History Repeating?

Anyone remember my post about my birthday last year? I complained that I hadn’t done much, my friend’s little brother went missing (found after an hour or so), I spent a few hours at the hospital getting a leg injury checked out (gravity was the problem), blah blah blah. I think at the end I said that next year’s would have to be better….woww…

Many of you will have seen on Facebook that this year’s was a bit of a farce too. Here is the full story.

Last Wednesday, my best mate from school mentioned that she was headed to a small island in Malaysia for a couple of days with some friends. Knowing that she was headed there on my birthday, she asked if I wanted to go. Spontaneity being somewhat lacking in my life, I decided I would. I booked a ticket on Thursday, left Jessore by bus on Friday and headed to the airport in Dhaka. My flight was at 11:40 p.m., due to land in KL at 5:25 on the morning of my birthday.

By 11:15, we were all on the plane and ready to go. The engines started revving up, then stopped. They revved some more, and stopped again. After a few minutes, the captain explained that there was a small technical problem that would just take a few minutes to fix. A few minutes passed, and a few more. Then another 30.

By this point, I was getting concerned about having enough time on the other end. I needed to take a taxi from the airport to a ferry terminal, meet Claire and then take the last ferry of the day to the island. The ferry left at midday. The taxi journey reckoned to be 5-6 hours. Ho humm.

By half past midnight, with the stairs still in place and the aircraft door open, I was pretty certain that I wasn’t going to make it to the ferry. I pinged the call button. When the stewardess came, the man sitting in the same row as me complained to her that he was hot and starting to sweat. She assured him that it wouldn’t be much longer. She didn’t tell him to take his suit jacket and tie off, which I might have done, but anyway, she then walked away. I pinged again. A different stewardess came, and was greeted by the same man complaining about his swack. She placated him as per the stewardess manual, and left. Once more, I pinged. A third stewardess came (no doubt pre-warned about the old fellow and his beaded brow) and Mr. Suit-and-tie started again. I cut in. “I’m sorry, I know he is very concerned about being warm, but I have no reason to go to Malaysia at this point. While I understand that he is upset by his sweating, we are now so late that I can’t make it to my own birthday lunch. Can you please let me off the plane?”

Confused stares ensued. The stewardess asked me to wait a moment. After 10 minutes (with the door still open), I gave another ping. New stewardess. I explained once again, and once again asked to be let off the stupid plane. She left to ask the captain but, before I received any verbal reply, I knew the answer. The door closed and the steps were being pushed away. I briefly entertained the idea of faking a panic attack or stabbing Mr. Sweaty-knickers with a biro to get myself forcibly removed from the plane, but chickened out in the end. Instead, I cried during take-off.

Somewhere close to KL, I gave my final ping and informed the stewardess that, as I had missed all chance of making it to my birthday date, I wanted to go back to Dhaka on the return leg of the same flight and, if that was impossible, the airline would need to pay for my hotel in KL overnight.

We landed at 7:30, 2 hours and 5 minutes later than scheduled. A member of the local staff checked that he had understood correctly and I really did want to go straight back to Dhaka. I did. He found my luggage, took me to the boarding gate, hand-wrote me a boarding pass, and I got back on the plane.

By 10:30 a.m., I had arrived back in Dhaka and was hitting the duty free. Turns out Smirnoff is a fairly good silver lining.

All was not lost, however, as I headed into Gulshan and set up camp at my boss’ apartment for a couple of days. I shopped, I ate, I had a disgustingly rich chocolate fudge birthday cake and I met up with my best person, Kakon, his sister and cousins for some quality family time before heading back to Jessore yesterday.

Next year, though…that is going to be an amazing birthday!


Isn’t it funny….

Eid Mubarak everyone! I can happily report that I completed all 29 days of fasting, read the Qur’an twice through and also learnt 11 chapters of it to add into my daily prayer routine. I had a great Eid, visiting the homes of 2 colleagues and also my best, umm, whatever he is, Kakon. By 12 p.m. we were stuffed silly with delicious foods and we basically stayed that way until 11 p.m. Isn’t it funny that, no matter the religion, the main celebrations revolve around eating disgusting amounts of delicious food until you are uncomfortably full?

