To Be This Loved

People who know me well know my take on the mushy stuff.  It’s very, very stoical.  For me if you love someone enough, you don’t need to make a public display of it.  It’s like Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth when she asks him why he didn’t speak more to her:  “A man who had felt less, might.”


I’m not implying that those who need to express their feelings openly are wrong (although there are limits!) It’s just not the kind of thing I admire or envy.  That is probably why when I hear of love in terms that are more reflective of its depth and strength than its pleasure, I can’t help but want to share.


It’s easy to forget that there are so many other levels of love than just the romantic kind.  Isn’t it a fact that when couples break up, they inevitably turn to family and friends for support? Which just goes to show that these latter bonds are often as strong, if not stronger than the relationship which has dissolved.


But what happens when friends and family fall out? In such cases, I should think that if a person didn’t have God to turn to, they’d flounder and drown in their own loneliness.  Who can survive without some sense of support and comfort?


Which leads me to the question: How do I know God loves me?  And what does it mean to be loved by Him?  There is of course a unique answer to this question for every individual.  And there are general answers too.  


I heard one of the second variety today and it made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of things that way before.  It suited my non-mushy nature perfectly.


So this is the way it is:


Islam – for all the ideas people have of its being a cage of rules within which each Muslim is imprisoned – is really based on 4 broad Principles.  As a follower, you are obliged to live in a manner than respects and upholds:

a) The rights of God.

b) The rights of your Self.

c) The rights of other human beings

d) The rights of all other creatures/Nature.


Simple as that.  It covers everything from faith to environmentalism and all areas in between.  I can’t think of a more positive, constructive and responsible system.


So why does Islam look so hard and rigid?  Because that’s how we as Muslims present it! We’re always going on about how we HAVE to do this, and we MUST do that, as if God was a Dictator sitting somewhere waiting for us to slip up so He could assign us to Eternal Damnation.


From the list of the rights above if we were asked which was most important, we would not hesitate to say it is the rights of God that we must put above all else.  And we would be right.  Yet, in practice of the actual laws of Islam, whenever there is a conflict between the rights of God and the other rights, God always pulls back our obligation to Him and instructs us to give priority to the other party in question.


So for example, alcohol is haram (forbidden) to drink (Right of God).  But in times of starvation, if there is nothing available with which to save your life (Right of Self), then you are allowed to drink as much alcohol as is required to sustain you




Performing wudhoo (ablution) is compulsory before prayers (Right of God), but if you see an animal thirsty and have just enough water to either perform your ablution or save the animal (Rights of creatures), then you must do the latter.


And there is no guilt attached to either of these options because God Himself encourages this love for others and in doing so expresses His Love for us.  He created us to be like Him, to exhibit the perfection He possesses, so it makes sense that His Laws would adapt themselves to our innate Nature and not expect us to go against it.


It’s just us messed-up beings that distort everything and try to impose our own interpretations on the faith.  And look at where it’s landed us – with a misunderstood, misused, abused and frightening set of stringent laws, instead of energizing, inspiring, motivating and constructive way of life.


We’re pathetic.  Holding a treasure in our hands and smearing it with dirt.



bint Ali


Current Quote:

Question: “Why do you pray as you pray? Why do you have to perform all these movements with your body? You could just pray with your heart (as Christians do).”

Answer: “Because God has created us in two forms, body and soul. That is why we pray with our heart (soul) as well as body. Because body and soul are together.”

– From The Road To Mecca by Muhammad Asad

Sensible Mush

Whether you’re a cynic wannabe (like me) or a mushy romantic (like someone I know), I think you’ll appreciate this.  Some words were meant to be shared, because they make such perfect sense.  So here you are: 

By Charlotte Zolotow

Some people talk and talk
and never say a thing.
Some people look at you
and birds begin to sing.

Some people laugh and laugh
and yet you want to cry.
Some people touch your hand 
and music fills the sky.


Bint Ali

Who is Teaching Whom?

So many times I open this blog and just sit here, stare at the screen and wonder how to say what it is that I have to say.  And then when I finally figure it out, I quietly close the empty window and sign out.  I’ve thought about it and the only reason that comes to mind is that once I have sorted out the words, more often than not, the whole issue seems trivial and not worth anybody’s attention.


But today is different.  Today was one of those days that started out one way and ended up another.


