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Convenience to Conviction: A Young Ismaili Gives up Alcohol

Editors’ Note: Though authored anonymously for obvious reasons, we have verified the story as true and authentic — save for a few minor details to protect the author’s identity — and it is our pleasure to publish this moving account of this individual’s decade long experience with casual drinking and, more importantly, how her faith provided her the guidelines by which she was able to redeem herself. But there are two stories of courage here, one less obvious. The second is of the author’s friend, N, who had the courage to talk to her without fear of being criticised for doing so. In fact, had it not been for N’s courage and true friendship, there would be no story to tell.

I remember the first time I learned that there were some Ismailis who drink alcohol.

It was my first month at university. I had met a new group of Ismaili friends who just understood me in a way my other school friends couldn’t. We joked about nandi, had serious discussions about who’s sukreet was best, jibed about that strange man in jamatkhana who sang off-key, loudly. We attended religious services together and socialised afterwards, getting course recommendations from older students and even advice on parking! Being from the same religious community and having the same cultural background, we had a shared experience I had never felt before. We had just met but it felt like the comfort and familiarity of being with family.

My parents had always told me that alcohol was not allowed in Islam and that Mawlana Hazar Imam had explicitly disallowed it.

The first time I went with them to a nightclub it seemed as though every Ismaili I knew from university was there. My closest friends didn’t drink but I remember two others sneaking off and returning with a drink each. Discussing it somehow seemed taboo. Then another group of Ismailis appeared, but something was off. They were acting very strangely. “They’re so drunk” someone laughed. So, I thought: this is what drunk people are like? It was the first time I had seen anything like it and I felt confusion in the pit of my stomach.

My parents had always told me that alcohol was not allowed in Islam and that Mawlana Hazar Imam had explicitly disallowed it. They were clear: Ismailis do not drink.

But here they were, Ismailis drinking. And not just drinking, but drunk. What I was seeing with my own eyes did not fit into what I was told, so what was going on here? It felt like I was in a menagerie. As though a dog had suddenly asked me where the bathroom was.

However, in time, after more and regular visits to clubs and parties, initial shock gave way to bewildered familiarity and finally succumbed to tired acceptance. In fact it seemed more Ismailis drank than didn’t. This was the “new normal” and a quote from one of Hazar Imam’s oldest speeches popped into my mind:

I have observed in the Western world a deeply changing pattern of human relations. The anchors of moral behaviour appear to have dragged to such depths that they no longer hold firm the ship of life: what was once wrong is now simply unconventional, and for the sake of individual freedom must be tolerated. What is tolerated soon becomes accepted. Contrarily, what was once right is now viewed as outdated, old fashioned and is often the target of ridicule.

Mawlana Hazar Imam
Presidential Address, International Seerat Conference (Karachi, Pakistan), 12 March 1976

That I accepted it, doesn’t mean I didn’t question it. And so I did. I questioned my drinking Ismaili friends and found three general camps. The first said “I know it’s bad but I’m doing it anyways – it’s my personal choice.” The second, “I haven’t seen any current farman recently condemning alcohol specifically in moderation or small amounts.” While the third claimed “our tariqah is not about dogma but about intellect which we are free to use to make our personal choices” –- but then also feels using substances that harm that same intellect is OK too.

The silent, insidious pressure was relentless and eventually I succumbed.

Invariably, the conversations turned bitter — as they felt I was judging them — and I finally decided to just live and let live. I was content with my choice and the majority of my friends didn’t drink, so there was little pressure on me to do so. Occasionally I would be offered — even by Ismaili men I dated — a sip of some cocktail, but I was never very seriously tempted. In retrospect, I realise now how much of that strength came from my support network of Ismailis who didn’t drink and how losing that would affect me, as it soon did.

~~ ~~

Several years later, after graduation, I had the opportunity to move to another city and the only home I knew. My new city had a small jamat from which I formed a new network friends. This time, however, of young professionals rather than students. My new family. But this family drank alcohol openly. So openly that it felt as if we only met at wine bars and that brunch always started with a drink order.

The alcohol was everywhere. Wine at office Christmas parties. Beer at friend’s barbecues. “Pre-gaming” before a night-out. Drinks and happy hour specials after work. Shots at birthday parties. I was surrounded. Cornered. Every second question was: “what drink do you want?” There was no safe space.

