Mark your calendars for AMSS in October

AMSS 36th conference theme is Perils of Empire – at the University of Maryland (College Park), October 26-28. If you’re in the DC area, or anywhere nearby, don’t miss it!


Giving up the old religious habits

It looks like September 13 will probably be the first day of Ramzan. Final moon sighting reports will be available here, though ISNA and Sayyed M. Hussein Fadlallah have already announced the month starts on Thursday, September 13.

Say your goodbyes to coffee and your various other midday loves, and prepare for a month of restructured schedules.

To celebrate Ramzan, here is an edited version of an old blog post:

During my gestational diabetes diet, it was terribly strange to not eat cookies, or chocolate, or any glucose-laden fruit in any quantity.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. Not eat something I really wanted to do. Not do something I really wanted to do. Wake up when it wasn’t necessary to wake up; stop eating when it was fun to keep eating; not eat pudding because my nafs wanted it; turn off the tube when I didn’t have to; close the curtains and close my eyes and talk to the Beloved when it wasn’t time for an obligatory prayer.

In his Discourses, Hazrat Shahidullah Faridi (RA) discusses how both fasting and tahajjud break your aadat, your habit. This is why Da’udi fast is highly recommended: fast one day, don’t fast the next, and so on. Otherwise it becomes habit. Hazrat Zauqi Shah (RA) says that when you take some form of medication constantly, it ceases to be medication and becomes ghiza or regular food.

The tahajjud prayer in the middle of the night breaks habit too. You go to sleep, and then you wake up. This is difficult.

“Soon shall We send down to thee a weighty Message.
Truly the rising by night is most potent for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (framing) the Word (of Prayer and Praise).”
– Surah al-Muzzammil (73:5-6)

For those who have at times done tahajjud — (not by accident, like, “Man, I can’t sleep so I’ll just get up and pray,” but by design) — you know how it is. You can feel that:

“Every night, when the last third of it remains, Allah, our Sustainer, the Blessed, the Superior, descends to the lowest heaven saying, ‘Is there anyone to ask Me so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone to invoke Me so that I may respond to his invocation? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?’” (hadith).
The 5-time namaz is awesome, and necessary to keep you on track. But it’s more like a regular meal. Tahajjud, or optional zikr, or optional charity, or meditation, is more like the ambrosia that brings you back to life, to appreciate everything that had become habit.
Sometimes I feel like we Muslims of relatively moderate religious observance simply organize our lives so that religious observance becomes aadat, habit. We don’t push ourselves on an everyday basis. We don’t venture every now and again.
It’s not a struggle for me not to drink because I was raised with a visceral disiike of it. Because I don’t like the smell, and because I dont socialize at bars. Do I still get credit, or does my habit, upbringing, and tradition? And how do I grow from adhering to my no-alcohol principles? Not drinking is simply part of my routine, and drinking would actually be very inconvenient and uncomfortable for me.

Does that mean I plateau from leading a religious life that has little element of effort?

Wa amma man khafa maqama rabbihi wa nahannafsa ‘an al-hawa. Fa innal jannata hiya al-ma’wa (Surah al-Nazi’aat, 79:40).
“And for such as had entertained the fear of standing before their Lord’s (tribunal) and had restrained (their) soul from (lower) desires.”
Habit is like a cocoon that encases us and almost protects us from the exhilaration of spiritual experience.

Sometimes, the spiritual masters say, even sinful acts which make you humble are better than acts of piety that make you arrogant and confident. (Of course you shouldn’t plan on those sinful acts, obviously; the point is that, by Mercy, they serve a purpose in your spiritual progress).

You build a persona of yourself, as The Pious Goodly Moderately Conservative Yet Open-Minded and Ecumenical Muslim: every day you turn to that persona, and follow in its footsteps from the day before. — Which reminds me (speaking of ego) of a poem of my own from my niqabi days, Ghalib Day at the Quaid-e-Azam Library (1991 maybe):

… [It] shocks me
into realising that the years for me have
swept past in a fever of doing
something or nothing, of something happening,
or nothing happening, chewing
the endless gum of every day. We unstick it
from under the table, grey
and hard and stale though it may be –
(we must continue from yesterday), every day
unthinking — Lord, slow me down; remove me from
the pointless race of every day,
and let the ceaseless rattling train of
routine fears, joys, sorrows, hopes, stay
its deafening motion, – stop, and let me
see the landscape of eternity
and see each individual moment bloom like a flower, and wither naturally.

The GD diet made me stop for a moment to see the moments bloom.

And today, as I prepare for Ramzan, I’m intimidated at the thought of not drinking coffee at midday. But I’m still grateful of the reminder – of a time when I used to give up something, every now and again. Not because I had to. Not because it was haraam – but like a crazy person who foregoes food and rest to catch a glimpse of the camel that carries Laila in the curtained palanquin. You rush to the mosque, not because you should, or because you must, or because you get to see friends, but because of the flame in your heart that makes you run in different directions to seek, even blindly.

