Friday, December 01, 2006


Dar el Magana, Fez, Morocco ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Door and Arch

Door and Arch, Fez, Morocco ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fez - Fes

It was about time the fake Leo Africanus trod in the original Leo Africanus' footsteps albeit courtesy of Ryanair.

Fez is a remarkable city predominatly due to the huge yet intense, bustling yet oasis-laden, medina, or old city - known as Fes al-Bali. I'm staying in a meticulously renovated town house in the heart of the Medina. The tranquil insulation it offers from the souq is amazing.

I'm making a habit of roaming through the marketplace usually ending up far off-piste by following the hyperstimulation of either my nose or retinae or both. I'm thankful to the orientation derived from a whistlestop, entertaining tour of the old city given by a precocious eleven-year old, Mahdi, yesterday evening. Architectural wonders that you catch fleeting glimpses of in Andalusia are the norm. Strange characters that would easily inhabit the literary world of say Allen Poe are even more common. People-watching in Fez could be marketed as a lifestyle, or even a full-time (pre-)occupation.

The unseasonally warm days (mid-20°C) and jumper-requiring cool nights lend the whole day to exploring. My palate is re-adjusting to the flavours of Maghribi cuisine and my tastebuds are pleasantly tantalised. The mint tea here has been a particular revelation, each glass sporting a jungle of fresh spearmint. Touts are bemused by my Franco-Arab hybrid language and are struggling to place me - Saudi, Algeria, Syria are variants from the "Bakistani?" overture. My inner-Berber is still lying somewhat dormant though. Maybe a fetching pair of yellow leather slippers will see to that?

Time to hit the streets again! Au revoir et ma'assalaam.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A case of mistaken identity

During a particularly busy night shift last week I was summoned to the delivery suite. The midwives wanted me to attend because the baby was being born through thick meconium and being vacuumed out with a ventouse, placing it in a higher category of risk than a 'normal' birth. I flipped into emergency mode and proceeded at breakneck speed to the labour ward.

I entered the room in question purposefully and strode towards the resuscitaire in anticipation of the newborn. As I passed the labouring woman and introduced myself I caught site of what I imagined to be her baby being delivered and the old alarm bells started ringing. In fact my internal siren was blaring. The baby appeared deformed, inhuman, almost alien-like in its lack of distinguishing features. I started rummaging through my mental archives for syndromes and conditions that could result in such an appalling condition. I was considering calling my registrar to join me in what was turning into an incredibly delicate and potentially intensive situation.

My feelings must have made themselves evident by breaking through to the exterior as the midwife asked me in a concerned tone:

"Are you alright doc? You look a bit shocked!"

The question prompted a swift re-evaluation of the scenario and metaphorically (and maybe even literally) stepping back I noticed that a baby was already lying on the mother's chest trying to hold on to the vestiges of its nine months of symbiosis. The penny suddenly dropped. I turned to the midwife and exclaimed:

"That's the placenta isn't it?!"
"It sure is doc. It sure is." She replied, triggering off a crescendo of warm laughter.

My bleep went off again and I left one moment of surreality for another.

Friday, October 27, 2006

India abolishes husbands' 'right' to rape wife

The evocative headline grabbed my attention in today's Independent. It's difficult to get excited by statistical analysis of events probably due to a degree of desensitisation from the seemingly endless conveyor belt of shocking statistics from Iraq, Darfur, Afghanistan etc but the numbers in this piece were sufficiently outrageous to appear on my radar.

There is a remarkably low rate of violent crime against strangers in most of the big cities, and it is safe to walk the streets of Mumbai or Bangalore late at night. But every six hours, a young married woman is burnt to death, beaten to death, or driven to suicide by emotional abuse from her husband, figures show.

More than two-thirds of married women in India aged between 15 and 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex, according to the UN Population Fund.

The UN Population Fund's 2005 report found that 70 per cent of Indian women believed wife-beating was justified under certain circumstances, including...preparing dinner late.


I broke my fast with the customary (fake-McVities) digestive biscuit and (authentic) Typhoo tea and with renewed vigour set about seeing patients in the Paediatric Assessment Unit. As I sat behind the reception desk to gather my thoughts and subsequently scrawl them on to paper, my eyes caught those of a gentleman who happened to be strolling past to get a drink for his daughter. He looked familiar but I couldn't quite place him.

There was a backlog of kids waiting to be seen so I didn't ration much further brainpower and time in trying to decipher how the Venn diagrams of our lives had overlapped. However, when he walked past again neither of us could contain ourselves. The bespectacled father (BF) approached the desk and in the broadest of Walsall accents initiated proceedings:

BF: Excuse me doctor.
Me: Hello.
BF: I don't mean to be rude but...
Me: (Interrupting him Paxmanesquely) I know what you're going to say: you've seen me somewhere before?
BF: Yeah.
Me: But I've no idea where!
BF: I do. Were you a student here?

[I naturally began to scramble through my distant memories of undertaking a rotation at this hospital during my student days desperately trying to uncover any seeds that may have sprouted into hefty legal proceedings.]

Me: (Nervously) erm...yes.
BF: You see that little girl over there (pointing to a 3-year old girl being seen by another doctor)?
Me: Oh yes. Is that your daughter?
BF: Yes. You were there at the birth!

The (rather less newsworthy) veil of ignorance was lifted from my eyes and I recognised him and his wife. They'd kindly agreed to let me attend the birth of their daughter and share a very personal moment.

We recalled my decision to abide my Magnus Magnusson's motto "I've started so I'll finish" and staying for the full 17-hour duration of the birth as well as my and BF's successful attempt at heading out for lunch during the labour but failed attempt at hiding this from his wife. They had even kept the card I gave them the following day to thank them for making me an honourary family-member for the day.

A new patient means a new Venn diagram and just as I never expected to revisit the painstaking compass-dependent task of drawing them again, I (rather naively perhaps) never anticipated bumping into the grown up versions of one of the many babies I've seen.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Last King of Scotland

Giles Foden's excellent novel 'The Last King of Scotland' depicting the relationship between Idi Amin Dada, the eccentric and brutal Ugandan dictator, and his fictional personal physician, has been translated to the silver screen. It is previewing at this year's London Film Festival (incidentally celebrating its 50th anniversary).

See the trailer here.

All importantly, Peter Bradshaw gives it his thumbs up.

Foden reflects on his inspiration for the novel in a piece for the Guardian in 2003.

Some Idi Amin gems:

To Nixon after cuts in US aid to Uganda

My dear brother, it is quite true that you have enough problems on your plate, and it is surprising you have the zeal to add fresh ones. At this moment you are uncomfortably sandwiched in that uncomfortable affair [Watergate], I ask almighty God to solve your problems. We Ugandans hope that the great United States of America does not continue to use its enormous resources, especially its military might, to destroy human life on earth.
To Lord Snowdon after his split with Princess Margaret

Your experience will be a lesson to all of us men to be careful not to marry ladies in high positions.
On Middle Eastern affairs
Arab victory in the war with Israel is inevitable and prime minister of Israel Mrs Golda Meir's only recourse is to tuck up her knickers and run away in the direction of New York and Washington.

The Price of a Fatwa

$22 in India according to Time magazine:

How much does a fatwa cost? The question should be spiritual, but last week an Indian TV channel aired footage of several Indian Muslim clerics allegedly taking bribes from undercover reporters for issuing the edicts. Among the fatwas bought (for as little as $22) were decrees saying Muslims may not use credit cards or double beds. One cleric issued a fatwa in support of watching TV; another wrote one against.

