Loss – Punishment or Reward?


Our life is shaped by two types of important events. The first one belongs to Q1 and is termed ‘urgent’, such as a heart attack that needs to be tended to immediately. The second is Q2, which is important but not urgent, such as a patient who shows high potential signs of coronary issues leading to a heart attack. If Q2 actions are delayed, ignored or not attended to, they turn into Q1 situations, distressing us and resulting in losses.

Q1s are further divided into two types: internal Q1s and external Q1s. Internal Q1 could be when my car has been troubling me for days and needs to go to the mechanic for repairs. I have an extremely busy schedule; hence, I defer this visit to the motor mechanic, believing it to be a secondary priority. Hence, one morning, as I am driving, the brakes of my car fail and I ram into another vehicle. This is followed by an ugly brawl with the other motorist. I end up paying him for the damages, cursing my fate, being late for an important official meeting and succumbing to my frustration.

In this scenario, do I deserve sympathy from people or help from Allah (swt)? It was my choice to pend the car’s maintenance job and jeopardize my own and others’ life. Hence, this loss will be a source of Zulumat (darkness) and not a reward from Allah (swt). I earned this destruction with my own hands knowingly. Good fortune doesn’t hold forever. We need to learn to prioritize our life and be prepared, as we can’t read the future. Other examples of internal Q1 behaviour could be:

  • Studying at the last moment for exams and failing later;
  • Ignoring signs of a weak body, resulting in serious ailments;
  • Deliberately misbehaving with or annoying family members, causing disputes;
  • Forgetting about an official project or customer’s task, leading to reprimand from the boss or, worse, demotion or termination.

Now, we flip the scenario and imagine that my car was standing at a traffic light and another vehicle crashed into me from behind. What could I have done to alter this fate? Nothing. It was destined to happen. If I bear that moment with patience and recite: “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajioon (I am from Allah (swt) and to Him is my return),” this loss is accompanied with Noor (light). It becomes an act of pleasure for Allah (swt), as I surrendered to His decree and remembered that my possessions are a trust with me that can be taken away at any time. I didn’t resist, realizing that what had happened was beyond my control. I saved myself and others around me from unwarranted stress, misgivings, self-beating and bitterness. This graceful response of a believer earns the highest ranks of honour not only in Paradise but also in the sight of those in this world, who perceive Allah’s (swt) magnificence. This is purely an external Q1. Other similar examples could be:

  • Saving yourself from disappointment, after learning that your best examination paper was not marked honestly;
  • Suddenly discovering that in spite of living a healthy lifestyle, you have been diagnosed with a terminal disease;
  • Despite behaving generously and in the family’s best interest, you are unappreciated;
  • You perform your best in the office, yet the promotion or salary increment goes to another peer.

In all such cases, when our plan is scattered like the leaves in the teeth of a cruel gale, know Allah (swt) has planned otherwise. Pray for patience and deliverance. And know that Allah’s (swt) plots are unmistakably based on His infinite wisdom and love for the believer. This should draw us closer to Him. We should refrain from hunting for logical answers we cannot comprehend, due to our limited mental capacity.

Internal Q1s, however, should be and can be consciously worked upon, as they are within our circle of influence and can reduce the stressors and Zulm we commit upon ourselves. List your most frequently occurring internal Q1s. Analyze where you are going wrong. Double your resolve to plan and prioritize your life. If a loss still intercepts you after that as an external Q1 situation, you can pray for Allah’s (swt) Noor to come and relieve you. It’s not a loss but a better deal!

Fighting Stress with the “Four A’s Rule”


A problem recognized is a problem half solved. When we find ourselves under mental pressure, we interchangeably call it anxiety, depression or stress. It is important to identify these as three distinct aspects of mental pressure, which impact our moods in different ways and, therefore, have to be addressed by appropriate kinds of treatment.

Anxiety is a generalized mood condition that can often occur without an identifiable triggering stimulus. Anxiety is related to situations, which are perceived as uncontrollable or unavoidable. disorders are characterized by a sense of doubt and vulnerability about future events. The attention of anxious people is focused on their future prospects and the fear that those future prospects will be bad. For example, how will my children turn out to be? What will be Karachi’s law and order situation? Will my future husband help me practice Islam?

