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When stuck between bankers, lawyers and debt…

I had planned to not blog at all until next Ramadan. So I could pick up from where I left off in “The Waning Dusk Series”. But an incident tonight compelled me to login to my old WordPress again. I simply had to share this:

I am a freebie junkie. Whoever offers services of interest online, especially if they give a free trial, I always sign up and check them out. Even if I can do without them. I collect free templates from here and there, free sound effects, free software, countless trial versions, free stock images, free vector art, free fonts… you get my drift.

It so happened that I wanted legal consult and documentation for a website I am currently working on. Of course I googled. And of course there was a particular site that was offering legal services on a 1-week free trial. By default, I ventured there. I created my documents but to access them, I had to have either a paid account or a partially free account that bills users after a week of signing up if they don’t cancel their subscription.

So I entered my credit card details (my dad’s card details actually) fully intending to cancel the subscription within one week of usage. But as fate had it– I typed in the wrong fields. I typed in the ones that billed my card immediately to Rs. 40,000. The second I saw the $ sign, I killed all my browsing tabs in cold blood. All puns intended. It was one of those moments when the world stops moving before it comes crashing down. And I hoped against hope that the card was not processed. But then came the dreaded mail notification “Thank you for purchasing…” and it had the godforsaken invoice too.

I don’t think my world has ever come crashing down like it did at that moment. After taking a few seconds to make myself start thinking straight, I asked my father to call the bank to explain the situation and cancel the payment. The bank apologised that it cannot be stopped and suggested I call the people I made the payment to. At the same time, I was googling how long it takes for an online credit card transaction to actually appear as a purchase. And I was figuring out how long it would take for the bank to deactivate the card to render this payment null and void before it gets fully processed. While I was at it, I downgraded my mistakenly upgraded account pronto and sent a quick email to the said lawyers’ agency requesting a cancellation and profusely apologising for my blunder.

Having done all that, I stood up to pray 2 really intense raka’ahs of nafl prayers to get out of the fix. And an awful fix it was too. Stuck between bankers and lawyers. And debt that I would owe to my parents for something that I never really needed. Enough said.

No sooner had I finished supplicating when I heard the mailbox beep again. And guess what it said.

“We confirm that your membership access has been downgraded as of 12/31/2014. The xxxxx pending charge to your credit card ending xxxx has been reversed. Please allow up to 7 to 10 business days for the reversal to be reflected in your account.”

Subhanallah.

Allah accepted the prayer faster than it took for the amount to hit the credit card.

That’s the power of a nafl prayer. That’s what the Prophet (pbuh) used to do in difficult situations. And that’s something we need to do more often as well. Imagine if we pray two nafl raka’ahs every morning…

Also, the most important thing is to not panic in such devastating situations that appear seemingly irreversible. There is always a backdoor. Do your part, then pray like your life depends on it. Had I not downgraded my account immediately, contacted customer support and prayed for Ctrl-Z to happen, I might have ended up paying a lump sum for nothing. I am glad I did not sleep in utter depression and misery like my brain initially advised me to.

Alhamdulillah.

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To all Peeping Toms

Disclaimer: This does not generalize all male species. However, if you still take offense, then clearly you have the tell-tale signs of our average peeping Tom.

A furtive, sweeping look. It has the same effect as music. You like the opening beats- you’re going to listen till the end. You like what you see- you’re going to gawk till she remains in the vicinity. And then you can’t get it out of your head.

So just keep it down. Enough said. This is not going to be a long-winded rant about restricting your visual field nor a DIY-curb-the-inner-pervert-in-you. Resisting the temptation of checking out everything that moves is human. As Nouman Ali Khan puts it- “Lower your gaze because you become less of a human every time you stare at a woman…” Ouch. Male ego sliced and butchered in a single sentence.

And when Allah says “Lower your gaze”, then it is doable all right. And guess what else happens when you ogle- apart from losing all shreds of morality that is. You get discussed on the lunch table as “the creep” who has no life. Over giggles and biryani. And no matter what you do, the name sticks.

