Wisdom? Sez Who?

Here’s something that’s always struck me an odd chord in me, but I’ve never mentioned before as such. You know those little bits of ‘wisdom’ that get stuck on fridge magnets, passed down as life-philosophies and forwarded in over-enthusiastic emails?

A simple sentence or two, words placed in a certain way aimed at making you stop, think and go *sigh*. But on second reading, how much of it is actually wise? Or even sensible to begin with?

Here are some examples:

– a few years ago a friend gave me a small square plastic fridge magnet with the words: “This life must be a test. If it was the real thing, we’d be given better instructions.” Everytime I read it, a part of me goes ‘eh?’ and then it hits me…the person who wrote that, wasn’t a Muslim.

Of course, this starts another train of thought as to why people can’t see the obvious fact that heck, this life might be a test, okay, but we have like the best, most perfect instructions to live it out. I mean after all, how well you fare in the ‘test’ is based on how clear the instructions are to begin with, innit?

– and then I saw this email forward with lots of soppy, feel-good advice. The kind that reeks of scented letter, bunches of roses and coochie-coochie-coo’s *shhhuudddeerr*

And right there in the top ten (only made it that far) was ‘Make sure you’re engaged for at least six months before you get married.’


And this was *kindly* forwarded to me by a Muslim! I’m thinking, did you even READ the mail? The concept of an engagement doesn’t even exist in Islam and although we do indulge in it – mainly I think so we can get enough time to throw some well-earned money away in the guise of shopping (who says the concept of a trousseau exists in Islam either?).

– and then today I was reading a newsletter I get and the host ( a wonderful person by the way) says the following in consolation to a reader who has been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer.

“If I knew the way, I’d take you home.”

It’s a touching phrase and joins those who read it in a sense of ‘we’re all in the same boat, doing the best we can and none of us really knows the secret to that elusive aim of life we’re all searching for’.

But then I thought to myself: But I do know the way home. Hasn’t Allah (SWT) laid it all out for me in clear instructions and then sent the most amazing guide to show me how to walk the path? Not only do I know the way home, I know how to walk on it and I know what home will be like.

Which leaves me with the question: Why am I not taking those who are lost home with me? I’m not sure I have an answer I like. Do you?

Bint Ali

The Rhythm of Azadari

It never ceases to amaze me how, just when my heart slows its beat, my senses begin to dull and my soul becomes sluggish in its journey, that I find something to awaken my spirits. Something with an electric touch in it that shocks my consciousness awake. Something that is all the more wonderful, because it has been there all along – I just haven’t seen it.

I was just browsing a website yesterday when I came across a tradition of the Prophet (pbuh) that says, “Surely, there exists in the hearts of the Believers, with respect to the martyrdom of Husayn, a heat that never subsides.”

That’s what brought this feeling on. All this time, I have searched and searched for a description that would satisfy what I feel and what those around me express. We call it love, or passion, or loyalty, even attachment and sometimes, a duty. But, above all things and beyond all words, this one – heat – seems to fit so perfectly that it extends my faith on the perfect wisdom of my Prophet (pbuh).

How did he know that all these centuries later, I, and others like me would seek out this description and find solace in the knowledge that he understands exactly what it is that we feel and cannot put in words? I envy those who lived with him and shared this. This wonderful “Exactly!” feeling.

Normally, when Muharram comes around, all I want to do is be alone. We seem to have lost the essence of mourning and it hurts to see that we restrict ourselves from grief and try to contain it into a time frame: 8.00p.m. to 8.45 p.m. – Majlis; 8.45 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. – Matam

It makes little sense to me. I find myself thinking in the middle of the day, “Now must be the time when they first stopped on the land of Karbala” or in the afternoon “Now they must have seen the thousands of soldiers chanting for their blood approach or in the middle of the night, “Now the thirst must have begun”, “Now the weakness set in”, “Now the first body brought in” … so may individual moments of intense pain, that we conveniently compress into 15 or 20 minutes.

Where is the justice in this? That a person should suffer endlessly and bear each moment, and you should share in it only in small doses?

I have always heard that if the whole world were to sit and mourn for Karbala and Husayn (pbuh), they would never weep for him as he deserves to be wept for.

I am now beginning to understand the unarguable truth of this statement. And with it comes the grief that we don’t seem to be mourning more in our efforts, but rather less because of our distractions.

Sometimes, I think – ‘O God! Who will save us from the future?’ And then I think ‘more importantly – who will save me from mine?’

Bint Ali

The Secret Called Muharram

Muharram is beginning. A new year for Muslims, but one that begins as all years do – with the memory of what the purpose of life truly is.  When Shia Muslims (and some non-Shia too) put their personal lives on hold for the first two months and eight days of every Islamic year, it is their tribute to those rare individuals who have the courage, the dedication and the purity of soul to be what God meant them to be.

