Thursday, February 27, 2014

Broken people

It’s sad to say that in my observations and experience of life, I have seen many people who I can only describe as “broken”.

Now I know that using the word “broken” to describe human beings may sound a little offensive and cold, but honestly there is no better way to describe it, and I only use this word as an analogy in trying to get my point across. You see, my work results in me coming into contact with all sorts of people, or rather, people with all sorts of problems, and recently I've been thinking that it all boils down to one thing, people have been broken. At some point in their lives, some time, most often in their childhood when they were supposed to be cared for and nurtured, they have tragically been broken.

Sometimes it’s not what has been done to them that has broken them (although this often is the case), but it’s also what hasn't been done that results in people becoming broken. An absent parent, a nasty teacher, a sibling who bullies, a friend who betrays, all these types of things leads to people becoming broken. Of course there are more intense forms which results in worse damage. Things like abuse for instance, not only breaks a person, it shatters them.

What happens when people are broken is that a big chunk of who they naturally are gets taken away, and what’s left is a gap, or more than one gap depending on the situation. So you find people spending the rest of their lives relentlessly trying to reclaim what’s been taken just so that they can fill the void and feel whole again. But, even more sadly, people try everything and anything to fill those gaps, only to be sorely disappointed, time and time again, and over time, those empty spaces only get bigger and darker.

So how does one become “fixed” or “whole”? There’s a misconception that finding love will fill that emptiness, but this is one of the most problematic misconceptions you can find. Expecting a partner to fill your emptiness is sort of like trying to fill a sand hole with water. What happens when you fill a hole in the sand with water? Does it become solid? Can it be sustained? NO, it cannot, instead, the water begins to erode the rest of the sand, turning whatever solid sand there was into mush.

This is because sand is needed to fill a sand hole. Just like parents love is needed to fill the emptiness caused by absent parents, or like reassurance and reformation from a sibling is needed in a case where the sibling was the bully, and so on. But, because the material needed to fill the holes inside people is not so readily available, especially after a build up over many years, people remain in search of something to help them, because in the end, most people just need peace and contentment, most people just want to feel whole!

But there’s hope, there’s always hope, even when the picture seems bleak, there are still solutions. Sometimes this comes from inner strength being nurtured, but in my opinion there is only one flop proof method to “fix” the broken holes in people. This is to connect with the One Creator. (SubhanAllah- Glory be to Allah).

Connecting to the Creator, the Source of Life, the One who has loved us even before we came into this world, is like Gold! So what happens if you fill holes with absolutely pure gold- those holes will never be able to erode, will they? 

I marvel at the people who are able to rise above their difficulties and stand up straight, not letting life affect them to the extent that they become completely broken. And I see something common in these people, it is their strong faith which leads to optimism and hope. Faith is central to living a happy life, without faith, people may just continue to remain broken, and the cracks and holes may just get deeper and deeper.

So, this reminds me that we need Faith to survive, to be whole, and to save ourselves from becoming broken to the extent that we cannot be fixed. Our survival is dependent on faith, and we cannot afford to break our connection with the Almighty Creator, because if we do that, we will always remain broken, lost in this world, constantly searching for ways to be fixed.

May Allah Almighty guide us all towards Him, may Allah protect us, guide us and be our source of peace and happiness always! And may Allah help those who have been broken!

Image 1 from here
Image 2 from here
Image 3 from here

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review- The Imam and his Diary

 There’s two types of heroes in life, the heroes who have somehow been catapulted into the limelight, thus amassing fame and fortune, and then you get the ‘unsung heroes’. Those who silently go about making a difference in the world, changing lives and inevitably the course of history, without even expecting to be recognized. For me, this latter group of heroes are more important, because without these silent heroes, societies would not be able to survive and thrive. Yet these are the very heroes who are often not given enough credit and easily overlooked, though they work tirelessly and effortlessly.

I think it is for this reason that I enjoyed reading this book, because it manages to shed light on one such hero, through the analysis and in-depth discussion of a personal diary. The book’s main focus is on the diary of Imām Muhammad Sālih Saban who served as the Imam of Simonstown (a small Town in Cape Town, South Africa) during the years 1904-1928.

In my opinion. the keeping of an in-depth diary by a local Imam at that time was something remarkable in itself, and as the book points out so well, this diary is not just a personal account of an Imam’s life, but instead, it can be regarded as a historical artefact, so brilliantly shedding light on what life really was like in the Simonstown and extended to the Cape Town Muslim community at that time. It is not often that history is told from such a perspective, and as the author illustrates, this diary helps to fill some gaps and holes in the common accounts of history, accounts which are almost always Eurocentric and biased.

