The Worship of a Child: A Reflection on Laylatul Qadr

On Laylatul Qadr last year, my most powerful moment of spiritual insight came from my friend’s four year old son.

Halfway through the night, I chose a quiet corner so I could begin the lengthy night prayer. My young friend followed and decided he wanted to pray with me. He didn’t know the words, but quietly matched my movements perfectly. After the completion of each set of rakaats, I glanced over and smiled at him, expecting him to be bored or tired, but he stood back up each time with an enthusiasm that put me to shame. The world of a typical four-year-old is full of color, excitement, and an endless array of distractions, but on this night, my young friend stood with me to pray as if it was the greatest delight in the world. I found myself torn between awe of my Creator and awe of this tiny, exuberant child whose single-minded worship left me speechless.

When I reflected on his behavior later, his actions got me thinking about the evolving nature of a believer’s heart, and the innate joy we feel as children every time we connect with the One who made us. As children, we aren’t yet burdened by a sense of unworthiness, hopelessness, or insurmountable fear… There is no worldliness, self-doubt, or negativity within us yet that places an imaginary distance between us and God. Our awareness of Him is inherent, inescapable, unspoken- it lives within us like a foregone conclusion, and we have no separation from it. When we pray to God as children, we haven’t yet learned to think of any reason why He wouldn’t answer our prayers- we speak to Him with the absolute conviction that He will, because all we know is that He is the Giver, and this knowledge is sufficient for us to trust that He will give. We approach worship with the same joy and lightness that we approach playtime. In our purity and innocence, worship simply feels like another form of play for us.

As children, we don’t yet know how to ponder our own worthiness or unworthiness; we are cognizant only of Allah’s greatness. Something it has taken me a lifetime time to grasp is that self-doubt isn’t an egoless state; it’s a state in which the imaginary fears of the ego are actually overtaking us. To be truly egoless, the way a child is, means that we don’t even begin to evaluate our place in the equation; all there is is God and His greatness. If I truly think about it, isn’t this the kind of steady, tranquil worship that enables a man to utter ‘Bismillah’ and walk across a body of water? If we truly want to taste the sweetness of worship, perhaps the secret lies in teaching ourselves to see God with the unblemished reverence of a child.

x r

A Tale of Two Strangers in Najaf: A Reflection on Human Tenderness

When I went to ziyarat a few years ago, there was a period of time in Najaf when my heart ached because of the way people behaved. Every time I tried to visit the interior of the shrine, I was shoved, elbowed, and choked, as many people were violently aggressive in their attempts to reach the zari. On a particularly rough day, I felt disheartened because of the principle of the matter: how was it that we could be gathered in one of the holiest cities in the world, to honor one of the greatest men who had ever lived, only to treat each other so poorly? The more I thought about it, the more I felt a childish surge of anger that distracted me from experiencing the pleasure of that sublime place.

Later that night, I went back to the shrine of Imam Ali (as) and moved several times because of the crowd. I finally found a peaceful spot and settled down to pray next to two women. As I finished the prayer and sat down to recite some duas, the woman sitting next to me said salaam with a huge smile, hugged me, and began complimenting me in a mixture of broken English and Farsi. She kept praising the way I worshiped, touched my face and told me I was beautiful, kissed my cheeks, and praised me again and again for simply doing what millions of people were there to do. There was no hint of shyness or reserve in the love she expressed; it was as if she were an old friend I’d run into after a lengthy separation. The sweetness of her behavior melted my heart and flooded me with awe. She told her companion about me and the other woman hugged and kissed me as well, and both women enveloped me in the warmest, kindest energy I’d ever encountered from strangers. A while after they left, I remembered how uneasy I’d been feeling before, and it occurred to me that it couldn’t have been a coincidence that I had ended up sitting next to them. It struck me that my master Amir ul Mu’mineen (as) wouldn’t have allowed me to leave his city without softening my heart and reminding me not to allow momentary displeasure to cloud my love for my fellow human beings.

