Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Romantics – a Muslim version


Tags:
Reclaiming Persian love, not just its’ fiqh;
Seeing the world through humanity, not theology;
Islam is one long romance;
Wait for the outcomes;
Romance cannot exist in a vacuum;
Romance exists as hindsight and as perceived

Khosrow and Shirin is the title of a famous Persian tragic romance by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi (1141–1209). He also wrote Layla and Majnun. It tells a fictional version of the story of the love of the Sasanian king Khosrow II for the Syriac or Armenian princess Shirin. The love story was already well-known from the epic-historical poem the Shahnameh by Ferdowsi and other Persian writers.

When the Seljuq Sultan Arsalan Shah requested a love epic from Nizami without specifying the subject, Nizami picked the story of the lovers Khosrow and Shirin, and a theme set in his own region. He based it on partly historical facts.

Let’s begin:

There is a place high up in the mountains of Kurdistan where the crow roams freely and the snow finally kisses the sun. A place where you can hear the ping of wildflowers in bloom and the sound of butterfly wings resting on their petals. This is where our story sleeps.

There was a brave man called Farhad who loved a Princess named Shirin. Farhad tried in vain to gain access Shirin's heart, but the stonecutter loved a lady of royal blood. Farhad would go to the mountains and spend his days without food, playing his flute in praise of Shirin. At last, people thought to devise a plan to acquaint the Princess of the stonecutter's love. But how could a mere laborer aspire to win the hand of a princess? It was not long, however, before the Shah himself heard the rumours of this extraordinary exchange of sentiment. He was naturally indignant at the discovery, but as he had no child other than Shirin, and Shirin was also pining away with love, he proposed to his daughter that her lover, being of common birth, must accomplish a task such as no man may be able to do, and then, and only then, might he be recommended to his favour.

Wait. Here I have to stop.

Remember that this narrative forms part of a larger story.

See, Shirin was already in love with a King called Khosrau. And there are other versions too. Some say Farhad worked for years and cut the canal the Shah requested. He had to dig a well in the rocky beds of the mountains. He was half-way through, and would probably have completed it, when the Shah consulted his courtiers and sought their advice. His plan had failed. Farhad had not perished in the attempt, and if all the conditions were fulfilled as they promised to be soon, his daughter must go to him in marriage. The viziers suggested that an old woman should be sent to Farhad to tell him that Shirin was dead; then, perhaps, Farhad would become disheartened would stop the work.

It was an ignoble trick, but it promised success and the Shah agreed to try it. So an old woman went to Farhad and wept and cried till words choked her; the stonecutter asked her the cause of her bereavement.

"I weep for a deceased," she said, "and for you." "For a deceased and for me?" asked the surprised Farhad. "And how do you explain it?"

"Well, my brave man," said the pretender, "you have worked so well, and for such a long time, but you have laboured in vain, for the object of you devotion is dead!"

"What!" cried the bewildered man, "Shirin is dead?"

Such was his grief that he cut his head with a sharp spade and died. His own blood streamed into his canal. When Shirin heard this she fled to the mountains where her wronged lover lay. It is said that she inflicted a wound in her own head at the precise spot where Farhad had struck himself, and with the same sharp edge of the spade which was stained with her lover's gore. No water ever flows into the canal, but two lovers are entombed in the same grave.

I’ll have you know Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was only published in 1597. The Shahnameh was composed between 977 and 1010 CE.

Nezami's version begins with an account of Khosrou's birth and his education. This is followed by an account of Khosrow's feast in a farmer's house for which Khosrou is severely chastised by his father. Khosrou asks forgiveness and repents his offence. Hormizd IV, who is now pleased with his son, forgives him. That very night, Khosrow sees his grandfather Anushirvan in a dream and Anushirvan gives him glad tidings of a wife named Shirin, a steed named Shabdiz, a musician named Barbad, and a great kingdom, that is Persia.

