Ramadan series: Water

Since Islamic religious observances are based on an unadjusted lunar calendar therefore we get to experience Ramadan all seasons of the year. Every year Ramadan moves forward in the Gregorian calendar by about 10-12 days. So in about 30 years time we get a complete rotation of the month of fasting covering all seasons of the year. In the coming years, Ramadan will be observed in Summer, a time when faithfuls will be tested fully.

My best memories of Ramadan are those that involved considerable discomfort. Those were the days of hot summer months, sometimes without electricity and sun that seemed hotter than hell. I remember watching the second hand of the clock running unexceptionally slow as we waited for the azaan.

Photo by AAkshay Mahajan

Those days we lived in a Muslim basti and on the edge of our neighborhood we had a temporary ice vendor show up just minutes before the iftar time. He had one or two large block of ice wrapped in a gunny sack or straw to prevent it from melting. You hand over some money and you get some ice back, there was no measure in weight or length. The ice you get was all depended on your luck, rush, and his mood. For most people of that locality, with no access to fridge, that was the only source of cold water.

After a long and hot summer day, when you open your fast you just want to drink water. Not even Rooh Afza with falooda can match the taste of plain cold water. You don’t care about the goodies that your mom prepared in even hotter kitchen that just moments ago you were drooling over. But just a sip of water and you feel that you have never tasted the water so delicious before and all you want to do is drink glass after glass. Food will have to wait.

Ramadan series: Rooh Afza

For millions of Muslims of South Asia, Ramadan is not complete without Rooh Afza. A red-colored drink in its unique bottle design that hasn’t changed since I was little has been the choice of the first sip of millions of rozedars every day of Ramadan for the last 100 years.

Rooh Afza was launched by Hamdard in 1907, and its popularity has only grown over the years. My memories of Ramadan involve sharbat Rooh Afza made in water and served sometimes with tiny pieces of cucumbers. Rooh Afza is also made in milk and in America I have seen people mixing few tablespoons of Rooh Afza in a gallon of milk.

na rooh afza sa koi sharbat,
kabhi banega na ban chuka hai;
-sa’il dhlavi

Partition of India has also split the Hamdard Laboratories into three. Rooh Afza continue to be the flagship product of both Pakistani and Bangladeshi Hamdard. I have tasted Pakistani version of Rooh Afza but I found a bit synthetic and sweeter than its Indian counterpart.

Hamdard India’s official admits that 15% of their sale happens in Ramadan but I am surprised to see that none of the ads that I could find online have any reference to Ramzan. Is it an oversight or deliberate attempt to reach out to a larger market? In fact look at this ad and you will not even find one Muslim in the entire commercial. Strange, for a product that is closely associated with Muslim culture and population of South Asia.

Anyway, here are some Rooh Afza recipes:



Rooh Afza India: http://www.hamdard.com/hotproducts.php
Rooh Afza Pakistan: http://www.hamdard.com.pk/afza.html
Rooh Afza Bangladesh: http://www.roohafza.com.bd/

Ramadan series: Ramadan vs. Ramzan

Firsts of all, Ramadan vs. Ramzan debate is not the same as Allah Hafiz vs. Khuda Hafiz debate. If anything, usage of the word Ramadan shows the move of Muslims of India from Urdu towards English.

First time I saw the word “Ramadan” was in a letter sent by an American cousin of mine when we were still living in India. I was confused and asked about it and got the reply that this is how it is written in English. Of course, I have seen English newspapers in India write “Ramzan” so I assumed it must be the American way but not sure why. Years later, I learned that the correct Arabic pronunciation of ????? is Ramadan and not Ramzan.

[Photo by Mudassir Rizwan]

Therefore when writing or talking in English, I would go with a choice that has become a standard way of writing the word in English and closer to the original Arabic word rather than its usage in Persian or Urdu.

Having said that, I do recognize that ????? is a proper word in Urdu that though originally came from Arabic and hence it spelling continue to be the Arabic but hundreds of years of usage has given Urdu readers the right to say it the way they want it.

