Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Am I Marrying the Right Way, or Right Away?

Someone asked, "In your wedding documentary video, you mentioned about marrying the right way as opposed to marrying right away. How do we know if we're marrying the right way and not right away?"

I'm afraid, like so many things in life, the answer is not black and white.

Life is not like math.

In the video, I gave a general description of what "the right way" means i.e. to get married when one is mature enough to take the relationship to where it is supposed to go - to Paradise.

Maturity is not one thing, rather it is a harmonious blend of many things such as physical maturity (puberty), mental maturity (how you view the world), emotional maturity (how you control your emotions), spiritual maturity (how you are with God), material maturity (having survival skills, like cooking), intrapersonal maturity (how you are with yourself), interpersonal maturity (how you are with people), etc.

At the same time, I am not suggesting that we all become angels before we get married. That is impossible. Angels are made of light, while we are made of clay. So we are not and will not be angels; we will always carry with us flaws and shortcomings. I hope we can get that unrealistic expectation out of our heads.

Hence, in the video, I balanced my maturity argument by saying "I am not a finished product, and I will never be a finished product. I'll always be a work in progress", meaning that I will always have things that I need to improve upon. I was not perfect when I married my wife, and I am still not. The same thing can be said about my wife.

If one manages to find the equilibrium point between being mature enough and realizing that one is not perfect, then one would have an idea of the difference between marrying right away and marrying the right way.

One key thing that will help with finding that equilibrium point is seeking consultation, from wise people (Istisharah) and from God (Istikharah).

With regards to Istisharah, one thing that people, especially young people, needs to realize is that we don't know everything, even though we might be able to convince ourselves that we do. We just need to stop lying to ourselves, to humble ourselves, and to seek necessary advice from wise sources. A huge part of maturity is our ability to suppress our ego and listen to advice (and criticisms).

If you can't do that, then that might be a good sign that you are not ready to get married yet - start fasting.

With regards to Istikharah, this is the final step in our decision making process. In my view, this is what makes Muslims different from others when it comes to making decisions; we rely solely on God, after we have done our due diligence.

One needs to humble oneself and to realize that one doesn't have all the variables, but God does. So we ask God to show us if this decision that we are about to make is the best for us in the short term (our worldly life) and in the long term (our Afterlife). Even if we think that this decision is the best for us, it might be not. We might miss something in the equation and our calculation might not add up in the end.

So we ask God to check our math, and show us the right answer i.e. to give what is best for us, not what we think is best for us.

Hmm...I guess life is like math after all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A 20-Minute Brainvomit

Yesterday, I conducted a creative writing workshop for students at Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. As a form of exercise for the students, I asked them to write without pause for 20 minutes straight about whatever it is that goes on in their minds - a "brainvomit" as I like to call it.

This exercise serves to show oneself that one can write, one has ideas, and one can overcome writer's block (if there is such a thing). I, as the instructor of the workshop, participated in the exercise as well. What follows is the 20-minute brainvomit I wrote - in its raw form. 


I don't think I've prepared myself well enough for the presentation. I think I missed a lot of things and I know that I can do more. But, my hopes are that people are motivated to write and that they can publish their first post from today. Even though some might hesitate to post that post, I think others will and that'll make me happy.

I don't think I can change everyone but I hope I can change a few. Knowing that, keeps me going. The world will change by the few that start the change. It's like dominos, when one falls, others will follow. We might not be able to see the end of the domino line, what we will accomplish, but knowing that the dominos are moving is enough. Maybe my children or my grandchildren can see the end of the domino falling and from that, a bigger picture is revealed which might not be what I imagine. But better.

I know this to be true because I've seen it happen. History has its patterns and some patters are bound to manifest if we follow the same strokes that make up that pattern. That is the beauty of time. It reveals the f The past reveals the future and acknowledge/entertains/informs the present moment. We line in the now while taking glimpses at yesterday and looking with baby's eyes to tomorrow. That wakes me up in the morning. 

I want this to be the energy of people. I want this to be contagious. I want people to be infected and I want that infection spreads. This might be my legacy. Who knows, maybe I will meet my grandchildren who already met me. They might knock on my door to say thank you and give me a warm hug. Oh, that is the dream isn't it? But dreams are for sleepers. Re Makers of reality are awake and they manifest reality from dreams. You can't sleep forever and you can't stay awake forever. 

