RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Why was Khadijah (RA) so special to the Prophet Muhammad (saw)?

He was young. Handsome. Of noble lineage. Of impeccable character. He was known as “The Truthful” and “The Trustworthy”. Yes, he was born an orphan and his financial standing was not the best when Khadija (ra) met him. But he, nevertheless, was the best of the best. The epitome of the human race, when Khadija (ra) proposed to him, was a young 25. 25, when she was 40 and widowed twice before, having bore children from both earlier marriages. He could have had any younger girl. Any virgin who did not carry with her the baggage of widowhood and children. So why, then, did he accept her proposal?

Two reasons come to my humble mind.

Firstly, the “he” in question was Muhammad (saw), a young man but not any man. Although he had not yet attained prophethood, yet he could look beneath the surface….the superficial. Khadija (ra) even on the apparent was a beautiful woman. “Ameerat-Quraish” or “Princess of Quraish” as she was called, she was rich, beautiful and had social standing. Yet, for Muhammad (saw), it would have to be more than riches and beauty that drew him towards the decision of accepting this proposal. For Khadija had qualities that were unmatched, as time would prove. Maturity, wisdom, intelligence, loyalty, generosity and courage.

Secondly, this was the woman (like all of his other wives) who was chosen to be his wife by Allah in His infinite wisdom. And his first wife at that. And the only wife who bore Muhammad’s (saw) children and had the longest singular companionship with him – a companionship of almost 25 years. She was to be the backbone of Islam, the foundation stone of Islam, the first ever Muslim who believed in Muhammad (saw) as Allah’s last and chosen Prophet. If it were not for her unflinching support for him and unequivocal faith in him, Muhammad (saw) would have still done what Allah destined for him to do. But without Khadija (ra) beside, it would have been a lonelier and even more tedious journey.

Whenever I read about Khadija (ra) I am amazed, always, by how much she loved and supported him.

She opened the doors to her home and heart to him. She shared her wealth with him. She took into her home his cousin, the young Ali (ra). And then there was Zaid ibn Harith (ra). And then there were their own children – Qasim (who died young) and Zainab (ra) and Ruqayya (ra) and Umm Kulthum (ra) and Fatimah (ra) and Abdullah (who also died very young). And her own children from previous marriages. And this blessed home’s doors were open to all – charity was a norm. An abundant norm. As a couple they complemented each other so beautifully and thought so much in synch that goodness was what they spread left right and centre.

The years before and around prophethood of Muhammad (saw) would have been tough for her. Imagine how she felt when he disappeared into the cave of Hira and did not come home for days. Any wife in her position would cease to see the bigger picture and let the desire to own her man and his time take over. But Khadija (ra) knew her man. She allowed him the space he needed to grow inch by inch and day by day towards prophethood. And her support remained unequivocal. There are reports that she would climb upto the cave of Hira and carry food and water for him. She was not exactly young at that time. But she did what it took to support him.

Perhaps the most well-known and yet never deplete of lessons and emotional impact is the incidence when the Muhammad (saw) returned after he received the first revelation from the cave of Hira, having witnessed the angel Jibreel (as). Shivering. Afraid. Realizing somewhat what a massive responsibility lay ahead of him. Understanding that his life would change forever. Fearing for his safety. And in those moments as he asked her to cover him with a blanket, it was Khadija (ra) by his side. To comfort and soothe and calm him down.

Her words at this moment have gone down in history. In Sahee Bukhari, it says: “Then he went to Khadija bint
Khuwailid and said, “Cover me! Cover me!” They covered him till his fear was over and after that
he told her everything that had happened and said, “I fear that something may happen to me.”
Khadija replied, “Never! By Allah, Allah will never disgrace you. You keep good relations with
your kith and kin, help the poor and the destitute, serve your guests generously and assist the
deserving calamity-afflicted ones.”

She was the first to believe in his prophethood and therefore the first Muslim. Today, Muslims are a 2.1 billion strong, and growing. At that time, in those crucial moments that were to alter history, it was just her.

We all need that one person, at least, to believe in us implicitly. To know our mettle. To bring out the best in us. To be our fallback. We need to know in moments of fear and insecurity and vulnerability that there is someone who will stand by me, no matter what. And the bigger and more important a human’s intended task or goal and the better the substance of that person, I believe sincerely that the better will be the person Allah chooses to complement you. To facilitate an ultimate aim. For Prophet Muhammad (saw), Allah chose Khadija (ra).

