Killing the Self, our Ego!

imageEgo is a killer. Over a lifetime I have learned that if there is one certainty of attracting Allah’s anger, it is through arrogance, pride and ego. Unfortunately, during the coarse of a lifetime all of us get this rather dubious opportunity. Our test is to navigate our behaviour in conditions, which invite such ego.

Consider a situation where young managers enter the world of commerce and trade. They are fresh from education and invariably work for older and more experienced people. These young managers are generally modest people with great listening ability; they learn the traits of practical management and workout how to function in the corporate world. Over time they too become experienced and adept at it. And so starts their trial. They will soon begin fighting the ego game. They are now ‘somebody’ and if they do not watch themselves, they will behave as if they have consequence.

My personal feeling is that, if and when they fall at the gates of arrogance, they will wipe out all vestiges of goodness in themselves. Its not that those good characteristics are not there, but our ego now subdues them, dominates them and any deed done then is evaluated on the alter of ego. As the days go by and life passes, that ego dominates more and more and Allah’s punishment has already arrived. The person has become a twisted, egotistical animal, listening to none, looking at life only through his/her filters and and unable to achieve anything of goodness. But there will be a further revenge, in that down the road, the very reason to be egotistical will get taken away from the person and he or she will suffer the pangs of failure. Our time always ends. So whether by old age/death or by failure or both, our downfall will come.

We have seen this in the house of the arrogant. Napolean, Hitler, the original Jews, Xerxes, the Romans, the Ummayids and all great nations who rise through merit but turn to arrogance, which eventually leads to their failure in the world – In my consideration it is happening right now with the USA. This is a terrible signal event. To reach the top and then fall down into an abyss called ‘nothing’ is a tragedy and a travesty. Its destructive.

It happens in our houses too. We are almost all involved in it. One spouse dominates the other and mostly it is the ego of one conquering the other. Similarly, we dominate our children. Many a times a man is shaping his children into the picture of himself. But to do that is itself arrogant. We are shaping Allahs beautiful creatures (our children), when we do not have a right to do this. Its our duty to impart knowledge and tarbiat. There is no requirement to shape them. That is also arrogance. You think you are worth cloning. So the people closest to you in life, you clone to satisfy your ego.

How does one fight this insidious creep which can happen to one and all in this life. Its by watching and being aware of oneself. This bears watching every living day of your life. You must fight it. When you wake up in the morning, remind yourself you are human and have to deal with other similar humans. We are all the same, regardless of position, wealth, age and gender. If we believe that and keep reminding ourselves, then the day may pass without arrogance or ego. Similarly at night, when you are about to sleep remind yourself..that as you go to sleep, you may never wake up again. That is enough of a thought to make yourself free of ego and arrogance, till the next reminder in the morning. Disregard this need to control your self importance and you will very likely fall into the trap and become arrogant. It is inbuilt in us!

Remember, we are all here because one Iblis thought he was greater than others. Iblis in turn uses this as his favourite weapon. As Al Pacino said “Vanity is my favourite sin”.

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A Quantum Leap of change in Pakistan

imagePost elections many younger people have felt dissatisfaction at the process applied during elections and (I fear) we face disenfranchising these people, who are part of the future of Pakistan. So, I have tried below to show them the philosophy of change and how what has happened in the last few days is a positive step.

A society is a web, connected, intermingled and when you move a small wheel, it will move a larger wheel and so move a still larger one and thus the societal machine will work like any other machine. Small movement, cause and effect translates into large changes over time. A small change now, leads to large change 30 years from now. An example; the creation of madrassas in the late 70’s is today a massive part of Pakistan’s social fabric.
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Thus  I watched with interest the changes which could allude to larger change, during these elections. Simple little changes.
  • young people participating
  • technology being used
  • innovative campaigning involving ground activation
  • people standing up for their legal rights
  • a self aware people
Some perturbing ones.
  • people voting more for local rights, federal consequences being less visible
  • a divide beginning to happen …so called educated v less educated
Where this change will lead to, I am not sure. As with any change and an unsure future, one is apprehensive. But change can occur in only three forms:-
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Miracle/disaster
This would be the most unplanned and therefore most change inducing. Miracles seem to have disappeared nowadays, but when they do happen they have far reaching effects. Thousands of years ago Hazrat Musa crossed the Red Sea and Pharaoh was destroyed, but we live the effects of that moment till today. I don’t think we should be awaiting a miracle, as we have been these decades in Pakistan. As far as disaster is concerned, a disaster has occurred several times in our history, like 2010 floods etc. Disasters can be a set back for years, or worse a culmination, thus causing great change. There is an impending feeling of doom in this country and a fear that disaster is approaching.  Disregard it!
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Revolution
Typically revolutions aim for utopia, they wipe out status quo and the new structures are set at utopian levels. Over time learning ensues and the revolution is institutionalized and disappears. Society starts reversing the effects of the revolution and it comes back to a more mid lane process..I don’t think we are ripe for revolution, as our belief platforms are too diverse.
China is a great example of the progressive effects of a revolution. Mao killed freely in the 40s-50s-60s. Later after his departure, in late 70s China opened up and the disciplines and hardships of Mao, led to a surge in the last 30 years.
Iran is a bad example of a revolution. A reversal of revolutionary zeal has led to a totalitarian state and the benefits of revolution have not transpired. Instead a bureaucracy has now replaced the zeal and it controls Iran. Similar events happened in the Soviet Union.
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Evolutionary Change
This has worked best over millenia of human development. Seemingly slow progress, but half a century on, a later generation looks back and says wonderingly, “look how that and that event has caused an evolution which has changed our lives.”
Evolutionary change can trend towards good, but as nations decline it can trend towards bad also. So in Yarmuk, Muslims won a hard fought battle and for the next 500 years dominated, as the way north and west was opened up. But Nero fiddled while Rome burned and while the Roman empire lasted almost 400 further years, but the decline was inexorable after that.
This evolutionary change is what I am talking about above. To all those who are upset at the elections, because there was a great deal of unfairness. “Wheels on wheels have been set in motion. Patience, this will deliver dividends and progression will happen. You watch. Be patient. Inshallah the wheels are in motion, your Pakistan will change.”

