Friday, 4 July 2014

The Healer of Hearts

Bismillah.

For a long time now, I have searched for inspiration to write. What better inspiration than the Book of Allah (SWT) and the most blessed of months, Ramadan!

Every single one of us have reached a point in our lives when our heart suffered the deepest blow. The death of a loved one, a broken relationship, a scandal that ruined one's life, failure of the acutest kind, and the list goes on. You reach a point where you feel like no one can understand your pain and it feels like it will never go away. A void in your heart that nothing can fill.

We go left, right and center, searching for shrinks, self-help books, or we wallow in despair and drown in drinks and drugs. Yet, nothing seems to fill that gaping void in your heart.

Why is that so?

Because we are searching in all the wrong places! Our Creator, the One who knows our every single thought before we even express it, says in His Book, the Qur'an:

"O mankind, there has come to you instruction from your Lord and healing for what is in the breasts and guidance and mercy for the believers." (Qur'an, 10:57)


This Book that we take off from our shelves when someone is sick, dying or to hold it above the bride's head during her Rukhsati - don't leave it there to gather dust while you knock your head against people and other things to heal your heart. When you are breaking down and when the whole world seems to be falling apart, pick it up and read.

By reading I don't mean reading out the Arabic without having a clue what the words say. I mean, try to understand what your Lord is saying to you. There is a reason why the Quran was revealed as a Spoken Word (Kalaam) and not in written form. It is the only Book where you feel like you are directly being addressed in speech. It is the only Book which, like a mirror, makes you feel like every word is about you.

Sink in the power of His Words and let them heal you. Because, Wallahi, there is nothing else in this world that can do the same. Take it from me, I have tried!

If you still feel like you don't have a friend in the world who can protect you from its ugliness, read on in the same Surah, Allah (SWT) assures you:

Unquestionably, [for] the allies of Allah there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (Qur'an 10:62)

This article was also published on the Youth Club Blog.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ramblings of a Closet Feminist

Bismillah.

When your mind is going in a million directions at once, the best way to pull them together would be to write a blog post. Somehow, when I began with Allah's name, it gave this post a purpose. This post is no longer as futile as it appeared before I started writing.


All of us reach a certain point in our lives when directly, or indirectly, pressure is exerted on you to "settle down". While I have nothing against the institute of marriage, for indeed, it is a Sunnah and one that helps in increasing one's Imaan and character building, I do however have some scores to settle with our twisted society regarding what it has become. Some may think that I'm confused between being a closet feminist and a "fundo" (pet word for fundamentalists or extremists, if you please). However, when you start your post wondering what people would think, you know something is wrong, somewhere. This goes on to show exactly what our society has reduced women to being.


When your purpose in life is reduced to just one thing - marriage - that's all your life starts revolving around. It doesn't matter how many books you have read, or how much you learn from life in general, at some point the main concern of our lives as Pakistani women seems to be acceptance. How many times have you come across statements like, "if you become too career-oriented, no one will marry you", "Dress modestly, men don't like women who are too bold in their dressing"and "Don't be such a dowd, educated men prefer smartly dressed women."

As I write this, the marquee next door vibrates with Bollywood beats accompanied by sounds of cheers - obvious signs of a wedding. It makes one wonder whether it is really worthwhile to spend one's life savings on a circus show without giving deeper thought to the actual union between the two people? Is the marriage just an outcome of society's expectations from a conventionally brought up woman who is so heady with the excitement of the wedding that she prefers not to think about what follows, or is it the   union between two souls that share the same purpose in life and see marriage as a source of support as opposed to the only source of happiness? Don't take me wrong, I've seen some examples of the latter as well, but they are as rare as unconventionally brought up women.

While we're on the subject of our purpose in life, how is an intelligent woman, who is capable of doing so much greater good not only for this world, but for her Hereafter as well, supposed to achieve just that if all she is spending her energies doing is fitting into a mould that she does not belong to? While she is so busy conforming to society's expected version of an ideal candidate for marriage, how will she grow herself in knowledge and benefit others from it?

