The night of #15Shabaan has never been an ordinary night for a Muslim teenager. For some of us in Karachi, it is almost like Eid — new clothes, cakes and presents. For others, it is about food and sweetmeats. For almost everyone, it is about prayers and astaghfaar. For me, however, it was about firecrackers and patakhay for many many years.
Growing up in Karachi, Shab e Barat was one of those few traditions that continued to connect us with the longing of AJTFS throughout the year despite it just being a one-day event.
It is celebrated every year on the night of 15th of Shabaan (neema Shabaan = Middle of Shabaan) with much fanfare, prayer, and nazars. For me, what started with firecrackers and food during my teenage years turned into a deeply spiritual practice over the years. It is customary among many Muslims to pen a letter of love and dedication to Imam-e-Zamana (a.s.) during the night of the 15th. This letter is called “Areeza” meaning “Request”.
As kids, we loved writing and submitting an Areeza. I can’t be sure about how Areezas are submitted elsewhere. In my family, in Karachi, we’d get a few blank Areezas from the mosque and then complete them using a qalam — a type of pen made from a cut, dried reed, used for Islamic calligraphy. The qalam would be dipped in an ink made from saffron and itr (non alcoholic scent), and then we’d write our requests, dreams, aspirations, and profess our love for the Imam e Waqt. It would be an intensely personal moment and an opportunity to share our inner most desires and fears. Once completed, these could be delivered to any tributary — a river, lake or the sea. I always felt the longing and the belief took precedence over the process and the tools, so I’ve tried to write Areeza’s throughout the year instead of just Shabaan.
10–15 years ago growing up in Nazimabad, we had only a few options. We could either go to our local mosque Noor Ul Emaan where they’d have paper Areezas for us to submit. And then the mosque volunteers would deliver these completed Areezas to Naity Jaity (Native’s Jetty). The second option was to write an Areeza at home and then go to Naity Jaity ourselves. Now this second option was much fascinating for the youth as it likely involved a road trip!
I have to admit, during my teenage years, my fascination for the day and what followed was more superfluous than spiritual. I remember the day starting with fasting and helping my mother with groceries. There would be an elaborate nazar later in the day so we all looked forward to the kabab, halva and the puriz. We’d make portions of the nazar and take to the graveyard. After offering Fateha for the grandparents and other relatives, we’d distribute the nazar amongst the custodians. Back at home, we would break our fasts, and perform amaal for the day. The lucky ones got to sneak out and celebrate with firecrackers and patakhay.
In our particular home, we had a mix of Lucknow and Karachi traditions. After the evening Nazar, we’d start our amaal and stay up for the whole night. After midnight, we complete the amaal and start writing our Areezas. My mother would make dough balls for us to bury our Areezas in. I remember she telling me the reason why we use dough balls was because the fish from the Naity Jaity would carry the Areezas off to AJTFS. The place used to be packed — people from all walks of life, vendors and small groups from all over.
Everyone converging on this auspicious night to share their deepest desires, aspirations and fears with the Imam e Waqt (a.s). It would be a surreal moment to reckon with. In my family, we were always to spend the night in Ibadaat rather than being swept in the culture of firecrackers that seemed to have taken root. I remember stopping on our way back at Saabri Nihari Saddar and having Nihari early morning just as crimson would start to engulf the horizon.
There is much debate today about the necessity of faith and religion. No matter which lens you view Shab e Baraat through, it is a testament that one’s belief is at the core of our individual survival. All of us, many of us, while we may speak different languages, follow different religions, we are almost always, expressing the same faith in a power beyond us.
And whether we believe in this or not, we acknowledge deep down, that there are things beyond your control.
And that is what binds us all together.#EidMubarak