Shapur, Khosrow's close friend and a painter, tells Khosrow of the Armenian queen Mahin Banu and her niece Shirin. Hearing Shapur's descriptions of Shirin, the young prince falls in love with Shirin, the Armenian princess. Shapur travels to Armenia to look for Shirin. Shapur finds Shirin and shows the image of Khosrow to Shirin. Shirin falls in love with Khosrow and escapes from Armenia to Khosrow's capital Mada'in; but meanwhile, Khosrow also flees from his father's anger and sets out for Armenia in search of Shirin.

In the way, he finds Shirin unclothed bathing and washing her flowing hair; Shirin also sees him; but since Khosrow was traveling in peasant clothes, they do not recognise one another. Khosrow arrives in Azerbaijan and is welcomed by Shamira the queen of Armenia - yet he finds out that Shirin is in Mada'in. Again, Shapur is sent to bring Shirin. When Shirin reached Armenia again, Khosrow – because of his father's death- has to return to Mada'in. The two lovers keep going to opposite places till finally Khosrow is overthrown by a general named Bahrām Chobin and flees to Armenia.

In Armenia, Khosrow finally meets Shirin and is welcomed by her. Shirin, however, does not agree to marry Khosrow; unless Khosrow first claims his country back from Bahram Choobin. Thus, Khosrow leaves Shirin in Armenia and goes to Constantinople. The Caesar agrees to assist him against Bahram Choobin on condition that he marries his daughter Maryam. Khosrow is also forced to promise not to marry as long as Maryam is alive. Khosrow succeeds in defeating his enemy and reclaims his throne. Maryam, due to her jealousy, keeps Khosrow away from Shirin.

Meanwhile, a sculptor named Farhad, falls in love with Shirin and becomes Khosrow's love-rival. Khosrow cannot bear Farhad, so he sends him on an exile to Behistun mountain with the impossible task of carving stairs out of the cliff rocks. Farhad begins his task hoping that Khosrow will allow him marry Shirin. Yet, Khosrow sends a messenger to Farhad and gives him false news of Shirin's death. Hearing this false news, Farhad throws himself from the mountaintop and dies. Khosrow writes a letter to Shirin, expressing his regret for Farhad's death. Soon after this incident, Maryam also dies. According to Ferdowsi's version, it was Shirin who secretly poisoned Miriam. Shirin replies to Khosrow's letter with another satirical letter of condolences.

Khosrow, before proposing marriage to Shirin, tried to be intimate with another woman named Shekar in Isfahan; which further delays the lovers' union. Finally, Khosrow goes to Shirin's castle to see her. Shirin, seeing that Khosrow is drunk, does not let him in the castle. She particularly reproaches Khosrow for his intimacy with Shekar. Khosrow, sad and rejected, returns to his palace.

Shirin eventually consents to marry Khosrow after several romantic and heroic episodes. Yet, Shiroyeh, Khosrow's son from his wife Maryam, is also in love with Shirin. Shiroy finally murders his father Khosrow and sends a messenger to Shirin conveying that after one week, she would have to marry him. Shirin, in order to avoid marrying Shiroy, kills herself. Khosrow and Shirin were buried together in one grave.

Sorry, you have to read all that to get to my point. The actual story is far more beautiful to read, share and celebrate than that bleak summary. It’s part of the magic of epic and grandiose literature. Nizami wrote five long poetic books, commonly called "The Five Treasures." Among these, the "Khosru and Shireen," is generally regarded as his masterpiece.

Nonetheless, if we’re to define a great enduring romance as understood from the Sunnah? We’re all part of a greater story. There are telling details we leave out when we focus on just one part our lives. For e.g. if we focus on just the Shirin and Farhad story, we ignore that she loved the King, Kosrau too, and he was doing everything he could to be with her. Is this not an example of Allah’s love for us? If we focus on just one part of a bigger picture we aren’t true romantics. What is the greatest gesture? What is an epic romance? If the answer says something along the lines of sacrifice, perseverance, believing in a dream and hoping  - it’s all about interpretation, right?

