slip-sliding away…..

Archive for February, 2013

A thousand words: 21st century playtime

Posted by Yacoob on February 27, 2013

Kids playing in 1984 vs 2012

Source: Anonymous ART of Revolution

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Deadlines

Posted by Yacoob on February 18, 2013

Slipping Away_time

When calamity strikes

Recently, I went through the unprecedented experience of being extremely pressured at work. Circumstances meant that I was on a very, very tight deadline – with a mountain of work to do and zero room for failure.

I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those people who take work home. On not being one of those people who work on weekends or long hours overtime. For me, the work-life balance is a critical one, and I never, ever wanted work to encroach on my personal time. There’s a time for work, and a time for normal life – and the two shouldn’t mix.

But this situation struck me so hard and was so crucial that I had no choice. Over these last few weeks, I’ve found myself working harder than ever and putting in more hours than ever. In particular, there was one weekend where I worked late every day – even Saturday and Sunday.

When the calamity that caused this first struck, my initial reaction – predictably for a human – was emotional. I was angry at the person making these demands, and argued my case (in my head, at least – since external argument would only make things worse). But soon after, I realised that – whoever’s fault it was – this was a trial that Allah had placed in my path. Every trial – every experience in life – is meant to teach us something. And I realised that this one was specifically put in my way, and I needed to rise to the challenge, and try to get the best out of it.

I needed to use this opportunity to draw closer to Allah, and to be grateful that this circumstance was forced upon me.

This was out of the norm. This wasn’t my usual routine. Aside from the crazy amount of work I needed to put in, this was an experience that was meant to teach me lessons that I could take into the future and apply once my life settled down again…ways I could and should improve once things went ‘back to normal’.

To the extreme

So that weekend, I was in hyper-productive mode. I was going on adrenaline – having a far-decreased desire for food, free time, and even sleep. I was intensely focussed on getting the work done – getting through this challenge so that things could go back to normal. I worked and worked and worked, and all through that weekend, I felt Allah’s help with me. If you remember Him, He will remember you – and such consciousness on our side can only ever be a positive thing.

Alhamdullilah – by the end of that weekend, I’d met my target (in the worldly work).

Through that period, I rediscovered my true potential in terms of work and productivity. I remembered previous times – in my studies – where I was also under intense pressure, and out of necessity, I pushed myself to get the work done in time and ended up achieving success (in the worldly sense).

I witnessed, once more, how capable I am of getting through a lot of work with minimal time-wasting and distraction.

I realised that the over-indulgences that so taint my time really can be overcome – if my attitude is correct, and my focus is on something worthy – rather than being complacent in the comfort of routine and ‘normal’ circumstances.

The ultimate deadline

But I also reaped the spiritual benefits of such exertion. I drew a critical lesson about humans and time: when we’re faced with a deadline in worldly matters, we (hopefully) do whatever it takes to meet that deadline. We have a sense of urgency, an increased work ethic, and have little or no time for distractions and things of little real importance. We focus on our goal, and work hard to achieve it.

But as Muslims, we should also have the perspective of our most important deadline – which we know we will definitely face: that of death.

We will all die, and once that happens, our chance for meeting our goals pretty much come to an end. While we’re alive, we have the chance to do good – through obedience to Allah, and restraint from disobedience. These years and moments of our lives are our chances for sending forth preparations for our graves, standing on the Day of Judgment, and our Eternity thereafter.

What we do here determines whether our eternal journey will be good or bad.

So, in a sense, we have a deadline to meet.

But the difference is, none of us knows when our deadlines will come.

We could be young or old, occupied or relaxing, engaged in good or engaged in bad. Whatever the case, death will find us.

And once that happens, our book of deeds is closed – and our deeds are all that we can take with us beyond that barrier.

With this deadline so much more worthy, and so much more urgent than any worldly deadline, we should be pushing ourselves each and every day. We should have no time for disobedience to Allah. We should have no time for unnecessary distraction and time-wasting.