It is then no small wonder that one day, Jibril (as) came to the Prophet (saw) and said: “O Allah’s Messenger! This is Khadijah, coming to you with a dish having meat soup (or some food or drink). When she reaches you, greet her on behalf of her Lord (Allah) and on my behalf, and give her the glad tidings of having a palace made of Qasab in Paradise, wherein there will be neither any noise nor any toil, (fatigue, trouble, etc.).” [Al-Bukhari]

Muhammad (saw) included her in the four foremost ladies of the universe: Khadija bint Khuwaylid (ra), Fatimah bint Muhammad (ra), Maryam bint Imran (the mother of the Prophet Issa) and ‘Asia bint Muzahim (the wife of the Pharaoh).

The richest woman in Makkah sacrificed all her wealth for the cause of Islam. The Princess of Quraish had to sustain the hardships of the 3 years of political and economic boycott, during which the Muslims had to stay in Shaib e Abi Talib, at times surviving by eating mere leaves! Yet, she did not complain or let go of her sabr.

It is no wonder, then, that Muhammad (saw) never really got over her death. He called the year of her death “The Year of Grief”. A Companion of the Prophet narrates that whenever any gift was brought to him he would immediately send it to some lady who had been a friend of Khadija (ra). Ayesha (ra), a favorite wife of Muhammad (saw) says that whenever a goat was slaughtered the Prophet (saw)would send some meat to Khadija’s (ra) friends; when she remarked about this on one occasion he told her that he had great regard for her friends, as she had a special place in his heart. Ayshah said she never experienced such a feeling of natural feminine jealousy for any other wife of the Prophet (saw) as she did for Khadija. She also narrates that whenever Muhammad (saw) spoke of her he would talk at great length and praise her qualities, and pray for her forgiveness.

Once the Blessed Messenger (saw) mentioned Khadīja (ra) before Ayesha (ra), the latter responded: “She was not but a such and such of an old lady, and Allah replaced her with a better one for you.” He replied: “Indeed Allah did not grant me better than her; she accepted me when people rejected me, she believed in me when people doubted me, she shared her wealth with me when people deprived me, and Allah granted me children only through her.” Ayesha (ra) says, after this incident, “I learnt to keep quiet, whenever Khadīja’s name was mentioned by Muhammad.” (Sahih Muslim)

Her place in his life can easily be understood by the fact that till she lived, the young Muhammad (saw), in the prime of his youth, did not marry another woman.

She fulfilled all his needs and gave him the happy content married life that is required for anyone who wishes to achieve or do anything great in life. Khadija (ra), Mother of the believers, took care of the home front and gave Muhammad (saw) support in the worst of times, enabling him to do what he did. For her part, she understood and appreciated him and his responsibility. For his part, he cherished and appreciated who she was and what she meant to him. Together, they complemented each other, working hand in hand for a cause bigger than everything.

Such a companionship, then, is the material of the truest love story ever.

Every year, the same debate crops up. Ramzan or Ramadan?

chaaidaani

Ramzan Mubarak? Or Ramadan Kareem? Must I choose one of these?

 By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

As Ramadan began (yes, that’s what I call the Muslim holy month for fasting, guilty as charged), I was driving down a crowded road on Karachi. Besides the many attractive billboards with the Katrinas and the Deepikas selling Pakistani consumer items, a billboard caught my fancy. It had dates, a tasbeeh, a woman’s hands outstretched in earnest prayer, and gigantic letters in both English and Arabic saying “Ramadan Kareem”.

The Ramadan Kareem trend has caught on, yes. It is the “in” thing, the somewhat cooler way of greeting each other on the start of this most amazing of months for a Muslim. Facebook status updates are full of it. And it’s not just Ramadan Kareem. Let Eid come and you will be hearing a lot more of “Eid Saeed” then you have ever…

View original post 805 more words

Living In Fear

http://dawn.com/2012/07/22/trauma-living-in-fear/

More than a decade has passed since that summer morning when I woke up to the sound of unfamiliar male voices in my bedroom. To the sight of four men staring at me with me in my night dress. To the fear of them harming my family with the weapons they carried. The memories of me handing over, in panic, every piece of jewellery I had in the house, lest they do something unthinkable. The memories of how, after they left when they had looted my home and had us at gunpoint for a good four hours, I sat quivering in disbelief that this had happened.

