The Cured Romantic – A Personal Account

Fatima Aly Jaffer (Nairobi, Kenya)

Marriage is without a doubt one of the issues that we – as a species and a community – obsess about.  It is a mystery we constantly try to solve, a knot we are always struggling to untangle and a formula we strive to perfect.

An earlier article mentioned that the event itself seems to be the centre of focus for much of our lives.  For women perhaps, it starts much earlier, when they come of age and are inundated with hints regarding their singular status (pun fully intended!).

Being a faith as beautifully philosophical as Islam is, an institute as highly regarded as that of marriage must have depth in its establishment.  (I should disclaim that what follows is a purely personal perspective.)

Marriage is the completion of half one’s imaan, the nurture of a person’s character and the forerunner for the responsibilities of sharing and parenthood.  At times we tend to concentrate on one or some of its aspects more than others.

On a very general level, a marriage should have at least these three areas well covered:

A condition when choosing a spouse is to look for a potential as a parent.   That is because marriage is a means of populating the society with productive members who will preserve the Islamic way of life.  Often, when we marry off our children at the recommended young age, we fail to provide them with necessary qualifications.  It is great to have a son or daughter wedded in accordance to hadith, but will the resulting marriage be Islamic too?

It saddens me to sometimes see mothers who seem to treat their children like live dolls to dress-up and feed.   And fathers who think that in changing nappies and babysitting, they have achieved metro-paternity.  Too often, by the time maturity allows them to understand the urgent necessity of instilling akhlaq, love for Allah (SWT), His Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bayt (a), it is too late to do so.  No one is born knowing how to parent and some lessons can only be learnt through experience, but should one charge into the foray with no prior training at all?  What kind of society does that forebode?

Many times, when I listen to others speak of their spouses I can not help but think that what they are describing is a glorified form of role-play.  Surely, Islam expects more from a couple than the usual husband-wife duties.  Of course, you go about the business of earning a living, household chores and procreating, but is that all there is to being blissfully-wedded?  It sounds bland at best.  The odd thing is that you don’t need extra hours in a day to do more.  It is just a matter of changing attitudes and perspectives.

Marriage in Islam is a business partnership as much as it is an emotional one.  And the business is that of becoming better servants of Allah (SWT).  Remember the half imaan you secured in getting married?  Well, there is still the other half to deal with afterwards.  From this angle, marriage could ideally be viewed as a journey with a compatible travelling companion.

As you both walk the straight and narrow, you pledge to provide a strong arm to lean on when your partner stumbles or moral support when he/she loses the will to move forward, to point out the beauty of the goal ahead of you and share in the eagerness of reaching it.     That is why it is important to find someone heading in the same direction and who will understand that you may be travelling together, but you each have your own journey to make.

An individual marries for self in many ways.  It could be for companionship or love, to satisfy desires or to fulfil a dream. Spiritually, it could be to follow the Prophet (s)’s sunnah or to secure half your faith.  In the long run, marriage helps develop your personality, cultivate your character and perfect your patience.  You learn to compromise and sacrifice, to become more understanding, generous and selfless.   All these reasons are geared to providing for the needs of your self, internally and externally.  And one should not feel guilty or shirk from taking full advantage of this aspect of marriage.    But the one thing that never fails to irk me is the way in which people lose their individuality when they marry.  I may be wrong, but I firmly believe marriage is about creating independency not dependency.

Your relationship should be geared towards nurturing your loyalty and reliance on Allah (SWT) not each other.  Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an about Qiyamah: “On that Day a man shall flee from his brother, and his mother, his father, his spouse and his children.” (80:34-36)

If you base your love and dependence on your spouse and children, can you imagine the pain of being rejected by them at the time when you will need them most?  Or the guilt of abandoning them after having dedicated your life to them?

An ideal marriage is then one where spouses remind each other that the only place of security is with Allah (SWT) and those He has appointed as intercessors.   So on that Day, when you – Inshallah! – head towards the same Imam (atfs) for protection, you will meet your loved ones there and prove the beauty of Islam – that every step towards Allah (SWT) only brings you closer to your own happiness.