Worse- if you are that Jami’at guy (or apparently religious looking) caught glancing at a group of girls in your university, then there is no hope for you. They crucified you a million times over in the Girls’ Common Room.

And if on some fateful day, you catch female heads turned your way-

Something must be terribly, terribly wrong with your outfit.

PS: Another random guest-post I wrote for Youth Club Blog.

Holier than Thou

Disclaimer: All events narrated are real, and based on my interactions with people not known to me, with the exception of the first narrated encounter. Any resemblance with your character is purely your own guilty conscience.

holier

Far as I remember, the first time anyone sent a fatwa my way was when I was in grade one. Music class was in progress, and I was completely indulged in singing a very pointless rhyme about a banana tree along with everyone else. A girl sitting in front suddenly turns around and says:

“Aren’t you the one who is memorizing the Quran?”

Me: *breaking off midway* “Er- yeah.”

Her: *in a condescending tone* “Then why are you singing? You shouldn’t! It’s so wrong!”

Me: *speechless and thinking- since mom hasn’t told me about this, it’s probably not true*

I continued to sing, louder than ever, also made a point to not like her for telling me off. She was one of those girls who are always prim and proper with airs and graces and a lot of giggly friends. I on the other hand, was rough on the edges so disliked her on principle. #childrenpolitics But later on in the same year, we had become very close friends, and this is probably the best part about being a kid: nothing really seems to matter.

*   *   *

But this was ages ago. Last night, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and came across this post by a certain-important-somebody who had written a few words of praises about a Twilight soundtrack, played it on a piano and advised piano-enthusiasts to do the same because it is soul-soothing. I half moved on to the next update when a comment caught my attention. Apparently, there was a VERY heated, explosive debate going on- the usual showdown between “Fatwa Police” and the rest of the world. We had the preachers expressing their resentment against the post-maker to not encourage fans on “Haraam stuff”, and we had passionately pissed music supporters saying:“Qabeel ne Habeel ko music sun ker maara tha kya?!!!” To which the preachers retorted: “Phir janazey ke saath gaana kyun nahi chalaate? #SoulSoothing”

I allowed myself an inward snort of laughter and loaded the comment thread. Needless to mention, it was a very eh- “enlightening” discussion. Learnt loads about all sorts of preachers, most of whom are successfully driving everyone away from religion while they’re at it. The post is based on general observation but that comment thread in particular inspired the piece.

1- Mufti Wayne (read Vain)

This guy preaches through music and singing. Though there is nothing wrong with singing in itself (as long as it is only vocals with good lyrics and no instruments), this guy’s compositions are backed up by drums, piano, violin… the usual pop rock. Tell me again- why should I ever listen to you? Archuleta makes better music. And even Rebecca Black’s “Friday” track would do, if I give it Islamic connotations. One can argue Friday is a celebratory day for Muslims so we can/should/must party within limits. * License to Oh-so-halaal entertainment.* And considering the ridiculous comebacks music fans come up with, I won’t be surprised if a lady gets up and says Bieber sounds like a girl so there’s no “fitnah” if I listen to him. So no audience for Mufti Wayne. He has only given people another good reason to go back to their celebs, cause his music is no different (or probably just sucks. Who preaches pop-style anyway?).

#DawahFailed

PS: Some Islamic musician (if there’s ever such a legit term) has even sung a “Islamic” version of Rebecca’s Black’s “Friday”, with the instruments of course. Goes something like “It’s Jumuah Jumuah…” Guy needs help.

2- Sheikh Hudood bin Niqaab

This is the one we all fear. This guy has taken it upon himself to tell, no hound all women to cover up. He is the one with fake IDs and inboxes people on social networks to cover up or remove their profile pictures, or he suddenly stops by you and goes on a niqaab spree. Creepy on so many levels.

Also, while giving dawah, this person focuses more on punishments and Hudood than on glad-tidings and incentives.

#DawahFailed Niqaab is a concept, not just an act. There are so many variables involved.

