Help! I Don’t Remember Who I am!

Vol 5 - Issue 1  Help Who i amSeven years back at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, as I was heading towards the immigration, a young oriental girl approached me hesitantly and asked: “Excuse me, can you help me? You see, I have two bottles of liquor with me and I believe they only permit one per non-Muslim passenger. Can you carry the second bottle for me through customs?” I blinked at her silently and finally found my voice: “I am sorry but I can’t do that. I am a Muslim.”

Another year I travelled to Singapore for a conference. At our official dinners, they served pork and liquor. Naturally, I didn’t partake of it. The rest of my colleagues were non-Muslims, so they enjoyed it. However, they were surprised to learn that I was a Muslim.

Some years later during a shopping spree in Dubai, I was preparing for Salaah, but as I approached the ladies prayer area, a woman asked me suspiciously: “Are you a Muslim?” I stammered: “Y… yes, why are you asking?” She didn’t comment. But her look said: “If I hadn’t found you in this prayer area, I wouldn’t have ever known.”

I was beginning to feel very disturbed that I was not being identified as a Muslim. What was it that I was doing wrong? Slowly the answers started emerging. And at first I didn’t like them at all.

To me there wasn’t much of a difference between a believer’s lifestyle and a disbeliever’s life pattern. In fact, I was closer to their culture than my own. I spoke their language, dressed like them, watched their films, listened to their music, read their books and magazines and enjoyed their shows. I was thinking and behaving like them.

I knew much about the first president of the USA but vaguely anything about our first Caliph. I slept through Eid but never failed to celebrate the Christmas and the New Year with my Muslim as well as non-Muslim friends.

I knew, how many girlfriends my favourite film star had dumped, but didn’t know any of the Azwaj-e-Mutaharat (our Prophet’s (sa) wives). I was proud to know, what my favourite pop singer had for breakfast, but had hardly any idea of what our Prophet’s (sa) favourite cuisine had been.

I was one of the all-encompassing Muslims, for whom it was enough to state ‘Islam’ as their religion, when asked in some official document. It wasn’t important to look like a Muslim, think like a Muslim or even behave like one. I had gotten by so far by avoiding alcohol and pork. Wasn’t that enough?

But then one day I read: “O you who believe! If you obey those who disbelieve, they will send you back on your heels, and you will turn back (from faith) as losers.” (Al-Imran 4:149)

 

This Ayat was supported by Allah’s Messenger’s (sa) Hadeeth: “Anybody (from among the Muslims) who meets, gathers together, lives and stays (permanently) with a Mushrik (polytheist or disbeliever in the Oneness of Allah) and agrees to his ways, opinions and (enjoys) his living with him (Mushrik), then he (that Muslim) is like him (Mushrik).” (Abu Dawood)

No matter how bad a Muslim I had been, I knew well enough, where the Mushriks, or disbelievers, were heading after their death, and I didn’t want to go there with them. Besides, if I followed them blindly, who would pull them out of their disbelief and save them from the Hellfire?

That’s when it dawned on me that I am not just a Muslim to save myself. I have been sent to this world with a mission to save those, who don’t understand Allah’s (swt) message or whom it hasn’t reached yet. The Prophet (sa) took a covenant from Muslims like me to keep sharing Allah’s (swt) message with every Muslim and non-Muslim. And if I don’t even remember who I am? how will I save my friends out there?

No! It matters to me now that I stand out in a crowd as a Muslim. When I smile, when I help, when I am courteous to others, they know it’s a Muslim with a mission. Not someone who is confused about her identity or, even worse, ashamed of it.

Allah, may I never forget who I am. I am yours and only yours.

The Fun Years

Vol 5 - Issue 1  The Fun YearsTeenagers are funny creatures! And I don’t mean it humorously.

They find everything funny. You have more chance of finding teenage girls giggling than you do of finding middle-aged or even 25-plus-women chortling and guffawing. That’s why when one hears the word ‘giggle’ adolescents come to mind. Under this broad generalization, I can safely say that most of us suffered the same insanity during our teens. From the same bouts of inexplicable laughing fits to goose-bumps for things as minor as favorite brands of chocolate spotted among gifts.

