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In my ongoing book research, I had to take to the obvious hits first on my list. Albert Ellis was right there, so it should be because REBT satisfies some of my beliefs about approaches to psychotherapy from an Islamic perspective. But here’s the catch, Albert Ellis was a strong atheist, his views on religion were bordering on obnoxious and as much as he would’ve phrased it differently, he does seem to have been extremely narcissistic in his opinions. I call him a conundrum because he said he was inspired by Paul Tillich, a religious existentialist and yet Ellis was biased against religion and then his wiki entry says that he was a ‘lifelong supporter of peace and opponent of militarism’ and yet he was member of Israel America Foundation which sends all its funds to support its various interests in Israel and is strongly religious itself. What do you make of this?’
(source: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/features/14947/)

And yet, later in life, Ellis worked on a book that integrated religious consideration in applying REBT with spiritual clients. I have yet to read that book and wonder if the puzzle deepens. As Ellis was famously/infamously known to claim in his blustery way, ‘All humans are f*ing crazy’ and according to me, not him- this applied more to him as an evidence of that statement rather than anyone/anything else. I wonder, if he ever realized that he was spiraling down in his own semantic worm hole or if he had REBT intervention techniques honed to such a degree that outside of it, any questionable behavior was immune to scrutiny?

I still haven’t put REBT under the microscope for minute dissection but I do look forward to the prospect. I can imagine him in his usual dismissal- with a wave of his hand, ‘you don’t like it, you don’t like it. who gives a S*?’ This attitude seemed to have worked for him for 93 years.

If people like Albert Ellis can pull it off, what is stopping us as Muslim intellectuals who are far more intuitive, considerate, yaqeen-centred and Akhirah-oriented to promote what is ‘Haqq’? And I don’t speak from the camouflage of disguised narcissism because that wouldn’t make me any different from A.E but really from the call of the fitrah, the shahadah of the Oneness of God and Messengership of His prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The soul calls.

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I remember the time I had to participate in a jounalistic event as part of a team assigned for an inter-collegiate fest. The opportunity sent me into glorious ecstasies of attaining literary and journalistic hieghts. That’s before I hit the ground running hard in a bitter sprint to catch up. My friends will laugh at that memory. It was a five day event and the judges would award us on the basis of all of those days’ individual win/loss. Two day loss and a 3 day win would still qualify you as the winner.

The first day we put up that wall-mag, it had a halo over it. It was all clean, good fun with rickety verses and langurous prose. We thought we had done a good job if we do say so ourselves, considering that the only other team competing against us had what I considered a horrific breach of all ethics as their offering. It was full of crude jokes, overload of obscenities and bizzarre attempts at reporting. We walked away smug with the prelude of the winning orchestra playing in our heads. At the end of the day, we stared slack-jawed at the results. They had won. They had won???

This was war.

We figured that the only way to do this was down and dirty. Although, I saw this as reprehensible, it was even more fun! We drew the line at using vulgarities, obscenities or any outright breach of what we upheld but we would take the high road to satire. As smirk-worthy as that sounds, we made a four day win. I think some part of me crystallized the meeting of freedom of speech with satire in that small experiential learning. The other team didn’t have haunted looks on their faces when they left, they loved being the grist for the mill in our columns and found it funny enough to laugh at themselves.

Which brings me to Charlie Hebdo. So many questions and all insufficient answers. My heart goes out to the victims of this traunmatic event, all grisly violence is abhorrent. It leaves in its wake not just the tragedy of the incident itself but the tragedy of the aftermath. I love my facebook feed. Go ahead and cringe. But still, I do. It gives me a long lens-view of a diaspora of opinions and helps me sculpt my own.

If I were a statistic, this is how all our feeds would look like, various scholars denouncing the event, photo tags of tweets and hash tags of ‘JesuisCharlie’ or ‘JesuisAhmed’, those few friends who speak up in their own way-links to selected articles or their own personal updates. A refrain runs through all of them, I’m a Muslim and I dissociate from this act of terror, I denounce it as a Muslim. This is NOT my religion.

