All posts by Yasmine | sweep the sunshine

3 Beautiful Things, the “Monday Morning in the City” Edition

one. A mother in dress clothes sat cross-legged on the floor of the train this morning, reading a children’s storybook to her young son in a stroller, and every one of us in the front half of that carriage was blatantly eavesdropping.

two. A (homeless?) man was playing the saxophone directly in front of a hotel on Market Street this morning. The hotel manager was exhorting him — politely but pleadingly in a low voice — to move to a different location. The saxophone man looked down, simply shook his head once, and continued his beautiful, haunting music. We passers-by watched, listened, and kept glancing back as we walked by. I felt badly for both of them, two men simply doing their job and trying to get through the day, but I hope the saxophone man is still there in front of the hotel, serenading San Francisco guests and pedestrians.

three. I ducked into Walgreen’s on my way to work with a dying phone battery, and stepped out two minutes later with a micro-USB charger that cost only $5 and is ORANGE. It makes me happy to see the sunshine-y color snaking across my desk.

It’s only 8am, and I think this day is just going to get better, inshaAllah.

(Just like old times: Tagging Sara I, Javed, Aisha for the 3beautifulthings reference, and Baji for the orange!)

In memory of Imran Saithna, rockstar extraordinare: Bleed the pen, burn the paper, dry those tears of eternal sorrow


Courtyard of Lions, originally uploaded by Imran Saithna.

And we meet…
to depart,
And then depart -
Just to meet again.
*

The problem with – and the beautiful gift of – the internet is that I always fall a little bit in love with everyone I interact with. I refer mainly to blogistan and flickr, since those are the two spaces I spend most of my time online and where I come across other bloggers, (b)lurkers, and photographers. Through weblog posts, flickr uploads, weblog comments, personal emails, simple flickr comments that somehow transform into lengthy, off-topic threads, and sometimes even “stalkerish” (I joke) and baffling facebook friend requests as a result of these two spaces, I marvel that we all become connected through such tenuous, fragile networks.

But, we do – we become connected through comments and story-telling and emails and instant messenger and photographs, and everyone becomes my friend, regardless of whether or not I know them offline. This is how I walk the world – the world which, for me, just as much includes these wires that connect us all together, as it does the “real-life” friends with whom I regularly coordinate hanging-out sessions in person.

Which is why it felt like a sucker-punch to the gut yesterday morning, when, in the midst of replying to emails and slurping down my breakfast cereal, I clicked over to my friend Zana‘s photostream and found one of her recent uploads dedicated In Loving Memory of Imran Saithna. I struggled to take a breath, eyes glued to the computer screen as I tried to take in the information. People who are 28 years old are not supposed to die. People who have just returned only a few short weeks ago from performing Hajj – the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia – are not supposed to die. People whom you’ve been meaning to email back within the next few days are not supposed to die before you reply to their messages.

Many thanks to Maliha, whose email I was in the midst of responding to when I clicked over to Zana’s photo, for her lovely note back, and to the beautiful Shaheen, who provided me some comfort as I raged, “It’s just so sucky when all the good people die. Why can’t God just take the fuck-ups instead?”

I met Imran Saithna through flickr, when he added me as a contact back in late 2005 and I reciprocated. He posted stunningly beautiful photos, and sometimes commented on mine – unfortunately, more often than I commented on his, in retrospect. You all know how good I am at these (b)lurking habits of mine.

When I posted my small photoset of Zaytuna Institute to flickr last spring, I was surprised by the number of people who took the time to comment on and appreciate the series of photos I had snapped on a whim one afternoon while waiting for my sister. Imran was one of those who commented, and our exchange made me realize how much we Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area take for granted our proximity to Zaytuna and the spiritual goodness available there. I promised him I would post some more Zaytuna photos; he particularly requested shots of the grounds. In turn, I admired his photos of Spain, a place I have always wanted to visit.

In these last couple of days after hearing of Imran’s death, I’ve learned more about what he did than I ever knew when he was alive. As Project Manager of Muslimyouth.net, he was a passionate advocate for Britain’s first online support and guidance forum for Muslim youth. The website provides an open space for young Muslims to discuss issues which are relevant and important to them, without fear of censure or condemnation, and is part of the umbrella organization Muslim Youth Helpline, a confidential telephone and e-mail counseling service for young people. MYH understands well the effect of “the climate of fear, fury and media sensationalising” on the mental health of Muslim youth in Britain. The tribute to Imran on Muslimyouth.net lists in moving detail the various projects to which he had dedicated himself.

