July 2, 2017

Manners - how far have we come?

The other day i came across a little booklet that was written about 80 years ago and i was amazed at this thoughtful little compilation of a powerful piece of advice. Forty short paragraphs depicting the essence of humane behaviour that would surely be the foundation of a good and kind society. The book was titled “Dhuroosul-Akhlaaq” meaning “Lessons on Manners” . Eighty years down the road how mannerful are we in our society? Or has this book been buried with the grime of a dead past? To now be resurrected and put on store shelf by some that lament a bygone past. It's a miracle this is still available in some book stores reproduced by some thoughtful local printers. Kudos to them. This book illuminates the effort of our early local educators and spiritual leaders to inculcate the timeless aspects of human mortality in our society. The result of their effort - and / or the lack of it - is for us all to see in the ways of our present society. How far have we come?

Why manners? Any behaviour labelled as manners are those beautiful behaviours that help society to feel comfortable as we go about in our daily lives interacting with each other. The way we talk and act, constitute the bulk of manners which is the physical manifestation of our inner thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others. Manners may come of nurtured habit of our upbringing and our social experience, but it's logical to realise that ultimately manners are sustained by moral thinking, This attitude of being kind and humble translate into mannerful behaviour. Manners are necessary for us to live harmoniously in a society that attempts to offer human dignity to everyone. Yes,  dignity is something everyone yearns to have but depending on the level of manners manifest in society it is fulfilled or we fall short. When there is this shortage, society suffers for its lack. People fight and vie for space and become spitefully competitive. In such a social ambience, cooperative and thoughtfulness become the least of concerns. We become selfish and resentful beings only being guided by the paradigm of "what's in this for me?". In contrast, manners make a person's character attractive - how others see us - and there lies the power of human social transformation.

Some simple examples from our age old  “grandmother’s repertoire” of good manners: When we talk to others, is our tone and cadence pleasant and our attitude approachable?. When we are at the dinner table do we respect our space and serve with consideration to the others and attempt to pass the food rather than reach out to fill our places before anyone else, or give due attention to even the simple act of letting a spoon not drip food on the tablecloth for the respect we like to give to the host. These are mannerful acts of reciprocity; those that delight others and also gain the merit of respect for ourselves. On the street, are we considerate of how we give way to each other or have consideration for those older than us or do we just walk along as if we own the pavement (if there was one); or in traffic, do we care about the safety of fellow drivers and engage in safe and defensive driving? When engaged in a conversation do we listen intently to what the other person is saying or just behave like “Tennyson's Brook”? Do we say “thank you” when a favour is done to us, or voice a sincere “sorry” when we happen to accidentally inconvenience anyone? At the crowded bank, would we give the seat to an older person or someone with disabilities? Could this be also so while we are stuck in the many lines (queues) we form up at grocery stores, banks, payment counters in hospitals and the like? Or for that matter in situations where there is no arrangement for such a line, do we attempt to form a line or just prefer aggregating at the counter like bees around the honey pot?  Do we greet people on the street and attempt to spread good will with a smile or a nice gesture of acknowledgement? Do we give way to pedestrians at a street junction or do we just race our powerful machines dangerously past the hapless pedestrian in our seemingly endless hurry to go wherever that we may be going without any consideration for the road risk we may be creating. Do we care at all?

When we don't practice these finities we lose ground in our humaneness. We are surely not wild animals but this must be hallmarked by the behaviour that makes us separate from those at the zoo. Those qualities that define our difference is nothing but manners. It's manners that take us out of the realm of “the survival of the fittest” that is the animal kingdom. Our’s is the realm of the human kingdom. There must be a difference. Otherwise we are nothing better than animals in human form. We thus live a wrong label.

Allah SWA created us different for us to behave differently and this difference is what separates us from the other creatures He created. In fact this aspect of manners is what differentiates us even amongst ourselves in the human society. As we all know. Allah SWA looks not at anything else about us in his judgement of our goodness but our deeds. Absolutely nothing else. Not our lineage, our wealth, our educational qualifications or the colour of our skin or our physical skills. Good deeds are all He looks for. And good deeds are mannerful acts.

