The choke hold

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

It was a beautiful summer afternoon as the eleven year old me strolled the scenic streets of the hilltop tourist paradise of Murree, Pakistan with my family.  Coincidentally, it was also the tenth of Muharram, thus the day for the Shia community to come out to mourn the slaughter of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandsons.  My parents were unaware of the date, and brought along my aunt and uncle who were visiting us from another city.  At some point, my parents bought my younger sisters and me soft serve ice cream cones from one of the street vendors, which we devoured pretty quickly.  By the time I was done eating my cone, my hands were very sticky, and that left me feeling irritable the whole time.  I somehow got my parents to stop and let me wash my hands at a bathroom in a hotel I saw along the street.  So they stood outside the hotel close to the reservation office as I entered the hotel through the side doorway, walking past the narrow hallway, down to the bathroom, and until I finally washed my hands.

 

But as I walked back and reached the junction between the end of the hallway and the outdoors, I heard what sounded like gunshots, followed by the shouting, “Kafir, kafir, shia kafir!” (meaning: shia are disbelievers) followed by stomping of feet.  Before I could reunite with my family, a horde of men stampeded towards the hotel entrance, right where I stood.  Fear hit me like a tidal wave and I did the only thing I could think of at such a short notice.  I hid behind one of the French doors that stood open, pushing my body as far against the wall as I could.  As soon as I was tucked behind the door, I felt the pressure of the door against my body as a large crowd of men ran inside.  I was convinced that this was the party who started the confrontation and that they would hurt me if they discovered me.  I decided that once they ran down the hallway, I would quickly run out and look for my family.  I just prayed that they were safe and I would somehow find them.

 

But my plan got disrupted, as I felt a whoosh of air when a man swung the door away from my body, leaving me exposed.  He had a very serious expression on his face, and I feared for my safety.  I kept praying he would leave me alone and pretend not to see me, but instead, I saw his eyes on my face and noticed his hands coming towards me.  The fear and anticipation of pain was too unbearable, and so I broke down crying.  But instead of the harshness I expected to feel on my shoulder, I felt a gentle touch.  I stopped crying to find a man with a look of concern on his face, as he asked me where my parents were.  Through teary eyes I told him how I had come to wash my hands at the hotel and got separated from them during the sudden chaos.  As I related my dilemma, I could still hear some gunshots from outside, and even smelled tear gas seeping through the  corners of the doorway.  The man was very kind, as he gently led me through the narrow hallway that was now lined with people taking shelter from the chaos outside.  We turned into another hallway until we came upon the reservation office.  Relief washed over me as I saw my whole family, including my aunt and uncle standing safely, happy to see me.  My parents thanked the man for helping me find them and he gracefully parted from us.

 

The hotel management were more than courteous, as they welcomed us to their lounge and even served us a complimentary lunch at their dining room.  That day, I stood against the large glass windows of the hotel overlooking the beautiful valleys of Murree, and witnessed the beautiful landscape get defiled with tear gas and the sound of people firing weapons and chanting derogatory slogans.  Most of the people who ran in slowly left the hotel, but we stayed.  We stayed in the hotel for several hours, until the last of the hateful chanting, firing, and tear gas dissipated.

 

This was a story about what happens when people blindly follow a religious/influential personality.  It was a story of a people whose minds were in a choke hold by the religious “elite.”  Those people who spoke so hatefully of shias and even used weapons to intimidate those who dared to disagree with them, did not just do it out of the blue.  They were systemically taught to hate. They were also taught to be violent in order to make others submit to their viewpoint.  It may seem absurd that someone could actually believe that it’s okay to hurt another group simply because you don’t agree with their beliefs, but the truth is that it does happen.  It happens because many people feel a great affinity to Islam and as a result, end up believing whatever they are told by respected religious leaders.

 

According to a PBS webpage, only about 12% of Muslims are Arabs.  Also take into account that most non-Arab “Muslim” countries don’t usually teach Arabic as part of their curriculum, and if they do, it is usually limited to Arabic recitation of the Quran without meaning.  The situation gets more complicated as the interpretation of the Quran, competes with the collected sayings of the Prophet pbuh, the four surviving schools of Islamic thought from the medieval times, and the traditions acquired through the ups and downs of history.  This gives a lot of room to the religious leaders of the “scholar” class to step up and dictate to the masses what they should and should not be doing as devout believers.  They not only are able to dictate the dos and don’ts, but also list the essentials in what ever order of priority suits their opinions and agendas, which most of the times is the same as that of the religious scholars from as far back as a thousand years ago.

