Thursday, September 25, 2014

The modern day "Chimney Sweepers"

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ 
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

I was having my lunch at a restaurant that I regularly go. Then, I was approached by a boy, asking for donation for his Tahfiz school. 

Sad, this is a common scene now in Malaysia. Especially at big cities like Kuala Lumpur. They are like the modern day "Chimney-Sweepers" (Referring to William Blake's poem). These kids, as young as 6 years old, and teenagers with their innocent look, asking sympathy and begging for sadaqah or donation in public places, sacrificing their energy, time and even their "face", perceiving that they are doing an honourable action, helping their schools.

I am obviously against this scene, and I know I am not alone. There are too many questions and issues surrounding it. Why are the schools asking the students to seek for donation in public places? If anything happens to these students, such as accidents, injuries, kidnapping (Nauzubillah), who will be responsible? Will the schools be responsible? Do the schools have some kind of insurance for the students? I doubt it. 

And whenever we ask the kids, why are you asking for donation, why don't your teachers do this, they would say, their teachers are also doing this. But I have never been approached by "teachers" from these Tahfiz schools while I'm eating at food stalls or restaurants, claiming they want to seek donation for their schools. And these kids have fixed answers to all the questions that we ask them. Probably they have been well trained by the teachers. 

The boy approaching one stranger to another stranger

Watching these kids going from one table to another, from one shop to another, from one stranger to another, just breaks my heart. While other fortunate kids out there are at their schools, learning something new, spending their time going for tuition classes, or attending music lessons, language or IT courses, but these kids have to approach strangers, repeating the same donation seeking script, and burn their precious youth time. 

And today, from the boy who approached me, I have discovered something else about them that breaks my heart. I asked the boy, how old is he. He said he is 15 years old. In Malaysia, at this age, students are supposed to sit for an important national exam called Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR). And there is another very important national exam that a secondary school student must take in their final year of schooling, in order to further their studies at the tertiary level, which is called Sijil Penilaian Malaysia (SPM)

So I asked him, "So you're sitting for PMR this year, why are you doing this?". He replied "In my school there is no PMR, there is no SPM". I was shocked. I looked at him, and asked again "No PMR? No SPM? Then what do you learn?" With his humble tone and innocent face, "We still learn, Maths, Malay and English languages, and other subjects. We have normal exams. But we don't have PMR and SPM". I was so surprised, and asked him, do his parents know that his school has no PMR and SPM? He said yes. I then took a deep breath. 

I looked straight at his innocent face, and advise him "I am a teacher, and I want you to know that PMR and SPM are important examinations. If you want to go to universities or colleges, you need SPM results. If you do not sit for SPM, it's going to be difficult. Please think about this. And please tell this to your parents. Okay..?" He nodded innocently. Then I took out some money, gave it to him, told him, that the money is for him, to buy food, or books, not for the school. And that is my amanah to him. He took the money, said thank you and went off.

I watched him as he went away. He does not have PMR qualification and if he continues his education at the same school, he will not have SPM qualification either. And he seems to be a nice, obedient, respectful and innocent boy. How can he further his tertiary education? How can he enroll in colleges or universities? What will happen to his future? God, this truly breaks my heart.

I want to do something about this. Let's do something about this. I would like to suggest and call the people who are concern about the future of these kids and teenagers to communicate to them the importance of attending a proper education, with proper examinations such as PMR and SPM. Whenever they approach us to ask for donation, just have a chat with them, and ask them whether they have to sit for PMR and SPM exams. If their answer is "No", then we just tell them a simple sentence "Please tell your parents that PMR and SPM are important for your future. And for a brighter future, better life ahead, you need to sit for these exams. Please remember this advice".

Let it be, every time they approach anyone, everyone will tell them the same advice. Let these words resound in their heads, minds and their subconscious. I am sure one day, this advice will go into their heads, and they will think about it. And who knows, maybe they will also find the way to do something about it. Though I know they are also helpless. Their parents or guardians are those who have the say and the control. But who knows, by God's will, maybe through our small effort of advising them, something will happen to change their fate and save them.

