Dandelion Seeds

Bismihi Ta’ala

Moving house is a bit of a mind-trip.  You reach out for things in familiar places only to find they no longer occupy those spaces.  You remember your old home, but with every passing day, the details of life there, the smells, the atmosphere, the unique creak on that particular step of the staircase…they all fade away quickly and quietly without much protest. 

You begin making new memories without even realising you are and when you catch yourself doing that, you feel a twinge of guilt at your disloyalty.  Surely, a house that witnessed your marriage, sheltered your pregnancies, birthed your children and gave them a haven to play in should deserve a bit more attachment?

What a fickle thing the human memory is.  What a traitor the heart.  Yet, if we gradually forget our own flesh and blood when they depart from this world, why does it surprise me that bricks and mortar (and that dreaded corner behind the sofa that gathered mould every winter) should vanish so fast into my past.

Past.  Present. Future.  These words seem so much more fluid all of the sudden.  Ethereal, limitless, uncontrollable.

Last year flew past – no, that’s wrong, it didn’t fly past.  It dragged and stumbled and staggered and crawled. It did not fly.  Flying implies a soaring, successful motion upwards and onwards.  Time has simply vanished in the past ten or so months.  So much happened and yet, nothing really happened.

We had a wedding, a baby and a got a house.  Things we had waited years for and when they came, they were overshadowed by C-19.  A virus that stole all our thunder and became the universal celebrity that we unanimously watch and stand in awe of.

There is a sense of It vs. Us.  Nature vs. Man. Past vs. Future. Pre-Corona and Post-Corona.  It has become a Moment in History, claimed its place and determined to leave an impact no historian will forget to mention.

That is why I am seated here.  Exhausted from trying to repeatedly put a restless infant back to sleep every twenty minutes.  Tired of reasoning, arguing, blackmailing, threatening and loving a 5-year-old who I’m sure will turn 15 next week. And forcing myself to write something, anything.  There is a need to write something of import with a time-stamp to indicate that we were present when this pandemic hit and we hope to make it out the other end alive and sane. 

Dandelion blown in the wind

Some days I can feel my sensibilities slip away, blown to the wind like a dandelion seeds.  Soon,  I might be left bare like the empty stalk, discarded to the side while a new fluffy ball is sought that it too can be destroyed for pleasure.

And some days I am more than ever determined to keep coming back, to reach out and hunt down each feathery seed that rightfully belongs to me and gather myself,  stubbornly refusing to disappear – just like that obstinate weed does.

I will survive.

I will thrive.

I will.

S’laams,

bA

The Untold Paths of Love – Part 2

Bismihi Ta’ala

A month has passed.  For us, it has been mostly going back to normal life with a few differences.  We avoid any celebrations or happy occasions.  We wear mostly black or dark colours.  We turn on the TV channels to remembrances of Karbala.  We also eat and work and study and go out as we would on any normal days.

A month had passed.  For Imam Sajjad (a) and the women and children of Imam Husayn (a)’s caravan, it was far from normal.  Every moment of every day between Ashura and Arbaeen was an opportunity for the enemies of the Ahlul Bayt (a) to inflict some sort of pain or torture upon this small group of holy individuals. It is no wonder that they have been referred to as ‘wild beasts’ instead of human beings.  What kind of person would hit a child – repeatedly – for a hatred held against her grandfather?  What kind of man would beat helpless women?  What kind of human being would torture a fellow brother-in-faith the way these people tortured the Imam (a) of their time?

My daughter fell off her bicycle today and grazed her palm.  She walked around the entire day nursing it and refused to use her hand for anything.  I was amused, but I indulged her first cycling ‘injury’.  And then we remembered Sakina bint al-Husayn (a).  What amazing personalities were these children of the Bani Hashim!  How does one comprehend what this child went through every day of the journey from Karbala to Kufa and Shaam if the culmination of it was that her dress melded to her skin as her wounds healed?

Sometimes I feel that we mourn Karbala and Shaam superficially.  We cry with an intensity that lasts only a few minutes.  We never sit to actually think about the reality of the experiences of the Ahlul Bayt (a); to wonder what we do if we had  been part of that caravan. Do we think about what Zainab bint Ali (a) went through with every step away from Karbala, carrying not just the grief of her losses, but the haunting vision of their severed heads with her.  How did these women spend their nights out in the long desert journey?  How did they pass their days?

