Thursday, June 22, 2006

Grey

When melancholy strikes.....I write poetry.

Grey

Grass dormant, in death like sleep
crunchy beneath her weakened feet
as she drags her tired shadow
on the path that grows ever narrow

each day the same, effete
a lurid picture, ghostly grey
the colour of each remaining day
was there a time when they were …more?

bright, alive, burning with possibility
a blank canvas to be filled with
tastes, textures and living
yes living…. would that she could

yet she filled it with regret
and more regret again
sorrow about what was
anger at what was not

she filled it with hate and greed
jealousy and simple misery
the colours that spilled
were reds, only reds – like blood

the blood of hate, and anger

her trees have long since borne fruit
her fruit have thorns, she cannot bear them
thorns that are children with loud voices
children who trample on her brown grass

the reds have faded - green at first
growing more grey with each passing day
her canvas is ruined – the work of her own hand
her soul, like her shadow – tired, worn, grey

Friday, June 09, 2006

No Apologies!!

The Powers That Be have done it again! They’ve declared the ‘Moderate Muslim’ to be the ideal Muslim of the time- a paragon of virtue, the only true representative of Islam, a peace activist, an advocate for gender equality, but to me an Apologist. Excuse me while, I straighten my Orthodox Muslim badge, oh, and my burkha too and get ready to have my say.

I have an apple or two to peel, (or should I saw a date to split) with my ‘Moderate’ brethren. For the record, I wear my Extremist, Orthodox, Fundamentalist colours with pride, but it really bothers me when I see the confusion this name-calling (clearly aimed at creating divisions within a severely embattled Ummah) generates.

The first of these is in the meaning of Islam. “Islam means peace,” say my Moderate Apologist brothers, as they take a low bow before their Colonial Masters. Beep!! Wrong!!
Islam literally means ‘Surrender to the Will of Allah’ and if this surrender calls for the taking up of arms against the armies of those who invade Muslim lands, then so be it. I will not be making any excuses for those who fight in the name of Islam against injustice and oppression even though the Masters may call them terrorists. Nelson Mandela was also called a terrorist, and he ended up having tea with the Masters when he became President of South Africa, in their not-so-white House.

Next comes the issue of inheritance, closely followed by polygamy. Yes, the Prophet (pbuh) practiced polygamy, as did his illustrious companions. All this resulted in a society that was free of immorality and moral decay. My dear Moderate Apologist brothers, do you think that had Clinton had the opportunity that Islam affords men by making ‘the second woman’ lawful, respected, and giving her children a father who needn’t hide them, that the Not-So-White House would have seen the Lewinsky-gate scandal? He could have married her then they would have had a first lady, and a second lady. What luck! And we could have watched the cat fights from the side lines.

What of the inheritance? Allah has in his infinite wisdom laid out these laws with great clarity in the Holy Quraan. Why should the Master’s view of justice bring us to question the Ultimate wisdom? After all the Master saw no injustice in the death of hordes of Iraqi children during the time when sanctions were imposed against the said country, nor does he see any injustice in the Apartheid wall being erected in Israel in a bid to steal even more Palestinian land.

Why do we, as a Muslim Ummah need to be making excuses for our Islam and the laws enshrined in the Shariah? Why do we need to harbour these doubts? Honestly, it is this that is their ultimate goal – these colonial Masters.

During the election campaign in Palestine, a huge amount of Shariahphobia was stirred up by the media, who’ve pulled out all the stops since Taliban-days to equate Shariah with a death sentence. Muslims were quoted regarding their fears of the Shariah should Hamas have victory and choose to use it as a guideline for chalking out their laws.

Look critically at that statement – Muslims afraid – of the Shariah… But wait a minute, as Muslims are we all not bound by this very Shariah that the Masters fear more than another Wall Street crash? As Muslims is this very Shariah not supposed to be the blue print for our lives? Why then would Muslims be speaking this way? Either the reporter who told the tale had a lot of expendable cash or the illness if Shariahphobia is not exclusive to the Masters alone.

So, is there a solution? One word- Education, our only weapon to combat the onslaught from the Masters and their devotees, the Apologists. And once we’ve moved beyond our Islam being mere lip service and a series of rituals and we’ve gained a deeper understanding of what Surrender to the Will of Allah really means, we can stand tall and proud, all the labels in place and say to the Masters, “I’m not sorry sir, that I am a Muslim!”

