Syria

Vol 4- Issue 2 SyriaModern Syria is situated in Asia along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The Syrian political body is represented by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The president is the head of state and is directly elected every seven years. Syria gained full independence on April 17, 1946 ceding from French Colonialism Rule.

Damascus

Damascus is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. It has occupied a position of importance in the fields of science, culture, politics, art, commerce and industry from the earliest times.

Early references to the city, such as those in the Ebla tablets, confirm that ‘Dameski’ (i.e., Damascus) during the third millennium B.C. was a city of huge economic influence. Ancient Pharaonic scripts refer to it as ‘Dameska’. It benefited great prominence during the second millennium B.C. as the centre of an Aramic kingdom under the name of Dar-misiq (the irrigated house).

Damascus became the capital of the first Arab state at the time of the Umayyads in 661 A.D. This marked the start of its golden epoch, and for a whole century, it was the centre of the youthful Islamic Empire. The Empire reached its peak of expansion throughout this period and came to stretch from the shores of the Atlantic and the Pyrennese in the west, to the river Indus and China in the east.

Following the decline and fall of the Umayyads, Damascus went through a period of neglect and decline. However, when independence was achieved in 1946, the city began to regain its importance as a significant cultural and political centre of the Arab world.

Lattakia

Lattakia is Syria’s main sea-port on the Mediterranean (186 km southwest of Aleppo). It has kept its importance since ancient times. Lattakia was one of the five cities built by Saluqos Nikator in the 2nd century B.C. He named it after his mother, Laudetia.
Not a lot of ancient remains have survived in Lattakia, but there are four columns and a Roman arch from the time of Septimus Severus (circa 200 A.D.), in addition to a beautiful Ottoman construction called Khan Al-Dukhan, which is now a museum.

Lattakia is the sea-gate to Syria. It is well-provided with accommodation and is well-placed as a base, from which to explore the coastal regions of the country.

Bosra

Bosra was the earliest city in the Syrian Arab Republic to become Muslim and has some of the oldest minarets in the history of Islam. As a stopover on the pilgrimage route to Makkah, Bosra was a prosperous city until the 17th century. By then, the region was becoming insecure and the pilgrims began to take a less dangerous route further west. The Mosque of Umar in the center of the town (called Jami-al Arouss, ‘the bridal mosque’, by the Bosriots) used to be a pagan temple and now stands as the only mosque surviving from the early-Islamic period that has preserved its original facades.

Shopping

Syrian handicrafts symbolize a tradition of skilled workmanship and folk art that dates back many thousands of years. The most common Syrian craft items include hand-woven silk brocades, embroidered table cloth, rugs, carpets, mosaics, brass and copper, leather, gold and silver jewelry made by hand of local designs, inlaid furniture with mother of pearls, all these items can be found in our old souks and bazaars in Damascus, Palmyra, Aleppo and almost all over Syria.

Syrian Food

Many traditional Syrian dishes are effortless preparations based on grains, vegetables and fruits. Often, the same ingredients are used over and over, in unusual ways, in each dish. Yogurt, cheese, cucumber, aubergines, chick peas, nuts, tomatoes, burghul and sesame (seeds, paste and oil) are harmoniously blended into numerous assorted medleys. Pita bread is served for dipping with all meals.

A typical Syrian meal starts with Mezze – this can be an elaborate spread of forty or fifty Hors D’oeuvres or just a salad and a bowl of nuts. But it is always a social occasion, when friends and family meet to enjoy appetizers and conversation before lunch and dinner.

After meals, there is usually a hot drink of Arabic coffee or Shai (tea) along with fruits, Booza (ice cream) and a dessert. Syrian pastries are delicious – usually they are honey soaked pastries with nuts, raisins or cheese.

Sports and Recreation

Mixing with people and eating are the main forms of relaxation, especially in rural areas. Syrians adore talking. Men like going out to coffeehouses to talk, drink tea or Turkish coffee and smoke a “hubble-bubble” or water pipe. On Thursday night, the beginning of the weekend in Syria, young men meet on the streets to talk or drive around in their cars.

Throughout the good weather, some Syrians drive to mountain resorts for the day. Others take pleasure in leisurely walks. Syrians usually go for walks in groups, wearing their finest clothes. On mild evenings, parks in the city are full.

Soccer is the main sport in Syria. The country has national soccer and basketball teams. Men attend the games, which are shown also on television for a few hours a week. Recently, women have been allowed to take part in some sports, and today more women are playing sports and taking part in competitions.

Fact File

Once the center of the Islamic Empire, Syria covers an area that has seen invasions and occupations over the ages, from Romans and Mongols to Crusaders and Turks. However, such battles and scrambles over territory have translated into a catalogue of staggering cities full of stunning monuments, from the entire city of Damascus to the country’s many mosques. The events have also failed to impair the character of the Syrian people who – surprisingly to some – exude friendliness and warmth and are justly proud of their land. It is a home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Alawite Shias and Druze, as well as the Arab Sunnis, who make up a majority of the Muslim population.

