Preparing for Ramadan

Vol 4- Issue 2 Preparing for ramadan copy

“O Allah! Bless us during Rajab and Shaban, and let us reach Ramadan (in good health). Ameen.”

When I told a friend that I was doing research for an article on preparing for Ramadan, she said: “What are you going to write? We know everything there is about Ramadan. We’ve been hearing it over and over again!”

It’s true that Ayahs and sayings related to Ramadan will be the same, because our Deen is complete and will remain so till the end of time. But the fact that we have heard them many times makes us more accountable. We have no excuse to forget the guidance. We shouldn’t tune out thinking “Oh, I’ve heard this before.” Instead, we need to pay extra attention to revising, internalizing, applying and then sharing this knowledge.

For instance, your husband has asked you to pay the telephone bill. If he reminds you once, you could forget. But if you forget after being reminded several times and seeing that note stuck on the refrigerator, you will be left with a late fee and a lot of explaining to do. You heard the same message over and over again and still paid no attention.

Alhumdulillah, we have been taught the basic tenets of Ramadan since we were children. Let’s make Dua to take it a step further this year. We are the selected recipients of this blessed month. There are many non-Muslims and Muslims alike, for whom Ramadan comes and goes without making an iota of difference in their lives. Allah (swt) says that unlike other acts of worship, fasting is only for ME. What an honor! We have the opportunity to do something, for which Allah (swt) will personally decide the reward.

Just like we make preparations well in advance when a favourite guest is coming, we have to prepare in advance for Ramadan, so that we don’t waste time during the precious month.

Organizing

  • Gather books/tapes/Dua pamphlets in one place, so you avoid wasting precious Ramadan time looking for stuff. If you have loaned some books to a friend or vice versa, see that they get to their respective owners before Ramadan. If you know you have two hours to complete an exam, you wouldn’t want to waste time sharpening pencils or looking for erasers, would you?
  • Host or attend a ‘Welcoming Ramadan’ talk and invite friends, who usually do not frequent these circles.
  • Plan where you will be going for Taraweeh. Find out which venues welcome women. Make child care and transportation arrangements beforehand.

Shopping

  • Make small packets of dates with the Dua for breaking the fast. Pass these out to people in the Masjid, or your family and friends two weeks before Ramadan. This way you can hope for part of the reward each time they break their fast.
  • Complete your to-do list or postpone unimportant stuff for after Eid.
  • Buy small gifts for the children to mark the beginning of Ramadan. Blow up some balloons and give out candy, so that they know this is a special time. Hang up a Ramadan calendar, so they can count the days till Eid.
  • Complete Eid shopping for clothes beforehand. When I was in school, I used to envy my friends, who would go Eid shopping during the last ten days of Ramadan for bangles on ‘Chand Raat’. My mom made it a point to get us what we wanted for Eid before Ramadan began. We might not have understood the beauty of the lesson she was teaching us then, but, Alhamdulillah, now when I make my decisions about Eid shopping, I emulate her. If you really do need to go to the bazaar, get what you need and don’t loiter around.
  • Buy Eid gifts for family, friends and domestic help and don’t forget the kids. It is up to us, how important we make Eid for our children. If you’re planning to throw an Eid party for them, do the preparations before Ramadan or schedule the party at least a week after Eid.
  • Involve kids in wrapping gifts for the domestic help, so they see you giving them something new, as opposed to your old stuff all the time.

Reflecting

  • Make up the missed fasts before Ramadan.
  • Plan an ideal day by using the natural pegs of Salah. For example: “Between Fajr and Zuhr, I would like to memorize three Ayahs, and between Zuhr and Asr, I would like to listen to a Seerah tape.”
  • Evaluate your previous Ramadan and set goals for this year. Two days of a believer’s life should not be the same, just like each day should be better than the previous one. Similarly, two Ramadan’s should not be alike. Think about what you could have done better and avoid making previous mistakes. Set special, specific goals for the last ten nights of Ramadan.
  • Identify time wasters. Is it a talkative friend, an addictive computer game, the TV or surfing the Internet? Resolve to stay away from these things in Ramadan.

Household Duties

  • Freeze, freeze and freeze. Samosas, rolls, Kebabs, Chutneys – whatever your family enjoys. Make it beforehand, so you spend minimum time in the kitchen.
  • Practice moderation. Fasting is not postponing three meals only to make up for at Iftar. Eat what you like but in moderation, so that you are not so full that you can’t even go in Ruku at Maghrib!
  • If you are obsessed about cleaning, do all the detailed tasks before Ramadan, so that you and yours can take a breather. If you are fortunate to have help around the house, plan on being easy on them, as they will be fasting, too.

Socializing

  • Limit lavish Iftar parties as much as possible. When you want to share a meal, send Iftar to the Masjid, deliver it to your neighbour in advance or find a deserving family. This way, you’ll be reaping the benefits of providing Iftar without having to take out fancy tableware and wearing your prettiest clothes!
  • Take out your phone book and call a relative you haven’t been in touch with ‘because she never calls.’ There might be some hurt feelings or unresolved issues that you can sort out before Ramadan.
  • Offer to watch a friend’s child, when she tries a mini-Itekaf for a few hours. She could return the favour on the days she doesn’t have to fast.

Family Time

  • Decide on a new Sunnah you want to adopt as a family. Miswak? Wudhu before bed?
  • Provide a list of options and have fun choosing.
  • Delegate chores to children according to their age. Your work load will be less, and they will get into the spirit of Ramadan.
  • Make a Sadaqah box and keep it in the kitchen. Encourage family members to pitch in every day.

This very moment, make Niyah to recharge your batteries and make this the best Ramadan yet. So even if, for some valid reason, you are unable to do all that you have planned, you can get reward for your intention, Insha’Allah.

Dunya Versus Akhirah – Who’s the Winner?

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In the story of the blind men and the elephant, each of them was touching different features of the animal and had a different description for what an elephant looked like. Similarly, we humans may have various perceptions about life, based on our knowledge and experiences. However, our knowledge is too limited to grasp the entire concept of life. Our only source for knowing the ultimate truth is the revelation sent by our All-Knowing Creator (swt).

In the Quran, Allah (swt) has repeatedly reminded us about the true nature of this world and the next, so that we may live and act accordingly. Allah (swt) describes the life of this world as ‘deceiving enjoyment’, ‘fleeting pleasure’, ‘play and amusement’, and ‘temporary abode’. Whereas the hereafter is ‘better, eternal, and lasting’.

Allah (swt) mentions in the Quran: “Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment.” (Al-Hadeed 57:20)

He says in another Ayah: “…Are you pleased with the life of this world rather than the hereafter? But little is the enjoyment of the life of this world as compared with the hereafter.” (At-Tawbah 9:38)

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The First Ten Days of Dhul-Hijjah

Vol 5 - Issue 3 The first ten days of Dhul-HajjOfaira Ateeq Husain shares with us the suggestions of Sheikh Muhammad Salih Al-Munajjid.

Allah (swt) has preferred some times of the year over others in the sense that the rewards for good deeds done during these periods get multiplied many times. This encourages His servants to do more righteous deeds and worship Him more, in order to prepare themselves for death and the Day of Judgment.

The Prophet (sa) said: “Being laid-back is best in every matter except for good deeds.” (Abu Dawood & Al-Hakim)

Among the special seasons of worship are the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, which Allah (swt) has preferred over all the other days of the year. These days, which include the Day of Arafah and Eid Al-Adha, bring Muslims an opportunity to correct their faults and make up for any shortcomings.

