Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Imam (a) Will Not Lift A Finger To Save Us From Allah’s Punishment

I am busy at my computer when my cell phone goes off, startling me. The screen flashes Mullah Mchungu’s number from Dar. I don't want to take it as it'll mean loss of thirty minutes, at least, and I have my run coming up in that time. I give in and answer the phone, however. The guy was quite ill when I met him in Dar a few months ago and this could be an important call.

Ah Kisukaali, says the Mullah, in a firm, wholesome voice. He must be feeling a lot better. I sigh resignedly…there goes my run. This man will not let me go easily. I am glad you answered, I was getting worried I'll get your answering machine. I thought maybe you were catching up on your sleep after your regular gossip session at IEC last night? You know what I mean? The Baraaza where you yap, yap like women and smell other people’s chuddies to find out which smells worse?

Blood gushes up my face and my fingers curl up into fists at the deliberate provocation. I am sure I would have punched him if he was physically here. I take deep breaths instead and try calm my blood pressure.

That is a very rude thing to say, Mullah, and a very sexist one. Not all women gossip and it is not confined to any gender. Our Baraaza is not for gossip; we talk about intellectual issues, politics and even have aalims join us for religious discourse…
Oh, spare me that crap, young man... The man then begins to cough. I can hear him cough and wheeze and splutter at the other end. He hacks so much, I become genuinely alarmed. He calms down after a while, so I try to be nice.
You okay, Mullah? How is your health? I ask.
That’s not important Kisukaali, you'll know pretty fast if and when I die through your Baraaza, he replies tartly and coughs some more. I watched the lecture at IEC yesterday. On the Internet. From my laptop. My daughter got me a laptop to watch all the maulaanas drive me crazy from the world over. So I watched Stratford's yesterday. What a disaster. You guys cannot find anybody more reasonable? Or sensible? You guys so desperate?
I frantically wreck my brains to try think about the subject matter yesterday. Must not have been too stimulating, because I can only recollect the good man talking about salvation by Imam Hussein (a) on the Day of Judgment. Nothing wrong with that surely?
Yesterday was a happy day for me, as an ahlebeyti Muslim, the birthday of my Imam Hussein (a). But I cried for our lot Kisukaali, I really did. I am a nut, a rebel, I don’t accept everything said from the mimbar as Gospel, I agree. But I despair at some of the idiotic things our so-called aalims advise us about…

I am suddenly very nervous and look around my empty living room instinctively. Surely this is blasphemous, or close to it? I consider hanging up and not be part of this conversation. But the Mullah sounds earnest and passionate; there is pain in his voice. So I decide to hear him out. I look around fearfully once more, just to make sure there are no ghosts around.

We Ahlebaytis are educated about Imam Hussein (a) from the time we are in our mother’s wombs. Our mothers infuse the adoration for this Imam (a) through the very milk she feeds us from her breasts. This, in turn, changes to love and reverence through the very blood that give us life. This is Hussein (a), the flower from the garden of the Prophet (s), the blood of Batool (a). His very name palpitates our hearts and moistens our eyes. But we then betray him and his mission. The man from the mimbar did great injustice to the Imam (a), reducing him to the role of giving us Ahlebeyti Muslims a guaranteed pardon from evils, a carte blanche to commit sins…
This is not true… I holler in protest, I am sure he did not mean…
Oh, do be quiet and listen to me Kisukaali. I am not deaf or stupid. He might not have said the very words, but that was the gist of his lecture. The entire lecture was about blind aqeeda, all of it. It was an insult to my intelligence to even listen to the man. Let the Maulaana, us especially, use our Allah-given brains. Do you know your Usool e Deen?
The Usool e Deen, Kisukaali. What you learnt in Madressa? Immediately after Tawheed, even before Naboowat, comes Adaalat, the justice of Allah. Allah is very just. This is our core belief. He must, simply must, judge with absolute fairness. There can be no injustice with Allah, it goes against His wujood, His being. This He says in the holy Quraan, repeatedly, perhaps the Maulaana should go back and read it, to refresh his obviously failing memory!
The Mullah is shouting now and I can hear the anger in his voice and feel the splutter of his saliva on my face as if he was right in front of me.
Don’t you see Kisukaali, these Maulanaas are hampering us from using our brains! They cite bewildering traditions, many on the verge of ludicrously, that we blindly accept.  We rightly condemn extremist Salafists for violence and point all sorts of fingers at them. They say Laa Ilaaha IllAllah and chop of a man's head in the belief the act will send them to paradise. What is the difference here then? The guy is giving us a free rein to commit sins that will be wiped clean with Imam Hussein (a)’s intervention? By simply reciting salawaats, retaining a light of love for him (a) or shedding tears. What bakwas! It reminds me of the Sufi Malangs in Pakistan. They’d get stoned in hashish and happily do rigorous maatam, fully intoxicated, in the belief the Imam’s (a) love supersedes all ills in them. Take it from me Kisukaali, the Imam (a) will not lift a finger to save us from Allah’s punishment if our acts are malicious, especially if we wrong a fellow human. The Imam (a) cannot and will not act against Allah’s justice system. The time to repent is now, when we are alive. Allah will forgive us, most probably, for that is within His infinite mercy. But don’t expect Imam Hussein (a) to interfere with Allah’s justice system.