The cash-for-fatwas scandal has renewed debate on what a fatwa is. Scholars should use the edicts to clarify Islamic law in reply to believers' questions. Many Muslims argue fatwas are misused and misunderstood, and not just by non-Muslims, who usually think of them as calls for the death of alleged blasphemers like Salman Rushdie.

India's Muslim leaders plan to create a body to monitor new fatwas. But Islam has no formal hierarchy or clergy. So who can stop someone from issuing--or buying--a fatwa against the fatwa police?
Wikipedia gives a (surprisingly) nuanced precis of the concept of fatwa and inter alia links to a story highlighting the effective partnership of Proctor & Gamble and the Grand Mufti of Saudi in fighting the counterfeit culture.

The BBC Hijab-Styles Guide

Find out about different styles of Muslim headscarf

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Letters from Guantanamo

I caught the whole of this programme on the drive back to Birmingham this evening and was moved. Gavin Esler offers an 'exclusive glimpse of the world inside Guantanamo Bay detention centre, told through the letters of a man currently being held there'. That man is Sami al-Hajj AKA Enemy Combatant 345, Camp 4. Sami's words carry an increasingly rarely encountered weight and poignance but it his dignity in the face of almost five years of incarceration that borders on the inimitable.

Listen to the programme here.

Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians by the Greek Alexandrine poet Konstantinos Kavafis (1836-1933) was one of Edward Said's favourite poems. In fact his daughter Najla recited at his funeral service.

Waiting for the Barbarians
by Constantine Cavafy (1864-1933), translated by Edmund Keeley

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn't anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city's main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people's faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Last Mughal

A thousand camels to Hadi Sahib for bringing the following Radio 4 'Book of the Week' serialisation to my attention.

Monday 25 - Friday 29 September 2006

The Last Mughal

By William Dalrymple, abridged by Libby Spurrier, read by Robert Bathurst

An account of the largest uprising the British Empire ever had to face.

The last of the Great Mughals was Bahadur Shah Zafar II: one of the most talented, tolerant and likeable of his remarkable dynasty, he found himself in the position of leader of a violent uprising he knew from the start would lead to irreparable carnage.

Zafar’s frantic efforts to unite his disparate and mutually suspicious forces proved tragically futile: the Siege of Delhi was the Raj’s Stalingrad, and Mughal Delhi was left an empty ruin, haunted by battered remnants of a past that was being rapidly and brutally overwritten.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Groundhog Factor

Here we go again...Cut and pasted (plus a brand new addendum) from November 2005.

With the imminent advent of moonfighting committees to diffuse the havoc caused by moonsighting committees, and the launch of the new Conservative manifesto, perhaps it's time to borrow a Tory phrase and get 'back to basics'. The perennial drive to standardise the Islamic calendar may well be blinkering us from the actual ethos behind the act of moonsighting - regaining a sense of perspective.

Hamza Yusuf touches on the issue in his commentary on Sachiko Murata and William Chittick's 'Vision of Islam' by quoting an unnamed Scottish phenomenologist:

There are efforts to standardise the Islamic calendar so that Ramadhan can be started on the same day in different communities. But the relationship of the celestial bodies to the earth is a living thing and every location has its own sky. So why shouldn't religious festivals begin on dates peculiar to different places? The modern mind, however, wishes to generalise and abstract the situation so the phenomena are bypassed. As with the length of the day, the average is calculated and becomes the accepted truth to accommodate the limits of circular wheels in clocks, yet none of the celestial bodies moves in circles.
You can listen to the relevant extract (in mp3 format) from Hamza Yusuf's commentary here.

For the more astronomically inclined of you, check out the following powerpoint presentation outlining the fiqh of moonsighting and/or ths brief lecture on the same.

Iran Uncovered

Watch the provocative season trailer for BBC Radio 4's Iran Uncovered Season here. Catch up with the programme listings here.

I knew it!

It appears as though my seemingly irrational dislike of vegetables is but the phenotypic manifestation of my genetic make up according to the guys overs at Mind Hacks.

Liking for sprouts may be partly genetic:

Nature is reporting that a gene which is involved in a receptor for bitter tastes can predict people's liking for vegetables such as broccoli and sprouts.

It has been proposed that humans are particularly sensitive to bitterness as natural poisons often taste bitter.

Certain versions of this gene may make us especially sensitive, however. So sensitive, perhaps, that we dislike foods that are perfectly safe but have a bitter element.

There's more information in a over at Eureka Alert and the original study is published in the journal Current Biology.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Benedict XVI and Islam

Abdal Hakim Murad preempted Joseph Ratzinger's crude but seemingly calculated comments in this piece originally published in Q-News. He also sheds some light on the various influences that have shaped the Bavarian Pope's worldview or lack thereof.

In the immediate aftermath of the election of Joseph Ratzinger to the Papacy, Muslim reactions to the new pontiff were diverse and confused. Turks were dismayed by his very public opposition to their membership of the European Union, a view rooted in his conviction that ‘Europe was founded not on geography but on a common faith.’ Others pointed to the absence of any mention of Muslims from his inaugural address (a fact welcomed by the Jerusalem Post) as a hint that Vatican willingness to open minds and hearts to dialogue with Islam was now at an end.

...To date, Ratzinger has shown few signs of continuing this theologically-unarticulated but sincere desire to reach out in affirmation. On the contrary, he has already shown himself to be sharply judgemental. He worried Muslims across Europe when, in an August 2005 meeting with imams in Germany who were worried about discrimination against their community, he made it clear that the only issue he wished to raise was ‘Islamic terrorism’. Apparently echoing a standard right-wing claim (made by Joerg Haider, Pim Fortuyn and Jean-Marie Le Pen in particular), he has said that ‘Islam is not simply a denomination that can be included in the free realm of a pluralistic society.’ Another theme which he shares with the far right is his apparent belief that Muslims in Europe cannot be ‘assimilated’: ‘Islam makes no sort of concession to inculturation.’ (He does not seem to have noticed the immense differences in Muslim cultural style across the world.)

...Ratzinger’s seeming harshness is regularly interpreted as a sign of a larger change of heart that has come over the Catholic church in recent years in response to the growing demographic significance of Islam in Europe, and the rise of Wahhabi terrorism. However he is not primarily a politician. His emerging Islam policy is ultimately rooted in a distinctive kind of theology. In particular, it should be taken in the context of his wider conservative conviction that Catholicism alone can guide human beings to true salvation, a view that his predecessor had seemed less anxious to advertise. Muslims may wince at his opinion of Islam, but his views on non-Catholic Christians have hardly been less trenchant. He was the leading contributor to the ‘definitive and irrevocable’ Catholic declaration Dominus Jesus in the year 2000, which insisted that non-Catholic churches ‘are not churches in the proper sense,’ and implied that non-Catholics are naturally destined for hellfire. He certainly subscribes to the traditional view that the ordination of Anglican priests is ‘utterly null and void,’ making most church-going in England a kind of theatre, a dim groping after a truth that may only be reliably found in Rome. In fact, his formal position, and his habit of mind, are far from any kind of pluralism, and his criticisms of Islam must be seen in this light. It is not quite correct to say, as some Muslims have done, that he has singled out Islam for a unique condemnation; he is, by the logic of his conservative theology, passionately critical of everything that fails to be ‘in communion with Rome’.

