Monday, September 15, 2014

Nope, I don’t miss being married

We meet lovely people along this road of inconsistent blogging, a.k.a gut spilling. She would like me to write more, pressure-hose a moss-covered ability of reaching out. In fact I owe her. She even put my long, complicated, badly constructed, technical sentences through the Hemingway application. Yes, it’s a thing. I scored poorly, naturally. There is talent somewhere there, but I’m lazy. It boils and bubbles, and then down simmers to a clump of mawa (khoya) - one of those that sits in the freezer for years - you only see it when you annually defrost before the Ramadan savoury stocks log in. Then you stick it back in the freezer for another year, for a snowballs chance that you’ll actually make burfee that year. Last week sometime I was tagged among writers of blogposts/articles that touched lives (or something like that). I don’t mean to sound blasé. It took me a while to ponder the enormity of that. Sure, I’ve had words move me, but soon enough I’m ready to throw emo out the window. Save a life I say, become a neurosurgeon or an Ebola curer, a freedom fighter, or run a marathon, climb Everest. Don’t blog and write and feel. It’s a waste of a good mind. And body?

I didn’t re-read the article she mentioned. Yes, it’s that one – “I miss being married”. I remember it vaguely. You remember it. I awkwardly remember feeling it. I recall howling through it, having a crying headache, being pummeled by the experience. And when I think back to the bravery it entailed and vulnerability it exposed me to, I cringe. Yep, I do.  Fact is, I’ve shifted in the circle, indifferent to which part of the circle it actually is. It’s certainly not full circle because I don’t miss being married. Allah’s Grace. I don’t feel those things any more and I haven’t in a while. It’s so long ago that it’s just the past. Simple Past. And I don’t confuse it with cynicism or indifference or a bad attitude. It is what it is.  And yet I’ve never felt the need to remove that post nor this one from the public domain in the past year or two of feeling this way. The best thing about reading is that moment when you honestly connect. “What? You liked that book too?” “I loved that part when…” “Yeah, I really feel this” “This person knows it too”. I could relay a thousand like moments of connection when for that teeny tiny moment when it’s all dark, and then there’s that one thing. That one moment when someone cared enough to write something that physically helps. Because by that time emotions are masked by vomit or blood or pain or anger.

So, read, stalk, linger here – whatever keeps your tea warm. I’m happy to make you happy. Even for wee moment of self indulgence

Monday, July 14, 2014

7 days in Makkah - a realisation that people are the pathway to Paradise

People - people everywhere; people are the pathway to Jannah

Our last night in Makkahtul Mukarramah till I am invited back. Please Allah I plead that you bring me back - and until then, let the heat of what I've gained (through your mercy) remain kindled - let our bond be as hot, at the very least very warm. It's been hot and humbling stay. Hot and trying. Hot and jarring: a startling awakening to my own weaknesses.

I reflect fleetingly (lest I forget) on what this last week has taught me, especially because being Ramadan, it's a barometer of my own weaknesses, rather than devilish insinuations(!) The weakness of the vulnerable nafs without the excuse that Shaytaan tempts. A cleansing.

Madinah always call me. This time however Makkah has made a mistress of me. For the first time I consider that my makeup may be more Makki than Madani. I once wrote that Makkah takes no prisoners - you're either an Abu Jahl or Bilal. Perhaps as I grow older I too must reconsider whether I am as (soft) an honorary Ansar as I've always assumed myself to be.

I am impatient. I must learn to accommodate - [arrogance, ignorance, indifference, differentness] rather than make excuses why I can't.

I have an unecessary flaring temper, that lasts stupidly long for minor infringements such trampling in my personal space. What starts as a niggle flares disproportionately in my mind. I must realign my priorities & react in measure to the long term repercussions, not just immediate ones.

I am but an unneeded flyaway atom to my Creator. He has billions of weighty slaves who earnestly and eagerly praise, glorify and deserve Him more than my lackadaisical whimsical worship. Mine is far too much emotional and far less physical prayer. Physical prayer is what is desired first. The feeling will follow. The feeling is not paramount. The feeling passes far too quickly. The weight of the actual deed is what remains.

