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Category Archives: Faith

Muslim denominations: Are you Shia or Sunni?

Published: November 4, 2014

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. PHOTO: FILE

It started quite early. I was seven-years-old. That’s when I first realised that there was something called a “Shia”, and people thought I was one; because in Pakistan, certain surnames are associated with being a Shia. ‘Zaidi’, one of them, sounds similar to the surname ‘Zahidi’, so I was and am often asked this question – “are you a Shia?”.

So I came home and asked my father, to which Abba replied in a very matter-of-factly that by faith, Shias and Sunnis are both Muslims. He explained to me that it’s like two brothers from the same family, we all love Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his family, and are still very sad about what happened to his grandson Imam Hussain (RA). He further explained, as best as he could to a seven-year-old, that we are from the sect called Sunnis.

At that age, it didn’t seem like a big issue. But as I grew older, I realised that it was indeed a big issue. The issue, basically, is what has caused sectarian and ethnic differences and cleansings and violence over centuries; the issue that has stained many with innocent blood; the issue is that we cannot accept someone different; the issue is of us versus them, of “the others”, this religion versus that, this sect versus that, this province versus that, this ethnicity versus that.

This is an overly simplistic analysis maybe. Or maybe not. We can go into the historical causes, but history will always be partial, lack objectivity and will literally be to each his own. So we have no sure way of knowing why Sunnis and Shias have remained daggers drawn.

Society conditions us in such a way that we have a hard time coming to terms with whoever differs from us, may it be in thought process, language, ethnicity or race, caste, creed and religion. Going against what the Holy Quran tells us to do, we don’t overlook the differences and don’t concentrate on the similarities – we do just the opposite.

I was blessed that I grew up as daughter of a father who, being a Sunni by belief, made sure that solidarity with Shias was order of the day. Abba and I spent countless tenths of Muharram talking about the history of Islam and of the Karbala massacre, with him telling me both sides of the story. He would tell me to not listen to music loudly or not do anything on that day that would hurt the sentiments of Shia neighbours or friends. And he made sure that I understand that differences in perspectives are “natural, because Allah has created each one of us differently, and our circumstances shape us. Therefore, give each other margin”. His words have stayed with me.

Sadly, many of us stereotype the others. Sometimes, you will catch one side whispering amongst themselves about the other. We are scandalised when the other group’s namaz is somewhat different, seemingly, or they break their fast in Ramazan slightly earlier or later. Same Allah, same Messenger (SAW), same Quran just doesn’t seem enough, and so we stereotype each other.

Polarisation between Shias and Sunnis has resulted in followers conveniently deciding to divide, amongst them, the companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

“So I am going with Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman (RA) and you go with ‘Ali, Imam Hassan, Imam Hussain (RA) and Prophet Muhammad (SAW) family. In my religious literature and talks, I will talk about Ayesha (RA) and you can talk about Fatima (RA). For guidance, I can look at the rulings of Abdullah bin Masood (RA) and you can choose Abdullah bin Abbas (RA).”

The worst form of reactionary psychology is then to hit where it hurts the most – disrespecting the ideas or the people the other group holds sacred. Thus, those who were closest to Allah get dragged in our tug of war – a war which makes no sense.

However, when it comes to Hajj or Umrah, both groups are peacefully praying in the same rows, embracing the differences and celebrating the commonalities. They are performing tawaaf of the same Holy Ka’abah, doing sa’ee together between Safa and Marwa, and praying from the same Holy book, though they may differ at times in how they interpret it. Why not carry the same acceptance with them outside the haram too, and say to each other from the heart “Assalamu’Aalaikum” (Peace be upon you)?

But that does not seem to work, and I don’t know why.

What I do know is that for the longest time, every year in Muharram, we pray that these days pass without any casualties. What I do know is that year after year, innocent lives are lost – in retaliation, in reaction. Hatred takes over peace. Anger takes over sanity. The real face of Islam gets blurred, ironically on these most special of days for Muslims.

There is very little we can do about it, except start looking inward, reflect where we let stereotypes rule us, and where we crossed a line and forgot that there is no compulsion in religion.

