Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Blessed Marriage

In Bayhaqi, the Prophet (SWAS) is reported to have characterized the most blessed of marriages. He (SWAS) said: "The most blessed marriage (nikah) is the least expensive one"

These days marriages are a string multiple day ceremonies in which huge sums are routinely spent. Not doing so, most likely results in the family becoming a social outcast. The people involved spend months in elaborate preparations in terms of designer dresses, jewelry, hotel arrangements, lighting, music, hosting out of town guests, invitation cards, honeymoon trips, videos, photo sessions, wedding cake, catering food & sweets, entertainment, car rentals, dowry, etc, etc, etc. Everything just has to be fairy tale perfect. Most young people's wedding dreams are made by the popular media and the lives of the stars of Hollywood and Bollywood whose affairs they so religiously follow. They argue that wedding happens once in a lifetime and so no expense is too great in celebrating it.

The blessed lives of the Sahaba and Sahabiyaat were not like this. Marriages took place as normal everyday mundane events. They got married during their travels, while in wars, while giving dawah, after the death of a spouse, etc. Their marriages were not discontinuities in their everyday lives as they are today. Neither were marriages once in a lifetime affairs. Men and women married multiple times in their lives as living alone was frowned upon even for elder people. Most of the Prophet's (SWAS) wives other than Ayesha (RA) were not that young and had married before.

Marriage is a contract in which two individuals publicly agree to have marital relations. By doing so they participate in becoming the foundations of a society, a nation and a civilization. This is the only legal way for them to enjoy each other's company. By keeping marriages simple, young people can easily get married and not fall into haraam which is so easy these days. It allows all strata of society to get married, not just the rich. People who are not so well off do not have to borrow on interest and live a lifetime of economic slavery. A point to note about the Prophet's (SWAS) advise was that it applies to the poor as well as the rich. By refraining from excessive spending, the rich can set a standard which all segments of the population can easily follow.

In Islam, marriage is celebrated after the nikkah in a party called a Walimah -- which in Arabic literally means an invitation to eat. This is obligatory and the guests MUST include poor relatives, friends and acquaintences. The groom arranges the Walimah in his capacity after consumation of the marriage. There is no fixed date for the Walimah. It can be the next day, the next month, the next year, etc.

In 2004, when I first met my wife's family and saw her in their presence in Karachi. We took 2 days to decide to get married. The nikkah was arranged in the next couple of days in an empty nearby plot in a simple ceremony.There was a lecture about marriage in Islam. We signed the marriage contract. I paid Rs. 51,000 /AED 2000/$600 mehr to my wife. I had around 10 guests. The rest were my wife's family's guests. There was a simple dinner. When my wife's residence visa for UAE was arranged, she travelled with her sister's family to Abu Dhabi. After about a month or two we had a Walimah in 4 star hotel halls (separate for men and women) next to my flat. Among the guests were my family, friends, my family's friends, relatives, work colleagues but also present were our servant, watchman and office boys. It was a simple dinner. Two days later we went on our honeymoon to Makkah to perform Umrah. We prayed for a blessed foundation to our married lives. My parents did not pay anything for the marriage, neither did I take a loan. Alhamdulillah, that was our marriage and I have no doubt that, as the Prophet (SWAS) said, it has been blessed, because it was done with pure intentions on both sides without any fanfare.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fuztu wa Rabbil Kaaba

If you asked the tortoise how he beat the rabbit in the race they had in the famous fable, he would tell you that he always kept his eyes on his goal and kept working at it. In contrast, the rabbit got distracted. In many ways, life is like that race as well. There are certain goals that need to be achieved by a certain time frame. The most successful people are not those that are the most skillful, but rather those who adamantly pursue their targets and are not distracted along the way. There are many capable and talented individuals who chose to procrastinate and end up becoming losers in life.