 

The result?  The masses end up confusing tradition as faith, and dissent is almost automatically seen as heretical and a threat to the “purity” of the faith which must be preserved at all costs.

 

But the thing is, that most Muslims scholars, especially those in the West are usually smart enough not to incite open violence and hatred towards those different from us.  They have other tricks up their sleeves to make us subservient to their ideas.  They simply use the rule of repetition to make people believe everything they have to say about Islam.  They don’t use guns or force to make us believe. All they do is keep repeating the same concepts over and over again, and when we go from mosque to lecture to youtube videos, all we hear and all we see are the same ideas repeated over and over again.  So when the spiritual choices are on a menu board like at a McDonald’s restaurant, we feel the comfort of the familiar, and feel threatened by anyone offering anything that can’t be ordered at a McDonald’s drive thru.  Any new thinking becomes scary and unacceptable because “I don’t know Arabic, and the scholars are more learned than me, so my safest bet is to follow what these pure and learned people tell me.”  Here’s some food for thought: you don’t have to know Arabic to be a good Muslim.  If you can’t learn Arabic, you can compare different translations, read a wide range of interpretations, and dare I say, use your own reason and life experiences to understand and apply the principles in the Quran and sunnah.  We need to open our eyes and see the irony of our current existence.  The Quran repeatedly ridicules those who blindly follow tradition, and praises Prophet Ibrahim AS, who despite being surrounded by blind subservience to irrational beliefs and rituals, was able to think independently in a critical manner, and thus saved himself and his wife from the darkness of ignorance.

 

We need to open our eyes and see that our faith, which was meant to give us mostly spirituality and some guidelines, has turned into a rigid, rule filled religion, thanks to the continuous campaign of the religious “scholars” and their followers.  It is about time we realize that the scholars or so called religious leaders have no power, except that which we give them by agreeing with and following them.  It is time to begin viewing their interpretations as part of a very wide spectrum that WE, the people, the regular Muslims, can and must constantly check and recheck against the core principles outlined in the Quran.  It is time we at least tried to escape this choke hold over our minds and spirits.  Our salvation depends on it.

“Do they not reflect in their own minds?…” (30:8)

May Allah make it easy for us to choose right over wrong. Ameen.

how did it come to this?

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah. Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

Recently, I attended an all-ladies event, where I met two sisters who were basically (South Asian) Muslims turned atheist.  I was curious about how and why they chose to renounce their faith, and so engaged them in a conversation.  Their reasoning was somewhat typical of anyone who had renounced their faith.  What they understood through repeated observation of their role models about Islam was that women were inferior to men, that husbands’ rough treatment towards their wives was sanctioned in Islam, and basically other hypocritical aspects of Muslims that has nothing to do in reality with Islam, the Quran, and the Prophet pbuh.

I told them that I respected their right to choose their own life path and beliefs, but also explained how all the negative aspects that they disliked were not really part of Islam and that people who do them are going against the Quran and true sunnah.  “If it’s not really in Islam, then why do so many people do those things?” Their question left me without words as I myself wondered:  So why DO so many Muslims do things that are against reason and the spirit of Islam?

I began thinking that somewhere along the line our ummah did some things really wrong when two girls born into a Muslim family could grow up to hate their faith (and religion as a whole) so much.  I know what you are thinking. Please don’t blame the Taliban or Wahabis and think that the Muslims in the West are somehow so much better.  We’re not!  Let me further illustrate how far away from Islam our lives have really gotten.

One of those sisters in the conversation was married to a white man, also an atheist, but who she expressed as a very kind, loving, and helpful life partner.  She told all the Muslim women in our gathering how her husband often has dinner ready if he gets home from work before him, doesn’t wait for her to clean up, helps with all chores, and allows her the necessary freedom to live and choose as she wills.  So she painted a picture of an overall happy and stable marriage.  Her disclosing all this information, left a twinge of envy in all the Muslim women’s eyes.  It was as if I could hear everyone’s thoughts of, “I wish MY husband was that helpful or was that considerate to just do things and willingly try to make my life easier.”

