Labbaik-Allahuma-Labbaik

Vol 6 - Issue 1 Labaik Allahuma Labaik“Here I am, O Allah! Here I am!” echoed in my heart, my mind and soul all in unison. For the first time in my life I experienced unadulterated rapture. I was off on the journey every Muslim dreams of making – to do all the things that billions of Muslims have performed solely for the sake of Allah (swt).

8th Dhul-Hijjah, 1429

I am at Mina. The Hajj experience cannot be described in words, and it must be experienced to be fully understood. For the first time in my life, I am tongue tied. There is no other place on earth, where one willingly shares a bed with 250 people and a bathroom with 700 strangers in the space that was my bedroom back home! The rigors of these three days will almost certainly destroy the body; however, strangely enough, the more tired and uncomfortable one gets, the more one’s soul is purified and strengthened.

I have left three kids behind solely to gain Allah’s (swt) pleasure. I have left my entire palette of experiences to be present under the open sky, where the Prophet (sa) once stood, once prayed, once slept and where his tears must have once fallen. Now, my tears fall here, repenting to Allah (swt) and asking for His mercy.

9th Dhul-Hijjah, 1429

The day of Arafat. The emotions are high and the time is so very short. How can I possibly repent, beg for mercy, ask for all that I want for myself, my family, friends, neighbours, people all over the world, weep for the sins I have committed, cry over the mistakes I have made, plead forgiveness for the promises I didn’t keep, supplicate and beseech Allah (swt) to grant me all that I desire?

I now know that ‘beautiful’ is a simple word, and that is just what Hajj is – simply beautiful and purifying. Not complicated, not intricate, just simple dos and don’ts and mostly tolerance and patience – valuable tools for life.

This was the valley, where the Prophet (sa) once cried to Allah (swt) for forgiveness, where he prayed for us, and where his heart belonged. I prayed my heart out. It is exhausting but only mentally. I walked from Arafat to Muzdalifah to spend the night under the open sky. This is a journey of sacrifices and fulfillment, of friendships where one would not expect, and of great pleasure in simple acts.

10th Dhul-Hijjah, 1429

What a splendid day! The elation of having put my mind and body through the severity, which cannot be imagined, voluntarily. Never in my life did I think that such physical fatigue and control over one’s desires and sacrifice would bring happiness. The tiredness of walking from Arafat to Muzdalifah, not sleeping but just absorbing Muzdalifah, walking to Mina, stoning the Satan, back to Makkah for the Tawaf e Ziarat and Sae’e and finally back to Mina – all in a day and a half has brought me peace of mind. What is this spirit that Allah (swt) has breathed into His creation? What is it that moves me to such heights of passion that I exert myself physically and mentally thus with only one purpose – to gain Allah’s (swt) pleasure! EID MUBARAK!

11th Dhul-Hijjah, 1429

Rami (stoning the devil) is such a simple concept, just like Islam, such a simple way of life. Why didn’t I realize this before? Islam asks so little and gives so much, only if we let go of all the trappings that have become our necessities. In Mina, I realized I didn’t need such a big house, only one sufficient enough to accommodate my family with love and tolerance. We don’t need two cars, just the two legs Allah (swt) has given us. I don’t need three kinds of food at every meal, just enough to feed my family.

Stoned the devil, cast him out but yet so many layers that I have to shed, before I reach the level of true submission. I have never slept so well or as soundly, as I did today.

This was my Hajj experience. Actually, this does not do justice to the overwhelming emotions, the unstoppable tears and the complete and utter calm that descends over you after completing Hajj. It is truly the ‘Journey of a Lifetime’! May Allah (swt) grant every Muslim the means and opportunity to experience it. Ameen.

Murder Most Casual

Murder Most Casual

By Sumaiya Saleem

“Mommy!” I looked up at the two-year-old, who was standing on the threshold; he was simply adorable, with his unruly black hair, deep blue eyes and red lips, which were now trembling, as if he was trying hard not to cry. A closer look made me gasp in horror: his eyes were bright with unshed tears and one of his arms was missing. His shoulder was bloody, indicating that someone had ripped off his arm. He was no more than a baby: who could have been cruel and heartless enough to treat him like this?

As I was gazing at him, a clamp appeared out of nowhere; it seized his other arm and began tugging ruthlessly. Tears spilled down the child’s face, as his blood began to flow down his shirt, dripping to the floor in silent drops. Suddenly, there was a ripping sound, and his other arm was torn away as well. Both limbs lay on the floor in a bloody mess, and I couldn’t take my eyes off them. The clamp re-appeared, and, this time, took hold of his leg. I rushed forward to save him, but it seemed as if an invisible force was pushing me back. One by one, his other body parts were ripped apart, resulting in a heap of blood-soaked limbs and pieces of flesh lying on the floor, until only the face was left.

“Who did this to you baby?” I asked, tears pouring down my face, as I struggled to go close to him. The child uttered a soft sigh before replying sadly: “You did, Mommy!” Just then, his head was crushed by a blow to the skull. I started screaming hysterically, as the impact of his final words struck me.

My own screams jerked me awake; I opened my eyes to see everyone staring at me in surprise and disapproval at creating such a scene in a clinic. I swiveled my head to stare at the walls that had been spattered with blood in my dreams: they were clean now, and there was no sign of any of the horrors I had witnessed. “It was just a dream,” I consoled myself.

