Taking Back Our Narrative

peopletalkingThe winter of 2013 was an eventful one for me. As a second year medical student from Pakistan, I had the opportunity to visit the United States for a research elective at a university there. There were many lessons learnt and memories made, but there is one that has especially resonated with me.

As I was hurrying back from lunch to the office one day, I had trouble with the key.  A lady kindly offered to help. I had bumped into her before and exchanged a few greetings. However, that day after the door finally managed to get unlocked, she turned to me and said, “So listen, I have been meaning to ask you….why do you cover your head?”

I was, in all honestly, taken aback. But I also noticed something else. The tone she had used was neither condescending nor pitying. In fact it was one of curiosity.

And, it made a difference.

My answer was simple. I told her it was a part of my religion (Islam), which in turn, was part of my identity. I also mentioned that it had been my choice and wasn’t something I did simply because of tradition. I couldn’t explain much or launch into a detailed explanation out there in the hallway, but she seemed satisfied with the little details I did give; and she gave me no less than a positive response saying she thought it was a beautiful concept.

While the Hijab appears to be a central theme in the above anecdote, I want to highlight an aspect that has nothing to do with covering my head: harmony amongst people and within a society.

She chose to listen to my narrative, simple as it was, over whatever pre-conceived notions she may have had or any assumptions that people usually make regarding the Hijab.

The lady chose to ask me why I did something that she had seen few people do in her homeland, when she saw that it clearly highlighted that I was a foreigner and a Muslim; she did what few people think of doing, albeit unconsciously: she gave me a voice. She chose to listen to my narrative, simple as it was, over whatever pre-conceived notions she may have had or any assumptions that people usually make regarding the Hijab. She chose to get to know me rather than the version of me that society most commonly constructs (i.e. just another oppressed Muslim being weighed down by her religion).

Being extremely busy, I barely had a chance to see her again, but she taught me one of the most important lessons I could have learnt as a human being: sometimes in order to get to know people and give them a voice, all you have to do is throw aside whatever you think you know, whatever assumptions you have and just listen. Listen to why some people cover their heads. Listen to why some don’t. Listen to why people are in tune with their religion. Listen to why others are not. Listen to why some seem to be enjoying their lives to the fullest. Listen to why others are not.  Listen and understand these differences instead of treating them like the elephant in the room.

I would not like it for myself that others make an opinion about me without ever meeting me, based on what they may have heard from other people. And, the least I can do is offer others the same courtesy and treat them the way I would like to be treated.

Our Beloved Prophet (sa) understood this more than anyone else, and enjoined it by saying in his famous Hadeeth, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”

Can we ever appreciate the wisdom of this beautiful Hadeeth enough? As Muslims we are taught not only to refrain from negative assumptions, but also to speak good of others; yet, every day, we seem to be doing the opposite.

In Surah Ar-Rahman, Allah (swt) mentions how He, in his infinite Mercy, taught man to speak. Physically speaking, it is pretty amazing how Allah (swt) did this, how He fashioned the vocal cords inside of us. I got the opportunity to view them once, when I got to observe an anesthetist as she intubated a patient. Intubation requires for a tube to be fitted down the throat into the trachea (windpipe) after sedation is achieved. And, as the anesthetist slid the laryngoscope in for visualization, I got to stand right beside her and view the inside of the throat. The tube moved in effortlessly, coming to a stop as they reached the windpipe. From my angle, I could view the vocal cords. And with the light of the laryngoscope, these small white cords appeared almost to glisten.

Here is the reality. Right in the middle of red, wet, tissue that is in our throats these glistening white cords stand out like pearls. They are tiny- you would hardly think they were created for a purpose. But, their Maker knew where to place them exactly so that they could come together to produce sound, the very essence of communication, of how we get to know each other. And these tiny, lovely pearl-like cords are there in the throats of every human being, delivering the purpose according to the way they are used. They are there in the neck of a tyrant as he spews out hate; they are there in the victim as he cries for mercy. They are there for the adult who may espouse some wisdom, for the child as he murmurs and cries, for the oppressor and the oppressed.

And these tiny, lovely pearl-like cords are there in the throats of every human being, delivering the purpose according to the way they are used.

These cords are in harmony with one another. But when we abuse this incredible power we have been given, we lose that harmony. And this loss can result in the ugliest of manifestations….broken homes, broken families, even broken nations. Hence, if we really want change, let’s start from here. Let’s beautify our speech. Let us be more understanding and considerate of others. Let us take back our narrative together, as a human race.

