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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Three Encounters with Death

Posted by Sara at 2:54 PM 0 comments Links to this post
In the past couple of days, I witnessed three different encounters with Death. First, an accident that took the life of a young man in seconds, then the sudden death of an infant who choked while she was eating, and finally the death of an old man who died on his bed. Despite its different forms and disguises, death remains as the last visitor who does not fail to come to all, each at a time, in one way or another.

I wonder how my visit will be like? Unnoticed, in a blink of an eye like that young man, without a chance to say some last few words or witness in the Oneness of the Lord one last time... or suddenly after an innocent smile like that young girl, or expectantly after long long years on a cold bed like the old man...? In which state shall I meet my visitor? I wish I could be as innocent as that infant who has nothing to worry about, passing unstained. Will I have someone to pray for me, or I will be forgotten too soon as it is the pattern of life these days..?

It was time to stop for a minute and think about my position in life, where I am, what I have left behind, and what lies ahead. It is important to pause the hectic life for just a little and weigh who we are and how we are dealing with the precious gift of life, and above all, how prepared we are for the real encounter with death. While I guess it is impossible to be prepared, yet chances are born for us everyday to correct our mistakes and learn from them. Doors of light are everywhere, and darkness can always fade away and be left behind. If we only stop and think, if we seize to forget that we are not here to stay, we would not waste so many of our chances to be better people.

I hope not to be afraid when my visitor comes. I pray for an end of faith that can be a new beginning of a life without fear or pain or misery. I pray for a safe encounter, where I don't have to worry about what lies ahead.

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Enveloping Haze

Posted by Watermark at 5:48 AM 0 comments Links to this post
A common thread.
I had been sitting on the train for quite a while and watched as it stopped at each station. People would get off and new ones would take their places; standing, sitting. I watched their faces and gazed at their features. The skin tones, hair colours and face shapes were different every single time. Even if the physicalities seemed similar, their mannerisms and attitudes distinguished them from each other. There were those with soft features that you felt comfortable looking at. Reading a book or just gazing out of the windows, turning heads as people walked past and the expressions changed but their faces were still comforting to look at. There were others with stern expressions that softened as they were lured into conversation, a neighbouring passenger asking for the time or checking what the next stop was. There were others with neutral or frozen faces that avoided reaction to anything. They appeared to be in another world but if you looked closer and closer still you could always see a hint of a thought or two swimming across their faces and you could feel their vibes. Numerous faces and numerous expressions and no two were ever alike.

Then I turned to look at myself watching people within. How different we all seem yet how similar we truly are. As I shifted my gaze from one face to the other I suddenly saw all the differences melt away. It did not seem to matter anymore who I was sitting next to or across from, we were all part of the bond of humanity. The same origin and the same end, we are joined together by living in the same universe, the same solar system and on the same planet. We breathe the same air, drink the same water and it does not matter where or how we happen to find it. Here we are in a train and we are all strangers to one another yet we are bound together by the common thread of humanity.

Similarity. Scene change...
I am watching tv and they're showing the Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. The camera is zoomed out and I can see what seems like a vast sea of white gathered in the shape of huge concentric discs. Rotating, ever so slowly, the way a huge disc rotates around a common axis, the concentric discs of white were circumbulating a central black structure; the kaaba (representing the House of God). The camera zooms in and you realise that the sea of white is made up of people. Unique and individual people, they were all dressed in pieces of white cloth. I can see their faces and expressions now and as I had previously watched and gazed on the train, I found myself easily transcending the barriers. The skin tones, the hair colours, even the mannerisms were instantly transparent to me. Here the expressions were all speaking the same emotion. The uniqueness within each individual was let loose within the freedom of similiarity. There was no apparent prejudice here; the faces said it all. Even their attire said it all.

Inner beauty. Scene change...
A friend is sitting at work talking to her colleagues. It has been a year now since she started working here. I think back then and look at the situation now. What a transformation! There they are sitting and talking like old buddies, yet a year ago this would not have been conceivable. There were the polite formalities, the necessary work discussions but a huge number of human barriers. An uneasiness that manifested itself in an over-polite attitude that kept at bay any indication that she would try to fit into the team. Yet the combination of patience, some gentle perserverance and strength finally broke the barriers down and prejudice walked out of the door. It did not seem to matter where she was from, what she was wearing anymore or what her background was. All they could see now was the beauty that made her unique; the same way she had seen it in them all along.

Was everyone on the train, in the pilgrimage or at that workplace conscious of that common thread, of our similarity and of our unique inner beauty? Better still, does everyone in the world realise this? Prejudice continues to draw a haze across eyes and continues to blind minds to that fact. Some often find themselves enlarging the differences and playing down the similarities. Maybe it is more interesting that way. Nevertheless, what happens in essence is that the beauty within others is missed out on. That piece of uniqueness has been attacked time and time over in the name of prejudice.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Power!

Posted by Peace at 11:28 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Think quickly: who has power over you? Who is it that rules and controls your life through fear, respect, love, or adoration; the one you put into consideration in every move you make or thought you have? Who do you look up to for inspiration and or simply run to? That was the simple question that our Organizational Behaviour instructor started the class with. And each of us had a different answer: my dad, my mom, my boyfriend, my kids, my boss, both of my parents, my friends, even my cat was once brought up! Kerry narrated to us how a cat was so dear to one of his students that she considered it to be ruling her life. It would run to her when spoiled with toys and preferred treats, comfort her and give her warmth when she needed it, and ignore her when upset. “Talk to the paw,” Kerry raised his hand imitating the cat, “cause I’m not talking to you today!” And we all laughed.

I am sure that by now you already have a name in mind. But let me make that easier for you and “empower” you with the tools of making the right choice. The figure you deem most powerful in your life should fall into one or more of the following bases of power:

- One that has the legitimate right, considering his or her position and your responsibilities, to expect you to comply.
- One that has the experience to earn your respect and you need the wisdom of.
- One you do like and enjoy doing things for very willingly.
- One that you try to avoid getting him or her angry for they have the power to punish you or make things more difficult for you. That is the power of coercion or compulsion.
- One that has the power to reward you or give you special benefits.
- One that has the knowledge you need.

Each one of us had to ascribe one of the above bases of power to the choices we made. Parents have that legitimate power of course. Kids do control your life decisions. Your boss has the power to reward or punish you. Your dear ones: boyfriend, spouse or close friends, moderate your actions and you do need their companionship and the joy of being around them.

But how powerful is any of those choices really and are we really that powerless? Reflecting on this, we found that it is our decision to give this or that the right to control and guide us. We allow others to have power over us. We empower them with the authority of our own decision; that we are unaware of sometimes. We can, very politely if we wish, stop any of those powerful figures from controlling our lives. After all, we are the ones living our lives and responsible for our actions and decision-making. We are the ones who choose to be dependent on any of those figures when we assume that they are important, scarce and non-substitutable. But are they? The key to dependency is “to believe that what others offer you is too important to let go of”. But how important or reliable can others be, when we all human beings change, err, turn selfish and needy most often than not.

Let us unravel the mystery of power now and analyze some of the influence tactics used by the “powerful”. They can persuade us rationally and subtly that they control us. They can inspire us, appealing to our goals, values and ideas. They can flatter us and become very warm and friendly to paralyze our ability to simply say, “No”. They appeal for loyalty and that we owe them. I do that most of the time with my kids! “Am I not the one who bore you for long tiring months? Am I not the one who stayed up all night for you when you were helpless little babies?” But I am afraid that I have abused this tool with my whining that it will become very inefficient too soon!

Powerful ones also demand, pressure and threaten us sometimes. They exchange favours for benefits or claim the authority to make a request. Have you hated them yet? Do you realize now how much power we willingly give them? This is exactly what an abusive relationship is like, Kerry explained. The ones subject to domestic violence or bullying for example never stand up, fight back or even disengage themselves from abusive relationships because they are simply brainwashed to believe that they are deprived of all power and that they cannot live without that bully.

When Kerry asked us the question the first time, he asked us to write our answer on paper so that we go back to it as we analyze further the concept of power. I was the second one to answer at the very beginning and had to think quickly. “Power over me? You wish,” I thought to myself! I ran quickly through all the names I know of, all the dear and significant ones, and found no one to play that role. I love my dear ones dearly, cherish, enjoy and deeply respect them, but I know that I am responsible for my life and that no one rules it but my own decisions. Yet, the answer came as simple, flowing and logical as this: God! Only God has power over me. Kerry raised his eyebrows and said, “Hmm, I like that!”

And I had to go back to my answer every time to defend my choice. It perfectly made sense that when each student had only one or maybe more of the aforementioned bases of power to defend his or her choice, all bases of power fell into place when I said that God indeed has the power over me. He has the legitimate right that to Him only I comply. I certainly need His guidance, wisdom and knowledge. I do enjoy doing things for Him and even sacrifice and self-discipline myself for Him. It is not only fear of His punishment that I acknowledge and deserve when I err, and it is not only Paradise that I seek, but it is the peace and spiritual fulfillment that all the pleasures of this life fail to even come close to.

Does that contradict with the concept of our own power and right to choose? Not at all. The rule is very clear in Islam. Observe what is clearly stated in Qur’an,

- There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (3 [Al-Baqarah]: 265).
- The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve. (18 [Al-Kahf]: 29).
- So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder. {21} You are not over them a controller. {22} (88 [Al-Ghashiyah]: 21-22).

And on and on go the examples by which we are rather empowered by the right to choose for ourselves. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, confirmed this concept by saying, “A strong believer is better and more lovable to God than a weak one…”[1] It is true that Islam comes from the Arabic word taslim, which is submission to the Lord. Yet, this submission has to come from the heart and mind. We believe in it and actually chose to submit. This is the dignity and power provided to us by a loving and merciful Lord. This is the “power of belief”! What oppression then do they talk about when you have the right to think, choose, question and walk in your Lord’s way with all that He filled your soul with?

What about the influence tactics then? Which of them does God use to rule us? Well, God does not need to claim the authority or right to make a request. God does not form coalitions for support. God does not exchange favours or use flattery. God does not even need to persuade us rationally or threaten us. God only inspires us to think and reason when he says in Qur’an; So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts… (11 [Al-Hajj]: 46). This loving and wise leading manner respects humanity and endows it with the characteristics of empowered people; i.e. having self-determination, a sense of meaning, a sense of competence and a sense of impact.

