Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Inspiration comes in all forms

This week I had the pleasure of meeting some amazing Muslim women, and Alhamdullillah (Praise be to Allah), today I had the added pleasure of spending some time with them. So what makes these women so amazing and inspiring? Well, of course I’m going to tell you, otherwise there wouldn’t be a point to this post, now would there?

These women are part of a volunteer programme. They go to run down public hospitals and give out sandwiches, fruit and juice to poor people who have to wait there for almost the entire day. Now you first have to understand the health care system in South Africa to appreciate what I am saying here. You see unlike in many other countries, South Africa has public hospitals and private hospitals. The private hospitals are clean and well staffed. Patients get seen to easily and relatively quickly. Equipment is new and so on. But the people who go there usually pay large sums of money or they have medical aid schemes, which amount to large sums of money in the end of the day. Majority of the people in this country are unable to afford going to a private hospital, so they have to settle for public hospitals, which are mainly older, less people working there, much more patients, older and less equipment, dull looking and cold, no televisions in the wards (like the private hospitals), no private wards and so on. Here people have to wait for hours on end to be treated because there are just too many patients and too little staff and supplies. The situation is unjust and totally unequal, but this is South Africa after all, a country which has one of the widest gaps between those who have and those who don’t.
So back to these inspiring ladies- They are part of this project, called the Faith Based Initiative. People from different religious groups take turns to go to the public hospitals and hand out sandwiches and stuff to people. I got to go with the ladies today and although I was very saddened by the patients situations, it was definitely a worthwhile experience.

As we walked from ward to ward handing out food and sweets (to little kids), I could see that these ladies were passionate about this. They were so compassionate and caring that it moved me, and really people were so grateful to get something to eat while they waited in the cold hospital, anxious , tired and sick.

Some of the patients are AIDS patients, this includes kids, and as one of the hospital staff explained to me, these people are on ARV’S (anti retrovirals) and they need to eat in order for the medication to be effective, but some of them are so poor that they have no food to eat for days, so for them, to get a sandwich from someone is a big deal. Some parents don’t know what they’ll feed their sick kids when they get home, so they are glad to get a sandwich and some fruit.

It’s amazing how much we take for granted. A few slices of bread can make such a huge difference to people, and for us this is nothing. Our houses are full of food and we still say that we have nothing to give and nothing to make. There are people who value two slices of bread so much, and I am so grateful that I got to witness this first hand.

One of the women waiting with her kids asked me, “where is this coming from”, when I explained that people have donated it, she said to me “this is such a good thing, we appreciate it”. Indeed I really had to agree with her.

These volunteers are so dedicated; every week they go out and share a little of their time to help others. Their small effort makes a huge difference, even if they don’t always know it. I am inspired by these women, inspired by their willingness to help with no physical, material reward; Inspired by their warmth, inspired that they don’t only think about themselves, but have remembered others as well. I pray that Allah rewards them all well, and that Allah gives them strength to continue doing this. Inshaa-Allah Ameen.

There are so many things to do in this world, if we only take the time to look around we will see that we are able to make huge differences by doing small things.  
Image from here

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Our Youth can make a difference

The 16 June is a public holiday in South Africa. I’d like to think that it’s a very important public holiday; because June 16th, is celebrated here as “Youth Day”. Of course like many good things, this public holiday goes back to a tragic day, 36 years ago. It was June 16, 1976 , during the horrendous Apartheid era in South Africa when innocent school children were shot and killed in Soweto for protesting against the implementation of Afrikaans as the language medium in schools where people did not speak Afrikaans as a first, or even second language. Those children who were killed deserve to be remembered, their sacrifice needs to be celebrated, so this is one of the few public holidays that I actually don’t mind celebrating.

 But while we’ve become a nation who seems to be over consumed with celebrating, we have in the process forgotten that celebrations cannot take place without any reason. All we have to do is look at our youth today, and we will realise that something has gone terribly wrong. Let us go back 36 years and look at the passion, the interest, the concern about important issues that were displayed by the youth of the time, and compare them to the youth of today.

 It’s sad to say that most of the youth of today are self-consumed and couldn’t be bothered about anything that happens around them, unless of course what’s happening around them has something to do with their favourite celebrities, TV shows, PS games and so on. Today’s youth can easily be seen walking around with their faces glued to their cellular phones and their fingers typing away incessantly. The youth of today could not be bothered about politics or what happens in society, and as far as social change is concerned, the youth of today wouldn’t know where to begin.

