Arbaeen: Going to Karbala as a family

Arbaeen: Going to Karbala as a family

This year as a family we joined millions of people who walked on the journey of love, or safar e ishq. We traveled to Iraq for Arbaeen, or the 40th day after the day of Ashura. Ashura, or the 10th of Moharram (the first month of Islamic calendar), is the day the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Imam Hussain ibne Ali (as) was martyred with 72 of his family members and companions.

Ever since my husband went by himself for Arbaeen a few years ago, he claimed it wasn’t possible as a family. It’s just too difficult. The kids are going to have a really hard time. It’s too crowded. 

At first I was upset. Seeing pictures and documentaries of the Arbaeen walk made my heart ache. I wanted to be a part of that beautiful journey. But then I gave in. OK, it will be hard. I’ll just wait until they’re older.

But this year I told my husband, let’s just try. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. By the grace of the Almighty, everything worked out beautifully. And we set off on our journey.

I was skeptical the kids would cooperate all the way. But we set realistic walking goals, and after taking the blazing heat into consideration, we managed to part-walk, and part-bus it all the way from Najaf to Karbala.

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Even though we live in Qom now, my kids are quite accustomed to a routine and a relatively easy life, Alhamdulillah. (However, they are pros at the squatters now!)

But you can’t teach them about overcoming obstacles by just telling them. I find they grow stronger when they physically endure.

No it’s not easy, but taking kids on a ziyarat trip is actually a good way to teach them about our Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his beloved family, and a good way to teach them about learning to overcome obstacles.

Sure we had some whining, long bus waits and there were plenty of hot days, but when we were in the shrines of Imam Hussain (as) and his dear brother Hazrat Abbas on the day of Arbaeen, I cannot even put into words the love and beauty I witnessed. There was no violence, no fear, no hate. Just pure love. Tears. Prayers. Light. Hope. And more than anything that I could explain to my kids about this, they witnessed it themselves. For the first time my kids had no questions. They saw. They saw the love for Imam Hussain (as). They saw the sadness of Karbala. They finally realized what I mean when I always say, “See how many people love Imam Hussain (as)? See the beauty of his ultimate sacrifice?”

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All during the walk from Najaf from Karbala my kids saw little ones like them handing out water, tissue, tea, fruit, etc. They were given gifts from random people who would pat their heads proudly at these little lovers of Imam Hussain (as). At one point I remember it was hot and there were some men who would spray mists of water at the people walking. My eldest ran to him and after getting all wet, started walking again and just said, “I hope another guy comes and does that again.” No sooner had she mentioned this, another man was standing in the middle spraying. I smiled at her and said, “See? If you walk toward Imam Hussain with a pure intention, Allah will make it easier for you. He answered your request.”

How can we expect our children to feel a love for our honorable Ahle Bait if we don’t make an effort to show them? Kids are very resilient, and with the right intention, Allah will make the trip easy for us. I remember being very concerned about certain bathroom situations (just holes in the ground) or sleeping arrangements in the mawkebs during Arbaeen. Imagine a big slumber party with strangers. But my eldest sat down and said, “It’s not so bad. It could be worse.” I thanked Allah from the bottom of my heart.  This is what I wanted her to learn.

Thank you Allah for giving us the opportunity to visit your beloved slaves. Through their love You honored us with this blessing. I pray we get to go again soon, and that our children always follow in their footsteps.

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Martyred like his master: The will of Shaheed Mohsen Hojaji

Martyred like his master: The will of Shaheed Mohsen Hojaji

عجب محرم شد امسال

شهيد بي سرم برگشته

“It was an odd Moharram this year

My Shaheed without a head returned…”

-Hajj Mahmoud Karimi

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This year the beginning of Moharram coincided with the week of the Sacred Defense, or Defa’e Moqaddas. This was the name given to the war between Iran and Iraq.

Around Qom we saw banners of shaheed embraced by images of Karbala. Although sad, it was a beautiful reminder of all the men and women who were killed to preserve the honor and dignity of Iran.

And while the country was already commemorating the week of the Sacred Defense, and Moharram, they opened their arms and welcomed back the body of their own who was recently martyred in Syria by Daesh.

Hojaji

Shaheed Mohsen Hojaji was a mere 26 years old when he was captured by Daesh, tortured and beheaded while defending the shrine of Lady Zainab (sa). The horrific video of his capture and subsequent torture was blasted online, but the calmness on his face proved he had the heart of a Hussaini soldier.