Many years have passed, but the lesson those two women taught me has woven its way into the fabric of my heart, reminding me of the profound power of human tenderness: in a world that abounds with cruelty and indifference, having the courage to be warm, loving, and kind creates a force that dispels every form of darkness. In an era replete with hyper-individualism, kindness is like a foreign language that we sometimes feel too timid to speak- but the more we speak it, the more we realize that this is the highest calling our souls were created for: to become a living, tangible reflection of the infinite tenderness and mercy of the Divine. Every day, the world gives us endless reasons to become cynical, jaded, and doubtful of good. Yet the tenderness of a soft-hearted human being breaks this spell and reminds us that goodness exists everywhere- it only waits for us to open our hearts and recognize it until we, too, grow to embody it. The two women also reminded me that love wasn’t created to be a finite resource- it begs to be poured into every being and creature we encounter, no matter how briefly.

No discussion of tenderness would be complete without acknowledging the tender-hearted king of Najaf himself, Amir ul Mu’mineen. We often speak of Imam Ali’s loyalty, eloquence, and courage, but on nights of reflection, it’s the unparalleled depth of his empathy that takes my breath away. After the Prophet (pbuh), Imam Ali was the greatest being in existence- the most devoted ‘abd of Allah, the victor of countless battles, a champion unparalleled in strength, intellect, and Divine significance. And yet- Ali remained Ali. Despite experiencing the pinnacle of both honor and hardship, he never forgot the most vulnerable members of his community. Not only did he make time to shower them with reverence, kindness, and love, but he genuinely perceived them as no less important and beloved than those who had far more to offer him. When Ali felt the deprivation of the orphans of Kufa, it’s as if he felt their hunger within his own body- as if he couldn’t sleep until he made sure their hunger was satiated and their joy revived. It’s no surprise that these orphans felt as if the sky had fallen on the 19th of Ramadhan; for who but Ali could love the forgotten children of his city with the tenderness of a father?

At his doorstep, we learn not just the art of prayer itself, but the art of turning every interaction into a potential moment of worship. Our Imam actualized compassion as perfectly as he actualized bravery and ‘ubudiyyah, exemplifying the reality that faith is incomplete without tenderness of heart. This is why our hearts eternally gravitate toward holy cities like Najaf: the magnetism of a loving soul is so powerful, it calls to us across continents, oceans, and centuries, flooding us with love for beings we have never met, yet would happily give our lives for. To feel this depth of ‘ishq is to be a true mu’min; to embody it is to be a true Shi’a.

x r

Interview of the Heart

A project created by Ester Frieder (mielgal): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1FLeVxMENSui38L2DwCdDjy0gWKm98VJF/view

1- Write about your ideal romantic relationship:

Sunshine, passion, laughter, depth, and the feeling of coming home.  He’d make me feel deeply understood and cherished to my core, and I’d help him become the man he’s always wanted to be; our love would be a bridge that leads us both deeper into the love of God.

(Or simply put, a halal Shi’a version of what Ben & Sidra have :P: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzxBlcZgdt0&list=PLo7UKMJBgef0hBATDp7Vx3dMfLEAASaks)

2- What does friendship provide to your life? What parts of you does it satisfy?

Joy, companionship, laughter, hope, and the blissful feeling of being unconditionally loved and appreciated… it satisfies the part of me that revels in lightness, adventure, playfulness, & nurture 🙂

3- Does one have to be unloved to be lonely? Where does loneliness stem from?

No… At the deepest level, I think loneliness stems from the nature of this world and the way it clashes with the nature of the soul.  This world, for all its material wonders, can never satisfy the soul’s intrinsic yearning for God, and the soul that becomes aware of this carries a permanent loneliness in the form of a quiet, nameless estrangement from the world that no material happiness or pleasure can fully erase.  And yet, there’s profound ecstasy to be found in moments of reunion with God, and that reunion can be experienced in something as simple as a sunrise, a conversation with a loved one, or the pure laughter of a child.  So existence in this material plane inheres loneliness, but God is always near to answer it if the heart is awake.

4- Describe your heart in three adjectives:

Warm, resilient, soft

5- Do you view certain kinds of love as higher than others?