The silent, insidious pressure was relentless and eventually I succumbed. I can’t remember when it happened. Was it when I saw shots set on fire? Or was it the constant question why I didn’t drink? Was it when my friend told me that I had been rejected by a cute boy because I was “too conservative?” Or was it just inevitable? Unavoidable? However it happened, doubt slowly battered at the wall of my values and I started to question myself.

Considering its pervasiveness across the community, if alcohol had been condemned so specifically, surely I would have heard those farmans at least once in the previous 20 years, wouldn’t I have?

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I had been brought up to reject alcohol outright. But now I started to wonder about exactly why. All my Ismaili friends’ justifications for drinking started to make a lot of sense and, bit by bit, chipped away at the values I was raised by. It dawned on me that in twenty-something years of regular jamatkhana attendance, twelve years of Bayt-ul-Ilm, one year of Talim ul-Islam, Ismaili youth camps, countless jamati seminars, waezes, several Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) books, conversations with jamati leaders, and more I had never heard any explicit guidance against alcohol from Mawlana Hazar Imam himself. Instead, I realised, I had just taken my parents’ word for it and eventually concluded that the Imam must not have given any explicit guidance on the subject. Where was the evidence to the contrary? Finally, I confided my doubts to my room-mate and best friend Z. That evening she bought me my first cocktail: a cosmopolitan.

Now it was my turn to start the justifications. My first was this:

God’s creation is vast and complex and alcohol is a part of it. If we truly want to experience God’s creation, fully, then alcohol is a part — a huge part — of human life. Everyone does it! Our faith is not a dogmatic one. Unlike other faith traditions, our Imam gives us guidance and then expects us to rely heavily on our intellects and make wise judgements for ourselves and he trusts our judgement.

He has made certain statements about social habits — but that doesn’t mean they apply to everyone, all the time. Perhaps only to those who could become alcoholics and destroy their families. Or perhaps he’s referring to drugs like cocaine and heroin. Because, after all, I’ve never actually heard the word “alcohol” used in any farman and I’ve certainly never heard a farman condemning drinking in moderation. Considering its pervasiveness across the community, if alcohol had been condemned so specifically, surely I would have heard those farmans at least once in the previous 20 years, wouldn’t I have?

So what’s the harm if you try it maturely, in moderation, after a certain age and education? Besides, when did one drink affect or hurt you? A lot of things are bad for your health: samosas, French fries, not exercising, and excessive television. Besides, we’re told a glass of wine a day is actually good for your heart (although this conveniently ignores all the research proving that even small amounts of alcohol permanently damage brain cells).

It all sounds so convincing, even today.

Not only did I say this to my friends, but I also made this argument to a young cousin. Then I bought her, her first drink.

Two days after my first drink with Z, she introduced me to three different kinds of wine. And we got drunk. So much for moderation.

~~ ~~

For many years after I found little to move me from my newfound position, mired as it was in logical and factual inconsistencies. None of my Ismaili friends — whether or not they drank — questioned my behaviour nor how I reconciled my occasional drinking with my deep and abiding love for the Imam I had sworn my allegiance to. I remember getting tipsy early one morning and then heading off to jamatkhana soon afterwards. I saw no contradiction that jamatkhana had become the rendezvous where we decided where to go for a drink. At sports-fests, ski trips and camps drunk friends who had to be carried was not uncommon. I held the hair up of more than one drunk friend while they vomited alcohol-smelling puke into the toilet. When my cousin visited me, I took her to the club with all my Ismaili friends and we got raucously drunk — she joked that she never got so drunk as when she was with me. At the time, the thought made me proud.

I saw no contradiction that jamatkhana had become the rendezvous where we decided where to go for a drink.