So don’t frown if someone says Ramadan or Ramzan or even Ramjan. The last one is a Hindi word.

Who am I?

I was born and brought up in and around Patna. And hence, the earliest encounters I had was with people living in this ancient land. It is, like any other city in India, an immensely diverse place. The resolution of one’s identity, as it develops slowly and involuntarily, becomes a difficult issue in such cases. Let us take my example. As far as I can understand it, my early identity has been shaped by three primary factors: i)geographical proximity ii)linguistic and iii)religious affiliation.  Each has its own story.

1) Geographical proximity: This doesn’t mean, esp in India, that you will speak the same language. There are not less than 5 languages spoken in Bihar (Bhojpuri, Magahi, Maithili, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali etc).  I grew up in a muhalla in central Panta, Subzibagh, which was Muslim-majority, but had a significant non-Muslim and non-Urdu speaking population.  And besides that, my school represented the diversity of Patna. Hence because of the geographical ‘proximity’, a shared cultural heritage, and the presence of a lingua franca, Hindi, we made friends from different communities very early in our lives, and slowly after much giving and taking, we become what we are.

2) Linguistic Factors: This is another, albeit a much more, complicated story. I was told that my mother tongue is Urdu, was taught how to read and write. I even read a couple of books. But I could never understand, at least when I was very young, that where did this language belong to? The desperate state of Urdu in the schools, when compared to the pomp and show of Hindi, complicated the matter further. I began to understand that Urdu is the language of Indian Muslims. I was being taught how to read Arabic simultaneously, and the similarity of script reinforced my belief. I lived in this state for four-five years, projecting my religious and linguistic identity as one and the same. ( I would admit that there is, to an extent, an intersection there, but they are in no way same.) I thought that all people in Pakistan spoke Urdu (although I wasn’t sure what Pakistan really was), and so on. But then slowly came the revelation, after some information from parents, i) that very few people in Pakistan are native speakers of Urdu, and ii) Urdu has been disowned by the Indian authorities. Although it was ‘heartening’ to know, at least for a young boy like me, that Urdu is now the lingua franca of Pakistan, probably it was not enough to reinforce my Urdu identity. 🙂 More research, as I grew up, revealed more sensible information like Hindi and Urdu both, are just standard registers of one language called ‘Hindustani‘, which is native to what we now know as the Hindi belt.

Written primarily in Nastaliq script, and using a good amount of borrowed words for various neighboring languages, and being constantly influenced by Persian literature,  Hindustani became the lingua franca of the urban centers in North India, with Dilli as its center.  From Srinagar in the North, to Hyderabad and Aurangabad in the South, from Patna and (to a lesser extent) Dhaka in the East to Ahmedabad and the foothills of Hindukush, the real frontier of India, Peshawar, in the West, all these cities, among numerous others have produced significant amount of Urdu literature (by both Muslims and Hindus) over the past 3-400 years, although none of these cities mentioned above (except probably Patna)  belong to the proper ‘Hindi or Hindustani-belt‘. In due course, because of these readings, it became clear to me what Pakistan and Bangladesh are, and what is India, and then came the question: what was the partition. Another Pandora’s box, if you want to really understand what has happened in/to our nation.  At last the question of Urdu/Hindi became clear, and it was not easy, especially after the kind of history that we are taught in our prescribed syllabi. After clearing this mess, I finally realized that I belong to the Hindi-belt, that used to be thriving center  of the pre-partition Urdu literature.  Sadly, after the partition, the Hindi-belt has been Sankritized and de-Persianized by our ‘authorities’. (what some may call ‘shuddhikaran’). It is very important to know that Gandhi, among others, till his last days, ‘exhorted the re-merging of both Hindi and Urdu naming it Hindustani written in both Nagari and Persian scripts.’

