Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ramadhan Events In Sanford - 2016

We have S. Nooru for our nightly Ramadhan lectures here at HIC in Sanford, FL. Originally from Ghana, revert to Shia Islam and a role model for our other ‘uleema’s’ to emulate, regarding his eloquence of delivery, his knowledge of the Holy Quraan and visible commitment to his audience’s spiritual reform and excellence. What a refreshing change from the humdrum of other, repeat speakers who HIC keep inviting. S. Nooru has an acute insight to human phycology and can empathize with (most of) the Khoja psyche. Alas, he is not masoom, so is prone to the disease most lecturers acquire in their professional careers – the love for gadgets that amplify sounds and the lack of time discipline.

His topic of discourse, duas in general and Dua e Abu Hamza Thumali in particular, from my favorite Imam Sajjad (A), is an eye opener. That the Imam (A) was an eloquent presenter of his most inner feelings to Allah I knew, but he was also a man most humble, most lowly, a trait I have yet to master personally, unfortunately.

S. Nooru covered a lot of topics in the fifteen lectures, but the most impact he made, on me, was his second lecture. It was a blockbuster and had the entire audience in rapt attention. S. Nooru is not a Khoja, was not even born a Shia Muslim. He accepted Shia Islam because he studied it, understood it, thus Allah opened his eyes and heart, so he grasped it and ran with it. That is what makes him so different from me (us).

Some of the more important lessons he imparted, paraphrasing:

1. Don’t ignore the Quraan. We have firmly adopted Ahlebeyt (A) but ignored the holy book. The best way to understand the Quraan is through the Quraan, one verse explaining the ambiguity of another. The Quraan – a healer, an anti-depressant, a counselor of the mind and heart, cure for loneliness and depression.

2. Our love for rituals, my favorite topic. In case of doubts, always fall back on what the Aimaas (A) did. Reject whatever they did not practice, adopt what they did. Very simple. It is not necessary to cram the whole Quraan in a limited period. The pondering of one ayaat of the blessed book carries more currency than breathing through the entire book without comprehension. Allah has created summers and winters and time restraints. So during the summer, when there is very little time and reciting of Dua e Komail is a time challenge, by Allah, it is not the end of the world! Reciting it like there is a burning coal on the tongue just because it is Thursday defeats the whole purpose of the excellent supplication.

3. Dua, says S. Nooru, is a self-audit, self-assessment and understanding our weak points. Wow! Never thought of dua this way, but is it true, no? We can ritually recite the entire Mafaati Ul Jeenan, both volumes every single day of our lives to no use if – we violate huquuq naas, cheat in business, devour ghasbee, backbite. Of all these major sins, Allah cannot and will not pardon huquuq naas; we can chant Al ghaus, Al ghaus until our faces turn blue.

4. Duas, for us, especially the Khoja community, is mostly a ritual affair. Our excuse? We found our fathers and forefathers recite these duas on such and such night, and we are off and running. Remember the exact same excuse given by some condemned people in the Holy Quraan? Furthermore, we have no clue what we are supplicating about; the Arabic and poetic nature of recitation just make us feel good. It is not the length, nor the number that we can cram in a single night that counts. S. Nooru points out duas, short, to the point and with sincerity, are more likely to be accepted when it’s raining, when infants cry (yup, didn’t know about that!), immediately after adhaan… Allah is looking at our struggles towards perfection, not mind numbing, leg cramping, sleep inducing ritualistic recitations; so what if the reciter has a melodious voice, reminiscent of our Ramadhan’s in Dar es Salaam or Mombasa.

5. Dua is not an assessment of others; it is our hope. They are meant to humble us, tear away our arrogance because when we ask Allah for something, it is to acknowledge there is a power greater than us.

However, what endeared me to this man is his simple yet passionate method of arguing his points. There is absolutely no defensive fallback in his arguments, nor is there finger pointing. He did not say ‘…even the ahle-Sunna collaborate this hadith…’ even once! As if I need any third party endorsement about my Imam’s virtues or attributes. Nooru relies on the Quraan and quotes sensible, reasonable, rational hadeeth or actions of the Aimaas (A) to back up the Qur’anic quote.

Bravo Sir. From my side, kareebu to HIC, anytime. Now only if the Khojas at large will give the same respect and reverence to a Black man without the abaa and kabaa you are so qualified to adorn.

