Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Travels of Ibn Battutah

I recently read a book on the travels of Ibn Batutah (http://www.amazon.com/The-Travels-Ibn-Battutah/dp/0330418793/ref=pd_sim_b_1). It is an English translation of the orignial Arabic work -- Al Rihla. What people don't know about Ibn Battutah is that he was no ordinary traveler -- he was a scholar of Islam and his first trip was for Hajj. He worked 6 years as a qadi (judge) in Delhi for the Sultan. The book has a lot of information about cultural practises in the mid 1300s.

It is refreshing to look at the world that is intact from the materialism so pervasive these days. Nevertheless, even then there were a lot of non-Islamic traditional practises in Muslim lands. Some of those practises are still prevalent.

Practices that were interesting from that era include:

1. eating "paan" (betel leaf)

2. charphoi (indian bed)

3. ways of eating mangoes

4. preserving and eating pickles

5. the word "Maulana" being used for a religious scholar in India back then

6. the amount of real wealth and its easy distribution. e.g. the ruler of Delhi used to shower the road with catapults of gold & silver coins when he entered the city.

7. using Jinns for supernatural acts - e.g. levitation, etc.

8. use of "cowries" (a type of seashell) as currency (as in "phooTi cowRi")

9. penetration of Muslim in non-Muslim lands (India, China, SE Asia, Aftrica) achieved back then. Has not changed much till today.

10. the use of "funduqs" (hotels) by travelers in China.


You can learn much about the man and his trips (with maps) here:

Home Schooling: Nurturing the Fitrah

"Every child is born on Fitrah (natural disposition; or true faith of Islam to worship none but Allah) till his tongue expresses him (i.e. express his creed), thus his parents make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian." [related by Al-Bayhaqy and Al-Tabarany in Al-Mu`jam Al-Kabir].

Unlike the classical Christian doctrine that every child born in this world is tainted with the Original Sin of Adam (AS), Muslims believe that children are born pure and sin-less. Inherently the seeds of gnosis of their Lord have already been sown in their souls.

{ And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed and made them testify as to themselves (saying): "Am I not your Lord?" They said: "Yes! We testify," lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: "Verily, we have been unaware of this."} (Al-A`raf 7:172)

It is the duty of the parents to nourish and mould natural abilities and interests their child is gifted with to help fully realize the purpose of human existence – to “know” his Lord.

Knowledge has two sources: this world and that world. That from the former is to be examined through creative intellect and natural/scientific inquiry; the latter through divine revelations. It is important that the pursuit of the former type of knowledge does not marginalize the latter. The end product of a balanced complementing acquisition of the two types of knowledge is a human being who is ready to realize his true destiny i.e. to become al insaan al kamil – a complete (exemplary) human being.

Mainstream school education has different objectives for your child -- one being to earn a “good” livelihood. This objective supersedes other factors and creates an imbalanced individual too narrowly focused on his own economic well being. The knowledge of “that world” if at all offered is often at a lower priority and not integrated with the rest of the curriculum – often grafted poorly as an after thought.

Another covert goal of systemized education is for the individual to conform to the objectives of the one world consumer culture that is deliberately being spread globally. Once the individual goes through this system of education his fitrah will be manipulated to accept homosexuality, marriage-free partnerships, the supremacy of instant individual gratification as a lifestyle, secular thought, evolution as a doctrine, exploitation-based economy, etc. Mass education generally produces mediocre individuals good enough to work in their little niches in the machinery of global exploitation. They are usually so busy pursuing their individual little wants that they become incapable or unwilling to question the global order in which they fit-in so nicely.

Among other things, home schooling is a step in liberating your child from the global god-less world culture through nurturing what they have been bestowed with. By remembering where they came from, their purpose in life and their ultimate destiny, your child will have the ability to solve real problems by thinking holistically, free from the then prevalent models of deception.

Faith & Reason

Latest scientific research done in the West indicates that analytical thinking extinguishes faith. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=losing-your-religion-analytic-thinking-can-undermine-belief). At first, someone who reads such results might think that there is no place of reason in faith. So it is important to investigate the real role of reason in faith in Islamic epistemology (theory of knowledge).

First, it is important to realize that the origin of knowledge is Allah (SWT) Himself - Al Aleem.

"Behold, your Lord said to the angels: I will create a viceregent on earth. They said: Will you place therein one who will make mischief and shed blood? While we do celebrate your praise and glorify your holy name. He said: I know what you know not" (Surah Baqarah V. 30).

