Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Eid Saeed; on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday!!

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

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

Monday, 29 August 2011

Alvida Ramzan Poem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, 28 August 2011

Who's Heaven Is It Anyway?

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

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

Monday, 15 August 2011

Fake Shaikhs and Engineered Aalams!

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

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Jug Jug Geeay mera Pyara Watan!!

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

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

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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

London's Burning!

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

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

My Reasonable Ramadhan Adjustments!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 August 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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