It's a very interesting thing to think about. Balance is key. Without balance, buildings will fall. Without balance, you will get sick. Without balance, you'll be extreme. Extreme on both ends are not what you want in life. So why hope it for others. 

I have no idea what I'm writing. When is 20 minutes going to end. I hope other people in the audience are doing better than I am and I know there are great potentials here. I can feel it. I want to believe it, but I don't know if they believe it in themselves. I think people need to believe in themselves more. There are potentials within us that we ourselves don't know about. 

Does the earth knows that it carries gems, diamonds, and gold inside of it? Or does it need diggers to find them and show them to it as proof? Am I mumbling nonstop without meaning or is there a point I want to make here. There is 5 minutes left on the clock. I am not racing with time but I just don't want to stop. I just don't.

Stopping is failing. I want to keep moving forward. I want this pen to keep dancing in front of me. I want it to be my lips, my limbs, my voice. The pen speaks and the reader listens. Hello reader, how are you? This is me. I hope you enjoy reading what I have to say/write. I hope this conversation was meaningful. If not, I'm sorry.

I may not be the guru you searched for. But I may be the guru for others. You might be my teacher though so hello teacher. Thank you for the valuable lesson. Okay, back on track now.


Now you know what my mind looks like when it goes on and on for 20 minutes. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don’t Believe Everything I Say

The thing about being famous is that people start to take anything and everything you say as the truth, even if what you say is obviously wrong. But because it came from you, people start to justify it as being true. I mean, you can’t be wrong right? After all, you have half a million likes on your Facebook page.

Suddenly, the message becomes secondary to the messenger. The person becomes more important than the content. You can say that your cat ride a unicorn on the rainbow, and someone will believe you. You can just tweet what you had for lunch and thousands of people will retweet you.

This is the difficulty of having fans. Though I am not against having fans or being a fan, but I fear the mindset that fans might hold about the person they admire. Fans are infatuated with the individual they admire, so much so that they can’t seem to see anything wrong with the person.

Anything the person does is seen as worthy of attention and admiration. The person could be doing drugs and you’ll see a group of his fans defending him. The person could be just posting a picture of his lunch and thousands of people like the picture. The person could fart and many would think it’s the best perfume out there (okay, maybe that’s too much).

The famous people, AKA the public figures, need critics more than they need fans because critics keep them grounded and cautious, while fans keep them in the clouds and careless. They become too full of themselves until they lose touch of their main purpose – if they set out having a noble purpose in the first place.

The responsibility of the public figure is to be cautious about what he say, making sure that whatever that comes out of their mouth or whatever they put online is carefully researched and it is based upon sound understanding – not hearsay or unverifiable information. If you don’t know something, don’t act like you do.

The responsibility of the fans is to escape from the trap of thinking that the person they admire is flawless and escape from the trap of thinking that it is inconceivable for that person to make a mistake or to give out the wrong information. No matter how religious or how authoritative someone looks, that doesn’t protect the person from making a mistake.

As much as you respect the person, respect the knowledge and the discipline more. Pay closer attention to what is being said, rather than be fascinated by who said it. Verify before you accept, no matter if the person who said it is your biggest crush in the whole wide world.

Take is as a general rule: verify before you accept, especially in this day and age where it seems like we are a bit more gullible. Honestly, do people actually believe that “one Facebook like saves one African kid” thing?

Exercise a little bit of skepticism and filter all information that goes into your head. Your head is precious, so be careful about the things that you allow to enter and to live in your head rent-free. You’ve seen the movie Inception right? So you know what I’m talking about.

You are in control of your head. You control what goes in and what goes out.

I’m not advocating for total skepticism. At the same time, I’m not advocating for blindly accepting things.

I’m advocating for self-education i.e. being smart enough to distinguish what is true, from what is not.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

How to Make 70 Excuses for Other People

More Judges Than We Have Courts For

Have you noticed that we have a lot of “judges” in our society nowadays? And they don’t work in courts! As soon as they see something they don’t like:

“Brother, where is your beard?! Astaghfirullah brother, it’s a Sunna. A Sunna! You’re a bad Muslim, a bad Muslim.”

