Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Zammiluni" (Cover Me)

I wanted to direct my own short narrative video for a long time. I had a little taste of it with my collaboration with Umar Mita, but I didn't get a full grip of it. I kept on postponing on making one. Of course, with procrastination, comes excuses.

I believe in the concept of learning with experience. If I don't start, then how am I going to get experience?

Everything has to start somewhere.

So one day, while driving to Ottawa, I got an idea for a short video. I was driving, so I told my friend to take down some notes for me so that I don't forget. I ran the idea by my friend, Qayyum, because the idea involved a husband and a wife. Since he is recently married, I thought this would be a good opportunity. He agreed and his wife agreed to it too.

I revised my notes with another friend, just to get a fresh perspective on the idea. We refined the concept together, I gathered a few extras to help me out, we all went to the university to shoot the video, and the video above is the result of 1.5 hours of shooting.

The idea behind the video stemmed from the story of Prophet Muhammad and his beloved wife, Khadijah. When the Prophet was so scared after he received the first revelation, he ran to Khadijah and said to her, "Zammiluni!", which means "cover me".

What better expression is there to describe a marriage?

Ramadan Reflection Day 21: The Day I Stopped Eating Rice

Photo by Pittaya Sroilong

So yesterday I decided to stop eating rice for a week.

You have to understand the "heresy" of that statement. Being an Asian, rice flows in my blood. I've been eating rice all my life - for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner. Occasionally, I'll eat other stuff like noodles, burgers, bread, etc.

But rice is my staple food. It is in fact the official staple food where I come from i.e. Malaysia.

So when I decided to stop eating rice (just for a week by the way), I realized that the air is filled with a pinch of skepticism.

"Wow, if I was you, I can't do it."

"You can't just quick cold turkey like that. That's not healthy."

"I can't live without rice."

This is not a stunt that I'm pulling to lose some weight. That's not the main reason. The main reason behind this short experiment is to put into conscious perspective the things that I take for granted and to realize that I am not really dependent on things that I think I am dependent upon.

I have been eating rice like I have been breathing air. I take it for granted because that's what everyone's doing where I come from. It is normal to me. It is routine.

I am personally concerned with things that are routine because I simply don't think about it. Plus, I might convince myself that I need it. If I am able to live my life normally without eating so much rice everyday, then why not? I thought the first R in the 3 Rs of being environmental friendly is Reduce.

Besides, it's not hard to give up rice considering that I am fasting. I am already abstaining myself from eating and drinking the whole day. Isn't abstaining a part of the spirit of fasting? Why not abstain from rice? I can save some money and lose some weight on the side. It's not a bad deal after all.

To be clear, I am not starving myself to death. When I say I'm quitting rice for a week, I think some people hear "I'm quitting food for a week."

I need food. I don't need rice.

There's a difference.

Besides, it's just a week without rice. It's not the end of the world.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 20: A Radical Seed in a Land of Possibilities

Photo by the yes man

Okay, I am going to stick my head in the clouds for a minute.

We are very susceptible to trends, and not just on Twitter. Almost everyone wants to stay updated. Those who don't are looked down upon.

Fashion, games, phones, cars, computers, television sets - you name it. If it's not the latest trend, then it's too old and must be disposed of. Nothing lasts. Everything has an expiry date.

A trend is a powerful thing, but it must be kept in check. Otherwise, trends will control us. We will follow everything that trends dictate. We will give little to no consideration to what trend it is and what does it lead to; as long as we're ahead of the game, we don't care. Why are we so obsessed with being ahead? Ahead of what? Where does this race lead to? Where is the finish line? Or rather, is there a finish line?

Capitalism is no secret. Capitalism is no conspiracy.

The idea behind it all is to make us consume more and produce less. Not too long ago in our history, we were the opposite. We were communities of producers and we consumed much of what we produce with out own hands. If you ask me, I say those were the golden years. We might call them people of the pre-civilization era. If so, I cast a doubtful eye on what "civilization" means.

We used to grow our own food. Now, we have children who don't even know where oranges come from. We used to find creative ways to entertain ourselves.

We used to create our own entertainment. Now, we can't even summon sufficient creative energy to entertain ourselves, such that we need to outsource our entertainment to TV, computers, games, phones, etc.

We used to sew our own clothes. Now, we can't even fix a small tear in our pants. We just go out and buy a new pair.

We used to go out and explore the world. Now, we are stuck on our couches. A 1km walk is seen as too much, so we take the car. We shouldn't be surprised that the general health of the public is in a bad shape.

It makes sense now that we are afraid. We are afraid of not getting a job. We are afraid of not having enough money. We are afraid of being poor. We are afraid of enduring hardship. We are afraid of waiting.

We are used to consumption that the thought of not temporarily not consuming or consuming much less scares us to death.

I don't want to sound like a grumpy old man. When I found out how awesome the previous generations were and I compare them to us, it's hard to convince myself that we are - ultimately - better off. I am not suggesting that we move backward in time and live exactly like our grandfathers. I am suggesting that we take inspirations from the past and apply them to the present.

The advancement of technology is amazing, but we have to be mindful of its cost. Advancement for advancement sake will not do, if we plan to prosper as a collective.

This is not an expression of ingratitude. I am grateful for the blessings that I have today. But I am beginning to caution myself not to think that a wolf in sheep's clothing is actually a sheep.

I am not immune. I am a consumer too. This article is a voice of frustration in myself, first and foremost. Forgive me for doing a lot of talking, without the walking. I'm still figuring out the walking part, like a baby.

Somewhere in our history we became unable to walk on our own two feet. Someone managed to convince us that we need a cane.

Okay, grandpa needs to get off the rocking chair now.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 19: A Case for Diverse Intelligence

Source: Full HD Wallpapers

If you place a white kid and a black kid in a room, they acknowledge that each person is different from the other but they don't think that the other doesn't belong. Kids can make friends with virtually anybody; one is not better than the other. The criterion for our ultimate distinction between one another is one that no one can measure except for God, and that criterion is Taqwa (God-consciousness).

"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted." (Surah al-Hujurat: 13)

At the essence of humanity is diversity. We unite on the basis of our collective and individual differences. Those who try to make everyone the same are always those who cause unnecessary conflicts.

Uniformity doesn't breed unity. Diversity does.

It just hit me quite recently that I have been in the schooling system since I was 7 years old, I am 22 years old now. I realized that I have been in school for literally the majority of my life. As obvious as it should have been, I was so out of tuned that I didn't realize it. It was so routine that I didn't even think about it. I basically took for granted one of the biggest things in my life - education.

I've never asked myself a very essential question about my education: what's the meaning of all this?

You can't separate knowledge from its philosophy; the philosophy is the foundation on which the knowledge is built upon. Knowledge is like a tree; one with many branches and each branch has its own individual philosophy. We need all the branches because each branch contributes differently to the world. If you remove the branches, the tree will slowly die.

When I say "branches of knowledge", what usually goes on through our minds?

How many of us thought about fixing a car as one branch of knowledge? How about cooking, singing, dancing, painting, woodcarving, brick-layering, book-binding, gardening, farming, writing, or even waitressing? Are they not branches of knowledge?

I have a hunch that if I ask people to list down important branches of knowledge, most of them will list down science and math as their top two. I don't have evidence to support it, which is why I called it a "hunch". But my hunch is based on the fact that the current education system is rather obsessed with science and math. This obsession is translated into our preference for certain types of jobs and our direct or indirect discrimination for other jobs. When was the last time you hear parents rave about how their child wanted to be a carpenter?

Indeed, science and math are important. But when we put the two on a pedestal and leave everything else below, I have a problem with that.

We need all the branches. Otherwise, the tree will slowly die.