Under Imran’s creative and dedicated guidance muslimyouth.net flourished from a fledgling project into a thriving online community for Muslims across the UK and beyond. Much of this is a testament to Imran’s innovative and unique energy, drive and commitment to the cause.

A typical example of Imran’s maverick approach was exemplified in some of the campaigns that he ran on muslimyouth.net. Few will ever forget (especially the participants involved!) the Homelessness Campaign that ran on the site in April 2005. Imran and a group of volunteers spent a weekend on the streets of London with a budget of £3 to survive on. Crazy, unheard of and unorthodox –maybe. Pure Imran –absolutely! Behind the stunt however lay a desire to raise awareness amongst the Muslim community about issues that often get swept under the carpet. He led through example and took great care to ensure the safety and comfort of the volunteers who joined him on this experience.

This is my favorite comment-story about Imran, because the image in the first part made me laugh so much:

my best memory of Imran is the british 10K marathon in 2005. He ran the whole thing smoking marlboro reds and still beat me.

Imran touched the heart of almost every muslim youth in london.

There are many posts and comments about Imran all over the internet these days, it seems. I found one of the most poignant tributes on deenport, written by Yoshi Misdaq:

Then, a month or so ago, I went to a poetry event. I wasn’t scheduled to perform there, but I did. Imran was scheduled to perform, although I didn’t know it beforehand. And so, he did. I remember thinking that his poem went on a very long time. I thought it was a bit too much. But then, when I had that thought, I was caught up in the world. And when you’re caught up in the world, feeling worldly (not that you’re aware of it at the time) you forget about the bigger picture. Death is the only thing that could make me look back at events in this way. And so I did. I asked my friend (who was filming that night) to lend me the tapes earlier today. I watched Imran’s poem (the second, the last performance) again. And it was a miracle. Later that night, when I had told him how nervous I was to perform my poetry for the first time, and how calm he seemed, he corrected me, saying that he was doing all he could do stop from shaking. And so, this performance meant everything to him. That’s why it went on for so long that night. It was as if he were putting every single significant disappointment and feeling into that extended piece of rhyme. He was rinsing out this water-pain from his soul, taking it from every single angle, from every perspective. He felt it that night. And I felt it when I saw it again. After he had left Earth. Every other line of poetry was about death, the next world, the pains of this world. I could quote it at length. I just typed the whole thing up. I won’t do that though. To see his face again was a blessing. Some peoples eyes light up when they smile. Other people are always lit up, subtly.

[...] As I’ve said, Imran didn’t fit perfectly here. Others closer to him would no doubt have seen more worldly sides to him. For me though, he is now in the place he was so clearly destined to be in. The spirit-world. And I can’t help but fear for myself and those I love who do not have that odd way about us. Those of us who sometimes seem all too eager to get comfortable here in this filling-station called Earth. Selfishly, I feel fearful, because, in a way, God seems to have taken him so perfectly, after having just returned from Hajj. What more mercy could there be for him? And yet, what ambiguity and uncertainty there is for the rest of us. In the poetry event before he left, through his poems, he was purging himself. And, I will always believe the on the pilgrimage that followed, he discovered himself, nourished himself, filled in the holes and gaps. What he was meant to be, where he was meant to go. Within a few moments of hearing that news, and thinking about my encounters with this wonderful human, I knew it was meant to be. It was right. It was a story that God so clearly wrote.

While I spent winter of 2005 writing and writing and writing about the aftermath of the South Asian earthquake, Imran was one of those amazing people who jumped on a plane and went to help with earthquake relief efforts. He posted to flickr the photos from his time in Pakistan, and wrote about his relief-work experiences on his weblog; the BBC interviewed him, too, in a November 2005 story.