As I hear heart-breaking tales of women being rejected on issues as trivial as the length of their nose, it makes one realise how much thought needs to be put into bringing back the essence of this beautiful institution. The fact that this thought was nagging me so much that I was compelled to write a blog post on it instead of worrying my head with more pressing concerns like who Pakistan's next Prime Minister would be, reflects directly on where our society is lacking.


Sunday, 22 January 2012

Across the Lai

Inspired by Charles Dickens' "The Streets - Morning" from Sketches by Boz.




The surroundings resonate with the beautiful rendition of the Islamic call to prayer for the first prayer of the day. The single voice calling "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is Great) is soon joined by a multitude of other voices, some old and some young, until the words are barely discernible. In the semi-darkness of pre-dawn, the Nala Lai looks like a smaller version of River Thames (as my brother likes to put it), reflecting tiny lights from the surrounding houses which seem to be poised precariously close to the edge despite several warnings after floods in the past to move them back. As the sky begins to lighten very gradually in the cold December morning, dark shapes, which a wild imagination turns into beings from another land, start presenting their true forms as mundane unimaginative products of modern technology.

As I start taking photos of the sunrise, the bright orange on the horizon that stays its beautiful self in every part of the world, I'm struck, as always, by the contrast in my surroundings. As I look down from the front side of my house, other than the guard heating himself infront of the flames of his personal little bonfire and an occasional wandering stray cat or dog, the well-kept neighbourhood of retired army officers is engulfed in slumber and serenity. This side of my house hardly ever held my attention for long. The backside of my house, however, where the Nala Lai stretches out in all its filthy granduer (the piles of garbage accumulated along its banks are now visible in the morning light), the world across it has always interested me.



The stark contrast that both sides of the Lai present is fascinating if not sobering. The garbage that decorates the bank of the "other" side gradually transforms into a confusion of houses of various sizes, which seem to be interconnected - no sign of any open space let alone a garden. Some housing poor families moved here from nearby cities earning their livelihoods by working at the well-to-do houses across the Nala. It is, however, also the perfect hideout for our friendly neighbourhood thieves. Won't we know it, having been victims to one such gang!



As I take pictures of the cement bridge that stretches over one end of the Lai, an occasional car or two drives across. The bridge always reminds me of the bomb blast which was attempted to kill our former President Musharraf, who would frequent the famous bridge while going back and forth from the Army House in the heart of Rawalpindi. As I move my camera lens back to the houses across, I see a tiny speck with a large sack rummaging in the junk - a scavenger in search of recyclable material, most likely. (Unfortunately, the photo was too blurred to be shared.) I now hear cars starting up, as people start leaving for schools, colleges and workplaces.

As I pack up my camera and head downstairs upon completing my mission of capturing pictures of the sunrise, I continue to think about the two contrasting worlds on both sides of the Nala - sadly symbolic of the large economic divide between the rich and the poor in my country.



Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Re-learning Islam

... Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem (In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful). When he read the words ar-Rehman ar-Raheem, he was alarmed and threw the page down, then he regained control of himself, picked it up again, and saw the words:

"Ta-Ha. We have not sent down the Qur'an unto you (O' Muhammad) to cause you distress, but only as a Reminder to those who fear (Allah). A Revelation from Him (Allah) who has created the earth and high heavens." (Qur'an 20: 1-4)

As born Muslims we tend to take our faith for granted. Just because we had the privilege of being born to Muslim families, we think we automatically received a ticket to Heaven, hence, no more effort is required from our side. Therefore, gradually, religion becomes confined to the mosque and the Holy Qur'an becomes a symbol of reverence only to be kept on the top shelf. We grow out of the curiosity regarding life that we had as children. We become more concerned about which way the hijab needs to be worn or how long the beard needs to be instead of looking at the state of our hearts and determining whether we have conviction in our belief and love for Allah (The Exalted) and His Messenger (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him). (Not saying that the matters mentioned formerly are to be ignored, just drawing a comparison as regards to priorities.) Isn't that why, when talking to non-Muslims regarding Islam, we become defensive instead of making an influence? Because we inherited Islam instead of choosing it as a way of life, we often overlook the all-important step of understanding the basic concept of Tauheed (Oneness of Allah) - of truly connecting with the Creator with our hearts.

