Bashka Voda – Part 2

Bashka Voda 2

“Where should we start from?” I asked. This raised a few eyebrows, as according to the picture Aida had painted, they were not expecting much interaction. I was supposed to have lectured like the Khutbah of the Friday prayer and leave; they were to listen respectfully and quietly.

I encouraged them by asking questions like how they were instructed in schools about Islam and so on. Finally, a 14-year-old sister said shyly: “Can you, please, start from zero? We were told in schools that there is no God.”

I was dumbfounded. This was the least of what I expected. I glanced at the rest of the class and found people nodding their heads. She was not alone.

I took a deep breath and started slowly and deliberately, as it would have been a disaster, if Aida misunderstood this delicate topic.

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A Meaningful Life

Meaningful Life

“If what we do today doesn’t impact this world a hundred years down the road, then it is simply a waste of time!” Suleman Ahmer, CEO “Timelenders”.

This rings true for parents, especially when we consider our parenting priorities and what we envision for our children. Are we simply feeding and schooling a child to become another ordinary but self-centered individual, who would depart from this world having contributed nothing to it? Or, are we moulding our kids into extraordinary individuals, who will impact the Ummah with such dynamism that its echo will sound hundred years from now?

How many of us even know what we want out of our own lives? Planning is a Sunnah of the Prophet (sa). Allah (swt) put in six days to meticulously create the heavens and the earth. What should be a meaningful life for us? Suleman Ahmer offers four key elements.

Strategic vision

There is no wrong or right definition of the word ‘vision’, as every person perceives it differently. However, it means ‘the picture of the future we want to see’. A long-term sound vision is a life which has clarity and correctness.

A parent might wish for his/her child to grow up to be a good Muslim. However, although correct, this vision is unclear. Do they want him/her to serve the Ummah, while pursuing religious education? The child may become a Khateeb (speaker), an Imam, a Mufakkir (thinker or scholar), or a Mufti (religious law expert), etc. Likewise, do the parents wish for him to become a doctor, a lawyer, an economist and serve Islam and Muslims in these spheres of life? We should try to balance out what we want for the lives of our children with what they want to become. If we want him to become an engineer, while he would prefer to be a writer, there would be a clash of visions the parents have and the child has. Parents should be facilitators, helping their children to move towards their own goals. It is also the responsibility of parents to train their children such that it makes them wish for worthy goals.

Kamila: She Dared Where Many Men Hesitated (Part 3)


“Assalam Alaikum, brother Yusuf,” I notice the British accent. “The refugees had told me about you and brother Abbas.”

She was around twenty years of age, with south Indian features and not more than five feet tall; her slight built would not let her look short. She looked simple in a Hijab, someone you would hardly notice on an average day in a Muslim country. In Orebic’, that December afternoon, she was nothing less than a mystery. I was seized by curiosity: “Who is she? What made her come? How did she make it?”

I returned her Salam and sipped on the dark bitter coffee – the only expression of hospitality that life in exile allowed the Bosnians. “I have gathered that you will be visiting the other rest house,” she started out, “I would like to come along, as I have to visit a seriously ill girl there.”

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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.

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.



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.

The City, the Girl and the Little Rag Doll

The City, the Girl and the Little Rag Doll

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

The first time I came across her was in the winter of 1992 in the Bosnian town of Mostar. She had long black hair, hazel eyes and a smile that lit her face. Her eyes refused to laugh. They held a look of bewilderment and fear of an uncertain future. Girls as young as Aida had started understanding the misery that wars so easily delivered. They call war ‘raat’ in the Bosnian language, which sounds similar to ‘night’ in my native Urdu. For Mostar and its daughters such as Aida, the Balkan war meant exactly that – a never-ending darkness.

Aida’s father had been a young and aspiring architect before the war. Edin Batlak, or Edoo, had never called any other city his home. It was its sons such as Edoo that Mostar had called upon when confronted by the Serb siege. Educated and experienced, Edoo became the chief of logistics for the Muslims and was the one to receive the supplies that we brought to Mostar from Krilo. As Mostar warmed up to its guests, Edoo happily filled the role of a perfect host, providing home-cooked food and putting us up for the nights. One evening, he introduced us to his daughter.

Aida could not understand the strange language that we spoke. Her nine years of life had not awarded her the luxury of learning a foreign language. We tried to get by in broken Bosnian. Children are expressive and so was Aida. Soon we started understanding each other.

