Wednesday, June 24, 2015

الذين هم على صلاتهم دائمون 2

A while ago I wrote a post about praying, and I remember getting variable forms of feedback ranging from mild approval to frank disapproval. One friend told me my approach was, like me, arrogant and condescending as if I was boasting about my own praying and looked down on those who didn’t. Another friend talked about how prayer was a struggle for many people and that several factors played into these people’s decision/inability to pray or not to. One person posed the familiar question of how prayer plays into defining one’s character as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; i.e. which one is better? The bad person who prays or the good person who doesn’t?

I have been meaning to write a follow up post on this for a while but never got round to it, mostly because I still don’t have any clear idea about what I think of it and how to approach it. The issue is difficult to understand because there are so many different points of view, and because it’s so personal. And what’s more difficult is how to present this issue in a manner that is neither insulting nor condescending to the concerned parties. Basically, how to talk to someone who doesn’t pray about praying, and ‘convince’ them to start praying. I recently went through this experience with a friend, and it was one of the most uncomfortable experiences ever. Along the way I looked for different articles or talks on the matter and came across this, this and this (take your pick).

I wonder, like many people, about why I cared or bothered about this person’s faith. This is a popular question or comeback when someone confronts a non-praying person about their practice. Why do you care? How is this any of your business? How does my not praying affect you or anyone else? This is something between me and God, and no one else has the right to interfere. To be honest, this was the exact same way I thought about this and other personal matters my whole life. I don’t really care what grown adults do or don’t do with their selves as long as it doesn’t affect me or anyone else negatively. It generally doesn’t affect the way I choose to deal with this person, and I just don’t ask or think about it, because a) its none of my business, and b) if this person knows that it’s wrong and still does it, then that is a personal and informed choice and it’s not my place to interfere. This rule is only irrelevant if the concerned person plans on being family; i.e. is a marriage candidate (for myself or another family member). Then, it becomes my business what this person’s faith is like, how they dress, what their family is like, etc. But what if they’re not? What about regular friends or colleagues or acquaintances? What about them?

Technically, it really is none of my business. But apparently, that’s not entirely true. Apparently, it is the duty of every Muslim to ‘advise’ others about their faith and practice. Also, if you have a minimum degree of affection for someone you kind of care if they’re doing something wrong.
But the problem is no one likes being told they’re doing something wrong and that they need to fix it. No girl likes being told she ‘should’ wear hijab. No guy likes being told he ‘shouldn’t’ smoke. No one likes being told they ‘should’ pray or fast or go to Hajj or whatever. Especially if all these people already know that they ‘should’ be doing these things and choose not to. And playing the role of the preacher and advisor is equally uncomfortable and un-cool, especially when you are so full of flaws yourself and the whole situation is just plain hypocritical. And you almost always end up with the popular argument of ‘who says its ‘wrong’ in the first place?’ which is a whole other story. But what can you do? Just ignore the whole thing and act like everything is ok? What if this person is someone you genuinely care for and know is good on the inside, but just needs a gentle push? I personally know several people who grew up in non-practicing or ‘liberal’ families. No one ever told them they should pray, or taught them about it. In fact, in some places this was actually frowned upon. But they were still raised with good manners and open minds, and eventually, they came to it by themselves. They found their faith by themselves. And this was – mostly – done with the help of friends, or an acquaintance, or even just someone on TV who talked to them and touched the right spot in their hearts and opened the way. People who live in non-Muslim countries and are farthest away from any faith somehow find their way to Islam and step over into the light. It’s not impossible; Allah guides whoever he wants.

