Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Ultimate Sajda

'O Land Of Kerbala, My Son Is Innocent...'

This is the lament of Sayyeda Fatemah (A) today, as we commemorate the spilling of holy and innocent blood of her son, Hussein (A), his family, relatives and companions in Kerbala, Iraq, some 1,400 years ago. Hundreds of millions worldwide will grieve, shed untold tears of anguish, inflict pain on selves and share the agony of this superb human being who surrendered not only his life, but that of his entire male family, save an ailing son. Hussein's (A) martyrdom set the stage for his family to be looted, taken captives, paraded uncovered and imprisoned in most inhumain ways. In doing this, Hussein (A) gave root to the most powerful movement for worlds oppressed and downtrodden; that of revolution against tyranny and injustice. All this for, and only for, the pleasure of Allah (S); nothing else mattered.

Hussein (A) will prostrate today, his final one, this from the heir of all prophets. What a sajda, however! A sajda which surpasses that of Adam, Ibrahim, Moosa, Issa and Mohammed - peace on them all. A sajda that is uncompromising against an onslaught on Islam, an adamant refusal to bow in front of tyranny, brutality and subjugation. A sajda that reignites the want for long extinguished human dignity and self-respect, a sajda that today fires up oppressed masses in countries from Morocco to Bahrain, and beyond. For the return of human dignity and justice that will continue to passion up people to rise up and really live. Live with dignity and justice, live a little bit like Hussein (A).

So I (and like minded people in today's world), dedicate my life to the mission of this blessed personality, the inheritor of Allah's religion on earth, grandson of Prophet Mohammed (S), son of Ali (A) and Fatema (A), brother of Hassan (A), brother of Zaynab and Kulthoom and father to nine other infallibles (A).

O Hussein (A), because of this sacrifice, I will educate myself, so that:

1. I will not accept subjugation, injustice, degradation or humiliation, from no matter who or how powerful the culprit.

2. I will submit only, and only to the will of Allah (S), as enlightened in His book, the glorious Quraan and follow laws laid down therein by His Seer (S) and the Aaimaas (A).

3. I will conduct myself as a proper Muslim, my behavior criteria much above other individuals.

4. I will cherish and lament the memory of Hussein (A) through Zainab (A) and Sajjad's (A) powerful gift of majaalisis of azaa in dignity, appropriate for their mission. I will certainly not follow rituals and will definitely not spill blood (mine or anybody else's) in Hussein's (A) sanctified name, no matter what and how much (some) learned or popular aalims preach to the contrary.

5. I will simply ignore 'aalims' who misuse the pulpit to insult other faiths (sects) or personalities and focus on mending my moral blemishes. I will propagate the mission and mention of Hussein (A) by concentrating on his virtues and qualities rather than other's vices and evils. I firmly believe your lovers (current and ones that come later, till the Day of Judgement) will cherish your memory, as promised by the Prophet (S) until your holy blood is avenged by the Mahdi (A).

So here is my salute, my intense salutation and sacrifice of my life, easily, to you, O Performer Of The Ultimate Sajda, on this catastrophic day of Aashoora. My profound salutation to your sons, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends and companions who laid their lives in your cause. My intense and profound salutation to the severe thirst and hunger that gripped your young children; for the intense pain and hallowed blood that was shamelessly spilled from your sacred bodies.

And by doing ALL this I may, perhaps, be able to salvage (some) redemption and intersession from your mother, Lady of Light Fatemah (A).

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Some five years ago, Nazim Mirza, a destitute peasant farmer from Mursheedabad, WB India, moves to congested and grimy, smelly community of Matia Bruj, Kolkota in the hope of work and a better life for his family. He staggers around Matia Burj, followed by his frail wife and two very young daughters for a few days, surviving on handouts and sleeping on pavements. He is in luck, for he gets employed as a grocery store worker, albeit for a measly pay. Finally, after much struggle, Mirza has some money; the family can eat one hot meal a day.

Mirza is illiterate, has no idea about contraceptives, and couldn't afford any even if he knew about birth control. So Mrs. Mirza gets pregnant, yet again, and gives birth to an underweight but relatively healthy baby boy. Days later, Mrs. Mirza dies due to complications of the child's birth and severe lack of blood; the poor lady just did not have any resistance on her and gave up the will to survive.

