Sunday, 25 March 2012

Drowning in a sea of hatred...

The scariest thing happened today. I saw news that a Muslim woman was beaten to near death by a group of men at her home. They left a note by her side which said ‘Go back to your country’. Yesterday they had to take her off life support.  For me it’s disturbing on one level that this happened to a fellow Muslim, a fellow human. And on another because just yesterday, before hearing about this news I wrote a story about a hate crime against a Muslim girl who also had to be taken off life support. And this was before I knew about the news. I can’t describe the chills I felt watching the video.

It’s so very depressing how mean a place the world has become. This woman was killed because she didn't 'belong' there and because she was a 'terrorist'. Yeah, a house wife and mother of 5 children does seem pretty terrorising. 

At times like these I lose faith in humanity. Just last week there was shoot out at a school in Toulouse. The crazy man killed kids. Children. For heaven's sake! How can you even think about pointing a gun at a child? The fact that they belonged to a different faith meant they should die? How can the shooter ever come up with the logic that God would want his creations to mindlessly kill each other in his name?

All this is happening around us and the hatred is just spilling over.
"We are at war against humanity. Our hearts are slowly hardening after being exposed to news after news of rape, assault, suicide, murder. We have become so desensitised that the loss of another person becomes just another statistic. Something to which we say ‘Oh so sad’ and then forget about. I know that I am going to do that. I know that I’ll feel upset and then I won’t think about it as I get busy in my own temporary world. I know it’s a good thing that humans are quick to move on, but this fast? What if this happens to someone we love? I can’t even begin to imagine what I would go through if I get a call saying that my child has been shot dead at his school Or to come home and see a family member lying in a pool of blood.  Can you? Then how can we not take seriously the suffering of others?"


I know the question does arise of what we can actually do about the situation. We are bound in so many ways that it's difficult to do anything which will make things better. But for the believer du'a (supplication) is the weapon. We make du'a for those who are hurt, we pray that Allah makes their families patient at the face of this trial. And we we seek refuge in him from those who are out there, with disease in their hearts, waiting to hurt.

Also, we speak out. We let the world know that this cannot happen. We deserve to live happy lives. We deserve to practise our faith with the same dignity as any other person. We deserve to feel safe in our own country.

And finally we should remember that even though others may plot and plan things Allah is the best of planners and he knows the big scheme of things. And he is Ash Shahid-the witness and also Al Fattah- the judge. He is Al Hakam-the most just but also Al-Muntaqim- The lord of retribution. So he won't let the tears of an orphan grieving a mother, or the parents crying for their dead son go in vain. Those who resort to such ghastly crimes to achieve their twisted ends forget that there will come a day when they will be called to account for this. When they will stand alone in front of their lord and will be questioned about their actions. In the Quran, Killing an innocent person is akin to killing the entire humanity. 
 So the transgressor and the oppressor shall taste in the hereafter the consequences of the hatred and malice he perpetrated in this world. All that power that he enjoyed in this world will seem like a dream to him that day. 

Every soul will taste death, and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained [his desire]. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion. (Quran, 3:185)

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Not just yet...

By the time you decided to make an entrance, I was already in love with you. I remember how daddy held you as if you were something breakable. That was the first time I saw him crying and he kept saying ‘she’s so tiny...she’s so tiny’ and that, I remember, made me laugh through tears. You made everyone in the room teary. Even your grandpa, the proud military man, couldn't help a few sniffles! 
And when everyone had left and daddy had finally stopped crying, you opened your little eyes and looked up at me from my arms. And then, you smiled.
For a moment I forgot everything else in the world. It was as though only you and I existed, in an empty space, separated from time. And I wished with all my heart that that moment wouldn’t pass.

 You know the best gift that god gave to me? You.  Before you were born I was not so sure. When your mom would gush over baby clothes and talked for hours about the colours she chose for the nursery, I would sit there and just think how my life is going to change once you come. And when you came it did. It was as though something had cut off every other link that I had with the world. At first I was scared to hold you when mama counted your fingers and toes. You were so tiny, so delicate. I didn't want to crush you.
But someone else did.