Ibn Abbas (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “There are no days in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Allah than these ten days” The people asked: “Not even Jihad for the sake of Allah?” He said: “Not even Jihad for the sake of Allah, except in the case of a man who went out, giving himself and his wealth up for the cause (of Allah), and came back with nothing.” (Bukhari)

It is indeed a great mercy of Allah (swt) that the blessings of Hajj spill over also to those, who are not making the pilgrimage but are fasting on Dhul-Hijjah 9, the Day of Arafah. On this day, also known as the Waqfah (standing), the pilgrims stand on and around the Mount of Mercy to ask Allah’s (swt) forgiveness. When the sun sets on that day, all their past sins are forgiven. If those, who are not making Hajj, fast on that day, the sins of two years (the past and the coming one) are forgiven. (Muslim)

Abu Hurairah (rta) relates that the Prophet (sa) said: “There are no days more loved by Allah (swt) for you to worship Him therein than the ten days of Dhul Hijjah. Fasting any day during it is equivalent to fasting one year, and offering Salatul Tahajjud (late night prayer) during one of its nights is like performing the late night prayer on the night of power (i.e., Lailatul Qadr).” (At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah and Al-Baihaqi)

In this season, the roads leading to goodness are numerous, so we must not miss out on any of them. Allah (swt) has given us many ways, in which to do good deeds and worship Him. Among the good deeds, which a Muslim should strive to do during the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah are:

1. Salah. A guided slave of Allah (swt) would supply himself with optional Salah during these ten days, because it is a path to goodness and something that Allah (swt) loves. Abu Hurairah (rta) narrated that the Prophet (sa) said: “Salah is the best thing that one can do, so perform as many as you possibly can.” (At-Tabarani) He (saw) also said, as narrated by Abu Hurairah (rta): “The son of Adam could not do anything more beneficial for himself than Salah, reconciliation (between Muslims) and being well mannered.” (Al-Bayhaqi and others)

2. Fasting. It is Sunnah to fast on the ninth day of Dhul-Hijjah. Hunaydah Ibn Khalid quoted some of the wives of the Prophet (sa) as saying: “The Prophet (sa) used to fast on the ninth of Dhul-Hijjah, on the day of Ashurah, on three days of each month and on the first two Mondays and Thursdays of each month.” (An-Nisa’i, 4/205)

3. Takbir. During the first ten days of Dhul-Hijjah, it is Sunnah to say Takbir, Tahmid, Tahlil, and Tasbih loudly in the mosque, the home, the street and every place, where it is permitted to remember Allah (swt) and mention His name out loud, as an act of worship and as a proclamation of the greatness of Allah (swt). Men should recite these phrases out loud, and women should recite them quietly.

Allah (swt) says: “That they may witness things that are of benefit to them (i.e., reward of Hajj in the Hereafter, and also some worldly gain from trade), and mention the name of Allah on appointed days (i.e. 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th day of Dhul-Hijjah), over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them (for sacrifice).” (Al-Hajj 22:28)

Abdullah Ibn Umar (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “There are no days greater in the sight of Allah and in which righteous deeds are more beloved to Him than these ten days, so during this time recite a great deal of Tahleel (La Ilaha Ill-Allah), Takbeer (Allahu Akbar) and Tahmeed (Al-Hamdu Lillah).” (Reported by Ahmad, 7/224; Ahmad Shakir stated that it is Saheeh)

4. Performing Hajj and Umrah. One of the best deeds that one can do during these ten days is to perform Hajj to the Sacred House of Allah (swt). The one, whom Allah (swt) helps to offer Hajj to His House and to perform all the rituals properly, is included in the words of the Prophet (sa): “An accepted Hajj brings no less a reward than Paradise.”

5. Doing more good deeds in general. This is because good deeds are beloved by Allah (swt) and earn one a great reward. Whoever is not able to offer Hajj should occupy himself during this blessed time with acts of worship, reading the Quran, remembering Allah (swt), making supplications, giving in charity, showing dutifulness to parents, maintaining the ties of kinship, enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil and other good deeds and acts of worship.

6. Sacrifice. Offering a sacrificial animal is also among the most virtuous deeds that one can perform. The Prophet (sa) said: “He, who does not offer a sacrifice while being financially able to, let him not come close to our Masjid (i.e. pray with us).” The Sunnah also indicates that the one, who wants to offer a sacrifice on Eid-ul-Adha, must stop cutting his hair and nails and removing anything from his skin, from the beginning of the ten days until after he has offered his sacrifice, because the Prophet (sa) said: “When the ten days (Dhu’l-Hijjah) have begun and one of you intends to offer a sacrifice, then let him not cut any of his hair or remove anything from his skin.” (Muslim)

In another narration, he (saw) said: “Let him not cut anything from his hair or nails until he sacrifices.” (Ad-Darimi)

7. Sincere repentance. One of the most important things to do during these ten days is to repent sincerely to Allah (swt) and to give up all kinds of disobedience and sin. Take advantage of these virtuous deeds, beware of laziness and neglect and know that Allah (swt) has favoured certain days over others. Let us use these opportunities and increase our righteous deeds. May Allah (swt) forgive us our sins and shortcomings, Ameen.

Reflection of This Mirror

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As a mother, I want to teach you the important lessons of life

Tomorrow when you stand as a husband or wife,

I might not be around as I am growing old and gray

Caring for you, worrying for you every living day,

Today, when you’re young and spirited so high

You want pleasure and freedom to fly,

Things matter most to you and they better be the best

Your heart is constantly in this world put to test,

My child understand the mirage of the world

Do not lose your grip in this dazzling whirl,

It’s the stuff that allures

But it won’t be long before you want more,

The nature of worldly things is such

It captivates your desires, but keeps your soul unrested much,

Occasionally the make-up may fail

The weight may go up and down the scale,

Dark or fair, don’t worry, don’t fake

Allah (swt) made you and He makes no mistakes,

You are beautiful because of your soul

Not the six pack chest or the beauty mole,

If you believe in yourself and the beauty of what lies within

You will be the happiest person from Bahrain to Berlin,

Befriend Allah (swt) so He lights up your heart

May your Iman and Aqeedah never depart,

Throw the world behind you and let it chase you

Just lead a meaningful life with courage and be true,

Let the stuff be your slave

And with dignity do behave,

You are from the Ummah of the greatest leader of all times

Never should you be the reason for anyone to ever malign,

Our beloved messenger (sa) who cried for you and I

Do not forget until you die,

Allah (swt) has destined your Rizq all along

It is you who has to decide the path right or wrong,

Not a penny will you earn less, not a penny more

Than what you deserve so go on and explore,

I don’t want a grade you earn by cheating others in school

I don’t want you to demean yourself to look cool,

I want to see you live and die loving your Creator

I want you to feel pride in serving His creation,

I want to meet you at the gates of Paradise

I want to embrace you there with no guise,

I pray to Allah (swt) to choose you to be the one

A worthy daughter or a wonderful son,

Oh my child, this life is so precious to waste

Such little time is left, until death we taste,

Rise and stretch high

Sprint and zoom by,

Do not look back, but only to learn from your errors

One day you will become a reflection of this mirror,

I pray to Allah (swt) He forgives my slights

And fulfills all the gaps with His might,

Mould you into what He wants you to be

And as a striving and faulty mother honour me. Ameen

This poem is dedicated to every mother who sheds tears for the salvation of her family.

Bloom to Perfection

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Gems from Taleem ul-Quran 2015

Day 15 Reflection
(Al-Baqarah 2:83-91)

“Worship none but Allah (alone) and be dutiful and good to parents, and to kindred, and to orphans and (the poor), and speak good to people and perform As-Salah and give Zakah. Then you slid back, except a few of you, while you are backsliders.” (Al-Baqarah 2:83)

A “Momin” can be compared to a beautiful flower; the appearance and fragrance of which appeals and attracts everyone. The way one talks, walks, acts and thinks should be able to draw attention, interest and love of others. Let’s not be like the thorn which pricks or hurts others. We should rather try to pick out the thorns from the path of others, and be harmless. We should spread the sweet smell that Allah (swt) has blessed us with, by virtue of being a Muslim and draw others towards our high moral values and character; just like little creatures such as insects and flies, and more sophisticated human beings even, are attracted towards beautiful flowers.

May Allah (swt), make us that flower in the garden of our Ummah, which blooms to perfection and utmost beautification, and spreads freshness, love and happiness all around, through obedience of Allah (swt). May Allah (swt) enable us to become a walking-talking example of the Seerah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (sa); so that, we are able to adopt ‘Ahsaan’ (utmost good) in all our ‘Mu’amlaat’ (dealings) related toour Creator Allah (swt) (i.e. Huquq Allah (swt)), as well as, His Creation (i.e. Huquq Al Ibad).

