Ripples over the Mandela Reflection

Alhamdulliulah I was recently published in the Young Muslim Digest, an Islamic monthly magazine, published out of Bangalore for the last three decades. The article was written after Nelson Mandela’s death and might seem a bit dated. Anyway, the article can be found on YMD’s Website and has also been reproduced in full here.

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It has been very interesting to see the reactions over the last few days, over the death of Nelson Mandela, the South African icon of the struggle against Apartheid and Colonialism. There has been a clamour across the social media universe, honouring and eulogising the dead man. There are two aspects of this that are interesting to me personally.

One is the general trend of Social Media Herd-Mentality and the other being the Muslim response about the same. Herd Mentality can be described as how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviours, follow trends, and/ or purchase items. The social media seems to be the biggest grazing ground for the lot. When deaths such as Mandela’s happen, it is hard to discern whether the sympathy is heartfelt or just an attempt to be among the ‘in-crowd.’ Or maybe it isn’t so hard, but then, who’s counting the statuses.

Marc Maron, the comedian had a quote about the social media effect in his memoir, Attempting Normal, which is quite telling about the emotional state of social media users. He says that the social media culture feeds into our inner-child’s need to be emotionally sated. The user attempts to fulfil his need to be loved and cared through the trickles of likes and comments that follow the status updates. As cynical as it may sound, moments like these make me a believer.

Very few people would truly understand what it meant to be Mandela. A man who built his own prison which he was to live in for 27 years on Robben Island, who, upon his release, saw it better to forgive his oppressors, is not someone you appreciate through a single status update or two.

The internet and the real world is creaking with the weight of sanitised messages from politicians and leaders alike, who purposely gloss over the fact that many of Mandela’s views would not hold much currency today. After all, he was taken off the US Global Terrorist list only in 1998.

Many of the world leaders, who offer their condolences today, reflect on Mandela’s exceptional courage to not only survive jail, but also lead a nation after his release. Yet, they seem to be quite happy to forget that, under their own watch, there are tens of illegally held detainees often with no charges and usually with no trials. Actually, the detainees – made out as terrorists today to suit the needs of the establishment, and probably made heroes tomorrow if the people and media see it fit – have more in common with Mandela than their leaders.

A real tribute to the likes of Mandela cannot be encapsulated in a statement or two. He spent a lifetime fighting for justice and our closing our eyes to the very injustice he spoke and fought against is an insult to his memory.

The issues of apartheid and social inequality were neither caused by aliens nor have they ended. They were, in fact, human problems, caused by humans and have taken very different, yet distinct, forms for those who see through it. No amount of social messages can hide this fact; yet, a decent-sized friend/ follower list on Facebook or Twitter can surely distract a person from this truth.

Patience and perseverance in attaining the objective of truth and establishing a society of justice was taught to us by our Prophet (saws). If he was the true paragon of the struggle, then the likes of Mandela are also examples. Truth and justice are not the monopoly of a religion or region but are values of universal hope for the human race.

Thus, for those who seem to be in awe of Mandela, yet know nothing about him save a few titbits gleaned from the cyberworld, it would be best if they, at least, read a book about him, learn about his struggle and maybe implement an aspect or two into their own lives, struggling for justice in their own way.

While an attention-seeking post on the social media might bring you momentary benefits, the struggle for the betterment of society itself could bring benefits above and beyond imagination, if Allah (swt) sees it fit.

This brings me to the second point of the article which is the Muslim response – or, rather, the responses – on the net. For everywhere you go, there seems to be a view about it among the internet Jama’ath. Without doubt, Mandela was a great man who achieved a lot in this dunya. That Allah (swt) made his name ubiquitous seems a fitting reward for his efforts.

The question that seems to trouble many though, is his state in the Hereafter (Akhira). On the one hand, there is a trend of wishing RIP (see Herd-Mentality above) and, on the other, a strong statement of his ineligibility for attaining the mercy of Allah (swt) and the castigation of the former or even of anybody appreciating him.

Islam is the religion of the middle path and we judge by what is apparent. The most fitting of examples is of Abu Talib who, in spite of his devotion to the Prophet (saw), was not released from the punishment of the Fire, even as revealed by the Prophet (saw) himself. As for the fate of one already dead, since we have no means of revelation after our Prophet (saw), it is impossible to say which way he, or she, is going. The matter of faith, though, is clear enough: Muslims are not allowed to pray for the forgiveness of those who died in denial of Allah’s Oneness and, therefore, to be on the safer side, it would be better to avoid statements of similar import.

