Slowing Down the Propellers


Mr. Zafar, a concerned father of a three-year-old, has arrived at his office, completely distressed. His daughter was not admitted into a prestigious preschool. His wife has already filed a complaint at the institution where the toddler underwent a six-month-long programme supposed to prepare her for the pre-school admission test.

Mr. Hassan, Mr. Zafar’s colleague, has other worries on his mind. His teenage son is bluntly refusing to work with the chemistry teacher, whom they have hired for tutoring him in late evenings. He is also not interested in Mr. Hassan’s proposed extra-curricular activities, which would look so good on his resume for college application.

Although the scenarios of Mr. Zafar and Mr. Hassan are to be taken with a good dose of humour, many parents nowadays find themselves in similar situations, micromanaging and over-analyzing the lives of their children. The recent decades have witnessed the rise of a distinct style of parenting, which has come to be known as ‘helicopter parenting’ – paying extremely close attention to experiences and problems of children, particularly at educational institutions, or, in other words, hovering over their heads much like helicopters. It is believed that some of the factors contributing to the rise of helicopter parenting are the increased academic competition, the exposure of child abduction stories in the media and the highly competitive environment of the global economy.

While a healthy parental concern about children is a positive phenomenon, over-parenting can result in such unwelcomed developments as lack of problem-solving skills and self-esteem in children. Some children might become so dependent on parents that they would require ‘helicoptering’ well into their college and beyond, while others might simply rebel against the tight grip of their parents, as they get older.

What are helicopter parents like? Here are some key characteristics:

  • Obsession with their children’s education, safety and extracurricular activities;
  • Over programming the lives of their children, allowing them no free time for playing and exploring on their own;
  • Inability to tolerate that their children might have painful or negative experiences;
  • Conviction that their children can be happy only by proceeding through their lives smoothly, and that it is the duty of parents to facilitate it.

As well-meaning parents, we all have the innate wish to protect and provide for our children. However, at some point, we should ask ourselves whether we are doing too much for them. Here are some healthy ways of slowing down the propellers and avoiding the trap of over-parenting:

  • Let your children deal with their own problems. Often, in an attempt to save children from negative experiences, parents swoop in and fix the problems kids are facing. By dealing with their own problems, children become stronger. Making poor decisions and learning from natural consequences will help them make right decisions in future.
  • Do not overprotect your children. While parents should provide a reasonably safety environment for their children, overprotecting can prove to be counterproductive. Knees will get scratched and the cricket game will have only one winning team. Life holds many valuable lessons to be learned.
  • Let your children take risks – within reason. Kids are able to handle more than we think. If the situation at hand has acceptable risk level, let your kids face it head on; however, stand by and be ready to jump in if the potential damage exceeds the lesson to be learned.
  • Talk it through. Leave the fix-it practice; instead, teach your children to address problems themselves. Coach them on peer relationship problems or academic issues and allow your kids to mature by experiencing the full range of emotions.
  • Encourage your children to try. No amazing adventures or great discoveries have happened without some anxiety and fear in the background. When your children face something scary, put a positive smile on your face and encourage them to try it, instead of empathizing and allowing them to back out of it.

Slowing down the propellers and giving the children space might not be easy. Today’s society loves high achievers and believes in pressure-cooking success. It’s time for human parents to get back to the basics and learn confidence from the instincts of mama-bird, who knows just the right time to kick the babies out of the nest.

Book Reviews (Women Power)


Title: Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage

Author: Sadaf Farooqi

Publisher: International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH)

Pages: 195

Availability: Da’wah Books, Khadda Market, DHA Phase 5, Karachi / IIPH Online Store (

Are you getting married or know anybody who is about to ‘tie the knot’? Do consider investing in this informative book by Hiba’s seasoned writer, Sadaf Farooqi, who has done extensive Quran and Sunnah based research into the topic of marriage and Muslim family life.

The book consists of nineteen chapters, leading the readers through the full range of family-related topics: lessons for single Muslims, guidelines on marital intimacy and tips for the expecting Muslims, advice for Muslim parents, insights into living in a joint family system and many more. The writer tackles such debated topics as the Hoor al-Een of Paradise and discusses the contemporary causative factors and issues of divorce. The book concludes on a refreshingly optimistic note – you live only once so start living your life.

In this book, you will find an up-to-date comprehensive guide for overcoming the trials of marital life and building a long-lasting, loving relationship between a husband and a wife.

Title: Great Women of Islam (who were given the good news of Paradise)

Author: Mahmood Ahmad Ghadanfar

Publisher: Darussalam

Availability: Darussalam showroom and online shop


In this book, Mahmood Ahmad Ghandafar showcases a treasured collection to the readers – the stories of the Mothers of Believers and sixteen other women companions of the Prophet (sa) who, during their lifetime only, were given the glad tidings of being admitted to Paradise.

The book starts with a general chapter on the achievements of women companions, enumerating their successes in the fields of religion, politics, education, fine arts, trade and commerce. The subsequent chapters bring detailed life stories of the Prophet’s (sa) wives and other Sahabiyat.  The author underlines the very active and courageous nature of the women of the time, who nursed the wounded soldiers at the battlefield and worked extensively on the spreading Islam to disbelievers.

The book is an excellent resource for studying the characters of these great women and the qualities which have granted them the elevated status of being admitted to Paradise. Muslim women of any age will find in it role models they can follow and emulate, Insha’Allah.

Kamila: She Dared Where Many Men Hesitated – Part 1


By Suleman Ahmer – CEO and the Lead Facilitator of “Timelenders”, a management consulting and training firm

May, 1988

It was very cold on the night of October 27, 1992, as winters arrive early in Austria. A small group huddled in a tiny glass waiting room in the Vienna train station. I noticed them staring at us. Two bearded Asians didn’t quite fit in. The big clock on the wall ticked noisily; it was almost midnight. It was another few minutes before the train left for Zagreb in war-torn Croatia. I shivered and anyone watching could have easily attributed it to cold. I knew it better: it was fear.

I took a deep breath and sat back, my hands deep inside my pockets. The previous months whirled by. It had been very hectic: the decision to go to Bosnia, interrupting my graduate studies, taking permission from my family, discovering that Abbas wanted to come along, and then the million dollar question: “How in the world are we going to get to Bosnia?”

“There is a train,” a friend had told us, “that goes to Zagreb from Vienna in the night. That’s your best bet. Croatia is a new country and the immigration people on the train stations are not that vigilant. They might let you in. Going to Bosnia from Croatia should be relatively easy.”

And here we were, with a telephone number of someone in Croatia as our only tangible plan; a couple of brothers had gone to Croatia and we were supposed to link up with them. This number, as we later discovered, was as worthless as the worn-out piece of paper it was written on. A Bosnian brother had told us of Muslims being detained while trying to get into Croatia. I was beseeched by different thoughts that day: “Am I crazy? Is this a right decision: going from the luxury of a certain life to this madness of uncertainty? We still had time and maybe we should just turn back!”

The train’s whistle blew furiously, jolting me out of my thoughts. Everybody started hastening towards the door. We followed with our bags. The train was ready to go. The moment had arrived.

As two strangers boarded the train that fateful night, a young girl on the other side of Europe was calmly planning her moves. There was no hesitation on her part, no afterthoughts. She would have smiled had she seen the hurried boarding of these two men in Vienna and read their thoughts.

Fate brought us together for a few moments. I dedicate this story to explain why those moments are one of the most unforgettable ones in my life.

We drifted into sleep as the train rumbled on. Our car was empty. We entered Slovenia, a former province of Yugoslavia. The Slovenes would question people passing through their territory and harass Muslims. We had been advised by our friends to lock our compartment and ignore all knocks. We would have definitely slept through but what confronted us was a loud banging. Jolted out of sleep, we stared at each other. The Slovenian border patrol wanted to have a word with us two highnesses!

“Going to Jeeth-had?” said one, eyeing us suspiciously.

We politely indicated our failure to understand. If they had meant Jihad, well, the pronunciation was off, way off.

“Jeeth-had, Jeeth-had!” said another one, pointing towards his gun.

“Oh no,” we managed a smile, “Humantarna Pomoch (humanitarian help).” The Serbo-Croatian phrase book had finally proven its worth.

Out came a list of names. With our Pakistani passports in their hands – the ‘Islamic Republic’ boldly staring at all of us – the name tallying started. There were Mohammeds, Ibrahims, Yusufs, Abdullahs and Abdur-Rahmans. There must have been over 300 names.

We held our breaths. By the grace of Allah (swt), no one named Abbas or Suleman had done any wrong to earn a place on that list. “You have a few hours,” warned the chief, clearly disappointed with the absence of our names on the list. “Go back to Vienna or continue to Zagreb. Just clear off Slovenia.”