Psychology says it’s healthy. Teenagers should be allowed to express their feelings and indulge in recreational pastimes. But living in the world of recreation has a variety of meanings – from favorite cartoons to favorite drugs … the choices aren’t really that simple any more.

The biggest dilemma of a Muslim teenager is the confusion (a separate dilemma from identity crises) between what is fun and what isn’t. What jokes to laugh at, what movies to enjoy, what books to read, what people to hang out with, what fashion is acceptable, what ideas are reasonable, so on and so forth. This is the very point, where Muslims need to remember that while Islam does not want people to forget the hereafter, it also does not wish to suck the marrow out of life. A Hadeeth states: “Don’t consider anything insignificant out of good things, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance.” (Reported by Abu Dharr and recorded by Imam Muslim)

Ideally, Muslims are known for their dignity. However, most people tend to misinterpret what we mean by that. I’ve seen parents look disapprovingly at their children, if they laugh too much. A loud guffaw or maybe a painful jibe at someone else is where you may want to draw the line – but stopping teenagers from laughing altogether? That’s something that won’t end well. Parents need to seek this balance, while rearing their kids.

On the other side of the fence, the teenage Muslim can sometimes undergo shame and self-doubt, while mingling with the ‘it’ crowd. This can result in either of the two: they turn into loners … or become over-serious about everything. Either way, it’s not a fun way to spend one’s teenage years. Teens need to find themselves in the concoction of mixed norms and the melting pot that we call ‘culture’ today.

Teenagers follow norms. They follow peers. This was the most interesting conclusion I drew from all the havoc that came into my life, due to the excessive confusion between the ‘good fun’ and the ‘bad fun.’ Psychological studies of adolescents prove that teenagers have a stronger tendency to listen to their peers than to their parents. And once a peer group becomes strong, its sense of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ develops. It does not follow particular ideas of good and bad – rather, what is ‘cool’ or ‘un-cool.’ This revelation struck me as revolutionary. It meant that if I was being penalized in one group for not wanting to have fun ‘their way,’ I could just as easily be accepted in another peer group – if they shared my opinions. That choice proved to be such a breakthrough that I ended up starting my own group. I ended up becoming my own voice, instead of representing the prevalent teen culture.

If no one likes your way of having fun, find someone who does. Start your own norms. Be your own person. Because, after all is said and done, that is what being a teenager and a Muslim is all about.

Abu Ubaidah Ibn Al-Jarrah (rta)

Abu Ubaidah (rta) is one of the ten companions, to whom the Prophet (sa) publicly promised Paradise. Born in the tribe of Quraish, he was known for his modesty, humbleness and noble character. His real name was Amir Ibn Abdullah Ibn Al-Jarrah, but he became famous as Abu Ubaidah Ibn Al-Jarrah (rta).

Although always soft and gentle among his friends, Abu Ubaidah (rta) would become as hard as iron when it came to deciding right from wrong. Already before the advent of Islam, Abu Ubaidah (rta) felt that his people were on the wrong path. Islam was so close to Abu Ubaidah’s (rta) heart that when he learned about it from his friend Abu Bakr (rta), he embraced it without any hesitation. Abu Ubaidah (rta) was the eighth person to accept Islam. Because of his unparalleled integrity and honesty, the Prophet (sa) named him ‘the nation’s trustworthy’ (Amin-ul-Ummah).

After migration to Madinah, Muslims had to fight numerous battles to defend their faith. In the Battle of Badr, Quraish chiefs from Makkah came to attack Muslims. Abu Ubaidah (rta) also took part in this battle. While fighting, he noticed his father among the rows of the enemy. He did all he could to avoid facing his father, but there came a point when both of them stood in front of each other – Abu Ubaidah (rta) had no other choice but to defend his life and faith. They exchanged blows, and Abu Ubaidah’s (rta) father fell down dead at his son’s feet. Abu Ubaidah (rta) was very sad to see this happen. However, soon Allah (swt) lifted heaviness from his heart – due to this incident, a revelation came:

“You (O Muhammad (sa)) will not find any people who believe in Allah and the Last Day, making friendship with those who oppose Allah and His Messenger (Muhammad (sa)), even though they were their fathers or their sons or their brothers or their kindred (people). For such He has written Faith in their hearts, and strengthened them with Ruh (proofs, light and true guidance) from Himself.” (Al-Mujadilah 58:22)

This act of Abu Ubaidah (rta) proved his undivided love for Allah (swt). What more can a Muslim wish for than being praised for his deed in the Quran?