Day 16 Reflection
(Al-Baqarah 2:92-103)

As individuals, the only exclusive power or authority that we have is perhaps, on our children; and that too, until a certain age. Very sadly so, but honestly, we expect them to follow our directives, and orders or requests. How many times is it that we get upset with them for not listening to us? We get frustrated, lose our patience, become anxious, shout at them, or even sometimes raise our hands on them!

Look at the endless, selfless, vast and perpetual love of Allah (swt) for His creation. One reminder after another, warning after warning, Ayah after Ayah, He sends us admonitions. He sends trials and tribulations our way to derive lessons from, and to change our ways of trading with Him. And even after constantly being reminded by Him, and knowing how mankind (esp. the people before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad’s (sa)) was reprimanded in the past, we do not fail to disobey Him again, and again, and again!

What has happened to the state of our hearts? What about our minds? Time to check our ‘Iman’ (faith)!

Imams of Ahadeeth

Vol 5 - Issue 4 Imams of AhadeethThe collectors and preservers of Ahadeeth are the prime suspects of default or negligence in the sight of many ill-informed, ignorant pseudo-intellectuals of the past or present times. Sometimes these Muhadaseen (Hadeeth narrators) are tried and charged guilty in people’s own perception. Such questions as ‘Who knows the source of this information?’ ‘Were these men or women even present at the times of the Prophet (sa)?’ ‘How can we trust the credibility of a particular Ahadeeth?’ are rampant.

Quite amusingly, when Darwin’s ridiculous theory of evolution is presented to most, they accept it without a second thought, even though it has been proven incorrect by the Quran and the scientists. Similarly, do we ever question, how far the Sun is or did Neil Armstrong actually travel to the Moon? Never! One news bulletin is sufficient to convince us about the authenticity of any particular happening or discovery. How many of us go to the extent of verifying any of the information changing hands at the speed of light? Alas, we reserve the worst imaginable skepticism or allegations for our own reputed scholars. It is sinful to suspect those whom we know nothing about.

Muhammad Iqbal Kailani in his book “Following the Prophet’s Path” analyzes the lives of some of these Ahadeeth narrators to understand their quest for truth.

The search begins

Abu Ayub Ansari traveled from Madinah to Egypt for investigating a single Hadeeth. Jabir Ibn Abdullah traveled for a month just to hear a Hadeeth personally. Imam Razi spent seven years traveling in his quest to gather the Sunnah. Nafe Ibn Abdullah attended Imam Malik’s lectures from morning to noon for nearly forty years. History presents countless examples of such endeavors made by Ahadeeth students.

Abdullah Ibn Mubarak obtained instructions from eleven hundred renowned scholars of the Sunnah. Imam Malik learnt prophetic traditions from nine hundred teachers. Hisham Ibn Abdullah was instructed in Ahadeeth by seventeen hundred teachers.

After serving his duties in Ahadeeth in his home town of Bukhara, Imam Bukhari traveled to such other destinations as Balakh, Baghdad, Makkah, Basra, Kufa, Syria, Uskhalan, Hamus and Damascus for further enriching himself in the science of Sunnah.

At the time, when there were no road networks, flight connections, not even reliable maps available, these men undertook journeys of peril and personal sacrifice in search of the prophetic traditions. Their travelogues are an evidence of determination and sincerity to the cause of Ahadeeth compilation and preservation.

Financial sacrifices

The Ahadeeth narrators spent their entire fortunes working on the science of Sunnah. In his quest to find sound Hadeeth, Imam Malik’s teacher Rabia sold even the rafters of his house. At times, he had to face extreme poverty and actually fed himself on the remains of dates lying in the trash.

Imam Yahya Ibn Moeen spent one and a half million Dirhams in search of the Sunnah. He was reduced to such a state of destitution that he didn’t even have shoes to wear.

Imam Bukhari, who was raised in the lap of luxury, willingly faced hardships during his long journeys in search of the Sunnah. Umar Ibn Hafs, one of Imam Bukhari’s colleagues in Basra, narrates that they were engaged in writing down the Sunnah. After a few days, they realized that Imam Bukhari was absent from class. Upon inquiry, they discovered that he did not have proper clothing to step out of his room and was too poor to buy any. The students gathered money and bought for the Imam suitable clothes, so he could start attending classes again.

Ishaq Ibn Rahviyya, Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal’s classmate, tells of how Imam Hanbal came to Yemen to learn the Sunnah. During such time, he earned his living weaving trouser strings. When it was time for him to depart from Yemen upon completion of his education, he was indebted to a baker. He gave his shoes to the Baker for debt settlement and left Yemen barefoot. On his way back, he worked also as a loader to earn his living.

How many scholars of today do we know, who have abandoned their home comforts, jeopardized their lives and put their honour at stake in the quest for true knowledge? Sadly, such scholars today are fewer as compared to the previous eras.

Personal trials

Wrath of evil and unjust rulers was another trial that many noble scholars had to brave. In the reign of Banu Umaiyya (except the reign of Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz), some renowned scholars of Ahadeeth were persecuted cruelly. They included Mohammad Ibn Sireen, Hassan Basri, Obaidullah Ibn Abi Raffay, Yahya Ibn Obaid and Ibn-e-Abi Katheer.

During the rule of Banu Abbas, Imam of Darul Hijra Malik Ibn Anas was punished mercilessly by flogging on his bare back. The great scholar Sufyan Sauri was condemned to death. Imam Shafai was arrested and taken to Baghdad on foot, where he was incarcerated and tortured. The torments suffered by Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in the cause of the Sunnah are tragic. Imam Abu Hanifa’s funeral procession was taken out from the dark and narrow dungeon of prison. All these remarkable men withstood torture and death, never compromising the truth.

Strict criteria for Ahadeeth acceptance

Their caution and strict vigilance in matters of acceptance of the Sunnah can be realized from the meticulous standards these scholars adhered to. Abu Bakr (rta) and Umar (rta) never accepted a Ahadeeth without a proper witness. Usman (rta), as a precaution, narrated few Ahadeeth. Ali (rta) accepted the Sunnah from the narrators on oath only.

When Abdullah Ibn Masood was requested to narrate the Sunnah, his countenance changed with concern, as he understood the great responsibility he had as a Hadeeth narrator. When Anas (rta) related a prophetic tradition, he always added “or as the Messenger (sa) said.” Upon reaching their old age, the companions stopped relating the Sunnah out of the fear of their failing memory.

The narrator Moin Ibn Isa says: “The Hadeeth I have reported from Imam Malik are such that I have heard each one of them thirty times from him.” Ibrahim Ibn Sayeed Al-Jauhari states: “If I fail to get any Hadeeth from a hundred different sources, I consider myself weak in that Hadeeth.”

Non-Muslim commentators

The renowned orientalist professor Margaret stated: “The Muslim’s pride in their science of Sunnah is justified.”

The famous Hungarian orientalist Goldziher Ignaz (1850-1921) said: “The scholars, who collected the Sunnah, traveled extensively in the Muslim world from one end to the other, from Spain to Central Asia, mostly on foot, visited every city and every village in search of the Sunnah, in order to record them and to spread them among their disciples. Undoubtedly, these were the persons who deserved the title or surname of Rahhal and Jawwal (meaning indefatigable traveler).”

Dr. Springier, a renowned German orientalist, admits: “No nation ever existed in the past or is there in the present, which has invented like the Muslims the science of Asma-ur-Rijal, through which we can know today the lives of five hundred thousand people of Medieval times. The learned scholars of Sunnah have recorded every important detail about every reporter of the Sunnah, such as his belief, faith, character, virtue, trustworthiness, truthfulness, honesty, their retention power and comprehension skills.” (Asaba fi AhwAl-us-Sahaba)

Conclusion

It’s entirely up to our objective and non-biased reasoning to decide whether the Muslim Ummah should continue suspecting the efforts of its scholars or reap benefit out of it. Should we take pride in the sacrifices of the earlier generations and humbly accept them as the creditor or continue with a disrespectful and disdainful attitude?