It’s the eve of the 25th of Muharram.  Exactly one fortnight after Ashura.  Only fourteen days.   And yet, if you look around, chances are life has gone back to normal for the majority of us Shias.  We go about our business – school, work, and home – like nothing happened. 


Like we didn’t just spend the first ten days of Muharram remembering Karbala, like we didn’t listen to the sermons and feel inspired to change, like we didn’t shed more tears in one day than we have for anyone we love in a lifetime, like mourning for Imam Husayn (a) wasn’t the sole emotion that occupied our hearts for the ashra*.


Our remembrance seems to reflect our understanding and appreciation of what happened in Karbala.  We say with our tongues that the sacrifice made that day was for all of humanity and that our tears are what water the seeds of change within our selves.  We speak of the fact that there are lessons to be learnt, mannerisms to be adopted and causes to be supported from this tragedy. 


But once the days of actual mourning are past, we forget the rest of the tragedy.  How are we to learn the message, if we walk out before the delivery is even finished?  Beginning with the 11th of Muharram, the day after Ashura, Karbala takes on a new meaning.  A meaning that passes us by completely.  How many of us read of the journey of Imam Zayn al-Abideen (a) with the women and children through the deserts, through the marketplaces and through the courts of tyrant kings? 


How many of us make an effort to find out what they said to the crowds and the content of their many sermons?  These women had watched their sons, brothers and husbands being butchered, their children had been orphaned and then they were taken as shackled prisoners through the cities of their enemies.  Where did they find the strength to speak up against the oppressors and uphold the truth?  What sincerity was their words that made people listen and inspired rebellions and uprisings five years after their delivery?


Muslims have a habit of speaking about how Islam respects women and the great status we have in the Islamic society.  But perhaps we don’t give the best examples to support these statements.  Rights to inheritance, education, work – all these are unique in Islam.  But I think the most unique of them all is what is reflected through Karbala.


Where else is the perfect partnership of male and female showcased?  Where else is the strength and special qualities of each gender used to present such a perfectly united front?  No one denies that without the women of Karbala, there would have been no Message, no Revolution, no Mission, no Victory.  Who would have known of the atrocities committed in one scorching afternoon on the plains of a barren, unknown desert, if the women had not carried the message into the streets of every city they were paraded through?


And yet one cannot help pondering on what was required by each side.  The men fought in thirst and hunger, but they fought in one day as free men and died on the battlefield as free men.  The women fought in equal thirst, but they fought after suffering grief and pain, after being tortured and enslaved – for one whole year.


It is no wonder then that even the great scholars of Islam, the men we all look up to as the learned amongst us- even such men consider themselves servants of these ladies.  Why then have we forgotten them?  Where is the reflection of this knowledge, of this strength and dignity in the Muslim women of today?


When we went to the mosque tonight, one of my students from three years ago called me aside and said that she just wanted to tell me that she remembered something I had said in one the classes at that time.  I had asked them to think about Muharram and told them that instead of seeing Ashura as the climactic end of it all, we needed to remember that Karbala and its aftermath stretches over two months and ten days. 


I had said that we needed to wake up every morning or pause every day and wonder what the caravan of our 4th Imam (a) and the women and children would have been suffering at that time thirteen centuries ago.  To remember that the journey was not made up of the one-hour recounts of history that we sit through, but that it was a suffering that they lived through second by second for days, weeks and months.


What would they have been going through at this very moment so that we would have the Islam we have today; so that the principles of truth, integrity and dignity we are so proud of would reach us intact?


At first, I was chuffed that she remembered after so long.  I thought to myself “This is one of those moments when teaching is worth every stressed minute of research, planning and putting up with attitude.”  But after she left, I wondered if it wasn’t actually a lesson for me. 


I haven’t done much remembering this year.  I haven’t stopped to think as often as I used to.  How could I expect the kids to do something and then not do it myself? 


The odd thing was that we decided to go to mosque at the very last minute tonight.  So going and then having her come up to me to say just that and nothing else, it seems like one of those ‘meant to be’ incidents.  Perhaps, God is trying to tell me that I shouldn’t forget to practice what I preach.


And perhaps that’s one of the quirks of teaching.  That sometimes, your students teach you the very lessons that you thought you were teaching them.



Bint Ali

*ashra: ten days