Then to make this an even more embarrassing situation for the practicing Muslim women in the room, the sisters described how they were now “training” their dad to be more polite and caring with their mother.  They told us how they tell him to say “thank you” when she does something for him, in effect, making him realize that she did him a favor and that she is in no way there to simply serve him.  They also told of incidences when they told him to calm down and use civil words when he disagreed with any of the members in the family instead of going on rants.  They went as far as telling him to not ask their mother for a glass of water if he was standing right by the sink, advising him to instead take out a glass from the cupboard and get his own water.  How sad is it that two atheist daughters are teaching their Muslim father how to be a better husband? Please be honest with yourself, because whether you are a Muslim man or woman, you know that their father’s behavior and attitude is very typical and representative of most Muslim men, most of whom feel entitled to being catered to, but at the same time don’t feel a hint of guilt for giving back little or nothing positive to their wives.

So how ashamed should we be, when as Muslims have the excellent example of the Prophet pbuh as a kind, loving, open, and helpful husband, and yet our men are mostly trying to dominate the relationship, and twisting scripture to turn their wives into virtual slaves.  Why is it that Muslim men hold their wives to exceptionally high standards, and yet compare themselves to the most abusive and misogynistic personalities in society, grading themselves very high as a result.

How often did the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives bother and annoy him?  Often! And how often did the Prophet pbuh yell, insult, or hit his wives? Never!  How often did he force them to do something against their wills, whether it was related to their domestic, social, or religious life?  Never!  When he was home with any of his wives, how often did he help with the chores and show affection to his wives? Always!  I hope you’re getting the picture here.  For the  married men reading this post, how well do you fare when you compare yourself to this very basic picture of our beloved Prophet pbuh?  To avoid bias, it is best to let your wife grade you on these aspects.  Unfortunately, most of the Muslim men would either horribly fail in comparison to the Prphet’s (pbuh) qualities as a husband, or do very poorly.

My point is, that why is it that an ex-Muslim is happier being an atheist? When Islam came to free women and declared them independent persons capable of reasoning, arguing, and making their own choices, then why is it that there are so many of us using our beautiful and fair Islam to control women’s life choices and disregarding and suppressing their right to express their thoughts, creativity, and desire to contribute positively to society and humanity?  The Quran is filled with talk of mutual love, mutual understanding, and mutual decisions when describing marital relationships. Then why do people perpetuate the idea that somehow only husbands make the decisions in the family, and that for better or for worse, wives must quietly oblige to their men’s decisions no matter how contrary to reason or distasteful they may be?   When the Quran states openly that there is no compulsion in religion, then why do we spread the poison of telling men they can force their children to pray, that they can force their daughters to cover, and they can force their wives to obey?

All these are contrary to both faith and reason, because the whole purpose of salaah, is taqwa, and so what purpose is your child’s forced prayers when they go through the mechanics without feeling anything in their hearts?  The whole purpose of modesty in dress is to be conscious of God, so what purpose is your daughter’s hijab if she feels nothing but isolation from mainstream society?  And the main reason why Allah SWT made marriage, is so that both the husband and wife find peace and love through one another, so what use is that marriage when it only brings happiness to the man for being in control, and a lot of misery and bitterness to the woman for being treated so often like a brainless robot?  If there is even a slight similarity some of the times between you, the Muslim husband and my description of the typical Muslim husband of modern times, then have enough decency and God-consciousness to take the necessary steps to rectify your attitude and actions.  That will be most noble and “manly” of you, because I really wanted to hide my face in shame on account of your hardened hearts after I talked to those two sisters who renounced their faith.

We all must acknowledge and follow the true words of Allah SWT, Who is Just and Loving, and Who expects BOTH men and women to be partners in building strong families and prosperous societies, built upon mutual love, understanding and respect.

