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!”