Depression differs from anxiety. Depressed people are not preoccupied with worrying about what might happen to them in the future. They think they already know what will happen, and they believe it will be bad, just like the current miserable state they are in. They start believing in things like “I can never save enough for Hajj” or “I am not capable of learning Arabic”. The key symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad and/or hopeless;
  • Lack of interest and enjoyment in activities that used to be fun and interesting;
  • Physical aches and pains without physical cause and lack of energy;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering and/or making decisions;
  • Changes in appetite and weight;
  • Unwelcome changes in usual sleep pattern;
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

Stress is completely different from anxiety or depression. Stress can be defined as a state we experience, when there is a mismatch between perceived demands and perceived ability to cope. Whether we feel stress or not depends upon the balance between how we view demands, and how we think we can cope with those demands.

Strategies for Fighting Stress

There is a “Four ‘As’ Rule” for fighting stress in our day to day life.

‘A’ for Avoid

“The greatest prison that people live in is the fear of what other people think.” (David Icke – English writer, public speaker and former professional footballer.)

You are responsible for what is in your head. Remember! A negative mind cannot have positive thoughts. If you are told that the food you are about to eat is poisonous, you would choose to be hungry than eat the poison. Similarly, if you know that a certain situation, person or experience can cause stress, don’t take the chance of digesting this psychological poison. Be wise enough to remove yourself from places and situations that can be stressful. For instance, if you have to go shopping and you know that you can miss your Maghrib prayer, don’t go shopping at that time or go to a mall that has a prayer area. Similarly, if spending too much on unimportant things will drain out your budget and you fear you will not be able to pay Zakah, control your desires, and avoid excessive shopping.

One of the reasons we find ourselves trapped in stressful, useless commitments is our fear of saying ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is not rude, especially if you are avoiding a stressor. The way you say it has to be gentle, wise and accommodating. We don’t always need to shout, offend or abuse, while saying ‘no’. It can be said with a graceful smile.

Try to have clear priorities in life and avoid all distractions that come in your way to achieve your goals. For example, if you are asked to attend a late night party a day before your child’s exam, try to call, congratulate on the occasion and tell the host your reasons to miss the occasion. You can visit the host prior to the event or at a better time with a gift to compensate for the absence.

There are numerous incidents from the life of the Prophet (sa), which illustrate how he said ‘no’ without hurting anyone’s feelings. One of them is mentioned in the following Hadeeth:

Abu Dharr (rtam) narrated: “We fasted with the Messenger of Allah (sa) in Ramadan and he did not lead us in praying Qiyam until there were seven days left in the month, when he led us in praying Qiyam until one-third of the night had passed. Then he did not lead us in praying Qiyam when there were six days left. Then he led us praying Qiyam when there were five days left until one-half of the night had passed. I said: “O Messenger of Allah! What if we spend the rest of this night praying Nafl?” He said: “Whoever prays Qiyam with the Imam until he finishes, Allah will record for him the Qiyam of a (whole) night.” (An-Nasai)

Note the Prophet’s (sa) response to Abu Dharr (rtam). He did not reply ‘no’ to his question though his answer implied this. He simply informed him that if he follows the Imam, it will be as if he spent the whole night praying Nafl.

‘A’ for Alter

Avoiding is not always possible. In cases, when complete avoiding is not a good choice, you can alter the situation to have a pleasant and agreeable setup. Remember: our decisions are very important for us, but we need to show concern and respect for our family and friends, too, which is a very important characteristic of a Muslim.

A Hadeeth states: “…friendliness toward people is half of (one’s) intelligence.” (Bayhaqi) Here friendliness is considered to be intelligence, because it helps a Muslim be sociable and stay out of fights, abuses and trickeries, which can only be done by intelligent minds.

Alter situations to avoid confrontations.

If your husband does not like your cooking, try to see what you can do to alter that. Request your mother-in-law or sister-in-law for recipes that work. At times, it is only a matter of adding a few spices or getting rid of some. By doing a thing as simple as that, you can have a pleasant, joyful dining experience with your spouse.

If you find yourself spending too much time on maintaining your house, shift to a simple lifestyle that will give you relief from maintenance and a lot more time for studying religion and enjoying with family.

Another Hadeeth says: “The believer is one who is sociable (with others), and there is no good in one who is not sociable (with others), nor in one who is not met sociably (by them).” (Bayhaqi and Al-Hakim).

You cannot and should not avoid people, but meet them in a way that is best in Islam.