"And He taught Adam the nature of all things, then placed them before the angels and said: Tell me the nature of these if you are right" (Surah Baqarah V. 31)

"They said: Glory to You of knowledge we have none, save what You have taught us. In truth it is You who are perfect in knowledge and wisdom" (Surah Baqarah V. 32)

Allah (SWT) gave humans the capacity to pursue knowledge by themselves. He (SWT) taught Adam the "names" of things, implying he gave him reason to pursue independent knowledge. While other religions might be anti-reason, Islam is pro-reason. The Quran mentions those who use their reason and those that do not and compares them to the living and the dead or the seeing and the blind.

"Is then who does know that which has been revealed onto you from your Lord is the Truth like one who is blind? Is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition" (Surah Raad V. 19)

In fact, reason is so important that the Prophet (SWAS) made the pursuance of knowledge obligatory on all Muslims -- male and female. The purpose of knowledge is to know Allah (SWT), while that of reason is to help one to come to the Truth. It is important to know the limitations of reason. Reason is not infallible, thus when a someone realizes that Islam is the Truth, he must submit to all of it, whether he completely understands it or not. In Western secular thought reason sits in judgement over the Truth, while in Islam reason is supposed to take you to the Truth and increase you in faith.

"Behold! Abraham said: My Lord! Show me how you give life to the dead. He said: Do you not then believe? He said: Yes! But to satisfy my understanding. He said: Take four birds, tame them to turn to you . Put a "portion" of them in every hill and call to them. They will come to you with speed. Then know that Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise" (Surah Baqarah V. 260)

Thus Islam is not a religion of blind faith. Having submitted to the Truth, one has the right to use reason in the path to understand things. A Muslim will develop an insight in to the Truth. His farasa (Islamic intuition) will make him penetrate the mysteries of this life.

We must realize that the research cited in the beginning of this article was done in the Western world with mostly Christian subjects. There are many illogical concepts in Christianity like the Trinity and Original Sin. Thus if someone uses his reason he will realize the contractions of the Church doctrine and lose his faith. The very opposite is true in Islamic epistemology.

Values at the Workplace

A lot of us spend a large fraction of our most productive waking hours at work. For many, work influences their whole personality. One cannot implement a personal agenda to improve oneself without taking the time to think about the values one brings to one's workplace.

Perhaps the primary factors for consideration should be the choice of work and the choice of the organization where one will do the work. Work should not be one that is against the principles of Islam, nor should it be harming Muslims. The company's mission and vision statements should be aligned with yours. One should be careful in this regards because the covert mission of most businesses is just to make profits, despite the consequences. No matter how lucrative or high the position, if it does help you fulfill your destiny to be the complete human being you were intended to become, it does not deserve your consideration. Ideally the position should require you to develop in areas of your interest and background, using skills that you know are your strengths. Most importantly, your job should fit well in the larger canvas of your being and should not be a source of discontinuity to your personality, i.e. you should be the same person at work as you are at home.

Some Muslims emphasize only the importance of rituals. According to them to be a good Muslim one should never miss their salaat, yet they do not realize that work can also be a form of worshiping their Lord. A Muslim must be good at what he does. He should strive for perfection - not because he will get a good performance rating at the end of the year, nor because of that performance related bonus, nor for the salary increment, nor for the eligibility of a promotion, nor to be called a "genius" in front of managers and colleagues, but because he is worshiping his Lord. Worship requires striving for purity of intention and perfection of action. It is from this motivation, that a Muslim keeps learning new things at work, brings innovation at his job, reads extensively about his industry and relates it to his work. He strives to become a true professional in his field.

Another aspect of work is the interpersonal relations one develops with colleagues. Some people play games and tricks to get ahead. To them personal advancement justifies almost everything as long as it is in accordance with company policy. To a Muslim, hurting others and not fulfilling their rights properly is a shortcoming. He knows that the heaviest thing on his scales on Judgement Day will be the good manners he cultivated with in dealing fairly with others. One should take advantage of the diversity at the workplace to learn about different cultures and befriend them and not develop a communal mentality and deal only with one's countrymen. When someone deals well with everyone as a basis of such personal values, he will see blessings in his actions as his colleagues will become inclined to him and he will discover new opportunities through them -- and we don't know which relationship will reap maximum benefits.

If you follow the proper ethics at work, you will not have to chase after new opportunities, but the opportunities will always chase you.

The Extended Family

There is a Nigerian proverb that says "it takes a whole village to raise a child". Clearly pre-globalized traditional societies emphasized the role of the extended family in society. Unfortunately this role has diminished greatly, so much so that today the extended family members are strangers. Your child may not even ever meet your first cousins and their families in their whole lives -- something that was unthinkable not too long ago.

