Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Islam Embraced| Islam- The Straight Path| Islamic Teachings| Quran

What are the latest statistics on how many people embraced Islam in the past six months? And for what reason do people convert to Islam?

According to some research that has been done in Great Britain, more women than men convert to Islam. Also, contrary to popular belief (that some women embraces Islam because of having a Muslim partner that they want to marry), many women are coming into the fold of Islam through their own conviction. Some even find that Islam offers them a more comprehensive code of life- especially where their children are concerned. Others again, enjoys what Islam offers by way of religious practices such as the five daily prayers as well as a dress code (Hijaab) that covers the whole body. But whatever the reason for people turning to Islam is not our point of discussion here. How many men and how many women convert to Islam is not our focus for now. What we would definitely like to concentrate on is what makes a good Muslim and what keeps him/her steadfast in the face of great danger or adversity.

This is the story of Poppy Tombazana, a voluntary health care worker in a clinic somewhere in the rural areas of Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. This is the story about the overwhelming effect of HIV/AIDS and how it can destroy any community living in poverty and ignorance of this dreaded disease. It is also a story about how Islam can strengthen you and how, if you sincerely believe that there is a God who witnesses everything- that you can leave all your worries and cares in His Hands, then life becomes more manageable and forgiving.

The alarm clock by Poppy's side rang shrilly; she sleepily reached out a hand and knocked the thing over. It kept on ringing.

Poppy sat up slowly and switched off the alarm. The dial read 5:05. She yawned and stretched her arms above her head. Outside, a taxi was noisily passing by, searching for passengers. Poppy yawned once more and got out of bed. She somehow felt more tired than usual.

She went into the bathroom and relieved herself, thinking of the events of the previous evening, and shuddered. Dr. Weir had left the clinic late. There had been an influx of new cases, and Poppy wondered for how long they would be able to cope if no new staff was going to be employed. She herself was only a voluntary worker.

She started brushing her teeth and in the distance she heard the Call to Prayer sounding from the local mosque.

She thought of her own condition as she began taking ablution; she thought of the anti-retroviral treatment that she was on, and she wondered for how long it would sustain her. Dr. Weir had said there was no reason why she should not lead a healthy, normal life, if she stuck to the treatment and looked after herself.

But she was worried. She felt listless at times, and she sometimes couldn't sleep. Many a night she would wake up, drenched in sweat and with a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She left the bathroom and laid a prayer mat on the floor. Her husband Alfred had died two years ago. She had contracted AIDS from him.

She started her rituals and she suddenly started to cry. "O ALLAH!" she uttered. "Please don't let me die now. There is still so much to do."

She had embraced Islam when she was 36. She was 42 now and had no children.

Alfred had been a good husband; her face softened as she thought of him. He had provided for her well. The sickness that he had carried with him had been there from the days he had been imprisoned in Angola for political reasons. He had only become aware of his status when he had been involved in a car accident, and by that time he had already infected her with the virus. She wasn't angry at him for having done that. Even though, in the beginning, she had suffered many lapses of severe depression. But now, after she had made it a point to concentrate more intensely on her five daily prayers, she had discovered an inner peace which she never knew existed, especially when she went into prostration and spoke to Allah .

She completed her rituals and turned her face upwards. "Thank You, Allah. Thank You for having given me another day.

She left the house as the sun began painting the horizon with a deep, orange glow. There was already a stream of cars making their way along the freeway and she flagged down a taxi. She could feel the heat on her face and she knew it was going to be a hot day. There was hardly a breeze in the air. The TV had said it was going to be 32 degrees centigrade, she thought glumly as she squeezed in next to a fat woman, who was wiping sweat from her glistening face. Poppy wondered what this new day held for her.

She reached the clinic at about 7:00, and there was a sizable queue forming outside. People here in the rural parts of Kwa Zulu Natal had to travel early if they wanted to be attended to at the only clinic for miles around. Many of them walked.

The clinic wasn't very big. It had two sections: the administration and preparation area, where patients' blood pressure was taken and preliminary examinations done, and the doctors' rooms, which were supposed to accommodate three doctors. There was also a holding area, where casualties and trauma cases were seen to. Severe cases were either flown by helicopter or transported by ambulance to the nearest general hospital, depending on the severity of the case.