At the same time, an individual’s final resting place is a matter for Allah (swt) to decide, and taking up His role in this act of determination would be blameworthy. Thus, it would be fitting for a believer to concern himself with his own Akhira and not be bothered about that of a person already dead and gone. If that person happens to be someone like Mandela though, then, maybe, he can take a few lessons in how to conduct his Dunya.

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To give or not to give

BBC had a show sometime back called “Britian’s Biggest Hoarders”.  The show documented the lives of two individuals who had the habit of hoarding stuff and the effect of this habit on their spouses and children. Their houses were stuffed with things (sometimes from 30 years ago) like sardines in a tin can, leaving just enough room to sit and sleep. The condition is apparently called Compulsive Hoarding where the individual keeps acquiring items and perceives these items to have a higher value than their actual value. Such people can rarely bring themselves to discard these items even if they can’t make use of it anymore.

Why am I going on about this condition?

In preparing for my wedding next month, our apartment is being repainted. Ours is not a very large place and every day the painters do up one room. The painting process though has made me realize the amount of things we have. Before painting a room, my mum and I empty the stuff that can’t be covered up and move it to another room or the hall or wherever convenient. A few days of this juggling about has made me feel as if there is no end to things we have.

As I look around and see things that vary in size, shape, value, utility and age, I know why I need some things but what to do with others I can’t figure out. Some things I can remember when I got them, others I have no clue why they are here.  Some things hold sentimental value and others are just plain rubbish. Yet somehow I feel it is impossible to clean them out. In taking decisions about keeping, discarding or giving away an item, we always seem to side with keep it over chuck it. Somehow we always feel that this might be useful some other time.

Don’t get me wrong, we are the average household with the average number of things acquired over the years and we keep giving away stuff/ throwing them off as and when required. But when the issue of doing it all at once has come upon us, the task seems infinitely more difficult. We are handicapped in, India (depending on where you are) as compared to the west because of the lack of centralized and easily accessible services (both profit and not for profit) to get rid of stuff. This definitely adds to the bias but what bothers me is well known verse in the Quran and incident in the Prophet’s  life.

Allah says in the Quran  in the Chapter of the Cow

Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler, those who ask [for help], and for freeing slaves; [and who] establishes prayer and gives zakah; [those who] fulfill their promise when they promise; and [those who] are patient in poverty and hardship and during battle. Those are the ones who have been true, and it is those who are the righteous.[2:177]

Notice how He says that piety is not just doing the outward rituals but it is to truly believe in Him and His commands. The belief then should cause the believer to do things in spite of its obvious difficulty. In this verse the first of such acts is to give from wealth you love to those who need it.

I am reminded of the incident where in preparation for the Battle of Tabuq, the two closest companions of the Prophet  competed to see who would give away more for Allah’s sake. Umar ibn Al Khattab gave away half his wealth and thought that would be enough. But when he saw Abu Bakr give away all his wealth Umar realized he couldn’t surpass Abu Bakr.

When the Prophet  asked Abu Bakr what he left for his household, he replied Allah and His Apostle, indicating his reliance in Allah’s providence. Today when I look at an old watch that nobody uses, I still loathe giving it away because I think I can fix it and use it again. This being items not in use, I wonder when will I be able to give away a watch that I am using to someone else who needs it. May Allah give you and me strength.

Hurricane Sandy’s wake

In the modern world where happiness is directly associated with the amount and value of our possessions, Allah still provides us opportunities to reflect. After Hurricane Sandy, millions of people lost their belongings and possessions, besides being in mortal danger. In Syria, people everyday wake up to the fear of destruction of their homes and families. These are just incidents in recent memory and there will always be many more to look towards and think about.

In spite of knowing the limited value of material things we hold on to it as if we are to live forever. The process of letting go is hard but working towards it is our real purpose. To end I would like to give you a quote by Imam Ahmed who was once asked –

” Can a man be extremely wealthy and still be modest?”

He replied, ” Yes, As long as he carries his money in his pocket and not in his heart “

I Pray that Allah makes it easy for us to give for His sake from that which we love. Ameen.