The first thing one must realize is what are those goals that one should strive for? Indeed this is the most important of matters. A person must undergo a process of self-realization at some stage in his/her life. The Monarch butterfly migrates each fall from North America to Central America in a journey of over 2,500 miles one way. It hibernates the winter there and returns in the spring. What is most remarkable is that the generation that makes the first trip has died off when the second generation makes the second trip back, yet generation after generation follow the same flight path and hibernate on the very same trees. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_butterfly#Migration for details. What is most perplexing is how the next generation learns about the detailed mission of its life. As believers we know that Allah (SWT) has simply inspired them to it. It is their instinct to follow a divine plan. Unfortunately, man is the only creation that have been given a free will/independent reasoning and not been left to instinct and therein lies our real test! This is what is referred to as the “trust” in the following verse:

Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up - for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish. (Al Ahzab 33:72).

Each one of us as humans has our own tailored plan that we must discover/reason for ourselves. The earlier this happens, the better. Some undergo self-discovery in their teenage, other in their 20s or 30s. Yet others may have a mid-life crises. A lot of people choose to think about deeper concepts in life only after their retirement. Yet some stumble throughout life without finding answers to basic questions of existence. See “The Enigma of Identity” for details (http://oak-gis.blogspot.ae/2013/09/the-enigma-of-identity.html . Once one knows himself, he/she can better understand the world around him and his/her mission in it. What is interesting that the souls of each one of us have already been etched by the Truth even before our creation! All we need to do is some self-reflection in the correct context to get rid of the veils of delusion that surround us.

And [mention] when your Lord took from the children of Adam - from their loins - their descendants and made them testify of themselves, [saying to them], "Am I not your Lord?" They said, "Yes, we have testified." [This] - lest you should say on the day of Resurrection, "Indeed, we were of this unaware." (Al Araaf 7:172)

Unfortunately, most of us choose to spend a life of self-delusion or procrastination – heedless of our mission like our rabbit that one day they will catch up with our true purpose. It is the promise of Satan to keep humanity is that state.

[Satan] said, "Because You have put me in error, I will surely sit in wait for them on Your straight path. Then I will come to them from before them and from behind them and on their right and on their left, and You will not find most of them grateful [to You]." (Al Araaf 7:16-17)

Ask a terminally ill patient, what they could have done when they were healthy. The only difference between us and him is that he has been forced to focus on the End, whereas we are still distracted with our delusions. A wise person is one who realizes that despite his health he is also terminally “ill” as death sits awaiting everyone as we come closer to it day by day. The sooner we begin living with our End in mind, the sooner we will start prioritizing what is really important and start achieving.

There was a Sahabi of the Prophet (SWAS) who on being attacked and killed by the enemies cried out “Fuztu bi Rabbil Kaaba!” (“I have won by the Lord of the Kaaba!”) The enemies were perplexed as how he had won upon facing his death. It is not difficult to understand if we consider it in context of the tortoise’s victory. He had lived with an eye on the End, struggled for it in his lifetime and when he finally reached it he could visualize it. Hence he cried out in joy! How many of us can seriously follow his example?

Perhaps the best aide to keep an eye on the End is the Quran. They say that you can achieve your goals if you can visualize them. The Quran opens up new vistas of the unseen and afterlife in a language and style that makes one visualizes/experience it in this life with little effort. In fact it constantly keeps us on track as we hear it in congregational prayers and read it with understanding. This is why understanding it in Arabic is so important. Without it one cannot visualize its verses “in full color” which is lost in translations. It constantly reinforces its paradigm of Reality, coloring our hearts and minds with the inspiration that come automatically to Mornarch butterflies and all other Creation.

If you have not had the opportunity to discover yourself yet, I invite you to begin the process. Learn about yourself and the context of your existence. You have not been left to blindly wander in life or follow the whims from Satan. Find out your goals and focus on them, keeping an eye on the End. Fortunately, the last preserved message to mankind is with us. Try to understand it and do some self-reflection in its context. Study the Quran formally in courses and be inspired! May we all feel the excitement of reaching the finishing line with satisfaction like the Sahabi who cried out “Fuztu bi Rabbil Kaaba!"

