Sunday, October 31, 2010

The importance of family

Last week I was reminded of just how important it is to have family. My sisters and I had to organize a book launch for an Islamic education series we have been working on. The weeks before the launch were gruelling, with all the planning and running around trying to ensure that we got everything done. Finally the day of the launch came and Alhamdullillah everything went really smoothly. This was due to the will of Allah (SWT) but we were fortunate to have the support of our family. Mum was there preparing the snacks and ensuring that the food tables were sorted out, our father and brothers were there, running last minute errands and helping to put up the decor. Our sister-in-law was there to assist wherever we needed her, and after the event brothers-in-law popped in and helped with the tidying up, even the kids were assisting with whatever they could. Having the entire family involved (and we are a very big family- Alhamdullillah) just made everything so much easier. I am so thankful to Allah Almighty for blessing me with a supportive family, this just reminded me of the importance of family. Without family people are weaker and they cannot accomplish as much as individuals as they can as groups.

This reminded me of one of the things I liked when I went for umrah recently. All over the place families could be seen together. Since it was Ramadhaan, families could be seen sitting together at Iftaar time, and at sehri (suhr) time. They could be seen relaxing outside the Haram Sharief after the taraweeh prayers. Children played happily nearby their parents, while adults chatted with each other. The family atmosphere was striking and in contrast to the way it is in a modern “westernised” culture. I can’t speak for every country, but here in South Africa, people are quickly beginning to follow in the footsteps of other countries, and what’s happened is that “the family culture” has been replaced with “the individual culture”. So instead of families spending time together and doing things together, individuals tend to go off and do their own thing. For many people, as soon as children reach the stage of adolescence they begin to see it as something embarrassing to be with their parents and so parents go out alone while children go out on their own.

This move away from the family is very obvious when looking at Western cultures and ideals. The popular idea is for people to become independent and move away from their families. This is regarded as a mark of adulthood. In my opinion, what this does is not only weaken people, but it also weakens society as a whole. Without a solid family structure and support from family, people become more vulnerable, and while it may be true that they learn many things when they are on their own, they also at the same time, lose out in many ways.

The extended family has become mundane, an old and traditional thing and so children see less of their grandparents, aunts and uncles and their idea of family is restricted to parents, and siblings. The size of families are rapidly decreasing, so whereas before it wasn’t strange to find women with 6 or 8 children, even more, now the norm is to have a few children and 3 children families are regarded as big. This may be the modern trend, but I find it very sad.

Growing up in a big family (I come from a family of 8 children) has made me a stronger person and it has also saved me from many things. You constantly had your big brother watching you, or one of the younger siblings innocently blurting out your secrets to your parents, and while this may have been irritating at the time, in retrospect I have learnt to appreciate it.

In these times when people are forgetting the importance of family, I think it’s even more crucial to discuss this issue. It’s easy to be an individual within a family structure, being a part of family doesn’t mean that you can’t be your own person, or that you can’t gain independence, but knowing that you have the support from people who love and care for you, just makes things so much better. It makes individuals stronger!

In many countries it is not a strange thing to see families together. We spent some time in Egypt a few years ago and there it was natural to see families doing things together. Everyone would go to the shopping mall together and while mothers and daughters shopped, fathers and sons would sit together watching soccer matches and discussing things, and thereafter the family would all have a meal together. The entire atmosphere was conducive to family life, and this was beautiful.

The trend of individualism is causing damage to our societies and family members are becoming increasingly isolated from one another to such an extent that parents don’t even know what’s going on with their own children. Husbands and wives live separate lives, sisters and brothers hardly speak to each other and no one listens to grandparents. Perhaps I am “old-fashioned” but I prefer the family culture to the individual culture any day. I just hope that more people could understand the importance of family.

Alhamdullillah, I am so grateful to Allah Almighty for blessing me with a huge family, even if they all make me want to scream sometimes!

My prayer for everyone is that Allah (swt) keeps families together and increases the Muslim ummah by increasing our families. May Allah Almighty unite the hearts of family members, keep love and mercy within families and strengthen the bonds of family,Insha'Allah Ameen!

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The biggest waste of time

I used to like watching soap operas on t.v. Before it used to be those silly American ones, you know, the ones with the ridiculous story lines, crazy plots, mad twin brothers or sisters, people coming back to life, becoming possessed, losing their memory, plotting against each other... and so on and so forth. Every day I would be ready to watch it, that is until I realized that nothing really happened at all and the same thing would be repeated each day, just in a different manner. When you actually thought about it, the same old stories were going on and on, not for days, or weeks, or even months, but for years. It was frustrating!

