Oh Boy

I’ve been avoiding a post for days now, simply because I don’t know how to write what I want to write without making a big mess of the explanation.  Great things are afoot – but not in the global sense.  But then,  Imam Ali (a) does say that we are each a universe unto ourselves so maybe it is global in an internal sense of the word.

As time passes, you’re supposed to grow and change.  Most times, this happens without you having to put much effort into it.  Limbs lenghten, muscles become stronger, teeth fall out and grow back.  There is blood and breaking and fusing and yet not much pain.  But that’s the physical bit.  

Emotional growth is a different story.  Learning to handle matters of the heart can be painful if you’re forewarned and still,  the heart is resilient enough to keep going and keep hoping.

Schools handle the mental growth and while that is painful in its own way, it’s shared with so many others, the grief becomes something you look back on with fond memories 🙂

But then, there’s spiritual growth.  And that one is the mother of all sprouting.  It’s hard enough having to first step back and assess yourself – to find you have more flaws that you imagined on your worst day and to realise that no one else can fix them for you except yourself.  The actual struggle to change the way you think or behave or act is a battle that still baffles me in practice.

I can manage the concept – it’s so easy to think that you can face up to temptation and win.  We tend to have a blind confidence in ourselves that is totally misplaced.   So much of what we do easily is only because it’s ingrained in our psyche from childhood.  Take music for example.  I always thought that it was the easiest thing in the world to keep away from it and never could understand why others would say it was so hard to stop listening to it.

For me, it was a case of  “It’s haram. Period.”  But in actual fact, the reason why I find it so easy not to listen to it is because i’ve never done so all my life.  It’s one of those things that was instilled into me from childhood.

But Shaytan has wiley ways, doesn’t he?  If he can’t get you in one way, he finds another.  And he’s found a mighty weak spot in my character.  Suddenly, I’m the one who’s teetering on the brink and no matter how many times I repeat to myself that it’s dangerous to be where I am, my feet won’t budge into the safe-zone.

On the bright side, I haven’t stopped struggling.  I could give in, but then where would that get me?  And I’m not even sure giving in would ensure success in what it is that is tempting me.  The situation is hopeless – the lose-lose kind.  Except in one case, I’ll have lost more than just what I want.  I’ll have lost the whole Inner Battle.

The other side is harder to join, but the loss in that case would be an imagined one.  It hurts a little, but it’s only worldy pain.  When I think about it, it’s not even hurt – just a sense of disappoinment.  And that i’m an old hand at dealing with!

I’m not making much sense I know, but I’ll explain when I’ve sorted it out some more in my head.  Right now, all my faculties are needed on the battlefront.

Bint Ali
P.S. If my spelling’s gone to the dogs, it’s only because I’m barely hanging on to sanity.   The Grammar Goddess will return when her grey cells do.

Why Does It Have To End?

To my Muslim brothers and sisters: May Allah (SWT) fill your hearts and souls with the sorrow and grief of Imam Husayn (a) for all your lives.

Arba’een has passed and with the Prophet (s)’s wafat coming up on Sunday, the end of the season of Azadari is nearing. Every year, we look forward to Muharram with a bitter-sweet eagerness and yet, once the first ashra has passed, we forget the entire concept.

Do we really think that mourning Imam Husayn (a) is about the first ten days of Muharram and the ten days of Ashra-e-Zainabiyya? What about the other days in between? What about the official ending of the season on the 8th of Rabi’ul Awwal? If we declare such loyalty and love for Imam (a), then why do we find it so hard to keep the happiness in our lives on hold for this period of time?

Two of the birthdays in our family fell in Muharram and Safar this year – three actually. Yet, there was no mention of celebration or even a ‘Happy Birthday’ exchanged. The best bit was that none of us expected it either. There was no need to explain why these days had been ignored to those involved. What was there to say? Why should a Shia have to apologise to another Shia for loving the Ahlul Bayt (a) more than they love each other? Isn’t that the whole point?

But the really sad part is when other Shia send b’day emails and smileys and cheers like they have no idea what days these are. I’ve seen people exchange all kinds of happy congratulations – births, graduations, even wedding ones – to both non-Shia and fellow Shia. And it makes me want to cry and rant at the same time.

Hello! The companions of Imam Husayn (a) gave up their lives (literally!) in the most torturous manner for him and they did this gladly and with an eagerness to repeat the entire experience if they could be given a second chance to come back to life. The Bani Hashim did not sleep on soft pillows, colour their hair or use any manners of beautification for five years … that’s FIVE YEARS – until Mukhtar brought the murderers of Imam (a) to justice.