The Flawless Harmony between Eyes and Ears

eyeThe vision system that we have is immeasurably superior to the display technologies designed by experts in several techniques. This system has a characteristic which the advanced technology cannot imitate; even if we turn our head very fast, the clarity and the quality doesn’t change. Also under normal circumstances, every time we move our head, we would have seen images sliding or unable to focus on a certain point, just like the images taken with an amateur camera. But we never come across such an image because no matter which direction we turn our head to, our eyes automatically move to the opposite direction to balance the vision. If we had to turn our eyes every time when we move our head to look at the same point, it would have been very difficult and there would be much disorder. But this never happens, and the visual process can be completed perfectly; thanks to the flawless details in this automatic tuning system. Allah’s (swt) endless Wisdom is revealed in a verse from the Quran that states:

This system has a characteristic which the advanced technology cannot imitate; even if we turn our head very fast, the clarity and the quality doesn’t change.

“And whatever of blessings and good things you have, it is from Allah. Then, when harm touches you, unto Him you cry aloud for help.” (An-Nahl 16:53)

The scientific name of this reflex which coordinates our vision like an automatic camera system is the Vestibulo-ocular reflex. But this reflex doesn’t do its duty only with our eyes. Our eyes have a very important and secret supporter to run this reflex: Our ears; the perfect system of the ear that controls the head’s turning movements

The structures named “the semi-circular canals” in our ears are miracles of creation with the duty they carry out.There are 3-three semi-circular canals and they are combined with each other perpendicularly. Each of these three canals is created specially by Almighty Allah (swt) for the 3-three types of turning movements that we do with our head.On the tips of these canals, there is a part called the “ampulla” which contains ciliated cells.

As one of the countless signs of the Superior Wisdom of Almighty Allah (swt), these little ciliated cells perceive all the turning movements of our head and transmit this to the brain as an electrical signal.

How does this miracle happen?

In the semi-circular canals, there is a special liquid called “endolymph”. When a bucket full of water is turned, the buckets prevent the water from pouring for a while. Similarly, the liquid inside the ear canal doesn’t move immediately. As a result, the liquid bends the cilia. This mechanical potency is turned into an electrical signal as another miracle of creation. But an interesting situation comes into question here; even if the head doesn’t turn in any direction, the cilia moves to either the right side or to the left side. By this movement, frequent or rare electrical signals are produced periodically.

The structures named “the semi-circular canals” in our ears are miracles of creation with the duty they carry out.There are 3-three semi-circular canals and they are combined with each other perpendicularly. Each of these three canals is created specially by Almighty Allah (swt) for the 3-three types of turning movements that we do with our head.

What makes our eyes Superior than the cameras?

Almighty Allah (swt) has given each eye 6-six little motors for this perfect camera system to work. These little motors are the muscles that turn the eye to six different directions. When we want to turn our eye in any direction, the brain commands these little motors and they move our eye as we like.

There is no doubt that…

There is a request inside us to turn our head.

According to our demand, a command comes from our brain.

These commands are sent to where they should go by electric impulses.

After that, these electrical signals can move the muscles as we like.

These are the details that should be considered.

Through an ordinary day, you would never recognize these details about the movements of your eyes. And you don’t make an extra effort for these details to happen. However, this luxurious and matchless camera system works perfectly as you need.This miracle has only one explanation; this system can work only by the Superior Wisdom of Almighty Allah (swt), The Lord of the Worlds.

“He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms…” (Al-Hashr 59:24)

For the perfect harmony between the eyes and the ears to work flawlessly in this system and the layers that form this system; every part of the system should exist at the same time. Eyes and ears are created as a whole by Allah (swt).

“Say (O Muhammad (sa) ): Tell me or inform me (what) do you think about your (so-called) partner-gods to whom you call upon besides Allah, show me, what they have created of the earth? Or have they any share in the heavens? Or have We given them a Book, so that they act on clear proof there from? Nay, the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers, etc.) promise one another nothing but delusions.” (Fatir 35:40)

The cooperation of the eyes and ears

Besides the different systems that the eyes and the ear have, it is another important subject that these perfect signs of creation come together and form perfect vision. For example, when you turn your head to the left, the signal coming from the semicircular canal on the left side moves to the eyes through two nerve bunches. One of these goes to the right eye, and the other one goes to the left eye. The nerve bunch which goes to the right eye goes to one of the six muscles on the right eye; in other words it goes to the right muscle of the right eye. The nerve bunch which goes to the left eye goes to the muscle on the right side of the left eye. The interesting part here is this; these muscles are formed from different muscles for the two eyes but both of them do the same job and both of them work to turn the eye to the right. Finally the electrical signals are turned into action and perfect vision is provided.