Image: http://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/two-women-sitting-at-a-bar-1902 (per wikiart.org fair use explanations)

The vast majority of my drinking days were a casual glass of wine with a meal and with friends, but I’d be lying if I told you that all my alcohol consumption was in moderation. And now, when I think back to my drinking moments, I remember a lot of laughs but also doing a lot of stupid things. I remember tipsy texting and drunk dialling people and apologising for it after. I remember saying mean things that just slipped out. I remember throwing up in a posh hotel’s lobby and then promptly asked to leave. I remember being so drunk I lost my purse. I remember grilling a non-drinking Ismaili for not drinking, demanding to know why she didn’t drink. And then I dumped her as a friend afterwards. Perhaps because I didn’t like how I felt around her. I remember kissing more than one someone I should not have kissed. I remember trying a cigarette and marijuana because it seemed fun at the time. I remember my friends telling me the next day that they had stopped me from going into an alley with two strange men – I don’t even remember doing that. One memory in particular sticks out: my friend had dropped me home, where I met a neighbour in the building’s lobby. He was just moving in and offered to show me his brand new apartment, to which I happily agreed. Eventually, while in this stranger’s apartment, a part of my drunken mind woke up and told me to get out. I did but it wasn’t easy. Today I shudder at what might have happened.

~~ ~~

During this senseless journey, there were moments when a mirror was held up to my soul and I questioned if what I was doing was right. They were seldom but poignant.

I’ve been told that, at didar, Mawlana Hazar Imam looks into the face of every single murid, their souls laid bare to him. In 2005 I felt the Imam looked into my soul and felt so much love that I walked on clouds for weeks afterwards, filled with the glow of that affection. Just three years later, during the Golden Jubilee didar, my experience was very different. This time when he looked into my eyes, I felt his disappointment. And I knew why.

~~ ~~

She said there were many farmans where Mawlana Hazar Imam had explicitly condemned any amount of alcohol consumption…. I was immediately confronted with an unequivocal declaration by Hazar Imam that “alcohol is forbidden.”

Years later an old friend, N, from my home town, and I were engaged in a long conversation. Eventually it turned to alcohol and as if on cue, I delved into my now well-rehearsed justifications. And, as always when these conversations arise, I asked her why she didn’t drink. She said there were many farmans where Mawlana Hazar Imam had explicitly condemned any amount of alcohol consumption. I had heard this all before and had yet to see these so called farmans. I asked her to prove it. She asked me, “are you truly ready to see them?” I assured her that I was. I was sure that it would be a repeat of the old farmans I had already heard about not engaging in “social evils” (in my mind, hard drugs) and negative social behaviour and on the health deficits of alcoholism. She led me to a website called Ismaili Gnosis and to this article, here, summarising the Imamat’s — not just the Hazar Imam’s but the entire Imamat’s — position and guidance on alcohol.

Stunned or even life-changing would be understatements. What I read was nothing at all like what I had anticipated.

I was immediately confronted with an unequivocal declaration by Hazar Imam that “alcohol is forbidden.” He even explained why:

Our belief is that the thing which separates man from the animals is his power of thought. Anything that impedes this process is wrong. Therefore alcohol is forbidden.

Mawlana Hazar Imam
The Sunday Times Interview, Part I, Nicholas Tomalin (London, United Kingdom), 12 December 1965

From my experience of casual drinking I didn’t think that drinking in moderation had much of a significant impact on the power of thought – especially relative to my more inebriated moments. Nevertheless, while the Imam seemed to have explicitly forbidden alcohol, I decided, reflexively, that because his remark was made in an interview and not a farman, I could safely ignore it for now.

I joked, uncomfortably, that it sounded kind of harsh. More like the strict tone one takes with children still learning. I knew I was educated and mature enough to find my own limit.

Feeling safe I could ignore the interviews, I skipped them and focused on the paraphrased farmans. Dates and locations were provided so you could verify them, which I did.

First I read our previous Imam, Mawlana Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah, call alcohol “the greatest of all sins,” even worse than “killing a believer.” Wow! I physically recoiled back from the page. I was conflicted and my discomfort grew. I scrambled to reconcile my respect for the greater judgement of the Imams with my own belief that alcohol in moderation wasn’t so bad. For the first time, I found my opinion in direct conflict with the guidance of the Imamat. Certainly it’s easy to follow guidance if it’s what you already believe and do but what about when it’s not. When you’d rather do something else. Wasn’t ignorance bliss?

I had now come face to face with the very foundation of our faith: Why have a divinely appointed Guide if you’re not going to follow his guidance when it differs from your desires and opinions? After all you can’t know everything so must have some wrong opinions. Also, here, the Imam was not concerned about the health benefits or social ills of alcohol, he was calling it a “sin” and I had to admit that the Imam’s insight into what is and isn’t a sin is obviously greater than mine. He even said that the true believer (mu’min) does not drink alcohol – and spoke about suffering in the world hereafter.