Even in the West, the extended family had a large role to play as evidenced by historical evidence. Just look at the way of life depicted in "The Waltons" or "The Little House on the Prairie". After the Second World War, focus shifted from the extended family to the nuclear family and after the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, it shifted from nuclear family to single mother households. In the 80s, the concept of the family started to changed to accept homosexual couples. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, since the 90s, there is a deliberate effort to export these values to the whole world in George Bush Senior's "New World Order". This is the culmination of ideal family structure that the West is offering the world.

I was walking with a local Pashtun guide by the dirt road after visiting the Buddhist ruins of Takht Bahi near Mardan, when from other side of the road we saw an old man approach us in rags. I asked the guide about such people in Pashtun villages and he told me that these are the people who do not have relatives. Indeed the Prophet of Allah (SWAS) has advised us to upkeep our ties of kinship to increase blessings in our provision. That day I saw this wisdom in action first hand.

There is tremendous blessings in the extended family system. You get to interact with those who have similar (yet different) background to yours and see them develop throughout their lives, in different situation and circumstances. This makes you think and understand your society better and increases you in emaan as you see the principles of life act on subjects who you understand well. It gives you a better insight where your came from and who you are. It is said that one who does not understand himself, can not truly understand the world. Thus upholding ties of kinship provides you further opportunities to contextualize your existence. The best thing is that all this happens without much effort as our hearts are naturally inclined to associate with our extended family members.

In the past important decisions always were taken after consultation with the extended family, whether it was a marriage proposal, a job offer, a career choice or a choice of name for a newborn. It was important to seek every one's opinion and consider it seriously. People used to have more tolerance and acceptance of each other, even when they had to sometimes tolerate bad behavior from each others.

Nature is made up of graduated spheres of privacy, so much so that the object-oriented computer programming paradigm that is used to model it has different scopes for different objects depending on their privacy settings. Some object classes are strictly "private". No other class can access their members. This is like the privacy one has with one's nuclear family. Some objects classes are "protected". Certain other classes (those inherited from it) can have access to its members. This is like the privacy one has with one's extended family. While some are "public" and allow full access to everyone, i.e. all of society. In reality for a Muslim, there are so many more levels -- that with one's Lord, one's spouse, one's nuclear family, one's milk siblings, one's extended family, one's tribe, one's community, one's neighborhood, one's colleagues, one's city, one's province, one's nation, other Muslims and the whole of humanity. There is an important role in every social sphere and one should not neglect any. Thus we are bound to fulfill the rights of our extended family members. Not doing so creates a unbridgeable void in one's life and personality.

Do not cut off relations with your extended family if you wish to live a balanced and wholesome life.

Fi Kulli Haraka Baraka

There is an Arabic saying "fi kulli haraka baraka" which means there is blessing in action (travel). The Quran urges the listener to travel in the earth. It states that those that leave their homes are better than the sedentary. The Sahaba (RA) travelled widely so much so that today their graves are found thousands of kilometers from their places of birth - sometimes in different continents! This was in a time when modes of travel were not very advanced nor routes were safe. Hajj and jihad both involves travel. In Islamic tradition, we know that the supplication of travellers are more likely to be accepted. So what is this mysterious blessing in travel?

When one leaves ones home, one is practising tawakul (dependence) on Allah (SWT). One is exposing oneself to the unknown, to discomfort; disrupting one's normal routine one is so used to; perhaps suspending one's regular income; perhaps leaving one's family and friends to accept the company of strangers. In such a situation, the traveler has no recourse but to rely solely on Allah (SWT) and hence becomes closer to Him.

A traveler is constantly learning. He is in a different land and a different culture. He hears a different language and experiences different customs. His mind is constantly at work, trying to better understand the social mores, the different nuances in language, the new way of life and setting of his host country. He is practically learning sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, etc when he interacts with his hosts. This learning - according to the Quran - is the reason for the creation of different tribes and nations among mankind. When he visits different historic places and listens to the folk tales of the new country, he is learning. He is learning how the course of history has formed the unique national psyche and seeking out what special lessons he can learn from them to incorporate in this own personality. Thus he learns the proper way to recite the Quran from Egyptian quraa', business acumen from the Lebanese, how to always smile from the Philipinos, brotherhood from the Sudanese, hospitality from the Emiratis, love of native language from Bangladeshis, love from the homeland from Palestinians, resourcefulness from Pakistanis, humbleness from Malays, work ethic from Chinese, research from Jewish professors, active lifestyle from Australians, being on time from Finns, acceptance from Canadians, frankness from Americans, etc.

