Hijaab – My First Published Article

 

This was published by an Islamic newspaper in San Antonio, TX called Al-Bayaan. I can’t recall exactly when it was published and the newspaper no longer exists. It was either 2004 or 2005 and I was either 15 or 16.  I’ve been looking for this article for a long time now so I could complete my collection of all my publishings. I used to have a laminated copy of this article but I can’t seem to find it anymore, not sure what the parents did with it. I haven’t re-read it before posting it up but I do remember there being a lot of grammatical mistakes so I’m apologizing beforehand. Either way, my life is now complete.

 

Coming out of Saudi Arabia at the mere age of ten, I already held a great respect and appreciation for the hijaab. I suppose somewhere deep inside me I have always carried the love for the hijaab and the remarkable wisdom behind it.

 

But once I came to America, it seems that I subconsciously decided that if I wanted to be accepted as a ‘normal’ person, I would have to act normal. Unfortunately, this was long before I had learned that normal is not an easily defined term. This new normal that I tried to adapt to included talking, dressing and acting like my new classmates. Sadly, this is the same conclusion that much of our youth has come to today.

 

All through elementary and middle school, I would wear the hijaab periodically, embellishing in the way it gave me a sense of pride and an odd power that allowed me to break away from the pressures of society. However, I was never able to make a commitment to it. I always felt that my new friends and lifestyle deemed me unworthy of it. I tried to completely push it out of my mind and not to bother over it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I fully broke away from all old friends and was again out on a search looking for the thing that made me feel complete.

 

And then I found it. My mom had me join these Islamic classes and I was suddenly plunged into a whole new world that left me nourished and wanting for more each time. I started praying once again, I was happier and I started setting proper goals for myself. With everything going so well, the idea of hijaab started ebbing its way back into my mind – even though our teacher had said nothing to us about the importance of hijaab in Islam. I fought it because I felt that the hijaab was a responsibility that I could never shoulder. It was too much of a commitment. Regardless of how much I argued my conscience, I was always left feeling a sense of sadness for not having the strength to make the decision.

 

Then on that one fated day, the inevitable topic of hijaab came up in class. I was bombarded with the much needed knowledge. Looking around us in society, it is apparent that the Woman was created to be beautiful and attractive. Her curvy and elegant body is proof enough of this beauty. Yet, in this same body lies her weakness in the lack of matching the physical strength of the Man. It is more than obvious that such an appealing treasure would require some sort of protection. If not, it would be like putting a cookie in front of a child and hoping he won’t eat it.

 

Through the beloved Prophet Muhamad, peace be upon him, Allah has revealed to us the following verse as a protection for us women: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and to guard their modesty. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is acquainted with all that they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to guard their modesty, and not to display their adornments, except that which ordinarily appears thereof, and to draw their head-veils over their necks and bosoms, and not to reveal their adornments except to their own husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants free of physical desires, or small children who have no sense of women’s nakedness. Let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they conceal of their hidden ornaments. And turn unto Allah altogether, O you Believers; in order that you may attain success.” An Nur (24:30-31) The beauty of this verse lies in the fact that within a few sentences, Allah is able to give us the cure to the rising numbers of rape incidents in our society. This verse also goes to show that viewing the beauty of a Woman is a privilege for any man. It also rightly compares to the saying that Diamonds wouldn’t be as beautiful if they were found just lying around on the ground. They are so beautiful and valuable to us because they are found deep in the ground, hidden from the rest of the world. Their exquisiteness lies in that they are rarely ever seen. Islam treats women as jewels, precious and delicate. Islam is not too harsh with them as long as she is an Allah-fearing woman.

 

As the class came to its end, I saw my irrationality behind not wearing the hijaab. Before I even got up from my seat, I decided that I would wear the hijaab and I would start as soon as possible. That night, I took my mom to go shopping so I could buy some full sleeved shirts to wear underneath my shorter sleeved shirts. I was happy as I browsed through the stores because I had put an ultimatum for myself. I had decided that I would start the hijaab on the first day of Ramadan which was still three weeks away. I went to sleep that night thinking about my decision and feeling satisfied and fully content after a long time. The next morning, it was a Monday, I woke up for school and as I stood in front my closet trying to decided what to wear, the clothes I had bought the night before caught my attention. I pulled them out just to look at them and think about that day that was to come when I would step outside properly and Islamically covered. Before I knew it, I found myself pulling the clothes on and placing the hijaab on my head. My mom came in to peep in through the door to see whether I was dressed and she asked me with surprise if I was going to wear it to school today. I excitedly nodded my head and picked up my backpack.