After the victory in the Battle of Badr, the Battle of Uhud brought new trials of faith for Muslims – this time the enemy army exceeded the numbers of Mujahideen about three times. The retreating Quraish gained an upper hand when a group of Mujahideen rushed after the booty, leaving their hill unmanned. The situation grew worse as misleading news about the Prophet’s (sa) death began to spread – many Muslims fled from the battlefield. Abu Ubaidah (rta), however, remained among the soldiers who decided to fight till the end.

In the heat of the battle, Abu Ubaidah (rta) saw an arrow strike the Prophet (sa), who then fell to the ground. Abu Ubaidah (rta) rushed towards him and saw that two chains of the Prophet’s (sa) armour had gone through his cheeks, causing serious injury and heavy bleeding. Understanding the gravity of the situation, Abu Ubaidah (rta) took out these chains from the Prophet’s (sa) face, using his own teeth, two of which broke in the process. Later, other companions looked at Abu Ubaidah (rta) with envy because they wished they had had this opportunity to sacrifice their teeth in order to show their love for the Prophet (sa).

Abu Ubaidah (rta) was a successful and exceptionally loyal military commander. Under his command, Muslims controlled the Arab tribes around Madinah and participated in military efforts to spread Islam. He joined his forces with the Mujahideen army at Mutah in Jordan for a battle against the Roman army. He led a faction of Muslims when the Mujahideen proceeded to conquer Makkah. The qualities that Abu Ubaidah (rta) was admired for were his humility and purity of intentions when it came to struggling in the cause of Allah (swt). Although a great military leader, Abu Ubaidah (rta) never hesitated to surrender his leadership because he knew he was fighting for a greater cause than just worldly power and authority.

The Prophet’s (sa) death brought a new challenge to the Muslim community – the selection of the next head of the Islamic state. To settle the arising differences, Abu Bakr (rta) offered two candidates for the post of the first Caliph: Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (rta) and Abu Ubaidah (rta) Ibn Al-Jarrah. Upon hearing this, both Umar (rta) and Abu Ubaidah (rta) immediately pledged their allegiance to Abu Bakr (rta), as they felt there was no other more worthy of this position. Upon seeing this, others also pledged their allegiance to the new Caliph Abu Bakr (rta). Thus, these sincere acts of self-denial by both Abu Ubaidah (rta) and Umar (rta) smoothly solved the situation, which could have become critical for the future of the Muslim community.

Selecting the first Caliph was not the only instance that proved the exceptional humbleness and self-denial of Abu Ubaidah (rta). Abu Bakr (rta) sent Abu Ubaidah (rta) to Syria to fight the Romans, selecting him to be the general commander of the Muslim forces. When thirty-six thousand Mujahideen reached their destination at Yarmuk, they were met by the Roman army of two hundred thousands. Seeing the uneven division of forces, Muslims sent a message to the Caliph, inquiring what to do next. Abu Bakr (rta) sent in support forces with Khalid Ibn Waleed (rta), whom he selected to be the commander general of the whole joint Muslim army. Upon hearing this, Abu Ubaidah (rta) gave his post to Khalid (rta) without any hesitation and continued to fight under him as an ordinary soldier.

Later during the same battle, the news came about the death of Abu Bakr (rta). The next Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab had once again given the command of the joint Muslim forces to Abu Ubaidah (rta). Abu Ubaidah (rta), however, did not rush to deliver this news to Khalid (rta). Only when the battle ended with a great victory by Mujahideen, he handed to Khalid (rta) the message from the Caliph. Khalid was deeply moved by such an act of self-denial on Abu Ubaidah’s (rta) part. This humble man did not wish to reap the worldly glory of a victorious commander – he preferred to be loyal to the higher aim of spreading the message of Islam.