Our month of peace and worship is shattered by a lunatic who guns down 49 young innocent budding Floridians in a deadly carnage. I wake up to the bitter but now increasingly familiar taste in my mouth and a knot in my stomach at such animalistic behavior. Muslims are in the limelight again, for all the wrong reasons. I am supposed to be apologetic for my beliefs because an animal got easy access to firearms and massacred innocent people.

I will follow S. Nooru’s advice on this one and walk the Holy Prophets (S) example. I will swallow the bitterness in my mouth; I will try and calm the butterflies in my stomach. And I will smile at all the inconveniences and fear this brute is putting us through. I will pray for the victims, of course, for Allah to show mercy on their souls, to give their loved one’s the strength and fortitude to face this tragic calamity. I certainly condemn, with all the energy and passion my body can generate, that the killing of any soul as sinful and immoral.

I beseech Allah for mercy and peace in this era of mayhem and uncertainty and pray the rest of this holiest month ends in peace and worship.

Happy Eid Mubaarak,  insha’Allah.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Power Of YOUR Prayers

It is June here in Mumbai, the peak of summer; hot and steamy. Monsoon rains are supposed to arrive in ten days, but I have my doubts. The annual rains have yet to douse Kerala, the first point of entry way south, delayed, and Indians have reasons for concern. Last years inadequate moisture was disastrous for almost all of the country, reliant on good showers for generous agriculture output, a good portion of GDP. There have been serious riots in Maharashtra due to the water crises, and everybody dreads the consequences of another failed or inadequate monsoon.

I am returning to the Leela Hotel from Andheri, after meeting with my doctors, who torture me with several medical tests to determine the progress of my recovery. The tests take several hours, so I am all hot and bothered and irate. The crowds at the Metro station, probably as harassed and annoyed as I, don’t make the navigation to the platform easy. So I try to recoup from the jostling crowds, oppressive humidity and even more repressive, offensive body odors inside the supercooled Metro tram. My recovery is made even more agreeable by Anuksha Sharma, as she radiantly smiles at me from a Nivea poster, showcasing unblemished, chakaas underarms. I hope everybody will take her message of using Nivea underarm spray seriously. Jaldi – jaldi, please?

Miraculously, I find an empty slot, just enough space to accommodate my trim behind; anybody bigger would have had a serious problem. Pressed next to me is an equally perspiring teenager, but she seems to be immune to her environment - leaned over, thick hair screening her head. She is totally tuned off from me, and others, concentrating on listening to something from her earphones. I assume its music, for she breaks out into a sitting jig now and then, as much movement as the confining centimeters will allow her. When she finally decides to reveal her face, I (and others) can’t help but gawk. She has a nice enough face, sullied by a mammoth nose ring that is pierced smack in the middle of a pert nose, not the sides. The ring instantly reminds me of another nose, belonging to an ugly, mean-looking farm buffalo, plowing at a farm in Sirsi. I have an intense desire to yank at it, but abstain; I hear Mumbai’s Arthur Jail is no catwalk. The teenager must sense I am gaping at her, for she gives me a grilling, defiant look, which turns into a ravishing smile; I blush scarlet and return to staring at Anuksha Sharma. I think she’s safer, harmless.

The Leela Hotel is a small paradise right smack in the middle of this crazy and bewildering city of 22 million people. Reaching it, I escape to my room, take a shower and have a mango ice cream cocktail; what bounties of Allah can I deny? I have an entire day to await my test results. These results will determine how I will employ my life the next full year. I try not thinking about it and complete pending compliance paperwork for all CAI projects in progress.

I have been on the road for almost six weeks, alhamd’Allah. Weeks that has taken me to India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Dubai, Ethiopia, and Tanzania and now back to India. I will return home in two days insha’Allah. I could not travel to Yemen unfortunately, although I so wanted to take part in the feeding program CAI is coordinating with ALLA and WABIL. Over US$95,000 worth of food grains was / is distributed to the starving and besieged population in the war-ravaged country.

This alone time gives me a chance to assess CAI’s progress and her future. There is finally a functional team in place to tackle any eventuality, whether I sink or swim. Sohail Abdullah, Abbas Jaffer and Hasnain Yusufali, CAI Trustees, are now adequately equipped with information to take CAI forward if warranted. The compliance requirements, both to IRS and our donors, are in place, field reporting and documentation are streamlined and communicated at regular intervals. Yes, I still have to hold hands, carry and use the big stick at times and act a benevolent dictator. However, I am much confident about a bright future for CAI, insha’Allah.