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Enigma of Identity

The people of honor in pre-Islamic Arabian society were those who remembered the detailed family genealogy of the Arab tribes. They did not have records. Everything detailed was memorized. Abu Bakr (RA) was one such person. This tradition continued after Islam as knowing about one's parents and ancestors is considered important in our religion. Not that it is something to boast about, but it helps a person understand who he is, why is he the way he is and the what potential does this life hold for him in the historical narrative of this world.

Do you know who you are? Self identification is a process every individual undergoes in life. There are many aspects to it. These days people are quick to give out their business cards when asked "who/what are you?" But the job title is really just one aspect, which in a way fits you in our contemporary social hierarchy. In fact, this is an interesting question that we should all take time to ponder over because it is deeper than what it seems. It has philosophical, sociological, professional, historical, religious, political, educational, cultural, etc. dimensions to it that we should consider. It is relevant to any conscientious human being, especially to one who is trying to practice Islam.

I struggled with these questions throughout my early years. My ancestors were Afghan/Pashtuns who had settled in Pathan villages of North India over the centuries of Muslim rule there. My parents were born in India. They and part of their extended family had migrated to Pakistan after its creation. My father had left Pakistan in 1963 to come to the Arabian Gulf for work. It was here that he raised his family. I got educated in an International School with Lebanese roots in the Emirates, after which I left for the States to study Engineering. I could relate to a number of societies, e.g. Pashtuns, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs (with all their variety), Americans, plus a whole range of nationalities living in the Emirates and part of the international student body in US universities, but I never felt I belonged or ever felt the need to belong to any one group in the full sense of the word. I have tried to be thankful for the diversity of my heritage/education and endeavored to pick up the good aspects from all my experiences, while discarding the negative influences.

Growing up we were all Cultural Muslims. The fact that I never studied Islam formally in school, was actually a blessing in disguise because when I finally quenched my thirst for it at graduate school in NJ, the freshness was like that a revert feels, while still having both Asian and Arab Muslim experiences to relate to. So in a way, I had the best of all experiences, alhamdulillah. I was able to discard a lot of the cultural baggage that born Muslims have while approaching Islam from the fresh perspective of a "revert". The self education that started then still goes on and may only end in the next world, insha Allah. Over the years, I find myself relating to the Salafist ideology more than others, but do not agree with their insistence on the rigid formalism in external rituals. I have found that by practicing Islam and undertaking all its various responsibilities, one gets to experience the bliss and inner understanding which comes in submitting oneself to Allah's (SWT) commands. Thus I do believe in spirituality. In fact it is what had initially attracted me to Islam. But it can only be achieved by following the practices that the Prophet (SWAS) taught us. Any other methodology to achieve spirituality is misguidance.

Professionally, I have studied Engineering, but throughout my career I have sought to keep building upon my strengths, by studying Computer Science, Geomatics, GIS, Petroleum Engineering, etc. My focus has been to provide a service to my employer that no one else can with the quality and capability that I can. I started my career off as a Computer Programmer after which I taught Computer Science to undergraduate and graduate students in a university as an Assistant Professor. Then I worked as a GIS Specialist in the Geomatics Engineering team in a Petroleum company. Currently, I solve Petroleum Engineering problems using GIS as an analytical tool in a new team in the same company. Again, as with my heritage, I do not see the diversity of my education and experiences as a problem, but rather as a blessing that makes me capable of solve real problems using different skills/perspectives that I bring to the team.

Politically I do not support any party or leadership in Pakistan, not even the religious parties. I do not believe change can come through the Parliamentary system, nor through terrorism. I believe real change can only come by following the Prophetic methodology of tarbiyya of the society. Until a critical mass of the population can be educated and reformed, no real change can be expected. Thus the pathway to political change is a change in the mindset and beliefs of the general population. This can be achieved through personal reform, education, social work, dawah, social outreach, etc. The real challenge is intellectual in nature. It is a battle of hearts and minds that need to be won. I believe the ends do not justify the means. Shortcuts do not work. Long term, well thought out, intellectually sound course of action is needed. Real, lasting change is slow, even though its result may seem quick when they eventual come. Every single person should be motivated to carry out personal reform, continuous education, social improvement, etc. Only then will the whole society and thus its leadership will reform.

