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Monthly Archives: December 2012

We should tell stories. We should all listen to stories–and read them too.

Right now [after reading about the death of the Delhi gangrape student], my grief is a strange object. It has no beginning and it has no end. I don’t know where do I begin understanding it? In my mind, I am apologising repeatedly and then, I stop myself to ask a few questions: Who am I apologising to? Why am I apologising? What must I do post-apology?

I hate these questions because they make me uncomfortable. I don’t like listening to questions whose answers I don’t have. This is exactly why we should making story-telling a part of us.

Stories need to be told. To move people, to make them chuckle, to make them sit up in delight, to make them uncomfortable, to make them question their life as an outsider might do. This is what token heroes do.

I have always disliked the idea of token heroes that our society and media create. Whether it is in the Iranian revolution or the Arab Spring (among many others), I always thought that the token heroes (although unintentional on their part) appear to be the first victims–which they are not. To channel sympathies to one victim also seems unfair when there are hundreds of thousands of people suffering, and many before them who have suffered a tragic end.

I now realise that they are a symbol of a larger issue; they are not necessarily the ONLY story but their narrative is, nevertheless, important. It makes us explore and to understand deeper. I’m not a fan of the concept of token heroes but they do serve an important purpose. What so many rapes did not do, this one has done. She has played her role and now she has gone. The silence is now uncomfortable because we are left with endless questions: how will we cope/deal with what she has left behind? Are we going to pay this narrative forward? Or will we bury these questions in the rubble of many stories in our mind?

We all love stories but we cannot handle an ending that we dislike; an ending that doesn’t meet our hopes and expectations.

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The Mister and I prayed Asr wih congregation at Al-Aqsa mosque. The first-ever in our generations to do so.

After Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah, this is the third holiest place for Muslims. The Arab-Israeli conflict has rendered this place as something of a dream, an item on a bucketlist that has a higher probablity of NOT happening. So I feel tremendously blessed to be able to pray here.

For all of you who have not and cannot be here, these images are for you. Please share it among friends and relatives; I find it very moving to see examples of a glorious Muslim history and the feel at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock is the same. I’ll explain more:

From the Western Wall Observation Point, the first sight that catches your eye is the stunning Dome of the Rock. It’s golden dome (which is aluminium + gold) glistens gracefully in the sun and you find yourself standing (for real) in all the numerous postcard images you have seen over the years.

The golden dome is that of Dome of the Rock (and NOT Al Aqsa Mosque, as is sometimes mistaken to be). On the right most is Al Aqsa Mosque, in the centre is the Western ‘Wailing’ Wall and on the left is Dome of the Rock. 

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This is the place to perform Wodhu (Ablution), a place where Muslims clean their hands, arms, face and feet before prayers.
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Perhaps it might be different on a Friday when the crowds are huge but we had the chance to visit and pray during the week. Having been to Saudi Arabia twice, I was mentally prepared to be whisked off to another gate, another partitioned space where women will be huddled together whereas the men had most of the space to themselves. Surprisingly, men and women entered the mosque from the same gate and after prayers, I sat with my husband in the mosque in prayer (making Dua’). It was such a beautiful feeling.
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As we enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, this majestic view greeted us.
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This is the spectacular dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque:
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A close-up of the dome:
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Every inch of this mosque’s interior reminded me of the glory of Islam–the architecture, the calligraphy, the art, which is sadly divorced from religion these days. Beautiful calligraphy on Al-Aqsa’s walls:
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There were many ceiling designs, this is one of them:
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Al Aqsa Mosque was destroyed many times–sometimes by earthquakes, fire and sometimes by war. The structure has been re-built from its original one. But the Dome of the Rock has been intact and survived all these calamities!

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A close-up:
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Elaborate, beautiful and exquisite.
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This is a seperate room on the side in Al-Aqsa Mosque which is also referred to as the Omar bin-Al Khattab Mosque. This is the room where he had prayed (among the other spots) in Jerusalem.
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When we stepped outside, we looked straight ahead to this view. The Dome of the Rock inviting us inside. According to our tour guide, there is 80kg of gold in the dome of the Dome of the Rock, which was donated by Hafez Al Assad of Syria.
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Inside the Dome of the Rock.
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Again, the no-segregation policy. We were free to pray and worship where we wanted.
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This will be a beautiful and grateful memory forever. I don’t want these to be a reminder to what is off-limits to many. I want this to be a reminder of the wondrous years we have left behind. In beauty, there is God and how many beautiful things/acts/spaces are we leaving behind for the future generations?

 

By now, I should have been back from Jerusalem.

 

[PS: Yes, we are back. But you can read on anyways.]

It was the first time ever that I was to set foot on that soil. I am writing this in advance to satisfy all those people who think that we would not return.