Abu Burdah (rtam) narrated: Abu Musa (rtam) said: “I was with the Prophet (sa) when he was encamping at Al-Jaranah (a place) between Makkah and Madinah. Bilal (rtam) was with him. A Bedouin came to the Prophet (sa) and said: ‘Won’t you fulfill what you have promised me?’ The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Rejoice (at what I will do for you).’ The Bedouin said: ‘(You have said to me) rejoice too often.’ Then the Prophet (sa) turned to me (i.e. Abu Musa (rtam)) and Bilal (rtam) in an angry mood and said: ‘The Bedouin has refused the good tidings, so you both accept them.’ Bilal (rtam) and I said: ‘We accept them.’ Then the Prophet (sa) asked for a drinking bowl containing water and washed his hands and face in it; then he took a mouthful of water and threw it therein saying (to us): ‘Drink (some of) it and pour (some) over your faces and chests and be happy at the good tidings.’ They both took the drinking bowl and did as instructed. Umm Salamah (rtaf) called from behind a screen: ‘Keep something (of the water) for your mother.’ So they left some of it for her.” (Bukhari)

Again, note the Prophet’s (sa) response to the Bedouin to whom he (sa) had promised something but could not ultimately deliver. He told him kindly to rejoice but the audacious reply of the Bedouin ended up enraging them. He did not, however, make a mountain out of a molehill. He did not reply in kind. He applied the “alter” principle and directed the attention of those present to something else entirely different.

‘A’ for Adapt

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Just accept that you can’t always be the wronged one. Self pity and blaming everything on others is a full stop to progress. There are things in life that you can control and change through proper planning and time management. For instance, if you are always late for Salah, see how you can adapt your lifestyle to be punctual. Plan your activities such that they do not fall into Salah time. Stop all work with the Adhan. Get up and perform Wudhu. You can even switch off your phone. Likewise, if you are always late for work, maybe you can wake up a little earlier or use a route with less traffic. Try to adapt to situations that cannot be avoided.

The following incident from the life of Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah (rtam) illustrates how the Companions of the Prophet (sa) used the ‘adapt’ principle instead of stressing about things (or people) they could not change.

The Prophet (sa) once sent Amr ibn Al-As (rtam) to Dhat As-Salasil, Syria, on an expedition. When he arrived in Syria, he noticed that the enemy was great in number. He sent a message to the Messenger (sa), asking him for reinforcements. The Prophet (sa) then sent Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah (rtam) with a unit, comprising some of the early Muhajirun, including Abu Bakr (rtam) and Umar (rtam). Abu Ubaidah (rtam) was the commander of this unit.

Before dispatching this unit, the Prophet (sa) instructed Abu Ubaidah (rtam) that he should not differ with Amr ibn Al-As (rtam).

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) left with his unit and when he reached Dhat As-Salasil, Amr (rtam) told him: “You have come to reinforce my army and I am its commander.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) replied: “I remain in my position as you remain in yours.” (This meant that he would lead his unit while Amr (rtam) would lead the rest of the army.)

Amr (rtam) insisted: “No, you have been sent to reinforce my army.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) responded: “O Amr! The Messenger (sa) told me that the two of us should not differ. So even if you disobey me, I will obey you.”

Amr (rtam) said: “In that case, I am your commander and you are reinforcing me.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) agreed. Amr (rtam) stepped forward and led the prayer. After the expedition was over and the Prophet (sa) was informed about this, he said: “May Allah have mercy upon Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah!” (Ibn Katheer)

In the process of adapting, you may find the following tips useful:

  • Always keep ‘time buffers’: a certain amount of extra time in your schedule for dealing with circumstances beyond your control. For example, instead of running to catch a plane at the eleventh hour, leave a little early for managing the traffic jams. If you reach early, you will be less hassled and more relaxed.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle for managing your level of stress. Make sure that your routine includes exercise, healthy food, leisure activities and time for family.
  • Try to decrease competition and sense of time urgency in life. Keep your cool and show your strengths only when required. Your softer side should be prevalent.
  • Also remember that we have to understand the Islamic perspective of challenges and hardships. These may be:
  • Mismanagement: Not using Allah’s (swt) blessings properly means paying a hefty price. This includes our time, money, health and all forms of Rizq.
  • Punishment: Sometimes, it is our own evil that is coming around. A thorough repentance and mending relations with blood relatives is a very important remedial. During times of trials, along with repentance, try to give Sadaqah (charity) as well.
  • Blessing in disguise: When you find yourself buried under layers of darkness like Yunus (as), follow his example: remember the Creator of that darkness. Some lessons are learnt only the hard way.
  • Try to improve your life by identifying major causes of stress, which may be:
  • Love of the world: Controlling our reactions is crucial. Equally important is the need to take a closer look at our lifestyles. Too much love of worldly possessions creates fear of loss and depression. Limit your wants by knowing your needs. Avoid indulgence.
  • Lack of proper nutrition: Eating inorganic, fast food and lack of routine in proper eating habits spoils the mood. If one does not eat at proper intervals, or if one starves for too long only to fill up the stomach with junk food, then the brain is confused to the extent that it treats hunger as stress. The body responds to hunger not by eating (because it is not trained to), but by shouting, screaming and showing irritation.
  • Lack of proper sleep: Agitation is also a common reaction to sleep deprivation. A healthy, sound sleep makes us happy and relaxed. By staying up for too long, we become irritable and angry.

One more important factor keeping people away from emotional stability is uncontrolled thoughts. Have you ever noticed that your last thought before going to sleep is the first one that you have when you wake up? For the entire night, our brain is engaged in thoughts. So make Dua, thank Allah (swt) and think positively, as you lie down to sleep. Avoid horror movies or late night talks.

‘A’ for Accept

For circumstances beyond human control, we need to accept the situation and place our Tawakkal (reliance) on Allah (swt). This means that you should trust and depend on Allah’s (swt) will without complaining. “Nay! Verily, man does transgress all bounds (in disbelief and evil deed, etc.). Because he considers himself self-sufficient.” (Al-Alaq 96:6-7) If harm touches us, and we are not able to solve it through Halal means, then we should accept it as a decree of Allah (swt) and hope for good times to come in the future. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “So verily, with hardship, there is relief. Verily, with hardship, there is relief (i.e., there is one hardship with two reliefs, so one hardship cannot overcome two reliefs).” (Ash-Sharh 94:5-6)

Remember that perfection lies in being unapologetic about the imperfections of our lives. It is okay if your height, complexion, mental capacity or family life is not the way you wanted it, because it is exactly the way Allah (swt) wants it.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

You will find within yourself a great energy to improve and enjoy if you stop questioning destiny.

In “Enjoy your Life”, Dr. Al-Arifi narrates the following incident. Once, the Prophet (sa) went out on an expedition with his Companions. After a while, their food started running out and they felt weak. The Prophet (sa) instructed them to gather whatever food they had. He spread his cloak. One man came forward with a date or two; another brought a piece of bread. When all the food was collected, they sat down and ate with contentment. It is quite obvious that none of them ate his fill, but at least they ate something. All of them applied the ‘accept’ principle without stressing about the fact that they had little food or where would they get more of it from.

Allah (swt) has placed our eyes at the front of our head, because it is more important to look ahead than to look back. Don’t dwell on things in the past. Learn from them and keep moving on.

Emotional stress is a subjective illusion created by the human mind. If stress were real and objective, like, for example, gravity, then it would impact everyone the same way. Stress eats away our bottom lines and affects our mental health, personalities and attitudes. Control it before it starts controlling you.

Don’t forget to develop a sense of thankfulness towards Allah (swt). The more we thank Allah (swt) for what we have and what is happening with us, the less we get upset for what we do not have and what is not happening with us.

Allah (swt) has promised in the Quran: “…If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My Blessings)…” (Ibrahim 14:7)

Dhikr in any form is a very good medicine for stress. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “Those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism), and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (Ar-Rad 13:28)

Likewise, it is our responsibility, as Muslims, to ensure that we are not triggering stress in the lives of others. We often do that unintentionally by asking too many questions about someone’s personal life, weak points and embarrassing aspects of their lives that they don’t want to share. Also, avoid pointing out other people’s anomalies or weaknesses.

If we wouldn’t have any difficulties in our lives, we would not have the chance for recognizing our true potential. We don’t need to be strong in every situation, we don’t need to be always winning and we don’t even need to be happy all the time. We just need to be Muslims in submission to Allah’s (swt) will, grateful for His blessings, patient in times of trial and never losing hope. Keep trying, seeking help from Allah (swt) and hoping for the best.