3) Religious factor: This comes very naturally, as naturally as the linguistic factor perhaps. We have relatives among the intersection of our religious and linguistic communities. And after being taught basic Arabic early in my life, reading biographies of Muhammad and the Sahabas, who belonged to Arab tribes, the stroy of Islam  unfolding in the deserts of Arabia impressed me. For children growing up like me, the stories of tribal Arabs become relateable, even if we do not understand them completely.  Then there are battles, sacrifices, love, devotion, all interwoven in the narrations of the early Islamic era that are written for kids in the Urdu ki pehli, doosri aur teesri. Then there are lessons in Islamic civilization, a peek into the grand Persian literature, a visit to medieval Baghdad or a flavor of  the theological school of thoughts which developed in 9th century Iraq and so on. After all this heavy reading, the bedouins of Arab or the poets of Persia don’t seem so distant. And slowly, we start forming the picture of Indian Muslims, (or what is left of ‘Indian’ Muslims after partition, as I didnt know the true meaning of partition back then). Then I realize, again very slowly, that the Muslims in India are as diverse as the Hindus. Pakistan and Bangladesh were always present in the back of my head, hovering and not the least because many times I would watch PTV with my grandfather. (Another indoctrination engine that hands out nationalist prescriptions, although when taken together DD and PTV balance each other out.) It was only after reading in detail about partition that I could stop that hovering and give them their respective positions in my world-view. Later, after 9/11, the Al Jazeera newscasts became more frequent on our dinner table.

All this was happening when I was growing up. While all of this data, encounters, accidents and meetings were working silently, telling me who I am, there were other factors too. Some close to me, others far removed from my personal life. I was indoctrinated, as people usually are. Only the most lucky ones survive it.  Be it Kashmir, Pakistan or Bangladesh, I could not think except what Doordarshan was telling me. ( on the Daily News and Kashmir Jagaran etc.) Nationalism seemed obvious, although I had no idea what does a nation mean? India – what is India? Have you ever met a Telugu guy?- No. A Marathi?-No. Then what is India? I used to read Iqbal, who was a Kashmiri, and lived in Lahore, the magnificent capital of Punjab, which now belongs to Pakistan. Is it clear what mess this question of identity is? With what immense contempt I look down upon those who call themselves Indian Nationalists with class X CBSE-taught knowledge of the Indian sub-continent? And then they complain to me: why don’t you stand erect when the national anthem is being played?

Ramadan series: Time

Muslims should always know the importance of time. The five time daily prayers need to be performed during specific time throughout the day and if one doesn’t manage his/her time properly then a prayer can be easily missed. You get additional reminder of the importance of time in the month of Ramadan.

We have to set out clock well before the fast officially starts so that we can finish eating our sehri (pre-dawn meal) and be ready for the fajr prayers. Similarly, we have to wait till it is time for iftaar. Ramadan is also a month of quran and taraweeh prayers therefore we have to manage our daily affairs carefully to make room for additional prayers while we maintain a professional life with full productivity.

Among the people exempted from fasting during Ramadan are the travelers although they have to make it up later. Travelers are also asked to shorten their prayers which is a discount not even able to those who are sick. Now why is that travelers get more discount than people who are sick? Most people think it is because a traveler may not have the same facility or comfort as home and therefore prayers are shortened to make it easier to pray. But my theory is that it is the importance of time that Islam offers a discount.

With some exceptions, all travels are with a purpose- business, education, visiting relatives, pilgrimage, etc. Since one has a limited time during his travel to accomplish that goal it is given highest priority and therefore a discount is given so that travelers continue to remember the lord but utilize their time in accomplishing the task that they set out to do.

These days, though all travelers take benefit of the shorter prayers but all try to keep the fast. The reason is simple; it is much easier to fast in Ramadan than other months.

The Spirit of Independence

I WISH I could go back in time to the dawn of 15th August 1947, and feel the first rays in an independent India. Sixty four years later we seem to have taken our independence for granted. Heroes of the freedom struggle have given way to corrupt politicians. Security has never been worse. Rising prices of commodities have affected almost every Indian. The country has produced more billionaires during the last decade than all the previous put together, but the poverty ratio has not changed. This is surely not the vision of our founding fathers!

