Death defines us

imageMy impression of modern consumer society is that the whole edifice, in recent decades, has been built around the avoidance of death or its reminder. It has become the crux of existence and (I feel) has led to the rampant materialism and consumerism which exists today. Death defines us in modernity. This is a huge statement to make and I think I shall need to explain myself less cryptically.

In the old days there was a distinct belief in Allah (God, for the West). This meant that there was an afterlife. When there was an afterlife, it meant that death was just another phase of our journey. It also meant we had something spiritual and non-material to aim for. We could achieve everlasting success, by doing good stuff, which may come at the expense of material success in this life. From the times of Hazrat Ibrahim (and earlier), man had grounded his belief in Allah and great deeds were done on this basis (and some not so great!).

Somewhere, in the last three centuries, as the age of reason and logic took over, this strong belief in an omnipotent God declined. As this thought developed, the belief in afterlife became weak. The motivation for being spiritual declined and sacrifice in this life for the next one, disappeared. But death was still there, very visible round a corner. It now became a bigger problem, as afterlife was a question mark. So how to hide from death? Humanity went out in search of that cure.

There is of course no such cure. We all are traveling towards death daily and will get there sooner or later. Extension of life is a goal (I wrote about recently), but death still resides at the end of it, even after a long life. But, at least one can remove the reminder of it. More and more we erased the concept and mention of death. Anti violence movements, safety considerations at work (safety rules are huge in manufacturing organisations) and anti-war movements became stronger. The anti-Vietnam movement was the first one of its kind. Standalone, this is a good thing. But, taken as a trend and a continuum, it gradually works on our collective psyche. When some US service men were killed in a rescue effort in Somalia in the early 90s, the horror of the US population was quite visible. I remember Clinton remarking that enemies must be rejoicing, that USA can be intimidated by a few deaths. Recently, the furore about Mother Teresa being declared a saint, was ridiculous. The lady died two decades ago, how does it matter to her if she is declared a saint? Having an everlasting name in this world seems huge to the living, but the truth is it is not important at all. When your innings is finished, the judgement is made by someone else. What the living think of a dead person,  is irrelevant in reality.

This of course over the years has become a part of society. Our culture today seems to be about withdrawal from the reality of death. We establish our legacy in an overt style, because we feel what is left behind will sustain our name. So we will cheat death, by living on through the presence of our legacy. Tall buildings; iconic monuments; grand sites; big titles; all created to overcome that desperation. Alas they come to naught. We would do well to understand Shelley’s Ozymandias.

* picture from etsy.com

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“A Hajj Story” by EIslam.co

imageSa’eed was sitting at the waiting area at the Jeddah airport after having just completed the rites of Hajj.

The man next to him said: “I work as a contractor and Allah Ta’ala has blessed me with performing my tenth Hajj.”

Sa’eed told him: ” Hajj mabroor, may Allah accept and forgive your sins.”

The man smiled and said: “Ameen.”

Then he asked : ” Have you performed Hajj before this time?”

Sa’eed was hesitating to tell him, and then he said:

“By Allah, it’s a long story and I don’t want to hurt your head with my talk.”

The man laughed and said: “Please tell me, as you see we have nothing to do, we’re just waiting.”

Sa’eed smiled and said: “Yes, waiting is the start of my story. I’ve been waiting for so many years so that I could go for Hajj. After working for thirty years as a physiotherapist in a private hospital, I was able to save enough money to go for Hajj.

The same day I went to get my savings, I came across a mother, whose paralyzed son I treat. I could see her face was worried and anxious.”

She said: “I leave him to Allah’s keeping, Brother Sa’eed this is our last visit to this hospital”.

I was surprised with her words and I thought she wasn’t happy with my treatment and our service and that she therefore considered moving her son to another hospital.

She told me: “No brother Sa’eed, Allah bears witness that you were to my son like a father, and you helped him in his treatment when we had lost hope.” Then she left very saddened.

The man next to him interrupted and said: “That’s strange, if she was pleased with your treatment and her son was improving then why did she leave?

Sa’eed answered: “That’s what I thought so too, so I went to the administration to find out what happened. They told me the boy’s father had lost his job and was unable to continue paying for his son’s treatment.”

The man next to him said: “There is no Might nor Power except with Allah, poor them, how did you deal with it?

Sa’eed said: “I went to the manager and pleaded with him to continue treating the boy on the hospital’s expense, but he sharply rejected and said, ‘this is a private institution, not a charity’. I left his office sad and broken for this family. Then suddenly, I placed my hands in my pocket which had my money all prepared for Hajj.