I went searching through my GMail account yesterday afternoon. As I expected, my last email exchange with Imran is marked with the all-important “must reply soon” yellow star and a red “Draft” note next to it. When I had neglected to upload photos to my flickr account for nearly two months, Imran emailed me in mid-December of last year to check in. He ended his email with “Fi amanillah [(Go) in God's protection],” which made me smile. In my reply, I explained that I’m not much of a multi-tasker when it comes to writing and photography, so if I’m active on flickr, I tend to neglect the weblog, and if I write more often, then I stop uploading pictures consistently. I also wrote:

Just replied to your comment on my weblog post. Thank you for taking the time to stop by; it’s always nice to see the flickr folks over at the weblog, too. There isn’t much overlap; the flickr folks check out my photos and the blogistan folks check out my writing, but only a couple of people stop by both, as far as I know.

At the end of my email, I added, “I’m a big fan of other people who also say ‘fi amanillah.’ HIGHFIVE!”

He replied that he did indeed check out both the weblog and the flickr, a sentiment that was repeated again just recently, when he commented on my “Bethany” post that made us all laugh so much.

And he responded to my How goes the life with you? query by ending with:

Life with me is good, just really busy doing so many mad voluntary things in the local community here, am back in London for the time being as insha’Allah I will be flying out for the Hajj on Monday. Pray that my Hajj is accepted insha’Allah, and also let me know if you want me to bring you back anything from Saudi at all, it would be a pleasure.

Fi amanillah, Yasmine, take care and keep smiling so it can rub off on us all.

I remember staring at my computer, thinking, Bring me back something from Saudi? What a beautiful, incredibly generous offer. I decided I would send him the list of duas [prayers/supplications] I’d been emailing to all my friends who were leaving for Hajj. The most I could ask of anyone was that they add some prayers for me while in the holy cities.

My reply to his last email is still sitting in my Drafts folder. It begins simply, Wa alaikum assalam, Imran -, and then there is a bunch of empty white space, and his email below. The draft was saved on December 15th; by the time I remembered I still needed to send him my dua list two days later, he had already flown out for Hajj, and I figured I’d just save the reply and send it as a congratulatory email when he returned from the pilgrimage. I never did send it, obviously, and now I can’t even bring myself to click the “Discard” button.

I wish I had made time to reply to people’s comments on the weblog. I wish I had sent him another email, and commented more often to let him know how much I appreciate his beautiful photos and poetry. I didn’t understand at the time what he meant by “doing so many mad voluntary things,” but in the last couple of days of reading people’s reflections about Imran, I’ve come to understand what a truly generous, giving person he was – someone who, as Zana said, had all the time in the world for people less fortunate.

Last October, I had sent him a short email saying,

I randomly came across this today and thought of you, since you are such a Zaytuna fan:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alhambrapro/

Eid mubarak! Hope you had a beautiful, blessed day inshaAllah!

At the end of his reply to me, he added:

Alhamdulillah, Eid was fantastic, probably one of the nicest, bestest and most rewarding Eids I’ve had in many years.

Yesterday, scrolling through Imran’s weblogs, I came across the post that began with a reflection on both his 2005 Eids, spent helping with earthquake relief efforts in the mountains of Kashmir; the post culminated in a description of the October 2006 Eid he had referred to in his email to me:

This year I was again away from home on the day of Eid. I found myself in a place where one might suspect there to be little reason or cause to celebrate anything except imminent release. However, I was overwhelmed at what proved to be one of the most remarkable days of my life.

I have been working on an ad-hoc basis out of HMP Wormwood Scrubs for the last 6 months or so, and although there are some genuinely pleasurable and memorable moments, in general it is one big reality check. A reminder of my long forgotten past, a chance to give something back to society and an opportunity to remember the Blessings of our Lord that fall upon us so abundantly that we can do nothing but take them for granted.

Every year is different, every Eid Allah puts before me another opportunity to atone for my sins. Only this year however, have I realised quite how lucky I am to be blessed and tested in this way.

Close your eyes and try to picture 200+ brothers in one room, smiling like they have never smiled before, eating as though they have never eaten before, greeting you so sincerely with the greeting of peace and hugging you as though you were a long lost relative.

The beautiful chanting of the Takbirs still resonate warmly in my ears, almost every conceivable nation was represented in that hall, and often I wonder if this was a tiny vision of what paradise might be times a million.

Who needs Zaytuna, when you’ve found the real deal, Imran? Paradise-times-a-million must be yours by now; how could He deny you that blessed entry?