“Sister, where is your hijab?! Astaghfirullah, you’re a bad Muslim.”

“Brother, what are you doing? Why are you holding that girl’s hand? Astaghfirullah, you’re a bad Muslim.”

“Oi, why are you swearing? Cussing is haram! Astaghfirullah, you’re a bad Muslim.”

*70 Excuses

You know what I think? I think we should make more excuses, and I don’t mean excuses for ourselves but excuses for our brothers and sisters. We're experts at making excuses for ourselves (no doubt about that), but can we make excuses for other people?

Making excuses for our fellow brothers and sisters is very simple. Although it might not be easy, but it is simple.

Here’s what we need to do:

1. Suspend our judgment

When we are on the verge of passing a judgment, stop! And then, take a step back. It might sound easy but restraining ourselves is one of the hardest thing to do.

Ever wonder why they call it a “snap judgment”? Because it happens so fast that it is almost like a reflex.

2. Consider what we don’t know.

We have to realize that each and every one of us are different – we have unique background and unique experiences. Even twins are different!

The next we see something that is displeasing to us, try to think of other explanations and other possibilities that might account for what we just witnessed.

“Maybe he doesn’t have a beard because he can’t grow one.”

“Maybe she’s not wearing a hijab because her parents forbid her to do so. She might be having a hard time dealing with them.”

“Maybe he’s holding his wife’s hand.”

“Maybe the guy is swearing because he is having a tough day.”

Why Bother?

If we are able to practice this as a community, Insha Allah we will be more compassionate when dealing with other people.

These other explanations don’t necessarily justify what we witnessed. For example, if we hear someone who used bad words, us thinking of other explanations of such action doesn’t make the action itself okay.

However, it does change how we look at the situation.

Our perception will influence our reaction.

So instead of writing out that person as a bad Muslim, we might instead ask him what’s wrong. He might be going through a very, very serious situation and in need of help.

If we already have a bad judgment in our head (e.g. he is a bad Muslim!), then we’re not giving that person a chance. Remember, there is always two sides of a coin.

Once there was a man who came to Umar al-Khattab (when he was the caliph). The man complained about his son to the caliph and said that his son did not fulfill the rights of the father. Umar, instead of punishing the son immediately, called him over. Umar asked the son if what his father said was true or not. The son did not deny it, but he added that the father did not fulfill his rights as the son. In effect, the father brought this trouble upon himself.

This doesn’t justify what the son did, but from this we can understand why he did what he did. Hopefully, our view of the son is more compassionate once we see the bigger picture.


Just because you see a Muslim brother or a Muslim sister doing something that appears to be wrong, that doesn’t make that person less of a Muslim than us.

That is not to say that we’re changing the laws set by Allah. What is impermissible is impermissible. We can’t change that. However, just because someone is doing something impermissible, that doesn’t give us the right to judge that person. We leave the judging part to Allah. Our part is to provide social support in such a way that the person can repent and move on to become a better Muslim.

We only hate the wrong actions that people do, not the people themselves.

Before we jump into a conclusion, take a step back and think of other possibilities that might explain the situation.

Because things aren’t always what they seem to be.

*Footnote: The term “70 excuses” comes from a saying by Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” [Imam Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 7.522]

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Mental Health: The Elephant in the Room

Unfortunately, we have a lot of stigma about mental health and about people with mental health issues.

When I talk about mental health, a lot of people might think that I am talking about crazy people. That is not true. Mental health wide range of life challenges like everyday stress, exam anxiety, clinical depression, psychosis, violence, etc.

Mental health is not about crazy people. Mental health is about people.

Generally, people are uncomfortable with the things that they don’t know or understand, which is why efforts to raise public awareness is important. Above all else, we should take it upon ourselves to make ourselves aware through self-education so that we become well-informed people.

When we don’t understand, we don’t know how to properly respond. For example, if you know someone with clinical depression, don’t tell that person to suck it up and move on like it’s no big deal. Clinical depression is a real illness, as real as physical illness. You wouldn’t say to someone with diabetes to suck it up and move on, would you?