I stood in my place for a while, and then I raised my head above and spoke to my Rabb Allah: O Allah, You know how I feel and You know there is nothing more beloved to me than to go to Your House and do Hajj, and to visit Your Messenger’s (peace be upon him) Masjid. You know I have been working all my life for this moment, but I prefer this poor lady and her son over myself, so don’t deprive me of Your favors.

I went to the accounts desk and paid all I had for his treatment which covered the next six months. I begged the accountant to tell the lady that it’s from the hospital expense for special cases. He was affected by this and there were tears in his eyes and said, ‘baarak Allah feek and people like you’”

The man next to him then said: “If you donated all of your money, then how did you come for Hajj?

Sa’eed said: ” I went back to my home sad that day for having lost the opportunity of a lifetime for Hajj. But my heart was filled with happiness that I removed a distress from the lady and her son. I slept that night with a tear on my cheek. I had a dream and I was making tawaf (circumbulating)around the Ka’aba and people were saying salaam to me and they told me: ‘Hajj mabroor O Sa’eed, for you have performed Hajj in the heavens before you performed Hajj on earth’.

I immediately woke up and felt an indescribable happiness. I praised Allah Ta’ala for everything and was pleased with His decree. When I got up from my sleep, my phone rang and it was the hospital’s manager.

He told me the owner of the hospital wants to go to Hajj this year and he won’t go without his personal therapist. But his therapist’s wife is expecting and has reached her final days of pregnancy so he can’t leave her.

‘Would you do me favor, he asked politely. Would you accompany him for Hajj?’

I made sujood shukr (prostrated in gratitude to Allah Ta’ala). As you see, Allah Ta’ala granted me this gift to go to His House without having to pay anything. All praise to Allah, the owner of the hospital insisted on giving me something for his accompaniment.

I told him the story of the lady and her son, and he demanded the boy be treated at the hospital from his own personal expense and to place a donations box in the hospital for the treatment of needy patients. He also gave the boy’s father a job at one of his companies.

He even returned the money I had initially spent for the boy’s treatment.

Have you seen greater favours than the favours of my Rabb Allah?.. Subhan Allah.

The man next to him hugged him and told him: “By Allah, I have never felt this kind of embarrassment as I’m feeling now. I would perform Hajj one year after another thinking I was doing something great, and that my place with Allah would be elevated as a result of it. But now I understood that your Hajj is equivalent to a thousand of mine. I went to the house of Allah, but Allah invited you to His house. May Allah accept your Hajj!”

Editor’s Note: Sometimes Allah Ta’ala will give you exactly what you want after he tests your devotion and sincerity. Allah Ta’ala works in the most mysterious ways and we need to place our Trust in Him!

This article published by eislam.co  has NO COPYRIGHT whatsoever. You are free to forward or publish this article in its original form. However they would appreciate it if you could acknowledge the source. http://www.eislam.com

Tabuk, the Litmus Test

imageThe Surah Tawbah starts without Bismillah. And no wonder. Its a part of the Quran, which talks about hypocrisy. The unusual harshness which Allah (swt) displays within the Surah, shows the importance of the subject. Surah Tawbah partially revolves around the Tabuk incident.

The Tabuk expedition, was a march from Medina to Tabuk in 9 AH, against Roman Armies – in the peak of the summer- which led to their dispersal without any battle. It helped consolidate most of Northern Arabia within Islamic rule, thus creating unity which (the year after) led to the freeing of Mecca, and culminating at Yarmuk (some years later) in a decisive opening of the world to Muslims, via the defeat of Heraclius. Hence, it is one of the most important events in Muslim history. Some have called Tabuk a non-event, because no battle took place. The reality is that this is where the wheat separated from the chaff. Tabuk, was the Litmus Test for the people in Medina.

In focussing on the march to Tabuk, the Surah brings out the problem which had bedevilled the Muslims for long. The hypocrites pulled out all the stops to cause dissension pre the march, even to the extent of using a mosque outside Medina, as a meeting centre, to execute their plans. They caused issues and doubts, but due to the high profile participation of all the big figures of Islam, the Prophet (saw) marched with thirty thousand in the peak of the burning summer. Only three Muslims did not participate and even these three felt great guilt and were eventually pardoned by Allah (swt). However, due to the difficulties and the danger of possible battle, the hypocrites opted out and this led to a decisive parting of the ways. The reality had come out of hiding. The hypocrites would hereafter, either be sidelined or become responsible members of Muslim society. This seminal moment has affected us down these fourteen centuries. That all this was accomplished without any battle or lives lost, is an absolute wonder.

