Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Kulkhani at the Mosque

Yesterday, word suddenly reached me that someone close to my neighbour, a good friend of ours, had left for his heavenly abode. Since the departed had been ill, this was expected, nevertheless a sad time for all his relatives and friends.

A kulkhani was quickly organized at the Foundation, which I had to rush to attend, and my neighbour sponsored the iftar there. As I tucked into my generous portion of food, I wondered - how lucky was the brother who had passed away?

There is no custom of an eulogy in Islam, but so many of his friends and relatives who had come to the mosque spoke of how he had made a positive affect on their lives. They were not just being polite - one could see they truly shared the pain and grief of the family - yet held genuine affection in their eyes. Many had taken time out of their busy schedules to drive to the other part of the town just to pay their respects, and eagerly rolled up their sleeves and shared in the volunteer duties that sponsoring an iftar entailed.

They say the proper way to come into this world is for you to be crying, but for everyone else to be smiling. If, on the other hand, if you can leave this world with a smile while everyone else is in tears, as you are eager to meet your Lord, you have done well.

What matters to our Lord, I realized, is the intention behind our actions. Yet for others, our actions speak a great deal. All the lives that this man had touched, and changed in a very positive manner, spoke of a very philanthropic man who didn't hesitate to do the right thing, to share a bit of the blessings that Allah had given him.

Today, as I look around, I see that many a times, our actions do not jive with our words. Yes, Islam is a beautiful religion and yes, Islam does tell us to behave well with our neighbours, treat women with respect, never harm or discriminate based on ethnicity, never to lie or cheat in our business, to always educate ourselves and seek knowledge, to welcome the birth of a daughter with equal joy as that of a son, to not turn our eyes away from the suffering of others and to wish for others what we wish for ourselves.

Yet our actions do not match these ideals. We are eager to recount how the Indonesians accepted Islam not under the sword but influenced by the behaviour of the Arab traders - yet today our adaab - our manners - leave a lot to be desired. We are proud of our ancient scientists and philosophers, yet today we stifle education for half our children and freedom of speech is a defunct concept.

Yes, some of the problems are not ours, the Western world does provide blanket support to many a dictator in the Muslim world, but others are in our hands. We can all improve our personal behaviour to be an example to our neighbours. We can all contribute to welfare programs run by our community centres.

We can all be a positive influence on our society. Let's hope this Ramadan can bring forth a few of the jewels amongst us to light.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This Dude Bugs Me

After work, if I don't have any studies to do, I usually tend to hang around with a few friends and either go to the gym or play some sports like squash or badminton. Since it's now Ramadan, we time it in such a way so that we can do our game, get a good work out, get a shower and just in time make it to the Multi-Faith center here. The local Muslim Students Association serves free iftar for everyone, and you get to pray your Maghreb prayers in congregation and then break your fast with other people too.

For the last few days I have been noticing a trend.

There's some people there who are clearly NOT fasting. That's ok, people have their own reasons for not fasting. But some people are even not Muslims (you can tell) and some even don't observe the decorum of the place!

For example, there's a guy there who shows up immediately after the prayers. As the volunteers are rolling up the prayer mats, he walks in with shoes. And he is dressed in shorts. SHORTS. For the last few days I have seen him in shorts. He gets his food by standing in line like everyone else. And he always goes back for seconds. ALWAYS.

I mean, I know you have come for the free food. We know you are a free loader. That's ok, most of us have done that over time at many places. But at least observe the decorum of the place! Have some respect for the values of the people you are freeloading off from!

Do I sound like one of those rednecks who scream refugees who come into our country must respect the values of this country and not demand change? Or am I right?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I am Muslim and I was NOT supporting Pakistan

After yesterday's cracker of a World Cup final (India vs Pakistan), I could not believe when Shoaib Malik, captain of the Pakistan team, took to the podium for the presentation ceremony and said this:
"First of all I want to say something over here. I want to thank you back home Pakistan and where the Muslim lives all over the world." [Youtube, 3:08].
Let me make one thing very clear to you, Mr. Malik. You are representing the PAKISTAN team. You are not representing the MUSLIMS all over the world.

It bugs me whenever Pakistanis assume that just because you are Muslim you are going to support their cricket team. Hello - NO! The Man of the Match was Irfan Pathan, an Indian, a Muslim (and son of a muezzin to boot).

Then again perhaps I should cut the Pakistanis some slack. They did just lose a humdinger of a match (the final of a World Cup) to their arch rivals. After all, Shahid Afridi did congratulate "all the Indian nations". I am sure the Cheehahah tribe north of Ontario would be happy to be acknowledged.