In short, we should live our lives as if it’s our last day – because in reality, it might just be our last. And when we wake up from the dream that is this dunya, we’ll see the reality of things. So the time for action is now – before it’s too late.

Making it real

Such thoughts and feelings about the future can be solidified and made more permanent via knowledge. Our religion is one in which we’ve been given a vast amount of knowledge about exactly what will happen to us – from when we close our eyes for the last time on Earth, to what follows in the realm we depart to, to the Day that we’ll all be standing – awaiting our books of deeds, and what comes after.

And our teachers and scholars provide these reminders – for example, in Jumuah khutbahs. But unfortunately, in some cases, they don’t really reach our hearts or minds. It’s not that the message is irrelevant or uninteresting. It’s that the speaker isn’t effective in the way he delivers the message. It’s like he has his position, and his audience has to be there every week, so it seems he doesn’t really make the effort to improve his delivery of the message or vary his styles to capture the audience’s attention.

So it can be frustrating for many of us, who receive the knowledge, but it doesn’t get beyond our ears. Or if it does, it fades quickly because the speaker hasn’t captured our attention.

If such a description rings true for your local scholars, it doesn’t mean hope is lost. In today’s time, we have the wonders of technology to help us receive the message from some of the world’s greatest and most effective Islamic scholars and public speakers.

In particular, I’d recommend watching / listening to the following speakers and series – which do a great job of explaining the topic of the Hereafter in ways which, insha-Allah, will stick with us and benefit us much more than the quickly-forgotten Jumuah khutbah we might’ve fallen asleep in:

So seek out the knowledge, and do it with the intention of benefitting yourself in both this life and the next.

May we all benefit from such reminders, and may we all reach our final moments in this dunya in a state that we’ll be ready to meet our Maker.

Posted in Food for thought | Leave a Comment »

Hajj Chronicles Part 13: Lift off

Posted by Yacoob on February 13, 2013

Previous posts in this series: Parts 1 to 12

Door of the Kabah

The door of the Kabah

Strength

One of the blessings of the journey of Hajj – both in Madinah and Makkah – is that the crowds are so big that you have to go very early if you want to get a good spot in the masjid. And with our first morning in Makkah being a Friday, we planned to go even earlier for Jumuah – 2 or 3 hours before the time.

The preparation brought about an opportunity to apply one of the positive changes I’d hoped to make from this trip: holding my tongue in the face of extreme irritation.

You see, my wife – like other women (I would guess) – tends to get very tense and dramatic when the pressure’s on. What makes things worse is that I’m a natural ‘dawdler’ – I tend to be slow / waste time unnecessarily (though I do try NOT to be that way). So in our rush to get ready and go down the haram before it got too busy, we had some pretty tense moments.

My planned change was to be very restrained in the face of such attacks: to RESPOND wisely instead of REACTING emotionally.

Alhamdullilah – I held back and said nothing bad in retaliation. That quality of restraint is one I believe can be so beneficial to close relationships – especially in times of anger. As the Prophet s.a.w. reportedly told us: “The strong man is not one who wrestles well but the strong man is one who controls his anger when he is in a fit of rage.”(Bukhari) So if we can just learn to apply such strength in challenging moments, insha-Allah it can save us from a lot of unnecessary strife in our relationships.

Solitude

Ground floor of the Haram

The ground floor of the Haram

We went down to the masjid 2 hours early and I got a decent spot. I could see the Kabah – which was awesome for me, given the amount of time I’d be waiting until Jumuah commenced. Unfortunately for my wife, the space limitations for women – which was so bad in Madinah – was again repeated here in Makkah, so her spot wasn’t so good.

It’s ironic how women are supposed to be honoured in Islam, yet the Saudi authorities seem to make things so difficult for women in the masjids of Madinah and Makkah that – a lot of times – women end up having to sit and pray outside the masjid. It should be the opposite. Women should be the ones inside the masjid – protected from the heat, discomfort, and gazes of the many men that pass by.

