Input overload: how do you cope?

We see it all around us: news, alerts, information. It hits us from every angle: getting to us through print, digital, and audio means. It’s not enough that we face general streams of content flooding our senses. We’ve personalised it, too. We receive customised feeds and notifications on our computers (when we’re working), and phones (which are always with us…always on). Continue reading

Chill

At this time of year, we take out our heaters, blankets, thermals. We prepare ourselves for months of cold, wet and difficult conditions.

But while we do this, and while we may suffer from the cold, we must remember that there are many out there who suffer a lot worse than we do in these cold days and nights. There are those who live in run down homes, shacks and informal dwellings. Worse still, some are homeless. Continue reading

The great Eid debate

Eid is coming...

Eid is coming…

Picture courtesy of Saaleha

The days of Hajj are almost upon us, and since the moon wasn’t sighted in South Africa this past Saturday, it means that Dhul Hijjah officially started here on Monday. This contrasts with Makkah, where the month started a day earlier – on Sunday.

Every other month of the year, this difference isn’t much of a big deal (although for some, it matters in Ramadaan). However, for this time of year, it means that the South African Eid-ul-Adha will not be synced with Makkah’s Eid-ul-Adha.

Growing up in Durban, I don’t really remember there being much fuss over this. But here in Cape Town, it’s been a contentious issue for quite a while, apparently. When the local date doesn’t match Makkah’s date, we have some Muslims who celebrate with Makkah, while others celebrate a day later.

There seem to be sound arguments for both opinions, yet the tragedy in all of this is that it still divides the community. In what should be a time of unity and great blessings – given the significance of the Hajj underway in these days – there’s argument and division over which opinion is right.

For all the years I’ve lived in Cape Town, none of this really affected me. I just put it down to difference of opinion, and carried on – celebrating Eid on whatever day it was officially announced by the local authority (MJC).

Confusion

However, this time around, it’s a little more concerning. The day of wuqoof – when the hujjaaj stand on Arafah – is one of the greatest days of the year (if not the greatest). And for those not on Hajj, it’s a highly recommended sunnah to fast that day (with the reward being the fast wiping out the sins of the previous year and the year to come).

This year, wuqoof is on Monday 14th October, insha-Allah. Thus, if you want to fast on the day of wuqoof, Monday is the day. Yet the announcement from the MJC is “Those wishing to fast on the day of Arafat, fasting takes place on the 9th of Thil Hijja, according to our local calendar, coinciding with the 15th of October.”

Following that logic, those wanting to fast on the day of Arafah will actually not be fasting on the day of Arafah! (Since the 15th of October is already Eid in Makkah.)

But as I see it, those who want to fast on the actual day of Arafah should do it when the hujjaaj are actually on Arafah – i.e. Monday 14th October.

What then, of the day of Eid?

If you fast on Monday, then Eid should be the next day – Tuesday.

So you’d be in that group which takes Eid with Makkah.

But I’ve also heard very sound advice that in cases of such disputes, the correct thing to do is to follow the consensus of the ulama / authorities of your country – i.e. take your Eid with the majority – the of the community.

And that makes sense not only on a societal level, but also lower down, on a family level. You can’t really choose to have Eid on your own – the day before – while your family is taking it with the community the next day. So, even if you disagree, for the purposes of social harmony, it’s better to stick with the majority.

Thus we have a situation of fasting on the day of Arafah, having a ‘normal’ day after that, and then having Eid the next day.

Some may call that inconsistent – saying that you either go with Makkah completely or go with your local ulama completely.

But really, when you face a situation like this, there’s no way to reconcile the 2 positions. It’s a compromise that has to be made in order to preserve both personal belief and social harmony.

Or do you see things differently? What’s your view on the 2 Eids issue? Does it happen in your community, and if so, how do you handle the issue of fasting the day of Arafah when your local calendar doesn’t match Makkah?


