Anniversary of an arrival

This August of 2016 is my 20th anniversary of arriving in the United States.

Not the anniversary of my leaving Pakistan: that was October 1994, and I went to Cambridge in the UK. Nor the anniversary of my leaving my family home: I left in 1991, at age 22, with an MA in English, to teach English at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, a world away from my almost 20-year home in Lahore. In retrospect, I was an unusual case in my peer group, leaving my home, my hometown, and my home country as a single woman, purely for education, rather than accompanying a husband’s career. Each anniversary is laced with excitement and fear, anxiety and aloneness, fragility and courage.


I remember being on the bus from Walm Lane to Willesden Green station, giddy with excitement. A PhD program! I was about to take flight!

I quickly abandoned most of my possessions overnight – leaving it to my friend Aliya to dispose of them – and packed a suitcase full of clothes I considered nice (they were too “nice”, it turned out, for the American everyday).

Twenty years ago, I got a budget flight on the now-defunct airline ATA, delighted with the lighthearted American tone of the announcements: “Welcome to Hawaii!” as we landed in O’Hare.

The aching void of love


Amrita Shergil

In Surah al-Qasas, the Qur’an tells us about the mother of Moses – how God tells her:

“Suckle (thy child), but when thou hast fears about him, cast him into the river, but fear not nor grieve: for We shall restore him to thee, and We shall make him one of Our messengers.” But when she casts Moses into the river, she is so utterly overcome by emotion that she barely restrains herself: 

وَأَصْبَحَ فُؤَادُ أُمِّ مُوسَىٰ فَارِغًا ۖ إِنْ كَادَتْ لَتُبْدِي بِهِ لَوْلَا أَنْ رَبَطْنَا عَلَىٰ قَلْبِهَا لِتَكُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

  • Asad: On the morrow, however, an aching void grew up in the heart of the mother of Moses, and she would indeed have disclosed all about him 10  had We not endowed her heart with enough strength to keep alive her faith [in Our promise]. 11
  • Malik: On the other hand, the heart of Musa’s mother was sorely troubled. She would have disclosed as to who he was, had We not strengthened her heart so that she might become one of the true believers.
  • Pickthall: And the heart of the mother of Moses became void, and she would have betrayed him if We had not fortified her heart, that she might be of the believers.
  • Yusuf Ali: But there came to be a void in the heart of the mother of Moses: she was going almost to disclose his (case) had We not strengthened her heart (with faith) so that she might remain a (firm) believer.  3337
Jochebed, by Franklin Simmons

Whenever I read this verse, it rips my heart into two. Especially right now, it seems, as I prepare to send my little one into a new school this September- her first big city public school. It feels like existence, connection, parenting, is a way to open my heart up to this aching, gaping void.


It brings to mind the first time I dropped her off at daycare: that intersection in Athens, GA, where that green arrow brought me to tears every time I turned. I hated to let go. My heart broke. And my heart turned into a storm, an empty aching void; my heart itself was “as air” (Surah Ibrahim 43).

Love is pain. Love is terror. Love is a terrible, painful thing. All my resources, all my power, all my learning is as air, as a gaping aching void before the thought of my child.

Less known India-Pakistan partition narratives

What narratives are privileged to define historical events? What narratives support and reinforce ideological frameworks? What narratives and voices do nothing to support and reinforce such frameworks and, as a result, fall through the cracks and are lost?

You’d think that positive stories of goodness would flourish. But some of these stories fail to support favored ideological frameworks.

So they disappear, or fade. part.jpg

I’d rarely ever, in all my years of education in Pakistan and trawling through the interwebs, encountered the stories of Indians of various faith backgrounds who defended and protected people of other religious communities from the riots and bloodshed during the India-Pakistan Partition. Where they exist, they often are twisted to serve narratives of demonization and superiority, as in Gadar. 

So here they are, “Punjab’s little-known Schindlers, who saved many during Partition violence.”

These stories must be kept alive. The internet is brimming over with voices of vicious
hate, resentment, anger, fury from Indians and Pakistanis. Try poking around Twitter on the 14th and 15th of August. Let’s disrupt those voices of hate, not by contradicting them, not with arguments, butArthurRackham_GoblinMarket_100.jpgwith repeating, just repeating these stories. Each of the persons in these stories stood, surrounded, swamped by hate but never sinking below it:

Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-vein’d stone
Lash’d by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—

Christina Rossetti, Goblin Market. 
Those of you dedicated to simply reciting the story ofsalman.jpg faith, friendship, solidarity, and love are standard bearers against a rising tide of hate. Your endeavors, even passive and quiet, are resistance.  There is a reason the love story of Bajrangi Bhaijan was so popular across the subcontinent last year.