“Sure, sure, no problem,” relief dripped in invisible drops from our faces, “Hvala, Hvala (thanks, thanks).”

The plan was to get up an hour before Zagreb, and rehearse what we would say and how to protest if things went awry.

The stopping jerks of the train woke us up. The relief of not getting into trouble in Slovenia had worked as a tranquilizer. Suddenly there was calm. The 7 o’clock sun lit up the compartment.

Zagreb had come!

Pulling our things together, we broke into a rush.

“What were we supposed to say?” The phrase book hid itself somewhere. ‘Dobar Dan’ meant ‘good morning’ or was it ‘good night’? Maybe it was ‘I am hungry’. No, no that was ‘Jasem Gladan’…

The tap on the door was gentle this time. It reminded me of the famous saying, “Barking dogs seldom bite.” It was the thought of what could be the converse that made me a little uncomfortable.

One exclaimed on seeing our passports, “Pakistanats,” which roughly translated into ‘Pakistanis’. We nodded. To our utmost surprise, our nods were met with smiles and handshakes. “Pakistan is our friend,” said one turning to the other, “it was among the first countries to recognize Croatia.”

In no time, our passports were stamped and we were on our way, thanking Allah (swt) and bewildered at the simplicity of the matter. Few physical steps were as significant as the ones we took that morning to step outside the station. It seemed as if by magic, we had entered a new world. The old world that we knew was somewhere in history: remote and unreachable. Our new adopted one lay ahead.

For the first time in days, I suddenly became aware of the freshness of the air and the chirping of the birds; somehow the surroundings looked a lot more colourful, the grass greener and the sky a bit bluer! I can now understand how Alice must have felt in wonderland – enchanted! The dream of going to Bosnia had materialized into a not-too-distant reality.

As we clumsily entered the realm of our newly-found uncharted territory, the same girl, in sharp contrast, confidently made her way to her job with her letter of resignation.

We soon hooked up with other foreign Muslim relief workers and time flew by. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims were languishing in Croatian refugee camps. Armed with a few thousand dollars that we had collected and tons of goodwill, we kept ourselves busy while planning our ultimate move into Bosnia: we distributed flour, oil, baby-milk, detergent and medicines.

It was the first time that I was confronted with a tragedy that defied limits, with shattered families and heart-wrecking tales of death and pain. At times, I felt the tragedy had invisible hands, reaching out and choking my heart.

On the outskirts of the City of Split in Croatia was a house, where Muslim relief workers got together in the evenings. With constant additions and subtractions, it was an interesting group. We had brothers from Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria… The list was long. We would sip coffee and chat, exchanging stories and sharing notes. We found our smiles and laughter. It was an oasis of joy in an endless expanse of grief.

On one such evening, we learnt that a group of 2,000 refugees had been placed in a remote part of Croatia. Public transportation was non-existent and few relief supplies found their way out there. Deciding to help, we arranged for five tonnes of flour, powder milk, sugar, cooking oil and washing detergent and in a couple of days, set off towards Orebic’ (O-re-bich). (To be continued)

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for Hiba by Laila Brence.

The “Fundamentals” of Entertainment – Book Reviews


Title: The Islamic Ruling on Music and Singing

Author: Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi

Publisher: Dar Abul-Qasim

Pages: 80

Availability: Da’wah Books, DHA, Karachi

Full book online:

Without doubt, music is one of the most controversial issues in Islam. The numerous Fatwahs on this matter only add to the confusion, as their rulings vary from allowing certain types of music to saying it is completely Haram. Abu Bilal Mustafa Al-Kanadi’s thorough research into the topic of music in Islam offers clear and well-grounded answers, based on authentic sources.

In examining the topic of music, the author analyzes the Quranic texts and commentaries, the Hadeeth literature and the consensus of the companions, Tabi’een, Imams and other Fuqaha. He then discusses the wisdom behind the prohibition of music by the Shariah and the exceptions to the rule of the prohibition, as indicated by authentic Sunnah. Lastly, he offers a synopsis of the discussed Shariah texts with conclusions drawn from them.

Although many present day Fatwahs exist on the topic of music, the book presents the rulings of the early scholars, which must certainly be taken into account by anyone concerned with this issue. If you are struggling to find the answers, this book is a definite must read.

Title: Having Fun the Halal Way

Author: Ismail Kamdar

Publisher: International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH)

Pages: 109

Availability: Da’wah Books, Khadda Market, DHA Phase 5, Karachi / IIPH Online Store (

The ever-increasing globalization and technological advancements have brought to us a multitude of entertainment, which were unavailable before. Many Muslims find themselves balancing on the border of Halal and Haram, lacking appropriate knowledge about the permissibility of certain forms of entertainment. In this book, author Ismail Kamdar provides well-researched Quran and Sunnah based information on the Islamic teachings regarding entertainment.

The seven chapters of the book discuss the following topics: basic principles of Fiqh, the Western and Islamic concepts of entertainment, prohibited and recommended forms of entertainment as well as technology related issues and some misunderstood concepts. In the appendix of the book, the author offers a list of certain avenues of Halal entertainment.

Whether you are a parent, uncertain of what to allow your children and what not to, or are at a loss yourself regarding the permissibility of certain entertainments, this book will offer you the answers you are looking for. Ismail Kamdar not only presents a detailed and balanced analysis of the topic and explains the detriments of the current entertainment industry, but also provides the reader with alternatives for enjoying the time with friends and family.

– By Laila Brence

Basheer: A Friend’s Farewell


March, 1999

The assassin didn’t have to wait for long in the cold, winter morning: Basheer was seldom late.

I was in Florida, raising funds, when the news came. It was a shock: I was with him just a couple of months ago. The sequence of events, as they had probably occurred, flashed into my mind.

Basheer has to be in office in Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan – by 8:00 a.m. to let the other officers in. Dawlat Baig picked him up at 7:40 a.m. I had accompanied Dawlat Baig a number of times. As we would pull up the car, Basheer would appear out of the sea of people, walking briskly with long, purposeful strides with an air of confidence and mission. To be at the intersection on time, he would have left at least five minutes earlier, putting him in the line of fire precisely at 7:35 a.m. on Monday, January 11, 1999.

The first time I met him was at the Tajik refugee camps in Afghanistan in 1997. He was tall, slim and strongly built. He had become fluent in Persian and wore traditional Afghan dresses. What gave him away were his strong Arab-Berber features. A smile was never far from his stern face, which spoke of years of struggle and hardship.

The eldest son of a government officer, he came from a village 200 miles from the capital of Algeria. He gave up his studies in Engineering to help out in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. He later joined BIF (Benevolence International Foundation) to provide relief assistance to the Tajik refugees in Afghanistan.

Life was hard in the camps in Kunduz and Takhar – the northern Afghan provinces bordering Tajikistan – with no electricity, running water or communication. Food and medicines were always limited. Malaria, Typhoid and TB were close to assuming epidemic proportions. Basheer was going down with Typhoid every year, spending weeks in bed.

I once asked him how he managed to stay there for five years. “I can’t see myself deserting these people,” he had said. “I see myself as holding a post. If we leave, the vultures will come in.” He was referring to some of the secular organizations. Alarmed by the return of the Tajik refugees to Islam, they were trying to compel the Muslim relief organizations to leave. These organizations had one camp in their control where they distributed music and movies, while the children in the Muslim-run camps learned the Quran.

He had kept in touch with his family through letters, which would take up to six months to reach Algeria. We decided to arrange for a phone call. Using a wireless set, we connected via radio to Peshawar and then through telephone to Algeria. It was a joyous occasion, as the family hadn’t heard his voice in five years. They initially failed to recognize him, as out of emotion, he could only speak in his adopted Persian. He had broken down during the call and wept.

Basheer managed a staff of twenty-four Tajik Muslims in the refugee camps, and I could see the love and respect that flowed towards him. I didn’t have a shred of doubt that these Tajiks could have easily stood in the line of fire for him.

He was like a father to the orphans, who loved him dearly. Some didn’t know their fathers but they knew Basheer. I asked some of the young orphans – I didn’t ask the older kids, as they understood – where the money for their sponsorship came from. They pointed to Basheer. I explained that Basheer was just an officer, and the money came from the Muslims in the US. They weren’t convinced: it was Basheer who cared for them. To those little, simple minds, that was what really mattered. I gave up. I wish could tell them now that Basheer gave much more than care: he ultimately gave his life.

This dedication and compassion endeared Basheer to the Tajik Muslims. He loved them, and, yes, they loved him. He gradually became an inalienable part of the Tajik cause, a hero who had come from a faraway land. As the Tajik Muslims struggled in their war against the Communists, Basheer stood by them, supporting their orphans, running clinics, sharing their joy, and wiping their tears. His presence whispered to the Tajiks: “I believe in you and your struggle. Don’t give up.”