 

So it was that day, four weeks before my fifteenth birthday, that I made this life changing decision. It was as though almost instantly that I felt free from the pressures of this society. I felt that it wasn’t important to impress anyone because as long as I was pleasing Allah, I was doing the right thing and is there really anything to fear when you know you’re doing the right thing? Everyone was more than surprised as to why the sudden change and I would laugh and tell them that I was only answering a calling that was embedded in us all since birth. Even though I was born into a Muslim family, it was then that I truly embraced Islam.


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Unwarranted Rant: Vacations and Holidays

Why do we give our kids a 2 month long summer vacation? By no means am I saying that we shouldn’t. The question is just that, why?

The winter vacation still makes sense. It’s the holidays and in most places in the US it’s freeze-if-you-step-out-of-the-house cold. But why 2 months for the summer? As kids, we’ve all had those amazing 2 month long vacations that we look forward to all year long. Then we grew up. And realized that just like cartoons and toys, society told us that we have outgrown our 2 month long summer vacations. It’s so wrong! For the first, let’s be conservative and say, 12 years of our life we’re given the 2 months as though it is our right. But no one tells you that the summer after your senior year of high school is your LAST 2-month summer ever. It’s the last time that you can spend every single day of those 2 months doing nothing but, well, whatever it is that you want.

I graduated high school a good 6 years ago and I think back to all the summers I spent doing nothing. They were absolutely wonderful. For the first handful of those summer vacations, I spent the whole time in India doing nothing. Now, it’s been well over 10 years since I’ve been to the motherland and I wonder when I’ll get the next chance. One thing is for sure, whatever chance I do get, I’ll be lucky if it’s 2 whole weeks.

I’m not saying that we should take summer vacations away from kids and keep them in school all year round. Never. That would be disastrous. We can, however, spread out the 60-days throughout the year. For example, Winter Break can be 3 weeks instead of 2 and the summer holidays 3 weeks long as well. Or whatever.

There is possibly nothing that a school-aged kid can do for 2 whole months that could be detrimental to him up bringing. Even the parents start going crazy by the end of Month 1. The older kids, teenagers, can work throughout the summer but, hey, what about taking some of their holidays and making their school days start later in the day?? I remember having to wake up at 6:30 in the morning for high school. That was pure torture.

It’s sad, really, because our education system is supposed to create the bright minds of the future. Prepare the next generation for what is to come and, yet somehow, it has failed to adapt to the changing norms of society. iSchool upgrade please?

I just don’t understand who came up with this 2 month summer vacation. Which brilliant guy decided this was a good idea? I’m sure it probably has some connection with farming and how summer used to be so hot and people would just stay indoors at the time or something of that sort. But what does it do to prepare our children for their future in the 21st century? All it does is lull them into a false sense of evergreen pastures of annual 2 month vacations for the rest of their lives.


Love, sex, passion…murder?

In what seems to be a Bollywood sequel to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, an intense story of a tragic love triangle has emerged. The individuals involved were attractive, intelligent, and on the path to bright careers.

Maria Monica Susairaj is an up and coming actress from Karnataka, India where she had already starred in 3 movies. In 2008, at the age of 27, Susairaj decided to move to Mumbai to try her luck in Bollywood movies. She left behind her long-time boyfriend, a Navy Lieutenant named Emile Jerome Mathew, who was then 25 years old. Though they maintained a long distance relationship, Mathew grew increasingly suspicious of Susairaj. Specifically, suspicious of the nature of Susairaj’s relationship with a small time TV executive named Neeraj Grover, also then 25. Susairaj and Grover met through a mutual friend in Mumbai and hit it off from the start. They began to meet every day from April 29, 2008 to the fateful day on May 7, 2008.

Neeraj Grover

 

In 2007, Susairaj had discovered a six month long affair between Mathew and a Bangalore-based woman. After Susairaj confronted her boyfriend, he promised to end it. In true Bollywood-style turn of events, Susairaj and Grover began an intimate relationship in 2008. They met at coffee shops and spent nights at each other’s apartments. Grover had moved to Mumbai from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh for his chance at stardom. He spoke to his parents twice a day and was popular with the ladies. Grover had promised Susairaj a part in an upcoming television show and had already told his friends that he was in love with her. Susairaj knew this and claimed the attraction was one-sided, pointing out that she planned to marry Mathew.

