Khush Amdeed (Welcome)

Welcome to Chowraha - crossroads!

Chowraha is the crossroads of thoughts, events, opinions and feelings...all that have been shaped by individuals living in an increasingly complex world inter-connected through various means of communications.

This blog is about the crossroads in society - whether it is those of a diaspora community, global media complicating the structure of nations and cultures, or individuals finding parallels in spaces unknown to them.

The above picture is courtesy a much-admired photographer (Ali Khurshid) whose work is a source of inspiration and reaffirms the belief in the complex beauty of this world.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cairo - the best trip I could have hoped for

I had always wanted to visit Cairo, since my days in college. It was partly from all the anticipation about it and the love my brother had created in my heart for Egypt. He is a huge Egyptian-fan and since he is 11 years older than me, I find myself almost always in awe of any story or experience he has to share.

Our recent trip to Egypt and Cairo was every thing I had heard about Egypt. The hospitality and warmth shown to us there by our friend and his friends was more than we could have imagined. I dont think I can imagine Cairo in any other way. Everyone at work and even in my family was worried about the conditions in the country, the protests and our safety. Our hotel was only 5 minutes from Tahrir square but we witnessed a buzzing, peaceful city enjoying its every day life and busy in it.

We went right before the elections. As with any new democracy there was a sense of fear and bitterness amongst people there, unsure if the people standing in elections represented the true spirit of the revolution they had stood for. But I was excited to have visited the country post-revolution any way. I saw extremely peaceful rallies in Alexandria for Muslim Brotherhood, which I could have never witnessed before in Egypt. The cities were plastered with campaigning posters of the various contenders. This was a spirit that is meant to be appreciated and I do sincerely hope that the years to come show more fruits of democracy than bittnerness for it.

I have put together a blog post in one of my travel blogs on how to spend a quality week in Cairo. I am sure this itenerary will help you if you are planning on visiting Cairo and if not, you will enjoy seeing what Cairo and its people have to offer!

Read: Travel plan for seven days in Cairo


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Why the urge to burn a Holy Book?

Note: The following blog post has been contributed by Zarena Jabbar, a dear friend on a recent event in Afghanistan and her thoughts on its reactions worldwide.

It has been a few years now that we hear talks of the Muslim holy book, Quar’an, being put on “trial” and then burned. Lately an unsettling feeling has overcome me after hearing about the Qur’an burned in Afghanistan on February 20th by U.S. soldiers. My belief in extreme human ignorance has been confirmed by the level of insensitivity that is on the rise in our society and around the globe. I am baffled by how easy it is for a human being to disrespect a holy scripture that is believed by billions around the world to be the divine words of God and a book that teaches only generosity, kindness, modesty and submission to One God. Have the non-believers ever picked up a copy and read a verse for themselves, or better yet, have they heard the book be recited which has left billions of people around the world humbled and moved to tears. Could the reason of attempting to destroy or burn the Qur’an just be that--Ego, Ignorance, hate or is it something deeper?

In 2010 Reverend Terry Jones, pastor in Florida, announced that he was on a mission to burn the Qur’an on September 11, 2010. There were many pleas from government officials which enticed him to back down from the radical “stunt.” We thought that story ended but were unfortunately wrong. Mr. Jones came back in January 2011 and “put the Koran on trial” and continued with his rant of showing the world what a “dangerous book” this was and on March 20, 2011 in Gainsville, Florida Mr. Jones did the unthinkable and burned the holy book in front of 50 people inside his church. What was gained from this cruel act, some say it was fame or fortune but I think it was mere unrest in the world. Our job has become harder in light of these events in continuing to preach the core principles of co-existence, peace and tolerance. Teaching hate in the name of religion is unacceptable and every peace loving human being must stand up against people like Mr. Jones and his followers who think it is quite okay for youngsters to wear T-Shirts to public schools that read “Islam is of the Devil.”

All this has been on my mind along with the talks of soldiers flushing the Qur’an in toilets in Quantanamo Bay etc. when most recently on February 20th 2012 in Bagram Air Field-Afghanistan several soldiers out of “ignorance” decided to dispose of the Qur’an in a burning garbage pit even after being warned by fellow afghan soldier. This ill-mannered act has sparked violent protests in Afghanistan and unrest around the globe. With these tragic events unfolding in my life time, I question how much is known about this book and what it means. Do these lunatics not realize that the stories of all the prophets including Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him), Abraham (PBUH), Moses (PBUH) and our beloved Mary are all revealed in this book by the supreme being. This makes me wonder about the motives – is it true ignorance or is it coupled with the fear of knowing more than our comfort zones, digging deeper and learning about a religion that billions have accepted as a way of life which has given them a purpose for life so that they do not wander in this world unhappily any longer.

