Sunday, October 30, 2005

Busy, busy, busy

When Ramadhan began, I had no idea that my schedule would take a life on its own. I just thought I'd go for the free iftars (breaking the fast) on the Georgetown or GWU campuses and spend the night by myself reciting prayers and dua's (supplications). However, this month has been a flurry of activity which included tons of iftars of various cuisines with friends, praying together with other Muslims, deep conversations about life & Islam and introspection about what Islam & Shiaism in particular means to me.

I've hardly been at home & next week, I'll be heading out for my organization's conference Global Solutions, Local Connections: making the global local one activist at a time. Although I'm really excited about it since it will also be my first business trip, it'll be during Eid (the festival celebrating the end of Ramadhan), so I'm sure I will be a little homesick since I won't be celebrating it with my family or my Muslim friends. The most ironic thing is that on eid night (Thurs night) I will be at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport on transit!! Of all, the itineraries to New Mexico, it is weird that I will be at MSP on transit - it's really weird for me since Minnesota has always been an end point - HOME - for me.

When I get back on the 6th, I'll only have a few days before I have to attend another conference called "Exploring the Layers of Our Identity" by The Qunoot Foundation. The organization was created by my dear friends Zahir & Mohamed for three reasons: create opportunities and scholarships for American Muslims, organize youth driven forums and produce articles, podcasts, and research on issues relating to the American Shi'a Muslim community. I'm also very excited about this conference but in some ways, I feel like my November is already gone with these conferences & new exciting challenges at work! I guess, it's better to be busy than bored!

I always feel very sad about the last few days Ramadhan. To many this may seem weird because we can't eat or drink during the fast, but I will miss the spirit of this holy month. I have been able to get closer to the Muslim community in DC, which I am very grateful for, but I also wonder if I made the most of this month. This month is like a huge sale - everything is at least 50% off & all we have to do is take advantage of the bargains. Allah promises forgiveness and blessings during this month and I just hope I've been able to get a small portion of His bounty...

"In the name of Allah, the Beneficient, the Merciful
I seek refuge with the majesty of Your gracious self
from the passing of the month of Ramadhan,
or the appearance of the dawn of this night,
while I still have a duty that I have not carried out,
or a sin that You may punish me for"


My opinion on the comment by the Iranian president

On October 27th, at a conference entitled The World without Zionism, Iranian president Ahmadinejad stated that Israel should be "wiped off the map." His statement is not surprising. In fact, it probably resonates with how many people feel due to Israel's continued atrocities & injustice towards the Palestinians & violation of international law.

How do I feel about it? I think it's an inappropriate remark on many levels:

1. It's immoral: Israel is not a non-living entity. It is a country that consists of innocent people who did not choose to be born there and now find themselves embrolied in a decades-old conflict just like the Palestinians. It is like saying “Death to Israel” and does not really make sense. Muslims don’t like to be regarded as “terrorists” due to the actions of a few extremist Muslims, and I think it is unfair to judge all Jews and Israelis based on the actions of a few political and religious leaders.

2. It's a bad political move: this statement is the last thing that Iranian administration needed when President Ahmadinejad is already facing international pressure about its uranium enrichment program. Secondly, it doesn't help Muslims and Arabs in the West who are trying to portray Islam in a positive light and working to live a normal life; nor does it help activists working on Muslim or Middle Eastern issues because they may now be required to respond or explain the Iranian president’s remark.

3. It's not pragmatic: I can understand if people don’t support the Zionist ideology or the initial creation of Israel. However, the country was established more than 50 years ago and it is apparent that it is not going away. Therefore, we need to accept this fact & move on. Instead of looking back, our efforts must be focused sincerely on the future of the Palestinians and creating a situation that provides them with a normal life sans the oppression they have suffered for so many decades.

This piece from a BBC article captured how I feel about the issue:

"What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map and not wiping Israel from the map," he said. (Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat).

"In principle, we are way beyond this type of political rhetoric that shows the weakness of the Iranian government," said an official at the Egyptian embassy in London.


