Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ramadhan In Dar es Salaam

I get to spend first twelve days of Ramadhan in Dar es Salaam (Dar), oh my, what a treat, alhamd’Allah! The weather is ideal, with cool pleasant mornings and nights, comfortable other times. Arusha, where I go visit an ailing aunt is rather cold, even Zanzibar is uncharacteristically chilly at the beach. Working with Reaching Out To The Children Of Zanzibar, a local charity run by Sister Raihana Merali, CAI donors will gift poor schools one hundred forty desks, repair few classrooms floors and complete construction of a local madressa where basic English language classes will also be sponsored by CAI.
Ramadhan here brings out fond memories of my childhood growing up in Africa with Iftaar of ujee and fried stuff after magreeb at the mosque. Jaabir Bhimjee spoils me with a thermos of tantalizing ujee ya naazee every day. Dua e Iftetah, always a pleasure with varied reciters at the mosque; an absolute gem in seeking Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure given to us by Imam Mahdi (A). Now only if he would hurry up and save us from many tribulations that grip Muslims worldwide.

Dar Ramadhan is all fun; days pass incredibly quickly with Fajr at 5:30 and Magreeb at 6:30. Iftaars are at various homes I am invited; nights begin at the mosque with lectures and duas end at about 10 followed by customary baraazas and a feast of kukus and mushkaaki at different restaurants that are open late. Baraazas are full of lamentations; bribery in government departments the number one subject; my mind whirl tipsy with numbers thrown about, hundred of thousands, even millions of shillings. My monthly pocket money in Form One was a mere fat five shillings! TRC, TANESCO, Traffic police; every government department is damned. Young beggars recite verses of Holy Quraan or dance to Muslim tunes in the hope for some pesa.  I am at Oyster Bay beach few late nights where I dig into some of the best roojo roojo muhoogo or muhoojo chips my bloated stomach can pack. These also serve as daaku (I wish we would change this derogatory term of expression for such a blessed routine), for me, complimented by exotic Kiswahili sweets (gulgoolia, mkate-mimeena, koko-tende, pankho and more, without the cardamom menace, of course) from my good friend Murtaza Bhimanis’s house. Thank Allah there is a fine treadmill at the gym in Tanzanite Executive Suits where I run for an hour just before Iftaar, else I would be a serious hazard to any weighing scale.

Dar, with her impressive growth over the last decade, is a pleasure to be in. Safe and relatively clean, with even more construction of towers, attracts new arrivals, with Khoja community already at seven thousand plus strong, the largest in Africa, perhaps the world? The renovated mosque looks grand, even though looms too big; perhaps will accommodate community growth through next few decades. Murtaza Allidina is a pleasure to listen though his prolonged kunoots in salaat can give some a toothache. Perhaps. His backup for saalat this Ramadhan, Allah bless him, with a unique lullaby style of recitation promptly makes me yawn every time he opens his mouth.

These blessed days are soured by news of another ferry capsizing off the coast of Zanzibar, the very route I have taken just days ago, the gruesome massacres of Muslims in Myanmar (Burma), a country I have visited in the past and admired so much and of course events in Syria where hypocrisy from powers to be find no limits. BBC, CNN, even Al Jazeera (sadly) and their Masters are fantastic pathological liars, have perfected the art of deceit and hypocrisy to a point they actually believe the foul, vile and offensive garbage they utter. Amidst all these happenings, Olympic summer games begin in London - what a royal pain in the arse. The coverage on (British) TV is full of racial overtones, disproportionate and overdone, achy for my eyes, ears and a literal nuisance to Londoners. Really, I have not heard any of them happy with the event. Why on earth hold this event in a declining city / country should be a case study in Arm-Twisting Management 101.  

Today, I have completed ten days of this blessed month here; it is time for me to return home to Sanford, FL shortly, where it’s rather hot and fasting days longer; a prolonged absence, family affairs and business matters beckon. Later visiting Kabrastaan, a brisk comfortable breeze from the ocean has a calming, dulling affect on me; a good book at the beach in Oyster Bay and I would be snoring soundly. Sleeping here permanently, eventually, deep in the earth of my birth-land, if Allah so pleases, would be a blessing.  I feel sad, for Ramadhan in Africa, especially Dar is hard to match elsewhere in the world. But I will be back next year, with Allah’s grace and generosity.