(Allah’s blessings, pleasure and peace be upon His beloved servants and Prophets)

Adam roamed the earth for hundreds of years looking for Hawa;
Qaabil killed his brother Haabil for a woman they both loved;
Noah held out for that one kid – he pleaded with him from a ship as apocalyptic waves crashed around them “I’m here, waiting for you”;
Ebrahim went into fire for his conviction – to prove a point to his father;
Safoora married a man who pitched up at her door after having murdered someone. He was flat broke.  Her father harboured him as a fugitive and tenant + he had no family (he's THE Musa) and -- and then he becomes the greatest freedom fighter & liberator of Egypt.

And if we want to get 1400 years closer -- Umm Salama's husband waited for her even after his family tried to tear them apart; Zainab, the Prophet’s daughter gave up everything to be with Abul Aas. Usman gave up a decisive war to nurse his wife back to health. Prior to that he'd crossed deserts to be with her. Mugheeth wandered around the city disoriented after Bareera broke up with him.

Our seerah is replete with such examples. What's the romance really? The story, or just how its marketed/ interpreted?

The answer to making our lives epic, I believe, is to recognise (Who) as in the Almighty really wants to be with us.  His love is enduring. His tests are to strengthen us. His challenges are part of a bigger picture. Ultimately, to recognise this, we must force ourselves to become romantics.


Allahul Musta’an

Monday, January 12, 2015

Between the noose of Apostasy and Blasphemy – We’re all Raif Badawi

Resuscitated in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack comes the case of Raif Badawi. He’s a Saudi writer charged with 1000 lashes (to be administered weekly), ten years in jail and a fine of a million Saudi Riyals. It’s unclear to me if he insulted Islam or the Saudi monarchy. His website has been shut down, and the vacuous hordes who live on the internet, brainwashed to link the bigotry of Charlie Hebdo to his case aren’t making it easy to separate the issues.

Raif Badawi’s case is one I genuinely believe to be of free speech, if such a thing even exists. I’ll explain later. Leaked videos of his first set of 50 lashes made their rounds on the Internet last night. 19 more weeks to go. OH, wait then there’s still the ten years of jail to wait out. I debated clicking on the link for about two hours. Eventually I gave in. Anything to do with jail or violently incarcerated young men affects me as a rolling freeze frame: Abu Guraib. Perhaps the swishes to Rafi Badawi were genuinely painful, but to me they were more embarrassing and humiliating. Embarrassing for the poor cop who swished around on his back, legs and bottom in a hasty 50 willing it to be over more than Raif. The sorry state administration was over in approx. 3 mins. Other reports say 15 minutes.

Here’s an example of Raif’s writing:

We should not hide that fact that Muslims in Saudi Arabia not only disrespect the beliefs of others, but they also charge them with infidelity to the extent that they consider anyone who is not Muslim an infidel, and, within their own narrow definitions, they consider the Non-Hanbali Muslims as apostates. So how can we be such people and yet be able to build a human civilization and normal relations with six billion humans, four and a half billion of whom do not believe in Islam.”

Below, another, clearly indicative to anyone familiar with the laws of Saudi Arabia and religious teachings that the thirty year old, father of three, is merely insulting the monarchy, not Islam. Sure, there are ahadith about ridding the peninsula of all Shirk (polytheism), but how more much more Shirk have the Saudi Monarch's let in via other means? Bummer for Sa’ud. Their alliances and track record is that of an errant father who punishes his children to appease his own guilt – reminiscent of a Muslim dad addicted to porn who’ll beat up his sons and daughters for just talking to the opposite gender.  Who is Saudi kidding.

“Furthermore, we have not asked ourselves how it is that America allows Islamic missionaries on its territory, and how it is that we reject under all circumstances the freedom to proselytize within our Kingdom’s land. We can no longer hide our heads like an ostrich and say that no one can see us or that no one cares. Whether we like it or not, we, being a part of humanity, have the same duties that others have as well as the same rights.”