I am a Sunni, and I peacefully remain one by choice. But another human has an equal right to follow whatever path they want to. The followers of all faiths must feel secure and not be punished for what they believe in. Humanity, peace and the true message of Islam is bigger than these denominations.

When one starts questioning the rituals of Eidul Azha

Published: October 6, 2014

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. PHOTO: FILE

Eidul Azha in a rural set-up has jarring differences when compared to how we celebrate this Eid in cities. I live and celebrate my Eid in Karachi, but if I celebrate it in my ancestral village in Khairpur, Sindh, this is what would be different.

The animals would be much less expensive, much more readily available, and the sense of community in sharing the meat would be the focus. Less affluent neighbours and relatives will casually come to the house where an animal is sacrificed and ask candidly for a share of the meat. The ones giving it out will not look down on the ones asking for it. There are fewer formalities and lesser ego issues involved, something that urbane sensibilities take away.

But perhaps the best thing about celebrating this Eid in my village is that no one questions the ritual. In an urban, more “aware” world, we question everything. But when each religious ritual is questioned, its efficacy is doubted and its methodology is demeaned, we are actually getting ahead of ourselves. A classic example is what we here every year:

“Why not do away with this ritual of animal sacrifice?”

The reasons given are many. The fact that this ritual involves blood and “gore” and millions of poor animals end up losing their lives, and so the ritual is too violent. The fact that the stench, the organs, the blood (yes, the blood is a pet peeve) and the slaughter waste makes our entire cities abattoirs. And the most classic one is that the same money could be used to help the needy with their more urgent needs.

“Why not pay a poor child’s yearly school fee, rather than spending the same money on slaughtering a goat?”

The answers to above criticisms are quite simple, really.

The problem is not with so many animals being slaughtered, but with the fact that our cities in Pakistan are not equipped with the infrastructure to dispose the slaughter waste on this day, or any day actually. Our anger is misdirected at the ritual, whereas the problem lies with the lack of civic sense in our citizens in how they dispose the slaughter waste. Here, we stumble upon a bigger issue – the fact that being a good citizen that does not harm others is a basic tenet of Islam, but is sadly not seen as one. But just because people break traffic signals, we cannot stop using cars on streets. Similarly, the ritual cannot be done away with because of the fault of some.

The poor animals being slaughtered actually provide livelihood to millions of poor Pakistanis who wait eagerly for this Eid to sell off the cattle they have raised all year round. Try and explain to the shepherds who travel to Karachi from Tharparkar and to Lahore from villages in Rahimyar Khan that you think this ritual should be done away with. The reaction may surprise you.

What’s interesting is that most of the people criticising the ritual are avid meat-eaters all year round. It is not like they moved to being vegetarians and vegans. They love their ‘bong ki nihari’ and ‘mutton pulao’, but have a problem with this, giving reasons from environmental imbalance to being unkind towards nature.

The ritual is mandatory for those who can afford to sacrifice an animal. In today’s era of inflation, if a person can afford to spend on an animal’s sacrifice once a year, then that person can for sure spend on paying a child’s fee for school too. Why are the two things mutually exclusive? Why must I choose one?

But who are we kidding? The above given reasons, both for and against this ritual, are logical. And religion, worship, and most of all faith, cannot be explained by logic. Humans are innately selective in the logic they choose to strengthen what they already believe in.

Muslims, who unquestioningly carry on this ritual, or any ritual of faith, may have understood that salvation lies in trusting how the Mastermind has designed religion. He created us and He knows what works for us. Sitting and meditating is great but can never replace the five daily prayers. A nature hike may be great for your soul but can never have the effect that sa’ee between the perpetually overcrowded Safa and Marwa in the hot city of Makkah does. And if I spend money to help a needy (which I must, as charity is both a ritual and a purification exercise), it’s a great thing to do, but will not have the same effect as sacrificing an animal on this day.

In this act, I feel an affinity with that act of Prophet Ibrahim (AS). As someone who has genetic hemophobia and cannot stand the sight of blood, it’s not an easy ritual. But then, acts of love and leaps of faith never really are easy.  As mentioned in the Holy Quran, it is not the flesh or blood of animals that reaches Allah; it is your piety that reaches Him. The biggest part of piety is handing over one’s reigns to Allah, and saying, “You Know best”. Accepting one’s human limitations of understanding when compared with Divine wisdom – that, my friends, is the ultimate sacrifice.

