Final Year Reflections: You’ll Only Find What You’re Looking For

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It was what you’d call a truly pleasant day. The semester had just begun, old friends exchanged delightful salaams and warm embraces as they met in classes or hostels, thousands of tokens were being printed at the banks, new students rushed around nervously doing registration or asking for directions as they got lost, lunch was being served in all the cafeterias and dozens of fresh-juice orders were being made in HS to beat the heat, graduating students were waiting for their clearance at Admissions and Records, and in all this activity, I sat with relief on the stairs leading to the library and took in the lush green mountains before my eyes, having successfully registered for my very first semester in university. As I sat there admiring the gleaming white clouds as they floated in a brilliant blue sky, a soft breeze surrounding me; a most magnificent voice electrified the afternoon air:

“Bismillah Ar Rahman Ar Raheem. Praise be to Allah who has sent to His servant the Book, and has allowed therein no crookedness. He has made it straight and clear in order that He may warn the godless of a terrible punishment from Him, and that He may give glad tidings to the Believers who work righteous deeds, that they shall have a goodly Reward, wherein they shall remain forever.”

It was as if time froze. I found myself captured by the beauty of this surreal moment. As these verses of Surah Kahf resonated majestically throughout campus from the main mosque, I confessed to myself what has remained true for all these three years: this is exactly where I wanted to be.

On that beautiful Friday afternoon, I experienced what I never did before and what I never would in any other educational institute: I saw Muslims of every kind and color, I heard animated conversations in languages of the East and the West, I saw thobes and jeans;baju melayus and sarongs; abayas and flowing coats, songkoks and shimaaghs, brothers made cool wudus in the hot courtyards of the mosque, meals and classes had ended, the library and offices had closed and whiffs of Arabian perfume filled the air as people headed forJumuah prayer; the adhaan beckoning the students, the rector, lecturers, staff, cleaners and the guards alike as it proclaimed: “… come to connection with Allah, come to success, come to success, Allah is the greatest, there is no god but Allah.” I watched the scene below me from the women’s balcony of the mosque, every row was filled till the doors, the khateeb began his sermon and the angels sat to listen with us, having just marked thousands of us as ‘present’ on the Scrolls of Attendance. 

Yes I was in a garden, just as the slogan stated. There was shade to rest under, a stream to sit and think by, lawns to relax on and new species of exotic birds and flowers to discover everyday. Yes it was a garden of knowledge; I have witnessed lecturers whose every word is like a pearl of wisdom, truth and empowerment that they give to their students with passion and humility. Yes it was a garden of virtue, it was here that I had the chance to experience I’tikaf in Ramadan, it was here that I had iftaars with Africans, Asians and Europeans together, it was here that I could give charity by donating blood, it was here that you could sponsor an orphan in Gaza straightaway, it was here that I learnt the greatness of the Shariah, it was here that I never had to compromise my prayer for classes, it was here that I learnt to be proud of my hijab, it was here that I met the potential leaders of my ummah, it was here that I found people with dreams like my own and it was here that I learnt that you will only find what you are looking for.

It was here that I learnt that even if you are caught in a storm of people’s opinions, judgments and pessimism; if you only look once for a place’s garden, the knowledge and virtue it has to offer – you will find it.

Written in 2010 about the International Islamic University, Malaysia.

The Past After the Future

It was one of those ritual trips to KLCC that students take while trying to deal with the short-semester boredom. As the LRT rolled on, the three of them sat watching the rain battering against the train windows… trees swinging wildly in the wind, cars caught in the jam below… and they began to talk about the train. What could possibly have existed a 100 years ago along the same route they were travelling on? People moved about on foot, rode animals, primitive carts maybe; taking hours to cross distances that we now cross in minutes. Their clothes, technology and food would have definitely been different from ours… ours developed, exotic and stylish; and theirs quite dull and monotonous. But what if, for a moment, we were one of those people who lived a 100 years ago that these bored friends were talking about on a train? Where exactly would we be as they spoke?

Somewhere deep below the ground, walked upon by millions of busy people. Rarely or never thought about. Our faces nameless, our positions taken over, our institutions and houses destroyed, our contributions ridiculously insignificant, our lifestyles outdated… our entire civilization buried. Our once existence on this earth would be imaginary.

Caesar’s dead for all you could care to know about him today. The mighty Pharaoh lies lifeless in a box somewhere in Egypt. The affluent Ottoman Empire has crumbled. And we would never ever know the multitudes of common people that lived during those generations. So too, we will one day be. Meaningless to those that live when we are dead.
If to learn from the past is to realise the true insignificance and temporariness of everything that humans have always cherished, it is also to marvel at the timelessness of the lives of revolutionary people throughout the ages.