There is complete silence after this emotional outburst so I think he must have hung up. But he continues shortly, much more calmly, resignedly.

Imam Hussein (a), all our Aemaas (a) for that matter, are a waseela for us Kisukaali. They were sent by Allah as raw models and defenders of His religion, as examples for us to try and emulate and if need be, as a leverage for legitimate needs that only Allah can fulfill. They cannot be tools of misuse for evils we do. Kapish?
I open my mouth to respond but Mullah Mchungu, in his usual style cuts me off, shouting.
And get some proper aalims to guide you guys, in the holy name of Imam Hussein (a). Stick to Deen e Noor! The man talks sense. With much humor!

I open my mouth to speak but find the phone dead. The dude has hung up.

I fearfully look around the living room once more. I see no visible ghosts.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Trip Of Endless Thanx - Zuhair Ebrahim

Towards the end of last February, when Toronto is in a midst of a deep freeze, I get a call from my fellow Tangawalla and Orlandowalla – Ali Yusufali of CAI, asking me what was I up to. I did the usual complaining about the cold until he asked me if I would be willing to travel to Afghanistan and Iraq to inspect the various CAI projects on his behalf. I quickly agreed; anything to get out of the Canadian cold!

My enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when he said, Zuhair, that’s great, please go online and fill out the visa application for Afghanistan and Iraq… it’s a simple process… you will get the visas pretty quickly.  I will make all the ground arrangements for you.  You will be travelling with Abbas Jaffer, a CAI Trustee from NY who has been to Afghanistan before.  Take some time off work… 2 weeks max and all the best. Click! I could not work the rest of the day as my mind was travelling over a 1,000-miles per hour… what have I landed myself into… what if I make it to the evening news on Global and CNN…Who is Abbas Jaffer… will I have to be babysat??

I go home and tell my wife and children it's been a very cold few weeks and I am off to get some sun; they all looked at me weird, probably thinking how selfish of me not taking them along.  Once I declared that I was off to the warmer and hotter conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq, my children gaped at me like I had gone bonkers, with my wife giving me a look that said… We need to talk!  RIGHT NOW!! After the dust settled at home, the holidays approved at work and visa applications done, I get a TripCase notification reminding me that my ‘Kabul’ trip starts in 20-days.  On Wednesday, April 15th, I say goodbye to my family who still think I am nuts. When my wife and daughter bid me farewell with teary eyes and my son gives me another tight goodbye hug, I know they are worried.  I assure them this is no holiday, and I was off to help the Almighty’s creation and HE would take good care of me. They seem to relax a tad as I take off on the first leg of my Kabul trip.

Friday, April 17th - I meet Abbas Jaffer of NY at the gate of Dubai airport, for our onward flight to Kabul. Abbas turns out to be a gem of a guy, very genuine and totally down-to-earth. He explains what to expect at arrival in Kabul in detail.