Ten minutes later, I was being ushered into Dr. Khan’s room; it was my second appointment, so I was at ease with her. Sitting down, my first request to the doctor was to describe the procedure I would have to undergo for the abortion. I had been affected by my nightmare, and it was an almost desperate attempt on my part to convince myself that I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

To my surprise, the doctor seemed strangely reluctant to explain, and it was only after a lot of persuasion that she proceeded to inform me that since I was already five months pregnant, she would be performing a dilation and evacuation procedure on me. It included sucking the amniotic fluid out of my body and then extracting the fetus with the help of a clamp. “Do you use a clamp?” I whispered, and when she nodded in affirmation, all the blood drained from my face. “We do require a clamp because we cannot extract the entire fetus in one part. We have to detach its limbs before the evacuation procedure. But don’t worry, Mrs. Ahmed, according to all the research I have done, the fetus doesn’t register the pain.”

“You’re planning to rip apart my baby and you have the nerve to tell me you don’t think it will hurt?” I demanded furiously.

“Pardon me, Mrs. Ahmed – I was under the impression that it was your decision to have your baby aborted,” she replied.

“I didn’t know. I never imagined it would be this terrible, this cruel,” I whispered.

“What did you think it would be? Do you think it’s easy to extract a live human being from the uterus, where it’s clinging, and not harm it in the process? It’s not easy for me either, you know. But it’s my job, and I only perform this operation when I get a request from the parents. I did tell you that you were too far along and it was unadvisable to have an abortion at this stage, but you insisted.” The doctor’s words, uttered in an icy tone, froze me in my tracks. I was quite willing to put the blame on her and had forgotten who had set the ball rolling in the first place.

I was the child’s mother. I was supposed to protect him. It was my blood the baby was thriving on. This child was the flesh of my flesh, and I had carried it beneath my heart for five months. If I could so callously decide to tear it from my womb and discard it like rubbish, how could the doctor pity me? “Maybe you need time to think it over,” Dr. Khan suggested in a softer tone, but I was disgusted at the idea of thinking over whether or not I wanted to kill my child.

Fifteen minutes later, I was home. The ride had passed in a blur, as I stared out of the window, unconsciously wiping away the tears that were rolling down my face. The fact that I had not known of the exact procedure did not absolve me of guilt. I should have asked for more information before taking such a momentous decision. However, I was so worried about my life being disrupted by an unplanned pregnancy that I had never thought of the being in my body as a living entity, a part of both me and my husband. I had viewed it merely as an inconvenience. My dream had opened my eyes to the realization that my womb held not just a lifeless clump of cells but a baby, who might have inherited my black curls and my husband’s dimple.

“Mommy, I is here,” the baby announced, and I turned to the door with a welcoming smile on my lips, throwing out my arms so that Ammar could run into them. I held him close, smelling the clean baby scent of him; it had been almost two years since my visit to Dr. Khan and my decision not to abort my child. Now, he was eighteen months old, a laughing child with ebony curls, flashing blue eyes, the cutest dimple and the ability to wind me around his little finger. He was the exact replica of the baby I had seen in my dream; as I listened to his gurgles and baby talk, I shuddered to think what might have happened, if I had not had that nightmare. It was Allah’s (swt) blessing that my son was here and not in a heap of bloody limbs in some gutter.

Every night since that horrific vision, I had thanked Allah (swt) that he had saved me from the Kabira (major) sin of killing my own child. The Ayat of the Quran flashed in my mind:

“And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.” (Al-Isra 17:31)

Mother Teresa had once remarked: “In every abortion, there are two victims: a dead baby and a dead conscience.” I had been saved from murdering both my baby and my conscience.

Of Sins and Forgiveness

Herbaceous border in full bloom at Priorwood Garden, Melrose, Bo

K. Ali narrates a story based on personal experience.

“They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (Al-Araf 7:23)

I met her in front of a tiny, two-roomed house. Somewhere on the outskirts of God-knows-where, somewhere where there were piles of spoiled fodder and plastic bottles heaped one over the other. She had a strong, pink face, and she smelled of soap. Soap and, for some reason I did not know, musk.

It was quite an accident, our meeting. I was nineteen and driving without an instructor for the first time. My car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and I had to place a call home. My brother was to arrive in about an hour to pick me up; but, meanwhile, the heat was unbearable. I was thirsty, too, and my face showed it. I kicked open the door of the car, clambering outside. The smell and the flies all around nauseated me instantaneously, and I pulled my cap low over my forehead, wishing it could drive them away.

That was when I met her.

She was in the garden, the pretty garden outside her tiny, two-roomed house to my right. I saw her, she saw me, and I instantly looked away. Half a minute later, she came up to me. In her hands was a tray, and in the tray – a glass of water.

“Have a sip, daughter,” she said, holding out the glass.

“No thanks,” I said, a little distastefully. I certainly felt thirsty but not thirsty enough to stoop this low: to accept a drink of water from a ragged woman, when with all the cash in my pocket I could buy a dozen cans of Pepsi. It indeed was a level of degradation I could never even dream of falling to.

“I saw a war when I was younger,” she replied quietly.

“That’s nice,” I replied, turning away. The distaste in my tones had grown stronger now, and I did not attempt to hide it. With temperatures shooting up and a sweltering summer sun beating down on me, the last thing I wanted was to end up listening to the fanatical tales of an old, white-haired woman, who smelled of soap.

Soap and, for a reason I did not know, musk.

