Madame Blossom's Book of Poems

Monday, April 30, 2012

Character Building and Values Education

I attended a lecture last Saturday morning at MUIS, titled as above. The speaker, Dr Salih Yucel is currently residing in Australia and has worked with the Gulen Movement for about 9 years. The lessons or tips on character building and values education is shared from the Gulen's movements story.

Dr Salih Yucel himself, is a very humble man, masyaAllah. He asks audience to ask him questions or give him feedback on how he can improve himself, if they find any shortcomings in his presentation. I can sense his sincerity and he is a very confident person. Confident with the values that he has in him, which is Islam.

He speaks about how the Gulen movement began and progressed with these very Islamic values. Islamic values that were shown through actions, not so much printed words or titles. There is no mention of the word 'Islam' in the movement's schools or hospitals and other entities' names. However the values of Islam is strongly felt and acted upon by the people in these organisations, be them Muslims or non-Muslim volunteers or employees.

Dr Yucel stressed that character building and values education happen most effectively through having a role model. A teacher's sincerity for a child's success will have a strong impact on the child. Other than just teaching the subjects, the teacher should be a role model for the child to emulate.

The role model can also be the volunteer mentors who meets the child on a regular basis. If the parents agree, they have some after school programs for the child - which may even include learning the Qur'an. The mentor visits the home of the child they are in charge of, 1-2 times a year, to talk to the parents and see the living and studying conditions at home, to fully understand the child's situation. Mentors are also available 24/7 for the child to call and speak to, if they have any difficulties. It's very personal.

The values that these mentors and all volunteers of the Gulen movement are suppose to practise and show, includes being sincere, humble, caring, kind to parents and others generally, generous etc. (can't recall a few more).

The Gulen movement is a very successful and rich movement with branches in many other countries. However the employees do not get very rich from the movements. They earn enough to have a decent life - but even then most of them donate a portion of their salaries back to the movement. Even the founder, Fethullah Gulen - does not live in a mansion. He lives in a small flat and he dedicates his earnings and himself to the movement as much as the others do. He refuse to be called the leader - he insists that he is a servant of the movement just as the others are.

Dr Yucel says that in a study to compare the dedication of teachers towards students, he found that volunteer teachers and tutors, are more dedicated compared teachers who are rewarded with a (good) salary. (a point to ponder).

He also mentioned about trade. Successful businessmen involved in Gulen, instinctively gives back a portion of what they earn back to the community. As Islam teaches us, we are not to hoard wealth but to let the wealth circulate through trade, and charity.

These are a few of the interesting questions asked, during the Q&A session that I'd like to touch on.

1) This question came from a Catholic Christian Chinese woman. She is pleased with the presentation and the idea brought forth. She said, 'giving' as the volunteers do with their time and money, can be quite stressful. How does the Gulen Movement help their volunteers overcome the stress?

2) An old Chinese man, a Catholic priest said that he is impressed and very much inspired by the idea and the work of the Gulen movement. He acknowledges that Christians and Muslims, share some common history, both being a branch of the Abrahamic faith. However he sense that the Muslim's spirituality in how the Gulen's movement is carried out, is far more advanced that what he sees in his own Christian community. What, he asked, does the speaker think, is missing from them, that they for now, are not able to match the vigour that exists in Islam?

It was towards the end of the Q&A session and to save time, the moderator wanted to collect two questions, before Dr Yucel answers, so above were among the pair of questions collected. I forgot exactly how Dr Yucel answered the two questions. I believe he told some inspiring stories about the sincerity of people and how they are rewarded in other ways, through other means, with the grace of Allah SWT.

3) A Muslim sister said, she was moved to tears by the presentation. She asked, if Dr Yucel could give some tips on how to start such movement.

4) Another Muslim young man asked, Dr Yucel, if he could, provide in summary e.g. 7 steps to creating such movements.

There were other questions along that line too. Someone else asked how to start such movement or promote such ideas in a country or place that has already in place, a very organised education system (set by the government).

Basically as an answer to all these kind of questions, Dr Yucel says, start small. You need some 'mad men' he says, who will sacrifice most of himself, to start this movement. And then there is faith in the reward of the Hereafter, and sincerity and of course hard work.

Importantly he said, start with oneself, renew ourselves every single day. He says that Fethullah Gulen reads the Quran every day and does tahajjud. It's important that we keep ourselves in check regularly. He also mentioned that when we succeed in something or become rich or smart - we must remember that it does not belong to us. Always be humble and know that it can only come from Allah SWT and Allah can take it back anytime. So make use of Allah's gifts to us as His servants, as best as we possibly can by giving back to other people.