Anyway, so with almost 2 hours to spare before proceedings start, I had a lot of time on my hands. As usual for this trip, I’d come to the masjid equipped with things to do – including my mini-Quran and my dua list. It took a while for my mind to settle down, but once that happened, I had some awesome moments. Using that critically-important dua list as my base, I spent close to an hour just making dua, and feeling so connected to my Creator – here, in plain sight of His most sacred house of worship on Earth. It was a beautiful, beautiful experience, and one that reinforced the tremendous gratitude I had for being given the chance to make this journey.

Insanity

As if the preceding days weren’t enough, the following night was to boost me in a way I’d never imagined. In Makkah, my wife and I adopted a habit of doing one tawaaf daily – usually at night sometime after Esha.

On our third night, we set out at 10PM. Again, the tawaaf wasn’t emotional for me – as my primary concern was protecting her from the crowds. But the special moments would soon come.

Since it still wasn’t too busy, we got really close to the spots we’d missed out on during our first umrah. We got to stand and look right into Maqam Ibrahim – seeing the huge, round footprints of this amazing Prophet.

Footprints of Ibrahim a.s.

The footprints of Ibrahim a.s.

We also got to touch the Kabah several times – but it wasn’t a case of idolising the building, or even claiming this to be a sunnah. It was simply because we wanted to touch the structure. As mentioned before, the Kabah is merely a symbol – to be honoured and respected as the Prophet s.a.w. and the believers of past times have, but not to be worshipped or grabbed emotionally as if it has any special powers of its own. The theme is perfectly summarised by the statement of Umar r.a.: when kissing the Black Stone, he reportedly said: “I know that you are a stone, you do not cause benefit or harm; and if it were not that I had seen Allâh’s Messenger – peace and blessings of Allâh be upon him – kiss you, I would never have kissed you.”.

While our emotional attachment to the Kabah wasn’t strong in those early days, the spiritual attachment was slowly growing.

During the tawaaf, my wife suggested I try to get to the Black Stone – since it looked a decent chance that night. I set out to do that – confident that I’d succeed – but after a long time trying and waiting, I realised it wouldn’t happen. There seems to be no fair system for getting to that corner of the Kabah: I – like others – waited in a sort of queue, but people came from the other side, and I got moved around and squashed. Many people push and shove and act insane to get to the Stone, but I knew there’s no honour in that – and it’s not worth touching the Stone if you trample the rights (and bodies) of others to get there.

Black Stone crowd

Madness at the Black Stone

So I just tried to stand firm in my place, without pushing others. But it got too heavy at times. I was being crushed, and I thought maybe just putting my arm up to get near the Stone may work – since I just wanted a touch. But no. I tried, but my body was being pulled away, so it felt like my arm might have been ripped off if I continued that route. I tried once more, and got so close that my fingers were just centimetres from the silver casing that protects the Stone. But I couldn’t go all the way. I just couldn’t get there, despite my best efforts.

It was at that point that the warning sticker I mentioned before came to mind: “Dear Pilgrim: For your safety, avoid the crowd and beware of stampede.”

So I took that as a reminder, then gave up and left – accepting the fact that it wasn’t worth being crushed or stampeded in this mass hysteria. But, since actions are judged by intentions, I pray that Allah grant me the reward of having done it.

The other corner that we should touch – as per sunnah – is the Yemeni corner. On my last round, almost magically, the space around it just opened up for me. It was like Allah was giving me the chance despite the crowd, so I took it. Alhamdullilah.

Commitment

While that partially made up for the Black Stone disappointment, next came the night’s crowning moment. When I finished my 7 rounds, my wife suggested I make my 2 rakaats sunnah in the hateem area (also known as the Hijr Ismail) – the small semi-circle next to the Kabah, which is considered part of the Kabah (since the physical space used to be inside the building before its reconstruction).

It looked a decent opportunity, so I went for it. Alhamdullilah – once more, Allah just opened up the space for me – making it easy for me to get in and make my salaah despite the congestion in that small space.

