Friday, December 28, 2012

Sheykh Noor-u-Deen – My Journey To Haqq

I have known Sheykh Noor u Deen for about a year now, mainly through his lectures at Husseini Islamic Center here in Sanford, FL. A down to earth person, his lectures match my disposition; pertinent, useful, meat and potato issue driven and quite funny at times. I do wish other lecturers deal on issues that affect us Muslims living in the West as this Sheykh does. His background intrigued me, especially his spiritual journey to Islam Original so I seize the opportunity to talk to him at my residence recently. You may find this narrative of interest perhaps.

I am born with the name Theodore, in the US Virgin Islands, son of Anglican parents. I am a normal child, albeit with a very fertile, inquisitive mind. I go to church, of course and pray to the trinity of Christian Gods, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. When I am sixteen, in tenth grade, this trio concept muddles up my mind. So I ask the head priest about it, but he gives me answers that do not make much sense. One bad example he gives in the way of explanation is of an egg - the outer shell, the yolk and the white; three separate essentials of one being.

So I turn to the next easily available religion for study - Judaism. I find it more acceptable, more plausible to my intrusive questions. But one has to be born a Jew to be Jewish, it’s a race and religion; a most ajeeb requirement. Then I turn to Rastafarians, who believe the late Emperor Haile Selassie to be a messiah; I do not fit in at all. By now, I am disillusioned with organized religion.

My fortunes turn when a Muslim schoolteacher introduces me to Islam; I am intrigued, who is this Mohammed (S)? I read and investigate; the concept and practices find a place in my mind; it all makes sense. It is a natural religion, in harmony with the mind and soul. Then my heart, too, accepts. I become a Sunni Muslim on August 1989, alhamd’Allah. I learn sallat and other ibadaats and all is well with the world.

About two years later, an Imam from the Sudan replaces our masjid Imam. This dude, out of the blue, begins badmouthing and berating the Shia madhab; my mind perks up. Now, I have seen few people praying differently than us but I pay them no mind. But then the Imam starts saying these guys are a danger to Islam and society at large; huh, they seem harmless to me. So I start comparing the two madhabs. I ask the Imam at the mosque, but he gets mad at me and orders me to stop reading Shia books. Bad mistake; I read more. Then I come across Kitaab el Irshaad. I read about Kerbala and am appalled. When I confront the Imam, he gives me an ultimatum; I either stop reading all these provocative material and asking questions or he’ll kick me out of the masjid community.

I stay low and quiet for a while, but continue reading everything about Shia Islam I can lay my hands on. I think I have accepted the wilaaya of Imam Ali (A) but I am still on the fence, teetering. I become a Muslim Original and Shia of Ali (A) in 1991. Alhamd’Allah. The community I am connected to reject me, hate and spurn me. I am shocked at all this hostility. When I am given an opportunity, I join a hawza in Medina, NY and travel for more study to Iran; I study, fortify my new madhab and speak publicly. I live in Iran four wonderful years.

I now live in Tampa FL and own a vehicle repair garage and recite majaalisis and give public speeches whenever called upon. Alhamd’Allah, I have nine children. Allah (S) is most kind.

As narrated to me on December 6, 2012 at my residence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pakistan - Awaiting A Savior

I visit Pakistan December 12 – 17, 2012. These five days are filled with painful emotional upheavals and furtive arrangements by my hosts to keep me safe. This narrative will, hopefully, give you an idea of rot that is gripping this once wonderful and proud nation. There is not one person who has a good word to say about the overall health of this country and many ruefully mull the good old days of military rule, unanimous this is the only institution that has a shot of changing Pakistan’s fast eroding kismets. After a haunting emotional day December 13 visiting with victims and families of sectarian shooting in Karachi, I head for Multan and dangerous NWF provinces. CAI has built hundreds of one-bedroom homes for flood victims in Punjab; I want to inspect these and close the project file.