But let me not be too harsh and let me not generalise. This of course does not apply to all the youth of today, there are a few of them who have their heads screwed on the right way, so I’ll give them their due.

The thing is that real change can only come about through the youth. They are young and have fresh ideas and they speak the language of today. Youth are able to get through to people in a way that other people can’t. This is why we can still remember June 16 , 1976 with pangs in our hearts, even though we were not born at the time. It’s because of the innocence and the brightness of youth. It just seems that youth has so much to offer and so much to give to society.

I know I kind of sound like an old lady here, but I really think that the youth of today do not know their true worth. They have been sucked into an abyss where they are taught to be self-centred and materialistic. Their lives revolve around the latest cell phone technology and they have been led to believe that the only form of communication is through facebook, BBM, twitter and so on. They do not know that they are the ones who hold the keys to the future. The youth are the ones who are able to be the most productive members of society, and yet they have somehow become the least productive. Instead of working with parents and other adults, they have been brainwashed into believing that they need to be out there, having fun, trying new things (which most of the time are not good new things). They have been convinced that parents are the enemies and they only wish to stifle freedom.

Yes, the only idea of freedom that most of our youth have is about freedom to go out at night and meet their friends and have “fun”. Talk to them about freedom of oppressed people, or freedom to dress the way you want to, or freedom to work and so on, and they will laugh at you.

SO let’s go back to the youth of 1976, those innocent youth who lived in oppression and poverty but were willing to fight for their freedom to be taught in a language that they could understand. Those youth gave their lives protesting for an education, when our youth find education boring and basically throw it away. Those youth understood what our youth cannot even begin to understand.  Those youth should be celebrated; will people be able to say that about our youth 30 years from now?

I sometimes think that when life is made easy for us then we become complacent and lazy. When we are given freedom, then we cannot understand that there are people who need to fight for their freedom. When we are given rights, then we do not look around and realise that there are people whose rights are taken away from them. When we have ease and comfort, then we forget that there are others who are suffering and going through hardship. Alhamdullillah for our ease, and May Allah never give us hardship, but the thing is that through all our ease, we must not forget that we have a duty towards others and a role to play in society, even if the role we play is small.

Yes, youth should be celebrated, but our youth should be reminded of their worth every single day, so that they can stand up and be the people that they are able to be, and maybe one day, people will look back and remember the youth of today with fondness and admiration.  

May Allah guide us all, Inshaa-Allah for we cannot achieve a single thing without the will of the Almighty Allah.

Image from here

Monday, June 11, 2012

Who’s looking out for them?

In the icy cold winter the beggars who roam the streets of Johannesburg day and night brave the darkness and the cold to go and see if they can find food, anything at all will help fill their hunger. Last night there was one at our front gate at half past two in the morning, before him, there were quite a few more. As you drive to work, warmly dressed in your comfortable car, you see them standing in the freezing cold begging for some money. Some of the beggars are children, chances are that they either ran away from an abusive home out of desperation, or got involved with the wrong crowds and turned to drugs, or they may have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. All these scenarios are common in this country, people are destitute and in need.

People who have enough keep complaining that there are so many beggars because people are lazy. Yet even the ones who try find it difficult and I have to admit that I can understand why many of them decide to just give up. There’s this lady who we know for years. Sometimes she helps us out with some work, other times she just comes when she needs something. For about the past ten years she has been trying to complete her Grade 12. She was enrolled at one of these colleges that do adult teaching and she did one or two school subjects a year. She would come and tell us how difficult it is, how their teachers keep leaving them and the teachers themselves don’t understand the work properly. She would enthusiastically come to ask us for help in explaining her English work, because like many South Africans, English is not her first language. She would ask us for books and stationery and every time she was writing an exam she would come and tell us. I saw her eagerness and willingness to make a better life for herself and her son, yet despite her motivation, it took her about ten years to complete. Eventually she came with the good news that she had completed her Grade 12 and she had passed all her subjects. She was so proud of that certificate, I can tell you, I don’t ever remember being even remotely as proud of any certificate I’ve received. But she had worked hard, and in the end it had paid off.

