Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mockery And Hijacking Of Ashura

I testify there is no god but Allah.

I testify there are no associates to Allah; He is One, the Only, the most High, the absolute Authority, the most Just, the Master of the Day of Judgement and that I am only a mortal slave of Him.

I further testify that Mohammed (s) is Allah’s last and most beloved prophet.

And I further testify that the Imam Ali (a) is the chosen successor of Mohammed (s) and the 11 Imams from the womb of Fatemah (s) are my rightful Imams and Masters.

It is the eve of Ashura and I visit the Husseini Islamic Center, a stone’s throw away from my home, here in Sanford, FL. I am going for magreeb jamaat prayers and then will pay my respects to the martyrs of Karbala. But only after a hefty helping of Azeem’s fiery booni kitchri and choondo curry first.

Right adjacent to the main prayer building, our excellent and dedicated team of hard working volunteers are putting up an enclosure pen, made of a blue plastic shield, as if in preparation to hide something from prying (public?) eyes. The pen is at the expense of very hard to find parking space. Intrigued, I stop to ask a young harassed helper what’s it this about.

Why Uncle, he says, his eyes wide in surprise, as if I have asked the most preposterously obvious question, we are preparing for the zanjeer maatam for tonight, of course. The young teen, Allah bless him, puts me in a sour mood immediately. Not only does he innocently address me using a most inapt title, his notion that I should know about the zanjeer maatam puts me off. I nevertheless thank him and go about my business.

My mind, however, is in turmoil. Here we go again. Nothing changes. We are stuck in our ritualistic mindset, unable or most likely, unwilling to change. I was hopeful the new, younger, more educated MC at HIC would usher in changes demanded by a growing, more progressive community. Wrong! Same old, same old. Shame on you! Do not allow this illogical and barbaric ritual take place! Show some spine and stand up to what is right, no matter how hard they twist your arms.

You let few old-timers, who have their heads buried in muck, dictate to the majority how to mourn the supreme, sublime, holy sacrifice of our Imam (a). This minority, who hijack the whole concept of Ashura and make a mockery of a noble sacrifice. Year after bloody repeating year. Aree Baba, what will it take to make you change this wrong and barbaric ritual? Are you deaf, dumb and blind?

Let me repeat the whole anti-zanjeer argument here again:

*None of our Imams practiced or encouraged, even remotely, this repugnant practice.
*The practice is illogical.
*The practice is prone to injury, disease and impurity.
*The practice is harming and hindering the message of the Imam (a).
*The practice is shameful, insulting and embarrassing to the honor of Islam.
*We can propagate the message of Ashura in so many other ways; logical, safe, clean, legal, progressive avenues that’ll make the Imam (a) and we stand tall and proud of the day.

The conflicting opinions of our ulemas don’t help. Many leading Marja says zanjeer is not permissible, while few others tell me I will not get Lady Fatema’s intercession if I refrain from robust zanjeer, not that I have ever seen them spill their blood.

Aree Baba, Ashura is about dignity, pride, patience and intellect. Study Lady Zainab (a)’s patience, mannerisms and poise, through all the trials and tribulations she had to endure. Did she do anything that was irrational? Study Imam Sajjad’s (a) stance, wisdom and fortitude; were any of his actions illogical? Of all the people in then Karbala, Imam Sajjad (a) was the most grieved after Ashura, and he would be excused for acting in any manner without any finger pointed at him. Yet, he chose to bear all the atrocity with incredible calm, poise, forbearance and dignity. Dignity to Islam, to himself, to his household and to that of the entire Ahlebeyt (a). And ditto with all the following Imams (a), all of them. Same poise, patience, forbearance and dignity.

With all the examples we have from these idols, some of us take upon ourselves to practice demonic rituals, all in the Imam’s (a) names. Just because we found our fathers and ancestors doing it. Because it is uncomfortable and fearful letting go of rituals that bind us in comfort zones. Even though the Quraan condemns this very argument – following the rituals of ancestors.

