Valentine’s Day Special: Far From the Madding Crowd

rp_Vol-2-Issue-4-Its-Valentines-Day-300x225.jpgBirthdays, Halloween, bridal showers, baby showers, this day, that day, and the endless Dholkis! Come February and the entire town is painted red. Love is in the air, or so we are made to believe. Girls are coordinating red clothes and accessories, while guys are crowding the flower shops. Vendors are pleased. Their business is doing well. Families at home are not sure whether they should switch off their television sets or shamelessly sit through the entire transmission, and witness what is being broadcast in the name of love. Parents and teenagers are equally dazed: should they jump in and join the maddening crowd or should they sit on the fence holding on to the tattering family values?

If we could, we would perhaps name every day of the year and celebrate it. It is as if we need reasons to splurge and show we are not slacking in this race. Allah mentions:

The trendsetters, the celebrities, the people that we drool over and follow in every word and action will dissociate themselves from their followers. What does that mean? It means that they will take no responsibility for the actions of their followers. And why would they do that? It is because on that Day when they won’t be able to save themselves how can they possibly save anyone else?

“And [yet], among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to Him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. And if only they who have wronged would consider [that] when they see the punishment, [they will be certain] that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment. [And they should consider that] when those who have been followed disassociate themselves from those who followed [them], and they [all] see the punishment, and cut off from them are the ties [of relationship]. Those who followed will say: ‘If only we had another turn [at worldly life] so we could disassociate ourselves from them as they have disassociated themselves from us.’ Thus will Allah show them their deeds as regrets upon them. And they are never to emerge from the Fire.” (Al-Baqarah 2:165-167)

Who are the people who will disassociate themselves? Who are the ones who will wish to return? And why would they wish to return?

This verse presents a sketch of the Judgement Day. The leaders will dissociate themselves from their followers. Let’s replace the word ‘leaders’ with ‘trendsetters’ and rephrase the sentence. The trendsetters, the celebrities, the people that we drool over and follow in every word and action will dissociate themselves from their followers. What does that mean? It means that they will take no responsibility for the actions of their followers. And why would they do that? It is because on that Day when they won’t be able to save themselves how can they possibly save anyone else?

One simple criterion to evaluate our actions is that before venturing into anything ask: “Why am I doing this?” If it pleases Allah (swt) pursue it; if not, divert your attention to something of Khair.

What does this tell us? Does it give us a wake-up call? Does it give a momentary room to the voice of the conscience that asks us, “Hey, where are you heading?”

Imagine a scenario, where you are standing on the road and there are people walking in front of you. Mindlessly, you start walking behind them because…err let’s say you are impressed by their dressing, their appearance, the way they carry themselves, or perhaps you are walking behind them because you are not even sure why you are doing that. Now where would you end up by following these people? Look around yourself. Have you reached your home yet? Or is it that you have come to a place that is far away from your destination? How do you feel now? Are you pleased that you mindlessly followed someone because you were impressed by them?

Sit back and reflect; what does this example teach you?

We learn that in this world when we intend to follow someone, when we decide to tread in their footsteps, or act upon what they say, we should make use of our senses. We should ascertain where they are taking us, what interests they are instilling, what they are stopping us from, what they are saving us from, what they are promising, what they are putting us into and where do they wish to take us. Make use of your intellect.

How can the mirror of the heart shine if material images are covering it? How can the heart journey to God if it is chained by its desires?

What does the Qur’an say about the people who don’t use their intellect? Allah (swt) equates them to a herd of sheep, who can hear the calls and cries of their shepherd but don’t understand a thing. They mindlessly start treading in the direction where they see others walking.

Ever seen hens at a farm? The animals and crops at the farm are the farmer’s livelihood as well as food. Sometimes he slaughters an animal from his herd to feed his family. But how does he attract the animal towards himself? Running after them with a butcher’s knife will scare the animals away. The farmer therefore uses a clever strategy. He throws some grains and the innocent little chicken comes walking to its master. The farmer grabs it and within seconds it’s gone. The grains are temporary pleasure for the chicken but a strong tool for the farmer to tempt the chicken to come out of its coop.

The pomp and glitter of this world, and the urge to be around certain type of people are temporary pleasures of this world. By mindlessly chasing every slogan, charm or a person we act like a herd of sheep. The predator’s trap, however, will not just take our lives but also have an impact on our hereafter.

When the love of Allah (swt) enters the heart of a Muslim then nothing in the world can stop him from the way of Allah (swt). Our Prophet Ibraheem (as) was a living proof of that. 

Allah (swt) says in Surah al-Anam, verse 32: “And the worldly life is not but amusement and diversion…so will you not reason?”

Let’s also read what does the Ayah before this says: “Those will have lost who deny the meeting with Allah, until when the Hour [of resurrection] comes upon them unexpectedly, they will: ‘Oh, [how great is] our regret over what we neglected concerning it.’”