I sniffle fluishly now partly because of the disdain on my face delivered to the unclean? I may have been hurtful to a fellow Muslim; perhaps? I am wholly unfit to withstand these levels of heat. What does that paper fitness even mean - the cardio,  the tighter leg and arm muscles? Physical stamina was a prerequisite for Sahabiyaat; to be like my beloved Asma bint Abi Bakr. Pilgrimage is a jihad for women - the true meaning of feminine weakness I have learnt and understood here many a time. It is a grating answer to many questions I have about my own femininity and about Quranic allotment of gender roles in general. Women are prey. Even when you're playing, you're being played. Hence, You Are closer to the Fitra woman! Submission is a jihad. Accept it and be rewarded for its huge toll on your ego, or leave the Faith.

"When she leaves her home Shaytan stalks her" -- measure your hijab (even in speech) to fit the specific circumstance. This is a newly matured take, and signifies new personal growth.

All women are not equal in understanding and maturity. The Quran is universal. It is forever. It transcends your or my namby-pamby negotiations and platitudes regarding "open communication" and a "round table" discussion. I stood in Qiyam and pondered the wording - "women you have entered" "now you can touch them" "your women are a tilth" etc. The Quran also says "hit them" if they lean to infidelity if your talking and separating from them doesn't work. Taj Hagey may say it means "undertake a journey" with them, but who is he anyway? Hit them / the brash, crude, uncultured, unwashed. (I use this specifically to indicate that fishy menstrual uncleanliness & the cottage cheese, ripe odour baking in layers of the Makkah summer.) The unsophisticated, labouring badwi I specifically have in mind will no doubt hit that man right back. She will pour hot oil on his head. She will deliberately connive and lie against her co-wife or daughter-in-law to win favour. She is shrill and loquacious, verbose and garrulous. All this, at once. She is the queen bee. She, for all her lumbering swarthiness or seemingly fragile leanness - that misleading intricate nose and bird wrists is a tour de force. Reasoning will not work with her. She may need a smack. Yes. The Quran is Divine and Allah is Al Hakeem, Al Aadil.

I am a needy mother. Just as my baby needs me, I need him. Unashamed symbiosis. I must accept this. It is biology. The cycle of life.

Like the sahaba said they looked at Abu Bakr like he was reading that verse for the first time after Muhammad (S) died, I too listened to many verses like I've never ever heard them before during Qiyaam. Indicative that I am not listening to enough Quran for pleasure. This has to change.

My friend Alameen wrote:

"My view of family is it's there to soften your heart. Unlike friends, you can't get rid of family. And for good reason. That unbreakable chain - it exists even if you deny is - means we're stuck with the always-in-trouble brother, the lame-duck cousin, the interfering aunt and the Nazi uncle. Some we love and some we forgive. And some we love and then hate and then love again. We're forced into constantly forgiving, building, breaking and rebuilding. In that process, our hearts are put through the mill. It's alternately hardened, broken, shattered, kneaded, massaged and filled and expanded mainly through our family. All that sharpens our sense of identity and forces us to examine ourselves and others; to be more considerate and stronger."

Yes. Family, close family, distant family and people. People teach you all this. The path to paradise is through people. Sabr with people. Like nabi (S) taught us: "The Fire has been surrounded by lusts and desires and Paradise by hardships." [Bukhari, Muslim]. Persevere, and be grateful for every opportunity to grow.

Allah, save me from a Jahannam I may earn through a minute unqualified utterance.

11 Ramadan 1435

Friday, June 6, 2014

To my friend – On your wedding

Image Source
I don’t know if this is tribute to our friendship or sentimentality to our bonding during the Hajj. Both I guess. 18 years later is a long time. Long, in light of our ages then, and our audacious irreverence for what was. I’m smiling remembering that you were actually knocked by a bus! Laughing in memory of our languid, loping gait that still left our amir in the dust; of the double marriage proposals we received and turned down. In so many ways that was an Ave Maria – an adieu to one way of life for another.