Moving to dependency then, and testing whether it contradicts with Islam’s empowerment, we find that we have seen how unpredictable and defective dependency on human beings can be. The rule of dependency is to avoid choosing a substitutable figure. Having God on our side indeed spares us the need for mortals. But what if we decide to substitute Him and surrender to our whims and desires instead; gratifying bodily needs and ignoring our souls? Here is what God says in the Qur’an; Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him? (25 [Al-Furqan: 43). Once again we are empowered by being our own judges and guardians, responsible for our own actions; There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], "I am not a guardian over you." (6 [Al-An’am: 104).

Furthermore, the very concept of depending on God is part and parcel of that of “locus of control”. If we fast forward to personality attributes and how they affect our behaviour, we find that there are two kinds of people when it comes to locus of control; i.e. the degree to which people believe they are in control of their fate. Internals believe that they have control over their destiny. Those are the ones with greater motivation believing that their efforts will result in better performance and are universally reported to be in a better well-being. Externals, on the other hand, believe that they have no say on their destiny and that their lives are controlled by outer forces. Those are the ones less involved, rather alienated from their settings and feel that they have no impact on their surroundings.

Depending on God does not at all mean that we turn into idle passive externals, it is rather the balance of striding with confident steps into the challenges life puts in your way with the boosting relief and security knowing that God is there on our side rewarding us for each step with the success we deserve. An empowering dependency!

Does it make sense now to have God and only God as my ruling, moving and empowering power?

[1] Authentic hadith reported by al-Albaniy in Sahih Ibn-Majah page/number 3379, and narrated by Abu-Hurayrah (RA).

Monday, December 3, 2007

Being a woman

Posted by Peace at 1:26 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Not only am I a woman; I am a Muslim woman wearing hijab. Oh, and top that with the fact that I live in the West; i.e. stereotyped as helpless, dull and a “poor thing”! For most people, I do not even exist. I am a covered lump of nothingness that is easily ignored by those who don’t care, easily overlooked by those who define women “differently” and simply smiled at by the kind who do not know how to handle what came their way. And mad I am when people turn their heads when they hear me speak. Mad I am when they raise their eyebrows at my “fancy words” and eloquent style. Mad I get when the bus driver graciously lowers the floor of the bus to allow easier entry whenever I ride it, like s/he does with senior citizens, greeting me with a “ma’am”! Do I look that old simply because I am covered up? I think that got into me to the point that I now wonder sometimes at my own agile walk that does not match my “modest” appearance.

Like all women, I am bombarded with commercials that define beauty differently depending on the season. So, the burning hot colors and styles of the summer are “out” now and “in” is the 60s look this winter, of short dresses and cool shades! The pretty and digitally brushed-to-perfection faces on the covers of Beauty Magazines sneer at me as I drag myself, as if ashamed, to the checkout lines at grocery stores. Insecure young women are all around me; craving for acceptance, covering their faces with layers of make up, and piercing their ears, noses and God knows what, to simply belong to the cult of young and cool. A lady in my thirties myself and more than a decade older than my young colleagues, I see them now on daily basis. I cannot match their, “like, totally awesome, like, seriously super” upbeat rhythm, so I watch them trying to understand. I find myself most of the time unable to grasp the paradox of watching how tough, smart and reliable they are, yet how they fall for that snare of fashion and appearances in spite of it. I wonder though what they say when they see my washed clean face and my plain long and un-trendy outfits. Well, I know how I feel as I watch them. I too adore perfumes and scented lotions, but know that I cannot wear that around strangers. I too know how to wear make up beautifully matching my skin tones. I too take good care of my hair and color it occasionally; the way I like and not necessarily following a certain style. I too, used to walk around with my jeans and tennis shoes and add a formal jacket to that as I enter my classes as the then-fresh young instructor. But it was my decision to wear hijab; a difficult decision it certainly was to one that is very self-conscious of how she looks, to one always assumed to look younger than she really was. Hijab now, adds long years to my look and I acknowledge that and see it in the eyes of everyone. A struggle it is indeed to walk around in a world of plastic surgeries, millions-of-dollars cosmetic industry and a general tendency to overlook anything but the pretty, young and “bling-bling” rich.

But in time, I learned to live with that till I was taken aback by the one looking back at me today!

Who was that in that long unflattering mirror? To whom did that reflection belong? What’s that complexion? That would-be wrinkle screamed out loud at me. That “un-complimenting” outfit I tried on regretfully said the truth and nothing but the truth. You are getting old! It is true that a genuine smile of yours may obliterate years from that look and that the shine in your eyes reveals who you truly are, but what shine or smile are you talking about now in that silencing gloom? What looks are you talking about when you walk around defeated with your stooped shoulders and dismayed eyes?

On I walked fumbling for recognition. I could not find that in the eyes of the only one whom I can seek attention from. It is not fair though to expect the reassuring and satisfying attention you need from the whole world to come from only one man. This is too much to ask; especially with that restless, demanding and anxious attitude of yours. Insecurity charges up in you the worst of attacks. That frustration has to burst out one way or the other making me not only old and unattractive, but also intolerable!

Why am I still wearing hijab then? Why not free myself from all those shackles and simply be! Why not have breeze fly my hair away and carry my perfume everywhere?

I can’t.

I simply don’t want to.

I am holding on to my hijab now more than ever and with the same tenacity.

Unconsciously, I went tonight in pursuit of that recognition. Reached out to loved ones, but it so happened that no one was there to the rescue. Someone had to pick up the shattered pieces of my self-image. But no one was there.

When I first decided to wear hijab, it seemed like the logical thing to do. Nothing seemed to make me happy anymore and as I gradually got sick from the superficiality of the surrounding unfulfilling pleasures, I wanted to tend to the soul that was deserted and left behind. Though a born Muslim, I have always practiced Islam out of habit and hence praying for example was void of meaning or touching significance. I knew that peace was in the true spirit of Islam, but like a fish out of water, I gaped for air through a hand that leads me to the Islam that speaks to both my heart and mind. I was not the one to be intimidated and scared by the familiar clichés of torture and Hellfire. I was not the one to be led around by dos and don’ts. I needed the comfort of knowing that I am loved and accepted by a merciful most kind and generous Lord that would take me the way I am, get out the best in me with His guidance, and clear my soul with His forgiveness from the harm I have done to myself. I needed the light that tells me where I am in the universe and what I am meant here to do. That blend of who I am must be here and now for a reason. I must be equipped with what I know and what I am still to dig up to make a change. Thus, I needed to surrender my whole being to God and His decrees; and that I did by striving to be a true Muslim since the word “Islam” means surrendering to the Lord. Wearing hijab was one of those decrees that felt right then. Yet, little did I know that it will take me years to understand what hijab really is.

On my way back home today, I could not leave that image I saw in the mirror behind. It remained there on my mind; with silent tears on my face. How do I really look like now; with or without hijab? Is there anything to stop the crawling years? And what if I am now old? What kind of recognition and attention do I really want, and why? Where and what is beauty? Why should I seek it in the eyes of the beholder in the first place? If I am born to be a rebel and refuse to be enslaved by those who dictate to me how I should look, walk and talk, why am I defining myself by the rules of others, any others, friends or strangers? How can I respect anyone that treats me any differently because of my mere looks, good or bad? With my hijab I simply look to such people in the eye and challenge their integrity as if saying, now that this woman is trying very hard to look the least attractive possible, how are you to judge her?

I am a human being. That was the answer. I am a free human being not to be judged or chained by meaningless ever-changing rules. Why should I be treated differently if I am a woman? Isn’t this the ultimate empowerment a woman can have when she is freed from the discrimination or privilege she is granted or denied based on how she looks? Isn’t it true slavery to “grease my way up in this sleazy corporate world”, a term I literally heard myself few days ago, or being taken advantage of and harassed because of the fact that I am a woman? This is where hijab comes in compellingly.

In Arabic the word hijab means barrier; and barrier it is indeed if it protects me from others and from my own nature of competing with other females on daily basis for a beauty trophy or trying to attain power through others. I always say, “I never have a bad hair day!” Nothing will simply stop me from getting what I want unless I do not have it in me to get it. So it is all about me, not about what others think or decide that I deserve. It is THE true power that a woman like me would not forsake. The kind of discipline that takes me away from whatever may defuse this bursting energy and keeps me focused instead, time and effort wise, on what really counts.

IT takes no time for me at all to have others see beyond that hijab. I give them the permission to touch the human being inside without touching the outer shape. I do not need their recognition or acceptance; they don’t have to. Yet it makes them comfortable to understand that the one under that cover is a smart tough cookie!

And the natural feminine need to look and feel pretty? I am not denied that. I got that in the comfort and convenience of my home surrounded by my close family. I am a human being, a round character, and my religion addresses my needs as well as regulates them in a way that is very logical and reasonable. It makes sense here that the decree that I willingly followed then was sent by the Lord that created us and knows about our natures. He knows about our weaknesses and hence He is helping us not to fall victim for that and thus lead balanced and productive lives. It makes perfect sense to start looking at hijab that way and outsmart the media that hammered on “the oppression that helpless Muslim women are subject to”; a concept that comes to our minds if and when we stop and notice a woman with hijab.

What difference does it make how I look; how I polish my nails, wear my make up or pluck my eyebrows? If I die right this minute, it is my words, deeds, and how I contributed in the lives of those around, that I am leaving behind; everything else is finite and of no true significance.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Blindness

Posted by Sara at 12:42 PM 0 comments Links to this post
One of the biggest tests in life is losing one's eyesight. Not being able to see the world and to constantly live in darkness… well I expect this to be extremely hard. May God reward all those who were afflicted with this calamity, yet endure it with patience.

What is even more perplexing, for me, is another kind of blindness, that is even graver and harder to understand. It is when people have eyes that can see, yet they are blind. I found the answer to my bewilderment in a verse from the Qur'an that says what can be translated as: "So have they not travelled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded, but blinded are the hearts which are within the chests ."

When you think of people who see God's marvellous creation without being able to realise the Greatness of the One who has created all this beauty in all these most innovative and complex forms, you simply wonder how blind man can get. Or those who fall into despair, lose faith, or go to the extreme of ending their lives because of a problem they are facing, forgetting about the rest of the abundance their Lord has given them. People sometimes simply throw away God's blessings, turning their hearts into cruel stones that cannot appreciate or remember. Other people can be blinded by money, power, or any other earthly pleasure, and never feel content with whatever they get since they are always busy running after more and more, leaving behind the simple pleasures and the true meanings of life. Such people's hearts become blind when they stop appreciating God's goodness in their lives.