Growing up, I always looked up to you. I knew that you were there for me. Yes, we did fight. All the time. But I knew that you wouldn’t let anyone else harm me. I remember how you used to say if anyone can bully my sister it’s me…You were always possessive, you know!
 I never told you this, but the day you first wore the hijab I was so proud of you. You looked so contented, so serene in that beautiful blue silk scarf. I envied you for your courage to wear your faith with so much pride. Mum and I had so many discussions, when you weren’t there, about wearing it ourselves. But we never could. 

I am struggling and I can't find you. I wish I could talk to you. But this is not you. Who are you? 

You were my neighbour. My classmate. My best friend. We go back together so long that I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t know you. We played house together (You always wanted to be the Husband!), we chased Mrs.Norman's cats together, we shared our dolls and clothes and shoes.  You were at my place as much as you were at yours. You were the first to know all my crushes, sometimes even before I did! 

I was so proud of you when you finally made it into Med School after all that hard work. I was sad too, that we were going in different directions. But I told myself you would come back. And we would be together again. But not like this. What happened? I was your best friend, Why didn’t you tell me? 

I saw you first at the supermarket. I hated you right then. How could you smile at me after hurting me so bad? How could you wear that thing around your head when it symbolizes the death of so many? You were the reason my brother went to Afghanistan and never came back. He was the only one I had and you took him away from me. What did he do to you?
Why are you in my country? Why do you come here and mess with my people, our jobs, our culture? You've made my world alien to me.

couldn't take it any more.You deserved it. And I had to let it out. And it had to be done with the same towel that you wear around your head. You had to go.

 But why didn’t you? Why are you lying there with your eyes closed, mocking me from under all the sheets and tubes and needles? Wasn’t it enough you took my brother, do you have to torture me too? Why do you make me feel as though I’ve done something wrong? No, I haven’t. You did this to yourself. No, not me. Not me.

Why don’t you wake up? Open your eyes even. Tell us you’re there. Don’t leave us just yet. Don’t make us switch you off like some machine. I can hear you breathe and I can feel the warmth of your hands. Baby, just wake up and look at mama. Your sister and daddy haven’t left the prayer room since they visited you. I can still hear their sobs in my head. Come back to us. We love you. Come back and we’ll fight against it all together. Just come back. Please, come back.

The doctor told us there’s no point stretching it now. He said you’ve already gone and just left your body here. He said you’d be happier if we let you go too. But how can we? How can I?
I can’t do this. I can’t kill my own child. No, I won’t do it. I would never forgive myself if I did. But if you must go now, then it’ll be at the hands of the one who got you here. He’s going to switch off the machine. He’s going to be the one living with this till the end of his sad life. Let him remember forever that he is the one who extinguished your beautiful soul.

But don’t worry, honey, we’ll see you soon.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Islamic Culture Or. Cultural Islam ?

The past few weeks in the UK have given me a lot to think about. Living here in a different culture, going to a mostly western classroom...I really have been forced to step outside my comfort zone! Another reason I have been thinking so much is because I have A LOT to read these days. I am doing two literature classes and one Cultural Politics module so naturally, there's a ton to read. But for the first time, I don't mind the reading. I LOVE the library here. It's so huge and has so many books! I know, Duh. But it is amazing. I love reading about cultural politics as every week we have seminars on our reading where we discuss our individual readings. And since I like anything that involves talking, I'm lovin' it! We have interesting discussions on identity, cultures, youth, sexuality... and a good thing about being in an international classroom is that you get to hear multiple perspectives. (Our class has a smattering of Australians, French, Chinese and British people.)
Something I realized over the past few weeks is that keeping an open mind is not about just listening to what other people have to say, it's about taking what they said and thinking about it and comparing it to what you believe in. It's difficult at first to look at what you have grown up believing in and practising with a critical eye. But I think it's something we have to routinely engage in. Re evaluation is necessary if we want to avoid intellectual stagnation. 
Cultural Politics involves looking into a lot of Western Critical theories and at first, I must admit, I was a little worried about it clashing with what I believe in (in terms of faith). However, what has happened is that studying a lot of them has only reinforced my faith and even cleared some doubts I had about it! I know you maybe a lil' sceptical about it, but it really did something to the way I think. So many concepts of faith that I was grappling with, were put into perspective! Especially while studying Feminism! Though I do not agree with some of their arguments and the way they set about addressing gender inequality, I do get the essence of it and understand where they are coming from. And as a muslim woman from India, who chooses to add an extra piece of clothing to her wardrobe, I feel have something different to offer to the ongoing discussion. 
Another reason I want to add something to the discussion is because there aren't really many muslim women's voices talking about these issues. It's usually a western, non-muslim woman who talks about the headscarf or the veil. Very few people turn to muslim women to know why they really wear it. And if there are muslim women out there who say something about it, their voices aren't pushed into the public eye with the same enthusiasm as someone who criticises the hijab. .
I've been wearing the headscarf for some years now and over the years it's come to be one of the things that defines me. It's a public declaration of my faith and something which arises out of my desire to place God as my guiding point rather than the culture or society
Even though I've been wearing it for some time now, I really understood the wisdom behind dressing modestly only when I read about the objectification of women in the past (even now). The hypersexualization of woman's body to sell things to the male audience, it disgusts me. Why do shaving cream adverts require a half naked woman to prance around the man? Why does a sleek sports car need a bikini clad woman to lie on top of it, in order to sell it? 