So, technically, each one of us is potentially someone who could help guide someone else. But then comes the other more difficult problem: how? What do you say? What do you not say? Do you talk about the terrible consequences of not praying and eternal Hell Fire? Of course not, unless you plan on killing whatever chance you had with them in the first place. Do you remind them that actually, prayer is the second pillar of Islam, and without it you’re technically not a Muslim? Possibly, but that still sounds quite threatening. Or do you try and talk to them about God’s mercy and grace, and how praying is not just an order handed down that must be followed or else His wrath will fall upon you, but that it’s a means to connect on a regular basis with Him and to keep an open dialogue that you can access whenever you want? That through it you regularly affirm your position as His subject and servant, and therefore at the most need of His mercy and guidance?
And then comes the most challenging question of all: why don’t you pray? There are a million and one reasons why people don’t pray. First and foremost is just sheer laziness. I didn’t pray when I was growing up, even though I was raised in a very conservative family and most of our prayers at home were jama3a. I prayed on and off as a teenager, but most of the time I just couldn’t bother. There was no conscious thought in my head about why I don’t, or what will happen to me if I continue this way, or anything at all. I just didn’t pray. It wasn’t part of my schedule. I was with a group of friends who didn’t pray either, and were as far away from it as could be. And then, suddenly, I just started. I think it was after our second Umrah when I started to wear hijab, and it just came with the package. Whatever the reason was, I started, and never stopped or dreamed of stopping a single minute of my life. And sometimes I wonder: if I hadn’t started praying back then, would I start now at this point in my life? After reaching this point of relative ‘stability’, routine, maturity and ‘understanding’? Going from not praying at all to praying regularly isn’t as simple as starting healthy eating or exercise, or planning to read a book every week or take on a new challenge every month. Praying is submission. It is a lifestyle. It’s a structure, a manifestation of faith, or thanksgiving and groveling and comfort. It’s not just a series of mindless movements set to a specific timing that one needs to work into their daily routine. And it comes with many other things: attitude, dress, curbing bad habits, modesty, reading Quran, etc. It’s quite a lot of work if one wants to do it the right way. And, like it or not, one needs to do it the right way.

Some people don’t pray simply because they don’t see the need to. I’ve heard many people talk about their ‘spiritual’ faith and belief in God, and how that connection is enough and nothing anyone says, including the Prophet SAWS, can convince them otherwise. One person told me that actually, prayer is a misinterpretation of holy text that has been going on for hundreds of years and that the entire Islamic nation is misinformed. They questioned how a bunch of movements had any link to faith and were actually necessary to be considered Muslim. I don’t know what to think or how to respond to these kinds of people. They confuse me.

And then there are the people who may want to pray, but just can’t. Interestingly, some of them can’t or don’t pray because they are badgered by people (like me) who keep telling them to, and this is a reflexive action. I can totally relate to this idea. Whenever someone orders me to do something, I immediately decide that I won’t do it (even if I actually wanted to), or do the exact opposite of whatever it is I’ve been ordered to do, or even just postpone doing it until it feels like I’m doing it of my own accord and not because they told me to. Some people have just been out of the practice for so long that it’s not something they can relate to anymore. Their faith is like a little patch of colour hidden somewhere deep within them that they cannot access anymore; not because they don’t want to, but just forgot how to. Or maybe they just don’t want to after all. Some people just don’t feel that need, and believe that if Rabana wanted them to, they would.

This whole issue is something that I would like to forget about and live comfortably in indifference to other people’s faith and practice and focus only on myself. But I can’t. Yes, we should try and fix ourselves and become better Muslims rather than looking into other people’s flaws, but we are also obliged to help when we can. I eventually lost my friend due to several intertwining and complicated issues. While the prayer issue wasn’t a leading cause, it still cast a different light on other things and put it in a different context.

But If I could do it all over again, however, I would still do the same thing. And from my own experience, just take it one step at a time, one prayer at a time, and try and surround yourself with people who will help you do it, even if they're not as cool as your regular crowd, and you'll get there in sha' Allah. 

}إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِي مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء} القصص، 56

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Working With The Enemy: part 2