The memory of me begging them to hand me my dupatta, which they fortunately did. Memories of how strangely humiliated I felt when I went downstairs, hours after they had gone, to find out that they had broken in the night before, had eaten from my fridge and had stubbed out cigarettes on my living room carpet. But perhaps the weirdest thing was how I developed a fear of the huge window in my bedroom from where they had made me answer the neighbours who had sensed something fishy and so had arrived at my gate.

At that point, standing by that window, exchanging pleasantries with the neighbours and falsely reassuring them that all was well, I was breaking into cold sweats as two men with guns were by my side. For more than a year, I could not get myself to go near that window without shivers running down my spine. None of this is an exaggeration. I have been through this.

Sadly, many readers will relate to this story, particularly in Pakistan. In a random group at any social event, nearly everyone has a traumatic story to share in which they have stared fear in the eye and have experienced real threat to their safety, up close and personal.

Most of us have stories in our back pockets about how at a signal our watches or cell phones were taken away at gun point. Or how someone we know was kidnapped. Or how robbers broke into our house. Or how, as an ex-pat, we were robbed on our way back from the money exchange. Or how our child’s school had had three bomb threats in one year. The injury in some extreme cases may also have been physical. But mostly, it is an emotional affliction. Those moments of panic. Of fear. Of uncertainty. Of the very real possibility of injury or violation of death. And long after those incidents have passed by and blurred away into the past tense, the memories stay painfully vivid.
Clear. Recurrent.

Unconsciously, unknowingly, so many of us might be victims of what is called “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” or PTSD. Any situation in which you have had a real threat of injury or death can result in this. Something as internal to a family as domestic abuse and something that affects the whole society like terrorism — this can all result in PTSD. The results can live on in your system for a long time, till you get proper support, counselling or simply time that heals. The extent to which you are being affected by PTSD will depend on psychological, genetic, physical and social factors. PTSD not only results in flashbacks and psychological scarring but alters the body’s response to stress.

Stress hormones and chemicals that carry information between the nerves (neurotransmitters) are impacted by trauma.

“I was traumatised after I experienced an armed robbery at my parents’ house when I was 13 years old,” recalls Mehtab Danish, years later, still visibly shaken at the recollection. “I was in the washroom when I first heard the dacoits arguing with my sister. What followed after was all the more scary and horrifying with my father being hit on the head with the butt of the gun numerous times resulting in multiple stitches. I got my fingers twisted resulting in permanently crooked fingers. All this left such a deep impact that I could not go to the washroom that whole day! Years passed on and I still used to experience audio hallucinations whenever I was inside the washroom; I would be convinced that someone is right outside. Even today, it is difficult to relive those moments without feeling a jolt of terror.”

Asker Husain, a resident of UK, was in London when 7/7 (the July 7, 2005 London bombings which targeted civilians using the public transport system) happened. “One of my lawyers was in the underground carriage next to the one that blew up. He was severely traumatised and had to receive psychiatric help for over a year. He no longer travels by the tube. My main concern was how people would react to me. I obviously look Asian, just like the bombers. I had my back pack, just like the attackers. I thought that given the circumstances, I would get an adverse reaction from the general public as I made my way home.” Husain was lucky as he did not get the adverse reaction he was apprehensive of. He was also fortunate he did not face trauma at close quarters, unlike his friend.

Complications resulting from PTSD are not limited to just nightmares and flashbacks; it can result in anxiety, panic attacks, depression as well as substance abuse and alcoholism. PTSD can, if left untreated, potentially destroy a person’s life.

Forms of treatment vary but for that the first step would have to be recognition. The attitude of “khud hee theek ho jayega” (the problem will get solved itself) does not work. The earlier the detection, the better the chances of solving the problem. A strong support system works, as does talking about the incident with people who have undergone similar experiences.

