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So much happening!

Phew! There’s simply sooo much happening that I might just run out of blog space but not out of stuff to write. Sounds like a hyperbole? Well of course it is! But still, that still leaves me loads to key about. However, deadlines loom ominously as the end of the academic term nears and there are still piles and piles of answer papers to evaluate. Sigh. That means all I can possibly squeeze in here are a few random lines. Nevertheless, here they are:

What I did want to blog about was my birthday πŸ˜€ (Woohoo!) Actually more than that, about this amazing restaurant that hubby took me out for. It’s called ‘Sigree’ and it’s got some scrumptious barbecues! Unlimited juicy kebabs and an in-built ‘Sigree’ (or barbecue fire) on each table! Sounds hot? Well it sure was! Your kebabs can never get cold as you dig into one charcoaled delight to another! Umm yummm! More on this later if I can find the time.

But that’s not the crux of this blog entry, really. What is even more interesting than drippy chicken delicacies is attending Dr. zakir Naik‘s lecture LIVE at the Azam Campus grounds. For the uninitiated, Dr. Naik is a world renowned scholar on comparitive religion and can quote verbatim from the religious texts of almost all major religions of the world. And not just quote, he will give you, on the spot, without a sneak into any notes, the book number, chapter number and even verse number of the quotation he is discussing! Mashalah! It’s amazing to watch him give word to word references from the Bible, the Vedas, the Old Testament and so many more scriptures! You should have seen the crowds! Tens of thousands of people of all faiths have been thronging the Azam Campus grounds since yesterday to come listen to him and even more are expected tomorrow as he speaks on a topic the entire world would want some insights into: ‘Is terrorism the inheritance of Muslims?’ (Kya aatankwaad Musalmanon ki virasat hai?) Three people from the audience actually stood up and proclaimed Shahada (bearing witness to the oneness of Allah and to the Prophethood of Mohammed PBUH)! Mashallah!

You can watch tomorrow’s lecture LIVE on his Peace TV channel if you get it on your satellite connection. With affiliations to world famous Islamic scholars like Bilal Philips, Yusuf Estes and several more, his discussions on religion are something no intellectual would want to miss. Well, how can you refuse such engaging dialogs, even if you do not concur with the ideology of Islam? The process of inquiry is invigorating in itself.

Well, I for one will try to leave a little earlier for tomorrow’s lecture. I want the front seats and I know they aren’t easy to get. πŸ™‚

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Munira’s Notes

My teacher and now colleague Munira has a sense of humor that reverbates with deep irony. Pune is not in the best of spirits right now, what with the sudden negative media attention and all that. While I agree with her in condemning ALL acts of terrorism, I couldn’t help but laugh at her post on facebook-FACTS ARE CERTAINLY STRANGER THAN FICTION. There are still so many gaping holes in the whole ‘terror’ canvas and neither the police nor (surprisingly, dissappointingly) is the media is helping elucidate or clarify. Community based stereotypes flourish as usual while prejudice and yellow journalism rule the roost. Oh well. At least someone’s asking the right questions. Never mind the answers.

Our German guests

Teaching as a profession has some definite perks. Meeting new people being one of them. Last week, a group of young German tourists visited the our Azam Campus. They were unique tourists; they didn’t just want the Taj and all. They wanted to see the real India as much. Grassroot level. With the poor and the rural. And of course to study other spheres of the Indian experience: the education system, the status of women and the status of Muslim women. It was a group of around fifteen, mostly women, one Irish lady amongst them. They struck me as bright, well informed, articulate and affable. They wanted to meet some educated Muslim women I presume, and that is why Azam Campus for perhaps chosen.

A meeting was thus scheduled. And over tea and snacks we talked for about an hour and an a half on a million and a half issues. Here is a rough excerpt of what went between. The ‘questions’ were mostly from our guests and the answers from our group- lecturers of Abeda Inamdar Senior College.Β  I am not quoting anything verbatim of course, just an impressionistic account of what my memory delivers:

Question: How is it like being a Muslim woman in India?

Answer: Nothing particularly different. I wear the head scarf, I interact with non Muslims and they interact with us in just the way two normal human beings would perhaps interact! In short, it’s pretty nice and cordial, at least in urban India (and particularly in Azam Campus πŸ™‚ )

Question: Why do some of you don the Hijab and some of you don’t? Do you represent different ‘sects’?