Yet for all the physical pain, they never lost their focus on Allah (SWT) and their faith in Him. Not just that, but when needed they had the confidence and bravery of the strongest of warriors.  If one was to imagine their situation in today’s world, just one aspect would be the bullying that Muslim women experience on the streets when they wear the hijab. If you have ever been the target of the verbal abuse or scarf-pulling or worse, you have an inkling of what the ladies of the Ahlul Bayt (a) experienced.  Without the tragedy of watching the men in your family being massacred, without the days of thirst and hunger, without the captivity, without the attacks being consistent and meted by soldiers, without all the other oppression they bore simultaneously.

We keep calling out: ‘If only we had been with you…’, but do we really mean that?  Are we ready to suffer that level of pain if called upon to in order to save the Truth or stand by it?

Because that is precisely what the Imam of our time will expect of us…

S’laams,

bA

The Untold Paths of Love – Part 1

Bismihi Ta’ala

We live in a world of moments. Snapshots captured for insta-prosperity.  Every experience condensed into its climax.  Perhaps that’s why we treat our history in the same way.  Stories that are meant to shape us only seem to capture us with their shock-factors.  We connect on an emotional high and when we come down from there to real-life, the story – no matter how real or true it is – is left up there where we can no longer access it.

When it comes to Karbala, the climax is the Day of Ashura and within that day, the high point of ‘aza is condensed in those few minutes, a half hour at most, when we remember the slaughter of Aba Abdillah.   But what of before? And after?

I sometimes wonder what Imam Husayn (a) went through in the years he watched Ali al-Akbar grow from a child to a young  man.  What did he feel when he first began to sleep Sakina on his chest?  What was hidden behind his smile when he played with Ali as-Asghar in the few  months while they were in Makkah? 

I wonder at the patience of Abbas (a).  How did he imbue the obedience to his Imam (a) into his self so well that when he was asked to refrain from active battle, he did so without hesitation, argument or any displeasure?  What kind of daily self-reflection and inner revolution did he go through in the years building up to Karbala?

Sometimes I think of more condensed experiences.  The other day my daughter asked me what the difference was between a spear and an arrow.  As I explained to her how they worked, I began to wonder at the practice and physical strength an archer worked to build over years and decades in order to set each arrow into flight so that it would do maximum damage. 

I wondered at the sharpness of metal that existed centuries ago before the sophisticated polishing of modern days made weapons glitter like jewellery, that we display as artefacts in cabinets without ever realising the damage they are actually capable of.  I wondered at the speed built up by the feathered tails as they flew towards their targets. I wondered at the impact of such heavy, hardy steel as it met with soft human flesh.

And then I wondered at the delicate baby neck of Al al-Asghar, I wondered at body of my Imam (a) filled with hundreds of such wounds.  I wondered what was in the shrivelled hearts of those who aimed those arrows or threw those spears.  I wondered at the strength of the martyrs who stood in front of their Imam (a) to willingly take arrows on their bodies in order to prevent them reaching him.

I wondered and wondered.  And I am left wondering.

It is easy to recite the words of so many current lamentations that claim in every language that we will give our limb and life for our Imam (atfs), but do we ever think about what that actually means and involves?  And when/if we do think about the practicality of these claims, are we still  make them with such abandon?

S’laams,

bA

When Life Hurts.

Bismihi Ta’ala

This is a hard post to write.  Discomfiting, challenging, painful. Hard.

It will also be a raw post. Partly because I’m still trying to figure out what I’m thinking/feeling and partly because I simply don’t have the time to ‘clean’ it up.

I know I used to blog about some very intense feelings before, but I have since begun to think that it is impossible to truly describe what one is experiencing.  As if doing so in some way dilutes the actual feeling, that it waters down inside, because you have now released a part of its essence into the world.  Somehow, it feels like sharing these emotions is akin to telling a special secret so that it becomes common news.

Yet, when I study the event of Karbala, I see so much that was shared and became more potent for it.  Throughout his journey, from the moment he left Madinah, Imam Husayn (a) did not hide his feelings, his love, his concern or his pain.  He shared them without self-consciousness through his words, and these words not only survived for centuries, they have gone on to inspire powerful emotions in others.  This is more I believe because of the purity of his emotions and their connection to the Divine than to because he shared them.