We meet our hosts – Wasi and Bashir – both Engineers, both school and college mates, both working with CAI, both live next door to each other, both speak English fairly well and both extremely likeable beings; they give me a comforting sense of security and satisfaction that we will be well taken care of. Dr Assef, CAI's medical administrator, joins us for dinner later that day.  We make plans for next day’s travel to Nili in Dykundi Province, in the heartland of Afghanistan to open CAI's latest school (18th) as well as monitor various medical clinics and attend a mass marriage ceremony for 50 poor couples that CAI assists in starting a new life. 

Saturday, April 18th – We are at the outskirts of the airport next morning when our hosts receive a call from the UN agency that manages chartered flights informing us the flight to Nili is cancelled due to heavy rains.  Nili has a dirt landing strip which has turned to mud due to the rains.  After several phone calls, we are re-scheduled for next day, at 7:00AM.

Our next stop is to conduct a spot audit at the offices of CAI.  While at the office, we meet an Afghan gentleman with his young daughter in tow.  He and his daughter humbly sit on the floor by the door and speak to our hosts Bashir and Wasi. My heart sink when I learn that the 9-year old daughter – Sitareh (meaning star) has been diagnosed with leukemia recently and the father had to leave his village and come to Kabul to seek medical attention for his daughter.  With help from CAI, he is able to pay for medical services and medications.  Sitareh’s brother is found to be the perfect bone marrow donor and Insha’ALLAH, this young girl will be able to get bone marrow treatment to cure her.

Sunday, April 19th – We are back at Kabul airport bright and early and as we make ourselves comfortable in the small ‘Departure’ lounge, the pilot walks in and advises that the rains had not let up in Nili and the flight was cancelled once again  There is nothing that can be done, as the final decision to fly depends on the pilot and he will naturally not take any chances.  What an utter disappointment!  We would now have to re-schedule our entire trip.

We spend the rest of the day visiting the site of the new Sakina Girls Home / School project. The new building will accommodate 60 orphan girls in the walkout basement and a school on the top 3 levels with staff and admin offices. The school will be a private English-medium school, open to the paying public and the income generated from this venture will able to support the expenses of the school and the Home. Insha'Allah.

In the afternoon, we visit the current Sakina Girls Home.  Here are 30 girls, ranging in age from 5 to 14 and we meet with the Administrator and the part-time English teacher. The girls expressed how pleased they were at the Home and how during one school vacation they took on extra studies to be able to skip a grade at school.  One of the girls told me that her ambition was to become the President of Afghanistan, that she wanted the Afghan people to be able to live peacefully, that she wanted to provide education to all. These are the lucky ones who has made it to SGH.  I am sure there are countless many in this war-torn nation that do without all the basic necessities that we in the West take for granted.

Monday, April 20th - Although our trip is cut short due to the weather, a special bond has been developed with Wasi, Bashir and Dr. Asif and it's sad to say goodbye to them, but deep down I feel that I will be back in Afghanistan to see the progress of the great work being done by them and CAI.

April 22nd - On arrival in Najaf, Brother Shakir meet us at the airport. After checking into a local hotel, we head off to pay our respects to the great personality - Amir al-Mumimin, Ali ibn-Abu-Talib (A.S.). 

April 23rd – Our guide Br. Shakir has the full day planned for us; we will visit a housing complex for refugees and water-well projects, all located on the main highway between Najaf and Karbala.  The housing complex built by Comfort Aid in conjunction with Wabil of the UK is a small 30-unit complex.  Each home has a small garden area in the front and a living/sitting/dining area, a kitchen, one large bedroom and a washroom and running water.

We then inspect 4 water well projects. The project involves the digging of a deep well, installing pumps to bring the water to the ground level from where it goes through a filtration process and then stored in tanks as potable water ready for consumption.  The water is available at no cost to the surrounding community and villages.  During Arba’een, all the zawaars are benefactors.