The vibrant democracy, inspite of its shortcomings, seems to be our only saving grace. As for the rest, we need to do a little more ourselves. If Anna Hazare can take a stand against corruption, why can’t we stand up to corrupt practices.

As an Indian Muslim I’ve had my share of highs and lows. My disappointments over the years have been few and temporary, but my hope in the country is permanent.

These voices of some of my fellow countrymen, from across the globe, strengthen my faith in this great nation.

August 15th is a very important day not only for the history of India but also as a day of freedom. There is nothing better than the feeling of being free.

To me both Mahatma Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose were equally important as freedom fighters. Gandhi ‘s policy was centred around peaceful ways whereas Bose never shied away from using force. For a complete victory we need both.

India has many states and languages, but barring a few conflicts and issues, there is so much harmony. Illiteracy seems to be the root of all evils. If we can eradicate illiteracy it would help reduce corruption, racism and poverty in our country.

If we consider the year in the context of the Independence Day then in my opinion our year should start with 15th of August. As a poet I would like to say-

‘Ab ke naya saal aisa nazar aaye
Pichhle sab salon se badla sa nazar aaye

Ham ka jazba ho baaham ham sab ke
Na ho koi hadca ayodhya-o-gujarat ke jaise
Rishton ko joda jaaye sakht zanjeer se aise
Ke phir se tootkar kadi koi na bikhar jaaye’

Abrar Ulhaq, property consultant, Dubai (originally from Etah, UP)

To me August 15th is an emotional and significant day as an indian. I still remember the pride with which we re-ran the special assembly back home (after school) to keep the celebrations going. I cherished winning the elocution competition on ‘the’ occasion — the once in a year event. Nothing was bigger than that!

My favourite freedom fighter is the Mahatma. The man who started it all, and the man revered by us all as ‘bapu’. He is perhaps the greatest icon of leadership in this imperfect world. He took the definition of inclusive leadership closest to perfection.

As a kid I never felt any discrimination, perhaps chastity of thoughts reigned supreme. It feels strange now when people smile at you sheepishly every time India beats Pakistan. The same people get embarassed while criticising Pakistan in front of me, as if I am not an Indian. Sadly, Indian independence is more about Pakistan and less about India or the British imperialism. It appears funny though, half the country would love to migrate to London if given a chance! If only there was no partition, Muslims would have been treated as more Indian (or more patriotic).

Having said it all, the very fact that I can level criticism through any medium, albeit constructive, without fear is what india is all about.

Ahmad Mehdi, works for Ricoh India, New Delhi

The word ‘freedom’ is very significant to me and therefore the date. There is a lot of sarcasm around as to what we’ve achieved in the last 64 yrs but I would still prefer where we are than being ruled by the British.

I remember visiting Abba’s office (district courts) on this day and the ‘Jai Hind’ salutes all around.

Mahatma Gandhi as a freedom fighter stands out for me. His fight always started with his inner self and was built on the philosophy of attaining will power or controlling your ‘Nafs’.

My work gave me the opportunity to live and explore different parts of India. Its so colorful. To discover and enjoy India you need many lives. Although my religion doesn’t allow me to say this, but if I had to be reborn I prefer to be born again in some part of India.

I think Indian muslims should open their doors more and intermingle with other communities. The Ghettoization is not helping them in any way!

Amir Naqvi, works for Honeywell, Dubai (originally from Safipur, UP)

In many aspects India is still struggling with slavery, only the masters have changed. August 15th seems to be just about organising parades and distributing sweets. This day must be a guiding light for a brighter India.

Our school celebrated Independence Day by organising a parade and distributing sweets among the students. I was entrusted to not only sing a patriotic song but also to lead the parade with full police uniform.

Bhagat Singh is one name which left a deep impact on me. It could be because I’ve heard so much about him since childhood. But, his role in the freedom struggle indeed needs much appreciation.