Just like people, knowledge is diverse. Each branch of knowledge resonates differently with different people. There are people who can get science because it speaks dearly to them. There are people who can get math because it speaks dearly to them. Then, there are those people who don’t get either. They just don’t get it. Here’s the zinger: there’s nothing wrong with not getting science and/or math.

I believe that God gave each of us specific inclinations to things. We all have our individual forte. We all have our individual intelligence.

Intelligence, like people and knowledge, is diverse. It is impossible to fit everyone into a small box, then why is it that we try to fit everyone into a narrow conception of intelligence? The current mainstream educational philosophy doesn't account for the many dimensions of intelligence that exist. Everyone is brainwashed into thinking that the only intelligence is the intelligence in the narrow set of subjects in school. Beyond that, you are not considered intelligent.

Look at the school curriculum and find out for yourself. Do we put as much emphasis on physical education as we do on science? Do we put as much emphasis on arts as we do on math? Do we put as much emphasis on vocational education (fixing electronics, making furniture, sewing clothes, etc.) as we do on literature?

I believe science, math, literature, and the like are very important. But so do physical education, arts, vocational education, and a myriad of other branches of knowledge – some of which are so marginalized that we don’t even hear about them anymore.

We can't afford to lose any of them.

So if our children can't do well in school, that's okay. That doesn't mean that they can't do well in life. Maybe their intelligence lie somewhere else, and they need us to help them get there.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 18: Living in the Present

Photo by Caleb Roenigk

I think the key to a good quality life is in the present moment. It is in the here and now. It is in the present that I am currently living in. I don't live in my past anymore and I don't know I am going to live in my future.

Too many people are preoccupied with their past; not letting go and moving on. Too many people are obsessed with their future; always rushing and looking at what's next.

But how many are mindful of the present?

The present is our centre. Our past and our future are in the periphery; not because they are not important, but because they are not the focus. The focus is on the here and now.

The past is history, we learn from it. The future is a mystery, we don't know much about it. Both the past and the future play a supporting role in the story of our life, but the present is the leading role.

It's all about the present moment.

God doesn't judge us based on our past or our future. He sees us in this present moment. But are we here, or are we somewhere else?

"You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the 'present.'" (Master Oogway, from Kung Fu Panda)

Some might argue, "Well, it's easier said than done." Heck yes, it is. I'm not going to say that it's easy. I'm optimistic, but I'm not delusional.

The life that we live in is a fast-paced life. We are constantly reminded of our past and we are constantly pushed for our future. But I want to ask everyone (myself, first and foremost), to spare some time each day to refocus our lives because the life that we live in tends to push us off course.

Spend some time each day to stop and breathe. Spend some time each day to be alone and to centre ourselves. Spend some time each day to notice the little things. Spend some time each day to revisit why we do the things that we do. Spend some time each day to differentiate between the things that matter and the things that don't. Spend some time each day to have a bird's eye view about where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.

Spend some time each day to live in the moment.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 17: Community of Healers

Photo by Sulejman

A Muslim woman emailed me her story. I edited it a little bit, but the overall message is still in tact.

I believe everyone has his/her own dark past and I have mine that I have to deal with. I am a mother, but I am not married.

Despite being pregnant out of wedlock, I was determined to deliver this child. Abortion wasn't an option. I didn't care what other people think. I want to raise this child like any mother would. I don't want to punish my innocent child for the crime I have committed.

It has been three years. I accepted what had happened to me and I'm doing my best for my child, but I can't stop thinking about what I had done. Did I do the right thing by taking the responsibility and raising my child?

I can't go out. I can’t go to work. People are murmuring behind my back. I feel like people will keep judging me. I somehow lost the will to live.

I know that only to Allah I should turn for help, but I can't contain this feeling; this feeling of overwhelming sadness.

True story.

Zina (fornication) is committed by at least two consenting, non-married individuals and both are equally responsible for what they had done. She realized that she had done something wrong and I believe that she has repented. So I commended her for that.

I also commended her for not punishing the child for the sins that she and the man did. I have seen enough baby dumping cases in the news, and I am grateful that her child didn't end up as a part of the statistic.

I'm not writing this to argue about the prohibition of zina. I have a feeling that she and the man already knew about the prohibition of zina. The problem is less about knowing that zina is wrong, but more about taking preventive measures to avoid zina in the first place.

"And do not approach zina. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way." (Surah al-'Isra': 32)

On top of that, I find no benefit in guilt tripping her about what she had done. Saying "You should be ashamed of yourself!" doesn't really do anyone any good, except making myself feel better for saying it (which is stupid).

Besides, she repented. Insha Allah, her record is now clean.

Focus on the solution, not the problem.

What she needs right now is to move on with her life; something that is proven to be very difficult and close to being impossible considering that the people around her don't allow her to move on. She's walking with a huge sign on her head that says "I committed zina" and we are the ones who put that sign there.

How could she move on when all that the people do is reminding her of her past mistake?

After someone has sincerely repented from a sin, Allah erases the sin from his/her record. The sin is now gone. Allah is no longer holding that person accountable for it anymore.

If the Ultimate Judge has pardoned her, then who are we to hold our own judgment sessions? To speak about someone else's past? To dig up all the buried trash? To cut deeper on a healing wound?

It's hard enough for her to forget the past, but it becomes 10x harder when we superglued her to her past. She made a mistake and she repented. We should help her to move on, not ostracize her like she's an outsider. She's still a Muslim. She's still our sister in Islam.

How can she heal if we keep on hurting her on the same spot?

Shame on us.

The Muslim Ummah is not an exclusive club reserved for only the sinless Muslims (by the way, there is no such people). The Ummah is a place of solace; where all people from all backgrounds with all their different issues and problems can find a shoulder or two to cry on. We're brothers and sisters who support each other in dealing with our individual struggles.

Are those just a bunch of fluffy words, or are we really living by them?

In the time of the Prophet, it was no fluff. The Prophet built a community of healers. He empowered the sinners and he taught us to do the same. No one is free of sins so we should stop expecting people to be sin-free.

Yes, in the case of the Muslim sister in the email above, she committed a major sin. It's serious stuff. But we must understand that no matter how big the sin of a sinner is, it is no match for Allah's Mercy - His Mercy is bigger.

So shouldn't we, the slaves of the All-Merciful, be merciful as well?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 16: The Father That I Am

Photo by Thomas

I don’t have kids. I’m not even married, yet. So the title might throw you off a bit. But the title is not a gimmick, it is a statement. Rather, it is a question.

"What kind of father am I?"

Being unmarried and consequently having no kids, it's kind of a weird question to ask. It's even weirder to ask such a question in the present tense as oppose to the future tense. But my question is based on a principle that I'm trying to live by and it is this:

"Parenting starts before marriage and the first child you’ll raise is yourself."

I have learned enough about childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in my psychology classes to convince myself that the principle rings true. A lot of the psychological malfunctions can be traced back, partly, to the family and in essence, to the parents. Of course, I have to emphasize that there is no one specific and exclusive cause for a malfunction. A human being is influenced by so many factors. These factors are like pieces of a puzzle, and I have no doubt that parenting is a huge piece of the puzzle.

It is a personal conviction of mine that I think that parenting shouldn't start on the day that I got my first child. Parenting should start even before I am married. But then, who am I parenting if I'm not married and don't have a child?

I am parenting myself. I am my own "child".

How I take care of myself will reflect how I will take care of my future, unborn child.

If I want my child to love Allah, shouldn't I love Allah first?
If I want my child to love the Prophet, shouldn't I love the Prophet first?
If I want my child to pray 5 times a day, shouldn't I pray 5 times a day first?
If I want my child to show compassion to all people, shouldn't I show compassion to all people first?
If I want my child to take care of his/her physical health, shouldn't I take care of my physical healthy first?
If I want my child to read good books, shouldn't read good books first?