Blinded with grief and over his head with the care of three children, Mirza struggles, leaving them with an uncompromising but accommodating Wahabi neighbor while at work. The Wahabi couple offers to buy the boy, Mirza refuses at first, struggling within his community for help. Desperate, he relents in the end, selling the infant for approximately US$200.

When I get wind of the situation, I am livid and immediately offer to 'buy' back the infant; a donor agrees funding, I intend to send him to one of CAI orphanages in India. The Wahabi couple refuses. We offer to double, triple and even up the offer ten times; they will not budge. The transaction is legal; all 'adoption' documents airtight, the courts will not intervene. Fearing Mirza will sell his daughters as well, CAI steps in and moves the two girls to Sakina Girls Home in Andheri, Mumbai.

I had the good fortune of meeting the two girls during my recent visit there on Eid day; click here to see their photograph in their Eid attire. Both Sabah, 13 and Roshni, 11 are doing very well, alhamd'Allah. They have a secure home, have three square meals a day but most importantly, they get a quality education, an opportunity for a brighter future insha'Allah. The girls have no contact with Mirza.

One more service for the pleasure of Allah (S). Thank you donors, for it is your sacrifices that make these orphanage services possible.

My Afghan Escapade – Zuher Somji

While I jump at the opportunity to accompany Yusufali on his most recent adventure to Afghanistan, his only condition that I write about my experience afterwards is a rather daunting task; something that ace Yusufali has been doing for more then a decade!

After a short and restful flight in Dubai, we fly to Kabul and land in a backward airport that I am told is a brand new structure, donated by the government of Japan. If that is a brand new structure, what must have been the state of the old airport?

We wind our way down several exit security checkpoints, curbside vendors and even an outdoor kebab place before we meet our hosts Wasim and Bashir; two engineers who are extremely kind, cultured and thorough gentlemen, obviously highly educated. We start our drive from the airport to Wasim’s house. OMA, if you think Indian traffic is bad, this is an experience in the ultimate trust in the Almighty, with cars weaving in and out at breakneck speed, with sudden jerky stops throughout the entire trip.

Squatting - a science that I need to quickly relearn from my childhood days. Probably the only time I question what I am doing in Afghanistan; how to hold the minute torch in the airless, dark outhouse, where to fold and lay my pants without them getting soiled, the balancing act, the unavoidable evil stench filling my nostrils, how to avoid all that icy water splattering on my feet while trying to wash… And oh, that stench of accumulated feces in the pit, my, my, my!!!

Doctor Asif, coordinator of two CAI run medical clinics in Afghanistan, joins us for a meal and I am thoroughly impressed with the humility of all these learned people. The delicious meal prepared by Wasim and Bashir is spoilt only by Yusufali's sharp, probing and pointed questions on CAI operations logistics administered by these three men.

We wake up at 4 AM to go to the airport for our trip to Nili, passing through numerous (rather rude) checkpoints at the airport before being ushered into a 6 seat Kodiac aircraft that flies us through an uneventful but beautiful (in a very harsh way) flight to Nili. That is the easy part; next came a torturous 12-hour drive to Khajran, our trip dotted with punctured tires and getting stuck on an impossible rocky river bed. Kudos to our rented Toyota Prada, she behaves like a mountain goat with strength of an elephant. We reach Khajran late at night and make our way to the hut we are to spend the night, in the remote spot of a mountain valley.

After an excellent hospitable dinner we retire without either changing, brushing or any care for other hygiene. Early next morning, after a meager breakfast, we head over to visit the site CAI has plans to build a school on. Lunch is not in the cards the entire grueling drive of around 100 miles that takes about 12 hours; there is no civilization along the way. We snack on stale naan from last night; surprising how everything tastes good when you are hungry. We call on the current schools where girl students get educated in wretched conditions, under the open sky; that's where the gratifying part of all this torture comes in play. Just the thought I could be a part of something that would somehow help in a truly altruistic fashion is overwhelming. After discussing details and confirming the project as a go, we clamber back into the car for another torturous trip back to Nili.

After another night of Yusufali’s constant visit to the outhouse with all related preparations and commotions of fumbling for a torch and stepping on others fast asleep, we plan a trip to the local hammam for a much needed bath but this is foiled by another punctured tire, without a spare. After witnessing verbal floggings Yusufali subjects Wasim and Bashir for not taking the necessary precautions to get the tire fixed beforehand, we creep back to the house to prepare for our flight to Shabarghan and another onwards 12 hours drive to Belkhaab.

