Thursday, January 14, 2016

How To Get Things Done

There is a pile of unfolded clothes on my bed from last week's laundry. I look at it, sigh, and move on doing other things. I keep putting it off because there is too much clothes to deal with. Then the next laundry day comes and the pile keeps on getting bigger.

I thought why do we even need a cupboard for clothes anyway, since we can just pile them up on the bed and rummage through them whenever we need something to wear. Thankfully, this dilemma doesn't happen all the time. I do fold the laundry and organize our clothes in the cupboard. 

But it feels like the cycle keeps on repeating itself. Every time I do the laundry, I would skip the folding because I feel like it's too much work. Seeing the pile of clothes is demotivating. Procrastination is the easiest solution; just act like you don't see it and preoccupy yourself with something else. 

The thing is, that pile of clothes is there and will remain there unless I do something about it. It is a big pile that is difficult to deal. But maybe that is the source of the problem.

I see a pile of stuff.

When you perceive a pile of anything, it would seem big. But a pile of anything is just a group of small things. A pile of clothes on my bed is nothing more than individual clothes clumped together. Realizing this, I decided to take action.

I no longer see a pile, I see individual clothes.

I start by taking out one piece of clothing and fold that. That's it. That is all that I did; I folded one piece of clothing. I have the freedom of choosing any piece I want. If I am feeling a bit lazy, I might choose the smallest one. But if I am feeling generous, I might pick the bed sheet.

That is all that I did. Pretty soon I feel a momentum slowly building itself in front of me. I realize that folding one piece of clothing isn't that bad. So I folded another one, and another one, and another one. I might fold one shirt, call it a job well done, proceed to doing other stuff, and then when I pass by the individual clothes again, I fold another one.

This process carries on and on, until the pile was gone. To be honest, I was quite surprised. Not because the pile is now gone, but because of how easy it is for me to think that the task was too daunting to begin with. It was surprising how much a simple switch in mindset could affect my motivation.

This is a simple example that happened today. Similar examples could be happening to you, in whatever area in your life: that pile of paperwork in the office, that pile of assignments that need to get done, that pile of dishes in the sink, that pile of whatever!

Stop seeing it as a pile and start seeing it as individual things. Then, finish the task by simply dealing with just one of those individual things. Just one. Don't think about the rest. Just focus on doing one. After you have done that, only then do you move on to doing another one.

But just do one. Just one.

This concept doesn't have to only apply to tasks. It can also apply to change. Many people want to change many things about themselves, but they quit before the battle starts because they see the change as a "huge pile" in front of them that they need to deal with. It can be a demotivating view to behold, so they take the easy way out - just remain the same.

But change is the only constant in life. We constantly need to change, since we constantly have something that need changing. But change doesn't have to happen all at once. That pile doesn't have to be dealt with in one sitting. Change can be gradual, and it should be gradual. Do one thing at a time.

Just like the hijab story that I told a while back, about how a woman I know began her journey into wearing the hijab and becoming the fully, properly covered Muslim woman she is today. She didn't grab a blanket and covered herself in a heartbeat.

No. She simply did 3 things:
  1. Start with one small thing. Just one.
  2. After that is done, only then did she move to another one. Just one.
  3. She repeated step no. 2, until the whole pile is gone.
It all starts with doing one thing.

Just one. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Is Your University Investment?

In 2013, I graduated from University of Toronto, Canada with a degree in Biology and Psychology in my hand. Upon reflecting about who I am today, I found that my university years had shaped me quite a lot.

There were a number of things that I can do to fill my time in between classes, tests, and exams. But, I chose to invest my time, energy, and money on a few specific things. The main reason why I chose these few things is because I want to spiritually grow to become a person of benefit to other people. That was what I chose to be my reason for choosing certain things.

I believe it is our choice to choose a reason, and that reason will be reflected in our daily doings. 

To spiritually grow as a person, I don't limit myself to the mosque and personal acts of worship only. I believe spiritual growth takes root inside, but it expands outside. Meaning, you can't be spiritually mature if you only benefit yourself. 

Choosing friends was among the first things on my to-do list. Partly because that was my father's advice; to seek good friends. Being in a foreign land, you need to have a strong and healthy social support. Considering that spiritual growth was my aim, so I sought out friends who can help me achieve that goal and who have a more-or-less similar aim in mind. 

I figured that if I want to find good friendship, then I need to be in a place where I would most likely find them. I was in the prayer room one day in Ramadhan and met a Pakistani brother who invited me over to attend a small halaqa organized by the MSA, just before iftar (breaking of fast). I did join them and that was my introduction into the MSA. 