With Allah (swt) eventually lies the reward of every knowledge bearer. Our scholars played their part and did it extremely well. They offered unimaginable services to Allah (swt) for the preservation of the Sunnah. Our acceptance or rejection of them only speaks of our own character. May Allah (swt) have His mercy on them and keep us guided on the straight path. Ameen.

Surviving Under Pressure

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

How does Academic Pressure Work?

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

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

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

How does Parental Pressure Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does Peer Pressure Work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Can We Reduce Academic Pressure?

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

How Can We Reduce Parental Pressure?

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

How Can We Reduce Peer Pressure?

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

Writer’s email: director@erdconline.org

Rescuing Health with Self-Knowledge

Sunnah foods

My life has changed completely since I invested my resources into integrative medicine. I am grateful to Allah (swt), Who has blessed me with knowledge resources and made me discover a holistic health practitioner in Pakistan, Dr. Shagufta Feroz. Her book ‘Living as Nature Intended’ is a panacea for those in search of optimal physical and psychological health. Unfortunately, the significance of nature is often not deeply absorbed by us.

Thinking about the magnificence in Allah’s (swt) creation, I asked my friends through Facebook and text messages what popped up into their mind when they hear the word ‘nature’.

Majority responses were beauty, peace, greenery, purity, and signs of Allah (swt). My cell phone was being updated with responses while I was being assailed by doubt, embarrassment and awe. We all have an association with nature but we neglect the most supreme form of Allah’s Qudrat in front of us, with us, inside us! You and I are Allah’s (swt) masterpiece! Ashraf Al-Makhlooqat. Nothing is more awe-inspiring than human beings. If we ponder over the human body, the human brain or human behaviour, we will be startled at how our Creator is Al-Musawwir the Fashioner, the Bestower of Forms, the Shaper. Allah says: “Verily, We created man of the best stature (mould).” (At-Tin 95:4)

Some of the precautionary changes that I took when I woke up from this sound sleep were to transform and check the sources of my food, cosmetics and clothing.

Imam Ghazali, while counselling the believers, states that a human being’s share in the name Al-Musawwir lies in understanding his existence, and the intricacy of his soul, body and mind. Furthermore, he advises to learn from whole details commencing from body membranes, types of organs and the wisdom and skill in their creation. The turn of studying soul, intellect and abilities comes much after understanding the minute details of body.

If we neglect our bodies, can we attain what we call serenity? If we don’t understand or appreciate ourselves can we comprehend the beauty in nature otherwise? Timothy Leary says: “One cannot understand the rhythms and meanings of outer world until one has mastered the dialects of the body.”

To value nature in the real sense of the word along with the creations of Allah, we need to probe into self-knowledge. We’re composed of an amazing network of systems: nervous, muscular, skeletal, reproductive, and digestive and so on. The elements of nature we are associated with like fire, clay, water and air have been created for our quality survival. The immune system is a blessing in disguise, Alhumdullilah. Our body’s healing properties are much stronger than any drug treatment or antibiotics and we need to nurture with pure, simple Sunnah foods.

How did I change? Five years back, like every average youth in Pakistan influenced by westernization, I had deep-rooted complexes. I found it hard to look at myself in the mirror, being bulky and tall and ‘fitting’ into the society’s acceptance limits. I found beauty around me but not inside me, until I realized I am Allah’s masterpiece. I have been created by Al-Wadud, The Loving-Kind. It is hard to alter eating habits or resort back to Allah’s super-foods; it is hard to understand the natural circadian rhythms of the human body but I have found all the changes completely worth the investment. The need of the hour is that to become sound and healthy, we need to take our mind off obesity stories and health dilemmas inside our brain and focus on Al-Khaliq’s creatures; to begin with, I’ve chosen the masterpiece! What about you?

My mother went through the conventional process of treatment chemotherapy and radiation, but it was the binding link with Allah through the Quran and intake of healing foods that she was blessed with recovery.

Over and above, in combating sickness, we can suppress symptoms by neglecting health in the first part of life and then restoring it in old age with a substantial monetary investment or as the Sunnah medicine suggests, we can address the root cause. We need to know what it means to be a healthy Muslim. Islam puts utmost importance on healing physical and spiritual diseases; a Muslim practitioner should know the uniqueness of the immunity of the patient and highlight the far-reaching effects of positive emotions (Islamic Guideline on Medicine by Yusuf Al-Hajj Ahmad).

Allah says in the Holy Quran: “We will show them Our Signs in the universe, and in their ownselves, until it becomes manifest to them that this (the Qur’an) is the truth.” (Fussilat 41:53)

So what are your plans about being a healthy and a productive Muslim? To get closer to Al-Bari, The Producer, we need to understand our systems, our soul and our mind.

Another life-enriching trial in my life was my mother’s chronic cancer. Narrated by Jabir (rta) the Messenger of Allah (sa) said:

“For every disease there is a remedy, so if you find the right remedy for the disease, you will be healed by the leave of Allah.” (Muslim)

My mother went through the conventional process of treatment chemotherapy and radiation, but it was the binding link with Allah through the Quran and intake of healing foods that she was blessed with recovery. I’ve seen the magnanimity of neglecting health and well being through her. We should not be victimized by the modern concept ‘nature deficit disorder’ such as psychological, physical and cognitive costs of alienating from nature.

Eliminate worry from your life as it can weaken your faith.

Imam Ibn al Qayyim Al-Jauziyah prescribes health over sickness, youth over old age. Leaf through his book ‘Healing with the Medicine of Prophet (saw)’ and enlighten your health instincts. In the tough journey in this world, health, time management, patience and gratitude are the tools to march forward. Understanding body and evaluating the Nafs or psyche is mandatory to become the beloved of Allah Almighty. The paradigm in front of us lies in the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad (sa). Allah says:

“Indeed in the Messenger of Allah (Muhammad) you have a good example to follow for him who hopes in (the Meeting with) Allah and the Last Day and remembers Allah much.” (Al-Ahzab 33:21)

Let us resolve and respect the laws of nature and try to implement them. Some of the precautionary changes that I took when I woke up from this sound sleep were to transform and check the sources of my food, cosmetics and clothing. I am still discovering farms in my city and organic food sources. Many people in our honourable Ummah love home gardening. Allah’s creation can do wonders if blessed by Him!

We tend to go all green to preserve natural environment, but we forget to preserve ourselves. Let’s please Allah (swt). Stay holistically healthy and protect your family members from consuming processed, convenience foods. Another step you have to inculcate is being patient in adapting and promoting healthy behaviour. Try to inculcate the attitude of gratitude each time Allah (swt) gratifies your thirst and hunger. Praise Allah (swt), the Most Deserving of praise, when you like the colour, the taste or the aroma of any food. Cherish the times when you are healthy and equally thank for the times when Allah (swt) puts you into sickness for a while.

Lastly, eliminate worry from your life as it can weaken your faith. The following Hadeeth is the most soothing of all,

Narrated by Abu Hurairah (rta), Allah’s Apostle said: “If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.” (Bukhari)

Sleeping Habits of the Prophet (sa) – In the Light of Surah Al-Mulk

Sleeping Habits

Ahadeeth offer us ample advice for perfecting our lives according to the Islamic guidelines. Alhumdulillah, every minute aspect of our life is discussed, including such daily routine as sleeping. Let’s take a look at what the Sunnah says about the sleeping habits of the Prophet (sa).