A form of treatment called “desensitisation” may also be used, where the victim is encouraged to talk about it and vent pent up emotions and memories of the incident. Over time, the memories, because of being relived repeatedly, become less frightful. Thus, the phenomenon we see in Pakistan and often criticise, of people becoming numb to things happening around them, might actually be a natural defence mechanism of the human system. When traumatic situations occur so repeatedly in a community, after a while numbness sets in. While apathy and indifference is unhealthy, zoning out may be the only way of dealing with it. A prettier word, of course, would be resilience.

Is Pakistan Ready For A Male Contraceptive Pill?

http://dawn.com/2012/07/11/is-pakistan-ready-for-a-male-contraceptive-pill/

What is the first thing that the word “contraceptive” brings to your mind, I asked a number of people. “The pill” was a common answer. “And what does the word ‘pill’ bring to your mind”, I persisted. Side-effects, problems having a second child, weight gain: these were the answers. “For whom?” I badgered. Well, for the woman of course, they’d respond with a quizzical look on their faces as if saying “is that even a question?”

Turns out it is! In Airlangga Universitsas in Surabaya, Indonesia, the world’s first non-hormonal contraceptive pill for males (yes, you heard that right) is ready to reach the market shelves, as it is about to enter Phase 3 of human clinical trials. The research is funded by BkkbN, Indonesia’s FP body. Small scale production by a herbal medicine company called Naturoz has begun. Indonesia, the world’s “poster child” when it comes to Family Planning (FP) seems to be coming up with another breakthrough.

Justicia Gendarussa, an innocent looking shrub next door, is what these pills are made of. It is mostly found in Papua, Indonesia. Under the leadership of Prof. Bambang Prijogo, research is on since 1987.

How it works, according to Dr. Bambang, is that it primarily “disturbs the enzyme system of spermatozoa,” affecting its “function, capacity, migration, binding and inhibition.” In layman language, the shrub weakens the ability of the sperm to penetrate an ovum during intercourse.

Once this pill is available world over, would it be a good idea to introduce it in Pakistan, the country that is now the world’s fifth most populous nation, promising to soon become the fourth largest if nothing is done? As this write-up is published on the “World Population Day 2012”, Pakistan’s current population clock is ticking at 180121027 on the 10th of July 2012, (more than a 180 million people) according to the Population Census Organization, Govt. of Pakistan. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2007 shows that only 30% of married women use any form of contraception.  It would be safe to assume that the percentage of males using contraceptives would be much lower.

Barring condoms and natural methods like Coitus Interruptus (withdrawal method), men mostly are out of the contraceptive game, and even the above two methods are used with a lot of reluctance. Vasectomy, a permanent contraceptive technique, is a no-no for many reasons: it is more invasive, it is not allowed by most religions and it takes away the feeling of being in control from men…the feeling that says “I am virile and I can get my wife pregnant whenever I want”. As for female contraceptives, more mythical and less real side-effects make it a less than ideal choice for people. In a country like Pakistan where the FP decisions are still made by the man of the house and the mother-in-law, particularly in the under-privileged and rural setup where FP is most needed, the eventual result is more children than the family can handle. Eventually, these choices are resulting in more children than Pakistan can possibly handle.

In such a scenario, if the Gendarussa pill were to be introduced in Pakistan, it could be a break through. Free of harmful side-effects, it can be the solution to many problems. But men have their reservations. An unnamed interviewee shared that his wife liked the idea but he is not comfortable with it. “I have two reservations.  Firstly, what if it causes impotency or effects sexual performance? Even if the label says no side effects, this will always be at the back of my mind. Secondly, is it a fool-proof contraceptive method?”
Conspiracy theories and myths regarding contraceptives being introduced as ploys to reduce male virility and fertility in general are common. Seeing the reactions the Polio campaign and iodized salt met in Pakistan, it would not be an easy option for males to accept. It was interesting to note that men interviewed were very scared of the possible side-effects, especially the possible effects on sexual performance or fertility in the long run. However, the pill’s trials indicate quite the opposite. Turns out the Ganderussa pill DOES affect sexual performance by in fact acting as an enhancer, increasing stamina and sexual health. The contraceptive effect is also temporary and reversible once the pill is discontinued.