What a match! Oh, why was it on a Monday? And the star of the game for the losing side? A certain gentleman with this name.

Ah, what a shot! Then again, since I was rooting for India, this sort of headline on Cricinfo was not good.

Finally, Misbah fell.

Ah, you should have spelled your name a little differently! *cough* use a 'z' *cough*

On another note, after seeing a certain picture from the England-Australia game, I think I now know why Twenty20 cricket is gaining in popularity.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Iftar Time

Sunset is just around the corner, and you are at an iftar party, getting ready to break the fast. If you were a non-Muslim observer, you would think the ritual is pretty simple, right? At the appointed time, eat and the fast is broken - voila! Alas! If it was only so simple. Observe.

"So what time is the iftar today?" One uncle asks.

"7.20." The host dutifully answers.

"Are you sure?" Another queries. "Yesterday it was 7.22."

"Well, it's different everyday..." Yet another starts to explain.

"I read somewhere it's 7.15 today." A kid offers, probably hungry.

"I have the paper of timings." The host announces decisively, before triumphantly flashing a flier in front of the crowd. On one side is the advert for the local butcher for chicken legs at 1.49 per pound. On the flip side are the timings, as attested by the local mosque. 7.20 it says. Surely, that is that, you think? Nope, the fun has just begun.

"Only three more minutes." The host announces.

"Surely you are wrong." The first uncle again objects. "My watch has 7.16 now."

"My watch is correct." Says a third. "It's now 7.18."

"I set my watch by 680 news," The host desperately cuts in, "and it's now 7.17."

"680 news!!!" Suddenly an older gent who everyone has ignored till now exclaims in a loud voice. He is usually ignored because he can be trusted to forever interject with politically incorrect comments (usually about Jews), and true to form he doesn't disappoint.

"680 news time is wrong! It's a Jewish conspiracy to make us Muslims break our fast one minute early!"

There is silence for a minute, then the host exclaims, "7.20! It's time. OK I am going."

The sight of him filling his plate with with delicious food is soon too much and everyone joins in, whether is 7.20 by their watch or not.

On to the next debate - the Maghreb prayer - and which direction is REALLY the Qiblah.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Little Early Story

The chilly winds of an early Fall morning in Toronto failed to numb her cheeks - they were covered under a thin black cloth. The woman in the niqab walked down the street, oblivious to the stares of other pedestrians; she was late for her volunteer shift at the food shelter.

Mona, the young girl who saw the niqabi cross the street shook her head. She was Muslim too, but why did the niqabi not integrate like Mona? The niqabi was probably born in one of those hardline Muslim countries, Mona decided.

She could be like her - Mona prayed five times, ate halal food, did not date, yet had a normal life. The niqabi could be like her neighbor over there, standing by the bus stop, wearing the pink hijab yet friendly in her appearance. As she walked to her office, Mona nodding a greeting at her hijabi friend.

"She probably thinks I am out to get attention," The pink hijabi thought. "I am not admonishing her for not covering her head, why does she never say salaam to me?"

The man behind the hot dog cart rubbed his hands in front of the stove on his cart. Business was winding down with the summer, and even early openings did not break him even. Abdul had thought the 'halal' sign on his cart would attract more customers, yet the many Muslims he saw exiting the mosque opposite the road did not even glance at him. "Must be because I am a shia," he thought.

"Should I, or should I not?" thought Tariq, as he got a coffee from Tim Horton's. "That guy is so tempting, and halal too!" He then thought of the barely subtle hints his wife had dropped about his growing waistline, and decided to skip a hot dog for lunch today. He passed another bus stop on the way back to work. A man with a thick beard was getting the looks from everyone. Tareq laughed, "Silly immigrants! Why don't they shave and be rid of the hassle?"

It was time for zuhr. Tareq made his way to the small room that served as the neighborhood mosque. He hadn't been there - just last week an old Somalian janitor saw him praying in the hallway and told him about it. He stopped.

The bearded man was the imam. As he removed his jacket, Tareq saw that the bearded man was actually a white guy, and sported a Maple Leafs jacket! Tareq took his place beside the hot dog guy. God! He smelled of hot dog! The women lined up behind.

They all prayed to the same God. For some ten, quiet minutes, there was no Shia, no Sunni, no hijabi, no niqabi - just men and women, subservient before Allah.

Outside, a man pointed at the building and turned to his wife.