It all starts with myself. A child is more in tuned to what the parent does than to what the parent says. A child is always observing and learning from the parent. Always. The parent is the child's lifelong teacher, starting from the day that the child is born, and the world is the child's classroom.

The teacher can't start the class without any preparation right? So I have to start my parenthood now.

This conviction stemmed from an advise given by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to those who want to get married:

Choose carefully for your children; marry the suitable and give in marriage to them." (Ibn Majah 1/633, graded hasan by al-Albani)

It is clear to me that the Prophet wanted me to think beyond myself; that I should carefully choose a marital partner that isn't just good for me, but also good for my unborn children. I shouldn't just choose a potential wife, but also a potential mother.

The first right of my unborn child is that I choose a suitable and righteous spouse. Keep in mind, someone's God-given right is no joke. It's a serious matter.

So I should choose carefully and wisely.

The Hadeeth goes both ways; it applies to me too. I have to work on myself to make sure that I'm fit enough to become not only a good husband, but a good father as well.

Becoming a parent is a big deal. It is one of the biggest roles that I will play in my entire life and once I start playing that role, it will not end. When I become a parent, I am a parent 24/7, 365 days a year until the day I die. There is no vacation for a parent.

But that's not what scares me the most.

What scares me the most is that, whether I like it or not, my children will look up to me. I am responsible for the upbringing of another human being. Children will reflect their parents, one way or the other. That's scary because what my children will become has a lot to do with how I raise them. If I do a bad job, I will be responsible for that in front of Allah.

At the same time, it's also exciting. It’s exciting because I have an opportunity to build an awesome generation, from my own home. I will be responsible for that in front of Allah too, but in a good way.

Responsibility. That is one heavy word.

I am well aware that I can't be 100% ready to be a parent. No matter how many books I read, how many courses I take, and how many hours I've spent taking tips from experienced parents, I will never be 100% ready. I can't wait until I'm perfect to get married or to have a child. That's impossible. I can spend a lifetime and still I will not be perfect.

I don't, in any way, claim that I know better than people who do have kids. That would be arrogant of me to think that way. I would take any of them as my teacher any day because I know that I will learn something from them. I am aware that being a youth, I can be hasty at times so I need the wisdom from my seniors to keep me sound and grounded.

The point of this article is to say that having an awareness of the weight of this God-given Amanah (trust) and doing my best to prepare myself to take that Amanah on my shoulders, is my best strategy at being the best father that I can be.

Even after writing this article, I am not sure if I am good enough to become a parent, or a husband for that matter. But I see that as a good thing, because that gives me the push to keep on improving myself.

I am not a finished product. I will never be a finished product.

I am always a work in progress.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 15: Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

Photo by Kelly Finnamore

When I am outside of my comfort zone, I usually feel nervous.

I think that's normal.

When we venture into a new territory, we don't know what to expect. As a protective mechanism, we feel nervous. The nervousness turns our alarm system on so that we are alert and careful. So, in a way, it's a good thing to feel nervous, maybe even a little bit scared.

But at the same time, we have to manage this feeling so that it doesn't become a hindrance for us to explore our world. We need to explore our world. We can't stay in our bubble forever. Well, technically we can, but we shouldn't.

Nervousness typically arises from situations where I am on my own or where I am being evaluated for how I'm doing.

A good example of such a situation in public speaking. When you are in front of people, you feel like you're alone and you feel like you're being evaluated for your performance. Those are true; in a way you are alone and you are being evaluated. But then, there is a tendency to go overboard with regards to how intense you should feel nervous about it. The situations aren't as bad as you think they are. Some people say that they would rather die than do public speaking. Surely if I point a gun at you and say, "Do public speaking or I'll shoot you!", you're not going to refuse right?

We should be aware of this tendency to stretch the imagination to an unrealistic and extreme end, and find mechanisms to control it and tone it down.

Trust me. It's not that bad.

When I find myself in an unfamiliar situation where I feel uncomfortable, I usually practice self-talk where I tell myself that I can do this. I basically become my own motivator. I tell myself that I should care less about what people think and more about giving it my very best. In essence, my best effort is the most that I can offer and that is what I (or anyone else) should expect of myself.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I don't go for perfection because I know it's impossible. I know that I will make mistakes, so I allow myself to make mistakes. I don't mean that I deliberately make mistakes, but I allow for that option to exist. I don't tell myself that I can't make mistake at all because that's not humanly possible. Even if I give my 100%, chances are I'm going to make mistakes, and that's okay.

I don't see mistakes as failures, rather I see mistakes as lessons. That's how we all learn when we were babies. It seems so natural.

Past experiences do help in facing new situations and venture into unknown territories. I think the reason why that’s the case is because I know what to expect of myself when I'm in a new situation. Based on past experiences, I know that I am capable of trying new things.

One of the benefits of challenging myself in trying something new and of getting out of my comfort zone is that I gain confidence in myself. The more you explore the world, not only do you understand the world better but you understand yourself better too. I think that contributes a lot to your self-confidence. Being tucked in comfortably in your comfort zone will not take you very far in life.

Venturing outside of my comfort zone is also good for discovering my hidden potentials. You might think that you can't do something, but then when you try it you might surprise yourself. You might think that you don't have that potential, but you'll never know for sure unless you try.

That potential might be in you all along, you just have to look for it and fork it out.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 14: Humanity is Our Concern

Photo by Phil Roeder

Recently I received an honest question from a person who sincerely wants to know and understand. The question was (and I'm paraphrasing): "Why should we care about Palestine?"

If I was to give a one-sentence answer, my answer would be, "It's not about Palestine. It's about humanity." But of course, that answer is simplistic and requires further explanation to avoid any misunderstanding. So I will expand on my answer further.

What goes on in a lot of people's minds (I think) when the issue of Palestine is being addressed is that it is, exclusively, a Muslim issue. Yes, in part, it is. Palestine is dear to the hearts of Muslims and one of the reasons why is because of Masjidil Aqsa (Al-Aqsa Mosque). Masjidil Aqsa is one of three most treasured mosques in Islam, along with Masjidil Haram (The Sacred Mosque in Mecca) and Masjid an-Nabawi (The Prophet's Mosque in Medina).

But in the grand scheme of things, it is a human issue. Hence it should be a concern in the minds of all human beings, worthy of that name.

Muslim or not, I believe we at least share one rule: "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you." We collectively called this The Golden Rule. This rule exists in almost every major religions in the world and even if one's an atheist, it should still be in one's ethical and moral code.

At the essence of this rule is wanting for others what we want for ourselves.

Who among us would want someone to barge into our home and kill our family members while they're sleeping? Who among us would want our children to live in fear 24/7? Who among us would want to see our beloved leaves home walking but returns home on a stretcher? Who among us would want to witness our women being raped in front of our eyes?

Some might think that the things I mentioned above only exist in movies. But there are people who are experiencing those things in real life as we speak.

I don't think anyone of sound mind would want any of those things happen to him/her. If we live by The Golden Rule, we shouldn't sit idly while knowing that those horrible things are happening to anyone else - no matter what race, religion, culture, or country that "anyone" is from.

I am not suggesting that we should all lose sleep over this; indeed we have our own responsibilities to ourselves and to our families. But we shouldn't neglect our responsibilities to others. Every human being has a right over us. At the very core of it, every human being has a right to be recognized and to be treated as a dignified human being.

We should honour that right.

We should care for our fellow humans, especially since we are closer today then we were before. With the advent of technology and the Internet, nobody is out of reach. You can sit in your home and still be aware of what's happening in the far reaches of the world. The borderless world we live in today means that we are all neighbours. We are all a stone's throw away from each other.