Answer: Not really. The headscarf is more like a choice, no one forces you to wear it, you don it as and when you are ready for it, and we have Muslim women wearing all sorts of dresses and still being very much Muslim. (Personally, I differ on this issue a bit. Of course, there is no “compulsion in religion”. i.e. no one should really forcibly ‘impose’ a hijab, but that still does not mean that it is optional per se. The Quran states that women need to be modestly covered up, in something very much like the modern hijab)

Question: I see some women with even their faces covered up. I am sorry, but isn’t it insulting to the women’s body- to ask her to cover up only because there maybe some vulgar, hungry male passions evoked somewhere?

Answer: Islam has firm principles of modesty and chastity. The covering of the face is mostly viewed as optional by many jurists, meaning, you can decide if you want that to be covered or not, but if some one wants to willingly adopt that lifestyle, we cannot and should not come in their way. It’s difficult to understand this way of life, yes; it may even sound severely austere to you, but this is not your culture and it is understandable if you are baffled by it. However, you need to understand that we are comfortable in this culture, this is what we identify with. You may be offended if someone asks you to cover up, I would be deeply offended if someone asked me to ‘uncover’ up! You need to appreciate the other person’s perspective too.

Question: In Germany, the headscarf would be viewed with suspicion. Maybe not in India, but there it almost represents a fanatic attitude and there is a lot of debate whether it should be allowed in universities there.

Answer: My headscarf is like second skin to me. Telling me to take it off before going to college is akin to asking you to take off your clothes in the same situation! (Of course there might always be a human failing in each of us when we are lax or negligent at times about the covering of the head and all, but that’s another matter altogether!)

Question: What does the Quran say about the Hijab? Is it not compulsory? And do all girls take it voluntarily?

Answer: The Quran clearly states that the Hijab is compulsory. Not necessarily in the traditional Arab abaya form. It can be any loose outer covering. A Muslim woman in the West perhaps would wear just a loose shirt, or a coat; it can also be of varied subtle hues, not just black. And no, not all girls take it voluntarily. In some families it is highly recommended, in some there is emotional pressure and some are downright firm on it being worn by the women of the house. Sometimes there is a backfire. Girls leave their homes wearing the hijab and take it off when they come to college. But you have to remember-these parents who take such an autocratic attitude, would do so in just about any other matter as well-whether it is on the choice of career chosen by their children, the choice of person that marry, etc. It’s not simply religious enforcement.

Question: In Germany, women are paid far lesser than their male counterparts for the same job/career. It’s worse for women with young children and they have to make a choice between career or kids. How is it in India?

Answer: (Kind of surprised) We always thought you guys are way ahead of us in women’s liberation. In India, thankfully, no such discrimination exists. Not on paper at least! πŸ™‚ As for that choice, it’s quite similar even here. However, the easy availability of domestic help takes off an immense pressure off working moms’ shoulders.

Question: How do the male students respond to having a female Muslim teacher? (How do they react to this hierarchy of roles?)

Answer: Quite positively in fact. There are scores of male lectures working under our female vice principal and the equation has been nothing short of respect. Additionally, there are often instances of male students choosing a Muslim woman Professor as their research guide. The criteria is seldom of gender or religion but of the quality of work produced by the individual.

Question: Why aren’t Muslim women allowed to visit mosques?

Answer: That’s a misnomer actually. It’s basically only in India and Pakistan that such a sad reality exists. Even in the US (or in the Arab world) there is generally a separate provision made for female prayer areas. Maybe it is because of the large population and limited space allotted to mosques that the preference has been given to building male prayer areas. (Muslims have segregated praying areas) However, that is changing with mosques around the nation trying to make accommodation for women too. Besides, in the Holy mosques of Makkah and Madinah, both males and females pray in congregation.

Hmmmmm. The discussion went on and on and on and no one was really tiring of it. It was interesting,Β  intellectually stimulating and was a wonderful instance of culture exchange. Our guests were very sensitive (to the point of being even a little embarassed in asking their questions sometimes :)) Obviosly, the head scarf issue is quite a taboo subject there. They were glad there were people to talk things out and we on part were glad there were so many willing ears who would listen. (A sign of building inter-religious tolerance?)