The war had forced the Muslims to take a fresh look at their identity and religion. There was an eagerness, especially among the children, to learn about Islam. Wanting to learn the Salah, she had started learning Fatiha. We would teach Aida a part of the Salah in each trip with a promise of a ‘Poklon’ (gift) which would be candy, a rag doll or tidbits of that sort. The thought that a small girl eagerly awaited us in Mostar would warm our hearts many times over.

River Neretva divides Mostar into the east, which was predominantly Muslim, and the west, where both Muslims and the Croats lived. The Serb front lines were a few miles east of the city, cutting off the Muslims from their strongholds in central Bosnia. West Mostar was linked through Croat-held Bosnia to Croatia. Sandwiched between the Serbs and the Croats, East Mostar was vulnerable, a fact the Croats knew very well.

I remember some children insisted that I accompany them. They took me to a school, which had been converted into a refugee camp. The lower floor hosted the office of the Merhamet (a Bosnioan relief agency), the office of the Mufti of Mostar and some rooms for medical emergencies. I was led to the basement, where some young girls were practicing Islamic songs for an upcoming festival. Upon seeing a stranger, they fell silent. I urged them to continue and left after a few minutes, leaving behind my cassette-recorder.

With every spin of the recorder, the songs and the memories were electronically preserved. It was to become a prized possession and a great companion for many months to come. During our long drives in Croatia and Bosnia, Abbas and I would play the tape and sing along in Bosnian:

O Allah (swt), Bosnia bleeds today.

And we suffer.

But we have hope that you will deliver us.

And we don’t complain.

We know You will be with us forever.

A girl had burst into tears and before the tape could be shut off, her sobs had been recorded. Upon reaching this section, we would gently cry ourselves, our tears cementing our determination and pushing away thoughts of giving up. “How can we give up when children in Mostar are calling Allah (swt) and trusting Him?”

Many months thus passed. Once Mustafa, Edoo’s interpreter, smiled when we said good-bye.

“You may not find us upon your return. The Croats will not wait for long!”

“Never mind,” we said, “we belong to this city now. If we go down, we go down together.”

“It is easier said than done, you know,” he said.

“We have been with you all these months; we would not desert you in the end,” we promised.

The Bosnian Croats struck in the early hours of May 18, 1993. The Muslims were outnumbered, outgunned and taken by surprise. Hundreds of Muslim men, women and children were forced to walk in front of the Croat columns to prevent the Muslim army from firing back. The Muslims were pushed to the eastern side, where they stood their ground and prevented the Croats from crossing the river. Thus began a nine-month siege that would later claim thousands more lives, inflicting pain and devastation of unimaginable proportion.

Never in our lives had four words held so much devastation: “West Mostar has fallen.”

We frantically tried to find a way to get to Mostar, but to no avail. The memories of the town came flooding back: the faces, the long hours spent talking, the laughter, the mosques and the walks in the old town. The voices of the girls singing the Islamic songs and the words of Mustafa echoed: “You may not find us…” and then there was the sinking feeling of defeat and the heart-wrenching realization that we had failed Mostar in its final moments. Our promise of being with them had been broken.

We started asking about the people we knew. Some had survived. Some were in concentration camps. Of some, there was no news. What happened to Edoo? Did he make it? How is Aida?

Edoo lived above the offices of the Muslim army, which were the first to be targeted. A huge fire had erupted, catching all by surprise. Edoo and his wife had managed to escape, but Aida had gotten trapped. I shudder with the thought of the painful last moments of the young Aida, trapped in the fire of a war she never fully understood; punished for a crime that her enemies are still not ready to forgive – Islam! Had she lived, Aida would now be in her teens. She would surely have completed learning her Salah.

Aida may not be with us today, but the struggle for which she died so young continues. Bosnia is alive as are many Aidas and many lands like Bosnia. Our failure to keep our promise to Aida must not prevent us from making our promises to others. For Aida, the help was too little, too late. It doesn’t have to be the same for others. The understanding that we are Muslims is a promise to all the Aidas and all the embattled Muslim lands: a promise that we are with you and you shall never be deserted.

When I am down with despair, and hopelessness seems to prevail, I thank Allah (swt) for giving me such treasured memories. As I look back and see a little town with a little girl with a little rag doll, I know that I have reasons to continue.

