The Story of the Two Books

Alhamdullilah I was recently published in Young Muslim Digest, a Bangalore based magazine in print for the last 3 decades. I have included the article in full here and you can access the same and other great sections like the editorial and letters to the editor at http://www.youngmuslimdigest.com

If you are reading this, chances are you live in a city; you are currently inside a building with both adjustable heating and lighting and oblivious to much of the natural world around you. You aren’t alone, millions around the world, increasingly live in urban areas due to the greater economic opportunities they provide. Yet financial security through urban living has its pitfalls; as our world gets increasingly urbanized, humanity is getting increasingly isolated from the marvels of nature and the simple life of the past.

A recent trip to a sea-side city in India afforded me an opportunity to wonder and marvel upon the Creation of Allah (swt). For what else can one do, when one is humbled by the pristine beauty in front of him? The shores each different from the other in appearance – some with clear water, others with angry waves, bordered by beaches covered in white or red sand, lined by sheer cliffs in some and surrounded by rocks in other, the sheer diversity of hues and colours takes one’s breath away. Having grown up in a sea-side town, the very nature of the beach from the soothing sound of waves to the cool breeze at the shore to the spectacular view of the sunset has always encouraged me to marvel at the creation of Allah (swt).

Yet, beaches are only a glimpse of the wide earth that Allah (swt) has created, and as one travels through the land one is, indeed, bound to be awestruck by the nature of His creation. Living as we are in cities, limited to glancing upon some trees in parks and roadside, we are isolated away from the beauty and wonder of the earth which serves an important purpose – to make the observer aware of Allah (swt) and His Perfection. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:

“Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding.” (Chapter Aal `Imran:191)

He then explains that the people of understanding are those who remember Him often.

Contemplating on the fact that both the revealed verses and the creation of Allah (swt) is referred to as Ayah, the scholars of the past termed the creation as a Kitab al-Manzur (The Visual Book) and the revealed Ayah as Kitab al-Mastur (The Written Book). It is often said that the greatness of scientific inquiry during the Muslim Golden Era was due to the scientists’ curiosity of wanting to know how Allah (swt) made the physical realm work. The deeper they looked into this aspect, they more their faith grew, in the same way as the Prophet Ibraheem (asws) and his reflection over the heavenly bodies that he witnessed day and night. As time passed though, for various social and political reasons, the prominence of the Muslims fell away.

Comparing the breakneck speed of today’sscientific development to the days of the past, Muslims often wish that we could go back to the dominance of the old. After all, if our scientists were teaching the world then, why not today? The answer to this lies in the fact that the science of our forefathers in Islam and the science of today are built on completely opposite world-views. Whereas, in the past, science was based on increasing one’s faith in Allah (swt), today’s science, bereft of its connection with God, is increasingly used to challenge faith in Allah (swt).

People could argue that science and morality are two separate philosophies, and are necessarily distinct. Indeed, that was the argument between the church and the scientists which led to the end of the domination of one over the other. Post this fission, starting in the early 1800s, the technological advances that have taken place are simply astounding. Sample this: it took humanity a mere 150 years to go from inventing mechanized transport vis-à-vis the steam engine, to putting a man on the moon using rocket engines.

Divorced from the Divine Reality though, humanity, beginning from Europe, took economic progress through scientific achievement as the new purpose of life. MuhammedAsad’s words, in Road to Mecca, are evidently timeless when he said:

“The average European – whether democrat or communist, manual worker or intellectual – seemed to know only one positive faith: the worship of material progress, the belief that there could be no other goal in life than to make that very life continually easier or, as the current expression went, ‘independent of nature.’ The temples of that faith were the gigantic factories, cinemas, chemical laboratories, dance-halls, hydroelectric works; and its priests were the bankers, engineers, politicians, film stars, statisticians, captains of industry, record airmen, and commissars.”

Indeed, the world of today offers unparalleled luxury and, perhaps, the only difference between the world Asad described to us then and the one we inhabit today would be the definition of the European extending to a wider segment of the world.

But every fairy tale has a dragon as the villain, and so does this extraordinary tale of human genius and inventiveness. The earth today has become an exceedingly uncertain place to live in. Issues like global warming, climate change, polluted environment and depleting resources make headlines today. The attempted subjugation of the planet to expedite the path of economy and progress is rapidly coming back to haunt us. Extreme weather conditions, worsening food and water security and cities rendered unliveable due to pollution are the global problems that humanity has to contend with now.

Einstein seems prescient when he said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We, as humanity, are attempting to right the wrongs of the past; yet, we continue to do so within the narrow and limited vision of economic development. Efficiency, encouraged through penalties and taxes, is touted as the solution to all ills that would still allow unabated economic growth. The natural environment continues to be viewed as a resource to be exploited without any metaphysical significance.

Yet, as Muslims who understand the deeper implications of the natural world, it is imperative upon us to contribute urgently to the discourse of environmental responsibility. Living within a culture and atmosphere that denies God itself, it is the natural environment which can help us in contemplating over His existence and our duties towards Him. This relationship, however, extends in both ways. Only through contemplating God, the temporal nature of this life and the eternal abode of Hereafter, can we truly protect the environment from our greed for prosperity.

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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

*****

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