Update from 2018:

After the issue arose again in 2018, several ulama from various quarters have clarified the matter. Below, find the text from Zaytuna Institute’s Imam Zaid Shakir:

“Contrary to popular belief, there in no legal connection between the standing at Arafat and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Adha was legislated, along with Eid al-Fitr, during the second year after the Hijra. On the other hand, Hajj was legislated the ninth year after the Hijra. This means that for seven years Eid al-Adha was performed while there was no Hajj, hence, no standing at Arafat! The standing at Arafat cannot therefore be the legal cause for the timing of Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Adha is the tenth of Dhu’l Hijjah, based on however the date is reckoned and there is no obligation for Muslims to follow the Saudi government on the questionable timing governing the beginning of Dhu’l Hijjah and hence the Day of Arafat. If one were to be extremely dogmatic in “following the Hajjis” there would be no Eid al-Adha because the Hajjis do not celebrate Eid.

Whenever you may choose to celebrate your Eid may it be a blessed affair.”

In our case this year (2018), Wuqoof on Arafah occurred on Monday in Makkah, however, following local moon sighting, our local 9th of Dhul Hijjah fell on Tuesday. So we connected with those on Arafah on the Monday, but still fasted on the Tuesday.

Makkah’s Eid was on the Tuesday, while ours was on the Wednesday.

In any case, the bottom line in all of this is to be respectful of others’ views – regardless of which opinion you follow. Hajj demonstrated the incredible unity of so diverse and widespread an ummah. It’s completely against the spirit of such unity to be disrespectful to others who follow different views.

So, take what you think is right – but don’t look down on, or criticise, those who see it differently.

A question for you, the reader

Here’s a quick question for all that read this blog: do you participate in online discussions? I’m not talking about specialised forums, but general portals – like news sites that allow you to comment on stories (for example, South Africa’s News24).

And if so, what’s your experience been like – particularly when you comment on sensitive or controversial topics?

Do you think there’s benefit in contributing to such discussions? Or, more often than not, does it just turn into one big shout-fest, where people try to argue that they’re right and others are wrong?

Post your answers in the comments, please.

Indulgence impulse

The following is a true story:

I pigged out last night – and I’m ashamed. After supper, I had a piece of Cadbury Fudge chocolate. The taste wasn’t what I was craving, so I had a marshmallow. That should have been enough – but it wasn’t.

The baby was being put to sleep, and there was still time before Esha.

A whisper came to my mind: ‘You hardly ever get time to just relax and read your book. Why don’t you do that now, and have a nice chocolate with it?’

I gave in.

I had a TV Bar while reading my book.

But still, the taste was not what I was looking for. Something was not being satisfied.

Another whisper: ‘Have something  else, and maybe you’ll get what you’re after.’

Then my wife came downstairs, and had her own TV Bar.

Another impulse came – telling me maybe her chocolate was what I was craving.

I tried to take some – but she didn’t let me have it. (She’s territorial about her chocolate – as am I.)

We talked a bit, and then she pulled out a lamington from her handbag (which doesn’t happen often). Our old neighbour had given it to her earlier that day.

Not wanting it to go to waste (or, really, not wanting her to have all of it) – I had some.

And I don’t think it satisfied me either.

Now, at that point, I’d eaten so much crap that I couldn’t possibly have more.

So then I went to the masjid for Esha, and there was a janazah. One thought that ran through my mind was:

“One day / night, that’s going to be me in that coffin. My soul will be leaving this world. And on the final Day, I’ll have to explain myself. As trivial as this indulgence seemed – how will I explain it? How can I justify having 4 different sweets in one night?”

The answer is simple: greed. I have an impulse to indulge – particularly in junk food.

Combine that with the whispers which come from those unseen (you know, the folks that have recently been released from their month-long incarceration) – and you have a solid trap to catch me.

So I resolved to be better the next day, insha-Allah.

I know not to give in to these desires. Actually, the desire for the taste – the craving – isn’t even strong at this point. (It gets stronger the further away I get from Ramadan). Yet I give in and indulge – out of habit.

And so, when I came home that night – right when I walked in – I again wanted something. My first instinct was to give in – until I remembered my intention to restrain myself.

The struggle has resumed. And I’m starting off from a point of weakness.