Poppy grimaced. Nowadays it was mostly Dr. Weir attending to a horde of patients, and he wasn't that young anymore. She felt sorry for him.

"Nurse," said someone as she unlocked the preparation room door. "I'm hungry."

She saw that it was Lucky, a developmentally disabled person who sometimes helped to clean around the premises, and who always waited for her at the door. She smiled at him and told him to wait, wondering how he managed to come to the clinic every morning, seeing that both his parents had died from AIDS, and he lived with a relative in another part of town who didn't work and never received any social grant. The distance was too far to walk.

Lucky smiled back at her with big buck teeth, almost as if he could read her thoughts.

Poppy shuddered involuntarily as she thought of the man in his early 30's who had caused such a stir the previous day, when he had unceremoniously started to vomit blood all over the reception floor. She remembered how the woman sitting next to him had screamed when he had suddenly grabbed her arm and pleaded for help. Poppy had managed to calm him down, and she and two other nurses had gotten him onto a stretcher where Dr. Weir had immediately seen to him. She wondered how he was doing and she made a mental note to go and find out. HIV/AIDS was so rife here in Pumelalane, and people were dying at such an alarming rate that at some stage she felt afraid that there would be no one left to care for the orphaned children.

Dr. Weir was already in his room when Poppy knocked. He was sipping from a cup and the smell of coffee pervaded the air. He had a pensive look on his thin face.

"Good morning, Doctor," she said, and came to stand before him where he was sitting at his desk. "You are early."

He did not reply, but she could see that something was troubling him. She did not speak further.

Dr. Weir shook his head, and Poppy couldn't help noticing how drained he looked. "Are you okay, Doctor?"

"Yes. I'm okay. I'm just very tired." He kept on shaking his head. "You know that young man who came in yesterday, the one who vomited blood on the floor?"

Poppy stared at him. "Yes?"

"He's dead."

Poppy felt a cold shiver running down her spine. She wondered if she was also going to vomit blood before she died. Tears welled up in her eyes. "When did he die?"

"At about eleven last night. He is still lying in the wash room. He's got no family."

Poppy shuddered. "So what are we going to do?"

"I don't know, but I've contacted Jabu from Social Services. He said he'll send someone out today."

Poppy left Dr. Weir's room, wiping the tears that were now running freely down her cheeks. She saw the young man's face before her again; the gaunt look of utter despair, the eyes that stood dead still in their sockets. She thought of the HIV/AIDS campaign she and the other nurses had started and she became more determined to fight this scourge with everything at her disposal. They had already begun by fetching groups of people at their houses, taking them on outings, providing food for them, and practically demonstrating the importance of healthy living and sound practices. It was slow but there was real progress.

She turned her face upwards. "O, Allah. Let me die with dignity." A silent prayer went through her mind as she walked towards the holding area. "Let me die amongst friends and amongst those who love me and whom I love. Please let me me not leave this world in disgrace."

"Nurse, come quickly!" a woman with a child in her arms shouted, panicking. "He's not breathing!"

Brenda, one of the other nurses, came running over and took the child from her.

"Please don't let him die!"

Together, Brenda and Poppy administered CPR. "Come on. Breathe!" Poppy almost willed, and pressing down rhythmically on the child's chest. Brenda blew down his throat.

"O, Allah. Please do not let this child die. Please!" Poppy said out loud, and there was a sudden cough from the child. "Let him live. Please."

The child started to cry, while the mother hugged him so tight that the nurses were afraid she would hurt him.

"Thank you, Allah," cried Poppy as the other nurse took the child from the woman. "Thank you."

And so began another day in the life of Poppy Tombazana, where existence here in the rural areas of Kwa Zulu Natal was an uphill battle to survive each day; where death was a constant reminder of how transitory human life was, and how traumatic yet utterly rewarding your services to your fellow human beings could be.

She couldn't thank the Almighty enough for giving her the strength each day to perform her duties.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Islam The Straight Path|Islamic Teachings|Quranic Guidance.