We all share the same planet. This planet is like one big ship. If there's a hole in one area of the ship and water is pouring in, shouldn't that be a concern to all members of the ship? I don't think we would say, "Hey, that's your problem. Not mine."

We shouldn't think of Palestine as a country far far away that has nothing to do with us. In fact, we shouldn't think that way about any country. If the same thing that's happening in Palestine was to happen to any other country in the world (US, Canada, UK, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, China, etc.), we should care just as much.

We care about the hurricane victims in US.

We care about the earthquake victims in Japan.

We care about the famine victims in Somalia.

We care about the killings in Burma, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine.

We care about genocides (Holocaust, Rwanda, other places).

We care about the digital dumping ground in Ghana.

We care about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

We should care about all people and we should show that we care. How do we show that we care? Know about them, tell people about them, help them if you can, and remember them in your prayers.

We want for others what we want for ourselves; this is the essence of compassion. Compassion is what makes us human.

Without it, what are we?

Ramadan Reflection Day 13: It's Time To Wake Up

Photo by Daniel GuimarĂ£es

One of my Ramadan goals this year is to sleep less and I am still struggling with it. There were times when I might be sleeping more (Astaghfirullah).

I expect from myself more than I expect from anyone else because I know my limits and I know that I can do better. Even if I have reached my limits, I might be able to push those limits. So I am more strict with myself than I am with anyone else (but not to a point of self-harm).

That doesn't mean that I want to be productive 24/7, because I know that's not possible. Sometimes we need to chill. But when the chilling goes overboard, then I have to stop and recalibrate myself.

I can't sleep all day, wake up for prayers, and eventually wake up for Iftar (break fast). That's just madness.

That's not fasting. I will not settle for that.

I think to myself what were the attitude of the Prophet and his Companions during this month and I can pretty much summarize it in this sentence - they took a lot less and they gave a lot more.

They went on hyperdrive (but not overdrive) in the month of Ramadan. Just because they didn't eat and drink, that didn't make them heavy, slow, and lazy. They went about their days just like any other months. If anything, they were better in Ramadan than any other months!

Oh, and lets not forget, they lived in the desert! I have AC.

If that's not incredible enough, remember that the Battle of Badr happened in Ramadan and the mighty 313 Muslims (who was fasting FYI) defeated an army of  1,000 strong.

When I reflect upon the life of the Prophet and the Companions, I seldom find myself incapable of making any excuses.

I can't say "I can't" while knowing that I can.

Ramadan is an opportunity, and it is a fleeting opportunity. So I can't afford to sleep my way through it.

I should go out of Ramadan a better person. Each Ramadan should bring an improvement to my life. But how many Ramadans have I lived through? Am I still the same person after all those Ramadans?

Ramadan is the time for me to wake up and do more. Indeed there is more work to be done.

I shouldn't settle for anything less than my very best.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 12: You Can Do It!

Source: Google Image

Let me start with an obvious point: we are and will be tested by Allah and His tests are manifested in so many different ways. We can't think for a second that just because we are believers, Allah will give us an easy path to Jannah.

"Do people think that they will be left alone because they say: 'We believe," and will not be tested?'" (Surah al-Ankabut: 2)

The verse quoted above encompasses our life in this world. This is not the place where we experience happily ever after like what is being taught to us in fairy tales. I think the reason why happily ever after is only talked about in fairy tales is because it doesn't exist in this world.

Happily ever after is in the next-world - in Jannah.

Our Own Curriculum

I once attended a talk and in that talk, one of the speakers said something that resonates within me. She said, "Every one of us has a God-given curriculum specifically designed for us individually." How true is that? Not only will we be tested, but we will be tested with different things.

Some are tested with poverty. Some are tested with wealth.
Some are tested with children. Some are tested with no children.
Some are tested with terminal illness. Some are tested with perfect health.
Some are tested with sadness. Some are tested with happiness.

I could go on and on.

So when we see someone being tested with something, be grateful that you are not tested by it. At the same time, don't look down upon that person because you might be tested by something that he/she isn't not tested by.

We Can Do It

When Allah gave us this curriculum, He gave it to us knowing that we have the potential to pass the tests. Allah knows that we have what it takes to face the tests and succeed.

"Allah burdens not a person beyond his scope..." (Surah al-Baqarah: 286)

Allah wouldn't have given you or me that test if He didn't think that we can handle it. He knows that we can. I don't know about you, but knowing that Allah knows that I have the potential to succeed in any test that He gives me is pretty motivating.

It's like Allah is saying to me directly, "Aiman, you can do it!"

However, there are times when the tests seem to be overwhelming. But that doesn't mean that we don't have the potential to handle them. That might just mean that we need a little help, and there's nothing wrong about admitting that we need help.

Ultimately, we ask Allah to help us. But we also ask other people to help us as well. The world is just too huge for us to live alone. Plus, we are social animals who need each other. The idea of living in a supportive community is at the heart of Islamic teaching. Learn about the community which the Prophet built during his time, and you'll see my point.

Allah knows that we have what it takes. But if we need help, then we seek help. There is no shame in that.

Excuses Experts

But too often we don't take the initiative to ask for help. Instead, we turn to a rather pseudo-satisfying coping mechanism: we make excuses.

"I can't stop watching porn. I'm just too weak and there's nothing I can do. Besides, it's not like I'm doing zina right?"

"I can't stop smoking. I can't focus on my studies if I stop smoking. Besides, my dad does it too."

"I can't stop drinking. It's the only way that I can get my mind off of my problems."

"She's just a friend."

One of the hikma (wisdom) of Ramadan is that it made me realize how strong I really am, and that I have underestimated my own potential. I realized that changing a particular habit is much easier in Ramadan, and I'm pretty sure that you have observed the same thing too.

For example, there are people who can control themselves from smoking the entire day. I mean, if you can abstain yourself from smoking from Fajr to Maghrib, then what's stopping you from abstaining from Maghrib to Fajr?

"Well, in Ramadan there's no Shaytan. That's why it's so easy!"

Precisely. That's right. But is that a reason or an excuse? Is Shaytan in control of us? Is Shaytan a puppet master and we are his helpless puppets? I don't think so.

Shaytan has no power over us. The only thing that he can do to us is inviting us to do bad things.

Nouman Ali Khan did a detailed Tafseer of Surah an-Nas. In that Tafseer session, he quoted the fifth verse of the Surah that describe Shaytan as he "who whispers in the chests of people" (Surah an-Nas: 5). Nouman pointed out something profound about this one verse. The verse didn't say that Shaytan whispers in the hearts of people. Shaytan only whispers in the chests of people.

Imagine the heart is our house and the chest is the fence surrounding our house. Shaytan only has access to our yard - the area between the fence and the house. But he has no access to the house at all. The only thing that he can do it to knock on the door, because he doesn't have the power to kick the door open. That's all that he can do. He can't come in, unless someone let him.

The question is, who let him in?

"And Shaitan (Satan) will say when the matter has been decided: 'Verily, Allah promised you a promise of truth. And I too promised you, but I betrayed you. I had no authority over you except that I called you, so you responded to me. So blame me not, but blame yourselves....'" (Surah Ibrahim: 22)

In reality, Shaytan is not as strong as we think he is. Allah knows that we have what it takes to defeat him. Now that we are in Ramadan, Shaytan is "on leave" and we should take this advantage to train ourselves for our next 11-month match with him.

Insha Allah, when Ramadan ends, we'll be ready.

Gloves on.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 11: In Defense of Shyness

Photo by Aiman Azlan

"I am a very shy person. How do I overcome it?"

It is rather unfortunate that our society today, for the most part, perceives shyness as a bad thing. I think the flaw in this perception is the understanding that you are either a shy person or you are a(n) outgoing/friendly/charismatic/fearless/brave/etc.