I really need to break this indulgence impulse. Perhaps I should brush my teeth right after supper?

Any other ideas?

Cup of disappointment

It was supposed to be spectacular. A football feast that drew the best in the world. One month of awesome talent on display – and all on the African continent, despite the reservations of many; and the phantom terrorist threats that others so boldly claimed.

I speak, of course, of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which is being held here in South Africa.

The tournament has, thus far, been professional and well-organised. Aside from wage disputes with stadium security, the tournament has been relatively trouble-free.

We have our shiny new stadiums; sophisticated transport systems; and upgraded roads and airports – all of which cost the country (and its taxpayers many millions). And all in all, things seem to be looking up in terms of promoting future tourism to South Africa.

But, for me, the big irony in all of this glitz and glamour is the basic premise on which the tournament is being held: the game of football.

I haven’t analysed the statistics – but so far, it seems to me that this has been a most boring tournament in terms of actual football. I think the majority of the games have ended up as draws – and low-scoring draws at that.

I haven’t watched all of the games – actually only a few, and bits and pieces here and there – but the results so far tell me that this isn’t the mega-tournament it was billed to be.

Aside from Uruguay embarrassing the hosts 3-0, and Germany’s 4-0 opening win, I haven’t been impressed with the results or the play so far.

France are a huge disappointment, and England are not far behind (although, if Rooney can hit form, that can very easily change). Many of the big teams are stuttering while less-famous countries, like Mexico and Uruguay, are thriving.

In fact, it seems the biggest star of the tournament has been the “Vuvuzela” (the horns you hear at every game) – which, in my opinion, is a cultural thing that Europeans and others just need to get used to – rather than complaining about it. After all, just because singing  – and not trumpets – are the norm in England and Europe, it doesn’t mean that everything else is some twisted perversion of how a crowd ‘should’ behave at a soccer game. (See Azra’s views on it here).

We’re only just over a week into the tournament, so there’s plenty of time for things to turn around on the football fields. But, so far, it’s just been a very average tournament – which is sad for South Africa; because we don’t want to be branded as the country that hosted the most boring World Cup ever.

What are your thoughts on the tournament so far?

Cartoons and Freedom of Expression

As many of you will know, there’s currently a furore around South African cartoonist Zapiro’s depiction of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The South African Muslim leadership has united in condemning the incident; as well as strongly discouraging the community from reacting violently – because we cannot defend our Prophet by acting in a way he would not sanction (for that merely perpetuates the false stereotype of Muslims as violent, extremist maniacs).

But at the root of it all is the issue of freedom of expression. The cartoonist firmly sticks to his right of this freedom, and goes further to assert his right to satirise religion. The latter point, I believe, is indicative of the Western liberal mindset which holds nothing sacred, and views everything as ‘fair game.’ Such is a consequence of the collapse of religious values in the public sphere.

In fact, when it comes to sacredness, it seems that the only thing some people hold sacred is their secular constitutions – which, in many cases, they hold as more important than any Divinely-revealed code of life.

With regard to freedom of expression – and indeed any freedom – the point that many people miss is that there can be no freedom without a related responsibility. With each freedom comes a responsibility to exercise that freedom responsibly – i.e. without harming others.

With some cartoons, like the Danish ones and some which have recently come out on the Facebook group which called for “Draw Muhammad day” – this responsibility is forgotten.

Anyway, one of my favourite writers, Khalid Baig, very nicely summarises the issue of this freedom in the piece below.

After reading it, feel free to leave your comments on the whole situation and debate.

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Freedom of Expression?

Source: http://albalagh.net/food_for_thought/0096.shtml
By: Khalid Baig (Posted 20 May 2010)

With the latest in-your-face act of the Facebook, the issue is once again attracting headlines. Should Muslims react? How should they react? Where do they stand on the philosophical issue underlying all this?

In the media the issue has been framed as a clash between two camps. One camp stands for freedom of expression. The other wants to curtail it.  Needless to say the first camp is enlightened and virtuous. The other is a relic of the dark ages. The clash, in other words, is between a civilized and civilizing West – and Islam, that just refuses to be civilized.