As a novelist working on my third book, to be published mid-2017 insha’Allah, (all proceeds benefitting CAI’s seven worldwide orphanages, hoping to raise US$100,000) I am always ears to new ideas. However, I relish on observing people; they are the fodder for my imagination and material for my novels. So I head to the swimming pool and inevitably run into 25-years-old Bhavisha, the front desk assistant manager of the hotel. She is an attractive, charming lady, and I am, naturally, drawn to her. This woman wakes up at five every morning, six days a week, puts on jeans and something, takes a rickshaw, then a train and then the Metro, reaching the Leela two hours later. She changes into a uniform saree, dons on a permanent smile, then works for ten hours minimum, more most times, almost on her feet all day, and then retracts home at the end of her shift. All this, for less than US$300 / month. She is considered middle class. This is how the vast majority of people in this mega city make their living.

Poolside is an excellent way of working on the novel; I make steady progress. A Muslim couple with two kids come and occupy the pool chairs next to mine. The man is massive, gut and everything else. He collapses on the comfortable chair, orders four hamburgers, fries and mango lassi from a hovering waiter and gets busy on his cell phone; the family forgotten. The wife settles the kids in the shallow part of the pool and settles into a chair next to her husband, a bored look on her face. I give her a sympathetic smile. She looks away, a face pained.

My lead doctor calls me next day; I can sense the smile in his voice. The tests are all negative. I do not have to take any more tests for another year, although the medication, diet, and punishing exercise regimen must continue. I hang up and make sajdah of eternal thanks to my Allah. The power of YOUR prayers, thank you! Allah bless.

I am going home tomorrow insha’Allah, to daughter Maaha Zainab and relish a month long blessed month of Ramadhan in Sanford. Sheikh Nooru is reciting for 15 nights - a treat to look forward to.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Land Of Tibps, Ayshee And Abundant Smiles

I am itching to visit Yemen; CAI has a feeding program in conjunction with ALLA and WABIL to feed the starving people ravaged by the sustained violence of war. But the doors shut on my face with every attempt to get a visa and a method of going in. So I try using wasta of a prominent ex-Yemenia Airline officer, very well connected with former and current power brokers. He meets me all right, but scrutinizes me like an irate physiatrist would his patient.

Aree Baba, he says at length, I am not in the business of abetting suicides, no matter if it’s for a good humanitarian cause. You’ll be kidnapped for sure, or killed or both. Forget it. Work with the people already there and help as much as possible.

I am not a person who takes refusal easily and feel the usual rebellious taste of helplessness, frustration and bitterness rise in me. So although I swallow the letdown with some difficulty, I am comfortable with my conscious; I tried.

So I turn my attention to Ethiopia and the starving people there.  After suffering scorching temperatures of about 120F in Najaf and Karbala just a few days ago, the 70F of Addis Ababa is pure ecstasy. Joining me for the 3-day trip is Sohail Abdullah, CAI Trustee from New York. We clear immigration and customs at Addis painlessly, $50 poorer each; the process is well managed and efficient.

Ethiopia is a refreshing change from many countries I am lucky to visit, in many aspects. Ethiopian people smile easily, are genial and helpful. The women are startlingly attractive, with abundant smiles and both Sohail and I struggle to keep our eyes cast down. The people always respond with ‘Ayshee’ (yes); actually coming through with the request is another matter. The country is well connected, with 3G links almost everywhere we travel, even in remote areas. The streets are largely clean, vehicles driven on the correct side of the road, with groups of women rising sandstorms as their arms, equipped with pronged sweepers, swing away. 

David, our guide for the next three days, is waiting for us outside and we connect after some hiccups. Almost all Addis taxis are ancient Ladas from the Soviet era, rickety, and reek of cheap, offensive gasoline; no wonder I feel so lightheaded after every cab ride. We take one of these and end up at pre-booked room at the Caravan Hotel not too far away. A small family owned property; clean, comfortable and with above average service, again, everybody working there with a ready, winning smile. The hotel, though very safe, is lined by massage parlors offering exotic services left to our imaginations.