June 24, 2017

Life’s journey

Eid Mubarak to every one of you! As we say goodbye to another Blessed Ramadan, we are returned again to the task of regular daily living. But something must have changed in us for the better, for that is the stuff of Ramadan; and life's journey continues. Ramadan refreshes our minds of the essence of this journey. metaphorically we reflect. Here is a peek into my thoughts of this. 

From the moment we are born to the moment of our death we are on this journey of life. It is interesting to note that when we board the ship we are crying (perhaps because we already know the hardship of life) and others are laughing. And when we disembark at our death, others are crying and we are laughing (if we have lived a good life).

So how do we live a good life? How do we make that happen? One approach to living a good life is the worldly one. We can do so by accumulating wealth and indulging in the pleasures of life with not a bit of thanks given to the Provider of all this bounty. We indulge in this kind of hedonism when our eman is low and we have no thought given to the advent of the Hereafter. Some of this group actively believes that there is no Hereafter. What we have is here and now. Still, those that believe so know they are on a journey but for them it is more a cruise-ship of fun than a moment's ride to a destination. The other way is to balance this worldly comfort without forgetting the merits we need to accumulate for the Hereafter.

Metaphorically, our ship of life, as is any ship, is guided by two very important groups of people; the captain of the ship and the crew of the ship. If we can imagine our body to be the ship, the captain is our conscious mind and the crew is our subconscious mind. Whatever command the captain gives, the crew follows because the subconscious mind does not evaluate the command and give a feedback to challenge the captain’s command. It follows the orders. Now, we must know that our subconscious mind is the confluence of such commands it has received over time from the time we wore born to this present time in our lives. It has defined our personality, our habits and our values and our assumptions right or wrong. So we guide our ship in this collective consciousness imbued by this historical and cumulative experience which we call our basic wisdom framework. So we are wiser than others. And yet others are more creative or compassionate or cruel or deceptive or resentful than others; all based on how our captain has commanded the crew of our body.

But Allah is wise and so he created us not in complete hard-wiring but with the ability to rewire and become different as we wish. But the change has to be based on changing the captain’s command. When the captain can be made to change the command for some length of our temporal time we can change old habits and beliefs. Our power of self-will and choice is what gives the responsibility for ourselves. Yes, this world is a test, and each one of us believers in a Supreme Being, must pass the test to achieve the Hereafter  Just like our achievements on our school prize giving day or winning a trophy in game of physical endurance, Allah will handover to us our report cards on the day of judgement. Some will be enthralled in joy while others will have their share of tears. We can ask Allah to give us hidayath, for in the asking is the answering. When we don't ask we don't get. That is the power of dhua.

Yes, now is the time to struggle and accumulate the goodness we need for the prize of the Hereafter. We need to fill our baggage with the right goods we can use in the land of the Hereafter when we get there, and we are sure to get there no doubt. This requires a conscious packing of our baggage with the right kind of clothes and adornments and also ensure that the Captain gives the right orders right from the beginning of our journey.

Our short sojourn in this world is to accumulate the goodness that will be the investment for the Hereafter. Selfish action does not give us merit. It is social good that we do that adds to the merit. See that we do no harm to others. It's not enough just to focus on doing good, but quite as important also is about not doing harm to others. Allah SWA counts this also as merit.

Allah SWS calls on us to enjoy this world even as we seek the Hereafter. But why is it that some people commit suicide? Some want to leave the ship even before time. They don't want to be with the ship. Why? Much research shows that they left in dispair because of another person's hurtful action. Otherwise no one will leave this ship by themselves. So don't hurt others to the extent of pushing them off the ship. We may not be doing it in awareness but in ignorance. Still it is our action. So let's not make that happen to others. When we don't engage in hurting others, we do a great service to mankind.

So, as we board the next leg of our journey, let us fill our bags with the best of what we can use in the hereafter. And that is the best of deeds; not money or wealth or fame or position in this worldly society. Surah -Takasur attests to the folly of being distracted from the Akhirah in our desperate accumulation of worldly wealth.