I learnt so much about what the Muslim community was like in Simonstown at the time of Imam Saban and through his own words, coupled with the author’s discussion I could create a vivid image of life at that time, which is a wonderful thing in its own. It also helped me to understand and contextualize some of the social issues that we are experiencing today in the South African Muslim community.

I enjoyed reading direct excerpts of the Imam’s diary, even though the English was confusing at times. I think it was the realness of his words which was able to bring everything home for me, emphasizing that Imam Saban was an integral part of his community. It was great to read accounts from an “insider”, and this approach was refreshing as opposed to the “outsider” views that we are so accustomed to reading. Here was a member of the community, who lived and served his community, and getting insight into his diary was a rare privilege, one that I feel so happy to have received.

Another thing that’s so crucial about this book is that, as the author points out, this account is given by someone from the so-called “underclass” during the Colonial period in South Africa. This book reminds us that people from so-called lower classes play just an important role in a society as the so-called upper classes do. Basically through Imam Saban’s diary and this book, a voice has been given to people who would otherwise have been passed by as unimportant. That all people who live in a society inevitably shape that society, is something that is emphasized in this book. It’s also very interesting to read about how members of different cultural groups were able to live together and form some sort of reciprocal relationship. I think there are many lessons that we can learn from this and perhaps if we applied some of these lessons to our present day societies then we would be able to thrive as one society with people from different cultural groups.

One issue that may arise for diverse readers however is the very local flavour of the book. People from different backgrounds may initially find it difficult to relate to the mention of local customs and practices such as rampies sny, ratiep or tamatt for instance. However, these practices are nicely explained and contextualized within Cape Malay Muslim society, so readers should be able to adjust to this without hassle.

I was introduced to this book by a good friend of mine who happens to have the privilege of being a relative of Imam Saban. Shortly thereafter, I was glad to see the book being sold in a bookstore in Johannesburg because although I am not from Cape Town, I hold the belief that the history of Cape Muslims is or should be central to all South African Muslims, because this history speaks to all of us and has helped to shape present day history in all parts of South Africa. Hence, this book is a puzzle piece in the larger puzzle which makes up Muslim society in South Africa as a country. 

Images from here 

Watch a short video about the book here 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What we can achieve if we work together

I listened intently as my good friend and fellow workshop facilitator spoke today. She had a lot of valuable information to share as always, but one thing stuck with me. It was the state of disunity, individualism and selfishness in which we live. She used Somali immigrants to South Africa as an example and told us that the reason the Somali community is thriving here is because they work together, because of their unity. For example she said, when one person or family needs a house then the whole community puts together and helps that person to buy a house and they do such things for each other all the time.

It’s funny, last night my family and I were having a similar conversation. My mother told us about this group of brothers who had a successful business because they worked so well together, and we could identify many more similar situations. Unity is strength- This is an old clichéd phrase, but some things can never be emphasized too much!

I feel saddened that this unity isn’t the norm. I look around and see families struggling because they cannot afford to take out a bank load and get a house (as is the norm for most people). Then they have to spend preposterous amounts of rent money, and sometimes the landlords don’t even need the money they are getting. Then there are those who can’t even afford to make that rent, and they get kicked out with nowhere to go or get taken to court because they are in breach of payment. The house thing is just one example, I can find so many, and I’m sure you can too.

I really, really hate this system of individualism that’s so prominent today. It’s a selfish system and it makes people easily ignore the difficulties of others. Imagine what we could achieve if we all worked together. Can you just imagine how much better our societies and or entire world would be if people stopped only focusing on themselves and their immediate families and started worrying about everyone.

And once again we see the beautiful teachings of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) shining through. It is related in a hadeeth something to the effect that the true believer should want for his brother what he wants for himself. Surely if we all practised on this then our societies would be just like that of the Somali immigrants I mentioned. Surely then no one would be suffering because a true spirit of sharing would exist.

If only we could all go back to the beautiful teachings of Islam, if only we could shift out of our comfort zones and stop the narcissism which seems to be so in fashion these days. If only we could get together, work hard for the good of each other and make sure that everyone in society was taken care of. If only we stopped thinking of ourselves, raising our own status, getting better possessions for ourselves, if we only we understood that unity truly is strength!

May Almighty Allah (Exalted is He) be our guide and help us to see the truth!