Let me reiterate this: Muslims are the Khulafa of Allah (swt) on the Earth. It is only because of our own condition that the world is in this state of chaos. We need to take control of our lives and stresses. We are responsible for the world we live in.

Surviving Under Pressure


I often ask people, if they had ever thought of committing suicide in their academic life, and a reasonable number of them say ‘yes’, even the ones, who had been high achieving students in their lives. According to a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health, USA, suicide is the third leading cause of death in youngsters aged 15 to 24. Another study, conducted in Australian High Schools on students aged 12 to 14 years, revealed that students with low self esteem, depressed mood and perceptions of failure may be at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviours. Our children live under enormous pressures these days. They are on a constant battle to survive against all odds. Almost every other child in this world undergoes a painful, psychologically uncomfortable and often dehumanizing experience in order to receive education. I believe there are at least three kinds of pressures that work upon them: academic pressure, parental pressure and peer pressure.

How does Academic Pressure Work?

The first kind of pressure that works upon our children is academic pressure. They are almost always burdened. They have to carry a bag filled with six to eight textbooks and notebooks for each subject. Homework is something that most of them do not enjoy and cannot escape from. These poor children cannot afford to be absent from class, even if they are not well. According to a survey, children aged between 11 and 14 do an average of three-hour homework, in order to survive and remain acceptable in their schooling systems. They carry a bag which is about 40% of their body weight. According to British Osteopathic Association: “Children should never carry more than about 15% of their own body weight. The long term effects from carrying heavy bags include strains on the neck and shoulder leading to headaches, fatigue and an early development of poor posture along with strain to arms and wrists.”

Majority of school going children hardly go for a morning or evening walk and do not experience the pleasant breeze and fresh oxygen, which is required for better brain functioning. Almost every second day is a test or some marked assignment. About 20% of their school days are allocated for exams. In between, there are such competitions as spelling bee and declamation contests requiring students to prepare five to six hours a day with immense pressure to win each of them. Tuitions are a routine, which they have to follow. And there are tests at tuitions, too. Students, who concentrate on their academics, look too serious, exhausted and often ignorant about what is happening in the world or in their families. They tend to forget themselves for the love or fear of exams. All that is important in their lives is to fulfill the academic demands at any cost. These poor children receive respect from society on the basis of their academic performance and not on the basis of their good intentions or great ideas.

It is generally believed that teachers cannot contain more than two subjects, while students are able to accommodate the diverse and often unconnected pieces of knowledge from eight subjects. Many children face immense learning difficulties, as they are not allowed to express their understanding in the language they know well. Classwork that is demanded on a particular pace with a particular level of perfection from every child becomes an instrument of torture. How strange it is to offer a break of twenty minutes in a school day of six hours. Sometimes even this twenty minutes break is also withdrawn from a child, who needs additional time for making up the academic work. If the school is located at a distance, then the travelling time in school transport adds to their miseries.

How does Parental Pressure Work?

Another pressure that badly affects children is parental pressure. I have heard many children saying:  “I wish I was born free.” Parents generally have very high and non-flexible expectations from their children. It has become hard for many parents to trust their children’s abilities and intentions, when they fail to do well in exams. In a majority of cases, the relationship between parents and children relies on the grades the children receive in their exams, which is so very unfortunate.

Given the above mentioned facts, it appears that children in today’s world are doing two jobs. They are employed at two places: school and home. They cannot take a day off at their will and are often not compensated for their work. They live a life where friendships, questioning, experimentation and wandering around are hardly appreciated. They are not encouraged for their natural curiosity and qualities of giving, sharing and frankness. Instead, they are chained to follow an agenda and a routine that is set for them without their consent. All children go through this, until they become able to exercise their own will and experience their independence. But many poor children are lost in this battle. Their creative spark is successfully extinguished by the collective efforts of parents and schools.

One of the ambitions of parents is to get their child admitted into a brand school. Under this vision, mothers start dreaming about some of the renowned schools already at the time of their pregnancies. Imagine the terrible pressure the poor child will be born with. She or he will be sent to preparation centres at the age of two years, in order to pass the entrance test of his/her parents’ dream school. Once the child is admitted, the vicious never-ending cycle of academic stress, competitions and loads of homework is on the way.

Much of the conversation that takes place between parents and children is governed by the following questions or instructions: “What happened in your school today? How was your test today? What grade did you get in the last paper? What is the homework today? When is the next test? Change your school uniform. Do your Salah. Have your lunch and, please, do it quickly. Get ready for tuition.”

