Sunday, August 19, 2012

Luckiest Bloody Servant Of Allah – Part Two

Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar

All pent-up fear and tummy butterflies fly away as soon as I land in Yangon. The company representative sponsoring me flashes me a thumbs-up sign through glass window to show he is around to help, if needed. I am granted a 28-day visa, but because I do not have a copy of sponsoring company’s trade license, the charge is double, US$40; I agree. The beetle-nut chewing immigration officer becomes instantly indulgent and benevolent, bares stained fangs at me, stamps my passport and issues me a receipt for US$20. This makes me go hmmmm...

A car takes me to a hotel owned by the country’s military elite, so no luxury is spared; at a price, of course. Yangon is exactly the same as I found it last, some three years ago; grimy but fairly disciplined. My contact calls and says he will have a vehicle pick me up and brought to a local mosque for iftaar and discussions. I take a 30-minute nap because jetlag has dudu’s dancing to salsa music in my head. It starts pouring close to magreeb time when I am driven to the mosque.

The mosque is over 100 years old, majestic and imposing. Originally built by Iranian immigrants to then Burma, it has since been redone several times but the imposing architect of wood and marble remain intact; very beautiful. I have a quick communal iftaar after salaat and meet my sponsors. Not an issue at all I am assured, my mission can and will be done, they have the experience and connections with authorities to move relief supplies to the refugees. Everything legal, official, transparent and properly accounted for. They did something similar after the typhoons of 2010, on a much larger scale; CAI budget is much meager. My relief is radiated in the walls of the mosque as they sparkle with my smile.

I am so reassured; I sleep like a baby, waking up for sehri of chai and a coconut croissant purchased at the hotel lobby last night. My hosts come visiting mid-morning and our agreement for the aid to 770 most poor and destitute Rohingya refugees is hammered out. A food and hygiene supply basket costing about US$32 each will be distributed shortly insha’Allah. Further help will depend on additional funds received; I offer a prayer of thanks to Allah (S) for accepting and rewarding CAI donor’s efforts.

Now, a few words about the Buddhists and government of Myanmar. Much has been written and commented about the tragic events that occurred since June 2012 to the (largely) Muslim community of Rohingyas, between the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Myanmar government and Buddhists have been roundly condemned for the violence and there is credible justification in this censure. Muslims, however, need to be cognizant of following facts:

  • The Rohingya issue is not clear-cut; it is very complex, deep-rooted and long lasting. A Google search will give you a decent background.
  • The Bangladesh government is equally culpable (more so in my opinion, as they are Muslims and held to a higher standard of behavior in the eyes of Allah) in this conflict; I cannot fathom why this government, recipient of so much goodwill and aid when she is (was) teetering, can turn away people who are certain to die if not provided immediate succor.
  • The incident that sparked this conflict began with the rape of a young Buddhist woman by 3 Muslim men. Remember, Myanmar is overwhelmingly Buddhist; think of an inverse situation.
  • Minority Muslims in Myanmar have lived besides Buddhists for centuries without major conflicts.
  • There are 72 mosques in Yangon alone, smack in the middle of majority Buddhist communities, each mosque proclaim the adhaan, call to prayer, 3 (5) times every day, one at a time of day when most people are asleep; not an issue, even now.
  • An Ashoora procession from a local mosque begins past midnight in a mixed community every year, passes right outside the holiest 200-plus years pagoda in Yangon and the (Buddhist) authorities allow this. Why, they (local Buddhist people) come out and pay their respects to the taazeeyas and allams as well, palms folded in respect. No matter these processions leave a trail of spilt blood and used razorblades right outside the pagoda, to be cleaned up by others.
  • Muslims in Myanmar form a very small minority, the (repressive, all right) military government could have easily stopped all these freedom granted to Muslims; they didn’t (don’t).
  • I know of several very happy, wealthy Myanmar Muslims living and making plenty of money in the country.
Both sides to this conflict have committed atrocities; this fact will be difficult, perhaps, for us Muslims to accept, set right. This does not lessen the agony of (mainly Muslim, overwhelmingly Rohingya) victims, of course. However, we cannot ignore these sobering facts either.

As earlier stated, the issues involved in this conflict are very complex, involving governments that are equally blameworthy. CAI (or her donors) will not be able to change the local politics or mindset of individuals whipping up these killings and mayhem. What we can do is empathize with the victims, show compassion, demonstrate we care, provide some relief. We would hope and pray for nothing less if confronted in the same manner, Allah forbid.