Prophet Muhammad (sa) used to recite Surah Al-Mulk before sleeping and then go straight to bed after Isha, without engaging in useless talk. The Prophet (sa) said: “There is a Surah in the Quran, which contains thirty verses. It will plead for the one who recites it, until Allah (swt) forgives him.” (Tirmidhi)

This action of our beloved Prophet (sa) holds great wisdom. Let’s look deeper into this Surah and reflect upon why he specifically chose it to be recited at night. The Surah begins with a majestic introduction of Allah (swt), enlightening the reader about His three characteristics:

  1. Allah (swt) is Blessed.
  2. He is the Owner of the entire universe.
  3. He does whatever He wills.

These characteristics are important, because they explain the upcoming verse, which is the heart of this Surah: “Who created death and life that He may test you, which of you is best in deed. And He is the All-Mighty, the Oft-Forgiving.” (Al-Mulk 67:2)

This verse explicitly defines the purpose of our creation, i.e., to perform the best of deeds in life. It is important to note here that Allah (swt) did not state that He wants to see which one of us does the most deeds! Every single night, we sleep with thoughts about the reason behind our creation, and this serves as a reminder for the next morning, assuring that our actions will be performed in accordance with this notion.

In the following two verses, Allah (swt) sets some standards for an Ahsan (best) deed. He commands us to inspect the sky keenly and inquires if there is any visible inconsistency or defect. Just as the creation of Allah (swt) is free from any imperfections, so should be an Ahsan deed. It should be free from ill-intentions and must be performed on the level of excellence.

In the next verse, Allah (swt) directs the attention of the reader towards the sky, manifesting that the aims and objectives of a believer’s life should always be as high as the sky. Another advantage of an Ahsan deed is that it serves as a weapon a believer uses against his/her greatest enemy: the Shaitan.

The verses that follow give a detailed description of Hell and clarify the reason why a person would end up there. Every single night the mind is fed with the idea of Hell, so that a person makes all the efforts possible to be safe from it. The reason for people eventually ending up in Hell would be that they did not follow or listen to the messengers. The only way to attain Jannah is by following the Sunnah, as the life of our Prophet (sa) is a compilation of Ahsan deeds.

Later verses illustrate that the actions of believers are outstanding not only in the company of others, but also when they are all alone. Next, Allah (swt) states that it is only Him, Who upholds the birds in the sky. Similarly, the people, who think they can achieve something in life without the help of Allah (swt), are blinded by delusion. Even if a believer reaches the height of an Ahsan deed, it is because of the mercy of Allah (swt). If He withdraws His support, then a person is left completely helpless.

Towards the end, Allah (swt) presents the reader with two aspects that, if reflected upon, would aid in performing Ahsan deeds. They are Shukr and remembrance of the afterlife. Verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine implant a significant lesson: it is not necessary that those, who do Ahsan deeds, will not be affected by calamites; whenever such a situation occurs, they should keep their trust in Allah (swt) and carry on with their work.

The last verse poses a simple question: if water – the most vital element for human sustenance – is seized, who has the authority to bring it back other than Allah (swt)? It explains the fact that humans are completely dependent on Allah (swt) for their survival, and they should live their lives in the manner Allah (swt) wants them to, which is by doing Ahsan deeds.

When we recite Surah Al-Mulk, we should know what we are reading, because only then we would be able to attain all of its benefits prescribed in the aforementioned Hadeeth.

“What you Think of me is None of my Business”

14

Self-help guru Wayne Dyer said something very profound recently: “What you think of me is none of my business.” Islam taught us this way back.

You just started covering your head with a loose scarf. You are sitting with your friends and having a good time. All of a sudden, one of your friends, let’s call her Mona, starts talking about Hijab. She says something along the lines of “Hijab is only about being modest. I mean, the Quran doesn’t even say the word ‘hair’!” All of your other friends are nodding and looking at Mona like she’s some sort of saint. And then they look at you.

What to do? Speak up? Have them think of you as some preacher, or worse, an extremist? Or be quiet and not say anything? You decide to mumble something about “being pretty sure that wasn’t right”.

Of course, you say it just loud enough, I mean low enough, that they can’t hear you. But hey, at least you said it, right? Having done your duty, you relax and join in the “fun”. But when the scarf on your head slips down, you do not put it back on.

Now, picture another scene.

637 CE – Jerusalem offers a truce, provided that the Khalifah comes himself from Madinah to sign the treaty. Umar (rtam) sets out for Jerusalem with a slave and a camel. They take turns riding the camel. When they approach Jerusalem, it is Umar’s (rtam) turn to walk, so he enters Jerusalem holding the rope of his camel.

Abu Ubaidah (rtam), the commander-in-chief of the Muslim army, suggests that he change his clothes, so that the people of Jerusalem, accustomed to pomp and grandeur of kings and emperors, are not dissuaded from handing the keys over to him. Umar (rtam) hits him hard on the chest and reminds him that they had been a disgraced nation. Islam brought them honour; should they seek it from anything else, they would surely be humiliated again. “The only way for success is the way of the Prophet (sa),” he says.

What happened in the first scene? A Muslim began following Allah’s (swt) commandment – good intentions and all, faced peer pressure and caved under it.

And the second scenario? A strong Muslim, who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of him, and does what his teacher has taught, and knows that is the right thing to do.

For us, practising Muslim wannabes, to get from scene one to scene two will take some serious working out.

Firstly, understand this: peer pressure is not a recent phenomenon. It is as old as human beings! All the prophets of Allah (swt) faced all kinds of peer pressure. So, if you face some unpleasant stuff when you begin your journey on the straight path – surprise, surprise, it’s no surprise!

Secondly, our public conduct is influenced by what other people think, because, like it or not, social pressure is a powerful force. Even when we know we want to do the right thing, we pause out of sheer terror of being labelled an extremist, fanatic or Mullah.

Good news, we can overcome this fear by making a concerted effort. Allah (swt) says: “Verily, Allah will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves.” (Ar-Rad 11:13)

The strategy we find from the Sunnah can be summed up in a two-pronged approach:

Aimed Inwards – At You

  1. “Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death,” said a wise man.

This dependence on people’s opinion of us originates in weakness of faith – if our pride in Islam is not strong enough to provide the confidence we need to practice it, we get taken in easily by peer pressure. Work on your relationship with Allah (swt), plug into the sources of our Deen, the Quran and Sunnah, and, Insha’Allah, you will see a marked difference in your confidence.

  1. Understand your ‘identity’.

One major reason for falling into peer pressure is not having a secure Muslim identity. You can get that by going back to the roots. Arm yourself with the knowledge of Seerah and the lives of our predecessors for finding out who you are.

“Are those who know equal to those who know not?” (Az-Zumar 39:9)

  1. Get strength from the glad tidings for those who remain steadfast on Deen in the face of opposition and trials.

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Islam began strange, and it will become strange again just like it was at the beginning, so blessed are the strangers.” (Muslim) Hello, stranger! You are in great company. Such news will keep you motivated.

  1. Don’t be a cry-baby all the time.

The road to Paradise is not for the weak hearted. Build up your nerves and learn to be thick skinned. When you mull over an incident, avoid the urge to magnify the negative.

“The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, although there is good in each.” (Muslim)

  1. Hang out with ‘real’ friends.

If people around you give you grief for your beliefs: (a) it is their problem and (b) you need to bail out. Allah (swt) says: “And keep yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord, morning and afternoon, seeking His Face.” (Al-Kahf 18:28)

  1. Beg Allah (swt) for help.

You can’t do this on your own for sure – without His assistance. So, get down in prostration and pray for Istiqamah (uprightness/steadfastness). This beautiful Dua of the Prophet (sa) is spot on: “O Turner of Hearts! Keep my heart steadfast upon your Deen.” (Tirmidhi)

Aimed Outwards – At Others

  1. Deflect criticism, mockery and rudeness.

Follow this Prophetic example and you will be on your way to the straight path:

Members of Quraysh poked fun at the Prophet (sa) by making reference to him as “Mudammam” (a play on Muhammad), which means ‘ugly’. Muhammad was a unique name in Makkah at that time and it means ‘the one who is praised’. The companions complained to the Prophet (sa) with tears in their eyes. His response was that they should ignore the mocking laughter associated with ‘Mudammam’ because his name was Muhammad and not Mudammam. He defused the irony, neutralized it and pulled the rug out from under it, with gentleness, wit and humility.

  1. Keep your cool.

When ugly situations arise and peer pressure kicks in to high gear, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget that you will have to live with the choices you make. If you give in and do something that is contrary to your core value system, it will cause you distress later and you will feel regret.