Even stone can be tenderer than man's heart when it becomes blind, God says: "Then your hearts became hardened after that, being like stones or even harder. For indeed, there are stones from which rivers burst forth, and there are some of them that split open and water comes out, and there are some of them that fall down for fear of Allah. And Allah is not unaware of what you do ". Blind hearts would only allow a colourless life that is cold and dark, with blessings becoming insignificant. How is it possible to deliberately lead such a miserable life? Poor indeed is the one who sees God's bounties yet fails to cherish them.

I always ponder upon this verse, it never fails to move me: "They have not estimated Allah His true estimate; while the earth entirely will be [within] His grip on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens will be folded in His right hand. Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him." I seek refuge in God from having a blind heart. May He bless us with sound hearts. Let us pray that we never fall short of appreciating the Greatness, Omnipotence, and Mercy of our Lord.

Monday, November 19, 2007

{Quick Reflections 40} Terms of Usage

Posted by Badeea at 9:40 PM 0 comments Links to this post
How many “Terms of Usage” documents has each of one of us signed in a life time? Personally I have lost count! I had to agree to certain long lists of “Terms of Usage” hundreds of times whenever I attempted to download one program or another from the internet. The same was repeated over and over again numerous times in other forms with slight modifications to the title varying between “Lease Terms” for renting apartments or cars, or “Terms and Conditions” for bank accounts and credit cards, or “Terms of Agreement” for electric supply or cell phone lines, or “Certificate of Insurance” for health insurance and malpractice insurance (being a surgeon practicing in the USA) and the list goes on and on.
With time I am accumulating piles and piles of “License Agreements” that even my wife (who reads 5 times as fast as I do) and to whom I am trying to delegate the reading of such documents to is hardly keeping up with them. I will not be exaggerating if I say that within the past 2.5 years I have gathered over a thousand pages of different “Terms of Usage” documents. I am sure all of us have similar experiences.

Now when I started giving this very annoying and life disturbing repetitive event some thought I realized how my priorities were skewed. I could spend 3-4 hours reading a contract for a cell phone line that I would end in 2 years anyway or anything similar that has very limited functionality within a very limited time frame of my life. Not only that but I would also abide by all the terms that most of the time give more benefits to the agency or company that is issuing the contract and would do my best not to breech any of the terms mentioned for fear of the penalties as per the contract. I believe that we all share that attitude. We abide by terms and conditions set by other humans that mostly serve their own benefit more than ours in order to use something that is of very limited benefit to us in a limited time frame. We do not question them or object to any item if we really intend to use that service or object.

On the other hand how much time and attention have I given to go over the “Terms of Usage” manual provided to me by my Creator? He provided me with my “life”, with every cell in my body, with every blessing in this Universe, with countless mercies and gifts and did not ask for anything in return. On the contrary He provided me with a “Terms of Usage” manual that was provided by the Manufacturer to the “products” so that they would function in the best possible way. He will not gain or lose anything if I abide or breech the “Terms of Usage” manual He provided me. On the contrary I am the only gainer or loser if I abide by the terms or breech them. Not only that, how seriously have I taken that manual? How many times have I questioned it and thought whether it is fair or not? How many times have I made use of all the gifts and blessings provided by the Manufacturer yet continued to breech the “Contract”? Even when I breech the contract He does not immediately apply the penalties but rather continues supplying me with the “goods”! Not only that, He even gave humans the freedom to sign the contract or refuse to sign it without either decision affecting His continuous supply of blessings to both parties as long as they are still alive on this Earth. “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong” (Qur’an; 2:256).

Has the time come for me to start rearranging my priorities and take the “Terms of Usage” manual sent to me by my Creator regarding my whole life on this Earth and in the Hereafter more seriously and to give it the same attention I give to the hundreds of human “Terms of Usage” regarding trivial temporary services?



I had intended to write in details about the different “Terms of Usage” in terms of the two meanings the title carries, the one mentioned above in addition to the terms needed to be fulfilled by one so that God would “use” him or her to serve Him best but then I thought I would defer the latter meaning to a separate reflection.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

{Quick Reflections 39} Whose Time?!

Posted by Badeea at 9:05 AM 1 comments Links to this post
The dimension of “time” is always fascinating to me. Unlike “place” with its three dimensions (length, width and height) which you can always see from inside and outside by changing your position “time” is always accompanying you and moving with you. As a human being you can never see it from outside.
To standardize the position or the place of things and try to find and describe the positional relationship between objects in space man invented the co-ordinate system. As an outsider viewer you can choose a certain spot and determine that it has the x:y:z co-ordinates of 0:0:0 and then relate the position of any object in space around that spot and its exact x:y:z co-ordinates accordingly. These 3 dimensions are independent of the ever mysterious fourth dimension; time.
Man does not know when “time” started and when will it end. Even the use of the term “when” to describe the absolute start or end of time is not correct because before it started and after it ends there will be no “time” to compare to and hence no “when”!! I will elaborate further on this if God wills 6 articles from now when we discuss the issue of “Eternity”.
Due to man’s limited capability of understanding and describing the ever changing time dimension it was more difficult for him to standardize time like he did with space. Hence in the process of standardizing time on Earth man opted to always correlate it to space or place. Accordingly he invented the “Time Zone” system which defines time in relation to your “position” in place on Earth.

Almost a year ago I was involved in a lot of traveling to and fro between East and West in a short period of time using different modalities of transportation including ground and air.
When I thought about it during my travel I found that one’s time of arrival is determined by three factors.

First is the time zone at your destination point. In the USA you are governed by 6 different time zones depending on which part of the country you are in. On the main land in the extreme East, where I currently reside, you lie in the Eastern Time zone which is GMT-5. As you head towards the West you gradually cross time zones starting with Central Time, then Mountain Time and finally Pacific Time on the West Coast which is GMT-8. Off the main land you have Alaska Time Zone which is GMT-9 and finally Hawaii Time Zone which is GMT -10.

The second factor that determines your time of arrival is of course the type of transportation used as it determines the speed by which you reach your destination.

The third factor is even more complicated. It is your direction of travel. Are you heading East or West?
Earth rotates in an anti-clock wise direction relative to the Sun and hence the generation of East and West and Day and Night as we see it and hence East is ahead of West in time. In other words if you choose a point in the middle between East and West and say that it is the “present”, East will be the “past” and West will be the “future”. Accordingly when you head East you are relatively trying to go to the “past” while Earth is always rotating towards the “future” and hence you “lose” time due to your relative adding to the effect of time on yourself. Let me provide and example here. If you are in the San Francisco, Pacific Time Zone (relatively West) and the time now is 3pm it will be concurrently 6pm in New York, Eastern Time Zone (relatively East). If there is a mode of transportation that would move you between these 2 time zones in only one minute and you leave San Francisco at 3pm you will arrive in New York at 6:01 pm. You would have already lost 3 hours in addition to the time it took you to get there (one minute).
On the other hand if you are heading West you are relatively trying to go to the future along with Earth which is always rotating towards the “future” and hence you “gain” time due to your relative canceling of the effect of time on yourself. If you reverse the above example and travel from New York to San Francisco you would gain 2 hours and 59 minutes (3 hours minus the one minute it took you to get there).

Theoretically speaking if you manage to travel around Earth heading West along with Earth, and hence canceling the effect of time on yourself, with the same speed Earth rotates around itself time will not change for you and it will remain constant. However there is a catch here! Even if you travel with the same speed at which Earth rotates around itself you are consuming time to do that so again you are forced to move to the “future” albeit at a slower speed than people sticking to the regular movement of Earth.

Practically we do not travel that fast but we certainly do gain or lose time when we travel by air. For example if you travel from Chicago (Central Time) heading East to Cleveland (Eastern Time) you are losing time. If you take off from Chicago at 9am (concurrently 10 am in Cleveland) and it takes you one hour to get to Cleveland you will reach it at 11am Cleveland time so you would have lost 2 hours (the one hour traveling time in addition to one hour time zone difference).
On the other hand if you take off from Cleveland at 9am and head West to Chicago (where the time is concurrently 8am) and it takes you one hour to get there you will arrive at 9am Chicago time. So you would have gained one hour time zone difference but lost one due to travel time and ended up with a net stationary time.

Now where am I heading with this complicated and confusing time analysis issue?!

When I was a teenager I was told by one of my mentors that shortening and uniting of prayers and aborting fasting during traveling was a merciful lightening of duties from God in the past on travelers due to the hardships of traveling people used to face in the past. In light of the development of relatively very fast and easy air transportation modalities (the second factor mentioned earlier which affects our time of arrival at our destination), there is no need to use that specific “mercy” in our age.
However my dear mentor was mistaken in his analysis. He took into account only the speed of transportation in reaching his conclusion. He forgot about the other 2 important factors; time zones and the direction of traveling with its consequent loss or gain of time issues. According to which time zone will you determine your prayer time or your start or break of fast time? The starting point or the ending point or somewhere in between? What about the lost or gained time? How will you account for that in your calculations? Certainly it is a very controversial issue that would cause a lot of havoc and debate amongst people.
Accordingly God’s merciful and wise lightening of worshiping duties, prayers and fasting, during travel also applies to our time in spite of all advancement in transportation modalities to avoid unnecessary confusion or argument that could arise due to the above mentioned new two factors that were not present in the past; time zones and gain or loss of time when traveling fast enough.

Correction: I received the following comment about when time stops absolutely, rather than relatively, "by the way time would only stop when u are equal in speed to light and then mass becomes infinite if that was applicable. i am physically speaking. read one two three infinity. it is a nice book"

Sunday, November 4, 2007

{Quick Reflections 38} The Devil; Live!