In the summer of 1997, the refugees started moving back into Tajikistan, bringing an end to the five years of exile. Deciding to start work in Tajikistan, we established an office for BIF in Dushanbe in November 1997, and later arranged for Basheer and the staff to move from Afghanistan.

A few months after moving to Dushanbe, Basheer married a Tajik sister by the name of Sadbarg. The mother requested Basheer to move in their apartment. She was widowed in this apartment, when Sadbarg was very young. Basheer agreed.

The Muslims signed a peace agreement with the Russian-backed government and the overall situation started to improve.

We took Dr. Nazr-ul-Islam – a surgeon from England – to Dushanbe and established a TB hospital for children. Furthermore, we continued the sponsorship for the orphans; we also started supporting families of men disabled in the war, and commenced the rebuilding of homes of orphan families destroyed during the war.

A group of young sisters, who had set up an Islamic study group in Dushanbe, approached us for help. Concluding that the sisters were high on enthusiasm but low on knowledge, we decided to teach them the fundamentals of Islam and prepare them to reach out to more women in Dushanbe. We gave Nurudin – a graduate of the Islamic University in Madinah – the charge of the programme.

Nurudin had come to Afghanistan in 1993, and had set up an Islamic school for Tajik students in the refugee camps. This is when Basheer and Nurudin had become friends. After the ceasefire, Nurudin had moved independently to Tajikistan, where he had also married a Tajik sister. He had started some Dawah programmes in the mosques in and around Dushanbe.

When we decided to sponsor the sisters’ Dawah programme, Nurudin was like a gift from Allah (swt): he was there; he was married to a local sister, spoke fluent Persian and above all, was a gifted scholar.

The classes started in March, 1998 with a group of 32 sisters and 20 brothers.

Unfortunately, the political situation started deteriorating. Soon, it became apparent that a cold war was taking shape, fuelled by the secular and communist elements to undermine the Islamic movement in Tajikistan.

On June 15, 1998, only three months since the start of classes, Nurudin was shot and martyred outside his apartment. Only 36, he left behind a pregnant wife and a four-month-old daughter, Asma.

No one claimed responsibility, and the Tajik government denied any involvement. “Could it have been the Russian intelligence?” we were left wondering. “Or could it be the breakaway communist fraction which had split from the government and violently opposed the peace agreement?”

We immediately froze all Dawah activities. Our staff of nine people in Dushanbe included two foreigners, so we had reasons to be worried.

Our CEO travelled to the area and told both Basheer and Dr. Islam that they could leave, if they wanted to. Both refused, saying that we need not worry since we were no longer involved with Dawah, and the relief services being offered to Dushanbe were badly needed. Soon a contract was signed between the BIF and the Ministry of Health, finalizing the administration of the TB hospital. With all Dawah activities frozen and only relief projects remaining, we reasoned that the anti-Islamic elements – if indeed they were behind Nurudin’s death – would surely back off.

Our office in Dushanbe faces the parliament building in the Independence Square. A statue of Firdousi, a famous Persian poet, stares down at the beautiful gardens lining the main street. In these gardens are small cafes, where one can dine on a lunch of rice and Kabab on tables scattered under the tall trees. Basheer and I would walk down, have lunch and talk – we would spend hours talking, with the snow-capped Pamir Mountains in the background. These meeting are now memories to be cherished for the rest of my life. We talked about a lot of things: our time spent together in Afghanistan, our families, the BIF, the political situation and our plans for the future.

In one such meeting, I asked him why he didn’t leave Tajikistan after the death of Nurudin. “My mother-in-law would be left alone,” he said. I smiled. We both knew that there was more to it. I was also his manager, and he was aware that I could have asked him to leave. He was careful in wording his answer. “Look, Suleman,” he was very serious and thoughtful, “you know that I have given myself to this cause. I know that I am in Tajikistan for no other reason but for Allah (swt).” Then he paused: “And if I were to die, I have the confidence of knowing that I shall be a Shaheed.”

At the age of 34, Basheer was shot at point blank range. I can conjure an image of his assassin, most likely a local Tajik clad in a black suit – so common in Dushanbe – walking up to him, as he stepped out of his home. Alone and unarmed, Basheer stood no chance and was hit a total of seven times in the chest and the head. The $600 in his pocket – a lot of money in poverty stricken Tajikistan – were not touched.

For us, he was and will remain an inspiration, a statement that this world is worthless in front of the hereafter, and if it takes our lives to establish Islam, then so be it. While we talk, write and lecture about sacrificing for Allah (swt) and Islam, Basheer lived it and etched it in history with his blood. He was a true embodiment of the statement that “a faith not worth dying for is not worth living for.”

He leaves behind in his legacy one more reason for us to struggle for the dream both he and Nurudin gave their lives for – to return Muslims to the arms of Islam from the torturous clutches of colonialism and communism.

Basheer, may Allah (swt) accept your Shahadah. (Ameen)

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for Hiba by Laila Brence.

Hope after 9/11 – Book Reviews


Title: The Prophet’s Methods of Correcting People’s Mistakes

Author: Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid

Publisher: International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH)

Pages: 150

Availability: Da’wah Books, Khadda Market, DHA Phase 5, Karachi / (Online Store)

Correcting others’ mistakes is the duty of every Muslim, as this is closely linked with the basic Islamic concept of enjoining good and forbidding evil. In his book, “The Prophet’s Methods of Correcting People’s Mistakes”, Sheikh Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid offers much needed advice for carrying out this quite daunting task. In the age, when advices on behavioural issues are rampantly streaming from the Western authors, this book is a much needed addition to the bookshelf of every Muslim home.

Sheikh’s Al-Munajjid’s name needs no introduction, as his work always contains only most authentic Islamic information. In this book, the Sheikh has collected many methods of the Prophet (sa) for teaching people and correcting their mistakes. In the first part of the book, Sheikh discusses the various types of mistakes people make, while in the second part, he offers thirty-eight advices, based on the Ahadeeth, on correcting various types of mistakes. Indeed, in the example of the Prophet (sa), we have the best guidance for our daily dealings.

Title: The Freedom of Opinion in Islam

Author: Abdus-Salam Al-Basuni

Publisher: International Islamic Publishing House (IIPH)

Pages: 100

Availability: Da’wah Books / (Online Store)

This book is based upon Sheikh’s Abdus-Salam Al-Basuni’s major work “Hal bi Al-Islam Hurriyah li ar-Ra’y”, which was originally published in Arabic in 1994 to address the Western media assault on Islam, accusing it for being the cause of ‘backwardness’.

In his work, Sheikh addresses the ongoing debate about freedom of expression. He discusses a range of issues related to freedom of opinion in Islam, draws comparisons between secular and Islamic systems, and arrives at the conclusion that man-made constitutions are often nothing more than ‘ink on paper’. He exposes the reality behind the claims of Western democracies about the freedom of opinion, and the actual consequences of unrestricted freedom of expression.

When discussing freedom of opinion in Islam, the Sheikh emphasizes that it is every Muslim’s basic right, which is protected by the Islamic law. He discusses the limitations Islam places on freedom of opinion and shows how these limitations help to protect the rights of individuals, their privacy and honour, as well as the security of society.



By Suleman Ahmer – CEO and the Lead Facilitator of “Timelenders”, a management consulting and training firm

Two weeks ago, I was in a TB sanatorium for orphans at Kofar Nihon, a small town ten miles from Dushanbe, the capital of war-ravaged Tajikistan. As I entered one of the wards, Sham-e-Gul dragged herself to the corner of the bed and sat up. Like many others around her, TB had wasted her legs. I found her in pain and with no relatives at her side to console her. Her brother used to visit her twice a month. Sham-e-Gul was only six years old.

The staff and the children of the sanatorium were Sham-e-Gul’s family. She missed Daulat Shah, another six-year-old, who was sent home when some relatives visited a few weeks ago. “There is nothing more we could have done for Daulat Shah,” said Dr. Nazir Rahimov. “We figured at least he would have a home and hopefully adequate food in his last days.” Sham-e-Gul was not told why Daulat Shah had left suddenly. She was too young to understand.

During the Soviet era, orphans who had TB were admitted to the sanatorium. When the war broke out, Kofar Nihon came under heavy fighting. People fled the area, leaving a skeleton staff that battled to keep the damaged facility running. With no electricity and an acute shortage of medicine, food and money, the orphans had nowhere to go. The sanatorium became a death trap, as the symptoms of TB grew worse. Soon, the children started dying. I found thirty-two children there, between the ages of six and fifteen. Most had been there for the last five years and many with advanced TB.

The four long years that BIF (Benevolence International Foundation) had worked with the Tajik refugees in northern Afghanistan came to an end in the summer of 1997. By the Grace of Allah (swt), the Communist regime in Tajikistan gave in and signed a peace agreement with the Muslim opposition, ending more than four years of bitter conflict. This was a great victory for the Muslims as they now controlled around fifty percent of the territory and were partners in the newly-formed coalition government.