First I read our previous Imam, Mawlana Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah, call alcohol “the greatest of all sins,” even worse than “killing a believer.”

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/macroeye/5732969067/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Anxiety was growing exponentially. My heart was racing. I have to admit that if I hadn’t reassured N I could read it and if she wasn’t sitting next to me, I would have walked away and deleted the page. But she was right there, sitting next to me, and so I kept reading.

Another farman of Mawlana Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah followed. This time, 60 years later, he called alcohol the “enemy” which “approaches you as a friend.” Then he talked about the health problems of alcohol, that it is a “poison” for the body and I relaxed, a little. Of course I know it was unhealthy, but then so are French-fries. However, the Imam’s unerring foresight anticipated my loophole and said alcohol will not just harm your body but will “kill your soul.” My heart sank. So much for the French-fry-escape.

Again I wanted to stop reading. Holding my hand, N encouraged me to keep going. And so I did.

Another farman of Mawlana Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah. Tears started to flow freely as I read the bold passages. The Imam warned the jamat would actually “gradually lose faith” in him and his guidance because the Imam “always” tells us “not to drink alcohol.” I cannot tell you the depth of my despair here. I cannot tell you the depths of my guilt and shame. I am an Ismaili Muslim. I am a believer. I have acknowledged that he is the bearer of the Nur and the holder of divine authority to whom I have given my bay‘ah, promising to follow his guidance. I’ve grown up surrounded by pictures, love and guidance of the Imam and for me, as it is for all murids, the Imam’s word is Truth and must be obeyed. No ands, ifs, or buts. His words cannot be taken lightly. To think that I ignored them and instead searched for loopholes so I could do whatever I wanted in spite of his loving and constant guidance, shamed and hurt me more than I can say. And it was going to get worse.

In the next farman, the Imam said his heart is “overtaken by grief” and that he is “filled with tears” when he sees his murids drinking. These are our Imams. The same Imams who tell us that the are “always with [us]” and that they “love [us] more than [we] can love” them. The same Imams who — despite being Harvard educated Olympians, or founders of the world renowned Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), or decorated with state honours the world over — say the only thing of real significance in their lives is serving the Jamat. I could not even imagine how much I had hurt them and started bawling uncontrollably.

In the next farman, the Imam said his heart is “overtaken by grief” and that he is “filled with tears” when he sees his murids drinking.

The Imam’s words made it obvious that alcohol is far more than just a health or financial issue.

If I was under the impression that the guidance on alcohol ended after the passing of Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, I was mistaken because more farmans by our current Imam followed. In one he said he gave his guidance only because of his love for the Jamat and that he knew that certain members of the Jamat were indulging in drinking and said, simply, to just “stop it.” This was stated unequivocally, in no uncertain terms. No wiggle room for moderation. No loopholes allowed, full stop.

More farmans from Hazar Imam followed as he called drinking as stupid as “cut(ting) off your right hand.” Reading words like this from our otherwise mild-mannered Imam was very striking, eye opening, and I was cut to the core. He even said: “I condemn drinking” and later called it “a sin against Islam.” Islam. All of it.

Half way through the article I broke.

My parents came from East Africa, when in the 70’s, Idi Amin expelled South Asians from their countries. It was Hazar Imam that saved them and brought them to the West. My privileged existence is a direct result of that intervention of my Imam. And he continues to work tirelessly for our benefit. I was raised with a firm appreciation of the gratitude we owe our Imam and with the understanding that Shi’a Islam is predicated on the fact that Prophet Muhammad’s guidance (peace be upon him and his progeny) continues until the end of time, in a direct line of descendants from Imam Ali.

[Hazar Imam] even said: “I condemn drinking” and later called it “a sin against Islam.” Islam. All of it.

As I read the words, it was clear that from 1957 until 1997, Hazar Imam consistently referred to “alcohol” and “drinking” and told the Jamat in unequivocal terms to abstain and stay away from them, frequently calling alcohol a “social evil.” I noticed that today he no longer uses the word alcohol, explicitly, but that the context established by all the previous farmans, where he calls alcohol evil, makes it obvious what he is referring to in his more recent farmans when he speaks of “social evils.” How could I pretend that I didn’t know what social evils he was referring to? There was no doubt. Who was I trying to fool?