The best way to experience native cultures is to live among them. Avoid staying in five star hotels and shopping in malls which are almost the same throughout the world. Rather head for the villages, camp in the countryside, travel in railways and public buses and interact with the locals. Real learning takes time and ideally can be achieved in 4-5 years stints in different places. Try to regularly pray in the masajid of your host country to study the social strata of the Muslim society there. Learn from the local scholars. I believe one should try and join the Jamaatul Tabligh wa Dawa at least one in a lifetime for just the experience it provides. Countries with large multicultural populations like the Arabian Gulf States, Singapore and Canadian cities provide an opportunity to learn from a large diversity of nationalities.

The best travel is to the House of Allah (SWT) as you are constantly in the act of worshipping Him. In your midst are millions others from the whole world who are doing the same.

Scientific research now proves that those that have learnt more than one language can avoid mental diseases like Alzheimer's as language is the basis of the thought process. Every language provides a unique perspective of the reality of this world, so the more languages you pick up in your travels, the closer in context to the Ultimate Reality of Life you actually become. The best language for a Muslim to learn is that of the Quran and Sunnah. By learning it you can start to share the perspective of life the Prophet (SWAS) and the Sahaba (RA) had. No translation can ever provide you with that kind of context. Some scholars say that the language of Jannah will be Arabic. Allah (SWT) know best.

A sedentary lifestyle retards thought and can extinguish emaan if we are not careful. Indeed there is blessing in traveling. Fi kulli haraka baraka!

Factors in Marriage

There is a famous hadith in which the Prophet (SWAS) listed the factors people consider while choosing a mate and which among them is the best. Obviously it is the golden rule in this matter, applicable for all times and in all cultures.

If we try to analyze today's societies one way that we may try to classify families is based on their secular and religious education. There are families who have achieved a high level in both secular as well as religious education -- such families are less common these days, but they should be among the top consideration with respect to marriage. Not only do such people have a good understanding of the modern world, they also have the spiritual insights regarding the purpose of their existence. They make use of their secular education to fulfill that mission for which they are created. Life means more to them than just economic survival, eating, drinking, reproducing, etc. It is an honor for someone to marry in such a family.

Since perfection is not possible in this world, if one is not able to find such people, one should seek those who have high religious education, even though they might be lacking somewhat in their secular education. Such people may not fully understand the modern world or relate the role of their lives on affecting global society, but they are firmly at grips with their Islamic worldview and positively influence life at a local level. It is important to differentiate people who follow decadent traditions (many of them unislamic) and those that follow genuine authentic religion. If you have a high level of secular education, marrying among such people might create a good balance in the overall family unit.

A third group for consideration might be those with high secular education but deficient religious education. In such a decision, care must be taken to see if the nature of the secular education the family has is not against the Islamic worldview. It is hoped by marrying in such a family, that they may use their resources and free time to acquire quality religious education at a later stage in life. One can see a social phenomenon these days that more and more such families are implementing the deen in their lives.

The last group that marriage might be possible in are those families who do not value secular nor religious education. Unfortunately these days such people are in the majority. The mindset of these people are made by popular culture and mass media. They are incapable of deep independent thought. Their concern in life is only to have a good time. Marrying in such people is prone to problems, as it is very easy to aggravate relations with such a family. When they face disagreements such people exceed the bounds of decency and re-establishing proper relations with them becomes a nightmare. These people do not respect any higher principle in any argument as their emotions and personal concerns get the better of them. Often you will find such people with communal mindset, ready to identify with only people from their own family background. Hence marriage to this category should be avoided, if possible.

Marriage is an important decision and a wrong choice may cause you a lifetime of anguish, so choose wisely and be content.

A Society of Sects

Many well intentioned Muslims are put off from practising their deen, after observing the mentality and condition of practising Muslims around them.

Today, those people with true knowledge are very few and they are leaving us very fast. It is only natural that such people preach with a certain specific style, emphasizing aspects of their specialization. Their teachings are a product of their cumulative educational and practical experiences that they have acquired throughout their lifetimes. It is important to realize that their teachings represent only an aspect of the infinite Truth. They should not be taken as a touchstone of ultimate Truth -- a mistake often committed by their overzealous followers.