“My major concern would be that my fertility is not permanently hampered. If there are no side-effects, I have no issues using it, especially when I compare it to using the condom which is not a method of choice for me,” says one interviewee, candidly, who believes that the couple are a team who should decide mutually and work in collaboration. Why then are men not comfortable when presented with this option, I asked. “A lot of times, it is the ego of us males that gets in the way of using contraception. But men should realize that the woman bears the child for nine months, breast feeds and takes care of the children – his children! If she can do that, why can’t he take a simple pill?” he answers, very evidently a more emancipated man, who again chose to stay unnamed.

Women, when asked, were excited about the idea. Somewhere, they felt that now the ball could be in the men’s court, and that the women would not have to be singly responsible for using contraceptives. Yet, they also expressed their apprehensions that their men could not be trusted to take the pill regularly. “If he skips it or lies about taking it, it is me who is going to end up pregnant yet again,” says an unnamed mother of four.

Journalist Sumaira Jajja whose focus is health and development feels introducing such a contraceptive in Pakistan is “a great idea but I don’t see it as an indicator of ‘Gender equality’. Gender sensitive maybe, given that any man willing to take this pill would have to be a man with a responsible attitude towards sex and contraception who would value his partner’s body as more than a ‘baby making machine’.

The idea of a side-effects-free male contraceptive is a promising one. It could cause a positive change in the status quo situation of Pakistan’s FP program. But for changing the status quo, it is the mindset that would have to be changed.

Taking Family Planning Religiously

Taking family planning religiously
While the voice from the pulpit carries a lot of weight, they will need to be convinced, informed and educated before their help is sought
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

“What do you think Islam says about Family Planning (FP)?”, I asked an urban, educated friend. Her response was as expected. “Isn’t FP a complete no-no in Islam?” she replied, a mother of two, whose two children have a carefully planned age difference of four years and who has been using an Intra-Uterine Device (IUD) for a long time as a method of contraception. A staunch Muslim, she believes FP is not allowed in Islam, yet is practicing it for years, and has not bothered to delve into the subject, avoiding tricky subjects.

As we approach the World Population Day on the 11th of July, the topic of understanding FP via religious rulings remains taboo. A fatalistic approach and a misfounded assumption that Islam is categorically against FP remains a key reason why Pakistan is sitting on a ticking time bomb of a population explosion. It also remains an under-discussed area in both print and electronic media.

“Today Pakistani population is five times as large as it was in 1950 and about 4 million people are added to it every year,” said Dr John Bongaarts of the Population Council, New York, at a recent seminar arranged by the Population Council in Pakistan. “By 2050, the population in the country is expected to reach 300 million.” If it hits that number, Pakistan would become the fourth largest country in the world. It has already replaced Brazil as the world’s fifth largest nation.

Generally, world over, a reduction in fertility rates and population growth has been seen, but Pakistan’s has increased. Pakistan’s total fertility rate (TFR: the number of live births the average woman has in her lifetime) is reported by the UN to be 3.2, the highest of any of the populous countries.

Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2007 (PDHS) reveals that only 24 percent of married women of rural Pakistan use contraception. Could religion have something to do with it?

This July, world leaders gather in London for a Family Planning Summit, co-hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.K. Department for International Development, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. Fund for Population Action. Will the role of religious and cultural sensibilities be discussed there, one wonders.

In strongly faith-oriented societies such as Pakistan, unless something is endorsed by the clergy, meeting the development goals may be too far-fetched. As the bigwigs of family planning rack their brains over how to control Pakistan’s population, an important point might be being missed. The implications of an absence of national consensus-building with religious leaders on board may be a key reason. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation, also THE most populous Muslim country in the world, seems to have discovered this key and unlocked the answers. The result: Indonesia today is known as the “poster child” among countries aiming to slow down their growth rate. This is an incredible achievement, considering that Indonesia is a country with an almost 90 percent Muslim population, accounting for 13 percent of the world’s Muslim population. Studies show that Indonesia’s fertility rate at the 1965 level was averagely 5.6 children per woman. By incorporating a community-based family planning and reproductive health program, Indonesia has been able to slow down the TFR to an exemplary 2.6. How has Indonesia managed this?