Thankfully I stopped wasting my precious time with that nonsense, but it didn’t end there. I was still caught up in the trap. I started watching South African soaps, and when they just began on t.v. they were very different from the American ones I used to watch. Here they dealt with important issues such as HIV/AIDS, racism, affirmative action workplace policies, poverty, etc. An embodiment of all the issues that Post Apartheid South African society has to deal with on an everyday basis. This made me believe that these soaps were worth watching.

Recently though I stopped watching those too, because the same type of frustration was beginning to fester. I’d watch my favourite Afrikaans soap 7de Laan (which means 7th Avenue in English), every single day and by the end of the week the same thing that happened on Monday would still not have been resolved. I guess that’s the point of soapies right? They have to keep the viewers addicted; if they resolve everything quickly then nobody will want to watch. I’m so grateful to Almighty Allah for making it easy for me to stop watching these things because now I am able to see exactly what a big waste of time it really is.

Last week I went to visit my grandmother, and she just loves watching soapies. So on two occasions while I was there she was watching soapies that I used to watch. On both of these occasions I was very disappointed to see that South African soaps, are becoming just as crazy as the American ones. The first time I was surprised to see that someone who had very clearly died was back in the soap, as usual some crazy plot was written up where he “came back from the dead”, you know he wasn’t really dead, everyone just thought he was. The second time, the “bad girl” of the soap returned after years just to bring up old wounds and cause more drama. How do we so easily accept the nonsense they feed us, I wonder?

So yes, I am now totally convinced that soap operas are the biggest waste of time. Think about it, how much time would be people have if they weren’t watching these things every day, can you calculate quickly? At least one hour every day right, so that’s 5 hours a week, and 20 hours a month and 240 hours a year. That’s a lot of time, and that’s the minimum! Now imagine how many other better things we could be doing in that time. Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

And you know what else, on top of wasting time watching it, you also don’t have to worry about wasting time thinking about it, or talking to others about it, or reading up about it, and whatever else comes with it. Gosh, I feel so bad for all the time that I’ve wasted with these things. The best thing is that when you stop watching it, you don’t even miss it, so you most definitely don’t need to be watching it. This is just my experience, I'm sure that many of you would agree with me though.

May Almighty Allah help us not to waste the precious time that He has given us on this earth and may we become of those who make good use of their time, doing good deeds that will please Allah instead of wasting precious hours on futile and frivolous things. Insha'Allah Ameen!

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Varying degrees of nakedness

Recently I went to see a friend of mine. Usually we meet each other in a public space and my friend is someone who has decided to completely cover herself. She wears a long burka, cloak and the niqab (face covering). Although she removes the face covering and the burka in the presence of women, she still wears the long cloak. This is how people are accustomed to seeing her. When I went to see her that day at her home she was wearing a long pants and a long top and both of these items of clothing was not tight fitting. When she came out to greet me she said “I’m sorry I’m so naked”.

This was interesting, here she was, dressed quite decently and yet she felt naked and uncomfortable with me seeing her like that. This made me think, nakedness obviously means something different to each individual, based on their ideas about things and what they become accustomed to. In contrast to a woman who seems very comfortable walking in public barely covered, here was a woman who was still completely covered and she was feeling naked. It’s strange how people’s perceptions of things differ and this is why it’s always important to understand a person’s perception of things instead of simply making assumptions.

There’s something else that I think is important here, it seems that as one progresses spiritually, our perceptions of things change and so as we move on to a different stage in life, things change accordingly.  I remember times when I would walk in public without my hijab, feeling very happy and not thinking that anything was wrong. Now even the thought of leaving my home without hijab makes me feel uncomfortable and without my hijab I definitely feel naked. See how my own perceptions of nakedness have changed as well. So as we progress we begin to change our ideas and we cannot imagine ourselves the way we used to be. The clothes we previously wore seems inappropriate and flimsy and as we move on to cover ourselves up more we become uncomfortable with our old dressing habits, until eventually we reach the stage my friend has reached, where a long top and pants makes us feel like we are naked.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s all about becoming accustomed to a certain thing. A woman who has never covered herself will find it strange to see a woman who is covered and thus it will be easy for her to make judgements about it. If that same woman begins to cover herself then the opposite will occur and she will then begin to look at women who are uncovered and find that strange. So just like everything else in life, as we progress so too do our perceptions of nakedness change as well. 

 Other people will never understand the joy it gives Muslim women to cover up because they have never experienced this themselves and they have not become accustomed to it, so it will always remain something strange for them. But the adverse is true as well, because Muslim women will never understand the need to shed your clothes and walk around almost naked, and you know what, as a Muslim woman, I don’t think I’d ever want to try and understand that, because in my opinion that would be real regression.  