Aren't they catering to the male gaze? The camera is looking at the female body from a male eye. That's why in movies we have the extra focus on the woman's curves and the man's eyes eroticising them. I can't even count the number of times I have seen the camera lingering on the woman's cleavage. Laura Mulvey, when talking about the male gaze in cinema, says he representation of women in cinema has been through projection of male desire on her body. "The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly." By herself, she doesn't stand for anything, her character is usually that of a seductress, someone who through her sensuality toys with the  male lead's emotions.Her body has become the plane where she interacts with the society.

It's at this juncture I fully appreciate my hijab. It shields me from this objectification. I am not instigating that the entire male population is out there fantasising over the female body, but what guarantee do I have that when I walk out, wearing whatever I want, none of them would do it? I am in no way justifying the whole notion that 'she asked for it'. She never did. No woman in her right mind ever does. But what Islam has given me is an option guard myself against the gaze. Doesn't the requirement of modest clothing, in effect, repel the current patriarchal system which makes women feel they have to dress a certain way(sometimes even at the risk of discomfort, eg: high heels, tight tube tops) to feel attractive and admired?


And the woman is not the only one responsible for avoiding the 'gaze'. The Quran, in the verse before the one which asks women to cover, says "Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things) and to protect their private parts from illegal sexual acts, etc.) That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All Aware of what they do.” (24:30)
Hence, the primary obligation is on the MAN to avoid looking at the woman in an inappropriate manner (No matter how she's dressed).So it’s not as though the burden lies on the woman’s shoulders alone the man is also accountable for the gaze.  As a ‘believing man’ HAS to lower it. And only then comes the verse about the believing women covering themselves. And I understand why we have to be particular about the way we dress because no matter how civilized, modern and progressed the society is there will be people out there who will still objectify women with their gaze. 
Now, coming to the problem at hand. What has happened is that the majority of the muslim community places more emphasis on the part about the woman covering herself than the man lowering his gaze. Which is why most people end up believing that Islam asks too much of women. In muslim majority areas, a woman not wearing hijab faces more criticism than a man who does not control his gaze. This maybe because by its nature the hijab is a very physical act, the gaze, on the other hand, is more capable of escaping the public eye. Again, can we hold religion accountable for something which man is accountable for. So the focus should be on reformation of cultural notions which cause people to twist religion rather than the religion itself. In order to get the essence of the any religion we have to look at it in isolation of the cultural baggage it has come to accumulate. So to understand Islam we don’t look at Afghans, Pakistanis, Malaysians or Arabs. We look at the scripture. We then hold up what it says against the wider social context and see how and where religion and the present day practises deviate.  So we look at Honour Killings-  Culture. Female Genital Mutilation- Culture. Female infanticide- Culture. Racism-  Human idiocy. More often than  not, it's these deviations which the media have been pushing as ‘Religious backwardness’.