Shyness is put at one corner of the room where no one wants to be. We are encouraged to remove the shyness in us in order to attain all the other awesome traits, some of which I have mentioned above.

I don't think so. I don't think it's that black and white. I don't think you have to remove shyness to be awesome. Shy people can be awesome. In fact, shy people are awesome!

I think we should treat shyness (and shy people) with more fairness and respect.

So here's my proposal: In the overall scheme of things, shyness is an essential trait, one that all human beings should have. However, shyness can be somewhat inappropriate if one is unable to put it in its proper context i.e. there is a time and a place to be shy.

Shyness is Essential

Shyness is essential in our relationship with our most beloved - Allah. We should be shy to commit any deeds that would not be pleasing to our most beloved.

If, out of our own innate imperfection, we committed a deed that is displeasing to Allah, our shyness should manifest itself in the form of shame and guilt. This shame and guilt should then motivate us to seek the forgiveness of Allah and move on - determined not to repeat the same mistake again.

But if, out of our own innate imperfection, the same mistake happened again then our shyness would humbly move us to seek His forgiveness again, and again, and again.

This essential shyness is called Haya', and perhaps the one who has the most Haya' would be our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

"The Prophet was more shy [Haya': pious shyness from committing religious indiscretions] than a veiled virgin girl." (Sahih Bukhari)

So we should embrace our Haya'. We don't want to be people who don't have any Haya' in them. Indeed, those people without Haya' are those people without shame and people without shame worships none but their own desires.

“Among the words that people learned from the earlier Prophets are: ‘If you feel no shame, then do as you wish.’” (Ibn Majah)

Shaykh Abdurrahman ibn Yusuf Mangera commented on this Hadeeth: "This hadith is not to be taken literally as if granting permission for one to do as he pleases. It is instead a warning that losing one's modesty will lead one to obeying the base and lowly desires of the self, which will lead one to commit sinful and immoral acts."

Inappropriate Shyness

Shyness has a time and a place. If shyness is not put in its proper context, then it becomes inappropriate. I'd like to illustrate this point using a few examples that I commonly come across.

Example 1

One shouldn't be shy to ask questions.

Asking questions is an integral part of learning and Islam encourages us to ask questions - even questions that seem stupid to us. If you are uncomfortable to ask questions in front of a group of people, then ask questions in private. Nevertheless, ask questions.

Those who ask, learn. Those who don't, memorize.

Example 2

One (a man or a woman) shouldn't be shy to approach someone for marriage.

I understand that this can be a rather heavy task to do, but understand that what you are doing is very pleasing to Allah. Allah loves you because you are seeking the halal, and not the alternative. You should be shy to approach the alternative, but you shouldn't be shy to approach marriage.

Example 3

One shouldn't be shy to voice out one's opinions.

Know this: your opinions do matter, even if you think they don't. In situations where you think that you can add value to the discussion with your opinion, you should go ahead and voice it. Of course, it goes without saying that you should voice your opinion wisely (don't get all crazy, okay?).

You should voice your opinions especially when the situation calls for it, like in the face of injustice. When someone's right is being taken away, you shouldn't sit quietly and be "shy". You should step up and voice out, in defense of the oppressed - whoever the oppressed and the oppressor may be.

Final Remarks

So the issue shouldn't be to remove shyness. The issue should be to remove the wrong kinds of shyness and to internalize the right kind of shyness (Haya').

Don't "shy away" from shyness.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 10: Eye on the Prize

Photo by banoootah_qtr

Lets call a spade a spade: the eyes have desires that we (Muslims and non-Muslims) have a great tendency to fulfill, as if there's a gravity-like force that pulls our sight to the things that we shouldn't be looking at. Like gravity, those who resist will feel the force acting on them while those who just go with the flow will feel little or nothing at all. Like gravity, it takes a lot of strength to escape it.

One of the desires of the eyes is the sexual desire. Some are following this desire willy-nilly, some are struggling to keep the gaze down, and others are somewhere in between the spectrum.

From the eyes, to the heart?

In Malay, we have this saying that goes something like this, "From the eyes, to the heart." Someone I know made a slight addition to the saying and said, "But really, from the eyes, it goes to somewhere further south than the heart."

If you catch his drift.

He was being witty of course, but the message he's trying to send is serious and worthy of our attention. There is somewhat a direct connection between the gaze and the sexual desire. In fact, the Quran makes this connection.

"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do." (Surah an-Nur: 30)

There are 4 interesting points that I would like to point out about this verse:

1. "...protect their private parts."

Not only does the Quran made the connection between the gaze and sexual desires, the Quran made the connection in an explicit manner. There is no fluff in this topic; straight to the point: "lower your gaze and protect your private parts." The Quran specifies the bodily organs responsible for sexual desires - the private parts.

To me, the explicit nature of the verse above should catch our attention and should make us realize the seriousness of the topic.

The crime of the private parts i.e. fornication starts from a gaze.

2. "Tell the believing men..."

Nothing in the Quran is a coincidence, not even the sequence of verses or even the sequence within the verses. Allah commands the men to lower their gaze first, before the command is given to the women.

"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do." (Surah an-Nur: 30)

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, and protect their private parts..." (Surah an-Nur: 31)

Here's the thing: I am upset when I hear people putting the responsibility of protecting men on the women.

"Well, the women should cover themselves up to protect the men."

Women cover themselves up not to protect the men. That's not their job. The men should protect themselves!

We speak a lot about modesty for women. Well, I think we should speak more about modesty for men.

3. "That is purer for them."

When Allah said "purer", I ask myself, "Purer than what?"

Like I said before, we have the tendency to fulfill the desire of the gaze. I'm not going to lie, fulfilling that desire feels good - otherwise we wouldn't have the tendency to do it. Some men even do it as a leisure activity.

"Got nothing to do? Lets go check out some chicks!" Astaghfirullah. It amazes me that you don't hear people call that oppression of women.

No matter how pleasurable the gaze is, Allah promises us something purer. Don't look at what you're not suppose to look at. Save your gaze for a sight that's better and more rewarding. Don't sell your gaze at a very cheap price.

Keep your eye on the prize. Not the temporary prize, but the ultimate Prize.

Imagine this: our eyes were created by Allah to enjoy the best sight ever - the sight of Allah's Face. If we want to witness that magnificent sight, then we have to keep our lenses clean.

4. "Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do."

Being humans, it goes without saying that we are not immune from mistakes and that includes mistakes of the eyes. I feel kind of guilty writing this post because my eyes have their share of mistakes. May Allah forgive me. Ameen. So I am writing this for myself, first and foremost.

Lowering the gaze is hard enough as it is, but it becomes especially hard when you see inappropriate images wherever direction you place your sight to. They're practically everywhere, sometimes even on the ground!

Alhamdulillah, it is by the Mercy of Allah that an unintentional sight is excused. But be aware of the second sight - that might not be "unintentional" anymore.

Don't steal a gaze. You might be able to do it beyond the awareness of people, but do you really think that you can do it beyond the awareness of Allah - who is All-Aware?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 9: Beyond Hunger and Thirst

Photo by Aiman Azlan

The sweet irony of Ramadan is that we suddenly become obsessed with food. In some countries, you see food bazaars popping up like mushrooms, iftar (break fast) deals in restaurants and hotels, iftar recipes in magazines, and suddenly the TV has more food shows.

Don't get me wrong, I think iftar is one of the moments that we can use to create bonds with family and friends. It's awesome and I'm all for it. But when you see a banner that says "All-you-can-eat iftar buffet!", you know that we forgot to hit the breaks.

We either eat too much until we can't breath or we prepare too much food that a lot of it goes to waste.

I think the link between Ramadan and food has to be broken. It is the month when we eat less, not eat more. It is the month when we empty our stomachs and fill our hearts.