The answer could lie in the fact BkkbN, Indonesia’s population and family planning board, employed the ingenious method of approaching the leaders of the two largest Muslim welfare groups in Indonesia: Muhammadiyah and the Nahdlatul Ulama, who have millions of followers. Both are traditionalist Islamic groups, yet with the government have achieved a consensus that they will work hand-in-hand for the welfare of the country. In line with true Islamic teachings, they work towards spiritual, emotional, physical and material well-being of their people. Taking health and education into their loop, it was but logical that reproductive health and FP are included in their program.

Dr. Atikah Zaki, the health and social coordinator of Asyiyah, the women’s branch of Muhammadiyah, adorns a hijaab. She is a practicing Muslim woman, unapologetic about her faith and evangelism. Simultaneously, she is also unapologetic about the fact that her organization promotes family well-being and family planning. Asyiyah promotes family planning through a network of 86 hospitals, hundreds of clinics, 87 universities and over 4,000 schools. Their local leaders counsel people about reproductive health issues, mediate disputes between couples and even address sensitive subjects like domestic violence. “We are just obeying the Prophet Mohammed,” said Zaki with a smile, explaining the concept of FP in Islam, quoting from the Quran and ahadith of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) at the recent Women’s Edition Seminar for female journalists, held at Jakarta.

Islam, and other religions for that matter, are not against contraception in totality. If the Quranic injunction on breastfeeding the child for two years is adhered to, it would automatically result in “lactational amenorrhea” which would result in spacing between children.

A major body of Islamic scholars, globally, agrees that in Islam, temporary and reversible methods of contraception are allowed. But contraception practiced with an aim to have a permanently childless marriage would not be permissible. Abortion is not permissible, and especially after a 120 days period has lapsed in the pregnancy, it is categorically forbidden because life is sacred. Temporary contraceptive methods that do not harm the health of the mother, and natural methods like Coitus Interruptus (withdrawal) and the Rhythm method that relies on knowledge of a woman’s ovulation cycle in order to avoid pregnancy, are preferred and allowed.

Relaying public health messages across to the population of Pakistan would become easier if they came through Imams of local mosques. But the religious leadership, human rights’ activists and health experts should work unanimously towards this goal. This requires dialogue and an understanding of each other’s view points.

Talking about the Pakistani society and involving clergy in realisation of the FP goals, journalist Zofeen Ebrahim says, “While the voice from the pulpit carries a lot of weight, they will need to be convinced, informed and educated before their help is sought, otherwise all the work towards it will come to naught. Not much time and we have to make up for the lost time. Therefore, everyone needs to be involved and taken on board.”

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2012-weekly/nos-08-07-2012/pol1.htm#4

 

 

Breathe in Bali

Breathe in Bali
An island where your inner
pace slows down and peace trickles in
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

From the moment I found out that I would be travelling to Indonesia for a journalism fellowship, I knew that work and pleasure had to be combined. Anticipation of a visit to Bali Dwipa Jaya (‘Glorious Bali Island’ in Kawi language) started to build up. I googled it. I asked friends who had been to Bali. I saw images of spectacular beaches and intricate art — things that define Bali.

But nothing had prepared me for the experience Bali was.

Pleasure is quite an insipid word to describe Bali, really.

The flight from Jakarta to Bali, close to two hours in duration, reminded me of the flight from Islamabad to Skardu because of the breathtaking scenic views one could see from the window. But here, it was not glaciers. It was volcanoes. Beautiful, high, majestic. Gaping craters with very obvious molten matter inside. Mostly quiet but not inactive. A silent, mysterious, potential danger, yet beautiful.

At Denpasar International Airport, the first whiff of Bali touches you as you see a sparkling ocean on both sides of the runway as you touch down. You step out of the flight without a fancy airconditioned jet bridge. This is not the Jakarta Airport — big, high-tech, contemporary and modern. Bali’s airport is a bit rustic. A bit run-down in a charming way. More character and less material investment. It sets the pace for Bali.

Everyone you will bump into has left behind a lot of baggage — the fast-pace of the city, some troubles and woes, the pressures of society and peers, the stress of staying on top of the game, some unfinished business, a rattled relationship. You and everyone else has left behind all of that and is in Bali for some rejuvenation, some detox, some refreshment, a little escape that gives you enough energy to go back and say to life: “In your face, because I’ve just been to Bali”.