I studied at ‘Saraswati Sishu Mandir’, an RSS backed school, so there was naturally some discrimination especially during the parades and exam marking. Beyond school it was business as usual.

I feel our culture and food stands out compared to other countries. It’s only corruption which fails us. If we can remove that then there’s no denying that India is great.

Dr. Mohammad Vaseem, post doctoral fellow, South Korea (originally from Mankapur, UP)

If you consider the magnitude of the achievement, August 15th is a very significant day. The relevance seems to have been lost in recent times.

I think the turning point in our freedom struggle was the Indian Mutiny of 1857. It gave hope to Indians that the Britishers could be overthrown. Revolutionaries like Chandrashekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, and Ashfaqullah Khan instilled fear in the hearts of the Britishers. By the time Gandhi came, the Britishers were already in the process of moving out plagued by their domestic problems.

I love the unity in diversity of this country. If you are in pain, the first person who comes to your help could be of any religion.

If given a chance I would remove all the current politicians, especially those above 45 years of age. We still are not fully independent! We seem to be ruled by corrupt politicians whose actions are alarmingly similar to the Britishers. The Britishers looted India and sent the loot abroad our politicians are doing the same. They stash their black money outside India.

I have personally seen the kind of talent we are losing to corruption. The day we can wipe it out would be the day we will truly be independent. One Anna Hazare cannot do it, we have to change our mindset first.

Fasih Ahmad, works for Ozonebarter, Hongkong (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th means a lot to me being an Indian and knowing the country’s history.

I don’t have any favourites when it comes to our freedom fighters, quite simply because I don’t know what exactly each stood for.

I don’t know about the rest of India but Bangalore has always been this migrant town, and now a city. I have been lucky not to have any discriminatory experience that may have left a mark.

I think democracy is the best thing about this country and poverty the worst.

Fiza Ishaq, independent researcher, Bangalore

August 15th holds a big significance in my life as it symbolizes our freedom from the suppressive British rule. One feels very proud to be an Indian, especially on this particular day.

I’ve fond memories of people lining up on street pavements to watch the Independance Day parade. The section displaying Indian weaponary from the parade broadcasted by Doordarshan fascinated me.

Subhash Chandra Bose is the freedom fighter I admire the most as I do not believe in Gandhian philosophy.

I like the harmony that exists between people of different religions and cultures in India. It’s only the poverty, and to a certain extent, the hatred against the Muslims which saddens me.

Irfan Kazmi, works for Alhamrani Universal Co. Ltd., Saudi Arabia (originally from Lucknow)

Even though Muslims face some discrimination in India, I would want to believe this is a global phenomenon. It’s quite human for one to discriminate on the basis of class, caste, religion or colour. I do feel things would have been far different under the British rule.

Subhash Chandra Bose was the real freedom fighter. Gandhi to me as a national hero was more to do with politics. The Britishers didn’t leave India because of Gandhi and his Satyagrah. They were already on their knees because of the second World War. Also, India was not a viable option for them anymore. They were concentrating on the gulf more at that point of time. Even if we do credit Gandhi for our Independence, how long would have we survived without a competent national army.

If I am not living in places like, Kashmir, the North East and Naxal affected area, I think India is one of the best places to live anywhere in the world. I only wish I could remove the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of our people.

Sabir Khan, accountant, Pune

I remember enjoying the extra holiday we used to get in school on this day. As a kid, August 15th looked important and I used to feel proud with the small flag in my hand and a laddoo in my mouth.

In my opinion Subhash Chandra Bose was the most impressive among the long list of people who fought for India. If he had been around, India would have been a different place.

As a Muslim I’ve never felt discriminated in India. But I do feel, given a demanding situation my Muslim identity may limit my chances of fighting back effectively.

The never say die attitude of the common man who works on the Indian streets, fighting daily challenges, amazes me. Inspite of their hardships they smile and dance to Bollywood tunes.

