Bashka Voda – Part 2

Bashka Voda 2

(In part 1: By supplying a Bosnian refugee camp in Bashka Voda with food and detergents, relief workers Suleman and Abbas (with the help of Aida, their translator) have obtained  permission to teach the refugees English and Islamic history, thus introducing to them the basics of Islam, their faith, which had been suppressed by the Communist regime. The turnout to the first class has exceeded their expectations.) 

“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. I pointed out to the wonders that surrounded us and the signs that the creations held. After introducing them to the microchip, I said: “The microchip is made of silicon, iron and other metals. The probability of these metals getting arranged in this order by random existed but would be one in a zillion.

“So, on seeing this chip, you would argue that there is no one behind its creation just because such a random possibility existed or would you accept that someone designed and manufactured it? So how about this Universe, which is so much more complex?”

I gently reasoned that not believing in Allah (swt) didn’t add up logically. “If we were told that a road has snipers, and there is a chance that we will be hit, as opposed to another road, which is completely safe, which road would you take? Why would you not like to be safer? Why not apply the same logic in believing in Allah (swt)? You only gain by believing in Allah (swt), while in not believing in Him (swt), you take a risk.

I asked them, if anyone had proof that Allah (swt) didn’t exist. No one had. “The absence of the proof of a thing’s existence cannot become a proof in itself of its non-existence. On the contrary, all creations are a clear proof of the existence of a Creator.”

I was crude. It was raw Dawah, for which I had no earlier experience. For most of the students, it was the first time this was being presented in this manner. Some nodded, some sat wondering and others were awestricken.

Towards the end, I was sweating.

I found relief in the cool sea breeze, as I drove that evening. Those drives became a source of strength, as I collected my thoughts before the class and reflected on my return. This was my first intellectual interaction with the Bosnians, of whom I had a good general sample. I had all age groups, except for men of fighting age; I had both country folk and city dwellers from practically all income levels and locations.

I was impressed. I found the Bosnians to be simple-minded. They were also highly impressionable and I couldn’t fathom whether it was intrinsic or due to the tragedy that had met them.

Next day, we discussed Tauhid. “If there is a Creator,” I said, “He must be one; otherwise, the Universe would be in chaos. Just as we can’t have two captains in a plane or two drivers in a car, we can’t have two gods in this Universe.”

That day they were relaxed, easily smiling at my jokes. I wanted them engaged, as the class was voluntary, and the last thing I wanted was to have them lose interest.

I noticed that the girls with the short skirts were not there, confirming my suspicion that they had meant to tease me. The problem had obviously taken care of itself, but I was proven wrong. The girls were there but were dressed differently.

After the class, the same girls approached me. “We are the ones who wore improper dresses yesterday,” one started, visibly embarrassed, “we were later told that it was not proper. We are extremely sorry. Why didn’t you ask us to leave?” With this, tears welled up in her eyes. At a loss of words, I tried to comfort them by saying that we all make mistakes and they didn’t have to worry about it.

As I drove back that evening, I was deep in thought. It was a blessing of Allah (swt) that I had not asked them to leave. They might never have returned. This became a lesson I will never forget.

The classes continued, and we started with the Seerah of the Prophet (sa) and along the way, the Kalima and the articles of faith.

Gradually, they accepted me as a part of their small tortured world; someone who would listen and empathize with them and, more than that, had come to help them. I wasn’t able to leave immediately after class, as people wanted to talk to me. They eventually ended up talking about loved ones dying violently at the hands of the Serbs, of destroyed towns and broken lives.

The children, who became very attracted to me, had interesting questions, and their laughter lit up this bleak world. There was hardly a Muslim child in the camp, who wasn’t attending. I realized that this course was the only good time they were having in their monotonous life as refugees.

As I was going through the hardships that Prophet Muhammad (sa) faced in Makkah, I said: “We should thank Allah (swt) for giving us the gift of Islam; look how difficult it was to be a Muslim at that time.”

On hearing this, a young boy spontaneously spoke and the class fell silent. Since he had spoken in Bosnian, all had understood, except me. Aida tried to ignore it. Others in the class waved, asking me to carry on. I refused. “Hold on!” I caught the sternness in my voice, as I asked Aida, “What did he say?”

“He has asked,” Aida was fighting tears, “if it was as difficult to be a Muslim at the time of the Prophet (sa), as it is for us today.”

Looking up, I saw tears streaming down faces.

The time for the first test arrived. I wanted to encourage them to work hard. “Look,” I requested them a day before, “I have to drive 50 miles each day to be with you so, please, reciprocate by doing well on the test.”

On hearing this, an elder lady pointed out to Ahmed, who was 12 years old with a quiet and serious face. “He lives 5 miles away,” she said. “While you drive, Ahmed walks to class each day.” Finding out through friends that this course was being offered, he had signed up. He was there every day and stayed till the end of the course.

A day before the test, some children came to me with a naughty look in their eyes. They wanted to know, if I would be kind enough to tip them off to the questions in the test. I told them that I might ask them to explain the Kalima and then, looking around carefully, I whispered: “Make sure that no one finds out.”