Ramadhan kareem.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Muslim Calamity In Myanmaar (Burma)

Sallam and Ramadhan kareem insha’Allah,

All of you must have seen, heard of or are aware of the terrible calamity of Muslims in Myanmar (Burma); it is enough to almost make a human despair of Allah’s mercy.  The evidence of massacres, bodies strewn about worse than slain cattle, burnings, looting and mayhem I have seen makes  makes sleep a struggle.  Through all this, our ‘world’ bodies obsessed with Syria for their arrogant reasons, stay on the sidelines.  My conscience will not allow me to depart this world without an attempt at doing SOMETHING.  Nor will Allah (S), I think, forgive us for not trying. 

What can we do?  Yes, it is extremely frustrating.   Myanmar will not issues visas to me as a CAI representative, it is dangerous even, foolish some have advised me, to make an attempt from Myanmar.  Yet, we MUST try, apart from expressing our outrage to ‘world’ bodies for their inaction and to pray hard for these hapless victims.  I have set in motion relief for refugees who have made it to Bangladesh.  Should the logistics work out insha’Allah, I will be in this country shortly to supervise the distribution.  I will then turn to Allah (S) and my Imam for guidance and ALL of you for support, which has never been denied alhamd'Allah.

Please let us pray for these victims; this is a month of infinite mercy.

If you have strong stomachs and want to view some photos of the massacres, do email me.  Warning - they are super revolting and graphic.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