My love of God, the Ahlulbayt (as), & my mom eclipses everything else, always

6- What differentiates love and lust? Have you ever confused the two?

Lust is like walking through a forest, stepping on a branch, and being momentarily startled when it snaps under your feet.  It’s an electric shock of a feeling; sudden, thrilling, explosive, more an instinctive bodily response than a full-fledged sentiment.

Love is like walking through the same forest, tenderly observing the details, and taking in the full depth and richness of everything you behold.  It’s studying and admiring the veins of each leaf, becoming aware of the fragility of each sapling, understanding the totality of the forest’s decay as well as its potential for growth.  So love is seeing the entirety of a person, intimately knowing their strengths and weaknesses, their virtues and faults, and unconditionally embracing all of it.  By comparison, lust is a mere snapshot.

I don’t think I’ve ever confused the two… Surfaces might be intriguing, but they don’t hold my attention; I’m always more interested in what lies beneath.

7- What qualities do you find attractive or endearing?

Authenticity, spiritual depth, open-mindedness, consistency, intellectual curiosity, passion, humility, wit, directness, persistence, honesty, empathy, tenderness, courage

8- Dissect your relationship with self love, and what impediments you’ve had with practicing it.

Paradoxically, I think my self-love runs deepest when I forget myself… when I’m deeply immersed in my relationship with God and my love for Him, I feel a depth of inner certainty, tranquility, beauty, and confidence that nothing can shake. So my self-love is directly correlated with my love of God, and my main impediment is my own fear of unworthiness and negligence of Him.

9- Do soulmates exist? Is there someone who is, romantically, your perfect fit? 

Maybe… in the sense that some people, platonically or romantically, just seem to exist on a frequency that naturally strikes a chord with us, or as Imam Ali (as) beautifully put it, “souls are attracted to souls they resemble.” Coming across such a person can be thrilling because it’s like finding a spark of Divine light in a sea of darkness; like crossing paths with someone who’s somehow fluent in the dialect of your soul. Add chemistry into the mix, and the reality of such a person can be intoxicating.

10- Do you keep a diary or record of your thoughts, particularly of your love for others?

All the time… I have countless notebooks full of random stream-of-consciousness musings, someone please burn them when I die :}

11- What color is love to you?

Sometimes a pale iridescent blue, like the soft powdery blue of the sky on a clear, cloudless day, or a veil of gossamer with a silver hue.  So light you could float in it, so peaceful you could shut your eyes and become blissfully lost.  Or maybe it’s a multi-faceted sunset; a rich symphony of soft pink, red, orange, gold, and lilac; tender and dreamy like a lullaby.  Or maybe it’s the intoxicatingly deep, dominant blue of the ocean. Maybe it varies with each person and each form of love.

12- How has your childhood affected your ability to love? What parental behaviors can you see reflected in yourself?

I spent a lot of my childhood feeling alone because of how differently I saw the world, so I’ve never really cared about the standard trappings of a relationship or what someone can offer me materially or superficially; what my heart craves most is the feeling of being deeply understood and loved at a soul level.

& I have my mom’s softness… like her, I find it hard to find fault with people once I love them, so I have to remind myself to keep my boundaries high initially to avoid letting the wrong people in.

13- What is your love language?

Tie between physical touch and words of affirmation- warm hugs and kind words are my kryptonite.

14- What is the most meaningful thing someone could ever say to you?

Anything heartfelt that makes me feel truly seen and understood.

15- What is your favorite quote on love?

I’ve been obsessed with these since my teens:

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“I would rather spend one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” -JRR Tolkien

16- If you’re in a relationship, are you completely satisfied with it?

N/A

17- Fictional loves (whether platonic or romantic) you admire?

Elizabeth Bennett & Mr. Darcy.  I love that their love entails profound personal growth for both of them.  I love that falling in love humbles Darcy in making him realize how unjust and arrogant his prejudices are, and how humbling it is for Lizzie to realize that her assumptions aren’t always correct and that people and their motives can be far more complex than meets the eye.  They have such incredible chemistry and compatibility on every level, it’s the most satisfying romance ever.