(Contributed by Affaf Jamal)

Power nap -The Pause that Refreshes

Vol 4- Issue 2 Power napFeeling a bit drowsy after lunch? Can’t seem to give it your all in the afternoons? Need something to perk you up? Well don’t reach for that cup of tea or coffee, just shut your eyes and take a nap – a Power Nap that is.

Dr. Maas, the Cornell psychologist and author of Power Sleep (Villard Books, 1998), writes, “naps greatly strengthen the ability to pay close attention to detail and to make critical decisions, . . .napping should not be frowned upon at the office or make you feel guilty at home,” in fact he states, “it should have the status of daily exercise.”

The journal Nature Neuroscience published a research by Harvard University that assessed the effects of an afternoon nap on learning and memory skills. The study compared the performance of two groups of people during a single day and then the following morning. The group that was not allowed to sleep at all during the day, performed poorly on a learning test given in the afternoon and evening, whereas the second group that was allowed to take a nap fared significantly better in the tests they preformed later in the day. Furthermore, after 24 hours, the performance of those who took a quality nap was just as good as that of those volunteers (in previous studies) who were tested after they had slept two full nights.

Sarah Mednick, researcher at the Psychology Department at Harvard University, concludes: “From the perspective of behavioral improvement, a nap is as good as a night of sleep for learning on this perceptual task”.

Neuroscientist Robert Stickgold of Harvard Medical School, observed: “Napping may protect brain circuits from overuse until those neurons can consolidate what’s been learned about a procedure.”

Dr. David Dinges, sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, strongly advocates taking a “power nap” during the day to head off the cumulative effects of sleep loss. He explained that the brain “sort of sputters” when deprived of sufficient sleep, causing slips in performance and attentiveness often resulting in “microsleeps” – involuntary lapses into sleep, in which accidents can occur.

Furthermore, studies show that sleepy workers make more mistakes and are more susceptible to heart attacks and gastrointestinal disorders. Consequently, some companies in the west have set up nap-rooms with reclining chairs, blankets and alarm clocks. They claim napping has reduced accidents, errors and increased productivity, even though it shortens the workday slightly.

In fact, within the Empire State Building a company called Metronaps rents out specially designed pods for napping, at $14 for 20 minutes.

Researchers like to point out that many a famous personality were napping enthusiasts, (Einstein, Edison and Churchill to name a few) but unfortunately what many of us don’t realize is that taking a Siesta was one of the practices of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sa)!

Many Hadeeth mention the Prophet (sa) taking a Qaylula – (short rest), after Dhuhr prayers, both at home and when traveling (Bukhari). Though still practiced in the Middle East, Latin America and some European countries, it is considered to be cultural and, until recently, frowned upon by most of the business class.

The Prophet (sa) is our role model, and his actions are divine inspiration that Allah ordered us to obey His Messenger (sa). In doing so we obey Allah (Surah An-Nisa 4: 80).

Thus taking a short nap after Dhuhr prayers, with the intention of following the Sunnah and using the rest of our day productively can help us earn Allah’s (swt) blessings. Some scholars say it can also help us establish Tahajjud.

To establish this Sunnah, it would be best to start our day-to- day activities right after Fajr, as the Prophet (sa) would. Then Insha Allah follow his custom of scheduling our work around the times of Salah, so as to allow us to take a short Qaylula before Asr prayer, thus refreshing ourselves to get through the rest of the day. This may seem easier said than done, but Allah (swt) has promised that He will make easy any effort we make to get closer to Him.

The Prophet (sa) said: “My Lord says: ‘If My slave comes nearer to me for a span, I go nearer to him for a cubit; and if he comes nearer to Me for a cubit, I go nearer to him for the span of outstretched arms; and if he comes to Me walking, I go to him running.’” (Bukhari)

The nap need not be very long, as Scholars like Ibn Jawziyyah strongly discouraged sleeping beyond Asr time as it leads to grogginess. Even researchers today recommend a 20-minute nap while others suggest 30 to 60 minutes. Beyond the recommended time leads to deep sleep from which it is difficult to awaken. Parents of little kids have been advised to take a quick nap while the kids are napping, instead of dashing around to get other work done.

Moreover, you don’t actually have to fall asleep; a Qaylula can simply mean putting up your feet and taking a physical and emotional break from your hectic schedule (a good chance to make Dhikr, etc.).

So call it Qaylula or Power Nap, there is ample proof that this Sunnah like all actions of our Prophet (sa) is beneficial for us in our daily lives, and its implementation will help us make the most of our time, Insha’Allah.

Connected to a World of Knowledge

200024784-001The scenario: a dinner party.