Book Reviews


“The Embattled Innocence: Reflections of a Muslim Relief Worker”

Author: Suleman Ahmer

Publisher: Presslenders, 2009

Available at: Timelenders (

“The Embattled Innocence” covers the time period when Suleman Ahmer was involved in Muslim relief work. The book consists of three parts – the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia – and each contains stories from the areas he visited.

The Balkans section begins with a story about a nine-year-old Bosnian girl Aida, whom the relief workers saw each time they visited Mostar. The story of Aida was the first one Suleman Ahmer wrote. Since the story drew responses from people he had never met, he decided to start a series of stories. Later, these stories were combined into a single book. The subsequent stories are as full of sincere emotions and vivid experiences as the one about Aida. We meet Kamila, a passionate young Muslimah from England, who, moved by the sufferings of Bosnians, had resigned her secretarial job to come to the war afflicted areas to help her Muslim brothers and sisters. We also meet Basheer, who gave up his engineering studies in Algeria to help out in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and then joined the struggle of the Tajiks. At the age of 34, Basheer embraced martyrdom after he was shot seven times in the chest and the head.

These first-hand experiences of war sufferings draw tears to eyes and bring into heart gratitude that Allah (swt) has blessed us with peace and freedom to practice our religion, which many of our Muslims brothers and sisters died for.

- By Laila Brence

“Guess the Prophets”

“Animal Kingdom in the Quran”

“Excellent Examples”

Publisher: Flowers of Islam

Availability: Dawah Books

“Flowers of Islam” have successfully accomplished the three Es in the stunning flashcards they have created. These flashcards promise to entice, educate and enchant your young ones with their unique approach. If your children are between the ages of seven and eleven, then these flashcards are truly meant for them.

The main objective of “Guess the Prophets” flash cards is to teach about the Prophets in a fun and interactive way. These stories can help young minds get an insight into the lives of the blessed Prophets of Allah (swt) and inspire them to assimilate their teachings in their daily lives.

“Animal Kingdom in the Quran” uses riddles to teach children about the various animal stories mentioned in the Quran. In this manner, the young believers can learn about the diverse animal facts and incidents.

“Excellent Examples” uses a myriad of examples and interesting similitudes to help the young believers understand such concepts as Iman and Mumin. The goal is for the young minds to explore, question and attain a better understanding of the true meaning and purpose of a believer’s role in this world.

The cards can be used as a learning tool in schools or as an educational toy at home, since they simultaneously educate and entertain.

- By Uzma Javed

Dare to Think!

Jul 10 - Dare to thinkBy Suleman Ahmer

I was surprised by the knock. It was late at night and I was the only guest.

I opened the door. It was the manager along with the cook.

“Sir, we wanted to ask you something that has been troubling us for the past few days.”

“Sure,” I replied, while asking them in.

The guest house belonged to Dr. A. Q. Khan Research Labs (KRL), where I had come to conduct a workshop.

KRL is Pakistan’s nuclear research powerhouse with some of the finest scientists that you can

find under the sun.

After sitting down, the cook spoke: “Sir, our scientists have brains so big that it would take us a few lifetimes to have our brains grow to that size!”

I was amazed at the clarity of the expression, knowing that here was an unschooled young man with his whole world limited to his village and now Rawalpindi, a town next to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

“You are right,” I said, knowing that I had in my workshop seasoned PhDs in subjects such as nuclear physics, power electronics, vibrations and vacuum systems. And these scientists know how to make things happen; just ask Dr. ElBaradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Sir,” the cook continued, “daily these scientists spend the whole day in your class. We don’t understand what is it that youare teaching them?”

I was stumped. What a wonderful observation!

And what a wonderful predicament!

How do I explain to these simple folks that I teach organizational restructuring based on strategic visions and then introduce the framework for converting these visions into short term actionable and quantifiable plans?

I was pushed into deep thought.

“I cannot teach anybody anything,” Socrates once said, “I can only make them think.”

Socrates believed that people can’t be taught; rather, people can be facilitated to discover what they already know. I disagree with him. It is only partly true. Through prophetic revelations, we learn many things that we didn’t know before.

Socrates was known to exaggerate. I believe that he was purposely exaggerating to provoke people, because provocation forces people to think; for this, I respect the guy for his noble agenda to force people to examine their beliefs, assumptions and paradigms. No wonder he made so many enemies.