To get dhuniya we have to do fikr and to get jannah we have to do zikr.


June 21, 2017

This blessed month of Ramadan

This is a very blessed month indeed! Just think of the blessings Allah SWA gave us! An opportunity to redeem our sins; accumulate huge multiples of merit for every good that we do. He closed the doors of Hell and opened wide the doors of Heaven. He gave us the opportunity to review our character and change our negatives into positives. In fact it’s our annual chance to cleanse ourselves from the grime of the past year. What benevolence and what mercy!  But procrastination may just bust that chance. Who knows if we will be alive for the next Ramadan. This is all the more reason we need to use the chance even now in these closing days of this holy month. In local Maldivian parlance we say “vehey iru fen nagaashey” yes, collect water when it rains (it will not be available when it stops).

What benefit of a cleaner soul did we get after all these years of fasting? What is the true meaning of fasting? It is a month of worship and the expression of our charity and a time to feel with the hunger of those not as fortunate as us so that we acquire some sense of humility and open our eyes to the blessings we have as opposed to the pittance many others have. It's certainly not one of fun and games (but Satan has left us deluded to its merits and so we stud Ramadan's days and nights with entertainment). Ramadan is also viewed as a month when we eat too much and waste too much of it and we waste the valued entity of time when we should be using this time to remember Allah and think of others and thus investing in the hereafter which by the way will get us fully assured dividends in the Hereafter like no worldly investment can. This is Allah's SWA guarantee. This is the month of charity and this charity must be like a breeze of fresh air that would affect everyone (as the Prophet SAW so cogently said.

Please realize that we will not even get close to what we truly want without making sacrifices in life. We must give and give of what we also still want. Giving old clothes does not constitute charity in Islam. What we give must be of good quality; those that we still find difficult to part with. Best of all, Ramadan has always been the month of personal transformation for the better. This month Shaitan has a lesser hold on us and so it should be easier for us to parry evil advances. Personal transformation comes in different ways. The following is a good vignette.

A Bulgarian couple touring Turkey in 1995 found themselves one day after missing their bus, in an isolated rural setting where there seemed no one within miles. It was just about sunset and soon to get dark. With no other option but walking on to see what they can find, they ventured along. As the light dimmed and darkness shrouded, they spied a flicker of light in the distance. With renewed hope they trekked towards it. Soon they came upon a poor dwelling; they knocked on the door; after a while the creaky door opened, doe-like pair of eyes peered, and was slowly invited in. Five members of a poor family - the parents and three children - sat in silence in the dimly lit room. The tourist couple explained their plight and sought to find a hotel nearby where they could spend the night. To their surprise the man invited them to stay the night and for them to look for other means the next day. With flowing gratitude the couple thanked the man but asked the man where the family would sleep instead. In the next room the man had said. In the morning the couple found that that the family was not to be found and there was no other room. This was just a one room shack of an abode. They opened the creaky front door to check the surroundings. What they saw moved them to tears. Under a tree nearby they all lay, the children still huddled in sleep and the parents waiting for their front door to open. They had given the relative comfort of their home to two strangers and roughed out the night in the cold.

The couple was so moved by this event that they reflected deeply about this bighearted sacrifice and the tenets of this alien religion to them called Islam. The poor man had shown the sample behavior of true god-fearing Muslims to some other human beings. After spending much research into Islamic literature and its teachings, their conviction was confirmed and they entered into the fold of Islam. Their more than two decades of work since has by now brought in reverts to Islam in several hundreds. This is the miracle of how Allah works to bring light into people's hearts. The good that people do makes its rounds in unending perpetual cycles.

With the waning days Ramadan, I hope every one of us has found in themselves a reform of sorts however small it might have been. Take heart, what remains will still be transformed. InshaaAllah we will see it in a next Ramadan. May Allah SWA bless us all!

