What to Do When You Feel Powerless in a Worsening World

You’re out on a beautiful day at the park with your perfectly healthy spouse and children. You’re driving to work in your new car, traffic is moving smoothly, you’ve just had a wholesome breakfast and you’re feeling fantastic. You’re unwinding with your friends at a chic restaurant, discussing wedding preparations, phones, workplace politics and high-school days as the waiter serves the next round of expensive food. And in all of these moments, you randomly scroll through your newsfeed and suddenly see something that sucks away your happiness. Your heart winces for a second knowing there’s a horrible parallel reality playing out that very moment somewhere else in the world: children are bleeding and crying out for their parents in hospitals, refugees are stranded at borders after days of deathly journeys to safety, innocent people are being detained and held captive for years with no charge, famines and bombs are killing scores of people in conflict zones, floods and earthquakes are wreaking havoc in already impoverished areas, infants and girls are getting abducted and raped, the world is turning upside down and all you want is for all of it to just STOP.

You feel angry, enraged and powerless every time you see an image of a suffering that is too out of your reach to change. You feel guilty just living the normal, safe, healthy life you live. Many times you feel indifferent because there really is nothing you can do. And then you feel ashamed for being so heartless. There is only one question screaming inside all of our heads: what can we do to make it all stop? There has to be something, anything we can do. We just want somebody to spell it out. List it out. Shout it out. 

No, I don’t want to say “make dua” and just change the subject. Yes, dua is and always will be the greatest form of help we can offer. But as Allah [swt] says in the Qur’an, we were given our lives to do – to act in the best of ways: 

[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving. [Qur’an: Chapter 67, Verse 2]

To understand what you can and must do, first and foremost:

  1. Recognize and take advantage of your privileges

  2. If you’re not worrying about where your next meal will come from, if you have a bed to sleep on and a bathroom to use, if you have clothes to cover you in different seasons, and if you have even just one person in the entire world who cares for you, you are extremely privileged. But of course we know that. Tell me more, you’re thinking.
  3. Your safe geographical location is a privilege. Your being employed is a privilege. Your spouse is a privilege. Your voice, sight, hearing, knowledge is a privilege. Your parents and siblings being with you is a privilege. Your daily food is a privilege. Your source of clean drinking water is a privilege. Your education is a privilege. Your fully functioning body is a privilege. And your vehicle, bank balance, passport, phone, computer, furniture, social status, degree, extended family, comfortable house, social circle, connections, influence, weekly entertainment and eating out are a luxury. An opulent indulgence. A surreal dream for majority of the planet. There is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything you have. Repeat this to yourself: there is someone out there who doesn’t have a single thing of everything I have. Try imagining yourself with absolutely nothing of what you own and possess: there are people living with that much of nothing.So value and be grateful for every, single thing you have. If you’re employed, don’t take your job for granted. Use your position to be of benefit for those who are struggling for a source of sustenance. Become a breadwinner for strangers who have no means to earn for themselves: widows, orphans, refugees, the displaced, the disabled, the abandoned. Look for them and you will find them. Today you are safe, healthy, influential, talented and independent – use these privileges to do anything you can to provide a dignified life for those who need it. Look for organizations that are creating homes for refugees and orphans, or providing medical aid or education, or providing shelter for victims of war or abuse, or caring for abandoned children and old people – and commit a monthly amount to them. How much you give doesn’t matter. Just give. And keep giving whatever you can.
  4. Share your meals with the less-privileged in your own area. There is hardly a city in the world where there is no one in need of food. Commit to give a wholesome, home-cooked meal once a week to a garbage collector, an immigrant with no family, a struggling single mother, your domestic help, or even the cleaner/tea-boy at your workplace.
  5. Similarly, give a ride to someone in your car. Pick up a set of clothes for someone who could use them when you go shopping for yourself. Invite someone with no friends or family and make them remember what home feels like. Use your gadgets, your network and your social media presence to be of benefit.
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  7. Choose mercy