December 14, 2012

I wait for flight PAI332 to be announced but nothing happens by 11AM departure time, so approach the information desk manned by an elderly man reading an Urdu newspaper. I wait for him to notice me but he is much engrossed with the news or ignoring me. Sallam, I say. He raises tired eyes to look at me then elevates bushy eyebrows in a question mark. I ask him about the flight to Multan. He mutters something ineligible, but speech is difficult; his mouth is full of paan spit. Sorry, I say, I do not understand. Irritation flashes in his eyes. He turns his mouth to the skies and mumbles ineligibly again. Frustration and irritation flash in my eyes. He gestures me to wait, gets up and spits into a nearby trashcan. Aree, he says, flashing paan stained blood-red teeth my way, wait by gate number 17, you’ll be called when the flight is ready.

I wait by gate 17 in apprehension for another thirty minutes. My schedule in Punjab / NWP is tight, many housing and other projects to visit / inspect, awesome exotic Punjabi teeter curry to devour. The time by flight PK332 on the monitor suddenly flashes and changes to 14:40; there is pandemonium in the waiting area at the same instance. About thirty men surround the desk by the gate, there is shouting and mayhem; I can’t understand a word as everybody is yelling. The pretty PIA counter clerk panics and bolts, clacking high heels making her flight to safety comically awkward. A uniformed PIA man replaces her sentry but is instantly besieged and the mayhem continues. When he tries to flee, the protesting group surrounds him, blocking escape; a scuffle ensues. This continues for sometime before several armed security men muscle in and temporarily disperse the crowd, rescuing him. The crowds gather again and begin denouncing PIA; colorful curses and accusations of corruption, theft and incompetence gain momentum. I get into a conversation with a fellow passenger who informs me our flight to Multan is diverted to Islamabad because the scheduled Islamabad flight is technically air-unworthy. The order comes from higher-ups; there are two senior military officers who have to be in Islamabad pronto.

So I wait in the lounge, which now has a deserted look, except for the protesting Multan group, whose energy levels have much mellowed. Ignoring no-smoking signs throughout the terminal, several in this group light up. There is an immediate request and caution over the intercom for passengers not to smoke; it is smugly ignored. Since my sect is a target, I recite my dhor salaat stealthily, then lay down among empty cushions. When I awake with a start at 14:30, there is little change in the flight status, still shows 14:40 departure. I wait until 15:00, still no change. Very worried, I cautiously approach the help desk again, now manned by an attentive and eager to help young lady. She speaks English as well; my fortunes have much improved. Aree, she says, puzzled, this flight is cancelled! Sorry Sir, you’ll have to go to PIA counter outside and reschedule for next flight. And when is the next flight? Only PIA can tell you Sir. And why am I not told about the flight cancellation, why is the status still showing 14:40 on the monitor? Aree, kya boolu. So sorry Sir.

I have a staggering headache by now; I call my host and he is on his way to pick me up. There are other disquieting events brewing in Karachi. I get frightening news alert on my cellphone; a midair collision between Emirates and Al Etihad airlines over Panjgor, Sindh is averted at the last minute due to non-functioning radar. The Shia ulemas of Pakistan have begun a protest sit-in in the center of city (I later learn sixty thousand people join the protest; the Governor agrees to meet with leaders of community) in protest against the governments inability / unwillingness to stop sectarian killings, so the already snarled Karachi traffic goes overtime, delaying my drive to Mehfil e Murtaza. All gas stations in Sindh are boycotting the sale of CNG due to their displeasure with the Supreme Court; queues of vehicles stretch for miles all over the city. Then, at about 10PM, shops and businesses come under fire from snipers; the entire city center empties out within ten minutes. Scared shitless, I make it to my hotel safe. I am to take a flight to relatively safer Islamabad tomorrow at 10AM; I can’t wait.