Once you accept this framing of the whole issue, the outcome is already decided. “Are you for freedom of expression or not?” It is a loaded question, and just like the yes/no question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” – no matter how you answer it, you remain guilty.

Look at the typical Muslim response which begins, “We also believe in freedom of expression, but…” It matters little what you say after that. It is obvious that you are trying to add exclusions and limitations to a basic moral value while the other side is asking for no such limits. It is not difficult to see which side will come out ahead.

But this predicament is a result of uncritically accepting a false statement about the nature of the clash. For the real clash is not between those who are for and those who are against a freedom. Rather it is between two different freedoms. On the one hand is the freedom to insult. On the other is freedom from insult. Whether it was the Satanic Verses of the 1980s or the Cartoons of 2005 and their endless reproduction since then, if they stand for any freedom, it is freedom to insult. Pure and simple. Muslims, on the other hand, have stood for and demanded freedom from insult. Nothing more. Nothing less.

These are certainly opposing values. You can be for one or the other. And the question does arise, which one is a better value.

To see that let us imagine a society that truly believes in the first as a cherished moral value. It celebrates freedom to insult and guards it at all costs. Every member of it enjoys this freedom and practices it regularly. In a business everyone insults everyone else. The boss is insulting the employees, the employees are insulting the bosses. The salesmen are insulting the customers. The accountants are insulting the creditors. Everyone is enjoying the great freedom to insult. The same is true of the home. The parents are always insulting the children. The children are constantly insulting the parents. The spouses are incessantly insulting each other. And in doing so they all stand on the high moral ground because freedom to insult is such a fundamental freedom on which the society is built.

Actually, contrary to the claims of the pundits, if the Western society was truly built on this “cherished moral value,” it would have perished a long time ago — consumed by the fires of hatred and negativity generated by this freedom. No home, no neighborhood, no village, no business, no organization and no society can survive for long if it makes freedom to insult as a cornerstone of its freedoms. Clearly, most who advocate this freedom do not practice it in their daily lives. But they are making an exception in the case of Islam and Muslims. The driving force behind this is not any great moral principle but a deep rooted hatred born of ignorance.

Software professionals sometimes use a term called beature. It stands for a bug turned into a feature. A bug is a defect in the software. A feature, on the other hand, is a desirable attribute. A beature is a defect that is presented (thanks to slick marketing) as a feature. Freedom to insult is also a beature. It is the growing sickness of Islamophobia in the West which is being presented as a high moral value, packaged by the slick marketing departments as freedom of expression.

Well, whether or not freedom to insult is a Western value, Islam has nothing to do with it. It lays emphasis on its exact opposite: the freedom from insult. It values human dignity, decency, and harmony in the society. The freedom of religion it ensures includes freedom from insults. While it does not shy away from academic discussion of its beliefs and showing the falsehood of non-Islamic beliefs, it makes sure that the discussion remains civil. In those discussions it wants to engage the intellect of its opponents; in contrast those who itch to insult their opponents – who are interested in satisfying their vulgar emotions. Thus while Islam’s most important battle is against false gods, it asks its followers to refrain from reviling them. (Qur’an, Al-anam, 6:108). It also reminds its followers to stay away from harsh speech. “Allah loves not the utterance of harsh speech save by one who has been wronged.” (Qur’an, Al-Nisa, 4:148). Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who is being reviled by the scum of the world, taught Muslims to never let the low moral standards of their adversaries dictate their own moral standards.

As a result of these teachings, Muslims can never even imagine insulting any Prophet — from Adam to Moses to Jesus to Muhammad (peace be upon them all). Even when they ruled the world, Muslims treated the religious leaders of non-Muslim with respect – even during battles. In the Baghdad court, Jewish and Christian scholars engaged in open discussions with the Muslim savants. Needless to say, they had not been attracted by the freedom to insult – but its exact opposite. Freedom from insult is a fundamental value that assures peace and harmony. It leads to healthy societies. And Muslims are very proud of their impeccable record here.