The lessons learnt from Surah Tawbah were simple and apply even today.

– you cannot have an ordered society, till people take responsibility.
– sacrifice is required from the good to fulfil this responsibility.
– there is no tolerating evil, otherwise it overwhelms you.
– hypocrisy is the biggest danger to societies.

If you read Ayat 75-77 of Surah Tawbah, it is a reflection of what has happened to us in Pakistan.

75) And among them are those who made a covenant with Allah [saying], “If He should give us from His bounty, we will surely spend in charity, and we will surely be among the righteous.”
76) But when He gave them from His bounty, they were stingy with it and turned away while they refused.
77) So He penalized them with hypocrisy in their hearts until the Day they will meet Him – because they failed Allah in what they promised Him and because they [habitually] used to lie.

We made this country for greater things, based on an aspiration and a promise of goodness. However, somewhere along the way, in the 1950s and 60s we lost our way. Its a collective derailment; we all are responsible. The punishment for that breaking of a promise has been a full doze of hypocrisy and its repercussions. Hypocrisy is taken here in the religious sense; to lie, break promises, betray a trust and argue unjustly.

May we learn from the events of Tabuk and be guided on a rightful path.

The above write up, while based on Surah Tawbah, has used the interpretations applied by Maulanas Maudoodi and Israr.

In praise of the infinite mind

image“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
― Albert Einstein

Through a plus thirty year career, and traipsing even further back, all the years of education, it has really bothered me that the best people have failed. And when I say this, it is not in any way to personalise this statement. It is actually stated on behalf of a host of fellow managers and students, those especially, who found the system insurmountable and succumbed, thus never reaching their true potential which was clearly visible.

This life is designed in the present. It is designed to function and operate on the limitations of present systems, technology and ability. The world appreciates those who carry the norms of this world on their back. In the working corridors of the world, people who hold sway, are those who efficiently and unquestionably go about the work of the day. The most appreciated is the SMART worker, who will deliver expectations in time and without much question. The world functions a bit like an ant colony, efficient, unimaginative, conformist. The ordinary rules us!

The SMART worker will be further appreciated, if they can continue to do this day after day, year after year, with a total disregard for attrition. Over a career, this worker will prosper in the system and simultaneously protect and sustain it. Little tinkering will occur, but a revolution will not come from such a one. Typically, as the Bell Curve predicts, almost 96% will conform to this system – 68 normal and 14 on either side of it.

On the other hand there will be that 2 percent on the absolute right of the Bell Curve, who will be totally out of the box thinkers. They will be gifted people, who will challenge the system, see images which others simply cannot visualise and invariably will also challenge the status quo. They will be passionate and emotional and express their thoughts while taking on the system. These outliers, will generally be considered mavericks and the system will tend to be mildly contemptuous of them (I have seen plenty of very ordinary managers, laugh about such talented individuals). Typically, in our structured working systems, these mavericks will fail. Alas, there have been legions of such failed people, throughout the history of this world, who have been ground into the dust. My heart bleeds for such people. If given the opportunity, they could have done so much, but they never had the conformist switch.

Nevertheless, there are some of these gifted people, who despite the system and walls manage to wriggle free and achieve something. These are the ones who change the world. How they succeed is more in the hands of Allah (some may call it luck, or low probability numbers finally working out). Think Prophets immediately. That is an obvious given. But there are others, less blessed humans, like Newton, MichaelAngelo, Rumi and Biruni. For every age a band of gifted people lifted their prevailing society. Almost all science, art, literature, discoveries etc has been achieved by such people. Humans through the folds of history owe a huge debt to the ones who stuck their neck out, imagined, created and moved society a major notch each time. This note is a thank you note and in praise of the infinite mind.

There are not too many of these individuals in comparison to their achievement. Some infact went to their permanent resting place without any acknowledgement of achievement and greatness. Only later would such people be recognised. Van Gogh is an example. So just imagine a world where no Archimedes made his discovery. Or Newton did not expound his theory, or Shakespeare not write his plays, or Ibn Batuta not travel his miles, or Einstein not work out the theory of relativity. We could still be living in the dark ages, hunting with primitive weapons, speaking a stunted tongue and living in our little hole. Our world would have been just the few square miles around us, that we would cover during our lives, never knowing there was a world and people beyond. Think about it!

* picture is from the http://www.canadianteacher.com

Management…view from above

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