December 15, 2012

I am awake by five today, eager to go to the airport, but the day starts ominously; a news alert informs me that entire Sindh is gripped by fear, all businesses, schools and public transport is shut. Sweet Mother Mary, what next?! My host’s driver takes less than fifteen minutes to reach the airport on deserted roads, an otherwise forty-five minute drive. The flight to much cooler Islamabad is eventless, the PIA flight arriving five minutes early even though we take off fifteen minutes late, thanks to strong tail winds aloft. My host takes me to visit a remarkable high school for financially challenged boys outside the city, Uswa College – remarkable what few dedicated individuals can accomplish. These boys come from very remote, financially struggling areas of Pakistan; this school turns them around and boasts of fifth overall academic excellence in 2012 from all Islamabad high schools.

Dingy Margala Hotel in Islamabad is a sprawling state owned complex with so many armed security personnel, it is difficult to figure who is a protector and who may be potential adversary. With almost all men sprouting at least a fistful of facial hair, I stand out like a sore thumb. Seeking refuge in my room, I retire early; dicey Hangu / Gowat beckons me tomorrow. I am in deep slumber so it takes a couple of rings before I realize it is not adhaan I hear, but my cellphone; it is my host from Karachi. I am truly sorry Yusufbhai, this Pakistan trip of your is completely ruined. Eh? I am a little groggy, so perhaps do not understand him; this host is not prone to calling me wee hours for such trivial protocol. We are cancelling your trip to Hangu and Gowat tomorrow due to security concerns. There is an ongoing rocket attack at Peshawar airport and people have been killed. The road leading to Hangu passes through that general area so I am not taking a chance on your safety or you getting stuck in Hangu or Gowat and missing your flight Tuesday. Laa ilaa ha ill’Allah!

I am now more than eager to head home but cheap airline tickets are not changeable or refundable.

December 16 / 17, 2012

I am holed up in my hotel room with few sporadic, guarded visits to progressive institutes Jamia Kothar Girls College, Hadi TV, Jamia Imam Sadiq (A) and Jamia tu Zahra (A).

Wee AM December 18, 2012

Heading home.

I despair for this country, feel sorry for her. And feel sorry for myself, ruing missed teeter curry.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

In The Line Of Fire – Pakistan’s Minority Muslims

Karachi is a dangerous city, as if you don’t already know this. This buildings bunker fortified city abounds with private security armed to the teeth; anybody with money to afford one keeps a gun totting guard by his side. Today, December 13, 2012 is probably the most emotionally draining day in my fifty-five year existence; I thought I had seen it all in Afghanistan and other cities I am fortunate to visit for CAI. Such frantic is my emotional upheaval; I briefly lose faith in my Allah, a blasphemy no doubt. I ask Merciful Allah for clemency and tolerance of course; He, I am sure, considering the context, will understand and forgive.

My hosts (all names and personalities are aliases except noted, for obvious reasons) relate tale upon tale of incidents that target a minority Muslim sect, killed or maimed or mutilated for no reason except their creed. The shootings are by extremists riding on motorbikes, who fly by and pump bullets into innocent bodies. I do not have words to label these assassins; closest is scum perhaps? So my five days here are spent on apprehensive lookouts for motorbikes passing or headed my way. There are oodles of motorbikes in this country, even more than cars.

You must have read and heard of Malala Yusufzai, Allah bless her, the poor young girl who is shot by the Talibaan for advocating the education of girls in Pakistan. The media, local and foreign, take up her plight, with much fanfare. The president of Pakistan visits her, she gets tons of well-wishing letters the globe over, is nominated for the Noble Peace Prize... Alhamd’Allah, she now recovers in a first class hospital in the UK and will insha’Allah make a complete physical, if not mental, recovery. I relate, in this tale, stories of few individuals not so fortunate, whose assaults have been relegated to mere incidents, to talk and discuss, express remorse, feel pity, perhaps financially assist and then either forget or suppress from memories.