Remember, peer pressure only works if you let it. If you refuse to let it intimidate you, it loses its power. The secret is to be assertive, without becoming preachy or self-righteous. Stand your ground, but refrain from standing on a soap box.

The Pakistani Wow-man

wow-man

By Tooba Asim – Freelance journalist

“Educate a woman, educate a nation” is a line often repeated, but educated women are a sight seldom seen. Stories of oppression and abuse, on the other hand, are in abundance. But there’s still light somewhere at the end of the tunnel, a hint of a silver lining in our otherwise dark cloud. The Pakistani woman is rising to face the challenges.

Academics, medicine, technology, politics, sports or arts – we have names to be proud of in all. The following are accounts of two such women, who faced the odds bravely and are now a source of pride.

Sughra Solangi – A Journey of Courage

After being divorced at a young age, Sughra Solangi, mother of two, geared up to face the challenges and started with pursuing her dream of being educated. After passing her matriculation exams, she applied for a teaching job which she got. From then on, her journey started. Yet, she realized that the villagers were not willing to send their daughters to school. Sughra started a door-to-door campaign in order to persuade them otherwise. She started collecting funds and giving interest-free loans to help those in need of financial assistance.

Within a year, she had around her a small but a very strong group of women and thus started realizing her dream of getting the girl-child educated. She named her group Marvi Rural Development Organization. Through this organization, she wanted to help the harassed women facing hardships in the patriarchal set-up of our society. Women were denied their right to education and girls were married off at very tender ages, with their lives unjustly dictated by their husbands. Women were also being wrongly murdered under the label of Karo Kari (a cultural practice). Such were the miserable conditions of women in Sughra’s village, from which she wanted to liberate them.

Sughra succeeded in getting the attention of donors towards the ailing conditions of these poor women. Soon, help began pouring in, and Sughra’s little group of women expanded into a bigger, stronger organization working for the betterment of the rural women of Sindh.

In 2011, Sughra Solangi got the prestigious U.S. Secretary of State’s “International Women of Courage” award, which was presented to her by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. However, this is not the end of her story. Sughra wishes for all women of Pakistan to start facing the challenges and to start speaking up for themselves.

Jamila Khatoon – The Courageous Ms. Oil

A Rickshaw driver, a motor mechanic and a hawker combined in one superwoman – this is Jamila Khatoon for you. Her journey, however, has been anything but easy.

Jamila was married off to a man double her age. Six months into their marriage, her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She contacted the local labour house to help her with their household expenses. She started receiving Rs. 2000 a month to fulfill all her household needs and get treatment for her husband. This was when she put her foot down and ventured out into the man’s world. She decided to take matters in her own hands and began frequenting her husband’s oil supply shop. After her husband’s death, she completely took over his business.

Being a woman, she met a lot of resistance in the form of people refusing to work with her. Instead of giving up, this brave woman took all the matters in her hands, including the motor mechanic’s job. Fighting with people, circumstances and the society, Jamila Khatoon continued with a persistence rarely seen in a woman.

Soon she started venturing to the newspaper market along with her job as a motor mechanic. People started mocking her and calling her a ‘Ladka (lad) without a moustache’. Life went on for Jamila, and she became a newspaper hawker. But this was not enough for her. Later, defying the general norm, she started taking Rickshaw driving lessons. Jamila Khatoon is now a proud Rickshaw driver, a newspaper hawker and a motor mechanic.

Braving her way through the pitch black night, Jamila is confident of the beautiful bright morning waiting for her.

Sughra Solangi and Jamila Khatoon are just two examples of countless such women trying to face the odds in a man’s world.

A final word

In the absence of a truly Islamic and Shariah-compliant state, the lesser-privileged Pakistani women are left to their own devices, especially when male relatives, who could have assumed responsibility for them, do not step forward. Even if some men do take the initiative, they do not aid these women with dignity and honour. In such a case, women have only two options: they can either accept the injustices of the society silently until death comes to relieve them, or they can fight back to attain an honourable status (which is their right to begin with).

It hurts us deeply to see how Dr. Afia Siddiqui is being tortured at the hands of the foreigners, and today, we raise our voices in her support, for her freedom. What about the dark injustices happening on our own soil? Do we have the license to pass verdicts against anyone and assign them to inhuman treatment? Do we not fear Allah (swt)? Or, is it simply that whatever happens in our own backyard is just not worth giving any attention to?

The cries of the oppressed do reach Allah (swt) sooner than anything else. Ignorance is not bliss. Our Zakat and Sadaqat should be used to rehabilitate destitute Muslim families especially headed by women or comprising females only. They need to be empowered and educated with honour by providing long-range solutions instead of quick fixes. Tarbiyah and character-building should also be a part of this programme so they can raise contributing citizens in the society rather than those who resort to a depressed mindset.

Music in Islam

music

By Alia Adil – Freelance writer

Music has always topped the list whenever it comes to so-called ‘controversial’ issues. Some simply hush up anything even remotely related to it, terming it Haram, whereas others have declared it to be permissible. For a layman, there is always confusion as to what is right and what is wrong. In an attempt to clear the fog, let us take a look at what is mentioned in our Shariah regarding singing and music.

In Surah Al-Isra, Allah (swt) mentions the time when Shaitan was granted respite until the Last Day to misguide mankind. Allah (swt) allowed him to use all weapons he could for this purpose, including his voice, Sawt: “And Istafziz [literally means: befool them gradually] those, whom you can among them with your voice (i.e. songs, music, and any other call for Allah’s disobedience)…” (Al-Isra 17:64)

According to Ibn Abbas (rta), Sawt (voice) mentioned in this verse refers to every form of invitation, which calls to disobedience to Allah (swt). Ad-Dahhak said it was the sound of wind instruments. Mujahid interpreted Sawt as Ghina (singing to cause enchantment or sensual pleasure), Mazamir (wind instruments) and Lahw (distraction from important matters).

Then Allah (swt) says:“And of mankind is he, who purchases idle talks (i.e., music, singing, etc.) to mislead (men) from the path of Allah without knowledge, and takes it (the path of Allah, the Verses of the Quran) by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell-fire).” (Luqman 31:6)

According to Imam Qurtubi, this is one of the three verses, from which scholars have deduced the dislike and prohibition of Ghina(the third one being An-Najm, 53:59-61). The keyword here is Lahw Al-Hadeeth (idle talks).

Abdullah Ibn Masud (rtam) said: “I swear by the One other than Whom there is no god, Lahw al Hadeeth refers to Ghina.” Ibn Abbas said: “It means Ghina and the like.” Mujahid said: “It means Ghina and listening to it.” Hasan Al-Basri said: “This verse was revealed in relation to Ghina and musical instruments.”

Abu Malik Al-Ashari narrated that Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “There will be groups of people from my Ummah, who will seek to declare fornication, adultery, silk, wine, and musical instruments to be lawful.” (Bukhari)

Prophet Muhammad (sa) also said: “A people of my Ummah will drink wine, calling it by other than its real name. Merriment will be made for them through the playing of musical instruments and the singing of lady singers. Allah (swt) will cleave the earth under them and turn them and others into apes and swine.” (Ibn-Majah and Bayhaqi)

Moreover, it is recorded that Abdur-Rahman Ibn Awf (rta) reported: “The Prophet (sa) took my hand and I went with him to visit his (ailing) son Ibrahim. He was in the throes of death. The Prophet (sa) took him to his breast and held him until he breathed his last. Then he put the child down and wept. I asked: “You are weeping, O Messenger of Allah, while you prohibit crying?” The Prophet (sa) replied: “Verily, I did not prohibit weeping but rather, I forbade two sounds that are foolish and sinful: the sound of musical amusement and Shaitan’s Mazamir in time of joy and blessing; and the sound (of wailing) at the time of adversity accompanied by striking the face and tearing of garments. But this (weeping of mine) stems from compassion, and whoever does not show compassion will not receive it.” (Al-Hakim)

Ibn Taymiyah writes: “This is among the best Ahadeeth that are used to show the prohibition of Ghina.”