I know the inevitable rebuttals. Why should I care and we are spilling our blood and nobody is forcing me to do it and it is our way of showing we love the Imam (a) and shut up and mind your own business… Wrong! As long as the tamasha is played out in the premises of HIC, whose member I am and with who I affiliate, it is my business all right. A wrong done here and we become collectively responsible, legally and morally. If you want your blood shed in a ritualistic manner that has no Islamic basis – DO IT IN YOUR BACKYARD!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Afghanistan X 33

I have covered India, United Kingdom, Nepal, Morocco and Senegal on this trip thus far; UAE and Afghanistan await. So I am not to be faulted when I land in Kabul feeling a bit jaded. Sohail Abdullah, my fellow CAI Trustee from New York, accompanies me on this leg of the trip and we clear immigration and customs to the care of our Afghani hosts, Wasi and Basheer. This pair will be with us for the next nine days, at our service. We will stay at their house, eat their food and partake of their simple but some of the most jovial and generous hearts in this world of ours.

The first couple of days is spent in CAI operational audit and compliance issues in regards to aid to projects in Afghanistan. CAI expends more than 50% of its budget in Afghanistan. This is necessary because this country still stands out as the most deserving for donor funds in places CAI can safely and legally serve.  Kabul is the usual hubbub of undisciplined traffic chaos, heavily barricaded and concrete fortified buildings with swarms of security personnel toting automatic weapons on the ready. Of all places in Afghanistan, I am most edgy in Kabul; too many people have lost lives and limbs here. The streets are peppered in black banners and paraphernalia; the city is getting ready to commemorate the events and tragedy of Karbala. This shows the tenacity of Kabul’s minority Hazara (Shia) peoples for their religious identity, in spite of several massacres against them.

On Day 3, we take a 5-seater single propelled Kodiak-100 aircraft to Nili in Dykundy Province, one of the poorest and deprived places in the world; our miseries begin. As I have previously stated, many times, a visit to remote Afghanistan requires a balanced emotional mind, a very strong stomach, endless patience and the stamina to sustain a harsh environment and a grueling grind. After very briefly witnessing the nuptial rites of 100 poor girls sponsored by donors of CAI, after gifting 14 widows with 5 sheep each for their economic survival and betterment sponsored by BETA in the UK, after inspecting some of the 73 homes for the homeless under construction CAI is funding, we head to Ozmuck Medical Clinic, where we gorge on delicious dried apricots. Sohail gets sick with the runs early next day, on our way to Nili Medical Clinic; I follow suit shortly. It seems the crystallized apricots were dried under the sun in quite unhygienic conditions. For the first time in this, my 33rd trip to this country, I defecate violently under a merciless sun, with massive brown boulders shaped into mysterious forms by the elements giving me dubious privacy. Others have been here before me, for the very same reason, apparently, so I avoid eye contact with their deposits and try hard not to puke; I barely make it.

Sohail and I are doing this twice a year inspection of 5 CAI donor sponsored clinics serving an average of 1,400 sick people per clinic per month who have no other medical provider for relief when sick. I cannot begin to relate the critical difference this service makes to the lives of these hapless peoples, especially to the women, who bear the brunt of the cruelty this land dishes out. We spend hours on end, cooped up in a van that jostles over some of the most rugged and unforgiving terrains in the world, at no more than 10 miles an hour. One careless mistake and we would be tumbling into a ravine of certain death. It is our brilliant driver, Sher Hussein’s incredible mastery of the vehicle and the knowledge of the terrain that keeps us alive. We visit 4 out of the 5 clinics, 3 in Dykundy and 1 in Bamiyan, make spot-checks of operations, and I use my charm and a big stick to enforce CAI guidelines on issues that some choose to renegade on.