She paid no attention to my distaste. Calmly, she continued. “There were lots of people there,” I heard her say. “People pierced by machine guns, people with broken bones, twisted necks, cracked skulls. Those were better days for me, I could serve better things. But you know what, daughter? They wouldn’t have them. They wouldn’t have my alcoholic drinks. They wanted water.”

I looked up, startled. She seemed in a trance now.

“Remember when Allah (swt) created Adam (as)?” she asked. Asked whom? I still wonder, I can’t help wondering – I am sure she did not ask me. “He created him as a superior creature. Then, He asked the angels to bow down before him. All of them did, didn’t they?”

The words rose automatically to my lips: “Satan didn’t.”

“Yes, he didn’t,” she agreed. She walked to her garden and sat down in the middle of it. It was a pretty garden, the only pretty spot for miles around, perhaps. She drank the water she had brought for me, slowly, taking steady sips, before looking at me again. “He didn’t, and he was sinning,” she continued. Her voice was stronger now. “Do you know the story? Do you know, how Adam (as) and Eve (as) were asked to leave Paradise?”

I nodded, throat dry.

She smiled. “Yes, I read about it too, once. Twice, maybe. Maybe more. He lured Adam (as) and Eve (as), that Iblis. He tempted them, and they ate the forbidden fruit. Do you know what this shows? Do you?”

I shook my head. She smiled again. “Yes, you do,” she told me. “We all do. It shows who we are; it shows who he is – who Iblis is. It shows that we are humans – that it is human to err. Part of man’s instinct is an inherent weakness – a weakness that leads him to wither in the face of temptation to sin. And part of Iblis’s instinct is evil – an evil that led him to defiance and pride, an evil that made him mark, in Paradise, the beginnings of his mission to commit misdeeds. And do you know what else it shows? Do you?”

Once more I shook my head, and once more she smiled. “Yes, you do,” she repeated. “We all do. It shows that Allah (swt) is love, and that in His nature, in His light is forgiveness, pure, beautiful and powerful. For when Adam (as) and Eve (as) cried, when they begged, He forgave both His creations. In fact, He taught them how to seek forgiveness from their Lord (swt).”

I was quiet now. She did not notice this, or perhaps she did and ignored it. “We commit so many sins in our lives,” she was saying. I heard her, as if from a distance, a very far-off distance. “And when we are offered God’s blessings in places we least expect to be offered them, we reject them, because we want something better, something larger. We do not want small, we want big – big tempts us, because it is so much more glamorous. Small seems weaker, so much weaker. And He forgives us.”

I saw myself stoop, saw myself reach for the now half empty glass of water. The liquid was clear, cool and sweet – like no other drink of water I have ever tasted – and I drank deeply. I looked up at the woman again, the old, white-haired woman, and she smiled at me. She smelled of soap and, for a reason I now knew, she smelled of musk.

Suddenly, the level of degradation I had never dreamed of falling to was an ascent. The sky was me, and I was the sky.

Achieving a Peaceful Smile

Vol 7 - Issue 1 Achieving a peaceful adviceBy Aisha Siddiqua

I looked up at the mirror staring at the glowing face, recently pampered and serviced by the best parlour in town in exchange of a hefty bundle of notes. A wave of pride and excitement ran down my spinal cord, causing my lips to curve in a delicate smile, as I imagined the expression on everyone’s faces when they will see me in my new HSY dress at the party tonight.

The bubble of full-of-myself thoughts suddenly burst with a knock on the door. It opened to welcome not just my maid but my mom too, scolding her over anything and everything. As she silently proceeded to place the coffee mug on my side table, I could not help but notice the way she smiled. So calm and so content. Suddenly my smile seemed too shallow and my glowing face too dull in front of her dark, worn-out features.

“What’s so funny?” I snapped at her.

“Nothing,” she replied, still wearing that peaceful smile on her tired face.

“Amma is scolding you like crazy out there! Are you deaf? Or too stubborn to ignore the mistakes you make to bug her day and night?”

“Why were you smiling when I entered the room?” She suddenly challenged me. “If you could skip your Salah for your parlor appointment and go out in front of all those men without covering your head, knowing how much it will enrage Allah (swt), and still sit here peacefully and smile, why couldn’t I? Yes, the constant scolding I have to undergo everyday pains me, yet I smile. I know that if I forgive your mother today, He (swt) will forgive me on the Last Day.”

As she left the room, I quickly gathered my thoughts. There had to be something about what that 16-year-old uneducated, under-nourished and underprivileged girl felt. How could she be so content, when she did not even know whether she would even be able to feed her paralyzed and widowed mother for the day or when all her life was about this mundane routine of cleaning people’s houses and being mercilessly reprimanded?

It had to be something beyond this world. My Islamic Studies teacher had once told me that the Sahabah (rta) loved Allah (swt) so much that they could taste the sweetness on their tongues when they took His name. Did she feel the same way? Is it even possible?

I had once heard a story about Fatimah (rta). One winter night, after offering her Isha prayers, she made the Niyyah to offer two Rakahs of Nafal. The Tilawat, the Ruku and the Sujood gave her so much pleasure that when she finished, the time of Sahoor was at its peak. She started to cry thinking that Allah (swt) had decreased the length of the night so much that she could just say two Rakahs of Nafal the whole night! What did she ever feel in those Sajood?

Yes, she is the same Fatimah (rta) who settled happily on reciting the Tasbeehs, when her beloved father turned down her request to provide her with a slave who could take care of some of her chores. What made her work the whole day and worship the whole night?