18- Does a dedicated passion for an object, concept, or activity have the same legitimacy as love between humans?

I hope so? I’ve spent most of my life being madly in love with the pursuit of knowledge… it’s no substitute or equal for human love, but it fulfills me on the deepest level to gain a better understanding of anything that intrigues or perplexes me.

19- How does your sexuality impact your relationships?

I’m straight but sort of demisexual, which makes things challenging because most people move pretty quickly in love; I tend to need a lot of time to figure out how I feel.

20- What is the stupidest thing you’ve done for dedication to someone dear?

N/A

21- What does family mean to you? Is family better given or chosen?

Family is anyone you have a soul bond with; anyone whose presence carries a feeling of home; the people I unconditionally trust, cherish, yearn for, and would sacrifice anything for without a second thought.  My immediate family always comes first, but my chosen family is almost equally sacred; I couldn’t imagine life without either.

A Celebration of Love: A Poem on the Birth of Lady Fatima (as)

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/rubabwrites/a-celebration-of-love-a-poem-on-the-birth-of-lady-fatima-as

A few years after Bi’tha, in the sixth month of the year,
the Prophet’s household is aglow, for the birth of Fatima is near.
The horizons start to blush at the rumor of her grace;
the stars gleam in anticipation of the beauty of her face.
The moon shyly bows its head out of hayaa and respect
and the sun composes poetry in a luminous dialect.
The celebration of her existence stirs every atom on the earth
for the universe was created in anticipation of her birth.

A fruit from a forbidden tree brought Adam out of Jannah
yet the fruit the Prophet ate contained the pathway back to Jannah;
For within that fruit of Paradise was the light of Fatima
and the secret of salvation is the pleasure of Zahra.
She is the ever-flowing fountain, quenching the thirst of every soul
between nabuwwah and imamah, she is the link that makes them whole.

As i congratulate the ummah on the dawning of this night
My deepest felicitations are for the lover of that light;
For within the union of Ali and his beloved Fatima
lies the pathway of reunion between the human and Allah.

And if Ali divorced the world, why should a lover feel surprised?
What are a hundred billion galaxies compared to Zahra’s eyes?
The power of Ali is often measured by his sword,
but the backbone of his strength was the woman he adored;
With a single loving glance, she could heal his aching heart
like a rose that leaves its fragrance long after it departs.
She was the refuge of his secrets, the blood within his veins;
she was the yusr that was promised at the heart of every pain.
They were two seas that flowed in unison, giving birth to pearls and coral
A love that unveiled eternity into a universe temporal.

As we celebrate her coming, we celebrate our own revival
For the fulfillment of all creation lies in Fatima’s arrival.
For a woman whose heart awakens to the love of Fatima
becomes a bridge that brings the ones she loves closer to Allah.
And a man whose heart has grasped the nobility of Ali
Will not rest until he frees his soul from the nafs’s tyranny.
For Tawhid is the deepest yearning, at the core of every soul
No matter where our paths diverge, we all share this common goal
So the heart of every creature seeks the doorstep of Zahra
As this threshold bears the perfect path that returns us to Allah.

x r

A Reflection on Dua Arafah and the Immaculate Tawhid of Imam Hussain (as)

When I sit down to write about my favorite muses, poets, artists, and thinkers, my ink flows freely, but when I write the name ‘Hussain’, my pen falters and all language feels insufficient. In Dua Arafah, Imam Hussain (as) asks God how he could ever repay Him for the infinite blessings He has given him, but the heart of the lover asks God: how could we ever thank You for giving us Hussain?

As I listen to Dua Arafah each year, I am struck by a painful realization: each of the body parts Imam Hussain swears by in this dua were trampled and destroyed beyond recognition on the day of Ashura. It is as if he swore his unconditional submission to God on the day of Arafah, then sealed that oath on the 10th of Muharram by sacrificing every inch of himself in absolute totality. Has anyone ever fulfilled a oath so thoroughly? Has any expression of love for the Beloved ever resonated so powerfully? Not only did Imam Hussain safeguard the path of tawhid with his blood and the blood of his children, he gave us an immortal blueprint by which to navigate that path, no matter how far or how often we stray.