This has been the refrain for several of similar incidents over time. There’s nothing blame-worthy in this, in fact it is praise-worthy and much needed but are we suffering from some sort of rhetorical fatigue? Unspoken, unheard, glazed over.

Here’s a quick wiki on Satire : “Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.”

I held Satire in high esteem until I realized how hurtful it can be. As a psychologist who is training to recognise how mockery and shaming can damage what could be mended and destroy not only the perpetrator but the victim as well in silent implosion, I would rather use it with clauses and caution.

Are we to define freedom of speech by vulgarities, obscenities and unpalatable inuendos? Freedom of speech is a high ideal and everybody’s right but do we want our children to associate something so noble with something so base? Before we take this as some passive-aggressive stance to side with the Charlie Hebdo attackers, I would rather you see this in the open light of retrospect. It is not only for those who make a mockery of Islam but also Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and all other religions/ ideologies. Mehreen Kasana has a brillaint write-up on this slant of things.

Satire needs to be redefined, revived and responsible. It cannot be a belly-tickle for the haters but it must cut to the quick on issues that address societies problems, it should not direct itself to that inane frollicking of taking up arms against issues that are purposeless and incendiary. If Satire was a matter of stealth attacks in previous centuries on the mores of the society, today it is a public aggrandizement of stealthy motives. France has an affected attitude towards its Muslim Population, on the high notes of liberty, ride the waves of intolerance towards the immigrant population. It’s all very civil. Except smooth can never hide jarring politics.

I condemn and mourn the losses of life in this Charlie Hebdo incident, I would stay away from ‘JesuisCharlie’ because I am not Charlie and would never wish to be. I would never subscribe to satire that is meaningless, hurtful and misdirected. But, I’ve learnt this recently from being introduced to the ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ concept by Martin Buber. It can apply to our situations on psychological, social and political levels. Between ‘I’ and ‘Thou’, there is a sacred space, when we learn to respect this space we can learn to respect each others worlds and that inspires greater purpose and stronger harmony. The sacred space exists and I can only be true to myself and true to you in our mutual separation and connection through this space.

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Photo Credit:Flickr Creative Commons/ginable

As a child, I would proudly proclaim to anybody who would listen that I would grow up to be an IAS Officer. My parents were of the firm belief that every child of theirs should be an active contributor to the well-being of others on a personal, National, Global level. They taught me to love, embrace and respect my identity as an Indian whose roots went back to intricately woven stories of grit and survival. I loved imagining my stands on various issues of public interest as an officer-in-charge, relentless in delivering morally upright, compassionate solutions to everyday problems.

My educational pursuits were matters steered by the heart. Writing spoke to my soul and psychology awakened the lore-seeker in me of my very humanity. I did try in between to give the IAS exams but as my parents are wont to say, I wasn’t really persistent. My heart rebelled at the idea of a civil officer who would still have to pander to nefarious politics despite her fight to maintain integrity.

This threw me in pursuit of so many whys and hows that psychology just happened to be the answer to all my prayers. I might not have found all the answers and may never do but I’ve come to recognize some home truths that are the core of compassionate existence.

Harking back to the matter at hand, ‘Ghar Vapsi’- ‘Returning Home’ is such a misnomer when you consider what is happening under this banner. Reconversion of Christians and Muslims of India to Hinduism as a mass National agenda in our times, citing historical stories that dated hundreds of years ago as their arsenal is a rupture in reality, fractured thinking, really.

During my pursuit of the short-lived IAS dream, I had to plough through a lot of GK books on History, Geography, Civics and what have you to prepare for the exams. I had to live on a staple of newspapers and news magazines. To say that bureaucracy cheered me would be a blatant lie.

I had the Fundamental Rights and Duties of a citizen of India memorized as kid but now I examined them, questioned them, explored their veracity. If these were the core of our Constitution, then why do they reek of abuse and ill-use. The iridescent truth in these principles did not shine through in our politics nor in our everyday carriage as the citizens who upheld their constitution.

