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.

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The Omelette Maker

imageStranger things I have known. Some skills one is born with and it surfaces in strange places. Others one acquires along the way. In this case, Sharif of Rahim Yar Khan, spending his years in Madina, seems to be a born omelette maker.

Now, I should not really be writing in the middle of my Hajj trip, but I just could not resist it. My Hajj proper begins later, when I go down to Makkah for Umra; therefore this seems a reasonable opportunity. For those who can afford it and have not yet done their Hajj, I strongly recommend it. It will plant your feet on the ground and give you a reality check. We realise quickly how we are insignificant as individuals.

Just for Madina (Prophet [saw] place of burial), I shall note for the record. What a place! Nationalities galore, noisy, caring, alive all day. People live together under Allah’s banner and seem to have one purpose, to worship him. Wish it could be like that all the time.

Madina Al-Shaza, is a hotel very near gate 22 of the Prophet (saw) mosque ( one of the busiest gates). Easy to stay in and the food is good. Though one is not thinking about food these days. Its a popular spot and during Hajj days occupancy is full. Breakfast time is very crowded, as the full force of the pilgrims descend on the restaurant. They manage, but require speed and clever logistics.

I state this next sentence to clarify the unusual rather than to boast. In thirty two years of working and traveling, I must have stayed in over a hundred five star hotels, in different places in the world. Never have I seen the omelette process working the way this man Sharif handles it. Its absolutely brilliant. At any one time he is able to accommodate eight omelettes. Which, from experience of watching, is 3 or 4 multiples of what others can do. On both sides of the frying board, he would sprinkle, the common additives. These would be onion, tomato and capsicum. Then he would ask the people queuing for individual preferences. These could be olives, mushrooms, cheese etcetera. He would address these preferences and then a quick splash of oil and we are on our way. A minute of frying and he would pour the omelette mix on top of the additives and condiments. Sharif wields his two spatula, like two swords and shapes the omelettes all the time. He chops and folds the omelettes and cooks them just so right. In the end, the last request is salt and pepper, which he shall sprinkle on the cooked omelette according to individual preferences.

Sharif has obviously got a razor sharp memory, as he is able to accommodate each guest according to their requirement, simultaneously without errors. I confess, I have never seen such an innovative and efficient omelette process. Plus, in the middle of the frying board Sharif will continue to fry individual eggs according to requests. All this mixed with a soft smile and a pleasant demeanour. You cannot ask for more. Very enthused to meet Sharif, the omelette maker, in the bosom of the city of the Prophet (saw).

Slickness….in praise of it?

Dark Glasses, dark birdSometime ago, I happened to end up at a group event, which regularly takes place at a hotel in Karachi and at various times occurs in (maybe) 200 other cities of the world. These people worship the art of slickness and they come together to train and improve their method of delivery of words. They belong to a club spread worldwide, which I shall not name here, dedicated to improving and standardizing our speaking skills.
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Their objectives were fairly easy to grasp. One of our biggest fears, is being able to speak up in public. Faced with an audience most of us descend into jelly feet. So, this club coaches a standard method of delivery and trains participants, so that they can express themselves, especially in a pressure environment. This management of speech will by its very practice transcend into daily lives, work and otherwise, and the subjects shall be able to command respect by being confident, articulate, delivering great presentations and talks. The more confident and articulate you become, the better the imagery. Soon you will progress in life. In praise of slickness!!!
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To be fair, I was welcomed with open arms at this august gathering. There were some veterans who had been attending for years.  However, as the evening progressed, I found myself more and more uncomfortable and out of sorts with these ladies and gentlemen, even though they were very courteous and treated me with utmost care and respect – they probably saw a new corporate member, who could perhaps further their club objectives.
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The problem was that I belong to a totally different ilk and therefore should have been the last person to enter that room. My filters are way on the other side of the room. True, in my personal experience, I have come across many managers who articulate arguments brilliantly and are able to influence people. But now, I stick my neck out to go further…. the fact is, I have discovered through most of my career, that the people who articulate well, are generally the best showmen/women and therefore they tend to speak with a forked tongue. Also they tend to take the least responsibility and mostly are articulate individuals and not team players. Therein lies the problem.
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Now you would say, what a horrible generalization…but within the confines of the Bell Curve, this is true. That 70% under normal distribution are just such people. Spare a thought, for the thousands of hours I (and people like me) have sat and listened to beautiful articulation, great presentations and known that the whole presentation is a put on job. Worse still, most people will nod and smile and go out of the room, forgetting the substance of the presentation. So all that will remain is the imagery and the delivery of promises made will be forgotten, not to ever occur at all. In a few years this individual will have progressed to great positions, thanks to his/her articulation skills. Such a travesty!
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So, once I reached a position of reasonable influence, I promised myself never will I let such people influence me. Therefore, when a candidate walks in for an interview, what to look for? Look for the reality within the person. Is he/she artificial, the false smiles and the lack of pauses (the ‘umms’ and the ‘ahhhs’). They tell the reality! Beware,  anyone who answers smoothly and without thought pauses. Next you look for truth, passion and backbone. These are all the things, that slickness does not inculcate, but actually make a human a great manager – someone who will say less, deliver more and when the chips are down, will stand up and be counted.
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In case you all think this is too judgmental…
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Sahih Bukhari and Muslim report that Anas said ‘The Prophet’s (saw) talk was precise clear, and succinct without undue elaboration’
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Sahih Bukhari Volume 003, Book 041, Hadith Number 591 and