Then N showed me a 1987 farman made in Portugal where Hazar Imam simply said that “you are much too intelligent to waste my time going into details. But I think you all know what I mean by these comments.”

My shame was now total and complete. It was true. I really did know what he meant by “social habits” but I had tried to pretend I didn’t know, throwing up a Swiss-cheese veil of silly justifications to hide behind.

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sethoscope/6131853103/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

And that was when I quit.

From my early twenties to my early thirties I indulged in drinking alcohol (mostly in moderation) and I now freely admit it was all wrong, it was sinful, and I pray that I have the strength to continue to keep myself from going back. But if you think that, after my epiphany, it has been easy to abstain, you have a higher impression than I deserve.

It hasn’t been easy.

I go to parties — with and without Ismailis — where alcohol is free flowing. Parties where more Ismailis than non-Ismailis question me why I don’t drink. I have “friends” who now avoid me. I’ve been to open-bar, Ismaili weddings. Once, I was at a bar with Ismailis and one drunk gentleman threw ice chips at me trying to guilt trip me into just having “just one sip.” At that same bar, another older Ismaili gentleman in his fifties tried to convince me that Mawlana Hazar Imam is “just another average man like us” and therefore his guidance is meaningless. Talking to him, Imam Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah’s prediction about the jamat “gradually los[ing] faith” in him because of his warnings against alcohol really hit home. And sometimes it’s me – sometimes I just miss it: I miss the buzz and the feeling of happy brainlessness.

Now when I hear the arguments — all the same ones I used to make, I cringe. Yes, our faith is not dogmatic, and, yes, some issues are not black and white. But many values are. If our faith is “to each their own,” then why have an Imam at all? Our faith is not a buffet, where you pick and choose to follow the guidance that suits you. Sure you can do that if you want because there is no compulsion, but then that is why we have free will — not to choose what suits us, but to demonstrate the courage and conviction to do what is right. To do what the Imam instructs us.

Our faith is not a buffet, where you pick and choose to follow the guidance that suits you.

I’ve also heard an elitist argument that claims that the Imam’s guidance against alcohol actually only applies to the weak, young and the foolish but not to those enlightened few (by which they mean educated Westerners) who use their intellect to know that they can actually handle alcohol in moderation. This is a wild conjecture based on nothing more than a self-serving assumption. Notwithstanding it completely ignores the Imam’s statements about the impact of alcohol on the soul and the intellect. How their souls are miraculously immune to the damaging impact of alcohol is never explained. If even small amounts of alcohol have a negative impact on your intellect, how can you claim to use your intellect in this arena? Now I just roll my eyes when I hear this excuse. Right, I get it you’re special.

Ultimately it comes down to this: Is this a faith of conviction or is it one of convenience? If it is a faith of conviction — as Mawlana Hazar Imam has said it is, then reflect on the Imam’s black and white statements and search your soul. Once the Prophet was asked what was sin. He simply replied ignoring your conscience.

As I mentioned, I checked all the farmans that were paraphrased and they were even more damning than the article had hinted. Such strong, clear, unequivocal words that I never heard read in jamatkhana. Never read in all my years of religious classes. Never heard in a waez. Never mentioned in youth camps I attended. It was as if they never existed — just as I very mistakenly thought and I’m sure hundreds, if not thousands, of my generation and younger still think, because they are never read. Anywhere.

I showed the article to my cousin — the one whom I got started drinking. I’m still hoping she will eventually come to the same decision I did. It haunts me to know that she and others may never have started if not for my example and encouragement.

You may be surprised to hear that my parents still don’t know that I ever drank alcohol. They still think that I’m their perfectly obedient Ismaili daughter. So, to all you parents out there, don’t think this isn’t your problem.

My parents had said there were clear farmans against drinking and alcohol. I just never believed it because no one ever produced them, but they were right all along. You may be surprised to hear that my parents still don’t know that I ever drank alcohol. They still think that I’m their perfectly obedient Ismaili daughter. So, to all you parents out there, don’t think this isn’t your problem.