Much is being said about Islam and its propensity to violence and intolerance these days. Much is being bandied about the acts of terrorism committed under its banner and the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction that has the super powers reaching for their arsenals in no small measure. Suicide bombers and warring Muslim factions dominates the headlines of the international news media- destabilizing their already-crippled countries even further through their wanton greed of land and power. Women and children are maimed and killed in shopping malls, public places, and even schools. Corrupt Muslim government officials are filling their pockets with monies from oil revenue, competing with each other in constructing lofty towers while their countrymen go hungry. Is this what Islam teaches us? Is this Quranic Guidance?

But let us look into history and track the Path of Islam. Let us go back towards the end of the sixth century and witness what Islam and the Quran brought to humanity- The greatest emancipation of women the world had ever seen!

The country was Arabia and the place was Mecca. The Arabs and those living in and around the precincts of the Kaabah conducted all kinds of trade, attracting visitors from near and wide, even as far as Persia, what is today known as Iran.

This period was known as the 'Ayyim Jahilliya' or The Age of Ignorance. It was a time when women were not regarded as full citizens of the country. They had to obey their husbands and sons.

A woman who displeased her husband could be summarily divorced by her spouse by the simple utterance of, "You are to me like the back of my mother!" And she had to leave the house with no legal recourse anywhere. In fact, there was no law or court where a woman could lay out her case and fight the injustice.

A woman was also expected to share her favours with her husband's friends. If a male visitor came from a far-off place, and the man of the house invited him to stay over, the wife would then have to sleep with him at the request of her husband.

Females were severely punished when they overstepped the boundaries laid down for them by their spouses. The Arabs thought nothing of tying a woman between two horses and having her ripped apart as an example to other would-be transgressors. Girl babies were buried alive for fear of bringing bad luck to the household.

It was at such a time that the abyss the Arabs had created for themselves widened and threatened to swallow them in. It was at such a moment that Muhammad(PBUH), son of Abdullah and Amina, appeared on the world stage.

At the age of 25 he married Khadija, who bore him a daughter, named Fatima, or Fatima Al-Zahra (the fair one).

Khadija was 40 and a woman of great standing in her community. She was one of the very few women allowed to trade in Mecca. Muhammad(PBUH) became manager of her businesses.

Strangely enough, though, Muhammad(PBUH), albeit the envy of many an Arab for having married Khadija, showed scant interest in the prospects of obtaining great wealth. He was more concerned about how the Arabs were conducting their aimless lives and how ill they treated their women. He spent endless hours in a cave called Hira, on Mount Tuhr, meditating and wondering why the Arabs were doing what they did, why he was different from them, and, why he could not indulge in the popular pastimes of womanizing and whatever went with it.

It was on one such occasion, while he was meditating in the cave, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared unto him and commanded him to read.

Muhammad(PBUH) never went to a formal school. He could not read nor write. He could not even spell his own name. Nowhere in the annals of history is there any evidence of him being taught in any institution. So when Gabriel commanded him to read a second time, Muhammad(PBUH)shook his head and lifted his hands in confusion. One can only imagine what must have gone through his mind at that moment. Here was someone whom he had never seen in his life, appearing literally out of thin air, ordering him to read. What was he to read in any case?

It was then that the Archangel embraced him and whether through the pressure of his powerful grip or something Muhammad(PBUH) did not understand himself, he blurted out the words, "Read! In the Name of Your Lord Who Creates. Read! In the Name of Your Lord, Who taught Man the use of the Pen."

Shaking and half out of his mind with fear and consternation, Muhammad(PBUH) immediately sought the comfort of his wife, Khadija, and, she, in turn, consulted her cousin, Waraqah bin Naufal, who informed her that Muhammad(PBUH) was going to be the next prophet of God.

Waraqah was not a Muslim. In fact, Islam was not yet established as a formal religion at that time. The Arabs were indulging in all sorts of pastimes, notably the drinking of wine and the pleasures of women. Law, as such, was something nobody knew about. Disputes were settled either by the throwing of stones on the ground or by hand-to-hand combat. These Arabs were so immersed in their wrong-doing that even their womenfolk believed it was part of life to be ill-treated and abused by their men.

These were some of the fundamental evils that Muhammad(PBUH) set out to change. He brought a complete turn-about in the way that people saw themselves and those around them. He brought them onto The Straight Path of Islam.