The depth of the tawhid expressed in this dua fills me with shame and absolute awe. I find it hard to listen to without pausing to allow certain lines to sink in and weave their way into the fabric of my flawed heart. My mind tries to imagine these words uttered by the same tongue that recited Surah Kahf from atop a spear; the thought leaves me breathless. As Imam Hussain thanks God for the cartilage of his ribs, I think of the moment on Ashura when his ribs were audibly crushed beneath the hooves of the enemy’s horses. As he thanks God for the cord of his aorta and the lines on his forehead, I think of the lines in Ziyarat Nahiya when the 12th Imam (atf) sends his greetings upon the one whose aorta was severed; the one whose forehead bore the sweat of death as he fell to the ground, covered in wounds, casting a final glance toward the tents of his beloved family.

The gratitude professed by Imam Hussain in Dua Arafah is not a detached, ritualistic gratitude; it is a gratitude encased in all-encompassing submission, reflecting a depth of God-consciousness in which the Imam unequivocally lays bare his absolute nothingness before God’s absolute greatness. As he conveys his thanks for every physical and existential blessing, it is as if Imam Hussain is saying, “each of these blessings came from You, everything that I am belongs to You, and when it pleases You most, I will gladly sacrifice every trace of this self solely for Your pleasure.” The martyrdom of Imam Hussain on Ashura is a culmination of the secret he shared in Dua Arafah; the climax of the totality of submission in which the lover sees only the Beloved and completely ceases to see himself.

The humility and God-consciousness expressed in this dua reimmerses me in the gravity of who Imam Hussain was: the beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the child of Ali (as) and Fatima (as), the prince of the youth of Paradise, the one whose cradle became a means of healing for the angels, the one whose grave remains a place of healing and renewal for his lovers, one of the sanctified Ahl al Kisa for whom the universe was created, the lamp of eternal guidance, and the one who exemplified tawhid in a manner that shattered the throne of falsehood forever. Over a thousand years later, Imam Hussain (as) remains one of the rarest secrets from among the secrets of God. Our understanding of him is like an unfinished conversation that the soul becomes awash in year after year.

x r

5 Years of Grief and Gratitude

It’s been 5 years.  5 years of missing the uninhibited grin that would light up your entire face and make you look 10 again; the boyish laughter that was half-howl, half chuckle; the wild, exuberant yelling and jumping that followed every victory.  5 years of missing the unguarded warmth in your eyes that radiated freely for everyone, eyes that had a knack for spotting the exact person most in need of that warmth, eyes that searched until they found beauty in every person they beheld.  5 years of searching peoples’ faces for a trace of the magic I could only find in yours.  5 years of waiting to hear your key turn in the lock, the squeak of your shoes on the tile, the tell-tale thud of your basketball, the unmistakable rev of your monstrous engine.  5 years of aching for the sight of your silhouette against my doorframe.  5 years of hanging onto memories of baseball in the backyard, basketball in the driveway, Olympics in the living room, rollerblading in the kitchen.  5 years of sleepless nights and foggy mornings.  5 years of bittersweet dreams that bring you back, followed by the terror of waking up and realizing you’re gone again.  5 years of bargaining with God, mentally rewriting the laws of space and time, searching for an argument to bring you back to life.

But also: 5 years of falling back in love with life, the way you did after every setback.  5 years of laughing through my tears as I marvel at the impossible luck of having had a brother like you.  5 years of watering seeds of resilience and watching them bloom amid unrelenting storms.  5 years of learning and relearning new definitions of strength; of learning to paint silver linings immune to shadows.  5 years of alchemizing my grief into an ocean of boundless joy.  5 years of following the sunnah of Ya’qub and pondering the patience of Yusuf.  5 years of thanking God for loving you so much, He called you back before the world could leave its fingerprints on your beautiful soul.  5 years of overcoming my selfish desire to hold on, of learning that the deepest act of love is letting go and trusting in the reunion that lies ahead.   5 years of coming to understand “inna lillahe wa inna ilayhe raja’oon” as God’s greatest blessing, His sweetest promise, His deepest assurance that everything will be okay in the end; for how could it not be if He is both our origin and our destination? 5 years of sorrow melting into gratitude that you’re Home now; that you’re alive in ways I haven’t been yet, and that we’ll be together again someday, laughing at the myth of separation.