On May 6, 2008, Susairaj asked Grover for help setting up her new apartment. As they were doing so, Mathew called and overheard Grover ask loudly, “Is that your boyfriend?” The next two times that Mathew called Susairaj’s cell phone, it was switched off. Mathew then called Grover’s cell phone and spoke to Susairaj, he told her to make sure not to let him spend the night. On account of his suspicions, Mathew took a 3:45 AM flight to Mumbai and arrived at Susairaj’s door at 7:30 AM on May 7. When Susairaj opened the door, Mathew looked at her calmly and walked into the bedroom with her close behind him.

“Mathew walked into her bedroom and found Grover there. He woke him up and the two fought bitterly before Mathew got a knife from the kitchen and stabbed him in the chest. He then attacked him several times till he was dead. The whole thing was over in 10 to 15 minutes. Mathew then slapped Susairaj once or twice, after which they had sex. They then decided on the best way to get rid of Grover’s body,” said Rakesh Maria, then Crime Branch Joint Commissioner of Mumbai.

Susairaj made a trip to the nearby mall and bought a large knife, plastic bags, air freshener and drapes to replace the ones that had been bloodied in the struggle. Upon returning to the apartment, they dragged the body into the bathroom and chopped Grover’s body into pieces and packed it into the plastic bags. They packed away their bloody clothes along with it. Susairaj then arranged for a car and helped Mathew carry the bags to the car, which the doorman witnessed. They stopped to pick up some gasoline and drove around Mumbai for 3 hours, finally finding a desolate area to burn the remnants of Grover’s body.

On May 9, Mathew returned to the Kochi Naval Base where he had been previously stationed. On May 10, Susairaj went with three of Grover’s friend to file a missing person report with the police. It wouldn’t be until May 21 that Rakesh Maria’s investigation would lead to the arrest of Susairaj and Mathew followed by a three-year long court case.

On July 1, 2011 the final verdict was revealed. Emile Jerome Mathew was convicted of murder in a crime of passion and guilty of destruction of evidence resulting in a sentence of 10 years. Maria Monica Susairaj was found guilty of destruction of evidence and sentenced to 3 years, which she had already served at the duration of the case. She walked free on July 2nd.

The stunned masses of India are only left to question. Was justice served? What would drive two individuals from upstanding backgrounds such as theirs to commit such horrendous acts? Who is truly to blame?

The upcoming book Death in Mumbai by Meenal Baghel (excerpt) follows the families and individuals involved and the court cases, raises other questions on a much broader spectrum. Questions relating to sexual equality, the role of “casual sex” in Indian society, and the generation gap are explored. All the individuals came from middle class, achieving families but the parents never understood their children and the kinds of lives they lived. In a recent interview Baghel says (about Susairaj), “She really wanted to marry Emile. He wasn’t committing to her. It’s a fact. So, she came to Mumbai. She got acquainted to Neeraj and that led to his murder.” Baghel goes so far as to call this a “Crime of Youth.”

On August 19, Ram Gopal Verma released the movie Not A Love Story. It follows the storyline of this incident but the official statement from the director is that the movie is not based on the true crime. The announcement was made after the Grover family expressed their disapproval towards the making of a movie about the death of their son.

The movie focuses on the love and passion shared between the partners in crime and skims over the emotions of the families involved. It gives an uncomfortable interpretation and makes an attempt to almost justify the murderers’ actions. It portrays the female character as a victim of circumstance. Only the passion is held responsible for the crime. The final message of the movie states, “The prosecution wants them killed. Their lawyers want them to kill each other. They want to be killed together.

http://browngirlmagazine.com/2011/08/love-sex-passion-murder/

 

 

 


My Private Ramadan

This year’s Ramadan showed up on my doorstep unannounced. How could I not have noticed that a whole year had passed by? I didn’t know if I should be excited or overwhelmed. Regardless of my sentiments, however, the Month of Fasting was upon me.

All the news mediums did their best to educate the masses about the intricacies of Ramadan; no food or water from sunrise to sunset, abstinence from sex and foul language during this time. A month of worship and family, gatherings and congregations. But what did that mean for me? I’ve been fasting every year since I was in the 5th grade. Yet, like snowflakes, no two Ramadans were ever alike. This year’s turn of events brought me somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago living with my newly married brother and sister in law. None of us know too many people out here. We aren’t even that familiar with the city. And with my latest string of ill fortune, it just seemed too much like a twisted prank to expect me to have a successful Ramadan.

It took about 3 days for my body to adjust to the sixteen-hour long fasts and that was the easy part. The nights comprised of standing in two-and-a-half-hour long prayers. The Imam’s well-trained voice resonated in my ears as he recited the powerful verses of the Quran from memory. It’s during these prayers, that it first dawned on me, the sniffles and silent tears of those around me were undeniable proof that I may not be the only one experiencing rough times. As the Imam’s voice cracked under the pressure of his own emotions, guilt washed over me.