His will should be required reading for all of us. The beauty of his words, the way he remembers Imam Hussain (as) and his family, teaches us a great lesson in what it means to actually love the Holy Prophet and his family.

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Below is a translation to the best of my ability. I ask forgiveness for not doing it justice, as the Farsi is more eloquent.

(The will starts with a poem in honor of Lady Zainab, the sister of Imam Hussain. I will not translate it as it would lose its value, but if you know Farsi, please take the time to read it.) 

In the name of God, the Light

May Allah’s peace and blessings be on Lady Fatima Zahra (sa)

“And do not perceive those who are killed in Allah’s way as dead, nay, they are alive and receiving sustenance from their Lord.”

(Here is one line written in poetic verse which I did not translate.)

No more than a few hours remain before leaving; as the time nears for leaving my heart gets more excited.

I don’t know what to write or how to explain how I’m feeling.

I don’t know how to explain my happiness or how or with what language to thank Allah for bringing me here.

As per my responsibility I’m writing a few lines as my will with my pen.

I don’t know what happened that I was destined to be on this course full of love… I don’t know what things caused this.

Without a doubt, my mother’s halal milk, my father’s halal sustenance, and my choice of a spouse, and many other things have had an effect.

It’s been a lifetime of my days and nights that I’ve been living by the love of shahadat (martyrdom), and I have and do always have faith that with shahadat I will reach the highest level of a worshipper.

I tried very hard to reach this place myself, but I don’t know how much I have succeeded.

I just have hope from the mercy of Allah and the Ahle Bait (Holy Prophet and his family), and I’m hopeful that they accept this sinner and they shower their mercy on this servant full of faults.

That if this were to happen – praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds

If one day you hear the news of the shahadat of this humble servant who was full of shortcomings; know that the reason for this is nothing except from the mercy of Allah.

That is because He forgave me and helped me..

My dear wife, Zahra 

If one day you hear the news of my shahadat, know that I achieved what I wished for as my real goal by marrying you, and have pride yourself that your husband was sacrificed for Lady Zainab.

Be tolerant, do not mourn, be patient, and think of yourself in the presence of Lady Zainab… Lady Zainab saw far more problems than you.

My dear father

You were and are always my role model for my life and how to be a man. If one day you see the news of my shahadat, that moment imagine Imam Hussain ibne Ali next to his dear son, Ali Akbar.

The pain of this separation is not greater than Aba Abdillah. Therefore be patient my father, I know it’s hard but it can be done.

My dear mother 

Ummul Baneen (mother of Hazrat Abbas) gave four sons in the way of Imam Hussain and Lady Zainab, and it didn’t sadden her.

Even that moment when they gave her the news of the shahadat of her sons, she didn’t care because they were given in the way of Hussain.

Therefore if one day you hear the news of my shahadat, be like Ummul Baneen, patient and full of pride and say you’ve sacrificed me for Hussain and Zainab, and do not make the heart of the enemy happy by being intolerant.

My dear brother 

If one day you see me in the clothes of a shaheed, that moment remember that Aba Abdillah was there at the deathbed of Abbas ibne Ali, and the pain of separation broke his back.

Do not be unthankful, don’t doubt this gift that you have offered for Islam.

My good sisters

That moment I said goodbye to you and my mother and father, I remembered the time that the family of Hazrat Ali Akbar sent him to the battlefield. So if I also become shaheed, sacrifice your sadness and tears for Ali Akbar, and don’t think your pain is greater than that of the family of Imam Hussain.

My dear son, Ali 

Forgive me if I don’t see you grow or become a man… Try to continue my legacy. Try to work in the way where your fate ends in shahadat.

My dear mother and father-in-law 

I always thought of you as my real parents and I’m happy that I was destined to be a part of your family.

To you I won’t ask for anything but patience and strength, always remember Ali Akbar was also a new groom of Karbala*. (*This may not literally mean that Ali Akbar was a new groom. InshAllah will update after some research.)

From all of you I request that you forgive this sinner, if I trampled on the right of anyone, if I gossiped about anyone behind their back, if I displeased anyone, if I sinned, forgive me.

If I become shaheed, until that where I am given permission, I will ask for your redemption.

A few notes:

Don’t be heedless of Wilayat Faqih, and know that I am certain that Imam Khamenei is the rightful representative of Imam Mahdi.