I persisted to stay with them by volunteering my time and energy to help them in whatever way that I can, like sorting out tables and chairs, cleaning up after events, being an MC, etc. Along the way, I met more and more good people to befriend and each has helped me with my spiritual growth in some way. 

Not only that, the organization served as a platform for me to serve others, while honing my intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, like my English speaking skill. This is especially true when I decided to seriously join the MSA as an executive member. I started of by being the Brothers' Events Coordinator, then moved up to become the Vice President, and in my final year, I became the Senior Advisor. Each position had taught me valuable lessons.

Being a part of a spiritually conscious and socially active friends had shaped the environment that I was in. Using a tree metaphor, that was the land I chose to grow myself in. That was my choice. Whether it was in my rented house or on campus, I was with friends who can remind me when I forget. 

Having a good environment is only a part of my investment. Like I said before, I invested my time, energy, and money in doing specific things based upon my aim. I can't rely too much on my environment and diffuse my personal responsibilities to it. A good environment alone won't do the trick.

So I need to invest on myself now; to spiritually grow by gaining more knowledge and understanding about my roots (Islam). Being a university student, time felt like it was my enemy. Too many things to do, but too little time; a sure recipe for a lot of excuses to come out. In reality, I had a lot of time. What I didn't have was good time management. 

Amidst my time wasting of watching TV shows and playing games, I made an important choice: to invest my time, energy, and money to study Islamic knowledge. I picked a few weekends as my time to do just that. I looked around and found a few Muslim organizations which organize open class sessions on weekends.

These sessions didn't happen on all weekends and they didn't touch upon the same topics. There are variously topics, each explained in a one weekend course. Here's the catch: each course was not free. I had to pay for each course.

The course fee didn't deter me that much, since I was determined. I saw the value in the knowledge, just like I saw the value in a smartphone. You pay for the value that you see. I paid. For each one I paid. I wasn't rich. I was on a government scholarship. Some students ran out of money before the next "payday". 

I am not saying that I am an excellent money manager. I paid for luxurious things to back in the day, and I am not proud of it. But I am proud today to admit that I spent many dollars into knowledge. It helped me in my spiritual growth. It helped me to stand on my own two feet. 

A good environment is a blessing to have, but without self-confidence, you would be dependent upon the environment. Sound knowledge (and sound understanding) breeds self-confidence. It answers questions and concerns, and it gives you a peace of mind. 

Why am I telling you all of this? I didn't write this post to brag about myself, rather to steer the conversation towards you. I am trying to tell you about how important your choices are today in shaping who you will be in the future. The choices you make in university will surely shape who you will become after you graduate. 

You choose your friends. You choose what to do with your time. You choose how to spend your money. You choose where to spend your weekend. You choose all of those things, and in return they will shape who you are. 

Let me be honest, I didn't make all the right choices. I made mistakes. I only shared with you a few choices that I made right and these choices had a huge impact on who I am today. Start examining your choices and see if you are making the right ones. 

Your university years is a wealth of opportunities in both directions; opportunities to do good things and opportunities to do bad things. Choose wisely which direction you want to take. You can choose, and your choice becomes your investment. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dealing With Parents About Marriage


I want to get married but my parents won't let me, specifically because the person I want to marry lives far from us. My parents want me to marry someone closer. The person I want to marry is a good potential spouse for me. 

What should I do?

Waalaikumussalam warahmatullah.

Thank you for your question.

1. I have to be honest with you: there is no black-and-white answer in this kind of a situation. When you deal with human beings, you have to consider the person, the context, and the potential effects of your actions. It requires wisdom to know what would be the best thing to do in a given situation, given the type of people, context, and potential effects that you are dealing with. So, off the bat, I have to say that I cannot give you a straightforward answer.

2. I can offer you a general guideline for you to use in your situation. The first guideline would be to know how important it is to be good to your parents. In whatever situation you are in, never remove good akhlaq from your dealings with your parents. That is their God-given right.

At the same time, I would like for you to understand that being good with your parents doesn't mean that you nod along with anything and everything that they say or do. As a general rule, whenever they are encouraging you to do things that would lead to harm or haram things, then you shouldn't obey them. But even in that kind of a situation, you should maintain good akhlaq.

3. Regarding things that don't lead to harm or haram things, but you disagree with them, then there is always a room for discussion. We don't believe in a dictatorial style of leadership. If you disagree with your parents on a certain issue, then there should be an understanding that both parties can discuss the issue in a civilized manner, with the intention of reaching a conclusion that would be best for everyone.

Ideally, you should have a healthy relationship with your parents such that you can comfortably discuss things with them, including personal things. But I understand that not all families are like that. In the case that you find it difficult to send the message to them and you have tried your best without any success, then asking the help of a trusted and impartial third party would be appropriate.