The next day the one answer everybody knew was about the Kalima. I put that question in the test, happy to have the participants testify in writing to the Tauhid of Allah (swt) and to the prophethood of Muhammad (sa).

That day, I sat back and relaxed, watching the seriousness with which they were taking the test. For an outsider, it could as well have been a chemistry test.

One young girl wrote a comment: “Before coming to this course, I used to believe that there is no God, but now I think there is one. For me that was progress. How stupid it would have been to enforce the dress code on her at that stage.

Another girl wrote: “I now find strength to face the hardships I am going through, knowing that my Prophet (sa) went through similar hardships in his life.”

I gave out writing assignments on different topics. I had them pool their Islamic books and also contributed some to set up a virtual library for doing their rudimentary research. These assignments would then be presented in class.

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

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.

A clear vision helps parents prepare and train their children towards their ultimate goal. For instance, a father wanted his son to offer Dawah at an American island. He taught him Deeni (Islamic/religious) knowledge and Dunyawi (worldly) knowledge. Plus, he made him learn how to swim, in case his son ever needed to escape in order to save his or others’ lives.

With a clear vision, you will eliminate all time wasters from your kid’s life. You will not fall prey to popular trends of the society by shifting your kid’s goal and confusing and frustrating him, too.

Imam Abdullah Johini’s mother admired Imam Sudais for his melodious Qirat and his other religious accolades. It was the power of this vision that helped Johini’s mother to train and educate him to become an Imam at Masjid-ul-Haram for five years.

Importantly, one should not be afraid to think big. With consistent efforts and sincere prayers, much can be achieved. And if one falls short, he still learns and acquires something worthwhile on his way. The journey towards learning is never futile.

Strategic time management

This has been defined as our ability to prioritize our lives in the light of a long-term vision and then to drive these priorities with Azm (determination).

A farmer tills the ground and weeds out any extra growth that could hamper a thriving harvest. Similarly, in our lives, time wasters are like the weeds that eat away the good energy and food of plants. The plants then eventually wilt. Once we have a sound vision defined for our children, we should constantly check how their daily activities will take them closer to their vision.

As parents, we have to help children choose and utilize important time slots of the day for critical actions. For example, the time preceding Fajr is immensely productive for memorizing, focusing, and planning. If we waste it through sleeping, it is a grave loss for them. Similarly, early noon is suitable to meet people for discussions, negotiations, execution, etc. If they plop before the screen and kill hours, it is an irreparable loss for them.

We must also spend quality time with our children. That doesn’t mean lecturing them, tutoring them, serving them their meals and seeing to their other necessities. It simply means doing what the child wants us to do with him/her. It could mean playing cricket, having a chat or enjoying an ice cream cone.


This means the knowledge, skills and abilities that are required for our vision. For example, a vision to scale Mount Everest requires a minimum set of skills, for instance, development of a physically strong body and specific muscles, knowledge to read weather changes, and ability to brave harsh climatic conditions and survive accidents, among others.

Dreaming and wishing is only the first step. It must be followed by an honest assessment of self and circumstances. What are our strengths, weaknesses and our developmental opportunities? Hence, a humungous task is broken into small chunks initially and progress is monitored. This gradually builds competence and trains children for their future responsibilities and challenges.


It is defined as the ability to share our vision with others and to inspire and facilitate others in pursuing the shared vision.

An excellent way to develop leadership skills among children is to make them in charge of chores at home. They can become care-takers for younger or dependent siblings or older grandparents.

A family had an autistic boy and a normal girl. The boy was approximately eight years older than his sister. Once the girl was around fifteen years of age, she was trained by her parents to look after her much older brother by giving him his daily medicines, helping him shower and change, serving him meals, taking him for walks, playing games with him, etc. This training helped her mature, think sensitively, plan ahead, execute with diligence and empower others, too. She eventually rose to become an entrepreneur for a small company. The training to assume the future role as a leader began at home.

As parents, we are the shepherds for our flock. No school, college, tutor, trends or strangers can decide for our children. We do. And it does require Taqwa (God consciousness). Our children are not gifts from Allah (swt). They are a trust (Amanah) handed over to parents for a specific time period, after which we will have to return them to our Lord (swt) and be accountable for their conduct. It is the most pivotal job we have been entrusted with in this world. It requires patience and sacrifice on our part.

Will we train and enable our children to live a meaningful life or are we just going to let them graze the meadows, while they are here in this world and be gone one day, long forgotten?

Adapted from a workshop conducted at “Fajr Academy”, Karachi.

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.”

The other camp was less than fifteen miles away. As Zahruddin negotiated the turns on the hilly road, sister Kamila unfolded her story. Her parents had immigrated to England when she was born. After graduation, she had taken a secretarial job in London. Moved by the sufferings of the Bosnians, she had resigned from her work and convinced the leader of a Muslim relief convoy to take her along. Citing the perils of war, they had refused to take her into Bosnia and had dropped her in Orebic’. The convoy was long gone.