I was once among the people who don’t understand these things. For example, I once thought that people who need counseling are people with “loose screws in the head”, so to speak. I always thought that was a funny expression to say but now after I’ve educated myself more and more about mental health, I think the expression is just plain cruel.

I am not against humour. I am all for it. I like good humour every now and then. But some things shouldn’t be made fun of.

There is nothing wrong with seeking mental health professionals when you have mental health issues, just like there is nothing wrong with seeking a doctor when you have a fever.

Issues related to mental health are more common than we think it is. Because of the stigma that’s hovering over our heads, people with serious mental health issues might be reluctant to come out and seek help because they’re afraid of how people might view them.

Hence, when people with the problems aren’t reaching out, we think that there are no problems.

But just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.

Elephant in the room (idiom): there is an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.

Monday, April 07, 2014

When You Say "I Do"

I have talked to a few older and more experienced people about marriage because the extent of my knowledge - no matter how elaborate it may be - is theoretical at best.

There are those who have mastered the art before I can even utter my first word, so to think that I know everything about marriage, just because I attended a few classes here and there, would be a huge mistake.

As much as the elders need the zeal of the youth, the youth needs the wisdom of the elders.

Among my many conversations about marriage, one that plants itself deep into my psyche is the meaning of "I do" - the phrase that I will say to accept a woman as my wife. What does that phrase means to me and to her?

On a surface level, it means pretty much the same thing for the man as it is for the woman. It means that I am now her husband and she is now my wife. We are lawfully and officially wedded. It is the beginning of a new chapter in both of our lives, one with countless and unpredictable challenges.

It is the beginning of many ups and downs.

On a much deeper level, however, the phrase "I do" takes on a rather profound meaning in my opinion. It is profound in the sense that it is such a simple statement but it embodies something so weighty.

To me, the phrase means responsibility and sacrifice. It means responsibility, especially on the part of the man, and it means sacrifice, especially on the part of the woman.

The responsibility of the man is to make sure that the woman is taken care of properly; to put her needs before his and to treat her with utmost compassion even in rough times.

Such a responsibility shouldn't be taken lightly.

When her father hands her to the man, the man carries the father’s trust – a man's promise to another man. A promise to love and to nurture, to lead and to support. A man is only as good as his words; if his words are empty, he is empty.

The sacrifice of the woman is to put her full trust on the man of her choosing, and to put him above the men in her own family, particularly her father – her guardian since birth.

Such a sacrifice shouldn’t go unappreciated.

The woman leaves her family to build her own, with the man of her choosing. She stands by his side and builds their home brick by brick, using the blueprint taught to her by her father and her mother.

I see “I do” as more than just a phrase. It’s the beginning of a very long and tiring journey, where one needs the other in order to keep going until their final step into their resting place – a place they set out to reach.

“I do” is more than an ending to a cheesy love story.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lowering the Water Line

I did my undergrad at University of Toronto Mississauga as an international student – I graduated in November 2013.

In my final year of university, I spent a lot of my time with the Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto. I attended as many of its programs as I could, up to the point of my graduation and my return back to my country.

What is most attractive to me about the chaplaincy program is the atmosphere that it created – an atmosphere of support, of compassion, and of genuine brotherhood and sisterhood. It honestly feels like a family, like a community.

Among my many experiences being in Muslim gatherings, I think the Muslim Chaplaincy is exceptional because of the diversity of people who join the chaplain programs. Usually I will be in Muslim gatherings where the people are mostly on the same page and roughly in the same phase in their Islam. For instance, I would see the sisters all with their hijabs and the brothers all with their kufis and beards.

I’m not saying that’s bad thing – it’s actually a wonderful thing. But I sometimes wonder where do all the other Muslims go? I want to interact with them more because they are my brothers and sisters too. I don’t think there should be a black sheep in this family we call Islam.

I believe that the chaplaincy has successfully created a safe space where all people, no matter who you are, can come in and be welcomed. Because they feel safe and welcomed, they feel comfortable opening up to others and share a part of themselves that we wouldn’t know just by looking at the exterior.

Among its many programs, the one that hit me the most is Soul Food, specifically the “If You Really Knew Me” session where people voluntarily open up to others. That session opened my eyes to a part of the Muslim community that I haven’t experienced and encountered before in my life.