Cut down on our food intake - go easy on our suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and our iftar. A trick that works for me is to use a smaller plate. Somehow I have this tendency to fill up my plate, I'd like to see my plate evenly spread with food (ridiculous, I know).

Alhamdulillah, using a smaller plate works - I eat less. If I am still hungry, I'll go for a second round but usually the first round is enough for me. In the beginning, my nafs wants every food that I can get my hands on. That's the nature of the nafs - desires without limits. But really, my stomach is way smaller than my nafs.

So I have to ask myself this question, "Am I putting food in my stomach, or in my nafs?"

Whenever I fast, I remind myself of this scary Hadeeth: "Perhaps a fasting person gains nothing from his fast except hunger and thirst." (Ibn Majah, No. 1690)

The Hadeeth is scary because I think to myself, "What if I am that person?" I think every individual should ask that question to himself/herself. Whenever the Prophet warned us of a group, we should be quick to check on our on state and whether or not we are included in that group.

I don't want to be the person who gains nothing from Ramadan. I don't want to be that loser.

To avoid being that loser, I need to understand that fasting isn't just for the stomach. Fasting is for the whole body, in all its aspects - physical, emotional, and spiritual. Fasting is an all-rounded training of the self.

I also need to understand that the quality of my fast is manifested when I'm fasting and when I'm not. A good measuring stick to see if I'm getting something out of my fasting is to see how I behave when Maghrib time comes in.

Even though fasting only last from Fajr to Maghrib, the spirit of fasting should last 24/7. Just because we have broken our fast at Maghrib, that doesn't mean that Ramadan has ended.

It's still Ramadan.

I think you can see your progress in Ramadan every day after you broke your fast at Maghrib. Do you indulge, or do you restrain? Do you control the self or are you controlled by the self? We can examine that every day in Ramadan, and hopefully we are getting better as each day passes.

Because on the last day of Ramadan, as we wait for the Athaan, I hope that we are all ready when all hell breaks lose.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 8: The Day I Met a Jew

Photo by Bart Everson

I recalled the first time I met a Jew. His name was Lee Weissman (Twitter: @JihadiJew).

Before that meeting, I heard a lot about Jews so much so that it would seem like I had known them for years. For a large portion of my life, I have been hearing stories about the Jews, but the stories that I usually hear about the Jews were not positive. The mental image that was painted in my head about the whole group of people was ugly, as if every single one of them is evil.

But the funny part is, I have never even met one in my life, until last year.

Despite all the things that I heard about Jews, I was grateful to be able to open my mind to other possibilities. I gave him a chance.

Thankfully, that's all it takes.

He flew over to my university because he was invited to give a talk, and I was one of the organizers of the talk. My intention was simple: He was my guest and I will treat him like one. I want to get to know him as if I didn't know anything about him.

Quran 3:64

It didn't take a lot of effort for me to realize how much we have in common.

Like me, he prayed at certain times throughout the day - in the morning, during the day, and at night. Of course, he didn't pray the way that I do. His one session of prayer can last up to 45 minutes!

Like me, he only eats food that is prepared in a certain way. He only eats kosher food. I only eat halal food. If you examine the preparation process, you'll see similarities in them too. He also makes supplications before and after he eats.

Like me, he doesn't shake hands (touch) with women whom aren't related to him. One woman came to him before the talk and she extended her hand. But he politely refused to shake her hand, putting his hand on his chest and a smile on his face.

Like me, he obeys certain laws/recommendations regarding how to dress. Not forgetting that he has a nice beard too.

Like me, he regularly reads his holy book. He reads his Torah and I read my Quran. He actually reads the Quran too from time to time, and points out the similarities we share.

It's not surprising that we share these similarities. We originated from the same Abrahamic roots, aren't we?

Breaking Bread and Building Bridges

After the talk has ended, a few of my Muslim friends and I went to have dinner with him. We sat down, ate together, and we had a very fruitful conversation which lasted for hours. We asked a lot of questions about Jews and Judaism, and a lot of misconceptions were straightened out.

One of my friends eloquently said, "We're breaking bread and building bridges."

As a Muslim, I don't want people to paint all Muslims with the same colour.

"All Muslims are terrorists!"

Then, I realized something. Yes, I am upset that people are doing that to me. But at the same time, am I not doing the same thing to somebody else?

"All Jews are out there to get us!"

Let me be clear. Every group of people has a bunch of bad apples in them; history can testify to that fact. So yes, there are bad people out there. But is it fair to sentence the entire group because of a messed up few?

I don't want people to blame all the Muslims because of the actions of a few misguided people. So if I don't want people to do that to me, then I don't want people to do that to anyone else.

Don't do onto others what you don't want to be done unto you.

If only we could sit down and have a conversation in the spirit of understanding one another (with our differences and disagreements), then we will shatter the barriers that we put up there ourselves.

Consequently, we will end up with something beautiful - a friendship.

After dinner, with Lee Weissman (2012)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 7: The Underrated Mind

Photo by Johan Hansson

Today, I finished reading John Taylor Gatto's amazing book - Weapons of Mass Instruction. I highly recommend anyone who can read to give that book a go. After reading it, my mind was swimming with thoughts and I'd like to share one of them here.

One of the things that I am grateful of in my lifetime is the joy of self-discovery i.e. discovering things on your own and creating meaning from those discoveries using your own original thoughts. It is indeed a joy and a reward in and of itself.

Like a small child who discovered that he/she can stand up, that he/she found a peculiar furry creature people called a cat, or that the sounds that people mutter to each other is a form of communication called a language.

Moments of discovery can manifest themselves in many ways, one of them is through connecting the dots. Often times, we are so focused on the individual dots that we don't see the connections between them.

For example, more often than not, whenever I tell people that I am majoring in Biology and Psychology, their usual response - with a bewildered facial expression -, "Are those two related?" I don't blame them, considering how we treat knowledge nowadays as compartmentalized and separated groups that has little or no relevance towards one another.

Multidisciplinary individuals are a rarity nowadays because a mind that can connect the dots is a dangerous one.

Not too long ago in our human history, you will find Muslim scholars who were also scientists, social scientists, physicians, philosophers, engineers, craftsmen, poets, etc. Not only were they able to master these so-called different disciplines, but they were also able to weave them together into a meaningful fabric that they wear to protect themselves against the weather designed to cloud the gullible minds.

An individual was born with curiosity, with intelligent, and with the ability to be self-taught. Observe any child and you will see that. For example, ever wonder how children learn a language? They do it so easily; from their first syllable, to their first words, to their first sentences, and to their first coherent thought.

Amazing feat isn't it?

Such is the state of mind of a child - full of untapped potential. I realized how much we underestimated the potential of a child. I realized that, more often than not, we are barriers to the child's development rather than the scaffolds that the child can stand on to go higher and higher.

There's a lot that I wanted to say on this topic. So many thoughts in my head but due to my inability to coherently express those thoughts in words, I think it's best if I stop now and structure my thoughts properly for another occasion.

But I will leave you with this:

"Every child is born an artist, the problem is to remain an artist once they grow up." ~ Pablo Picasso

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 6: One by One

Photo by Rashed Al Naamani

As I gaze upon my Ramadan goals that I've loosely set for myself this year, I can't help but becoming overwhelmed by them.

"Am I being realistic? Can I do them all?"

But I really want to improve myself become a better person.

I think zeal for self-improvement is a feeling that every Muslim should have, but he/she should also be weary of it. Zeal should be managed properly.

When you are so high-spirited in your aspirations, you want to achieve them all. That could lead you to end up with too much on your plate (an imagery that I believe we can all relate to especially during this month).

A Bird's Nest

When I came up with the idea to write this post, the image of a bird building a nest came to my mind.

