Tuesday, July 23, 2013

الذين هم على صلاتهم دائمون

A few days ago I went out with my sister and friends for eftar at this place in Riyad. After we broke our fast we took turns to pray on this mat on the abandoned top floor of the restaurant. I waited for a couple of guys to finish, then took my sandals off and stepped onto the mat. Then a young girl appeared and asked me where the bathroom was for wudu (ablutions). I recognized her as one of a couple sitting at the table next to ours, and taking in her heavy makeup, perfume and shiny hair, I wondered at her bravery for wanting to wash her face. Usually, if you’re going out and know you’ll have to pray at some point, it makes sense to go prepared. And there’s no point of going out for eftar without praying maghrib. Anyway, the bathroom on that floor was dark and didn’t look like it worked, so I told her there should be one on the floor below us, at which point she disappeared. I forgot all about her and took my time and finished my prayers, then went back downstairs again, only to find the girl back in her seat, makeup and hair in place. She was right in front of me and jumped guiltily when she saw me, and looked down at her plate in embarrassment. I ignored her and went to my table and sat down, laughing to myself at this girl’s ignorance of who it was she should be embarrassed of. Obviously not me, cuz I couldn’t care less who she was and whether she prayed or fasted or even bathed or not.

However, I wondered about the fact that there are still people these days who don’t pray. I mean, I know a lot of kids don’t, but I don’t really understand why. And it’s so lame and primitive, not praying, like, inta lisa min zaman alnas ma bisalo? I mean, really, why don’t they pray? Is it because they don’t believe in God? How is that even possible? I always wondered about people who don’t believe God exists. Especially people who are in a field even remotely related to science, and especially medicine. I mean, how could you see how intricately every tiny being in this humongous universe is built and designed and functioned, and believe that all that was created by some freak accident? How could you study about gas exchange in the lungs and neurotransmitters in the brain and how the scents that you smell trigger memories that are in themselves electricity and chemicals stirred together, and how a child is conceived and put together cell by cell to form a heart and a brain and a spine, then a whole human being, and delivered to the world to walk and talk and poop, and believe that there could be no One behind that? How could you know that 80% of all beings are water, but you still end up having cucumbers and tomatoes and caterpillars and sunflowers, all grown from the same water pouring down from the sky and sprout from the same dirt in the ground, but all so different, and believe this is all just coincidence? How can you not believe in God after everything you see around you day in day out? If you don’t then there’s just something wrong with you.

Or don’t you pray because you believe in God, but don’t think you need to do anything about that belief? I’ve met and heard of dozens of people who explain that their belief in God and their worship for him is purely spiritual, and that they don’t need to actually do anything about that belief, and it’s between them and God. Its people like these that truly test my faith sometimes, because they explain with utmost ease and certainty and confidence that faith and worship should be simple spiritual, and that God doesn’t need us to go through routine bowing and bending motions to prove anything. One person actually went so far as to tell me that actually, the whole Islamic nation has had it wrong for years, that there’s really no such thing as praying and fasting and such, and that somewhere along the way all this was a misinterpretation of what God and the Prophet (SAWS) actually said. Really? I mean, really?? These people can go on for hours and its actually a waste of time bring their attention to things like the 5 pillars of Islam, and convincing that, actually, without ALL FIVE of these pillars, there's kind of no point of your Islam at all. And one of those pillars is praying 5 times a day ON TIME. Newsflash ya 7abba:
قال رسول الله (صلى الله عليه وسلم) "أول ما يحاسب عليه العبد يوم القيامة الصلاة فإن صلحت صلح سائر عمله وإن فسدت فسد سائر عمله" رواه الترمذي والنسائي
Bala spirituality ma3ak bala bi6eekh 3alek Allah.
I guess most kids don’t pray simply because they’re too lazy to, or don’t realize how dangerous not praying is, or because it’s just not cool cuz none of their idols with their pants down to their knees do it. But who ever said that not praying or wearing hijab or reading quran and seera lessens any bit of what cool you have? You don’t have to grow a beard and wear short pants you know, you can still rock your Converse and even those ridiculous pants and headgear but still step into a mosque when it’s time to pray. And hijab is way more cooler than it used to be, it’s not about walking around in a shapeless sack anymore. There are loads of cool young Muslims who are like a breath of fresh air, like Ahmed Alshigeiri, Mustafa Davis and Leila Aboulela. Just look at regular people like you and me: bloggers, writers, photographers, film makers, graphic designers, fashion designers, etc. I used to think it’s the family’s fault for not raising them right, and many times it is. But kids reach their teenage years and start doing things their own way no matter how right their parents teach them, so we can’t always blame them. The biggest problem is who they make friends with at this point, cuz they’re the ones who’ll drag them down or pull them up. And how someone could hear just one aya describing Hell and all its horrors, or 3athab alqabr with its crushing darkness and terror, and still have the nerve to simply ignore such a huge and yet easy thing like praying, is just beyond me.