It was all too disturbing. Suddenly I felt even more degraded than Abu Talib and Abu Jahl. The reason they did not accept Islam was because they actually knew what it was about. They knew what it took to be a Muslim and they weren’t ready to submit to Islam. Am I not worse? I am a Muslim, yet I live in ignorance about my identity.

I got up to take out the brand new untouched Quran from the shelf and witnessed in the reflection of the mirror the same glowing face but with a completely different smile this time. A few steps from the bed to the shelf – that’s all it took!

To the Single Ones

Vol 6 -Issue 2 To the Single onesA single woman ponders over singlehood 

Stigmatized, jinxed and pitiful – unfortunately, this is how our society regards single women. Reading columns written by ‘a single woman over thirty’ in one of the daily newspapers, I always feel that society makes sure that the greatest preoccupation of single women is to get married. The entire frenzy cooked up by the media about fairness creams, bleach creams, hair removing creams, soaps, sparkling toothpastes and what-not is geared to make her find her mate. Reality, however, is not skin-deep.

It is true that marriage is one of the greatest blessings of Allah (swt) – but it is not the only blessing after all

A while back, I saw a documentary that moved me deeply. It was about a woman, who was born with a birth defect. As a result of this defect, the entire lower part of her body had been amputated. Her whole life was no less than a miracle, as she was going through school and college with only half her body. Despite all of this, she got married to a normal man and had a normal baby too! Little do we realize that “When He decrees a matter, He only says to it: ‘Be!’ – and it is.” (Al-Baqarah 2:117)

It is true that marriage is one of the greatest blessings of Allah (swt) – but it is not the only blessing after all: “And if you would count the graces of Allah, never could you be able to count them.” (An-Nahl 16:18) As single women, we need to look around and start counting the numerous blessings of Allah (swt). If you are privileged enough to read this article, then count yourself among that tiny percentage of Pakistani women, who can read and write in English. Your privilege, therefore, bequeaths on you a responsibility. It is only when you sense this responsibility and realize your capability will you be able to see beyond your mundane existence.

One of my Quran teachers, who got married a while back, tried to make me treasure the time and freedom on my side of the fence. My married friends have to deal with difficult in-laws, grouchy husbands, naughty children and the whole plethora that comes with marriage. The gloss of new jewellery and clothes wears off in no time. The parties for the new couple do end one day, and that’s when the reality bites. I do not mean to undermine the institution of marriage – my point is simply to make all of us, single women, treasure the blessings of singlehood.

When I turn the pages of Muslim history to look for role models of single women, I am quite lost. Perhaps, this is a wistful comment on modern life. Today, we see numerous unmarried women, whilst in the early days of Islam we are hard put to find any. This gives rise to pressures on finding the right man for yourself. It is easy to give in here to Satan’s temptations: online dating and chatting with the opposite gender are just so easy nowadays. Only the realization that Allah (swt) is watching keeps the hormones under control. Prayer and fasting are tools which reinforce Taqwa (God-consciousness).

We learn from a Hadeeth of the Prophet (sa) narrated by Abdullah Ibn Masood (rta) that Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “O young men, those among you, who can support a wife, should marry, for it restrains eyes (from casting evil glances) and preserves one from immorality; but he, who cannot afford it, should observe fast, for it is a means of controlling the sexual desire.” (Muslim)

I remember the time, when I got an opportunity to read Surah Rahman right in front of the Holy Kabah in Makkah. I had read Surah Rahman countless times before, but at that moment there was one aspect of this Surah that struck me the most: every description is in pairs – be it a description of fruits of Jannah or the dwellers of Paradise, Hell and Heaven, men and Jinns and one can go on and on. Allah (swt), the Only One, has created everything in pairs, which is what makes everything complete. I am reminded of the following verse of the Quran: “Glory be to Him, Who has created all the pairs of that which the earth produces, as well as of their own (human) kind (male and female), and of that which they know not.” (Yasin 36:36)

The fact that every woman and every man on the face of this planet has a pair is overwhelming. More overwhelming is the fact that all creation is in pairs! So, whilst marriage is not the be-all and end-all of our lives, we know for a fact that Allah (swt) has created a pair for us. Therefore we should pray, like the Ibadur Rahman (servants of Rahman): “Our Lord! Grant unto us wives and offspring who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous.” (Al-Furqan 25:74)

As Muslim women – whether single or married, divorced or widowed, old or young – we have a great task to fulfill: to enjoin the right, forbid the wrong and believe in Allah (swt). I can’t help but quote Robert Frost:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

The Gift of Faith

By J. Samia Mair

Silence. I remember lying on the sofa, enjoying the sound of nothingness. No shouting, no slamming doors, no awful names poisoning the air. The rest of my family had left, and I welcomed the lull in fighting. I was a happy child, but I was not raised in a happy home.

As I started to drift to sleep, a cool, gentle breeze passed over me. I felt an immediate sense of relief. It was as if every burden had been lifted, every worry comforted, every bad memory erased. Words cannot adequately describe the few seconds of peace that I felt that afternoon. But then, as now, I believed it was from another world.

After that day and for many years to come, I would lay down on the same sofa, around the same time, hoping that the breeze would return. I never experienced it again. But I know it exists.