Just as going through a secular education system involves studying a diversity of subjects through different professors specialized in their specific sub-fields of knowledge, people should realize that seeking Islamic knowledge is a lifetime endeavor in which one learns different aspects of the religion from its specialists. One scholar might be among the best in one or two of a spectrum of Islamic subjects like Aquida, Arabic, Uloom ul Quran,Tafsir, Uloom ul Hadith, Fiqh, Usul ul Fiqh, Seerah, Tasawwuf, Comparative Religion, Escatology, etc. It is important for a true seeker to keep learning from different specialists and not to stop at one teacher.

Today this love of learning has been taken away from most of the Ummah and we are left with ignorant Muslim masses, who are incapable of or disinterested in continually improving their condition. Hence they resort to blindly following a particular preacher. They dress and behave exactly like their teacher, e.g.the followers of Zakir Naik wear a suit, tie and a white skull cap. They tend to listen to only his lectures and are willing to fight others who may not agree with their teacher's opinion on a subject which the ulema have agreed to have a difference of opinion. When you sit with them, there is tremendous pressure from them to conform. To many of them it does not matter if you are continuously learning. As long as you are conforming to external appearances it is good enough.

For many followers, learning comes to a screeching halt when their teacher passes away, as was the case recently with Dr Israr Ahmed or Maulana Abu Ala Maududi in 1979. Their books, speeches and ideas remain the only static sources of education for their followers. Others from their jamaat just keep adding explanations to the original ideas these thinkers presented in the past.

In most cases, the members of a particular jamaat join primarily to fulfill their individual social needs. Some do it to get access to people of influence for personal favors like social protection, social advancement, getting a wasta for good job, business contracts, admission to institutions like schools, universities, clubs, etc. Others who do not have such needs do it to practise their leadership and management skills. To both these people, learning is a chore. It is something which they need to provide lip service to and role play just to keep their membership. A jamaat with most of it membership consisting of individuals with such hypocritical attitudes is really doing a disservice to the Islamic cause and actually puting off sincere seekers of Truth who may come their way.

Those considering practising their religion should try not to be put off by the pressure to join one group or the other, but rather learn from each that aspect of the religion which they have specialized in. It is important to keep learning and keep moving, otherwise we may end up becoming just poor copies of the teacher who we take as our ultimate living ideal in life.

A Culture of Ostentation

The Prophet (SWAS) was meticulous about his grooming. He (SWAS) used to dress according to the occasion and with respect to the status of his guests. He criticized unkempt appearances and taught us that Allah (SWT) is beautiful and He (SWT) loves beauty, encouraging the Muslims to adorn themselves. Despite all this, the early Muslim lives was characterized by stark simplicity by today's standards.

When a society has real meaning and purpose in life, the individuals become more concerned in fulfilling that purpose. To them it does not matter too much where they live, what they ride, what they wear, where they shop, who they meet, where they go on vacation, etc. As long as they are meeting life's basic requirements in an appropriate manner, their focus is rather on the meaningful purpose of their lives. I remember a colleague in Bell Labs who liked to ride a bike to work. On busy days he used to bring his rucksack with him and used to sleep on his office floor when project deadlines approached. He loved his work, was friendly and cooperative with others, was humble in speech and often was dressed simply in T shirt and jeans. He won many awards of appreciation for his contributions at work, yet he remained essentially the same. In the West, I found many such people -- university professors, graduate students, researchers, etc. They had some internal purpose to their lives and they were engrossed in realizing that. There are people out there who live to study how stars are born and die using radio telescopes all there lives. Others travel to the Amazon, live in difficult conditions for years to document the life cycle of a new species of insect or travel deep down the Mariana Trench to study the bottom of the unexplored ocean. These activities, in themselves, are very fascinating and fulfilling to such individuals. That is their focus. The other things are periphery.

A society that lacks any substantial ideological perspective on the meaning and purpose of life, drifts into a meaningless existence. The focus shifts from the internal to the external. Materialistic competition to show off becomes their philosophy in life. Artificial benchmarks of happiness and the lifestyles are created by the social engineers that control our world through global media, formal education, lobbies, NGOs, etc, turning these masses into blind consumers of products and entertainment. If you talk to such people, there is no original insight in their thought. Their stand on an issue is derived from what they watched on the talk show last night. People are leaving reading and those that still do, do it only for entertainment or to make money. They fail to develop those qualities within them that make them essentially human - intellect and spirituality. In 1989, when I first visited USA, I was shocked at the generally low intellectual quality of the students and the public. I soon realized some of the reasons when I observed how American TV was systematically dumbing down the masses. We did not have it then, but today we have all the equivalent garbage shows that are aired there in our native languages -- and that makes them ours. What we do not have are the educational programs like our own documentaries, etc.