To be honest, I think Muslims who ‘believe’ in God but don’t pray for whatever reason or excuse, are shallow and ignorant, for want of a better word. It’s not about the praying routine itself, it’s about doing what you’re told and trying your best to make yourself a better person with the ultimate goal of rida Alla SWT. Yes, you give to the poor and you don’t lie. But why? Just because? Or because that’s the ‘right’ thing to do? Doing good things for the sake of God gives your work a third dimension, makes it more meaningful, because you’re doing this out of faith, knowing that you’ll get more blessings than you can imagine just for intending to do good. Or when you work really hard in your job or studies, because part of being a good Muslim is to seek education and put as much effort as possible into whatever it is you do.

Anyway, I’m probably not doing the best job of encouraging people to pray and wear hijab and stuff. What I want to say is that people who don’t pray are lame. Bas. Shape up, people, this isn't a joke. And its never too late to start, but it's also never too early. God is really nice, but His wrath is also something you don't even want to know about.
فَقُلْتُ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ إِنَّهُ كَانَ غَفَّارًا (10) يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاء عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا (11) وَيُمْدِدْكُمْ بِأَمْوَالٍ وَبَنِينَ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ وَيَجْعَل لَّكُمْ أَنْهَارًا (12) سورة نوح 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Follow up

One of the (many) things that irritate me is the way people talk about the government like it’s been the best we’ve ever had, and all the good things they’ve done for us (kabaaari wu shawaaaari3, wu sokkar!), and how the country is in the best situation it could be especially when you compare to how it used to be (saf albinzeen wal3eish). I don’t really have much to say to those people, because it’s quite difficult to argue with someone who’s logic is that the government is doing us a favour by ‘providing’ all these luxuries. Also, these people tend to go deaf when you reason that what ‘product’ there is has nothing to do with the resources available, e.g. one of the few bridges built since 1989 could be very easily funded by a couple of hundred of those working abroad from the millions the government charges them in taxes and zakat. And there are WAY more than a couple of hundred Sudanese working abroad who pay taxes and zakat.
On the other hand, you have the people who are dissatisfied with their ‘dictators’ because they aren’t providing enough, or aren’t giving them their rights, or have been in power for so long they just want a change wu khalas. What annoys me is that all they see are the negative things, no matter how minor these things are. They manage to see the bad in everything, whether or not it exists. I saw this firsthand in Oman during those few weeks of unrest following the Arab Spring when people demonstrated against the government with all sorts of demands, like raising minimum wage and creating more jobs. Reasonable requests, everyone would agree. But what was not reasonable was the blatant and unjust accusations of the government (namely the Sultan) not providing anything for the people, not investing in their well being and progress, not providing basic healthcare or education or comfort. Even though healthcare and education are both completely free, and Oman has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Or a slightly different situation like Turkey, where for all the (alleged) human rights violations and questionable political crackdowns, you have excellent public services and economic growth. Schools are built within tight standards, with things like bathrooms for those with special needs being made mandatory. Health system reform has changed the way health is addressed. Emergency rooms are equipped with ultrasound machines (free of charge) based on evidence of their importance in managing critically injured patients. Just look at the way they take care of refugees for crying out loud. And the way they break up demonstrations. This sounds crazy, but overhear demonstrations are broken up with live ammunition, not water. I’m not saying they should be completely forgiven for whatever they do. I’m saying that at least there is use of tax-payers money in providing excellent public services, which is the way it should be.
So when you look at Sudan and see the few bridges and many roads that have been so nicely provided by the government, please don’t tell me katar kheirom al3amalo kida. The fact is that they haven’t done anything compared to what they SHOULD be doing, and relative to how much money they have. Also, it is the government’s JOB to be doing these things. They’re not doing us or anyone else a favour. So instead of pouring all the money into blasting our fellow Sudanese to smithereens, a little more attention to the actual welfare of the country would be nice.