The Tajik refugees from the neighbouring countries had returned to their homes with dignity. Now we could concentrate on projects in Tajikistan that badly needed our assistance like the sanatorium in Kofar Nihon. With the blessings of Allah (swt) and Muslims, we were determined to turn things around in Kofar Nihon. We could, Insha’Allah, initiate surgeries, which were long overdue, provide proper medicine, food and hygiene, fix the building and heating and provide decent salaries for the staff. For Daulat Shah we were too late, but for the remaining thirty-two children, we still had time.

As I was leaving, I gave my pen to Sham-e-Gul to cheer her up. This was the least I could have done. She had smiled and the thought of it still warms my heart. With the pen, I also gave her a silent promise that I would leave no stone unturned to see that she and the other children got a decent chance at life.

Eleven months later…

As I approached her bed, Sham-e-Gul woke up and squinted – it was a bright day and sunlight was streaming into the ward form the large windows. The startled look in her eyes slowly changed to recognition.

I had first met her in Kofar Nihon, a village fifteen miles from Dushanbe, almost a year ago. She was the youngest of thirty-two children with advanced TB in a war-damaged hospital. With no electricity for seven years, no heating, shortage of staff, food and medicine, the children – many of them orphans with no place to go – had started to die. I had given her my pen with a promise that I would leave no stone unturned to see that she and the other children got a decent chance at life.

Now, eleven long months later, I looked around the brightly-lit ward of neatly lined beds with clean linen. I could smell the freshly painted walls. Fifteen children slept peacefully. Now there is no shortage of food or medicine. The repair on the wrecked heating system has started, which means heating for the hospital for the first time in five years. I could hear the clamour of the workers repairing the remaining part of the hospital.

It had been a struggle. Within a month of my return from the last trip, we had moved our staff from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and recruited new officers, including Dr. Nazr-ul-Islam, a surgeon from England. With Kofar Nihon continually under heavy fighting, we shifted our focus to a similarly neglected hospital in relatively safe Dushanbe – only to find what relative safety meant when one of our officers was shot and killed. We decided not to give up.

Taking the hospital from the Ministry of Health, we started the repairs. BIF started to provide food, medicine, lab facilities, salaries and the operating costs. We served fifty-two children with TB between the ages of three to fourteen years.

I asked Sham-e-Gul about the pen that I had given her. She broke into an embarrassed laughter: she had lost it.

By the grace of Allah (swt) – and to the astonishment of the doctors – she recovered from her paralyses. I believe it had more to do with the prayers of the Muslims, who had come to know her, than medicine. I asked her if she could walk for me. When she nodded, I helped her out of bed. She hesitantly took the first step and slowly walked the length of the room.

I handed her the picture that I had taken with her the previous year. She held it in both her hands for a few moments, then looked up and studied my face carefully, as if confirming whether I was indeed the same person. She said she wanted to keep the picture and asked me not to leave. I was saddened as I didn’t know where her parents were or whether they were alive. I promised her that I would come again.

I walked out with tears of gratitude to Allah (swt) and the Muslims who, by their generosity, helped me fulfill a promise made in a far-away, war-ravaged land to a seven-year-old ill girl – Sham-e-Gul.

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for “Hiba” by Laila Brence.

War in Monotheistic Religions – Islam

July 11 - WAr in Monotheistic religion

In the new millennium, the term ‘holy war’ has come in such a frequent use that nearly everyone is ready to offer its interpretation. In her book “Holy War”, Karen Armstrong, a renowned modern religion writer, takes a detailed look at the history of the three Monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – in order to find the origins of war in all three religions. She also discusses the effects these religions have on the current ideas of ‘holy war’ and political situation in general. In the previous two articles in this series, we took a look at the origins of war in Judaism and Christianity. This time, we will search for the roots of the concept of war in Islam, as interpreted by Karen Armstrong.

Armstrong starts her discussion of Islam with a historical look at its founding and early formative years. She describes the situation of the Arabs just before the advent of Islam as a time of crisis for Arabia. The increasing trade had brought prosperity to Hejaz, which facilitated formation of elitist lifestyle among the rich Arabs. The old tribal values of sharing of resources and generosity were breaking down, creating a vast gap in the society between the rich and the poor. Along with this social disaster also came the political disorders in the form of increasing tribal warfare and crisis of faith, which left Arabs feeling inferior in front of the Jews and Christians living along with them. This is because, unlike the other two religions, they had received no revelation of their own.

Islam came as a solution to the many problems Arabs faced at the time, which was reflected in the early commands Allah (swt) gave to Muslims through Prophet Muhammad (sa): they were to believe in One God only, prepare for the imminent Last Judgement and care for the poor and oppressed in the society. Islam, however, was seen not as a new religion but as the ultimate revelation of the Jewish-Christian tradition.

As can be concluded from the above, in the initial years of Islam, there was no concept of war as such. The focus of Prophet Muhammad (sa) was on spreading the message of Islam among his people. The anti-elitist nature of Islam attracted people from the lower classes of society first. But it was only when the nobles of Makkah started to convert that the rich Makkans began to see this new religion as a potential threat to their regime. Soon the Quraish, the ruling clan of Makkah, started persecutions of Muslims and inflicted upon them numerous hardships. However, even at this point Muslims received no command from Allah (swt) to oppose the oppressors. They were to hold onto their faith with patience and perseverance, until finally, in 622 C.E., they received the permission to migrate from Makkah to Madinah – the city, where Muslims would have the chance to build the first Islamic society.

With the support of the inhabitants of Madinah, Muslims started gaining strength and popularity. In fact, according to Armstrong, conversion to this new faith, which raised the self-esteem of the Arabs as recipients of God’s ultimate revelation, became an irresistible trend in the peninsula. The peaceful spread of the influence of Islam was further facilitated by the treaties the Prophet (sa) made with the neighbouring tribes, without forcing conversion upon them, as that would mean denial of freedom of belief, which was one of the central beliefs of Islam. Non-Muslims were granted protection by the Muslim state, in return for paying a Jizya tax.

As the Muslim state grew, Makkans started to see a serious threat in it. They began using their trade caravans for inciting the neighbouring tribes of Madinah to fight against the Muslims. Since these caravans were usually accompanied by an army, they themselves bore a threat to the security of Madinah. Armstrong points out that this was the time, when the Prophet (sa) received revelation that justified the use of violence as a means of self-defence. (Al-Hajj, 22:39-40) However, Muslims were not allowed to open hostilities. If the ancient Israelites were commanded by God to exterminate the Canaanites living in the Promised Land, and Christians denied violence as such, even for self-defence, then the concept of self-defence stood central in the Islamic view of warfare since the very beginning.

According to Armstrong, at the time, the practice of making a Razzia (raid) on an enemy tribe was deemed normal and acceptable. The code of Razzia was such that the raiders attacked only their enemies, capturing their cattle, animals and booty, without killing people. This is what Muslims started to practice against the Makkan caravans. One day in 624 CE, a small group of 313 Muslims went out to Badr for just that – to attack a particularly important Makkan trade caravan, which was accompanied by most of the Quraish leadership. As Muslims attacked the caravan, they were not aware of the fact that Makkans had requested from back home additional forces for support. However, although Muslims found themselves vastly outnumbered, they won the encounter, which later became known as the Battle of Badr – the first battle in the history of Islam.

Comparing the concepts of war in the three religions, Armstrong maintains that out of all three, Islam has the most realistic view of the warfare. Islam neither justifies a total aggressive war of extermination, as was practiced by ancient Israelites, nor insists on complete pacifism, as was advocated by the early followers of Christianity. According to Armstrong, Islam recognizes that war is inevitable and sometimes a positive duty in order to end oppression and suffering. Moreover, the limits and extent of warfare in Islam are clearly defined and must be followed, in order for war to be legitimate.

Although, for centuries, in the West Islam has been described as ‘the religion of the sword,’ Armstrong says such a perception is inaccurate and has been inherited from the time of the Crusades. It is certainly true that war played a role in the establishment and spread of Islam, but it is not correct to see Islam as a bloodthirsty and aggressive religion.

Compiled from Karen Armstrong’s “Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World” published by Anchor Books (

War in Monotheistic Religions – Christianity

Apr 11 - War in monotheistic religion

Throughout history, many wars have been waged with religion being their stated cause and peace as their desired outcome. In the previous article, we took a look at the history of Judaism and traced the origins of war in this religion. This time, we will search for the roots of the concept of war in Christianity, as interpreted by Karen Armstrong, a renowned modern religion writer.


