The Lamp


The Lamp, Husain Sharif


I found this painting, ‘The Lamp’, by a U.A.E. based artist, Husain Sharif, in an old copy of Arts & The Islamic World (Volume 3, Number 4. Winter 1985, Spring 1986. Special Issue). It’s just a simple lantern painted with a striking mixture of bright and dark. But there’s something about it, something quite moving. Perhaps, it’s  the tilt of the lantern that caught my eye. That’s pretty much life, isn’t it? How we are supposed to be? Be the light in this dark, chaotic world. And the ones who are that beacon of light, are more or less trying to hang in there, too – everyone is – tilted like this lantern, afraid of the eerieness that could follow this glow, the silence that could haunt once the festivity ends. The dark after the light? Or the light after the darkness? And the answer to that lies thumping within our little souls.

He alone has the right to break,
for He alone has the power to mend.

He that knows how to sew together,
knows how to tear apart:
whatever He sells,
He buys something better in exchange.
He lays the house in ruins;
then in a moment He makes it
more livable than before.
 – Jalaluddin Rumi. Mathnawi I, 3882 – 86 



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There are certain endless motions that bring with them an element of belonging. Like waking up to a house of those you love, brewing some good ol’ coffee for them, getting dressed for the work that you love doing, talking to your person, or merely sitting under the canopy of trees as the universal rituals of mornings begin. Things like that, you know? Perhaps, that’s also what the universe is trying to tell us – that we belong here, in this world. Or maybe not, because one day, the sun will never rise for us. But till it does, there are things to be felt and made to feel and things to be forgotten and others to be remembered. It’s like there are spaceships waiting to be boarded by us but we’re all too scared to leave the familiarity of the earth and yet, we crave to hug the stars.

flowers that will lighten / the burdens for many a mile

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Just a kind word or a greeting;
Just a warm grasp or a smile—
These are the flowers that will lighten
The burdens for many a mile.

– Leigh M. Hodges, Give Them The Flowers Now


“Ammi, yeh sweater ley lyn?”
(Mom, can we buy this sweater?)

“Beta, yeh tou aapka size nahin hai, yeh bohat barra hai!”
(Son, this is not your size, this is so big!)

“Yeh myn apnay liye thori ley raha houn!”
(I’m not buying this for myself!)

“Phr kis keliye ley rahay hain aap?”
(Then for whom are you buying this?)

“Yeh myn Maali Baba keliye ley raha houn. Woh bohat booray hain naa tou unko sardi bhi ziyada lagti ho gi. Aur phr unke bachay bhi yahan nahin hain tou phr unka khayal kon rakhay ga? Issi liye myn ne socha unke liye bhi kuch ley lyn, woh khush ho jaeyn ge!”
(I’m buying this for Maali Baba*. He’s very old so I’m sure winters are harder for him. Besides, his children aren’t here with him either so who will take care of him? So I thought I’ll buy him something, he’ll be happy!)

*Gardener Uncle

Happy birthday, Abu!

Dear Abu,

A little more than two decades ago, as a young man held his firstborn – a baby girl crying at the top of her lungs – a father was also born. In that moment of joy overshadowed by a love so strong that it shone through his kind eyes, this young man resolved to give his daughter the best – the best education, the best morals, the best life; the best of the best. He knew that he would have to work hard, often late in the night, but that didn’t take the smile off his face. This little girl that he cuddled in his arms was going to grow up to mirror him in more a than few ways.

Time did its job right and flew by. The girl who would hold his finger to take her first step grew up to dream big, to dream fearlessly. His little girl who loved listening to him tell her stories of zoo animals attending her birthday parties, and of flying buses, and incredible stories of the vastness represented by the globe, grew up to spin her own tales as she lovingly toyed with words.

Thank you for being the best father to this girl, Abu.

To give words to the bond that exists between a father and a daughter is like trying to explain the science connecting the earth and the sun. So, I won’t try except for this – you’ve done the best for me, always. You’ve given me the confidence to truly be me, to dare to listen to the rhythm of my heart, and the courage to find my own way.
Abu, thank you for giving me the world that you have.

Happy birthday, my hero!

Love you always.

Your daughter,



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Why I read


Life, in all its forms, is very beautiful. A million sides to each one of us; doctor, reader, writer, painter. And this gift of life is our ‘one and only’. In our quest to find the One, in our quest to live these hundred lives, what do you do?

You read.

Your eyes lavish the words thought by wise men. Your heart skips a beat every time you see your reflection on the crisp pages. Your breath – already uneven – quickens. You frantically look around for someone to share this glorious piece with.
You read. And you read.

You read. And you read.

And as you read – desperately, lovingly, wisely – you live a hundred lives. A dervish, sometimes. Sometimes, a little boy playing by the lovely stream. A pilot one day, a broken heart another. As you live all these lives, breathing the air all these people have graced, you find something new to marvel about Him. Every day, every time. You discover a season that you like, you dodge a pungent smell.

And as you read – desperately, lovingly, wisely – you live a hundred lives. A dervish, sometimes. Sometimes, a little boy playing by the lovely stream. A pilot one day, a broken heart another. As you live all these lives, breathing the air all these people have graced, you find something new to marvel about Him. Every day, every time. You discover a season that you like, you dodge a pungent smell.