In many ways, I was a typical, well-adjusted American girl. I had friends, did well in school and wanted those things most other teenagers wanted. But I felt different as well. I was raised in a primarily atheist home. Religion was viewed as a crutch for the weak, and the religious were deemed acceptable objects of scorn. But I always believed there must be something else beyond the apparent. I wondered: “Where do I come from? Why I am here? What should I do, while I am here? And where am I going?” I remember a friend telling me that he never pondered over the questions that occupied my thoughts. I envied him. I envied all my friends, who journeyed through life content with the seen. I felt cursed for wanting answers to questions many others did not even think to ask. I felt cursed for wanting to know the unseen. I felt cursed, until the moment I knew I was blessed.

In earnest, my spiritual consciousness awoke in Brazil, while working with a non-profit organization promoting indigenous rights. I lived at a school, where I studied Portuguese with Christian missionaries from all over the world. These missionaries did not try to convert anyone. They sought only to help others in desperate need. I started to rethink my views on religion. How could religion be so horrible, if it produces people, who spend their lives in the service of others?

When I returned to the United States, I began attending a liberal Catholic church. It was wonderful, except for one thing – I did not believe the basic theological foundation of Christianity. I believed Jesus (as) was a prophet, not God. Somehow, I was able to overlook this major theological difference for quite some time. Then, a good Jewish friend attended service with me one Sunday and said that she never understood, why priests talked so much about Jesus in their sermons and so little about God. Her seemingly innocuous observation changed my life. I could no longer sit comfortably in the pews and pretend that I belonged. In many ways, my Jewish friend led me to Islam.

I started to research different religions – not so much to convert but to see, what else was out there. At the same time, my mother gave me several books written by a well-known, self-proclaimed Sufi. His discussion of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) and Islam enthralled me. Eventually, I came to believe that this particular author was a charlatan, but he inspired in me love for the Prophet (sa) and respect for Islam. This author wrote that people should not convert to Islam, take on Islamic practices, or read from traditional texts. He suggested that only his work held the key to spiritual excellence in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, his writings encouraged me to read more about Islam from other sources. In one of his books, I believe he quotes the saying “leave your donkey at the door.” So, once again, I was led to Islam by an unlikely source.

I have often remarked that I did not choose Islam; Islam chose me. As soon as I read its teachings, I felt home. I could not believe that a religion existed, in which many of my beliefs were established creeds. Still, I did not feel the need to convert. But Allah (swt) has a plan for each of us. A classmate in graduate school gave me a translation of the Quran. It sat on the corner of my desk for months. One day, I decided to read it. As soon as I read Surah Al-Fatihah, I knew I was going to convert. It was the prayer I had been trying to write all my life.

As I continued to read, I started to fall asleep. I found myself looking up at the sky. The sky was bright gold. Arabic letters in bronze moved slowly across it. It looked as if an enormous scroll was unfolding above me. The colours in this dream – if I can call it a dream – were amazing. They glowed but unlike anything I had ever seen before. Such words as ‘brilliant’, ‘radiant’, ‘incandescent’ and ‘luminous’ fail to capture what I experienced. The dream was so powerful that I became scared and woke myself up. Since that time, I have had only two other dreams with amazing indescribable colours. Like the breeze I experienced as a child, I believe now as I did then, that these colours were from another world.

Shortly thereafter, I took my Shahadah. The Imam gave me a few books. One of the books made me gasp. On the cover was a picture of an open Quran. The pages were bright gold and the script was in bronze – just like in my dream! At that moment, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

Ironically, what almost led me away from Islam were its followers. Someone once told me not to judge Islam by Muslims. I wish I had heard that advice, when I first converted. About a year after I took the Shahadah, I felt alone in the religion. I could not find a community, where I fit in. I was told many beliefs about Islam that did not seem right. I found it difficult to untangle what was Islam and what was cultural. I wondered, if a westerner could truly be a Muslim.

I prayed to Allah (swt) for guidance. He (swt) led me to the German author Murad Wilfried Hofmann. Among his many achievements, Mr. Hofmann was an ambassador to Morocco, who converted to Islam. Like me, he was also an attorney. I read his books and realized that there was a place for someone like me in Islam. Allah (swt) also sent me many beautiful sisters, who continue to travel with me on this wondrous path.

As I look back on my life, I wonder why I was so blessed to be called to Islam. I did nothing to deserve it. I know many non-Muslims who seem far more worthy than I. I wonder: “Why me and not them?”

Faith is the most beautiful gift. Each day, I try to thank Allah (swt) for guiding me to Islam, knowing that my gratitude is wholly insufficient. I try to be obedient, but I worry, because I often fail. I find comfort in the belief that Allah (swt), Most Merciful and Most Forgiving, continues to guide and forgive me, as He does with all believers. Between hope and fear, I journey on.

A Pilgrim’s Letter

By Dr. Farhana Azim

Assalamu Alaikum,

I am back from Hajj by the grace of my Rabb and with the commission of your Duas. All the relatives, friends and colleagues, whom I am addressing in this letter, were in my heart and in my Duas at Arafat and the Masjid-e-Haram. It was the least I could do for them, but I have faith that those Duas Allah – Rabus Samawat ul Ard – will grant in the most, Insha’Allah!

This has been a journey of a lifetime, of immense attainment, learning and enrichment. It has been one journey that took me so many years to embark on… for lack of ultimate preparedness and adjournment of that call from Allah (swt).

