to offer my services! On my first visit to the station, I wanted to run a million miles! Every one was Muslim, dressed in hijaab, obviously and openly religious and proud of it! I had no place there: or so I thought! But despite my awkwardness, every one seemed quite happy for me to be around. They treated me kindly, gave me tea and food although they themselves were fasting, and answered all my questions with respect and accuracy. Working with them on their programmes, I gained my first insight in to Islam, and it was nothing like what I imagined! Islam built upon my Christian background, and actually answered a great many of the questions I’d had about Christian doctrine. I became drawn to revert stories, people who had reverted from Christianity to Islam and how/what had made them do so. I became convinced early on that Islam was the truth I had been searching for, but I was extremely scared of making the switch! I knew that Islam would be more than a religion: it would mean a complete change of lifestyle: and I didn’t feel ready to take such a risk! How would my family react? Would they throw me out? Would I lose my friends? Would I be strong enough to make all the changes needed? I prayed for guidance, and, foolishly, used to strike deals with god: i.e., if I pass my exams, I’ll convert: and mashallah I’d pass every thing with fantastic marks! In the end, I knew I couldn’t avoid the truth any more: and read my Shahada on the 31st January 1997, in the presence of a group of sisters from the radio station who had come to befriend me. They all gave me gifts: one of which was a beautiful brown hijab! High on excitement and Iman, I casually walked in to the house in my new scarf, not thinking at all about how my parents would react! They were shocked, angry and horrified by what I had done. For weeks, I was not permitted to leave the house accept to attend school, and certainly wasn’t aloud to wear hijaab! I had to hide any Islamic books, scarves or prayer items, as my parents would simply damage them or throw them away! Muslim friends could not call me at home, and studying Islam became all the more difficult as I couldn’t meet any one or leave home. These restrictions were ultimately lifted, but their hatred of Islam remained. My parents tolerated me till I was 18 and had completed my main schooling, and then told me that if I wished to continue on this Islamic path, it would be best if I left their house! I was afraid, and had no idea where I would go: I had no job, no money and no senior education, what would I do? How would I survive! At this time, the masjid that supported me introduced me to a potential young man for marriage. The man was from Pakistan, spoke very little English and was not a UK national! He was not at all suitable as a spouse, but at that time, I saw him as providing a respectful, safe and halal route to leave my parent’s home, so I consented to the marriage. We spent 3 years together, 3 very hard years. He rarely worked, and when he did, all his money was sent to his family in Pakistan. Overnight, I became the financial support for the family. I got myself a counselling diploma, and began working at a Muslim women’s NGO. I even got myself more work at the BBC, and transformed from a shy, lacking in confidence teenager to a capable young woman! But there was a problem! In all of this, my Islam had been almost forgotten! I was not wearing hijaab (although I could have!), was not praying regularly, and felt quite detached from my faith, the initial sparks had gone, and in many ways I was simply going through the motions, just as my husband was. When the marriage eventually ended 3 years later, it concluded under very difficult circumstances. I was emotionally very damaged and bitter about what had transpired, I had never seen any one from my community marry a person, use them and divorce them to secure citizenship as my former husband had done, and I decided that if this was what Muslims did to one another, I did not wish to be one of them! I almost cut off completely from the community, didn’t practise any thing. Part of me must have held on to the fragments of my iman, because I continued to eat halal, didn’t drink and always read my duas before sleep, but that was about all! During my recovery from the break-up, I was invited to visit Pakistan and stay with some friends for a few weeks: that is, weeks that became a 2.5 year stay! In Pakistan, the media industry was opening up, as a result of independent broadcasters securing their own licences! It was in that climate, that I applied for a job with a respected TV channel there, and got it! When I took on the job, I was the first non-Pakistani to have worked for them, and was the subject of much curiosity, questions and more! Some disliked me intensely, especially those who were forced in to working under me: but others liked me well enough and I formed many firm friendships: most of which are still flourishing to this day! Interestingly, most of my colleagues were followers of the Ahlulbayt (A.S), i.e., shias. When I had first come to Islam, suni and shias were merely names for me! They didn’t mean any thing, and I did not know which I was! However, I was quickly indoctrinated in to all the myths about shias, that they were not proper Muslims, that they hit themselves, cry in muherram and Worship Hussain (A.S), that we shouldn’t eat food from them, and should avoid them at any cost! I