Poverty remains our biggest stumbling block. We can still fight it, though. If every MLA is entrusted with the task to move just five families out of poverty in his constituency every year, it can make a big change. He can do so by helping them find employment within their area. If society starts supporting the underprivileged, India would change for better.

If every MP is entrusted with the task to improve the living conditions of any one town/locality during his tenure by ensuring proper supply of essential amenities, it would make a big difference.

Shahnawaz Mehdi, works for Nissan Middle-East, Dubai (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th to me is freedom, some patriotic songs and a day off.

I admire Bhagat Singh the most. His idea of freedom was very original. He was the one who highlighted the difference between violence and self defense.

Glorious history of India is a matter or pride. It’s the poverty which saddens me no end.”

Shah Zaman Rizvi, works for Pure Gold Jewellers, Dubai (originally from Lucknow)

August 15th is important for the very fact that we achieved complete authority over our own country on the day. But it also makes me sad that we did not utilise this power appropriately. India would’ve been a super power had it not been the dirty politics that now runs in it’s bloodstream. I hate the fact that it has spread it’s tentacles to defense, health and other areas. Even the kids now know that bribery works wonders.

As a Muslim we did face issues while searching for a rental place, but I respect the wishes of the people. They have a right to rent out their house to whom they please. It’s not a big deal to me.

I love our culture and the brotherhood that still exists, no matter what people say or do. I’m also in awe of the religious tolerance we are melted into. It’s a perfect example of how a true human should be.

Sukaina Merchant, event planner, Dubai (originally from Mumbai)

August 15th seems to have lost its significance. Like all businesses I close my office on this day but in my view we should work more than usual instead, and help India grow.

The memories of the day are mostly from the school days. When I was in the Government college we used to get four laddoos in a pink envelope.

I feel there is nothing in India which other countries do’nt have. I just like India because I was born here. It’s my motherland!

I only wish to remove corruption from the country.

Tariq Mumtaz, IT consultant, Meerut, UP

August 15th is like the birthday of a person who is very close to heart. I remember going out for parades and flag raising ceremonies on this day.

Subhash Chandra Bose to me was a true freedom fighter.

As a Muslim I did face discrimination a few times but that didn’t stop me from admiring the Indian culture.

I like the music which we are mixing up with the west. Our big problem seems to be only corruption. Take that out and India is a heaven.

Taskeen Jamali, works for Ford Motor Company, Ontario, Canada (originally from Moradabad, UP)

Being our Independence Day, August 15th automatically becomes significant.

For me Subhash Chandra Bose was a real fighter.

I think discrimination does exists in India. During the last semester of my MBA, I was told to opt out of the interview with a leading employer, which had come for the campus recruitment, as they don’t hire muslims. The institue’s director didn’t want me to waste my time.

I like the simplicity and diversity of my country, and wish I could wipe out communalism from this land.

Toufique Khan, works for Mashreq Bank, Abu Dhabi (originally from Bahraich, UP)

Honestly August 15th is like any other day for me except getting a public holiday. May be the true meaning of the day has been lost.

I remember the essay writing competitions we had in school and the patriotic songs and movies being played on Doordarshan that day.

Bhagat Singh and his team tops my list of freedom fighters. He carried the spirit of a great warrior. A fearless soul, an inspiration for the youth of India.

Barring a stray incident at the IGI Airport, Delhi, my Muslim identity has never been a problem for me in India.

I cherish the bond of culture and friendship between Muslims and Hindus. If I could, I would remove corruption and hate killings in India.

Urooj Ikram, homemaker, Ankara, Turkey (originally from Aligarh)

As an indian I am proud of what our fellow Indians did 64 years ago, but when I see today’s leaders celebrating 15th of August ( with smug faces in crisp kurtas ), it looks like a slap in the face of this day’s spirit. There is hardly any difference between them and the ones we fought against to gain our freedom.

I remember as a kid we used to bunk classes to practice the National Anthem and march past drills. Today no sweet tastes as good as those four laddoos on the morning of 15th of August.