I have come to believe that sincere people, who disbelieve us and challenge us, are among our greatest assets. Professors know it. Teachers know it. Trainers, like I, know it. We all know that one of the best rewards of teaching is to come across a sincere, naïve and aggressive man or woman, who doesn’t buy into what we hold to be correct or believe we know well. And if that person happens to be your spouse, then all the better!

On that cold winter night in Rawalpindi, I realized that I had come across such people.

In the few moments of silence that followed, by the grace of Allah (swt), a thought came to me, which has indebted me to those simple men forever.

“You know,” I carefully picked my words, “these scientists have knowledge much greater than mine. They are experts in their fields. I can’t teach anything that is related to their area of expertise.”

I could see that they felt relieved. How can someone much younger and an outsider teach their scientists? It just didn’t make sense to them. And now I had vindicated them. They were right after all.

I looked into their eyes and said: “You know what Iteach?” I held their attention: “I teach people that if what you do today – however big or small – doesn’t impact the world a hundred years later, then doing that is plain useless. It is just a waste of time.”

I sat back.

Amazingly, their eyes glistened with understanding and smiles erupted.

“You are right. This is absolutely true.” They were in complete agreement. I had told them something that they knew all along.

“We now understand what you teach. That is something good that you are teaching. Keep it up.” Saying this and with satisfaction written all over their faces, they left me to rest. Not realizing that they had left me exactly the opposite: restless!

I thought about it for many days. I pondered and reflected, and agonized. “In my urge to make things simple,” I questioned myself, “had I lied to them or misled them?”

Then it dawned upon me that just like them, I had also known this all along my life. I had never clearly articulated it to others and, most importantly, to myself. All I needed was an innocent question from those innocent men, who had no fear of being called naïve, with no reservations and no artificial persona of ‘look we know’!

And they taught me something that I had not been able to learn through books or by my travels across the globe.

Look deep inside your heart and you will realize that you know it too: if what we do today doesn’t impact this world a hundred years down the road, then it is simply a waste of time!

Dr. Yousuf Al Qardawi writes that there are people who die before their death, while being counted amongst the living. Others, however, continue to live after their death, because they leave behind good deeds, beneficial knowledge, pious children and able students, who keep increasing their life. In the words of William Wallace, the character in the movie “Braveheart”: “Every man dies, but not every man really lives!”

Please reflect on things that you know. Seek people who will challenge you. Hear them out patiently. Cherish them. You may have some valuable knowledge that is waiting to be discovered by none other than yourself.

Keep in mind the words of Socrates: “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

And my advice to you today: please dare to think!

Suleman Ahmer is the Founder and CEO of “Timelenders.”

Learning to Manage Time

Many of us would agree that today time seems to be slipping through our fingers much faster than a year ago. Mehreen Ganny has summarized for you a unique approach to time management that has changed lives.

Do you leave your work to pile up till the very last night before the deadline? Stressed and exhausted, keeping awake by drowning in endless cups of coffee. . . I can surely put myself in this category. But my attitude towards organizing time, changed the day I began attending “Strategic Time Management” course by Suleman Ahmer. His approach to this topic is unique, for it combines worldly and Islamic knowledge.

Mr. Ahmer began the course by making us realize the difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ tasks. In defining ‘urgent’, most of us tend to include ‘important’ with it.  When I was asked to define ‘urgent’, I said: “Something important, which has to be done instantly’. However, the correct definition of ‘urgent’ is: “Any action of ours that cannot wait and, if delayed, will lose its relevance”.

‘Important’ on the other hand is “Any action of ours that takes us towards our goal or objective” Similarly “Any action that takes us away from our goal or does not take us towards our goal is called ‘not important’”.

Time Quadrants

Once we understood the difference between ‘important’ and ‘urgent’, we broke down our activities into four quadrants:

Q1: Urgent and Important Q2: Urgent and Not Important
Q3: Not Urgent and Important Q4: Not Urgent and Not Important

All our activities can be categorized according to these four quadrants.

Q1 Activities

These activities are ‘important’ and ‘urgent’. Breathing, responding to a heart attack, or reaching an airport for a flight – all of these are Q1 activities.

Q1 activities are important, because they lead to an urgent goal. If these activities are not done at their due time, they lose their relevance. If we will not respond immediately to somebody having a heart attack, the person will die, and we will not complete our goal of saving his/her life.