Let us re-discover our own way of life, its philosophy, its perspective and its lifestyle. Develop your mind, grow your soul. It will not only help you live a life in this world full of contentment, but will, God willing, be the key to everlasting bliss in the next.

The Essence of Education

I am told that my maternal grandmother was a princess of one of the royal states in the United Provinces (UP) of Northern India. She never had any formal education in the modern sense, yet she was the most wise, honorable and principled women that I can remember from my childhood and my association with her has left me richer with some valuable traits of inherited character. Since then, I have met many people with higher degrees from the best universities in the world that lack basic common sense, social manners and just plain human decency.

If you ask me what has always been the true purpose of education, I would summarize this secret in two words: "contextual living"

An educated person always tries to be fully aware with respect to the context of his existence. He knows the purpose of why he is in this world, what things are of value to him so much so that he can succinctly put all this in a few key ideas or symbols. There is no confusion in his mind and whatever new information that he receives he can with some effort place it in the appropriate position in this framework of knowledge. The basis of this framework must be initiated in childhood by imparting on the child the Islamic philosophy through full immersion into all its elements. The study of the Quran which starts at this stage should not end at the "khatam" ceremony but should continue through all stages of the life making the inspiration from it the greatest source of providing "context" to life. Software engineers continually document best practices in reusable design patterns to write software. Their goal is to capture meta-level knowledge independent of programming language, operating system, etc. for programmers to use in various situations in their projects. One of the aspects of the miraculous Quran is such a repository of design patterns for principles (parables) for different situations of life, independent of place, time, culture, etc. Not only that, it provides a continuous source of inspiration for new principles as new situations take place in personal and human experience. A person who has preserved these patterns in his heart will find it easier to be inspired to the Truth in terms of guidance, throughout his life. To use this guidance, a Muslim must learn to understand a minimum amount of Quranic Arabic as well as its sciences. The study of the Sunnah provides insights into how to properly implement these principles, thus allowing a person to further contextualize his existence. The rituals of Islam, be they salaat, zakaat, sawm & Hajj, if performed with proper spirit and conviction, helps a Muslim to stay focused on this mission in life and that of his community. Time and effort must be spent in establishing this foundation.

All of knowledge is related and should not be compartmentalized as it is the trend (religious Vs secular, arts Vs science, theory Vs practice, social Vs technical, etc). It should be pursued at different phases throughout life. Just one part of this vast knowledge is the knowledge which one pursues to earn a livelihood. The intention in its pursuance should never be for selfish materialistic goals but rather to provide a service, to fulfill a mission or leave a legacy for the whole of humanity. To some this knowledge stops at graduation or once they get their first "good" job, but for a practicing Muslim it is the beginning as he enters the real world and puts into action what he learnt about in the university. In the long run, perhaps the most important skills that today's university education can provide is not the knowledge itself which will grow stale with time, but "learning the process of learning" -- how to read meaningfully, how to present your perspective, how to research a topic, how to write convincingly, how to work with others, how to manage time and priorities, how to discuss issues in a civilized manner, etc. These are lifelong skills and should be used to explore new areas of knowledge as they crop up at work, in the community or in the family. By living a life of learning, a Muslim is always living in context of his existence, ready to make use of the opportunities that come his way.

An educated person does not react emotionally to situations, but has the ability to contemplate on the principles that are at play in various life situations. In his interpersonal relationships he knows what obligations he owns to those around him and his rights, all in context of the situation. He is not swayed by feelings in dealing with others but has the sense to perceive things at a meta level, aiming to solve problems for the common good (pleasure of Allah). He knows how to properly interact with the unlettered and the scholar, kids and elderly, rich and poor, countrymen and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims, etc.

An educated person is not one who jumps on the bandwagon and does what the whole world is doing if he knows it is not right for him. Rather, he is not afraid to set out in an untrodden path if he knows it is the right one.

An educated person should be a blessing for the world. His existence should be a source of good as it should be patterned on that of the Prophet (SWAS) and His Companions (RA) -- people for whom the whole journey of life was blessed with perfect context.

People who know this secret do not need a degree to be educated, but those who do not can not convince me that they are despite the number of degrees they happen to have framed on their walls...