"That's the Muslim mosque." He turned up his nose. "The lot! Why don't they go back home?"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Welcoming Ramadan with Squash

So Ramadan will be here in two days. How are you preparing for it?

I have two main goals this Ramadan. One is spiritual, the other is physical.

First, I decided I am going to learn to pray Fajr on time. I do pray Fajr, right before I go to work, which usually happens to be long way after sunrise for 7 months of the year.

Once someone asked me if I pray Fajr on time. "Um," I replied, "for like 3 months of year, yes. You know, when the sun rises at 8 in the morning..."

"Ah," the other person had replied before a shake of the head in the "oh-you-are-so-lost" kind of way. "You wait for winter to pray on time!"

So the spiritual goal of this Ramadan is to pray Fajr on time. Now to the non-spiritual part.

I am going to build some upper body muscle.

Um, what has that got to do with Ramadan? Well, everything!

A good muslim is physically fit - a lesson that seems to be lost nowadays. I was listening to some lecture series, where one of the sheikhs was giving a physical description of the Prophet. His chest, the Prophet's wives are supposed to have commented, was like a folded shirt - a way of saying "six pack" in those times. Wrestling was apparently a sunnah (holy WWF!) and our Messenger was apparently in tip top physical shape.

Yet today you see all those mullahs with a spare tire bigger than the Dome of the Rock lecturing on the Sunnah of eating with three fingers.

Thus I have begun to learn the game of squash - apparently the fastest burner of calories from the indoor sports - and Mousehunter has been giving me some tips.

So today I went to the gym at 5. Then I spent 30 minutes on the stair master and treadmill. Sweating buckets, I then went to the squash court. For an hour I practiced forward drop shots and backhand volleys. Then I did 30 minutes of weights. And THEN I went swimming for 10 laps around the 25 m pool.

Yes! Finally when I was home, at 8, I felt relaxed. Tired, but nothing like a good work out. Oh I could just feel the calories melting away, the muscles in the upper body taking shape, the ...

Then I saw mom had cooked biryani.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Of Marriage Forms

I am researching the marriage laws of a Middle Eastern country for a cousin who, if all things go well inshAllah, is going to get married there shortly. Of course, one of the big problems is that many of these countries don't have proper websites, or even if they do, the English part of it is very badly written or completely unhelpful.

However, I did notice a few interesting things.

One, they love to use the words 'thereof' and 'whereby', and other big words whether they go with the sentence or not. For example,
... presenting the original passports of the spouses or copies thereof in addition to birth certificates whereby an attestation of the original in Arabic is necessitated...
Two, there seems to be no shortage of forms that you have to fill. For example, heading over to the Sharia court section of one city (now this is Islamic courts, folks), I find this gem.
'Proof of Marriage Consummation Form'
Definition:The husband must acknowledge and two witnesses must testify that he has carried out the marriage ceremonials and had intercourse with the wife.
Somehow I don't think my cousin can raise THIS topic with his fiancee.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The "Racist" Fishing Cop

I was talking to another Bengali acquaintance of mine. I asked him how his weekend went, and he replied he had gone fishing for salmon to this place in Port Hope, where he had rented a boat with his family. Naturally, I asked him how it had turned out.

"Oh, it was terrible." He replied. "On the top of that, our boat was pulled over by a racist cop and he ticketed all the adults on the boat."

"Wait a minute." I asked, puzzled. "You got a speeding ticket on your boat?"

"No, no." He laughed. "We were fishing without a license."

"OH." A pause, and then, "how much was the ticket for?"

"155 dollars each." He replied miserably. "What a racist cop. There were four or five boats around us, all had white people fishing. The police boat naturally went to the only brown people on the lake."

At this point of course, I had lost any sympathy for him. I mean, it's not a speeding ticket where you are going 20 over, EVERY one does that. Fishing is simple. You go to Canadian Tire, and buy a fishing license - 20 bucks per person for the year. You can't do that - then the cop has every right to give you a ticket. And, as I told him, he was lucky. The police have the authority to sieze a person's car (because it is used to carry the fish home - fish that is now illegal because they don't have a license).

I am sorry - people are trying to be cheap - but in reality you are cheating the government. And for people like me who pay the fishing license, it's good to see cheats being actually caught and punished. And as for the cop being racist - not only could he have reasons for not going to the 'white' boats (they are familiar people, he knows them, he has checked their license before, etc.) but as long as you are doing something illegal, and illegal because you are cheap, you really don't have any excuse to complain.