If the eyes and the ears were formed as a result of coincidences, how could they be in such harmony? Which coincidence can form such a perfect mechanism that can evaluate millions of different codes in a second and combine them with each other?

Evolutionists cannot explain the harmony between eyes and ears

It is a very fine-tuned process that the eyes which are independent of each other form one vision, and while doing this a third dimension is added to the two dimensional vision.

If the eyes and the ears were formed as a result of coincidences, how could they be in such harmony? Which coincidence can form such a perfect mechanism that can evaluate millions of different codes in a second and combine them with each other? If there was a lack of harmony between the eyes and the ears, then the signals would be mixed and there would only be a confused vision. But such a chaos never happens. The organs created in harmony, send signals to the brain which too is in great harmony – evaluates these signals. And as a result of this, a perfect vision is provided. There is no way to explain the existence of this amazing system by coincidences. This system has come into being by the flawless creation of Almighty Allah (swt). In a verse of the Quran, this miraculous creation of our Lord is revealed as follows:

“Who has created the seven heavens one above another, you can see no fault in the creations of the Most Beneficent. Then look again: “Can you see any rifts?”(Al-Mulk 67:3)

Parenting in Violent Times – Teach Your Kids the Lesson of Peace

Islam-Peace-ReligionIf you ask any teacher involved in mentoring teenage kids in schools and colleges about the general character of their pupils, ‘Churlish’ is most probably going to be their unanimous rejoin. This churlishness is well replicated in our overall social conduct and no area in our societal landscape is empty from this churlishness. Whether it is religion, politics or culture, the violence has spread its wings all over the place. Sometimes, as a society we try to fool ourselves by branding it as “Foreign Propaganda “, but unfortunately, the approach of “putting a curtain” has badly intensified this malady and it has now gone fatal for our social and religious fabric. Where we can blame our state and politicians for their bad policies, on the other hand, we cannot also ignore the heedlessness of parents in protecting their kids from this social and ethical illness. Our strong family system is indeed a matter of pride for all of us and it provides us with a matchless tool to modify our social tendencies. The outcome will solely depend on how effectively and smartly we utilize this tool to get the desired results. Parents happen to be on the driving seat of a ‘’family car’’ and can easily steer the whole family either towards the ‘’danger zones’’ of violence or could drive them towards “lush gardens’’ of peace. Following are some proposed ways on how parents can train their kids to be peaceful and modest individuals:

  1.  Remote control your kids: Traditionally in a family, the TV remote control is kept with the Dad during prime time hours when all the family members gather before a television in their living room to enjoy some family entertainment. If you feed your young ones with violent Hollywood action flicks and Bombay Underworld based Bollywood movies on a daily basis, it will not be a surprise if your kids eventually distance themselves from Quran and Sunnah and learn the violent customs depicted in those movies. Do research and find appropriate channels and programs that can infest them with peace and love.
  2.  Give dialogue a chance: In my opinion, the violence in our society is mainly rooted in the fact that we do not want any difference of opinion and have forgotten to co-exist with different schools of thought. A society tends to have differences and will only sustain if it learns to bear it unreservedly. As a parent, you can teach your kid on how to deal with differences in a peaceful manner by engaging yourself in a dialogue with them on matters in which they differ with you. Like, for instance, if your son wants to study commerce and in your judgement engineering will suit him instead, rather than imposing your opinion on him try to explain the basis of your judgement and listen to him if he has stronger reasons. This dialogue will not only help your son to become peaceful but will also bring affability to your house.
  3. Do not shout, be kind: Mothers are extremely possessive and passionate about their kids and therefore lose calm as soon as anything goes slightly astray. Houses in the country rock with ‘Mama’s’ loud and powerful shouts that can be heard by every kid in the neighbourhood. Sometimes it also gets physical which has worse implications on the mental development of a kid. Mothers need to learn gentle ways to control their kids so that the kids grow up as more confident and serene. If this motherly aggression is not controlled, resultantly our clerics and politicians will continue to be aggressive in their speeches and conduct.
  4. Serve them peace, use a dining table: Keeping in view the contemporary hectic lifestyle in which parents do not have the luxury to spend a lot of time with their kids, dinner is the only time when you can pull a healthy conversation with your kids. Inspire them by reflecting on the life of our Prophet (sa); expand on his compassion and forgiveness. Teach them how dialogue averts devastation and wars open doors to chaos and mayhem. In return of their favourite deserts, ask them to contribute towards the conversation and share their ideals of peace and love.
  5. The kitchen strategy: Many studies have indicated the affects of food on personality building. The excess of meat makes a person more violent and aggressive while the use of vegetables bends a person towards docility and modesty. Follow a proper diet plan that should comprise different sources i.e. fish, mutton, beef, chicken, and vegetables distributed equally. Keeping in view the economic and health benefits, use vegetables more often than meat. It will not only improve the physical health of your kids but will also help in boosting calm in them.
  6. Nip the violence in the bud: The early years of a kid are the most important in his personal development and are the high time when parents need to play their role. They need to be attentive of any growing inclination in them towards a violent way of life. Analyse, where they go wrong and mentor them duly. Talk to the school teachers and get their feedback on kid’s personality. Your hard work will reward the whole society with peace and prosperity.