The Mysteries of Provision (Rizq)

A medical doctor from Pakistan in search for a dream job in USA may end up driving a cab in NYC. An illiterate Bangladeshi selling tea outside the Haram during the Haj (pilgrimage) season, may make up a small fortune -- enough to allow him to worship and do tawaaf (circumambulation) around the Kabaa everday for the rest of the year -- until the next year. An Engineering post doc researcher may be overqualified and out of work in times of recession, whereas a highschool drop out might be the richest man in the world. A used book seller in Pakistan might be living out his dreams engrossed in voraciously reading the books he gets hold of, while the amassed wealth of a "sucessful" bussinessman may be a curse as his relatives fight over the inheritance and become enemies for life.

Strange are the ways He distributes His rizq. If one strarts to contemplate on His ways, there are so many factors in its distribution, that the human mind can not encompass it all. The simple fact is that He gives whom He pleases and witholds it from whom He pleases. If this is so, what is this material race for? The driver who does not know his destination might mistakenly believe that filling up the petrol is the aim. In his obsession he may fill up a tanker not knowing that he can enjoy his journey better in a full tank of a sedan car as it will be enough to get him to destination. Our destination is the grave and we should only be concerned in earning enough to sucessfully fulfill our responsibilites until we reach it.

He has promised that if you are thankful He will give you more. So what does it mean to be thankful? It means that we should use all the blessings he has bestowed on us in the best possible way. We should live the life He has given us according to His guidance. We should give up what He has prohibited us. We should be the best son, husband, father, brother, citizen, human, neighbor, colleague, manager, client, customer, etc. We should use our education to provide a service, to leave a legacy, improve the world, etc.. We should try and uphold all ties of kinship in a honorable manner. If we commit to do what is in our capacity to improve ourselves in these respect, Allah has promised to bless us in our rizq in whichever part of the world we happen to be, in whatever family we are born in, whatever degrees we have or don't have, whatever passport we poccess. In doing so, we will truly find genuine pleasure in our lives -- the type of pleasure which chasing after no material goal will ever give us.

Let us try and change what we have the capacity to and leave the mystries of the rizq (provision) to Al Razzaq (The Provider -- Allah).

Real Belonging

I am a man with a Western mind but an Eastern heart. My mind thrives on affinity with the West. My heart finds harmony with the East.

Wherever I end up I may always be a restless soul. Until I meet my Maker and ask Him where He intended me to really belong...

The Imran Khan Phenomenon

The history of Pakistan has shown that desperate, hopeless masses will support even a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Once again people are ready to sacrifice everything for the next emerging leadership in Pakistan. At best, if Imran sticks to his words he will be assassinated like so many honest men before him.

One chronic problem Pakistan faces is lack of independent thought process (leadership) among its masses. The masses have been oppressed for centuries, The best that the can do is mark the ballot paper. In order for people to learn how to think the must be educated at the grassroots level with the best quality Islamic doctrine derived from the Quran & Sunnah. Without living the scriptures people can not differentiate truth from falsehood. They will waver and fluctuate when offered the next popular viewpoint. Hollow traditions should be cast aside with liberating Islamic ideology.

Leadership, no matter how good or honest, can easily be eliminated by a bullet or bomb, but highly educated and conscientous masses can not be held down. Imran Khan needs to perpetually nurture thousands of like minded individuals that if he falls any one of them can take over. Unless that happens I think it is premature to be optimistic for Pakistan.

The Prophet (SWAS) was the best leader and he produced the best leadership in the Sahaba (RA), saying that the were like stars -- whichsoever you follow you will be led aright. And they changed the course of history forever...like never before... or since...

The Color (Sibghah) of Allah (SWT)

"Our Sibghah is the Sibghah of Allah and which Sibghah can be better than Allah's? And we are His worshippers" (Surah Baqarah v. 138)

Have you seen shopkeepers in Pakistan dieing ladies scarves in various colors? The scarf containing original colors comes out with the color of the die. So what is the sibghah (color) of Allah? It is tawheed (Islamic monotheism)! The similitude of a non-Muslim entering Islam is like dieing his multicolored mind and heart with principles of tawheed.

Islamic theology is an integrated whole in which different parts interact with each other. One principle reinforces the other to give an holistic perspective of life. This reinforced version of Islamic philosophy provides a Mumin with the wisdom to understand different things from one perspective (Reality). When someone submits to Allah, one is bound to enter the deen completely. All fabric of his thought must be dyed with the Sibghah of Allah. No thread can be left untouched. He is not supposed to keep a multi-patched outlook to life. Islam should penetrate all aspects of his life; be it personal, family, community, national, international, economic, educational, etc. Influences from other philosophies which contradict reality has no place in his perspective.