1. Mehzer Fatema, D/O Syed Nazar Abbas (real name)

It is a usual day November 29 for father Nazar Abbas, a junior employee with Government of Pakistan health system and twelve year old daughter Mehzer. They wake up, get ready, eat breakfast then Nazar takes Mehzer to school on a motorbike. As Nazar navigates the final stretch towards the school, a duo overtakes them and pumps bullets into both. Nazar is fatally wounded and succumbs shortly; Mehzer takes three bullets and is mortally wounded. She is taken to a government hospital where two bullets are removed. The third bullet, affecting her lungs and spinal cord is precariously more challenging. The doctors give up and advise the family to move her to better equipped, more pricey Aga Khan Hospital.

I meet Iswar Fatema, Mehzer’s mum at the hospital after some difficulty. The hospital, although modern and well equipped, is crowded and busy, the guards vigilant and uncompromising. Sarfaraz, the untiring and amazing social worker struggling to accommodate aid to all such victims has good contacts and we make it just outside the ICU but are stopped. Sarfaraz escapes an assassination attempt a few days ago so a Kalashnikov armed guard is constantly by his side, making me weary. When we finally get to see Iswar, she looks bewildered and in anguish. She breaks down several times as she relates the events of last couple of weeks; I try hard to contain tears that threaten to overwhelm my composure as well, feel like hugging her pain away. To lose a husband in a most gruesome manner and a daughter in ICU would drive me to death or insanity. I request her to allow me to see Mehzer. Yes, yes, I have to go to her now, she doesn’t leave me for a moment. Come, I’ll tell the guard you are here to recite some dua for her. Come.

I think my heart will tear asunder with anguish when I see the girl; my thoughts jump instantly to Maaha Zainab, my own twelve year old. Like a frenzied, wounded animal, Mehzer clings to her mother, complaining she can’t breath. There are tubes sticking to her battered body and her arm is busy with several talisman taweez in green bandages. She gapes at me in terror, perhaps traumatized by memory of her assassins. Iswar quickly draws the curtains in the tiny room, gestures for me to be quick; I take a picture of Mehzer with trembling hands. All this takes no more than a minute and I am out, reeling from Mehzer’s tattered image. I talk briefly to Iswar outside of ICU again later; what a mum, what a woman. She is confident Mehzer will recover insha’Allah, with unwavering faith in Allah’s mercy and His ability to make her daughter whole again.

I can’t eat lunch that day and my sleep at night is fitful with intertwined images of Mehzer and Maaha Zainab.

2. Qaari Haneef (real name)

Qaari Haneef hails from Skardo area of Pakistan but lived in Karachi; forty-five years old, father of five sons and one daughter. On August 16, 2012, he decides to take a bus to visit family. The bus is stopped along the way and armed men board. The Qaari is singled out by name and hauled out. He joins twenty-five others belonging to a minority Muslim sect, segregated by name associated to that sect. Then, these twenty-six men are gunned down in cold blood; all perish.

I meet Sarwer, the Qaari’s widow in an unkempt dim apartment building five floors up. She relates the murder of her husband in a stoic manner, devoid of expression. I get to meet two of her youngest children, the rest are in school. Sarwer gets a stipend from a local charity and she struggles to survive. What can I say to her? I express my regrets, promise to pray for her and resolve to publicize her husband’s fate. I leave.

3. Rashid Naqwi (real name)

Twenty-two year old Rashid Naqwi lies in emergency ward of Aga Khan Hospital oblivious to the world. He is shot in the head at Pir Elahi Bash Colony, Karachi while cooking haleem for niyaaz planned for later in the day December 9, 2012, the bullet narrowly grazing his brains; the majlis continue as planned. He is rushed to the hospital by brothers and survives, insha’Allah expecting to make a full recovery. Rashid has a two-month-old baby.

4. Zeeshan Haider (real name)

Similarly, young Zeeshan Haider lies lost to the world at Fatimia Hospital, shot in the stomach; an exhausted brother slumbers sitting next to the hospital bed. Haider has a steep recovery process with several surgeries to reconstruct his abdomen.

