Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Darkness, Light and Eid

Fellows in prison, day and night, and the approach of Eid

Omer. G
My thoughts scatter tonight. As I pen these words, seven days into its cycle, somewhere the moon must be shining, bright and beautiful. Back on earth, the circumstances do not look too heartening. On the wings of the wind, news has reached us that thirty or so of our friends in the great green city of Islamabad linger in the sobering darkness of prison cells. I saw the moon early this evening. It must still be shining. Somehow I cannot find it now when I need it. Is it hiding behind those tall hostel buildings? Maybe, it is being blinded out by the atrocious, unceasing lights that flood our campus all night. This moment, however, all I have before me are a few dim, scattered stars to console an unsettled heart. Noble celestial beings, oldest veterans of the fight against darkness! If you would but peep into the dark cells of my detained fellows, lift their spirits and lighten their woes.

Amidst the darkness, another thought flashes. Why does the Quran repeatedly remind its reader of the recurring cycle of the moon, of days merging seamlessly into nights and nights merging into days. The Quran brings our mind to think about these and, over the centuries, the exegetes responded by penning volumes. Poets probed these phenomena in their own way. Even Kant, the rationalist German philosopher, felt that the starry heavens filled his mind with an ever new and increasing admiration and awe.

To me, tonight the heavens appear unusually dark, in more than one way. Whatever stars there are will be gone by the last hour, which draws nigh. Then, before the end, a new beginning must come. Every night, dawn manages to intervene just in time. I find this a comforting thought. There remains, however, this eternally dreaded possibility: what if the forces of darkness that loom large on this earth can capture these celestial luminaries and permanently blacken them out. That reminds me of Tolkien who, in his fantactic but profound imaginary world, deals beautifully with this thought.

In the bleak and deadening darkness of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee - that simple peasant hobbit, who despite his humble origins emerged as a figure of great moral and spiritual insight – beholds a single shining star. “The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” I dearly hope that before they vanish, the moon and the stars would provide our incarcerated friends with that same clear and cold assurance - that the Shadow is only a small and passing thing.

For others, the playful little growing moon now heralds the coming to blossom of Eid season. From afar, some of us can already smell the appetizing aroma of festive food and the pleasing fragrances that beautiful humans wear on happy occasions. Beleaguered judges and lawyers still stand defiant against the encroaching oppression of an increasingly authoritarian state; some face the imminent threat of eviction from their homes this Eid; even worse, they face the very real prospect of being forgotten by the nation for which they sacrificed their careers. They and our companions, in the loneliness of their cells, can neither see the moon nor smell the merriment and gaiety of Eid as it approaches.

In the borderless vastness of Arafat, pilgrims will soon gather to importune their Lord, and be remembered of the ultimate reckoning that shall befall all, without exception. Let us bear witness with them, as Prophet Abraham witnessed before us, at great peril to his life that ultimate power belongs to Allah alone, and to no human, no matter how powerful and mighty. Let us join them as we pray for the coming of better days, the return of a spring of justice, human dignity and freedom. Let us pray for strength and courage enough to tear apart the walls of injustice that surround us and our friends in these testing times.

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