I ask all my dear sisters and women of the Ummat of the Holy Prophet to strengthen their hijab day by day. Do not let your hair attract a namahram . Do not let vanity attract others (namahram).  Do not put your chador away.

Always make your role model Lady Zahra and the ladies of Ahle Bait.

That time when Lady Ruqaiya talked to her father, she said:

Don’t worry about my hijab Baba; my chador is burnt but it’s still on my head.

To all the men of the Ummat of the Holy Prophet I request that you not get fooled by Western culture. Always keep Ali ibne Abi Talib Amirul Momineen as your role model, and take lessons from the Shohada (martyrs).

Be ready to sacrifice for the appearance of Imam Mahdi, and be ready to fight with the unbelievers, especially Israel, because that day is very near.

Always serve Allah, so your end will be good.

(Shaheed Hojaji ends his will with a few debts that remained, and the dua for the reappearance of Imam Mahdi)

In Islam we learn that to sacrifice ourselves for this religion is the ultimate honor. We always relate martyrdom to our Imams and the way they lived. But what does it mean when a 26-year-old of this generation is also living this way? Shaheed Hojaji was a normal young man. He went to school, married, had a son… yet in his short time on Earth he learned the way to live the best life.

Shaheed Hojaji was not an extremist. He passionately sought martyrdom as the honorable end to his life. He loved Lady Zainab and wished to defend her shrine in Syria. Everyone has to die, why not with purpose? Mohsen Hojaji went to Mashhad and prayed and pleaded to Imam Reza (as) to permit him to be martyred.

As one of the fortunate ones in this world, his prayer was answered. Not only was he martyred, but in the same fashion as his leader, Aba Abdillah Hussain (as).

May we all learn from this young shaheed, and others like him, who gave their lives and died for Islam. Who died with purpose and dignity.

All shohada are an inspiration for us. May Allah give us the tawfeeq, or opportunity, to follow in your footsteps and turn our hearts into that of a Hussaini soldier.

 

Balancing this world and the hereafter

Balancing this world and the hereafter

What do we do when we are too concerned with only one part of our lives?

If we are obsessed with our looks, we might spend more time at the gym, always be concerned about makeup/hair, try new diets, worry about our wardrobes…

If we are obsessed with our kids, we might spend every waking moment keeping them entertained and happy, and worry about their every need…

If we are obsessed with going to the masjid/center, we might pray the jama’at namaz every day, take part in every program, volunteer every chance we get, and worry about what is going on or not going on at the masjid/center…

While each of these “obsessions” are valid, it signifies a huge problem prevalent in our communities today. We fail to balance our deen with the dunya, and that, unfortunately, can be detrimental in our journey to becoming a complete human being.

No one can be successful by focusing fully on only one facet of their lives. This is why the Islamic code for our lives — if followed correctly — really does serve as a way of life.

Nowhere in Islam does it recommend not caring for our bodies, or always being concerned with praying at the masjid. But yes, in Islam, God is the focal point. If we do everything in our lives with the intention of pleasing the Almighty, then it helps us put our actions into perspective.

You will see parents who refuse to give their children sugary drinks or snacks. But they might not be so concerned if they pray or not. They worry so much about what is going in their stomaches, but what about their spiritual health?

It is the same with those of us concerned with working out or always worried about looking our best. If we are just spending that time at the gym or putting on makeup, what is the intention? And although working out and maintaining a healthy body is a responsibility of every Muslim, is it necessary to post pictures of our bulging biceps? Or selfies with painted pouts?

And those of us who only focus on our religious obligations without concern of our place in this world. No, a person cannot just be concerned with prayers and not working to maintain a livelihood to support his family. Or

As Muslims we have a responsibility to live our lives with a purpose. This means everything we do should have a reason – what we say, what we eat, who we associate with, how we spend our free time, etc.

To some this may come as a form of dictatorship. But once we understand that our responsibility to please Allah goes hand in hand with leading a life of peace and tranquility, then it will be easier to live a life of purpose.

“Avoid speaking until there is reasonable occasion. Those who enter into useless talk, even if expressing truth, are found reprehensible.” – Imam Hussain

Thinking about Tehran

Thinking about Tehran

It’s summertime and alhamdulillah we are able to spend another summer visiting family back in the states. The month of Ramadan started soon after we arrived in New York, and we were busy fasting and trying to keep the kids busy while in vacation mode, when we heard the devastating news out of Tehran.

My husband told me right around the time of Fajr prayers.