In about 27 C.E., many Jews of Palestine were attracted by a new sect which, according to Armstrong, claimed to be a universal form of Judaism. The leader was a Jew by the name of Jesus (Isa), who claimed to be the Messiah that the Jews had been waiting for. He quickly attracted a large following, eventually making his way from his native Galilee to Jerusalem, where he preached of the approaching Kingdom of God. Seeing in his preaching a potential political threat, Romans, who ruled Jerusalem at the time, arrested him and had him crucified, as the history of Christianity has it. Jesus’ refusal to oppose Romans, even in the face of his death, clearly testified to the pacifist nature of his teachings. He taught his followers to turn the other cheek when attacked.

After the death of Jesus, his followers continued to be peacefully practicing Jews, worshiping daily in the Temple and living according to the Torah (Taurat). What distinguished them from other Jewish sects was their belief in Jesus as the Messiah and their expectation of his second coming – his returning to the world for establishing the Kingdom of God.

A Jew by the name of Paul was to take Jesus’ teachings to a new dimension. He started preaching to the Gentiles (non-Israelite tribes or nations), transforming Christianity from a Jewish sect into a universal religion, which was to bring redemption to the entire world. Paul’s version of Christianity had no room for a holy war, because Christians were to show love even to their enemies, as Jesus had enjoined it. According to Armstrong, Paul presented “Christianity as a spiritual religion: salvation now meant liberation from sin and death, not an extermination of the enemies of God”.

Several later historical developments within Christianity can be pinned as contributing factors leading to the formation of the concept of the ‘holy war’ during the Crusades: the image of the Antichrist, movements of martyrdom and monasticism as well as St. Augustine’s philosophy of a just war.


By the end of the first century, Christianity underwent certain transformations, which introduced more violent ideas into the peaceful religion of Jesus and Paul. The author of “Revelation” (one of the books of the New Testament written later) brought back into Christianity the importance for Judaism apocalyptic tradition. He talked of cosmic battles foretold by the Jewish prophets as heralding the final triumph of Christianity, when God would send down the New Jerusalem and a new perfect world from heaven. He described God’s enemies as terrifying monsters, placing a particular emphasis on a great Beast, which would crawl out of an abyss and establish himself in the Temple. It was from this powerful image of the Beast that the later generations of Christians developed a belief in what they called the Antichrist, which became very important in the ideology of crusading. According to Armstrong, “by the time of the Crusades, European Christians firmly believed that before the final apocalypse, Antichrist would appear in Jerusalem, would set himself up in the Temple and fight the Christians there in the great battles”.


Initially, the attitude of the Roman Empire towards Christianity was not a tolerant one – they often persecuted and executed Christians who refused to sacrifice to Caesar. These persecutions eventually formed in Christians a strong sense that ‘the world’ was against them. This insecurity, according to Armstrong, led to a cult of voluntary martyrdom. The martyr was seen as the perfect Christian, “because Christ had said that giving one’s life for the beloved (Jesus) was the greatest act of love”. Eventually, the martyrdom cult acquired an aggressive dimension as martyrs started to denounce themselves to the authorities and believed that they were taking part in a cosmic battle with evil. Although martyrs passively allowed the inflicting of violence upon them, they thought of themselves as the ‘soldiers of Christ’, and considered their deaths as ‘victory’. Even though the Church tried to stop this trend of voluntary martyrdom, it never completely died out and surfaced again during the time of the Crusades.


When, years later, the persecutions stopped and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Christians faced a new dilemma: how could they be perfect Christians when there was no more opportunity for martyrdom? The answer was discovered in the movement of monasticism: radical Christians were to flee ‘the world’, which was hostile to them, and take refuge in the wilderness. Although Jesus and Paul had never promoted this type of asceticism, monks and their like-minded Christians believed that it was not possible to practice true Christian values in ‘the world’. In later centuries, Western Christians further developed the movement of monasticism by secluding themselves in monasteries which they saw as “fortresses of Christianity in a Godless world”. The monks living in them were considered as taking part in a holy war against the spiritual enemies of God. When the Crusades began, the monks became some of their most active participants.

Just War

During the early Middle Ages, Europe was under constant attacks by its enemies: barbarians destroyed the Roman Empire which was followed by the invasions of Norsemen, Muslims and Magyars. This constant threat and insecurity brought an aggressive element into the peaceful religion of Christianity. Despite all the attacks, the Church tried to keep the violence under control and remain pacifist. The Greek Orthodox Church of the Byzantine Empire regarded war as unchristian and preferred to hire mercenaries for their wars instead of using Christian soldiers. It was their Western brethren, the Latin theologians, who developed the concept of a just war. This would enable the Christians to fight and defend themselves without guilt.

In early fifth century, St. Augustine of Hippo (North Africa) laid the grounds for the Christian concept of a just war. According to Armstrong, St. Augustine “decided that, while wars against other Christians were always sinful and unjust, God could sometimes inspire a Christian leader to wage war against pagans”. According to him, the difference between a pagan war and a Christian one was that it had to be inspired by love towards the enemy. The war could not be based on revenge; it had to be based on the sense of justice. Violence was to be seen as medicinal – just like disciplining a child for his own good. Although Augustine’s arguments in favour of violence were paradoxical, Christians could no longer survive without war. However, it was only during the Crusades that the involvement of Christians in warfare transformed into a ‘holy war’: in 1095, Pope Urban II summoned the First Crusade for exterminating ‘the enemies of God’ – the Turks, an accursed race that had captured the holy land.

Today, the Christians are divided between two stances on war:

1) Pacifism: war cannot be justified under any circumstances;

2) Just war: war is never good but sometimes necessary and should be conducted within the limits of justice.

Compiled from Karen Armstrong’s “Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World” published by Anchor Books (

Raising Confident Kids

Jan 11 - Raising confident kids

By Laila Brence and Maryam Asif

Every parent wishes to see their children grow into independent and confident adults, capable of handling their own life. In pursuit of this, many parents tend to fall into the trap of over-parenting, which, just like any other ‘over’, is not a desirable phenomenon. If you find yourself accompanying your grown-up children to job interviews to negotiate their salaries, it’s certain you’ve slipped into one of these ‘overs’. But how and where do we draw the line between getting involved in our children’s life, yet not accused of over-helping them which might result in the opposite of what we had in mind? The following ten suggestions will guide you towards developing your children’s confidence and self-esteem.

1. Believe in your children and show it

Let your children know they are lovable individuals. Show affection to your children – that extra amount of love will not spoil them but instead boost their confidence. If, however, you constantly show lack of trust in your children’s abilities and skills, the development of their self esteem will be hindered.

2. Give praise and positive feedback

Your children measure their worth and achievements by what you think of them. “Well done! That was hard and you managed it!” is music to young ears. Respect their struggles. Reassure them that it’s alright to make mistakes, and that it’s all part of growing up and learning about the world around them. Permitting your children to make decisions (even if wrong ones at times) helps them develop good judgmental skills.

When your children do something you told them not to and end up hurting themselves, refrain from statements such as: “See, I told you not to do it! Now, take care of it yourself!” Likewise, do not constantly threaten them with terrible consequences and punishments for not obeying you – that too can hurt their self-esteem.

3. Practice active listening

Listen carefully, repeat what you’ve heard to make sure you understand and give positive prompts to encourage your children to continue. Even if your child needs to tell you something when you’re extremely busy, do not multi-task – give them your undivided attention. Dismissing your children’s ideas and suggestions without hearing them out can hurt their self-esteem.

4. Acknowledge your children’s feelings and help them express them verbally

This is something every child needs immensely. Imagine a situation when your children end up fighting with the kids of your guests over toys. At this point, it’s important to address children’s emotions and help them articulate them. They might be feeling insecure, angry or helpless – acknowledge these feelings. This is not the time for a lecture on values and morals, as they are too occupied with their emotions, and your lecture will only aggravate their anger.

5. Criticize behaviour, not your child

This is a very easy trap to fall into. Too much criticism tells your children they are bad people. If such criticism continues over a long period of time, it can heavily damage your child’s self esteem. Be clear that it’s an action you’re angry about or it’s a behaviour you don’t like. Avoid such over-generalizations as: “You’re such a dirty kid! You never clean your room!” It may be that your children usually do clean their rooms, but on that particular day they didn’t, and you were in a bad mood anyway.

6. Focus on your children’s successes

Swimming, arts and crafts, cricket, technology, literature or social life – whatever they succeed in. It may be that they are good at swimming but not at academics. Acknowledge their success, instead of saying:

“Swimming won’t get you anywhere. If you do not do well at studies, you will never succeed.” If you acknowledge their strengths, it may be that in the future they will be motivated to work on their weak points as well.

7. Respect your children’s interests, even if they seem boring to you

Take a genuine interest in your children’s friends and what’s happening at school, and comment to show you’re listening. This will not only strengthen your communication but also give your children the message that you care about their life and interests.