The political situation in Bangladesh seems to be teetering on the brink. A few weeks ago one of the large (and troublesome) parties was actually banned from partaking in the election,as it is an Islamic party and Bangladesh’s constitution declares it as a secular country, so a religious party could not run it. Strike action is to follow, handily extending many people’s Eid vacation by 2 days. The two main parties, AL and BNP are to-ing and fro-ing about whether there will be a caretaker government to run the elections early next year, with the opposition saying the current government will not conduct fair elections by itself and the current ruling party claiming the opposition are just being childish and of course democracy will be served. Isn’t it also funny how, no matter the country, the political arena is riddled with the same bs?

Two of the interns have already left, and the other two are nearing the end of their stay. It has been fun having them around – playing cards and talking to someone instead of talking to myself and trying to pretend I was actually talking to the cats (because that is so much better, obviously). Although parts of me will enjoy having the place to myself again, for a while at least. Isn’t it funny that when we are alone, we crave company and yet, when we have company, we just want peace?

Probably the most exciting news is that cheese has arrived in Jessore. Now, it’s only plastic cheese slices or Laughing Cow triangles, but it is a giant leap for mankind, resulting in me dancing a little jig in the aisle of the market. I now have the number of the guy who owns the shop and I’ve told him that, whatever cheese he can bring, I will buy it. Isn’t it funny how excited you can get about something you haven’t had access to for a while?


Ramadan Kareem!

Muslims around the world are preparing for the month of fasting, which begins with the crescent moon on Tuesday.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is the month in which Nabi Muhammad (S.A.W.) received the first section of the Qur’an. As the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan alter each year (moving about 10 days forward).

It is one of the five pillars of Islam to fast for the full 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadan, during the hours of daylight. In Bangladesh, for example, the hours to observe fasting are from 3:50 a.m. to 6:44 p.m. on the first day, and alter according to sunrise and sunset.

This will be my third Ramadan and, as with previous years, I am nervous about its onset. Will I be able to complete my fasting? What if I forget one day and eat something? What if it’s really hot and I need water? How will I cope without my morning coffee? You get the picture.

People have asked me how I can do it: How can I manage to not eat or drink even a drop of water for 15 hours? The answer is simple – prayer. I pray that I can complete my daily fast. I pray that I will not be ill. I pray that I can make it to the evening meal of iftar.

Some people observe Ramadan just because it is compulsory. Some people use the time to try to improve themselves as Muslims. Others use  it as a time of reflection. It is customary to read the Qur’an during the month which helps us to consider our own faith. I have also known Muslims who use the month as a detox…but they shall remain nameless.

For me, as well as being a time of quiet reflection, Ramadan also serves as a reminder of the many blessings which Allah bestows on us each day. There are so many things that we take for granted, and Ramadan helps us to appreciate the simple things. There is nothing sweeter or more wonderful than the first glass of water after a day’s fast.

One thing I will miss this year is sharing iftar at the mosque. In Thailand, women were regulars at the mosque and during last year’s Ramadan I picked up my friend’s mum and little brother and we went and broke our fast together each evening. We joined over a hundred and fifty fellow Muslims in taking dates and saying the maghrib prayers before having dinner together. I really enjoyed the sense of community – everyone looked after each other and welcomed each other. The poorer members of the group were given extra food to take home to their families. If someone was missing one day, someone else called and checked that they were OK. Maybe the sense of community was so strong because we were the minority group in Thailand. Maybe during Ramadan in Bangladesh the whole country will exhibit the same community spirit. Who knows.

One thing I do know is the feeling of warmth, accomplishment, expectation and closeness to Allah that Ramadan brings. I pray that all my friends and family will have a blessed and rewarding month. Honestly, I can’t wait!images

Nothing to Report

I’ve been painfully aware of my extended absence from my blog. But in all honesty, I can’t really think of anything that I’ve been doing.

My teaching colleague left just over a month ago, setting off on her next adventure in Guatemala. This left me with, in theory at least, 4 days of teaching to do alone each week, plus the appropriate planning. In actuality, there have been lots of strikes called and I have seldom had to work more than 3 days. The classes are going well, and I really love the students more and more each day.