Yes, they are like the modern day "Chimney Sweepers". And sadly, we, the public of modern times, are still helpless in helping and saving them.

Wallahu 'alam.  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

In defense of women: Devotion and Loyalty

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

On the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah, 10 A.H. (623AD) in the Uranah valley of Mount 'Arafat in Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), the best example of man, gave his final sermon (khutbah). It is a sermon that contains so much meaningful jewels and reminders for not only the Muslims of his time, but also for all generations of Muslims and humankind, those in our past, in our present and in the future. One part of the meaningful reminders is:
"O People it is true that you have certain rights with regard to your women but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives only under Allah's trust and with His permission. If they abide by your right then to them belongs the right to be fed and clothed in kindness. Do treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers. And it is your right that they do not make friends with any one of whom you do not approve, as well never to be unchaste." (Source: IIUM Article Collection. Link) 
Significant is women in Islam and in the Prophet's tradition that one part of the sermon touched on women, on reminding that women have rights too, they are Allah's trust upon men, they are to be treated well and with kindness, "for they are your partners and committed helpers". The word "committed" is equivalent to "devoted" and "loyal". This line tells it straight forwardly that women are devoted and loyal.

Women are devoted and loyal creation of Allah swt

MashaAllah, the words of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w), inspired by Allah (s.w.t), are completely true. Women are indeed committed, devoted and loyal creations of Allah. I have experienced it myself and I have witnessed things with my own eyes, that indeed women are beautifully crafted with the essence of devotion and loyalty, especially the devotion and loyalty towards those who are dear as well as beloved to them. They are born with this wonderful essence and it is transcended in their actions and characters.
If a woman is asked to be a homemaker, taking care of everyone she loves in the family and looking after everything at home, she would devotedly and lovingly be one, though she actually has the level of education that would make the world give her more acknowledgment.

If a woman is asked to be her man's assistant, in going through the current financially challenging era, to aid him in terms of financial needs, to go out and work, she would devotedly give her best effort in it, though she has to put aside her inner natural feminine instincts to be attached to her home.
If her man tells her that he would be back from work quite late, she would loyally wait for the husband, devotedly would welcome him with her graceful smile, though inside, she herself feels weary of a long day completing tasks at home, and at her work place.
If her man tells her that he would call her back after he has finished some tasks or work, she would loyally wait for his call, patiently consoling her heart, trying her best to understand his circumstances, though it usually takes hours and more hours, and even days for him to realize that he needs to call her back. And some men, will even forget.
These and there are many more illustrations on how devoted and loyal women can be. They are gifted with the inner strength and ability to do so. And subhanallah, this essence of devotion could further be enhanced and magnified. How is this achieved? It is through words or acts of appreciation from her loved ones, those whom she is loyal and devoted to, especially from her beloved man.  A sincere 'thank you', small gestures of kindness, simple greetings and even just a loving smile and glances. These are the only things that a woman hoped for sometimes, for her to further enhance her essence of devotion and loyalty, especially to her man.

When her devotion is being taken for granted

However, unfortunately, at times, she is denied of these words of appreciation. She keeps being devoted and loyal, but she does not receive any appreciation or even encouragement. Her loved ones, has taken her for granted.
No words of appreciation to her actions in making sure everyone lives comfortably at home, cause to them, that's part of her responsibility and routine. 
No appreciation is expressed to her sacrifices to contribute financial assistance to her man, cause to him, "Well, she voluntarily opted for it. And it is a common scene for women to work these days". 
No expression of 'thank you' or 'I love you more cause you're willing to wait for me' or a sweet gentle kiss on her cheek, when she waited for her man to come back home, because to him, "She has been doing that for years, do I have to say thank you every single time she waits?"
No expression of "I am sorry" or "I'll make it up to you", or acts of holding her hands to seek for her apology, for the many times when she loyally waited and expected for her man to call her back because he did say that he would call back but he forgot to do so, for the many times when she felt a bit down and hurt when she didn't even get his reply, and for the many times when she had to console her own heart. Sadly, all of this is because, according to his inadequate rationale, it's just a small matter, none of them matters to him and they are not important to be entertained. 
Such illustrations and many more denial of appreciation that are happening to a woman are not without effect to her. Gradually, the essence of loyalty and devotion in her would fade and wear away. Just like the outpourings of rain that flow wastefully into the drain, this essence would soon be wasted away. Slowly, this deprivation of appreciation which leads to the absence of devotion would lessen her pure woman entity. Her succumb to such diminution would make her become less emotional. To protect herself, she shield behind the dry, impassive and apathetic spheres of rationality. And if she is being continuously taken for granted, time after time, again and again, she might fall into the extreme and tell herself "That's it. I do not want to care anymore". And this is a totally unpleasant and imbalance scene.