8. Accept any fears or insecurities your children express as genuine

Even if they seem trivial to you, don’t just brush them aside. If your child says: “I’m useless in math,” say: “You’re obviously finding math a struggle – how can I help you?” Instead of passing such sarcastic remarks as: “With all that TV you watch, what else do you expect?” Treat issues independently, without connecting unrelated consequences to actions.

9. Encourage your children’s independence

Encourage them to take chances and try new things. Succeeding at new things gives a huge boost to confidence. Even if they will make mistakes by trying out new things, it will be a great opportunity for them to learn.

10. Laugh with your children – never at them

We all know that there are times when words can hurt more than actions. Don’t humiliate your children for their mistakes or misfortunes – if you won’t be on their side, then who will? Likewise, it is important to keep a sense of humour when difficulties arise, as it works wonders and helps your children focus on the truly significant matters in life.

Children have an innate capability to cope with the pressures and demands of the environment they are a part of. However, we cannot assume that they will learn to cope on their own. Parents should become the facilitators, who provide their children with the means to use this inner strength that they naturally posses. Simply treat your kids the way you yourself want to be treated and you can be sure to steer clear of all the ‘overs’.

The material presented in this article is based on a workshop titled “Raising Confident Kids” facilitated by Madeha Masood at ERDC (Educational Resource Development Centre).

War in Monotheistic Religions – Judaism

Jan 11 - War in Monotheistic religions

By Laila Brence

Throughout history, many wars have been waged with religion being their stated cause and peace as their desired outcome. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the historically and theologically related monotheistic religions, are all dedicated to love and benevolence and yet, all three, at some points of history have developed concepts of war. Let us delve

into the history of Judaism in search of the origins of war in this religion, as defined by Karen Armstrong, a renowned writer of modern religion.

In her attempt to identify the origins of war in Judaism, Armstrong looks back at the very beginnings of Judaism – the time of Prophet Ibrahim (as). In about 1850 B.C.E., he left his home in Ur of the Chaldees to set out on a journey to the land of Canaan, the modern Israel. Allah (swt) commanded Ibrahim (as) to enter into a special covenant with Him, in return for what He would bless him – his descendants would become a great people and would be given the land of Canaan.

Among the first words that Allah (swt) spoke to Ibrahim (as) were: “To your descendants I will give this land.” (Genesis, 12:7) Armstrong maintains that this revelation has served as the basis for numerous wars fought by the Jews in order to make this promise come true. Also today many Jews see this Promised Land as essential to the integrity of Judaism.

In about 1700 B.C.E., the descendants of Ibrahim (as) migrated to Egypt. By 1250, their position there deteriorated to such an extent that they became slaves. At that point, Allah (swt) intervened and commanded prophet Musa (as) to save his people. Through a series of miracles granted by Allah (swt), Musa (as) forced the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go and then led them towards the Promised Land of Canaan. However, instead of going directly to Canaan, the Jews lived for forty years as nomads in the Sinai Peninsula. In these forty years, they learned to depend on Allah (swt) for all their needs, including their daily provision of food. But, most importantly, during this time, on Mount Sinai, Allah (swt) gave to Musa (as) the Ten Commandments, which became the basis of the Torah.

One of the Ten Commandments given to Musa (as) was: “Thou shalt not kill.” However, points out Armstrong, as Jews got ready to enter the Promised Land, Allah (swt) told them that they would have to engage in a ruthless war of extermination. Although Jews believed that the land of Canaan was theirs, it was not empty – there were other people living there, who had made it their home. Canaanites were in the way of the divine plan; they were enemies of the new Jewish self. Thus, according to Armstrong, the normal human rights the Jews were commanded to observe did not apply to the Canaanites, who had become the enemies of Allah (swt). Canaanites had to be exterminated. “I shall exterminate these,” Allah (swt) told his people, “they must not live in your country.” (Exodus, 23:23, 33)

Since the order of conquest came directly from Allah (swt), we can assume that this was the first holy war ever fought. In Jewish holy war, says Armstrong, there was no peaceful coexistence, mutual respect or peace treaties – their enemies were to be fought to death. When Jews had to establish themselves in the Promised Land, the ordinary morality did not apply.

Since Musa (as) died before reaching the Promised Land, it was Joshua (or Yoosha (as)), who in about 1200 B.C.E., led the Israelites into Canaan and established them there by means of a long and ruthless military campaign. He acted according to Allah’s (swt) command (Deuteronomy, 7:1-6) – the conquered areas were put under a ban, which meant total destruction and extermination:

“When Israel finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open ground and where they had followed them into the wilderness, and when all to a man had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and slaughtered all its people. The number of those that fell that day, men and women together, was twelve thousand, all people of Ai. (…) Then Joshua burned Ai, making it a ruin for evermore, a desolate place even to this day.” (Joshua, 8:24, 25, 28)

This holy war for conquering the Promised Land continued for two hundred years, until the time of King David (Dawood (as)). His conquest of the Jebusite city of Jerusalem (around 1000 B.C.E.) departed from the practice of his predecessors – he did not massacre the Jebusites. According to Armstrong, it seemed that he wanted to make them his personal followers, since their survival totally depended on him. It was King David, who made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom and the centre of Judaism. As history would evolve, Jerusalem would gain special significance for Christians and Muslims.

Since the time of early history of Judaism, rabbis, the Jewish religious teachers, have defined three types of permissible wars:

1)       Obligatory wars: these are commanded by Allah (swt). This category includes such wars as the biblical conquest of the Canaanites.

2)       Defensive wars: if Jewish people are attacked, it is obligatory upon them to defend themselves. This category includes also pre-emptive strikes, which means attacking the enemy who is about to attack you.

3)       Optional wars: these are undertaken for a good reason in cases when no other form of negotiation is possible.

Distinct rules of warfare have also been developed. According to Jewish tradition, before declaring a war or starting a battle, attempts have to be made for negotiating peace. Non-combatants are not to be killed intentionally and should be given the chance to leave the area, before the battle starts. However, if non-combatants intentionally stay in the area of war, then they lose the previously-mentioned protection and can be killed.

Today, Jews often find themselves in a tight situation regarding the ethics of warfare. They are required to find the balance between the need to wage a war and the obligation to value the human life. Since the modern political situation is very complicated, there is a great debate today among the Jews, as to how apply the warfare principles defined in Torah to the current situations.

Uninvited Teaching

Vol 6 - Issue 4 Unvited TeachingAn excerpt from John Holt’s Learning All the Time.

As far as learning goes, the one advantage we have over children – and in some ways it’s a considerable advantage – is that we have been here longer. We know a lot more. We’ve had a lot more experience. We know where things are. We have road maps of the world; not just real road maps, but various mental road maps of the world around us.

What adults can do for children is to make more and more of that world and the people in it accessible and transparent to them. The key word is ‘access’: to people, places, experiences, the places where we work, other places we go – cities, countries, streets, buildings. We can also make available tools, books, records, toys and other resources. On the whole, kids are more interested in the things that adults really use than in the little things we buy, especially for them. I mean, anyone who has seen little kids in the kitchen knows that they would rather play with the pots and pans than anything made by “Lego” or name whoever you will.

We can also help children by answering their questions. However, all adults must be careful here, because we have a tendency when a child asks us a question, to answer far too much. “Aha,” we think, “now I have an opportunity to do some teaching,” and so we deliver a fifteen-minute thesis for an answer. There is a well-known story about a child in school, who was assigned to read a book on penguins and write a report on it. His book report had the usual stuff in the corner: name, grade, school, class, subject, etc., and then the title of the book and the author and finally the body of the report, which read as follows: “This book tells me more about the penguins than I want to know.”

Whenever a child asks questions, there’s a danger to, one might say, penguinize. I heard a similar story about a child, who asked her mother some question, and the mother was busy or distracted, or perhaps didn’t feel she knew enough, and said: “Why don’t you ask your father?” The child replied: “Well, I don’t want to know that much about it.” If children want more, they’ll ask for more. The best we can do is simply to answer the specific question or, if we don’t know the answer, say: “I don’t know, but maybe we can find it somewhere or so-and-so might know.”

Not only is it the case that uninvited teaching does not make learning, but – and this was even harder for me to learn – for the most part such teaching prevents learning. Now that’s a real shocker. Ninety-nine percent of the time, teaching that has not been asked for will not result in learning, but will impede learning. With a minimum observation, parents will find this confirmed all the time. Again and again, in letters and conversations, I hear from parents a story that goes as follows: “My little two-year-old (or three- or four-) was having some kind of problem with something the other day, and I went over to help her or him, and the child turned on me with rage and said: ‘Leave me alone. Don’t do it. Let me do it!’ The child got absolutely furious. What happened?” These poor, helpful, well-meaning mothers and fathers reel back from this assault and say: “Why does my child get so furious at me, when all I want to do is help?” Well, there is a reason, a very sensible reason.