Posted by Badeea at 8:58 PM 0 comments Links to this post
If you believe in the devil (or evil powers) please continue to read. If you do not believe in the devil that is even a stronger reason to continue to read this reflection!
Let us start by addressing the group that believes it has only one life to live; the atheists. If you believe that you will live only once and that there is no other life after death then it makes perfect sense that you make the best out of this life for 2 reasons. The first being that it is the only life you have. The second being that if you were wrong (which is definitely a “chance” since you believe in the concept of “chance” and “probability” which is the corner stone that the theory of evolution and hence all this life and universe is built on) and there happened to be a God and an afterlife, and as the scriptures you do not believe in say, you will eternally live in hell in the other life so you better make the best of this one.
In order to make the best of this life then you better live in a most peaceful place and stay away from any conflicts that could negatively affect your social or financial life. Accordingly you will have to minimize the differences between you and other people to avoid conflicts of interests as much as you can. This will lead you to try to find “guidelines” to differentiate good from bad. Now in the absence of “Divine” “guidelines” and due to the variability of way of thinking on individual basis from time to time, place to place and culture to culture it will be impossible to reach a consensus on these guidelines. Now the absence of these clear cut definitions or guidelines to the exact definition of good (or lawful) and bad (or unlawful) does not negate the fact that they are present. Now the moving force behind “evil” or “bad” that religions or “Divinity” define as both the devil and evil inclinations present in everyone do not mater to you so you will not bother pushing it away or fighting it. However you are still stuck in the struggle present between living beings in which the survival is for the most fit according to the evolutionary theory. Now since the chance of perishing in such a struggle is almost 50% then it is better not to have such a struggle in the first place. This leads us to the first point which is to try and live in peace with all others as much as we can.

Now let us get back to the people of the monotheistic religions be them Jews, Christians or Muslims. Needless to say that this group of people believe in the presence of the devil(s) and his (their) evil ways and how he (they) want(s) us to do as much wrong as possible and commit as many sins as possible.
One of his (their) main goals is to make us not believe in God and hence in his (their) presence in the first place and this way they can get us with no resistance what so ever on our part. You can not fight what you do not believe in!
If he (they) fail in the above goals he (they) move on to the second most important one; spreading hatred, arrogance, prejudice and negative feelings amongst a group of people towards another group of people. They start with a group from one sect of a certain religion towards another group belonging to another sect of the same religion (amongst Christians Catholics against Baptists, Orthodox against Catholics, amongst Muslims Sunni against Shiite and so forth). If they fail in that they move on to people from one religion to another group from another religion although both religions are monotheistic (Christians against Muslims, Muslims against Jews, Jews against both Christians and Muslims, and so forth)! The fact is that non of the scriptures in any of the three monotheistic religions tells you to hate any other human being. On the contrary there is always a stress on how much you should love all other human and living beings. It is the personal interpretation and hijacking of the scriptures by some ill intentioned or ill minded or both that pushes the masses into believing that they should hate and fight people from other religions. The devil wins by dividing and ruling.
If the devil fails in the above he moves on to the next step which is spreading of negative feelings amongst individuals for any petty reason. It could be simple paranoid thoughts of no basis what so ever or thoughts based on different social or economic or even egoist basis.
If he fails in the above he moves onto making you just “forget” about God and the devil and the whole issue. Yes you continue to believe in God but you actually stop thinking, feeling and living that belief. Yes you are not harming anyone but you are totally unaware that you should be, with a direct true intention, living your life building and earning your way to a better afterlife.
Finally if he fails in all the above he moves on to pushing one into committing sins in which one disobeys God in one way or another without necessarily harming other people (like not performing certain religious rituals) or with things that have a long term negative impact on the whole society (like committing adultery).

Now the above mentioned sequence is not necessarily what truly happens with each one of us but certainly it is put in an order of what is most harmful to what is least harmful to both this life and your afterlife.
Now the question that arises is how does the devil(s) do that? One very important fact that we should keep in mind all the time is that the devil(s) is(are) not less smart than you are. A second fact is that that’s their only job, they have nothing to do until the day of Judgment but to push you further away from God. A third fact is that they have no control over you, you have total control over yourself, they just throw ideas or thoughts in your way and you choose either to follow it or decline.
Now back to the same question, how do they do that? They have a running biography of your life, what you like, what you dislike, what are your weak points, when are you most susceptible to obey them, different trends in your personality and so forth. In order to push you into making a certain mistake it does not have to be an impulsive action but they could plan for a sequence of events that could take hours, days or even months until you fall into a certain trap or another.
So now what is the way out and how to fight and defeat them in a most efficient way?
First of all you have to be aware of what really God wants from you; obedience to Him, love to all others manifesting in being most useful, giving and forgiving to them, hate of bad deeds but not to people who perform them and very good manners in dealing with any “other”.
Second, just like the devil studies your personality and keeps a running biography of you, keep an autobiography. Notice patterns in your personality, record when you are most susceptible to fall into traps by the devil and commit any of the above mentioned mistakes of negative thoughts, feelings or acts whether with God, people of your religion or any other religion. Based on that biography modify your thoughts, feelings and practice such that you are less vulnerable for the devil and his traps.

To conclude the above “live” demonstration of the devil and his ways I would like to mention the verse in the Qur’an in which God says what can be translated into, “Indeed, Satan is an enemy to you; so take him as an enemy” (Qur’an, 35:6). He is plotting all the time against you so take the time to plot for yourself in defense and never give your back to your enemy or under estimate him. Be aware of your enemy and be on your guard and deal with him in the same manner you deal with any enemy by being alert, aware and in a continuous smart proactive fight.
Accordingly do not ever be fooled by the Devil into thinking that other human beings are your enemies. Your only true enemy is the Devil. If human beings from all walks of life live with that mentality we would have been living in a much more peaceful world as it should have been if only people listened to God and His messengers. Here is a saying by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)that in one sentence sums up how to defeat your enemy, the devil, “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Brother here refers to brother in humanity. If you want to be a good God-oriented person you should truly wish the best for all other human beings without ever looking down on any human being let along making any enemy out of him/her.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Earthquake

Posted by Watermark at 12:20 PM 2 comments Links to this post
There was a recent earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay area in the US. Here is a friend's experience in his own words...

"...just experienced my first earthquake. i was pulling up at the parking lot of the masjid for isha [prayer], and i waited a second to shut the engine off and i was like “why is my car shaking like that?” — i took my foot off the brake and my car was still shaking. i got out of the car, walked away from it, puzzled at the shaking (the whole time i thought it was the car, i didn’t realize it was the ground).

i only realized after the salah [prayer] when the sheikh started talking about a verse 'You did indeed wish for death (Ash­Shahadah - martyrdom) before you met it. Now you have seen it openly with your own eyes.' (3:143) and saying how we’d just experienced being saved from death, and then the man said that people should go home and be with their families. so i asked my friend and he told me it was an earthquake.
5.6 on the Richter scale."


How many times do we inadvertently experience a close brush with death unaware how close it is to us. How many times are we given a renewed lease on life unawares. Our countless blessings unaware.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Reason for Living

Posted by Sara at 11:21 AM 0 comments Links to this post
I listened today to John Denver's famous song 'For you', let me quote some lines..

Just a reason for living
Just to say I adore
Just to know that you're here in my heart to stay
For you for the rest of my life, all the best of my life.. For you alone, only for you.

I felt how futile it would be if you hold someone as the reason for living, how empty your life would be when they are gone and we are all leaving in a way or another. It is very shortsighted, even if it is the love of a lifetime, to corner one's entire being in only one aspect of life, even if it is so beautiful, leaving out the rest of the abundance there is to enjoy. Life would turn into a constant nightmare, without a reason to live for.

My Lord, You are the Reason that is worth living for. You are the Motive behind every good thing.You are the Eternal Beauty. You are the only Truth that keeps me warm and safe. The benevolent gestures You kindly put in my way, the small beauties here and there, the abundant forms of Your affection, I will not let go of them. Yet, I will not allow them blind me and falsely fill up my senses. I will not forget that You gave me this beauty because of Your own Kindness.. Let me always remember; You are the One I will never lose.

Friday, September 14, 2007

You are my Companion in my journey

Posted by Peace at 9:48 AM 1 comments Links to this post
Got the phone call. This is the day I have feared for so long. Mute was I when grief’s somber shawl started to slowly creep over me. Unable to comprehend the unimaginable loss, I sat back thinking of everything else in denial. It was my brother’s grave voice that let loose all my tear-demons. He is our rock now.

So my father was being buried under the ground. My true old friend, my very first fan, the one who watched with wonder in his eyes how his little bud gradually blossom into who I am right now, the one who took my hand in his big warm hands and showed me the way to worlds of beauty and sophistication. Still, I was not falling apart like I thought I would. I calmly arranged for my flight back home to be where I belong; with my grief-stricken family.

My fingers typed the words “my father passed away” to my dear ones, and then rushed to hide my face and cover my weary eyes. Then the memories rushed along. The last time I heard his voice, the last thing he said, the last time I saw him, and many more; each snatching a piece of my heart and throwing it in the abyss of what is now bygone. It was simply incomprehensible to take away from the picture of my taken-for-granted world a man that was full of life, thought and humor. That was the day after which life ceased to be the same.

Torn between leaving my children and running to the unknown, I felt the burning tears streaming down as I turned around to face the flight’s gate. Forlorn on my seat on that cold bitter birthday, I felt like a stranger in this world. No sadly setting sun in the far beyond or cotton-candy cloud clusters in the burgundy dusk could solace me. I then read my traveling prayer,

“O Allah, You are the Companion in the journey and the substitute in the family. O Allah, I seek refuge with You from the hardship of the journey and from returning to sorrow and a distressing sight or finding family and possessions in a poor state”.

Indeed, He was my Companion.

Take my hand now my Lord. Do pat gently on my hollow heart and overwhelm me with your mercy. Between heaven and earth, I felt like a whirling feather, restless and unaware where the blowing wind would land me. You are my Companion now. Take care of me now. I am suddenly the insecure child raising her hands looking for the safe shore of her father’s tenderness and compassion.

It felt like forever before my third and last plane touched down. My heart beats were racing the plane’s speed and my anticipation left me breathless and drained. It was my father that used to wait for me and welcome me with his rich sweet embrace that used to take all my pain away. He won’t be there this time. Waiting in the long-dreary line-ups, I couldn’t help looking for his loving face among the many faces around me. I felt that he was somehow there. I even swear that I heard his voice calling my name from the distance that I actually turned around where I thought the voice came from; but of course, there was nothing. I could not find him.

But He was there watching over me as if saying, “Even though he isn’t there this time, I am here for you.” God sent my way complete strangers that to my amazement picked me out of the crowd and helped me get everything done as smoothly as it can ever be possible. How merciful are you my Lord, how gracious!

And out of the airport, I stepped to find my mother’s serene smile waiting for me. “It’s ok… It’s ok”, she repeated. Then I sank in the home of her stretched arms again.