They talked of a range of other issues too. Like gender equations in general, the way the education system worked and University procedures amongst others.Β  It all ended on a very satisfying (not to mention jovial note) and a little exchange of gifts. One of our guests was kind enough to give us picturesque hand made calendars withΒ  pictures of the German town Wursberg that he had clicked himself. And of course, the quintessential German motif- a CD of Beethoven. On our part, we gifted them hampers of copies of three Islamic books- ‘Understanding Islam’, ‘Fundamentals of Islam’ and the ‘Sweetness of Hijab’- all of which were recieved with enthusiasm. Alhamdulilah. I thank Allah for such an enriching experience. I hope to hear from our German guests again soon, Inshalah. πŸ™‚

Issues unsettled

I like my comfort zone. It’s kinda cozy in there. A place where you are at peace with yourself. No tough questions to answer. No thinking outside of the box. Just being.

It gets a little complacent in there I guess, but still, it’s easy!Β  And it’s never easy trading that luxury for an enquiring conscience. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? Why should it also the road for perdition then? You tell me.

Here is what I came across in Surah Al-Imran (The family of Imran) in the Quran. It raises some very obvious issues. And yet, we all feel so much better sweeping them under our carpets:

  • By no means shall ye attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which ye love; and whatever ye give, of truth God knoweth well (3:92)

(That’s saying something! How many times have we given away things that we had second thoughts about using ourselves; and then believed we had done a great act of philanthrophy? “Of that which ye love”- I have yet to reach the stage when I can give my newest, loveliest, prettiest dress away to someone else in charity. )

  • O ye who believe! Fear God as He should be feared; and die not except in a state of Islam. (3:102)

(“As He should be feared”- Do we fear him because we are too cowardly to own up our wrongs? Or because we are afraid of His punishment? Or because we love Him too much to ever cause Him any offence? The last reason would be ideal actually. I am afraid I don’t yet fit there either.)

  • And hold fast, all together, by the Rope which God (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor onΒ  you; for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love…(3:103)

(Hmm. This one’s tough. “The Rope” (the Quran) is more often than not forgotten. The idea of “holding fast” to it is still a distant reality. “Be not divided among yourselves”? Now lemme see. We are divided because of sects (Sunni, Shia, Bori, Ismaili), we are divided because of language (Me Arab, you ain’t), we are divided because of color (You mean he’s Black?), because of race, because of regional origins, because of whatever you can think of. Sigh. And yet we claim we follow the Quran.)

  • Let there arise out of you a band of people iniviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. (3:104)

(Oh boy! It gets harder here. I see someone doing something wrong and I let it be. Why? Because I am ashamed to correct them. What will they think! They will shun me! Call me a self imposed pontificator. And who am I kidding anyway? I am no saint myself. The moment I point out something to them, they will jump at me for my own failings. They will remind me of all the times I have been wrong, tell me that I dont have the right to tell them, ask me to mind my own business! I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, you know- take the mantle of being the moral police and all. I think I should just let them be. Or shouldn’t I?)

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why DO bad things happen to good people, really now? I mean it all seems pretty illogical sometimes, no? There are these folks who are so righteous and pious and generous and all, and they still don’t seem to have all they should. And then again, we have another type of folks-the bad and the ugly. Think corrupt politicians, terrorizing mafia dons and most of the rest of the world. They all seem to be very cosily set in life. Mirth, moolah, muck- they’ve got it all. So has God been unfair after all? For some people, that seems like a valid question. For others, there seems to be a valid answer-somewhere.

The above mentioned question had been playing on my mind for sometime now. God couldn’t possibly unfair, that much I knew, Alhamdulilah. But I still wanted an answer. It’s such a universally ubiquitous question. ‘Why does God behave the way he does?’ I recalled Milton with some sympathy. The scene must’ve been pretty bleak even back then. The poor chap wrote 9 books of Paradise Lost only to “justify the ways of God to men.” Man, the skeptic. Sigh.

So why do bad things happen to good people then? I pondered again. How do you define ‘bad’? Accidents? Penury? Sickness? Loss? Of loved ones, prized possessions, oppurtunities? Life’s tough, some say. And tougher for the ‘goody-goody’ folks. Hmmm. Perhaps.