There are many, many people who knew Imran far better than I did (a simple Google search pulls up dozens, if not hundreds, of recent weblog entries, forum posts, and comments and prayers dedicated to him and the work he did, all across the internet) – there is, for example, Zana, who still can’t bring herself to delete his number from her phone; there is Balal, his close friend and photography mentor, who wrote to me about his experiences knowing Imran; there is Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, with whom he shared his love for poetry. But even I, who k
new him so briefly and barely, feel that I’ve lost someone whose kindness and generosity touched me enough that even I’m feeling heartbroken. When I struggled around the lump in my throat and cried hot tears for him yesterday, it was not because his life has ended, but because our own lives are a little bit emptier, having lost such a beautiful soul to accompany us through this world.

Mabrouk, ya Hajji! And rest in peace, my friend. When next we meet, I’ll tell you what it felt like for me to have – by then, God willing – finally seen Spain and the Alhambra in person, and you can describe for me what it must be like to sit in the Light of the Divine and see the Creator face-to-Face. I have no doubt that you will be one of the Illuminated. May the Lord, in His infinite mercy, grant you all that is good and pure and blessed – and an internet connection Up There, so that you can see, even through your infamous humility, how positively you’ve impacted and inspired all those of us you’ve left behind.

[Post title from a poem by Imran Saithna:

Forget the past, sleep the day,
Wake not for the dawn of tomorrow.

Bleed the pen, burn the paper,
Dry those tears of eternal sorrow.

Blind the eyes, pack full the ears,
Wipe the traces of that lonely smile.

Turn full-around, re-trace your steps,
and walk alone for a while.
]

[Comments made in response to this entry may be found here, from when this piece was originally posted on sweepthesunshine.v1.]

I just roll through town and my window’s got a view


Driving home, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Generally, I will be the first to admit I’m a horrible friend. I rarely manage to pick up my phone when it’s ringing, and then it takes me a week (or two?) to return calls. I don’t respond to emails in a timely manner. I’m always right, and you’re always wrong. Those are just a few examples.

I think I have a few redeeming qualities, though. First and foremost, I can be counted on to do or say stupid things, so that you remember it – and remind me as well as the rest of the world of it – for years. Like the time I retorted, “I wake up looking cute!” Or the time, during freshman year of college, I loudly (and quite justifiably, I believe) cussed Somayya out in the middle of general chemistry, in a lecture hall filled with hundreds of students. Or the time that – check this, this is a crazy story – driving to school one morning, I stopped for gas halfway, only to realize I had literally no money on me. And neither enough gas to get to school (thirty miles to the east) nor enough to get back home (thirty miles to the west). So, basically, I was stranded. After a few minutes of “Oh, shit!”, I frantically called Somayya to brainstorm what I should so. Thankfully, brainstorming was not required; she drove thirty miles to come rescue my sorry ass, and enough gas was pumped into my car to not only get me to school, but also back home that evening.

Basically, if nothing else, you should keep me around for amusement purposes. I’ll have lots of stupid stories to tell my grandchildren someday.

I got so sidetracked on my stupidity, I almost forgot to mention that my second redeeming quality in terms of friendship is that I will drive to the end of the earth, to have lunch with you. As long as I have gas money, of course. Lunch money, I’m not so concerned about; that part always has a way of working out.

Last Wednesday, I drove sixty miles to have lunch with some friends. Oh, I also had to return books to both the Women’s Resources & Research Center and the University library, but we’ll ignore that part. After all, I’d kept those books seven months past their due date. Returning books is just a convenient excuse to have lunch, as far as I’m concerned.

[For the bookworms amongst you, who are curious about such things, here are the two books I loved enough to have kept more than half a year past their due date, plus the third book that I had simply forgotten was still in my possession:

1 - A Life Removed: Hunting for Refuge in the Modern World (Rose George)
2 - Peace Begins Here: Palestinians & Israelis Listening to Each Other (Thich Nhat Hanh)
3 - Her Mother's Ashes 2: More Stories by South Asian Women in Canada & the United States (edited by Nurjehan Aziz)

You should definitely read the first two.]

When I returned the last book and apologized profusely to B at the WRRC for keeping it so long, she blinked and said, “Don’t tell me you drove all the way up from the Bay Area just to bring this back!”