“There was a bomb in the parliament building in Tehran.”

And a few minutes later…

“And a bomb blast at Imam Khomeini’s shrine.”

My heart sank. I couldn’t believe my ears. Bombs? Deaths? Injured? During Ramadan? Why? Who?

Slowly as the news reports came filing in, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tehran. First we heard 6 killed, then 12, and finally 17. There were dozens wounded. Closed circuit TV tapes showed Iranians running for cover with an armed man following them at close range with a gun.

Afterwards when I saw coverage of the funeral processions for those killed, my heart bled. I could only think about the families left behind with questions. Those killed who were fasting. They died a senseless death. And all thanks to the powers who only think about themselves, and what can benefit their own countries.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

 

Yes, I am not Iranian. But for the past almost 5 years Iran has been my home. It’s where my kids go to school. It’s where we have made a community of many like us who have traveled from all over the world to study Islam in Qom.

I have to say I never ever thought about this kind of stuff happening in Qom. We live in relative peace in Iran. Sure we heard of the stories of Iranian guards stopping Daesh cells at the border, or potential attacks in the country, but that was all. With all Iran is called these days they do a pretty damn good job protecting their own. We don’t have to worry about a random crazy person shooting up a school, or a grocery store. We don’t have to think about a cop stopping a driver and beating them senseless. We don’t think about kids bringing weapons to school and hurting other kids.

It’s just not a problem we have to worry about.

And it is also one of the issues I have with some Iranians who often wonder with awe why we bothered to leave the “great nation of America” to live in Iran. Well doesn’t every country have their issues? Doesn’t every nation have their strengths and weaknesses? Why is it that Iran must be terrible because of rules of hijab and America is great because there is no hijab? You have Imam don’t you? You have the blood of shaheed that saved your country from being a toy in the hands of imperialists. Doesn’t any of that matter?

Thinking about you Tehran, and having just passed Imam Khomeini’s shrine about a month ago. We were going to visit but didn’t have time….

There will never be a perfect country. There will always be problems and issues that will make the other side look a whole bunch greener. But every country has to strive for a better day. And every country should fight those who try to meddle in their affairs. Every sovereign nation has a right to pick their own leaders, and deal with their own issues their way, without having another country funding dissent, or overthrowing leaders or supporting terror attacks.

I will say this: Sanctions stink, but they have made Iran stronger. They have showed the true resolve of the Iranian people. They have taught them that you might have to struggle but at least you won’t have to succumb to lapdog status.

And that, in itself, is a victory.

“Millat Iran darad harkat mi konad va peesh mi ravad; een tarqebaazi haaye ham ke imrooz shod, een ha ham dar iraadeye mardom taseeri nakhwahad guzasht.”

“The people of Iran are moving and going forward. These firecrackers that happened today, these also will not have any effect on the will and determination of the people.”

-Rahbar e moazzam, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei 

When mom life meets hawza life

When mom life meets hawza life

I apologize for not updating the blog in a long time but I’ve been literally taking exams for the past month. And I still have two more to go.

The one thing you learn pretty quickly as a hawza student is that one must always be ready for anything. Like having midterms a week before finals. (Don’t ask)

In between regular life, cram sessions, midterms, wiladat celebrations, fasting, and finals, I have realized life is really what you make of it. There have been days when I feel like just closing my books and quitting hawza. When I first started hawza with Farsi language classes, it didn’t seem so difficult to manage a home life with school. But now as I finish my first term as an official hawza student I’ve gotten just a glimpse into what it takes to learn about Islam.

Our classes are not a joke – Sarf (Arabic grammar), aqaid (beliefs), akhlaq (Islamic code of ethics), tareekh (history), ahkam (Islamic laws of practice), khanvadeh dar Islam (family in Islam), and some classes based on Shaheed Mortaza Motahhari’s books.

Attending classes this term felt like I was quenching this inner thirst. Our teachers opened our eyes to different concepts, helped us realize our true identities as Muslims, and what it means to follow the path we are on. Every time I felt like dropping out, I just told myself it’ll get better.

Our akhlaq teacher was one of the best of the bunch. She started every class with a verse from the Quran and encouraged us to read and understand at least one verse a day.

I didn’t just learn religion this term; I learned life. I learned about sisterhood, overcoming obstacles, prioritizing, keeping a schedule, and that going back to school is never a bad thing.