Sahih Bukhari Volume 002, Book 024, Hadith Number 555
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Narrated By Al-Mughira bin Shu’ba : The Prophet (saw) said, ” …. and Allah has hated for you (1) vain, useless talk, or that you talk too much about others, (2) to ask too many questions….
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I rest my case!!
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* The picture is taken from Wylio.com a free picture site. The owner is “Psyberartist”.

Time – An Enigma….

Reflections — 18 December 2012
Time – An Enigma….

I remember my fascination with time when I read Einstein’s theory. It was difficult to visualize, us traveling around Andromeda in 56 years (at speed of light) to return to Earth. But lo! When we return, the Earth will be gone, as 3bn years would have passed. The whole concept seemed surreal. Then the Time Tunnel program and mans capability to travel back. So what would happen if I went back and changed history? The concept of a parallel universe where another ‘ME’ could be living a different life, in a similar world just blew one’s mind out.

 

Now, almost 38 years later, as I reach the end of my career, the relativity attributes and quality of time has become apparent. These 50 plus years of life seem like a whisper, which soundlessly slipped by. I could swear it was only yesterday, one was being entered in the daily class register in early school. One can remember the teacher’s voice; smell the scents and the murmur of chatter. Yet the days have long gone. Worse, now they seem to move at breakneck speed week to week; we wish to stop time, but it is hurtling along at a pace of a train downhill without breaks. And therefore comes a time, when we too shall depart this world.  The question to be answered then is ‘have we done enough with our elusive time?’

 

For me the benchmark description has become Surah Al-Asr in the Quran and I translate:-

 

I swear by the time, Most surely man is in loss, Except those who believe and do  good, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.

 

The above is the description which has given some realistic shape to that enigma called time.

 

Imam Sha’fi explained that he would often wonder about Surah Al-Asr, till one day in the market he came across an ice-vendor. Remember those were the days of non-refrigeration. What the Imam saw was that the ice was melting and for the vendor, the race was that he could somehow get the best out of his time and be able to sell off the highest possible amount of ice. If he did that, he would go home successful. If he failed, well the ice would melt and he would fail. Substitute time for the ice and good deeds for the act of selling.  And there you have our life’s struggle. We are like that ice vendor, fighting a losing battle, unless we can perform meaningful deeds within the time we have. Time, which is elapsing fast!

 

Of course it is easier said than done, especially when ones commercial life is all encompassing. Most of us do have good intentions. We come across so many youngsters who are idealists by nature. But they are hampered by the need to earn ample legal tender, so they can achieve the legitimate aim of fulfilling responsibilities. These young idealists get involved more and more into the commercial world. Soon they are running pillar to post to fulfill their professional duties. Time is sucked out of their day, tiredness and jadedness sets in and soon decades pass. These idealists lose their original reason to live and begin to chase a profit mirage. Alas one day soon, Father Time will be up and they will depart this world, having missed out on the opportunity to fulfill their passion, dreams and goodness.