Monday, October 17, 2005

A humble request

My friend Shenaaz who worked in Pakistan over the summer has created a Relief Tent Drive for her friends working with NGOs in Pakistan to purchase local supplies and the much needed tents.

Normal donations are right now blocked by red tape and logistics on the groundWith the piercing cold and soon approaching snow, time is of the essence . She will be arranging the first wire transfer by mid week - so please donate now right
here, and help to spread the word.

From BBC: Tents crisis hits quake victims. Also from The Times Online Bank red tape stops British cash reaching quake victims

I have been really busy with Ramadhan related activities & have been unable to blog. Will be back soon....


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A test for all

"Verily, with every difficulty there is relief.
Verily, with every difficulty there is relief."
Holy Qur'an 94:5-6

Whenever a new disaster strikes, people get bombarded with requests for donations. Like me, I am sure others wonder that with so many things going wrong around the world, how much more can we really give & how do we choose what to give to? I understand completely. The lastest earthquake in Pakistan hit me hard because I grew up with Pakistanis and have many South Asian friends. But for those of you who haven't yet pledged any money, this is how I decide:

$10: I can probably sacrifice 3 Starbucks lattes for a week
$25: I can probably sacrifice a few lattes & make my own lunch from home instead of going out
$xxx: I can't put a price to what you can afford, but this a disaster of enormous scale and every bit you give will give a long way to help those affected.

May God bless you and those affected during this holy month of Ramadhan. Remember them in your prayers....

Islamic Relief

Association for the Development of Pakistan

Kashmir International Relief Fund

Action Against Hunger

American Red CrossInternational Response

American Refugee Committee Rapid Response


Food for the Hungry

Habitat for Humanity International South Asia

International Rescue

Mercy Corps Pakistan Earthquake Fund

Oxfam AmericaGlobal Emergencies Fund

Save the Children USA

U.S. Fund for UNICEF

World Vision

World Food Programme


Monday, October 10, 2005

The myth of Yitzhak Rabin

An interesting perspective from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

Yitzhak Rabin is now also a community. Three weeks ago, the cornerstone was laid for Tsur Yitzhak, a new community on the seamline that will bear the name of the late prime minister. Another community, Givat Rabin, in the Lower Galilee, has been in the planning stages since 2001. After all of the schools, streets and roads, a hospital and city squares, a musical production and power station, trauma center and monuments, a community will also be built, and perhaps a city, too, before long.

Next month, on the tenth anniversary of Rabin's assassination, the country will again be inundated with memorial festivals, and the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, with its megalomaniac presence of world notables. This new center cost $30 million to build ; while the government allocation was recently reduced, it still stands at NIS 7 million annually. Even the Jordanian child,Yitzhak Rabin, received temporary resident status from Israel\'sinterior minister recently only by virtue of his name.

And if this were not enough, about a year ago, the non-profitorganization for perpetuating Rabin\'s memory petitioned the High Court of Justice to instruct the government and Trans-Israel Highway Company to name the road for him. Thus, maybe we will have a Rabin Highway linking the communities named for Rabin, in which there are dozens of schools and streets named Rabin.

There is no doubt that a prime minister who was assassinated while in office, who signed the first agreement with the Palestinians, and who was an army chief of staff wreathed in glory, deserves to be remembered forever. But after a decade of commemoration enterprises,one can surely ask: Haven't we exaggerated? Hasn't this wholesale commemoration cheapened it? And above all, was Rabin in real life indeed similar to the mythological figure that has been constructed around his memory?

It is not by chance that Israel loves so much to commemorate Rabin. For Israel, the living Rabin embodied the best of its secret longings. He was the man who proved that you could have your cake and eat it too - waging war and making peace; issuing commands to break the bones of Palestinians and sitting with them at the negotiating table; building settlements and condemning the settlers in scathing terms; signing an accord with the Palestine Liberation Organization and refraining from evacuating even a single settlement; deliberating with Yasser Arafat and expressing physicalrepugnance for him; ready to travel to Gush Etzion with a visa but not doing a thing to advance this issue; shocked by the massacre carried out by Baruch Goldstein and afraid to evacuate the Hebronsettlers.