I had a place to live and food to eat. I had family and friends who loved me, no matter how far away they lived. Despite all my foolish mistakes, I had those who would stand by me in unwavering confidence. Much more than that, I had a variety of clothes to clothe myself in, jewelry to beautify myself and a means to attain all the things I wished and hoped for. More than three billion people in the world live on only $2.50 a day (source). As we speak, there is a continuing famine in Eastern Africa. A merciless drought that doesn’t discriminate between child and adult or male and female. Yet, at the end of my fast, I always have a meal waiting for me.  A ready cure to my short-lived hunger.

It took this twisted trick played by fate to wrench me out of my self-pity. A lesson that won’t be easily forgotten, I hope. It’s easy to kick yourself when you’re down, but it’s definitely worth it to be grateful and appreciate yourself. This Ramadan reminded me that optimism is a human necessity. Despair comes to everyone but the faster you let it go, the simpler it makes life.

Donate to Somalia here

http://browngirlmagazine.com/2011/08/my-private-ramadan/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mookitab, the TV show

Ubaid Seth, Director and Producer

In a neighborhood Starbucks, Farhan Lala, Anisha Jethva and I settle into the most comfortable chairs the place has to offer. Minutes later, Ubaid Seth joins us with his coffee. I had asked them all to meet me there so we could discuss their latest project, Mookitab.

Mookitab is a short web series shown on Youtube. It is the brain child of Ubaid Seth, the director and producer of the series. Initially, he had planned to show 2-3 minute clips that would eventually be combined into a movie. However, the more he worked on it, the idea grew and developed into a web series. Mookitab is the direct translation of “Facebook” into Urdu. And, yes, the show is primarily in Urdu/ Hindi. Ubaid smiles and adds, “We will add English subtitles, one day.”

Ubaid Seth is a Network Analyst for Prime Communications by day. He is married and has two children. He was born in Pakistan but has been in the US since he was 5 years old, so it’s pretty astonishing at how well the show is scripted in Urdu.

Ubaid has a childlike innocence about him and it is easy to see where the  humor of the show arises from. He warmly smiles at us all before he begins to explain, “My wife is my first critic. She watches a lot of Indian and Pakistani dramas, so she knows what the viewer wants to see.” He chuckles and adds, “She’s never shies from letting me know when she doesn’t like something.”

On being a Muslim film maker, a rarity in the business, Ubaid says, “I do feel some responsibility towards my faith. If something makes me feel uncomfortable then I steer clear of it. Most of my earlier works have been centered around the Islamic theme but it mostly depends on the script now. If I like it, I go for it.”

Farhan and Anisha play the lead roles in the series and absolutely agree that Ubaid is very patient with all his actors. “He never gets frustrated with anyone, even if it takes you forever to get the part right,” says Anisha. Like Farhan and Anisha, the entire cast of the series are untrained actors but it is impossible to make such an observation based solely off the quality of their work. There is a level of neatness and refinement that is sometimes difficult to find in professional films.

Mookitab has no aspects of Bollywood, as one would expect from a fully South Asian production and cast. It is truly an original idea with a hint of romance, gang violence, comedy and a wide range of emotion. The plot is relatable to the life of the average South Asian-American youth. Mookitab takes desi drama to the next level. The filming of the show takes place in Houston, TX. So far, only 5 episodes have been released. Just the finale remains for this season and a rough script for season 2 has also been confirmed. So far it has 18,000 fans world wide, most of them from India and Pakistan.

Right now, the show is looking for female writers to bring a varied viewpoint to the show. Anyone interested should write a plot line for an episode and email it to ubaidseth4@gmail.com

Catch up on Mookitab on Youtube and visit the facebook page.

http://browngirlmagazine.com/2011/07/mookitab-the-tv-show/


Women In Politics

Elizabeth Taylor and Cleopatra

The democratic role model of the world is in a race against time to put a woman in the president’s seat. The same country that broke its previous record of all Caucasian male presidents finally elected a black man in 2008. It is once again daring itself to break the all-men record with the likes of Republican candidate Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin garnering much of the nation’s interest in preparation for the 2012 election. It is an electrifying time in our nation’s history.

Michelle Bachmann and Family

Looking back in history, many women have led powerful nations, albeit not all were democracies.  Egypt has the earliest examples to offer, Cleopatra being the most popular. Cleopatra ascended to the throne in 51 BC as the queen of Egypt. However, history books place emphasis on her beauty and have very little to say about her competence as a ruler.