I only recently realised how much this conviction was lacking in my own heart. I had seen many videos and read several articles of Muslim converts who are prominent speakers on Islam today and they always had an impact on me. Yet, it is true when people say, nothing can compare to the real thing! I've lately been going through an extensive process of soul-searching, having resigned from my job and being unemployed for a good five or so months gave me ample time to reflect on what I'm doing with my life. It was as if Allah answered my silent prayers when I heard that Brothers Hamza Andreas Tzortzis and Adnan Rashid were visiting Pakistan as part of the Winds of Change tour and deep down I knew I HAD to go!

I was prepared to be deeply inspired but the profound effect that Hamza Tzortzis' and Adnan Rashid's talks had on me on the first day of the SIST 2012, held in Islamabad, still took me by surprise. It was as if, one by one, all the questions that had been tormenting me of late were being answered. How can I contribute to bring about a change in Pakistan? Why is Pakistan perpetually plagued by one trial after another? There has to be more to my life than what I'm currently doing. Attending the Da'wah Workshop, conducted by Br. Hamza Tzortzis a day after the event, seemed to further strengthen the process of change and realisation that had already begun. Giving a little background, Hamza Andreas Tzortzis is a Greek Muslim convert "who looks Pakistani" and is a senior researcher and lecturer for iERA, UK. He has engaged in several debates with prominent academics and intellectuals.

During the Da'wah Workshop, I realised why I always reached a point of frustration when attempting to answer questions regarding Islam that were constantly bombarded my way, mainly because I wear hijab. I realised that I don't need to be defensive about my faith, I only need to make people understand the beauty of the heart connecting with its Creator and recognising Him. It's as simple as that! Everything else follows naturally, belief in the Last Messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and all that was revealed to him, obedience to Allah, belief in the Hereafter, etc. All it takes is firm conviction in our hearts - belief, love, trust and also fear of the Creator. If we lack that, then there is no way that we can convince anyone else!

As I was mentally assessing and soaking in all that I came across and learnt during the Winds of Change tour, I started reading a fantastic book on the life of Umar ibn Al-Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him) by Dr. Ali Muhammad as-Sallabi, given to me by my grandfather some time back. Had I read it at some other time, it might not have affected me as it does now. Especially the passages regarding Umar’s conversion to Islam, the verses that brought about the change in him and the basic concepts of Islam that Umar learnt with the help of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had a profound effect on me. I find the strength of Umar’s belief, his open display of faith at a time when it was dangerous to do so, his eagerness to learn at the hands of the Prophet (PBUH) and his insights on many verses of the Qur’an immensely inspiring!

These are the people who know what it feels like to be on the other side. To question, reflect, and then finally accept, instead of having Islam served to them in a plate. It is about time we, the born Muslims, re-learn Islam from them and renew our faith in order to effectively give the message to others as well. We cannot convince others unless we convince ourselves first. I will end my thoughts with Brother Hamza Tzortzis’ words that caused a stir in the audience at the SIST 2012;


“Don’t be like the feather blown about by the wind. We are the wind – the Winds of Change!”



Saturday, 8 October 2011

Behind every successful event is an unlikely team!

Watching the Kaghan Valley illuminated by the most beautiful full-moon at 3 am, huddled in front of a little stove in a tent while a hailstorm tries to rip it apart, singing along to ridiculous songs while sitting in each others' laps in open jeeps riding the bumpiest roads... 


These are just a few moments from one of the most exciting, exhilarating and inspiring weeks I've ever had while organising the TCKP Tour of The Himalayas 2011 International Mountain Bike Race and Mountain Bike Tour with The Kaghan Memorial Trust (KMT) in aid of its Kaghan Memorial School (KMS) between 14 and 20 September, 2011.  When I got back and saw all the media coverage which the event attracted, mainly due to the fact that in times when even Pakistanis living abroad think twice before coming here, we had around 30 International male and female mountain bikers coming all the way to Pakistan to compete in an event for no personal gain and to benefit children from an area which they had never visited before, I realised there is still so much more to the event that external media reports cannot cover. We all know that events don't get organised overnight and usually there is a group of people toiling away in the background to make things happen, what I found particularly interesting in this case was the combination of people that comprised the Orgnanising Committee of this particular event. 