“What an exotic dish! How did you make it?” asks a guest.

“I found the recipe on the Internet,” I reply.

“Oh. On which website?” she asks hesitantly.

“I don’t remember. I just Googled the recipe name and chose the easiest one that came up in the Web search.” I explain.

But the questioner has already lost interest and is looking elsewhere. Maybe she’s not very dexterous with the Internet.

It’s not about graduating in Computer Science or taking a few Computer courses to learn how the Internet can be used in daily life. It’s about consciously striving for ease in all matters, and using the blessings provided to us by Allah (swt) for benefit in the Akhirah. The Internet is one such blessing.

The fact of the matter is that I have been using this tool for many fruitful endeavors for about nine years, ever since its introduction into my life. The most commonly-known benefit of the Internet is communication: the ease of staying in touch with relatives and friends in other cities and countries via email and chat. Even elderly ladies have grudgingly mastered the art of connecting to online messengers in order to talk to their beloveds in other parts of the world. However, they only do so as a matter of necessity, not choice.

“I have no patience with this machine! Whenever I sit on it to do something simple, nothing works out. I’d rather do something more productive with my time,” I once heard one mother-of-two complain.

“I have taken courses more than once in order to learn how to use the Computer, but I just don’t have a rapport with it; I cannot sit on it for more than a few minutes,” says another housewife.

It’s true. Either you have the patience to use the computer and Internet, or you don’t. However, patience is a quality that is acquired. I will try, through a few examples, encourage readers to realize just how they can benefit by being patient with this machine.

“And as for the favour of your Lord, so do announce it!” (Ad-Duha 93:11)

The doctor prescribes a certain medicine, and I want to know its side effects. I log on to the Internet, Google the name of the medicine with “side effects” as search terms, and lo! Multiple websites appear, providing me more details about it than the minutely-printed paper in the medicine’s packet.

I wanted to follow the week-by-week development of my first baby during pregnancy (as an excited first time expectant mother is). Just Googling terms like “fetus baby development” enabled me to browse for hours on websites providing everything from ultrasound scans to physical details of what to expect and do during each month.

My baby sometimes cried inconsolably during the first few days of her life, like most babies do. It was the Internet that enlightened me about “infant colic” and remedies for its cure. More reassuring though, were the experiences and advice of other new parents on online forums, where they discussed the problems they faced. I also tracked my baby’s monthly development after birth, on websites providing bulleted details of developmental milestones – complete with weight and height percentile charts and nutrition guides.

Once we needed the mailing address of a relative abroad. I found the Yellow Pages website (by typing “Yellow pages” in Google first), and put their telephone number in the reverse search: the mailing address was displayed within seconds. I do the same with any unrecognizable telephone number on the CLI: several online Pakistan Telephone Directories work successfully.

After purchasing my mobile phone, I realized with dismay that it came with an indecipherable user manual printed in some foreign language. All that was needed was an Internet Google search with the mobile phone brand and the terms “user manual download”; within minutes, I had downloaded its free user manual in English!

“How did you do that so quickly?” I have been asked many times. My answer: “Alhumdulillah, I know how to use the Internet”.

The sacred pursuit of seeking and forwarding Islamic knowledge and doing Dawah – calling others to Islam – can also be done tremendously via the Internet. It has been a favourite pastime of mine since several years to browse the website of Islamic Question and Answers (www.islamqa.com) of the Fatwa Committee of Sheikh Bin Baz – the grand Mufti of Saudia Arabia (may Allah (swt) have mercy on him) – in order to quench my thirst for practical Islamic guidance in every aspect of life.

I also search for, read and forward via email, articles on Islamic topics to relatives and friends; many provide positive feedback and ask me to continue the virtual “enlightenment”. Many friends email me to ask about matters of Islamic Jurisprudence: “How do I calculate Zakah on my jewelry?”, “Provide me a list of Haram animal ingredients”, “Is it permissible for me to chat online with male colleagues?” It gives one a good feeling to be able to provide solutions to others’ problems within minutes.

Virtual Islamic education is also a great way to utilize the Internet. Using software such as Paltalk and a set of speakers/headphones, many housewives and young mothers attend online religious lectures by scholars, aired live from other parts of the world. The world shrinks as the classroom virtually connects students to their teacher with a few wires and a screen! Software also allows students to participate in the virtual class with their microphones. Online Tajweed lessons are, therefore, a norm. I know a group of Muslim sisters living in the West who would hold regular Tajweed classes on Yahoo Messenger, using its Voice service.

“Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?” (Ar-Rahman 55:13)

A little initiative and perseverance on our part can enable that small machine sitting in a room in our house take us a long way on the road of knowledge and – eventually – that of success.

So, You’ve Been Quarrelling?