5. Raza Hussein (real rame)

Next to Zeeshan sits Raza Hussein from Quetta, shot in the face.  Reza has gone through extensive surgery to rebuild his jaw. This man actually smiles his thanks and talks to me about his father’s family in Afghanistan. He too, insha’Allah, will make a reasonable recovery.

Points to ponder:

A. The Governor, Senator and Chief Minister of Sindh all come visiting Mehzer, camera’s roll, they are splashed on evening news promising the sky; the family has seen not a penny and are in debt US$7,500.

B. There have been eighty-seven convictions of these scums, punishable by hanging; not a single one has been put to death. The President, for political trade offs, stays the execution of sentences every three months.

C. CAI is setting up a special fund to aid the families whose sole bread earner has been murdered with a target of US$50,000. This will defray costs for those poor and destitute medical bills; US$20,000 has already been released using partly sadeqa funds. You are welcome to partner with CAI in this invaluable investment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Kitoto Maulanaas Are Making Me Go Wazeemu

I remain unsure if the following event really took place. Maybe it was a reverie, perhaps not. Nevertheless, something to muse over?

It is a mini-baraaza this time, just Mullah Mchungu and me, seated outside the Husseini Islamic Center, here in Sanford, FL, a stone throw away from my house. Majlis finished a while ago, so the crowds have thinned out. There is a chill in the air; winter is definitely around the corner. It has been a long day for me, so I am ready to call it quits as well. But Mullah has told me to wait; he wants to chat. He told his impatient son Ali to leave; saying I will drop the Mullah later. I wish he had asked me first, but that is okay; Ali lives but a short distance away. 
Despite my past differences with the old man, I am genuinely happy to see him. He looks much better than last time we met; alert and dapper in a crisp black khanzu. I have seen him around first few days of Muhaaram majaalisis but this is the first time we talk.
You are back, Mullah, I say, how nice to see you again! I thought you had tired of the USA?
Aree, shoo karuu? He responds while lighting a beedi with unsteady hands. The pull are my grandkids, even if my own son will not give me due heshma.
Allah! The guy is already setting a combative tone; I wonder what’s on his mind. I really hope this is not going to be too long; I have a hard, long run planned for next morning.
What is this kitoto Sheykh up to? Mullah starts, irritation clear on his face.
Eh? What do you mean? I ask.
I know what he means all right. We have a young Sheykh for lectures this first aashra; very polished, articulate, Arabic fluent, a bit green perhaps; divisive certainly. He has, to many in the community, embarked on a mission to stir up a hornet’s nest. But agitating hornet nests, most times, have nasty consequences; they sting, sometimes in unholy, uncomfortable places.  
The Mullah regards me with teary eyes of age.
You know what I mean, you say you are kisukaali, no; the whole community is abuzz with this kitoto’s unwise topics. These watoto mullas of today, with a year or two in Kerbala or Qoom, consider themselves mighty experts. They pooh-pooh years of solid study, training and sacrifice of our ulemas by questioning established laws of Islam. All in the name of tolerant Islam, progressive thinking or the probing youth. This smarty-pants has completely spoilt the spirit of my Muharram.
Oh dear, I moan inwardly, these are harsh words perhaps. 
Aw, come on Mullah sahib, that’s an exaggeration, surely?
The Mullah rolls his eyes to the heavens and his lips twist in contempt.
I thought you had some gray matter in here, Kisukaali, with all the writing you do, he says, pointing to his head. But I am obviously wrong. He yawns wide and long, showcasing several missing molars and deteriorating gums. You are as useful as the useless Sheykh.
That really stings, and I bristle at the onslaught. Since we are the only two left outside the Center, I have a good mind telling him to walk home. Instead, I argue, to my peril.
Mullah, give the kid a break. He is not a traditional speaker. He is challenging established norms and paradigms. He is stimulating us to think outside a box, to be progressive, to experiment, to think about Shia Islam 100 years from now. He is obviously very popular with the youths and women.