Using the analogy of the iceberg, which I think is a wonderful analogy, I come to understand that what we see on the outside is nothing but a tip of the iceberg – which makes up only 10% of the whole ice. But unfortunately, we rely so much on that 10%. We judge people by it, even though 10% is not even half of the whole story.

So I learn to look beyond what I see, provide a safe atmosphere, and give people a chance to tell me their story. That changes how I see people. It doesn’t justify the wrong things that they do, but it does allow me to understand why they do what they do and motivate me to support and elevate, as opposed to condemn and isolate.

It is inspiring to know that there are people like the Muslim Chaplaincy out there trying to build a community of healers. Considering the time we live in today that is rife with illnesses, both physical and spiritual, that is what we need more of.

We need more healers.

The Muslim Chaplaincy at the University of Toronto is fully funded by the community. If you would like to contribute, please click here

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Why Do Students Cheat on Exams?

I don't know.

But if I may, I would like to venture a guess.

Unfortunately, today we are neck-deep into a system where a student's worth is defined by the grades he gets and not by how much he learns. This is dangerous, but what is even more dangerous is that the system succeeds in convincing the students that their worth is in fact defined by their grades.

Our worth means everything to us. It sits at the very core of our identity. The last thing that we want to be is worthless. What happens when something is worthless? It becomes dispensable; you can throw it in a garbage can and no one will look twice.

Hence, we can understand why we see students resorting to unhealthy pill-popping, hair-pulling, pillow-screaming, midnight-oil-burning habits in order to get the grades that they want.

Correction: in order to get the grades that the system wants them to want.

If we push a student hard enough, long enough, and consistent enough, pretty soon we'll see that he will entertain the possibility of getting the results he wanted by any means necessary. It doesn't matter how he gets the A, as long as he gets it.

I'm not saying cheating is okay, I'm just saying I can understand why students do it. We, as a community, have, consciously and unconsciously, "educate" students to take the grades as priority over learning. I am saying this with such confidence because I was such a student, and many others have walked in those painful shoes.

What happens when the result is being put more emphasis than the effort? One thing will happen: the effort will become secondary. The effort becomes less important than the the result. As long as I get the result, I am happy - regardless of how I get there.

What happens to the oft-repeated saying, "The means don't justify the ends"? It seems like a lot of students don't care about the means anymore - they are going straight for the ends.

Can we blame them? When the "You have to get straight As and nothing else!" slogan is being pumped into their brains day in and day out, it's not a surprise that you get students who find cunning ways to get the straight As that we have efficiently and effectively advertised to them.

We, consciously and unconsciously, created the environment whereby students lie and cheat. As a result, we produce A+ students on paper with F- mindset in real life. We directly and indirectly produce people who don't care about the effort, as long as they get the results.

Don't be surprised then when we have construction workers who cut corners, lawyers who cheat to win, teachers who just want to finish the syllabus, scientists who fake the experiment results, supervisors who water down students' PhD theses, and so on.

It's not rocket science - what you give, you get back.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Battle Within: En Garde!

En garde (French): on guard.

When our self becomes our enemy, doing what’s right becomes a never-ending fight. There is a constant battle inside. There are two choices: the good and the bad - pick one. Those who choose to do the right thing have succeeded and those who do otherwise have failed.

So how do we fight this battle?

First of all, be aware that it’s happening. We come back to the initial point of self-reflection. To self-reflect is to be aware of what’s going on inside.

In our effort to always be aware, we have to be honest, first and foremost, to ourselves. It's hard to change when you are constantly lying to yourself. Knowing that you have a problem is the first step to solving that problem.

Second of all, build our shield – Taqwa. Protect ourselves from anything and everything that will cause Allah to be displeased with us.

How to build this shield?

1. Follow the Sunna. The Messenger is our link to Allah; he paved the way for us.

To follow the Sunna, we first have to know what it is. How can we possibly walk on the right path if we don't even know what it is?

The next step is to understand. Knowing is only half of the equation - it is not enough. Knowing a lot but understand little is like having a huge plot of land that is only an inch deep - what can you plant in such a shallow soil?