What is true of a home or a village is also true of the world – as it has become a global village. Now, more than ever before, the world needs the harmony and tolerance that can only be assured by the freedom from insults.

The Beg Issue

Most – probably all of us – have seen them. Hanging out at the traffic lights; waiting near the shops; collapsed in despair in some shoddy, makeshift home of cardboard and paper.

They ask you for small change – a few cents, sometimes a bigger amount. Sometimes they want food. Sometimes a job.

And many times, without thinking, our reaction is in the negative: “Sorry, can’t help you”; “No”; “I don’t have anything for you.”

Or worse: we don’t even look at them. No acknowledgement of their presence. As if this lesser being is not worthy of a moment of our attention.

You know who I’m talking about: beggars.

And the question on my mind today, and for a long time, is how to deal with them.

Everyone has an opinion on the issue; and everyone has their own approach. Which is why I wanted to write about this. I’m seeking a broader view, and hoping to find a solution that I can implement and be satisfied with.

My introduction paints a picture of cruelty: a person that doesn’t care for the less fortunate, and brushes them aside so easily to continue with other matters. This heartless individual may justify the position by saying: “I work hard for a living – while this person just lazes around on the street, doing nothing and expecting people to support him / her.”

But I’d like to think that most of us are not that heartless. And we do have sympathy for beggars; and we do give to them – even if it’s small tokens.

But is this the right thing to do?

THAT, dear readers, is my question.

As Muslims – and perhaps people of any other religion (except satanism and other weird cults) – are we not encouraged to care for those less fortunate? Is it not a duty upon us – those who “have,” to help those who don’t have?

It’s called basic human compassion – and it’s something that every human being is born with (even those in the aforementioned ‘cult’ category above).

But when is giving to a beggar right; and when is it wrong?

Well, the reasons for NOT giving to beggars include:

  • Begging should be discouraged. By giving, it encourages begging, because the beggars know they’ll get money and they’ll just come back for more – rather than trying to find a legitimate source of income.
  • Some beggars are just plain lazy. They’d rather beg than go out to genuinely try to find work. (And I’ve heard first hand of people who prove this, by going to welfare organisations and then being picky about what they’ll take. Sometimes they don’t want anything except money).
  • It encourages beggars to become dependent on other people. Following on from that, this dependency can become a serious problem in some cases – where the person who gives develops a kind of friendship/relationship with the begging person; and then that begging person takes advantage. (Which has personally happened to me).
  • Some street kids would rather be on the street, because they love the freedom.
  • Many who beg use the money for alcohol or drugs. In many cases, you can’t tell who is a drug user and who is sincerely in need.

But the arguments FOR giving to beggars include:

  • Helping the poor and needy is our duty not only as Muslims, but as humans.
  • If we can afford to give something, and they seem to genuinely need it, why not give?
  • The verse in Surah Al-Ma’un (Small kindness), which talks about those who “refuse small kindness”. Fasting and prayer are supposed to soften our hearts – and aren’t those in need, those who beg, an opportunity for us to give to others?

You can probably add more to these lists – so please do.

But my main question is: what is your approach to beggars; and how do  you justify that approach?

It’s not a clear-cut issue; and as far as I can tell, even in Islam, it’s not so clearly discussed. I’ve yet to hear a talk, or read an article, that discusses the issue in detail and realistically in the South African context.

We know that begging is discouraged in Islam. But what about people who try to find work but can’t?

I mean, South Africa has a very high unemployment rate (as do other places in the world) – and there just aren’t jobs for everyone. (Or, jobs that pay a decent enough wage).

What then?

How do you know if a person genuinely went to look for work or not?

How do you trust someone who genuinely appears to be sincere? (I’ve heard that we should trust a fellow Muslim and not be suspicious, because if that person is really in need and we deny them, the wrong is on us.)

What if that person keeps coming to the same place, always with a different reason? Do we ‘give once, and not again after that’? How does that solve the problem?

Do we send them to relief organisations? Even though we know that the organisations, sometimes, just give a little bit of food / clothes, and can’t do much to help them in a sustainable way.

Please give your views on the issue, and if you have any good resources to share, please add the link.