I have had the privilege of working with KMT for well over 4 years now which has given me the opportunity to spend a great deal of time with people from varying backgrounds and cultures, belonging to countries ranging from the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Autsralia, Bosnia, Turkey and Sweden. Other than giving me endless opportunities to act as interpreter (even though my own Urdu is hardly above standard!) and tell a wide array of people about my culture, especially from a woman's perspective, it gave me the opportunity to learn about their diverse cultures. But above all these things it drove home the fact that humanity has no race, language or creed. After a long day when we would sit together to unwind, we were all just a bunch of women going through similar problems identifying with each other's emotions. Moments like those have made my time working with these amazing women truly memorable.

The race itself, which attracted a large number of foreigners to our benighted nation, not only reinforced this concept of humanity, but also makes one realise how false reports of intolerance regarding our country are. True, we are divided into endless groups and target each other in hatred, yet when it comes to guests from abroad, even people belonging to the most backward or least exposed areas were nothing but friendly and hospitable. Watching the rapport that developed between my people and "the foreigners" over the week touched my heart. Furthermore, when we were all caught unprepared with spare warm clothing in the middle of a hailstorm atop Paya, every one rushed to give their coats to the riders to keep them warm after the race. I can't help but think, why are we otherwise so preoccupied by differences and hatred when at the end of the day it does not matter? If an unlikely team of people from differing backgrounds and cultures can come together to make one event successful, why can't we come together more often at a much larger scale and solve much bigger problems that affect us all?

Moving on from my rambling, it was also touching to see the children of the School that this event aimed to benefit so excited by the race and it's participants. They learnt about the countries that the cyclists came from and they were also the spectators on the third day of the race, counting down with the Managing Trustee as he signalled the start of the race. The people who work with the organisation and are helping us in making this project possible also happen to be foreign volunteers who have come all the way to Pakistan to support a cause which is of no personal benefit to them or their countries. Things like these make one regain some of one's faith and hope in mankind. If only our own people were also more willing to practically participate in projects that bring about social change instead of spending most of their time being cynical, things could probably turn out much better for Pakistan.

How can I overlook the overwhelming beauty of our surroundings?! Words cannot accurately describe the breathtaking beauty of the Kaghan Valley and it's changing moods. The wonderful feeling of closeness to Allah (SWT) through the beauty of His creation. Funny how we rush to travel abroad for our vacations yet many of us have yet not explored the varying beautiful landscapes of our country!

Lake Saif ul Maluk
All in all, I could never write enough on the marvellous experience I had helping organise the TCKP Tour of The Himalayas! It was a truly exhilarating experience that will live in my memories for a very long time. Not to forget, the wonderful people I had the opportunity to meet and get to know! :-)

The Kaghan Memorial Trust is a non-profit charitable Trust registered in Islamabad in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Northern Pakistan in October 2005. One of the Trust's immediate objectives is to establish the Kaghan Memorial School which provides free high quality education, health care, meals and clothing to the earthquake affected children of the Kaghan Valley. KMT organises various fundraising events as part of its Income Generation Programme to support the School, one of which is the Tour of The Himalayas. More details on the Trust can be found on their website: www.kmt.org.pk

Saturday, 10 September 2011

A Letter to my Diary

Dear Diary,

How long it has been since I last shared my thoughts with you! Even though this is precisely how I would start every single entry, this time it has been long, indeed. Why have I thus abandoned you and moved on to other mediums of expression, oh confidante of my childhood? Just because my writings were limited to your pages alone (or the occasional nosy parker who would peep through!) does that mean I abandon my old loyal friend and move on to other fickle companions?

Things have changed a great deal since I befriended you in the 90's. The advent of the internet has changed the way we express ourselves. As we have discovered a medium that makes our writings available to the world, who would need to keep a diary and undergo the tedious process of picking up a pen and writing hoping that some day a curious passer-by will read it, publish our work and make us famous? Other than the occasional teenager who uses your time-worn pages to lament unrequited love or doodle in idle time, gone are the days when great writers and thinkers recorded journeys and events in diaries. Who needs to labour with the art of beautiful handwriting when you can write perfectly legibly using a keyboard? 