Are we saying that we can’t put our own joy on hold for 68 days a year? The Bani Hashim had no idea that Mukhtar would manage what he did, they were willing to live out their entire lives in sorrow and grief for their Imam (a). We are well aware that the season of mourning will come to an end on the 8th of Rabi’ul Awwal and yet, we still can’t manage the same?

Can we have forgotten the frenzy of our crying and matam in just one month? Is life so distracting for us? If we can’t mourn Imam Husayn (a) who is the greatest martyr of all times in a sincere manner, how the hell will we be able to convince our Present Imam (atfs) that we’re loyal to him? Do we even have the capacity to follow him without hesitation or question when the time comes?

And if we don’t … what’s to become of us?

Bint Ali

Finding My Self

I’m not made for short and frequent posts. I’ve made a lot of changes in my personal habits – positive ones, but I think I’ll stick to my rarer epics for now.

College is far more than I expected – not the experience itself, but the course. It’s almost like that ‘coming home’ feeling that people talk about when they discover their niche. But it’s also scary. It feels like I wasted so many years not pursuing what I want to do, or being afraid of going it on my own, that now I have this overpowering burden of being rushed. Like the seconds are working double time and so much has slipped away that I’ll never be able to make up for it.

If I had continued to draw or explore over the years, instead, by packing away the art books and pencils, I might have been able to establish a platform by now. I’m having to learn how to re-draw and re-immerse myself into the paper. But with only 4 hours a week dedicated to that, it’s a little hard. At the end of the day, art of animation on paper is only a small part of this whole course and I have to squeeze out every second I can from it.

My tutors are amazing and if I start writing about them, I could end up writing well into tomorrow, so we’ll leave that for some other day – or for my personal journal. (I’m saving that for a memoir or posthumous publication so don’t despair completely – you might just find out everything it says one day!)

I’m discovering that there is so much I can and want to do, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all. Will I ever be able to write all the books I want to? Or make anime out of them? I’m a fan of anime/manga for life now that W (my drawing tutor) lent me one of his DVD collections.

The first one I watched was Ghibli’s ‘Only Yesterday’ (Omohide Poroporo). The title actually means Memories Trickling Down (like drops or beans) but I guess that comes across better in Japanese and they had to change it for the English version. Since I’m new to DVD’s, I didn’t know how to access the English sub-titles and first watched the whole 2 hrs in Japanese only. 🙂

But I loved every second of it.

In a way, it was better for me to do that because I got to appreciate the drawing and the way in which the artists brought out the story so well in the character expressions. I understood most of the story even without knowing what was being said. And I learnt to appreciate the vocal rhythms of Japanese (to me it sounds like a mix of Persian and a local Kenyan dialect).

I think part of my immediate connection was because of the plot. It’s about a 27 year old unmarried woman in 1982 Tokyo with flashbacks into her 10-year-old self. There is something in the telling of the story, the simplicity of the lines and yet amazing complexity of the expressions, and that nostalgia of the unadulterated past which will appeal to anyone born in the 80’s. (I honestly don’t think anyone born in the 90’s will ever be able to have the innocent memories that those born before that time have – the world has changed too much 😦 )

I felt like Isao Takahata was writing the story that was inside my head and my heart. I was both the storyteller and the reader simultaneously. And the freakiest thing was that there were scenes in the movie that could be straight out of Surviving Zahra. Taeko might be a little more positive and happy, and Toshio might be more clumsy and young, but they’re Masuma and Akber in a Japanese dimension.

Who would believe I wrote the novel before ever knowing the movie existed? Maybe some stories are the same the world over because there are only so many ways to tell them and only so many characters that can live them out sincerely. In a way, it gives me hope that people will like Surviving Zahra – so many have loved Only Yesterday. Of course, the challenge as usual is actually getting them to buy the book in the first place.

SZ goes to reviewers next week, insha’Allah and my publishers tell me that printing is scheduled for some time in May. It’s a little later that I had hoped for, but I guess these things can’t be rushed. I’ve been praying for what is best so I’m trusting this is a result of my du’as.

Before I sign off , I want to do one of those ‘heed-my-advice” spiels. Nothing major, only to mention that I really think anime is one of the best things Muslims could use to tell Islamic stories. You don’t have the challenge of dealing with hijab that real actors would and you can actually show personal side of Islam that so few people know about. And the very best thing (especially in Only Yesterday) is the noticeable lack of background music. Sure there is some, but none of the overpowering sounds in normal western movies and cartoons. Mostly, it’s beautiful silent pauses and the sounds of life.

I could almost see Surviving Zahra in anime-form. Insha’Allah, some day – if not by me, then by some who’s read this blog and the book and has the courage to dream as I am re-learning to.

Bint Ali