recalled these words, and one day over lunch, the sectarian topic came up! Confident in my ignorance, I began to spout all the nonsense I had been taught regarding shias. No one said any thing, and most people respectfully left the table! But one man, gently took me aside and asked me where I had heard these things. When I told him at was from my religious teachers, he seemed shocked! But asked me if I had studied any thing about shias on my own? I shook my head, and later as I reflected on this, I was overcome with embarrassment! Each and every thing I had come to learn in this life, I’d done so through fact, self study and analysis! How stupid had I been: mouthing off insanities that I knew nothing at all about! From that day on, I promised that I’d start studying shia Islam for myself, and at least make informed statements in the future! The world I found when I began this study was one of wonder to me: sure it was Islam, but so different from the Islam I had encountered previously. It was vibrant, factual, practical. No hard and fast rules, but logic, decency and common sense! No extremes, just a middle path, no unanswered questions, no voids or gaps. I was captivated, studied each and every day. I spent so many nights reading, and continued my studies when I returned to Scotland. When I did eventually learn about the tragedy of Karbala, I was moved to tears, to pain and trauma in a way I’d never known before. There is so much I could now say about Karbala, but at that time, I remember being struck by how Zeynab (A.S) sacrificed her hijaab, her covering so that my sisters and I could wear it with pride today. I cried so much over this point, and I remember calling a male friend of mine who lived in London, in a Muslim area, asking him to send me some hijaab scarves. I remember how he laughed and said, “for you? Hijaabs, what will you do with them!! Hang them on the wall?”. His words were harsh, but were only a reflection of what I had turned in to. I was less like a Muslim than ever. Any one passing me in the street or talking to me would have no idea at all that I was a Muslim, because I had let every thing go, had not been true to the great truth Allah (SWT) had shown me in my teens. I felt ashamed, but I also knew that thins were going to change: for now, forever! I found out where my local shia centre in my city was, and began studying under the mowlana there. He counselled me through my difficult past, and taught me the basics to start me off on my new path. I did receive my hijaabs from London, and have never removed my scarf since. That was in 2005, and so much has changed since then. I am now one of the directors of an online based organisation supporting new shia Muslims, I am vice chair of the shia Council for Scotland, and a regular presenter and contributor to ‘Ahlulbayt TV. As a disabled woman, I also do allot of work championing the needs of disabled Muslims, and trying to educate the wider community in order to eradicate the horrific discrimination many disabled Muslims experience. I helped set up an organisation under which this work can be done, we educate and train Imams on disability Equality issues, and we also translate Islamic books in to Braille, and audio formats, and fund sign language interpreters for majliss during muherram and other major events. More recently, Allah (SWT) blessed me with a wonderful shia husband, an amazing man who shares my faith and passions and is there to guide and keep me on this blessed path. There is not a day passes when I do not thank Allah (SWT) for all his mercies towards me. I’ve made many mistakes, and almost lost my Islam, but by the Grace of Allah (SWT) I’ve returned to the truth, and my errors have only made me hold on even stronger to the truth I have been blessed with. If you take any thing from this story, it should be the great mercy of our creator. No matter where life takes us, no matter how many wrong turns we might take, he is there, ready to welcome us home and transform us in to souls that he (SWT) and we too can be proud of. The final reminder I would leave you with, is that being Muslim, and being shia in particular is not simply the stuff of ‘name’s sake, it has to be something dynamic, a living message that we attempt to embody and live out through every thing that we do. When Imam Hussain (A.S) called out from the planes of Karbala, asking if there was any one to help, his call was not to all those companions who had already left this world, his call was to all of us, to each one, to see how committed we would be to forwarding his message, the truth of his Sacrifice to all people of all time. It is a reality that many reverts to Islam do not find the path to Ahlulbayt (A.S), quite simply because there are not enough people conducting dawa activities, and supporting them on the path. Moreover, a recent UK study showed that 50% of new Muslims leave the faith in the first 2 years of reversion, often due to family rejection, and the pressure of loss they experience, coupled with an inability to integrate fully in to the Muslim community. We all have a responsibility to support these New Muslims, and spread our message to all around us, not just by preaching, but by giving practical help, support and friendship, being people of action, not of empty words. People of purpose, rather than fake empty spiritual air! That way, Insha Allah we will surely be successful, and Allah (SWT) knows best).