Book Talk – One Drop of Blood: The Story of Karbala

Recently Tahira Naqvi spoke about the book at the Global IMI Women’s Wing Literary Group’s event.

Ismat Chughtai’s eminent work “Eik Katra Khoon” (One Drop of Blood) has been recently translated into English for the very first time by Tahira Naqvi, who has also previously translated Chughtai’s other writings.

The translation “One Drop of Blood: The Story of Karbala” is an important because it offers access to this work for those who are unable to read or understand Urdu. Furthermore, this story allows the readers to connect to the narrative of Karbala to the contemporary times, to the universality of  story of Iman Hussain’s sacrifice at Karbala which speaks for the oppressed everywhere. While the story of Karbala has been cyclically repeated yet and again, the repetition of this narrative here perhaps offers a different perspective. In her own words, as Naqvi points out in the foreword “…there was a newness here despite familiarity, moments that were revelatory, a heightened sense of reality. Karbala became a place populated with not just these godly, sublime individuals, but a fearsome, cruel desert, a battle field where real men, women and children suffered in the most dreadful way at the hands of a savage, unrelenting army, led by men whose conscience had abandoned them.”

Among the noteworthy aspects of this work therefore is the way in which it humanizes the characters, especially the women and the children. Chughtai is a women’s writer and she engages very meaningfully with the women in this book, does a wonderful job of telling with the stories of women of Karbala, especially Sayeda Zaynab’s. In this sense, this work makes an important because it gives a voice to the narratives of the women of Karbala, a voice that is often ignored in the historical narratives. As I have argued elsewhere, women have largely been seen as passive victims of the Karbala tragedy, who are without much agency and consequently without a voice. This is so because ‘history’ has been written by men for men and has been noticeably impervious to the women’s narratives, and therefore such literary texts play a critical role in bringing these stories to life. (A detailed discussion on this can be accessed here at Columbia University’s Academic Commons).

Shia Esoteric Art by Nabi H. Ali


“Majlis” 2020

The figure in the center is meant to be Imam Mahdi AJ, in reference to the belief that he mourns alongside those attending majalis, though you may interpret him as Imam Hussain AS or even as Abbas AS, depending on how you resonate with the piece...”

Artwork by Nabi H. Ali, artist, animator and illustrator who has created work for Netflix, Harper Collins, Penguin etc.

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Symbolism of the Tawaf at Kaabah


Image result for makkah tawaf 2017“The tawaf simulates the angels that circumambulate around the divine throne. Angels are immaterial beings that feed on the reality of four truths and having and carrying such realities, they possess their respective angelic duties both in this realm and the Hereafter.

Those four truths are:
1. Subhanallah (Allah is free from all deficiences)
2. Alhamdulillah (All praises are His)
3. La ilaaha illallah (There is no deity but Him)
4. Allahu Akbar (God is Great)

These four are the four pillars of the celestial manifestation of the Kabah (bayt al-ma’mur) and that’s what the Kabahs four sides represent. Once we incorporate these truths within us after attaining to the state of ihraam, spiritual life will be granted to us. By whom? By Allah through archangel Mikaa’eel. And that’s why in traditions we read that Bayt al-Ma’mur is Mikaa’eel.

Once this life is granted, now one can understand certain narrations that speak of the circumambulating pilgrims having the (angelic) power to seek forgiveness for oneself and for others (i.e. anyone you were acquainted with and were in contact with). Think about it. This is no arbitrary forgiveness. One has entered the angelic and celestial sacred framework of cause and effect.”

“In order to reach God (absolute perfection), one must become annihilated in Him and for this to be feasible, one preliminary step is that of eliminating the ego. Attention to one’s self is tantamount to being distanced from Him. To become aware of our unity with God, one must slaughter the ego. The heart is the mirror and locus through which attributes of perfection reflect. However, it needs polishing and refining.


-An excerpt from Dr Farrokh Sekaleshfar’s Lecture “Hajj: The Inner (Batini) Journey”.

Cariacatures of Shia-Sunni Conflict in the West

Islam is being threatened today by a vicious Shia-Sunni divide, or so they say. The Western media is thus deeply invested in covering this strife and consequently in creating caricatures of this conflict. However what is missing from all the discussions about the Shia-Sunni strife is the fact that the  Western world is deeply implicated in the supposed Shia-Sunni conflict that can be seen in the Middle East and the surrounding regions. Among the significant ways that the prevalent stereotypes of the Shia-Sunni conflict are perpetuated is the West are through the visual media representations, some of which are reproduced here in this post. These representations are however also contested by counter-visuals from the Muslim world as can be seen in the visual above.  Continue reading



A longer version of this article by Haroon Moghul was originally published here

Several days ago, before the Saudi government’s execution of prominent Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr took tensions between Riyadh and Teheran to a new high, a reader emailed me a deceptively ordinary question. It’s worth a second look, not only because it helps us get past the simple headlines—check out the front page of the New York Times today, suggesting the Iranian-Saudi rivalry is embedded in and involves all Sunni and Shia—but because this reader’s question inadvertently helps us understand why so many in the West and the Muslim world keep talking past each other. Continue reading

The Essence of Ziyarat at Karbala

A personal note by Syeda Batool Ali as a guideline for Ziyarat at Karbala

What takes us there? Why go there at all? Who determines our objective? How and when is that achieved?

In 61 AH a Plea for Help was made from the Plains of Kerbala, ‘Hal min nasirin yansuruna …..’. This  historic Call by the Last Prophet’s grandson Hussain, was sent forth in the most emphatic and urgent tone to humanity at large. Continue reading

” Sultans of Deccan , 1500-1700 – Opulence and Fantasy “

Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York hosted an exhibition on the Sultans of Deccan, based on a diverse group of Shia dynasties in the subcontinent during the early modern period. The Deccan sultanates were originally part of the  larger Bahmani Sultanate founded in 1347 by the Turkish governer Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah. About eighteen Deccan Sultans ruled during the nearly 200 years of the sultanate and its but the exhibition only focuses on the period between 1500- 1700. After 1518, the Bahmani kingdom was divided in four sultanates: Barishahi (of Bidar), Qutbshahi (of Golkonda), Adamshahi (of Ahmadnagar), Imadshahi (of Berar) and Adilshahi (of Bijapur), but are collectively known as the Deccan sultanates.

Here is an excerpt from the museum literature about the exhibition

” Opulence and fantasy characterize the art of India’s Deccan courts during the rule of its sultans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The diamond-rich region attracted artists, poets, writers, and traders from all over the world—including Iran, Turkey, Africa, and Europe—who were drawn to the Shi’a culture and material splendor of the courts. Under their mixed influence, captivating art styles of otherworldly charm evolved. At its zenith, the Deccan became home to Indian and Persian artists, the abode of African elites, and the place where European discoverers embraced new tastes in textiles and gems. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Deccan courts gave way to Mughal domination from the north, but their preceding efflorescence offers a glimpse of the imaginative heights reached in the arts of painting.” Continue reading