Then, there’s this regarding Valentines Day (which is banned in Saudi):

“Congratulations to us for the Commission on the Promotion of Virtue for teaching us virtue and for its eagerness to insure that all members of the Saudi public are among the people of paradise.”

Anyone with the slighest insight to how Saudi lifestyles are led - somewhere between Vegas, the ghettos of Kolkata, and Peter O'Toole may find that amusing. According to Amnesty, the charges against Badawi mention his failure to remove articles by other people on his website. He was also accused in court of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s morality police. He’s been held since mid-2012 after he founded the Free Saudi Liberals blog. He was originally sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in relation to the charges, but after an appeal the judge stiffened the punishment. He was sentenced May 2014. Worst still, Badawi’s lawyer was sentenced to fifteen years in prison—with an additional fifteen-year ban on leaving the country—for insulting the judiciary, inciting public opinion, and undermining the regime and its officials.

Make what you want of this case – Islam’s laws are clear:

Even in the extreme case of Apostasy or Ridda (wherein there is a death penalty attached) an apostate is not to be put to death immediately. He or she should be offered the opportunity to return to Islam and resolve his doubts. Allah knows, we all have doubts. It's an age of doubt.

Surely, in a lesser case here, where Raif shouts out loudly he is a practicing Muslim ([even if] there was blasphemy involved) - a then 27 year old rebelling against a schizophrenic government and encouraging others to do the same deserves some slack. All the monarchy has achieved is to make him an honourary martyr of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Oh yeah, and kudos to them for not waterboarding him in some secret black hole prison like some people we know. After Jumuah salaah in the burning heat is as transparent and public as we need.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Recalling a visit to Najaf and Karbala – Ten years later

Is it a city?
No, its Najaf's cemetery Wadi-as-Salaam, wherein 5 million bodies are buried. 
In January 2004, a year into the US invasion of Iraq, I visited Najaf and Karbala. It coincided with the Hijri month of Dhul Qa’dah 1424. We stayed at the White Palace hotel in Baghdad, its most white or palace-like feature, the foyer chandeliers through thick cigarette plumes. Over breakfast we discussed the large rats in the cupboards and how they darted across the carpets, the military jets overhead, and the fallen monument to Saddam we’d seen the day earlier. Baghdad was on fire. Our guileless breakfast banter was punctuated by the arrival and departure of silent, severe looking, chador-clad women. They wordlessly partook of the black tea, cheese and apples on offer and were off. “Ziyareh” – “the visit” or “homage” I was to learn later that day and up to now, is a form of rotational knowledge. I make my own ziyareh to the memory of it, unpack and revisit angles, compare it to (non Arab) Shia Iran, and world current affairs regularly. As 10 Muharram 1436 H or Aashura approaches, Karbala and Najaf, the sites where Ali, his son Hussain, and brother Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them all) are allegedly buried, receive more media attention than usual.

Karbala is located about 100 km southwest of Baghdad. It houses the grave of Husayn ibn Ali (ra) the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and the Abbas shrine, the burial place of the son of Ali (ra), and half-brother of Hussain (ra).

Najaf is about 160 km south of Baghdad. The walk to Najaf from Karbala is about 80km’s, often walked as a pilgrimage, a Camino de Santiago ala Safavid. The tomb of Ali (ra) is said to have been discovered at Najaf around 750 AD by a Dawood Bin Ali Al-Abbas. A shrine was built over the tomb by Azod Eddowleh in 977, but later burned down. It was rebuilt by the Seljuk Malek Shah in 1086, and rebuilt yet again by Ismail Shah, the Safavid, in the 1500’s.

