Monday, 24 March 2014

(97): The beauty of failure and the tragedy of defeat

Today’s piece will focus on the youth once again. People have different experiences and face different challenges in life. But the issue is how the individual works to overcome such challenges. There is every tendency especially among the youth to make the greatest mistake of their life because they cannot appreciate the beauty of failure. One can even take the risk of making a swift statement, that for every child who grows, his parents succeed in making him a real human being by strengthening and correcting his or her failures, from sitting, crawling, walking, running etc. It is the support provided that makes one to realize his full potentials. Yet this basic facet of life is missing in our youth.

Since the youth are crazy about sports these days, especially football, let me borrow some lessons from there in order to make my point. Although I am not a Manchester United fan, but few will argue against the idea that the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the most successful not only in the English Premier League, but in the history of football. In his recent autobiography published in 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson had a lot of interesting stories on how to recover from the brink of failure and  emerge as a winner.

The example he gave was one which illustrates that failure itself is not a bad thing, but your attitude towards your understanding of the failure, and planning to respond to it is where the problem lies.  All those tactics he employs such as looking at his watch in extra-time, also called Fergie-time, were strategies to scare the opponent and  snatch an unlikely victory from the brink of defeat.

Mr Ferguson was playing a game against Liverpool at the peak of their success in the 1980s, and as he stated in his own words, “the Souness–Dalglish Liverpool teams were the benchmark for English football in the 1980s, when I made my first foray into management south of the border. Those Liverpool sides were formidable. I had suffered against them with Aberdeen and brought those memories with me to Manchester. In one European tie we had lost 1–0 at Pittodrie, played really well for the first 20 minutes at Anfield, but still ended up 2–0 down at half-time. I did my usual thing in the dressing room and, as the players were leaving, one, Drew Jarvie, said, ‘Come on, lads, two quick goals and we’re back in it.’”

Losing a football match is not an easy thing for the club and the fans, but to lose a Derby with your arch rivals is even more difficult to take, even if they have a superior team. As such, instead of thinking that the game will be lost, some of the players saw such failure as a temporary thing, but what they were not willing to accept was a defeat. This is just one story, and whether you are an Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid or Barcelona supporter, you must have some interesting stories about a comeback match which will always provide a talking point between you and the opponents of your team.

Yet my question is, as a youth who witness such ‘miraculous’ comebacks by your team, simply because they refuse to accept defeat, what sort of comeback did you plan for yourself when you couldn't secure enough credits to get to university? or because of a single carry-over at school you almost take a decision to abandon your studies; or simply because the business venture you have started has not taken up as quickly as possible, you decided to abandon it and retire into joblessness! Do you watch a football match simply to shout it’s a goaaaaaaaaaaaal, or do you have a goal in life which you seek to achieve?

You see, those vicissitudes  of life are key ingredients of success that will be useful to you later in life, only if you appreciate that your failures early in life will help you to build a successful future later as you seek to achieve your goals.

In his classical work “The laws of success in sixteen lessons” or what is popularly called the sixteen laws of success, Napoleon Hill spent a great deal of time explaining how the failures of successful people helped them to succeed in life. According to him “profiting by failure will teach you how to make stepping stones out of all of your past and future mistakes and failures. It will teach you the difference between “failure" and "temporary defeat," a difference which is very great and very important. It will teach you how to profit by your own failures and by the failures of other people.”

In fact as he stated, “every failure is a blessing in disguise, providing it teaches some needed lesson one couldn't have learned without it. Most so called failures are only temporary defeats”.  I don’t know if you agree with him, but for me I certainly believe there is an element of truth in his thesis. In failure there is beauty, but the inability to rise from ones failures is what will lead to a tragic defeat.



Tuesday, 18 March 2014

(96): I have been to Africa

I followed with interest a recent story that started from Harvard University called I, too, I am Harvard. It is in response to the stereotyping and the challenges faced by black students or more generally, to use the controversial term ‘people of colour’. They were indirectly protesting against the treatment they receive from colleagues, friends, tutors etc for being black or non-white. Soon the campaign became viral and students from Oxford and Cambridge also joined the bandwagon to protest against the misrepresentation of blacks, particularly the thinking that you have to belong to a particular race in order to belong to these elite institutions.

But I am afraid, it is not just Harvard or Cambridge or Oxford where being an African or black comes with stereotyping, almost in all aspect of life being an African as an individual, or the continent itself are shrouded in misinformation, ignorance, mystery, stereotyping, and at worst belittling simply because of how people look.  I was once told by someone, “So black people do PhD”. Sometimes you laugh, other times you explain, and in some occasions you get angry. What is even more interesting is that the media sometimes reinforce such stereotypes.

But one of the things about this stereotyping that you find common is the thinking that Africa is a country, and so a lot of people come to you excited that they will be travelling to Africa. When you ask them where in Africa? They start murmuring and stammering to figure out what you mean. 