Then she began to look for work. It had been very hard for her to find work because she worked slowly as a domestic worker and people didn’t seem interested in hiring her. Now that she had her High School certificate though, she thought that things would be different. For her, obtaining this certificate would open up roads. For months she searched for work, but to no avail. She thought that it would be a good idea to apply for an admin job at the South African police Service. She had heard that if you have a Grade 12 certificate then they will accept you. She was told that she had passed the age for enrolment and couldn’t apply for any job there. A few more months and her job search brought no job. It’s almost one year after she received her Grade 12 certificate and still her life has not changed at all. She is still living in the small shack in an informal settlement. She still comes every week complaining that she is hungry, asking for money for paraffin and candles.  She still has to worry about her own neighbours stealing her little belongings or her small shack being burnt down. But amazingly, she still continues to try and she still has hope.

Her most recent attempt to do something about her situation is to go and study at university. This is not an easy thing to do for someone who has no money to buy food. There is no free education in South Africa and university costs a lot of money. But in any case, she was told that she could apply for exemption and after that she will be allowed to study. Just going to the university to sort things out was difficult for this woman because she had to raise enough money for transport and this was a mission given her circumstances. Eventually she got all the money she needed and went through to the university in Pretoria and now she is awaiting their decision, with hope and enthusiasm. She truly believes that this will help her get a better life. I hope that it does, I really do, but I can’t help feeling sceptical.

I am reminded that there are millions of people in this country that are suffering on a daily basis. The beggars who come to our door all the time, people like this woman I’ve mentioned, the people begging on almost every street corner and intersection (and really I am not exaggerating here), the men who have taken to standing on streets helping people find parking in return for small change, these are but a few of the people who are suffering. Who’s looking out for all these people? Who is worried about their needs? Who is helping them to get education and jobs? Who is making sure that they have a better future, or in the very least that their children will have a better future?

The government can only do so much, it’s easy to blame those in power, and many times the blame is justified, but when you have a country swimming in debt itself and increasing demands in education, jobs, housing, health and all sectors of society then really it’s very difficult to take care of the millions who are suffering, so let’s try to understand things from the government’s point of view as well. The truth is that they are only human.

Only Allah Almighty has the ability to take care of every single one of His servants. Only Allah can see to the needs of everyone. It is easy for Allah, as easy as “Be and it Is”. But Allah tests us, and Allah wants us to turn to Him for help, and Allah wants us to rely on Him and Allah wants us to ask and expect things from Him. We are told something to the effect that a servant will get what he expects to get from Allah, so if we believe that Allah can give us absolutely anything, even things that seem impossible, then Inshaa-Allah Allah will definitely give it to us. It is when we forget Allah that things become negative.

I’m not saying that all the people suffering have forgotten Allah, maybe poverty and difficulty is their test and their means of finding Allah. I don’t know every situation and Allah Knows best. What I am saying though is that only Allah is able to look out for every single one of us so it is only Allah that we should rely on. The perfect example we are given is that of how the birds leave their homes in the morning and receive their sustenance at the end of the day. And when you really look at it, you will see that the lady I mentioned earlier is still surviving, despite her struggles she still gets by and she still has hope. The beggars on the streets find their food, even if it is late at night. Those begging for money get their cups filled somehow. In the end, Allah is taking care of every one of Allah’s servants, we just do not understand the ways in which Allah Almighty works.

So who’s looking out for the poor and the destitute, for the sick and the old, for the animals and the plants, who’s looking out for me and you, of course the answer is simple, None other than our Most Perfect Creator.

Isn’t it time that we turned to Allah completely?  Perhaps if we all turned to Allah together then we will get what we want and the suffering will stop. Perhaps if we all followed the rules of Allah and shared and cared for each other, then Allah would shower mercy upon us. Perhaps if we keep asking Allah for help then Inshaa-Allah we will get the help that we need. Only Allah can see to everyone, and all we can do is turn to Allah and do our little bit. Allah is the Greatest and Allah is The Best Helper.

Image from here

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On Double-Standards and Respect for Women

 Yesterday I heard some very disturbing news. I found out that an ex-professor of mine was no longer at the University because apparently he had sexually harassed a number of students and they spoke out against him. The person who told me this stated that she has no respect for the man. Obviously I agree with her, my perception of him was changed completely on hearing that news.

It’s weird; I thought he was a nice guy. He seemed decent you know, with a wife and adult children and all that. He was at the University for years and I always kind of saw him like part of the old furniture. Although I have to admit that I found his lectures very tedious in my undergraduate studies, I actually came to like him when I did my postgraduate degrees and I saw him as someone with a lot of knowledge and experience, someone you could learn a lot from.