So why do I consider myself a cured romantic?  Because, for years I floundered in the sea of western romanticism and found it too shallow to drown in.  I tried rejecting all emotion and found that it is impossible to immerse oneself in faith without it.    Finally, I discovered (as usual) the perfect balance in Islam, which suggested that the true romantic aspect of any marriage is when two people work together to court the Pleasure of Allah.


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Panya Routes to Heaven

By Fatima Aly Jaffer  – (Nairobi, Kenya)

 “The provision is little, the way is long, the journey is far, and the goal is hard to reach.”

Imam Ali (a) (Nahjul Balagha, Saying 77)

There is a strong desire amongst youth worldwide not just to say something, but to say it differently.  Enter slang – a language usually comprehensible only to those who speak it.   Slang ideally creates a sense of belonging, effectively separating those who know it and those who don’t.

Kenyan youth are no different and our attempt at lexicon logy has resulted in the ever-volatile sheng.   The vocabulary of sheng is never static. Each year, graduates into the Phase of Youth filter out stale, un-cool words.  New words simultaneously reflect the current environment and alienate the ‘oldies’ by keeping them out of the loop.

Each version of sheng moves on with its own creators and like software, the older versions soon become obsolete except amongst their loyal inventors.   As the maturing generation loses contact of updates, they are filtered into adulthood.  It is the perfect system of quality preservation.  The ancients had in breeding, we have sheng.

Despite the slight tangent, this article isn’t about linguistics. It’s about one particular phrase.  Kenyan sheng boasts the term ‘panya route’ (panya is Kiswahili for mouse).   It refers to an unofficial route, often illegal, used to get from Point A to Point B.

Cute as it is, (well, at least to us locals) I’ve begun wondering if this tendency to migrate across borders via unknown paths cut through dangerous terrain hasn’t – like so many things in life – taken on a symbolic dimension.

Whether you call them shortcuts, back roads or panya routes, we all enjoy taking the easy way out whenever the chance presents itself.   Our enthusiasm for the long and narrow is only sincere where a shortcut actually interferes with the pleasure of the activity (think trekking, cross-country marathons and the like).

When it comes to success and money however, the sound made by pouring coins is far sweeter than that of trickling ones.  We want the package labelled: “Big Stuff: No Labour Involved”.

Which is dangerous when we start talking about the Really Big Stuff – the hereafter and our investment in it.  Ask yourself how many times you’ve heard people talk about the challenges of being a good Muslim.  Now compare that to the number of times you’ve seen them rise to those challenges with action.

Familiar phrases are repeated like memorized mantras:  “Of course I sin, I’m not ma’soom, you know”, “I commit enough sins anyway, one more won’t make a difference” or “I’m a sinner, but God’s forgiveness is great” and its sister suffix “…but to give up on His Mercy is a sin”.

Each one defines the panya route being taken.   The subconscious whispers endlessly: “I can take a detour from the Straight Path and still end up at the same place; I love the Ahlulbayt (a) – I’m signed up for Life-membership in Heaven; I weep for Imam Husayn (a) so I can bend the rules now and again; If I snap a few laws along the way, I never meant to push them that far and since every action depends on its niyyat, I’m safe…

But how safe are we really?   How safe can anyone be if all they do is put their feet up, watch the world go back and make half-hearted attempts at maintaining their investments?  What makes us think that we can reach the same threshold as the other Mo’mineen without breaking a sweat on the brow of our souls?

If Heaven had a shortcut, why would anyone (except a masochist) willingly suffer the long path? And more importantly, wouldn’t the wise have discovered it before the rest of us?  To assume we know better than the urafa is pure egocentricity.  If anyone believed for a nanosecond that there was a short way to Paradise, the ‘New Truth’ bestseller would have sold a zillion copies by now.

We all know the path is a hard one, to walk firmly on it requires rigorous control over our desires and a constant struggle for balance. A panya route on the other hand is a confused, frantic journey, fraught with fear and insecurity.  Anyone who has used such a shortcut – literally or symbolically – knows that guarantees are illusions on this path.  Survival is a matter of chance, and success…well, it is usually well-flavoured with guilt.

