Motherhood and a celebration of the ‘Lady of Light’

Two days ago, many in the Shi’i communities celebrated the birthday of Hazrat Fatima (S.A), daughter of the Holy Prophet who is also know as Zahra (Lady of Light) and Syedatun Nisa al Alamin (Leader of the Women of the Worlds). Many scholars have highlighted the ‘deep and revolutionary influence Fatima’s memory evokes in breadth of transformation in the Muslim societies’ .In this context one came across a vast array of conversations and narratives celebrating her life which invite introspection onto our own lives. But this year such an auspicious occasion has a special significance for me personally because it has coincided with my own mother’s birthday, unwittingly allowing me to celebrate the lives of two very special mothers.

Among one of the salient aspects of Hazrat Fatima’s life is the fact that she selflessly lived her life for others. All historical narratives of her life, which are few and far between, are agreed on the fact that inspite of her austere existence  no one was ever turned away from her door. A common lament that one thus keeps coming across is that we need Fatima as a role model today because such generosity and selflessness is rarely found in these times. Indeed this fact is largely true in today’s materialistic and greed driven world,  but I could not help but feel lucky to think that I had such a role model in the form of my other mother who similarly devoted her entire life to helping others. Living an almost nomadic existence in Pakistan, moving incessantly from one city to another and often living in far flung areas where qualified teachers were hard to come by, my mother volunteered to teach at every opportunity she had.   Helping teach at the government colleges and schools which were run by the Pakistan Air Force was her way of giving back to her country. She did all this probably at the cost of a bright academic career elsewhere, being an outstanding student, skilled debater  an ambitious science student (who by the age of sixteen had even exchanged letters with the likes of Neil Armstrong) and one of the handful of women who did their Masters in a hard science subject like Physics in the early 70’s. Inspite of her own academic success and potential future opportunities she never professed any sense of  entitlement or superiority over others and willingly gave it all up for her family and others.  I am sure others have similar stories to share and such stories about our mothers who are indeed the proverbial unsung heros, need to be shared and celebrated.   Continue reading

‘Phenomenology of the Islamic Prayer’

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Attended this wonderful lecture at Columbia recently.  Was able to attend only the morning sessions, always a pleasure to go back and listen to these wonderful scholars. The section that really stood out for me (mostly because it resonated with my own academic concerns) was the Second Panel with Dr. Charfi and Professor Dabashi which sought to differentiate between the ritual act of prayer and the spiritual experience of praying. While I have been familiar with such a notion which upholds all juridical theology as being a dialectical response to the sociology of religion being  an underlying theme in Professor Dabashi’s work , Dr Charfi’s work also underlined similar intellectual anxieties. Continue reading