Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tears in Gaza

150 are dead in the Gaza Strip, as I sip my latte. 200 are dead as i watch the evening news. Hundreds are wounded, as I eat my dinner. Remote distant, separated from the reality of their existence; insulated from their suffering by the euphemistic phrases in which their deaths are wrapped; "collateral damage" they call it.

I stand before my lord, tears rolling down my face. We are told in that famous hadith, ".. then change it (the oppression) with your heart, but that is the weakest of faith" . And so, unable at this point to do more than this we pray. As we make dua, I am shocked from my reverie. The Imam, a kind gentle man, supports a two state solution in Palestine; he believes an end to the suffering of the people immediately is better than ultimate justice many years down the line.

His voice is raw with emotion, the sound of crying evident to the Jamaat, "Oh Lord you can destroy entire nations in a single moment, Oh Lord as you destroyed the Ad and the Thamud, we call upon you to destroy Israel. Lord destroy the Jews. You have said that the day will come when the rocks and trees will call out to kill the Jews, let that day be soon; so that the suffering of these people may come to an end!"

People's emotions run high, I see one women cursing the tv when they show Olmert at a press conference. A janaza is planned for the slain Palestinians in Johannesburg (Sunday @ 3pm @ zoo lake, ladies facilities available). I'm struck first by grief, then guilt. My complicity, has allowed this to happen; our failure to be more vocal in condemning the actions of Israel. Or has it?

Pain and suffering is part and parcel of the world we live in. Why should the Palestinians be more worthy of our solidarity our pity than anyone else. The Kashmiri's have been occupied as long as them, the Chechens still suffer from an occupation even more brutal than Israel's and the Afghan's have not known peace for almost two generations. Taking a step back from our co-religionists, almost two million people have died in the DRC over the last decade, victims of Africa's first world war. Why such deafening silence from society at their plight?

I think that the tragedy of the Palestinians captures our imaginations because of four main reasons. Firstly, perhaps it is the sheer magnitude of their suffering. Over 4 million people displaced from their homes, two generations growing up in refugee camps. Secondly, the utter brutality of their suffering in particular the apartheid system that they are subjected to. Jimmy Carter, the former US president describes the Israeli regime is his book, Peace not Apartheid, as ‘worse than apartheid’: "When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa."

Thirdly and this is one of the main issues for Muslims, the issues surrounding Masjid al-Aqsa and the people of Shams. Finally, and this really is one that continues to astound people, that the perpetrators of these evils are Jews. From the people who suffered the horrors of the holocaust, it is inconceivable that they should inflict this suffering on others. That the cry of "Never Again" has become "Never Again shall Jews suffer", is an anathema to the free people around the world. This hypocrisy, this moral double dealing is the main cause of the revulsion of people from around the world.

And yet what can we do? What have our marches, our chanted slogans and consumer boycotts achieved? No progress has been made, their suffering yet to be alleviated. And so in the end, we are left with the only thing that we had to start with; faith, belief in God, trust that in the end justice will prevail. As we go to sleep tonight, remember the hadith of the prophet "The du’â of a Muslim for his brother (in Islam) in his absence is readily accepted. An angel is appointed to his side. Whenever he makes a beneficial du’â for his brother the appointed angel says, 'Aameen. And may you also be blessed with the same.’” [Sahih Muslim]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Cautionary Tale of Laila and Qais

Laila and Qais grew up next door to one another. Separated by a year, Qais's family moved in when he was just two years old. As young children do they grew up living in each other's houses. They played together as toddlers, games of "Cops and Robbers" and "Tea Parties" too.

As the years passed the two grew ever closer until they were virtually inseparable. By the time they reached high school they were much closer than any brother or sister; yet despite the urgings of mutual friends their relationship remained completely platonic.

Laila's beauty had had been apparent since she was a toddler but by the time she reached standard nine she had blossomed into a beautiful women. Despite being pursued by many young men she remained aloof until she began to be courted by Raees.