x r

The Secret DNA of Languages

Urdu: the lingering scent of rosewater on bare skin, the gleam of silver anklets on a moonlit night, the music of glass bangles falling against each other, the soft blush elicited by a lover’s gaze, kohl-lined eyes full of passion and warmth, the pleasurable burn of spices at the back of one’s throat, the quiet magnetism of the moon persuading the tides to dance, a steady pair of arms wrapped around one’s waist, love letters slipped into secret hiding places, the alluring perfume of jasmines carried by spring breezes, the sensation of reveling in the sweetness of a loved one’s smile, the bliss of dancing in the rain at the peak of summer, the lush decadence of night-blooming flowers, the poetic innocence of daydreams, the otherworldly cadence of a besotted qawwal, the ecstasy of sinking into a bed both firm and soft, the warm laughter of loved ones gathered for afternoon tea, the sensation of biting into a ripe mango and feeling the juice run down one’s chin, a translucent veil draped over a cascade of dark hair

Farsi: the watchful majesty of a king surveying his kingdom, sugar cubes melting on a feverish tongue, the intoxicating sweetness of ripe cherries in spring, the delicate symphony of clinking tea glasses, the sweetness of melted butter on fluffy grains of rice, the untraceable warmth of moonlight, a sunlit garden full of decadent roses, the passionate reunion of separated lovers, the sensation of shutting one’s eyes and listening to a tranquil birdsong, the elegant symmetry of a dancer’s arched back, a long pleasant walk with no need for destination, stray moments of reflection amid softly falling rain, the quiet ecstasy of prayers whispered into the ear of God, the dreamy feeling of leaving one’s body and transcending to a higher realm, the earthy fragrance of dried saffron, smooth turquoise tiles warmed by the midday sun, the feeling of lying awake at night and conversing with the stars, the delicate shelter of a soft black veil

Arabic: the guttural roar of a lion on the threshold of victory, the heady scent of honey dripping from one’s fingertips, the unsheathed brilliance of the full moon, heartfelt laughter that reaches one’s eyes, the warmth of a lost lover’s eager embrace, a pair of eyes deep enough to get lost in, the gleam of water droplets on fresh mint leaves, the warm fragrance of freshly baked pita bread, the feeling of returning home after a long journey and falling into a pair of familiar arms, the playful dance of bold glances between strangers, the tension of a drawn bowstring, finding shelter in the eye of a hurricane, the raucous laughter of running children, the smoky perfume of black tea and melted sugar, a few stray notes of an ancient love song, the rich scent of tobacco on a cold winter night, the valiant experience of smiling through one’s tears, the salty sweetness of olives soaked in brine, the tender comfort of a mother’s prayer, wild horses running across sun-kissed sand dunes

x r

To Raise a Black Child: A Tribute to George Floyd

You come into this world and she holds you for the very first time- a moment she has been waiting for her entire life, tears and sweat streaming down her tired face. She takes one look at your fragile body- more important than the sun as it gleams beneath the hospital lights, and you become the center of her universe. You are her greatest triumph, the victory she has been preparing for all her life. From the moment your cries pierce the air, you become her purpose, her air supply, her reason for being in a world that is constantly telling her not to be. But she isn’t worried about the world today. She will never again think about anything as intently as she thinks about you. She plants a soft kiss on the damp crown of your newborn curls; a kiss echoed by God, who made you Black because He found you beautiful.

Her hands still shaking from her brush with death, she wraps you in a blanket that made her heart sing when she chose it, gently tucking your squirming hands and feet into the safe shelter of a mother’s love. But the day you leave her womb is the last time you will ever know safety.