CAI and her donors are so very fortunate and blessed we can help. For this service, am I not the luckiest bloody servant of Allah (S) in this planet?

Blog concludes.

Dudus (Kiswahili) – Insects

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Luckiest Bloody Servant Of Allah - Part One

Part one – Singapore

I land in Singapore at 04:45, ten minutes ahead of schedule, which suites me fine; I can have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before time sets in to begin my fast. Changi Airport, as usual, has no equal in this world; modern, squeaky clean, very beautiful, extremely efficient. A sleepy, red-eyed Malay immigration officer stamps my passport without saying a word and returns to sleep, eyes wide open.

A word about Singapore Airlines; many frequent travellers go gaga about Emirates Airlines Business Class - there is no comparison; Emirates is almost amateurish, have so much to learn from Singapore Airlines. My threadbare priced frequent flyer miles business class ticket on Singapore Airlines is an experience in flawless, exquisite comfort, both in luxury and (halal food) culinary experience. The eighteen nonstop hours it takes flying from Newark to Singapore is exceptionally comfortable, even though my legs feel like wool on arrival and I am still groggy in the afternoons.

After fajr prayers under a staircase in arrivals hall where I get curious glances from early morning travellers, I take the MRT to Little India where my hotel, Santa Grand Little India is located. Again, the experience is flawless, ticket fare inexpensive, the metro clinically clean and though crowded with office goers, everything about the ride is orderly and disciplined. If you have ever observed an ant colony up close, you know what I am talking about. A short walk to the hotel from Little India Station and things change.

I smell Little India before I reach the neighborhood; pungent aroma of fried crushed garlic, onions and chilies makes my tummy rumble, even early this morning, awful smell of hing-spice lingers over most shuttered shops and bhajaans hymns stream from homes and early opening businesses. I have entered a whole different world; Little India is where most Singaporeans of (South) Indian descent live. Very dark skinned people, faces saffron or white streaked, dart in and out of a temple across my hotel, carrying trays full of sweet meats and whole coconut.

My hotel room immediately reminds me of my eventual abode at kabranstan. Though clean and neat, it is tiny and claustrophobic; I keep bumping into furniture. There is no room to recite salaat; I have to move the bed to make space. Since it is a ‘budget’ hotel, I have to ask for soap before I am given some. Prices (of everything or of every service) in this city can give you instant heartburn; it is mighty pricy. Singaporeans, perhaps due to lifelong adherence to rules, have forgotten how to smile. A dour looking hotel manager brings me an electric converter and charges S$5. I point to a notice on the wall that is, I think, meant to be humorous. It advises guests on charges to expect on their credit card bills should anything go missing from the room, listing everything from pillow covers to hangers to the toilet showerhead. I try and relax her set lips by being a smartass and laughing, jest Can I burp in the room without being charged? She studies me a second and without batting an eyelid quips Not if you cover your lips and say excuse me. Man, that stings. Bad.

Reeling from jetlag, I shower and rest, waiting for my meeting with Shykh Rosli of Singapore and Mansoor from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, key personnel who will supervise the construction of first mosque in the country; the meet goes well and project will commence immediately after Ramadhan insha’Allah. For iftaar, I walk over to Arab Street and have a mutton biryani at Zam Zam Restaurant, at my peril. I forget the owners originate from South India, the biryani is awfully spicy; I am sure my intestines are forever scarred.

The next day is a waiting game with my tummy in knots all day; I await status of my visa that will let me into Myanmar for a couple of days. I fret about people on the ground who will help in assisting CAI bring relief to the desperate Rohingya refugees. I visit Mustafa Center in Little India and salivate at my favorite fruits on display, wanting to buy every one of them but know they will go to waste as eating anything after Iftaar, for me, becomes almost impossible. Mustafa Center is a miracle, hugely successful mega mall; you can purchase just about anything under one roof – all halaal! The cookie / candy section alone occupies the size of a small football field! It is crowded most times but more so with people stocking up for upcoming Eid holidays.