...In his understanding of Judaism and Islam, Ratzinger is guided by the same Augustinian pessimism, which he finds ultimately in the letters of St Paul. Rituals of wudu and ibada are essentially worthless, as they lie outside the grace which is only mediated by God’s one true church. As he writes: ‘the law of Moses, the rituals of purification, the regulations concerning food, and all other such things are not to be carried out by us, otherwise the biblical Word would be senseless and meaningless.’ Such rituals are ‘slavery’, from which submission to the Church alone offers salvation. The Semitic principle is thus categorically inferior; Jews and Muslims, he seems to imply, are slaves, and their ability truly to please God must be Biblically doubted.
Elsewhere, Madeleine Bunting argues that 'Pope Benedict is being portrayed as a naive, shy scholar who has accidentally antagonised two major world faiths in a matter of months. In fact he is a shrewd and ruthless operator, and he's dangerous.'

Monday, September 18, 2006

"Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty"

Inna Allah jameel wa yuhibbu al-jamaal
Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty

I checked out the V&A's newly commissioned Jameel gallery (the result of a three-year-long renovation and re-design of the V&A's Islamic Gallery) recently and the splendour of the diverse artistic manifestations that surrounded me was overwhelming. The above saying of the Prophet neatly encapsulates the aesthetic ideal that underlies much of 'Islamic art' (the limitations of the term are beyond this brief entry).

The expression of this vision relies on a distinct and threefold visual structure, to which a series of panels in the gallery is very usefully dedicated. The first of these is calligraphy: for the faithful, the graceful ciphers of the Arabic script transmit the voice of the Divine, and are the substance of revelation made visible. In no other art form has the written word taken on such an exalted role; sultans and peasants alike strove to learn its many styles, which became disciplines in themselves, and around which an entire science of numerological symbolism evolved. The second is geometric design, brilliantly exploited in endless variations - intellectually enticing and puzzling at the same time. The third panel offers examples of idealised plant shapes drawn from the natural world: tendrils, vines, buds and flowers, all alluding to the fecundity and abundance of nature, and symbolically linked to the Qur'anic evocation of paradise as a luxuriant garden.

At the simplest level, these elements comprise the fundamental repertoire of the traditional artist; at a profounder level, they celebrate the relationship between God, man and nature. They are to some extent mutable - geometric patterns can form letters, and letters can be used to create pictures - and are combined in almost infinite and sophisticated variations of immense beauty. Great art, according to Ruskin, "is that in which the hand, the head and the heart of man go together"; it is precisely this insight that was so well understood by the traditional Muslim artist, whose finest works simultaneously appeal to the devotional, intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities of the onlooker. The most refined expressions of this exacting discipline - whether carved on to a paper-thin dried leaf or stretched across a monumental facade - are thus transformed from objects of mere visual delight into powerful focuses of spiritual contemplation.
The gallery is housed in the Middle East section of the museum and as such it focuses on Arab (including Andalusian), Persian, Turkish and central Asian artforms. You can stroll past dazzling Uzbek tile-work, admire Mamluk Qur'anic calligraphy, stare into the mesmerising blues of Turkish ceramics but your attention will always return to the centrepiece of the gallery - the Ardabil carpet - a 16th century wonder.

Rebuilding the entire gallery around the 50-square-metre marvel imposed multiple challenges on designers. The greatest of these was to allow the carpet to be viewed horizontally, but to protect it from undue levels of light and dust. The innovative solution has been to surround it with an enclosure of non-reflective glass (be careful - it's almost invisible), free of structural supports. This is made possible by a giant protective canopy above the glass walls, fitted with fibre-optic lighting and suspended by steel cables from the ceiling joists overhead. At long last, the delicate colours and intricacy of the carpet's pattern - created from a staggering 30m hand-tied knots - may now be appreciated at close quarters.

The Ardabil carpet is also a reminder of the days when the appreciation of things Islamic was less eclipsed by political issues. To William Morris, who in 1893 petitioned for its purchase from a London dealer, the "singular perfection" of the Ardabil carpet was an inspiration: "To us pattern-designers," he wrote, "Persia has become a holy land."
My own trip happened to coincide with the 'Iranian Weekend - Poetry, Picnics and Persian Pastimes' which promised much but proved to be a spectacular anti-climax, exacerbated by the free-flowing fizzy dugh - an Iranian carbonated-milk-based form of gastronomic torture.

For those of you planning to visit the exhibition, the challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to discover the tribute to the Seven Sleepers and for bonus points, to determine the name of their canine companion.

For lots more detail including some stunning video presentations of architectural styles from across the Islamic world visit the V&A's site here.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Circle Game

Shamelessly lifted from the NHS Blog Doctor:

This is so funny that it will boggle your mind. And you will keep trying at least 50 more times to see if you can outsmart your foot, but you can't.

1. While sitting at your desk, lift your right foot off the floor
and make clockwise circles.

2. Now, while doing this, draw the number "6" in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction.

And there's nothing you can do about it!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

It has begun...

Today's Independent reports:

UK tourists stage mutiny over Asian passengers

A holiday jet was grounded by worried passengers who staged a "mutiny" over fears that fellow travellers were acting suspiciously in the wake of the alleged terror plot to bring down planes.

The flight, from Malaga to Manchester, was delayed for three hours as police escorted the two Asian passengers from the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320, then conducted a security sweep of the plane. The men unnerved others waiting for the flight when they were overheard speaking in what was thought to be Arabic.

They were also wearing leather jackets and sweaters despite the heat of the southern Spanish city and were frequently glancing at their watches. The pair were taken to a hotel and then put on a later flight.

Six passengers had refused to get on board and word spread to those already on the flight and a number of people walked off the plane. Soon the pilot, police and airport security staff came to check their passports and then accompanied them off the flight.

College lecturer Jo Schofield, who was on the flight, told The Mail On Sunday: "There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men. It was an eerie scene, very quiet."
For the Daily Mail's account click here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Barber-ian Hordes

I popped in to my local barber's this morning for my regular fake-Haji cut. The venue never fails to disappoint. I could spend hours there just listening to the whacky conversations fading into each other, jostling for lyrical supremacy. But I'd need to understand Mirpuri to do that with any degree of success. Fortunately snippets of chatter do take place in English (or a least its Brummie equivalent).

The owner was valiantly holding the fort single-handedly while his colleague was "at a meeting", which prompted much speculation from the crowd of eager haircut-ees. Eventually, the AWOL tonsorial artist made a stunning entrance in traditional Pakistani dress. (We're accustomed to seeing him in 'Western' gear). Once the wolf-whistles had died down, the timely wail of a police siren triggered the expected:

Customer: Bro. You look like a Paki.
Barber #2: I am a Paki.
Customer: Yeah but the police don't need no help innit
Barber #2: I got nothing to hide man.
Customer: People dressed like that do all sorts of crazy things on aeroplanes. Dunno what they could get up to on the ground innit?
Barber #2: I aint cutting your hair.
Customer: I aint here for a cut anyway. I'm just chilling...It's all a cover up man. Taking attention away from the real stuff in Lebanon. Bush just says to Blair, "Oi Tony". Nah that's not it. How does he talk to Blair?
Me: I think he said "Yo Blair!"
Customer: Yeah that was it. He goes "Yo Blair!" What a joker. My car is mashed. I'm gonna sue BMW. But qasme, once I've replaced the transmission and stuff I'm gonna have 3.2 litres of power in a manual. Those rear wheels are gonna need serious replacing.

By that time my hair had been cut. I handed over the cash and made my exit stage left.

Postscript: People tend to get their hair cut by the barber* with the coolest cut but unless he/she has the supernatural ability to cut their own hair, surely the responsible hairdresser is someone else?