I got you a box. Its empty. Such a cliché for the least hackneyed, least clichéd, least box-stock girl I have the honour of being friends with. Marriage is an empty box. Empty it of what you thought you knew, and Fill it. Fill it with the things you want, not with the things you don’t want. Fill it with Faith that you deserve happiness, companionship and family. Fill it with Hope that your every prayer has always, and is always,  answered. Fill it with Love. Love for a default design that allows for a shifting of goalposts and ideals; love for human jabberwocky - the lies we tell ourselves about what perfection means and the meaning of good relationships. Humankind has been winging it from day one – altering; adapting; changing landscapes and mindscapes.

He will learn to love - like we all do - your quirky charm; your jet-black comedy; the sharp curve of your brows and your magic carpet eyelashes. He will learn to appreciate your courage, strength and fortitude. He will respect your candour and generosity. He will honour and love your mother as you do, and together with you, serve her from afar. He will take equal pride in you being your father's daughter.

You will love and revere him, and he will be your Paradise.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

In her Warm Shadow: Isabelle Eberhardt’s shahada

Image Source
I first heard of the Geneva-born Isabelle Eberhardt in a lecture by Sh. AH Murad. I’m sure some of you may be as intrigued by the life story of one of the most prolific (and appropriated) female travel writers of the 19th century; certainly one who called Islam her greatest joy.

Isabelle Eberhardt was born in 1877 (illegitimately) to an aristocratic Lutheran Baltic German Russian mother, Nathalie Moerder (née Eberhardt), and an Armenian-born father, Alexandre Trophimowsky, a former priest.  Her tutor father taught her Arabic and other languages, horse riding, theology, and literature. Her interest in literature led her to the work of Julien Viaud, a French lieutenant serving in North Africa and writing under the pen name Pierre Loti. His writing sparked a fascination with North Africa, which coupled with a weariness of Geneva’s formal society and hostility from her older step-siblings, who disliked her father, convinced Eberhardt that she needed to do some travelling of her own. She died aged 27 in a flashflood in the Algerian Sahara. Her mother died suddenly in Algeria too and was buried there under the name of Fatma Mannoubia.

One of Eberhardt’s post-humus translators, Robert Bononno, describes her as “an artist and a rebel, [who] eschewed the conventions of bourgeois society (French, Swiss, and Russian), despised city life, sympathised with the Algerian people's plight during the height of French colonialism, dressed as a man, drank to excess, smoked kif, and was an outstanding equestrian. She spoke Arabic, studied Islam, became a Muslim, married a native spahi, and was initiated into the religious confraternity of the Qadiriya.”

Isabelle wrote of her travels in many books and French newspapers, including Nouvelles Algériennes ("Algerian Short Stories") (1905), Dans l'Ombre Chaude de l'Islam ("In the Warm Shadow of Islam") (1906), and Les journaliers ("The Day Laborers") (1922). She started working as a war reporter in the South of Oran in 1903.

Nicky Gardner, a travel writer and editor of Hidden Europe Magazine writes in [2012] about one of Eberhardt’s books, Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam; In the Warm Shadow of Islam:

“Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam is a wonderful book, but in my view the English title is an atrocity. The title of the French original, Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam, is superb. It is full of passion and warmth. It invites the reader to smell the blossoming pomegranates of the oasis. It pulls the reader into the dead heat of noon in the ksar and to the welcome shade of the mosque. The English title dwells on fear more than an enveloping warmth. Was this imposed by the translator or the publisher? I suspect the latter. It’s a cheap trick, one that plays on public apprehension of Islam. In the desert every shadow, every fragment of shade, is something to be cherished. The title Dans l’ombre chaude de l’Islam captures Eberhardt’s life perfectly and positively. The English title just does not work in the same way. That the paperback edition has on the front cover a quote from the Daily Telegraph, a sentence so full of fear of Islam, just adds insult to injury. Throw in a marketing man’s back-cover blurb on ’authenticity’ and you have one of the worst book-covers ever. Prayers and dreams should live forever. Isabelle Eberhardt gives her all to make sure they do. Read the French original if you can. But, if you go for the English translation, just ignore the title and the cover blurb.”