Raees, seemed to have it all, the scion of a prominent extremely wealthy family, he was also exceptionally handsome. His father an influential politician was grooming him to follow in his footsteps. Laila, wowed by the attention, fell for him hard. Qais, that firm friend of hers, wishing for her only the best, encouraged the blossoming romance. The idyllic life she imagined was illusory; one night after a romantic dinner he took her to a friend's apartment and attempted to rape her.

The trauma was unimaginable, the mental scarring seemed permanent. It probably would have been been without the support of Qais. On her journey through her own mental hell, he was with her every step of the way. Of course, the whole incident was hushed up, the police pressurised to lose the case. A few rumours bubbled around, but by and large, it was as if it never happened.

Three years later, Qais's mother was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. His father, always a hale, hearty man; seemed to collapse overnight. It took his mother four long years to die; his father almost an automaton the entire time. Only Laila's presence kept him sane as he tried to care for both his parents. They both somehow managed to finish their degrees during this tumultuous time.

Despite the hardships that they both faced; the two were a popular pair during their college years collecting friends by the dozen. At the urging of their many mutual friends they attempted a romance, it lasted almost a whole year before Laila broke it off.

"I don't think it's going to work" she said, to the stunned Qais. He slumped to the floor, "why?", he whispered. "It's not you it's me, i'm still not ready for this, for us". "I thought i'd fall madly, deeply, in love and it hasn't happened .. you know I love you as a friend - more than that almost like a brother. And we'l be best friends forever." The shocked Qais mutely nodded his head .. this abrupt end had left him speechless. "Don't be sad", she said stroking his head, "and certainly no crying", i'l still be here for you and you'l be here for me.. but as friends the way we used to be". Qais quiet acquiescence the product of his deep love for her, but more than that his desire to see her life filled with joy.

One short year later, their lives were forever changed, transformed by the arrival of Naeem. Witty, erudite, handsome and with a well paying job for a major corporation, he swept Laila off her feet. Within six months they were engaged, with the wedding set for six months later.

One week before the wedding, Laila called Qais, "we need to talk she said". Qais, his head spinning with the dozens of problems that could have emerged with a week to go before the wedding, agreed to meet her later that night for coffee. "Qais," she wept "I can't see you anymore". "What do you mean?", he asked, puzzled. "It's Naeem", she sobbed, "he feels threatened, by you. By the fact that we once had a romantic relationship". "But, but," Qais stammered "that ended, we ended it, almost two years ago now, how can he possibly feel threatened?". "I don't know Qais, but he threatened to leave, if I didn't agree to stop seeing you, to stop speaking to you, to stop being friends with you. And I like him, really I do; I want to marry him, spend my life with him. You want me to be happy don't you?".

"Of course I do", Qais breathing the words out. "You know, that all I want is happiness for you, that i'd give almost anything for your happiness". "So then?", she asked; "After the wedding, at which I will give you away, you won't see me again; Insh Allah, one day he'll come to his senses and realise that i'm no threat. But until then, I will abide by his wishes, so that you may know happiness." The words came from him, in one single exhalation, his upper lip trembling, his eyes, clouded over with tears, struggling to contain them. He rose from the table, "and now let me be off, before anyone should accuse us of some impropriety".

Many years have passed, Laila, in the terminal stages of cancer, wishes she could see Qais. The years have been good to her and Naeem, their marriage a happy one; their children, her beauty shining in them were themselves happily married. But still, she wished she could see her old friend once more, not that she knew where he was; despite the passing of the years, Naeem had never relented on the promise he had extracted from her almost fifty years ago.

Scant weeks have passed, the mourners slowly adding the last handfuls of sand to her grave; a wizened old man stands amongst the trees. "Oh Laila", he sighs; "how I wished that I may speak with you just once before we departed from this world". It begins to drizzle, as the mourners disperse, he slowly approaches the grave. "I think it's time for me to be with you again", he says as he stretches himself out and lies down, next to her grave.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Concerning Scrapbooking

Perhaps it's just me, growing ever more intolerant as i totter towards my dotage. Yet the sheer incomprehensibility and pointlessness of people is driving me insane. Or rather I suppose I should say South African Indian Muslims, because that's who they are by and large.