As handwriting turns into a scrawl, and words lose their essence, blogging, tweeting and commenting is increasing in momentum. Yet can our Blackberries, iPhones, iPads and laptops replace the personalised experience that writing with pen on crisp paper brings? Nothing can make up for the beauty of words gradually taking shape as the pen caresses the page etching our words to be preserved in time to be opened many years later and the experience relived. As I flip through your pages, I can still smell the scent preserved in your folds with loving care, visions jump up at me of childhood memories preserved in writing and lessons learnt are re-learnt.

Alas! Times change and so should we. Who knows when I need the privacy of your scented pages to record moments of silent frustration and soak your pages with tears of agony like I used to? After all, don't they say that a loyal friend stands the test of time? 

Your old fickle friend,

Mariam




Thursday, 11 August 2011

How will YOU celebrate this Independence Day?

As 14th of August (Pakistan's Independence Day) draws near, I see people from all walks of life in my country preparing for the "big day" in their own ways. Cars start appearing with the national flag perched on them, stalls selling flags, badges and everything green imaginable show up on road sides, profile pictures on the internet suddenly change to depict the flag or the Quaid, and of course, who can miss the rehearsels for bike stunts! It is definitely a day of great national pride for us and the feeling is shared by every Pakistani no matter which part of the world they live in. Yet amidst all this hype to celebrate can we at least stop and think what we're celebrating here?

Why is it that the moment someone starts to question anything in Pakistan, either their loyalty to this country or their faith starts getting questioned? Being Pakistani or independent is not just about flaunting the national flag and calling yourself "Pakistani and proud". We are all well aware of the circumstances that we are living in and they are definitely not getting any better with every passing day. Whatever few achievments we have had are mostly limited to the hard work of some individuals. There is hardly anything that we can be collectively proud of as a nation. Have we ever stopped to question ourselves why that is so? Is America or India or any other country really responsible for our troubles? Is it fair to pin everything on our government or the military when they actually came from amongst us? 

This is not an attempt to dampen our joy in celebrating this day, but a reminder to stop, think and question - something we have forgotten to do of late. Only by attaining self-acceptance will we truly be able to solve our problems and take out our beloved nation from the rut it is stuck in. What I also find baffling are visions of Pakistanis across the world who probably have never set foot in this country suddenly overcome by a wave of patriotism come August 14th or a Pakistan cricket match. True, Pakistanis abroad tend to feel more strongly about the country as they're away from home, but for once can we burst out of our idealistic bubbles and accept the reality we are living in? The residents of Pakistan may have their fair share of sarcastic humour and cynicism but it all stems from the circumstances we are living in and witnessing day in and day out. 

Coming back to the subject, how would putting up lights and singing national anthems on one day help this country? Is that all the Independence Day is about? Instead of flaunting our patriotism with words, why not prove it by putting the proverbial money where our mouths are? In order to celebrate the Independence Day in the true sense of the word, the least we can do is take the first step towards building a sustainable Pakistan so that the future generations would actually have something to celebrate. There are countless people struggling with very worthwhile projects based on education and sustainability. I say, let's celebrate this Independence Day by contributing our resources, monetary or otherwise, in helping these projects attain their goal towards a better Pakistan. It's the least we can do if we can't make any similar initiatives of our own. We need to especially inculcate the spirit of volunteerism in our youth which comprise such a major part of the population so that they bring their spare time to constructive use, instead of whiling it away in front of TV screens, video games or the internet. If we look at it this way, if every single educated Pakistani would take upon him/herself the responsibility to educate one disadvantaged child, imagine the difference that could make! 

So, how will you celebrate this Independence Day? 

The author is an Anti-Drug Ambassador for the Ministry of Narcotics Control. The Anti-Drug Ambassadors are a group of young people from diverse backgrounds dedicated to the cause of eradicating or reducing significantly the impact of illicit drug use amongst the youth of Pakistan.