  8. Be kinder to those around you and in your care. Everyone, including yourself, is in need of each others’ mercy. The hallmark of our beloved Prophet’s [saw] character was his mercy, above all else. His concerned, caring heart was declared a mercy upon the worlds and his greatest distinction. There is nothing better, nothing more honorable and nothing more beneficial than choosing to be merciful like the greatest man [saw] was.
  9. Inculcate mercy in yourself: mercy is empathy, kindness, care, forbearance, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, graciousness and tolerance. Mercy is holding back when you want to unleash your anger on someone who upset you on the road, at work or at home. Mercy is looking the other way when someone working for you messed up or didn’t do a proper job once or twice. Mercy is knowing that someone is having a rough day and choosing to give them a break. Mercy (upon yourself!) is avoiding senseless arguments at home, at work or online that are clearly going nowhere. Mercy is taking care: of your loved ones, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors, and even the birds and animals around you.
  10. Think of the worst person you know today. Try imagining them as children. Every tyrant, every oppressor, every aggressor, every thug and every murderer was once an innocent, unblemished child. Just imagine that. We become our worst selves when we consistently and continuously choose aggression over mercy. What world do we expect to live in when everyone is choosing to forego mercy in their individual interactions and lives?
  11. Be merciful. Teach and inculcate mercy in others. The whole world is affected by how merciful you choose to be.
  12. Make an incredible dua

  13. As you sit safely in your house on your prayer-mat after salah, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same peace and security to those who are in danger at that very moment. As you look at the rooms and facilities in your house, ask Allah [swt] to grant the same ease and comfort to those who are living in tents and on streets at that very moment. As you wear your clothes and put on your shoes, make dua to Allah [swt] to grant the same and more to those who don’t have them. As you sit at the desk of your stable job, ask Allah [swt] to grant a means of sustenance to everyone who is desperate at that very moment. As you cook your food, ask Allah [swt] to provide for those who are hungry from where they least expect, because He [swt] is capable of doing all things. Ask Allah [swt] to grant everything you have and even more to those who are in need of the blessings you got without asking. Make a dua in your ease for those in difficulty atleast once a day. The most incredible thing about making such a dua is that it will certainly be answered:“The supplication of a Muslim for his brother in his absence will certainly be answered. Every time he makes a supplication for good for his brother, the angel appointed for this particular task says: ‘Ameen! May it be for you, too’.” [Muslim]
  14. It doesn’t stop at being answered though, even though that’s all you want: an angel – an angel makes dua for you to have the same!

Making dua for the good of others is a sign of mercy blooming in your heart. That is why an angel makes the same dua for you the moment you have made it. The reward for good, whether that good is a feeling, a word or an action, is only good. As Allah [swt] says in one of the most beautiful verses of the surah (so aptly) titled “The Most Merciful”:

“Is the reward for good [anything] but good?” [Qur’an: Chapter 55, Verse 60]

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Duaa, Soulmates and the Absolute Exhilaration in Surrender

It was a very very long time ago when I discovered the most intriguing thing about my creation: that I was created with another part. A part that I have never seen, a part that was not made in me, but for me. A part that only time would bring, and I had to look out for. The part that would finally make me complete.