*insert relevant term for your coiffeur

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 3/3

The twelfth of the Shia Imams is referred to as the Mahdi – a prominent figure in Islamic eschatology and not only a source of inspiration for Iranian presidents. Born in 866 he is believed to be alive to this day but in occultation, absent from the physical world since the age of five. Shias await his return in a manner akin to those expecting the Messiah. In fact it is commonly held that his reappearance will herald an era of world peace and he is expected to return in the company of Jesus. During his period of concealment, the mujtahids are viewed as the Imam’s representatives in his absence. The clerical hierarchy unique to Shiism is indicative of this role of guiding the community by proxy.

The day-to-day practice of Shia Muslims is almost indistinguishable from that of their Sunni counterparts. Nevertheless, there are idiosyncrasies such as the insistence on prostrating on the ground (rather than a carpet for instance) and many Shias carry a small block of clay on them to ensure they can worship accordingly. There are some practices unique to Shia Islam though. One such article of faith is khums – derived from the Arabic number five – which refers to a one-fifth tax payable by adult Muslims who are financially secure and have surplus in their income. Half of the total is distributed amongst the destitute and needy descendants of the prophet and the other half (referred to as the Imam’s portion) is given to the individual’s mujtahid –which can amount to a considerable sum for popular mujtahids, strengthening their freedom from the state apparatus. Inheritance and divorce rights are arguably more favourable for women under the Shia interpretation of Islamic law. This may well be a reflection of the lofty status given to Fatima, the daughter of the prophet and matriarch of the imamate.

In his book The Failure of Political Islam, Olivier Roy writes “we find Islam divided into three geographic and cultural tendencies: the Sunni Arab Middle East, the Sunni Indian subcontinent, and Irano-Arab Shiism.” While the Pentagon reconsiders its ‘Neo-Con Shia-philia’ as one commentator puts it, ‘Irano-Arab Shiism’ continues to forge an emerging political presence. The strategic importance of the Shia diaspora has never been reflected in what is generally known of them and their beliefs. Perhaps now would be a good time to redress the balance.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 2/3

One of the central tenets of Shiism is belief in the Imamate, the divinely appointed leadership of the Muslim community following the prophet. The majority of Shias are Ithna-Asheri or Twelver, so-called because of their belief in twelve Imams, the first being Ali. The Imams are regarded as infallible individuals and interpreters par excellence of the prophetic tradition, differing from the prophets only by not being direct recipients of Divine revelation. The concept of imamate is commonly regarded as a corollary of the Shia emphasis on the justice of God, one of the five ‘roots of religion’ alongside Imamate, Oneness of God, Prophethood and belief in the Day of Judgement. The notion of a period in history without a guide, a human exemplar, is unimaginable for a Shia.

An exact (and for that matter even an approximate) number of Shias in Britain is unavailable. The community has a significant presence judging by the number of Shia mosques and imambaras dotted around the country. Four ethnic groups form the bulk of Britain’s Shia population: Iraqi, South-East Asian, East-African Asian and Iranian. The East-African Asians are mainly Khojas who are represented by the umbrella charitable organisation the WF of KSIMC, or to give it its glorious Technicolor title, the World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities. According to their impressive records there are 8,000 members currently residing in the UK. The National Statistics Office may well address this in the 2011 census.

Perhaps the most significant difference from an ideological perspective is the differing role of ijtihad (the derivation of Islamic law) in both traditions. The word ijtihad derives from the same Arabic root as jihad, both words reflecting a sense of struggle. Sunni Islam is classically composed of four schools of thought, named after their founders who lived in temporal proximity to each other during the 8th and 9th centuries. Sunni Muslims decide to follow a particular school, a decision inevitably influenced by cultural and familial leanings, and carry out their daily obligations in accordance with the school’s requirements. The reach of Islamic law is far and wide ranging from the form of prayer to the validity of voting.

It is said that once the Sunni schools of thought had taken on their solid independent existences, the door of ijtihad was then closed. Joseph Schacht, author of An Introduction to Islamic Law, states in this regard “hence a consensus gradually established itself to the effect that from that time onwards no one could be deemed to have the necessary qualifications for independent reasoning in religious law, and that all future activity would have to be confined to the explanation, application, and, at the most, interpretation of the doctrine as it had been laid down once and for all.”

Ijtihad amongst the Shias took on a more dynamic nature with scholars continuing to derive and refine Islamic law to the present day. Shias are required to imitate a mujtahid (expert jurisprudent) perhaps the most famous of which today is the Grand Ayatollah al-Seestani based in Najaf, Iraq. The position offers the Shia scholars a powerful tool in their armoury of independence from the state, shown to great effect in the Tobacco Fatwa issued by Grand Ayatollah Mirza Hassan Shirazi in opposition to the concession made to British tobacco companies by the Qajar head of state in the late 19th century.

Monday, August 07, 2006

An Insight into Shia Islam - Part 1/3

Fanatical flagellants. Bearded scholars. Revolutionary tendencies. Messianic beliefs. Leo Africanus uncovers the reality of Shia Islam.

With over one hundred million adherents, Shia Islam at a conservative estimate constitutes ten percent of the global Muslim populous. Shias make up to sixty percent of the population in countries situated in the ancient areas of the Levant and the Fertile Crescent including Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Iranian revolution triggered a crucial albeit brief encounter with the Shia world. A world regarded by many as shrouded in impenetrable mystery and by many Muslims as their own fifth column, a tolerated cultish minority. The political upheaval in Iraq and nuclear-jockeying by Iran has once more brought Shiism into the limelight.

Thud, thud, thud. As you approach a Shia community centre or imambara during the first ten days of the first month of the Islamic calendar, you would be excused for thinking you could hear the distant, mottled sound of drumming. Thud, thud, thud. The heavy, rhythmic sound becomes clearer and an accompanying sonorous yet sombre voice becomes audible. Thud, thud, thud. It becomes clear that the drumming is in fact the reverberation of palms striking chests as men stand, shoulder to shoulder, in concentric circles and parallel lines. This is not some Opus Dei reunion but one of the most visible and specific practices adopted by Shias: the mourning ritual commemorating the martyrdom of their 3rd Imam, Hussein, grandson of the prophet Muhammad. The ceremonies have developed over a millennium and highlight some of the core features of Shia belief and practice: a deep veneration for the family of the prophet and communal spirit forged through hardship.

Edward William Lane, 19th century scholar and author of the prestigious (and prodigious) Lane's Lexicon – a dictionary of the Arabic language, offers the following definition of the word Shia: A separate, or distinct, party, or sect, of men.

He goes on to make mention of the specific application of the term to “a particular party [or sect] being predominantly applied to all who took as their friends, or lords, ‘Alee [sic] and the people of his house: those who followed ‘Alee, saying that he was the [rightful] Imam after the Apostle of God, and believing that the office of Imam should not depart from him and his descendants: they are an innumerable people, who are innovators; the extravagant zealots among them are the Imameeyeh [sic].”

This latter group is the very same group that form the majority of today’s Shia community. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s inflammatory pronunciations regarding the Shia are thus by no means novel.