“No means whereby My servant seeks My Favor are more pleasing to Me than the observance of Faraa’idh (obligatory practices). And My servant ceases not to seek nearness to My by optional practices until I make him My favorite. And when I make him My favorite, I become his ears by which he hears, his eyes by which he sees, and his hands by which he holds, and his feet by which he walks. And if he asks Me for something, I fulfill his desire, or if he seeks refuge against anything, I grant him refuge” (hadith).

These words of the Beloved shed light on the secrets that I am blind to, the beauties that I’ve veiled in words and do’s and don’ts.

Religiosity can become such an idol. Such a persona. Such a stagnant pool.

Ramzan helps shatter that idol so we must struggle to see what lies beyond it.

Break it up, and truly BE, in freedom and in love.

Raihana updates

At 17+ months, Raihana has become a very different (baby? toddler?) child from when I last wrote any updates about her. She’s developed a much healthier ego and a desire for independence – dislikes being fed, and prefers to take pieces of food OFF the spoon/fork and put them in her mouth herself. Sometimes she will consistently refuse food, until I allow her to feed herself. (I suppose I should be happy about this, but it just shows me that some day she’s going to go away for college and I’m going to be very upset about this).

Her Montessori school (it’s not really a daycare but a school, the proprieter insists) is generally satisfactory, and she does not cry in as heart-rending a manner as she used to employ. Bhalu – a pink teddy bear – is her companion to school and bedtime. Speaking of which, anybody know where I can get a pink fleece teddybear, made by Walmart, with a white blouse with hearts on it? Because Bhalu is on his way out after a few more washes.

Because I am cheap, I hadn’t bought her any dolls yet, but a friend took pity on her at last and got her a cabbage patch doll, whose skin tone is just perfect for Raihana. No blond/blue-eyed dolls for her, and yet she’s not black either, so the doll she has is, I believe, Latina. Which tells us something about the categories of the future in this country, and how Raihana, a half-white, half-Pakistani girl may be defined.

She loves “This old man” and the Urdu rhymes I sing to her. I have tried turning the Urdu alphabet to the tune of the ABC, though Svend protests against the plagiarism. I don’t care – the alif bay needs a tune for her to memorize it. At this point, she has a good understanding of most of the Urdu she needs for everyday life. I can tell her to sit (baithho), lie down (laito), eat your food (khana khao) – which really means “run away so mama can chase you down,” do you want water (paani peeyogi?), bahir (outside) – which is her favourite word, let’s go in the car (also will get her running to the door), let’s have a bath (nahana hai?) – also one of her fun activities – and a great deal else, mashaallah. Which means, essentially, that I can issue numerous commands to her and raise her to be my little helper, as immigrants like to do.

Her ability to run and her desire for independence also means that we as parents have to be much more vigilant for her safety than before. A couple of months ago, she would not run more than a few feet before she stopped and waited for me. No more. When she sees the neighbourhood kids playing outside, she makes a beeline for them, full of excitement. Unfortunately the boys (they’re all boys) are not all the gentlest of playmates, so I prefer to take her out when they’re not there.

Our current struggle is with nighttime: she wants to sleep in our bed if she wakes up and is inconsolable until she is brought to bed. This means a long night punctuated with treks to the nursery and back–and a very tired morning. Ah, the joys. Needless to say, my threat of the month is “no siblings for you!”


Parapsychological phenomena

Abbas Raza writes of Stephen Braude’s book “The gold leaf lady and other parapsychological investigations.”

Fascinating, of course. Still, my Sufi shaikh always taught me that though many “normal” people were capable of such things through no effort of their own, they were child’s play for the spiritual masters.

Many are attracted to Sufism for levitation, prophecy, healing powers, etc, but for seekers these must never be the goals. In fact, for true seekers, they are usually distractions: they are often hijabat-e-noorani (light-based veils that veil the seeker God), and due to human beings’ inherent fascination with the paranormal and with power over others, they create issues of the ego that disrupt the seeker’s progress.

If you were a hybrid

Shakespeare’s Sister asks the question: If you could become a human-animal hybrid, with what animal would you be crossed?

I should respond crane, but my real aesthetic love is of the feline kind. I’d like to have the grace, the stunning beauty, and the power of a panther or a tiger. Maybe simple hybridization will solve the problems of a short woman with a tendency to dress um casually.

What about you?

Those naughty eye exams

I really could not resist sharing this search term that brought someone to my blog:

“sexual tension during eye exam.”

Now my own optometrist was 70-ish, but I’d really like to know what I’m missing …