I knew that I did just the right thing going there when I looked at my sibling’s faces. The suddenly stranded islands were trying to snuggle closer. They were as solid as mountains enduring the pain yet as tender as babies cuddling together. No tears were allowed; only laughter and smiles, the way he liked it most. Only beautiful memories were to be shared. Painful ones were locked up in denial until the hearts were strong again to go through them. Devastated as they were, they stood tall and strong greeting mourning visitors with a smile, yielding to the loss with fortitude. I just could not be more proud of them.

Accompanied by some of my family members I went to visit his grave, or the way I prefer to put it, “visit him”. The ones around were there before me when it all took place, but it was my first time. I stood there unable to fully take in how my father was under that stone. I asked to be left alone with him. I was his eldest daughter. I was also the one who lived farthest and thus, I was denied to be there like all others at his last moments. I had a gnawing urge to talk to him. My wish was respected and granted and I sat on the ground next to him and poured my heart out to him. I asked him to be proud of his family who loved him so dearly that they did not break for his leave to show him how well he raised us up and what a great man he was. I said that I know that I was the one who has to cross oceans and thousands of miles to come visit him but I could still be the closest talking to him endlessly and asking God to grant him mercy. I said that I somehow could not, and still can’t, imagine a life without him in it; yet I knew that he was still there. And on I went and each time I got up to turn around and walk away, I was crippled with the harsh awareness that I would walk away an orphan! But I had to eventually go away just like life goes on. I saw in the distance my brother watching me from afar fearing that I might pass out, out of my deep silent grief. I rushed to him and asked him to hold me tight for at that moment I just needed that so.

But what is it that kept us intact instead of being crushed before this sudden death? It is God’s mercy and overwhelming kindness. We are asked to endure the loss of loved ones especially at the first shocking moments. It takes no hard work on our part; it is rather a blessing of mercy that we either accept or kick away to take the easy way out and remain absorbed in pain. Yet, death will remain our wake-up call of how short and empty life is and how futile it is to waste time, energy as well as all the blessings we are endowed with that make us better people. Only those who swallow the pain and go on are the ones who know how harsh it is, though rewarding, to yield and accept God’s decree. God says in Qur’ān, “And in case you are patient and pious, then surely that is (an indication) of (true) resolve concerning His (i.e. the Commands of Allah) Commands.” (Ala-`Imrān, 3: 186)

No pain or grief should bring you to your knees. Every test is meant to have you stronger should you choose to make it in spite of it all. Remember your Companion, accept what He brings your way turning every hurdle into a stepping stone to be worthy of His endless mercy that we cannot do without.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pain

Posted by Peace at 2:23 AM 0 comments Links to this post
In the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, we often fail to maintain our well being. We keep running into the maze of endless duties and deadlines, expecting no setbacks or delays. A headache, an aching back or irritated eyes, a skin inflammation or ear pain are usually the least expected and most detested. Who has time for that! Once we are hit by any of that, we rush to pain relievers to be able to go back to what we have to get done with. But have we ever stopped and thought about the blessing of pain?

Yes, pain is always there for a reason. It is the flashing light that something is wrong and that it is high time we attended to that instead of taking the easy way out silencing it. It is usually a sign that we have been careless in safeguarding our health or defense system.

Imagine a life without pain; a condition that actually exists in some children called congenital insensitivity to pain (or congenital analgia) where a child cannot feel (and has never felt) physical pain. Isn’t that the dream of every parent; save his/her child from ever feeling any pain? Well, here is a wake up call for you. When a child cannot feel pain, they may not respond to problems, thus being at a higher risk of more severe diseases. It is documented that such children often suffer fractures to bones, unnoticed infections, etc. Talk about life without pain!

What about our hearts? What does it say when our hearts ache. What is it really then when nothing seems to please us anymore, when we keep swirling in restlessness and agitation. Do we ever pay attention to our hearts trying to listen to their pain in order to heal them? How can’t we give our hearts our utmost attention when the word “heart” was mentioned 158 times in the Qur’aan?

Heartaches are a cry out loud for us to correct misleading frames of thoughts and unhealthy behavior. It is a call for us to retrace our steps to see what went wrong. It is the indication that it is time to seek guidance and help from our All-Merciful Lord.

Be it people who hurt us, our unsatiated thirst for contetment, our unfulfilled aspirations or hopes, all roads should lead us to one Ultimate Destination. He is always there to heal our pain and take us in spite of what He knows about us. He never forsakes us when we seek His help. He is always there to purify our hearts and keep them steadfast; always there waiting for our repentance to forgive and cleanse us from our sins. Where else can we ever go when we are blessed with the pain that takes us back to the pleasure of being with Him?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Who am I?

Posted by Watermark at 4:51 AM 2 comments Links to this post
I was four years old. I had just moved to this international school in an Arabic country from home in a Western country. It was just another ordinary day at school. In spite of the fact that it was only a few weeks for me now, I had decided early on that this school was not going to be a fun or easy place for me. There seemed to have been quite a bit of drama between my parents and the school at the start. A latent sort of tug-o-war which translated itself into a feeling I got that they really didn't know what to do with me.

It was that free period again. The bell had just rung and we were getting up to leave the classroom. I tried to recall and understand why we had to do this. It was an hour during regular class hours where our classroom was divided up. I remember that it caused me deep confusion. Why did some kids have to stay in the class and others had to leave? Those who stayed got a different teacher. She looked different too; she wore a scarf. Why was I hurried along with the other group out of the classroom? At first they couldn't decide which group I should go with but the grown ups made quite a quick decision - I was to go with them!

This time I found myself fidgeting at the doorway of the classroom, hesitating to leave. The teacher with the scarf looked at me suspiciously, watching me closely. The other kids had hurried out of the class and were slowly congregating with the grown ups in the corridor. The teacher with the scarf looked at me and smiled. She was about to tell me something when one of the other grown ups noticed my hesitation and called out at me to come and join them.

I looked at the teacher with the scarf. She had soft calm features. She felt like my mother and I was attracted to her face, to her serenity. It seemed like her face was glowing with light. I so wanted to ask her if I could stay just this once. I wanted to find out what they learn, but the grown ups were calling out at me again. I found myself slowly walking out of the classroom towards the group begrudgingly at the insistence of the other grown ups.

It was quiet now in the corridor, except for the murmuring of the grown ups as they decided which empty classroom to pick and parade us in to. All the doors were shut now and I could hear lessons in the other classrooms nearby had already started. I stood there on my own in the group, all the other kids seemed to know each other. Even the grown ups seemed to know each other. Why was there more than one grown up I wondered. This must be some sort of special class where we get more than one teacher. Maybe that's what all the commotion was about between my parents and the school. Maybe I was special! Does that mean all these other kids were special too? I looked at them curiously, they looked quite ordinary to me.

"Miss, are we going to sing again those songs..."
"Shhhh," snapped one of the grown ups at her in a flurry before she even had the chance to finish her question. She looked around her as if she were making sure no one was around, before looking down at the little girl. "Of course we'll sing," she told her in an almost whisper caressing her hair.

We finally found ourselves in a classroom. The teachers contemplated what to do with us for a few seconds and decided that we would do some colouring. I didn't want to draw. I just didn't want to be here. I kept thinking of the teacher with the scarf and the kids in the other classroom. Why do they get to have a proper teacher and a fixed classroom while these teachers didn't know what to do with us!

The grown ups were scrounging around the classroom now looking for paper and enough crayons to hand around to each of us. I ended up with the black crayon - the colour no one else wanted. The other kids were busy drawing pretty pictures and fighting over the red, yellow or orange crayon. The only thing I felt was a knot in my stomach that started to get tighter.

"Let's sing!" said one of the grown ups. The other teacher agreed with her and the kids all left their crayons and jumped excitedly at the propect. One of the grown ups started singing an Arabic song with words I couldn't understand and very soon all the other kids joined in. They all knew the words too! The tune sounded very strange to me and the knot in my stomach kept getting tighter and tighter.

"Come on, sing!" said one of the teachers to me. I just looked at her blankly. "Sing," she smiled at me, mouthing the words slower so I would sing along. I just looked down at the ground.
One of the kids stood up and told me in Arabic, "don't you love Jesus?! How can you not sing for him!"
I looked up at her and wondered who Jesus was. All the other kids stopped singing and looked at me wondering what was wrong with me. It was a moment of sheer claustrophobia. I don't want to sing, I kept thinking to myself. Yet the teacher decided to teach me the words so I could sing along with the rest of the class. She tried to get me to repeat after her with the help of the other teacher while the kids started to get fidgety. I kept my mouth shut; it felt like I had lost my voice. I found myself holding on firmly to my chair, fingers clasped around the edges, darkness enveloping me as they continued singing about Jesus, song after song. The more they sang, the darker I felt it get around me. After a few moments I couldn't contain myself and I started to cry but couldn't understand why I was crying. It was just a song and I did so love to sing. Why couldn't I sing with them or even bring myself to sing with them? Who was Jesus whom they were all singing to?

One of the grown ups came to comfort me, sitting me on her lap and asked me with a smile expecting an obvious answer, "Aren't you a Christian?"
I shook my head from side to side. I didn't know what a Christian was I just knew that if it involved singing those songs then I wasn't going to be one! She looked at me with a sparkle in her eyes and mild suprise, "You're not a Christian?"
The other teacher looked at us and some of the other kids stopped singing. "Why did you stop? Go on!" the teacher urged them and the other teacher turned away, watching from afar. She turned to me and said, "It's ok, it's only a song, sing with us." But I couldn't do it.

Just then and like a miracle, there was a knock on the classroom door. A supervisor stood at the door along with another person - the teacher wearing the scarf from the other classroom! The singing stopped instantly.

"What are you doing?" demanded the supervisor.
"They're colouring, drawing, singing" said the teachers.
"Come here," the scarf-wearing teacher held her hand out at me, "come to me, come here," she coaxed with a smile.

The supervisor had a mean look on his face and I was sure I had done something wrong. All the other kids looked around wondering what was going on.
"Come sweetie, you're not supposed to be in this class," said the scarf-wearing teacher to me. I stood up and went to her with uneasy steps but with utter relief. The kids looked at me bewildered whispering to themselves, "She's a muslim? She's not Christian!? She lied to us!"

I definitely knew I had done something dreadful. That was the first time I had heard the word 'Muslim' and it felt like an accusation more than anything at that moment!