Can I Give Charity to a Thief, a Prostitute or a Non-deserving Person During Ramadan?

 

By Farahnaz Zahidi

Published in Huff Post Religion on July 9, 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farahnaz-zahidi/can-i-give-charity-to-a-t_b_5553031.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

Pakistan is internationally known for many things. For the surge of extremism. For the footballs we supplied to the World Cup. For an often exaggerated emphasis on the “miseries” of its people. But it is lesser known for being one of the most charitable nations in the world. It is amazing how much the people of this country give and share. The sense of giving back to one’s community is deeply ingrained in our system. We give whether we are rich or poor. We share whether we ourselves have enough or not. If you are in Pakistan in Ramadan especially, on every signal you will be handed over boxes of dates and bottles of water. Outside homes, on sidewalks or in mosques, makeshift feasts await you. At a recent journalism moot in Mexico, a friend from South Africa nailed it when she said “I think it has a lot to do with how much Islam stresses charity.”

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN

This is true. We take the idea very seriously that charity washes away sins, wards off bad luck, wins us the pleasure of Allah and lands us in Paradise. In Ramadan, the reward, as per our belief, is multiplied into 70. So Ramadan is when all good causes like education, public health and food insecurity make enough money to last the next 11 months.

Yet, in the same country, I have witnessed communities waiting for hand-me-downs and food, with not a rupee of charity flowing towards them. The reason has been nothing but misplaced judgment.
More than once, my research as a journalist led me to the most infamous red light district in Pakistan. Heera Mandi, in Lahore, has since the time of Mughals housed courtesans, dancers and commercial sex workers. But time has been unkind to the people here. Today, most of them have moved away to better, more lucrative localities as escorts. What remains is a ghetto of very poor women, runaway or orphaned children and some scattered members of the marginalized transgender community. And no one wants to give charity to the people of Heera Mandi.

“We are dirty. We are in the filthy business. So no one gives us anything,” said a disgruntled 20 something sex worker when I visited. It was a Friday, the holy day of the week for Muslims. Incense burnt in her shoddy apartment to create an ambiance of purity. The woman had bathed and prayed that day. Ramadan was a few days away. “I wish someone would give me enough food or money that I can at least not have to do this work in Ramadan. I need a break, too to pray to God.”
On my return, I asked around if anyone wanted to donate for them. No one opted.

This attitude is not reserved for sex workers only, and not specific to Pakistan. Neither is this brand of judgment or ostracization specific to Muslims. A friend from Manchester shared that a project trying to collect donations for inmates in jails got a similar response. “They would say, ‘will our charity go towards feeding a killer or a thief?'”

For years, as both a student and teacher of Islamic Studies, I have wondered why we pass judgments on the ones we give charity to. Is their “good character” a pre-requisite to give them charity?

Thus, in giving, we place ourselves on a pedestal of piety. And this idea is not in synch with what the Qur’an endorses or what Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practically did.

There is a prophetic tradition narrated in the Saheeh Bukhari that tells us that there was once a man who decided that that very night he would give charity. Accordingly, he set out with his charity and gave it to a thief. The next day people began to say, ‘Last night a thief was given charity!’ So the man supplicated, ‘O Allah, to You belongs all the praise. I shall give some more charity again.’

Once again he set off with his charity and gave it to a prostitute. The next day people began talking, ‘Last night charity was given to a prostitute.’ So the man supplicated again, ‘O Allah, I praise You for enabling me to give charity to even a prostitute; I will give some more charity yet again.’

He set out again with his charity and this time put it in the hands of a rich man. The next day the people talked again, ‘Last night charity was given to a rich man.’ The man supplicated, ‘O Allah, all praise is Yours, I thank you for enabling me to give charity to a thief, a prostitute and to a rich man.’
Then, in a vision he was told, ‘The charity you gave to the thief might persuade him to stop stealing; your charity to the prostitute might persuade her give up her way of life. As for the rich man, he might learn a lesson from your charitable giving and start to spend from the Bounty that Allah has given him in charity.’