You know that your mind’s been colonized when:
You struggle to grasp the concept of equality and would never give your daughter in marriage to a man of ‘colour’
You see yourself in terms of ethnic grouping
Your sense of The Islamic Brotherhood is diluted
The words of a Professor carry more weight than the words of the Prophet (phuh)
You measure success in terms of cars, money, houses and University degrees
You feel the need to make excuses for Islamic Law
The Islamic penal code makes you squirm in your seat
You’re often heard saying,” I don’t need to be a practicing Muslim, because I know what is in my heart”

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Child Abuse - a painful reality

I had the honour of addressing a sister's conference on Child Abuse. I had to deliver an Islamic perspective on the topic. Thought I'd share the message with a few more people.

Bismillah.....

From listening to our experts on the painful topic of abuse, we understand that, even in the bad old apartheid days, abuse hadn’t heard of the group areas act. It was in homes then, as it is now. So while little has changed in that respect, a lot can change and is changing in other ways that matter. It is encouraging to note that more and more victims are coming forward, and seeking assistance. Hopefully this means that more parents and families are supporting the victims. Because not being believed by those who claim to love you and whom you love with all your heart is painful in the extreme. In the words of a poet:

Abused

I was once innocent
Carefree, free
A child to be cherished
Loved, adored
But abuse changed that,
It did, indeed
It sowed within me a seed
A seed of hate

The heavy pink drapes
How they taunt me
The painful memories
How they haunt me
My innocence was stolen
My self respect broken
In its place, violent self loathing

Was it my own fault?
Why didn’t I bolt
Did I ask for it?
Invite it?
Then why did I dread
The moment I’d have to face that bed?
Then why did I fear
That I’d soon hear
The word – Play?

Was it a game?
Oh, the shame, the shame
Polluted by an unwanted touch
So in the corner I crouch
Hurting myself, to leave a mark
My life so stark
Empty of love
A cry for help
Someone, someone…

Mummy?
You don’t believe me
I see it in your eyes
Tis’ all lies?
You would have known?
Oh, I’m so alone
Yet somehow I’ve grown
Grown to accept
While you will not accept
That it was not my fault
And the self-loathing must
HALT!

The last stanza tells us the message that we as a community need to get across. It tells us that victims don’t need our recriminations, our doubts, but they need our support and they need to be made to understand that whatever happened was not their fault.

By no stretch of the imagination can the actions of the abuser be seen as acceptable. They are unislamic in the extreme, but the mistake that we often make is in seeing the victim as having a share in the unislamic behaviour. In a way, we victimize them all over again.

I have a friend. She and her sister were abused by their father. During the divorce proceedings the sister testified against her father. Their lives were miserable thereafter and whisperings in passages followed them wherever they went. This happened to her before she accepted Islam. Would her life have been any different amongst Muslims? Amongst you and I? Would we have allowed our children to befriend her?

The single biggest factor that stands in the way of sufferers seeking assistance is the fear of how they will be perceived by people. And how are they perceived? Do we tell them, by our actions; by the way we avoid contact with them or tell our children not to mix with them, when their painful secret becomes public knowledge, that in some way, Allah forbid, we feel that they share in the guilt. That they have sinned? As if their own remorse and deep seated self hatred isn’t enough, we add to their burden and make them feel worse. Is our behaviour in accordance with the Islamic teachings that call for compassion even in our treatment of animals, and especially in our treatment of children?

Allah in His infinite wisdom has rendered children who have not attained maturity as Ma’soom. They have no sins to account for; the pen is raised, as the Prophet SAW said. So why do we, by our ostracisation, attribute sins to them that Allah has absolved them of? No one ever asks to be a victim. What we need is a little bit of understanding, a lot of sympathy, and a mountain load of love. Can we do this? If we can, then half the battle is won, because the more people come forward for assistance, the sooner the cycle that breeds under the cloak of secrecy, can be broken.

And remember, no matter how old the person is when they finally do come out with their painful secret, the child within them, the child that has suffered is waiting to be acknowledged, is waiting for validation of his/her feelings.

Let us open our hearts and send out the message that because we accept Islam as a complete code of life, we will imbibe a portion of the mercy that was Nabi SAW and we will greet all sufferers with open arms. We will gather them under our protective wing, we will give them love and understanding, instead of recrimination and stigmatisation. This would be the manifestation of the Islamic identity that should define our lives.

We all love Surah Inshirah, A lam Nashrah. Yes, because if we read it in our salaah we can close the book quickly. Alam nashrah….. what’s your record? Under a minute, thirty seconds?

Well, Surah Inshirah has a powerful message for those who find themselves being tormented, for those who feel they have been thrown in at the deep end without a life jacket in sight. But you see, there is a life jacket, the rope of Allah – the Quraan.

Let us look at the translation:
Did we not cause your bosom to be wide open for your benefit? And we removed from you your burden that had (almost) broken your back? And we raised for you your name
so undoubtedly along with hardship there is ease, Undoubtedly along with hardship there is ease so when you are free (from collective service, exert yourself in worship and towards your Lord turn with eagerness.