The Mullah closes his eyes while I make my passionate plea for understanding. He stays quiet for a long time and I seriously think he has decided to take a nap on me when he snorts in contempt.
Our youths like him because he speaks in a snotty British accent and the women because the kid looks so seriously starved, they want to feed and mother him...
I am so shocked; I can’t bloody believe my ears. I get up and gather my keys, indicating for him to do the same so I can get rid of him. But he does not move and stares at me stoically.
Oh, don’t be over dramatic, Kisukaali and hear me out. Sit!
I sit.
I have seen at least fifteen – twenty more Eids than you, so you’ll have to hear my farts, whether you like it or not. I don’t have much to live and nothing to lose by saying what I say. Muharram is an invaluable gift to us Ahlebeyti Shias, that Allah has gifted no other people. It is a time when we rejuvenate our faith, affiliate with the mission of Abaa Abdillah for truth and justice. More importantly, it is a time when we learn how to live a proper Muslim life shaped in the heroism of Abbas, of Qassim, of Akber. Fashioned after the patience of Sajjad and Zainab. It is not a time for high drama and controversy.
The Mullah stops, coughs, hawks and shoots a blob of phlegm right across towards a nearby trashcan, missing wildly. He lights up again and blows acrid smoke my way.   
Let me tell you where this kitoto Sheykh is going wrong. Allah, in His infinite wisdom has promised the safeguard of Islam Himself, hasn’t He? All He wants us to do, really, is believe in Him without associates, His Prophets (S) and the Aimaas (A). Outside of wajibaats, which are compulsory, He wants us to make our best efforts with the best of intentions. That’s it! He knows our strengths and limitations; He is our Creator, right? So why go through all this rigmarole of worrying about our youths excessively? He will guide them insha’Allah, just as He guided you and others when they came to this country. All this talk about worrying about Islam 100 years from now and joining Occupy Wall Street movement is hogwash. To suggest there are major differences of opinion between our Marjas is dividing us when we need utmost unity. To suggest women be allowed same rights as men in leading salaat or witness issues is downright precarious. Next we’ll be talking about giving Muslim rights to gays, just because the youths are demanding it. Fine, demand away! We cannot alter Islam or the Quraan to fit a changing world. It’s the other way around, silly! Have you been to Iran, Kisukaali?
Startled at the change of subject, I nod.
Khoob. You will have seen the progression of women’s hejab? It was total coverage of the hair once, then it went to half the head, now it’s a quarter only, pretty soon the hejab will fall to the shoulder in the name of progressive Islam. Then, we’ll be told to pray behind them as well. You tell me Kisukaali, with the fancy MBA and all that experience behind your ears, is it logical to espouse any and all changes that youths and women demand just because ‘times are changing’ and our ‘youths are being challenged’ at schools and universities? You were challenged during your time at the Uni, I’ll bet; you didn’t turn out all that bad.
So now I am bad but not so much? I don’t say anything; there is not much to say really.
Shall we leave Mullah? The caretaker will lock us in if we stay much longer.
The old man gets on his feet with the aid of his very menacing looking cane. When I attempt to help him, he angrily waves me away.
I can still get up Kisukaali, I’m not dead, am I? What a waste of my Muharram. I should have stayed back in Dar. The MC at HIC should have used their usual good judgment than invite such lecturers here. These new kitoto maulaanas have progressively differing, colorful opinions about everything. Each new graduate from Qoom and Najaf dreams up a new twist or theory, enough to make me go mwenda wazeemu!
With that temperament and a cane in his capable hands, I tread carefully, not say much, nod or shake my head respectfully at apt moments of further small talk and safely deposit Mullah Mchungu in the care of his not-too-happy-to-be-woken-up daughter-in-law.

Aashra – Ten days.
Heshma – Respect.
Khanzu – A loose fitting robe.
Kitoto – Small, Young.
Mwenda – Go.
Wazeemu – Crazy, Mad.