You discover you. And somewhere along the way, you discover Him. – empowering our female doctors

There is no real secret ingredient to a life of happiness and contentment, except, perhaps, learning how to strike a balance. And that is a real cause of concern for the majority of our female doctors. While priorities vary and each to his own, it is a huge waste of resources and intelligence when these qualified female doctors are prevented from practising – either by choice or compulsion – in fears of neglecting their families.
In a society that holds dear some very rigid gender roles, it is necessary to acknowledge and appreciate any effort made in the face of these unfortunate norms; Sehat Kahani is one such drop in the ocean, helping innumerous female doctors achieve this happy balance. A one-of-its-kind telehealth platform connecting the ‘at home-out of work’ female doctors to the lesser privileged patients in inaccessible areas, Sehat Kahani deserves all the help and encouragement that they can get. And with that in mind, I am very excited and happy to have interviewed Dr Iffat Zafar Aga (co-founder and Chief Development Officer at Sehat Kahani) for the Ziauddin University Atlas.

The Ziauddin University Atlas Blog


Currently constituting a network of 14 E-Health Hubs across Pakistan (Sindh, Punjab, KPK and Karachi) and serving more than 440,000 patients directly and indirectly through its digital healthcare services, Sehat Kahani works with the will to create an all-female health provider network to ensure quality healthcare solutions for communities where health access, quality, and affordability of healthcare are still a dream, using cost-effective ICT enabled solutions. 
In the following interview, Dr Iffat Zafar Aga, a proud Ziauddin alumnus, and co-founder and Chief Development Officer at Sehat Kahani talks about her journey and explains what Sehat Khani is about. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tell us something about yourself. What inspired you to start Sehat Kahani?

I am a doctor, an entrepreneur, and a mother of a little 4-year-old. I graduated from Ziauddin from the 7th batch and we…

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The grandeur of womanhood

The transition from girlhood to womanhood is not just one defined by the turbulence of puberty; it’s bigger and grander than that. It’s the miraculous journey towards a period of self-discovery – the blooming of the seedling into a soft, bright flower with the scent of individuality, bearing its thorns, for thorns are the armours and armours there must be.

Womanhood is upholding the sanctity of humanity and not just women’s rights.

It’s the journey from ‘I, me, myself’  – and pulling other girls down – to empowering other women.

It’s understanding the often misunderstood concept of sacrifices so as to not compromise on her own rights and values as she sacrifices for her family or her nation.

It is appreciating the divine quality of patience well enough to know where the line between patience and injustice lies.

It is recognising the difference between listening and understanding.

You will want to impress a girl, dear reader, but you will be very comfortable being vulnerable in front of the right woman.

A girl will play the blame card. A woman will act responsible.

A girl will make a boy go nuts. A woman will inspire him to greatness.
A girl will want everything on a platter and she may even expect a man to be carrying that platter for her. A woman will know that she’ll have to work hard for things, she’ll have to sacrifice, and she’ll want to do her bit for her man, too.

A girl will look to another for validation. A woman will exude self-confidence.

A girl will want your compliments. A woman will want your love.

Womanhood is the journey from being a friend to becoming a companion.

It is the jump from following examples to setting examples.

It is the acknowledgement that life is not a fairy tale, not a bed of roses, and for a life contentment, and love, you need to be selfless, sincere, hardworking, and truthful.

But most importantly, dear reader, a girl blossoms into a woman when she accepts herself for who she is – scars, strengths, weaknesses – and will love herself for it and will inspire you to do the same.

That, my dear reader, is the difference between a young girl and a soulful woman.




A definitive, visible mark on our respective ennui, this eclipse serves as a fantastic reminder of how our actions cast shadows over our souls, making us a spectacular miracle in the timeline of our lives. All of it sounds pretty fascinating, the process of bearing with the ‘rub’ that is supposed to polish us.
It’s a pretty simple thought – if He can move these massive bodies, then we only have to let loose of our imagination to remind ourselves of what greatness He can lead us to, of what miracles He can spin our lives into.
The moon eclipsing the sun, grief eclipsing joy.
But in the end, everything does come back to its natural order, doesn’t it? That’s such a gorgeous note of the static change of time, and hope, and Divine Love! All the past grief, the anxiety, the fears will set. Eventually. For the Greater Good.
Even eclipses resolve so why not our lives?

Why Sufism? 

Whether you prefer to crawl, sprint, swim, or walk from one place to another, you can enjoy closeup views of Earth’s inexhaustible supply of things to notice. You might see a vein of pink limestone on the wall of a canyon, a ladybug eating an aphid on the stem of a rose, a clamshell poking out of the sand. All you have to do is look. 

– Space Chronicles, Neil degrasse Tyso 

All you have to do is feel.

A hundred thousand years ago and a hundred thousand years later, the human race has, and will struggle with the same fear – the fear of vulnerability, the fear of losing, the fear of betrayal. Hand in hand with that fear, they will protect those close to their heart with a protectiveness that hurts. Like holding a child’s hand while crossing the road, but holding it too tightly.