May I be allowed to draw a little analogy here? Every nation requires a well maintained army. It’s crucial to national security, even when you are not in war. It’s a matter of being prepared. Being a soldier for the nation’s defense is a challenging job, but also one with great amount of honor and prestige attached. Yet, all the soldiers, especially the ones in training, have to lead an arduous lifestyle. I am not sure what kind of regimen they follow exactly, but I am sure of one thing-it’s tough. Tough as hell. In fact, quite a few army regimens across the globe have been categorized as “brutal”. Why? These young soldiers are apparently all good people; law abiding, patriotic citizens who are ready to give up their lives for the cause of the country. And yet bad things happen to them too. At least tough ones do. ‘That’s because the army heads want to test their endurance and toughen them up’, you may reason. Well, I take the same reason when it comes to God’s role in our hardships. Easier said than done, you say; and I agree with you wholly. There never comes a calamity in which we don’t exhibit at least some amount of despair. And that includes me. Objectivity is always the first casualty then. The bigger picture doesn’t matter, it’s just my overwhelmingly big problem that does. Oh well, that’s what makes us humans, doesn’t it?

I came across this verse in the Quran, in chapter 3, The Family of Imran (Surah Al-Imran, Verse 26):

Say: “O Allah. Lord of Power (And Rule), Thou givest power to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off power from whom Thou pleasest: Thou enduest with honour whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest: In Thy hand is all good. Verily, over all things Thou hast power.”

As one established commentator says, prosperity alone is not the criterion of honor. Allah has supreme authority over all things, and that includes wealth, wisdom, etc. The dispensation of these are his prerogative. The believer shouldn’t get flustered by the apparent disparity in their distribution.

The Hadeeth (traditions/sayings of the Prophet Muhammed PBUH) has much to console the striving soul too. Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) Allah’s Apostle said, “No calamity befalls a Muslim but that Allah expiates some of his sins because of it, even though it were the prick he receives from a thorn.” – Sahih Bukhari: Volume 7, Book 70, Number 544

Abu Yahya Suhaib bin Sinan (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “How wonderful is the case of a believer; there is good for him in everything and this applies only to a believer. If prosperity attends him, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him; and if adversity befalls him, he endures it patiently and that is good for him” (Sahih Muslim).

Seriously now, do I need to say anymore?


Life, again

Ah, the monsoons. How can you not love ’em? Especially if they are the Pune monsoons. The ‘not-sticky, not-relentlessly-rainy, not-hot-humid’ monsoons. Very unlike Mumbai, my former home town. In short, it’s heavenly. How else can you describe it? Cool breeze to caress your face. Fresh greens that dance lushly all over. Water that quenches the summer charred earth. Bulbuous clouds pregnant with soothing benedictions. Ah, it inspires poetry, all of it.

After an oppressive summer come glad tidings. What would we do if it weren’t for these cottony white messengers? Their beauty is alluring enough, but collocate them with a summer that threatens to dry up every water molecule in your body and you begin to appreciate Allah’s gifts even better. πŸ™‚ Sub-hanallah.

Here, a few verses of the Quran that talk about the rain; the first one in particular made me smile, I so identified: πŸ™‚

  • It is Allah Who sends the Winds, and they raise the Clouds: then does He spread them in the sky as He wills, and break them into fragments, until thou seest rain-drops issue from the midst thereof: then when He has made them reach such of his servants as He wills behold, they do rejoice!- Surah ar-Room(The Roman Empire), Chapter 30: Verse 48
  • And He it is Who sends the winds as heralds of glad tidings, going before His mercy, and We send down pure water from the sky,- That with it We may give life to a dead land, and slake the thirst of things We have created,- cattle and men in great numbers. – Surah al-Furqan (The Criterion), Chapter 25: Verses 48- 49
  • And We send down from the sky rain charted with blessing, and We produce therewith gardens and Grain for harvests – Surah Qaf, Chapter 50: Verse 9
  • (He) That sends down (from time to time) rain from the sky in due measure;- and We raise to life therewith a land that is dead; even so will ye be raised (from the dead) – Surah az-Zukhruf (Oranaments of Gold, Luxury) Chapter 43: Verse 11)

Ah, the monsoons. How can you not love ’em?

Why did he do this?