Monday, April 10, 2006

My three passions in life

Islam, India and Urdu

My first passion is my faith in God. That is what drives me to do anything in my life. Islam also connects me to my homeland, where I first learnt to wear my identity as a Muslim in a sea of Hindus...and be proud of it. Hyderabad is also the place where if you were Muslim, you were also identified as a speaker of Urdu. It is a language that bridges my Islam with my 'watan', Hyderabad. Be it my Dakkani hyderabadi 'hao-nakko'or Umme Habiba and her hamds and naats, be it the most melodious of patriotic songs like 'Saare jahan se acha', Bollywood lyrics that we hum, or Nusrath Fateh Ali Khan's qawwali 'Ya Husain, ya Husain' Urdu is the glue that brings my culture, my religion and my traditions all together.

Apart from trying to figure out what my graduate studies program should be if I were to incorporate these three subjects, I hope to learn more about them.

To learn urdu, I decided to start reading novels. They were my first step in trying to increase my vocabulary. Razia Batt is a good novelist, although there is a lot more 'romance novel' jargon in there. I'm also exploring new media. Zahir bhai gave me the opportunity to exercise my urdu brain cells last week and do an Urdu podcast for Qunoot. We might be doing more of these with different topics so let me know what you'd like to see. More urdu, more culture, more philosophy, more comedy...

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Parinday ki faryaad

By Allama Iqbal
Translated by Ayesha Kaljuvee

Aata hai yaad mujhko guzaraa huaa zamaanaa
Memories of days gone by come back to me
Vo baaG kii bahaare.n vo sab ka chah-chahaanaa
That garden in spring, all that chitter chatter

Aazaadiyaa.N kahaa.N vo ab apane gho.Nsale kii
That freedom of my nest
Apanii Khushii se aanaa apanii Khushii se jaanaa
That coming and going as one pleased

Lagatii ho choT dil par, aataa hai yaad jis dam
It hurts my heart when i so recall
Shabanam ke aa.Nsuuo.n par kaliyo.n kaa muskuraanaa
The petals glowing with those tears of dew

Vo pyaarii pyaarii surat, vo kaamiinii sii muurat
That lovely face, that peaceful abode
Aabaad jis ke dam se thaa meraa aashiyaanaa
By which my whole world was alive

The picture above is of my ancestral home in Hyderabad, India. Kehkashan (The Milky Way). That was the name of this house, where my mother first stepped into when she got married, and from where I was bid farewell as I started my new life with my husband.

Those trees and plants, my grandfather lovingly nurtured, with an admonition of 'Patte nahin todhna' to anyone of us who would pluck leaves in our mischief-laden childhoods.
Those were the innocent days, as Allama Iqbal in this poem refers to. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Anthropology of Immigration

You'd think such a topic couldn't possibly be funny. Here's a family that just celebrated 30 years in this country.

Dear everyone.

So ammi wants me to send a message to us all to remind us of our ROOTS.

Apparently, yesterday, 30 years ago, ammi left a strange land (embarked from Bombay) with three very small children and 3 very large stainless steel suitcases and 2 handbags from HKH dukkan that would not pass current TSA regulations. She was 85 pounds. Khizer bhai was 9 months. Junaid bhai figured out western toilets solo at age 3.5 at Heathrow. And salman bhai held his breath the whole trip.

Greeting her at O’hare airport was Murtaza husain, trying to impress his family with a new fashioned wig. I don’t think Khizer bhai recognized him.

March 26-28, 1976.

Oh, Khizer. You guys, crack me up!

Finally, a much-awaited discussion, brought to you by the Qunoot Foundation.

Join us on Saturday, April 1, for an enlightening discussion on Karbala, Imam Husayn, Azadari and more. Program items include:

  • Guest speaker Dr. Tariq al-Jamil, Assistant Professor of Religion/Islamic Studies at North Carolina State University;
  • A presentation on "Women in Islam: A Shi'a Perspective" by Fatema Abdul Rasul and Farah Mahesri; and
  • A premiere screening of the film "Ten Days" by Nadeem Kazmi.

Details are as follows:

What: "Beyond Tears: Examining the Remembrance of Imam Husayn"
When: Saturday, April 1, 2006
Time: 1:00-6:45 PM

Where: Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel, 1001 14th St NW, Washington, DC; located near the McPherson Sq Metro station
Attendance fee: Regular - $25; Student - $15 (with valid student ID)
Registration will be available in advance and on-site. Seating is limited and registration will be capped. Please RSVP at

More details will be forthcoming, make sure to sign up for the Qunoot mailing list on our home page or check back here soon.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Monday, March 27, 2006

My brother sent me this link that takes us on a journey through Persian and Indo-Muslim literature on the subject of Husain bin Ali (grandson of the Muhammad). It's beautiful how the concept of this one sacrifice has evolved to mean so many things, to contain so much within it. How we embed the understanding of this event and this person (I can't get the exact translation of 'hasti') into our lives is the true test of our ability to filter our rituals from our spirituals.