The camp had arrived by then. I went off with Zahruddin to distribute supplies. As I walked around, sister Kamila’s account was on my mind. She had spoken passionately, her words brimming with purpose and confidence. It must have taken a lot of courage, and I was moved. I knew many men who had considered this step, only to be overcome by fear. And as I reflected back on the night in the Vienna train station, my own hesitations shamed me as never before.

We visited the girl that Kamila had come to see. She was epileptic and the war had aggravated the condition. She was in her twenties and appeared almost like a skeleton, with an ashen face and sullen gray eyes. I will never forget the eyes: their quietness was so eerie and disturbing that it dominated the whole atmosphere. It was as if she had moved beyond pain. Her seizures had made her fall a number of times, her face showing cuts and bruises. Her old parents sat by her side. She was like a fresh rose suddenly torn off by a violent storm, its life painfully ebbing away.

Kamila hugged and comforted her. “The medicines would be here soon,” Kamila promised, “I will visit you regularly.” Her words held out hope, which the family was desperately looking for. As we left, I caught the parents managing a weak smile.

On the way back, I was worried. Kamila had taken a brave step. What if the going gets tough? There were rumours that the Croatians may force the refugees back into Bosnia. Worst still, they might trade Muslim refugees with the Croats being held by the Serbs. What would Kamila do? Being a Muslim and a foreigner, she could be easily singled out for harassment. Orebic’ was remote; help could be days away. She could stay in Split, which had better living conditions and many Muslim relief organizations. I expressed my fears to her: “We shall be returning tonight. Why don’t you come along? I really think it would be safer in Split.” She smiled: “No, brother Yusuf, I’ll be fine here. My life and death is with the refugees. Allah (swt) is with me.”

We were leaving Orebic’. Like always, some of the refugees had gathered to see us off and among them was Kamila. I caught sight of her and almost panicked. “I just can’t let her take this risk,” I thought to myself: “She is so young and inexperienced.” My earlier fears flooded my mind. I walked up to her: “Sister, please, think again.” I started out, my voice laden with urgency. “We will be leaving in a few moments and you can come. It would be weeks before we return.”

I glanced at the sea. The waves were catching the last rays of the sunset. The wind had picked up, gently tugging the evening for inland. I could taste the salt, mixed with the moisture of the fog. In the distance, large dark clouds loomed. A storm was on its way. That moment of silence almost froze in time only to be interrupted by her voice: “Brother, Yusuf,” she was calm and composed. “I will stay.”

I turned around and waved to the group. The van lurched forward and so did time. In the mirror, I could see the people dispersing. Soon, the view started meshing with the shadows. We were soon out of Orebic’ and ascending the mountains. I took a last look. Lights glimmered then faded. The fog had moved in, wrapping the town in an eerie darkness.

I was deep in thought. Many would question what a young girl could do in such circumstances. The scene of Kamila comforting the epileptic girl drifted into my mind. The last few hours spoke differently. Kamila was a hope that had come to the refugees: a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a statement to the Bosnians that whatever comes, we, the Muslims, are with you. Kamila’s presence was shouting at the refugees: “Good times will come and I want you to believe in it. Why? Because I believe in it. Look… I wouldn’t be here, if I didn’t!”

The courage of this young sister continues to inspire me. For me, and I hope for others, too, Kamila offers a model of courage, self-sacrifice, dedication and above all, the love of this Ummah.

Speeches, talks, protests and even donations can never pay the price of that one hug that Kamila had given to the sick girl. If this Ummah seeks men and women of action, Kamila will always be there among the forerunners: an example, a model, and a beacon.

It was very dark. The stillness of the night was broken by the continuous drone of the diesel engine. Zahruddin was silently concentrating on the road; night driving on those mountain roads was treacherous. It had been a long day and fatigue was setting in. I caught myself shivering. I hastily rolled up the window and dozed off, little knowing that it would be months before I would return to Orebic’; only to find that Kamila was no longer there.

Time flew by. An all-out conflict started between the Muslims and the Bosnian-Croats, and we got more heavily involved with the city of Mostar. In the end of December, 1992, I had to leave for the USA in a bid to raise funds.

On my return, I asked Abbas if he remembered the English sister that I had mentioned to him months ago. “She is fine and still active,” he said. “She was in Orebic’ for a while and finally joined Amin’s organization. Amin met her when he delivered some supplies there after you left.” I knew that through Amin’s organization, she must have been able to do a lot for Orebic’.

Amin was a Sudanese brother who was studying in Bosnia, when the war broke out. Fluent in the local language and familiar with the area, he had taken charge of a Muslim Relief Organization. His dedication and hard work had made him an asset for the Muslims.

“But didn’t Amin have a problem with Kamila not having a Mahram (a male relative)?” I asked. Some people had commented that Kamila, being a Muslim, should not have travelled without a Mahram. It had troubled me a bit, but I had placed that on the lack of a grounded Islamic education, when she was growing up in England. “Well,” said Abbas, “She took care of it.” “But how?” I was perplexed.

Abbas paused. “Simple,” he then smiled with a twinkle in his eyes. “She married Amin.”

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

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!