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No Place Like Home

Just the thought of it ceases the rush around us, immerses us into beautiful memories and drowns our hearts in longing. Its comfort, security and love left behind, we embark on student life; living with strangers, keeping everything locked, managing budgets, planning where and how to get every meal, allotting time to do laundry and clean the room—rarely having time to think of it, yet many a times intentionally avoiding thoughts of it, but surely, it lingers constantly in each of our minds…

The advice of a father, the kiss of a mother, the laughter of a younger sister, the fights with a brother, the family discussions, the meals together, the airport reunions, the waking up to sumptuous breakfasts, the peaceful sleep knowing that everything’s taken care of for you… truly, there’s no place like home.

Screaming with the agony of loss, they held on to the corpses of their family scattered through the streets… drenched in their blood as they embraced them, crying for them to come back, this was the last exchange between too many parents and children, husbands and wives, and siblings in Gaza. Children sat crying around their mother’s body for four days, trying to wake her up, not understanding why she was sleeping so long. Orphans wept throughout the city, no one coming to claim them, not knowing that they had no one left. Thousands of others with throbbing gunshot wounds, hanging limbs or phosphorous burns flooded the hospitals, the doctors not sleeping for 15 days because the patients were too many. Every few hours there were fresh announcements of death in the wards, and another anxious parent or relative or spouse fell down with grief.

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The Nobodies

They’re everywhere, yet it’s as if they don’t exist. There are millions of them, yet they go unnoticed. There are over ten of them in every single day of yours, yet you look right through them. They are not angels or spirits, yet it’s as if they are invisible.

What do the prim lawns tell you as you walk to class every morning? What does a plate of roti canai say as you enjoy it? What do the new colors of the HS cafeteria say to you? Do you see something more than a clean table as you sit to eat or study? What does a clear road say as you drive along it? What about the bus that takes you to class?
Somehow, strangely it seems, our toilets are cleaned, our roads are cleared, our lawns are trimmed, our food is fresh, our walls are painted, our tables are wiped, we get to class on time… it all just happens. It’s all done.
By the Nobodies.

Thousands of us walk past them as they sweep early in the morning, but not even a handful can bother to smile at them or greet them. They drive so many of us to our classes, but it seems only a few of us don’t choke at the door and turn to say “Thank you, abang“. Yes they’re paid to cook our food, but why do the rules of courtesy not apply to them? Or perhaps they should have an ‘Honors Degree in Asian Cuisine’ from Harvard, then we’d thank them even if they burnt our food. As we talk about Ethics for Everyday Life over lunch, a nobody perhaps our mother’s age carefully cleans our messy table, wishing she understood us educated people. If she only knew how less we understood our own words.

Behind every stroke of new paint in HS is a person struggling to make ends meet and feed his family, behind every clean road is a person who always dreamt of owning a motorcycle, behind every washed toilet is a person juggling work, family and health, behind every hot meal are burnt hands… behind every comfort of ours are nobodies who wish to be noticed by the blind people they work for.

May Allah bless the nobodies of our world through whom He makes our lives comfortable. May He ease their burdens and cure our blindness. May He bless them with provision and us with the ability to be grateful, Aameen.

[First published in 2009]

EXAM ATTACK!!!

A prevalent modern disease bordering on insanity; generally erupts during mid-March and mid-October in UIA and vulnerable groups include young adults ranging from students of engineering to students of Celpad. It’s most likely causes have been discovered to be overdoses of procrastination, daily sleep extensions in morning classes, abnormal number of visits to KLCC, excessive dependence on seniors’ unopened notes and sudden realization that one is a student.

Symptoms of exam attacks are hard to miss: victims appear to be continuously tensed, complaining of headaches and hair loss, desperately searching for lecturers’ rooms and going in and out of the library just to feel better. Extreme cases may also show occasional bursts of mad laughter due to feelings of helplessness. Dressing sense also tends to drop on a mass level. The positive effects however include major economic benefits for the café near the library and other producers of caffeinated drinks.

Places to avoid during this period would definitely include the library where large concentrations of infected people can be found discussing their stress.
Cures for this disease are handed out by lecturers every semester but are unfortunately missed by the usual victims due to any of the previously mentioned causes.
In an attempt to minimize the effects of this self-inflicted trauma, we would like to propose a few solutions:

1. MAKE A STUDY PLAN!
List all the topics that you want to study and put a check box next to each of them, allocating sufficient time to each topic depending on their length and importance. Ticking the check box after completing a topic is guaranteed to give you immense mental satisfaction (Yes, the same mental satisfaction that we want but never get by sitting for hours in the library and staring at our books).

2. STICK TO YOUR FAJR PRAYER
Praying Fajr in the silence of dawn increases the mind’s concentration power and prepares it for intensive activity during the day. Reading the Qur’an at Fajr greatly strengthens memory power and has been the practice of many great Muslim scholars.

3. MAKE SPECIAL DUA REQUESTS
Call your parents and ask them to pray for your success. A parent’s prayer for his or her child is very special to Allah. Don’t forget to ask for your lecturers’ and friends’ prayers as well. Try it and see how much it matters.