April 11, 2017


Being a citizen of a 100 percent Muslim nation, I can’t help but hear and expeience the sights and sounds of a waning of spirituality within our midst. Many mosques are built and many more people go for prayers too it appears; even though certain days and periods of the year seem to draw increased crowds to these spiritual portals as if they are the moments to cash-in on the “1000 for the price of one” type of merits we seem to run after. We look to spiritual merits in the same way as we do for material merit. Sadly this is the miscoception borne out of ignorance again spawned by a lack of engagement of youth with the spiritual leaders. And even in the instances of such engagement, of the inability to translate the high morals Islam calls for into acceptable daily social contexual realities. 

There are many reasons why this is so, but that would be a lengthy discussion. Let’s surmise that this is the state of things in our country and merely dwell on how the spiritual nature of belief can be better understood. For the young mind in our local midst, the question of religion is not an active daily inquiry item for we were born into this faith and we practice it taking it for granted. We pray and parrot the quaran without true engagement just as a cultural ritual rather than for the spirutual quality we must seek within it. Sad to say many don’t even know the meanings of the stuff we utter in our daily five prayers even though we come in reverance to the mosque and struggle to get a place in the first row behind the imam even after rushing into the mosque just in time for the Iqaam. Many explain this away as a case of dwindling belief. The weakness of our iuthiqaadh. 

Why don't we believe now or we believe less now than in the old days? I don't know if we believed more in the old days. Perhaps it was because there was a lack of intervening and disrupting forces as we do now. There was no TV, the internet, no other media or other people telling us otherwise, and so we tended to accept the status quo for if we didn't we would be seen as renegade and be visible being that. But now we have many of these sources that give us strength to refute and the ego always wants to have it's deemed view paramount which is always biased to the unconventional. If we can have even a bit of room for doubt or a semblance of an argument against, it would run us towards that opportunity to refute. Ego is the tool of the Shaaitan and when it is fuelled, we go astray, for it is what makes us crave for this world – this ephemeral abode; for us to be seen as worth our salt in this world and little thought given to the needs of the Hereafter. This way Shaithan keeps us  in the dark and steeped in disbelief.  So, while the absence of distratictions may be noted as a caveat, we can say that the older generation was steeped in more eman than of the present surrounded by the enticements of modernization. But the point here is to emphasize that our state of eman is an active process we nurture within us rather than a passive one imbued from outside us. Our strength as Muslims (or for that matter a person of any faith – religion or philosophy, or culture or creed etc.) ensue from the conviction of the truth of or faith, devoid of nagging doubt.

True belief must come to us whether there is intervening disruptive thoughts or not. It must come from a deep conviction of the truth we can witness from the evidence and the profound thoughts of our Maker in the Quraan; in knowing that the Quraan is the Truth and the reliable source without doubt is the bedrock of belief. This staunch belief in its narrations, lessons, and commands cannot be swayed by the intervening ego-supported distractions that is the audio-visual entertainement laden environment of today’s world.

This timeless Book is where our Modern muslims, just as the devout seekers of the past have had, must look for the meaning and practice of Islam and the strength of conviction. We must read the quran and ponder and reflect and understand its wisdom. Intervening doubtfull and militant thoughts will not then occupy the mind. The idle mind is the playground of the devil as they say. We have to then go through the confirmatory behaviour also that deepens our belief into Eman, by way of  daily prayers,  supplication, zikr, and the giving of charity. We will soon see our lives transform as we engage in these activities. The mind is the most powerful thing we have as humans. As we strengthen this, our lives transform and we are elevated to become better human beings as we journey along the path of Allah.


April 6, 2017

World Health Day: Talk may not be enough!

Every year the World Health Organization marks the 7th of April as the World Health Day, highlighting a most pressing world health problem. Depression is the focus of 2017 WHD, with the slogan "Let's Talk!". Three hundred and fifty million persons suffer from depression and related illness across the globe, and based on this, mental illness is deemed the main cause of ill-health and disability in the world. The last 10 years has shown a 20 percent increase in this affliction.