You grow up, carrying the inheritance of transatlantic genocide and the genetic memory of lynchings and separations as you move through a world that pretends it can tolerate you, but the sight of your skin- darker than original sin in their eyes- fills them with the same rage the devil felt when he looked at the earthen body of Adam and refused to bow.

You move through life with the weight of those knife-like eyes pressing their blades against you. You don’t understand why they stare, but you learn to stare back with a warrior’s defiance. Your courage only makes them angrier. They don’t understand why you refuse to hate you they way they hate you. They build a world where all the rules are set against you and pretend to be shocked when you don’t win as easily as they do. But when you do win, their fury knows no bounds.

I wanted to write you a beautiful story. One that ends with a white picket fence and the fulfillment of the dreams your mother saw as she carried you in the safe haven of her body for nine months. But your story doesn’t end like that. You were a playful, curious boy full of laughter and vivaciousness, but they shot you dead at age 12 as you played in the park. You loved princesses and the color pink, but they set your blanket on fire and shot you dead at age 7 as you slept on your grandmother’s couch. You lived a good life, until they chased you for four minutes as your daily jog turned into a losing race against their outstretched guns. You tried your best to stay resilient through the ups and downs of life, until the moment his knee pressed against your neck. You begged for air, but he silenced your cries by pressing harder as he felt the life leave your body- the body that was once more important than the sun.

The body once wrapped in a carefully chosen blanket is now wrapped in a black body bag. Black like your skin, because black was your sin, for your first mistake was to be born into a world that couldn’t forgive the color that it found you in. When your mama held you, did she tell you the rules? Don’t play, don’t speak, don’t move, don’t run, don’t eat candy, don’t carry candy, don’t look, don’t live, don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe.

The proclamation they worship declared that your body was free, but they traded the slavemaster’s whips for guns and a broken system designed to hold you in place better than chains ever could. They become outraged when you kneel, but the outrage leaves them the instant your soul leaves your body, and only returns when they object to smashed storefronts with greater anger than the sight of your smashed windpipe.

What words in all the languages of man could convey how cruel this world has been to you, how cruelly my own people have been an accessory to your alienation and pain? What apology can I give to you, my beloved brothers and sisters? All I can do is pledge to stand with you and keep your memory alive in these words: Black Lives Matter.

x r

Ya Ali

There was a name my mother taught me, long before I learned to speak
That I could utter like a prayer if I felt frightened, lost, or weak.
This name- its letters carried me, and made of me a sparrow
Casting light on every wayward path, no matter how dark or narrow.
Every time I speak aloud this name in moments I need aid,
It’s like wings begin emerging from between my shoulder blades.
When my heart is caught off guard, it returns me to my self
And points me to the sacred book that sits upon my shelf.

It was among the holy names my Creator taught to Prophet Adam;
Among the holiest of secrets that the angels couldn’t fathom.
It is the name I whisper quietly, in the face of every need,
It was the name on Zainab’s weary lips, in the courtyard of Yazid.
It is the name that grants me entry, into the city of ‘ilm and hikmah;
It is the name that completes religion, as revealed in Ma’idah.
It was the name Rasulallah called out, like a cry of victory
When he sought the bravest of his sahaba, who would not hesitate or flee.
Peace be upon that warrior, the fearless lion of Allah;
The nafs of the Holy Prophet, and the beloved of Zahra.
The one born within the walls of the holiest of places,
Whose eyes would only open for the holiest of faces.

Our brothers often ask us, why we rave about Ali
Instead of talking about God or Rahmatul lil Alameen.
The merits of the Prophet, aren’t denied by anyone,
So many ayaat of the Qur’an confirm that he’s the greatest one.
But so many titles of Ali, were usurped by his enemies
Who may have called themselves Siddiq, Farooq, and al Ghani,
To them I say, remember when, our Prophet’s life was at an end,
And the last of his requests, was some paper and a pen?
You didn’t heed his dying wish, to write the name of his wali,
So it’s that sunnah we carry out, when we write the merits of Ali.