This week, just when I had got accustomed to being the queen of my domain, 4 new interns arrived. 2 American guys, a Bangladeshi girl and a Kashmiri girl. The boys are staying for 3 months, while the girls will only be here for about 2. Jordan is to help me with the teaching (he’ll be doing all the crappy jobs that I hate, like searching for images on google and recording conversations for listening practice). The others are working on Panigram’s organic farming initiative.

I was sick as a dog for a week, resulting in a very entertaining trip to  the hospital and some great meds courtesy of the WHO. Feeling fine now though, Alhamdulillah.

It’s hot….so very, very hot. And humid..which I hate. Not much I can do about that though.

I went to another wedding, the highlight of which was a fight between the cook and a man with one leg. Oh, and our van breaking down on the way home so I had to ride on the trailor of a tractor wearing a sari. Tricky to keep those on in windy situations, I can tell you.

Ummm….what else? Na, that’s it. Told you there was nothing to report.

What is Jihad?

Time to step away from my usual lighthearted nonsense and address a serious grievance of mine: the overuse, and complete misinterpretation, of the term jihad.

Firstly, I would like to point out that there are in fact three types of jihad. Jihad Akbar is the daily struggle we face against our own selves. Islam recognizes that we are not perfect and that our moral compasses often reset towards the negative pole. Jihad Akbar is the act of constantly trying to bring ourselves to the better side – to live our lives more righteously. This is deemed to be the greatest form of jihad.

The second is Jihad Kabeer. This is the battle we face when spreading knowledge of Islam. Whenever a person of one belief tries to preach it to someone of another belief, they can expect to encounter abuse, misunderstanding or even persecution. Being prepared to meet these, and yet continuing to try to spread the joy of Islam, using our own lives as examples, is a part of the faith.

Third is the jihad commonly mis-named holy war – Jihad Asghar. This is the war that is waged against freedom of conscience. It is the war in defense of the faith. This form of jihad is solely to defend Islam and to defend one’s right to practice it. However, before declaring war, Muslims are told to try to reason with the aggressor, to move away if reasoning fails and only as a final option to fight for their religious freedom.

Political war is not jihad. It has been known, however, for leaders of Muslim countries to call a political war jihad, in order to motivate the troops and add weight to their cause. It is also true that people may twist the meaning of jihad to suit their purposes and bend others to their will.

Uprisings of oppressed people are not jihad, unless the oppressed are being prevented from practicing their faith.

Terrorism is not jihad.

The prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) also set out some strict rules or warfare for a true jihad. They are fairly comprehensive.

War must only be for the sake of Allah. Muslims can only go to war in their own defense. Muslims can not attack first, or attack peaceful people. War should be kept to a minimum. War should only be fought against soldiers, never against civilians. War should not be fought in religious places. War should only continue for as long as religious freedom is being interfered with.

The sad fact is that I am sure many terrorists do believe that they are playing a part in a holy war; that by calling their horrific acts jihad they will die as martyrs and obtain the riches of jannat. Perhaps some do believe that western countries are oppressing Muslims and preventing us from practicing our religion. Perhaps they even believe that the options of reasoning with and moving away from oppressors have been exhausted and that a jihad is the only solution.

The sadder fact is that these people are being counted as representative of the Islamic faith, when in fact millions of Muslims  are living their lives in peace and with no intention of doing harm to anyone. Actually, many are living in fear of the violence that may be carried out against them – but that is a whole other blog.

By understanding the real meaning of jihad, I hope that non-Muslims will see that the term terrorist is not synonymous with the term jihadist. I condemn terrorists and their acts of violence against innocents just as the rest of you do. But mujihad, those who carry out a jihad, are not to be condemned.

I am a jihadist. I fight my Jihad Akbar each day that I might be a better person. And today, that you might understand a little more of Islam, I fight a little bit of Jihad Kabeer.

Pizza..Sorry..Picture Perfect

Holidays are like pizza. Not only does everybody love them, but everybody also has an idea about what constitutes the perfect one. While some people like a thick, doughy base with lots of roughly chopped rustic vegetables and home-baked ham, others prefer a thin and crisp bread, topped with slivers of anchovy, olives and a single basil leaf. Others still love the folded pocket of delight known as a calzone, and some feel short-changed at the thought of any less than 7 toppings.