Then he became my research supervisor and I remember feeling more comfortable that he was an older guy, if only I had known!  I was actually quite shocked yesterday, as you can imagine.

My feelings and reactions aside though, there’s another reason why I’m mentioning this. You see, I did my Masters research on Muslim women. And of course, given the current political climate, the issue of ‘Muslim women’ is a heated topic. At some point I even remember the same professor saying to me that; “I wouldn’t want to be you researching this issue”. Anyway, it turned out quite well for me, Alhamdullillah and the research was much better than what had initially been expected (which I take no credit for). One day though, he said to me that he gets angry when he sees Muslim women all dressed up in black, completely covered, with their husbands walking in front of them. His reason for getting upset was that he felt it it was unnecessary and just like many people he believed that this stifles Muslim women.

At the time I understood that everyone has their own opinions when it comes to the dress of Muslim women. In fact, it would seem that more people have an opinion on this than things they actually need to have an opinion on. Nonetheless, I now find myself feeling quite angry, because if this professor really cared about women’s rights or respect for women, then how could he disrespect women by harassing them, and how could he infringe upon the rights of women while pretending to be bothered by women who he regarded as being oppressed?

Of course these sorts of double standards are prevalent in society, and people simply fall on the bandwagon of believing everything that they hear without actually understanding or a lot of the time, without even thinking about things logically themselves. Think about it right, if this particular professor had to speak about Muslim women for instance, then people would automatically believe what he had to say, because obviously he had great academic credentials. Yet, his words would’ve been false as he himself disrespected women and violated their rights.

The thing that gets to me is that everyone has a lot to say about Islam and how Muslim women dress, yet it is because Allah wants to protect our modesty, chastity and honour that we are supposed to dress this way. Allah Almighty tells us in the Glorious Quraan that the dress of women is for protection. Despite this, people start screaming about “oppression” and “the need for liberation” when they themselves cannot uphold respect and honour of women.  (Please note that I am not saying that all Muslim women are respected and honoured as there are many cases where Muslim women are oppressed, but also understand that Islam does not oppress women, nor do the laws of Islam, people who abuse and misunderstand the laws of Islam oppress women- And Allah Knows Best about everything and will bring Justice in every situation).

Back to my discussion- This case is not unique; it happens all the time. Women are preyed upon by men in power who abuse their power to achieve their own personal needs and wants. I have to wonder though, if the system of the so-called Western world is so perfect, then why do these things still continue to happen, over and over again?

I also can’t help but wonder what the real reason is for people hating the way Muslim women dress. Could it be because it goes against male ideals of what women should look like? Could it be because it deprives men from gazing at women?  I really can’t say, but what I can say is what I’ve mentioned before, Muslim women’s dress should be a non-issue, because the way someone dresses does not by any means determine their level of intelligence or their ability to contribute to society and so on.

The most important thing in this whole case is that women are not treated with the respect and honour that they deserve. While the world seems to suddenly care so much about the oppression of Muslim women, what about the oppression of all women? Why not launch huge campaigns and bring laws into effect to put an end to this type of harassment altogether? Instead of banning the niqab and making a big show of it, why not implement stricter punishments for men who harass women, whether in the workplace, or educational institution or wherever. So yes, people like this professor may lose their jobs, but what about legal punishment? Why don’t those in power make a big show about this type of oppression? Why do we not have stories like this as front page news? Really if we can have stories of oppressive Muslim men who marry women, take them to their native countries and give them a hard life on the front page of the newspaper, then why can’t we have stories like this as big news? The double standards in society keep surfacing, and not many people seem to notice!  

Women should be respected, honoured and protected at all times, and within all systems. If anyone is found guilty of infringing upon the rights of women, then it is only right that they be punished for their actions. People should make a big noise about oppression of all sorts, not just the sort that fits their stereotypes.

All women should be respected, despite the way she dresses. Whether she chooses to cover up completely or not, a woman is not what she wears, nor is she only about the external body. It’s really sad that even though the human race claims to have progressed, we still have these type of situations which can only make you shake your head and wonder whether there is hope for the human race.

May Allah protect us all from all types of harm, evil and oppression, and may Allah save us from being hypocrites who display double standards.