Another form of parental pressure is their demand for discipline and maintaining a tidy and mess-free home. Girls in particular become a victim of this wish. In many families, the obsession to tame the children for manners and obedience in their early childhood supersedes any other wish of meaningful learning or relationship.

Many parents demand their children to choose a particular professional field, without considering the child’s interests. A majority of parents make their children realize that they spend a lot of money on their education, and that children have to pay back through getting good grades. When children somehow fail to meet the demands of their parents, they feel bad about themselves and lose self confidence.

How does Peer Pressure Work?

Peer pressure plays a phenomenal role in the lives of children. Children want to be liked, accepted and appreciated by their peers more than anyone else in the world. This peer consciousness causes some positive and negative influences on their personality. They learn from their peers and become interested in doing things, which are being liked by their peers. Mark Twain once put it beautifully in his witty style: “I have always paid the school master for the education of my kids, but these are the school boys who have taught him.”

Sometimes good habits and trends are initiated and reinforced by groups of children, while at other times it is vice versa. A child being a part of his social group gets influenced by his or her peers. At times, a child may not feel comfortable in adopting something from the peers. But the fear of being unpopular, disapproved and rejected by the social group surrounds the child and exerts immense pressure on him/her.

Although many children experience some sort of peer pressure, they usually do not realize it. Peer pressure takes a child into a complex state of varied feelings, ranging from fears and rage to hate, hope and jealousy. If a child is not confident enough, his/her self image will be severely influenced by the kind of treatment he/she receives from the peers. Sometimes, children stop pursuing their genuine natural interests, because they feel that they will be ridiculed for their interests. Often, many children tend to do things which are not of their choice but the desire of the group. Smoking is one such example, which a lot of boys and girls initiate, in order to look smart and cool. Sometimes, they smoke to seek additional appreciation from their peers. For some children, smoking becomes their social passport. Some children try to impress their peers through smoking or through any other activity, which is forbidden by the adults.

Peer pressure may be unspoken or unintentional. Sometimes a child may feel pressured not because peers are asking him to do a certain thing but the child himself feels that if he will not do a certain thing, he might be considered silly.

Nobody likes to be rejected by the equals. When children fail to cope with peer pressures or, in other words, do not conform to group norms, they isolate themselves or restrict their interaction with few class fellows. Many do not create friendships; rather, they limit themselves to acquaintanceships. A reasonable number of children willingly or unwillingly adopt what is being desired by their peers and conform to group norms.

One of the major causes of negative peer pressure is comparison between children. Many teachers and parents do it continuously in subtle ways. Some do it rather explicitly. When we do not recognize children, as who they really are, and fail to own them unconditionally, they learn to doubt themselves. Their confidence weakens and they become increasingly sensitive to the approval from their peers.

How Can We Reduce Academic Pressure?

  1. We need to believe that academics are not everything. A successful person is not the one who gets good grades, but a person who is well-rounded, happy and enjoys healthy body and mind with a vision to strive for.
  2. Schools should reduce the number and size of exams and introduce alternatives to formal testing like portfolio development and mechanism of self-assessment. This will help to eradicate the tuition culture and children will have some free time for family and other meaningful activities.
  3. Curriculum should be made child-friendly and flexible. There should be more opportunities of recreation, and the academic process must capitalize on students’ interests and experiences.
  4. Early education process must be carried out in the language children are proficient in. Education must not demand a child to switch the medium of his thinking.
  5. If we cannot reduce the weight of school bags, at least we can replace them by trolley school bags, like it is done by children in Europe.

How Can We Reduce Parental Pressure?

  1. Children are born with countless interests. Identify and respect the interests of your children and facilitate them to pursue their interests.
  2. Learn to trust children unconditionally. Accept your children for what they are. Help your children pursue their dreams, instead of forcing your own vision onto them.
  3. Never equate your children’s intelligence and creativity with their academic results. Grades tell us nothing about a child’s talents or creative potentials. Appreciate your children for what they do enthusiastically.
  4. Acknowledge the fact that your children are loaded with work, and that they need some time to relax. Keep an eye on yourself to ensure that you do not become the one who over-burdens your child.
  5. Instead of throwing questions on children and asking them to give a report of their day, wait and understand their situation and problems.

How Can We Reduce Peer Pressure?