The first time I experienced this was in March 2004, about ten years ago. I was dressed in white Babbar Riga (a traditional attire common in sub-Saharan Africa). It was a brief visit to London at the time, and I was trying to get a bureau de change in Oxford Street, when I heard a voice across the road shouting “African brother, African brother”, The man crossed the road and came towards me. “I like your dress, please how do I get one. Can you give me your address in Africa so that I can send you the money”? My address in Africa?? I was confused, I told him that I am from Nigeria in West Africa. He doesn't have the time to listen to my lecture and so we said goodbye. Interestingly he is a fellow black guy, who told me that his ancestors were from Africa, and he has consumed the stereotype that Africa is a country.

Sometime in 2005, I was approached by the kids of one of my friends in Sheffield. A very nice family. The children were so happy to see me, and so was I. “We have been to Africa on holiday”, the young kids told me. “That was great”, I responded. “But where in Africa?” I asked. Instead of answering my question, they looked at their elder sister, with their father watching by the side, “which part of Africa have we been to?” after a little silence, she responded, “Gambia”.

But don’t blame the local people for not understanding the African continent. Sometimes even the educated people, in fact some of whom supposed to educate us, you will be shocked by their perception of Africa. Here is the story I always laugh at when I remember. It was at the BBC World Service when the language services introduced Premier League commentary in local languages. And one of the best commentators, works for the Swahili Service. He has an excellent mastery of football commentary in Swahili, he has become a household name in his region. In fact you don’t have to understand Swahili to know which team is performing well, and when he says it’s a Goaaaaaaaal. Almost everyone in the African hub will stop his work or at least smile at the skills of our friend. Then one day, one of the journalists, in fact a senior one, asked whether our colleague could do the commentary for Hausa and other languages. If it were possible I would have been very happy, because that would have saved me from struggling to translate certain football terms in Hausa language. Luckily, we had my friend Aminu Abdulkadir who came up with such excellent terms like ‘bugun lauje” for Conner-kick etc.

But the one that remains fresh in my memory was in the autumn of 2012. I was teaching a course on the impact of propaganda and distortion in the media.  So I had pictures of two locations, Nairobi city in Kenya, and Harlem in New York. As an introduction to the topic I displayed the picture of Harlem and asked the students to identify the city. Unanimously all the students said it must be somewhere in Africa, simply because it looks like a deprived area populated by black people.

I then displayed the picture which provides an aerial view of Nairobi and asked them to identify the city. “This must be somewhere in Singapore” one of the students said. “It looks like somewhere in California”, said another. When I asked the students why they think Nairobi looks like California, and Harlem is somewhere in Africa. The answer was obvious, that’s how the media represents Africa. 

So if I were to advise the black students in Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, I would have told them to take their peaceful campaign to the doors of the news media, for among other factors, their colleagues think they don’t belong to Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge because of what they see on their television screens.



Wednesday, 12 March 2014

(95) Appreciating our parents (II)

Appreciating parents is such a noble deed that brings a lot of benefit to an individual. These are the only people in the world who would wish your success overtakes theirs, they will be willing to sacrifice their life to see you grow. Just remember those days when you were a baby, when a little cry wakes your mother up all night. Just remember those times, when your parents stood by you when you can neither walk, speak or eat. Just remember those times, when they buy everything to make you happy as a baby, a toddler, a child, and should they have the means, they will continue to do so up to your adulthood. Why then treat them casually, when they are getting weaker because of age, why should you neglect investing in their happiness simply because you have come of age. Being a teenager, a young person is not a license to abandon the responsibility to parents.

As you strive towards fulfilling this noble goal, always understand that there is  a hierarchy even in the priority you give to the parents. The sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are clear about this, because when he was asked about the person who has the best right, the prophet replied “your mother”, he was asked again, and he said “your mother”, when asked for the third time he said “your mother”, and on the last occasion, he said ‘your father”. This is quite important especially in this age, where some people erroneously ascribe maltreatment of women with Islam. Perhaps some of our attitudes towards women do not help, yet if we could imbibe this quality, the world would have been a better place.

In his classical work Minhaj Al Muslim, a book that focuses on manners and the character of a Muslim by Shaykh Abubakar Jabir Aljazairi, (may Allah prolong his life) who is still alive and has been teaching in the Prophet’s mosque in Madina for the past 50 years has succinctly compiled a number of narrations from the authentic Islamic sources about the role of parents in our lives as reported from Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Interestingly the book has been translated into many languages.

In one of the ahadith (sayings of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him), and reported by Bukhari and Muslim, two of the leading compilers of hadith, the Prophet stated that “Allah has forbidden for you disobedience to mothers, withholding the right of others when one has the ability to fulfill them, and burying daughters alive. Allah also disliked for you irrelevant talk, persistent questioning and wasting of wealth.”