Islam asks people to think, to reason, to ponder. It tells us not to blindly follow everything our fore fathers did. So even those of us who are born muslims, we have to ask questions. We need to know the difference between what our book says and what our people practise We need to question whether what we have grown up believing in is cultural or religious. We have to open our critical eye.

Marx said religion is the opium of the people. I think not. I think religion in general and Islam in particular was very counter cultural when it came to the mankind. 
It opposed most of what culture dictated. Example? In pre-islamic arabia, female infanticide was a common practise. But Islam strongly condemned this and questioned the idiocy of the practise.  
“And when the girl [who was ] buried alive is asked. For what sin she was killed.” (Quran, 81: 8-9)
During those times there were also clashes between tribes and there existed this feeling of Arab superiority over the others. What does Islam say about this? O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and Acquainted. (Quran, 49:13)
What did the Prophet say about racism? “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a nonArab over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

The rich are obligated to look after the poor. Neighbours have to look after each other. The society has to take care of its orphans and widows. The husband has to treat his wife kindly. The environment has rights over the people. We have to fight for the oppressed. Justice inspite of class or familial superiority...

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (Quran, 2:177)

Replacing the million little things in this world which enslave us (Family, friends, peers, culture, society, career, fashion...) with submission to just One Master. 
This is what religion is about. 
And if this is still opium for you then yes, I am an addict. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

On Turning 20

Yes, people, I have been initiated into the second decade of my life. Thanks to the Almighty, I've made it this far and have a had a relatively smooth journey.
The B'day wishes started pouring in at 6 pm yesterday. Surprised? Don't was 12 am in Malaysia..Around 9 pm here my friends in India began wishing me. It was fun to see wishes popping up according to the time-zones. I was 20 in all these places before I was 20 where I am right now . Makes sense? 
I was still up at 12 am here, in my room, with my friend Farah having a deep conversation on Islam. I checked my phone to see the time- 12.13- 'oh, I am 20 now'. Seriously, that was my first thought.

As a kid I would look forward to my next birthday from the eve of my ongoing b'day. It was such an adventure growing up. Turning 10 was such a big deal. I remember people saying 'You are two-digits old now!' And I would think 'Wow! I am old!' Yes, that's how keen I was to grow up. Then came teenage. Even though I acted all hipster and said turning 13 wasn't such a big deal, I remember counting down the days in my head. And on that day, I felt nothing. No teenage rebellion kicked in, I didn't bloom into the teen diva I see on tv..Nothing exciting. Nothing. I was still the awkward girl with bad hair and an oily face.
Since then each year I would wait for my B'day and see if it has made any difference. Most of the time it didn't. 

I dreaded turning 20. It's a reminder that I am moving away from youth. I may sound silly, but it's a reminder of my own mortality. It's screaming at me 'Go do something with your life before you die!' Today I am 20, before I know it I'll be in my 40s wishing I was 20. And it will go on like that. Will there come a time when I will be embarrassed to reveal my age? Maybe. But I don't want to be someone like that.
I don't want to compartmentalise my life the way society tells me I should. Does the earth revolving 365 days around the Sun have anything to do with me? I mature at my own terms. At 17 I could be the most mature 17 yr old in a group and at 20 I could be the most childish one. Age is a number in my head and in your head. What make me and defines me as a person is not how many times I've circled around the Sun. It's how I grew up, where I did, what I did while growing up. What makes me is my faith, my family, my education and things around me. Some of them are static and some are in flux, but age is definitely not one of them.

I didn't grow on 7th March 1997 or 7th March 2010. I grew when I had to go through an operation, I grew when I went for Hajj, I grew when I travelled, I grew when I came here and had to look after myself. I am still growing! But just this one day, I am not given the opportunity to grow as the society says I should be pampered on this day. I say no. Let me not waste away this day being passive. 

So today, as wishes come pouring in, from people I haven't heard from in months, I have just one request, please take a few seconds off to just pray for me and my family. And if there's anyone who has to be congratulated and wished on this day it's my mother, for bringing me into this world. It's her love which has seen me through my sniffles, pimples and other girl problems. I didn't have to struggle to be born, it was she who went through the pain. 
So please, A prayer for my mother :)