Friday, August 19, 2005

Salaams to Najaf

Tonight is an important night for Shias as we celebrate the birth of Imam Ali - the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Mohamed. And as Shias believe, he is the first and rightful successor after the death of the Prophet, it is an occasion that has always been celebrated with much joy in my community. It is times like this, I miss being in Minnesota with my community attending the services in the mosque instead of blogging about it by my lonesome self at home!

However, the more I think about it, over the past few years, I mostly went to the mosque for socializing rather than enhancing my spirituality. I started becoming annoyed with the mere ritualistic and cultural facets of our worship and celebration and I craved for more. My friends & I tried a lot to change some aspects and introduce new events but had little success. The pace of progress is slow and, so when I decided to move to DC after graduating from college, I didn't regret my decision. I really needed to get away from the exclusive and narrow minded approach of my mosque on global, political and social issues and work somewhere I could actually make a difference and feel valuable.

I am very disappointed with most Muslim leaders/preachers due to their lack of intellectual rigor when talking about religious issues & how to connect the dots between religion and other ideologies or issues that Muslims face. These are not things that I grew up thinking about because I took my religion for granted. Most of my friends were Sunni Muslims - however, I've always maintained a strong Shia identity and knew that I was "different."

Moving to the US , having studied abroad in Jordan and now living in DC has changed everything. I have been exposed to Muslims from all walks of life, but most importantly, I have met different Shias - some that are more liberal than I am. It's not something I am entirely comfortable with because it requires me to look at things from a very different perspective and has made me judgemental in many ways. I am at a point in life where I'm very confused about my faith and have tons of questions. But what I do know, is that being a Shia is a personal choice - I love my religion and am very proud to be a Shia even if I don't exactly know what it means completely at this point in time.

I came across this today & thought it was very apt for how I feel - it's from
Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet: "…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

Imam Ali's shrine is located in Najaf, Iraq. Last August, when the shrine was in danger of destruction as fierce fighting was going on, I remember my dad couldn't even watch the news on TV. He has visited Iraq for pilgrimages twice & was distraught. And so were many of my community members. One woman I interviewed for a research said that even if one tile of the shrine had been destroyed, she would have personally felt violated. Even at that time, I wasn't sure how I felt. Although it was heartbreaking to see the religious site under seige, I kept wondering whether religion & spirituality is something that can be enshrined in a particular location...

On that note, I pray for the safety of all Iraqis, a sustainable peace in the region & a sincere plea to God that I will one day visit Najaf & Kerbala (burial site of Imam Ali's son, Imam Hussein and his family and companions). Inshallah (God willing).

You can also read more on Imam Ali's miraculous birth and his famous sermons.

As Khojas say on occasions like this, Khushali Mubarak!