Rani of Jhansi appeals to me as a freedom fighter. Girl power maybe!

On a personal level, I’ve never faced any problem in India being a Muslim. In fact, the way we are discriminated here in USA, India feels like “apni gali” (next lane).

I love the simplicity of Indians. It makes us vulnerable and gullible at times, but its priceless!

I wish I could change our system, they way it works. Corruption is not an individual’s practice, it’s a tree which branches out.

‘Hum pe mushtarka hain ehsaan gham-e-ulfat ke (read it ‘gham-e-siyaasat ke’)
Itne ehsaan ki ginwaaon to ginwaa na sakoon’

Zainab Khan, homemaker, Louisiana, US (originally from Aligarh)

The significance of August 15th cannot be expressed in words. The feeling of being the citizen of a free country is enormous.

I remember celebrating it with lots of fun in school. I used to prepare a speech to be delivered during the school assembly. We looked forward to the parades, and scout and guide camps associated with the day.

To me all freedom fighter contributed towards one cause, so can’t really differentiate between them. But I do admire the trio of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah khan and Thakur Roshan Singh.

I like the famous Indian jugaad, which simplifies so many things. The talent, so readily available in every nook and corner of India and selfless love of the people amazes me.

Beaurocracy is a bane in this country. The paper work need to be abolished to at least check some corruption.

Zartab Jafri, works for IAP HR Solutions, Mumbai

I’m signing of with this couplet of the revolutionary poet Akbar Allahabadi which beautifully expresses the feelings of an Indian Muslim-

“Paamal hain magar hain sabit qadam wafa main
Hum misle-e-sang-e-dar ke is aastaan par hain”

[Though crushed, we are firm in our loyalty
We are like a rock at the threshold of our country]

Jai Hind!

Ramadan series: New Muslims

In a way we all are new Muslims whether born in a Muslim family or to a non-Muslim one. At one point of time in our life we had to decide that we will continue to be a Muslim and also level of Islam that we will practice in our lives.

Born in a Muslim family we are exposed to thousand to hundred years of practices and tradition that are handed down from generation to generation and we don’t even think about many things we do and why we do it. We have learned it from our parents, families, or our environments. A new Muslim enters into an entirely new world where he/she has to learn to do things differently, think about issues differently, all the while trying to fit or be acceptable to a new world.

Mehraab at ISBCC

While I talk about the diversity of American masaajid, I should also note here that this diversity is dominated by Muslims of South Asian or Arab origin. People of other ethnicities do not get the attention that they need. In some cases it is actually difficult to differentiate between born-Muslims and new Muslims because some of them has adapted the language, culture, and practices so much that they are not distinguishable visually and or in their practices.

But this is not to say that many new Muslims need help and lately mosques are becoming more responsive. Last Wednesday I walked into Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) which was a weekly day of iftar for the new Muslims.

One person was taking out the food for iftar and also having a conversation with another guy. He looks at me and calls me out:
“Brother, can you answer a question?”

Not sure what kind of question to expect, hoping that it will not be a theological question, I smile at him and say yes.

He asks, “Where are you from?”


“Do you have a greeting for Ramadan in your culture? Like Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak?”

I didn’t want to get into an explanation of Ramadan vs Ramzan (may be topic for a future post) so I told him that we usually say Ramadan Mubarak.

“Do you say that throughout the month of Ramadan?”

I explained to him that we say usually first few days of Ramadan and when we see someone for the first time after the start of Ramadan.

He wasn’t happy with my answer. I realized what debate he was having with the other guy before I walked in.

Excited about Ramadan, he wanted to say Ramadan Kareem throughout the month. Of course, it has never occurred to me that why can’t this greeting which is actually a dua cannot be said till we are ready to say “Eid Mubarak.”

So though I gave him the answer that he was not looking for thinking about the question changed my way of thinking.

So though we have reached middle of Ramadan but still let me say :
Ramzan Mubarak
Ramadan Mubarak
Ramadan Kareem
Happy Ramadan.