PS : Last year I was able to take part in Charity Week 2011 being in London through the Imperial College Islamic Society. This year seemed to be much bigger and better than last year (preview below). May Allah bless all the people who gave, the people who organised and the orphans who shall benefit. Ameen

Of Jasmines and the Internet

I wrote this article a long time ago, when  I was in India and the so called Arab Spring had just begun. Tunisia had already removed their leaders and Hosni Mubarak was to be soon deposed. I was thinking about Syria and putting down my thoughts about it when I remembered this. In the face of the current Syrian situation this article almost looks naive. Khair. Read through to remember how “easy” the revolutions before Syria were. More on Syria later

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When, Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, set himself on fire a couple of weeks back, out of sheer desperation that poverty brings with it, little did he know he was going to stoke flames of dissent long buried in the hearts of the citizens of the Middle East. These flames now raging like wildfires all over the Middle East from Yemen to Egypt have their leaders running for cover. Fanned by Internet Media ( Facebook, Twitter etc.) and to some extent the reports of Al Jazeera News Channel, Bouazizi’s self immolaion has set in motion a possible domino effect of governmental change across the Middle East. Tunisia’s own president Mr. Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali has long since resigned and is now under self imposed exile in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Hosni Mubarak’s family has already fled to London fearing for the safety of their lives.

JasmineThough uprisings against self-styled dictators in the Middle East arent uncommon given the massive corruption, rot and decay that exist in government institutions, the protests this time around have had a sense of purpose to it. Dubbed the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ to signify a revolution occurring across societies, Tunisians are not ready to step down until there is a popular government in place while Egyptians today hope to garner the support of a million people as they march to ouster Mr. Mubarak. While I scan the updates coming from Egypt constantly, I can’t help but laud the people of Egypt in their efforts. It would be insolent on my part to claim that affairs of Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations had been on my radar prior to these uprising. Yet, the popular nature of these protests is definitely noteworthy. Regular people who live regular lives have stepped out on to the streets to voice their opinion against the oppression that has left them crushed. The Egyptian army sent in to quell the crowds has declared hints of support towards the ‘Million Strong March’. Reports by Robert Fisk at The Independent currently in Egypt talk of the camaraderie and brotherhood apparent among the protestors and the law enforcement agents.

Such images are encouraging to say the least and though already democratized as a nation it is important for us as Indians to sit up and take notice of the developments taking place in the Middle East. True we elect our representatives, but governance in India today is a joke. How different is Hosni Mubarak from those in power today? Aren’t we witness to some of the biggest scams in modern Indian history? While we recline comfortably in our couches hardly having too wait for a live stream of the IPL on our 3G enabled cell phones, how many thousands literally die of hunger in India? Activists of human rights are simply convicted for secession and terrorism, while real terrorists and criminals languish in jail cells or government chairs afforded the best in their class of luxury! I reiterate our governance is a joke and we need to take a stand.

As I already mentioned the people in the protests in Egypt and related countries are everyday people with everyday stories like yours and mine. Another thing I’d like to mention is that we do not need to get onto the streets to create change. It took our freedom fighters 90 years (from the Revolt of 1857) to garner independence for us Indians. It hardly took 3 weeks (from the self-immolation of Bouazizi) to bring the matter to a head in Egypt. The difference this time being the pervasive nature of social networking and print/TV media. Boon or bane, one can hardly deny the role that Facebook et al. had to play in precipitating the events in the Middle East. While we watch the social networking revolution blitz us daily with new offerings it is imperative for us to indulge in a thought revolution. Muslims are the original disciples of SatyaGraha, learning it from their Prophets and in particular Mohammed (PBUH) while Indians were taught the ways of struggle by Gandhi himself. Through a revolution stemming not from violence but from moral rectitude and adherence to ethical standards there is hope for positive change again. A revolution that can be taken to the doorstep of almost any person above the age of 15 and having access to the internet without having to set a foot on the ground. A revolution which any person who follows the affairs of the world around will “Like”.

It is up to us to take notice of the issues that plague us. It is up to us to make the right noises about these issues. It is also up to us that the noises we make are heard by so many people that it can truly make a difference. The good news is we have a tool we can easily use. The bad news is we don’t “Share”.

PS : – While it is very easy for us to be happy with developments in Egypt, let us not forget the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty that pervade the streets. Shops and homes are being looted by anti social elements and food supply is becoming scarce. People who lose possessions in this period lose them for good. I pray for a speedy end to these occurences that is causing so much discord and I also pray for the lasting peace for the people of Egypt. Amen.

A Quake in Bangalore, Tremors in the Heart

A couple of days back in Bangalore, many of my friends and family would have felt the mild tremors that occurred due to earthquake of the coast of Aceh province of Indonesia. The tremors were quite mild with the earth actually shaking for mere seconds causing little or no damage altogether. In most of southern India, these tremors weren’t the kind that set the heart racing and or caused panic among the masses, though people near the coast were still worried about the possible tsunami. But if you were to take a glance at the pictures and videos of people in Indonesia, you would see that the memories of the last great quake 2004 are still raw.