4. TAKE USEFUL BREAKS
While you break between your study, read a page of the Qur’an. Apart from sharpening your memory, it calms you and increases your grades in the Hereafter.
“…for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (13:28)

5. REMEMBER WHY YOU’RE STUDYING
Remember that you’re here to educate yourself and increase your value as a person, not to test the extent to which your brain can be jammed with information and how accurately it can be thrown out onto your paper. After all, “Education is what is left when what has been learnt is forgotten.”

Who’s Life is it, Anyway?

Let’s see, what do we need for a life again? Air. Breathing apparatus (your lungs basically). An object to contain that breathing apparatus (this would be the physical you). A reason for that object with the breathing apparatus to exist. Well, you don’t make or supply your own air so that part of your life isn’t yours. You didn’t make your own lungs neither your body, you were made with materials belonging to someone else (guess Who), and if robots are copyrighted then you definitely are, so you don’t own your physical self either. But since you use them, it means they’ve been given to you, you must know by now that NOTHING is for free in our world (not even the ‘free’ ketchup!), so unless you remember buying your own lungs, etc. or renting them, you can successfully conclude that they’ve been loaned to you. And they all have an expiry date.

Now let’s talk about the reason for you to exist. This reason can be anything, unlike our lungs and our air and our body, we’re free to choose the design, quality, depth and beauty of this reason and thereby determine the value of our life. Ultimately, life is the execution of this reason. Since you determine this reason, you can safely say that at least this part of your life is truly yours. Or is it? Take a look at everything that you do. Is what you own what you require or what is socially accepted? Does dressing up go beyond the natural and civil requirement of being clean and presentable? Or does it involve dressing up (or down) for the pleasure of someone else, and hence living that part of ‘your’ life for someone other than yourself. Does getting a degree mean fulfilling a job requirement or developing yourself? Does learning mean passing an exam or increasing your awareness? Does talking involve regular showers of swear words that add nothing to the point you’re trying to convey? Does your sense of modesty change with changes in location? Do you sacrifice your own comfort just to beautify your walk? Are you ashamed to say you’re unaware of the latest shows and music? Do you smoke because you’re not a man if you don’t?

How much of what you use, speak, watch, eat, wear, spend or do is because it really makes you more valuable? How much of your life have you lived genuinely for the benefit of your own self? How much of your life have you let others own, determine and destroy?

We all need to work on our lives, large parts of which aren’t ours anymore. If our ancestors were physically invaded and enslaved; our very identities are the slaves of the massive consumerist and hedonistic empire of the modern world. Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but the liberty to do as you should. Go back to your Creator’s Book. It will show you the depth and beauty you can give to your life and will free you from being possessed by this world.

The Best of Beginnings

His voice echoes off the surrounding mountains and ripples through the silence, as the students in the settlement are plunged in sleep, half-dead, what with all the maddening effort that goes into the mid-terms and assignment deadlines to meet; and the stress of the exams looming near is like an insomniac ghost residing in their subconscience.

Slowly, the creation around them begins to stir, birds crawl out from the warmth of their wings, trees rustle off sleep as they gracefully lift their branches, and the wind, nature’s messenger, carries the muezzin’s voice into their rooms, spreading a heavenly coolness…

While many are lost murdering their roommate’s alarm clock in their dreams, lights turn on here and there; and the journey to the bathroom begins. After some extended dreaming where people usually don’t, there comes the jihad in the name of Allah: literally face to face with freezing cold water! A short battle; and the victory of a refreshing wudu’ adorns the warrior and he is promoted to the rank of a ‘worshipper’.

Stepping back into their rooms, breeze meeting their drops of wudu and spreading serenity, worshippers dress for prayer as they think: Have they not been awoken from the death of sleep? Has not new strength replaced their fatigue? Have they not been gifted a new chance, a new life? Now clean and composed, they stand in blue darkness. In silence. Allah is watching. There is peace. And their hands rise…

“Allah is the Greatest”…..”Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds…” ….”You do we worship, and from You do we seek help …Aameen” … “By the Break of Day…..And the night as it passes away, is there not in these an evidence for those who understand?”…”Allah is the Greatest”.. “How perfect You are my Lord, Most Supreme”… “Verily Allah has heard those who praise Him”… “How perfect You are my Lord, Most High”… “… blessings and peace on you O Messenger of Allah”… “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger”… “O Allah, I have wronged my soul excessively…bestow on me Your mercy, You are indeed Most Forgiving, Merciful”………. “Peace and blessings of Allah… be upon you”.

To all student worshippers, preserve this prayer; it is the best of beginnings to your day. Cherish this prayer; it adds light to the face. Embrace this prayer; it is the peace that balances your daily stress. Never give up this prayer, it reflects our unity of purpose; for as our prayers rise up from our own blue darknesses, they reach Allah from the same place: a settlement of knowledge where many young people have come together to find friends who strengthen each others’ Islam.