We should avoid creating Q1 activities for ourselves, by leaving our tasks till the very last moment. Suppose, your report is due on the 10th of June and you have the whole month of May for completing it. Nevertheless, you start your work only on the 9th of June. Your report has now become urgent, which has increased the level of your stress unnecessarily. Remember, all activities of Q1 happen under high level of stress.

Q2 Activities

Q2 activities include tasks, which are ‘not important’ but ‘urgent’. This is a tricky category. Going to a concert, checking your horoscope, or celebrating a birthday all are Q2 activities. At first, I could not understand, why going to a concert fits in Q2, if it does not concern me at all – since I do not participate in concerts, they do not affect my life. The reason turned out to be that although concerts do not affect my life, they still take place. If a concert is scheduled for the 14th of August, it will happen on this date, no matter if I attend it or not. Therefore, it becomes urgent, but since it does not lead to any goal, it is not important.

Q3 Activities

This is the category, in which true Muslims should spend their whole life. Activities of this quadrant are ‘important’ but not ‘urgent’, and there is no stress involved in carrying out these tasks. If Q3 activities are not done in their due time, they end up becoming Q1 activities. Take, for example, Fajr Salah. The time of the Adhan is 5:15 am, the sun rises at 6:30 am, and the average time needed for the prayer is 10 minutes. If you wake up for prayer at 5:30 am, it is a Q3 activity; however, if you wake up only at 6:25 am, it becomes a Q1 activity.

Doing Q3 activities makes one relaxed. Since you have ample time you focus better, maximize your potential and produce best results. Looking at the Salah example, if I were to leave it for the last second I would rush to finish it and not have any value in my prayer. To avoid urgency, we must complete our activities on time. This can only happen if we do not give priority to wasteful activities that eat up on our valuable time.

Q4 Activities

This quadrant is my favourite one – ‘not important’ and ‘not urgent’. Daydreaming, slouching before the TV, reading comics, and gossiping! By leaving out these activities, we instantly gain lots of extra time for focusing on what is truly important. Remember – Q4 activities are those that have no significance at all. They may be pleasing to our desires and aroused by Satan, since he wants us to be losers, but in reality they only take us far away not only from Allah but also our goal in life.

Keeping a Notebook and a Scheduler

Start out by getting organized. In the morning, wake up 45 minutes early and plan your day. Have a proper scheduler with a detailed time frame. Write down all your appointments, plan the time for studies, and do not forget about the time you wish to spend with your kids. If you will check your scheduler every morning, you will not miss any of your activities.

Also, clear your mind from unnecessary information like recipes, phone numbers or new e-mail addresses. Record all of these in a mini-notebook as soon as you hear them. Later, transfer this information into its proper place, for example, your recipes book or telephone directory etc.

Saying NO!

Learning to say no is a big relief! However, when requested something, most of us face the problem of saying ‘no’. If a friend or a family member needs you when you already are in a Q1 situation with your own responsibilities, it is better to say ‘no’, followed by a brief explanation. If the request is urgent and cannot wait and you obviously are unable to help, guide the person requesting to a dependable source that can help him/her instead. This way you give the person another option and not hurt their feelings.

Similarly the phrase “Insha’Allah” is nowadays being used as an escape from saying ‘no’. Use this expression only with your sincere intentions. If someone invites you for a visit, do not commit, knowing that later you will cancel the plan. Always keep your promises and make honest commitments.

Cure for Tardiness

How can you avoid being late? The answer is simple: ‘Keep a buffer time’. Suppose, you need twenty minutes for reaching the place of your destination. Before setting off, consider all the hurdles that might come in your way – a flat tire, stopping at a gas station, rush time traffic, etc. Calculate the time you might need for these activities (your ‘buffer time’) and add it to your twenty minutes. Leave your house according to your new calculation and you will avoid being late!

What if your ‘hurdle activities’ do not occur and you reach your destination early? Take along a Q3 activity like carrying a book, in case if there is a little time left over here and there. This way, the time does not get wasted.

By attending Mr. Ahmer’s course, many people have made radical changes in their lives. Family relationships have improved and environments within companies have changed. Do YOU want a change in your life too? Start following the above tips and believe it or not you will be a more organized and happier person Insha’Allah!