At the time, I remember being more incensed with the USAID oil gallons littering the soil north of the Imam Ali Mosque than perturbed by self-flagellation, the procedural sarcophagus’ to the tomb and fire walking. There, outside Wadi as-Salam ("Wadi of Peace") a fascinatingly huge cemetery, the US and its coalitions' rape of Iraq had already sprouted in the soil. The charity oil gallons were a twisting of the knife. They were still to get to Fallujah in April/November to use phosphor and depleted uranium ammunition. In Fallujah and Ramadi we met young students of knowledge and Hidfh. Allahu A'lam if they're still alive.

Today’s blogpost addresses one method of moulding women and female behaviour via the symbolism of Karbala.

Shia sacred narratives assign prominent roles to two female figures, Fatima Zahra (daughter of Muhammad (sa) wife of Ali and mother of Hasan and Husayn (ra)) and Zaynab (ra) the daughter of Ali and Fatima (ra) who was present at Karbala. She was led with other women and children as a prisoner to Damascus where she reportedly confronted Yazid:

"O Yazid, You can never reach the level of our lofty position, nor can you destroy our remembrances, nor can you wipe out the ignominy you have earned for yourself by your abominable and vile performance. Your decisions are poor and your days are numbered. Your party will disperse the day when the Announcer will announce - Allah's curse be on tyrants and transgressors." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O you the son of freed slaves! Is this your justice that the ladies of your house remain veiled and we the Prophet's daughters should be paraded from place to place?" Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! Your misdeed has proved your rebellion against Allah. This action of yours comes as no surprise from a person whose ancestors chewed the liver of such saintly martyrs. The descendants of such enemies of Allah should naturally be the most deadly!" Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! You did what you wished, but remember that you have cut your own skin. In the near future you will be taken in the presence of the Holy Prophet. On that occasion you will be burdened with the sins of the misdeed committed by you shedding the blood of his progeny and dishonouring the sanctity of his family." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

"O Yazid! Practice any trick you can and do anything that you think would vanish Islam, but you should know that you cannot eradicate our message, path and memory. You should know that our memory will never die." Bibi Zainab binte Ali

As noted above by Shia texts, Zaynab bint Ali (ra) is a deemed a revolutionary figure for pious Shia women.  She’s considered brave and outspoken. She is believed to be The Foundation of Mourning (Majales A'azaa) as she kept the sacrifices of Imam Hussein alive. Shia tell stories that after every Majlis, women would offer their condolences to Zainab (ra) and the men to Imam Zain-ul-Abedeen, making a stir in the cities - the sound of crying and beating of chests and heads affected the minds of the inhabitants, and making them sadder and wiser to the events of Karbala.

Interestingly enough, Ibn Kathir (ra) narrates the words of Hussain (ra) which concur with the teachings of the last Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (saw) -

“Shortly before his demise, Hussain (ra) had advised his beloved sister Sayyidah Zainab (ra) not to mourn over his death in this manner.

He said, "My dear sister, I swear upon you that you, in case I die, shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death". (Al-Kamil, ibn Kathir vol. 4 pg. 24)” [Taken from Muharram - By Mufti Taqi Usmani (db).

A few years ago I came across a marriage book in a “Sunni” store replete with says of Imam Ali (ra). Among them:

Asbagh bin Nubatah quotes Imam 'Ali as follows: "Almighty God has created the sexual desire in ten parts; then He gave nine parts to women and one to men. And if the Almighty God had not given the women equal parts of shyness, then each man would have nine women related to him." (Wasa'il, vol. 14, p.40) -- In other words, Allah has given the women greater part of sexual desire but He has also neutralised it by giving equal parts of shyness to them.

The following ties with further discussion points on the moulding of women in Shia texts and to juxtapose with questions of the “progressive Shia” and the “ backward Sunni” discourses that are de rigueur in Islamic study circles especially when it comes to the rights and emancipation of women.  Further, I’d like to hear more from those who believe Khomeini kept the reforms of Pehlavi’s White Revolution which granted female suffrage, increased literacy, reduced and willfully amended Shia jurisprudence to fit them, and thereby greatly affected the outlook and influence of Shia women in Western societies.

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.

Makkah
2014.07.08
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.

Aameen.

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