In the Battle of Badr between Muslims and the pagans of Mecca, the Muslim camp won and ended up with 70 prisoners of the pagans. These were people thirsty for their blood. But the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) exhorted the Muslims to treat the prisoners well. So much stress was placed on showing compassion that the captors would give the captives their own bread, even at the risk of going hungry themselves.

What I have learnt from the life of the Prophet (pbuh) is simple. That when I give, I give, without judging whether that person is deserving and pious, or not. It is not my place to do that. It is only God’s right to judge. Because my Merciful Lord continues to give me, whether I am deserving or not.

Making Arabic compulsory in Pakistan’s schools? Why?

By Farahnaz Zahidi

arabic
This will be a rewarding move if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. PHOTO: REUTERS

Arabic came into my life out of a desire to know and understand what was written in the Holy Quran. My curious, questioning mind needed answers and I now know that a one-on-one relationship with the Quran has the potential to alter my life forever.

Having lived that, I thank God repeatedly for being blessed with the understanding of Arabic. It is wonderful when you no longer have to rely on translations to understand your faith. Translations are a great starting point, but the Quran’s feel tends to get lost in translations.

You understand what it is saying when you read, say, translations by Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Yusuf Ali or Fateh Muhammad Jallandhari, but you lose out on the nuances and the delicate meanings.

You do not get to know that the word ‘Bushra’ means happiness that starts reflecting on one’s skin and that all Arabic words from the root letters ‘Jeem Noon Noon’ allude towards things that are not visible – things like Jannat (heaven), Jinn (creatures of the unseen world) and Junoon (trance or mania).

Understanding Arabic gave the five prayers more soul and the Ramazan taraweeh became a joy for me.

Another step forward was reading other Islamic literature sources in depth, like Sahih Bukhari and books about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). One relishes the sweetness of why the Prophet (pbuh) nick-named Hazrat Ali (ra) ‘Abu Turaab’ and the poems that Hassan ibn Thaabit (ra) wrote in defence of the Prophet (pbuh).

Even apart from Islamic literature, the richness of the Arabic language is undisputed. Knowing the language opens the door to the poetry of Ibn al Farid and the spiritual treatise of Ibn Qayyim al Jawzi.

I love visiting mosques and museums where Arabic inscriptions make sense to me now. The prefix ‘al’ no longer irks me.

I love the language.

I am unapologetic that as a Muslim, Arabic is not just another language for me. And yes, as a mother, I would love my daughter to also experience the same joy. The preface above is meant to clarify to the readers that I am neither anti-Arabic nor a person who does not value the possible advantages of learning the language.

The problem with compulsory Arabic

Having said that, I have misgivings about the recent statement by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Sardar Muhammad Yousuf, about making Arabic compulsory in primary schools.

More than what is being suggested in this proposal, it is the way that this is being done and the reasons being given, which have left many of us ambiguous about whether this will be a good move or not.

The minister’s statement that this will be a counter-terrorism and anti-sectarianism strategy seems more like an alibi.

Are we, arguably, saying that learning Arabic will fight certain tendencies?

Are all Arabic-speaking nations free of these challenges?

Sadly, many a times such turmoil and strife is evident in Arab-speaking nations.

Also, I have to wonder if knowing Arabic is actually the route to being better Muslims and better humans.

While there is no doubt that knowing the language of the Quran and hadith would bring us closer to a better understanding of Islam, it can be so only for those who choose to understand Islam via Arabic, and then try and act on the ethics that Islam has given us.

Teaching a language by force cannot be seen as a formula for producing a generation of better Muslims.

And fortunately, Pakistan does not have a dearth of Arabic teachers.

What will actually make this a rewarding move is if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. If they do use it correctly, it will indeed be a good move to introduce better ethics through religion.

There have been dissenting voices on the issue.