The final step is to apply. Knowing the medicine is good. Understand the medicine is great. But if you don't take it, then what benefit does it give you?

2. Set some alone time between you and Allah, a time when nobody knows about except you and Allah.

Make it a secret. This could be a good indicator of how sincere you are. Nobody’s around, so you’re not trying to impress anyone. There’s nothing worldly to gain at all, it’s just you and Him.

It doesn’t have to be long – an hour, half an hour, 15 minutes, or even 5 minutes. It depends on what you can give.

It doesn’t have to late at night when everybody’s sleeping either. Of course, that is the best time to be alone with Allah but it doesn’t have to be that time. Anytime will do.

Take this time to reflect about your life, to ask Allah for anything, to vent to Allah, to read the Quran, to pray Sunna, to give charity in secret, or whatever it may be.

It’s just between you and Allah.

3. Never give up. Accept the fact that sometimes, we will fail.

We will make mistakes. Accept it and embrace it.

Nobody is perfect and nobody will be perfect. Period. We each have our own battles to fight.

Just remember that when we fall down, always get back up. Falling down is not the issue. Everybody falls down once in a while. The issue is to choose to stay down and give up. Get back up, repent, and move on. Allah loves to forgive and He is the Most Forgiving.

Move forward. It doesn`t matter how small or big your steps are, as long as you move forward. Move forward in your Deen, move closer and closer into achieving that highest Taqwa. Take baby steps if you must, as long as you are not stagnant and you don’t step backwards.

You're good to go.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The Battle Within: Know Thy Enemy

The foundation of civilizations or ethical societies depends on the individuals. “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Surah ar-Ra’d: 11)

When we want to talk about change in the society or in the world, we have to look first and foremost within our own selves. We should not point fingers here and there telling people that they should do this and they should change that. Like the famous saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If we think that the society needs to change something, then we must be that change first - lead by example.

Of course, I am not suggesting that we keep our mouths shut when we see corruption. Sometimes we do need to speak out what is right, with wisdom. The point here is that we need to be more self-reflecting. We need to train ourselves to be more self-reflecting so that when we see something, we immediately check within ourselves.

If we see something bad, then we ask ourselves, “Am I doing that too?” If we’re not doing it, say Alhamdulillah you are protected from it. If we’re doing it, say Alhamdulillah because we have been reminded to change. If we see something good, then we ask ourselves again, “Am I doing that too?” If we’re doing it, say Alhamdulillah because we have included ourselves among the people who are doing that good thing. If we’re not doing it, say Alhamdulillah because there is something good there that I haven’t yet done so I can do it and add it to my good deeds.

When we talk about looking within ourselves, what are we actually looking at? We are looking at the state of our hearts. The king of every individual is the heart, and our Iman sits at the very core of it.

Imam Hasan al-Basri said something very interesting about Iman and the heart. He said, “Iman is not wishful thinking, but it is a matter that is deeply rooted inside the heart and it is confirmed by actions.”

A tree that stands firm and strong is a tree deeply rooted inside the ground. To uproot a tree like that would be a mission; a mere gust of wind or a simple shove to its trunk will not nudge it from its place. But more than that, the tree bears lots of fruits and it offers them to anyone who is in need. It stands firm on its ground and it gives benefit to those around it. That is what our Iman should be; roots deeply in our hearts and manifest its fruits through our actions.

It’s not enough to say that you love someone and not having anything as proof for that love. Those are just empty words. Allah said in the Quran, “Say, [O Muhammad], ‘If you love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’" (Surah Ali Imran: 31)

What else is in the heart? The Prophet SAW said, as reported in Sahih Muslim, “Taqwa is here” and he pointed to his noble chest three times. Allah emphasizes the importance of Taqwa when He said “… Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is one who has the most Taqwa…” (Surah al-Hujurat: 13)

Everyone wants to be the best. We want the highest GPA, the gold medal in sports, the best job with the biggest pay check, the best spouse for our children, and so on. I am not implying that all these things are bad. We want to be the best in relation to the dunya and that can be a noble quest, but what is nobler than being the best in relation to Allah? Don’t we want to be the best in the sight of Allah?