Even though I wish I could go back in time and change my former behaviour, I now pray to be forgiven and hope that my story helps others realise that they’re not alone.

I know that there is a lot of pressure out there (some of it is my fault and I’m very sorry) — but it is never too late to listen to the Imam’s guidance and make a change. Last year, at Brown University, Mawlana Hazar Imam said “everybody makes mistakes. Never regret them, but correct them.”

Credits

Article: Anonymous, verified.

Image: Wine glass, https://www.flickr.com/photos/coolpersonrobert/2468779790/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image: Sunrise, https://www.flickr.com/photos/sethoscope/6131853103/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image: Silhouette, https://www.flickr.com/photos/macroeye/5732969067/ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image: Wall, Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gravlax/3840042401/ (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Image: Picasso, http://www.wikiart.org/en/pablo-picasso/two-women-sitting-at-a-bar-1902 (per wikiart.org fair use explanations)

Further reading

The Ismaili Imamat’s Guidance against Drinking Alcohol ~ Ismaili Gnosis

25 thoughts on “Convenience to Conviction: A Young Ismaili Gives up Alcohol

  1. Beautifully written. After reading this, I hope people can relate to it and find one or other reason from this article to help themselves or even help others who need a helping hand. Proud of you.

  2. Mashallah! Very good article. Special thanks to the author who has heartily shared her story with the public. May Allah amplify her and other murids’ iman and love for our Imam not to again and ever fall prey to such a disastrous habit. Ya Ali Madad!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I can relate to you in many ways. I believe that knowledge and insight comes to us when we are ready, and after reading your story, I do feel that maybe I am ready to look into my own soul and confront the demons I’ve been allowing to exist unchecked for so long. Although you’ve helped people choose to drink by setting an example, also know that your courage in sharing these words have helped others choose to stop, as well.

  4. Don’t fall into peer pressure! Listen to your conscience it will always guide you in right direction. Hats off to her courage.

  5. I was drinking red wine only, as it was said in there are France not too many deaths from heart disease. But now reading your article, I promise to behave. Born-again Ismaili. 🙂

  6. Wow. I’m filled with a mix of feelings. You touched on so many points that are long familiar to me and to many. Reading through them is both a deep relief, but also scary. I mean, what have we become?? And why?? Perhaps, so that we can rise up out of it, and enjoy that glory. I know the road ahead will be tough at times, but filled with many priceless moments — priceless. Nothing is regrettable, only correctable. How merciful is that.

  7. It’s a right time to share your experience with the new generation of Ismailis. Many thanks for your down to earth behavior. Mowla bless you.
    Parmar. YAM

  8. Thanks for sharing. I am a mother of two young men and I have often suggested that they look for partners who abstain from alcohol and the response I received was that its’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Isn’t that sad? Fortunately, one of them is dating a girl who doesn’t drink alcohol and am hopeful that the other son will find someone who shares our values and has a similar upbringing as our boys.

  9. Thank you for sharing your great article. I was never a drinker growing up and will occasionally have a drink in a social environment – but the truth is, I still don’t feel comfortable – almost like I am doing something wrong. After reading your article, I now commit to not ever drinking again. There is so much more in life to enjoy then a casual drink here and there – I never knew firmans existed that forbid drinking – thank you for enlightening me. My challenge is to teach my children to stay away from alcohol as my husband drinks and will challenge me on this. I’m up for the discussions though..

  10. If it wasn’t for you, this would still be taboo. If it wasn’t for you, there’d be countless who wouldn’t move from convenience to conviction. They say that the Divine is always expressing Himself through those that are in tune. Today, you’ve become enshrined as that expression of Divine guidance. Bravo. Shukar.

  11. Hey I meant to message you a couple of days ago when I read Convenience to Conviction. Thank you so much for sharing it. I don’t know why but as I read through it my stomach was in knots and there were tears in my eyes. I felt so sad. I felt so sorry for this girl — it was like her innocence was taken away, you know? But then as she comes around, I felt so much pride.

    Thank you for the amazing work that you are doing.

    Please convey my feedback to her. I would greatly appreciate that. I agree people do not want to talk about it or, if they do, they want to go around the issue or make it seem like it’s such a gray area when it’s really just black and white. This definitely got the conversation started and the next time someone picks up a drink and even has a second thought you know change is being made. Thanks again!