But enough on the on. I have extracted excerpts that I found fascinating.

"Sacrifices are a means for reaching higher and loftier stages of life; to give away parts of one's fortune, or to sacrifice members of one's family enhances one's religious standing; the Biblical and Qur'anic story of Abraham who so deeply trusted in God that he, without questioning, was willing to sacrifice his only son, points to the importance of such sacrifice. Iqbal was certainly right when he combined, in a well known poem in Bal-i Jibril (1936), the sacrifice of Ismail and the martyrdom of Husayn, both of which make up the beginning and the end of the story of the Ka'ba...Iqbal saw the history of the Ka'ba defined by the two sacrifices, that of Ismail at the beginning, and that of Husayn b. 'Ali in the end (Bal-i Jibril).

"It is from Husayn, says Iqbal, that we have learned the mysteries of the Qur'an, and when the glory of Syria and Baghdad and the marvels of Granada may be forgotten, yet, the strings of the instrument of the Muslims still resound with Husayn's melody, and faith remains fresh thanks to his call to prayer.

"Husayn thus incorporates all the ideals which a true Muslim should possess, as Iqbal draws his picture: bravery and manliness, and, more than anything else, the dedication to the acknowledgement of God's absolute Unity; not in the sense of becoming united with Him in fana as the Sufi poets had sung, but, rather, as the herald who by his shahada, by his martyrdom, is not only a shahid, a martyr, but at the same time a witness, a shahid, for the unity of God, and thus the model for all generations of Muslims." - Annemarie Schimmel, Harvard University

When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won't do to get it, or what he doesn't believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn't believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire . . . or preserve his freedom.

Malcolm X

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Exactly a week earlier around this time I was enjoying a bright sunshiny day headed towards Vienna on the Orange line. Ah, the sun glinting through the windows of the Metro train, warming the little plastic card in the palm of my hand. It was a small, white card with my picture on it, more commonly known in the rest of the world as America's Almighty Green Card. I had it, all in the palm of my hand, and about to give it up.

Yes, last Monday, I officially became a US citizen. And the saga continues. Except, the same experiences that I had in this country for the past four and a half years were now being viewed through the lens of belonging to this country. Everything that it represents, all the emotions that the declaration of independance evokes, all the ideals that the founding fathers stood for, and all loyalty that the pledge of allegiance calls for.

But then I turned around and there were cartoons everywhere. Would I now have to take a stand against the infidels, the Great Satan, the West, the Kafirs. What was my religion asking of me? What was now my duty to America? Was the hatred of the west that was coming our way, also directed at me? What should my reaction be? I wasn't now caught between the two sides, the east and the west, the way I was when I had the green card. Now, I was the West.

And right around that time, the organization where I work, the Muslim Public Affairs Council attended the Conservative Poltical Action Conference here in Washington, DC. It was a 3,500-4000 attendees conference where we had a booth to educate the masses about Muslims and our work. There was participation from across the nation: college republicans, libertarians, islamophobes, evangelical christians, center-right, right-wing neo-cons, the whole gamut.

Speakers included Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Tom DeLay, Bob Novak, and last but not the least Dr. Ergun Caner

You can imagine that there were quite a number of opportunities to dispel sterotypes, correct misconceptions and even educate about Muslims and Islam, as found domestically and internationally.

I had quite an educational experience myself. My first button that was handed to me as I entered the exhibit hall said "Ex-Gay is OK". I thought, hmmm.

Realizing that we were one of three Muslim organizations at the conference, I summoned hope. This would be one interesting weekend.

Ann Coulter called Muslims 'ragheads', Dr. Caner revelled in disinformation and hate-speech (but then again, he comes from a Muslim background, so its credible), and some just told us to leave CPAC as Islam and America don't go together. Afterall, we did 9-11. Who can argue that?

But there were those who were very open-minded about Muslims. They wanted to know more about Islam, had maybe never met one in the flesh and were quite inquisitive and not-so-trusting of the media. Then there were those that just wouldn't trust Muslims as far as they could throw them.

I met quakers, libertarians, ACLU'ers, gays, ex-gays, the Emersons, the Spencers, the free republicans, Americas for Condi people, the right-wing media (even got interviewed by the National Rifle Association News agency), anti-hate crime law people, college republicans, defense contractors, and numerous other conservative groups.

One person comes by and says, " If you really espouse American values, would you, young lady, be able to climb the minaret of a mosque in this country and give the call to prayers? If not, you Muslims still don't have the equality that we as Americans believe exists between the genders."

Even those that recognized that we are legitimate American Muslims trying to work for domestic policy, had questions. Why can't you explain to the Muslims abroad (of the riots-against-cartoons kind) that America is all about democracy, freedom of speech and all the good principles and values that our founding fathers built this country on? That can't be why they hate us. Why aren't you helping stop these riots? Talk to your fellow Muslims. Muhammad (AS) obviously ddin't teach this!