Some have jumped the gun and reacted a bit too strongly to the idea of making Arabic compulsory because for them Arabic is somehow the language of Saudi Arabia – of hardliners and extremists. They may have overlooked the fact that for a lot of people in this country, the move would be a welcome one – especially for parents who have a hard enough time meeting the demands of their children’s increasingly competitive study regimes and barely manage to make children learn the recitation of the Holy Quran, let alone its meaning.

In this light, for these parents who wish their children to learn Arabic, the ministry’s suggestion is a blessing. However, here is the inevitable ‘but’.

Undoubtedly, languages make us grow and soar. They have the power to unify and to liberate. But one cannot discount the fact that languages have been used, throughout human history, to strengthen imperialistic ambitions and designs. Each colonial power left its territorial mark in the form of stipulations about languages, and the languages were then used as tools of proselytising people into thinking in certain boxes.

One hopes this is not a means to making people think Islam is a monolithic entity and teaching Arabic will not end up conditioning students to look at Islam in a reductionist pattern of “I am right and everyone else is wrong”.

It would be important to know opinions of people whose children will be taught Arabic in schools and how they feel about this move. I would also need to know how and what exactly will be taught in Arabic; what will the curriculum look like and who are the teachers who are able enough to handle this important tool, because we, unfortunately, have not set for ourselves a good precedence when it comes to teachers for Islamiat.

So here is the thing.

This is one of those issues on which I have mixed feelings. My tilt is in favour of making more people, and more importantly more Muslims, learn the language of the Quran. But based on my experience as a Pakistani, I am forced to think about the possible hidden motives behind this proposal.

I do hope that there are no reasons for this but to make us grow into better humans and Muslims.

Let us wait and watch.

Wallahu A’alam

(And Allah Knows best).

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/20545/making-arabic-compulsory-in-pakistans-schools-why/

Are Pakistani women ready to go for Eid namaz?

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 8, 2013

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

Once upon a time, Ammi used to have a list of exciting chores ready for her girls when Eid day arrived. This was the drill: Abba and brothers go for Eid namaz, and while they are gone, we, the women, had to make taaza (fresh) sheer khorma, change bed linen and table cloths (it was some family ritual, I think), get ready, pray the short Eid namaz at home, and be happily ready for the guys to return and give us Eidi.

On Bari Eid (Eidul Azha), a slight modification would be to get ready after the meat was distributed and done with; however, the rest remained the same.

It was all lovely. I am thankful that my mother made sure Eid was splendidly exciting for our family, and that we didn’t spend Eid morning catching up on sleep.

Just one thing was sorely missing in these otherwise lovely, fun family mornings of this most important festival. Like a majority of Pakistani women, we never went for Eid namaz.

We, culturally, do not think about traditions; we just follow them. Often, we don’t even know why we are doing a certain thing. We just do it because everyone else does. And so for the longest time, I never really questioned why we celebrated Eid. The emphasis was on the festivity and celebration, not on why it was such a big deal, just like we prepare for months and years for the wedding, not the marriage. Somewhere, the essence dwindles away.

That’s what my Eid was like for a long time.

Years later, a friend randomly invited me to come along with her on Eid namaz.

I could not say no because I knew by then through authentic prophetic traditions that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) had in fact strongly advised women to go for Eid namaz and join in the collective prayers of the festival.

And so I went.

It wasn’t easy the first time, in all honesty. My daughter was still young and it was winter time. Dragging a little child out of bed, getting her and myself ready early on Eid morning when your body is already sleep-deprived after a month of interrupted sleep – it wasn’t easy. Also, till then my family wasn’t so convinced this was something very important, which meant I had to drive down myself and find a parking outside a crowded mosque. However, am I glad I went. Since that day, I have never missed the opportunity unless there’s been a serious reason.

I found out what men enjoy there and women miss out on. Raising your hands multiple times till your ears and saying “Allahu Akbar” reminds one of why we are celebrating Eid in the first place. It is a celebration of the fact that this past month, we may have inched closer to our Creator. We may have become better human beings; we may have been forgiven this Ramadan; we may be starting with a clean slate and for that, we thank God and rejoice.