 

 

 

 

Aside

I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

“Considering what our women go through at the hands of their men, jannah should be wajib on them.” -my father

For some reason, women’s lives are very tumultuous.  Even if you are the “luckiest” woman on Earth, you still have a much rougher time in life than the man in the same boat as you.  I want to share with you insights into the lives of two women who have touched my life recently.  Both of them are women whom I crossed paths with. (To protect their identities, I am not using their names in this post)

The single mom

After I stopped working at the Islamic school in my community due to my pregnancy and birth of triplets, I still kept in touch with my former principals, who are very humble and generous.  On one such visit, they introduced me to a kindergarten student whose mother also recently gave birth to triplets, and was having a rough time due to being abandoned by her husband.  I asked for her number just so I could perhaps befriend her and provide some moral support.  When I did call her, I was heartbroken to hear her story.

She was an African American revert, who left her first (non-Muslim)husband after accepting Islam, and travelled to Egypt where she soon married a good man.  She had a daughter with that man (the one who went to the Islamic school), but her happy life was shattered when one morning she woke up to find her husband dead next to her.  He died in his sleep!  It was very difficult but somehow she moved on and remarried another Egyptian man. This time, she was the second wife and the relationship was unstable.  She described how her new husband often had arguments with his first wife, and would bring his stresses and temper when he came to visit her and her young daughter.  What she disliked the most was how he was unreasonably stern and rough with her daughter. She still kept trying to make it work, and soon enough she was pregnant again, and this time, to her shock, she was expecting triplets.

Her situation got out of hand when one day, her husband had an angry conversation with his first wife over the phone and one thing lead to another, and the next thing she knew, he picked up the sword meant as a decoration ornament, and scared her then two year old daughter.  She knew he wasn’t going to hurt her with it, but was very concerned over the young child’s distress. She had had enough and decided to end the relationship, as she could not discount the safety and well being of her daughter over her husband.

She moved to Canada, where she gave birth to her triplets, and her life suddenly became even harder.  Her husband did nothing to stop her, telling her to leave if she wanted, and did not make any serious effort to try and reconcile or see his children.  She explained how she had left almost all her belongings in Egypt, and when she asked her ex husband to sent them to her, so perhaps she could sell some valuable items to make ends meet, he told her to come to Egypt and take them herself if she wanted them so badly.  But she couldn’t go, not with so many small children and all by herself.

Overtime she got help from the provincial government and made connections with some Muslim women, and although she had some family in the area, most of them did not make serious commitments to help her situation, especially since they were not happy about her becoming Muslim.  I recently reconnected with her after about a year and was glad to hear that she was still going strong.  Although her life is still very tough, her intense faith in Allah SWT keeps her going and she feels blessed for everything she has in her life. Hope resonates in her voice, as she laughs and chats with me, asking me about my triplets’ new developments, and sharing her experience and tips.

Despite leading such a tough and at times painful life, she is a woman full of faith, hope, and inspiration.  When I think about her journey and heartaches, I pray that God make her test easier, and that He opens up some doors for her soon to lift her heavy burden.

The illegal immigrant

This past Ramadan, my youngest sister and I were strolling the streets of downtown Toronto, when we passed by a few homeless men.  Their faces looked withdrawn and were covered with sadness and hopelessness.  As we kept walking down the street, my eyes caught a woman who looked to be in her mid to late fifties, wearing hijab, reciting the Holy Quran, while sitting on the pavement, next to a garbage can.  I went through several shocks upon seeing her: a homeless woman, an elderly woman, a Muslim woman! Homeless, yet using her time in Ramadan to recite the Quran!

My mind quickly processed this information and then my memory brought forth the images and audio of a BBC documentary on the French president’s wife’s work with the homeless.  I remembered the cameras following her at night, handing out blankets and food to those without any shelter.  But what had really struck me were her words that although to the fortunate people out there, it appears that homeless people simply need some money or food, what they truly desire is more human contact and for people to talk to them.  As soon as this memory flashed before my eyes, I decided to take the chance, and after giving her what little cash I had in my wallet, I bent down, gently touched her arm, and asked her, “what are you doing here?”  The woman seemed quite stunned for a few moments.  She stopped her recitation and out poured her heart-wrenching story.  I was totally not ready for this intense experience, but that made it all the more exhilarating, albeit overwhelming.