Readers will be aware of the existence of distinctive Sunni and Shia traditions in Islam but their respective origins are steeped in a smokescreen of polemical diatribe and academic excursion with the Shias emerging as the underdogs, commonly portrayed as the religious manifestation of political partisanship. There is consensus that the trigger-factor for the schism was the issue of the immediate succession of the prophet Muhammad after his death in 632, an event to rival New Labour’s handover of power. The Sunnis favoured Abu Bakr, a companion of the prophet and elder statesman, whereas the preference of the Shias was Ali, war veteran and the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law and in their eyes, the divinely appointed choice, the Imam (based on their interpretation of certain verses of the Qur’an and the prophet’s traditions as reported by Shia and Sunni historians alike). Abu Bakr became the first caliph and Ali the eventual fourth.

Professor SHM Jafri, professor of Islamic studies at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, forcefully argues in his The Origins and Early Development of Shia Islam that there existed a group of Muhammad’s contemporaries who regarded Ali as not only his political but religious successor during the former’s lifetime who were referred to as the Shia of Ali. Subsequent political wrangling and civil wars served to galvanise this group into a fully-fledged religious movement.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Birmingham Zindabad!

Pictures courtesy of my sister and her K608i.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Middle East Buddy List

Slate magazine has put together an interesting interactive tool looking at the intricacies of alliances and grievances in the Middle East.

Last month, Hamas militants tunneled into Israel and kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Israel immediately invaded Gaza. Hamas began lobbing rockets into Israel. The Lebanese group Hezbollah kidnapped two more Israelis near the Lebanon-Israel border. Israel responded by carrying out airstrikes against Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia condemned Hezbollah for instigating the violence. Syria, Iran, and Lebanon called Israel's retaliation an excessive use of force.

Confused? We are too. Slate's Middle East Buddy List breaks down the relationships between the countries, terrorist organizations, and political factions who are fighting it out in the current conflict. Who likes whom? Who are the bitterest of enemies? And which groups don't really know where they stand?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Perspectives on the Death of Poetry in Beirut

by George Dickerson

The commando cradled the poem in his arm.
When he made the poem speak, it spit stanzas
At pedestrians who fled from poetry.
From the rocket launcher a barrage of poems
Burst like roses in the street. The eloquent shards
Inscribed the houses with an elegy.
Fragments of the poem's petals were found
In the face and chest of a young girl
Overcome by the eternal aspect of poetry.
At night, when we fought with fitful sleep,
The deep guttural throat of poetry roared
Across the rooftops and devoured our dreams.
A wayward poem entered the boy's head
And left his eyes hollow with amazement.
A poem snatched hunger
From twenty people waiting for bread.
Two poems recklessly slit each other's bellies.
The head of a truncated poem
Was proudly impaled on a barricade.
From the cellar, where fifteen poems lay crushed,
Oozed the sweet odor of poetry.
When the plane lifted off over Beirut,
I could see poems shrouding the city,
And I abandoned poetry.

© 2000 George Dickerson
(Prior publ.: Medicinal Purposes Literary Review)

The Corniche

The Corniche, Beirut, Lebanon ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Corniche Fishing, Beirut, Lebanon ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Impotent, South Lebanon ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Friday, July 21, 2006

So how did it come to taste of smoke and fire?

Avari-Nameh's Haroon Moghul once again takes an insightful, critical and refreshing look at the situation in Lebanon.

The same site links to Paradise Lost: Robert Fisk's elegy for Beirut.

The anger that any human soul should feel at such suffering and loss was expressed so well by Lebanon's greatest poet, the mystic Khalil Gibran, when he wrote of the half million Lebanese who died in the 1916 famine, most of them residents of Beirut:

My people died of hunger, and he who

Did not perish from starvation was

Butchered with the sword;

They perished from hunger

In a land rich with milk and honey.

They died because the vipers and

Sons of vipers spat out poison into

The space where the Holy Cedars and

The roses and the jasmine breathe

Their fragrance

Juan Cole, at Informed Comment, lets the facts do the talking.

Someone pointed out the Independent's front page to me. Says it all really.

Meanwhile, the picture in Iraq looks bleaker than ever.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Rancilio Silvia, Home ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Mid-pour, Home ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Crema, Home ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

The Heart of the Matter

I was asked to review a baby today who had been noted to have a heart murmur the previous day. On entering the room I noticed two women and the dozing baby. One was in traditional Indian clothing and the other wasn't. The former transpired to be the mother, the latter, her sister-in-law.

S-i-L: Oi! The doctor's 'ere to check the baby innit.
Mother: Yeah I know. I've been up all night worrying. Is the murmur still there?
Me: I'll need to have a quick listen to baby's chest to check.

I approached the baby and carefully manipulated its clothing so as to allow my stethoscope to rest on its chest. While doing so I somehow missed the gender cue apparent in the overwhelmingly pink apparel.

Me: He looks like he hasn't a care in the world!
Mother: Did you just call her him?
Me: Oh! So I did...
S-i-L: Don't worry innit. We call her it.

The murmur had disappeared and both ladies were mightily relieved. It remained oblivious.

A Fiendish Rose

The Radio 4 Test Match Special lot seem to be doing their level best to pronouce poor Imran Gul's name as Imran Ghoul.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Pity the Nation

Recent events in the Levant have made me reach for my copy of Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation and the extract from Khalil Gibran's 'The Garden of the Prophet' on the inside cover has again captured my imagination.

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.

Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mum there's a hippo in the toilet

This is not a post outlining the potential dangers of a safari in the Serengeti. Instead, its raison d'etre is to highlight an initative by Thames Water (renowned for wasting rather than saving water) - they're giving away free hippos.

A Hippo is a small plastic bag which can easily be fitted into your toilet cistern. Water is retained in the bag, helping to save water every time you flush.

Almost a third of the water we use at home is flushed down our toilets.

Fitting a Hippo device in the average cistern will save up to 3 litres of water with every flush. If one toilet is flushed ten times a day, this would equate to a water saving of 30 litres per day, enough water for a five-minute shower!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Alcoholics Anonymous

There is a health food shop situated in the new (and uninventive airport lounge-like) main entrance building at my hospital. For the last week they've been running a half-price sale and even they must be surprised at the number of people that have suddenly developed a fondness for dried prunes and fig juice.

I jumped on the bandwagon by using the opportunity to sample their temptingly packaged ginger beer. An FOTB colleague who was watching my purchase with initial amusement and then growing shock felt compelled to confirm a nagging doubt

Me: Yes, ginger beer
FOTB: Beer. You are drinking alcohol?
Me: What do you reckon?
FOTB: It is beer?
Me: You know I'm a teetotaller. Putting that aside though, if I was going to start knocking back grandma's old cough medicine, it'd be pretty outrageous to start in full public view, in a hospital, on duty, don't you think?
FOTB: So it is not beer?
Me: Something like that

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lucy or Silvia?

I'm in a state of inner turmoil. The necessary decision has been the victim of my determined procrastination. It's now a matter of life or death...

I'm ditching my Gaggia Cubika and Dualit grinder setup and, having briefly flirted with the idea of a super-automatic machine, have narrowed the shortlist to two candidates: The Rancilio Lucy or the Rancilio Silvia with a Rocky Grinder.

If you're in the know (or for that matter even if you've never worried about the colour of the crema on your espresso) cast your votes.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Sven White over at Akram's Razor takes a logical look at what he perceives to be the 'Balkanization' of British society in response to the news that Alton Towers is to host a "Muslim-only" day on September 17th.

Will the Real Tariq Ramadan Please Stand Up

An audacious impersonator has cloned himself into a Tariq Ramadan replica and managed to publish an article in today's Independent while the real Tariq Ramadan felt it wiser to publish in today's Guardian. Any differences in opinion between the Real and Diet versions are indiscernable though (a testament to the outstanding imitation): both pieces are unfortunately somewhat lack lustre and peddle the same (now rather stagnant) sentiments.