عن معقل بن يسارد http://www.alminbar.net/images/radia-icon.gifمرفوعاً: (رجلان ما تنالهما شفاعتي: إمام ظلوم غشوم، وآخر غال في الدين مارق منه)، رواه ابن أبي عاصم في السنة
عن معقل بن يسار مرفوعاً: ((ما من أمير يلي أمر المسلمين ثم لا يجهد لهم وينصح لهم إلا لم يدخل معهم الجنة)) [مسلم]

Winds of Change

Someone once described my reports of what’s really going on in the health sector in Sudan as ‘propaganda’. I wasn’t insulted or anything, but it did remind me of the huge gap between what happens in the offices and corridors of the ministry of health and what the situation on the ground actually is. Once I asked my consultant why the average citizen in somewhere like Ombada for example doesn’t see any of the good that comes from all this work we’re doing. He answered, quite rightly, that people will always be dissatisfied, and those that voice the dissatisfaction (and eventually overthrow their regimes), are not the average person from Ombada, but actually the better-off people from Alamarat (and Arkaweet), who are more educated, know their ‘rights’, and have much less to lose by voicing this dissatisfaction. But why should there be any dissatisfaction at all? Well, because most of the ‘good things’ we do are not related to building new hospitals or cutting user fees; rather they are root changes that take years to show their results, and even then the average person from Ombada, or Alamarat, or Arkaweet, will not know that the maternal mortality rate dropped by 60% over 15 years or that health insurance coverage reached 90% after it was just 33%. That’s the definition of public health.
Anyway, from the relatively short period of time that I have worked in the public service side of the health sector in this country, I have been surprised over and over again by just how not-so-bad this system and sector is. There is genuine concern for the people’s good, but not from everyone, ‘cuz not everyone cares that much. There is a lot of hard work and a lot of money being invested in hundreds of projects and initiatives that are really good and that affect thousands of peoples’ lives in a positive manner, but not everyone hears about them because most of the time they’re in places no one has even heard of. There is  a well-structured system of policies and guidelines and rules and plans, but people don’t follow them. Most of them don’t know they even exist. There are hundreds of well-qualified young (and old) people with vast degrees and experiences, but who are simply not motivated, or paid enough, to work as much or as hard as they are capable of. There are billions – and I mean BILLIONS – of dollars in foreign aid pouring in to this country left and right with detailed timelines, objectives and expected outcomes, but they’re not always used in the best manner. Not because they go into people’s pockets. They do, of course, just not as much as people think. It’s mostly because the people who don’t care so much, and who don’t follow policies and guidelines and rules and plans, and mostly don’t even know they exist, and who aren’t motivated or paid enough, don’t know how to manage all this money and most of it ends up going back to where it came from at the end of the year because of the poor management. So unlike popular opinion, that there is ‘no system in this country’ and that’s the main reason why it’s going to the dogs, it’s actually not the system, it’s the people working the system. Or supposed to be working it, actually. It’s not everyone in the system, but enough of them to keep the country’s health sector in the middle-ages.
However, there is hope.
Despite the crazy migration rate with around 80% of graduates on their way out, there is still new blood being pumped into the government. And a lot of these people are hardworking and smart. Also, a lot of that money coming into the system finds its way into capacity building programs, so almost everyone in the system gets training, ranging from simple local CPD activities and workshops, to overseas courses, to full time MSc degrees from respectful universities like Leeds and Washington. There are all sorts of overseas experts and companies and organizations entering and exiting the country, who share their time, expertise and money and lead projects and support strategies. Of course they make as much as they give, if not more, but there’s still good to come of it. My point is that it’s not great, but it’s also not all bad. Not everyone in the government is with the government, and I think I’m a prime example of that. Things are bad, but not as bad as we think. And, although it looks like things are getting worse (which I don’t deny they are), they’re still not getting as worse as they could. Does that make any sense? I am in no way congratulating the government on a job well-done (and if you think I'm turning soft just wait for my next blog post). And don't underestimate the worth and power of a few people: just like a handful of idiots are capable of squashing the country and pulling it down, a couple of handful of young people are capable of pulling it out and dusting off the dirt. Seriously. I’m just saying that there are some good things happening that not everyone hears about over the ruckus around hospital-selling and shooting prices and expired medication and vaccination scandals. Bas. Also, just for clarification, Mamoud Himeida does not represent the government. He is just the Khartoum state minister of health (meaning he is in-charge of Khartoum wu bas), and doesn't really have that many friends or supporters in the government after all. I don't need to remind you that Sudan has 16 states OTHER than Khartoum, which above mentioned state minister has no hand in ruining.
Speaking of which, the parliament has finally cancelled the tax on national-produced pharmaceuticals (it used to be 30% while imported pharmaceuticals were tax and custom-exempt), and the percentage from government budget allocated to health has been pushed up to 15% from the original 8%. Of course we are yet to see this on the ground, but having actually passed through parliament is still an accomplishment I think.
It is worth noting that those pushing for these changes are all women.