Anytime, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach something to somebody, we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message. The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message that uninvited teaching conveys to the other person is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.

This double message of distrust and contempt is very clearly understood by children, because they are extremely good at receiving emotional messages. It makes them furious. And why shouldn’t it? All uninvited teaching contains this message of distrust and contempt. Once I realized this, I found that I had to catch myself all the time. I have to catch the words right on the edge of my tongue. The problem is that we, human beings, like teaching. We have to restrain that impulse, that habit, that need to explain things to everybody… unless we are asked.

Etiquette of Visiting the Graveyard

Muslim_graveyard_in_Tenovo,_MacedoniaBy Naba Basar and Laila Brence 

In Islam, death is a natural part of existence; it is a transition from this world into the Hereafter. Allah (swt) says in the Quran that every soul will taste death (Al-Ankabut 29:57). Likewise, every soul will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement to stand in front of the Creator (swt). For us, the living ones, their graves are constant reminders of death and the Hereafter.

The Prophet (sa) said: “I had prohibited you from visiting the graves, but now I encourage you to visit them, because they are a reminder of the Hereafter.” (Abu Dawood and Ahmad)

Although the above Hadeeth encourages Muslims to go to graveyards, we should pay attention to certain guidelines, when visiting the graves.

Sheikh Al-Albani reminds us that the primary purpose of visiting the graveyard must be that of remembering death and contemplating about the Hereafter. The intention for visiting the graves should not be to provide any comfort or benefit to the deceased. Likewise, we should refrain from praising the deceased by saying that so-and-so is in Jannah.

Also, we should not call upon the deceased ones, seeking their help instead of Allah (swt). Even though Muslims are allowed to make Duas at the grave for their deceased ones, these Duas are no more special than the Duas made for the deceased at any location other than the graveyard. Our supplications reach Allah (swt) regardless of where we offer them.

If we choose to say Duas for the deceased while in the graveyard, we should follow certain etiquettes.

First and foremost, we should be facing Kabah (not the grave) when making supplication. According to Sheikh Al-Albani, “The Prophet (sa) forbade prayer (Salah) facing graves, and Dua is the heart and soul of Salah, as is well-known, and is subject to the same rulings.

The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Dua is worship’ then he recited the Ayah: ‘And your Lord said: Invoke Me [i.e. believe in My Oneness (Islamic Monotheism) and ask Me for anything] I will respond to your (invocation).’ (Ghafir 40:60)”

Sheikh Al-Albani continues by saying that it is permissible to raise one’s hands, when offering supplication. Aisha (rta) has said: “The Messenger of Allah (sa) went out one night, and I sent Bareerah to follow him and see where he went. She said: ‘He went towards Baqee A-Gharqad [the graveyard in Madina], and he stood at the bottom of Al-Baqee and raised his hands, then he went away.’ Bareerah came back to me and told me, and when morning came, I asked him about it. I said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, where did you go out to last night?’ He said: ‘I was sent to the people of Al-Baqee to pray for them.’”

There are numerous Duas that can be recited at the grave. One of the most common supplications has been passed on by Abu Hurairah (rta): “Assalamu alaykum ahl Al-diyar min Al-mumineen wAl-Muslimeen, in sha Allah bikum lahiqoon, asal Allaha lana wa lakum Al-afiyah (Peace be upon you, O people of the dwellings, believers and Muslims, Insha’Allah we will join you, I ask Allah (swt) to keep us and you safe and sound).” (Muslim)

While visiting the graveyard, we must remember that graves are to be respected. It is not permitted to violate or cause destruction in a graveyard. A majority of scholars agree that it is by no means allowed to demolish or destroy a Muslim graveyard, unless their bones have crumbled and turned to dust. Likewise, it is strictly forbidden to build or erect anything over a grave or have Quranic inscriptions around or on them. It is unlawful to slaughter animals in the cemetery, light candles or fragrant sticks, wipe hands or kiss the grave, as all these acts are done by people belonging to non-Muslim cultures and traditions. There is also no proof that one should visit the graveyard every Friday, on Lailat-ul-Qadr, Eids or during Ramadan.

The opinions of scholars differ on the matter, whether Muslim women are allowed to visit the graveyard or not. Many say it is Makrooh (disliked) by quoting a Hadeeth that Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “May Allah curse the women, who are frequently visiting the cemetery.” (At-Tirmidhi) However, if the visiting is not frequent, most scholars say it is permissible for Muslim females to visit the graveyard, provided that the sole purpose of going there is to remember death and Hereafter. If a female does visit the graveyard, she should be properly dressed (without displaying her adornments) and should abstain from wailing or any other un-Islamic behaviour.

Fitrah: Your Disposition Towards Virtue

Vol 6 - Issue 1 FitrahYour foot slipped and you ended up with another sin on your deeds account. “Can’t really help it,” you say, “I’m just a sinful human being – unable to resist temptations.” But is the case really as simple as it appears? Are we really doomed to stumble from sin to sin, writing it off to the weakness and imperfection of human nature and our inclination towards the sin?

At times, even without being aware of it, many Muslims have unduly succumbed to the Christian idea of the inherent sinfulness of human nature, the history of which reaches back to the Fall of Adam (as) in Paradise. According to the Christian version of the story, Adam’s (as) disobedience stripped him of the original perfection Allah (swt) had created him with, and along with Adam (as), the whole of the human race was plunged into ruin and has since been in bondage to sin. Thus, according to this doctrine of original sin, every child is born in sin and in an impure state – inherently, unable to do good, please God or gain salvation. It is through the Christ’s obedience and his sacrifice on the cross (where he suffered and died for all the sins of the whole mankind) that Christians are restored to their original perfection. Salvation for Christians is based on faith in this sacrifice of Christ.

In contrast, for Muslims, it is inconceivable that any person should be punished for the sins committed by others. In Islam, every human being is responsible in front of Allah (swt) for his/her own deeds. Thus, salvation in Islam depends on both faith (Iman) and good conduct (Ihsan).

Christianity and Islam also differ on the notion of the inherent human nature. If Christians believe that every person is born in an impure state, then Islam advocates just the opposite. Every child is born in a state of Fitrah – natural purity and original goodness, which inclines a person towards right actions and submission to Allah (swt). Fitrah is our inherent disposition towards virtue, which endows us with the ability to differentiate between right and wrong.

Abu Hurairah (rta) has narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “Every child is born on Al-Fitrah [true faith of Islamic Monotheism (i.e., to worship none but Allah Alone)], but his parents convert him to Judaism or Christianity or Magianism, as an animal gives birth to a perfect baby animal. Do you find it mutilated?” (Bukhari)

Islam recognizes that all children, no matter if they are born to Muslim or non-Muslim parents, possess this original state of Fitrah, and if they die before attaining maturity, they go to Paradise. As the above Hadeeth states, it is the social circumstances after the birth that cause the child to diverge from Fitrah. Thus, if someone follows the wrong path, it is not because something is wrong with his/her innate nature, but because of the negative effects of social circumstances and the emergence of the person’s own Nafs (desires) after the birth.

Allah (swt) has not left us helpless in front of our Nafs. Tawbah or repentance has a very significant role in a Muslim’s life. Although we are born in a state of original goodness, all of us are subject to temptations. Allah (swt) has given us the ability and opportunity to repent our sins, which means that we are able to admit our errors and turn away from them towards Allah (swt). Awareness of the divine mercy of Allah (swt) and our own predisposition towards virtue gives us hope of salvation and increases our confidence about our own potential to do right and resist wrong. Instead of complaining about the flaws in our nature, we should stand firm on our Fitrah, resist temptations of Shaitan and turn our faces towards Allah (swt).

“So set you (O Muhammad (sa)) your face towards the religion (of pure Islamic Monotheism) Hanif (worship none but Allah Alone). Allah’s Fitrah (i.e., Allah’s Islamic Monotheism) with which He has created mankind. No change let there be in Khalq-illah (i.e., the religion of Allah – Islamic Monotheism); that is the straight religion, but most of men know not.” (Ar-Rum 30:30)

Amr Ibn Al-Aas (rta)

Vol 6 - Issue 1 Amr bin Al Aas rtaAmr Ibn Al-Aas (rta) was born in a very rich, high-class family of Makkah. His father, Ibn Wa’al, owned a perfume trade. By joining his father in his trade, Amr (rta) had the opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries and gain experience in dealing with different people. At a young age, he (rta) established friendly relations with many kings and governors both in Arabia and beyond.

Amr (rta) was educated during his childhood and possessed high mental capabilities. He was blessed with insightful, sharp thinking and sound planning skills. Amr (rta) also received excellent military training and was always ready to stand up for the interests of his tribe.