The pulse of the nation seemed to have been muffled or drowned, rather, by the agendas of various political parties, ideologies and naysayers. We carry on not as people who are secure in their identity as citizens protected by the uncorrupt but as splintered, dissociated multiples of one person, ranging from the confused, to the scared, to the biased, to the victimized, to the usurper, to the entitled.’Ghar Vapsi’ movement does nothing to unite this splintered whole but creates further chasms in the psyche of the citizen.

My constitution clearly states under the Right To Freedom Of Religion, Article 25: Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The RSS agenda based on history that was before we proclaimed our independence, questions our progress as a people of this nation.

Are we to be thrown back to the colonial, warring dark ages of our history or are we to move forward as a Nation who truly embraces our citizenship in its wholeness, with its rights, amendments and progress?

If this is to become the current state of the psyche of politics in India, then it would rightly be called regression.If we are to truly ‘return home’, then let us return to a plural, tolerant, harmonious, co-existing society of mature individuals respecting each others lives to be an unfolding, evolving, story guided by free will.

We should not have to leave our well-being in the hands of our politicians but teach our young and old to own their identities as respectful citizens who shall unclasp themselves from the traps of divisive politics and walk towards the freedom of respectful, tolerant thinking.

Teach ourselves, our children, our elderly that we make the fabric of our society, we don’t live in the rifts of our history but we live now. Tell each other, ‘I am not the composite parts of my story, I am the whole, expansive, transcending story.’

Accidental Reflections

So I’m here, my foot pressed on the clutch, gear- ready to move, slightly revving, waiting for clearance at the traffic signal. The front vehicle clears and I get an orange and I know I can get through to the other end without a ticket but just as I spring into action and move forward, the traffic on my left heads straight for me, I swerve to the right to avoid hitting that bike that is heading squarely to my left, seemingly oblivious to the danger. All I can hear in that split second, is a terrible thud, honks blaring, brakes screeching and people gathering around the car in a frenzy.

I knew I was safe, Babu Bhaiyyah sitting next to me was in one piece but I dreaded to look behind and check on the status of things I was a meter away from. I could feel the pulse beating frantically, my heart doing double takes or what felt like long trapeze jumps with breathless spans in between each beat.

No one was hurt.

That is what I’d craved to hear, my teeth stopped chattering as much, the motor cyclist came and gave an amused quizzical look of inquiry at me. The policeman couldn’t care less, the traffic signal was recently set at that stop and they had gotten the timings wrong, so these brushes were reaching a count of hundred since the installation. The local crowd were mostly youth who wanted to firstly, preserve the fragility of a woman’s state of mind, that being moi. They kept shooing away the spectators while they themselves stood around and chatted with me politely, while there were others who were plain pigs. They snorted about women driving ANYTHING. I did roll my eyes as I continued to shake.

Babu Bhaiyyah was truly gentlemanly about the whole thing, he ironed out the wrinkles, paid off for the necessary repairs and we left the the motorcyclist grinning on the sidewalk just short off waving us goodbye. SubhanAllah! Indeed Allah SWT is the Greatest! He takes care of all our affairs in the most minutest of details that are far, far, far beyond our grasp.

I replayed every split second of that incident through out my drive back to Bangalore like some obsessed director who wanted to orchestrate everything finitely. I picked apart the incident like pieces of a puzzle, reshuffled this and that and wondered how things could’ve been different. He could’ve been killed, na’oodhubillah, either one of us would’ve been hurt unimaginably, so many other horrifying things could have ended this story differently, but that’s where Allah SWT is indeed Ar-Rahmaan and Ar-Raheem.

I remember making this du’a before leaving, “Ya Rabbi, protect us from our own follies and from others’ follies”. I also learnt a lesson that has left me faltering for ground in the alternating dimensions of paradigmatic shifts. I always wondered at the nature of that person during the time of the beloved Prophet (Peace be upon him) who was guaranteed paradise on account of his nature to forgive everybody at the end of the day without an ounce of resentment in his heart. I asked this dua, hoping I’d be affected by it by Allah- Al-Aleem’s, Al-Hadi’s directions in my everyday affairs.