It is indeed interesting that in the verse quoted above (Surah al-Hujurat: 13), Allah is addressing not just the Muslims, but all of mankind. He is singling out Taqwa as the sole criteria of nobility among all of mankind – not wealth, not physical beauty, not race, not status, or anything else we can think of. Taqwa and the highest form of Taqwa is up for grabs to anyone to is willing to fight for it.

Whoever works for it, gets it.

Taqwa means a shield to protect oneself. The one with the highest Taqwa, by this definition, is the one with the strongest shield and that person holds the title to be the best in the sight of Allah. Is there even an inkling of desire in our hearts to grab that title? Don’t we all want to be that person? “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” So all in all, it goes back to the self – our selves.

Most of the time, our own selves is our enemy and it is a part of Taqwa that we shield ourselves from ourselves. What do I mean by that? How can I become my own enemy? Well, the self (in other words, the nafs) is divided.

Allah said in the Quran, “By the nafs and He who proportioned it. And inspired it [with discernment of] its wickedness and its righteousness. He has succeeded who purifies it, And he has failed who instills it [with corruption].” (Surah ash-Shams: 7-10)

There are two choices: doing the wrong thing or doing the right thing. Should I cheat on the exam or should I not? Should I date that girl or should I not? Should I drink that beer or should I not? Having these two choices implies that we are in a constant conflict with our self.

Which one do I choose?

Sometimes it’s easy to choose. For example, if I travel somewhere and there’s no halal restaurant around, I’ll go for vegetarian or seafood. I wouldn’t shut one eye and grab a whopper, even though I know that having a whopper would be amazing. But I know better; I know that’s not the right thing to do.

That’s an easy choice. However, I consider that to be an easy choice for me but I’m not saying that’ll be an easy choice for everyone because we each have our own battles right?

But most of the time, it’s not an easy choice to make. For example, should I cheat on the exam or should I not? It seems like an easy choice, of course you shouldn’t cheat. But what if you’re desperate, you really need that A and your parents are going to "kill you" if you fail this course.

At that moment, is it still an easy choice?

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Why Getting Married Right Away Isn't The Way To Go

I think I was 18 years old, when I first approached my parents about me wanting to get married. At that time, they might be thinking that I was kidding. Maybe I was. Nonetheless, the thought of getting married did enter my mind and once that seed is sown, it’s only a matter of time when the shoot grows.

From that point on, it took me 5 years to actually tie the knot.

Human beings have the tendency to rush things and I think young people have that tendency the most. I wanted to get married as soon as possible, but without a clear and refined purpose or intention. Although it’s hard for me to admit it at the time, I had a feeling that I wanted to get married early because I wanted to be among those who got married early – as if it’s an elite club or something. The urge to be accepted into “the club” was very strong in my younger self, and that led me to make some stupid mistakes.

But I guess that’s a part of being young and a part of growing up – you make mistakes, you learn, and you move on. I can safely say that my elders, especially my parents, kept me in check a lot of the time and they managed to save me from making bigger mistakes – some of which, if committed, I might not be able to make amends.

So I am grateful that I am still able, in the zeal of my youth, to take into consideration the words of my parents and to seek the wisdom behind them. Though I might not be able to see the wisdom in the heat of the moment, most of the times I am able to see it later. Now, looking back, I owe my parents a lot.

They directly and indirectly asked me to wait it out, so for 5 years I did just that. But 5 years of waiting was not a waste. In fact, it was essential. It gave me ample time to learn and to grow. In hindsight, I think Allah was preparing me before I say “I do”.

There is still a lot that I need to work on. I will always be a work in progress and I will never be a finished product. But if I did get married 5 years ago, I have very little doubt that I will be able to make that marriage work.

It’s not that I was young because age is not the issue. It’s just that I was immature – still not ripe enough for the picking. Though age does play a role, it has little to do with maturity. Young people can be mature and old people can be immature. It’s not a matter of how many years you have lived on earth, rather it’s more about how well you spent those years.

In essence, I learn that it’s not about getting married right away. Rather, it’s about getting married the right way. Getting married the right way means that you are matured enough to take the wheel and drive the relationship to where it is supposed to go - despite your age.

I think, I hope, that when I accepted her hand in marriage, that it be the right way.