Women who go for Eid namaz regularly know that it is not just a spiritual but also a wonderful social experience. The feeling of togetherness and of a community that is swiftly fading in our fast-paced lives is revived. We greet those we know and we greet those we don’t know, and we don’t really care who makes the first move. We congratulate each other and set out with our families after that to eat, meet, greet and enjoy the blessings God has showered on us.

If you take away the Eid namaz from Eid, there is honestly a sense of disconnect between Ramadan and the rest of the year, starting on Chand Raat. We have this 30-day crash course in connection with the Divine, in charity, in prayers and in goodness, and suddenly, we switch all of that off on Eid morning.

Interestingly, many Pakistani women who have been going for taraweeh throughout Ramadan do not go for Eid namaz. More intriguing is how the same women who regularly go for Eid prayers when abroad do not do so when back home in Pakistan.

While a small but increasing number of Pakistani women are going for Eid namaz to mosques, a majority still don’t. The reasons are predictable; for one, not many mosques have that arrangement. Organisers of mosques will be more open to women’s wings in mosques if more women want to go.

Another reason is simple laziness and time management skills that need improvement. Women who don’t want to miss Eid namaz still make the sheer khorma and still change the linen in a ritualistic manner, but they do it a day before. It also boils down to a lack of awareness about the fact that yes, women are supposed to say their Eid namaz too, just like the men.

Talking of the men – they are often not used to the idea. They don’t mind if their lady was outshopping on Chand Raat till midnight, but will raise their brows quizzically if she says “I want to go for Eid namaz”.

Maybe it’s time for the men to rethink; maybe it’s time Pakistani women head for Eid namaz in Pakistan.

If you are a woman and do decide to go for Eid namaz this time, here are some of the places it will be held at:

  • Faisal Mosque, Islamabad
  • Jamia Masjid DHA, Sector J, Masjid Chowk, Lahore
  • Khalid masjid, Cavalry grounds, Lahore
  • Imambargah Yathrab, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi (For Fiqh-e-Jafria)
  • Ayesha Masjid, Khayaban-e-Ittehad, Karachi
  • Masjid Saad bin Abi Waqqas, Phase 4, DHA, Karachi
  • Quran Academy masjid, Seaview, Karachi
  • Gulistan-e-Anis, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Sada bahaar lawn, off Shaheed-e-Millat road, Karachi
  • Masjid Bait-us-Salam, Commercial Avenue, phase 4, DHA, Karach

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18465/are-pakistani-women-ready-to-go-for-eid-namaz/

Waiting for the moon to shine

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: August 1, 2011

 

Last year, sometime after Ramazan, I was at the Jinnah International Airport, on my way to Lahore. In the boarding lounge, I saw a bearded gentleman with a soft stance, waiting to board his flight too. He looked familiar and he also looked apologetic. I suddenly realized that this was the most popular face of Pakistan’s Ruet-e-Hilal (Moon sighting) Committee.

People sitting and standing around me also recognized this religio-celeb, and nudged each other, commenting on him.

“Yahee to hai jis kee wajha se Eid ka chaand raat ke gyara bej nazar aate ha.”

(He is the one because of whom the Eid moon is sighted at eleven in the night.)

“Inn ka jab dil chahta hai Eid kar dete hain, aur jub dil chahta hai tees rozay karwa dete hain”

(Whenever he wants, it’s Eid and whenever he wants, there are 30 fasts in the month of Ramadan).

And these were some of the more polite comments.

It seemed strange to me that the gentleman was being blamed for something he had no control over – and for a decision that is not unilaterally made by him. The decision is made by respected and renowned Islamic scholars, media personnel, meteorologists and telescopes on board.

But this happens every year, doesn’t it?

We dispute on dinner tables and we argue at work places over this issue.  It’s ironic how, Ramazan, the month of peace and tolerance and serenity,  begins with relentless bickering over the issue of whether the entire Muslim Ummah should “unite” by celebrating the advent of Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and then Zul-Hajj and Eid-ul-Adha on the same days as Saudi Arabia or not.

Then there is the issue of whether scientific equipment should be relied upon, and the question of whether moon sighting should totally be done away with or not. And then follows the mockery of how the moon’s been sighted in Peshawar and that discussions on how a nation can ever progress if they don’t even celebrate Eid on the same day.