As to the questions asked by the Christian audience, I think the answer can be one. It's strong faith. How strong is the faith in an Almighty God? How strong is the faith of the people in the Hereafter? It's only when people have such clear faith in these, that they are willing to sacrifice their all - because they are sincere and they don't hope for reward in this life. For most of them, their hope is in the reward in the Hereafter and the blessings of Allah SWT.

As such, I don't think the case of helping a volunteer overcome their stress - is a big issue. They feel tired, they face difficulties sometimes - but they face it with faith that Allah gives us tests in this life and they hope for Allah SWT's reward in Hereafter. I would imagine if individually anyone feels so tired and stressed out that they would take a short break. But if the volunteer is always 'renewing' himself by guarding his relationship with Allah SWT regularly (regular prayers, reading Qur'an), there shouldn't be a problem not manageable by the people involved.

I think one very strong point and reason why this movement has worked and come so far - is the sincerity and dedication of the leader (even though it is claimed that he hates being called that). He practises what he preach. He is being a role model to all his other fellow volunteers. Oh yes, Dr Yucel also mentioned this point - imagine if a school seek some help from parents, and the parents come and see the principal and the teachers doing hard labour in building or doing something for the school - it would naturally incline the volunteers to do as much.

However imagine a principal asking for help, and then parents come and see a teacher instructing parents what to do, while the principal is sits in his office doing paper work, the drive, is not the same - it's much weaker.

I think if people are eager to start this project with an objective to be as successful as the Gulen movement, they will not get far, because the objective is not set right in the first place. However if the people start small, with the truest intention to help the others, and not care about how big it will get or if it can get as big as Gulen - insyaAllah they'll move forward.

We need to make an effort, then let the result be determined by Allah SWT. What matters for us is sincerity and effort and don't let the 'KPI's bother the volunteers with their work.

There is so much more I want to say - including a look at our current help organisations. I want to find an organisation where the 'leader' is as humble as Dr Gulen or Dr Yucel. A leader who is not just mostly talk and less action. I want to see a leader who REALLY does the thing that other normal volunteer does. Not just for a Kodak moment, but for real. I want to know of an organisation whose leader can name one of the people their organisation is helping - because it's personal, there is real empathy, real connection, where the recipients are not just another statistic to improve on.

Whatever our position and work, it still goes back to our truest intention. Our intention should be for Allah SWT. Not caring about recognition or wealth in this world. Not caring about what others think or say. However, this can only be achieved when our iman in strong. So again - it all starts with the strength of our iman.

I was also personally very moved by the talk. Yes, I cried. I cried was because I was so impressed by their dedication and I realise my own shortcomings - I have so much room for improvements. There are so many people so much better than I, and I must try to be like them or better than them.

I truly hope we all will benefit from the lecture in a REAL and CONCRETE manner. Aamiin.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In despising the true rival.

A hypothetical scenario:
'Would you wear a shirt with an Arsenal logo on it?'
'NO! not in my life!! Man U forever!'
'But it's just a logo'
'I'd rather not have a t-shirt to put on than to wear a t-shirt with an Arsenal logo on it - that's our rival!'
...and so the man feels oh-so strongly about the Arsenal logo, but they don't feel anything whatsoever about wearing the logo intended to feature the Devil, our REAL arch-enemy.
'Oh come on, don't make a big thing out of that. It's just a logo,' they say.
This is not about which soccer team you support - that's so trivial. It is food for thought and about checking our hearts and iman.
P.S. I read on a Man U forum, a guy nicknamed 'forever united' commented : If the reason for the Devil on the Man Utd logo is based on a nickname , I think its wrong to have it. We are just giving glory to the devil by it being there. I hope united can change it.
Verily Satan is an enemy to you; so treat him as an enemy. He only invites his adherents that they may become companions of the Blazing Fire. ~ Fatir 35:6
O ye who believe! Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one; for he is to you an avowed enemy. ~ Al Baqarah 2:208
(translation of the Qur'an by Yusuf Ali)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baby's first few words/phrases

I just saw a post where someone was asking if anyone still lets their child listen to nasyid or qasidah, which reminded me of something that I was thinking about.

I wish I had had this thought when I had my first baby. Anyhow I hope it's not too late for me to instill good Islam in my children.
What's the thought? Being the long-winded me, let me explain how the thought came about and what the thought was.

I was sitting by my window one day, looking at the trees swaying gently as the wind strongly blew. I was reminded of the ayat, 'Annajmu wasshajaru yasjudaan' which roughly translate to "The stars and the trees bow (in adoration to Allah)" from Ar-Rahman 55:6.
Then I was thinking about how I can or am, albeit (very?) slowly, learning the vocabularies of the Arabic language by reading the Quran and trying to understand it through the translations. (May Allah make it easy for me. Aamiin).