We eat unpalatable food or stick to weak green chai and coarse naan until our stomachs scream for succor. Our noses react to the thin air void of any moisture by popping veins and let out blood. My nose fills up with so much guck; I look at the umpteenth napkin with the expelled mess in awe; is all of this from my hooter? The sun shimmers down on the baked earth without relent, and I am awed by the contrast of extremes between summers and winters in this land. With full bladders from hours of bumping along, we stop at a poor dusty village of sorts for zohr salaat and lunch. We are directed up a steep slope towards a mosque and adjacent washroom facilities. Winded by the climb, I recoil from the stench emanating from the toilets. An all mud affair, the three cubicles offer privacy of a simple filthy coarse curtain. But the pits are full, and I recoil again and almost puke at the vile evil I see there. I run out into the blazing sun, to hell with my uncomfortable bladder; I get succor much later, under a cooler shade of a tree at a river oasis, way past the badbakth village.

Amongst these trails and discomforts, there are fleeting moments of hope and cheer:

* The banter among all of us in the van is jovial and Afghans laugh. A lot. Perhaps this is their way to keep lunacy at bay from the sadistic madness ravaging their country?
* I observe Dr. Zia at Daryoos clinic check and treat a raggedy adolescent with severe allergies. The poor teen is obviously in pain and discomfort, does not have the 30 US cents for the registration fee, which is immediately waived, of course. There is so much relief and hope in his earnest face that my heart goes to him. My eyes prickle in pain at the thought of the teen’s plight if this CAI medical clinic was not in place? After the exam and medication, the teen leaves, clutching the medicines to his chest, as if they are priceless treasures with a much more relaxed expression on his face.
* We cover the distance from Nili to Yakawlang in 35 minutes with the Kodiak. The same distance will take 23 hours in Sher Hussein’s van.
* We get to exercise late in the day when the burning sun declines to the West! We climb small rock mountains on which, perhaps, no humans have ever walked.
* We lay the foundation stone for CAI’s 19th elementary school in Afghanistan at Dayroos. Construction starts immediately.
* The Afghan terrain from the 5-seater aircraft is spectacular and breathtaking. The pilots, both seemingly young enough to be yet weaned away from diapers, purposely fly us through looming mountain passes so close, my buttocks contract in anxiety and fear, only to relax as the aircraft quickly tame the air and treat us all to Band Ali below. These are a cluster of lakes bluer than the sky, believed to hold medicinal properties and a tourist attraction. Some believe Imam Ali (A) did make it all the way here, thus the name.

After spending another day taking care of housekeeping issues at the CAI school and orphanage, I leave Kabul and Afghanistan for the 33rd time in nine years. I or others in my team will be back, of course, insha’Allah, to do what CAI does best.

Friday, September 23, 2016

J U I C Y?

Flying from Orlando to Dubai on Emirates Airlines recently, I encounter a Kuwaiti family who are seated in the same cabin as I. There is the elderly mother, in hijab, abaaya actually, who converses with me in flawless English, and her two daughters. One’s married and has two children, twins, both undisciplined terrors who give the rest of us a hard time the entire time they are awake. Their father snore-sleeps most of the time, waking up long enough to shovel food into his mouth and make such a commotion chewing, he sets my teeth on edge. His harassed wife, with an on–off hijab, tries but convincingly fails to control her two appalling boys, who run riot in the cabin.

It is the other daughter, the unmarried one, that has stirred my interest. She is in her late teens, attires in designer clothes, knows she is pretty and has her nose up in the air in a manner that’ll make the Queen real proud. I imagine I see something appallingly distasteful printed across her behind at the gate while boarding but blame it on my tired eyes. However, I want to be certain it is my eyes that are the culprit and not the surreal quip, but the young woman has her nose firmly stuck to the screen in front of her, engrossed in a movie, I think. Her Mother warms up to me and talks about the now hard economic realities in Kuwait, what with the strained economy brought about by the unruly oil prices. She tells me her family has cut back on domestic help at home, from six to four; her distraught breaks my heart into a billion pieces.