However, that is why I am sharing this today.  Because I hope that others somewhere – maybe many more than I think – feel the same way and we can learn something important by exploring these thoughts. 

So, the past few days have been especially agonising and here’s why: I have a young child and an infant and I can’t look at either of my children the same way anymore. 

My four month old just recently started becoming more aware.  She doesn’t just look  your way anymore, she sees you.  The first time I saw the sparkle of recognition in her eyes, followed by a slow smile of appreciation, it warmed my heart and filled me with love.  In all honesty, I don’t recall this stage in my first child, possibly because she was more of a quiet baby and I was still drowning in the euphoria of motherhood. 

This time around, when the start of Muharram approached, it struck me that my baby is just about the age that Ar-Radhee, Ali al-Asghar was on the day of Ashura.

Since then, I have begun asking myself questions that had never really occurred to me before.  I realised that a lot of my idea and understanding of Karbala is visual.  The only audible part of it in my head is the dialogue and speeches that have been recorded in history books.  However, sound is the most essential part of any situation.  What would the sounds of Karbala have been?

Does a baby just fall silent when they are thirsty for three days?  My daughter fusses, she complains, she cries and sometimes – during especially challenging feeding sessions – she screams and screams.  Those cries echo in my soul and destroy me every single time.  Yet she is only as hungry as any child would be if she was delayed a feed by a few minutes.  What did al-Asgher go through for those three days?  What did his mother have to bear as she tried to console him? And all this even before the tragedy of being put down on the hot sand or having his neck pierced by an arrow?   In all honesty, I write these last words and read them or hear them from the pulpit, but my mind refuses to accept the reality of an infant being slaughtered in such a manner and in the arms of his father… 

Every time my daughter looks at me and smiles, I find myself thinking of that afternoon of Ashura.  I wonder at the heart with which Imam Husayn (a) must have looked at his baby; that restless, thirsty child who would have perhaps calmed down when his father took him in his arms, who would have looked up and made eye-contact, who would have perhaps smiled a faint smile knowing he was in the arms of someone who loved him unconditionally and taken some consolation from that.

Every parent in this world – especially mothers – know that the greatest unspoken fear they have is that of losing their child.  Every time we hear of someone else losing their baby, we hurt for them, but we whisper a prayer of thanks that God did not choose us for that test.  We hold our children that bit tighter for a few days after such news and pray a little more desperately for their safety and long life.  Then we forget and life goes on.

Speaking about the reality of the loss of children is taboo.  It is something we hope to escape if we are silent enough about it.  We believe – knowing it to be false – that if we ignore this reality, it will pass us by.

And yet…

Husayn ibn Ali (a) carried his child, his baby, to the battlefield to present him to an army that had already proven its heartlessness throughout that fateful day.  He knew in his Divinely-inspired knowledge what awaited, but he still did it anyway.  

I look at my baby and when she smiles at me with so much love, so much trust that I can fix whatever is disturbing her, I think of Rabab and how helpless she must have felt.  Is there a worse feeling in this world than having your child cry and not knowing how to make them feel better?  How much worse is the feeling when you do know what your child needs and you cannot give it to them?

Sakina sitting next to an empty cradle in Karbala.

And then I look at my older daughter – five years old now – and it sometimes becomes hard to breathe. Was there not a similar little girl hovering over her baby brother on the day of Ashura? My daughter has recently developed an obsessive attachment to us and refuses to be anywhere unless either I or my husband are with her.

It’s impossible for me to hold my daughter and console her without remembering Sakina and her need for comfort and sympathy. She sought out her father’s body in the dark night of the desert. How frightened does a child need to become to be able to go into the unknown, alone, in a desperate search for any remnant of that familiar love?

I have seen my baby choke on her own spit and while I knew she was okay, my heart still skipped a beat while she gagged for a few seconds.  I don’t know how Imam Husayn (a) saw that trident tear apart the neck of his six month old.  I don’t know how he watched him choke on his own blood and gasp for his final breaths.  Even writing the words seem sacrilegious, as if in describing it, I am making it happen all over again.

I don’t know how these personalities bore any of these things, however, I do know why they did so.

For Islam, we usually say.  I don’t agree entirely. 

Yes, Imam Husayn (a) did sacrifice his family and his life for Islam, but not for Islam as an abstract ideology.  He did it for Islam as a way of life.  He did it for Muslims.  Semantics, you might argue.  Important semantics, I would argue back. 