Another interesting experience was when I went to a nearby empty hall to pray Asr. I go into ruku and a security guy comes by. "Excuse me, ma'am. I know that you are praying and can't stop, but the vice president is coming through this room to get to the banquet where he is speaking. He is coming with his secret service men and I would advise you to leave the hall before they do."

Another one to add to 'the crazy places we pray'. Subhan Allah!

So, I googled my own name today. C'mon people, own it up. You all do it. It's exciting to see if there is anything out there about us that we DIDN'T know about. So I found a Xanga blog of an acquaintance who had come to our place for New year's eve. The Islamic one. We arranged dinner on the thaal. It was a good traditional meal. I felt the equivalent of thanksgiving...stuffed and satisfied. Shukran lillah. Read on about the event, 'Pehli raat' in Urdu and I think there might even be some pictures of my kitchen and living room awash in the colors and aromas of the modest 21 course meal. I have taken the liberty to post parts of the blog for those of you interested. Thank you, Mishou.

Islamic New Year - "Is this too National Geographic for You?"

As I'm sure you all know, this weekend was the Lunar New Year. It was also the beginning of the Islamic month Muharram (leaving aside calander conflicts, which I'm not even going into). I don't think Sunnis really do anything, and for most Shia this is a time of mourning because it marks the martrydom of Husayn bin Ali at the Battle of Karbala (undoubtedly we'll be seeing the pics of the ritual flagellations in Iran and Iraq in all the papers this week). All this aside, Farah is Bohri and celebrates the New Year with a large feast on the basis that the new year happened before Husayn was beheaded.

So, this logically leads to massive cooking and feasting at Farah's friends, Zuleqa and Khazeer's (spelling?) place. Zuleqa has a thaal which is like a large metal plate/table which everyone eats off of communally (see a movie of Scott and Khazeer carrying the thaal). There were 8 of us there, with a whooping total of 21 dishes (both good luck numbers, so yay!). Anyway, it was great fun, Zuleqa provided a tutorial on eating rice and daal off the thaal with one's fingers. It's really fun! I think I like this method better than chopsticks

Fatema, Zuleqa, and Farah Preparing the thaal...

and the finished product!

MaiN khwab ban ke tere shabistaN meiN aa-uNga

Dressed as a dream, I’ll slip into your bedroom

Chupke se, khwabgah ke parde utha-uNga

Silently, I’ll lift your bedroom’s curtains

Dast-e-saba ki tarha, tujhe guguda-uNga

Like the hand of gentle breeze, I’ll tickle you

Aur tere pa-e-naz pe, sajde luTa-uNgab

And I’ll lavish your feet with bows and worship

MaiN khwab ban ke tere shabistaN meiN aa-uNga

Dressed as a dream, I’ll slip into your bedroom

QurbaN kar-uNga gul-e-nobahar, meiN

I’ll offer fresh roses of an early spring

Lal-o-gohar maNga-uNga, behr-e-nishar, meiN

I’ll order pearls and jewels as tokens of my love

Pehna-uNga gale meiN, sitroN ke har, meiN

I’ll adorn you neck with a band of stars

Bistar pe tere, khuld ki kaliyaN bichhauNga

I’ll spread your bed with rose petals

MaiN khwab ban ke tere shabistaN meiN aa-uNga

Dressed as a dream, I’ll slip into your bedroom

With love in the air, and lonely branches once again embraced by snow, I would like to leave you with a few lines of poetry by Akhtar Shirani. A few sher on passion, love and the desire to meet your beloved. Thank you Asghar Vasanwala, whoever you are, and wherever you may be, busy emailing everyone.

Blogging is becoming an obsession for me, just as many have predicted. Every thing I do, whatever life throws at me, whenever I am down, I feel like blogging. But here's the catch. I feel like blogging, but never actually do. It seems that the effort of writing a sad blog is effort wasted. You will be happy later. Something will happen to reinforce in you that God is on your side, He is listening to you. And life is good.

Happy Valentine's day to you all, my dear readers...(that's all two of you!). And thanks for the kind words. I was quite pleasantly surprised today to see numbers other than the usual 0 comment. This just shows how infrequently I go to my own blog.

Friday, January 20, 2006

So, I'm not even going the 'why-I-didn't-blog-for-a-month' route. There are 5 big stories behind that one.

Least of all, was the story that led to the realization that no how hard I try, I don't get it. I don't get the hypocrisy, the facades, the lack of honesty, the beating-about-the-bushes and the hedging.

How many times in my life do I have to learn this lesson? Honesty and good intentions are a bad combination. You try helping friends in conflict, slaps you back in the face. You try confronting someone with the truth, another slap. You decide you've had enough, you honestly try to defend yourself, slap! It takes a hard heart to understand when honesty is not the best policy. It might be a good thing, I think, to be able to use the truth at your discretion. But something in me ejects that thought out like a heimlich ejects a piece of food trying to go down your air pipe. It won't do. It just won't.

If this is growing up, man, I've got lots to learn...and digest. Maybe it's not a piece of food that's going to kill me but rather an airpipe that might be butting in to make my breathing easier. This growing up is hard business.