In my mind earthquakes are associated with the one that hit Indonesia in 2004 causing the massive tsunami and the one that struck the region of Bhuj in Gujarat in 2001. The massive destruction caused in these regions due to the population density is something I can never forget. All praise to Allah SWT that I have never had to experience something like an earthquake or tsunami nor can I truly imagine the feelings of horror and dread that fill the individuals caught in such situations. I can still remember watching on the news, huge waves of water that crashed through the lower lying regions of Indonesia, stopping at nothing and reducing everything in its path to rubbish. I can recall the newscast after the tsunami where nearly every half hour the number of dead reported rose in hundreds and thousands until it was finally declared that nearly 200,000 people had lost their lives in the region.

Since then no earthquake has been so destructive yet it would be hardly respectful to consider any other event less tragic. It is definitely an underlying human characteristic that even after such momentous events, we are able to pick ourselves up and start rebuilding our lives. With the passage of time we are always able to replace destruction with order and sadness with numbness. The advent of modern technologies such as the early warning system may make the recovery process easier by preventing loss and allowing swifter responses post the disaster. But the very nature of these systems, for me, serves to remind us of our frailty.

 For as human beings we cannot stop a disaster from occurring nor do we design technologies to do so. We try at best to minimize the damage caused in any situation. Our science enables to explain events like why there was no tsunami this time or why there is night and day. But sometimes we need to go deeper than the surface and see things with perspective. Human beings have existed for a long time now and each and every one of them has experienced night and day, rain and shine, food and drink – all of these phenomena ever present without a need for explanation. For think about it – we do not control the sun or the moon yet we take it for granted that there will be a day for our work and a night time for our rest. In an earlier piece I mentioned how we do not get a lot of choice but events such as earthquakes serves to remind us that even the semblance of control we have may not really exist.

I might come across as a pessimist or a cynic given how I go on about a lack of choice or control and such matters, yet I feel optimistic about my state and I will let you know why in a moment. Before I do though, I would like to ask you what you think. How do you perceive such disasters? Does it make you ask deeper questions about yourselves or do you just choose to cover up such feelings? Reflection is a lost art in this modern world of distraction but do you not think you would like to take a few minutes and connect with yourself seeking answers to bigger questions or do you just take 42 as the ultimate answer?

As for my optimism, I’m reminded of the many instances in the Quran where our creator mentions

“And in the alternation of night and day, and the provision (rain) that Allah sends down from the sky, and revives therewith the earth after its death, and in the turning about of the winds (i.e. sometimes towards the east or north, and sometimes towards the south or west etc., sometimes bringing glad tidings of rain etc., and sometimes bringing the torment), are signs for a people who understand.” [The Crouching 45:5]

And in another place

And to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and Allah has power over all things. Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah (always, and in prayers) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth, (saying): “Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire. [Family of Imran 4:189-191]

I leave you with a short recitation that should serve for us an early warning system for the ultimate end

Have you ever scratched beneath the surface?

In life, there are times when we think about ourselves and our situation and exclaim – “Hey I never imagined I’d be in this situation or I never dreamed that I’ll be doing this with my life”. We look around us and think of our choices and say, “Wow I never thought that such and such would be important to me or that I have these qualities as a part of my character.”

This feeling might not overtake us very frequently. More often than not we just let our life rush by us, as we run the rat race or just spend time chilling as they say. We do what we do and just accept that life is a series of random events and we are where we are today as a matter of coincidence or the like. There are probably very few occasions in our life when we actually sit down, take time out and look back at our lives and reflect. We hardly ponder about the effects of those little matters which seemed random or pure strokes of luck (the good type or the bad type) at that time yet have caused you to be where you are right now.

“Pray why should we bother with the past,” you ask me, “It is this moment that is really important and we might as well just live in this moment.” Well, you are right there, this moment is important but a few years down the line this very moment could decide what you are doing then. What is random today is the reason you are where you are tomorrow. As you look back, life seems to be a script that you lived, as Shakespeare implied when he said life is a stage. But I’d like to ask a different question.

It is obvious every person considers his life to be important to himself if not to anybody else. Every individual holds himself in high regard feeling that he should have a good life. We spend our entire lives pursuing that good life. But why do we have this sense of entitlement? Why do we think that, we can’t believe we are here or can’t understand why we aren’t somewhere else? After all, we didn’t choose when we are going to be born; we don’t choose when we are going to die. We don’t have a choice in, whom we are born to nor can we question why India or Middle East or Africa or anywhere else for that matter. It just happened and we just accept. We can always say that I wish I was such and such or so and so but like you and I know that is just a wish. Escapism at best.