This issue (or non-issue) is a classic example of how the gulf between extremes is widening.

Fundamentalism and liberalism, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin and are coming from the same place. This widening  gulf results in polarization where no single group or party is willing to listen, understand and tolerate the opinion of the other.

Those who follow the moon sighting ritual are upset at the “modern” citizens who have given it up. The other side is forever squabbling about how this ritual is  responsible for pushing back the Muslims in time by about 1400 years.

Why, simply, can both views not co-exist in harmony?

Opening Facebook at the advent of Ramazan is interesting to say the least. An assortment of sarcastic retorts awaits in the form of status updates.

While they start with Ramazan Mubarak wishes, they inevitably end up commenting on this issue. I am concerned about the motive behind these comments.

What leads to the derision of each other’s viewpoint?

Is it a simple difference of opinion, which would be completely understandable? Or the inconvenience of not knowing it is Eid till the last moment?

Or is it peer pressure from the rest of the world which makes Muslims a tad bit apologetic (as usual) and wonder why their religious festivals are devoid of a semblance of discipline and is celebrated on not one but different days?

The latter two, to me, are not good reasons.

As a boring pacifist, my take on the issue is pretty simple. I am happy for both groups so long as they don’t disrespect the other’s viewpoint and don’t display a lack of tolerance. That does not mean I don’t have a very clear viewpoint of my own.

I rather enjoy not knowing till the end whether it is Ramazan or Eid the next day, or not.

I would not give up for anything the joy of rushing to the roof with my daughter, in anticipation and excitement, and reciting the supplication the Holy Prophet (pbuh) used to recite when he saw the moon. The sliver-like crescent that flashes a smile, informs us that it’s time to gear up for the spiritual detox month, and vanishes.

To me, this is actually a ritual that unites followers of a single faith beyond political boundaries. When a Muslim in Indian Punjab and a Muslim in Pakistan’s Punjab fast and celebrate Eid on the same day. But if some of my friends subscribe to another viewpoint, I will wish them a blessed Ramazan sans sarcasm and judgment. A Ramazan of worship, connection with Allah, forgiveness, mercy, sharing, charity and joy.

Enjoy Ramazan. Peace be upon you.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/7290/waiting-for-the-moon-to-the-shine/

Ramazan diaries – From Makkah and Medinah

By Farahnaz Zahidi Published: July 31, 2013

The millions are just tiny specks of people trying to get closer to the Ka’aba. PHOTO: REUTERS

Sitting in a lounge for the privileged, waiting to board a flight to Dubai and then another from there to Jeddah, I find myself texting away. I have a million things on my mind. I have a life.

Four hours later…

I’m at the Dubai airport, about to board a flight to Jeddah; the only words on my lips are:

Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik

(I am here, my Allah (SWT). I am present.)

Prior to my flight, concerned friends had been warning me about a viral infection that is widespread in Makkah, and the unbelievable rush in Ramazan especially due to the underway expansion of the Masjid-ul-Haram.

“You should not have gone in Ramazan.”

I am going anyway. It is my ‘calling’. I have been called, right? He who has called me will manage.

A seven-day detox:

Paradigm shift within hours, change of heart within minutes, priorities falling into place within seconds – this is precisely what a visit to Makkah and Madina does to you.

Here I am, one amongst millions. It’s suddenly clear. I may be important in my comfort zone but here, I am just one of them. And the millions, from a bird’s eye view, are just tiny specks of black and white, men in white and women mostly in black, all scurrying to get closer to the Ka’aba.

When the props fall off and masks wear off, I have nothing to hide behind. I am as real as it gets. In hordes of people and thousands of heads, I am only searching for my family. Perspective becomes clearer.

I go around in a pair of chappals (slippers) that I wouldn’t even dare to wear at a grocery market in Karachi. I have no access to the internet, which means I have no way of succumbing to moments of vain indulgences where I tweet about my achievements. Most of my suitcase remains packed as is. I learn to survive on basics.

My DSLR camera rests in the hotel room. I’m lapping up images through the lens of my eyes and heart. And these images are not Photoshopped, nor Lighthoused. This is hardcore spirituality – a reconnection of souls with their Creator.