It is the wish of every poet to touch the heavens with her words,
To take a lifeless set of letters and transform them into birds,
But the essence of my subject, is far beyond the reach of ink
For Ali exceeds the reach of those who philosophize and think.
They try to moderate this love, to confine its outer limits
Because it hasn’t taken root within the essence of their spirits
For wilayah is the bridge that unites the soul with its Creator;
If Tawhid is the highest level, wilayah is the elevator.
But to comprehend wilayah, and gain that immortal elevation
We must replace the filth of ego with pure intoxication.
There’s no room for multiplicity, the heart only serves one master
To put anyone before him, results in fitnah and disaster.

If you want me to accept, another Amirul Mu’mineen
Find me a man who loved Allah, as profoundly as Ali.
Within a single munajaat, I find the pinnacle of Tawhid;
With the exception of the Prophet, no one knew God like Ali.
Born in the house of God, and martyred while he worshiped
Ali’s life began with haqq, and the life of haqq became Ali.

The ‘ishq of Ali possesses me, and makes a home within my being
It gives my eyes a newfound sight, that sees without physically seeing.
This love that set aflame the jealous heart of Ubaidullah
Still infuriates the admirers of the likes of Muawiyah.
But no matter what our enemies say, I will write about wilayah
With the single-minded passion, of Majnun in love with Layla.

I swear by that lonely man, who gave his secrets to the earth
This love exceeds the universe, in both resonance and worth.
This love flows within the blood, that courses through my veins
It exceeds the seven oceans and every depth that they contain.
Like Abu Dhar al Ghifari, I would rather roam the desert sands,
Than contemplate the leadership of any other man;
I can not call myself a Shi’a, but it remains my only dream
to become worthy of the path of Amirul Mu’mineen.
So like Maytham at Tammar, may my tongue be sacrificed
And may this passion stay alive after the last of us has died.

–Rubab Zaidi

Audio: https://soundcloud.com/rubabwrites/ya-ali

Ali and Fatima: A Reflection on the Greatest Love

In all the pages of history, I am convinced that no man has ever loved a woman the way Imam Ali (as) loved Lady Fatima (as). He felt her pain so deeply, he built Bayt al Ahzan, a secluded place for her to grieve for her father. Every year during Fatimiyyah, I weep for the Lion of God, who single-handedly lifted the gate of Khaybar, yet screamed in pain when he saw the broken body of his beloved wife. This is the strength of the strongest of men: to feel the utmost tenderness at the pain of his beloved. My heart aches when I think of the loneliness of Ali after the loss of the only woman who understood him, the one whose soul was a perfect match for his. Every time he returned from battle, the mere sight of Fatima’s face dulled the pain of every wound. Every time the betrayal of his enemies pained his heart, the voice of Fatima brought him endless consolation and relief.

When Imam Ali said that he would not worship a Lord he had not seen, I find myself thinking about the tangible realities that surrounded him like finite reflections of his Lord. Though the spiritual insight of Ali needed no external stimulus, I wonder if every love his heart contained was simply another facet of his awareness of God- especially his love for Fatima. When he looked at her face, did he find himself looking at one of the most luminous, evident signs of God? And when he wept upon losing her, did part of his weeping come from the pain of burying one of the most radiant manifestations of his Creator? Though the absence of Fatima would not have affected his awareness of God any more than the wilting of a flower could affect the reality of spring, how comforting must it have been for Ali’s beloved to be a ray reflecting the beauty of his Beloved. If the Holy Prophet (pbuh) would smell Fatima every time he wished to inhale the scent of Paradise, I can only imagine what realities became manifest in every moment that Ali spent with Fatima. She was the flower from Paradise whose fragrance perfumed his mind, the radiant fountain from which eleven streams of guidance flowed. She was the highest testament to the eloquence, beauty, intellect, and sublime dignity of a woman. Who but Ali could be worthy of such a love? And who but Ali could have the patience to endure the loss of such a love?

As I commemorate his shahadat, I think about the resonance of the greatest love the universe has ever seen. As creation mourns the loss of the lion of God, the heavens will soon be illuminated with the reunion of two souls in perfect harmony with each other.

x r