“Allahumma waslul sakheemata sadri”
“Oh Allah cleanse my heart of resentment”

In the immediate aftermath of the accident, was I holding the resentment I was shamefully aware of holding against so many of my family, friends for their little faults, quirks, eccentricities? No.
Everything just faded into a blank canvas of need. Need for their support, need for their understanding, need for them to be around and just plain, need for lives to go on as they are. I’d gladly run to that as if it were a true blessing. All their faults seemed absurd in comparison to , be it the unintended mistake of being responsible for a person’s death. It made me seem petty and small. I’m certain that this is not the way in which everybody learns to let go off resentment but I learnt it this way.

I returned home and my hugs were full of gratitude, I felt my smiles towards those people of afore faults blooming into genuine pleasure, the feeling of guilt that kicked in every time they were surprised by my lack of inhibitions. I can’t change how they are, I can change how I want to be in this world and how I want to be in the next, bi’idhnillah.

Genuinely Muslim.

Thought Cloud

I’m in the middle of this program, ITEP (Islamic Teachers Education Program) conducted by the University of Toronto, online and I love the introduction to a new way of thinking. Last week we had assignments to read up on different Islamic philosophers, I chose Mulla Sadra. I couldn’t help but agree with most of his teachings and find it remarkable that they had that kind of insight centuries ago, much before our double blind experiments and regressive analysis :P but I did find it difficult to agree with those bits that adhered to the concept of ‘wahdatul wujood’, oneness with god. I mean, how can scholars of such insight overlook what can be not just impossible but violate the very relationship with the Divine when we corrupt it with our own aspirations that Allah SWT and His messenger (peace be upon him) have warned about over and over again?

I did speak up about the problematic nature of engagement with such thought streams especially when you’re working at establishing something that is firm as opposed to whimsical, human as opposed to angelic,plain honest as opposed to circuitous. I’m coming to terms with my own understanding of this enormous responsibility towards the nature of aqeedah, fiqh, revealed sciences and the Islamization of all fields which is impossible to perfect in this lifetime but whatever attempts that be made in this short span, May it be of a beautiful testimony, Aameen.

Heart Strings

In the middle of a shift, it’s Riyadh to Dammam now, InshaAllah. Walhamdulillah, it has been an adventure so far, my to-do list is endless. :D I can’t say I don’t want a long holiday back home, just basking in the love of the good ‘ol troop is therapeutic, MashaAllah. <3 Yes, that's how much I louwe them that I can't speak of them without the less than arrow and a 3 union :D ! I can't believe it's a year now, healing is such a slow process but I know one thing that's true for myself, dealing with the loss of a loved doesn't mean the tears won't come when you remember them but the sentiment is accompanied by an overwhelming gratitude for the little time you spent with them, the shared memories and also the possibility of a meeting that we can look forward in a place far, far more beautiful than anything we can imagine.

May you grow up in the shade of the Divine with unrestrained joy my lil Yahya! Aameen!

What is Dhulm?

I’ve always read that one of the strong motivators that drive people to achieve is the attitude of ‘showing it to them that I can do it!’, I’ve always felt somewhat lack luster in the face of such enthusiasm because I doubt the credibility of the source of such motivation itself. I’d rather do something because this is how one should be, achieve because any other way to live is to short change oneself, what islamically I’ve come to understand is a form of ‘Dhulm’ upon oneself, to oppress oneself. 

Allah SWT constantly warns us that He does not favor the Dhalimeen, the oppressors. This oppression is always envisioned as something outside of us, political, territorial, religious, etc but I think as a self-reminder I need to put this down, dhulm can come from within oneself. When we fail to check our nafs, when we neglect our souls, when we aren’t completely committed to tasks, relationships, living life to the fullest, there is dhulm happening right there. Subhan Allah!

May Allah SWT Protect me from external and internal oppression and I pray for the entire worlds that they be free from such oppression by the Immense Mercy of Allah SWT. Aameen ya Rabbul ‘Alameen.

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