0412 Reflections

“Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others may receive your orders without being humiliated.”

After the disaster that was the last batch, I reflected. A lot. I thought about my mistakes and the things that I have done to have affected their ways of being so aversely, that I thought I had definitely needed to change. 

So this was my first (and proper!) batch. This was going to be my own, under my own tutelage. I thought hard and long before they came: what was it that needed change? How was this change to be implemented?

I prayed to God that firstly, their dignity as a fellow human being was being kept. It was more than just not “blindly” knock it down, it was them first understanding their mistakes, and then realising the extent of their mistakes, and making them comprehend the equity in punishment. When it came to making error, mistakes have to be punished.

Secondly, I wanted to ensure that learning comes first before anything else. I love it when AAR sessions are conducted, and they made the effort to introduce new (and sometimes effective) ideas and suggestions, not only toward the conduct, but towards how we should carry ourselves as a commander and as a leader.

I promised myself to ensure that for this batch, I was not just an office-r. I was to be their Officer: a motivating presence, whose sole responsibility is to ensure that training standards are met, firm and unyielding, yet compassionate and fun. I too promised myself that my recruits must have the chance of explaining themselves for their mistakes, and that they should be pointed the right way after that. No injustice must go unheard.

And yet, for me, the most scariest thing that I fear I cannot uphold is the promise I swore more than a year ago: “I lead my men by example.” This was the most difficult during field camp. As a commander, and an officer, privileges were given to us. I rejected most of them: where they were in the sun during training, I too had to be in the sun, where they were out in the rain, digging, I too had to be there in the rain, helping them and organising them. Where my platoon was, there I will be, and there I will support them with my body, soul and spirit.

The end result? Whilst I don’t boast, nor do I need the praise from them, a group of highly motivated and well-trained soldiers. Reading their appraisals and their reflections on their nine weeks in Kestrel made me doleful at our parting. Some were appreciative of the presence, of the dignity accorded to them, or at the spirit and fire that was passed from my commanders to them. 

Many times in the batch I felt like giving up. It was too much to give, with no yields that were instant nor quite fast in manifesting. In my daily prayers to God, I asked for the strength to “plant the seed, and leave the sowing to You”. In the end, a simple, sincere “Good Morning Sir!”, and a “Thank You for everything, Sir!” made my day so much that I just looked forward to greeting them each day.

I too, also learnt the meaning of “partnership” in this batch. In OCS we were taught time and again about how the relationship between the Officer Corps and the WOSE corps was a special one: indeed nothing could have been achieved if not for their help. It was more than just a “partnership”, this was a collaboration. Between the jokes and the nonsense each time we unwind in the office after each day, where support was needed, all was there. Thanks guys.

Each time I witness the tossing of jockey caps, I get goosebumps. I couldn’t find a more profound experience in leading the two batches: they were simply rewarding, though it was more than challenging. 

But none would be possible without the leave of God: to Him alone do I leave the answer of “Well, what now?” 

Islam itu indah

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

“Islam itu indah,” said the first speaker, Ustadh Firdaus Yahya.

But how so? Each person who holds a creed would have found it to be beautiful, for if they do not, then there would be no point in them believing in it. 

But then he gave two criteria for judging the beauty of a creed:

  1. Ease, in application, and in comprehension
  2. Universal, and comprehensive (as opposed to exclusive)

Tauheed: A call in simplicity

Islam is, after all, simple to understand. Its main purport is summed up in four lines:

Say: “He is the One God, God the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of All Being, He begets not, and neither is He begotten, and there is nothing that could be compared with Him.”

The message of tauheed is so simple to understand, and cannot be reduced into anything else simpler. The whole teaching of the Qur’an revolves around recognising the message of tauheed, and instructing its readers on how the imbue and place this message of tauheed in them. The Qur’an called itself “(a divine writ that) has not allowed any deviousness to obscure its meaning, unerringly straight…” 

This teaching too, is echoed in the sunnah of the Prophet. Once he advised the young companion ibn ‘Abbas, “O young man…when you seek aid, seek aid from God (alone)…” Again, the whole life of the Prophet was about living with God-consciousness in our minds, to live life with an ethic that would please God alone: a cognisance of the tauheed called for in the Qur’an.

Thus nothing could be more simpler. Other teachings of the Qur’an are just facets to the one maxim: God is One, and worship none but Him.