Islam in itself is a school of belief. It exists as a truth regardless of who accepts it or doesn’t.  When we think of it that way,  we de-personalise the Tragedy of Taff to an academic or a doctrinal level.  We need to wake up to the fact that we – individually – owe Imam Husayn (a) and his family our existence as Muslims, our identity, who we are on an everyday basis and the better person we are all striving to become. 

The Ahlul Bayt (a) bore all those sufferings so that we would have knowledge of the correct path to achieving enlightenment and Nearness to God; so that we would be able to access whatever we needed in order to become true Muslims. They sacrificed so that we would be able to succeed.  This is a personal relationship.  This is a case of someone giving up their life to save your life; their family to save yours.  This a debt and debts must be repaid.

In the Qur’an, God asks us ‘Is the requital for good anything but good?‘ (Surah Rahman, 55:60).  This is a Divine Principle. And this is what is haunting me currently.  Is it enough that I am feeling these levels of momentary grief and sorrow?  Is it enough that I am no longer comfortable in my negligence?  Of course it isn’t.  But what is the good I can do to repay this Great Good that was done for me centuries ago?  Not just for me, but for my children and for the generations to come?

We’ll pick up next post.  My baby calls… and so do the haunting cries from across the scorching sands of Karbala past.

S’laams,

bA

One Post to Start Them All.

Bismihi Ta’ala

When you stop writing, you stop thinking and feeling as well.  At least, that’s how it works for me.  For as long as I knew I would be able to sit down and pen my thoughts down, I allowed my mind to wander freely.  When circumstances (and a healthy dose of lethargy + fear) prevented me from writing as often as I wanted, I began to shut down internally.  It was a slow process.  I promised myself over and over again that this  would be the experience that would get me blogging again.  But it never happened.  The moment would pass and so would the day and before I realised it, I had long forgotten whatever it was that had motivated me – however briefly – to write again.

And then 2020 happened.

So much has filled this year and yet it is also the emptiest of all the years, even the ones I spent alone, staring for endless nights into space and listening to the clouds move.   I would have started blogging again when I found out we were going to become a family of four instead of three, but I didn’t.  I would have started blogging again when death brushed past so close, that it still surprises me with a warm breath on my cheek some days, but I didn’t.  I would have started blogging when everything seemed to come together, only to fall apart again in a few short weeks, but I didn’t.

And I sure as hell would have started blogging as I lived through 8 of the most stressful weeks of my life when I thought I was on the verge of starving my infant every single day (two words: poor latch), but I simply couldn’t.

However, even the most cynical of us (that’s me) succumb to forgetting the most clich├ęd of oft-repeated truths i.e.  ‘This too shall pass’.  And so it has. 2020, that is.  With all its ups and downs and sideways shoves, we are almost done with this year and still possibly have a few more nasty surprises waiting for us.  Second lockdown, anyone?

So I decided to start writing today instead.  Because it is the first of Muharram, the beginning of the New Year in the Islamic Calendar and one we Muslims find great honour in beginning with grief.  Grief that is meant to lead to Revival and Revolution.  And doesn’t the world need a good dose of both right now?

I don’t really know what I am going to be writing.  It’s a strange Muharram.  We usually know with great accuracy what our programs and commemorations will be like, differing only in educational content from year to year.  This year, we fend for ourselves.  We are each individual bearers of the Husayni Flame with the responsibility to keep it alive for another year.  We cannot be simply participants, we must be the hosts and leaders.

It is odd.

Odd that we, who claim to love Husayn ibn Ali (a), who say that we would lay down our lives for Master, who claim him and his message as our own, that we should find this territory strange, confusing and scary.   How will we bring Muharram into our homes?  is the question everyone seems to be trying to answer.  But surely, when did it ever leave that we should have to bring it back?  Or was it ever really there?  Did we simply go to the mosque to remember Husayn (a) in its hallowed confines and then leave him there when we returned home? 

These are the questions that scare me.

The days that follow will require me to answer them and I have no clue how I will fare. Every year, I went to the mosque confident when I left that I had shared the farsh, the sitting space with the Mother of The Martyr.  This year, I have to hope that somehow, I will manage to convince her to grace my home instead…

S’laams,

bA