Shabbir Karim, originally from Mombasa now a permanent resident of Singapore, kindly invites me for iftaar at his home. I join his family and another acquaintance, Rafiq Dina for a treat of iftaar. It is Kiswahili feast; kebabs, kuku pakka, (elchiless) kalemate... yummy! Leftover kalemate becomes my sehri next morning. Returning to the hotel, my Australian contact has bad news. The Rohingya representatives in Australia, although initially ecstatic about getting assistance to their community and eager to help locally, now informs it is too dangerous for them to help CAI, what with the secret police on everybody’s tail, their hands are tied. So sorry, okay? I contemplate cancelling the Myanmar trip; things have not gone my way thus far, my frustrations may impair unbiased judgment.

I read up on the conflict some more next morning at sehri, which only reinforces my resolve to try, just try. I leave it to Allah, He would decide success or failure. I proceed to the airport with trepidation, chances are Silk Air may not even let me board without a visa stamp on passport; the business visa arrival scheme by Myanmar is relatively new. The MRT going to airport is crowded; I have to stand all the way. Reading a novel while standing becomes uncomfortable, and can be precarious if not careful; I study people instead.

Almost all teenagers and young ones are clued to their IPhones or IPod’s, some doze off and on; elder Singaporeans observe their younger generation with resignation and some envy perhaps. There are a sprinkling of Malay women in hejaab and South Indians of course, loud and never in line. A couple, an Australian man and a Chinese women, lovers perhaps, oblivious to others, cannot restrain themselves and decide to exchange saliva. An elderly Bible reading Chinese woman seated across from them decides she has seen enough; admonishes them, What la? This is a public place la! Go and get a hotel room la! Disgusting la! The couple separate and decide it safer to look for hidden treasure in the depth of each other’s eyes instead.

Silk Air issues me a boarding pass after I sign an undertaking I will be responsible for all costs related to coming back to Singapore should I be denied a visa at Yangon airport. A positive development; I depart for Myanmar.

Note: Most Singaporeans frequently add the word ‘La’ after a sentence. So don’t be confused if you mistakenly hear Ya Allah sometimes; it is someone simply saying yes (Yah, La).

Part two – Yangon to be continued. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

SOS – Myanmar (Burma)

As I have maintained throughout, in my role at CAI - take one step towards the cause of Allah (S), HE takes ten towards you; guaranteed. All last week I am in tummy knots; will my attempts to help the Rohingya victims in Myanmar be successful, will I accomplish my mission? After several frustrating attempts, I land today in Yangon, Myanmar and am happy to report my prayers have been more than answered!

My first task, that of starting construction of first ever mosque / hawza in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is a winner; in Singapore, I meet up with key people who will supervise actual construction of Cambodia project and it is all clear to begin immediately after Ramadhan insha’Allah. More importantly, I am successful in bringing some relief to the suffering Rohingya community of Myanmar (Burma), insha’Allah.

Keeping local politics aside, for there are some ugly realities we have to accept, this Rohingya community is in terrible agony and need our support. They are humans; and Muslims, who have gone through terrible times and now languish in no-man’s land, stripped of so little they possessed and now their dignity as well. I will insha’Allah cover all details of complex and revealing issues in my next Blog, coming up shortly.

There are people on the ground in Myanmar, good people, Allah fearing people who have banded together to assist in our relief mission in a transparent and accountable manner. CAI is spearheading a relief convoy for these victims, very soon insha’Allah. Each deserving family will receive the following:

A mosquito net.
Water purifying pills.
Hygiene essentials  - soap etc.
Dry food items – daal, rice, sugar, tea.
Cooking oil.

These supplies will last a family about 4 – six weeks insha’Allah. CAI will support 770 families at US$32 per family; we need to raise US$25,000 for this project. All this efforts are undertaken legally, with approval from Myanmar government, admin cost free and believe you me, it is a lot of work.

CAI appeals to all of you, please help if you can. Allah forbid, if we were to ever be in a similar situation, it would be good to know other people care. Please donate or pledge whatever you can at I am cognizant we have just completed our Ramadhan Iftaar drive; all we can do is try to help with whatever we can spare.

May Allah (S), in His mercy and wisdom, give some peace to these hapless people who are innocent and in desperate need of our assistance.

Allah bless.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Insult? / It’s an ass, no, an arse, no-no, a tush… / Sheikh Ayoob / Myanmar calling?

An Insult?