4. It is important that you practice a sense of empathy when dealing with people, especially your parents. When your parents don't allow you to do something, try to understand their action from their perspective.

Maybe they are feeling a bit lonely without you, and that is why they feel reluctant to let you go. It is not that they don't want you to be happy, but it is just that they find it difficult to be apart from you. You have to understand: saying goodbye to your child is hard, whether it be temporarily or permanently.

From that perspective, there is at least one thing that you can do to remedy that (this is just a suggestion from me): create a deal between your parents and your potential spouse that you can periodically visit your parents after you get married. Your spouse has no right to cut the ties between parents and their child. Even when you are someone's spouse, you are still someone else's child. Never forget that.

You need to find a way to make sure that your parents don't get or feel abandoned after you get married. Obviously, the time spent with them will decrease once you get married and they have to accept that fact. However, that doesn't mean that you forget them and cut them off of your life completely. You have to find a way to make them understand that.

5. Learn extensively about your rights and responsibilities before you get married, especially about your responsibilities. Essentially, marriage is a contract between two parties and that contract outlines the rights and responsibilities of each party. Learn about what those rights and responsibilities are.

I am emphasizing this more for a woman. By educating yourself about your rights and responsibilities as a wife, you will be able to clearly see where the lines are drawn. These are lines that should never be crossed. But without knowing where the lines are, you might be walking in the dark, not knowing whether you are being treated justly or not. So it is very important for women to educate themselves about this.

As a recommendation from me, listen to "The Rights and Responsibilities of Marriage" by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. It is an audio CD. Honestly, it is rather expensive but it is a worthwhile investment if you can afford it. It is a wealth of knowledge, important for people who are about to or are already in the sacred bond of marriage.

That is all that I can offer you for now. I hope I have helped you in some way. I apologize for any shortcomings.

May Allah grant you strength, wisdom, and success. Ameen.

Allah knows best.

*The question is paraphrased and generalized to respect the privacy of the questioner. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Greatest Gift A Parent Can Give To A Child

*I have a teenage daughter and I am worried about her. She is in the phase of having feelings towards the opposite sex. In our family, we have an understanding that we should not mingle freely with the opposite sex who is not our mahram. She likes this one boy and she tells me about him. She is about to go to university soon, so I am concerned that I can't be there for her as much as I can now.

What should I do?

I appreciate the honesty and I will try to assist you the best I can.

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your parenting because it seems like you have gained the trust of your teenage daughter. You must have done some things right in order to achieve that. I have seen and heard stories of children who can't connect with their parents on a deep enough level such that they are comfortable to talk about personal things. If your daughter can share personal things with you, that means that she trusts you. So don't lose that trust.

To be frank, it would be easier for you and for your daughter if one of the men in your house could get involved. Not to control the situation in any way, but to provide a male perspective about the situation. To put things simply, men understand men.

Having your daughter's father or brothers on board would help since they would probably understand what and how the boy is thinking. Your daughter might be infatuated with the boy up to a point where she can't think clearly. That is understandable. Love can do that sometimes and it can do that even to the best of us.

With regards to your daughter, it might be difficult to digest this, but she is already a woman. Adulthood begins at puberty. That is what we believe as Muslims. The logic behind that is we are responsible for our Islam at that moment; we are accountable for our good deeds (pahala) and bad deeds (dosa). Such responsibility and accountability mark the beginning of adulthood.

But, she needs help. Although she is now an adult, she needs your help to transition into adulthood. Part of the adult experience is love and physical pleasure. But without guidance, she might be tempted to act according to her emotions and not according to wisdom. You are her source of wisdom. Educate her on how to be an adult and how to be a woman.

Considering that she will start university soon, I think you have to optimize the time that you have with her now. How you educate her will be her best defence against the world. I understand that it would be easier to just put her in a cage, but it would not solve the problem. In fact, it would create more problems.

Humans need freedom, but they also need wisdom and guidance in order to use freedom in the right way. Educate her about God, about the Prophet, about responsibility, about dignity, about confidence, and about modesty. These will be her shield when she leaves the house.

The bitter reality is that parents can't be with their children 24/7. There will come a time when the children will leave their nest and start their own individual journeys. That doesn't mean that they won't be needing you. They will. But they will have to walk on their own two feet from now on.

Once you have educated her to the best of your ability, you have to let her go when the time comes. At that point, put your trust in God and in your daughter. Using your wisdom and guidance, she will make the right choices insha Allah.

I know that I can't help you much, but this is the best that I can. I pray that Allah will grant you wisdom, guidance, and strength. Ameen.

*Question above is paraphrased and generalized to respect the privacy of the questioner.