We confer with David after checking in and plan strategy. Immediately evident, with David and many others who we connect with, is the palpable fear on their faces while we talk about means to feed the hungry. The tone of voice will lessen to a murmur and eyes become shifty, as if afraid of someone invisible snooping. The government of Ethiopia, although efficient and relatively clean from corruption ravaging other African countries, is ruthless in what it deems inappropriate actions by her citizens. This includes clandestine meeting with foreigners, especially those coming in to help.

David is able to arrange the drive to Dire Dawa the next day, some 300 miles away, and the closest we can get to the starving masses. There, we’ll be able to connect to a network of momeneen that will make any food distribution possible. Our strategy complete, we ask David to take us for dinner since our tummies are rumbling. I get high once again, driving in a cab to a Yemeni restaurant. Outside the restaurant, I get an opportunity to purchase more intoxicants if I want – miroongi, or khaat. The bloody stuff is everywhere in this country. With the gasoline fumes and miroongi and the liquor shops and the massage parlors and ladies of the night that stalk the corners of this city at all times, urban Ethiopians seem to be in one continuous euphoria!

The choice of food in Ethiopia, at least the ones we are exposed to, is Tibps (tiny bits of beef sautéed with few greens and excellently spiced) with Njeera (something like mkaate except much thinner and made with millet without sugar) or fresh hot naan and Mandi (Pilau rice with chunks of lamb dumped in). Sohail cannot pronounce Tibps even after hundreds of attempts. I stick to Tibps with Njeera or naan; the Mandi packs colossal amount of calories. Coffee and tea in Ethiopia are classics.

We burn some calories early next morning, walking up and down streets of the slowly waking city with some outlets still partying to loud music and young women in dubious attire lounging around bars that are still open. 

It takes us 10 hours to get to Dire Dawa, stopping only for salaat on uncomfortable terrain under trees or beside the road and lunch in Nazareth. There is continuous chitchat or loud music (not unpleasant, reminds me of Taarab of E. Africa) in Amharic. I suspect the driver keeps it loud to stay awake. The roads, built by the Chinese, are super smooth. We learn that David, in his late thirties, already has eight children and wants as many as his current wife can produce. Perhaps thirty, he says nonchalantly. Or maybe he’ll add one more wife, he adds after a thought, a coy smile playing on his lips. And how is he going to support all the kids and second wife, demands Sohail? David lifts his eyes to the sky.

We arrive at Triangle Hotel in Dire Dawa exhausted. There is no food except few semi-sweet mangoes we pick up earlier. The hotel is dated but the Internet is reasonably good so I’m happy. I fall asleep with cockroaches for company. The next morning, after breakfast, where a waitress serves me ‘toasted white bread’ because I requested ‘brown’ bread, we tour Dire Dawa while we await the arrival of a renowned Sayyed who will advise and help with our program. Dire Dawa reminds me of a much bigger version of Tanga, Tanzania; once a bustling city now in steep decay. It has a lot of character and history, however, with obvious signs of diverse nationalities and religions once calling it home. It is overwhelmingly Muslim now, with mature men in unsavory saffron beards roam, wife(s) trailing behind like unsetting shadows.

The Sayyed arrives from a place distastefully called Jigjiga. He is a highly respected man who is nationally revered. He leads us to a village called Shinile, where communities are in dire need for food. Rains have failed them when they were most in need but have now returned with a vengeance, destroying whatever is sowed. I can see the poverty and decay of the village. The Sayyed informs us that this village is better off, communities further away are in even bad shape but we cannot go there. CAI will insha’Allah try and put together a feeding program and incorporate with the regular Ramadhan Iftaar Distribution Program.

The return to Addis is as tiring. Again, we stop for food (lethargic looking spaghetti with canned tuna in a spicy broth) and salaat under a tree overlooking a very scenic plateau; I feel so much closer to Allah praying here.

We have a day free so decide to tour Addis but rains curtail our plans somewhat. Nevertheless, we have an enjoyable time driving through the ancient rain soaked city and Sohail does some shopping to appease gods back home. I leave for Dar (eager for nundu, mishkaaki, kuku yaku chooma and Coke-soaked karaangas) the next day while Sohail flies to NY via Dubai.

Click here to view the photo blog of our trip by Sohail Abdullah.