Thus, it is clear beyond doubt that Islam establishes a general ruling of Tahreem (prohibition), when it comes to music. However, Islam, being a balanced religion, gives room for amusement and sport that is free from sin and evil consequences. There are some occasions, such as weddings and the days of Eid, where singing and use of Duff (one-sided drum without bells) are permissible (women and girls only). It is recorded that Muhammad Ibn Hatib (rta) reported that the Prophet (sa) said: “Duff and singing in weddings distinguish the permissible from the prohibited.” (Bukhari)

Likewise, singing is allowed in order to gain strength at the time of Jihad and to ease laborious work, as was done by Prophet (sa) and his companions, while digging the trench around Madinah, in preparation for the Battle of Trench. To determine all such occasions and the extent of their permissibility, one must refer to authentic Sunnah of the Prophet (sa).

Instrument-free singing is permissible by consensus, provided certain conditions are met: it must be for a rightful purpose, it must comprise pure, non-erotic lyrics, and one must not excessively indulge in it. Moreover, one can occasionally enjoy Islamic Nasheeds, as long as the content is wholesome, virtuous, and free from polytheism and use of musical instruments.

Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyah says: “From among the artful machinations and entrapments of Allah’s enemy (Satan), with which he has snared those possessing little good sense, knowledge and Deen, and by which he has stalked the hearts of the false and ignorant people, there is the listening to whistling, wailing, handclapping and song to the accompaniment of forbidden (musical) instruments. Such things block the Quran from people’s hearts and make them devoted to sin and disobedience. For song (to musical accompaniment) is the Quran (recital) of Ash-Shaytan. It is a dense veil and barrier, preventing nearness to Ar-Rahman.”

Later on in his treatise, he says: “Therefore know that songs have particular characteristics, which faint the heart, causing hypocrisy to sprout therein, just as water sprouts plants. Among its qualities is that it distracts the heart and prevents it from contemplation and understanding of the Quran and from applying it. This is because the Quran and song can never coexist in the heart, since they are mutually contradictory…”

It is often said that music leads to tranquility of the soul. However, the tranquility that one acquires from remembering Allah (swt) is entirely different from the one experienced through music. Allah (swt) says in the Quran “… Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.”(Ar-Rad 13:28)

Pity The Nation

pity the nation

Pity the Nation…

By Khalil Gibran

Pity the nation that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.
Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave,
eats a bread it does not harvest,…
Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero,
and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

Pity the nation that raises not its voice
save when it walks in a funeral,
boasts not except among its ruins,
and will rebel not save when its neck is laid
between the sword and the block.

Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox,
whose philosopher is a juggler,
and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.

Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years
and whose strong men are yet in the cradle.

Pity the nation divided into fragments,
each fragment deeming itself a nation.

In 1998, an event in Pakistan drew elation across the Muslim world – we became the first and only Muslim nuclear power, Alhumdulillah. We, the vanguard of the Islamic Ummah, delivered the latest WMD (weapon of mass destruction) now in Muslim hands. After all, Allah (swt) has commanded us: “And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know…” (Al-Anfal, 8:60)

Armed with the latest technology, Pakistan was all set before 9/11 to take its rightful place in the comity of nations; it had earned their honour and respect. Two major world conflicts had been on Pakistan’s agenda since its creation and remained to that fateful day: Palestine and Kashmir. Both involved Muslims in the ‘little guy’ position, and both had the financial, political and social support of the people of Pakistan.

The Soviet-Afghan War was another crucial political stance that Pakistan chose to back. It supervised the entire war, aiding the winning Afghans, and in the aftermath of the fall of the USSR and its withdrawal, influenced the political landscape that resulted in the Taliban gaining power in Afghanistan. Pakistan now had a protected western border.

Iran, Pakistan’s other important Muslim neighbour, received undoubting support during the Gulf War (Iran/Iraq in the 1980s), eventually winning against the Saddam regime.

Thus, contrary to the CFR’s report (Council on Foreign Relations) which states “that Pakistan used to be a world pariah: censured and sanctioned for its nuclear ambitions”, Pakistan’s geographic location enabled it to provide a leading voice and play a decisive role in major international issues.

Post 9/11, Pakistan was offered a choice, a dichotomous choice – to consider only two alternatives when, in fact, there were additional options (shades of grey between the extremes). An incorrect logic (fallacy) was used in an attempt to force a choice: “If you are not with us, you are against us.”

One man, the then all-powerful General Musharraf, decided to make the biggest U-turn any country has ever made in its history, regarding its foreign policy. He ‘volunteered’ Pakistan in the US’s ‘War on Terror’, initially for a paltry $ 4.2 billion (approx. $26 per person). This quickly turned into a ‘War of Terror’ for Pakistan.

Taking up arms in Islam can be classified into three categories:

  • Self-defence: where the individual is authorized to take action to protect himself.
  • Retaliation: this involves the state. An individual cannot retaliate, or else you will have people killing each other at will, resulting in chaos.
  • Pre-emptive violence: this also involves the state. The when-a-country-hasn’t-done-anything-yet-but-might-do-something-in-the-future-so-we-should-go-after-it-now stance.

It suffices to say that none of the above applied to Pakistan, when it decided to enter the ‘War on Terror’. Being on the invading side against former friends that Pakistan had helped meant abandoning all its previous policies, resulting in the loss of Pakistan’s world stature and respect. More importantly, Pakistan had no religious, legal or any other type of reason to become a party in this war.

What has Pakistan lost? Politically, it lost its allies, its integrity in the international arena and became infamous for having a corrupt government and being a creator of terrorists and terrorism. Economically, it has lost $ 2 trillion, and experienced an inflation rise of 300%. Loss of human life stands at several tens of thousands. Drone attacks have wreaked havoc in the tribal belt, traditionally Pakistan’s line of defense on the western front. But these are merely facts and figures.

Pity the nation that has lost its youth to senseless pursuits, where the price of bread is ten times more than the SMS package offered by cellular phone companies – targeting the teens and tweens of Pakistan.

Pity the nation that has lost its voice of morality in the pandemonium of clinking coins, where the concept that ‘might is right’ prevails and the common man has no hope for justice, or the time to pursue it due to the rising living expenses.

Pity the nation that has betrayed its citizens in exchange for friendship with the bully, where the government trades its citizens to please the tyrant and buries its head in the sand when the common man asks for justice, for instance, drone attacks, the Raymond Davis case.

Lord Macaulay, in his 1835 address to the British parliament said: “Do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage…for if the Indians (prior to partition) think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem…and they will become what we want them: a truly dominated nation.”

Pity the nation that will not understand, that will not teach its children and youth its history, and that will not admonish its young when they belittle all that is theirs in favour of all that is foreign.

Pity the nation that has lost its identity; we love our country from afar. Let someone else suffer the suicide bombings, drone attacks, etc. Acquire money and travel to greener pastures. Pakistan has seen a mass exodus of qualified people, while the country needs these people in order to progress.

However, there is hope, for Allah (swt) says: “O You who believe! Take not as (your) Bitanah (advisors, consultants, protectors, helpers, friends, etc.) those outside your religion (pagans, Jews, Christians, and hypocrites) since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse, indeed we have made plain to you the Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses) if you understand.” (Al-Imran, 3:118)

All is not lost, only if we understand and act. We have the technology; we must educate and focus on our youth. Life after 9/11 in Pakistan is not a struggle; it is a focused move ahead towards a common goal – to revive Pakistan’s economy, education and moral status internationality, to reverse the ‘brain drain’ and to trust the ultimate design that Allah (swt) has for us. Ameen.

Box Feature

Are you contributing towards the positive in Pakistan, a decade after 9/11?

  • Are you trying to encourage unity among yourselves, regardless of what you want and what you do (in terms of age group, profession, etc.)?
  • Are you endorsing merit and justice in your own capacity?
  • Are you buying Pakistani products to help the local economy?
  • Are you curbing wastage?
  • Are you putting on hold an extravagant lifestyle?
  • Are you educating yourself and others about Islam, and the responsibilities that come with it?
  • Are you discouraging foreign cultural invasion?
  • Are you setting a personal example for youth and children?
  • Are you refraining from patronizing incompetent people based on ethnicity?
  • Are you boycotting corrupt politicians and their parties?