During the 15th and 16th century, many European countries had queens who dealt fairly with their people and brought prosperity and reforms to their countries that helped them enter into the modern era. Queen Isabella I of Spain and Queen Elizabeth I of England are two such women. In Nigeria, Queen Amina Sukhera of the Hausa people would later become the subject of legends blurring the lines between truth and tale. She was a fierce warrior and helped Zaria become the center of trade.

Tsu-hsi, better know as the Dowager Empress, of China was a low-ranking concubine of Emperor Hs’en Feng during the 19th century. She bore him his only male heir and rose to her position as an Empress upon his death. Though she is portrayed as frivolous, she is also responsible for the reforms and modernization of Chinese government.

Queen Liliuokalani

A little closer to home is the story of Queen Liliuokalani during the 1890′s, the Final Monarch of Hawaii. Her reign was short lived and turbulent. She opposed the idea of Hawaii joining the United States and was thrown in jail on charges of inciting a revolution.

The much younger democracies of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have all seen female prime ministers over the past century. They were Indira Gandhi, Sirimavo Bandaranaika (three times over), Khaleda Zia (twice), and Benazir Bhutto respectively. Benazir Bhutto is a highly acclaimed woman as she is the first female Prime Minister of any Muslim country. Distressingly, she was later assassinated in 2007.

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

Today, Pratibha Patil is the President of India. Yingluck Shinawatra is poised to step in as Thailand’s Prime Minister. Dilma Vana Linhares Rousseff is the current president of Brazil. Other countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Liberia, Slovakia and many more have female reigning presidents or prime ministers. The United States has been left behind in this race but is our country now ready to embrace the inevitable?

http://browngirlmagazine.com/2011/07/women-in-power/


Why Muslims Love Democracy

The dramatic domino effect started with Mohamed Bouazizi (image below), a street vendor who set himself ablaze in protest to the confiscation of his wares and the public humiliation he endured at the hands of the Tunisian police.  Though the humiliation had been an everyday occurrence since he was 10 years old, somehow Dec. 17th, 2010 was different. It was the catalystic moment that brought awareness to the injustice that has plagued North Africa and the Middle East for many years. A series of protests and revolutions commenced across the region. Just a month later on January 14, 2011, the Tunisian President, Zine El Abedine Ben Ali, fled Tunisia.

Mohamed Bouazizi

On 17th January, another man in Egypt set himself on fire (see image on right) to symbolize the Egyptian peoples commiseration and unity with the Tunisian people. Egypt saw mass protests from January 18th to February 11th that finally saw the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, follow suit and step down from his 20-year long presidency.

The entire world was rocked by the power of such a peaceful and successful revolution displayed by the Egyptians. Encouraged by their victory, protests followed in Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Yemen, Morocco and Iraq. Many of these turned bloody when the leaders of Libya (image) and Syria (image) chose to demolish their own people rather than have to give up their positions of power.

Libya

The striking power of passionate youth and the Internet has shone through all these events. The  wise and elderly of these communities have been left behind to follow the proactive youth leaders. Thanks to social networking sites and a desire for a more fair system, these protests were mobilized. Estimates of how many people would show up to an actual event was often unknown.

Frustrated with the high unemployment rates and taxes, low paying jobs and widespread corruption brought about a deepening dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. While the older generations chose to see these situations as just how things always were, the younger generations who stayed in constant touch with their cousins and friends in the US and other democratic countries through Facebook were becoming aware of freedoms that were unavailable to them.

It is ironic that these Muslim countries have been under the rule of dictators for so long. Roughly 1400 years ago, Islam introduced the first draft of a democratic political system. During a period when most civilizations were ruled by emperors and kings that claimed divine decree, the Muslims chose to elect their first Caliph following the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Even women were encouraged to participate in the political process.

Syrian Protests

South Asian countries also suffer from similar ailments. However, it has only been about 60 or so years since these countries have gained their independence and have had the opportunity to run a government on their own. The widespread corruption and rampant crime are just an inconvenience. There is widespread lack of awareness amongst the common populace that an efficient government is a viable possibility. The youth is indifferent when it comes to matters of politics. They are more comfortable leaving it up to the 70+ age group to deal with it. Possibly another generation must grow up in such a diseased society before realizing a cure is necessary. Only when the people of a society decide to help themselves can true change be brought about.

http://browngirlmagazine.com/2011/06/why-muslims-love-democracy/