Among us there are those who will leave a legacy behind, but I wonder about the countless billions that came to this planet. Who were these people before us? Nameless and faceless they played their part in making the earth go round. Surely among them were good people, good fathers and good mothers, intelligent children, creative individuals, who lived out their time maybe in poverty or may be in wealth, maybe in health or maybe in sickness and when their time came left the planet for good. Like them we too came on this planet and we too shall leave when our time is up. We don’t remember them as we remember Gandhi or Newton. Every generation can hardly remember more than a generation or two or maybe three that preceded it.

Then in reality we need to question ourselves to whom does this life matter? Why should we be alive even and what is our purpose? For we can for ourselves make up a purpose – to be wealthy, to be recognized or just to be plain happy. But we know that there were many who never got there and died trying in the purpose. Each and every one of us knows about the lowest common denominator for all of humanity – death but when is each person’s appointed time, we humans don’t’ have a clue! Logically speaking this abrupt end to life should in fact make our life purposeless for why bother with something that is limited in and of itself. No human being can deny the reality of death but very few wonder what is to happen after.

Thus I invite you to take a few moments out of your day and contemplate your life (the past and the future) and ask yourselves to where you are really headed.

As for me, three lines from the noble Quran keep running through my head as I write this –

“By Time. Verily entire mankind is in loss. Except those who believe [in a meeting with their creator] and thus do righteous deeds, and enjoin the truth and enjoin patience” [Asr (103):1-3]

You should wiki – Work Function

This has been a long time coming. To be honest as I type this today I have been wondering what has kept me away from blogging for so long.

During my hostel days my roomie (let’s call him Aditya) and I agreed on the fact that we were unfit and had to do something about it. We decided jogging would be a decent option as there wouldn’t be the ignominy of making a fool of yourself at a team sport nor would there be a need of waiting in long queues to use sparse gym equipment.  You didn’t really need technique or finesse to jog and there was ample space. Thus at the beginning of every semester we would jump out of bed or atleast open one eye to see if the other guy is awake. A little coaxing and cajoling later, we would finally hit the dirt so to say and jog.

As it was with these endeavors, the drive to do it would last for the first couple of weeks of the semester. During this brief period of self contentment we would look into the mirror and say – I know I have as many chins as a page from the Hong Kong telephone directory, but at least I’m doing something about. But like I said this was a brief period and usually by the third week we would begin to get lawyered.

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What is lawyered you ask? Lawyered is this little voice in your head that breeds of your contentment. This voice lulls you into such a feeling of self worth and comfort that you feel any more effort than what you already put in is a gift to mankind. Lawyered is also the same voice which gives you a number of reasons to not pursue the afore mentioned path of self improvement or as a matter of fact anything out of the ordinary. Usually the arguments in your head are so convincing that you do give up.

So it has been with this blog. Every single time I would think that I should write, my personal lawyer would give me many reasons to desist. But today I decided to lawyer him back. I have decided to put to rest the doubts that besiege my mind when I think of blogging.

Here we go.

You cannot express yourself well enough?

I’d like to think of my high school English teachers who thought I was good at this sort of thing.

You don’t have sufficient skill in English language.

Most rappers don’t either but that aint stopping none of em busting up dem rhymes bout the hood.

What will you talk about?

I’m a 22 year old Indian muslim studying in the UK, engaged to be married, a bit of a socialist and supporter of sustainable energy. I should occasionally be able to find something or the other to talk about.

Who will be your audience?

Anybody who finds this link and reads what I have written. I have decided not to be very bothered by this audience business. Like Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in the year of 1492 I am out to find those Indians. I will be content if I can get a couple of stalkers (ringing me up at odd hours) out of this exercise.

And thus we have it.

My first blog post!!

Hopefully this high should last me more than the first two weeks as it was with the jogging. As of now I have no plans as such and hope to let this blog develop a mind of its own. Before the next time though – in the comments sections below – let us know how have you been lawyered, what have you always wanted to do but have never got around to doing because of the quality of the opposition. May it be as mundane as brushing your teeth in the morning or as exciting as jumping of a building with a faulty parachute. Let us know how you have won. It should definitely be useful to the people reading.

Until the next time!

Salam

PS: – If you are still wondering –  I have managed to lose weight by the dint of my hard work and the sweat of my brow. I have now moved up from jogging to push ups. So there!