For many of us, our commitment to Islam is motivated by social conformity, rather than conformity to its principles. A lot of us have spent a lifetime in studying some branch of knowledge for our professional development. How much time have we invested in studying & implementing the Sibghah of Allah in our lives? Is it not then surprising to find individuals who emphasize one aspect of the religion while ignoring other aspects?

Unfortunately, these days the principles of materialism affect most of us. We compete with each other in wealth & status and use religion as a tool in this race. Let us change our situation and re-enter the die of Allah (SWT) by being His true worshipers in all aspects of His religion.

The Pearl of Life

In high school I read a novel called "The Pearl" by the famous American novelist -- John Steinbeck. In it, a poor South American fisherman found a pearl. It was the largest, most beautiful pearl in the world. Once in his possession, he faced a series of difficulties due to envy, jealously, malice, etc of the society around him. Nothing in his life was normal after that time. All blessings in his life disappeared. His problems got so bad that in the end he went out to sea and threw the pearl back in it.

From 10 years of experience in US, I have found Western countries to be like this pearl for a Muslim migrant. It is attractive, enticing, promising a better material future, etc. But once you reach out to it and hold it in your palm, a whole series of problems and difficulties start. Some are short-term, some are long-term. The end result is that you lose the meaning of life and those irreplaceable things in life that one cherishes most - e.g. faith, peace of mind, self-identity, community identity, deep bonds with immediate and extended family, certainty in thought, order in life, free time, spiritual pursuits, spousal fidelity, positive influences on your children, caring for and helping the less fortunate. In return, you get a nice car and house which really does not belong to you and join a continuous lonesome routine for self perpetuation.

Social theories in the West are based on Darwinian concepts of animal survival, social struggle theories of Weber, Marx and sexual motivation theories like that of Freud. These are the tenets of belief of the secular religion of the West. Once a Muslim becomes part of that society, he is reduced from the divinely ordained position of Khalifatullah Fil Ardh and the Insaan Al Kamil - exemplified by the Prophet (SWAS) to little more than an animal with animal desires and animal wants. At work, he is a human "resource" to be used and discarded like toilet paper.

I am not against going to the West. What I am not advocating is to live there without specific goals and a well thought out exit strategy. Wisdom is the lost article of the Muslim to be picked where ever he finds it. Time spent in the West should be used productively to take the good things offered by that experience. Concentrate on intangible things that will never leave you - good education, good work experience, Islamic education opportunities in English, getting to know Muslims from others parts of the Ummah, how to give Dawah to non-Muslims in English, understanding the present world and the times in which we live, replacing the nationalistic jingoistic concepts that you were brought up with with the universal message of Islam, cultivating good manners and habits like keeping promises and speaking the truth, becoming physically fit, learning time management, multi-tasking and organization skills, etc.

Many Muslims migrate to the West in mature years when they have become stable and grown spiritually and professionally. They deride such warnings. It is foolhardy to assume that they will be fine. Being immersed in that environment will affect them if not in the short term, then in the long term. If not them, It will surely affect their kids.

The greatest mistake people make is not to have an exit plan. Having one becomes difficult if the person did not develop himself to survive anywhere and has become addicted to the life there. Having loans and mortgages also means that you deny yourself the financial liberty to return. Also, waiting till your children have grown up means that when you do decide to return, your children will refuse as they are used to the life there.

Go to the West and take advantages of the opportunities that it offers, but when you sense that your goals have been achieved and you do not have any significant self-development goals left to achieve, by all means leave.

I moved to the US when I was 18. I did my BS and MS in Engineering from good universities. I learnt a plethora of things there that I can't even begin to count. I got the opportunity to work in a good position in the most respected company in my field. I got the chance to learn from Islamic scholars and make sense of the world. But when I realized that there would not be many more milestones that offered personal growth, I had the courage to throw back the pearl back in the deep ocean. I was 28 then, at the ripe age when I was supposed to start reaping the benefits of my hard work. I have never regretted my decision.

Insha Allah, when you return to your Muslim country of choice, you will have learnt all about the difficulties you experienced in the belly of the Western beast. So when the same social phenomena eventually creeps into your new country of residence through Globalization, you will know how to take care of yourself and your family. You will not fall for the its false charms. You will become a discerning, thinking individual able to do the right thing even when it means opposing the majority trends in your country.

At a macro level, what can be said about the life in the West applies to the life in this World. As Muslims we must take advantages of the opportunities it offers us by cultivating what will eventually benefit us later -- i.e. in the Hereafter; never being afraid to throw back the pearl of this life back into the ocean of the spiritual realm where it really belongs. Only then can we enjoy everlasting pleasures...