Her eyes were full of pain, as though she had just walked out of surgery, and her face was marred with lines, making her look older and more tired than she was.  With tears pouring out of her saddened eyes, she told me that she originally came from Pakistan on a visit visa because she ran away from her husband, who was cruel to her and had a drinking problem.  She used the term “ayyaash” to describe him, which is an Urdu word meaning someone who indulges in a life of excess.  She said that she was childless, and that after her visa expired she applied for refugee status but somewhere along the line, her immigration lawyer scammed her, taking all her money through fees but not actually doing anything to serve her case.  Since then, she explained, that she had been floating from rented rooms to the streets, based on the mood of the landlord or ladies, if they felt comfortable enough to rent their properties to an illegal immigrant.  She told me how she was an educated woman with a master’s degree, and that she could not use any of it to work, since she was an illegal immigrant.  My heart bled after hearing her story, as she insisted she could not return to Pakistan due to her life being in danger over there.

And as she recounted her life to me, people walking by stared at us out of curiosity, and some flipped coins and a few dollars into her plate.  Each time someone dropped money, she looked up, and said in her thin voice, “God bless you.” I asked her if she had gone to a mosque for help, and she told me how they turned her away, threatening to call immigration to have her arrested as an illegal migrant.  I had a really difficult time accepting that this was the only option for her, so I gave her my phone number, asking her to call me while I found out if I could find something to help her out.

Once at home, I researched what options there were for someone in her position but came up with nothing except turning oneself in to the immigration office, where most likely you would be deported.  There were no support groups for people like that because it was against the law to assist anyone illegal, and I understood why the administration at the mosque turned her away.  But something inside me was still hurting, and I felt like I was giving up on her.

I kept thinking about what relevant examples there were from the Prophet’s (pbuh) life, and then it came to me.  There was a time in the Islamic history, when there was a peace treaty between the Quresh tribe in Mecca and the early Muslims in Medina, when one of the clauses agreed upon stated that if anyone from Mecca reverted to Islam and ran off to join the Muslims in Medina, they must be returned to the Meccan authorities.  A man from Mecca, who accepted Islam once ran off to Medina to seek protection with the Muslim community, but when the Quresh heard of it, they reached Medina, and demanded the return of that man because his coming to Medina was a breach of the law they had agreed upon.  Although some companions objected, the Prophet pbuh handed over the man to the Quresh, knowing that he had to abide by the pact he had signed, and told the man to remain patient and steadfast no matter what hardships he faced at the hands of the Meccan authorities.

So keeping this example in mind, I understood that I would have to follow the law, and that there was nothing else at this point I could do for her.  I did not notify the authorities about her, but when she did call a week later, I had to have the most difficult conversation with her.  It felt like my heart was being twisted in knots as I heard her voice, full of hope, that perhaps I had some way out for her.  I stuttered and stammered through my conversation, fearing that I would upset or hurt her.  But to my surprise, she was very gracious and calm through the conversation, and accepted what I told her without a hint of bitterness.  Worried about her future, I asked her what she would do, how she would manage to live, and she answered, “Allah is Most Merciful.  He will make a way for me, child.  Where one door closes, He opens other doors.”  I was completely humbled by her response, and with tears sitting at the corner of my eyes, I said goodbye to her, asking her to remember me in her prayers.  Hanging up the phone, I still felt a heaviness in my heart, and it stayed with me all day, as I tried my best to focus on my own family and children.

I still think about that woman from time to time.  I wonder if she is still roaming the cold streets of Toronto, or if she found some help.  Or maybe she couldn’t keep going and went to immigration, or what if someone reported her and she got detained and deported.  God only knows.  I pray for her whenever I remember, that Allah SWT ease her situation.

Concluding remarks

I remember after I took one of my sons for his circumcisions, how much he had cried, and feeling bad as a mother for my child’s pain, I told my mother how I was worried for my other son’s circumcision appointment, as I didn’t want him to feel so much pain.  My mother’s response was, “Don’t worry.  Tell him that this is the only pain you will feel in your life.”  Her words had truth in them.  She meant that women had much more painful and difficult lives than men.  When I told about my mother’s words to my mother-in-law, she agreed, stating, “Look at a women’s life! She bears a lot of pain and hardship all her life.”  These women’s stories are a testament to my mother’s words, and I hope that my father’s words come true in the next life.  I hope that Allah SWT forgives these and other women with hardships, and enters them in His wonderful jannah.