Perhaps the hour of humanity is here. One can hope.

Happy 69th Independence Day, Pakistan.

pak.jpgThe world we live in demands that we designate particular nations or places as home, and others as Other or Rival or Enemy.
Though uncomfortable with nationalism and the artificial lines we draw to divide ourselves from others, I’m also achingly appreciative of the need for homes and comfortable spaces. (See this article on the menace of nationalism).
I deeply appreciate growing up in Pakistan, in my comfortable space. It will always be home, the place and the people I owe so very, very much.
I try my best, despite being surrounded in destructive discourses, designate any nations as Enemy or Other. Vested interests, hegemonic exploitative powers, hateful groups, divisive ideologies, and assorted 1%’s in Pakistan and worldwide are my Other. Those exploitative powers have blocked Pakistanis and others from living lives of happiness and freedom.
Let us unite, and work against the oppressions of those who are crushed, exploited, twisted into shape in the name of the nation-state. Kashmir. Palestine. Tibet. And so many, whose homes are destroyed to uphold a narrative. As Arundhati Roy asks, in a piece applicable to many other struggles, “Since when have maps been sacrosanct? Should a people’s right to self-determination be denied at any cost?”
Growing up in Pakistan, I learned that if there’s one thing Pakistanis are good at, it’s being self-critical and being critical of Pakistan. Let’s not stop asking questions, being critical, and demanding more of ourselves, and let’s never participate in oppressions – in the name of anything, whether ideological or materialistic.
Happy independence day, Pakistan! I love you. And I love all the Pakistanis who are working, against all odds, to make a better world and a better tomorrow. No matter what our politicians say, in order to protect my home, we don’t have to destroy our neighbors. In fact, our very survival depends on our neighborhoods working together. Let us stand together. Not apart, but together. That is our only hope.

Swim-racism and the burkini / burqini

In swim-racism news, I was recently interviewed for a timely Newsweek article just published here: Burkini swimsuits spark anti-Muslim outrage – and fast sales. 

A piece I wrote for Religion Dispatches in 2009 remains relevant today: The Deadly Burqini.

Enjoy. Summer’s going to be over soon, and before you know it, everyone’s going to be in puffy coats and scarves.

In the meantime, check out this man’s wetsuit. Carbone-wetsuit-4-van-8-e1441164326374.jpg

Pool racism & Simone Manuel

Black Twitter is on fire about the enormous significance of this Simone Manuel moment. Instead of trying to speak to the occasion in my own words, I’ll cite Twitter luminaries:



George Johnson wrote a piece on the subject. This fear of water is related to pool racism and racial segregation, enforced by means of, for example, acid, as in the photograph below:  




– even more painfully – the risk of drowning and death.

In related “pool racism,” Cannes has banned the burkini. This is exactly the kind of racial segregation that puts entire communities at risk of drowning, except in this case it uses the language of safety and the veil of security theater.

Simone Manuel has changed the game.


Fal-e-Hafiz, or The oracle of the poet Hafiz

Doublures inside a collection of Hafiz’s poetry, April 5 1842, Iran. Source: Indiana University Art Museum website.

Fal (faahl) is a tradition practiced in Iran and South Asia (correct me if I’m missing other traditions) where the seeker or supplicant desires an answer to her deepest desires or questions. Hafez is a 14th century Persian poet, central in the Muslim tradition. (More on Hafiz / Hafez and here.)

Quoting directly from the website Hafiz-e-Shirazi on Fal-e-Hafez.

“In the Persian tradition, whenever one faces a difficulty or a fork in the road, Or even if one has a general question in mind, one would hold that question in mind, and then ask the Oracle of Shiraz Hafiz for guidance.

“More often than not, Hafiz, in his own enigmatic way would sing to the questioner and through the song, would get the questioner to look in the mirror of his/her soul.

Upon reflection in the mirror of Hafiz’s Ghazal one would be inspired with an answer, a guidance or a direction.

Traditionally, the first line upon which the eyes of the reader fall, would give the answer to the direct question, and the rest of the Ghazal would give further clarification.” 

Give it a shot. See what Hafiz has to say about your anxiety or desire.


I Have Learned So Much

So much from God
That I can no longer

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,
a Buddhist, a Jew.

The Truth has shared so much of Itself
With me

That I can no longer call myself
A man, a woman, an angel,
Or even a pure

Love has
Befriended Hafiz so completely
It has turned to ash
And freed

Of every concept and image
my mind has ever known.