People continue to live in denial until their meeting with the Creator. It is not until they are laid down in their graves that they realize their negligence. They regret the time wasted on unnecessary things and being forgetful of the Questioning. A week goes by and we don’t know where our time went: more concern for the worldly matters and ignorance to the hereafter.

Someone shouts: “It’s Valentine’s Day!” And the entire nation begins its celebrations. Amidst criticisms and objections, someone comments: “What’s wrong about it? The poor little boy who sells flowers at the signal at least earns a meal for his family on that day.” Someone else asserts: “Why do we have to make life so boring?”

But who says a Muslim’s life has to be boring?

The Creator directs the sail of our boats, “For each is a direction toward which it faces. So race to [all that is] good.” (Al-Baqarah 2:148) That is our path. The path of Khair. But what is this Khair? Khair is anything that benefits the society. Does our celebration of birthdays, Halloween, Basant, Dholkis, bridal showers and baby showers benefit the society? Or is it simply an excuse to show we are wealthy and live on the other side of the bridge? What will we say when are questioned about: In what matters did you spend your wealth? In throwing parties and exchanging unwanted gifts among people who can purchase anything that they wish to buy?

In Surah al-Fatihah we make Dua to Allah (swt) to “Show us the right way. The way of those who were favoured.” We find the detail of such people in Surah an-Nisa, verse 69, “the Siddiqeen [the truthful], the Shuhadah [the martyrs] and the Saliheen [the righteous].”

By blindly following rituals, traditions and celebrations, whose path are we really following? The ones who evoke His anger or of those who have strayed? Giving zakah or purchasing a sacrificial animal for Eid is burdensome for us, but splurging money on whims and desires is not.

For a Muslim, true love happens only once and that is with his Creator. This is what we learn from our Prophet Ibraheem (as) as we read in the Qur’an:

“‘My Lord, grant me [a child] from among the righteous.’ So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy. And when he reached with him [the age of] exertion, he said: ‘O my son, indeed I have seen in a dream that I [must] sacrifice you, so see what you think.’ He said: ‘O my father, do as you are commanded. You will find me, if Allah wills, of the steadfast.’ And when they had both submitted and he put him down upon his forehead, We called to him, ‘O Ibraheem, You have fulfilled the vision.’ Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good. Indeed, this was the clear trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice, And We left for him [favourable mention] among later generations: ‘Peace upon Ibraheem.’ Indeed, We thus reward the doers of good.” (As-Saffat 37:100-110)

What will we say when are questioned about: In what matters did you spend your wealth? In throwing parties and exchanging unwanted gifts among people who can purchase anything that they wish to buy?

When the love of Allah (swt) enters the heart of a Muslim then nothing in the world can stop him from the way of Allah (swt). Our Prophet Ibraheem (as) was a living proof of that.

In his book, Al-Hikam, Sheikh Ahmad Ibn Ata’illah As-Sakandari says: “How can the mirror of the heart shine if material images are covering it? How can the heart journey to God if it is chained by its desires?”

One simple criterion to evaluate our actions is that before venturing into anything ask: “Why am I doing this?” If it pleases Allah (swt) pursue it; if not, divert your attention to something of Khair.

May Allah (swt) allow us to cleanse our souls and protect us from wandering blindly on the path of Shaytan, Ameen.

Adapted from Dr. Farhat Hashmi’s Lecture: “How to Express Love: Sacrifice or Valentine?”

Origins of Basant

basantThe roots of this festival can be traced as far back as ancient times. Originally, this festival was called Vasantotsav (Vasant + Utsav (festival)) and is also known as Vasant Panchami – Hindu Spring festival. In Sanskrit, ‘Vasant’ means ‘Spring (season)’ and ‘Panchami’ means ‘the fifth day.’ As the name indicates, this festival falls on the fifth day of the Hindu month Magh (February), which is the beginning of the Spring season. It is a season, when nature regenerates and everything is fresh and new. New life is evident in the woods and fields. Mustard fields turn into a heady mix of yellow and green, as the blossoms add colour. Since the yellow colour has special importance on this day, people wear yellow dresses. Men and boys wear yellow Turbans or shirts, while women and girls – yellow Chunries or Duppattas.

They get together and erect special Dias for this day, where they hold Puja and community lunch. Kite flying is popular on this day. In some traditional homes, sweet dishes are exchanged with relatives and friends. A dash of saffron is added to the sweet dishes for getting a yellow tinge. Many people go to temple to offer Halwa or sweet rice as a Prasad to the god. Hindu people associate Basant with freshness and a new beginning in all spheres of life. This festival is widely celebrated in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries, where there are Hindu communities.