Perhaps truly on that night, when he refrained from evacuating theHebron settlers, an important characteristic of his was expressed, a characteristic that is not mentioned when speaking about "Rabin'slegacy" (a vague term than no one knows how to define): On that night, Rabin was revealed to be a cowardly statesman. If he hadevacuated the Hebron settlers then, when an excellent opportunityfor doing this arose, he would have prevented the development of themonster that grew in the city and has already succeeded in drivingtens of thousands of terrified residents from their homes.

In the Oslo Accords - the crowning glory for Rabin, the man of peace- he also did not dare to do what a much smaller "man of peace,"Ariel Sharon, did 10 years later. Rabin did not dare to put theevacuation of settlements on the agenda, even from the Gaza Strip,despite his conviction that at least some of them should beevacuated. The failure of Olso must therefore be attributed, amongother things, to a lack of courage on Rabin's part. Even if thePalestinians themselves, for some unclear reason, were wary of beingtoo adamant in demanding the evacuation of settlements, a statesmanlike Rabin could have been expected to recognize the Israeli interest in such a move. He should have initiated an evacuation inorder to strengthen the agreement.

The decision to recognize the PLO and sign an agreement with it wasindeed a courageous act, but while appreciating this, all of thelong years of refusal that preceded the move should not beforgotten. During these years, Rabin refused to recognize theorganization representing the Palestinians and Israel wastedvaluable time. If Rabin and his colleagues had recognized the PLO in time, perhaps this would have prevented the bloodshed of the first intifada and the entire course of history that followed might havebeen different.

But the first intifada did break out, and the violent and brutal waythen defense minister Yitzhak Rabin dealt with it cannot be erased from his "legacy" or the way his portrait is depicted. It isimpossible to just remember the statesman who signed a peace treaty with King Hussein, an agreement that did not demand a price fromIsrael and only provided captivating photo opportunities with a king who had European manners and great personal charm.

Rabin believed in interim agreements. He thought that the abyssbetween the Palestinians and us could be traversed in stages. Hewanted peace but, like most Israelis, did not agree to pay theprice. For a leader who is portrayed today as a bold seeker ofpeace, he did not have enough courage to reach into the flames andtry to extract a solution. Before the first intifada, thepossibility of reaching a solution was greater than it is today,with over 200,000 settlers in the West Bank.

All of this should be taught to pupils at the many memorial assemblies that await us. We should tell them the full truth aboutthe prime minister who became beloved and revered after his death: He was assassinated on the "altar of peace," but what he did forpeace was too little and too late.


Surprise, Surprise

Naval Officer John Gay shot this photo of a US F/A-18C Hornet breaking the sound barrier over the Pacific Ocean. At sea level a plane must exceed approx. 741mph to break the sound barrier, or the speed at which sound travels. The change in pressure as the plane outruns all of the pressure and sound waves in front of it is heard on the ground as an explosion or sonic boom. The pressure change condenses the water in the air as the jet passes these waves. Altitude, wind speed, humidity, the shape and trajectory of the plane-all of these affect the breaking of this barrier. (Photo: John Gay/US Navy)

From Electronic Intifada:

"Oh my God, not again!" Shouted taxi driver Abu Omar while sharply parking his car on the side of one of Gaza City's traffic-jammed streets. A thunderous explosion echoed throughout the city, as Israeli fighter jets broke the sound barrier over the Gaza Strip.

The old man's hands were shaking as passengers tried to calm him down and reassure him that it was only a loud sound. "I couldn't sleep well when it happened last night," sighed the Abu Omar. "This is simply unbearable."

It all started with an explosion on September 23, at a military rally for the militant Palestinian movement Hamas - its last before declaring an end to all weapon displays in the streets of Gaza.