One of Indonesia’s 33 provinces, Bali is one of the country’s 6000 inhabited islands. Yet, none of the archipelago’s 17500 (estimated) islands has gained the romantic popularity Bali has. One of the world’s top-most tourist destinations, it attracts not hundreds or thousands but millions of foreign tourists each year. Many things make it worthy of this.

Scenic, green, full of beaches and volcanoes and rice-terracing areas and temples. And people with very distinct unique faces. A photography buff, Bali had me clicking non-stop.

Amiable, friendly locals are a huge reason, who are very used to tourists and therefore they are social, not camera-shy and willing to become your guides. It is besides the point that they have also learnt to charge for their friendliness. Caretakers in a temple I visited next to Ubud charmed us without either party understanding each other’s language. They garlanded us, smiled their ways into our hearts, but also at the end made it clear that in life, everything has a price! You will find a certain street-smart third-world sensibility in Bali. But somehow, unless you get conned, it is not very offensive due to the general feel-good nature of the island.

Perhaps the biggest magnet Bali has is its heavenly beaches and wicked surf. You know that when you see the conveyor belts where you claim your baggage full of surfboards avid surfers have carried back from home. Seeing those waves in action is believing! Reports of ten foot plus swells attract surfers. Combine that with pristine beaches, coral reefs and every water sport in the world. Bali is unomissible. While most wave hunters go to the Kuta beach area to witness the surfs and indulge in water sports, Kuta’s crowded popularity may be a slight put off. Thus, me and my daughter ended up in a pristine, quiet part of Bali called Serangan to have some water fun. It was not just the parasailing, jet skiing and other sports that we enjoyed in Serangan.

Also known as the Turtle Area, Serangan has a pretty beach. But to me, the moments I sat there on the beach staring quietly at Mount Agung in the distance was one of the most powerful moments. Mount Agung, the stratovolcano, is the highest point on the island. It last erupted in 1963 and is still active.

The Balinese market Bali well, and so an unexplainable thrill accompanies the lunches or dinners you can have close to volcanoes.

Talking of rush versus serenity, crowd versus relative solitude and a slower pace versus a faster one, I preferred the latter of all of the above three, and chose a quieter area on the recommendation of some of my Indonesian friends. Sanur was my pick, which I never regretted. A mature beach town, it is a slightly upscale resort area, lined with darling little villas besides hotels and resorts. Besides a great beach, spas, cycling and motor biking rentals, it was the nightlife of Sanur that was a pleasant surprise. Not discotheques but in European essence a lot of Continental eateries and cafes, with live music in almost all of them. Shops line Sanur, full of local handicrafts like batik, woodwork, sculptures, metalwork and souvenirs that are must-haves like my daughter’s straw hat or my own “I Love Bali” tee and flip-flops.

But for me, the pièce de résistance was Ubud. My friend from Cambodia had coaxed me into promising to myself that I would travel to Ubud. “You will thank me, Farahnaz,” she had said. As she reads this, I want her to know I cannot thank her enough. While it was already on my list thanks to the book “Eat, Pray, Love” (don’t care much for the movie) as the “Love” part of the book is based in Ubud, it surpassed expectations. Situated at the north of Denpasar, this is the island’s cultural centre where you can see the strongest artistic influence of the 92.9 per cent Balinese Hindu population of Bali.

The drive to Ubud should be relished bit by bit, because on way you will find real Bali!

Silver and gold jewellery smiths and factories, small and big batik making concerns, art galleries by the hundreds, all on way. But it is the handmade stone-carvings on houses and temples that take your breath away. Labours of painstaking love, it seems that for hours you walk or drive through an art museum, with every local Balinese a curator who knows not just the art but the history behind each piece.

Once you reach Ubud, the abundance of European-style cafes remind you of those on the pebbled streets of Paris, for rarely will you find so many of them in one place. Shops of the most attractive rustic and indigenous pieces of art and craft lure you. It is in Ubud that I understood why they call Bali the “Island of Love”. With romance in the air, sit somewhere and sip the world’s most expensive “Kopi Luwak” or Civet Coffee (the beans of which are processed, yes, in the digestive tract of the civet!) and breathe in Bali.

 http://jang.com.pk/thenews/jul2012-weekly/nos-08-07-2012/foo.htm#1