The Qur’an is a final revelation as believed by Muslims and is the literal words of God, revealed over many years (approximately 23 years) by Angel Gabriel himself to the final prophet Muhammad (May the mercy and blessing be upon him). The Qur’an is full of wisdom and full of Gods unparallel mercy and justice on his humankind. This book is core to Islam, one can not call themselves Muslim if they don’t believe in it. Qur’an is considered very unique in its content and style to the point that it can not be translated; therefore, any translation is considered an interpretation of the meaning of Qur’an. As Jesus (pbuh) was given the miracle of giving the blind site and Moses (pbuh) given the miracle of parting the red sea as such Muhammad’s (pbuh) miracle was the Qur’an. It is a miracle that has sublime tone and beauty. It is possible to see Muslims moved to tears when they hear or read the Qur’an. Over 1400 years the Qur’an has not been tampered with, hence, Muslims read the exact words that were revealed by God himself; a Muslim on one end of the world will read the exact words in the holy book that another Muslim will read on the other end. For these reasons, the Qur’an is a highly respected and revered book which is why there are outcries in the world when Muslims hear talks of the Qur’an being burned or unfortunately see the thrown into fire pits. This book is not a symbol like a man made flag but rather a divine revelation – words of God himself.

September 11, 2001 was very tragic, many innocent lives were lost including Muslims and many more innocent lives were impacted by its after effects; either through wars, direct discrimination, racism or profiling. When I first heard of September 11th, it was around 8:00AM and I was walking to my Accounting class in Mills College with a friend. It was a beautiful crisp morning and Mills is full of some amazing and very tall eucalyptus trees which give off this sweet dewy and nutty smell early in the morning. My friend started to tell me about what had happened in New York and seemed so worried; I am very visual so I had to see on screen for myself but nonetheless that walk to class was interesting. Since I hadn’t yet witnessed the plains crashing into the twin towers I couldn’t grasp what had happened on the east coast. However, during that walk to class, as Economic students, we started analyzing the incident in economic terms and its ramifications on the country and the world’s economic stability. I recall my friend exclaim “imagine what will happen if everyone looses all their money in the bank” we might go through a depression again! Now that sounded scary to me. Later as I saw and learned more, it was all so devastating. My heart went out to those that were impacted and at the same time fear over came me not of what will happen to the stability of the economy but the stability of peace around the world. I found myself pray that “please don’t let it be Muslims.” I found myself glued to the radio (I didn’t have a TV in my dorm room) as days went by there were talks of Afghanistan and Bush going to war and life as a Muslim as I knew was no more. Being the only Afghan on campus at the time, I started to become fearful for my safety. I became fearful for my parents who lived in a predominately right winged, white neighborhood at the time. I became fearful for my family members who still resided in Afghanistan.

My fears were slowly surfacing, one day I remember my little brother, who was in 4th grade at the time, run home with a pant and shouting in the living room, “Guess what our neighbor’s bumper sticker says?” I thought it would be something fun and unique and asked what! To my dismay, he said that the bumper sticker read “Kill ‘em all and let Allah sort ‘em out” I was shaken and decided to go outside to read for myself. The impact of those words was so strong. I stood there reading and re-reading that sticker with a wave of electric vibes running through my veins. Since then those letters imprinted
to my memory. At that moment I developed a sense of panic, not only for my family who had to deal with these neighbors but the realization that life as we knew it was not going to be the same for Muslims in this society or the world. That fearful state has never really left me and those words from the bumper sticker continue to echo each time I hear of hate crimes towards Muslims or those perceived to be Muslims, hateful words towards Islam and violent acts towards the peaceful religion.

I have asked myself over and over again how I can overcome my deep fears and have realized that if I can only reach out to each Muslim and Non-Muslim and explain to them to judge Islam by learning about it through the Qur’an and not judge it by the acts of a few shallow minds. Burning a holy book will not accomplish much but understanding it will help one become a more tolerant human being which may be preached by the very religion they follow. There are many people out in the world who will do unacceptable acts in the name of religion, be it Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Sikh and etc. but best are those who step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to learn about their neighbor through text, history, poetry and build respect.