For the Muslim men out there, please try your best to be good role models for your younger brothers and sons, because actions speak louder than words.  We can tell our sons or brothers to be good to their wives, but if our own husband and fathers are being unjust or cruel to their women, then they will most likely follow what they constantly observe over what they are told.  May Allah SWT guide us all to be just and kind to all of humanity.  Ameen.

women: hard knock life

The Pursuit of Paradise

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I seek refuge in Allah, from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

 

Man’s heart is full of hopes and desires.  From the time he is a small babe till the time he lays in his death bed, breathing his last breaths, man strives for paradise.  Although true paradise can only be given to those blessed by God Almighty, and only after this life is over and audited, the fact that we are all internally wired (by God) to seek paradise is clear for everyone to observe.

If you are looking for proof of paradise, you need not buy expensive telescopes to scan the heavens, nor fat textbooks detailing the interpretations of religious texts on this subject.  All you need is your sound mind and a few moments of silence to reflect upon your nature as a human being.

Think.  What do you secretly and sometimes even openly desire?  What does every human being desire in life?  It does not matter if you lived during the earliest human history, the ice age, the medieval age, or modern times. It also does not matter if you are a man, woman, young, middle aged, old, modern, traditional, liberal, religious, agnostic, or any other label.  Every human being that has ever lived, is living, and will ever come to live will always want the same: paradise.

So what is this paradise we all want so badly?  It is the need to be surrounded by beauty in our surroundings, in ourselves, and in our spouse.  It is the desire to be cocooned in unparalleled comforts and luxuries.  It is that dream to simply lounge, holding out our glass for the perfectly dressed server to refill it with a refreshing drink.  Everyone wants eternal youth coupled with perfect health.  Perhaps the most compelling evidence for paradise is our deep desire to live a worry free life forever, which is only possible in paradise, the best gift to mankind from God.  We all prefer to ditch our chores and work to hang out with our loved ones at feasts, hearing only the sound of friendly chatter and our collective laughter, basking in our merry mood and peaceful ambience.

Indeed we all want and work for paradise.  We also crave recognition and respect, which is what every dweller of paradise is promised.   Some of us decide to build our paradise right here, right now.  But the paradise we build for ourselves in this world and the one God has built for us in the next is incomparable.  The problem gets worse when we become consumed with filling our worldly lives with all the delights of our version of paradise without taking care of our spiritual needs, or worst of all, by robbing or short changing others of their rights and properties.  We forget that this life is the bridge to our next life, and so, this bridge will lead us to our rightful destination when the time comes to face the fruits of our actions.

 

Those of us who strive for the unseen paradise of God through our daily thoughts, words, and actions, will be in much better position to receive our Master’s mercy and blessing of eternal youth, beauty, peace, luxury, and happiness in comparison to those of us whose sole aim in life is to achieve the paradise of this world.  In this life, we must balance our need for luxury with our need for spiritual growth if we are to ever have any hope of achieving the eternal paradise of the Loving One.

Tricked R Us

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I seek refuge in Allah from satan the accursed.

In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

 

Satan is tricky, conniving, and most unfortunate for us, forever persistent in his pursuit of our spiritual demise.  There are many routes he can take to get us going on the path towards eternal doom, and all of them usually involve some sort of deception and trickery.  The following are the three types of tricks he tries on us (based on my own life experiences).