Remembering the tragedy of Karbala is remembering the essential difference between being human and animal. It is keeping fresh the reminder that when the world calls out for help, there must always be people who will stand up and answer its plea. People whom we call saviours.

They do more for us than we can ever understand or appreciate fully, yet they do it for a higher cause and not for our gratitude. Were the world to turn away and forget them, they would not change their path or their ideals.

Today, we sat down – just the three of us – and had a small majlis (gathering). 15 minutes to herald the coming of the season of mourning. And I couldn’t help wondering how many people still do that today. Bring Muharram into their homes and their lives. Some people call it ‘tradition’ and others call it ‘culture’ but no one who has actually taken the time to make a few changes to show that they are now in mourning can deny that it’s a warm feeling. Something that consoles you that you’re part of the preservation of the message of azadari.

You could put up black flags and curtains, put away the coloured and fancy clothes and cover your life with shades of sadness. You can bring out the tapes of marsiya and nawha and start listening to the lectures you’ve been storing for the entire year. You can take off your jewellery, wear a black ribbon and put stickers on your car and badges on your purses. Whatever it is that you do, what is important about it is that you don’t leave Muharram up to your local community centre.

Sure, we attend the first 11 days at the mosque, but what if you don’t live near a mosque? And what about the rest of the two months? The things you do at home are what you will one day pass on to your children. And they to theirs. If you don’t bring Karbala into your daily life – not just in your thoughts – but also in your actions, your environment and your attitude, how will you ever teach the next generation to do the same?

You don’t have to take any advice from me, but if you’re reading this and you love Imam Husayn (a), go have a small majlis, even if it is by yourself.  You deserve to give yourself that gift.

Bint Ali

Why Do I Blog? That Is The Question.

People blog for various reasons. I’m not sure I’ve decided what mine is. Some days I simply want to do therapeutic writing, some days I want to share an opinion or ideal, and some days I just think perhaps what’s happened to me might be interesting enough for someone to enjoy reading about.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that at the back of my mind, I always thought I’d indulge in a bit of ranting about this controversial topic or that one. I haven’t done much of that. Perhaps my problem is anonymity as much as it is secrecy. “No one knows me” was supposed to help me say that things that I keep inside because it’ll make those who listen/read look again and wonder at my sanity. It doesn’t.

The only place I still manage to write without inhibition is in my personal journal. That’s because I know no one will read that. I’m the only one with access to those files at the moment.

Maybe I will indulge in rants (on safe topics) as I get used to this blog. I mean after all, Peppermintprose is almost one-year old – two months to go. At least that’s a major achievement. I started, I’ve kept up and who knows what the future will hold. I might yet become a famous read-world-wide blog some day.

There might be some might interesting things awaiting me around the corner…the kind I can actually write about here. Till then however, you’ll have to satisfied with the occasional musing on my part and the updates on the books.

Bint Ali

Current Saying:
“I believe I found the missing link between animal and civilized man. It is us.” 
-Konrad Lorenz, ethologist, Nobel laureate (1903-1989)

Putting Pen to Paper

A little update on the writing front. I was actually inspired enough to write out a 1,400-word feature for the magazine I usually write for. I haven’t sent my editor there anything for two months, so this was a sort of peace offering. No word from her yet, so I don’t know if she accepted it or not.

I haven’t mentioned much about my novel, so I guess I should share the happy news that we’re finally done on the first round of edits. It’s been an interesting experience so far. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle it, and in all honesty the first chapter was a little hard. But once I got into the swing of things, it actually became great fun.

It was extremely comforting to see that my editor could pick out the areas that I knew had problems, but was just too tired to fix when I sent her the dozen-times reworked manuscript. It instilled a sense of confidence in me that my work is in the hands of someone who knows what she’s doing.

There will probably be more edits and I was terrified to find so many silly mistakes – repeated phrases, skipped words, grammatical errors and typos – all still popping up even after so many reads. Will the book ever be perfect? I really don’t want to have any more typos that are absolutely necessary (which is none!)

One good thing is that I found myself getting excited about the story all over again. I haven’t read the manuscript in months and so it was a truly fresh look at it. I just hope it’s as interesting to readers, insha’Allah.

I’m already working on the next book – thinking positive – and my only worry right now is which of the half-finished plots I have should be the second novel. They’re in various stages but I find myself being inspired to follow a different one each day. I should make a decision really quickly because I want to have at least a first draft done by the time Surviving Zahra comes out. That means some serious writing lies ahead of me, and the need for discipline.

Let me go make a choice. I’ll keep you updated on where Surviving Zahra will be available and when.

Bint Ali