Today I woke up dead

Today I woke up dead

 
Today I woke up dead. My body lies immobile on the bed as my soul travels in and out of spaces searching for something. I can see paleness seeping into my skin. My wife is sleeping beside my cold body. She is unaware. How long before she finds out?
 
The alarm is ringing. It’s on the bed side table next to me and I can’t switch it off. She is opening her eyes now. Then, as always, she turns over to my side and embraces me. At the touch of my cold skin she recoils, a small shriek escapes her lip. I can see fear in her eyes. I can see thoughts of a shaky future whizzing through her mind.
Her hand’s inch forward again, propelled by a dying hope. She nudges me, shakes me harder and then the first tear escapes. Her cries agitate our baby who was sleeping in innocent oblivion which will continue for some years till questions about me rise in his mind.
 
Now my daughter is at our door, rubbing sleep out of her eyes, her hand still clutching her doll. She walks closer and sees her mother crying and then looks at me. She comes near and gives me a kiss on the cheek, which would usually make me growl and lift her into the bed, enveloping her in a bear hug. When this doesn’t happen, she does it again. I try to lift my hands, but not a finger moves. No exertion felt.
 
I am naked now. Some people are washing my body. My shame doesn’t bother them as I am just another body to them. They cover me in a white cloth and take me to my family.
 
By noon my family and friends are here. I can feel the moisture of tears in the air. I am now in the living room, in front of the tv.  I lie on the table. People come into the room, solemn, some holding back tears, some blank and some mustering false sympathy. My wife and kids are inside the bedroom. I wish to be with them, but they don’t seem to be willing to spend more time near my dead body. My son is crying now, probably startled by all these people. He is not a people’s person. Neither am I. I can hear someone walking around, with him cradled in her arms, trying to calm him down. That never works; he can sleep only when we are sitting still in our garden and sing a soft lullaby to him. I found this trick in his third month when my wife and I had developed large dark circles from virtually no sleep.
 
In batches they pray the Janazah prayers in front of me. I hope that they pray for a trial free grave for me. I know that I’ll be taken to my new home soon and I am too scared to even think what’s waiting for me there.
 
Soon some men enter the room and say it’s time. They shift me from the table to a flat stretcher. My girl stands there, silently looking on. My wife comes out then and hugs me, one last time. I can feel her wet face as she kisses me. Then her mother holds her back as they lift me out.
 
I am at the graveyard now. There’s the smell of freshly dug mud in the air. They lower me into the ground, gently, knowing that I can feel it. One of them enters the grave and positions me correctly. And then they place a slab on me. A blanket of darkness stifles me. 
 
I can hear the sound of mud being thrown over the slab. It gets stuffier and I can’t breathe. You may laugh saying I am dead, but I really can’t breathe.The pressure is building up. Now I can hear footsteps walking away, leaving me here. Alone. 
Then a presence. 
My results are out.
 
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Today I woke up in Syria

Today I woke up in Syria
to sniffles from a little girl
crouched in the corner
A human ball
in a ragged frock.
Her tiny hands
clutching a headless doll
which she handed me
with a desperate plea;
some food for a broken doll
 
Today I woke up in Syria
to a screaming woman
pleading life
for her husband
buried alive
as her son looked on
his face so blank
eyes now glazed
with unspoken terror
holding him in place
 
Today I woke up in Syria
to a sobbing woman
subsisting in an empty space,
in tattered robes, with
broken bones and
bruises blue
Honour lost and
dignity bled
by a uniform
meant to protect
 
Today I woke up in Syria
with blood on my hands
And no tears to shed
as I looked away
sending silent prayers on their way
dreaming of a better day.
 
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Heart in Transit

I was

a wandering spirit
seeking joy
in shifting images
and lethal fumes
living dead
in smoky planes
chasing shadows
of every desire and
unspoken sin
over mountains
crossing oceans
picking bruises
shedding tears
shredding soul
racing satan
to the pit
Till
He found me
h a n g i n g
by a flimsy thread
and pulled me out
of moral death
dusting off
my tired soul
Blowing away
silent smoke
switching on the inner lights
Showering peace
long elusive
Reminding me
‘Verily, in the remembrance
of Allah
Do hearts find rest.’ 

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Dear Lord

Dear Lord
small things point me to you.

A frail leaf floating down
swaying sideways
gently
settling down
And you tell me
that you know of each
such falling leaf
and more.

A silent breeze
with soft hands
smoothing my face
Easing in a smile
And you tell me
you send these
peace scented gusts
just for us.

A young mother
embracing her child
holding him to her heart
whispering a lullaby
into small ears
till signs of slumber
make way into the tiny face
And you tell me
You love me even more

You let the small things
put the big things in place
A solved jigsaw puzzle
in space
You make the lock
and toss us the key.

You see us drown
and throw in the rope
You know we sin
and yet you forgive
Again and again
And Again
till the last breath.

And for that,
I am a little more grateful
Each day.