Pagan roots

This festival is dedicated to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. She is considered to be the feminine counterpart of lord Brahma, who according to Hindu mythology is the creator of the universe. Saraswati is usually shown as the fair skinned eternally young goddess, dressed in white and yellow garments. She has four hands. She is holding a book in one hand and a Japamala (rosary string) in another. She is playing a Veena (musical instrument) with the other two hands.

‘Book’ symbolizes the Vedas (spiritual knowledge and wisdom), and ‘Japamala’ symbolizes meditation and contemplation or concentration. She is sitting on a lotus, which symbolizes creation (life), love and kindness. The white swan that accompanies her symbolizes purity and peace. As a patron of arts, she plays a song on the instrument Veena. All her characteristics symbolize that she is a goddess of learning, wisdom and all kinds of knowledge, including science and music. She is the master of 64 arts, of which the art of love is the first and most important. It is believed that she is the energy of lord Brahma. With her knowledge, she helps lord Brahma in generation of the world.

Schools, colleges and other educational institutions organize special worship of Saraswati and other cultural activities. It is a custom to begin a child’s education on this day of Basant. Before starting, the children are expected to recite the following Shloka: “Saraswathi Namastubhyam Varade Kamarupini Vidyarambam Karishyami Sidhirbhavatu Mesada. (Oh Saraswati, sitting on the beautiful lotus flower, I am beginning my education, so always bless me.)”

Highlights of Vasant Panchami

1)      The festival falls in the month of February.

2)      It is dedicated to the goddess Saraswati.

3)      Saraswati is the goddess of learning, knowledge and wisdom.

4)      Saraswati is the energy of lord Brahma. She helps lord Brahma in the creation of new world.

5)      It is said that Hindus should chant Saraswati Shloka before study.

Current trends in Pakistan

Punjab and Lahore particularly have started celebrating Basant. The most important event of the festival is kite-flying at night in the Walled City of Lahore.

The sky is filled with colorful kites, tracked by searchlights, dancing to the music of the decks on the rooftops blaring out Bhangra tunes. Banks, multinational companies and hotels have started using this event for public relations. Also the Punjab government has claimed a stake in the festivities.

Nowadays, people are of the view that such festivals have a liberating effect. They provide a brief interlude with freedom from the toils of daily existence and a bit of fun.

Accidents and deaths

According to Dawn (15th February, 2007), ten people were reportedly killed and over 100 injured in Basant-related incidents in different parts of Lahore alone. Doctors said the people brought to the hospitals were either injured by chemical coated and metal strings, electrocuted, had fallen from rooftops or had indulged in fights over kite flying.

Three died from injuries they suffered in road accidents. One person was run over by a bus, and a nine-year-old was hit and killed by a van on Multan Road, when he was trying to catch a stray kite. Yet another unidentified teenager was killed in a similar road accident near Kalma Chowk.

Three people died after falling from rooftops in Gowalmandi, Gujjarpura and New Muslim Town. They were 18, 15 and 8 years old. The hospitals had made special arrangements to deal with the injured people, most of them youngsters. Half of the injured admitted to the hospitals were discharged after first aid, and the rest were treated till late night.

According to the city police chief, most of the deaths happened due to mistakes made by the deceased themselves.

148 people were arrested for using materials that are banned for kite flying – 91 spools of metal and chemical string and 470 kites were seized from them. Special police squads and traffic policemen remained on duty and swooped down on those committing violations.

“We have been strictly instructed not to go after those buying liquor from hotels and not to smell people’s mouth,” a policeman standing outside a city hotel said.

Islamic ruling on celebration of festivals

A festival or fest is an event, usually staged by a local community, which centers on some theme, sometimes on some unique aspect of the community. Among many religions, a feast or festival is a set of celebrations in honour of God or gods. In the case of Basant, the festival is in honour of the goddess Saraswati.

It was narrated that Abd-Allah Bin Umer said: “The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them.’” (Abu Dawood)

Islam is a religion of Fitrat (nature). Islam acknowledges the need for humans to relax and have clean fun. However, Allah (swt) has set His limits.

The Prophet (sa) said: “For every people there is a feast and this is our feast.” (Bukhari)

The first of Shawal (Eid-ul-Fitr) and the tenth of Zil Hajj (Eid-ul-Adha)

The Prophet (sa) said: “They are days of eating, drinking and remembrance of Allah.” (Bukhari)

It is important to remember that every event or experience in a Muslim’s life should bring him closer to Allah (swt), and the same is true for celebrations. Nearly every celebration has roots in some religious belief, and, therefore, it is not appropriate for a Muslim to indulge in non-Islamic festivities. It is at times like these that one can easily forget the limits set by Allah (swt) and go astray. After all, it is simply impossible to remember Allah (swt) and do Bhangra or have liquor simultaneously. May Allah (swt) protect and guide us all, Ameen.