The existence of human civilization and its progress is hidden behind our ability to remain peaceful and modest. Deviance will bring with it lethal implications for our societies and cultures. It is extremely important to keep our cultures and religions unpolluted from violence and extremism. Keeping in view the milieu of Pakistani Society, family is the basic unit and is normally governed by parents. Therefore parents need to act as role models of peace and gentleness and teach their kids to be peaceful and tolerant. This will help the society to change its current character of aggression and can restore itself to its original fabric of harmony and co-existence.

10 Guiding Principles in Establishing Cordial Relations with In-laws

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The word ‘in-laws’, by convention, has a negative connotation, in our part of the world in particular, where society has not broken the shackles of oppressive cultural practices. Our knee-jerk response to a discussion on in-laws, therefore, tends to be restricted to what’s ‘wrong’ with them. In such an atmosphere, it becomes difficult to see beyond the stereotypes and consider our own individual situations in a fair light.

A lot of people seem to know that in Islam there is no obligation on the daughter-in-law to care for her husband’s family. But in considering this, they forget that there are other rights that they still need to fulfil by virtue of the in-laws being, at the very least, their brothers and sisters in Islam.

Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said, “None of you will believe until you love for another what you love for yourself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Would we love for ourselves that people talk negatively about us behind our backs? Would we love that people harbour feelings of hatred towards us? Would we love for our own parents to be constantly criticized and/or shunned by their daughters- or sons-in-law?

Here are some things to focus on, in our relationship with our in-laws:

  1. Start off with good expectations of them. Not everything other people tell us about their in-laws has to be true about ours.
  2. People are not all good or all bad. Everyone has positive and negative qualities. We do, too. In fact, there is some good even in the worst of us. Look for that good. Focus on it instead of on what is not to your liking.
  3. Everyone needs, and thrives on, respect. Respect for the other person cannot be developed if we notice only their negative qualities and keep mentioning them in front of other people. (You think your mother-in-law does that to you? Before you pass a judgement on her, examine your own attitude and ask yourself: are you perhaps doing that to her, too?)
  4. Don’t talk about her behind her back unless it is to mention her good qualities. Backbiting destroys relationships especially because it perpetuates a negative image of a person in everyone’s minds and makes us ignore our own shortcomings.
  5. Misunderstandings arise when we don’t really know the other person well. Limited conversations and interactions related to household chores are not the best breeding ground for establishing meaningful relationships. Really knowing the other person means we know what makes them happy, what makes them special as a person, what they want out of life, what struggles they have faced, and what they have accomplished so far. Taking interest in another person and considering him or her a human being worthy of knowing can make a world of difference in how our relationships can develop.
  6. Be fair. Noticing only what you don’t like about your mother-in-law? Stop. Remind yourself of all the things she does that perhaps help you out. Does she watch the kids, supervise the maid, and do the cooking every now and then? Sometimes we are looking so hard at all the things that annoy us that we forget to notice what is good in the other person. If we notice only the negatives then we are not really being fair.
  7. Feel responsible to bring out the best in other people. Our feelings towards them will translate into our attitude towards them. If we check our feelings constantly, we can correct our attitude, too.
  8. Keep your eyes on your Akhirah. Sometimes we are so busy keeping our sight on how others should be that we forget to evaluate our own selves. Are we on the correct path, towards Jannah? Or are we letting ourselves drift off?
  9. You don’t own anybody. Not yourself. Not your husband. Not your children. They are all an Amanah (trust) from Allah. We have to do our best with that Amanah. Your in-laws have a right over your husband and children, too. Make sure you are not taking away that right.
  10. Make excuses for your in-laws because nobody is perfect. Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, once said: “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” (Narrated by Imam Al-Bayhaqi in his Shuab al-Iman)

The principle being stated here is that no one is free of error, and everyone makes mistakes. If we would like our mistakes to be overlooked then we should want the same for others.

May Allah guide us to be of excellent character in all of our relationships. Ameen.

Image courtesy: Flickr