40 Days In Talibaan Hell

I met Basheer some 6 years ago when CAI began a massive water distribution project for about 30,000 internally displaced refugees at Chandawaal, outside Kabul; CAI was in need of engineers. I have grown close to both Basheer and his partner Wasi personally and professionally over these years.  They are down to earth, honest, kind and Allah fearing people with deep empathy to the oppressed and destitute of Afghanistan, just like CAI donors.  I felt Basheer’s saga regarding his capture and imprisonment by the Talibaan would make interesting reading when I heard it.  Here it is then, by Basheer, edited and grammatically fixed by me.  Enjoy…
I am Basheer Razaee, born in 1975 at Jaghara village, Heraat, a Western city of Afghanistan, close to the border to Iran. I am the first surviving child in the family; twin boys born before me died during first few days of birth, maybe they sensed pending situation in my country was not worth the effort and gave up the will to survive. I opened my eyes to the sound and sight of war and destruction, people trying to escape death from Soviet bombardments. From a small window in my house at age four or five, I remember seeing Soviet tanks destroy garden walls to flush out and kill Mojahedin freedom fighters. Our village was a staging area where they gathered and planned attacks against the Soviets and generally hid in gardens. They were punished by aerial attacks from Soviet jets; we would run for cover and go hide at camouflaged shelters when this happened.
Then, my father, like most other men in my village, was a Mojaahed, in defense of family and motherland but abandoned arms and Jehaad when he opposed indiscriminate warfare methods used by a local commander. My father later told me killings of doctors or teachers or other professionals just because they worked for the Soviet backed government was unjustified, work of ignorant people.
Since the situation was daily deteriorating, my father finally decided to migrate to Iran; I was seven then. My father, mother, brother Nazir and sisters Raihaana and infant Fatimah migrated to the city of Mashaad where one of my maternal uncle lived. Mashaad had very strict laws about admitting refugees to government schools so I lost a whole year of education in the struggle to enter school. Ferdows (Heaven in Farsi) some 240 miles south was more welcoming.   Father got a job here and we all went to school. I have very good memories of this city where people were God fearing; we lived in Ferdows 14 years and resided in 14 rental homes!
My father (Allah bless him) was a very hard working person and did not allow us to help him, as he wanted us to just study. In barakat of our migration, my family grew from six to 10; Allah gifted me 3 more brothers and a sister. It is difficult to imagine how Father supported the whole family with only him working. Brother Nazir and I chipped in with summer jobs when school was out.
Nazir and I put in a lot of effort studying, so we both passed exams with grades over 80%, making us eligible to continue with government middle school. It was a new school with very good facilities including a hot lunch every day.  We spent a lot of time at school; it was warm in bitter winter months. After middle school, I found further success and went to high school with high hopes and ambition, especially in math and physics. I wanted to prove myself to my parents; make them proud that their efforts and sacrifices were not in vain. Fate, however, had a divergent agenda for me.
I'll never forget the day when the principal called me to his office and showed me an order from the Ministry of Education barring all refugees from attending government school. According to Iran, the Soviets had been defeated and left Afghanistan; it was time the refugees returned to their countries. It was a victory (?) for the Northern Alliance perhaps, but a huge defeat for my education future and the order broke my heart.
There was no point in staying in Iran as the government closed one door after another for us, turning on the pressure for us to leave. Three months later, we packed up and headed for Afghanistan, to Heraat. As we left Ferdost, I promised myself I would continue my education and toted used test books along to read on the long way home.
The infrastructure in Afghanistan was terrible, after so many years of war with the Soviets. The roads were so bad, my elder sister was thrown off the rented pickup we hired to bring us to Heraat from the border; fortunately, she escaped with serious scrapes and bruises. We began a new life but strife, war and bloodshed is written into the kismet of Afghans, I guess. 
The diverse group of Mujahedin elders began bickering as soon as self interest and individual egos began mischief and the lull of guns, mayhem and blood restarted, even more fiercely. The economic and work situation due to the civil war went from terrible to terribly terrible. Then, catastrophe struck as the Talibaan gained advantage and breezed into the country from Pakistan victorious. These ‘Muslims’ with flowing beards, kohl laden eyes, massive turbans, black baggy clothes and intolerance towards all minority Muslims struck terror in our hearts.
With their strict ways and instant justice come some semblances of order, so we saw a return of many refugees back to Afghanistan. But my family could not stand the persecution by the Talibaan against our faith so they returned to Iran illegally while I stayed back because I wanted to continue civil engineering, which was not possible in Iran. I studied at a local university and also taught at a private elementary school to support myself. Also, unknown to us, Father was stricken with cancer and wanted to see his first son settled in life before dying so I got engaged to my first cousin.
One hot summer day in 1988, when I got out of college and went to teach, I got an eerie feeling something was amiss.  There was fear in people’s faces and this fear irrationally, slowly but surely, crept into me as well. Suddenly, my eyes fell on a corpse that was hanging from a tree near a local police station. I could not bear the sight so immediately took a detour and reached the school feeling unwell. Was I in the 21st century or in the times of Firaun?
Rumor spread through the city about bodies everywhere and panic set in. I decided to leave town and head to my Uncle’s (future father in law) village. I rode my bicycle hard, coming across three more dangling bodies along the way that took 10 minutes instead the usual 20. I later learnt the Talibaan had declared holy war against the ‘unbelievers’ Hazaara minority Afghans and other Shia Muslims.