We both pray when it is salaat time and discover we belong to the same madhab. She tells me they are treated well in Kuwait, have no issues with discrimination that we all read and hear about in other Gulf countries. All the madhabs are generally genial towards each other and also intermarry plenty, until more recently.

The daughter, with the stiff upper lip, let’s call her Mariam, is a problem child, her mother whisper-confides in me after lunch, rolling her eyes to the heavens. Mariam’s father, she says, is too lax with her, spoils her rotten, allowing her to come all the way to Florida for college education.

Ya Allah, she sighs. How can a father’s heart agree to let a young daughter travel and live so far away from his eyes? I cried and lamented in protest for days but you men are too soft-hearted and dumb when it comes to your daughters.

I want to protest but feel it would be futile to change the lady’s perception of us men, especially me. I have a teenage daughter and she definitely holds no such sentiments about her father. The lady is just blowing off steam, I assume, as she has found in me a willing ear.

I wanted Mariam to find a husband and settle down, like her elder sister. She found a reasonable man…

Mother leans over to gaze at her elder daughter and son-in-law, both lost to slumber, him making strange strangling noises; Mother shakes her head; her face registers a look of resignation.

I wish he was more active, more supportive in handling and disciplining the twins. Hanna did not go to college but still helps her father in our family business. My poor daughter, she became a mother too early. And Allah gave her two kids…at the same time… But I guess we can’t have everything we wish, no?

She then inquiries about me, my family, my affairs. I begin to tell her about my interesting life, that I know will take some time, but the lady seems to care not a hoot, is more interested in talking about Mariam instead. So I shut up and listen.

It was okay the first year, Mariam called home regularly and paid attention to her studies. Her father visited her occasionally, as part of his business travels to the US. He seemed satisfied with her affairs and her grades were reasonably good; my heart still yearned for her but I was somewhat assured by her absence, since it is for the good of her future.

I glance at Mariam; she has her eyes glued to the TV screen in front of her, still. I wish she’s get up and go to the washroom or something, so I can assure myself it is my eyes that deceived me earlier.

Then the calls became sporadic and rare, her grades went to the dumps and I began to despair and became alarmed. We tried to get the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington involved but they said if it was not a life threatening issue, they would not help. Since my husband was in Japan on business, we panicked and decided to come and find out.

Mother stops and looks me over, then looks away, an embarrassed look on her troubled face. She has revealed too much of personal data to a stranger. Perhaps? When she is still quiet after a considerable time, I am disappointed. I am curious, now that she has come so far in describing Mariam, I would like to know more. I smile at her reassuringly next time our eyes meet, let her know I understand about teenagers and their seemingly unexplained bizarre moods and behaviors at times. So after a while, Mother continues her tale.

Mariam makes a female friend at college, a music band leader of sorts, who convinces Mariam to invest in her band. So na├»ve is Mariam, she agrees, parting not only the generous living allowance her father makes available monthly, but her tuition fees for the current semester as well. To cut the long story short, Mother scratches Mariam’s study short and is hauling her back to Kuwait. She can’t wait to confront her husband and tell him, ‘There, I warned you…’

Mariam’s movie finally concludes. She turns and looks at us talking, frowns suspiciously, yawns, stretches and gets up to go use the washroom. Alas, my eyes are fine. They lie not when they first see Mariam’s behind. Right across Mariam’s snug jeans is plastered, in red neon like sign, the word J U I C Y.

After the dumfounding shock and reassurance that my eyes are okay, I worry endlessly, feeling sorry for the hapless Mother. How will her daughter pass through Dubai (or land in Kuwait for that matter) with that kind of slur pasted in such a strategic part of her anatomy? I worry needlessly; she is a smart cookie, Maryam is, and has figured it all out. The aircraft lands in Dubai and a full clad black abaaya is carelessly thrown over the offensive word.