When we reach the airstrip and our aircraft arrives, the pilot informs us there is only 30% chance of landing at Shabarghan due to cloudy weather (it has to be a visual landing). Sure enough, above Shabarghan, the pilot says landing is not possible; thick clouds below cover the land like a sullen ocean, we ascended up and head towards Kabul; Yusufali is bitterly disappointed. CAI has a brand new school (her 9th) to officially open, but we are resigned to Allah’s will. 10 minutes later, the 26 year old American pilot says he sees a clearing ahead and maneuvers the agile machine this way and that; we land in Shabarghan 15 minutes later. I experience similar achievements several times during our trip; seemingly impossible situations eventually become promising! I can only attribute this to the Almighty; He helps those who help His cause, no?

Once inside another Prado, we drive on to Belkhaab, another 10 hours away. The drive is made easy by some excellent, tasty mishkaki, nundu and Kabuki pulau at a dingy restaurant along the way, although Yusufali attributes this to my constant ability to snooze in the forever jostling car on roads so bad, it can make you want to scream in frustration. Once in Belkhaab, we have a halfhearted dinner and settle down to sleep, ready for the opening of the school tomorrow.

In the morning, for the first time since leaving Kabul, we have the opportunity and luxury of a hot, steamy bath. Uhh, uhh, man, is this a treat or what, ridding my body of all the dust and grime; and a smell no better than a sheep’s unwashed behind.

The school is going through final finishing touches but Yusufali declares it open anyway, after much lamentation and barbs towards the engineers, who clearly are uncomfortable at the reprimand. But it’s a beautiful school and I marvel, wonder at the effort that must have gone into constructing it in one of the toughest terrains and hostile environments I have seen ever; I was born and raised in Africa, so I should know.

We return to Kabul and I get a glimpse of massive Imam Hussein (A) School built by CAI. It is dark when we get there and the building has no power supply but it certainty looks huge. I am told 3,600 children study here and will grow to a maximum of 4,100 by 2012. Our return to Dubai is soured by a distressing 7 hour delay by Fly Dubai airline at cramped Kabul airport terminal; a drama in itself, but that is another story.

Afghanistan is a tough, tough country, certainly not everybody’s cup of tea. One has to have a strong stomach, a strong mental attitude and tons of patience to be able to do just about anything. Complicating this dilemma is the precarious security issue to grapple with. There are nervous moments when we learn of a suicide attack on an American military bus that tragically kills 11 of our countrymen. Even more unsettling is news that the incident happens less than a mile from Wasi’s home, where we are to spend the night before departure to Dubai.

The overwhelmingly majority of people in this country are poor, dirt poor, especially the Shia’s who were (and still are to a certain extent) persecuted and discriminated against. For most Afghans, it is the survival of the fittest; you either adapt to the harshness or perish. Afghanistan can be beautiful as well, in a harsh, cruel way; the snow-covered mountains can be breathtaking and her people, especially in the mountain heartland where we were, are exceedingly striking.

In life, living in the West, there are so many things we take for granted, are not aware of the plight of millions that do not have their basic survival needs fulfilled; so we have absolutely no right to complain. I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to see and experience my escapade to Afghanistan.

Zuher Somji – Sanford, FL

Yusufali’s comment:

Zuher overlooked to write about the hospitality of our hosts at Khajran. Seeing we are obviously uncomfortable with using super icy water, they arranged for nice warm water for our bathroom use. What wonderful, considerate, thoughtful hosts; the feel of warm water on an exposed freezing behind is indescribable; simply divine.

View wonderful photos here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Midair Tamasha

My recent trip to Afghanistan has been grueling, one of the most taxing I have experienced. The return flight from Kabul to Dubai has been delayed nine hours and we had been caged within the tiny departure hall of the airport without food or refreshments all the time. By the time I reach Dubai, my onward flight to Mumbai is gone and both FlyDubai and Emirates are hard-nosed, unwilling to accommodate me further; I waste three hours at Dubai airport. A three hour flight has now cost me over fifteen horrendous hours. Exhausted, frustrated and disgusted, I buy another ticket and am on Jet Airways aircraft to Mumbai next day. It is an uneventful flight until midway, when a pitiful but hilarious midair tamasha ensues.