Afghanistan or India?

The heir and only son of the Maharaja of Rajpipla, Manvendra Singh Gohil, has been formally disowned by his parents. He discovered the news on reading one of the Indian dailies (although adverts had been taken out in most of the leading papers just in case):

"Manvendra is not in the control of his mother and involved in activities unacceptable to society," says one of the adverts, written by his mother. "Hence he ceases to have any rights as a son over the family property ... henceforth, no one must refer to my name as mother of Mavendra."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Zizou - The Master

It's half-time and Zinedine Zidane has confirmed his greatness by exhibiting his flare, class and inimitable finesse.

You may not be aware that he's the subject of a feature length film by Douglas Gordon under United International Pictures auspices. As always, I'll leave Peter Bradshaw to it:

Zinedine Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait is based on a gloriously simple and audacious idea. To train the camera on the great footballer Zidane over the course of a single match: 90 minutes, in real time. On the ball, and mostly off the ball: just Zidane. Gordon occasionally inserts TV coverage clips for context but otherwise the camera remains on Zidane and his face, as gaunt and impassive as an Easter Island statue, massively dignified in the deafening cauldron of noise. He runs; he frowns; he pants; he spits. He is always watchful. Occasionally, he bursts into action.

In voiceover, Zidane broods about what he can remember, and not remember, from his matches. What would it be like to watch, moment by moment, the undramatic moments of our own off-the-ball lives that won't make it into the edited highlights of memory? By the end, Zidane has achieved the charisma and mystery of the hero from some lost Shakespeare play.
Check out the trailer here (and in high-resolution here).

Mujawwad or Murattal?

Came across a wonderful recitation of part of Surah Yusuf by Shaykh Mahmood Ali al-Banna who, according to Kristina Nelson in her The Art Of Reciting The Qur'an, is cited by Shaykh Muhammad Mahmood al-Tablawi as one of his inspirations.

For a detailed insight into Surah Yusuf, check out Sheikh Abbas Jaffer's erudite tafsir into the nuances of the chapter.

Nelson also brought my attention to another reciter I was unaware of:

Shaykh Muhammad Rifat [1882-1950]. His father was a merchant. Shaykh Rifat is unanimously considered the best reciter of this century. He is admired for his musicality, his mastery and understanding of the art of recitation in all of its aspects, his spirituality and uprightness, and his right intent. Shaykh Rifat was the first reciter to broadcast his recitation (1934), and his voice and style, as well as his general character, have been a model of the ideal reciter to generations of Egyptians and others ever since. Music critic and composer Suleiman Gamil specifies aspects of Shaykh Rifat's style such as the unpredictability of the melodic line and the resonance of his voice. Others point to his mastery in correlating melody to meaning (taswîr al-ma'nâ). In addition to recordings made by the Radio, there exist a great number of recordings made by Zakariyyâ Muhrân Bâsâ and Muhammad Khamîs which his son, Mr. Husayn Rifat, is dedicated to making available to the public.
Here are some links to his recitation: Surah ar-Rahman and al-Waqi'ah, Surah al-Isra'.

John Maxwell Coetzee

I'm revisiting a collection of essays by J.M. Coetzee and am re-enthralled at his brillian prose. (I still haven't got round to reading his fiction despite tc's numerous prompts!)

On The Africans by Ali Mazrui

The camera has no ideology: it will lie on behalf of whoever points it and presses the button; it will lie even more persuasively when there is the right music in the background.
On The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

If Rushdie's Satanic Verses outraged the dour literalists within Islam, then The Moor's Last Sigh is aimed at the fascist-populist element within the Hindu political movement. On Raman Fielding [a caricature of Bal Thackeray] Rushdie lavishes some of his most stinging satirical prose: 'In his low cane chair with his great belly slung across his knees like a burglar's sack, with his frog's croak of a voice bursting through his fat frog's lips and his little dart of a tongue licking at the edges of his mouth, with his hooded froggy eyes gazing greedily down upon the little beedi-rolls of money with which his quaking petitioners sought to pacify him...he was indeed a Frog King.'
I struggled to page 10 of The Moor's Last Sigh before bailing out; Rushdie's haughty narrator's tone and idionsyncratic style proved unbearable.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Tale of the Dry Nappy

The conversion of the NHS from an institution of noble aims and aspirations to a flogged mule of service-provision has had unexpected consequences. Gone are the legendary days of zombie-like doctors stumbling along corridors 72 hours into their latest shift courtesy of the European Working Time Directive. However, also gone are the expressions of gratitude and appreciation that would make the zombie feel like its work was worthwhile. Patients (deservedly) have rights but rights now far outweigh responsibilities (and medicine is not the only sphere where this holds true). The niceties that lubricate such relationships have been discarded and replaced by litigious expectation.

During a busy shift I can see upwards of a score of patients. You try and provide a caring, personal service but, with the likes of 4-hour targets, can't help feeling a little overstretched and hope that you're not holding back a smile or sacrificing banter for pure functionality. This is highlighted further by the fact that the patient does not have twenty doctors they are obliged to consult - you are the only doctor they will see. Your experiences of that particular on-call may blend into a montage of signs, symptoms and treatments but for the patient (and their family) that episode will have an individuality and significance.

I only came to appreciate this last weekend during a weekend of night shifts. I was asked to review a baby by the midwives, who having passed urine after birth had now gone for 36 hours without wetting a nappy. They assured me he was still opening his bowels and were certain it hadn't all got mixed up in the noxious concoctions babies' rear-ends can produce. They'd even left pieces of strategically placed cotton wool inside the nappy to capture any traces of moisture for posterity.

I consulted my registrar and trudged up to the postnatal wards to reassure everyone involved in what was rapidly developing into an anuric frenzy. I spotted the Arabic name on being handed the patient notes and greeted the baby's mother who was visibly anxious. Almost immediately her expression changed to one of pensiveness and then a look of recognition.

Arab Mother: Dr Mohammedali?
Me: Erm....No, Dr Mehrali.
Arab Mother: Yes, Yes. Dr Mehrali!

The panic siren was now sounding and the red lights flashing in my mind as it desperately tried to recall the source of the familiarity.

Arab Mother: (Now in broken English and Iraqi Arabic) You treated my son for asthma two years ago. He was very sick. May Allah reward you with goodness!

As she said this she deftly donned an almost opaque niqab or full-face veil. I began to recall the case, one of the first cases I saw after qualifying from medical school. The little boy was experiencing a moderate asthma attack which responded well to treatment - nothing remarkable there - but what made the encounter stand out was his parents' tolerance (and I think appreciation) of my broken Arabic with which I falteringly explained his condition, treatment and prognosis.

Me: Ah yes. I'm surprised you remember. How is your son?
Arab Mother: All praise is due to Allah! He is well.

I went on to examine the new addition to their family and lo and behold the baby's nappy was wet and a lesson was learnt.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bo Kaap Madness

Bo Kaap Madness, Cape Town, South Africa ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Monday, June 26, 2006

Who should I cheer for?

The World Development Movement has come up with a 'handy tool' to help you decide who to root for during World Cup matches you couldn't otherwise care for and/or that your team are not involved in.

Many people will cheer for the underdog - Togo has never qualified before - or because the team contain players from their club team. Or perhaps you go for more political criteria, perhaps by not supporting countries involved in the war in Iraq or with a bad human rights record?

How about supporting the team that gives the most aid to poor countries? Perhaps cheering on the country that spends the most on healthcare? Or booing the country that spends the most on weapons?