Trick 1: sinful acts

The first and easiest way to get us in trouble, is to get us to try out and get us addicted to sinful acts, such as drinking, gambling, fornication, adultery, slander, or any other sin that any person of pretty much any faith would consider immoral or indecent.  But the problem is that the above mentioned sins have greatly become normalized and even expected forms of life choices for an increasing number of people.  Satan has done his job right by getting people to turn them into “good” things and then getting people to perpetuate their normalcy through educational institutions, media, and thus constantly shifting social norms.  The acts I mentioned seem wrong because of the names I gave them.  But the other way they have been incorporated into mainstream society is by the use of alternate titles, descriptions, or expectations attached to the sins, for example:

  • drinking is known as hanging out with friends at the bar,
  • gambling is normalized through state-run lotto tickets and casinos,
  • fornication is encouraged “as long as you love each other” or to “gain experience”
  • adultery is often okayed as a means of escape from an unhappy or volatile marriage, and
  • slander is seen as simply exposing the real person behind a fake one

If not stopped immediately, a person will become habituated to them, and therefore they will become addictions and thus a necessary part of one’s life. The best way to keep away from such acts is to be around the kinds of people who are doing a good job of staying on the straight path and who will become a support system to keep us on track.  Regardless of whether acts are moral or immoral, they become a part of our lives if those around us are constantly doing them.

Trick 2: Looking down on people engaged in immoral behavior

If you are determined to stay away from sinful acts, and through your prayers and self-control are able to steer clear of such behavior for the most part, then you can be attacked by satan in another way.  Remember that all satan wants, is for you to end up in hellfire, and he will go into every avenue to get you to fall on your face.  If he does not have much success getting you to succumb to the usual temptations that lurk in society, then he will bring your moral feats to your attention.  He will insist that you look at your moral accomplishments in life and then congratulate you for not being like the majority of disgusting and misguided people out there.  In this way, you fall in the trap of a sin even greater than drinking or gambling, and that is arrogance.  You will turn your nose up at the people who make bad choices in life and pat yourself on the back for making sure you are on the right path.  However, the correct way to handle one’s successes in relation to others’ failures would be to feel gratitude and humility towards Allah SWT, followed by fear and plea to God Almighty to always protect you from evil and harm.  Nothing is guaranteed permanent in life, even good morals, and so one must not feel falsely secure about anything.

Trick 3: challenging satan

Usually at the same time as getting you to look down on others, satan will start working on making you feel like you have such a strong level of faith in God, that you can challenge anyone about anything and remain untouchable by fear and confusion.  He will probably suggest that you engage in controversial or taboo topics displayed by any person regardless of their religious affiliation or agenda.  The truth could indeed be that you do have a strong level of faith in God, but satan will use this against you by challenging you to prove him wrong and to confirm your steadfastness by reading and watching discussions about topics by people who may either be misguided or intentionally trying to confuse believers.  At first, you may feel emboldened by your research into the unknown, but at some point you will probably come across a discussion or words that will send you into a spiral of confusion.  This will in turn weaken your faith because you will feel extremely uncomfortable not knowing the right way to approach some subjects, and will probably start scrambling to find something to falsify this new and conflicting information to regain the strong foothold over your faith.   If you do end up in this situation, know that you will fall flat on your face and it will take you some time to regain your same level of faith. But God willing, if you are patient and determined, Allah SWT will keep you on the straight path and strengthen your faith in Him.  If anything, such an experience will teach you a good lesson on staying humble and to view your faith as a any other blessing of God, such as your health, family, and finances.

Vitamin K

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In the name of Allah Most Compassionate Most Merciful.

Sometime after the Iraq invasion, I caught a part of a documentary on life for Iraqis on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).  I do not remember exactly what part I started watching this documentary from, but I do remember vitamin K.   

The documentary trailed an Iraqi man, whose wife was pregnant with twins.  The woman ended up in preterm labor due to the stress of living in a war zone, and delivered a very frail set of boy and girl twins.  I watched in shock as the presiding doctor did the best he could with the limited medical supplies to keep the twins growing inside a poorly equipped incubator.  The babies were extremely tiny and skinny, and their appearance begged the pity of any observer.  I kept hoping and praying that this story would have a happy ending, constantly asking, “they wouldn’t show a story on TV where babies die, right?”  

 The man was often sent out to find supplies or medications to sustain his twins’ health, and each time I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the cameras capture his slim figure walk through the hospital room door carrying the supplies in his hands.  But then the twins’ health started to deteriorate again, and the doctor, with his voice calm and collected, told the cameras that they were now Vitamin K deficient, and the hospital did not have anymore supplies on site due to the current volatile and dangerous situation of their country.  The father once again set out to hopefully purchase vitamin K from the black market in time to save his vulnerable babies.  But during his absence, the twins’ health took a turn for the worst and I watched in horror as the cameras zoomed in on their tiny, pink bodies, their eyes squinting, as they struggled to breathe. With no available oxygen ventilators, the doctor and staff were forced to standby and witness two innocent babies take their last breaths.  