 

A classic example of this loss of opportunity occurred during the time of our Prophet (saw). In the early days of the mission, a man from Taif came to Mecca for business. Of course he went to the Haram. There he saw a man, a woman and a young boy praying in an unusual fashion. His curiosity aroused, he enquired from a prominent resident Abbas (ra), as to their background. Abbas (ra) replied that the subject people were his nephew Muhammad (saw), who claimed to be a prophet, his wife Khadijah (ra) and his cousin Ali (ra). They were praying to their God, Allah (sbt), who they claimed was The One God and they rejected polytheism. The man was intrigued and wished to speak to them, but was also short of ‘time’ and hurried off to Taif, knowing full well that his business shall bring him to Mecca again and he would learn more!! 20 years later after the conquest of Mecca, as Arabia converted to Islam in droves, a group of tribesmen came to Medina to accept Islam at the hands of the Prophet (saw). Amongst this group was a man who cried uncontrollably! When asked about the reason for his tears, he replied that 20 years earlier he had the opportunity of being among the pioneers of Islam, but allowed that moment to slip by. This man lost an opportunity given to a handful in human history. Today history while recording the event does not even recognize his name or his whereabouts – an opportunity lost indeed.   

 

Let’s not be like that poor man, who is lost in the folds of time.   May Allah make us like a successful ice-vendor, where we have seized the opportunity and done what we believe good and worthwhile, for time slips away. 

 

This note has been inspired and influenced by www.eislam.co.za. I totally acknowledge using their article as a base for creating this blog. 

photo credit: ToniVC via photopin cc

Constantinople, wonderful man, wonderful army

Constantinople, wonderful man & wonderful army

“Convey my salaams and ask the Muslim armies to penetrate deep, so that they can bury me at the walls of Constantinople” so did say Abu Ayyub Ansari to Yazid, when the commander visited him on his death bed. This event took place circa 675 AD and was the first of many expeditions of the Muslims to conquer Constantinople.

The Muslim armies took to heart Abu Ayyubs request and fought their way to the Wall of Constantinople and that is where Abu Ayyub was laid in his final resting place. That was as far as the Muslims got in the four year campaign and they finally retreated after heavy losses. It was also the furthest they got in the next 700 years. Abu Ayyub, was approximately mid 90s and should not have been with the army at all, regardless of the huge reputation of being a ghazi who fought in all the Islamic wars. Today the locality of Eyup (Turkish derivation) carries huge religious significance and many Turks ask to be buried in the same area as this ghazi.

This is same Abu Ayyub who in 622 played host to the Prophet (saw) at his house in Medina for seven months. You would have heard the story of Qaswa the camel and how she stopped near Abu Ayyub’s house and that same spot became Masjid Quba, the first mosque in Islam. So why was Abu Ayyub in his old age, at the shores of Constantinople?

It is said that the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in his discussions on the way forward, had alluded to the importance of the city which will have water in its midst. The logic was obvious, that the city would be a pivotal point in the battle to spread the faith into lands afar. It was also central to the strategy of control of larger areas in two continents and a route into the Black Sea. Such was the importance of the city, which was the seat of Byzantine, that the Prophet (saw) said ‘what a wonderful leader will he be and what a wonderful army’ for the one conquering Constantinople.

So then, through the centuries, Muslim ambitions turned towards this city in Asia Minor. Many expeditions were planned and failed, beginning with the one led by Yazid, in the time of Muawiyyah, in which Abu Ayyub decided to participate – and yes in case you are wondering, this was the same Yazid, who was to cause the happenings of Karbala years later.

Some seven hundred years later another tragic attempt is worth noting. The aspirant was one named Bayazid Yildirim (thunderbolt). He was the Ottoman ruler in late 14th century. Bayazid planned his conquest with great detail and having disposed of a crusade in Bulgaria had established a stranglehold over Hungry and Bulgaria. He then turned his attention to Constantinople and somewhere in late 1390s laid siege to it. Lacking a strong navy and heavy guns, Bayazid hoped to break resistance via a long siege.

He came close. But at a crucial period, when the fall looked imminent, news came that Tamerlane (Timur-al-lung), the King of Samarqand (Mongols and Tartars) was invading his eastern lands. Bayazid signed a deal with Constantinople and turned eastwards. He was never to return. The battle of Ankara in 1402 was a defeat and Tamarlane captured Bayazid, who then after seven months captivity died a broken man. This event has been dramatised in Marlowes play and Bayazid is a tragic character who dies of shame imprisoned in a gilded cage.