There is this middle-aged man sitting in the middle seat, a woman is at the widow seat and I am seated in the aisle. Drinks are served and the man, who later introduced himself as Kwaja, orders a whiskey with Sprite and downs it in one clean gulp, orders one more and exhales disgusting whiskey fumes all around. He orders a third drink during lunch and then promptly nods off to nap, snoring gently. Midway into our flight, Kwaja jerks awake and whispers that he has to urgently go to the bathroom, as if I am interested or care; I let him pass.

Kwaja is all exited when he returns to his seat; face aglow, eyes agitated and wagging his rattail like hair side to side, a generous double chin working overtime.
‘Did you see him?’ he breathes on my face, while I unsuccessfully try to avoid the fumes.
Eh? ‘See who?’ I ask.
‘Aree baba, it’s Ranbeer Kapoor! He is sitting in the seat after ours, on the other side, the one with sunglasses.’
‘Randhir who?’ I ask. The man was not making much sense, must be the whiskey.
‘Aree yaar, where are you from, baba! It’s Ranbeer, not Randhir! Ranbeer, Ranbeer Kapoor, the actor! You know? Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh’s son. The hero. You think he will sign an autograph for my girlfriend? She finds him real cute.’

Number I, since when was I his yaar? Number 2, I couldn’t care an ant’s ass who this guy is; I have absolutely very little interest in spoilt, overpaid, jerky Bollywood brats. I vaguely notice them on the screen when Tasneem and the kids sit watching movies that defy even the most illiterate human intelligence. Number 3, why was he traveling coach? However, it was good to know this ‘hero’ was experiencing the discomfort of cattle class. Curiosity getting the better of me, I crane my neck to look anyway. Yes, it looks like the kid I have seen on the tube, hiding behind dark, awful looking sunglasses.

But it is not only Kwaja who notices this dude, others have now begun clogging the alleyway as well and pretty soon it becomes a fiasco. Men, women, children, especially teenage girls, thrust all kind of paper, napkins included, towards the clearly uncaring hero, demanding autographs. The guys is unmoved, nose buried behind a glossy magazine. But Kwaja still wants an autograph for his girlfriend so I have to get up and let him through again; I hope the look on my face tells him I am not too exited by his behavior. Not that he cares, as he dashes out, stepping on my toes.

The food service crates from the front cannot move back, a white man, Russian, I think, from his accent, losses his patience and loudly demands he be let through; nobody pays him attention. He turns to a very pretty stewardess and demands she do something else he will wet his pants; the poor harassed women turns a deep scarlet and gestures frantically to a colleague at the back, who can’t get through as well. An old woman, leaning on a cane, returning from the bathroom at the back complains she is tired of waiting and must sit; a man vacates his seat nearby and she gratefully collapses into it.

I am getting increasingly alarmed the situation is getting out of control with the congestion, commotion and flaring tempers when the captain turns on the seat belt sign and like a teacher reprimanding unruly children, demands everybody to be seated; anybody not complying face arrest at Mumbai. The aisle gradually clears, albeit reluctantly. Kwaja returns to his seat, mumbling and grumbling, clearly crestfallen, the double chin wobbling like a turkey going to slaughter.

Thankfully, we land without further incident. As soon as the aircraft leaves the active runway, the hero is whisked up by the cabin crew, frayed torn jeans and scruffy tee shirt all, to business class and made to sit in a crew seat. A young girl, a Gujarati no less, no more than twelve perhaps, jumps up from behind and dashes forward screaming ‘Ranbeer, Ranbeer, Jaan…’
‘Aree, Ghadereeni,’ screams her mum, ‘beseeja, beseeja…’
The aircraft brakes, the girls stumbles, hits her head on an armrest and falls flat face on the floor; some people snicker, including our Kwaja. The sari clad mother, almost all her flabby midriff showing and dancing, yanks the stunned girl up, smacks her a tight, sharp slap and drags her back to their seat.

I see the hero again at the baggage belt, woodenly staring at the rotating loop. But he is well protected now, three baton wielding hawaaldars surround him, making sure he is not molested further. Again, I feel some satisfaction these super idols have to wait for their baggage, just like us mortals.