Socially, Allah (SWT) demands that I play various roles in life. I am a son, a husband, a father, a brother, a son in law, a brother in law, a relative, a neighbor, an employee, a colleague, a philanthropist, a teacher, a social worker, a writer, a daee, etc. I try my best to play out each of these roles to the best of my abilities. I try to find out what my responsibilities are for each role and I try to check whether I am fulfilling all of them properly. I do not believe in being a workaholic or excessively focused only on my profession, to the detriment of other roles -- as society these days often demands of us.

All the above parameters, help identify who I am. I am reluctant to take just one or two of them and define myself. If I am forced to say something comprehensive about my identity in a phrase, I can only choose from: "A Slave of Allah (SWT)" or "A Follower of Muhammad (SWAS)" or "A Student of Life" or "A Traveller in Transit", etc.

Do you know who you are? Where did your ancestors come from? What good things can you adopt from them? What should you leave out? Have you thought out what your stand is on important issues in life are? What service to you want to provide in life? How do you respond to the major challenges to your time? What responsibilities do you have on others? How would you describe yourself in a phrase?

The answers to these questions started to become clear to me in graduate school in NJ in the mid 1990s when I discovered Islam, alhamdulillah. When will it be for you?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Parallel Paradigms

Have you ever seen a 3D movie? You can visualize the same scene with or without the glasses but only one depicts the extra virtual depth dimension that seems missing from plain 2D. Experiencing the reality of this world can be sensed the same way. You can either look at the apparent, outward and material aspects of this world; or you can try to put on glasses that allow you to holistically sense extra dimensions of its reality. This is the difference between the materialistic worldview and Islamic worldview. The two are diametrically opposite ways of sensing. They are two parallel paradigms of reality!

The materialistic worldview removes God from the grand narrative of reality of this world. It states that the world, its characteristics, mankind with all his capabilities and adaptations, etc. came about by a chain of probabilistic events. The highly improbable likelihood of everything happening by chance does not deter the proponents of this worldview. They vehemently deny any grand purpose. As opposed to this the Islamic paradigm is God-centric. It provides a purpose of the creation of the Universe, this world, mankind and his position in it. It points to continuation of the human experience in afterlife which will be based on actions of this life. In its philosophy, there is a struggle between Good and Evil and it promises the eventual victory for the Good.

Islamic worldview is enhanced by a continual study of its sources and its implementation in our lives. A viewer of a 3D movie would only be confused if he puts on glasses with one glass missing. Likewise it seems ridiculous to put the glass of materialism on the right eye on Islam on the left. I assure you, by doing so you will not enjoy the movie (narrative) from neither perspective and will waste your theater ticket and time. Yet this is what most Muslims are attempting to do!
 
Have you seen the optical illusion that shows an image of a young woman and an old woman in the same illustration? (If not see https://www.google.ae/search?q=old+woman+young+woman+optical+illusion&rlz=1T4ADRA_enAE439AE439&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=T3YtUvPiKpSk0AWS0IGYDg&ved=0CCwQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=795) Based on your initial perspective you can see either and eventually both. In many ways this life is a series of such illustrations. Based on the type of glasses you are wearing you will see a certain image, which might be diametrically opposite of the image you see if you were wearing the other set of glasses. In many ways our perspective is colored by our intentions. We go along life making decisions based on what we sense and in the end we would be accountable for all our decisions. At that point we will see all our optical illusions for what they really were. Outward religious practices like the 5 pillars, keeping good company and studying the Quran with comprehension are supposed to help you be inspired to keep making the right decisions and keep you on the right track (Siraat al Mustaqeem).

It is important to emphasize that the same way a 3D view does not eliminate any benefit from 2D, the same way the Islamic paradigm does not belittle any materialistic detail that may be good for us. Thus in trying to achieve the Islamic goals you will accomplish those materialistic goals that may be good for you anyway, whereas they opposite may not be true.