3- The Fatwa Police

These guys are everywhere. Even if they aren’t, their ghost lingers. In fact, it’s usually just people’s paranoia that makes them assume the worst. You see this person or a group of people in university with properly kept beards and trousers hitched up to the ankles and they’re secretly labelled “Al-Tableeghi”, or women clad in all black- “Al-Extreemiee”. Most of the time, your fears really get confirmed. These people go blaring “Haraam” or are found giving unsolicited advice to almost anyone who breathes. The only thing wrong here is that they lack the tact to do so. The subtlety that dawah requires is just not there.

PS: A couple of months back, someone confessed that they thought I was an extremist before they had a chance to interact with me.

Me: O_o

4- Facebook Molvi

If he is the overbearing sort, this guy can be a real troll. This kind dominated the comment thread I mentioned earlier. When these guys talk, a clash of inflated egos ensues. Sorta great therapy for all parties to take out their frustration. The “Deviant Awaam” checks out FB Molvi’s profile and sues him for liking “Haraam music pages” himself. A wry twist in the tale, tables are turned and molvies get shoo-ed away. It’s chaotic. In every sense of the word.

*   *   *

There are many instances and examples that I’d like to point out, but that would be exhausting. Personally, I think the best form of dawah is through your actions. Behave well publicly, and you won’t need to talk about it much. Some sane people in the Muslim Community should come up with Dawah101 for damage control. Really. It is the need of the hour. And I had a list prepared on the categories of audiences as well, and the way they respond to the call. But I will spare them the drawl. These unfortunate souls already have their ego tried and tested, and butchered all in a single comment. But let us just come to an agreement here- Enjoining good and forbidding evil is incumbent upon every Muslim (no endorsements required). And is effective only when done appropriately (this part needs serious polishing). There’s no “It is none of your business- keep away” in the equation. Read Surah Al-Asr and you will know. It is an extract of a Muslim’s life summarized so beautifully. What we all need is wisdom and rationale. One of the main reasons why people run away from anyone who “looks” Islamic is because they tend to get overbearing. And one of the lamest things that people come up with is to list down all the faults in the “preacher” and throw them in his face. Angels don’t walk this earth, folks. We are all found wanting. If you ever find yourself in a position of being corrected, accept it. Gracefully. Or look into it or whatever. Arrogance is just another form of vanity.

Last word- pray that you get endowed with wisdom and the strength to do dawah effectively. If you find yourself unable to right a wrong, then make dua for that person. It is difficult yes, to not snicker at the inappropriate things that people do. Passing by and smirking at a particular-someone is nothing but a reflection of your own self-righteousness. The least you can do is to make a silent prayer for that person. So what if he has a hundred noticeable faults, you probably got a million inside.

On the altar of faith

The night’s aflame with fiery lust

a battle rages on for delusions and dust

a crack in the armor, just one more touch

and so the venom seeps in, the guard rusts.

Chambers scream but the echo is silent

moments beating but the soul is dying

the devil armed with all that a-craving

all you had tried to forget once along the way

and so you lay your wreath on the altar of faith.

Demons roaring to be unleashed

Past catching up to lift the seige

conscience creaks, just one more touch

senses numbed, the walls crushed.

Chambers scream but the echo is silent

moments beating but the soul is dying

the devil armed with all that a-craving

all you had tried to forget once along the way

and so you lay your wreath on the altar of faith.

But you fight for what you don’t see best

all conscience buried and put to rest

life’s now but a waning fest

in the name of devil to dance and rein again

as you lay your wreath on the altar of faith.

This is where you REALLY get busted…

Okay, so life is looking up now. It’s getting better. Everything’s just good. Well, that’s putting it mildly. Everything’s just awesome. That’s a word I hardly ever use with my own existence. But oddly enough, I find this awesomeness unsettling. Often I find myself wondering if this sudden descent of good luck is a reward, a test, or Allah loosening the rope on me? Or a reward for this life only, because my intentions got corrupted along the way? That I’ll wake up to find no share in the hereafter? That’s a lot of questions. I don’t know if this is my guilty conscience talking, or a warning bell ringing lest I go overboard. I can’t tell if all that I’ve done so far was for Allah alone, or for some petty reasons and neither can I guarantee that my thoughts didn’t take a trip to vanity lane. I’ve been there and back- guilty as charged.

وَإِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ فَٱرۡغَب (٨)
And to your Lord (Alone) turn (all your) intentions and hopes. (94:8)

Intention- I’ve seen nothing that’s more prone to corruption than this affair of the heart. If pure, can make your smallest of deeds a saving grace to tip the scales in your favour. And when faked, can bring utter humiliation and doom on the Standing. For what can be worse than to see your hard-done deeds go up in smoke on D.Day? All because you did them for a bit of limelight in the world. And Allah’s verdict would stand justified when He’ll remind us that we got our share of it while the world lasted but none in the afterlife ’cause we never invested in it. We just didn’t do it for Him. And it’s not going to get any better if you console yourself that you did it for both, people and God. The Almighty will certainly not stand it if we dare bring people on equal footing with Him. And mighty unfair that would be too. Serving one but expecting a return from the other.

It’s like at every step I have to ask myself- who am I serving really? My own ego, the people around me or Allah? And though I keep checking back, I still can not be sure if I nailed it. There is this constant fear of rejection. For a split second, intentions always go awry. A million thoughts race on and a million others frantically try to override them. And when the task is done, I wonder who won. Who had the last word? If my doing got accepted or not… If it’s some good I did, I worry if I ruined it by mentioning it to the next person. My intention was to inspire her. Was it really? Was a small part of me craving for some approval? Was that thought “unintentional” or on “default”?

In the end, it’s always this- “God, I hope I didn’t mess up.”

Fear and hope sure make a restless combo… Fear and hope- may we all live with the feeling and be humbled… always.

Let not the devil dance again…

It was one of those days when a friend of mine was musing over something unpleasant and the discussion took a spiritual turn. We were texting back and forth when she sent me a message which said something along these lines: “God is unhappy with me, He has not forgiven. If I were meant to be on the right path, He would have guided me so, for I feel no conviction.” I noticed there were two things noticeably wrong here. First, her guilty conscience had driven her to believe that Allah had not forgiven her. She had applied human psyche to her relationship with the Almighty. And secondly, she was under an impression that guidance (hidayah) is supposed to come to her. I kept my reply short and sent her a hadith along with it that beautifully addressed her distress, and it is just not applicable in this case, it is for everyone who is seeking to strengthen his ties with the Lord, and especially for new Muslims who have newly embraced the bond and are struggling to overcome their demons.

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) as saying that Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, thus stated:

 I am near to the thought of My servant as he thinks about Me, and I am with him as he remembers Me. And if he remembers Me in his heart, I also remember him in My Heart, and if he remembers Me in assembly I remember him in assembly, better than his (remembrance), and if he draws near Me by the span of a palm, I draw near him by the cubit, and if he draws near Me by the cubit I draw near him by the space (covered by) two hands. And if he walks towards Me, I rush towards him. (Muslim)

It’s simple to comprehend how things work with Allah- unlike the people around us with whom it is exhausting to keep things stable. You have to pussy-foot around their sensitivities, remember their big days, keep track of their likes and dislikes, be wary of their mood swings and in some cases with particularly complicated mortals- you have to read between the lines to understand them better. And even then you do not know where you stand with them. It’s just “complicated”, don’t you think?