Here at WDM we have produced this handy tool to help you choose who to shout for when your own team isn’t on the pitch. Just click below on the teams playing in the match you are about to watch and see how they score on ten different supportability criteria.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors

Juan Cole, over at Informed Comment, sheds some interesting light on the belief system of the seven individuals arrested in Miami, who according to US authorities, planned attacks on the landmark Sears Tower in Chicago and other buildings as part of a pledge to al Qaeda to wage war against the United States.

I just saw the spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations on CNN saying that the Miami cult members just arrested are not Muslims. I'd say that is a fair statement.

For one thing, they are vegetarians!
Joking aside, the guys are thought to belong to one of several fascinating cults. Contenders include The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors,
The Black Hebrew Israelites and The Nation of Yahweh - all apparently share a similar relationship to Judaism as the Nation of Islam does to Islam itself. It's interesting to see these unique offshoots of 'mainstream' religion found in the African-American community that appear to have been forged under conditions of severe social inequality and disharmony.

Lighting Up

Lighting Up, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Terrorist at my Table

An extract from Imtiaz Dharker's collection of poetry and art of the same name.

The right word

Outside the door
lurking in the shadows,
is a terrorist.

Is that the wrong description?
Outside that door,
taking shelter in the shadows,
is a freedom-fighter.

I haven’t got this right.
Outside, waiting in the shadows,
is a hostile militant.

Are words no more
than waving, wavering flags?
Outside your door,
watchful in the shadows,
is a guerrilla warrior.

God help me.
Outside, defying every shadow,
stands a martyr.
I saw his face.

No words can help me now.
Just outside the door,
lost in shadows,
is a child who looks like mine.

One word for you.
Outside my door,
his hand too steady,
his eyes too hard
is a boy who looks like your son, too.

I open the door.
Come in, I say.
Come in and eat with us.

The child steps in
and carefully, at my door,
takes off his shoes.

Monday, June 19, 2006


M.O.T., Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Just in case you thought your day was about to become productive...

Melanie Phillips gets a mauling
Phillips is a renowned controversialist whose spare, lean frame seems to be sustained by argument rather than food and drink. She arrives, at a French cafe in Chiswick, west London, tense and intense, in a pink shirt, and orders only black coffee.
Rory Stewart walks through Afghanistan
The book is replete with fascinating, if fearfully context-dependent, travel tips. If you are forced to lie about being a Muslim, claim you're from Indonesia, a Muslim nation few non-Indonesian Muslims know much about. Open land undefiled by sheep droppings has most likely been mined. If you're taking your donkey to high altitudes, slice open its nostrils to allow greater oxygen flow. Don't carry detailed maps, since they tend to suggest 007 affinities. If, finally, you're determined to do something as recklessly stupid as walk across a war zone, your surest bet to quash all the inevitable criticism is to write a flat-out masterpiece. Stewart did. Stewart has. "The Places in Between" is, in very nearly every sense, too good to be true.
The Nomad Fatwas blogging syndicate is established
The Nomad Fatwas is an alliance of free-thinking blogs and a carnival simultaneously. Every two weeks a coterie of ten blogs will circulate one older post each on a theme chosen by one of the Nomad Fatwas members. This period’s theme was "Life" and was selected by Eteraz.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji get busted by Laila Lalami aka Moorish Girl
This context--competing yet hypocritical sympathies for Muslim women--helps to explain the strong popularity, particularly in the post-September 11 era, of Muslim women activists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji and the equally strong skepticism with which they are met within the broad Muslim community. These activists are passionate and no doubt sincere in their criticism of Islam. But are their claims unique and innovative, or are they mostly unremarkable? Are their conclusions borne out by empirical evidence, or do they fail to meet basic levels of scholarship? The casual reader would find it hard to answer these questions, because there is very little critical examination of their work. For the most part, the loudest responses have been either hagiographic profiles of these "brave" and "heroic" women, on the one hand, or absurd and completely abhorrent threats to the safety of these "apostates" and "enemies of God," on the other.

Convalescent City

Convalescent City, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

Maharaja Jai Singh II's Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar, Delhi, India ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

It does what?

Having already converted the family into disciples of the only toothpaste to sound like an intellectually challenged member of the Nation of Islam (RetarDEX), my sister, the dentist in-waiting, has moved on to Phase 2 and now launched a campaign exclusively directed at my teeth. I am the proud recipient of a state of the art electric toothbrush. The futuristic contraption resembles a piece of laboratory equipment with appendages that wouldn't appear out of place on a NASA lunar module and boasts 'unique 3D Excel technology: 40,000 in-and-out pulsations per minute and 8,800 side-to-side oscillations.'

Has it made a difference? With only seven days of power charged brushing behind me, the reaction's been staggering: people are stopping me in the street asking for my autograph; drivers have to flick their rear-view mirrors because of the glare; babies are being cured by a simple glance.

Will it continue? If I can remember to charge it! The power ran out while I was brushing yesterday and I was forced to downgrade to my meagre manual toothbrush. My gums cringed with embarrassment at the paltry 'in-and-out pulsations' and 'side-to-side oscillations' my biceps tried to muster up. My teeth openly wept at the lack of a pressure sensor. My tongue missed the soothing caress of the ‘FlexiSoft®’ bristles.

I wonder if you can tell I’ve just finished a set of nights?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Birmingham Burning

Late one evening last December I had my first encounter with Her Majesty's Police Force - an altogether surreal experience from which I think I'm fortunate to have emerged unscathed, my dentition still intact.

I'd completed a busy on-call and wasn't overjoyed at the prospect of delaying my return home by having to detour past Blockbusters to return an overdue copy of Shark Tale. The DVD was returned. The fine was paid. Mission completed. As I drove back home I impressed myself with the stealth and guile of my driving, culminating in managing to just sneak through a notorious set of traffic lights.

I continued over the roundabout and towards my destination when I caught sight of the unmistakable flashing lights in my rear-view mirror and heard the wailing siren of a police car. Being the dutiful citizen that I am, I remained in the left lane of the dual carriageway and beckoned the police car past, only to notice it slide in behind me and return the beckoning gesture. I drove on, innocently unwilling to accept that they could possibly be interested in me and my stealthy, guileful driving.

Eventually the relevant portion of my cerebrum accepted the possibility and I slowed to a halt. The police car stopped about ten metres behind me and the passenger door opened, revealing an Oompa-Loompa in police gear. He was the shortest, most hyperopic PC imaginable with a suitably disporportionate hat. He waddled towards my car. I wound down the passenger window hesitantly.

Ooompa-Loompa: Good evening sir (in a lisping Brummie accent)
Me: Hello officer
Oompa-Loompa: Any idea why we've pulled you over this evening, sir?
Me: Erm...sorry, but I've absolutely no idea officer
Oompa-Loompa: No idea (he muttered to himself). Well in that case can you join me in the squad car please sir?
Me: Is that really necessary?
Oompa-Loompa: It most definitely is.

After querying whether to leave my engine running; lights on/off; keys in car or with me; I joined the Oompa-Loompa and we walked towards the squad car. In the dim light I could just about make out the driver of the police car and he looked like a fairly sizable individual. I entered the back of the car and realised that the driver's neck was about the same size as my waist.

Big Cop: Good evening sir
Me: Good evening
Big Cop: Can you think why we may have stopped you sir?
Me: As I told your colleague, I'm afraid I really have no idea.