This signal event delayed the Ottomans for a half century. The lands broke up for a time and the hegemony of the Sultans was finally established by Sultan Muhammad Fateh.  As soon as Muhammad Fateh felt secure, his thoughts turned to the words of the Prophet (saw) and his desire to conquer Constantinople surfaced. Who would not?  As he besieged Constantinople, he found yet that the fortifications withstood. So in a maneuver which has been spoken about for these 560 years, he dragged 80 ships across land on greased boards overnight. Next day his navy emerged on the Black Sea towards the unfortified side of Constantinople. The writing was on the wall and on 29/5/1453 Constantinople surrendered after 800 years of desire and effort. Where the Prophets (saw) words, spoken some 830 years before, fulfilled then?

Mythology and research have a different spin to it. Is the wonderful man and army this event at all? Some scholars who have knowledge about the coming events of Armageddon, attribute this to a future event when the Muslims will retake Constantinople in the time of the Mahdi. So this may well be one of the signal events, which shall shape the last war of all wars to occur, between the Mahdi and Dajjal. Only Allah knows and time will tell.

The Quality of Mercy

The Quality of Mercy

I have edited and rewritten a blog I wrote in Ramadan a few years ago. It still sounds so relevent for this month of mercy and forgiveness.

A Mufti in Saudi was brought to tears on a live TV program, when he received a question from Somalia.

Is my fast accepted if we have no Suhoor or Iftaar?”

It was on the 4th of Ramadan that I saw this tweet. The ensuing flood of emotions are difficult to describe. Not only did it bring tears to the eyes, but it made me immediately thank Allah, that I have the luxury to watch my calories and walk away from available food. It also set a train of confused thoughts, on the prevailing state of the world, which has culminated in this note.

Our own Prophet (saw) at one time broke his fast with salt and water, due to extreme lack of provisions, for three consecutive days. So I presume the distressed Somalian questioner, must have been duly answered. But the real issue is why was he in this sad situation at all. Is it not our responsibility to ensure people do not go hungry? And I divorce all religions and ethnicity in asking this. Should this not have been incumbent on us to help provide for this type of person. But here I am, sitting in my lounge, with ample food and maybe, a momentary bite of conscience! Soon, I will simply move on, till at some juncture a similar event will shake me up again – maybe another blog to salve the conscience. Sad!

Is this common throughout our human history? Unfortunately so! Man has been cruel to his fellow beings and if he wields power, he has been ever so nasty. We have seen events of mass exterminations, slavery, genocide, rape and pillage. Instances abound! Sacking of Rome; destruction of Baghdad; extermination in South America by the Conquistadores; the North American Indians; burning of Library of Alexandria; destruction of Delhi. The human race has taken its share with pride and paid in turn with sorrow.  Making a mockery of Shakespeare when he says,

The Quality of mercy is not strained

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The more I see it, the more it becomes obvious that we do not really care. In the past, cataclysmic events were isolated. Their effects reached us through the long arm of history through generations.  And yes, they did change us in a slow meaningful way. We learned by simple paring away of our evils; that it is wrong to enslave, that it is evil to rape, that it is cruel to torture. Mankind realised after two world wars and a couple of bombs that there is a better way. We signed the Geneva Convention, we made the United Nations and we set up social services to help the downtrodden and needy.

Having done this some 70 years ago, we applauded that life is better. But then Korean, Vietnamese, Gulf Wars and Afghan conflicts have taken us back again, into the arms of darkness. I think the problem is in the rendering of awareness. We are too aware. So, as Aurora and James Holmes massacres happened, we were bombarded for days on all channels. Fifty years ago, when the Boston Strangler was going through his serial murders, we did not know about it. We read about it years later.

So, paradoxically, CNN, BBC, Twitter, FB, blogs are all contributing to this creation of awareness and desensitization. There is a burning platform every day and we the public have become immune. This immunity means, we do not really care. We have lost our soul! Corporations doing CSR do not care; politicians pay lip service; even social workers are so burdened, that passion morphs into the mundane.