On the other end, we are in this remarkable relationship with our Creator where nothing is “complicated” because you do not have to “figure” anything out nor bear the brunt of moodiness. In fact, Lord Himself has declared in the above tradition how you are supposed to hold your end of the rope. Yet, time and time again, we erroneously apply human psychology to our ties with Allah (swt). When we wrong ourselves, we further plunge into our miseries sentencing ourselves to doom- guilty as charged. We feel that we have “lost face” and somehow repenting would be like hitting a nerve somewhere and that we stand no chances of forgiveness anyway. And hence, we attribute Him, who is Ar-Rahman and Al-Haleem, towards our own incapability of profound forbearance. And this is exactly what the Almighty says in the beginning of this hadith qudsi that He is compatible with His servant’s opinion of Him. His response to our deeds would be according to our presumptions about Him. So we should expect goodness, always (though lulling ourselves into a false sense of security is another story). For this relationship to thrive, Allah (swt) has disclosed some very important pointers. Point one being that the relationship is to exist on good hope which has been just elaborated upon.

Next comes the part of commitment or “remembrance”. They say, in a relationship, the power lies with the person who cares the least. How true! It is worth noticing here that Allah (swt) has made it pretty clear that it all depends on His slave on how he steers this bond. He has to take the first step and Allah’s response would be according to the magnitude of that initiative. We are indeed the ones who care less in this two-way affair, for He is Al-Wadud, the fount of love, and we are erring humans with many shortcomings. And this is exactly why He (swt) also assures us of His unceasing two-fold support along the way lest we begin to tire out.

We are pretty much aware of what “remembering Allah” entails- it’s about daily prayers, regular Quran, fast, enjoining good and other obligations. But what Allah (swt) narrates here is growing in this relationship. And to grow in this relationship such that Allah comes rushing to you, there are two things that need to be taken care of: consistency in worship, and leaving all that can turn you away from His remembrance. It’s a continuous climb. For a new Muslim, it is undoubtedly a great struggle. In his case, for example, he starts small by keeping his newly found faith a secret from his friends. And then he takes it to the next level by coming out in the open with it. Allah (swt) responds to this by praising him in the gatherings above, among his angels. That is an honor indeed. For when a person obeys Allah on all fronts, he encounters opposition from his own kind and when he chooses Allah over them, they make life harder for him. So to aid this person Allah (swt) sends angels as his allies who bring with them tranquility and glad tidings.

إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُواْ رَبُّنَا ٱللَّهُ ثُمَّ ٱسۡتَقَـٰمُواْ تَتَنَزَّلُ عَلَيۡهِمُ ٱلۡمَلَـٰٓٮِٕڪَةُ أَلَّا تَخَافُواْ وَلَا تَحۡزَنُواْ وَأَبۡشِرُواْ بِٱلۡجَنَّةِ ٱلَّتِى كُنتُمۡ تُوعَدُونَ – نَحۡنُ أَوۡلِيَآؤُكُمۡ فِى ٱلۡحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنۡيَا وَفِى ٱلۡأَخِرَةِ‌ۖ

“Verily those who say: our Lord is Allah, and have thereafter stood fast by it, – upon them there shall come down the angels: ‘fear not, nor grieve; and rejoice in the tidings of the Garden which ye have been promised. We are your friends in the life of the world and in the Hereafter…’” (41:30-31)

No wonder we do feel inner peace and serenity whenever we outdo a wrong and our faith grows and gains momentum. We feel this divine intervention in our daily routine and we know that Allah is keeping his end of the rope. At the same time temptations continue to tantalize us. In the beginning, it is easier to ward them off for the rush of devotion is too great. And then, the lagging phase follows, for reasons better known to the person himself. They say old habits die hard. Sometimes it is the murky past that threatens to catch up, and at times it is our inner demons that roar to be unleashed and in a few cases, mere negligence of important matters. At this point, the believer’s grip on the rope slackens. His heart becomes a battlefield. Satan comes armed with all that he had once loved but given up for Allah. He tries to get his guard up but corruption seeks to find an opening, a crack in the armor, to seep in like venom and snub the enlightened spirit. If the person continues to draw his strength from the remembrance of Allah, he remains protected. But if he gives in to his whims and desires, he weakens, his spark wanes and his heart blackens for the devil to dance again.