Hajj is a ritual and a pillar of faith, which completes the whorl for the wreath that adorns a life of purity supposedly destined for Heaven. This pillar of faith guided me to reinforce my life-structure more dogmatically, since the burden of a lifetime’s transgressions weighed on me heavily. It meant asking Allah (swt) to remodel me to the way of life, as prescribed in the Quran and the Sunnah, and to bring change in my perspective in aspiring for Mominhood from Muslimhood.

In the crowd of 3.5 millions, I may have bumped into a CEO, a leader, an academic or a beggar; there’s really no way to tell the difference. Rank and pomp are divorced of status. Ego is driven out of platform. In this condition, the Hajj does its work. More importantly, in this global commune of people, I saw people from all over the world come here for the love of their Creator. I witnessed how they dealt with each other in untoward situations and used Sabr and Shukr as weapons to combat the lurking Shaitan.

What I endured served to remind me constantly that Hajj is Jihad! Blessed is the Hajj, whose hardships serve to please Allah (swt). I am thankful to Allah (swt) that the forty days I spent there were almost a Jihad – situations varying from the famine of Ethiopia to the afflictions of refugees in distraught, on foot without shelter, men and women with no proper amenities or logistics. In my deal with Allah (swt), I did not choose the ordeals; but He gave them to me – He asked a higher price for my repentance… nothing was for granted! Human ‘soul wash’ demands the highest value, perhaps even more for a sinner like me.

After my adoration for Him fetched my ultimate strength and devotion, I got the courage to ask Him for a ‘backpack’ in the end! He gave me the greatest feeling of satisfaction and Shukr I could ever receive in my life, Alhumdulillah!

Moreover, Hajj has awarded me with a longing to repent more and to submit more! In many ways I choose to bring a deeper desire for His compassion – in my soul, my heart and my senses for continuing this valuation in the life that I am left with now. I know I haven’t left His Place entirely – my heart and soul will always be there with Him in that House!

Many of us come from Hajj happily thinking that repentance is granted, it’s all over now, and we can go back to business as usual. However, for our Hajj to be Mabroor, it is essential that from now on all our activities conform to Iman at all times.

I am thankful to Allah (swt) that I was honoured with this Ziarat. Being a Hajji has put a tremendous responsibility on me to safeguard the enrichment and wealth I have brought with me, to keep my cleansed soul unspoilt and unblemished by worldly indulgences.

Allah (swt), help me!

Happy Valentine’s Day?

Vol 5 - Issue 4 Happy valentine's day

Up until my late teens, Valentine’s Day was a stranger to me – I had never witnessed it, never heard of it. Growing up under the Soviet regime, I was ‘programmed’ to know only the Soviet holidays, see only the Soviet cartoons and learn history solely from the Soviet perspective. Although this locked-in environment of communism had disadvantages, through years I’ve come to appreciate its strictness and sober moral norms, as they saved a good portion of my childhood innocence.

I came to know Valentine’s Day through the several times I went for studies to America. Coming from a country which had just shaken off the chains of the communist regime, I found America with its pompous culture of exaggerated celebrations quite alien. I felt somewhat lost in the dating culture tension of high school life and the many high school dances, to which only ‘couples’ were welcomed. “Sweethearts Dance” for celebrating Valentine’s Day was pretty much about showing off your ‘special person’ to the rest of the school. All the talks of celebrating the beauty of love faded into the background in the wake of this plain and straight-forward propaganda of teenage dating culture.

Later, during the years at university, I learned yet new angles of what Valentine’s Day meant for common Americans. Living in Minneapolis with its “The Mall of America” (the biggest shopping mall in the country), I clearly saw how businesses were cashing in on people’s romantic feelings. Sasha, my exchange student friend from Russia, who worked at “The Mall”, admitted that the holiday seasons were a nightmare for her. Were it Easter, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, the whole mall was transformed into a money sucking machine, mesmerizing the unaware customers with Christmas trees, eggs, bunnies, hearts and the music of the season into opening their wallets for the sake of… spending money, of course! If for customers the red hearts and love songs added a pleasant touch to their Valentine’s Day’s shopping spree, to Sasha such daily diets created a clear aversion.

My American roommate Sarah, a graduate student of sociology, quite shocked me with her perception of what Valentine’s Day could be about. One day, as we were sitting and talking in our living-room, she showed me some booklets on ‘safe’ sex and said that she would mail them as a Valentine’s Day gift to her niece, who had just entered her teens. “Nobody else is going to tell her about this anyway, so I thought I should help her out,” was Sarah’s rationale. I couldn’t believe my own ears! I learned that Valentine’s Day was also about promoting the responsibility-free and commitment-free partnerships.

However, I was hard hit by the reality of this partnership culture through my other roommate Cathy, a Ph.D. student of geophysics. Cathy was a very bright student, but she had some psychological issues and was on daily anti-depressant drugs. For most of the January university vacation, I was out of the country, so I was unaware of what was going on in her life. One evening, just a few days after I returned, Cathy came to me with a bottle of medicine in her hand and asked me to count, how many pills were left. After I counted them, she realized that about thirty pills were missing. She told me that her boy-friend had left her and she felt so depressed that she just kept on taking these pills in an attempt to calm down her emotions. Thank God I had a driver’s license and could drive her in her own car to the nearest emergency room, where she was transferred to the psychiatric ward for a few days. Doctors had diagnosed her as attempting to commit suicide. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I was not ready to buy into talks of spreading love in humanity, because with my own eyes I had seen the reality of the dating culture this celebration stood for.