Box Feature 2

Positive trends in Pakistan post 9/11

  • Masajid are thriving in great numbers.
  • Muslim lifestyle publications have penetrated the market.
  • There are a myriad of workshops on Islamic guidance and counselling.
  • Schools have been established with integrated curriculum (Deen+Duniya).
  • An Islamic financial system is in place.
  • There is a more conscious endorsement of the Shariah dress code.
  • More individuals at all levels are coming forward to found and fund welfare organizations
  • Pakistan is the leading Muslim country to pay Zakah.
  • Pakistanis are realizing their identity as a Muslim.

In a nutshell, Islam is returning to the Muslims. Yes, Pakistanis are not perfect. We need to work harder, and with more competence and cooperation. However, there is great hope. We should not feel dejected and give into maligning and mud-slinging. Self-criticism should be aimed towards improvement and not disappointment and pessimism.

From Paper to Pixels

From Paper to Pixels

By Tooba Asim – Freelance journalist

Don’t have the time to go and buy the original text of Shakespeare’s Othello for the school project? Or would you rather spend that money on something else? Fret not, for now you can get that and millions of other books free of cost in the ‘land of unlimited possibilities’ – the Internet.

E-mail has changed the face of the entire mailing system. E-banking, e-commerce, e-shopping and other such electronic equivalents of conventional means have revamped the way things worked. And now, e-books are making inroads in the world of paper and ink.

Electronic books, better known as e-books, are defined as the ‘electronic equivalents of conventional books’. Technically speaking, an e-book can take quite a lot of forms: image files, rich text format, hyper text mark-up language, CHM format, etc. To put it simply, it’s text on screen or text read aloud.

So what is it about them that makes them so interesting or rather advantageous?

Imagine a library full of books – the kind which has hundreds and thousands of books stacked in neat and orderly piles in old wooden shelves with a librarian behind the desk. How about having those heavy volumes of books in a couple of CDs? Or better yet, how about having a digital library? This is where e-books are set to bring the book industry to.

Gone are the days when one spent money on ridiculously expensive volumes, which were also very difficult to manage. Not only are e-books a cheaper alternative, they are also extremely convenient to keep. A stack of CDs might just be equal to a big library!

The Internet is one of the major sources of e-books, both free and paid for. They can be downloaded and read on screen, or they can be printed and transferred on paper. Here enters the e-book reader.

This amazing little hand-held device is all set to repaint the book reading scenario. Be it the Amazon’s Kindle or the Barnes and Noble’s Nook or any other brand, e-book readers are fast gaining popularity amongst the tech savvy book lovers. These dedicated book readers are especially designed to enhance the onscreen reading experience by having the right hardware to providing all the necessary software without additional hassle. They come with wi-fi as well to enable easy access to books online.

The trend of digital libraries is also growing fast all over the world, especially in schools and universities. The Higher Education Commission of Pakistan also has a National Digital Library Programme for universities. The idea is to provide the students with access to international research journals, articles and a collection of hundreds of e-books. Apart from providing easy access to material, the digital library also ensures that latest and up-to-date collection of journals is available.

With the trend of e-books fast catching up, it’s no more a worry to find an old beloved classic online and that too at no cost at all. Most e-book websites on the Internet provide old classics, but the Pandora’s Box that the Internet is, you can find almost all titles ranging from classic novels to latest popular fiction for free!

Millions of people daily acquire electronic books by paying for them and buying them in the form of audio books or by downloading them on their book readers. Considering the time an average Karachiite spends in the car stuck in traffic jams, audio books or e-books are actually quite a good idea!

Like all other technological advances, e-books are only very slowly making themselves known locally. It’s still very difficult to get hold of a decent collection of e-books in a bookstore. Most don’t even know what they are.

However, the big question is, are book lovers really ready to switch over to the electronic medium to pursue their hobby? What about curling up on the sofa with a cup of coffee and your favourite book on a Saturday night or a lazy Sunday? And that smell of new books and the yellowing pages of your grandparents’ cherished collections? Oh and what about discovering dried up flowers and bits of paper in an old book?

Also, computers, being machines, may snub you at the end of the day if they break down, catch a virus or your internet service provider stands you up. It also involves more complexity as opposed to grabbing a book anywhere and any time for instant pleasure.

Hopefully, the e-books will just compliment the use of traditional books and not replace them.

Some popular e-book sources:

http://digitallibrary.edu.pk/ [The HEC’s National Digital Library Program]

http://www.digitalbookindex.org/ [a meta index of e-books available online]

http://www.gutenberg.org/

http://crankylibrarian.com/

http://www.worldwideschool.org/

Needless Wants

Needless Wants

By Tooba Asim – Freelance journalist

If we change the popular question, ‘what a girls wants’ to ‘what a girl needs’, chances are the latter list of answers would be drastically shorter than the former. But who would dare to restructure the question? After all, life in these times is more about wants than needs, despite the much talked about inflation. So, what is it that makes it so difficult for us to sift our needs from our endless wants? I asked myself this question and identified the common traps most of us fall into.

(1) The cooking show culture

Nothing has harmed the kitchen budget more than these cooking shows. From expensive sauces to exotic veggies, from fancy cookware to nonsense Totkas, these shows are the perfect recipe for making the kitchen budget spiral out of control.

(2) The branded culture

MAC mascara is clearly a want and not a need, or is it? Enough said.

(3) The sale ‘whale’

Yes, the sale ‘whale’ takes in whatever comes its way, completely oblivious of what is needed and what is not. Accept it: the *up to 70% off* billboards do make you concoct a sudden need for bed sheets, towels, out-of-season clothes and what not.

(4) The supermarket culture

The colourful aisles of a supermarket lure you into piling unnecessary stuff into your trolleys, mostly in the name of bargains. I once stocked up on diapers, which were being offered at a discount, and my baby was potty-trained soon after; I still have three unused packs mocking at me.

The next pertinent question is: what now? We can’t stop watching television or making use of sales or going to the super markets, etc. What we can do, however, is to be smart buyers. It’s easier said than done, and requires strict measures and a strong will. Let’s start with the following pointers.

(1) Ask yourself the basic question repeatedly: “Do I need this?”

By doing so, you will be able to control those impulse-shopping urges. Look for alternatives based on what you already have. For example, all those fabric exhibition billboards were tempting me to no end, but a look at my wardrobe put some sense in me and stopped me from spending what I’d rather be saving.

(2) Make lists and stick to them

This, perhaps, is the most important measure to take. Make lists of whatever you need and whatever you want in two separate columns. Then decide which ones are urgent and which ones can wait. Also, promise yourself to stick to them and not be trapped by sales, bargains and special offers, unless you absolutely must.

(3) Detach

Detach yourself from television ads, cooking shows, fashion shows and from whatever provokes expenditure. The key is to watch them as entertainment shows only, once in a while, rather than ‘instructions to follow’.

(4) Avoid needless strolls in malls/Bazars

Visit malls only when you need to, rather than treating them as hang-out spots. Allah (swt) reminds us of our weak nature and instructs us not to even venture close to sin or sinful behaviour. If you are a habitual spender, stay away from malls as much as possible.

(5) Tackle peer pressure

We think this term applies to teenagers only. However, there are plenty of spoilt grown-ups walking around who just cannot reign their desires. Steer clear of all such friends and parties that make you feel small on account of your financial status or drive you to splurge in order to keep up with them.

(6) Strapped for cash

Before going shopping, make a list, put the estimated price next to next item and roughly calculate the total bill you’d have to pay. Take the exact amount with you. Leave extra cash and debit cards at home; with no money in your pocket, you are less likely to be tempted by the ‘luxuries’.

That said, it is important to treat yourself once in a while to avoid feeling deprived. That way you’d be able to distinguish it easily as a luxury and not a ‘need’ per se. And, most importantly, always look at those beneath yourself on the social ladder; it will help you to be thankful to Allah (swt) for His blessings.