This is really late, but better late than never. My plans didn’t really go as expected (as if they ever do) and my work at the military hospital was cut short some time after the second week due to several circumstances. A few things happened here and there, but what I remember the most is the guy who was hit by a car and brought in to the trauma bay.
When I first saw him he was on the couch on the far side of the room; an obese man who was irritated and in some pain, but not much. The doctors were looking at his CT images on the light board. He had been knocked over by a car and the injuries had broken a few ribs, punctured his lung and burst his spleen. I later heard that when he had come in he was so comfortable and not in any pain that the receiving doctor almost discharged him, but then decided to do an Xray to be on the safe side and found half his chest full of blood. I brought over the ultrasound machine and showed the doctors how to do a FAST scan to look for free fluid (blood) in the abdomen. He was the type that we call ‘not ultrasound friendly’, because we could barely see anything at all. 
When I came in the next day, he had been transferred from the trauma room to Room A for critical patients. The surgeons didn’t want to take him into surgery because they thought his spleen injury could be managed conservatively. I took over from the receiving doctor and waited for him to come back from the CT room. They had decided to scan his brain again because his consciousness had seemed to deteriorate. When he came back, he appeared to be fast asleep. But of course, anyone who has worked long enough in an ER knows that no one who appears to be fast asleep is actually fast asleep, especially if they’re snoring. In 10 minutes, he had been intubated and hooked onto a ventilator. For my non-medical readers, he had rapidly succumbed into a coma and could no longer maintain his airways and so we paralyzed him and put a tube down his throat and connected him to a machine that breathed for him.
In the middle of the chaos, the surgeon walked in with his brain CT, and we looked at the huge black area in the back of his brain that had appeared over night. It wasn’t a bleed, it was dead tissue, what we call an infarct. From my non-medial readers, when blood supply is cut to areas of the brain because of a blood clot or injury to the supplying vessels, parts of the brain die and appear black (at first) on the CT. Usually, in the context of trauma or head injury, if there is a bleed in the brain then surgery might be an option depending on the size of the bleed, location, etc. in order to drain the blood out and relieve pressure on the brain. But an infarct (tissue that is already dead) is inoperable, and when the neurosurgeons came in they stated the obvious and walked away. Then the medics came in and decided to treat him as a standard stroke and start him on Aspirin and physiotherapy, and that was it from them. This didn’t quite make sense to me, and the ER resident who came in later confirmed my suspicions. It seemed the initial accident had injured the blood vessels in the neck and there was a tear that was climbing up and cutting off the blood supply. This was something that needed urgent surgical intervention from a surgeon specialized in vascular surgery (blood vessels). But what alarmed me wasn’t this; the doctor couldn’t be sure that the injury to the vessels hadn’t happened after the guy came to the hospital; meaning it could have been caused by the doctors and nurses. At this point I tried to remember if I had ever seen him wearing a hard cervical collar (standard for all trauma patients to protect their spine), and couldn’t. The injury could very easily have happened while transferring him from a couch to gurney or vice versa, turning him over, moving him between rooms, moving him in and out of the CT machine (3 times at least), or anything at all. This was not good.
The guy’s oldest son was 20 something who was moving around in a state of miserable shock, and every time we shooed him or his relatives out of the room he would drift back inside again. He looked terribly young and terribly scared and couldn’t exactly understand what was going on. The whole 3 days that I came and left while the patient was still there, I saw him wearing the same grey shirt and dark grey pants, leaning on a wall here, lying down on a bunch of chairs there. After my last night shift I went up to the cafeteria at 7 am and found him sitting there drinking some coffee. Then he drifted back downstairs again and sat in the waiting area right at the back, looking as miserable as ever. I vaguely wondered when someone would have to tell him the news that his father had died, and how he would take it. He looked too young to take over the responsibility of a family. I don't remember ever seeing the patient's wife, and wondered how old she was. She couldn't be that old either. Then I thought about how they would take the idea that their father was probably in the state he was now because of something that could count up to medical negligence. But again, if this hadn't been the military hospital and they hadn't had insurance then chances are they might not even had found that infarct. They would still be stumbling around trying to get an initial CT and Xrays, running around buying their own medications and equipment, waiting for hours for a doctor to see them and not even dreaming of a specialist or senior doctor to look at the case. So it wasn't all that bad I guess.
Later that week I came back to the hospital to study with a friend because my exams were coming up, and I looked into all the rooms downstairs and the ICU upstairs for him but couldn’t find him. No one even remembered him or seemed to care where he went, but the answer I got was that he was either moved to the main ICU inside the hospital, or he had died, because he definitely wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, I stopped looking for him.
A lot of stuff happened after that and I came back to the military hospital later that week as an attendant this time, since my grandfather was admitted there for almost 3 weeks. It was a miserable time as all hospital admissions are, but this time there were more senior nurses taking care of my gramps and it wasn’t all that bad, Alhamdulillah. The last week of his admission I came to the hospital, late as usual, and had to park my car far from the room because everywhere else was full. Then, I guessed since I was near the cafeteria I might as well get some stuff, so I walked lazily down the yard and entered the noisy cafeteria, got a bunch of stuff, walked back out, made some phone calls and wasted a lot of time. None of this was planned, but of course it was, because as I walked back down the yard I came across 2 gentlemen that I should have known but didn’t really know. It took me a few seconds to remember the one of the left, mainly because he wasn’t wearing grey anymore, and he didn’t look so miserable. It was the son whom I hadn’t seen for 3 weeks or more, and he looked happy. But that didn’t make any sense, because his father should either have died, or would be paralyzed for life or something. I said hi and asked him about his dad, and he told me that he was doing great. He was awake, and talking, and remembered everything, and was eating on his own, and with the help of physiotherapy would soon start walking again. I couldn’t believe it, and kept asking him if he was sure about what he was saying, and he said yes and his uncle confirmed it. It didn’t make sense, but there it was. I told him Rabana had given his father a second chance in life.

It’s very rare in the ER to come across stories with a happy ending, so we cherish them when we find them. Alhamdulillah.