My kids wonder why I’m still in “school” if I’m a mom. They wonder why I get homework, and if my teachers are nice. I don’t dare do homework on my kids’ time – that’s just asking for trouble. I wait until they’re asleep to crack open the books and feel like an adult again.

Once you’re a parent you get really good at making life work and anything that comes in the way – school, work, etc – gets organized accordingly. You have no choice but to make it work, for your sanity.

It’s been a while since I’ve been back in the school grind, but I have to say I’m enjoying every moment. From getting new notebooks to eyeing the clock for the end-of-class dua, school life is truly magnificent.

The Holy Prophet told us to “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” and I’m humbled with the opportunity to be here learning, and hopefully pass this valuable information to others.

When it just isn’t meant to be

When it just isn’t meant to be

Disclaimer: This is not a blog post that waxes philosophical on the concept of fate and destiny. It is a simple story about a fan. Please stay with me… 

It is springtime in Iran, but apparently nature didn’t get the notice. It went from winter straight to summer. Where are those beautiful breezy spring days??

The sudden shift into summer weather meant finally packing away winter clothes, getting our cooler (aka air conditioner) running, and plugging in the ol’ pedestal fan.

We thought about getting another pedestal fan to help cool down the house in place of running the cooler on those slightly less warm days. But a new one costs about 250 tomans on average. (That’s about $67, according to today’s conversion rates). Which isn’t a terrible price, but you almost always can find a secondhand one for much cheaper, thanks to Iran’s version of Craigslist.

However, because Qom is a “transit” city there’s always someone moving away. We found one family selling their slightly used fan for 150 tomans. I immediately contacted them, and we were set. Or so we thought.

It just so happened that they were hoping to give it to us around the end of May. The family had guests coming and still needed the fan. Sigh. (But we need the fan now!) Nevertheless, we decided to not buy their fan, as we weren’t going to be in Qom at the end of May anyway.

As luck would have it another family also posted that they were selling a secondhand pedestal fan. And for a great price of 50 tomans! We went over to their house and picked it up. However after plugging it in and having it run for about 30 minutes, I happened to pass by the room and saw the fan wasn’t moving. I thought maybe one of the kids felt cold and turned it off. Upon getting closer I hear a slight whirring sound meaning it was on, just not functioning. And after turning it off I touched the back of the fan motor cover and it was burning hot!

I contacted the seller and she was completely surprised, telling me she had it in storage, and had turned it on before I picked it up to make sure it was working before giving it to me. She apologized profusely and told me to return it and take my money back.

A couple weeks later, after school while walking with the kids toward the local masjid for praying Zohr/Asr, I noticed another secondhand pedestal fan standing outside a small shop selling electronics and kitchen appliances. It was 55 tomans and looked like it was in decent condition. Although the shop was closed, the owner left a small sign with his number on it on the door. We contacted him and found out that there was a buyer who had expressed interest in the fan before us and even left a small deposit with him. However for the past three days the owner hadn’t been able to contact him. He told us that if the buyer still didn’t pick up the phone by the next day, we could get it.

Long story short, we didn’t get that fan either.

Sometimes kismat is a funny thing. There are things that just aren’t meant to come your way… and even when you do get it, thinking that it was meant for you, it goes away. At that moment when the owner told me “I’m sorry, but it’s gone,” I thanked him and had to smile a little. It just wasn’t meant to be. And as I sat watching the kids run and play before prayers, I thought about all the wonderful blessings we do have – a cooler that works, a pedestal fan that works, a home that keeps us safe from the burning sun. Sure, another fan would have been nice, but in retrospect we really didn’t need it.

One might say, well, just go buy a new one. And yes, we could have done that, and we are grateful that we are able to do that without any hardship. But knowing when to accept what comes your way is part of this faith. Personally, I take these small instances as signs that I should take a step back and reflect. About what I have, what I need, etc.

Alhamdulillah (praise be to God) for giving these beautiful moments where we can reflect on the things that matter and be thankful for all the blessings we have.

A different kind of ‘change’

A different kind of ‘change’

A store owner owed me 300 tomans in change. 

But he didn’t have any, so I got something a lot more yummier than coins. 

This happens A LOT in Iran. While you definitely cannot pay for anything in chocolate/candy/sticks of gum/wafers, many stores have no issue doling out treats in substitute of money. 

To be fair, I’ve never seen them do it for change more than 500 tomans, and instead of coins weighing down my wallet, my kids are always ready and willing to take candy off my hands.