Vol 4- Issue 2 So you've been QuarrellingShipment deadlines are approaching, but the supply has been slack. It is likely that the consignment may be delayed and you’ll lose that foreign client you worked so hard to get. The supplier now calls requesting further delay. You’ve had it now, and refuse to take anymore, flaring up at the person on the other end of the line, (who’s been having a hard day too) you have the perfect ingredients for a boiling quarrel. What follows is an exchange of the choicest of words—but wait; did you wonder what’s that leading you to? Certainly not Allah’s (swt) pleasure!

An analysis of the above case would show that there are several reasons for the quarrel taking place: anger on both sides; increasing work pressure and other problems on both ends. So, is quarrelling the solution to the problem? Not at all, as we know from the following Ahadeeth:

The Prophet (sa) said: “The most hated person near Allah is the most quarrelsome” (Bukhari). And one of the characteristics of a hypocrite is that, “Whenever he quarrels he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner.” (Bukhari)

The above are strong points for working towards resolving an argument.

Conflicts Can Be Costly

Negative responses to conflicts can result in quarrels, long winding disputes or even workplace violence. According to the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), Europe’s biggest alternative dispute resolution body, it is how you approach conflict that makes the difference. According to its calculations in the United Kingdom alone, conflict costs businesses ₤33 billion every year of which legal fees amount to ₤6 billion whilst the cost of the damages alone is ₤27 billion. If this sum were a country it would be the world’s fifty-seventh biggest economy! Moreover, disputes can go out of control resulting in workplace violence. Workplace Violence Research Institute reports that losses in 1995 from workplace violence in the United States alone amounted to approximately $35.4 billion. Therefore, it is important that conflicts be dealt with positively and prevented from flaring up into negative situations.

What types of quarrels exist in the workplace?

These can be broadly divided into two:

  • Task-related
  • Person-related

How do I Deal with Task-related quarrels?

Find the underlying reason for the quarrel

It’s easy to flare up at someone, and more difficult to find the underlying reason for the quarrel—but the more difficult approach is definitely more rewarding as it would help you to tackle the problem rather than flaring up at the symptoms. Underlying reasons could include system and environmental problems, or organizational problems.

Work towards a win-win solution

Instead of letting differences and difficulties build into heated arguments try negotiating a solution that eventually benefits both the parties.

A famous example from the Seerah is that of the placement of the sacred Black Stone during the rebuilding of Al-Kabah. The Prophet (sa) helped diffuse a tense moment and created a win-win solution by involving the different clans.

Another example is that of Allied Signal, a maker of auto parts and aerospace electronics. The company worked out win-win agreements with many of its suppliers. In 1993, it offered to double its orders from one of its suppliers, Mech-Tronics on the condition that the latter would cut its prices by 10%. This resulted in an initial elimination of Mech-Tronics’ profits, however with help from Allied Signal it improved its efficiency and the higher volume soon paid off.

Have someone arbitrate or make peace

Called a peacemaker or an arbitrator, such a person or an institution resolves disputes between two parties. However, it’s important that the arbitrator resort to the guidance of the Quran and Sunnah to solve the problem and be just so that both parties are willing to accept the proposed solution to the conflict.

The Prophet (sa) was the arbitrator in Medina. In fact, accepting solutions proposed by the Prophet (sa) was a sign of faith among the believers. Allah (swt) says, “But no, by your Lord, they can have no Faith, until they make you ( Muhammad) judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decisions, and accept (them) with full submission.” (Surah An-Nisa 4: 65)

How do I Deal with Personal Quarrels?

Find the underlying problem

Unlike a task-related quarrel, personal quarrels can be due to negative emotions, for instance, dissatisfaction, jealousy, a hot temper or simply personality differences. Controlling emotional reactions or the responses to these differences can stop the difference from escalating into a heated argument.

Understand the different personality types

Try understanding the different personality types and deal with them accordingly. Identify their comfort zones, and what ticks them off. You can do this through patient observation and listening. We have the Prophet (sa)’s example to emulate in this respect. His observation was so minute that he would speak to his guests using their own accents and dialects. He was quite eloquent at both Bedouin and town speech.

Be well-mannered

Allah (swt) praised the Prophet’s (sa) conduct in the Quran, “And verily, you (O Muhammad (sa) SAW) are on an exalted (standard of) character.” (Al Qalam 68: 4) and also said: “And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you” (Aal Imran 3: 159)

Politeness pays enormous dividends both in this world and the hereafter. The Prophet (sa) said: “Nothing will be placed in the balance heavier than good conduct, and a person with good conduct will attain the rank of one who fasts and prays.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Dua is a Must

No matter how hard we try to turn away from resorting to quarrelling as the sole solution, we can’t do much without Allah’s (swt) help. So let each one of us pray that, O Allah “guide me to the best character for no one can guide to the best (character) except you, and turn away bad conduct from me for no one can turn it away from me except you.” (Muslim) Ameen.