Fiqh: From Cradle to Grave

To really understand fiqh, you have to understand the frustration that it has caused non-Muslim scholars. To date, many have confused it with a life ethic, a life code, “Islamic law and jurisprudence”, a “strict and egalitarian code of being”, among others. Whilst the following translations seems overbearing and no room for movement among its followers, it is actually quite the opposite.

Fiqh is a dynamic institution, bearing down guidelines, injunctions and and instructions for Muslims to live their lives with dignity and pride, such that life is made worthy of living, and that it allows them to also imbue tauheed in their every day actions, from eating, to sleeping, and to even washing up.

It is a literally applicable from the cradle to the grave. No other religion has had such an institution that is so comprehensive (in as much as it is exhaustive), over reaching in its grasp. It teaches rituals, etiquette, ethics, among other things; it gives Muslims the scope and principles for making decisions in their lives. Everyday we make decisions – subconsciously – that many past ‘ulama found it so difficult to answer. 

Yet, at the same time, at the very core of this ritualistic practice, is an even more, if not equal, focus on the intrinsic ways of being. The Qur’an condemned the man who did things for the sake of “doing it”, comparing him to an piece of “timber in striped clothes”: heartless, unfeeling and hard. This is ihsan, compassion, mercy or goodness, which must accompany every deed.

Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards (one’s) fellow men; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; (and) He exhorts you (repeatedly) so that you might bear (all this) in mind.

 

 

Islam is beautiful

Once the Prophet s.a.w was asked, “O Apostle of God, whence come the Hour?”

He replied, “What have you prepared for it?”

The bedouin answered, “Prayed much I have not, nor have I fasted much; but I have love for God and His Apostle.”

He then stated, “You will be with whom you love.”

On this the companion Anas mentioned, “The Muslims were never happier when they heard such a tiding – that they will be resurrected with whom they love. I love the Prophet, Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, (and I wish to be raised with them,) though my deeds are not plentiful.”

Any gathering of knowledge is blessed and full of benefit. Today I had the good blessing, alhamdulillah, to attend the Forum Perdana 2012, where esteemed messrs. Dr. Asri and Syed Khairudin Aljunied and Ustadh Firdaus Yahya were panelists on the topic: “Islam itu Indah, jika disulami iman, ihsan, ilmu dan islah (Islam is Beautiful, if it is furnished with faith, compassion, knowledge and a thirst for renewal).”

The following will be my attempt to try to bring the speakers’ points in three different essays. Of use and benefit I hope it will bring, insha’Allah.

Triumph

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

ibn ‘Abbas (may God be pleased with them both) narrated that (once) the Prophet (s.a.w) went forth to Medina and saw the Jews observing a fast on the day of ‘Ashoora.

 

He asked, “What is this (fast for)?”

 

They replied, “This is a prosperous day; this day God saved the Children of Israel from their enemy, and, (in gratitude), Moses fasted.”

 

The Prophet (s.a.w) replied, “Then we have more claim to Moses than you.” He then fasted and ordered (the believers) likewise.

It has been a solemn promise of God, that “I will be triumphant – I and My messengers!” Therefore, in all of this craziness going about in the world, let us not forget the main underlying message behind ‘Ashoora: that of deliverance and salvation.

 

The story of Moses, Pharaoh and the Children of Israel can rightly be described as an epic: greater than that of the stories found in the Illiad and other such ilk. The Qur’an returns to the story every so often, each time fleshing out different aspects of the tale to highlight to the believer. Themes like the Will of God, the triumph of faith over wanton disbelief, the obduracy of the Pharaoh and his clan are all common themes.

 

It all started then, with a simple phrase and promise from God: “But it was Our will to bestow Our favor upon those (very people) who were deemed (so) utterly low in the land, and to make them forerunners in faith, and to make them heirs (to Pharaoh’s glory)…” It was not, then, their bloodline nor their actions that compelled (if God could be compelled anyway) God to act for them: it was rather a deliverance because of mercy and justice, the two very qualities that God had stood for. Where justice was not delivered – where the rights of others were so oppressed – God had set His hosts in motion and set the land right once again, and, in doing so, ensured that the oppressed were cuddled in His merciful embrace, protected from the cold hands of justice.