My previous Blog Ramadhan In Dar es Salaam seem to have hit a raw nerve with a (tiny, tiny) few of you, in regards to my comment about Sheykh Allidina and the use of word ‘arse’. Recapping my response to one particularly irate lady who lectures me on etiquettes of writing - I will not be dictated on what or how I pen. Even then, I offer the following rebuttal:

I reiterate I have the utmost respect of Sheykh Allidina, enjoy his lectures and am awed by his elm and linguistic abilities. I however, stand by what I wrote and will insha'Allah relay these sentiments to the Sheykh directly when I meet him next. I am a situational writer, penning what I see, hear and smell.  If several (mostly elderly) men grumble at the length of his qunoots, a complaint I have repeatedly heard whenever in Dar, I cannot write otherwise, can I? The Sheykh is an objective man and will understand my intent insha’Allah.

Another gentleman complains I have insulted a ‘Khoja aalim’. A Khoja aalim? Samahaani; I differ. Kwanini? – Kwasababu Sheykh Allidina can take credit for his brilliance from teachings of non-Khoja aalims! His elm and eloquence is credit for the universal Muslim ummah, the way our Prophet (S) wanted us to be; Khoja, non-Khoja is irrelevant, to me. Lakeeni, I will let this cantankerous man bask in self-deceit of Khojaism.

It’s an ass, no, an arse, no-no, a tush…

A gentleman from Dar es Salaam finds my use of word arse used in the Blog to be ‘vulgar’, says he cannot broadcast the otherwise interesting Blog to the general Khoja community in fear the word arse will hurt their sentiments. Eh! He should perhaps sit through one session of our Khoja Baradharaan Baraaza here in Sanford, FL. Why, the least he’ll do is sting his eyebrows at the matoosi’s being hurled about. Anyway, lets see; what polite term of the human posterior could I have used instead? Here in the USA, we call it buttocks (American women tame it to tush), in the UK, they call it arse, in Australia, it's ass. What would the general Khoja community be comfortable with? Ummm, Behind? Where the sun does not shine? Bum? What? 

Give me a break, yaar. If you must object, please use some logic in your arguments. Tafadhaali.

Sheikh Ayoob

Sheikh Ayoob Raashid from the UK (originally from my birth town of Arusha, Tanzania) comes visiting Husseini Islamic Center here in Sanford, FL for first 15 days of Ramadhan and easily captures the hearts and minds of our community with his content and style of lectures. I, regretfully, catch only the last two lectures, what with me relishing in Dar es Sallam, Tanzania.

Here is an aalim who is simple, precise, practical and a pleasure to listen. Ah, even the your Faathaa and your Maathaa accents are pleasurable listens; reminds me of my geography teacher Mr. Esmail in high school. The lectures are derivatives from the Holy Quraan and Sunna of Ahlebeyt (A); bread and butter issues that we can easily adapt in our lives. Proof I don’t really need tall, lofty historical events (some with dubious origins) or philosophical dissertations that sting my already rozaa hibernating brains. Asante saana Sheykh; we miss you already. Kareebu saana, anytime! I assure you a very warm reception from the community. Insha’Allah. 

Myanmar calling?

Reading, hearing and researching about the Rohingya refugees and their systematical but brutal elimination has put a frustrating dent to this special month. My heart aches at the silence and inaction of international community at the Rohingya’s plight and the stonewalling I get from every possible source that can help CAI bring any relief to these suffering humans. My prayers have been answered finally, alhamd’Allah. As you read this Blog, I am on my way to Myanmar, insha’Allah for a first-hand insight to their plight and ways CAI can somehow assist; possibly food and temporary shelter, in a transparent and accountable manner.

As the trip is shrouded with some uncertainty and trepidation due to recent treatment of Muslims, I request your prayers for my safe return after a fruitful, successful foray to meet and offer moral (and material if at all possible) support to these pitiable humans. Muslims, no less.

Will keep you posted insha’Allah.

For non Kiswahili readers:

Asante - Thank you
Lakeeni - But
Kareebu - Welcome
Kwanini - Why?
Kwasababu - Because
Matoosi - Curse words
Saana - Very
Samahaani - Sorry
Tafadhali - Please

On a very personal note:

These are very important powerful days of destiny and forgiveness, of charity. I beg you, please be charitable and forgive me even a minute grain of pain or offense caused to you or your estate, however unintentional. 

If you can, please spare a prayer for the increase and safety of Imaan for my family and I.

O Allah, I seek a just state in which Islam and its adherents are honored, and hypocrisy and its followers are humiliated.  Make me a caller to Your way and follower of Your path, and grant me the most excellent things of this world and the next.