Abu Ubaidah (rta) remained loyal to Umar all his life, except on one occasion. When the fatal disease of plague spread in the Syrian city where the Muslim forces were stationed, Umar (rta) sent an urgent message to Abu Ubaidah (rta), requesting him to return to Madinah immediately. The Caliph feared for the life of his most trustworthy warrior. Abu Ubaidah (rta) guessed this and sent a return message to Umar (rta), asking permission to stay with his soldiers, who were in much need of him. Abu Ubaidah (rta) wrote that there was no need to keep alive a man who was not born to live in this world forever.

Umar’s (rta) guess proved to be right – Abu Ubaidah (rta) contracted the deadly disease. Before passing away, Abu Ubaidah (rta) addressed his Mujahideen with a special speech, instructing them to keep steadfast in their Islamic duties, to practice good morals, to obey the rulers and, above all, to remember that no one can escape death.

Abu Ubaidah (rta) Ibn Al-Jarrah, ‘the nation’s trustworthy,’ died and was buried in Jordan.

Dear Haadia

I am an above average O levels student (male) and work very hard to maintain my grades. However, sometimes I am not able to be the best. This puts a lot of pressure on me, especially from my parents. I am sick of being pushed around and now feel very depressed. What should I do?

Answer: You should keep up your hard work. In fact, you should feel proud of your efforts and understand that your parents only mean well, even if they don’t show it in the best of ways.

If things are getting too out of hand, perhaps you should try to convey to them that their forceful and persistent approach is actually hampering you from achieving success. Take both of them or one of them into your confidence. If this is difficult, then seek help from a relative who is mutually close to you and your parents. Your parents need to recognize that you are a self-motivated individual who needs to have some space in order to accomplish his studies. They also need to realize that any pitfalls here and there do not mean that you are no longer committed to your goal.

At the same time, you need to see that your parents’ concern is also quite understandable: this is a very crucial stage of your student life and will weigh in heavily into your future studies and career choices. So, don’t get unnerved so easily. Keep your calm and keep studying. They only want the best for you.

Feeling helpless and depressed is not the solution. Rather, it could have a serious impact on your studying, on your zeal, on your willingness to take on challenges. It is very important that you keep a clear head right now and deal with this situation in the best possible manner: through discussion, mutual understanding and, of course, continued hard work!

Dear Haadia

I am an ordinary looking girl with two pretty sisters. Everyone keeps telling my mother that I will never get married, because of my dark colour and average looks. I am very depressed and hurt. Please, help.

Answer: I can understand the predicament you are in. We, as a society, have put up certain benchmarks which define beauty. A dark complexion is not one of them. Add “average looks” to that, and many will be convinced that it is an unappealing combination. Sad as it is, this is the reality and the majority mindset on the view.

However, many of us forget that it is not only our physical features that lend beauty to our faces but the expressions that adorn them. And those expressions cannot be applied with makeup, fancy jewellery or expensive clothes. They rise from within: if we are feeling happy, our faces glow. If we are feeling angry, our faces bristle. If we are feeling arrogant, our faces smirk. If we are feeling self-pity, our faces sulk.

You are beautiful. You were created by Allah, (swt), who loves beauty. At a glance, your beauty may not live up to the superficial standards of our surrounding society. Yet, I repeat, you are beautiful. Believe in it – truly, truly believe in it, not in an arrogant but healthy way. This will allow your self-esteem to take root, to blossom, to bear fruit. Turn a deaf ear to those around you – after all, what’s the point of fretting over things you have little control over such as looks and marriage? – and tune into your inner self and make sure that you cultivate an inner beauty which will spread its wings to your external features and engulf you in a wonderful, beautiful radiance.

Above all, spend a lot of time in Dhikr, in thankfulness to Allah, (swt), for creating you hale and hearty. Gratefulness is the best cure for depression.