Walking on the dotted line is the only way to be sure that you will reach the goal you seek.  Which makes us pretty lucky, since we’ve got the Perfect Map-Maker anyone could ever want.  Who else has bothered not only to lay a step-by-step guide to Himself, but also placed guides at strategic points to help out when way gets muddled?

The stubborn may argue that shortcuts do sometimes lead to success in this world.  True, but only because the authorities in this dimension are bound by human restrictions.  In the Aakhirah, there is only One Authority and He has No Restrictions.  That’s something to think about, eh?

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Kutaka Sitaki…

By Mohamedarif M Suleman BSc(Hons) – (Nairobi, Kenya)

Any Swahili speakers out there? Aplenty, I am sure.  And so the residue of the popular adage needs little help to complete – Nikipata Siachi”.  In English this means, “It’s not that I really want it, but if I get it, I won’t leave it” Now what on earth does this have to do with a column on The Community on Friday? Read on.

Each year, thousands of people submit an application for the prized DV-Immigration Visas to the US.  Remember the email you have received asking you to be one of every 700 people to successfully live and work in the terrain of immense opportunities? Those 55,000 give aways by the US Department of Immigration, or the lotto that you know of? Well, out of these multitude of people, there are tens of our own brethren who consistently apply for this “mother of all migrations”, and why not? After all, migration when conditions satisfy is a good thing indeed.  We must also recognize the relative opulence that has greeted many of the individuals who have made it to the US after a lull in economics back home (wherever that be).

A paradox that Muslims live throughout their lives is that of bashing anything Western yet contending to be one of the 250-million plus social security number holders, and law abiding tax paying citizens of the Satanic regime.  This is a big paradox, especially when people residing in the West, would send out emails inviting others to boycott all Jewish products, whereas their own earnings go towards fuelling the very evil of the Superpower nation in supporting the anti-Palestinian movement.  Now, this commentary is not even going to attempt to rationalize or justify either sides of the story – for that would amount to leading you to believe that either our support for Palestinians is wrong, or that we should prolong consuming as much of Coke as possible.  Either way, a no-win situation for Muslims.

The heart of the matter, however, is not this – rather the feverish aptitude with which we so fluently pummel the United States while still harbouring the desire to posses some sort of landing rights there.  For a great number of valid raison d’être, and in my view, the most prominent is the level of social justice and “welfare society” attributes of this large bureaucracy.  It was, for instance, refreshing to hear from an old acquaintance, who had lived in East Africa for many years, and had now migrated to the US, how meticulously the state cared for the invalids, or how easy it is to continue seeking knowledge while in the States, at no matter what stage in your life.  Inadvertently, the gentleman was praising affectionately the very Islamic principles of caring for others and seeking knowledge – traits that were now part of an “infidel” regime’s hallmarks.

Then of course, there is that age-old argument about how some of your youths have succumbed to vices while residing in the “East”, whereas some of their counterparts in the West have actually become improved Muslims.  All in all, so many arguments for and against this favourite subject for many with stashed laurels who can afford to dream of owning or mortgaging a house in the US.  For the others, it is more of a dream, fuelled by their unfortunate state in their primary homes and the exhibition of so much wealth and glossy cars and economic sway that is characteristic of any nation in the developed world.

The significant thing to understand is that whereas slandering America is in no way going to elucidate the Muslims’ problems, it also seeks to undermine the many positive attributes that it has built over the years within its social and economic fabric.  On the other hand, if you ever hear bashing of the US, you should grasp that a leader of any sort – good or evil, is always subject to microscopic scrutiny by any number of individuals.  In our time, the US has had a hand in dominating the entire world as well as the forced export of its culture and lifestyle – both of which are sufficient reasons for people to hate them and their ways.

But what should Muslims do? Muslims, as always must learn to harvest what is good and discard what is not.  Therefore, it is neither criminal to aspire migration to the West nor is it blasphemous to name-call the superpower, what is more crucial is the retention of a Muslim’s identity at such a time of increasing penetration of global openness in culture.