In holiday planning, these clear-cut pizza choices translate almost directly. Fans of rustic pizza A will be content nowhere else but in a converted barn in the Cotswolds. Traditionalists such as prefer pizza B enjoy such cultural vacations as weekends in Paris or a year in Provence. Calzone lovers are campers, finding all the warmth and happiness they need within their sleeping bag. Those who demand multiple toppings tend to have loud personalities and find themselves at home in Ibiza. Of course, there are also those who like such daring ingredients as egg or sweetcorn – they tend to do something less mainstream on holiday too, such as snorkling with piranhas or yoga retreats on nudist colonies.

My idea of a perfect holiday is simple. I’m on holiday, therefore I don’t want to do anything. I may or may not wake up in the morning. I want to spend most of the day lying somewhere warm, preferably a beach. I want to eat at obscure times, namely because breakfast didn’t happen until 2 p.m. I want to talk absolute nonsense to whoever I am there with. I want to play cards with a passion usually reserved for cup finals. I want to go one place to take one awesome photo that will make everyone say “Oooh…that looks lovely!”.

And that’s it. That’s my perfect vacation.

Oh, and I went on it last week. While these are the criteria for an amazing holiday, it is rare for all the boxes to be checked. But last week I went to Kuakata, Barisal, with Kakon and our friend Kasu and, one by one (without even trying), it met all the requirements for a perfect time. It also helped that our 3 day trip was extended due to national strikes to 6 days. Maybe I will have to include unexpected extensions to my list of targets. Although running out of clean clothes two days before we came home wasn’t ideal.

Anyway, here is the proof – the pictures. No pizza though.

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To Hijab Or Not To Hijab?

It’s time for me to address another of the common questions I have been posed since my conversion: Will you wear a hijab?

My favourite example of being asked this was by a man I had just been introduced to my a friend. It was quite soon after I had converted and she had given my old name, then corrected herself to Nazmeen. The next section of conversation went as follows:

Friend: Sorry, Naz just recently converted to Islam and I am trying to get used to using her new name.

Man: (disgusted look on face) Why?

Me: It felt like the right thing to do.

Man: Are you wearing a hijab?

Me: (touching my own hair) Umm..no, guess not.

Man: Well, maybe in the future it will seem like the right thing to do.

Me: Well, then I will do it. (Turning away from ridiculous,abrasive man)

As I mentioned in my post Second Class Citizen, many non-Muslims see the hijab as a symbol of everything that is wrong with Islam: it hides women, it takes away women’s voices, it oppresses women, it encourages wife-beating. Quite a feat for a piece of cloth.

The real meaning of the hijab, however, is not oppression and sexual inequality. Rather, it is a way for the wearer to show their humility before Allah. It is worn in the same way that many Muslim men choose to wear a taqiyah or topi – a small cap that can be worn either alone or under a keffiyah or scarf. I wonder why people observing men in these don’t worry about how oppressed they are?

In a similar way to the hijab, there is a man’s version of the burqa. It is a plain, loose-fitting shirt and pyjama-style pants, designed to be modest and not accentuate any bits that could lead to impure thoughts. That is, to be pure of thought and deed requires us to not be distracted by the thousands of things that could potentially pull us off course. Boobs being the most distracting thing known to man, we women have to help them in their quest for purity of soul by keeping our funbags under wraps. Women, on the other hand, like to claim that we are not so easily distracted, but I’m basically a bit of a perv and a good-looking guy in a tightish t-shirt can hold my attention for a good seven to nine minutes.

The final point about the hijab is that it serves as a physical reminder of the mental veil we should wear. Only Allah is perfect. Only Allah has the right to boast and to brag about all he has done and created and continues to do. Hubris has no place in a Muslim’s heart, and the hijab and taqiyah remind us that there is someone above us, looking down with love and affection.

Personally, I am not ready to start wearing a hijab. Maybe in the future it will seem appropriate to me, but I’m not there yet. However, I have nothing but the highest respect for my sisters who do so.