To be true to Islamic practice, it may be useless to try to just cling on the apparent forms of worship of our religion in the face of a global materialistic onslaught. We cannot force our children to do the same either. What is needed is for us to taste and keep enhancing our Islamic spiritual experiences by truly studying Islam from its sources and attempting to implement it in our lives. Only then can we be hopeful to be always inspired to the Truth.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Concerning Canada

I just returned from a 3 week trip to Canada. I visited Toronto and Calgary for 10 days each. I have visited Canada regularly in the 1990s while I was living in the US. Having lived in US, Pakistan and the Middle East for extended periods, I may qualify in trying to analyze what Canada offers that other places do not as well as the possible dangers of Canadian society to a practicing Muslim family. If you have read my blogs you know that in general I prefer that a Muslim should live in a Muslim country, e.g. see "The Pearl of Life" (http://oak-gis.blogspot.ae/2012/05/pearl-of-life.html) and "Advantages of the Emirates" (http://oak-gis.blogspot.com/2013/06/advantages-of-emirates.html). Nevertheless every individual and family situation is different and needs a specific solution that is right for them.

In many ways Canada is a colder version of US. It is a secular democracy. It is a capitalist free market economy. It values hard work, ingenuity, personal development, individuality, etc. It was founded by European settlers in North America after mercilessly killing the natives and rounding those who remained in reservations. Its population which is very small compared to its landmass, is growing old and thus the government has been injecting fresh young blood through immigration which has now become quite selective. Unlike the US, its Head of State is still the Queen of England; it has free basic health for all; better government benefits for the underprivileged; greater concern for cultural diversity; less crime; less run down inner cities and more general tolerance for practicing Muslims and their religion. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that as long as the Muslims keep their religion as a cultural vistage from their homeland they are welcome which is often acceptable to many. Thus if you want to eat halal and have Friday prayers in the public school it is acceptable, but it remains to be seen how the establihment will react once Muslims start challenging "Canadian values" by implementing Islam in areas where it really matters, e.g. mainstream politics and economy. Personally, I believe they will not be welcome to touch these areas.

It is often observed that Islamic practice in Western countries only survives for two generations at most. By the third generation, Muslims have been observed to lose their faith to mainstream secularism. The exception being, if the family moves back to a Muslim country or if a generation is kept virtually isolated in a Darul Uloom in the West. Having said that, I have also witnessed the phenomenon of Muslims losing their faith in one generation and reverting back in the next! Canada is no exception. For a practicing Muslim, such a society is a battleground for the hearts and minds. Its population is open minded and listens to reason and truth. Hence there is ample ground for dawah for those who have the skills and knowledge to do so without the mainstream ideology affecting them and their children. It is futile to force children to go through the motions of forced salaat or to rote learn some Arabic verses from the Quran. Islam must make sense to them! And before them to their parents! 1n 1999, I decided to leave the US because I sensed that my secular education had ill prepared me to save my deen in an ocean of kufr. Indeed many individuals and families will benefit from leaving.

For someone who has studied Islam, Western civilization, globalization and is fluent in English/French, the opportunities for dawah are abundant. There is freedom to practice religion in the guise of protecting cultural/religious diversity that the Canadian society values. Nevertheless, care is needed to safeguard and constantly grow eemaan in oneself and in one's family while you are there. This can be achieved by living next to the masjid and involving the whole family in its educational and propagation activities; preferring Islamic values to Canadian values; arranging quality Islamic education for oneself and one's children (preferably in a good Islamic / home school) and praying all the daily prayers in congregation at the masjid. Scholars permit such people to live in the West, on the condition that dawah is their primary goal.

Overall, I have found Canadians to be tolerant, friendly, emphatic, straight forward and helpful. This is more true in Western parts of the country than the urban centers in the East which are more impersonal. Unlike the Middle East, the opportunities to run your own business are great. There is little red tape and you operate on an equal footing. The economy of Calgary is booming with lots of employment and business opportunities, especially in oil and gas.

For those seeking advise to settle in Canada, I would say that it depends on your situation. You are the best judge for yourself. The most apparent dangers are to your faith due to the overwhelming godless nature of the mainstream society. But those who have prepared themselves for dawah in the West it might be a source of ajer if they take precautions and keep their intentions sincere.