In fact one day the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said ‘alaa unabbi ukum bi akbaril kabaa-ir?” “Shall I not inform you of the greatest of the great sins?” the companions answered in the affirmative “certainly, O Allah’s messenger.” He said “al-ishraaku billahi, wa uququl walidayn”, “(they are) ascribing partners to Allah, and disobeying parents”, and then the prophet sat up and added, “And false testimony and false witness. Verily false testimony and false witness”.

As such it is not a small responsibility that perhaps some of us gave casual attention to. When ibn Mas’ud, a companion of the prophet asked him what is most beloved to Allah, he said “being dutiful to parents”.

And being dutiful to parents is a responsibility that should continue even after their lives, as confirmed by the Prophet (peace be upon him), where he stated that “from the most dutiful acts is that a man keeps contact with the beloved friends of his father after the father has passed away”.  For more on this see Minhaj Al Muslim:  A book of Manners, Character, Acts of Worship and other Deeds, (pp. 181-185).

Always remember that no one has invested in your life more than your parents, and one way of appreciating their effort is by being dutiful to them. Just imagine the joy you will create in them by being such a responsible person who lives up to expectation without a reminder from them.

As we work towards fulfilling this responsibility, especially in this age where the attention of the youth is carried away due to the influence technology, sports etc. parents should strive to help their children to understand such responsibility, after all, the parents will be the major beneficiaries when their kids become responsible to them. 

So do not just buy them smart phones, but also encourage them to read smart books that teach them the value of parents, because smart phones will one day expire or be overtaken by smarter technologies, but smart investment in the upbringing of  your child to understand the value of his parents shall live forever. I recommend the book loving Our Parents: Stories of Duties & Obligations by Abdulmalik Mujahid published by Darussalam for every parent, son and daughter, it is one of the smartest treasures you will give your children. You will find amazing stories about how the prayer of parents, changed the lives of their children. You will find interesting stories about how other people were dutiful to their parents, and so should you.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

(94): Appreciating our parents (I)

About a month ago we travelled to the Haram (the Grand Mosque in Makkah) for the Friday prayers together with a longtime friend in the UK, who has just relocated to Saudi Arabia. It was a great opportunity to meet again. As we arrived in the mosque, and the call to prayer was made, and the Imam mounted on the pulpit, a powerful voice echoed through the microphone. Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu, the Islamic greeting, which Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught the Muslim faithful.

It was Shaykh Abdurrahman Sudais, the Chief Imam of the mosque, and a household name in the recitation of the Qur’an. I have listened to several sermons of Shaykh Abdurrahman Sudais, but in my humble estimation this is one of the best sermons the Imam has delivered. It was about parents. As many readers might be aware, the Shaykh lost his father few weeks ago, which perhaps might have contributed in the selection of this important topic.

The lesson of the sermon is universal, it is useful for all times, valuing and respecting the most important people in our lives, our parents. After listening to the Khutbah (sermon), my thought went back home. I thought of the youths in our society who consider their parents as a treasury to be milked, the teenager who lies to his parents in order to make money out of them, the boys and girls who think it’s the duty of the mother alone to cook, clean the house, look after the guests, respond to the needs of every member of the household when everyone else is busy watching television or playing games.

Indeed my thought crossed over to the modern day youth, whose life has consumed everything his parents have saved to see him get educated; yet on landing the best job, his or her parents become secondary. It is time to enjoy life, buy the best car in town, purchase the most expensive clothes so that he or she looks smart. Yet the very parents, who sacrificed their comfort to see you grow, to get you the best education, and even work hard to ensure that you get the right job are now placed in a secondary position among your top priorities.

There is no better way to explain the position of parents than the Qur’anic verse “And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.”[Quran 17: 23].

Of course, it is halal (permissible) for you to enjoy your life from the little you earn, but as Islam teaches us, life is not about you alone, it is about others as well, and toping the chart are your noble parents. Therefore, God in his infinite mercy ordained that, after worshipping Him, the next noble deed is called Ihsan to the parents. What does that mean? It basically means kindness, compassion, respect, love and everything that extends care and support to your parents. It means being selfless, sacrificing your comfort for them, working to alleviate their suffering, extending respect to those they care for. You should be so mindful of their feelings, that you must avoid anything that create discomfort in them, even if it’s a one letter word.

Unfortunately some youths in this age thought because their parents are rich, or in position of authority, they do not need this respect, rather their resources should be milked, and do not even care to work hard and make a living for themselves. It doesn’t matter, whether your parents are rich, or they are poor, looking after them is a responsibility you must fulfil.

This is what we have been taught by the noble Qur’an “And We have enjoined upon man [care] for his parents. His mother carried him, [increasing her] in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years. Be grateful to Me and to your parents; to Me is the [final] destination.”  [Quran 31:14].

Few years back, a friend told me a story about the reaction of his parents when he became a Muslim. They thought they have lost him. Yet after reading these verses, and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace), about the position of parents, he increased his phone calls to them, his visits increased, his support for their needs multiplied, not only did they accept his decision, indeed, they turned out to be proud of his new way of life.