When parents from other parts of the world send their children to the US, tied with the hope of disposition of opportunity and economic success is the equal fear of loss of religious, cultural and social stability for while the whole world is full of sunlight and you could even get burnt by it on earth, going to the core of the burning ball of gas, in any parent’s mind is another thing altogether.  That is why we must now salute those of our children who did go to this inferno of social anarchy but emerged as practicing Muslims in the midst of universal atheist practices and godless philosophies.  We must salute those of our boys who have preserved religion and silently laid the musalla in their dorms when the entire halls were ablaze with music, sexual profanity and filth, while focusing solely on their aspiration to acquire knowledge.  We must as well salute some of our girls who, it has been reported, have maintained their hijab while on campus, tolerating, enduring and surviving the shameful gaze of others, the humiliation attached to being a Muslim in schools in the US where teachers cannot even talk about religion and ethics and have upheld their values at all times.

Side by side, we must remind those of our young who have easily succumbed to Western ways where some of our own boys as well as girls are even now engaging in haraam behaviour, some of our girls in fact are also known to have gotten “rid” of the veil for which we annually cry in solemnity.

And of course, now that there is nothing like the US culture anymore.  This has already changed into a global culture, whereby young people will have their own sets of rules of life and will thwart any attempts by elders to enforce Islamic discipline; the problem is now all over the world.

Tuning in to an FM station this morning, I happened to hear to this bizarre fact: that sometime in the 1970s, a person in the US sued God for negligence over the accident of one of his employees in which she was paralyzed.  The case came up for mention, it was heard and ruled – God was ordered to pay a hefty fine in green backs! As an afterthought, the newscaster remarked, that while the employer triumphed in the case, it is still a mystery whether he ever got the claim! This episode merely serves to remind us that America, despite its Christian roots at the time of Revolution, has officially been a godless state for well over three decades now, and so if we must migrate, our preparedness should be of a higher level.  And because America may still come to your own little city, with its baggage of culture that is unIslamic, remember to keep your sentry and keep Islamic values over and above all other mundane needs –whether social, economic or any other.

In this case, it is all right for you to be a mswahili who says he does not want it, but will not let go if he gets it!

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Spring Cleaning

Iqbal Jaffer (Ontario, Canada)

n a hadith describing the 12th Imam (a.s.), the 10th Imam (a.s.) says, “He [the 12th Imam] will: continue the message of the Prophet (s.a.w.), have the charisma of Imam Ali (a.s.), have the purity of Lady Fatima Zahra (a.s.), have the wisdom of  Imam Hassan (a.s.), have the courage of Imam Husayn (a.s.), have the patience of Imam Sajjad (a.s.), have the effect of Imam Baqir (a.s.), cause the effect of Imam Sadiq (a.s.), have the sciences of Imam Kadhim (a.s.), be a proof like Imam Ridha (a.s.), be as generous as Imam Jawad (a.s.), be as pure as Imam Hadi (a.s.), resemble his father Imam Hassan al-Askeri (a.s.), be in divine ghaibat, and he will establish the truth.”

Considering that this hadith is mutawatir (narrated by a reliable chain of narrators to such an extent that it is deemed well proven and established), we accept it as being true. If we accept it as true, then it begs the question, if indeed we consider the twelfth Imam – the Imam of our time, who is the Mahdi, who will bring about divine justice as predicted by the Prophet (s.a.w.) – to be a mosaic of the Imams who preceded him, then, where did the idea of one Imam being more important than the other come from?

Most people will read that last question and think that this is utter blasphemy. The question however, is very legitimate. If you do not agree with what I say, consider the following. How many times have you personally said (or heard) the notion of (in gujrati) ‘moti kushali’ (big khushali) or ‘moti wafat’ (big wafat) (Note: ‘big’ in both cases meaning of greater importance as it is connoted in Gujarati)?

It is this uncouth concept which unknowingly demeans the status of one Imam over another. Critics may disagree and say that it is harmless. Nonetheless, it is the very idea of the thing that makes it vulgar. We may be saying it knowing fully well that we do not consider one Imam to be greater than another, to which I ask, why say it at all? There is an old adage that says, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

The point here is not to be critical; it is to highlight a weakness in our thinking. If we are to progress as a community, then we need to refine ourselves and this involves refining our thinking.  If we consider ourselves to be a community in waiting, and we are waiting for our Imam to come and restore a just world order, we need to be prepared to help him lay the groundwork when he comes. We cannot, and will not, be of any use if we are still stuck in backward thinking. It is imperative that we recognize that ideas such as ‘moti kushali/wafat’ do nothing for our progression. We need to ‘cut the fat’.