In a nutshell

In essence, I would like to express and state a defence that all a woman needs is just some kind words or acts of appreciation for the devoted and loyal nature that are intrinsically crafted in her by Allah swt. She does not expect for material things like gold or diamonds. (Though subhanallah, if presenting her with such types of gifts are her man's way of showing appreciation to her, and he can afford them, then by all means he may). The most meaningful to her is the kind words and kind gestures of her man, so that she knows her effort and acts of devotion and loyalty are not wasted, so that she could further enhance her devotion, loyalty and commitment to him. And with all this, the love in her heart towards him will become strengthen and she could play her role as a true woman to her fullest capability and potential.

In defense of women.

Dear men,
Love the woman of your life with all your heart and you will be loved unconditionally by her in return. Try to soften your heart and ego for her. She would understand it that at least you are trying. Trust me, it is way more rewarding to treat her with gentleness rather than harshness. The rewards shall also benefit you in the end. Do not neglect her until she falls into the emotionless hole and declares that she does not care anymore. Such reaction would have an ugly impact on you and your shared life with her. Believe me, when a woman affirms it in her heart that she does not want to care anymore, she really means it, she does not and will not ever care about you anymore.

Dear men,
It's not hard to say 'thank you' to your beloved woman. It's not difficult to return her glance and smile. It's not that hard to look at her, hold her hands and say 'I'm sorry, I'll make it up to you'. It does not cost you a lot of energy to return her call or reply her messages. It won't hurt you if you sincerely buy her simple gifts. Fulfill your promises to her for this act would make her be filled with pride and gratefulness for having you as her man. Make her feel that she is valuable to you. And finally, do not ever take her for granted. As long as you love her, show kindness and treat her well, she'll be in her utmost devotion to you. Believe me, for you, men, have no idea of the immense vastness and depth of devotion that a loyal and loving woman dares to undertake for you, the man of her life.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tell them "Allah loves you so much!".

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

"There is contentment in the belief that God and only Him alone knows all of our hardship.." - F.S

Hardship. Difficulties. Trials - No one has ever escaped them. They are part of life. Just like the sky and the soil which exist hand-in-hand in completing the creation of the Earth, life and trial also exist hand-in-hand in completing the creation of this world. This combination is fitrahsunnatullah and natural. In fact, in Islam, hardship, difficulties and trials in life carry meaningful significant. 

Yet, men perspective's towards trials are often, especially at the beginning of its happening, unfavourable, or should I say uninspiring. I would not want to touch upon the ways how a person who is tested with trials usually react. In this writing, I would like to bring our attention to the way a person usually responds to another person who is facing some trials.

Often and many of us, when we hear the news that our friend is experiencing an unfortunate event in his/her life, we would response by expressing "I am so sorry to hear that". I am a Malaysian, and in Malaysia, in Malay, the response would usually sound like this "Kesiannya.... Sabar ya...", which means "I sympathise with you...Be patience...". In our heart, we would feel sympathy. And even deeper in our heart, somehow, we would feel grateful that we are not in that person's situation. 

Actually, there is nothing ultimately wrong with these expressions and reactions. It is indeed normal for us to feel sympathy. To express our sadness as to tell our friend, we feel their grief or burden too. When we realize the trial of our friend is really challenging and difficult, it's also normal to have that feeling of gratefulness deep in our heart, that we are not the one who had to face it. In fact, according to Ustazah Noor Hafizah Musa, a well-known ustazah in Malaysia, it is good for us to make dua, may Allah will not test us with and protect us from such difficult trial, like the one we're witnessing, like the one our friend is facing. 