May The Almighty Allah guide us all and save us from all that displeases Him. May Allah guide people towards the path of righteousness Insha'Allah!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The smallest things count

Today I was reminded of such an important lesson, from such a simple thing. I have this tasbih (prayer beads) made from soft wood. While using it I noticed a small piece of wood sticking out from one of the beads, and decided to pull it off. As soon as I did this, the bead cracked in half and is now just basically hanging on a thread, about to fall of f completely. “Strange”, I thought, that this tiny piece of wood was actually the thing keeping the whole bead together. This reminded me that the smallest things in life count a lot, and sometimes they may even be the most important.

The small things we take for granted and dismiss as insignificant, these may actually be the things that Allah (SWT) rewards us for the most. There’s so much wisdom in this, because without the small things, the big things will not be in order. In order for the big things in life to function properly, the small things first have to be mastered. There are so many little ways in which we can make important differences in the world. After all didn’t our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) say that “even a smile is charity”?

So, perhaps it will help us all to first focus on improving things in small ways, we can begin with ourselves, make small changes within ourselves, change our behaviour and actions slowly and in small ways, and finally all the small changes we make will amount to big changes Insha’Allah; and with the help of Allah (SWT) we do not know how important an impact we can make in this world.

Let us try not to forget the importance of small things in life, because it may just be the things that are holding the bigger things together.

May Allah Almighty make it easy for us all Insha’Allah.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

We should always be thankful!

Our first day in Madinah Munawwarah on our recent umrah trip is one that I will always remember. It was the month of Ramadhaan and we were all fasting. Although there are allowances made for travellers that they do not have to fast if it is difficult and they should pay the fast in thereafter, we all decided that we could manage to fast because Alhamdullillah we were in good health. Alhamdullillah, the fast was going really well, we did not even feel hungry, but since it was quite hot and we had just travelled from Jeddah to Madinah (which was approximately a 5 hour drive); we were quite thirsty by Iftaar time.

Not knowing how things were at the Haram Sharief, we happily prepared to go a bit early for Maghrib Salaah, thinking that we would easily be able to break our fast with Zam Zam water, which is usually readily available in Masjid Al Nabawi. We took our dates with us to break our fast, we didn’t care much about food because we were not that hungry, but we just needed water, water was essential that day!

When we got to the Haram we were in for a surprise. They usually keep the Zam Zam water in these huge cans and people can get water from there, but every one that we went to was empty. Not only was the water completely finished, the plastic glasses that they have on the side of the cans were finished as well. After some searching my mother found one that had a little water in, it filled about one glass and since we didn’t have any more glasses with us we couldn’t get more of that water. When people saw some water in there they started rushing towards it. It was crazy that day, we were so unprepared and really didn’t expect any of that.

Afterwards we realized that what usually happened was that as soon as Asr Salaah is finished, people begin preparing for Iftaar, they fill their glasses and bottles with Zam Zam water, get their dates ready and have their food (which consists of bread and yoghurt) ready. So if you come a bit too late then the Zam Zam water in the cans are finished as obviously millions of people there are breaking their fast at the same time and just as you, they all need water too.

As I walked around that day searching for a can with some water in, I made my duaa and asked Allah (SWT) to give us some water, that’s all that we needed that day, such a simple request, yet so taken for granted. Every other day we break our fast with an abundance of water, readily available to us, not only do we have water on our Iftaar tables at home, but we also have juices and cold drinks, sometimes even milkshakes. Here we were in search of water, and unable to get it. Yet we were still so fortunate because if we really wanted to we could leave the Haram and take a walk to a nearby shop and by some drinks, or something like that. What about those people who are in search of water every day of their lives, and they have no alternatives, because they are truly destitute? How much shouldn’t we be thankful for? How many of these favours of Allah do we take for granted? Simply because we do not know what it’s like not to have it.

Alhamdullillah Allah answered our prayers that day, and after some more searching we found a can full of Zam Zam water, and it had glasses! As we broke our fast that day and drank the water, we could not possibly deny Allah (SWT’s) mercy. Truly Allah answers the call of His servants. Now we could begin to understand the reality of fasting in the month of Ramadhaan and how it unites us with our fellow Muslims who are suffering around the world.

It’s amazing how many of Allah’s favours we take for granted without even realizing it. May Allah help us to always be thankful for every little favour He has bestowed upon us and May we never be in the situation where we are destitute. May Allah (SWT) ease the suffering of those who are destitute; Insha’Allah Ameen!

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