Big Cop looked at Oompa-Loompa

Big Cop: He has no idea

They shared a sly glance followed by a barely perceptible grin.

Oompa-Loompa: Do you regularly drive through red lights sir?
Me: (Rather alarmed), not really. No, never.
Big Cop: Well you just did.
Me: I could swear the light was amber
Big Cop: It was close. Perhaps the closest I've seen. But you jumped the light.
Me: It really wasn't my intention.

My tired face must have betrayed the overwhelming feeling of apprehension I was attempting to hide.

Big Cop: Don't worry sir. We're not going to prosecute or anything like that. This is just a gentle Christmas warning.
Me: (Obviously relieved) Ah. That's very kind of you. Much appreciated.
Oompa-Loompa: Lot's of people drink at this time of the year. You wouldn't be a drinker would you sir?
Me: No. Never touched the stuff.
Oompa-Loompa: Good
Big Cop: Good. We just need to run some of your details through our databases.

Oompa-Loompa proceeded to relay my name and number plate to some central office. In the meantime, Big Cop reached down to the area between the gearstick and the handbrake and fished out an odd looking piece of rubbish, almost like an ear of corn. He held it up to the light in the car where I got a chance to inspect it too.

Big Cop: I wonder what that could be?

It looked strangely familiar to me. Almost anatomical. Hang on. It was anatomical. Unable to restrain myself,

Me: It looks like a tooth!

I exclaimed

Big Cop: (Re-examines the item and looks towards Oompa-Loompa) Ha Ha. Must have been a scuffle in here eh?

He wound down his window and quickly threw the molar into the darkness. At this point I began to perspire and had visions of Rodney King being battoned to death flooding my thoughts. As a gut reaction I pulled the door handle only to realise that the door was safety-locked and could only be opened from the outside.

Oompa-Loompa: (Looking back towards me) In a hurry to get going sir?
Me: (Cue nervous laughter) Yes. It's been a long day and I'm feeling quite tired. It'd be nice to get home and unwind.
Oompa-Loompa: We know the feeling sir. I'll tell you what. Why don't we let you on your way? We'll follow you until your details are cleared then we can all go our separate ways.
Me: That sounds reasonable.

The Oompa-Loompa let me out of the car, I drove off in mine, was tailed a short distance and soon we did go our separate ways.

Monday, June 12, 2006

School's Out

School's Out, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Patriotism - Birmingham Style

Taken on my Nokia 6680 on the way to work this morning. Enough to make Trevor Phillips cry. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Patriotism, Small Heath, Birmingham, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

After Asr

After Asr, Husrev Beg Mosque, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sarajevo Cityscape

Sarajevo Cityscape, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tram in Motion

Tram in Motion, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Destruction in Mostar

(Don't forget to click on the images for larger versions!)

 Destruction, Mostar, Hercegovina ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Midday Minaret

Midday Minaret, Sarajevo, Bosnia ©Tauseef Mehrali 2006

Monday, May 29, 2006

Balkan Diaries - Day 2

We've had a day to acclimatise to our new surroundings and to be honest it's taken surprsingly little effort, despite being unable to understand a thing. Sarajevo is an easy going city with a refreshingly genuine, 400,000 strong, population. The sunny weather and cool mountain breeze has undoubtedly helped.

The only disappointment thus far was at German hands: Lufthansa served up the single worst airline meal in the whole of aviation history. A 'cheese' sandwich which even the most famished, emaciated mouse would refuse to partake of. Sarajevo's food scene has more than compensated though. Our first lunch here consisted of a platter of a year's worth of barbecued meat (served in extravagant fashion). Coupled with some of the best coffee (and cafes) I've come across, the combination is verging on heavenly.

The city is remarkably compact - an illusion stemming from the incredibly steep (and inhabited) slopes surrounding it. Today's stroll enabled us to view Sarajevo from almost every vantage point and involved some bizarre interactions with the locals. Whilst ascending the streets north of the old Ottoman quarter we bumped into a elderly gentlemn who was waiting with his family for a bus. He caught sight of us and greeted us with an eleborate salaam to which we accordingly replied.

"Jordan?" He enquired.
"No. England." We responded.
"Birmingham?" He emphatically asked.

Further on during our knee shattering climb we met a Professor of Russian studies (who later admitted to not knowing any Russian) who gave us directions to the Goat Bridge (the traditional departure point for Bosnian pilgrims embarking on the hajj) and animatedly reenacted Serbian tendencies whilst sporting a dollop of mustard in his moustache.

The tranquility of the Gazi Husrev Begova mosque in Ferhadija, Sarajevo is unrivalled. It dates back to the early 16th century and has undergone several facelifts from the time of the Austrio-Hungarian invasion to the recent Balkan conflict. The mosque neatly encapsulates the essence of Bosnian Islam - understated, tolerant and heart felt.

Tomorrow we'll head further afield and see rural Bosnia.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Carnivores Unite

It took me just under a couple of hours to recover from one of my aunty's stinging comments about my carnivorous tendencies 'making my stomach a gaveyard for dead animals'.

However, having taken (partial) heed of her rather direct advice and adopted a perpetual jihad to meet the government endorsed five-a-day fruit and veg quota I wake to read this!

It is a fact universally acknowledged by health advisers the world over: consuming more fruit and vegetables is A Good Thing. After all, they are the only foods to feature in the nutritional guidelines of all major countries, and everyone agrees that eating more of them may help to reduce the risk of heart diease and some cancers. But that is where the consensus ends. Although in Britain we are told to live by the five-a-day maxim, the Danes must aim for six, the French 10, and Canadians are urged to get through between five and 10. The Japanese government, however, now recommends up to 13 portions of vegetables plus four of fruit daily.

Kebabs and a replica kebab. I know which one I'd rather have

Monday, May 22, 2006


Leaf, Cambridge Botanical Gardens, UK ©Tauseef Mehrali 2003

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Czech please

It was recently my turn on the rota to spend the best part of a week performing baby checks - a routine examination that all newborns are subjected to before they make their way home.

I picked up my next set of notes and noticed the obviously Eastern European sounding name. As I introduced myself to the mother she asked if she could feed her baby before its MOT. I obliged and agreed to return after I'd seen the other babies.

On returning I noticed that the respectable, bespectacled mother had now been joined by an imposing looking, frankly brutish character who I assumed to be the father. He sat in the corner of the room, looking around menacingly. Clad in a white vest, exposing his heavily tattooed (and enormous) biceps, he was obviously a devotee of the Bruce Willis school of fashion. The tattoo on his right bicep was alarming: a full-length depiction of a tribesman in bushman dress holding a spear.

Anyway I re-introduced myself and started examining the remarkably cute baby boy. As is my manner, I asked the mother a routine set of questions while putting the baby through its paces.

"Did you experience any complications during pregnancy?"
"Do you suffer from any medical conditions?"
"Did you take any medications over the last 9 months?"

Dad was silent throughout all of this. His silence was intimidating. His hulking presence, even more so.

"Is there a family history of any medical problems?"

Before mum could even answer, Mr Willis sprang into life.

"VOT?" he boomed
"erm...Is there a family history of any medical problems?"

He mumbled an incomprehensible sequence of consonants to his wife and replied,


In a desperate bid to connect with the family patriarch I nodded and enquired about the tattoo.

"ME. HUNTER." he eloquently replied.

I continued the examination now under Mum and Mr Willis' gaze. As I drew things to a close and reassured them both as to their son's health, dad had a question for me,

"Blue", I responded.

He smiled broadly as if my medical skills were only now confirmed.