 My own shock and pain at seeing that through a television screen were so unbearable that I could not help but feel the tightness in my chest as my eyes gushed forth tear after tear in mourning.  Even as I write this post, the memory of those dying babies brings tears to my eyes and I am forced to pause and wipe my eyes before continuing.  

 The pain only increased as the cameras capture the father returning through the hospital doors with the vitamin K in his hands only to be told by the doctor that it was too late as the babies had just passed away.  The man walked out of the room only to reappear soon after with what looked like two shoe boxes.  It felt like someone had placed a boulder on my chest, as I watched the man pick up each lifeless little body with one hand, while reciting “inna-nillah” and placed it inside each shoe box, covering it.  

 His voice remained completely calm as he recited the dua for his deceased children, and his entire demeanor depicted a man who clearly had faith in his Maker, who despite his loss, understood that God had not abandoned him, that he was being tested with the most difficult of circumstances.  My eyes fixed on the two shoe boxes carrying the lifeless babies, that would act as coffins for someone’s children.  Think about that for a moment.  These parents had to face premature birth of their children, followed by their death, only to have to bury them inside a shoe box.  At that point, the video froze and the credits rolled.  That was the end of that story as I knew it.  

 I like to give myself some perspective by comparing that story to the birth on my own triplets born prematurely.  But I must bow down to God Almighty because He has been very generous to my family.  I did not have to face the hardships the Iraqi parents faced.  

 My pregnancy was monitored by one of the best trained doctors in the world and my babies were delivered at one of the best hospitals in the world, closely monitored using the best technology and drugs modern times could offer, all paid for by the publicly funded medical system of my country.  My babies not only had the best doctors, but also some of the best trained nurses in the world, having at least one nurse by their incubator twenty four hours per day seven days a week for seven weeks until they were strong enough to come home with us.  Their vitals were constantly monitored and any slight changes were noted and taken care of if needed.  

 The one night when one of my babies stopped breathing all of sudden, the electrical monitors immediately alerted the staff at the NICU and I watched the doctors and nurses rush over to him to switch on the ventilator to get him to breath again.  I was so afraid I would lose him that night as I stood helplessly over his incubator, the loud vibrations of the ventilator dominating my ears.  But the by the grace and mercy of the loving Lord, my baby began breathing, and within a couple of days, went off the ventilator.  There were other moments when we were afraid for the health and well being of our little babies, but we had the peace of mind that they were being taken care of by some of the best trained staff and equipment the world could offer, and were grateful for every day that passed by with them breathing, feeding, and growing.  There was no vitamin K shortage at their hospital, and there were no bombs going off outside, just the usual, orderly traffic and hustle and bustle of people walking about a peaceful city. 

 Most of us take peace for granted.  We do not understand that there are millions of people in our world who cannot step foot outside their homes for fear of being shot at or being blown up by a bomb.  We feel nothing when we start our full tank cars and pull out of our neat little driveways to drive around town looking for the bank or grocery store or movie theater.  And we feel nothing but self-pity or perhaps rage when we or a loved one ends up at the hospital, angry for being made to feel discomfort and pain.  Most of us forget that once we are done feeling sorry or angry, we need to feel gratitude for having access to quality medical care.  Access to quality medical care is not a joke.  It is a huge blessing without which many of us would probably die.  In fact, most of us would not be here were it not for Allah’s blessing of modern medical care.  We have all had health scares in our lives, and so we all need to thank Allah SWT for giving us and our families access to proper drugs and care that allows us to remain as functioning family units and a thriving society.  

 Let us pray for the brave medical staff working in conflict zones, and are often underpaid, understaffed, and ill-equipped to treat their seriously ill or injured patients.  And let us also remember to pray for our suffering brothers and sisters who would do anything to get a couple of drops of vitamin K from the black market to save their dying children.  

 

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.