One of the teachers started, "She's been attending this class for weeks now, she's Christian, not Muslim."
The supervisor's mean look became ferocious and I felt the teacher with the scarf hold on to me closer, "No! She's Muslim and you know it and you know she shouldn't be in this class!"

Some words were exchanged between the grown ups and I found myself clinging to the teacher with the scarf as she led me to her classroom. The supervisor and the teacher looked upset and concerned as they spoke to each other dropping looks at me every now and then. What did I do wrong?

When we reached the classroom, the teacher went in and the supervisor stayed outside with me. He knelt down and looked at me with the kindest look ever, "You're a Muslim, don't you know that?" I am? I fidgeted uneasily from one foot to the other.
"How can you not know that? You are a Muslim, didn't your parents tell you? Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise!" I looked up at him in bewilderment. I didn't know what that meant but he repeated it again slower and more seriously that I felt it must be true!
Does that mean I don't have to attend that singing class anymore?
As if sensing my concern he said, "From now on you will attend this religion class with Miss ****," and he pointed to the door of the classroom where the lady with the scarf had just gone through. I smiled in between my teary eyes as he led me in.

All the darkness I had previously felt instantly melted away and I won't exaggerate when I say that with every fleeting moment spent in that classroom, whatever time was left from that long hour, I felt myself being enveloped in serenity and pure light. The kids cheered as I came in the class and the teacher made me sit in the front in an empty seat. It felt like that seat was waiting for me all along.

"Everyone, this is ****," as the teacher introduced me to the class, "she is a Muslim and will be attending the religion class with us," she winked at me with a smile.

I smiled back, even though I didn't know what religion class was but I felt it was a good thing as surprisingly, the knot in my stomach had disappeared. The class started reciting some words (I now recall it was one of the short Surahs of the Quran) and when the teacher came next to me asking me to repeat after her, I miraculously found my voice again.

Years later, I remembered this very early introduction to Islam. It was as if I was being guided by God in a gentle way. I was being taught an early lesson in identity and who I am. I was made to endure the decision of having to make a choice between choosing to follow the straight path and the misguided one (between darkness and light) in quite an elemantary manner. I look back and think that I could've easily chosen to stay with one class or another; one religion or another. No one would have known if it weren't for my hesitation at the door of the classroom that day. It wouldn't have led the religion teacher to check with the school administration whether I was in fact Muslim or not for the purposes of attending that religion class.

Many people go through life inheriting their parent's belief, not questioning, not wondering what lies in their hearts. I was placed in a situation of contemplation at a very early age. A contemplation that manifested itself into a journey of discovery - a journey that I continue to follow till this day.

I remember this experience triggering a million questions at the time about who Jesus was, why the teachers were upset, what it meant to be Christian or Muslim, why we had different classes and why were there differences (though I realised later on the similarities outweighed the differences).

I will never forget the supervisor's kind expression as he told me, "You are a Muslim, don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise." I realise now that those words were only telling me what was already firmly etched in my heart.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Milestones of the Heart III: Addiction

Posted by Sara at 2:17 PM 2 comments Links to this post
In the past posting, Milestones of the Heart I, we started discussing our personal weaknesses in the gray area where right and wrong are questionable. On our long path, leaving behind the darkness of clear sin, and moving ahead to the brightness of the light of purity, we reach this middle area of the heart, where weakness is individualised. Each of us has their own flaws that hinder us from advancing. In this article, we are going to explore one kind of these flaws that spreads over a wide gray area. This time we will talk about addiction.

Addiction as we know it is the chronic exposure to a certain substance that results in a fake and temporary feeling of happiness, zeal, or relaxation (etc.). Getting used to such a behaviour leads to physical and/or psychological dependence. Deprivation or Stopping this behavioural disorder exposes the addict to various types of suffering, usually of a high emotional intensity in the forms of irritation, anger, depression, etc. In moments of revelation, when the addict is partially free from the overwhelming effect of the addicted substance, a mixed feeling of love-hate is usually aroused. This complex feeling is when a person loves another person/object, but hates oneself for it or feels ashamed of such dependence.

Addiction is not only of narcotics or alcohol. As civilised people, who are expected to know better, we can fall for addiction without noticing. Any extreme attachment ranging from being too attached to concepts, hobbies, food, habits, important figures, friends and close ones, can legitimately be labelled as types of addiction. When any sort of activities or behaviours is becoming harmful, starting to have a drastic and overwhelming effect on you, or causes psychological dependence that deprives you from leading a normal life with the absence of this factor, be honest with yourself; know that you are becoming an addict.

There are various factors that determine the probability of falling into the pit of addiction, and for falling for one kind of addiction rather than others. Addiction is the result of a character flaw, and consequently the type of addiction that is most probable is determined by this particular weakness. Other factors like age, social and cultural surroundings are recognised as determining causes of addiction.

Leaving aside this scientific introduction, and looking at the situation from a rather personal angle, let us put our hands on our defects. Let us first see how we can look ourselves in the eye, and see where our addiction might be hiding. We might be conscious of our weak points, but at other times they may be hidden inside and we usually fear to unlock them lest they take over and lead our lives. In order to get to the bottom of it, we need to first know where our problem is coming from. To do so, let us name all our passions and interests, be that time one spends with a favoured friend, loyalty to a football team, overwhelming passion towards a certain person, attachment to one's job, shopping, online surfing, gaming, eating, etc. Each of us knows, even if we do not think about it, but we do know, what our favoured things are.

Then we need to ask ourselves some questions. On a scale of priorities, what comes first? Put in mind that you should also include your other important priorities, like you family life, your job, your spiritual life, etc. How do you feel when you do your favoured thing? What happens to you when it ends abruptly, when it is late or unavailable for some reason? Generally, does it affect your mood, relations and life pattern? Do you suspend anything else, when it comes to your favoured thing? Does other people think you are exaggerating in favouring this particular person/ activity? Do you think your attachment to it is justified? Do you feel it is out of your hands sometimes and that you have no control on how you feel or behave? Most importantly, what would happen to you if you lose this favoured thing?

The first key to change is self-knowledge. God has created man free. We imprison ourselves in our passions and allow them to lead our minds and determine our actions. We allow our obsessions to torture us, and we have no one else to blame but ourselves. Changing is not easy, but sometimes it cannot be escaped. Addiction is usually accompanied by bad temper, pain and floppy moods, and it can go to the extreme of self destruction. Even if our favoured things are legitimate and lawful and beautiful, with extremity we turn them into ugly wrong deeds. We simply destroy the emotional balance that allows us to appreciate the other facets of happiness, by putting too much stress on one factor taking from the emotional reserve that should be distributed between other lawful pleasures and priorities. There is no wonder then that Islam orders us to be moderate in everything we do. The path of moderation protects us from falling in the pit of extremism that is naturally catastrophic.

If we move on to the spiritual aspect of this issue we will have to stop at a very important concept; our relationship with God. In order to realise the concept of faith, one's heart should normally be directed towards God's love as the utmost reason for living. The very reason why we were ordered to love God and His Prophet more than anything or anyone in the world is absolute mercy. This is because God would never turn you down. Worshipping Him is not of a momentary effect or a fading pleasure. It is the sense of safeness and the resolute belief that He is here to stay, that you would never lose the bond you build with Him Almighty, as long as you are preserving it with all your force. The relationship with God is never ending; the more you give into it the more you take out of it. The endless way of God is also a series of stages and startling discoveries. When you attempt to advance in His way, God takes your hand and draws you near. The amazing part of this rich relationship is that no matter how involved you are in it, this sense of attachment can never harm you. On the contrary, it feeds your soul and lightens your earthly burden.

God is indeed the Ultimate Trustee, whom you can depend on with no fear, whom you can reach out to knowing that He will always be there. Unlike any earthly bond that can end or change or vanish, crushing you with the sense of loss or disappointment. A part of the human nature is to never get enough; we always aspire for more. We try to train ourselves to realise the value of contentment and tame our souls with satisfaction, but it is not always doable. Thus, it all depends on what you want. It is not possible to lock ourselves out of all human relationships or hobbies or interests; it is the degree of importance that really matters. Exaggerated attachment to secular needs leads to more want, where nothing is good enough or even here to stay. On the other hand, you can get attached to the Lord as much as you may, and be sure that you will be overwhelmed with endless light and infinite bounty.

Put your heart on the right track. Do not be an addict of this earth, because we are soon leaving it behind, on our path towards the Ultimate Truth.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My beautiful night

Posted by Peace at 10:26 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Couldn’t sleep. Was restless and fidgety. Got tired of it all. Of people and places, of obligations and sham forced smiles, of that very fake light coming from my lamp and from that screen that I hang to. I want to be there, out there. I want to inhale fresh air, not one dim with old worn breaths. I want my own privacy and solitude that I hold on to religiously. And there I went. Opened the door and stepped with my bare feet on the cool floor of my patio. It overlooks a beautiful open space of full-grown trees that circle a wadding pool of water with a fountain of bricks on the side that looks and sounds like a water fall. The pool was empty tonight, and the fountain was off, but that did not take away from the natural beauty I was after. My patio is in a corner that no one would notice and I sat on one of the chairs there extending my legs on an opposite one and surrendering to my lulling ambiance. I laid my head back and watched the sky. Wasn’t a starry night for sure but you cannot help loving the different shades of grey that huddled together to take my breath away as they defined splendor in the way they kept the fading daylight safe at heart. They gradually gave away for darkness to take over and kiss goodnight the eyes of the weary and the hearts of the anguished. It wasn’t a sigh. I was just saying it all to the night without uttering a word. I know that it is gentle enough to listen and understand. The trees were still, in awe of their long awaited for friend. The night always comes back to enfold them in its overwhelming soft dark shawl. Their deep delight with the reassuring company was serene. But it’s the tree tops that could not help showing their happiness, and softly swayed with pleasure. I tried to clear my mind from all the clutter and think through my dilemma, but it didn’t take the stillness of the night long to seep into my heart, pat it gently and smooth it with peace. I tried to resist the urge to go and touch the tree that was a few steps away. But the night simply took my hand and I followed the soft call. That bark of the tree was very rough, lined with years and years of withstanding the harshness of the elements. But I could not respect that tree more; to stand tall in spite of it all. To keep giving no matter how long the snow covered it or the piercing sun rays poked it. It was there, beautifully there. And on I paced slowly. I smiled to the coolness of the damp rich grass caressing my wandering steps. I was welcomed by the sweet scent of a pine tree that I came across. I drifted into the silence, closed my eyes to absorb it and vanish in it. I was one with nature at last. I felt lucky to be bestowed all this exquisiteness from a Merciful Lord that surrounds us with wonders that tickle the senses of the lucky few who keep their hearts alert to what really matters in this short life.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Embracing Change

Posted by Sara at 7:45 AM 1 comments Links to this post
Battling with the wind is as futile as refusing change. Holding tight to our safe zones and clinging to our loved ones and precious things simply won’t stop the wheel from turning on and on. Change, the only stable fact on earth, might not be our enemy after all.