 

The tale too, gives the very chilling warning about the frailty of man. Intelligent man may built powerful empires up and around him, raise powerful armies of brute strength and prowess, fortify towns and cities, but all it takes is for the ground to shake under him, the winds to furrow their anger, the waves to flood the pathways, and he becomes as useless as the flotsam.

 

Pharaoh, ‘King of Kings’, Emperor, Lord-God, manifestation of Ra, claimed ever so arrogantly, “O my people! Does not the dominion of Egypt belong to me, (witness) these running waters flow at my feet? Can you not, then, see (that I am your lord supreme)?

 

And what did God do? A simple line, for all of Pharaoh’s flowery exclaims: “And so We seized him and his hosts and We flung them in to the sea: and behold what happened in the end to those evildoers!

 

 

The point is that, in fasting, we are reminded once again, that our lives are held in the Hands of the Ever-Living: man is made weak by nature, and the things that make him strong are but surrogates, a suit, a mask for that feebleness that prevails him.

 

But being weak does not mean that we are helpless: the gift of intelligence and wisdom, coupled with the guidance of the Divine allow man to work miracles in his life and that of those around him. Look at the architectural wonders, the scientific progresses and the literature written! All it means is for him to truly recognise that the source for all of this is the Ever-Present Himself: God, the Almighty, the Wise.

 

In light of recent events, we have seen such oppression in the lands of the Prophets. By the nature decreed in them by God, and by the prophecy so truthfully told by the Prophet himself, it will not stop: the struggle for truth will continue, until the trumpets of Calamity sound upon us.

 

This, then, begs the question: what can we do? Once the eminent scholar terrified a sinning his fellow sinning brethren, by casting the “arrows of the night”. It is the du’a: a parlance between God and the believer, a solemn request for that which the distraught servant cries for in the middle of the night, to be heard by the One who deals in justice and mercy. 

 

Whilst we do feel helpless here, remember the Prophet’s advice: change it by hand, if not by tongue, then at the very least, loathe it in your heart. The main point encouraged by the Prophet is to act, and not remain passive in the face of change and movement. Moses was sent to a people passive and desensitized to the Pharaoh, though in their hearts they loathed it. He was the catalyst that awoken the spirit of change in them, allowing them to triumph over the Pharaoh. 

 

Similarly, employ whatever means we have for the betterment of our brethren – not just only in Palestine, but in other places as well, and not forgetting the unfortunate here in Singapore – prayer, money, time, a listening ear: whatever it takes. 

…he believed that… that if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things. That’s what at stake here. Not a choice; responsibility.

 

Reform

… Are we speaking about an adaptation reform, which – in its undeniable movement – confirms confirms that to which it adapts, or are we trying to undertake a transformational reform that questions existing practices and suggests other ways in the name of the higher goals of ethics?

Shadows on the Cave: Fretting over shadows

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

But wouldst thou, perhaps, torment thyself to death with grief over them if they are not willing to believe in this message?

As we all know, the early years of the Prophet’s ministry was not easy. When the movement gained momentum, the Quraish elders naturally felt threatened. There was a new power that was on the rise, and to them, it signaled a rivalry to their oligarchic monopoly on trade and commerce.

To send out an effective message, the Quraish resorted to every trick in the book: tormenting the weak, slandering the people who had already reverted, and even to the point of assassinating the Prophet s.a.w himself.

For every ayah that was revealed, a retort would be equally ready after careful deliberation. It was, then, a deliberate want to reject faith; God had then told the Prophet that it was a helpless – beyond helpless – to convey the message of Islam to them, since, in Qur’anic technical terminology, their hearts were sealed.

Da’wa, then, cannot be focused on the product. In leadership we talk about many roles that a leader has to take: instructor, mentor, counselor and coach. Da’wa compromises all of these roles. Its goal is not the end result (natijah), for “He has full knowledge indeed of all that is in (your) hearts”, rather, its goal – and focus – is in the process, the methodology. Da’wa is not a one way process, like coaching; it focuses as much on the da’i as the du’at.

There exists a parable about the importance of da’wa: imagine society like a ship, where its passengers are divided into two classes: the upper deck and the lower deck. Now one day the people in the lower deck were thirsty, and decided to make a hole on the floor of the lower deck to collect water. Obviously such an action would have made the ship sink. On hearing this, the passengers on the upper deck told them: “Do not do so. We shall draw water for all of us, and, that way, we would still be safe.”