That night passed in fear and prayer. Over breakfast the next morning, I heard that Talibaan had encircled the village. Suddenly I saw armed Talebs on boundary wall surrounding my uncle’s home. My aunt, with fear in her face, tried to block the view and tried shielding me to safety at the back but a young Taleb, about 18, came running and had me arrested, giving no reason for my crime. With my aunt crying and lamenting, the Taleb took me away; they arrested 23 other men from the village, 2 my close relatives.
On the back of a flatbed Toyota, under the watchful eyes of a few Talebs, we were driven to the main jail in Heraat city where a lot of commotion ensued.  The place was packed with people, mostly Hazaras, all under arrest for crimes that even the arresting Talebs were unsure about. Comical comments from prison officials followed - The main jail is full, we can’t take them in! You should have brought them earlier, the place is now full. You should have called in to reserve their places, now where will they stay? 
After some head scratching, we were led to a former workshop used for training prisoners built during times of civility; 6,000 square feet with a man made pool in middle and 8 or ten evil smelling latrines without doors; a zero star prison! We were initially detained inside about 60 square feet room without carpet; and forgotten. At midnight, the doors burst open and harsh torchlight lit up our faces; our captors had gone soft, they threw a dirty rolled up carpet towards us and banged the doors shut.
Morning of first day, they took us outside the yard and shaved our head then back to the room where we did not move for 4 days; daily food was 2 dry naans of 20cm in diameter and ‘soup’, mixture of oil and water. I stuck to just bread and water; we were permitted two loo breaks a day, accompanied by an armed guard. We were released to the prison yard on day 5; I profusely thanked Allah, for the yard was full of people, including 2 friends from home. The overwhelming numbers of prisoners were the wretched Hazaras, persecuted even now. Now, I could buy some chai and cookies from a small shop from small amount of money with me. Uncle’s family sent me money and food as well, but they were unsure if I received it because no prisoners were allowed family visits; in 40 days I was incarcerated by the Talibaan, none of my relatives had any reliable information about me.
For one week we were let free in the prison yard, we slept in the corridors, on concrete floor without a carpet, pillow or blanket; thankfully it was summer. Almost all men in Afghanistan have a cotton piece of cloth, like a keffiyeh, called a patto; a multipurpose bed sheet, towel, blanket or turban; I felt lost without one. 
Those days were most painful days of my life; I saw oppression, ignorance, prejudices and insult to human dignity.  I will never forget the humiliation of human dignity by our captors, to the Hazaras. They would withhold food or other necessities sent by relatives or poke fun at the proud prisoners, taunting, saying their wives were as pretty as they; they laughed but I cried. There were two large copper pots in the yard that were used as torture instruments. When a prisoner was lax in paying attention to Talebaan announcements, the culprit went under the copper pot; imagine the heat and suffocation of summer! If the person attempted to come out, a waiting Taleb would use a whip on them; this happened for one of my relatives.
Time of salaat was interesting; Talebs came inside the yard with whips in hand, shouting for everybody to start praying. The crowd of about 1,000 prisoners would scatter like frightened chicken in order to avoid the sting of whip; some would jump into the pond, few would crash head-on like motor vehicles while others would begin praying without ablution; it was rather comical. There were 10 latrines in very bad condition and evil dirty, without doors, one for every 100! It was horrible; as soon as one finished business, another person took his place, no flushing! There were always very long lines; it was awful agony for anyone with a bad stomach.   
On the 10th day, other prisoners were brought to prison, among them a sick man who could not walk and was carried in by two persons on a blanket; I learnt the Talebaan arrested them after Iran expelled them from the border. It was sad to learn that Iran, who took us in during the Soviet oppression were kicking out sick people trying to escape Talibaan oppression, this sick person after an appendicitis surgery.  Eleventh day in prison, a Taleb selected me and 3 others from 23 arrested at my Uncle’s village. And for no apparent reason, put us all into total solitary confinement. 
Solitary confinement was a dirty room 12 square feet, some sort of storage room of documents for past prisoners. I made myself a bed from a wooden box. Alhamd’Allah, I was spared Talebaan’s oppression, insults and scorn here. On the first night, I heard screams and terrible sounds, making sleep impossible and filled me with incredible dread. Surely I would be next for this treatment with the other 3?  But I was helpless, so I remembered the plight of my Imam Kadhem (A), who spent years in solitary confinement only to be poisoned by his captors. I am his follower so I consoled my fright and dread in his remembrance. I was later to find out the man being tortured was a momin who was martyred from the torture. The long summer days in solitary confinement were agonizing; I would recite Quran and do doa; I wanted Allah to forgive all my sins then be released from jail but when I saw the inside of me, I said O Allah I am kidding, if you see my sins, I should remain in jail all my life!
I felt miserable for my fiancĂ©e; our budding hopes and future plans were a despairing dream now; what must she be enduring out there, not knowing about my condition here? I began writing memoirs in jail as I have some talent in writing poetry; I wrote 14 poems. However, most of my time went into contemplation about Allah (S) and thinking about jaheleeyat of some ‘Muslims’. I remembered Imam Ali (A) the most; what trails he (A) must have gone through because of these people!
I spent 18 days in solitary confinement for a crime I still do not know; a total of 40 days in Talebaan jail.  A guard would take me outside for loo break twice a day, in the morning and another time late afternoon; bonus was not having to stand in queue. When I was finally interrogated, they asked me about a weapon! I impressed upon them I was a student in engineering faculty and showed them my ID card; I am certain the Taleb was as fuzzy about my crime as I was. They gathered all of us in the yard one day and selected some to be moved to a jail in Qandahaar; I thank Allah I was not one selected, as I am sure I would not be alive to tell this story. 
For no apparent reason, I woke up feeling cheerful on the fortieth day. I was released from solitary confinement and taken to the yard; I discovered my mates had been released earlier.  I was let go at magreeb that day; I went straight to my Uncle’s home at the village.  I now know how a bird would feel outside a cage.