For Tauqeer and I, this trip is incredibly special, not only because it marks an item off my bucket list (which I haven’t fully compiled till now) but it also gives us the chance to interact with many types of people who we couldn’t have thought of before. Any other trip to Jerusalem wouldn’t be the same without the valuable lessons and learnings we are to take from the people.

When we talk about the unknown, fear becomes a constant companion. There have been many ‘advising’ us not to go; many emotional blackmails, many who did not even want to consider this as an opportunity because they stopped thinking when we said ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Israel’ or ‘Palestine’.

One of the most important things I have learnt in life is to value a rare opportunity. To take this opportunity is not easy–it comes with fights and sacrifices. It has happened before and I was expecting it to happen now.

I am excited for what Jerusalem will be like. I feel it will be a life-changing experience–something that will teach us a new way of looking at life. I want to feel grateful and humble. Also: why are we so privileged as to not experience the uncertainty of the people who live in that area? We have such deep fear to live someone else’s reality.

I am timing this post for a day after we should land. If for whatever unfortunate reason, we don’t, then I just want you to know that I didn’t have any premonition, dream or inkling of what will lie before us. I am going there with an open mind; I want to be known in our future generation as someone who took the step towards knowledge instead of someone up who gave up as a rotten vegetable.

No, if I wouldn’t have gone to Jerusalem, this would have happened to me anyways. We believe in fate and we believe in Allah and we tell everyone: “This was destined, what can you do?” So why don’t we believe it when it comes to us?

Whatever happens, I am happy. I have the best family and the kindest soulmate.

 

There is much wisdom in death. You have four choices:

1. Deal with death

2. Remain in denial

3. Choose to be indifferent

4. Celebrate it

Sometimes I feel that Points 2 and 3 could overlap or that, Point 3 occurs because of Point 2.

I’ve learnt over the years that death comes with an entire new set of teachings. We are so scared of it and mostly live in this ignorant notion that it usually happens to others and rarely, to us. Perhaps that is why it hits us hard when we have to deal with it.

We also don’t seem to encourage a culture which faces death and the questions it brings. There are two deaths which have been defining moments in my life. When I look back, I don’t think that my life would have been the same if those two deaths didn’t happen. 

I lost my grandmother when I was 12. I wasn’t even told about it because I was a ‘child’ but it didn’t take me long to figure it out when you knew that the day didn’t go on as usual.

Ten years later, I dealt with another, unexpected death; that of my uncle’s. All of a sudden, I felt that I was dealing with not one, but two deaths. I constantly looked for ‘closure’ which was an idea sold to me by many over the years.

Today, it is exactly seven years since his death and I am beginning to see a new wisdom emerge from his memory. Their death anniversaries are only a week apart from each other.

With death, we must allow ourselves the mourning. It is alright to cry and perhaps, to admit how you feel that moment will change your life. Sometimes you feel that your life simply cannot continue and that, you must stop. 

One of the toughest teachings comes not from those three days of mourning post-death but it comes from those days where people assume that your life has returned to normalcy but you try to cope with that VERY strange feeling of continuing your life, carrying a void with your everyday–in place of that person’s presence. For months, I could not stop thinking that those were the roads where he was driving his car less than two days back, a week back, a month back, a year back…

Then, you learn a skill: to stop your heart from going mad. To reign your feelings.

I had thought that by visiting his grave, I will find closure. So, I did. Except, when I was in the graveyard, I felt so uneasy that I ran back into my car. I did not feel that he was there. So, I learnt another new lesson that day: look for people in the places/things that made them happy; they continue to live there.

Death is like the soft sand that has escaped from our fist. The sooner we stop fighting it, the better it is for us. I know that in some cultures, they celebrate death by laughing, dancing and narrating stories of the dead person. I am not sure if I can do that even now. But I found a way to deal with death and in my own way, I have learnt that the only way to deal with death is not to find a closure (because it doesn’t exist) but to find a way of resurrecting them again.

This year, on my grandmother’s anniversary, I realised that the best way to keep someone alive is in their good work–to do things that they did, that made you happy. To keep their legacy alive in the goodness of what they had given you. She was known for her generosity and I still admire how her door was open to everyone. The hustle-bustle of the house, the foods being cooked, the beggars being served food, the sea of footwear outside her room where half the neighbourhood gathered to watch television–this is what I want to keep alive. It is also the reason why I love inviting friends at home for meals instead of meeting them at a cafe or restaurant.

So, this year, with much peace and acceptance in my heart, I have learnt that people die when you stop living their goodness and appreciating it. Death is metaphysical more than physical. On this day and every day of the year, I live their generosity and kindness. This way, they continue to live and death anniversaries stop haunting me forever.

Thank you for the teachings.