I am not going to go into the first half of the Surah, but I will confine myself to two verses. Inna ma’al usri…….

Sayyidinah Hasan al Basri reports that once Nabi (SAW) emerged from his home in a very happy mood and giving cheerful news to his companions on the basis of this verse, he said,” One hardship cannot overcome twofold ease”

According to commentators the yusraa refers to manifold ease that is promised after hardship.
Allah in His infinite wisdom allowed for whatever has happened, to happen. At the time when we are staggering under the weight of this painful secret and struggling to dispel the darkness that clouds our minds, we cannot see the wisdom, but we should never doubt it. When the time is right, all will be revealed.

It is then up to you to find your Yusraa, your ease that Allah has promised, and His promise is always true

Hardships are meant to draw us closer unto Allah, to strengthen our faith in Him, our trust in His infinite wisdom. Use your difficulty as a means of finding His face, seeking His pleasure, bringing Him into your life.
The poet who shared with us her pain, wishes to share with us another message. Many of you may have read her words in The Muslim Woman, but here they are again for those of us who may have missed them:
I carried my dark secret around with me for what often feels like a lifetime. It was a profound secret to carry, but try as I might I could not divest myself of it. But finally I’ve healed enough to write about it, and for once, I write without tears. I confess, the healing hasn’t been easy. It took twenty one years of nursing wounds before Allah forced me into counselling so that I could heal. But the scars are still there. With the passing of time, they may fade, but they will never go away.

They make themselves felt, each time I am over protective of my children, each time I have fears for their safety, each time I feel uncomfortable by their hugs or physical contact, each time I doubt my husband’s intentions. They make themselves felt each time the painful realisation is driven home of the fact that my own mother refuses to believe me. Perhaps admitting that I was abused by someone in whose care she entrusted me would be an admission of failure? I don’t really know, but that can never change the facts, and my emotional scars will stand as proof for all time.

Why am I bringing up such a distasteful subject? Surely this doesn’t happen in decent homes – in Muslim homes? This is the thinking, isn’t it? I should be ashamed, shouldn’t I? That is probably the first reaction my experience would elicit form ‘normal’ people, people who came out of childhood unscathed, untainted by this vile act. And tainted is perhaps the best word that I could use to describe how I felt about myself – that and filthy; polluted; unwanted; unloved; unlovable….

Even though the memories tortured me, I was made a victim all over again by a society that teaches women to feel that they have perhaps erred in some way if they’ve fallen prey to some sick individual, brought abuse onto themselves, because of which they should not talk about it. It should be a secret. If only you knew how painful a secret this it to keep – how weighty it is? If only you knew how many people around you are keeping just such a secret for fear of being judged or ostracised?
And you know what? These people are Muslims and many of the perpetrators are Muslims too.

After I spoke about my own experience I discovered two other sisters who recounted a similar tale, and my heart bled. Why were they so afraid? They would not go for help, yet their souls cried out for it. As women we support one another through marriages, childbirth, divorce, or any other experience that life throws at us, yet why do we not support our abused sisters? Where are the support structures within the families?

When I finally committed myself to counselling to face the ghosts that had been snapping at my heels, my family looked the other way. They didn’t really want to acknowledge that I had sunk into such a heavy depression that I was suicidal. Allah be praised for blessing me with the kind of husband whose shoulders are broad enough to support my burdens as well his own. He stood by me, listened when I rambled, wiped my tears when I cried. It often strikes me as an irony, that mine was the only marriage that my father opposed, and yet… it brought so much good.

Today, I can say that I am almost whole. I can laugh; I can give love and believe myself a worthy recipient of the same. I am not tainted, but rather I have learnt valuable lessons. While I will always wish that it had never happened, I have learnt to make peace with the realities. I hope that my voice reaches those who are carrying this secret around with them. Seek help – and always remember that you are not alone. While all may flee from your emotional battlefield, Allah will always be there, and this has been my most valuable lesson.

I hope this sister is not right, I hope her analysis of a society that victimises is mistaken. I feel for her, because she cannot get her mother to validate her suffering, but her suffering has brought enormous good into her life. It has strengthened her faith. And I have the sense that she may perhaps in the future face great trials, but she will always have this faith to fall back on.

So remember, no matter how deep, or dark your secret may seem, it tends to look different when it is brought into the light. It is considerably lessened when it is put down for a while and halved when it is shared with another. Allah will relieve you of the burden that threatens to break you back, just as He did for His beloved Nabi Muhammed SAW. It’s up to you now. The first step is always hardest to take.

Wa aakhiru da’wa na anil hamdu lillahi rabbil aalameen.