The rally, which included thousands of Hamas members and supporters, was in progress at the packed Jabaliya refugee camp when an explosion shook the place and sent a large pillar of smoke in the air.

... click on the link above to read the whole article


Sunday, October 09, 2005

A visit to the UAE embassy in DC

Last week, I visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) embassy in Washington, DC, for a lecture on the economic development of the country. I went partly because I am interested in the topic, but partly because as a former UAE resident, I was curious to see what the embassy looked like.

The place is a beautiful fort-like structure with a dome. As I entered, I was greeted by the familiar smell of strong Arabic perfume. When I looked around, I was tempted to roll my eyes because the interior was decorated with fake palm trees and looked like one of the many malls in Dubai - very reflective of the opulence common in the UAE.

Once we entered one of the rooms, we were served food, which some of us refused since we were fasting. Our hostess was a young woman named Reem, who was born and raised in Dubai. As someone who is UK/US educated in economic development, her role is to promote UAE's trade policies, in particular a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. She gave all of us an impressive overview of the development of the UAE since the country's independence in 1971. The presentation focused on the rapid growth of this tiny "miracle Gulf country" and how Emaratis are rising as entrepreneurs and experts in various sectors.

Most people who are not familiar with the UAE are amazed by the Burj-ul-Arab hotel, the palm tree islands, and tourism & shopping in Dubai. What they usually do not know is that expatriates make up more than 50% of the population of the country. It is these non-natives that have built the country in the past three decades but are not recognized as citizens of the country. It does not even matter if a person is born in the UAE and is granted citizenship of her/his parents. They are not privy to benefits such as subsidized health care or cannot own their own homes (which is slowly changing).

During the Q&A session, my question to Reem was how the country was planning to move forward with the third generation of "expatriates" who are a vital part of the country, even consider the UAE as their home but are not recognized as citizens.

To my surprise, she was very open and frank with her response. She admitted that it was the expatriates who have built the country in the past few decades but because of the exclusive nature of the Emarati society, all the different communities end up living in their own silos. She explained that unlike the United States, citizenship to Emaratis was not about an attachment to an ideology but a particular lifestyle, culture and set of values. Moreover, as a tiny minority in their own country, Emaratis are unwilling to give up this privilege. She also pointed out that because the UAE was a constitutional monarchy, no one was missing out any political rights.

However, Reem emphasized that expatriates live in relative peace and comfort compared to other countries in the region and enjoy a privileged life. I agree that the UAE is peaceful but completely disagree with her latter point.

Many people wonder why my attitude towards Dubai is so unfavorable. I want to make it clear that UAE is in no way a dictatorial country like many Arab countries. I will also not deny that some people do strike the pot of gold and earn a revered status in society, but for those who do not, life can be harsh.

I tell people that while I was growing up, I saw Dubai through the eyes of my parents and saw how difficult their life was. I remember how laws in the UAE changed dramatically in the 90's - the rush towards capitalist economics resulted in the erosion of affordable housing and health care, creating a living standard that many expatriates can no longer afford. Many former migrants will talk about the charm of the "old Dubai" and how it will never be the same again.

I know how it feels to be insulted and treated as a second-class citizen but unable to do anything about it. When I was eleven, my uncle showed me the UAE visa on my Tanzanian passport driving home the fact that without it, I was truly nobody. And when I moved to the US about six years ago, I remember staring at the word "Cancelled" on my visa amazed at how 17 years of my life were erased by a mere strike of a pen.

Once the lecture was over, I stopped to talk to Reem and told her that I grew up in Dubai. It may seem ironic to many, but most people who live in the UAE, do not speak in Arabic - although Hindi/Urdu are not my native languages, I learned how to speak them due to the dominant South Asian community in Dubai. In my entire life, Reem is the second Emarati woman I have had a civil conversation with. Most Emaratis in the UAE I came in contact with were in bureaucratic positions, behind visa counters, or in shopping malls - an unfortunate indicator of how Emaratis and others live parallel lives in the UAE.