“Well, kind of,” I grinned.

She looked horrified.

“Don’t worry!” I laughed. “I’m sure I’ll find a few other things to occupy myself with while I’m here!”

And I did, indeed. A few minutes later, I found the Lovely L Lady, and in no time I was lunching it up with L and surprise guests H#2 and Somayya. After that, a free hour, wherein L and I headed over to Borders. You know you’ve got a good friend, when her idea of hanging out includes bookstore trips. While L found a chair, I wandered aimlessly around the store and then settled down on the floor in a pool of sunshine by the front windows, with a copy of East West Woman magazine [Sheetal Sheth's on the cover! And there's an interview with VH1's Aamer Haleem, whom L - who is Sudanese - instantly recognized while this Desi girl didn't] and Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? in hand.

Then I was off to Sacramento to stop by and stalk some old co-workers. I managed to find a parking spot on Q St., and had a quick moment of nostalgia for all the times my co-workers and I used to fight over the 2-hour zones along that specific block. The ecstatic greetings I got from everyone were both beautiful and mind-boggling. (They: Where have you BEEN?!, I: They really LIKE me?!). I was there long enough to gush over Z’s stylin’ hair, tease K about how tall he had grown in my absence, make fun of H#3′s hair, laugh at A’s bluntness (“I called you?”), and coordinate future plans to hang out with my girls (first week of March!). Perfect.

Half an hour later, I rushed to meet up with my buddy S at Cosi in downtown Sacramento, its only California location. I nearly walked right by him without recognizing him, because he had just gotten off work and was still dressed in his button-down shirt, dress slacks, and a tie. A TIE! “Lookit you lookin’ all spiffy!” I crowed.

I love hanging out with S, simply because he is, to put it mildly, on crack. Anjum will back me up here. I was supposed to do a second lunch with him, but I wasn’t really hungry by that point, so we stopped by Cosi to get some light food and sit around. I ordered a mint-flavored arctic latte, and then nearly picked a fight with S at the register because he busted out with his card and insisted on paying for both of us. Now, to be honest, I have absolutely no shame about letting friends cover my meals when I’m feeling broke. But when I do have money, I’m highly stubborn about paying my own way.

“Aww, let him pay!” said the girl at the register, who thought he was a sweet kid.

“No!” I said. “Take the damn five dollars, S.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” he said to me, handing his credit card to the girl.

I rolled my eyes. “You’re a day late and, also, I don’t care about Valentine’s Day. Here’s your five dollars, buddy.” I practically had to throw the bill at him, and then escaped to the huge red armchairs in the corner.

I tried to convince S to come visit the Bay next week. I even picked a day for him, a day he’s off from work.

“Oh, wait, I can’t come; I have work the next day!” he whined.

“So?”

“So I can’t come to the Bay, then. I’m working the next day.”

“Child, that’s why I’m asking you to come on the day that you’re off from work!”

“But I’m working the next day!”

At this point, I figured out he was just trying to give me a hard time. I felt like throwing something at him, but I pointed out reasonably, “It’s not like you’re going to be doing anything important on your day off, anyway. What’re you gonna do, sit around and watch movies on your laptop?”

“Basically,” he laughed. “I do that at work all the time.”

“What, watch movies on the computer?”

“Yeah.”

“And no one notices?!”

“No, I just minimize the movie screen when someone walks by.”

“Dude, you need to calm down with that, seriously.”

He gave me a scornful look, and uttered the best lines of the entire day: “What are they gonna do? Fire me?! You can’t fire me. I’m Employee of the Month, b*tches!”

I collapsed in laughter. While he continued muttering about his “Employee of the Month, b*tches!” status, I promised I’d photoshop him something about that convincing argument of his. [Check it, here!] I also added, “You’d better calm down, buddy, the month’s almost over.”

“What’re they gonna do? Fire me?”

“Yeah, ’cause you’re Employee of the Month, b*tches!”

Ahhh, it was a good day.

After gathering my laughing self up out of the huge red armchair, I bid goodbye to S and hightailed it back to the Lovely L Lady’s place, where I modeled for and played with her shiny, new digital camera. And, then, time to head home! And, man, you can be sure all those miles (that’s nothing!) were damn well worth it.

So… Anyone wanna do lunch?