You see I heard about a former friend of mine, now married, and the futility of her new life just infuriated me. Not that I'm judging or anything or that I know what is best for her or for her marriage. What's infuriating me is that we have a society that not only condones these attitudes but actively encourages it.

How many highly educated, smart, driven women are out there - sitting wasting their time in trivial activities instead of ameliorating our society or our country. I mean really .. qualified doctors, scientists and journalists spending their time Scrapbooking?! Are we on the same planet here?

There exists a worldwide shortage of qualified professionals and we are wasting the talents of those precious few, our sanity should be questioned! I suppose this returns us to the heart of the debate around the role of Muslim women, particularly in the West.

It's an issue around which there is some furious debate. I'd like to add an important quote from Professor Abdus Salaam, the first Muslim Nobel Prize winner for science. He said "Of all the lands in the world, the most technologically backwards are the Muslim ones". He further went on to say that this can be attributed to the failure of Muslims to utilise the talents of women. It is a sentiment that I must whole-heartedly agree with. How can you hope to see Islam rise once again, to regain the lead it once held in Science and Technology when as Muslims we utilise only 50% of our resources. Logic alone tells you that this is surely a losing battle.

And yes, I do know and respect the opinions of the majority of the Ulema who say that the first task of a women is to raise her children. But what about those women who are childless, or have just gotten married yet do not intend to have children for a few more years. Why are they not out there using the intelligence given to them by Allah to improve the lives of those around them?

So to the women out there, whiling away their time, Scrapbooking. I implore you, stop wasting your time and talents and start becoming active, productive members of society!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stress Relief

Everyone always talks about the impact of stress in modern life. The impact of traffic jams - leading to road rage; or school bullying - turning you into a murderous psychopath.
The truth is though, that the things that affect you the most are the things that aren't modern, the bits and pieces of human life that have been integral in human life throughout history. And I mean history, not just the recorded bits, but the 1 million years since we became Homo Sapiens, and maybe even a little before that as well.

Mortality and health, or ill health as it may be, go hand in hand and have been contributing to stress since time immemorial. We just have to look a little deeper and see the truth, the traffic jams aren't just a waste of time. All that time spent sitting in a car breathing in Carbon Monoxide fumes and generally being couch potatoey.. are bad for your health. Those schoolyard bullies are not only damaging your chances of procreation, and thus preventing the fulfillment of that biological imperative, but they're probably assaulting you for fun as well!

So it comes as no surprise to me, that finding out i'm not dying any time soon would lead to a dramatic change in my fortunes. Extra energy and a generally cheerful demeanour, probably not seen since the 9th grade, are clear indications of the physical impacts of a shift in outlook. The impact thus of the mental self upon the physical is amazing. Of course this is also borne out by numerous scientific studies on such things as the placebo effect, showing that sick people who think they are going to get better, often do.

Personally i'm just grateful for this new lease on life!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

In Sickness and In Health

Isn't it weird, the way people appear to celebrate sickness and death. Let's be clear i'm not accusing anyone of being glad when people get sick or die, but the truth of the matter is that people's sickness or funerals have become these highly ritualised things whereby everyone visits the ill/deceased's home ostensibly to show their concern.

Now in principle this sounds like a fantastic idea, everyone gathering round showing their support but really the practicalities fall somewhat short in this noble-ish endeavor.

Recently a family friend was ill and had to undergo an operation. Now i personally like the person concerned and know her kids so when my folks said they were going to visit i happily jumped in for the ride. But and here's the shocking part, whilst there I overheard two aunties chatting away to each other: "I didn't really want to come but you know how it is, if I didn't come someone would have said something and then all that damaal would have started"

It's unreal honestly it is. So we've moved from this really sorta nice idea of paying respects etc to the ill and the deceased to this weird societal norm, non-fulfillment of which leads to some kind of social ostracization.

Now whilst this is weird all in itself, what really got me thinking was this past week. I've been unwell had a minor heart op and all of a sudden started getting phone calls from assorted family members. Most of them semi-identical along the lines of "we're making dua for you, be strong, insh allah everything will be fine". Which is all good and well, made me feel really loved until the thought hit me, how much of this is borne out of those same societal pressures and how much is actually genuine?