 وَمَن يَعۡشُ عَن ذِكۡرِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ نُقَيِّضۡ لَهُ ۥ شَيۡطَـٰنً۬ا فَهُوَ لَهُ ۥ قَرِينٌ۬

“And whosoever turns away blindly from the remembrance of the Most Gracious (Allâh), We appoint for him Shaitân (Satan devil) to be a Qarîn (an intimate companion) to him.” (43:36)

(For another perspective on this verse, check this post- “Of Angels and Demons“)

To make sure we don’t lose this connection, we have to keep fighting for it. And it can’t be done alone. Company of the righteous is a must. Tough decisions have to be taken, sacrifices be made, desires to be burned, bitterness to be laid to rest and egotism be buried. This is the great jihad that will go on till we breathe our last. But it will be worth it in the end.

وَٱلَّذِينَ جَـٰهَدُواْ فِينَا لَنَہۡدِيَنَّہُمۡ سُبُلَنَا‌ۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَمَعَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ 

“And those who strive hard in us, We shall surely guide them in Our paths; verily Allah is with the well doers.” (29:69)

This post was recently published on one of the most expanding islamic portals- ‘Onislam.net’. You can view it here.

The Becoming- II

Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie. -John Milton

You turn up the volume. Slow, sad, passionate songs that speak of betrayal and hurt, you sink into them. Or try to. Maybe it’s your conscience you’re trying to drown that keeps nagging you that you’re sinning. Or maybe it’s your own problems you’re running away from. Or it could be the sadistic pleasure that you get from amplifying your own pain while listening to such music- ‘for what passion can not music raise and quell?’

You have at your hands a sad state of affairs; There were people you had some hopes pinned on. These people mattered but they didn’t quite turn out the way you expected and everything just went wrong. Anger, bitterness and grudges all balled up into a fury and wrecking havoc in your mind. [Coleridge puts it best hence, quoted previously. In my earlier post I had passed on a way to kill these leeches.] Consequently, your parayers get affected, your relationships with other people start spiralling downhill while you’re struggling to tame your own storm. So, then you have this guilt to take care of as collateral damage. It’s a lot of messed up things actually. So you switch on the self-destruction mode. Despair is another way by which Satan attacks. You’re left in a state moping around, dispassionate towards everything and incapable of doing any good- with music pulsing in your eardrums to keep you in a drunken stupor.

So how do you go about picking up the pieces? One of my favorite speakers, Yasmin Mogahed, puts it this way-

“Often what makes us fall into despair is focusing on the wrong things. For example, if we’ve sinned, we focus on the sin, rather than the Most Merciful. If we’re broken, we focus on the break instead of Al Jabbar, the One who mends. If we are in pain, we focus on the pain itself, instead of on the One who removes all pain. If we are wounded, we focus on the wound instead of on the One who heals al…l wounds. If we’re scared, we focus on the fear, instead of the Protector. And if we’re facing a problem, we see the problem, but not the One who can solve it. We see the lion, but not the lion tamer. We see the imperfections of dunya, but not the perfection of Allah. We see the immediate, but not the Tomorrow, the tree, but not the fruit, the thorn, but not the rose. All our pain, all our despair, all our hopelessness, stems from looking at the creation, instead of the Creator. Ask yourself: what is your heart looking at?”
وَيُؤۡمِنۢ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدِ ٱسۡتَمۡسَكَ بِٱلۡعُرۡوَةِ ٱلۡوُثۡقَىٰ لَا ٱنفِصَامَ لَهَا‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ (٢٥٦)
Whoever disbelieves in Tâghût [the Rebel, the Satan] and believes in Allâh, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never break. And Allâh is All-Hearer, All-Knower. (02:256)
 The bottomline: “Let go of your grudges. Let the bitterness die tonight. Make a decision today that it’s time to move on. And begin again. New, this time. Never forget that what has passed you by was never meant to befall you. And what has befallen you, was never meant to pass you by. Know that sometimes Allah withholds from you, in order to give you something better. Keep your heart focused on Him, and He will take care of the rest. And remember: you will stumble, but that’s part of the path. Keep going. Keep rising, and refuse to give up.”