Lastly, this idea has been made an example of in this particular situation. I am confident that it is not, and will not be the last example of this kind. The point is that we need to recognize these sorts of weaknesses in our thinking, and when we are faced with them, we have to evaluate them on their merits. If they do not bring us closer to Allah (s.w.t.), do not make us better Muslims, do not help us progress, they are likely not worth keeping. It is time for each one of us, myself included, to dig deep into the closets of our mind, and get rid of the things that keep us stagnant. Its time for a good spring cleaning!


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Towards Impacting Positively

Jawad Khaki (Seattle, USA)

t is interesting that the author of a recent article on the forum (“If the Dead Could…) anticipates an “overtly optimistic alec” who might say “that the article is too gloomy”.    Another possible anticipation by the author could have been that someone might say the article could be more positive. Isn’t perspective interesting?

Absolutely, for those who tend to view a glass as half-full, a likely reaction to the article below would be that a positive outlook on life is essential for forward progress. An outlook that calls out or seeks actionable next steps towards a future that is bright.  Our failing to do so is not fully employing the infinite blessings that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on us and thus wasting an opportunity.

If we believe in a brighter future, we will naturally work towards it. Instead of lamenting on social woes of the time, we will rise to the challenge and inspire. For each social challenge, we will arrive at inspirational direction that clearly identifies simple *actionable* next steps.   When we lack sense of direction, we will open ourselves to be inspired by others as we invite ideas to move us forward in an open inclusive supportive process where no idea is a dumb idea.  We will find this to be more energizing than expressing why things are pathetic. We will not have our egoes discourage us when not every idea of ours is accepted and/or implemented!  Our real goal will be individual satisfaction at that critical end moment when we depart for the hereafter!   We will work towards that moment being the most pleasant, satisfying moment – a moment of no regrets, a moment of eagerness to meet the Lord. We will find reminder of death as a reminder of the limited lease of life and a motivator for urgency of action.

Why are we not being as progressive and as forward thinking as communities that were in the early days of the Prophet (SAW)?   What factors are inhibiting us to arrive at practices that will energize, mobilize, inspire and help us all excel? Should we not be working towards a culture of constant improvement and reform? What, who, why and how are we being inhibited/stopped?

This will require each one of us to engage and take action to reform. To self assess, to self reflect. To bring about a change at an individual level, to work together as caring sharing communities that aspire for the betterment of all. To identify opportunities, to highlight barriers to progress, to create positive outlooks and plans, mobilizing ourselves and others to simple forward steps.

Reform is essential. If we reform our gatherings and approach, evolving and adopting cultural practices that better suit modern day reality, deploying latest social techniques, engaging and intellectually stimulating the inspiration deprived neurons, we will find that not only we have more attendance in mosques and religious places of worship, but these places, and communities that frequent these places, with Allah’s help will glow with a radiant guiding light just like they did at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family)

Many of us can easily point to examples of practices followed today that were not a custom during the Prophet’s time.   These came about at some point in the course of development of Muslim communities because people of the times deemed these practices to be effective tools for the challenges of the day.  People then were not shy and neither should we be in coming up with practices suitable for our times. Of course, we would always be within the bounds of the shariah.

How confident are we that our cultural practices and customs are serving the needs of our times?    How confident are we that what we undertake today are the right customs/practices inviting new people to Islam, providing a cohesive framework for the young and old alike? Are we being creative enough to arrive at new methods and techniques?

Everything begins with faith in Allah (SWT) that inspires hope and optimism.  Things progress with tenacity and effort.  How much effort we expend is what we control and we should leave no room for regrets. The efforts we apply to things are only meaningful to the extent they have a positive impact on humanity.

With faith, effort and commitment to humanity, optimism is inevitable.  Optimism is a force multiplier! It starts with you and me!


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