Then I thought, masyaAllah if I have a baby now (not that I want..but it's a big hypothetical IF I have) I'd like to teach the baby his/her first few words from the Quran. Perhaps first word could and should be 'Allah'. Then, instead of pointing to the moon and telling the baby, 'Moon', why don't I say, for example, 'Qamar - Asshamsu wal qamaru bi husbaan'. I will not only be feeding vocabs to the baby, but also the Quran. Subhanallah.

Also instead of singing 'The wheels on a bus go round and round', why not I recite to the baby, over and over again, surah Al-Ikhlas? Reminding them, of the acknowledgement we made to Allah SWT.

Aaah.. how I wish I had known what I know (little of) now, then.

Perhaps I can do that with my grandchildren, insyaAllah.

Our Lord! Grant unto us spouse(s) and offsprings who will be the comfort of our eyes, and give us (the grace) to lead the righteous. Aamiin.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Makkah & Madinah

People have told me of 'miraculous' things happening while they were in Makkah, or of an immediate retribution to either another person or themselves when they said something arrogant or they were not being nice.

They ask me what I felt when I first saw the Ka'bah' and if any 'miraculous' thing happened to me. I have to disappoint them by saying that nothing 'miraculous' happened.

Before the trip I imagined that when I saw the Ka'bah for the first time, I'd be crying. Just imagining and thinking about it, I sometime felt so touched and tears welled up in my eyes.

However, quite disturbing to me initially, was the fact that I didn't tear when I first saw the Ka'bah. We arrived Makkah after 9pm. We were not very fresh. The group leader brought us to Masjidil Haram, from the Hotel. Once we entered Masjidil Haram, we could see the Ka'bah, but there was no time to dwell into my awe or feelings or thoughts. There were many people moving and I was trying to stay out of their way. The group leader was saying something and then reciting a group doa upon seeing Ka'bah. And everyone was just trying to stick together and can only saying Aameen, Aameen to a doa that I can't hear properly, not to mention, don't exactly know what it means. I think I may have even forgotten to just say the words that Rasulullah's companions (R.A) used to say when they see the Ka'bah (Allahumma antassalam...).

People told me of miraculous happenings when they suddenly had access to the Hajar Aswad, where the many people around like as if split like the Red Sea must have split for Nabi Musa A.S. - so they could walk straight to Hajar Aswad and kissed it. Nothing like that happened for me.

After the chaotic first encounter with the Ka'bah, I had many chances to go to Masjidil Haram on my own. It was during those times that I was able to peacefully do my own prayers and doas and contemplate as I look at the Ka'bah in awe at the many historical events that had occurred here - from the time of Nabi Ibrahim A.S, Nabi Ismail A.S, Rasulullah SAW, the trials and tribulations, the conquest the victory. And now, masyaAllah, how the whole world is facing this place that I was looking at to perform their prayers. Allah has 'invited' my family and I here.. I was allowed to be here, masyaAllah.

Just then a petite and lovely old lady from East Europe (I think) who was standing beside me, also looking at the Ka'bah, said 'La hawla wala quwwata illa billah' (There is no change/improvement or power except by Allah SWT).
Immediately I felt a sense of connection to her. I turned to her and we smiled at each other with the deepest feelings inside, which is somewhat reflected in her facial expression.

We are one - one ummah - praying The One God. We wouldn't have made it here, if not for the Will of Allah SWT alone.

When comes the Help of Allah, and Victory,
And thou dost see the people enter Allah's Religion in crowds,
Celebrate the praises of thy Lord, and pray for His Forgiveness: For He is Oft-Returning (in Grace and Mercy).
An Nasr 110:1-3

I guess my excitements and the 'miracles' I encountered were more subtle. It may be easily missed or dismissed if one does not pay attention to the small bits of blessings Allah SWT provide to us constantly.

I sincerely don't feel disappointed for not having experienced amazing 'miracles'. I am just so very grateful to Allah SWT that I was even ABLE to be in Makkah and Madinah with my whole family. It was what I have always dreamed of doing, and it became possible quite suddenly.

I hope that Allah SWT accept our humble and imperfect Umrah. I also pray that Allah SWT will provide us with more of such chances to visit Baituallah and Madinah again, and hopefully next time, more we aim to perform it better. Aamiin.

p.s. But I do have some little stories I hope to keep in this blog. Will update when time Allah permits. (And hopefully before I forget about it).

Here to see pictures.