Monthly Archives: December 2011

The day I met Pharaoh

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I seek refuge in God from satan the accursed.

In the name of God Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

I still remember the day I met Pharaoh.  My husband and I were visiting Cairo, Egypt in March of 2007.  We got to the Egyptian Museum really early that morning, our cameras ready.   The guards finally opened the heavy wrought iron gates, and we walked in quickly with a stream of fellow, eager tourists.  But to our dismay, we were told that no cameras or cell phones were allowed inside, and so got busted at the security check, and were forced to place them in a safe after our failed attempt to secretly smuggle them in our pockets.

 

We roamed around the museum, astounded by the wealth of ancient treasures lining each hallway.  We saw paintings, artifacts, and relics.  But the grandeur of all the artifacts combined paled in front of the one small room that housed the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt.  The rest of the museum was brimming with tourists and visitors, but this room was sectioned off, and required an extra payment for visitation.  It was in a quiet corner of the building, and to our surprise, had very few visitors at the same time as us.

 

Walking into the dimly lit and uncomfortably small room, I saw the row of clear glass cases holding the delicate remains of what were once the most powerful rulers of the world.  I immediately began to search for the Quranic pharaoh, the one who had made the life our our great Prophets Musa AS and Haroon AS very difficult.  My husband pointed to his coffin and I walked up to it, opening my eyes as wide as I could to fully take in all the details of his remains.

 

Strangely, there was nothing really great or intimidating about his remains.  He was a small, shriveled up creature, his eyes, that once looked upon prophet Musa AS with contempt, sealed forever.   His skeletal nose and mouth almost pointed upwards, not in arrogance, but in agony, as though his damned soul, full of torment, cried out from the depths of hell.  The first thought that came to mind was the chilling verse in the Quran:

“But this day We save thee in thy body that thou mayst be a portent for those after thee. Lo! most of mankind are heedless of Our portents.” (10:92)

 

This verse is chilling because Allah SWT did indeed save Pharaoh’s body, but his body was misplaced, and was not found and identified until the late nineteenth century, and I got to be one of the few people to see his body in person.  So there must have been a reason for why I was brought thousands of miles away to meet this man.  There was indeed a lesson for me in that moment, as I stood there gawking at his frail and bony remains.  I saw first hand a man who believed everything his ego dictated, who fed it what ever it demanded, until his ego grew so big that it suffocated his soul and as a result, snuffed out the remaining flicker of light from his existence.  Pharaoh was an example of a man who crossed all boundaries of sanity, drowning not just in water, but also in the delusion of self-glorification.  His story has a bitter end, one where he decides to raise the white flag of defeat a little too late, as wave upon wave obeys the One real God, the Almighty, the Avenger, the Humiliator, and pounds his flesh and bones until his soul, utterly humbled and defeated, crawls on its knees away from this world into the realm of divine justice.  Imagine that.  A man who once had the world in the palm of his hands, gone in an instant.

 

But we have to be careful when reflecting on this story, because we are not immune to such delusions of grandeur.  There is a pharaoh in all of us, pushing and shouting at us to let it out.  It is that voice inside that muddles what would have been otherwise a pure intention.  It is that persistent nagger inside that tells you to make sure everyone can see you, can hear you, and most importantly, everyone adores you.  Your inner pharaoh finds the simplicity of respect and dignity boring and tasteless, and instead commands your mind and body to put together a spectacle that will dazzle the world until everyone is drunk with your name on their lips.

 

So let’s keep that pharaoh locked up where it belongs, and instead, fall down in humble prostration in front of our Maker, because He is also our Maintainer.  Every breath that comes out of our mouths, and every thought that we comprehend, analyze, and respond to, is all because of His loving mercy, all because of His perfect design.  Even as I write this post, I must bow down to the Most High because it is His inspiration that has allowed me to commit to my duty of reminding others about the straight path, and I am just one in millions, all of whom are reminding others of good in their own way.

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slander: humiliating famous human beings

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I seek refuge in God from satan the accursed.

In the name of God, Most compassionat Most Merciful.

 

Every time I line up at the checkout lanes in the grocery stores, all I see are magazines selling gossip or slander.  Every week brings fresh accusations against the rich, famous, and powerful.    The most scandalous and thus, most lucrative stories are usually related to someone’s alleged case of infidelity, a secretly fathered child, or someone caught on camera with their clothes off.