Each step of this ‘ritual’ as we like to call it has been carefully designed to help us grow and cleanse to the fullest.

Yet, they say ‘I believe in spiritual but not rituals’? Nothing makes the spirit evolve and soar like these rituals. They were designed by the One who created the souls, right?

I can feel my system being flushed out of anger, resentment, pride and negativity, if any. I am also not taking as many medicines as I usually do, apart from the occasional Panadol. Food is simpler. Walks are more. Squatting in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque with my family and extended family, life is beautiful – simpler. I am happy.

The funeral prayer:

A unique act of worship that women don’t get the opportunity to do usually is praying the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer). In Makkah and Madina, after each namaz, it would be called out:

“As-salaat ‘ala al-amwaat-i yarhamukumAllah”

(Prayer for that the dead [so that] Allah’s (SWT) mercy be upon you).

I selfishly join in. When my time comes, I want that many prayers for me.

Makkah the powerful; Medinah the soothing:

Makkah is intense, and comes on strong. Its landscape is dry; its people are strong and goodhearted but tough. How did my beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) manage to plant faith and compassion in the hearts of Makkah’s people? I wonder. But it was this very toughness that enabled the people of Makkah to give the sacrifices they did and endure oppression and migration.

Medinah will always have oasis in sight. Promising date palms give away the hospitality of the people of this city from a distance. The land of the Ansaar (the helpers). Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) chose to be here till his last day.

En route to Madina, the farms and farms of camels are a lovely sight – camels of all colours – fawn, brown, dark brown, white. Much like the diversity of people we meet in Makkah and Madina, they are all different, yet the same.

The clock tower makes me sad:

I am here after eight years. Taken aback by the sight of the humongous high rise structure in front of the first gate to the Ka’aba, this is my first meeting with the Makkah clock tower and the adjoining towering hotels. It looms higher than any of the minarets of the Haram. With millions of pilgrims visiting all year round, it is understandable that Makkah will need high-rise hotels. But so high and jarringly juxtaposed opposite the Haram? I cringe inside.

Without judging those who can afford and stay in these elite hotels just next to the Haram, the “towers” make me sad on another level too. Now, only the rich can afford to live right next to Haram. The poorer you are the farther you stay, the tougher it is for you to commute to the Masjid.

I prefer the earlier more eclectic mix of hotels all around the mosque, allowing both rich and poor to live close to it for the days they are there.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

Afternoon siestas:

Makkah’s relentless summer heat is at its peak in the afternoon. If you’re fasting, the body’s reservoir of energy that we get from food is depleting, and a sluggish wave of drowsiness engulfs you. You lie down on the carpets or on the marble floor of the Haram, depending on where you get place, and doze off with your eyes fixed on the Ka’aba. Bliss!

The world’s best “all-you-can-eat”:

Iftar in both the holy mosques of Makkah and Madina is a unique and beautiful experience. I am at the receiving end of charity. It is something I will probably never get to experience in my homeland. Around Asar namaz, one sees people competing with each other and talking to the organisers to allow them to distribute Iftar in a certain part of the mosque.

At Maghrib time beautiful children appear from nowhere, distributing a variety of dates, laban (butter milk), zamzam water, and traditional Arabic kahwa, delicately scented and instantly refreshing.

Boxes of traditional Arabic saffron-treated rice and roasted whole chicken, with dates and small packs of juice are the popular menu in Masjid-e-Nabawi. The hospitality of the people of Medinah is not overrated. No one goes hungry.

Photo: Farahnaz Zahidi

That moment

We all have our special moments. This time, I had my moment at Masjid-e-Nabawi on our last evening in Medinah. I had gone to pray at the Riazul Jannah (the place the Prophet (pbuh) called one of the gardens of paradise) and to offer Salam to my beloved Prophet (pbuh). It hit me where I was in that moment…and that I was going back home soon.

But there is so much I am taking back with me. When life pulls me down, I know now, more than ever, Who is there by my side, watching out for me – none other than my Allah, my Creator.

Published at : http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/18359/ramazan-in-makkah-reconnecting-with-my-merciful-creator/

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