  1. Give children a positive, stress-free and emotionally comfortable environment. They are likely to interact with their peers in a congenial manner when they are relaxed.
  2. Train children to realize why they feel how they feel. Help them recognize their different states of feelings. They will learn to be empathetic through your wise and friendly facilitation.
  3. Eliminate all forms of individual competitions and never use individual comparison as a strategy for motivation. In fact, it is something that de-motivates them and affects their relationship with their peers.
  4. Engage with your child in open and meaningful discussions to prepare them for dealing with the issues they might face in society.
  5. Make your child exceptionally confident and courageous. Confidence will enable a child to become who he or she really is, without feeling devalued or becoming dependent on the approval of peers.

Writer’s email: director@erdconline.org

A 9-year-old’s stress


Summer vacation was over and the kids had just returned to school, starting their new session. It was still the first week in their new grades. One particular mother was having trouble putting the children onto an earlier bedtime schedule. Marium, her 9 nine-year-old would especially not co-operate. No matter what mum said and did, Marium would not just budge. Exasperated, mum requested her husband to take over before she ended up in an ugly tussle with their daughter. Following is the conversation between father and daughter:

Dad: “Marium, sweetheart, I want to talk to you. Mum is saying you are not co-operating much. Is something the matter? It seems like something is eating you.”

Marium: “I’ve got a lot of worries!”

Dad: “Really, well let me hear them all. Let’s talk in your room.”

Dad and Marium head to Marium’s room. Twenty minutes later dad comes out of the room smirking to himself.

A bewildered mum asks: “What happened?”

Dad: “Nothing. I put her to bed.”

Mum: “Just like that?”

Dad: “I wrote down her worries.”

Mum: “And?”

Dad: “And I read them back to her.”

Mum: “Then what happened?”

Dad: “I promised her that I will help her tackle her issues on the weekend. She put her list under her pillow, changed into her night suit and went to bed.”

The next morning when mum was changing Marium’s bedsheets, her list fell to the floor. Here’s what it said:

What’s worrying Marium?

  1. Messy closet and bedroom. She has to share her room with her younger sister Alyah who is a 4-year-old, not willing to put any stuff back in its place.
  2. Great deal of work at school and plenty of thick books to carry.
  3. Having trouble understanding the new Math chapter.
  4. Needs more spending allowance for school snacks as prices have hiked since past term.
  5. Lost brand new pencil case in school.
  6. Some younger kids in her school bus are naughty and irritating.
  7. Has no decent pair of sandals to wear to her best friend’s upcoming party.

Mum smiled as she read the note. She realized that as grownups we assume that only we have real troubles in life. It’s easy to forget that children can have them too. And just like us, they need someone to listen and take their worries seriously. For an adult they may sound childish and petty. But for a child they mean the world: a world they live in. The worst thing that an adult can do is dismiss or ridicule a child’s sentiments, terming them as senseless or wrong. As they say, you do not teach swimming to a drowning person. When listening to worries, just hear them out. Discussions can ensue at a later time. By then, some issues have already taken care of themselves and some are more open to be talked about.

“Children need to hear an unqualified acceptance of their emotions of the moment. A response that conveys full understanding without reservation or judgment empowers young people and grants them the courage to begin to deal with their problems.” (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)

Adapted from “How to talk so kids can learn”    

It’s not Bad to be Sad

sadCo-authored by Umm Isam

We often aim to escape from a phase of sadness, assuming that it’s not a ‘good’ or ‘normal’ state to be in. We feel sorry for people, who are undergoing certain sorrow or distress. Have we wondered why we are feeling this way? We often fail to realize that sadness is an emotion just like any other emotion in our life. Why do we feel so bad about being sad? How did we come to this conclusion that sadness is bad and happiness is good? Let’s look into some reasons which we fail to acknowledge.

It is important to note that we live in a capitalist structure of society, which was initiated in the era of industrialization. Capitalism defines the society in a way that everyone seeks happiness in a certain object or material product. It has designed the media, products, schooling system, movies and dramas in a way that depicts a constant search for material happiness. Media is a powerful agent of the capitalists. They use it to condition humans in a way that their subconscious mind is engraved into attaining worldly or material products in order to gain happiness.