I was left with only a few clues about it: It was somewhere on earth. It was made of the same stuff that I was. It changed for the better if I did, and it deteriorated if I did. And most importantly, it was looking for me too.
Since the realization of this truth, I could say life was anything but easy. The first challenge after this realization was being aware of my incompleteness, recognizing that there is a void. A void that my society threatened to treat as a pitiful handicap if it existed ‘too long’. But themost excruciating of all was ignoring that void till it was to be filled with what fit just right. And I say excruciating because of the constant psychological pressure to fill that void, either making me break my head over tricky duplicates or with what society forced me to consider for its various stupid reasons, and when every time that void refused to be filled except by what belongs there, it painfully taunted me of its existence. Till there were numerous times I was so frustrated and/or disillusioned by the importance given to it that I vowed to desensitize myself and leave it empty, gaping at me for the rest of my life.
Thank God I decided something better: to desensitize myself to the pressure itself and not the void. In fact, I even stopped seeing it as a void. I saw it as it should be seen: a precious place to be taken, if and when Allah thinks best. And by whom Allah thinks best.
So as I prayed for goodness in all those other aspects of my life that are only in Allah’s knowledge, I continued to pray for goodness and delight when I am to finally see this place taken.
When a family friend once expressed that he liked me, I told him I was already in love. With someone I’ve never seen, but I know is out there. I was in love and I was preparing myself for him, and waiting. Waiting for the day time would finally reveal him to me. There would be endless discussions with friends about what, when and how it could happen, and we would either end up contemplating our dilemmas in silence, or laugh our lives out at our helpless speculations. Often times it would be solitary wondering, either while drinking coffee alone after a long tiring day or for a moment or two just before turning in for the night, or while staring at the solitary moon, or in those moments of quiet prayer in itikaaf.
Sometimes the wait got long and tiring. Many times I’d just think of giving up and giving in to whatever comes along, then I would remember the aayah from Surah Rahman: “Is not the reward for good only good?” So I’d wait a little more and try to preserve the goodness a little more. Then one day, my close friend mentioned to me that if I really wanted something from Allah, no classes, no routine, no sleep would keep me from waking up in the middle of the night and praying tahajjud to Him. So I finally decided to give it a try because the pressure on me to get married was increasing and I knew I would have to make a decision very soon. And to my own surprise, I found myself waking up at tahajjud without an alarm, without any reminders. After two weeks of earnest appeal in tahajjud, of testing my own hope and trust in Allah, I realised this unrevealed part of my life had given me alot more than I asked for: the most beautiful of all, was that it taught me how to ask from Allah. It taught me how to ask as His servant, His slave, His own personal creation– I confessed and complained and I asked and begged and pleaded, and I surrendered.felt like an empty-handed helpless slave, and nothing ever felt so good. SubhanAllah. It taught me the insignificance of myself, my abilities, my name and my irrelevant little attributes and the true value of His grace and forebearance and mercy throughout my life, but above all, the ultimate outcome of my pleading to Him was literally living proof of the power of proper duaa: the proof of His greatness to do all things, the proof of His definite answer to those who call on Him, the proof of His perfect discharge of trust for those who rely only on Him, and one of the most delightful forms of His mercy in my life. The answer to my duaa to Allah that I waited so, so long for… was much more than I expected, much much more than I deserved and better than I could ever imagine, Ma sha Allah. Alhamdulillah.
Originally written on 15th July 2010, the morning of my wedding.

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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Of Love, Commitment & Marriage in Islam

[A Marriage Sermon by Mirza Yawar Baig delivered at my cousin’s wedding.]

“And among His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind. So that you might find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and mercy between you: in this, behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect (think!)” Qur’an 30:21

As I am sure most of you are aware, marriage in Islam is a legal contract. It is a contract between two people in the presence of witnesses the Best of whom is Allah Himself before whom this contract is made and to whom the ones making the contract will be accountable. It is therefore essential that they understand what they are contracting to do. I recited before you an ayah from the Qur’an where Allah speaks about the institution of marriage and mentions specifically three special features of the way He created it. He uses three critical words in this ayah:

The first word Allah used is the word Sukoon .

Allah said: And among his signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind so that you may find Sukoon with them. So what is Sukoon? It is a word that we use in Urdu as well so I am sure all my friends who understand Urdu have an idea about its meaning. In Arabic, Sukoon is the opposite of Al – Haraka – or movement. In Arabic grammar the equivalent of the maatra on the letter is called Al-Haraka which tells us how the letter “moves” meaning, how it is to be pronounced. When there is a Sukoon on the letter it means that the letter remains as it is and will not move and will be pronounced in its original form.

Allah has used the term Sukoon as the first purpose of the marriage. He said that He creates mates for us so that we may find Sukoon with them. So that we may find contentment with them. So that we may find peace and tranquility with them. Not so that we now have a permanent sparring partner with whom to test our strength and show who has the upper hand. The first condition of the contract is that the spouses are undertaking to promise that they will henceforth lead their lives in such a way that they will make their companionship, their home, their being together and their support for one another a source of contentment and Sukoon for each other.

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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.”

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.