As ‘My Trip of Endless Thanx’ comes to end, there are millions of reasons for giving thanx, some of whom I wish to acknowledge:

First and foremost, my thanx to ALLAH (SWT) for everything and every bounty HE has bestowed on me. I know that even if I were able to utter thanx to my Lord with every breath I take, it would not do justice for all the bounties that have been bestowed upon my family and me;

To Yusuf mian – Br. Yusufali of Comfort Aid International for his kind invitation, his immense hard work, his vision and his trust in allowing me to experience first-hand the great work being done by this organization;

Br. Abbas Jaffer – my travel and room partner, and someone who taught me so much.  His love for Comfort Aid is immense and his enthusiasm for all the projects was a delight to experience;

Brothers Wasi, Bashir and Dr. Asif – for being such great hosts in Kabul and opening up their hearts and their homes to us.  A special thanx to Mrs. Bashir who provided us with such great and nutritious meals;

Br. Shakir – who tirelessly took us to all the projects around Najaf and also drove us to Karbala, enabling us to do our Ziyarats;

Mohamed Walji and Prabhjot Singh Dhanoa – my employers allowed me to take time off work to go on this trip;

Br. Asghar and Sr. Raziya Dhirani, Br. Shams Dharsi, Br. Mustafa Jaffer and Br. Inayat Daya – all of who assisted in various stages to enable me to get my Iraqi visa;

Maz Ismail – for all the hotel bookings from his points in Dubai;

Hussain Esmail of Emirates in NY – for the countless hours he spent on routing and re-routing our flights;

To all my friends, colleagues and family members who thought I was crazy or brave, or perhaps both, to go to Afghanistan, but who all meant well and wished me luck on this trip;

And last, but not least, my wife Munira, my children Imran and Malikah, who encouraged me, backed me up and prayed for me to be able to pursue my passion of helping mankind.

May I request that you please remember all the girls at the Sakina Girls Home in Kabul, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and also young Sitareh in your daily good duas.

For details on these and other projects, please visit

Zuhair Ebrahim

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nanghe Uncle

Saki Naka is easily one the most congested places in Mumbai (read earth). If you have never been exposed to the noise, human / animal / vehicular traffic and pollution of this place, get ready to easily go into rapid shock or hyperventilation, even. And don’t bother calling 911 here, the ambulance will arrive after you are washed, attired and put down. Six feet.

In the bewildering chaos of this place, right outside of the newly commissioned, ultra modern Mumbai Metro service station, a Holiday Inn stands contemporary and mighty, offering cool and quiet sanctuary to those who can afford the hotel’s upper lip price. Since I have nothing better to do to recover from nasty jetlag than watch silly Bollywood movies or listen to repeated BBC / CNN lies, I decide to venture out of my room refuge and go for a brisk walk; get to feel the neighborhood perhaps.  The best people in any city with their ears to the ground, in my opinion, are taxi drivers or people who live in the area. I do not mean the rich, pompous ones, mind you. These observe their own business and will not look past the tip of their noses. Uniformed chauffeurs drive them around air-conditioned cars, unmindful of the heat, grime, flies, traffic, smell or noise outside. I mean the poor(er) ones, who live in shanty homes, without air conditioners or permanent running water, where the stinking nulla runs right outside their homes, where more than three hours of running water a day is a considered a miracle (or BMC incompetence) and not having flies bothering them is a tall blessing indeed. So I wear my comfortable running gear and am off.

The stifling heat and mugginess feels like a brick wall as soon as I pass through the swishing glass doors of the hotel, and almost turn back to return to the icy air inside. Turning right past the hotel, an uneven brick lane narrows towards a shantytown that fringes the swanky new Chakrapatty Shivaji International Airport. This lane continues almost towards the boundary wall where one end of the runway begins. I can see the fuselages of various aircrafts lined up for takeoff, from puny ones to a giant, towering Airbus 380.

Sticky and bothered by the pollution, both from the noise and the air I am breathing, I decide to return to the hotel and continue jogging in the luxury of the air-conditioned gym instead. But I lose the way back instead, in my haste, since the lanes in and out of this shantytown look all the same. So I find myself in a maze of alleyways crammed on either side by hole-in-the-wall homes. There is a pungent odor of cooking onion, garlic and ginger in the air, punctuated by the inevitable wafts of shit from the raw sewage that flows in the open nulla. Most homes are screened by a simple tired, soiled purda, drawn across the open door, but I can hear Bollywood songs from blaring TV sets within. People, mostly women and children, loiter around; the adult’s gawk at me with suspicious eyes, instinctively, defensively adjust their sliding dupattas. I see some children poring over textbooks, homework perhaps, while others, younger, some almost naked, carefree, play in the filth outside, unmindful of the flies that swarm over them. I come upon two women in an intense argument about errant garbage and who is responsible, heedless of a wailing child nearby, whose bawls get shriller with every uttered argument or cuss. I pass by an elderly woman sweating over a vat of dubious looking bubbling cooking oil, with balls of yellow pakooras sizzling and dancing away in agony within. Several customers wait for the painful process to end, so the fritters can be purchased and consumed, with loads of emli sauce and fiery red chutney; my mouth waters instinctively.