I am not sure how to get out of here. The first LiveAid was an amazing and moving event. Thirty years later there has been too much starvation, too many reports and too many pictures for it to move my soul.  The bad news is that the frequency and intensity of these events is increasing day by day. Or maybe it’s the way the reporting is dramatized. Very soon we will be a race who walks past the needy of our kind, without a hint of sympathy. Even a lioness does not do that to a needy of its own kind.

We need to take stock, contemplate deep and get back that Quality of mercy. Without it, we will shred ourselves to pieces in the name of living in a news savvy world.

From Enemy to Friend – Ikrimah bin Abi Jahl

Yarmuk Valley

Yarmuk Valley

When Ikrimah looked up at the sky, as the storm raged and called on Allah the one to help, the shades fell from his eyes. Two decades of virulent opposition to the Prophet (saw) turned into belief in Allah. The flashes of Badr, his father’s body undone , the triumph at Uhad as assistant to Khalid bin Waleed, the retreat from Khandaq and his flight from Mecca all cascaded by. What a waste! So let him go back to Mecca and profess the shehadah.

This seminal event was to change history, resulting in hundreds of millions of lives being influenced in these past 1400 years.

On arriving at Mecca, Umm Hakim, his wife, took Ikrimah to the Prophet (saw). Already the Prophet (saw) feeling the momentous event, had told his companions Ikrimah approaches with belief in his heart, so do not revile his father. The meeting was close and Ikrimah asked for forgiveness and promised to devote his life to Islam.

Six years later, the Muslim armies positioned in Yarmuk valley, north of Jerusalem and east of Lake Tiberius, were barely clinging on with their finger nails across a broad front of 7 miles. The Romans outnumbering them – some say 5 to 1- had been pushing them back for four days. Favourable ground and higher numbers had taken toll.

Vahan had decided that today was the day to break the enemy lines and encircle the Arab armies. Heracles orders were clear, destroy these Arabs and drive them into the desert, so that they never return. A march further south into the Arabian heartland was also conceivable.  Having done a feint on the Arab right, he had forced Khalid bin Waleed to send the reserves into action.  Then, putting together all his strength Vahan focused on the Arab left centre, attacking Yazid’s (not the same one!) divisions. The Muslims outnumbered and without reserves, were spread thin. During this attack, Abu Sufyan and some 100 others lost an eye under a barrage of arrows- also known as Day of the Lost Eyes. Under pressure, the Muslim left centre was in wholesale retreat, the Arab lines were about to break.

Left facing the approaching Roman cavalry was the sole regiment (400 strong) of Ikrimah, son of Abu Jahl – former great enemy of the Prophet (saw).

The situation is clear. If Ikrimah’s men break, the battle is lost and the future is bleak. If they hold, there is hope yet. Not since Uhad, has Islam faced such a cataclysmic moment. Ikrimah decides to use the Arab tradition and take baith from all 400. Today, no one will retreat, rather they shall die. The Roman ranks crash against the Arab 400. As the day drags, Vahan intent on victory throws lines after lines on the enemy, only for them to stand firm. Losses are heavy, but the Arab lines hold and as the night falls, a perplexed Vahan withdraws.

Lying somewhere in the middle of the carnage is the broken body of Ikrimah, his triumph complete and his debt to Islam paid in full. His regiment have achieved shehadat and also forced the Romans to withdraw. Not only the Roman strength has been used up, but the enemy is exhausted and demoralised, they have let victory escape out of their grasp.

The rest of the story is recorded as a gory tale, when the Roman armies in retreat are boxed in and slaughtered and are never able to recover. Khalid bin Waleed’s resounding victory leaves the road open west and north. One of the greatest victories of Islam leads to massive conquests over the next century. Not till Tours – just 18 miles from present day Paris- and some 96 years later were the Muslim armies to be stopped.

Khalid’s maneuverings at Yarmuk are taught even today in various military academies. But in those few hours, Ikrimah and his companions made that success possible, where otherwise defeat stared in the face. Yarmuk changed history and while today European historians using their own logic (rather than facts) try and review numbers, even they agree to the significance of the event.

Above all stands the phenomena of belief, where one man went from being the most persistent enemy to being the saviour of Islam. May Allah accept the sacrifice of Ikrimah and his companions.