May be my angle on Valentine’s Day is quite unusual, but it is the one that I have come to experience. So whenever I hear ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’ I feel like the statement should end with a question mark.

Knowledge – Ask for More

Vol 5 - Issue 3 Knowledge- Ask for moreBefore operating a new webcam, a smart thing to do would be to read through the instruction manual, understand all its features and, hence, utilize it to its maximum benefit. Experimenting as you use it is fun too, but you may inadvertently mess up something important (plus have a lot of lousy pictures). So to make the most of anything you really care for, it’s best to read and understand how to use it.

Well, what could be more important than getting the best out of your life? To be successful not just for a couple of months or years but for the whole eternity? Unfortunately, there is no quick fix solution for success; it entails striving hard to obtain knowledge (how can you be successful without knowing the steps to success?). Alas, most of us tend to ignore one very important instruction manual…

The instruction manual of life, sent to us by the One, Who created us, and explained by the one sent to instruct us… the Quran. This book has been explained by our teacher Muhammad (sa) in the form of his Sunnah and further clarified by the works of our dedicated scholars.

Acquiring knowledge of the Deen is not to be taken lightly. The Prophet (sa) said: “A learned person is as much above a worshipper, as I am above the least of you.” Furthermore: “Allah, His angels and all those in Heavens and on Earth, even the ants in their hills and the fish in the water call down blessings on those, who instruct people in beneficial knowledge.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Often, we procrastinate from beginning the journey of learning, because we tend to fall into the trap of thinking:

  1. I’ll do it tomorrow…
  2. I’ll begin during my summer break, after the exams, after I’m married, after the kids grow up, after…
  3. The knowledge of so-and-so is flawed, so I won’t study from him…

Hence, we are targeted by these whispers, which the Daee Muhammad Alshareef describes as the ‘weapons of Shaitan.’ As a remedy to overcome these thoughts, he prescribes keeping the following in mind:

  1. Know that there is paramount reward from Allah (swt) for those who seek knowledge sincerely for His sake and pass it on to others.
  2. Know that through the knowledge you pass on, you will receive reward even after you are dead; the reward lives on.
  3. Know that this knowledge is the inheritance from the prophets. Go and take your share.
  4. Know that you will bask in happiness, when the cloud of ignorance is raised from our heads.

So don’t delay – make the intention to delve into the depths of Islamic knowledge and go for it. Start by reading the translation of the Quran (consider it an email sent especially for you!), ponder over it and start applying it to your life. You don’t have to rush yourself, take out some time for this blessed companion every day and be consistent, no matter how difficult it may seem (remember that Shaitan will set his traps where ever he can).

Hence, be firm and keep this Dua of our Prophet (sa) on your lips at all times: “O Allah, I ask Thee for beneficial knowledge, acceptable action and good provision.” (At-Tirmidhi) May Allah (swt) make it easy for all of us, Ameen.

The Fun Years

Vol 5 - Issue 1  The Fun YearsTeenagers are funny creatures! And I don’t mean it humorously.

They find everything funny. You have more chance of finding teenage girls giggling than you do of finding middle-aged or even 25-plus-women chortling and guffawing. That’s why when one hears the word ‘giggle’ adolescents come to mind. Under this broad generalization, I can safely say that most of us suffered the same insanity during our teens. From the same bouts of inexplicable laughing fits to goose-bumps for things as minor as favorite brands of chocolate spotted among gifts.

Psychology says it’s healthy. Teenagers should be allowed to express their feelings and indulge in recreational pastimes. But living in the world of recreation has a variety of meanings – from favorite cartoons to favorite drugs … the choices aren’t really that simple any more.

The biggest dilemma of a Muslim teenager is the confusion (a separate dilemma from identity crises) between what is fun and what isn’t. What jokes to laugh at, what movies to enjoy, what books to read, what people to hang out with, what fashion is acceptable, what ideas are reasonable, so on and so forth. This is the very point, where Muslims need to remember that while Islam does not want people to forget the hereafter, it also does not wish to suck the marrow out of life. A Hadeeth states: “Don’t consider anything insignificant out of good things, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance.” (Reported by Abu Dharr and recorded by Imam Muslim)

Ideally, Muslims are known for their dignity. However, most people tend to misinterpret what we mean by that. I’ve seen parents look disapprovingly at their children, if they laugh too much. A loud guffaw or maybe a painful jibe at someone else is where you may want to draw the line – but stopping teenagers from laughing altogether? That’s something that won’t end well. Parents need to seek this balance, while rearing their kids.

On the other side of the fence, the teenage Muslim can sometimes undergo shame and self-doubt, while mingling with the ‘it’ crowd. This can result in either of the two: they turn into loners … or become over-serious about everything. Either way, it’s not a fun way to spend one’s teenage years. Teens need to find themselves in the concoction of mixed norms and the melting pot that we call ‘culture’ today.

Teenagers follow norms. They follow peers. This was the most interesting conclusion I drew from all the havoc that came into my life, due to the excessive confusion between the ‘good fun’ and the ‘bad fun.’ Psychological studies of adolescents prove that teenagers have a stronger tendency to listen to their peers than to their parents. And once a peer group becomes strong, its sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ develops. It does not follow particular ideas of good and bad – rather, what is ‘cool’ or ‘un-cool.’ This revelation struck me as revolutionary. It meant that if I was being penalized in one group for not wanting to have fun ‘their way,’ I could just as easily be accepted in another peer group – if they shared my opinions. That choice proved to be such a breakthrough that I ended up starting my own group. I ended up becoming my own voice, instead of representing the prevalent teen culture.