When I am eventually guided towards my hotel, I pass by an even poorer alley. A filthy boy sits on the lap of his apparent sister, and they both watch me approach their way. The boy must not be more than five years old and the sister, ten or twelve perhaps.
Nanghe Uncle, quips the kid, pointing at my bare legs, Nanghe Uncle.
Shush, admonishes the sister in a huff and clamps her hand over the boy’s mouth. But the boy is adamant and repeats the accusation as soon as he breaks his lips free from his sister’s grasp. I smile and hurry along but suddenly feel as naked as Katrina Kaif caught with a swimsuit bikini a size too small. Not that my running shorts are not sharia-compliant, they are, well below my knees.
Sorry Uncle, says the girl coyly as I pass them. I glance at the girl. She has a thin pinched face of an underfed child, but her eyes are bright and intelligent – alive. I stop. The boy, fearing a retribution perhaps, scrambles to the safety of their house and disappears inside, but the girl stays put and regards me with frank curious eyes.
I assure her there is nothing to be sorry for, that I am not mad at her or her brother, that it is my fault and that I should have worn long pants. Her name is Sanaa, she tells me, that she lives with her parents and younger brother and a grandma, who is visiting relatives in Banaras, UP. Sanaa changes to Hinglish as soon as I say I am visiting from the US.
Oh, yes! I knew from the start only, that you are not from India. She wags her head excitedly, gathers wayward hair, ties them into a ponytail knot and passes hands over her rumpled clothes in an attempt to improve her standing in my eyes. Since I am from Amrika. Makes me feel immediately sad. She has a lot of questions for me, about Amrika. I try and answer them without making her feel small. I tell her I like India better, more than Amrika. She giggles profusely, covering her mouth with petite unkempt hands.
Jhoot Uncle! I have seen Amrika in movies. It is much, much nicer than India.
But I am happy I have made her laugh. I ask her if she goes to school. Her face clouds over in sadness. Instantly. She gets up and retreats into the house a few steps, cocks her elf-like head to one side and listens intently, then returns and takes her place where she was just seated.
No, Abbu cannot afford the fees. He says. But it’s not the fees that are the problem. It is his drinking. Sanaa jerks a thumb towards her thin lips. She begins whispering so I have to strain my ears to hear her. He drinks too much, so the money he earns is not enough for food, clothes and other stuff, let alone school fees. A local NGO paid my fees until recently, but now, they will pay only half since I am promoted to a higher class and the fees are much more. Abbu says he does not have the money, but that is not true. He spends it on sharaab and then sleeps it off all day. He is an electrician, but nobody wants to hire him because his hands are unsteady. Too much booze. Sanaa makes an unpleasant face and jerks a thumb up her lips once again. She leans forward. He is inside now, sleeping it off. She makes a face again.
I become promptly wary. I ask her about her mother.
Ammi washes dishes and cleans people’s homes. She is at work now. She prefers working and staying away from Abbu because they fight when they are together. Ammi screams for him to stop drinking, but that makes Abbu madder, so they fight. Fight all the time. Do you have children Uncle? Do you drink also? Do you and Auntie fight?
Babre, what a forthright girl! The little brother returns before I can answer, halts at a safe distance from where I am and tells Sanaa to come inside, Abbu is calling her. A look of fear crosses her face. She gets up in a hurry, waves a quick goodbye my way and sister and brother retreat into the gloomy interior.

Dismayed, I sigh and make my way back to the Holiday Inn, my head full of Sanaa’s troubles. Perhaps I’ll go get a massage; the hotel is running a summer special. Maybe it’ll cure my jetlag and prepare me for ten tough days ahead. And forget the intense hole in my heart Sanaa has seared.