A Trial

As the waves of time recede from my shore
I see the sands of youth trickling through my fingers
Beauty which once beheld many a men
Now snatched by the tides and carried to a young soul
At the verge of womanhood
Filling her body, brightening her face
I see the colour fading from my cheeks
Leaving an ashen grey
My hands, once fine
Now a knobby disgrace
I feel salty drops on my face
My daughter crying over me
I wish to call out
Hold her in my arms and stroke her hair
Comfort her,
One last time
but sound eludes me and my body rebels
I can’t move, something has me bound
This spirited body now a wasted space
Bound to a bed
The tubes hurt me and the beeps keep time
Time, Which seems to stretch forever
And ever
Stops
When death befriends me
  
Now six feet under
Sounds of stifled sobs reach me
A last cry before they turn their backs on
Years of affection
Shared memories, hugs and kisses
Now buried with me
With me alone
In this dampness
My senses now escalate
I see clarity in this darkness
And hear truth in the silence
I smell the raw earthy smell of peace,
The earth, in whose ears I whispered
The glory of God
Through long days and fading nights,
Now has me locked in her embrace
Which gets tighter
and tighter
And then she lets go
A light now overpowers the darkness
And everything else
Illuminating my soul
Lightening my heart
And letting me know that
Now, there’s no fear.

Submission

I run

Away from the world

Unfinished battles now behind

Pain cruising through me,
crushing me in measures

taking pleasure in my misery.

I cry, I scream
My anguish in vain

Salty droplets trickle down my cheeks

And when despair drills deeper

I hear a faint voice

from a strangely familiar place

The echoes find me

And tug at my heart

‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’

‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’

‘God is great’ says a resounding voice

No, he is greater

Greater than my worries

of losing battles, and fleeting pleasures

Greater than those pursuits which never really mattered

The distant voice now comes from within-

‘Ash-hadu an la ilaha illa allah’

I testify there is no God but Allah

The chain snaps

and my heart is set free

Million little things placed on a pedestal,

And worshipped night and day

Now seep out and instead,

Resides a growing flicker of belief

In Al Ahad, The One

All knowing, creator of each atom

‘Ash-hadu anna Muħammadan-Rasulullah

I testify that Muhammad is his prophet
A mercy to the mankind,

His life an example

His battles bigger, sorrows deeper

Trials endless, night and day

Then came a time, when his wife-Khadijah-was no more
Still mourning a lifetime of love now lost,

news came that his uncle too was gone

His grief was immense but his submission was greater

He let the tears flow but with them to Allah he turned

The echoes now get stronger

‘Hayya ‘ala s-salah

It invites me to submission

To take my heart to it’s Protector
The Giver of Peace can rejoin those pieces!

Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah

And now a call to success

Success- which I yearned for

never rested in this dunya

It lay in a greater purpose

And here was a reminder
‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’

‘Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar’

‘La ilaha illa allah’

The voice ceases but leaves a seed in my heart

A prayer escapes my lips,

‘Oh Allah, I need your help!’

Before a blink the seed sprouts
It’s spring so soon!

Now firmly rooting itself in that vulnerable flesh

Tiny tendrils of faith now burst out,

Wiping away years of neglect,
mending gashes that the dunya gifted

You see after the world I ran

A mirage, always out of reach

A tantalising illusion, toying with my fantasies

A perpetual game of hide and seek where I was the loser

What happiness I had, I lost it in its chase

But now with this seed came new hope

A new leaf, a new life

A path too pure

Splash

Cool water on my hands and face,

Up till the elbows and above the ankles

I watch the drops as they fall off my face

With them go my sins

And my fears slink away

I stand now

United with my new family,

Transcending boundaries, ignoring colours

A tie stronger than blood, bound by faith

One Lord, One direction

A straight path now illuminated

I raise my hands- Allahu Akbar

Now forehead on the ground,

Acknowledging his greatness

I’ve now submitted.

My journey has begun

And peace, is now here.

 

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Islamic Culture or Cultural Islam?

 

Something I realized over the past few weeks is that keeping an open mind is not about just listening to what other people have to say, it’s about taking what they said and thinking about it and comparing it to what you believe in. It’s difficult at first to look at what you have grown up believing in and practising with a critical eye. But I think it’s something we have to routinely engage in. Re evaluation is necessary if we want to avoid intellectual stagnation. 

I am a communication studies student. Not, it’s got nothing to do with engineering and no, I don’t learn all the languages in the world. What I study about is culture, with a small ‘c’. I study why some cultures are given more importance than others and why some of them end up becoming ideologies. One of the modules,Cultural Politics, involves looking into a lot of Western Critical theories and at first, I must admit, I was a little worried about it clashing with what I believe in (in terms of faith). However, what has happened is that studying a lot of them has only reinforced my faith and even cleared some doubts I had about it! I know you maybe a lil’ sceptical about it, but it really did something to the way I think. So many concepts of faith that I was grappling with, were put into perspective! Especially while studying Feminism! Though I do not agree with some of their arguments and the way they set about addressing gender inequality, I do get the essence of it and understand where they are coming from. And as a muslim woman from India, who chooses to add an extra piece of clothing to her wardrobe, I feel have something different to offer to the ongoing discussion. 