Thus the lesson to be drawn here is the importance of conveying God’s command as it is imparted in the Qur’an. If a society is ignorant and solipsist, then it would have been deemed to have failed in its responsibility to teach others the word of God. It is not enough to merely practice and read the Qur’an, for, just as how fiqh is divided into two portions – ‘ibaadah and mu’ammalaat – so is the Muslim’s responsibility: to practice and convey the message. God’s punishment when the country has been utterly immoral, as it is, can never be singled out to those who are only believers: both the believers and non-believers will get it should they fail to do their work: “And beware of that temptation to evil which does not befall only those among you who are bent on denying the truth, to the exclusion of others, and know that God is severe in retribution.”

The Prophet s.a.w once advised the Muslims never to hesitate in doing da’wa. Some may hold back, because they question themselves, how can they preach when they do not practice so? The point to note here is to never preach what you do not practice, nor be two faced about it. Rather it is about encouraging others to goodness, calling out on others to join on something good which you are doing, and are constantly doing.

He too, stressed the importance on the methodology: yassiru, wa la tu’assiru, facilitate, and do not impede. Do what is right and the most convenient for you; going out of the way to do things would only cause trouble to both the da’i and the ducat. Hence, examine the situation – where an explanation would suffice, do so, where actions speak louder than words, do so.

I end this post with a hadith that I have always loved. Once the wife of the Prophet, ‘A’ishah, may God be pleased with her, was asked about the character of the Prophet. She succinctly replied, “His character was the Qur’an.”

Hence all of us should strive to be walking Qur’an as well, for if we read it everyday, stop to ask, are we living it?

Come up with an action plan to improve your relationship with God – Allah – and also to develop meaningful relationships to the people around you.

:)

Shadows on the Cave: Of Parables & Miracles

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

Each Thursday night, the faithful is urged by the Prophet to read the sura al-Kahf, in hopes that when read, “a light will shine for him from beneath his feet to the clouds of the sky, which will shine for him on the Day of Judgement, and (his sins) will be forgiven between the two Fridays.” (al-Mundhiri said [that] this was narrated from Abu Bakr ibn Murdawayh, in his Tafseer, with an isnaad with which there was nothing wrong)

So what is it that makes this sura special? Exactly that we will never know, for certain suwar in the Qur’an has their own special blessings bestowed on them. In any case, it is not for us to divine where there are no concrete proofs.

Over the course of the next few Thursdays (or Fridays), I would try to find time to share my thoughts on a few selected aayaat from the sura, so that both me and you can benefit from it.

Before we get into the thick of it, allow me to talk briefly about the sura. A highly obvious Meccan sura, it talks on many different aspects of the life that we know it: the workings of God, reliance on Him, and the conviction of faith. It was said that the whole sura was revealed through a challenge posed by the rabbis of Medina to the Prophet s.a.w. Three questions were asked tauntingly by the Quraysh, and should he fail to answer any of these, then “…he is saying things which are not true, and how you deal with him is up to you.”

The first was about a “strange and wondrous” tale about a few young men in ancient times, second, a man who travelled a great deal, and reached the eastern and the western points of the earth, and finally, about the Spirit (of Inspiration).

In all surety, the Prophet replied, “Tomorrow will I inform you of the answers to the questions you queried me with.” Now this act of surety was as if that the Prophet could will the inspiration to him, and in this very human moment, forgot that it was God solely who had prerogative on when He wanted to send the revelations, and in what context.

Fifteen days soon passed, without anything. The Quraysh were getting brazen, and naturally the Prophet was much aggrieved. But soon God succoured his Prophet, but not without a stern admonition to the Prophet, and to the faithful after him: “And never say about anything, “Behold! I shall do this tomorrow,” without (adding), “if God so wills!” And if you should forget (yourself at the time, and become aware of it later), call your Sustainer to mind and say, “I pray that my Sustainer guide me, even closer than this, to a consciousness of what is right!”

The breadth of the sura is fantastic. It first takes the reader to ancient times, plunges them into their tale, and then it zooms out into the very personal tale of the two men, and then whirrs back into the ancient times to the story of Moses and Dhu al-Qarnayn.

Each parable brings deep meaning and perspective into the lives of men; while the immediate intent of each story is clearly seen at, on deeper insight, there are many things that can be learnt from it.

May this be a benefit for you and for me, insya’Allah! :)