As flawed humans, as flawed mortals, we are scared of the concept of vulnerability. Because it reminds us of the fact that what we like – what gives us that feeling of security, of being loved, of being…accepted – can be lost. And we don’t want to let go of that, do we? So we build these huge walls around us, these majestic structures that are meant to keep our egos and self-esteems safer, our hearts unscathed.

But know this, let your heart know this: pain, heartbreak – especially in the way of God – is utterly gorgeous. It’s raw beauty! Like after hours of labour, the baby takes its first breath in our world with a shriek that the mother remembers till her last breath.

You know what happens. You feel this huge, gaping hole in your heart, and it feels like your gushing tears won’t stop. Your throat hurts with the effort of holding back those tears, and your eyes are tired. You want to close them for a long, long time. You hide under the blankets, hoping you’d disappear, hoping that those voices, those ugly voices would stop. But this too, shall pass, my dear. And it is this pain that will bring you closer to He Who Created you. Because Who else will you turn to? Another human? Another mortal? A mortal as flawed, as helpless as you? Someone you depended on to take care of your heart? That was your mistake. You’re lucky, He loves you so much, that He wants to give you THE best. And He wants YOU. What a grand, grand honour! This pain that you think is breaking you – this pain because you are trying to not cheat on your Lord and to do what He wishes you to do because that really is your armour – is worth it then, isn’t it? Isn’t it? This pain will make you turn to Him and Him alone and then, finally, slowly, the chaos will end. Peace will descend within you, around you. But peace will descend. That is not my promise, that is HIS promise.

Everything is a manifestation of this Greater Force that has the remote control of our lives – running into an old friend in a park, the funny video you come across when you are in a bad mood, the apple pie that you ate today, you not getting that nondescript little vial of ‘Heart Note’ a lifetime ago, me writing this and you reading this. It’s always a lesson, always a win-win. If not this, then what? Then something even better, because my knowledge is limited, my intellect is incomplete, my wisdom is questionable, my judgement is flawed, but not His; not of the mystery that is God, not of the One who created us so we could discover His beauty and then fall hopelessly in Love with Him.

Someone (may you stay blessed and in peace, always) once told me – and that won me, the beauty and the innocence and spirituality of those words – that “Sufism is being bros with God”. It’s really that, isn’t it? Being best friends with your Creator, sharing your joys and sorrows with Him, turning to Him when in need, making His people smile and helping ease their distress and never hurting them because after all, when you love someone, that’s what you do – you take care of everyone who is theirs – and discovering His world,  and contemplating over the mysteries of the Universe, and wondering how many galaxies are yet to be named,  and how many biological discoveries are yet to be made,  and how many Renaissance men and women are yet to be born, and believing in “Recite in the name of your Lord who created – Created man from a clinging substance. Recite, and your Lord is the most Generous – Who taught by the pen – Taught man that which he knew not.” (Surah Al – Alaq, The Clot)

Why do certain things happen? Why do hurricanes come and go, taking away the memories that were desires? Because they were meant to end our era of blindfolded trust and adjust our lenses so that we can see the real beauty – the rose that seems so beautiful to the world will prick my fingers if I try to hold it and keep it with me, but the water lily will float gracefully in my pond, peacefully.

How often do the tangible invisible chains of class and responsibility suffocate you, you who is reading this at this very moment? How often do you feel like a stranger amongst the crowd of people you love? How often does the crippling loneliness overwhelm you? How often do you wish to let go of everything and do nothing but lose yourself in the oceans of ilm and tasawaff and dreams yet to be dreams? How often? Very often. Frequently. Because you are indeed, a traveller in this world. Because this world really is just a resting place for the Curious Souls seeking knowledge – seeking Him – seeking the secret to immortality, without ever realising that this immortality will come after the end of our journey in this world. That is why, O’ mortal, you feel lost in your own body. And that is tremendously good because it means you really are His beloved and your real home is There.

This present cacophony that you hear, maybe you hear it, but you can’t seem to discern the notes behind it. Maybe this is the way out? Maybe you are not paying attention to your rubatosis – the awareness of your heartbeat – the way you are meant to.

The way out is right in front of you. It’s very practical, mind you. And hidden beneath that practicality, is a spirituality waiting only for you.

Once in your lifetime, you will meet this one person who will teach you everything that you need to know about life. And you will then know the meaning of life. And then, when you have trustingly let down those majestic structures that we earlier spoke of, you will discover, neigh, you will see how those who resent loneliness, will gift you the same. You will know then how easy it is to leave your mark everywhere – in the folded pages of your favourite book, in the words of your favourite poetry, even in a stranger’s kindness – and you will also know that unknown to thyself, you may have done the same. What then, what now, you will ask yourself.
That’s it, nothing, except that you try to pass the test.
Because “Kis qadr purkayf hai Teri mohabbat , Yaa Rabb!
(Your love is so delightful, My Lord!)
Naa bewafai ka khadsha, naa judai ka khof!
(There is no danger of unfaithfulness, nor any fear of separation.)”

And that, dear reader, is why Sufism.