I had my own battles with the winds of change, in which, of course, I was defeated. I simply hated change. At one stage, I liked my life the way it was and I did not want it changed. At that time I was foolish enough to believe in the possibility of forever. Gradually, and after receiving many blows and knockouts, I started to believe that you do have to accept change and to expect it, in order to reduce the intensity of your fall when change knocks on your door next time. Change is bound to happen, whether you like it or not, so you better see it coming and not be blinded by a temporary triumph that life is giving you, because soon and before you know it will be taken away. However, this was also a limited vision that stems out of fear of loss, and not out of faith or resolve.

When one of my most important pillars of strength and sources of joy was taken away from me, I fought fiercely to get it back but in vain; it was time to move on. When I realized that it had really gone, I felt that I had lost everything and that I was standing in the middle of nowhere with my hands empty and my heart void. My heart was being ripped apart and I totally refused, without noticing, to accept the reality that this road ended here. At that stage, I froze completely, living in the memories of the happy past, refusing to go on, and rejecting any other source of joy. Nothing could fulfill me anymore, and I was ruining my life with my own hands. I was torturing myself with denial, feeling that I left my happiness behind and that I would never be happy again except if I were back where I used to be. Eventually I miserably started to try, not to forget how happy I was then, but to accept God’s command without understanding it. I still believed that my happiness lay there, but I was trying to tame my soul and to train myself to believe in the words we say superficially of trusting in Allaah’s judgement. My solace was that if I truly believed that the Lord would guide me to the right thing and grant me patience, if I could endure the pain and go on, if I turned out to be a good person, He would bring me back what I had lost.

I have learnt that it is not right to ask God to do you a specific thing since you know not where goodness lies like He does. I kept on supplicating to Him to either bring it back to me if that were better for me, or take it out of my heart so that I could rest and carry on. Yet, I was almost certain that my supplication's answer would lie in the first part; having it back, because naturally I still believed that my happiness was there. However, to my ultimate surprise, my supplication was indeed answered, but not the way I had expected. It was out of my heart, and I was able to have my peace of mind again.

Nothing in the world except Allaah is worth dying for or hanging to forever. When it is not meant to be, it is really not meant to be, no matter how we want to twist it, or how we block our ears or close our eyes to the truth. God indeed knows best, and loves us much more than we may think or even deserve sometimes. I felt so little, so very little when I realised how things had evolved, and how foolish I was to think that life had turned its back on me the day my life had changed. Our happiness is not hidden in one place or one person or one direction; it is divided in many paths and among many people, thoughts and commitments. Refusing the other parts of this share of happiness is the mistake we often fall into when we think, narrowly, in one direction trying to force our happiness from where we want it.

Even our attachment to such important aspects of our lives is bound to change. When everything else around is changing, we must not expect our hearts to keep looking where nothing is to be found anymore. However, when our own feelings change, we seldom question change. We do this only when we are affected by the change and not initiating it. Therefore, combing the two sides of change; of circumstances and of heart, and not allowing one to surpass or overshadow the other, may save us a lot of pain and breakdowns.

Recently, I cultivated the habit of walking everyday, to calm my soul, to walk peacefully and enjoy the air and the sun and the trees. It might seem so trivial, but it gives me great pleasure and serenity. It is a small part of the hidden bits of happiness scattered here and there along the road, and I am not intending to miss any of mine.

I have learnt that everything is precious, not just our preferred things. Everything will go, and especially our dearest things. Clinging to anything won't bring it back if it is not ours to have. Still, enjoying it when it is here and enjoying it when it is gone is how we can keep our sanity. Appreciating the bits and pieces of joy that the Lord sends our way, the small gestures and hidden signs that tell you that you are not alone and definitely not forgotten, is the remedy of loss.

I now know that it is not just about accepting change as this invincible enemy. It is not about staying alert that nothing is here to stay, for this will definitely ruin one’s appreciation of the beauty of the moment. It is about embracing change; not as the wicked thief that steals one’s happiness and ruins one’s life, but as the wise visitor who comes every once in a while to renew our lives, open new doors and close the obsolete ones. A blow is likely to happen and something very dear is always hard to lose, but God will never leave our wounds open, His healing light is always there to guide us throughout the journey. Going on and exploring the new ways the Lord is opening and leaving our area of confidence and security is very hard, but it is meant to take place so that we continue leading our way and becoming who we are; the sum of all the choices and experiences, the sum of everything that is gone and all that is to come.


"All that (exists) upon it (i.e., the earth) is vanishing. And there (still) remains (forever) The Face of your Lord,The Owner of Majesty and Munificence." 1.
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1. Qur'aan: Ar-Rahmaan 55: verses 26 - 27.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

{Quick Reflections 37} The Why 4, The Call 2!

Posted by Badeea at 4:34 AM 1 comments Links to this post
Instead of starting with a question and working our way until we reach a logical answer by the end of the article as usual, this time we will start with the conclusion or the answer to the question and then work our way to consolidate that conclusion.

The topic again is why we do good deeds, that was discussed thrice before, stressing all along on the concept that making the call and living with this should be a basic principle in life whether doing good went noticed or appreciated or not. This is again crucial to the concept of co-existence with the other, regardless of their belief, and how doing good should be intrinsic to our behavior without necessarily meaning to call others for Islaam (the always logic scriptures that confirm that concept will be detailed six articles from now under the title, "First Things First" if God wills).

To start with, we will explore one of the reasons why Allaah (SWT)1 chose Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)2 to be the final Messenger. We will discuss the characteristic that was intrinsic in his personality for 40 years before he (PBUH) ever received the revelation.

For forty years he was nicknamed by his community as “The Truthful, the Trust-Worthy”. His most noble manners were embedded in his personality in spite of the fact that he lived amongst a very corrupt and ill-mannered community in Arabia and world–wide in general. He did not know of a god at that time and he never believed in idols. Accordingly, his behavior throughout those 40 years was not meant to satisfy a god. Moreover, he did not adopt this behavior aspiring for leadership or recognition amongst his community during that period. Why then did he behave in such a way that made everyone respect him?! The answer cannot be that he had it planned, since his early childhood, that he would need such a reputation for the credibility of a message he would start delivering 40 years later; one he never knew about then! Why then did he behave like that?

Doing good and loving others expecting nothing in return is the noblest attribute rooted inside every one and he (PBUH) had an abundance of that characteristic unequaled in any other human being. God says about him, “And indeed, you are of a great moral character” (Qur’aan, 68:4).

When he (PBUH) was never after any personal reward and was there for others expecting nothing in return, he was blessed by being chosen to be the Messenger to all mankind; the ultimate reward a human being can ever be blessed with.

Moreover, this most noble characteristic cannot go without being taught and spread to others and hence is a fundamental message of Islaam with its epitome and Messenger being Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

That is why God says about him, “And in no way have We sent you except as a mercy to the worlds (mankind, jinn and all that exists)” (Qur’aan, 21:107). It is doing good to all, including even non-living things, expecting nothing in return and teaching that to others that is a true mercy to all. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself addresses the issue of why he was sent to mankind in the following hadeeth3, “I was indeed sent to perfect noble manners”4.

Doing what is best and giving and forgiving without expecting anything in return, not even out of setting an example for others or with the intention of telling people about Islaam, is demonstrated in several events in the life of Muhammad (PBUH) even after he became a Messenger.

There is the story of the Bedouin that turned to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for help. He was a stranger who new nothing about the ongoing struggle between the non-believers, headed by Abu-Jahl, and Muslims headed by Muhammad (PBUH) in Makkah at the time. Abu-Jahl had borrowed a sum of money from that Bedouin and refused to return it to him. The Bedouin kept asking around in Makkah for someone to help him get his money back from the mighty Abu-Jahl but no one could help him. He came across a group of people who thought they could get a good laugh out of the situation. They pointed to Muhammad (PBUH), knowing the enmity between him and Abu-Jahl and told him that he is the one that could help him out most! When he went to Muhammad (PBUH), told him of his problem and that those people back there had nominated him as the one who can help him out most, he (PBUH) looked back at them and understood their scheming. He never told the Bedouin that he is the last one who could help him based on the hostile relationship between him and Abu-Jahl. He never told him about Islaam and that he would help him only if he would believe in him. He never made any attempt to clarify the situation for the unsuspecting Bedouin. He simply told him that he will go with him to Abu-Jahl and help him get his money back. They went together to Abu-Jahl’s house and Muhammad (PBUH) asked Abu-Jahl to return the money back to the Bedouin which he very surprisingly did on the spot. (More details of the story will be discussed 13 articles from now under the title, “Miracles, why and when?” if God wills.)

Again, there was the Prophet’s Jew neighbor who used to pester the Prophet everyday by throwing his garbage in front of his house. One day when he stopped doing that the Prophet (PBUH) rushed to visit him thinking he was ill, which turned out to be true.

There was also the old blind lady that the Prophet (PBUH) met and offered to carry her stuff for her. On their way to her house, and as a way to pay him back, she actually advised him not to listen to that "Muhammad" who had started recently claiming to be a Prophet and asking people to follow him. She went on calling him names, not knowing that it is the same kind man that is offering her help. Nevertheless, he did not attempt to clear his name and when she asked him for his name at the end of their journey, he (PBUH) simply said "Muhammad"!

He (PBUH) used to do good for the sake of doing good regardless of how it will be translated. To him, it was simply a way of life.

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1 Subhaanahu wa T`aalaa [Glorified and Exalted Be He].
2 Peace Be Upon Him
3 A saying or action done by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as reported by his companions.
4 Authentic hadeeth reported by al-Zurqaniy in Mukhtasar al-Maqaasid page/number 184.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

{Quick Reflections 36} Choose, Exchange!