“Say, ‘If all mankind and the jinn would come together to produce the like of this Quran, they could not produce its like even though they exerted all and their strength in aiding one another.” (Quran 17:88)

“Or do they say that he has invented it? Say (to them), ‘Bring ten invented chapters like it, and call (for help) on whomever you can besides God, if you are truthful.” (Quran 11:13)

“And if you all are in doubt about what I have revealed to My servant, bring a single chapter like it, and call your witnesses besides God if you are truthful.” (Quran 2:23)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Being politically incorrect in Pakistan

I am one of those that does regularly enough watch the Morning shows on Geo TV and I must confess they do entertain me. Recently though, I understand it was to celebrate diversity and to show the hidden talents of Pakistan that Baluchis were invited as guests to the show. This was timely as there are talks recently in the political scene, whereby those speaking of an independent Baluchistan spoke more actively and opened a debate on media. Although excited about the show, what disturbed me was the language and its nuances throughout the show. They appeared extremely politically incorrect and furthering the stereotypes prevailing in our society about Makranis. I do have utmost respect for the guests in the show who despite such comments from the well-meaning host, handled themselves gracefully.

Here's my blog post about this:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sports or politics? Lessons from two nations...

More often than not, sports have shown to have a life and significance beyond the realm of  “sports”. Defined as a form of “physical activity” and mostly coupled with culture and media by world governments, sports is often seen as a form of  “entertainment” for its audience. The tragic events at Port Said earlier this month where the Al-Masry met Cairo’s Al-Ahly for a football match, was far from the description above when it turned into a debacle with 74 dead and many more injured. More sadly, it was yet another moments in history where politics killed innocent lives and the sport became the “murderer”.

To me personally, the incident was a stark and painful reminder of the attacks on the Sri Lankan team in Pakistan and the Pakistani driver who lost his life. It is still unclear who was behind those attacks but it was extremely clear that this wasn’t sparked by hatred for the Sri Lankan, probably the only team after Pakistan that Pakistanis actually have a sense of affection for. There was “politics” in play and it won in its aim of hampering the morale of Pakistanis, a proud nation that breathes cricket.

Egyptians, too, are a proud nation whose self-confidence was further boosted in the revolution earlier last year. Like cricket is for Pakistanis, Egyptians too breathe football. And like the Sri Lankan team attack killed the sport in Pakistan, it has marred football in Egypt too. The Al-Ahly team’s goal keeper immediately came out saying they would be unable to play the sport again knowing it killed 74 Egyptians. The tournament, for very obvious reasons, had been called off indefinitely. Like Pakistanis, Egyptians are convinced 74 people don’t just die due to football match riot and “other hands” are involved. Al-Ahly fans were amongst the fore-front revolutionaries whose protests led to Mubarak’s ouster.

Andrew Strenk in his paper called “What Price Victory? The World of International Sports and Politics” points out quite rightly that there has been “a long tradition of mixing sports and politics which dates all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The development of the Turner movement in the German states of the 19th century, the rise of the Sokol movement in neighboring Bohemia, and the formation of the International Olympic Committee by Baron Pierre de Coubertin later in the same century all served to reinforce earlier traditions linking sports to politics. The result of these developments was to produce a war without weapons.”

Pakistan and India have been playing this war for years now where every loss is felt painfully across the world and every victory hailed as a victory of many sorts beyond “sports.” Andrew Strenk will have to reconsider his thoughts today. Unfortunately, as politics becomes more volatile, perhaps even more militarized than before, weapons are demonstrating a direct impact on sports too. When 74 lives are lost at a football match, its not a war without weapons.

Unfortunately, in this war who loses the most? It is the sport and the people! In Pakistan, cricket lost and Pakistanis lost as the label of a “terrorist” nation became difficult to shed off. In Egypt, football lost and the people did when many on Twitter and elsewhere voiced their concern at media showing Egyptians as “violent.” The sooner we realize that sports is beyond sports, and its politicization may lead to its weaponization the sooner we can protect our only ray of genuine happiness.