Another reason I want to add something to the discussion is because there aren’t really many muslim women’s voices talking about these issues. It’s usually a western, non-muslim woman who talks about the headscarf or the veil. Very few people turn to muslim women to know why they really wear it. And if there are muslim women out there who say something about it, their voices aren’t pushed into the public eye with the same enthusiasm as someone who criticises the hijab. .

I’ve been wearing the headscarf for some years now and over the years it’s come to something which defines me. It’s a public declaration of my faith and something which arises out of my desire to place God as my guiding point rather than the culture or society

Even though I’ve been wearing it for some time now, I really understood the wisdom behind dressing modestly only when I read about the objectification of women in the past (even now). The hypersexualization of woman’s body to sell things to the male audience, it disgusts me. Why do shaving cream adverts require a half naked woman to prance around the man? Why does a sleek sports car need a bikini clad woman to lie on top of it, in order to sell it? 

 

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Aren’t they catering to the male gaze? The camera is looking at the female body from a male eye. That’s why in movies we have the extra focus on the woman’s curves and the man’s eyes eroticising them. I can’t even count the number of times I have seen the camera lingering on the woman’s cleavage. Laura Mulvey, when talking about the male gaze in cinema, says he representation of women in cinema has been through projection of male desire on her body. “The determining male gaze projects its fantasy on to the female figure which is styled accordingly.” By herself, she doesn’t stand for anything, her character is usually that of a seductress, someone who through her sensuality toys with the  male lead’s emotions.Her body has become the plane where she interacts with the society.


It’s at this juncture I fully appreciate my hijab. It shields me from this objectification. I am not instigating that the entire male population is out there fantasising over the female body, but what guarantee do I have that when I walk out, wearing whatever I want, none of them would do it? I am in no way justifying the whole notion that ‘she asked for it’. She never did. No woman in her right mind ever does. But what Islam has given me is an option guard myself against the gaze. Doesn’t the requirement of modest clothing, in effect, repel the current patriarchal system which makes women feel they have to dress a certain way(sometimes even at the risk of discomfort, eg: high heels, tight tube tops) to feel attractive and admired?

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And the woman is not the only one responsible for avoiding the ‘gaze’. The Quran, in the verse before the one which asks women to cover, says “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things) and to protect their private parts from illegal sexual acts, etc.) That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All Aware of what they do.” (24:30)

Hence, the primary obligation is on the MAN to avoid looking at the woman in an inappropriate manner (No matter how she’s dressed).So it’s not as though the burden lies on the woman’s shoulders alone the man is also accountable for the gaze.  As a ‘believing man’ HAS to lower it. And only then comes the verse about the believing women covering themselves. And I understand why we have to be particular about the way we dress because no matter how civilized, modern and progressed the society is there will be people out there who will still objectify women with their gaze. 

Now, coming to the problem at hand. What has happened is that the majority of the muslim community places more emphasis on the part about the woman covering herself than the man lowering his gaze. Which is why most people end up believing that Islam asks too much of women. In muslim majority areas, a woman not wearing hijab faces more criticism than a man who does not control his gaze. This maybe because by its nature the hijab is a very physical act, the gaze, on the other hand, is more capable of escaping the public eye. Again, can we hold religion accountable for something which man is accountable for. So the focus should be on reformation of cultural notions which cause people to twist religion rather than the religion itself. In order to get the essence of the any religion we have to look at it in isolation of the cultural baggage it has come to accumulate. So to understand Islam we don’t look at Afghans, Pakistanis, Malaysians or Arabs. We look at the scripture. We then hold up what it says against the wider social context and see how and where religion and the present day practises deviate.  So we look at Honour Killings-  Culture. Female Genital Mutilation- Culture. Female infanticide- Culture. Racism-  Human idiocy. More often than  not, it’s these deviations which the media have been pushing as ‘Religious backwardness’.


Islam asks people to think, to reason, to ponder. It tells us not to blindly follow everything our fore fathers did. So even those of us who are born muslims, we have to ask questions. We need to know the difference between what our book says and what our people practise We need to question whether what we have grown up believing in is cultural or religious. We have to open our critical eye.


Marx said religion is the opium of the people. I think not. I think religion in general and Islam in particular was very counter cultural when it came to the mankind. 

It opposed most of what culture dictated. Example? In pre-islamic arabia, female infanticide was a common practise. But Islam strongly condemned this and questioned the idiocy of the practise.  

“And when the girl [who was ] buried alive is asked. For what sin she was killed.” (Quran, 81: 8-9)

During those times there were also clashes between tribes and there existed this feeling of Arab superiority over the others. What does Islam say about this? O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and Acquainted. (Quran, 49:13)

What did the Prophet say about racism? “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a nonArab over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”

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The rich are obligated to look after the poor. Neighbours have to look after each other. The society has to take care of its orphans and widows. The husband has to treat his wife kindly. The environment has rights over the people. We have to fight for the oppressed. Justice inspite of class or familial superiority…


Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous. (Quran, 2:177)


Replacing the million little things in this world which enslave us (Family, friends, peers, culture, society, career, fashion…) with submission to just One Master. 

This is what religion is about. 

And if this is still opium for you then yes, I am an addict.