  12. You’re a blessed person to regain Iman, also to have your friend, N. Hope your story inspires others and further strengthens our community.

  13. Every one gets an opportunity to change for the better and, as such, these messages we receive regularly but, as we are surrounded by worldly goodies, we tend to forget to mend our ways and those who do are truly blessed.

  14. You are very blessed to have had the light of our beloved Imam touch you. You are one of the lucky ones. I must say I am very proud of you.

  15. If you want facts about alcohol, which increases the risk of taking other drugs, then read Joseph A. Califano’s “High Society”. Califano was the US Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and associated with Columbia University. The alcohol “molecule” is insidious and penetrates every other molecule by changing the DNA of future generations. Many illnesses are associated with alcohol and it is a deadly combination with non-communicable diseases. How many murders, rapes and other violence against women are associated with alcohol? Leaving aside the health and social ills, alcohol kills the soul and robs it of spiritual enlightenment.

  16. Very well articulated!

    I have lived my life with “old-fashioned values” inherited from my parents and their strong faith. I have paid a heavy price to maintain my values in this society. So have my children who are now young professionals.

    It is not easy to navigate through life without judging others, especially when you see this behaviour prevalent in our families, jamat and even in our leadership. You are the outcast. But I have learned over time that the strength of your faith will always gravitate you back onto the right path.

    Thank you for confirming and validating my values, albeit old-fashioned.

  17. The Quran is clear about NOT drinking alcohol and our beloved Imam interprets the Quran for us, Ismailis. Bravo to this girl who was inspired to use her intellect and was guided throughout her journey. “Allah guides those whom He wills” (Quran, 28:56)

  18. It is a beautifully written story. I congratulate the author and everyone who is able to stop doing what one ought not to do. However, the article also raises a very important point to the Ismaili leaders in jamatkhanas, Bait al-Ilm programmes, Waeezeen classes and Wazees in and outside jamatkhana to re-read the previous and present Imam’s farmans about alcohol. Had she heard these farmans during 20 years of her life, she would certainly be able, or at least be equipped with one more intellectual tool and a much stronger conviction for faith, to confront and reject drinking alcohol in her early twenties. So there is no reason not to re-read these farmans now, when the younger generation timely need them.

    Yahia Baiza

  19. Kudos to the young lady who wrote this article, she wore her heart on her sleeve and was brutally honest, she pulled no punches … straight from the heart, wonderfully articulated. I can personally relate to this article on several levels.

    I had a bag full of tricks and justifications on why it’s okay to be an occasional drinker. Ignorance was indeed bliss. In a farman, the Imam said his heart is “overtaken by grief” and that he is “filled with tears” when he sees his murids drinking. The Imam’s words made it obvious that alcohol is far more than just a health or financial issue.

    I have read this article and the links provided several times and each time it has reduced me to tears. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your personal story, it has made *all* the difference to me. I couldn’t possibly drink after reading this article, so in a nutshell … “I don’t drink alcohol any more.”

    Our faith is esoteric, hence we are expected to share knowledge, wisdom and inspirations. Once again thank you so much to the author of this article and to The Essential Ismaili for sharing this with us.

    “Every individual is expected to use his intellect, his knowledge, to help him understand his faith — at least that is the way we interpret the faith.”
    Imam Shah Karim Al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
    (Sociedade das Nacoes Interview 21 July 2008; http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/8856/)

    Nashir Hasham

  20. This is a courageous blog post.

    I have never understood the pervasive habit of drinking amongst many young and middle-aged Ismailis in the first place. For Muslims, this should not be an issue in the first place and the fact that it is, is very troublesome. Shouldn’t this widespread drinking amongst Ismaili youth be questionable?

  21. One thing, I think people don’t always realise, is any instruction from the very first Prophet to any revealed Scriptures to the current Imam’s guidance, will always be consistent with each other because the source is the same. There has never been, nor ever will be, anyone with more knowledge than them.

  22. It brings tears to my eyes as well when I see Ismailis who drink alcohol. As a college student, I always wondered how I could help to stop this problem. Every year, I see more college students indulging in this bad habit. I truly hope more people will read your inspirational story and learn from your mistake.

  23. “A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.” -Roy H. Williams

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