In the expiry of nations

In the expiry of nations

When Halagu ripped Baghdad into shreds in 1257, he was leaving a message of history, not unlike those left before. For a time thereafter, he kept the Abbasid Caliph in a cage and fed him his palaces gold crockery. When the Caliph protested, Halagu enquired what was the purpose of these plates? Had these assets been used to pay an army, then today I would be in the cage and you would be sitting outside. The caliph went to his eventual fate, pondering this question. Mankind too has never quite got to grips with this question.

By my count, 9 major nations ruled in the last 2500 years. The lifecycle of a nation starts with birth from humble beginnings, then a natural cohesion, later much larger than life aspirations (vision), success against the odds, leading to a period of glory and power, decline and then death. The events of final destruction are few and far between, occurring on average once every few hundred years. When it does happen it is cataclysmic, but it is decades or centuries in the making.

It is with this stage of decline, I am most concerned here. Rome born on the banks of the Tiber circa 500 BC, flowered and ruled via their wars and subjugation of enemies. But some 400 years before they were destroyed in 451 AD, Nero was already fiddling while Rome burned to its core. Caligula professionalized deviancy, while other Caesars and cohorts wallowed in the same mire for centuries. Only when the structure of Rome was moth eaten, did Attila destroy the empire totally.

During this 400 year period of decline, Rome still was the ultimate economic and military power in the world. The story is repeated over and over. In all the 9 cases, these nations have ruled on while huge fissures had formed inside. A social scientist evaluating these societies, would pick the tell tale signs of decay, but obviously no one listened. Despite Halagu’s lesson!

So Ottoman society was in decline in the 17th century, but expired in 1921. The Pashas court was a minefield of politics, conspiracy, deviancy and lots of other evils. Similarly in Victorian times, British morality and social norms declined, with the elite living off the fat created by previous generations. The nationalistic desire to fly the flag world over was consigned to the heap and more hedonistic motives led to self-indulgence. Again a social scientist in second half of 19th century would have said the nation is declining. But soft, they still survived two world wars almost a century later!

That is the crux of the matter, while societies decline great nations survive on economic and military strength way beyond, when their spirit has been broken. The house of cards can take long to collapse.

Now just look around and do you see something familiar happening in the last 50 years? On the North American continent is a nation born some 400 years ago, which has aspired and reached greatness and won wars and influence. When its Baby Boomer generation existed, it was a land of harmony and enjoyment, the nation was at one with itself – an envy for the rest of the world. Since then, in the last 5 plus decades, its society shows all the signs of deviancy that mankind can think of. It started with the breakdown of the family institution, leading to one parent families. Its people now focus on consumerism, just like the Abbasid Caliph in 1257 and they live for enjoyment. They do not create and manufacture things and have tolled these out to ‘inferior countries in Asia’. The country has indulged in economic wars, which it has not won, because its people do not want to take part in these wars.  Its people are forever fighting for their personal rights in court and it has become a country of litigators and litigants. It has very high rapes per capita and the most legal suits ratio. The people eulogize themselves, through items like Miss Universe and the Oscars. They have become a people lacking depth and wisdom and their media screens issues based on share of viewership rather than importance of topic.

For those who keep looking for Green Cards and American nationalities, I would suggest think again. You do not want your children and descendants growing up in a country which is on the skids. The end seems nigh.

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.

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