 

The thing is that up until very recently, I was under the illusion that because celebrities are rich and famous, they are somehow fair targets for public humiliation, and that their lives are open to all of us for criticism.  But the truth is far from that, because celebrities are simply human beings.  It almost seems like the big men and women behind the media outlets have conspired to sever or lower our connection to God Almighty by purposely publishing such stories to get us to belittle our fellow human beings.  After all, there is a natural pull from these kinds of stories.  They stroke our egos, which then says, “Look at this scum bag! I would never do something so disgusting.”  It makes us look down on others, and arrogance invades our thoughts, often without us even realizing.

 

I remember when the Tiger Woods infidelity story flashed all over media outlets.  It had intense magnetic power to it.  I, myself, watched the man, appear before television and give a public apology for his behavior, expressing his regret for hurting his wife. But was it really necessary to interview and then post text messages and photographs of the women allegedly involved with him?  If the answer is yes, then every such man and woman should be exposed through media, and forced to apologize publicly.

 

Over and over again we see a multitude of celebrities come out on talk shows and give very public apologies for their indiscretions, or at times, deny allegations made against them.  But they don’t need to do that, unless their acts were committed in the public sphere with the fans or spectators present.   What does it matter  to you or me if Russell Crowe told off someone, why Alec Baldwin left that angry phone message for his daughter, or whether or not Justin Bieber, a young teen, really fathered a child out of wedlock.  It is really none of our business.  None of these stories have anything to do with the accused people’s work, which is how we know them.

 

God Almighty has ordered us to treat everyone with dignity and respect.  Accusing men and women of adultery, fornication, or lewdness in a way to destroy their reputations is a punishable mistake.  Just because such acts are normalized and trivialized by most people does not make them so.  We have to understand that God has given us free will, and is the Most Merciful, so He does not usually punish us right away for our shortcomings.  But because He hides most of our our faults and does not always call us to account for our sins in this life, including slander, we start to bask in a false sense of security.

 

We need to wake up and see our actions for what they are.  We all know that gossip and back biting are wrong, but we need to include everyone in that, not just our circle of family and friends.   I don’t know any celebrity personally, and neither have I ever really interacted with any, so what right do I have to talk about their life choices.  Isn’t that an even bigger reason to not talk about celebrities?

 

If you really want to discuss how engaging in a certain behavior is wrong, then you simply discuss the topic without associating real persons with that immoral behavior.  It is a well known fact that when our beloved Prophet pbuh used to see a person do something wrong, he never used to put that person on the spot when sitting with a big gathering.   Rather, his aim was to stop immorality, and so he hid the person’s identity and would say things like, “some people do such and such and that is not right.”   In this manner, he protected others’ dignity, and was able to communicate the main message of adhering to good morals.

 

Sadly, if the people behind those gossip columns and news segments really cared about morality, they would not be in business.  Their entire purpose is to defame and dehumanize celebrities, picking on their weaknesses and sending out an army of sneaky photographers who then violate their privacy.  It would be wise if they did some soul searching and firstly stopped spying on other people’s private lives, and secondly, if they still like to pick on the ills of society’s rich, then at least leave out the identities of the people and focus on the actual acts that are wrong.  At the same time, a lot of responsibility falls upon us, the public, to speak out against such stories when published, because we need to do our part by stop watching such shows, stop buying such magazines, and most importantly, stop discussing such stories in a sensational way to send the right message to the owners of such establishments.

 

It is a HUGE breach of morality to depict another person as a sexual deviant or any other negative label, regardless of how much truth there is in our conviction.  The point is not so much that it has to be true, but rather, that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and that their reputation be protected.  If you have to talk about another person, regardless of whether they are famous or not, it is always best to cover up their faults and speak of their good qualities.

 

 

And why did ye not, when ye heard it, say :”It is not right of us to speak of this: Glory to Thee (our Lord)! this is a most serious slander!” (24:16)

The Quest for Humility

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Many years ago, I felt inspired after reading verses in the Quran that encouraged humility, and prayed to Allah SWT to make me humble.  In my mind, I thought that perhaps I would wake up one day in the near future as a humble person.  But I had no idea that what I had really signed up for, was basically a hardcore thrashing of my ego.

A couple months after this dua, I gratefully started my one year course at teacher’s college.  I was thrilled to have been accepted from so many applicants, and began the session with optimism, expecting hard work and dedication to pay off as it had throughout my academic career.

But things did not go as I had expected.  That year was the most difficult from all my years of studies.  For starters, I found it difficult to stay focused during the theory lessons, often being spaced out and feeling irritated at the tasks assigned for group completion.  Soon after starting my practical, I got called in for a meeting with the teacher assessing my teaching performance, who told me about my host classroom teacher’s complaints about my lack of initiative and enthusiasm in the classroom.