I was really honest about my feelings and told her that although I lived in Dubai for 17 years, it is the US that I considered my true home. In my opinion, I did not reject the country of my birth - it rejected me. As a Muslim woman, I was proud of Reem and the fact that Arab Muslim women were making strides in their career and asserting their rights as much as their male peers. At the same time, I was resentful of the fact that although we were born in the same place, she "belongs" to the UAE because she can trace her ancestry in the country and I cannot. Reem was frank about how she does not think this policy will ever change. She is probably right. But I will always hope that one day, non-natives will have the same claim to the country they are born in as natives do - so when we sing the national anthem and say "Biladi, biladi, biladi (my country, my country, my country)" it will ring true.

We had a great conversation and towards the end, she looked at me and sincerely said how sorry she was that I felt the way I did about the UAE. Then, she gave me a hug and insisted I take some of the leftover food home for my iftar.

When I stepped out, I had a smile on my face and a plate filled with delicious Arabic food - a token of something I cherish the most about Arabs - their hospitality.


Monday, October 03, 2005

Ramadhan Mubarak & more!

Shalam (I read this somewhere & really like the way it combines the Jewish & Muslim greetings),

Well, the most important month for Muslims is finally here, where millions of Muslims will fast for a whole month - from dawn to dusk. Unfortunately, every year, different Muslim scholars and communities within the US & around the world politicize the whole concept of moonsighting (to determine the start of the month) & rarely, do Muslims end up starting it or ending it together. To me, it's a real pity & a disgusting take on the state of Muslim communities today - even when we have technology to determine astronomical accuracy.

In Dubai, it was rare for Shias & Sunnis to celebrate the first of Ramadhan or Eid together - mainly because UAE would follow what Saudi Arabia had to say and we would go according to Iran or Bahrain, since we don't trust the Wahabi government - for a good reason! Even when I was in Jordan 2 years ago, I was surprised that Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon & Egypt celebrated Eid one day while the rest of the Arab world chose another day.

Although I understand that moonsighting is interpreted differently according to the various jurisprudence and it also depends greatly where you live, there is only one moon for crying out loud! For great commentary on this check out A united Ramadan? Shut yo mouth! and Luna(r)cy.

Despite all the politics, it's my favorite time of the year because of the spirit, the holiness of the month, the togetherness of Muslims, the beautiful prayers and of course, the great food! :o)

It will be interesting to see how this month goes for me as I spend it away from my family and my community - but I'm still excited because I have made so many new Muslim friends in DC, and I'm sure it'll be a great spiritual experience and a lot of fun trying out a whole new way of celebrating the month. What I am also looking forward to our all the iftaars (when we break our fast) esp since GWU & G'town will be offering free ones during the week!

Click here for a great resource on Ramadhan.

Tonight is also a special night for Jews as they begin their High Holy Days: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So, for all of you celebrating those events, I wish you a blessed holiday too.


Global Solutions, Local Connections: Making the Global Local One Activist at a Time

On the evening of Friday, November 4th, from 7:30 to 10:30, Citizens for Global Solutions will hold its first film festival at the Lensic, Santa Fe's newly renovated performing arts center. Short films covering topics on energy, the environment, global health and civil conflict will be shown and discussed. Local and national poets will also share their relevant work. Individual admission is $20. Students are admitted for $10.

The film festival is part of a larger conference, Global Solutions, Local Connections: Making the Global Local One Activist at a Time, and will feature Gov. Bill Richardson, Author Salons, local and national artists and activists, and much, much more! The conference will seek to raise awareness about global problems that have local impacts, while communicating to people how they can take action in their own communities to alleviate some of these problems.

Never before in the history of our world have so many global problems desperately needed our attention – and you need to be part of the solution. Join us in this rare opportunity to meet and learn from high-caliber experts and activists working hard to solve some of the world’s most vexing problems.

Join us to learn how global issues have local impacts. Learn how you can raise awareness in your own community. Learn how you can take action. And have fun doing it! Come and make this a weekend to remember!