If you observe how a bird makes its nest, you'll see that it is a tiresome process. The bird flies out to find materials, e.g. sticks, and flies back to construct the nest. Since it can't carry a lot of sticks in its beak, it has to fly out and fly back to the nest time and time again - carrying one stick at a time.

With patience and hard work, the nest is properly built and it is beautiful.

The key to it all is, one stick at a time.


A lot of people might be overwhelmed in their quest for self-improvement. They want to be everything they want to be, all at once. While this is indeed a noble intention, it is not something that one should do. Like the bird, you have to build your nest one stick at a time.

If not, your nest might not be finished at all. Or worse, you won't have a proper, good quality nest.

When Ramadan comes, our zeal for self-improvement is heightened. This is a good sign. But we have to regulate it and not let it overflow into a state of burnout.

From wanting to achieve everything, you might end up with little or nothing at all.

Remember, Rome was not built in a day.

"I want to be a good Muslim..."

I don't know how many times I've received an email that starts off with "I want to be a good Muslim, but I have a lot of sins" or "I want to be a good Muslim, but I keep repeating the same mistakes" or "I want to be a good Muslim, but I am still the same."

To those who have sent me those emails, realize that the person whom you sent those emails to has a lot of sins too, make mistakes too (sometimes the same mistakes), and wants to better himself too. I am not perfect and I accepted that fact.

I have baggage of sins that I carry with me and I'm not proud of it. In fact, I am ashamed of it. If people know what's in my baggage, I might not have the courage to step out of my house anymore.

But I see that as a good thing. It's a good thing that I am so ashamed of my sins. It's a good thing that I feel guilty. Those feelings are my motivation to keep on trying to become better and better. I am always in the process of self-improvement. I will always be a work in progress.

Many think that being a good Muslim is a destination, but it's not. Nobody can say, "Okay, I'm a good Muslim now. I've reached my destination. I'm done!" Being a good Muslim is not a destination, it is a journey. The journey ends when you take your last breath.

You will always be in the process of self-improvement.

So if you feel bad about having a lot of sins, good! You should feel bad. It's better to feel bad about your sins than to not feel anything at all. Or worse, you feel proud of your sins (Astaghfirullah). Feeling bad is a good sign, but don't stop there. Don't dwell in guilt. Go to the next step.

"Okay, I feel bad. Now, what am I going to do about it?"


One of the many things that I love about Allah is the fact that He appreciates my effort. He will not make my sincere effort go to wasted. Nothing is wasted! He will reward me for trying; for trying to be better.

Allah loves you for trying.

In this journey of ours of being good Muslims, lets not stop trying. Lets not give up. The journey is long and tiring, but keep on moving forward.

Along the journey, you can rest if you need to. That's okay. But always remember to move forward.

Along the journey, you might move slowly. That's okay. We all move at different paces. But always remember to move forward.

Along the journey, we might fall down. That's okay. Your self-worth shouldn't be measured by how many times you fall down, but how many times you get back up. Even if you fall down at the same spot, always get back up and move forward.

Along the journey, you might need help. That's okay. Don't travel alone. Travel with your friends. It'll make the journey easier and more enjoyable. You help them and they help you. Together, you move forward.

"Remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." ~ Rafiki, Lion King 1 1/2

Take each step, one by one.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 5: It's About Time

Photo by bugsy ho

24 Hours

Time is fair.

Everyone has the same amount of it. Nobody has more, nobody has less. What fascinates me is that within is fixed amount of time, some of us are able to do so much while others among us complain about having not enough time.

One fine example of the former group is Umar Abdul Aziz. He ruled for only 2 years. However, within that short about of time, he managed to (with the help of Allah) bring so much prosperity to his people. So much so that he managed to eliminated poverty! There was a time during his rule when nobody was eligible to receive the zakah (obligatory charity), because everybody was well off. Subhanallah!

All of that in just 2 years?

I think time is neither too much nor too little. Time is enough, if only we use it wisely.

"Time is what we want most, but what we use worst." ~ William Penn

Free Time

2 days ago I started "fasting" from my social media. I am determined to only check my social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube) an hour or so everyday before I go to bed.

This is to train myself to not be too attached to these sites.

Not too long after separating myself from social media, I realized how much free time I actually have. Consequently, I realized how much time I've wasted (Astaghfirullah).

The time that I thought was free, was not actually free. It's priceless!

So as replacements for the hours that I would've spent on the social media, I spent it with other activities instead like reading a book and reviewing my lecture notes.

As I write these words down, I realized how pathetic I am at spending my time. But that realization is a good thing, because it's the first step to change.

We do have time. It's just that we wasted so much time to a point where we think that we need more of it. When in fact, we have enough.

By time, indeed people are losers.

I hope I am not among those people. Ameen.


When I deprived myself of social media, suddenly I asked myself, "Okay, now what should I do?"

I have two options: either I figure out a replacement activity (hopefully something beneficial) or I could complain of boredom (i.e. a state of not knowing what to do).

The key word in the above statement is "options". Meaning, I do have a choice. I can choose to do something with the free time that I have or I can choose to be bored.

Yes, boredom is a choice.

I am responsible for my boredom. I am responsible for getting myself into it, and I am responsible for getting myself out of it. So there is no use in me complaining about it and ruining other people's day.

If I am bored, I need to deal with it myself. If I don't have anything beneficial to do, then I need to find something beneficial to do.

Taking Control

The world is big enough to supply me with enough beneficial things to do. Things that I can enjoy. It is impossible (and ridiculous) for me to think that there is nothing on earth that I can do to fill my time wisely.

I can read a book, write a blog post (hey, I'm doing that now!), call my parents, go out for a walk, clean up my room, do my homework, learn how to cook, take photos of nature, read the news, listen to educational podcasts, balance my accounts, do the laundry, wash my dad's car, buy my mom flowers, go travel, raise awareness of a serious world issue, watch an awesome documentary, etc.

Those are some of the things that I can think of off the top of my head. If I Google "what to do in my free time", I'm sure there many other things that I can add to the list.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that I shouldn't make time for play at all. Play is important. Sometimes I need to relax. The point is I shouldn't preoccupy my life with play. I don't want to turn my life into a toy that I play with all the time.

What kind of life will I be presenting in front of Allah?

So I need to take control of my life. This is my life and I am fully responsible before Allah about how I spend it. I am the author of my own story.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that boredom shouldn't exist because there are so many alternatives to boredom.

But we still complain of boredom.


Speaking for myself, I think one of the main reasons is laziness.

"I don't want to do that. Too much work. I'd rather sleep."

To me, laziness is more of an excuse than a reason. It's not that I don't know what to do, rather I don't want to do it. I know there are more beneficial things that I can do with my free time, but I choose not to do it because I'm too lazy to get off my bum (literally and figuratively).

Like boredom, laziness is a choice.

If I have a passion for life, then laziness shouldn't exist in me. If I have a mission in life, then laziness shouldn't exist in me. If I have a noble purpose in life, then laziness shouldn't exist in me.

I think there has to be a point in our lives when we say, "Enough is enough!"

Enough with this lame excuse. Don't turn this excuse into a justification of why we are not doing the things that we are supposed to be doing right now.

Don't justify our time wasting, when there is no justification for wasting time.

"I saw those people (the righteous salaf) and how they were more careful about their time than about their money." ~ Hassan Al-Basri

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 4: In the Heat of the Moment

Photo by Andrew Magill

Scenario #1

If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will curse a fellow driver who cuts me off on the highway, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not. Besides, I'm fasting."

But imagine if that event is happening and I am in that moment; the moment when a person cuts me off on the highway. My emotions run high and I'm thinking to myself, "That person could've hit me. I could've been hurt, or worse."

In that moment, what is my reaction?

Now, I am not that confident anymore. I am not confident if I can maintain my composure in that moment and not say or do something that I will regret later.