At the time when Muslims were severely persecuted by the Quraish leaders, Amr (rta) was among those who exerted all efforts to stop the spread of Islam. When some of the Muslims migrated to Abyssinia, the Quraish leaders became furious. The delegation they sent to the Abyssinian king Najashi to request him to expel the Muslims was headed by Amr (rta), since he had friendly contacts with the king and was known for his excellent negotiation skills.

However, the efforts of the Quraish were in vain – after listening to what the delegation of Amr (rta) and the fugitive Muslims had to say, Najashi not only refused to the hand over the Muslims but also promised them his protection for as long as he lived. At this point, for the first time, Amr (rta) realized that his excellent negotiation skills were useless.

Amr (rta) and other Quraish leaders tried to stop the migration of Muslims to Madinah as well. They even devised a plot to kill the Prophet (sa); however, thanks to Allah (swt) he (sa) managed to escape and reached Madinah safely.

After the Muslims had settled in Madinah, Amr (rta) convinced other leaders to wage war to stop the spread of Islam. They gathered an army of one thousand fully-armed soldiers. The battle took place at Badr, where with the help of Allah (swt), Muslims were victorious.

Although Amr (rta) was impressed by the victory of Muslims, he was not ready to give up so easily and began preparations for another war, which took place at Uhud. The Muslims were very close to victory even there, but were defeated in an unexpected turn of events. Feeling the approaching victory, the archers whom the Prophet (sa) had asked to protect the backs of the Mujahideen, left their positions and hurried to collect the booty. Amr (rta) together with Khalid Ibn Waleed (rta) took advantage of the situation and immediately attacked the Mujahideen from behind, inflicting heavy losses on the Muslims.

In spite of this setback, the newly established Muslim state continued to flourish. Soon, the Quraish decided to wage yet another war on Muslims. A huge army of ten thousand soldiers set out for Madinah under the leadership of Amr (rta). Upon their arrival, they were surprised to discover a wide trench preventing them from entering the city. Amr (rta) and his soldiers stayed at the outskirts of Madinah for nearly one month, but weren’t able to enter it. Finally, in deep humiliation, they had no other choice but to return to Makkah.

The repeated failures made Amr (rta) realize that Muslims were backed by some higher power. Although impressed by Islam, he (rta) was not ready to become a Muslim – his arrogance and the pride of the Quraish stood in his way. But he knew that eventually Muslims would triumph over their enemies. With this awareness, Amr (rta) decided to leave Makkah before Muslims took over it; he set out for Abyssinia hoping to live under the protection of king Najashi. He figured that if Muslims established a tyranny in Makkah, he would be saved from it and if the Muslim rule was favourable, he would safely return to Makkah.

Amr (rta) and his companions arrived with expensive gifts for softening the king’s heart. As they entered Najashi’s court, they saw the ambassador of the Prophet (sa) leaving. Amr (rta), fired up for revenge, asked the king to let him kill the ambassador. To Amr’s (rta) great astonishment, Najashi not only rebuked him for his anger, but even asked Amr (rta) to obey the Prophet Muhammad (sa), the true Messenger of Allah (swt).

In disbelief, Amr (rta) asked the king if he wholeheartedly believed that Muhammad (sa) was a true prophet. After hearing the king’s confirmation, Amr (rta) finally felt ready to become a Muslim. He immediately pledged allegiance to Islam in at the hands of the Najashi. Having done this, Amr (rta) left for Madinah, so that he could pledge allegiance to the Prophet (sa) himself.

On the way to Madinah, Amr (rta) met Khalid Ibn Waleed (rta) and Uthman Ibn Talhah (rta), who were also traveling in the same direction and for the same purpose. After all the efforts he had done to extinguish the light of Islam, Amr (rta) was embarrassed to enter into the presence of the Prophet (sa). Having said the Kalimah, Amr (rta) asked the Prophet (sa) to ask Allah (swt) for forgiveness of his past sins. The Prophet (sa) replied that such prayers were not necessary, as Amr’s (rta) embracing of Islam had already expiated all his previous sins.

The warm welcome of Muslims filled Amr’s heart (rta) with a great love for the Prophet (sa) and his companions. From that day onwards, he wholeheartedly devoted all his efforts to the cause of Islam. After being selected by the Prophet (sa) to destroy idol Sawa, Amr (rta) went to its temple and crushed the idol into pieces. Thanks to his excellent diplomacy skills, Amr (rta) successfully convinced Abd and Jeefer, the two brothers who ruled Oman at the time, to enter Islam, thus bringing it under the rule of Muslims.

During the time of the Prophet (sa), Amr (rta) was sent to conquer Egypt and introduce its inhabitants to Islam. Upon entering Egypt, he (rta) decided to avoid open battlefields. Instead, his strategy was to siege the key places of the country, advancing city by city throughout Egypt. His conquest of Egypt concluded in the 20th year A.H.

After this conquest, Amr (rta) was appointed as its ruler. The year he arrived there, the waters of the river Nile did not rise during the season as it used to every year. Egyptians believed that the Nile had a will of its own. This is why every year they threw a beautiful girl wearing rich attire and jewellery into the Nile, hoping to please the river. Right after sacrificing the girl, the Nile used to fill with waters.

This cruel tradition angered Amr (rta). He asked the Caliph Umar (rta) for advice in this situation. The Caliph sent a letter addressed to the river Nile, in which he requested the river to fill with waters, if it was flowing by the will of Allah (swt). Amr (rta) threw this letter into the Nile, and during that same night, the Nile flooded twice the level of previous floods.

Amr (rta) ruled as the governor of Egypt till the 43rd year A.H. He made Egypt into a strong country, known for its justice, freedom and equality. Amr (rta) passed away on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr and was buried in Egypt.

Happy Valentine’s Day?

Vol 5 - Issue 4 Happy valentine's day

Up until my late teens, Valentine’s Day was a stranger to me – I had never witnessed it, never heard of it. Growing up under the Soviet regime, I was ‘programmed’ to know only the Soviet holidays, see only the Soviet cartoons and learn history solely from the Soviet perspective. Although this locked-in environment of communism had disadvantages, through years I’ve come to appreciate its strictness and sober moral norms, as they saved a good portion of my childhood innocence.

I came to know Valentine’s Day through the several times I went for studies to America. Coming from a country which had just shaken off the chains of the communist regime, I found America with its pompous culture of exaggerated celebrations quite alien. I felt somewhat lost in the dating culture tension of high school life and the many high school dances, to which only ‘couples’ were welcomed. “Sweethearts Dance” for celebrating Valentine’s Day was pretty much about showing off your ‘special person’ to the rest of the school. All the talks of celebrating the beauty of love faded into the background in the wake of this plain and straight-forward propaganda of teenage dating culture.

Later, during the years at university, I learned yet new angles of what Valentine’s Day meant for common Americans. Living in Minneapolis with its “The Mall of America” (the biggest shopping mall in the country), I clearly saw how businesses were cashing in on people’s romantic feelings. Sasha, my exchange student friend from Russia, who worked at “The Mall”, admitted that the holiday seasons were a nightmare for her. Were it Easter, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, the whole mall was transformed into a money sucking machine, mesmerizing the unaware customers with Christmas trees, eggs, bunnies, hearts and the music of the season into opening their wallets for the sake of… spending money, of course! If for customers the red hearts and love songs added a pleasant touch to their Valentine’s Day’s shopping spree, to Sasha such daily diets created a clear aversion.

My American roommate Sarah, a graduate student of sociology, quite shocked me with her perception of what Valentine’s Day could be about. One day, as we were sitting and talking in our living-room, she showed me some booklets on ‘safe’ sex and said that she would mail them as a Valentine’s Day gift to her niece, who had just entered her teens. “Nobody else is going to tell her about this anyway, so I thought I should help her out,” was Sarah’s rationale. I couldn’t believe my own ears! I learned that Valentine’s Day was also about promoting the responsibility-free and commitment-free partnerships.

However, I was hard hit by the reality of this partnership culture through my other roommate Cathy, a Ph.D. student of geophysics. Cathy was a very bright student, but she had some psychological issues and was on daily anti-depressant drugs. For most of the January university vacation, I was out of the country, so I was unaware of what was going on in her life. One evening, just a few days after I returned, Cathy came to me with a bottle of medicine in her hand and asked me to count, how many pills were left. After I counted them, she realized that about thirty pills were missing. She told me that her boy-friend had left her and she felt so depressed that she just kept on taking these pills in an attempt to calm down her emotions. Thank God I had a driver’s license and could drive her in her own car to the nearest emergency room, where she was transferred to the psychiatric ward for a few days. Doctors had diagnosed her as attempting to commit suicide. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I was not ready to buy into talks of spreading love in humanity, because with my own eyes I had seen the reality of the dating culture this celebration stood for.

May be my angle on Valentine’s Day is quite unusual, but it is the one that I have come to experience. So whenever I hear ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’ I feel like the statement should end with a question mark.