Posted by Badeea at 12:37 AM 3 comments Links to this post
With some contemplation and logic reasoning, we will see very clearly how everything in this vast universe moves and acts according to laws that ensure complete harmony between the billions of its elements. Absence of these very intelligent laws will result in chaos and collapse of each and every element in existence. Moreover, their absence would have never permitted the universe to come into existence in the first place.
These Divine laws not only govern materialistic elements but also inter-human relations and Divine-human relations.

Almost every second of our lives, each and every one of us makes a choice. Every second, we choose what to think of, what to say, what to look at, what to listen to, what to do, and how to direct our feelings. This life for humans, being intelligent creatures, is all about choices in every minute single detail in our lives. The set of billions of choices we make throughout our lives in every single second of it all adds up to determine our life stories and hence our eventual ends.

We will discuss one of the Divine laws that determine the consequences of our choices from the very smallest detail all the way until the concluding result, in our lifetime of choices.

At one time in history, God bestowed upon His chosen people, sons of Israel, food and drink from heaven so that they would eat it on earth. Instead of being thankful and grateful to their Lord they asked Prophet Moses to ask God to provide them with earthly food in exchange for the heavenly one. "And (remember) as you said, “O Mûsa, (Moses) we will never (endure) patiently one (sort) of food; so invoke your Lord for us that He may bring out for us of what the earth grows of its green herbs and its cucumbers, and its garlic, and its lentils, and its onions.” He said, “Would you wish to exchange that which is most charitable for that which is meaner? Get you down to (any) township; (Some say that it is Egypt) then surely you will have (there) what you asked for.” And they were stricken with humiliation and indigence" (Qur'aan, 2:61).

The Divine law here shows very clearly the consequent effects of our choices on our lives on Earth even before we die and have to face the final and eternal consequences in the next life. The choice of something mean in exchange for something charitable leads to humiliation and indigence. Now this exchange ranges from exchange of very minute and simple things to very grave and complex things. Moreover, the Divine law is about the intentions and ideas behind such exchanges rather than the exchanged objects themselves.

Let us expand further upon this cause-effect relationship through providing examples from our everyday life. First let us start by giving general examples, and then move on to more specific ones.

The majority of our wrong choices that lead to humiliation stem from our tendency to do what is easy in stead of what is right; from details like choosing to sleep and miss fajr prayer, delaying prayer because of being indulged in some sort of earthly matters, or lying to avoid troubles all the way up to the big picture of treading in the way of God versus following one’s arrogance and desires and ignoring God’s presence in the first place. Choosing the easy way out instead of fighting one's way through, sticking to one's safe zone despite its unrewarding potential and obsolete opportunities in stead of exploring new lands of abundance and trials are examples of our major life choices.

Another kind of wrong yet easy choices is the result of following one's desires (alhawa) and personality defects despite one's subconscious knowledge of their wrongfulness like following one's arrogance, refusing to confess being wrong, scarcity in spending on charity and choosing one's own luxury in stead, laziness in helping others, to the extent of indulgence in sin.

The outcome of these choices usually leads to an ugly feeling of empty-heartedness, shame, and cowardness. Following the ways of God leads to dignity and resolve, though the path to it is not paved. The way out, though not as easy as words are, is to contemplate before choosing to exchange; whether it is the right exchange, whether this is what God wants us to do.

Now all this is general talk and sounds like preaching, which most of us do not like. Accordingly, let us take this a step further and move to our everyday life and dig out examples of our choices and their consequences.

Some people face great difficulties in earning their living, like most people residing in poor underdeveloped countries. In the process of earning their living they might submit to higher authorities and exchange honesty, straightforwardness and perfection of their work for lying, humiliation and bribery. They exchange their submission to God for submission to human beings. The end result is continuous humiliation and eternal submission to other humans. They lose their God-given freedom and enslave themselves to other humans. They spend the rest of their lives asking for help from other helpless people who can do them no good. Even if they manage to attain higher living standards through unethical ways and become somehow independent of other humans they end up losing more important things like their own children who would stray and evidently grow up to be losers and even more dishonest.

On the other hand, others living under the same conditions who stick to honesty and perfection of their work enduring all the hardships in the process manage to preserve their dignity and do not depend on other humans for sustenance. No one can claim that this is easy. However, their sense of tranquility, dignity and true freedom cannot be calculated in terms of financial wealth no matter how great it is. Some of them manage to break through by the help of more powerful and rich others who actually go to them to offer help. When they submit to God only, people get attracted to their glow and wish to keep this glow shining. Even if this does not happen in every case, we would find that their kids grow up to be respectable and successful people in their communities, standing tall despite the wind of poverty and corruption.

Actually one of the main criteria that I personally use to assess the honesty and truthfulness of people above 40 (even if they “seem” to be good religious people) is by assessing how well their children are doing. If they are well mannered and truly successful then their parents are most probably trustworthy and vice versa. This criterion has never failed me in my assessments. Some might argue that it is not the children’s fault if their parents were not good people. If their parents were bad people why do they have to grow up to be bad people? A reply to that is that you do not choose your children. You might do your best in raising them up according to the most perfect standards yet they end up being failures and nuisances to the community. On the other hand, you might not give much attention to raising them up, like the first group of exchangers does, yet they might grow up to be good people even if after a while. The key here is that God matches different personalities together in a way that results that usually good people end up to be descendants of good people. He chooses for you either children who are innately good people or innately bad people. You find out about that choice 20-30 years after their birth.

If we move to another category of people mostly those living in the West or in the East but are very well to do, we will see another common example.

Some choose following their desires, mainly ignoring the presence of God and submission to Him, running after their materialistic gains in the form of more money, fame and satisfaction of their sexual desires through different unethical routes. The whole community ends up living in a continuous sense of insecurity, increased crime rate, broken families, high rate of depression and suicide and a continuous sense of spiritual emptiness.

On the other hand, others who do not make the above exchange continue to live in serenity, prosperity and contentment with a continuous sense of security.

Look carefully into your own life and that of the surrounding people and see for yourself how every choice and exchange we make affects our lives either towards more humiliation and indigence (amidst the presence or absence of life hardships) or more dignity and serenity (usually amidst hardships).

Look, think, choose and exchange -- having the Divine law that determines the consequences of your choices and exchanges in front of your eyes all the time.

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"Do they not then meditate on the Qur'an? And if it were from any other than God, they would have found in it many a discrepancy" (Qur'an, 4:82)

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2009 THEME: Islam in the West and Our Children (Discussion & Resources regularly updated)

There is increasing concern that second and third generation Muslims in the West are mostly no longer Muslims so they actually end up adding to the Christian or Atheist population of the West, albeit racially from a non-Western origin. Accordingly, the ratios mentioned in the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-3X5hIFXYU) would be correct in regards to race or ethnicity but not necessarily to religion.

It is a grave danger facing our children and grand children from a real life stand point as statistically only 1/5 of the second generation stay really Muslims when they grow up and are independent and almost non from the third generation are Muslims. And that is why the Western authorities are still permitting the immigration of Muslims inspite of the figures provided in the above video. They know that on the long term the descendants of Muslims in the West leave Islam because their parents raised them up with an Eastern mentality in a Western society instead of an Islamic mentality that encompasses all cultures.

You can see more about that by Jeffrey Lang; an ex-atheist American Mathematics University Professor who reverted to Islam in 1982. He has also written 3 books that I highly recommend; "Struggling to Surrender", "Even Angels Ask" and "Losing my Religion; A Call for Help".
Now I will leave you to enjoy 2 short excerpts from one of his lectures followed by links to his most important full presentation regarding our children.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmqN75NI0xg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT1KGyxBXC0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMANKaX8khw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgivQJKtQME
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ga2rIUWcPPs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYb2v3Yx1LY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhMN_TZavW0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHeM0H0EMAw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD-YefJH9x0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2eVOKjOqHE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBQp7aZjxjc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4_xxQVGU44

Here is a solution that is yet to be implemented.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geRM4AlFBOU&NR=1

Raising children here is not an easy task ofcourse but if we do it the right way they will be true Muslims in shaa Allaah who are "Informed Muslims" rather than "Muslims by inheritance" like their counterparts in the East. Hopefully they will then be a much better generation than ours.

Quickly, I do believe that the best 4 authors (for example, there are many others but these are my favorite) who could guide us through this difficult process are Yahiya Emerick, Jeffrey Lang, Jamal Badawi and Dalia Mogahed.

Here are some links for future reference and for an ongoing learning process that I have started collecting slowly.
Please spread the below information to all your Muslim contacts in the West.

Jeffrey Lang:
http://meccacentric.com/jeffrey_lang.html I highly recommend the lecture titled "The Purpose of Life". It has true meanings that I have not come across in any Arabic literature.

Yahiya Emerick:
Articles:
http://www.islamicedfoundation.com/articles/articles.htm
http://www.islamfortoday.com/yahiyaemerick.htm I highly recommend reading and spreading the last article in this link by the name of "The Confusion of the Scholars"
Books:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=sr_adv_b/?search-alias=stripbooks&unfiltered=1&field-keywords=&field-author=Yahiya+Emerick&field-title=&field-isbn=&field-publisher=&node=&url=&field-feature_browse-bin=&field-binding_browse-bin=&field-subject=&field-language=&field-dateop=&field-datemod=&field-dateyear=&sort=relevancerank&Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.x=29&Adv-Srch-Books-Submit.y=8 There are only 14 books, about half for adults and the other half for kids. The extra are just repetitions.

Jamal Badawi:
Many products including books, articles and lectures mostly for adults. You can find them by searching his name online. My favorite is;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMfWURGcvBI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HXGRYaUy6g
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyMD_tE6U68
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AixgiXpAFTY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WUgbgLgMXM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3VLRoQ3qUw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5UvvkCDrm4

Dalia Mogahed: (Obama's adviser)
Has one book so far but has a great potential. "Who Speaks for Islam".
You can watch her debate with Irshad Manji (an openly Lesbian Canadian Muslim who is distorting the picture of Islam in the name of "Progressive Islam")http://fora.tv/2008/07/01/Irshad_Manji_and_Dalia_Mogahed_-_Who_Speaks_for_Islam

Finally here is a website for a store that sells lots of Islamic products including Islamic cartoon DVDs in English and Arabic for kids.
http://www.astrolabe.com/category/17/Cartoons_and_KidVid.html?sid=ceb7c5cf8de15b8f1cb92ad29e183a44
 

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