However, I would like to suggest for us to have a more balanced view and emotional stand in responding towards those who are being afflicted by difficulties. A more soothing, favorable, inspiring and positive response towards our friends who are experiencing trials and tests.

First of all, we have to understand and keep in mind that in Islam, trials that befall men, have great wisdom. The one wisdom that I would like to highlight is trials signify God's love towards His servants. Trials are Allah's way of communicating "I love you and care about you" to His servants.

In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w said:
"Whoever Allah wants good for him, he puts them to test. He puts them through difficulties. Like a diamond or some metal that has to be burnt and then that which is bad from it is removed so that you have that which is the pure diamond or the pure gold or whatever. Put them to tests, trials and difficulties."- (Recorded in Bukhari and Muslim)
In another hadith, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w reminded:
"The greater reward is with the greater trial or the greater the trial or difficulty of test or hardship is then the greater the reward. And when Allah loves a person He will tests them. So he who will be pleased (with the test) and then He will be pleased. He who is displeased (with the test), then He will be displeased" - (Narrated by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majaah)

Allahu akbar. The greater the trials, the greater the rewards from Allah. And when Allah loves a person, He will test him/her.

Personally, the moment I understand this concept, this beautiful wisdom, I came to a different view and emotional stand towards my friends who are being afflicted with trials. I look at them with the feeling, "Subhanallah, Allah loves him/her!". This may sound a bit strange, but at some point, out of sudden, I'd feel envious, that Allah, Rabbul 'Alameen, is communicating to them through the trials that He loves them and He wants good for them.

Hence, once we understand and be reminded of such concept and wisdom, our perception towards those who are tested with hardship would be different, would be more positive. Therefore, we should change our way of responding to them. I would like to suggest, instead of saying apologetic statements and sympathetic expressions, we should tell them "Allah tests those He loves and this test shows how much He loves you, man!" or simply, "Allah loves you, dear... This definitely means that He loves you!".

Other than that, I have also come across some dua that we could recite when we meet our friends who are facing trials. They were put up by Ustaz Syed Kadir Aljoofre, from Malaysia, in his Facebook status.

These supplications or expressions are to be said when we want to express condolence to someone who is facing lost or death of family members:
أَعْظَمَ الله أَجْرَكَ وَأَحْسَنَ عَزَاءَكَ وَغَفَرَ لِمَيِّتِكَ

(In Malay: Moga Allah besarkan pahalamu, membaiki takziahmu, dan mengampunkan mayat keluargamu itu.In English: May Allah magnify your reward, make better your solace and forgive your deceased [family member])* This is not a hadith, it's a saying by some scholars - Source: Link*
إن لله ما أخذ، وله ما أعطى، وكل شئ عنده بأجل مسمى، فلتصبر، ولتحتسب 
(In Malay: Sesungguhnya bagi Allah apa yang Dia ambil dan bagi-Nyalah apa yang Dia beri, dan setiap sesuatu di sisi-Nya dengan tempoh yang tertentu, maka bersabar dan berihtisab [menghitung diri, muhasabah dan tidak melampau]. 
In English: Whatever Allah takes is for Him and whatever He gives, is for Him, and everything with Him has a limited fixed term (in this world) and so be patient and hope for Allaah’s reward) 
*This is based on a hadith. Source: Link 1 & Link 2*

In his Facebook status, Ustaz Syed Kadir also expressed his concern on the negative expressions that we usually express to those of our family or friends who are facing difficulties and lost. He said, Islam is a beautiful religion that we are taught to look at trials from a more positive light. We should look at trials as way for us to strengthen our aqidah, belief and trust in Allah s.w.t.

So from today onwards, let's respond towards those who are facing life trials in a more favourable way. Let's be the medium to remind them that Allah, who is Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem loves them so much. May we be the medium to help others to remember the greatness of Allah. Hopefully, insyaAllah one day, when we are facing trials, in the midst of our sadness and confusion, our friends would help to remind us too, that Allah loves us so much. May His love for us will be never-ending. Ameen.


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