Ramadan series: Neighbours

It was still about 50 minutes to go before iftar that our doorbell rang.

“Who is it?”


Umang? What is he doing here? We are supposed to meet on Friday and at this time he is supposed to be at MIT leading the class on History of Ideas in South Asia.

I first met Umang when I gave a talk on Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar early last year in Harvard. He is a wonderful gentleman and knows everyone of any importance in Boston/Cambridge area. He is the force behind our weekly Wednesday Discussion Group, bi-monthly literature meeting, and various other programs celebrating birthdays, festivals, farewells and what not.

A girl in Mumbai looks on while shoppers buy fruits for iftar. [Photo by Rehan Ansari]

Not sure what to make of Umang’s unexpected arrival we waited for him to take the elevator to our floor. Lo and behold! He comes in with dates and figs for our iftar. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Umang’s appearance on the door with goodies took me back several years when during Ramdan it was a common occurrences that we will get delicious and especially-prepared food for iftar from our Muslims as well as non-Muslim neighbours.

Those were the days, when we will get “dahi barha” from one home, fruit salad from another and since we didn’t have a fridge, the daily cold water supply came from a Bengali family living across from us.
What Umang brought me yesterday was not just food but sweet & cherished memories.

Ramadan series: Lunch

It’s lunch time and my company has served Sushi for its employees but the worst part is that my office mate decided to eat his lunch at his desk.

Ramadan is more than just missing lunch but I am amazed that how is it that just ten days ago I couldn’t survive without eating lunch but for 30 days I can without eating lunch. There must be more to it that just skipping a meal. Granted you try to eat as much in Sehri but around 4-5am when your body is half asleep you can’t put too much food down your throat. And then survive on that food for the next 14-16-18- even 20 hours?

There must be some spiritual calories powering our bodies because a rozedar cannot maintain a full working day only on the energy produced from the food.

Last year, Human Welfare Foundation organized iftar for 500 rickshaw-drivers of Jamia Nagar

Of course, not everyone and not every day that you feel like that, some days are just loooong days that never seem to come close to the iftar time. Most preferred way for working people is to go early to work and come back early before the blood sugar reaches so low that you can’t even clearly think. But not everyone has that luxury of flexible timing. I am amazed how rickshaw-drivers, labourers, and people working in factories are able to fast. I have heard of Muslim employees of Tata Steel who used to fast while working near furnace of the steel plant in hot summer months. May Allah bless them all.

Ramadan series: Hijrah

Migration or hijrah is given special importance in Islam. It is no accident that Islamic calendar begins with important migration of Muslims from Makkah to Madinah. Muslims were persecuted in their home town Makkah leaving them no choice but to move out, Medina welcomed the Prophet and his followers to come and restore peace in Madinah. Now Madinah is known as the City of the Prophet, a great honor.

Migration has been recurring feature of the humanity. With the spread of Islam, and annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the movement of people became easier. We find travelers and people moving around in search of education & employment. Many of these migrations ended up being permanent in nature and years later the descendants may not even know that where their forefathers came from.

Masjid Yusuf in Brighton, MA

Most of the migration happened as a result of natural or man-made disaster or pulls and pressure. Some culture actually discouraged migration. Hindus were discouraged to cross the ocean and go to foreign lands. This posed problems for India’s international trade, therefore Zamorins, the rulers of Kerala issued a decree that that all male children born on a Friday will be Muslims. This help them have enough people to man their ever increasing merchant naval fleet.

The process of migration continues, as I write these lines I am sitting 7500 miles from where I was born. Thanks to today’s better communications, I am able to maintain links back home. This was not the case even a hundred years ago.

Yesterday, during iftar I met one gentleman whose ancestors moved to Guyana from India in 1830s. Approximately 200 years later, he still identifies himself as Indian. Some of the eating habit has remained the same an even some words from Indian origin remain part of his language. He said he felt at home going to India for the first time. It was wonderful to meet him and learn of some tales that we don’t know much about.