I’thikaf: Looking beyond Ramadhan

Man performing I’thikaf during Ramadhan

With the last ten days of Ramadhan approaching it is the ideal opportunity for Birmingham’s Muslim community to permanently contain any rage that could lead to a post festive backlash.

As Birmingham’s Muslim community laid their sons to rest yesterday the sorrow was obvious to see. While the handling of grief that accompanied the death of the three young men has been commendable the real test will come post Ramadhan.

For Muslims the holiest month of the Islamic year is a welcome distraction from the realities of everyday life. It acts as a barrier against the base instincts that accompany most actions throughout the day. On this occasion it has no doubt helped in containing the rage that certain sections of the Muslim community have felt at the killing of three of their own.

Whilst Ramadhan has traditionally been a time for building harmonious relations ‘a season of goodwill to all men’, one might say its last ten days provide the perfect opportunity for individual and collective reflection.

This is predicated through the practice of I’thikaf where following  the example of the Prophet Muhammad an individual spends the last ten days in retreat normally within a Mosque. The time is spent in a mixture of periods of quiet reflection and intense worship. A last stand of sorts against any raging desires that may threaten to spill over once Ramadhan comes to an end.

This year will be my first attempt at achieving that particular goal.

The fast pace of the modern world coupled with an increasing demand for one’s time from  family, society, work and media can leave those with an attachment to religion slightly disillusioned. The dismay can quickly turn to rage against the wider world as a way of advocating zeal for one’s beliefs and rejection and anger can become the order of the day.

From experience the quickest way for any contempt to surface is through one feeling a sense of injustice just as the Muslim’s of Birmingham are experiencing.

It is easy to take a spectators view and lecture or condemn those feeling the anger of losing loved ones in such a horrific tragedy. But Ramadhan is often described in religious circles as the month of patience, a month where this virtue is supposed to be strived for and perfected.

It is said in the classical tradition that the true success of Ramadhan is evident to oneself only after the month. As repeated in many gatherings which i‘ve attended that following Ramadhan if one has improved any aspect of his/her character then that individual has had a successful month.

It may be difficult in the modern age to see the tangible benefits of any religious practice but if we as Muslims born and educated in the West are more inclined to demonstrable and scientific understandings then we should not treat these last ten days any different.

It is exactly how I intend to perform my I’thikaf as an experiment with sincere intentions to change for the better.  In the words of Marcus Aurelius (121-180 BC) “Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

If this is the case then I expect the results to be fruitful on an individual and wider social basis.

For Birmingham’s Muslims such fruits would no doubt have positive implications in wider society where the longer term aftermath of a tragedy is conducted with the same dignity as the immediate response.


Pakistan: Was it worth it?

After the escalation of attacks on overseas nationals and the increasing lawlessness, British Pakistani’s have moved on to ask was it worth it?

As Pakistan marks the 64th year of independence the mood among British Pakistani’s is more despondent than celebratory; a stark contrast to over a decade earlier.

It is the 14th August 1998 and the Civic Theatre in Nelson, Lancashire is a throng with celebration. The British Pakistani community like many of its counterparts up and down the length and breadth of the country are celebrating the 51st anniversary of the birth of their motherland. Except this year there is extra cause for celebration.

Pakistan has just a few months earlier detonated its first nuclear devices. The great equaliser had arrived and Pakistani’s were now safe from any threat from the outside. The cake tasted that bit sweeter in the knowledge that the motherland was now secure.

But the safe haven that was envisaged by so many of us from a far has turned into a living nightmare. The same individuals who were filled with joy over a decade previous talk of a war zone and day by day deterioration of institutions and infrastructure. Others have simply given up talking and lost any hope for the nation.

Law and order seems non-existent in many places and now the threat from the outside that seemed to have been eradicated is a daily occurrence in the form of drone attacks.

Only last year members of the Yousuf family who hail from the Nelson community were horrifically gunned down whilst on a trip to Pakistan. Unfortunately their story is not unique in that a number of British Pakistani’s have faced incidents of an unsavoury nature whilst on a visit some of whom like the Yousuf’s have not lived to tell the tale.

According to Foreign & Commonwealth Office statistics, 245 British nationals required consular assistance in Pakistan during the period 1 April 2010 – 31 March 2011 with twenty seven deaths and four hospitalisations occurring.

Writing for Reuters last year Pakistan’s High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan talked of the “human bridge” that exists between Britain and Pakistan following post-World War 2 migration that brought many Pakistani’s to Britain.

The foundations of that human bridge are no doubt weakening as increasing numbers of second and third generation British Pakistani’s see little point or hope of returning to a land that their fathers and grandfathers left, not even to visit.

My last trip was over twenty years previous. At the tender age of two it was hoped by my parents that it would be the start of a regular pilgrimage to keep me attached to my roots. Despite the wish to return several excuses have prevented this from taking place in the interceding years.

Now however the excuses are no more and any immediate thought of return is akin to walking into the eye of the storm. No thank you!

As the Foreign and Commonwealth Office increasingly adds to the list of places to avoid it effectively cuts of large swathes of the nation to visitors. British Pakistani’s may now ask that even if they were to return, where are they to go?

Karachi at present is a battlefield riddled with gang violence and political massacres. The North West of the country has replaced Afghanistan as America’s favourite shooting ground. Balochistan is continually plagued by secessionist movements who are now engaged in a fifth conflict with the state since 1947.

Even the famous abodes of peace that make up Pakistan’s Sufi Shrines (which have acted as historical melting pots for the people of the Indian Sub Continent’s different faiths to come together in harmony) are now in the line of fire.

As the space becomes ever restricted the talk in some academic and mainstream circles amongst students, professionals and even the common folk is retrospective in that perhaps Pakistan wasn’t such a great idea after all.

That was two years ago during my postgraduate study. It’s safe to assume that the ‘perhaps’ is no more.