If no one likes your way of having fun, find someone who does. Start your own norms. Be your own person. Because, after all is said and done, that is what being a teenager and a Muslim is all about.

The Fundamentalist

Vol 4-Issue 3 The FundamentalsI fought with my parents to go to college in the US. There I would have all the freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Out of their love for me, parents gave in to my tears and tantrums and sent me to the University of Detroit in Michigan. I started the college in the Fall of 1990-91, that is to say September of 1990 – the year Iraq attacked Kuwait and the year America finally established itself as the saviour of Muslims.

I was elated at the prospect of living on my own, having no one to tell me when to get up, when to eat and, most importantly, who to talk to. It was in college that I learnt the true meaning of double standard. As I was enrolled in English 401, we were divided in groups and given the task to write a paper on the reasons for why the US ‘saved’ Kuwait. My partner was a US army recruit and I was a Muslim ‘fundamentalist’. We had to research and write ONE paper with our conclusion.

The meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ is one who follows the essentials and basics of the theory or religion that one is adhering to. Hence, for being a good doctor, a person should know and follow the fundamentals of medicine. I thought of myself as a good Muslim. According to the Oxford dictionary, ‘fundamentalism’ means ‘strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion, especially Islam’. Therefore, a fundamental Muslim basically means a terrorist.

My grade for the paper was a C-, the least required to pass the class. My partner’s John’s was an A+. FOR THE SAME PAPER! “How was that possible in such a democratic country as the US – the land of the brave and the home of the free?” I dared to ask. I went to the dean of the Liberal Arts School; however, she couldn’t do anything as professor K. was a tenured professor. All I got was a change of grade to a B, so that I wouldn’t loose my Cum Laude status.

Now the question arises – why was there a double standard? Just like the pre-partition Indians fighting for the British to leave India were ‘patriots’ to the Indians, but ‘terrorists’ to the British. It was just the matter of which side of the fence you were on. After that incident, I learnt to read between the lines. What do people really mean, when they say ‘Islamic terrorist’ or ‘Muslim fundamentalist? Is there a difference between being martyred or killed? What does it mean, when I am asked to be a ‘moderate Muslim’?

In my opinion, you either are a Muslim or you are not. How can you be moderate about a way of life? Does it mean to follow some parts and not others? What is the criteria for choosing, which parts to follow and which not? Islam does not promote excess, so following the basics of Islam does not mean to be a moderate Muslim but a Muslim fundamentalist. Be a Muslim fundamentalist and be proud of it!

From the Pen of a Woman on the Other Side

closeup of fountain ink pen over white pages spiral notebookSome of you may be surprised by the kind of comments you get to hear, when people find out you’ve worked for television.

I’ve been working for television for about ten years. My first programme was when I was in class six, in which I recited a group of riddles in a children’s programme that aired on Pakistan Television. Back then it meant something to me, my friends and every child viewer. Maybe it was because there was no Nickelodeon, nor was there the overwhelming number of TV channels bamboozling the poor child. Or simply because watching TV was as much of a novelty then, as the latest version of play station is today.

I worked with Geo, ARY and FM 100 at a time, when debates about television being the greatest tool of Satan surfaced. Wars erupted among family, friends and teachers regarding the pros and cons. Those ‘pro-television’ thought nothing wrong with it whatsoever and saw it as a new feat of technology. People couldn’t travel on camels in today’s world now, could they? The ones against it argued from the stand point that pictures were prohibited in Islam, and that the West was using television as a medium to brainwash Muslims against the true and honest principles of Islam.

It was too much to bear at eighteen, when I was suffering from acute identity crises, worrying about what headgear would do to my permanent image and about brainwashing debates based on classical Aristotelian logic. But I did as much as I could. I turned down offers for music videos, dramas and soaps. I refused to let male make-up artists apply makeup before I went on-air. I refused to work with people, who did not have purely academic or knowledgeable programmes. Perhaps that is why I have somewhat stereotyped myself as a woman, who covers her head, and can only appear on Independence Day or Ramadan programmes, even though I have done a series on psychology (in which I am a post graduate student).

After watching constructive efforts of many authentic Islamic scholars, especially such as Dr. Zakir Naik, I have become confident. I have resolved the debate of right or wrong by coming to terms with a plain and simple logic of keeping it simple. Nudity, obscenity, profanity and useless programmes were out. Shows that spread awareness, appreciate

Islam and its wisdom, celebrate peace and good will, promote good and forbid all that is evil in the eyes of Islam, propagate a message that needs to spread faster in the world today than any other time, are agreed upon.

I have been stereotyped negatively so many times, in spite of the headgear and my strict policy on no-commercialism and no-pop-culture. It often makes me wonder, why we still have not resolved this issue, even though we all welcomed the famous singer, who gave up his pop career to recite Hamds and Duroods and appeared for Dawah on television channels.

Somehow I still find Pakistani society trapped in the question of what is good and what is bad. Once we grow out of this harassingly old dispute, may be we can move on to what is important and needed. It is not compromise; we cannot call science or media evil. It is what is inside that makes us Muslims.

So what do you think?

Is media good or bad?

The question is wrong altogether. Rather, we should say: “Media. What’s good in it? What’s not?”