A prominent example is the common ad of skin whitening creams, which always show two main scenes: the first scene with a girl who looks dull, dark and ‘sad’; the second scene shows a girl who looks fresh, fair and ‘happy’. Our mind is way smarter than we perceive it to be; hence, it catches even the slightest details and stores it in our subconscious memory. Next time, when we face a similar situation, we tend to pick what’s available in our subconscious mind. In this case, the media has fed us to look for happiness in a simple skin whitening cream.

Another common example of imposed happiness can be seen on Facebook. Have you ever noticed on Facebook any pictures of your friends crying or looking dull? I am sure not or very rarely. Even if people are feeling gloomy and sad, they pose with hugs and smiles when someone brings out the camera. It is obvious that they are smiling merely for Facebook and do not feel the actual happiness of that smile. This happens because of the basic concept that we have to be happy all the time, which is neither necessary nor natural.

Media perpetuates products and ads, which depict humans fetching happiness all the time, or it tries to provide steps of gaining ultimate happiness. Movies and dramas are filled with ‘they lived happily ever after’, happy endings and successful protagonists, giving us a message that we have to avail happiness in the same way, and if we don’t, then we are not normal.

Furthermore, the system of capitalism has also initiated many diseases, for example, depression, bipolar disorders and even eating disorders. It depicts and defines ‘happy’ for us, and then we develop a feeling of Hasad (envy) trying to seek that happiness for ourselves; hence, we increase the risks of such diseases as depression and anxiety. The societal pressure to look happy weighs people down so heavily that they often need to seek professional help.  People experiencing depression visit psychiatrists, who prescribe anti-depressants. These drugs are highly priced and require to be taken for a long time. Pharmaceutical companies are making millions out of them, so they rope in doctors, who at times are not even qualified to prescribe these drugs. Furthermore, the chemicals in these drugs prevent the self-correctional process of human body that Allah (swt) has granted, thus throwing everything into disarray. Sometimes, all a sad person needs is counselling from another wise person or friend, instead of antidepressants.

The pressure to feel joyful is so immense that when a child falls or a teenager fails at something, parents don’t even want to acknowledge their sorrow. A child is told that all is okay and he must not cry. The adolescent is admonished to display bravado and not immaturity. In contrast, psychologists strongly advise to acknowledge these distressful feelings and emotionally empathize with these kids. This is to ensure that they will trust their feelings the next time. If we muffle them, they would eventually become desensitized and won’t respond to anybody’s pain, assuming it to be wrong. If we cut our finger and do not acknowledge it, we can actually bleed to death unknowingly. It is Allah’s (swt) mercy to feel hurt in order to recover and survive.

Allah (swt) designed everything with symmetry. If there is hot, then there is cold, too. Too much of anything makes survival difficult and can eventually destroy the system. Similarly, Allah (swt) designed happiness and sadness together, complimenting each other and giving symmetry to our life.

We, as Muslims, are well aware of the fact that nothing can stay forever. How can we expect happiness or even sadness to stay forever in our lives? A common example is going on a vacation. We enjoy ourselves and experience great happiness; however, if the vacation gets too long, we eventually start getting homesick. This is because nothing can keep us happy or sad forever. The system of Allah (swt) is flawless and everything is balanced with both positives and negatives.

Allah (swt) is the One, Who makes us happy or sad. In a state of sadness, we are not permitted to utter the words of Kufr, fall into disbelief, pose threat or harm to others, and doubt the existence of Allah (swt), or whether He has forsaken us. Some incidents in life cannot be explained through reasoning and seem very unjust, but Duniya is not Dar-ul-Jaza (a place where we will be rewarded). It is imperfect. It is a place of test for a believer, so he can score well with Sabr and Salah and attain the most exquisite bounties of Paradise, which will be perfect. Good people may be afflicted with severe hardships. Sadness should be a means to draw closer to our Rabb (swt) and ask for forgiveness.

If you remember Allah (swt) in times of joy, He will stay close to you in times of distress. A strong believer never forgets his Creator and always invokes Him alone for strength in sadness.

Instead of looking for happiness all the time, we should consider the perfect system designed by Allah (swt) and realize that no matter which emotion we experience, it should be treated well. Research has shown that crying can actually make people feel better and relieve the stress that was accumulating in their body. Therefore, it is better to let your sadness out and feel it completely; however, we should not let it overpower us and influence our lifestyle. We should learn from life events and move on. Don’t allow the media to condition a definition of happiness for you; rather, develop your own happiness. Be adventurous, take risks and always trust Allah (swt).