Friday, January 20, 2012

What my nani taught me about being a woman

It was the day I was leaving for university in Oakland, California after my winter break in Pakistan. I had gone to spend the day with my nani before I left for the airport. I have always been shy about showing affection publicly, so as soon as I found myself alone with her, I put my hands on her arm and tried to tell her I was leaving for the airport soon to go to uni. I wasn't even sure if she could understand what I was saying or if she was upset with me, a girl, for leaving my family and studying miles away in a different country. Deep down I wanted her to be proud of me but I had not heard her talk in weeks if not months.     
There was a pause before she turned to say in her frailest, weakest voice, "dil laga kar parhna, bohot mehnat karna aur apna khayal rakhna" - put your heart into your studies, work hard and take care of yourself.   
I wasn't sure how to react, my heart was pacing with excitement and I wanted to run out and call my mother and my uncle and say "look nani amma still does understand everything. She spoke to me." I was also shocked because perhaps I was too naive then to understand how such a traditional looking woman could push herself so much to convey her thoughts despite her weakness. It was the most genuine reaction I had ever received.  
My nani suffered from Parkinson's disease, which I felt became so severe towards her last few years that she was not just bed-ridden but also unable and unwilling to say a single word for days. We forced her to sit up regularly so her body benefited from some movement. She looked at us intently but I don't remember her sharing any emotions or words. In her last few years, she wouldn't even stir if the room rocked in laughter. All of us grandchildren in Karachi were encouraged to surround her bed daily without miss, talking and laughing to keep that sense of life around her.       
It was during this time that I would watch her and regret I did not get the time with her when I was mature enough and she was fine. I was intrigued to know what her youth was like in unpartitioned India, how women participated in the Pakistan movement, and what they hoped for the future.
It was an extremely painful process seeing someone like her decline as she did. At the hands of Parkinson's we lost a strong woman, highly intelligent and intellectual in her own right. Her knowledge of Persian and Arabic always surprised us. Our family has deep pride in Urdu and while growing up, but when back in the dial up days, I was once writing an email to my aunt, I giggled to myself when Nani Amma dictated her message in very-British English. In her old age when she was fine, she could answer all the tough multiplication questions I hurled at her.
Nani Amma completed her matriculation in 1945 from Patna University and admiring her calibre, was immediately invited to teach English and Maths to the girls of Patna High School. She managed to achieve all of this after getting married while expecting her first-child. She taught during the time when Muslim students were resisting Hindu hymns in school assembly, and bowing to Gandhi's image - my cousin being one of them in the same school. I was told stories about her being extremely fearful for and at the same time proud of the Muslim girls of her school playing their part in the struggle for their rights. She was a keen observer of politics, an ardent reader of "ismet", a monthly journal founded by Allama Rashid ul Khairi, in which Dr. Shaista Ikramullah  regularly contributed, whom my nani greatly admired.   
My handsome nana, a student activist of his time, captain of his Aligarh medical college cricket team, proposed directly to my nani's father for her hand in marriage admiring her intellect and wit. My aunt tells me how my nana always laughed that in their house a curry was cooked in three different pots - my nani would be so engrossed in her books, that she would have to save the meal from burning by tranferring it to another pot before it was fully cooked. 
I remember my nani laughing and telling my mum how if I was so fond of Turkish people, then she should just find me a Turkish boy to marry. I was 13 and had just returned mesmerised from a vacation in Turkey. My mother was livid at the suggestion "corrupting my mind" and I was so impressed when she said "what's wrong? They are Muslims, there is nothing wrong with my suggestion" and smiled at me. 
It was almost as if that generation was more liberal yet stronger in their identity, more forward thinking and yet more grounded than maybe even the generation after them. Perhaps it was because theirs was an era that understood why Pakistan was needed for the Muslims of the sub-continent, witnessed the caliphate fall in Turkey and Palestine being taken away subsequently. This was the generation of men and women that joined the struggle for Pakistan and won it because of their unity, passion and integrity. 
I am proud of being the grand daughter of a woman who admired education in girls like it was meant to be. Now when its been 5 years to her death, and I am married (to a Pakistani mind you) and settled in my own life, it has become clearer than ever before the role my grandmother's personality has had on me and my life. I wonder if I would have ever been as moved by world politics and its plight and inequalities if I had not been born in her family. I wonder if my mother would have had the same strength of identity which she engrossed in me as a child.
Every time I think of my nani, I think of that precious moment we had together before flying off to university. I just kept staring at her, her lips moving in mutters as though making dua - I wanted to take all of her image in before I left. She was no longer there next time I returned to Pakistan .