This touching excerpt, which ties in with my earlier post on soul connections, rather than word connections, is from her book “Silhouettes d’Afrique” (1898):

“Of all the evils which afflict the human soul, Doubt is the slowest and most arduous to fight off. And the man who thinks is no more a master of belief than of denial. It was, then, in great sadness and with an intense anguish that I searched for the felicity of faith.

One clear summer evening, when the great heavy warmth of the day had lifted, I passed through a silent crowd of Muslims in the little white alleyway lying in the shadow of the old minaret, gilded in its vague sheen of sunlight.

There above, in the purple light of golden iridescence, Hassene the muezzin sang in his melancholy voice with such sweet, slow modulations, the eternal hymn of the One God. In this dreamlike voice was translated, strikingly, all the grand serenity of Islam.

Suddenly, as if touched by a divine grace, in absolute sincerity, I felt an exaltation, without name, carrying my soul towards previously unknown regions of ecstasy. On the doorstep of the mosque, an old blind man in rags—in his resignation, the tragic image of a Biblical Job—moaned in a tone of unending sadness, the following plea: “For Sidna Abraham and Sidna Abdelkader and Sidna Belkerim…For the Lord, give me a coin, O believers in God!”

Everyone who passed contributed some alms to him, in silence, and he blessed them with this word of hope, always the same: “May God repay you!”

For the first time in my life, I entered with an inexplicable joy, sweet and intense, into the perfumed coolness of the djema, which filled little by little with muffled murmurs and vague echoes. For the first time, crossing this familiar threshold, I murmured with their unshakeable faith: Allahu Akbar!

In that blessed hour, my doubts were dead and forgotten. I was no longer alone, facing the sad splendor of Worlds. In a shiver of mystery I had, in the precise instant whence died up there the sad call of Hassene, something like an intimate foreshadowing of Eternity. And I went, eyes bathed in ecstatic tears, to prostrate myself in the dust, before the majesty of the Eternal.”

Hyperlinks within the text will point you in the direction of more of her writings, or writing about her.

Yours in Islam  

“They talk most who have the least to say”

“They talk most who have the least to say.” - Matthew Prior

That we talk not of spirituality, but we physically do what Tauheed demands. That we pray and fast; recite Quran and remember God, that we seek depth in the seemingly mundane.  That God will speak His secrets through the reverence we display to what He has commanded. That weakness in this regard makes us speak of spiritualty cheaply, in too many words, just too many words.

From (Fihi ma Fihi) -- Discourses of Rumi,  chapter 2:

Someone said: “Our Master does not utter a word.”

Rumi answered: Well, it was the thought of me that brought you to my presence. This thought of me did not speak with you saying, "How are things with you?" The thought without words drew you here. If the reality of me draws you without words and transports you to another place, what is so wonderful with words? Words are the shadow of reality, a mere branch of reality. Since the shadow draws, how much more the reality!

     Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words. If someone should see a hundred thousand miracles and divine blessings, still, without an inner connection to that saint or prophet who was the source of those miracles, all these phenomena would come to nothing. It is this inward element that draws and moves us. If there were no element of amber in straw, the straw would never be attracted to the amber [Rumi is referring to static electricity here]. They would not cling to each other, even if you rubbed the amber with fur. This exchange between them is hidden, not a visible thing.

     It is the thought that brings us. The thought of a garden brings us to the garden. The thought of a shop brings us to the shop. However, within these thoughts is a secret deception. Have you never gone to a certain place thinking it would be good, only to find disappointment? These thoughts then are like a shroud, and within that shroud someone is hidden. The day reality draws you and the shroud of thought disappears, there will be no disappointment. Then you will see reality as it is, and nothing more.

"Upon that day when the secrets are tried."

     So, what reason is there for me to speak? In reality that which draws is a single thing, but it appears to be many. We are possessed by a hundred different desires. "I want vermicelli," we say. "I want ravioli. I want halvah. I want fritters. I want fruit. I want dates." We name these one by one, but the root of the matter is a single thing: the root is hunger. Don’t you see how, once we have our fill of but one thing, we say, "Nothing else is necessary?" Therefore, it was not ten or a hundred things, but one thing that drew us.