Scenario #2

If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will shake the hand of a female celebrity, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not."

But imagine if I am in an event with a female celebrity and she approached me, extending her hand. There are people everywhere. All eyes on us.

In that moment, what is my reaction?

I hope that I can say, "Sorry, I can't shake hands with you, out of respect for my religion and for you."

But I can only hope. I don't know for sure, because right now I am not in the heat of the moment.

Scenario #3

If you ask me (in my calm and composed state) whether or not I will stuff myself silly during the breaking of fast, I would say with confidence, "No, of course not."

But ask me again after I fasted 17 hours in the summer's heat with a growling stomach, and after I have to wait 20 minutes to get my food.

My reaction might be different.

"Give me that biryani! Or else!"

Scenario #4

[Insert Scenario #4 here]

You can probably apply this idea to many other different scenarios.

My point is: when you are outside of that moment, it's easy to say good things about yourself. But in the heat of the moment, that is when you reveal your true self.

That is when you put you will see if your words match your actions, or not.

Capacity for Wrongdoings

Okay, I am going to transition (rather abruptly) into something a bit more serious than the scenarios described above. I think you will be a bit uncomfortable as you read along. But know that I actually want you to feel uncomfortable.

If you are a Psychology student, chances are you've learned about the Stanford Prison Experiment.

To give you a summary, the Stanford Prison Experiment was done in a mock prison. They have recruited normal and healthy young men. These men had no criminal records and no mental/physical health issues. In other words, they were average teenagers. These teenagers were randomly assigned the roles of either Prisoners or Guards, and they had to play the respective roles in the mock prison.

The experiment was meant to run for 14 days, but they had to end the experiment after just 6 days because the mock prison experience became too real. The Guards (who were normal teenagers) became ruthless and treated the Prisoners (who were also normal teenagers) like garbage, up to a point when some of the Prisoners had an emotional breakdown. Due to the seriousness of the situation, they had to cut the experiment short.

Now, the experiment itself had a lot of controversies with it. But nonetheless, the results were noteworthy.

The experiment showed two things: the power of the situation and the capacity of a human being to do wrong things, even unthinkable things.

If I asked the teenagers who were Guards before the experiment started, "Would you emotionally torture another human being?", I have no doubt that they would say, "Of course not!"

But in the heat of the moment, all hell broke lose. The interview done on the Guards after the experiment showed that they themselves were surprised of what they did in the experiment.

This is probably hard to digest. I mean, would you say that you will torture a person to the point of emotional breakdown? I hardly think so. But knowing that you and I have that capacity is our best defense against it, and from there we can learn to guard ourselves. I'm not saying that we will do the act, what I'm saying is that we are able to do the act. We have that capacity.

Thinking that we are immune to it might make us feel better, but it can also make us heedless. Consequently, we don't think about the need to defend ourselves.

"Me? Committing zina? Are you crazy?! Of course I won't do that. Not ever! She's just a friend."

"And [by] the Nafs and He [Allah] who proportioned it, and inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He [the person] has succeeded who purifies it, and he has failed who instills it [with corruption]." (Surah ash-Shams: 7-10)

Building Our Shield 

The question that we need to ask ourselves now is: when I am in the heat of the moment, will I be strong enough to do the right thing?

Many have perceived Ramadan as a school, and indeed it is. Ramadan is a school for our lower self (the Nafs). In this month, we learn to instill a sense of constant awareness about the Nafs and keep it in check.

In other words, we learn self-control. But how do we achieve this self-control?

Answer: Taqwa.

The word "Taqwa" came from the root word which means "Shield". The function of a shield is to protect ourselves. From what? Among other things, we want to protect ourselves against our own selves - the Nafs. The stronger our shield, the stronger we are at protecting ourselves against our Nafs.

What does this shield i.e. Taqwa made out of?

Answer: Consciousness of Allah.

The more you are aware of Allah, the stronger you are at protecting yourself. The one who fills his/her heart with the remembrance of Allah will remember Allah in all situations - even in the heat of the moment.

Like Prophet Yusuf when he was seduced by a beautiful lady who offered herself to him (to commit zina). In the heat of the moment, he refused and left her, untouched. (Prophet Yusuf and the beautiful lady)

The one who is the most conscious of Allah has the most Taqwa, and that is the best person in the Sight of Allah. Getting the most Taqwa is not easy. Building our shield takes work.

Alhamdulillah, we are in Ramadan - the school of Taqwa.

"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain Taqwa." (Surah al-Baqarah: 183)

Study well and may we all graduate with Taqwa. Ameen.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ramadan Reflection Day 3: A Day Without Social Media

Photo by David Rogers

The Challenge of Our Time

It goes without saying that we live in a world where social media is everywhere. Everyone is connected to the internet, some more than others. A lot of us, I dare say, can't be disconnected with the internet without being anxious even a little bit.

What happens when the power goes out, when the WiFi doesn't work, or (God forbid) you're in the no 3G zone for your phone?

Do you get a little bit anxious? Suddenly feel like there's nothing to do? Can't wait to go back online and check who liked your Facebook status you posted 3 seconds ago?

That's a problem, and I think I am not immune to it.

My Ramadan Goal

Last night before I went to bed, I reviewed my Ramadan goals. I listed down 9 things that I would like to achieve this Ramadan, some goals are easy and some are difficult.

One of the goals is to spend less time in social media. Being a social media junkie like myself, I would categorize that goal into the "difficult" category. But I was adamant to achieve it.

Of course, I don't think quitting cold turkey is ideal. Plus, I don't want to quit social media. There is good use in it. I just want to control my usage and not spend too much time with it. So I aimed to check my social media only 1 hour per day before I go to bed, in the effort of training self-control within myself.

That's the goal.

The social media sites that I checked very often are Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. So the first thing that I did was I got rid of those apps from my phone, because it's very easy to open the apps on my phone. My phone is always on me and my fingers are always itchy (BTW, that's not normal).

So I got rid of them from my phone.

As with the computer, I stepped away from it and only use it if I need to.


Breaking a routine or a habit takes a toll on the body and the body "knows" when something isn't familiar or when something changed.

So after I deleted the social media apps on my phone, not too long after that my hand reached for my phone and wanted to open the apps. But the apps were not there.

I was surprised at how automatic my action was, and that's disturbing.

Am I in control of my body or the other way around?

Realizing that the apps weren't in my phone, I felt a little bit anxious being separated from my social media. Like a baby being separated from his mother (but I didn't cry or anything).

In child psychology, separation anxiety is a sign of attachment. When a child is anxious when being separated with the mother, generally that is a good sign. It means that the baby is attached to the mother. When the mother comes back, the reunion is soothing to the baby and calms him down. In that case, the baby is securely attached to the mother.

That's good.

But in my case, that's bad.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

My separation anxiety (though not as intense as in a baby) is a sign that I am attached to these social media sites. From the perspective of a Muslim, I should be weary of the things that I attach my heart to, especially the worldly things. That doesn't mean that I can't use social media. That simply mean that I shouldn't attach myself to it.

We all attach our heart to something, but a lot of us attached our heart to the wrong things. Sister Yasmin Mogahed wrote a book on this topic and she appropriately named her book "Reclaim Your Heart". I've read her book and found it to be mind altering.

This idea of attaching our heart to the right thing is not unique to Muslims, suggesting that this awareness is something that we all share. Joshua Becker wrote a short piece about attachment of the heart: Less Places for Your Heart to Go, and he began with a quote that should make you stop and ponder, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Where is my treasure? Where is my heart?

Alhamdulillah, we are in Ramadan. Ramadan is the time when we reclaim our heart from our petty worldly attachments, and give it back to its rightful Owner - Allah.

If Allah is our treasure (i.e. the most valuable to us), then with Allah is where we'll find our heart.