Hateem

The hateem area at Kabah

Though I wasn’t literally inside the Kabah building, I was technically inside the Kabah’s space – and this was probably the best chance I’d ever get to make salaah so close to it. It was an honour to be there, so I treated those moments similarly to the honour of being in the Rhoda-tul Jannah in Madinah: with limited time, I reserved my duas for the sujoods in the salaah – pushing myself and making some of the most sincere and immense duas I’ve ever made. Words can’t describe the feeling of being connected to your Creator – let alone in so sacred a place, let alone in the most honoured position of a human (sujood – when a servant is closest to Allah)…it was incredible.

Not only that, but it was the fulfilment of a dua I’d made long before. Prior to Hajj, I’d worried about whether my heart would be ready to truly make the intentions and efforts I’d need in order to really change myself in the ways I wanted to. I didn’t know if it would happen, or how it would happen – but I knew it needed to happen.

Later that night, as I gazed at the Kabah, I realised that this night – this series of events – was my answer. This night had changed my heart. It was the night in which my heart made the commitment – when I made my sincere intentions to change; to try to do my part so that I could become who I wanted to be, working towards pleasing my Creator as best I can. The intention was immense. Really immense. And in these precious moments, in this most blessed place, my heart spoke to Allah and made those commitments.

So from that point on, I set out to do that – to effect those permanent changes to my life. It started right there, right then – on that blessed night.

Next up, insha-Allah: Impressions from Makkah

Related lessons:

  • Learn to restrain yourself in times of anger and you can reap tremendous benefits – both in your relationship with Allah and in your relationships with other people.
  • Like Madinah, ensure that you get to the Masjid early in Makkah – especially if you’re female. If you go too late, you might not make it into one of the cooler / shaded areas – which understandably fill up much faster than the roof and outside areas which are exposed to the scorching heat.
  • If you plan to touch the Kabah, please try not to treat it like an idol. It’s simply a building – a symbol to be honoured and respected, not to be grabbed emotionally as if it has special powers.
  • When it comes to touching the Black Stone or Yemeni corner, getting to the Kabah door / multazam, or getting close to Maqam Ibrahim, remember that despite the crowds, Allah can open up a way for you. Make dua for those opportunities.
  • That said, if it’s busy, it’s quite possible that you won’t get to touch the Black Stone. If you do want to try, though, remember that you will face great physical challenges. In this case, remember that there’s no honour in fighting with others, pushing others, or otherwise getting aggressive – either as a proactive approach or as a reaction to others wronging you. Simply be firm by standing your ground – rather than pushing – and if you can’t make it, let it go in the interests of your own safety. If you do make it, remember Umar r.a.’s statement about it, and – like the Kabah – do NOT treat it like an idol.
  • Like the Prophet s.a.w.’s times, today, the common people don’t get to go inside the Kabah. But as per hadith, the hateem area (‘Hijr Ismail’) is technically inside the Kabah – as least a section of it. So if you get the chance to pray in there, do so (again, as long as you’re not harming others in the process).
  • Just like the Rawda in Madinah, if you get the chance to pray very close to the Kabah, you may face a barrage of people pushing or trying to get into your space. If possible, make your duas in sujood – rather than making them while you’re sitting after your salaah. People are much less likely to disturb you in sujood as compared to after salaah.
  • When you get time near the Kabah, don’t waste it. As the days pass and the crowds grow, you may get fewer chances to even see it – even though you’re in the masjid (since viewing space is limited and fills up fast).

What happened next?

Later parts in this series were added at this link. The entire series (30 parts) is now available here as en e-book here (PDF format; 4MB).

Image sources: Kabah door, footprints of Ibrahim a.s., Black Stone crowd, hateem area

Posted in Hajj Chronicles | Leave a Comment »

A thousand words: Passive indoctrination

Posted by Yacoob on February 4, 2013

ImageSource: Real Eyes Realize Real Lies

Posted in A thousand words | Leave a Comment »

 
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