[Feehi Ma Feehi contains Malfoozat (discourses) of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi. It is a recent discovery, only published in the 20th century from some rare manuscripts in India and Turkey. According to B. Forouzanfar, an editor of the book, it is likely that Sultanwalad, the eldest son of Rumi, wrote Feehi Ma Feehi based on manuscripts and notes taken by himself or others from the lectures of his father.]

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My little boy turns eight today

My little boy turns eight today. All praise be to Allah. Usually the onset of his birth date brought a weepy mess, thick lather in the throat and briny warmth on tap for the face - for all it predicated and indicated about circumstance. That weepy unhinged feeling led to me being advised with words I will never forget: "Allah needs your love too. With so much for a child, where is the space to acknowledge and love Allah? Will Allah not be jealous of this?" Those Al-Hallaj'esqe words were and remain golden words. I wonder today smiling who I wept for: him or me?

There is no umm Abdillah without Abdullah. My love, adoration, wonder for him and in him has taught me how to love Allah and the nature of Allah's love for me.

The most important thing we can teach our kids to say, in my opinion is thank you. The most important emotion we can express to Allah is gratefulness.

The most important thing we can give our children is a welcoming and bidding smile - appreciate what they offer you of themselves without looking too far forward about what they "could be" if they exerted a little more. Is that not Allah's response to us?

I don't know if my Abdullah will grow to be the boy who stands outside the mosque and smokes during jama'at. I don't know if my Abdullah will take drugs. I don't knew if my Abdullah will be a drop out or a low-life thug. I seek this protection from Allah, in His pervasive Mercy, & have ceased worrying about things I have no control in. I focus instead on just the things, like the two mentioned above I can control. Things that don't take too much, but give back endemically.

Wa billah at-taufeeq

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A note on those ‘media’ taalibs

Most who consider themselves talaba, or students of Islamic Sciences, have puristic tendencies. Moths drawn to a flame of the purest of Ulumud Deen - the text of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the laps of the learned, as a primary occupation. That holds supremacy over any other tainted means, which inevitably weakens us as ‘true’ scholars. We would most definitely want all our time spent serving and gleaning Deen, specialising, translating, amassing etc. via the route of ‘the kitaabs’ over being involved in what lines garbage pails – viz. current affairs and mass media. Worse even, analysing it and reporting on it day in and day out. Thus, being a taalib in the media game already feels enough as if seeking an unrequited Illah. However, when Allah has made this door rather than any other door a pathway to His service, we duly owe every nerve in our body to serve it well.

Following news of the arrest of Moazzam Begg today, “suspected of attending a Syria terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism overseas” I did 3 things. One - verify the story; two - swallow (like many of you) the large jaggered rock that formed from little behind my soft palate to the base of my throat; three - shut my laptop to a mental lithograph of Edvard Munch’s Scream. Sitting on my musalla afterward, I recalled this small-statured, soft-spoken man, who barely 2 months ago patiently answered a question I asked him about Baber Ahmed’s recent "guilty" plea in the US. I recall too a comparitive ungainliness - wearing 'heels' while processing such crippling story. The extended trite metaphor off course: how gala dinners have become an unnecessary ploy in making the public commit to awareness campaigns. His current mission will tell you only one thing: the only offence he is guilty of is daring to speak the truth; daring to expose especially British complicity in rendition, torture and war crimes.

Too soon after Victoria Brittan’s launch of Shadow Lives in South Africa, and a little too close for comfort those harrowing trials of the innocent who have been dehumised by the last season of Homeland, Army Wives or Oprah, we have so much to do, we still owe so much to the cause of Haqq/Truth.

As if a most tender requiem, the words of the Prophet (pbuh): "The best Jihad is to speak the truth before a tyrant ruler", play all too clearly.

However we choose to spread, declare or report the truth dear taalib/taalibah is Allah’s gift. It would be pukka ungratefulness hankering to serve ‘the kitaabs’ than fully engage Truth in an albeit awkward media seat where Allah, in His absolute Wisdom, has chosen to put you right now.