Mental illness is primarily the result of depression. The most important immediate action we can take is to recognize this state of ill-health globally and also locally in our nations, and begin remedial work in urgency. And that is firstly to talk to those afflicted. To see that they are in the focus of attention and for them to know that they are being attended to by people who care and are trustworthy in their eyes. In the first place their state is the result of being neglected over an extended period of their lives; perhaps a lot of trust of caretakers is lost during this stage because their concerns were not being addressed in urgency or being pushed to the back-burner because we in our modern families see that there are more urgent things for us to deal with.  When the nascent problem, over time, blows up into an observable phenomenon for the family, the issue is often beyond the pale of the family to address. The usual treatment is therapy and medication or a combination of these. But even in the higher income countries of the world, it is reported that only a mere 50 percent of the needy receive such treatment. The state of low-income countries should be so much lower by comparison. This neglect and related anxiety is also contributing to push up the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) across the world. Anxiety and depression bring on heart disease, and diabetes etc.

Stress and neglect is pervasive even in Maldives. The unmanaged urban condition has much to contribute; at the home, the workplace and in the evolution of the nation. Neglect in the home of the elderly because of the tight physical space and the small nuclear family that lacks the caregiving capacity to the elderly or the physically challenged siblings, the chaotic and politically laced workplaces and national governance, the economic hardship of the urban populace, 50 percent of which live in single room apartments, and having to deal with every aspect of life in that confines, and the congested roads where motor vehicles and human being have to vie for space and the anxiety of those pedestrians who have to move in fear for dear life, etc. are all concerns that cannot be swept under the rug and left to be dealt with later. Indeed, the baby monster will grow inexorably with time into an unmanageable menace; if it hasn’t already!

The causes of anxiety and then the resulting state of depression and mental illness is myriad. There is not one cause, but each having its contribution to a degree depending on the tolerance level of the victim.  Those in these anxiety laden and depressed states, experience persistent sadness, change in appetite, if employed, loss of interest in the job they do and in thing that others normally enjoy doing, and loss of energy for extended periods – for weeks at a time. Often they do so in silent despair. If undetected these lead to thoughts of self harm and even to suicide. Other symptoms are a part of this syndrome; sleeping more or sleeping less, anxiety, reduced concentration, indecisiveness, restlessness, hopelessness, and feeling of worthlessness and guilt.

For any problem to be solved, the best way to begin is by understanding the causes; in this case of the anxiety and the depression. Research indicates the following; the conditions of your past, current conditions, use of alcohol and substance abuse, stress of the present situation, grief, difficult life circumstances, lack of social support, genetics, hormonal changes – in illness, body chemistry of life stage changes. Even the flood of pharmaceutical medications in present use has its contributing effect. These when looked at from the point of view of a nation’s or community circumstance will reveal a broken social and civil system that extends the reason for individual, family or community anxiety. Those with less tolerance will succumb to the stresses faster than others who are more resilient to these. The brain chemistry is critically affected by anxiety and with extended experience, alters the functioning of the brain into a habituation.

A strategy of "Let's Talk" is a good beginning, but it will certainly not be enough.. Talking about it or talking to those affected are both possible, and campaigns can begin a process but let it not fizzle out. Real action to address the issue has to be by tackling the causes; and these causes are dispersed in society. We need to begin right away by correcting these situations of social neglect by advocacy and good governance. Taking the cue from this WHO initiative, nations must take action at the local level to temper the objectives of our materialistic society. Materialism is a non-inclusive philosophy.  Competition and winning by hook-or-crook is the order of the day. in this movement. Corruption and deception seems okay along the paradigm of "the objective justifies the means", however irregular the means maybe. Obviously, these, and the situations precipitated by such actions create the tension that move social and individual anxiety, and many to depression and mental illness. These situations of cause must be corrected, and is best possible by better governance in society. We have to plant these seeds once again, even if it is to begin again from square one, even as we work on the curative methods of therapy and medication. Otherwise, we will be just giving aspirin for the symptoms. As the advocacy wanes, anther social issue will soon occupy the pole position of the  social issue-attention cycle. 

Women and the elderly are, it appears, more prone to depression than men. This maybe because women and the elderly are more prone to the persistent states of stress in the household, in the workplace or in situations of illness when helplessness is most experienced.

Our Nation, like others, is brimming with these concerns. Those in charge of national duty must look into these and systematically, with the involvement of the public, seek to address these before the monster will overpower us irreversibly!