Then came the first of the biggest blows to my ego.  Before starting three weeks of consecutive teaching in the classroom, all teaching candidates were required to submit a detailed proposal plan, outlining our objectives, lesson plans, and any worksheets we would be using.  I was horrified to receive a notice that my proposal was not up to the standards and that I would have to rewrite the entire proposal with completely new lesson plans that fit more appropriately for the students I was assigned.  I worked on it endlessly through the night, not sleeping for even a minute.  I would sometimes just freeze and have no idea what I should write next.  Slapping my head really hard several times from frustration also didn’t help at all.  It was so bad that I typed until morning and having to catch my bus, I rushed through the rest, not having time to properly complete it.  It got worse as even the revised proposal had some flaws that needed to be fixed before I could begin my long practical.

Then the practical itself was extremely difficult, as my host teacher had a lot of issues with my teaching style, especially my classroom management.  The other student teacher at my school thrived in her practical, getting rave reviews from her host teacher and the teacher formally assessing her.  I remember how one afternoon, I burst crying in front of the other student teacher when she asked me how my assessment went.  She stood there awkwardly as I bawled my eyes out, telling her how this was too difficult for me to bear.  She managed to get out a few words of encouragement before leaving for home, while I stood there rubbing the tears from my face.

That wasn’t the only time I lost my dignity by crying in front of others.  When one of my professors came in to discuss my progress in the practical, I began crying openly yet again.  I had told myself a million times beforehand that I would not cry, that I knew I wasn’t doing well so there was no surprise in what ever my prof would say to me, but soon after the prof started, I burst crying.  We were sitting in the school staff room and there was another teacher in there pretending not to know what was going on as she got up and walked near us to grab a cup of coffee.  I cried so badly that I had to cover my face from needing a tissue to wipe my runny nose.  It was very embarrassing to see the prof leave the seat to get a tissue from the nearby table to hand to me, as I was a “basket case.”

I felt humiliated and defeated as I watched myself, a grown woman, cry my eyes out in front of other professionals.  The emotional trauma and humiliation took a turn for the worse as my prof told me that if I didn’t improve my performance in the practical classroom I might have to stay extra days or weeks while the rest of the class graduated on time.  How would I face the world as a failure?  And how could someone fail the least difficult of all professional schools?  My tears flowed freely as I straight out told her that there was no way that I would stay extra days.  She left the conversation stating that it was a very possible outcome for me if I didn’t improve.  But I didn’t know what else to do.  I was trying my best and still it was nowhere near enough.  Although others in my course complained about the workload, everyone was getting by really nicely when it came to their practicals.

I didn’t know what to do so I told my family to pray for me to pass teacher’s college on time with everyone and to make it easy for me.  My parents worried for me as they had never seen me so stressed about school, asking me from time to time how my marks were, telling me that this was a weird situation because they had never had to worry about my academic performance before.   After all, I had always been a good student, getting A’s quite often.   This was a very confusing and frustrating time in my life.  I worked really hard but still sometimes ended up underachieving.

For the first time in my life, I felt empathy for those students who struggled in school.  I realized how difficult it can be for some to even just pass assignments and tests, even if they studied so hard.  And so in that year I got my wish of becoming more humble.  With the mercy of Allah SWT I was able to graduate with my class on time, but as a very changed person, a very humble person.   I didn’t see it as “my” triumph, but rather as a miracle and blessing of God.  I saw myself as a person who needed God’s help for everything in life, because everything we are good at or excel in is because of a special favor from God, and not because we are innately intelligent.  My more than sixteen years of educational experience were of no benefit to me that one year.  All that benefitted me were consistent prayers and turning towards God in humility.

So when any of us ask God to give us or make something different than what we are, we have to be ready to face challenges because usually those qualities or things that we want do not come down from the heavens on a gold platter.  Rather, our desires get fulfilled through some challenge filled journey which we sometimes do not recognize as the answer to our prayers.  I for one did not see it as that until after my journey ended.  Then only was I able to connect the dots back to my original wish.

I hope that if you can take some lesson from my journey then you should reflect on your own abilities and talents and accept them as gifts from God Almighty, and know that since He gave them to you, He can take any or all of them away for short or long term, or even permanently.  There is no such quality or ability in us that is “us.”   It is a major error of judgement to internalize one’s successes and talents.  Everything is simply a loan for this lifetime to help us live the best life we possibly can and to serve those around us.

Let us take a lesson from the Holy Quran, where Allah SWT informs our beloved Prophet pbuh about the real source of his soft heartedness:

“It was by the mercy of Allah that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou hadst been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee…” (3:159)