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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do things we do in a virtual world count as our deeds?

This is a dilemma surely faced by all of us these days. It has become increasingly hard to avoid the virtual world. It draws us in through Facebook, chatting, texting and an increasingly complex and realistic array of video game systems and devices. The problem is not only staying in touch with the real world and our actual life, while that is in itself a problem. All these things are addictive. Just like cigarettes and other drugs, they are meant to be addictive, designed to take over and draw us in. How far do we let them take over our lives? It is our life, one that we are undoubtedly answerable for. Can we let entertainment take over?

The other matter worth much thought is: what are we doing in the virtual world? If we are raising horses and buying sheep, or trying out skydiving, it seems harmless enough. Provided we can bring the same amount of energy to our real lives. But if we are gunning down people, engaged in warfare, acting out brutal and bloody acts, we really need to ask ourselves. Is this allowed under the guidelines Islam gives us for living a righteous life? Would we feel ok doing the same acts in real life? If the answer is NO, why is it ok in a simulated situation that looks and feels real?

Sadly, I know of too many kids who have Facebook pages they are too young to have, whose parents buy them Teen and Mature rated games that they clearly should not be playing. Does our responsibility as parents end in the virtual world? If we would not buy our kids guns and let them run around with them, how can we let them be 'virtual assassins'? These games are not like a movie watched once and forgotten. They are played daily for long periods of time. How can they not affect a developing personality? Do we really need 'studies' to tell us what is right or wrong? Is our own brain, our conscience, not enough?

So many questions, burning questions, that need answers as future generations spill blood and guts on a computer screen. Where are the answers?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is worry so bad?

None of us is a stranger to worry. In fact we may be better acquainted than we want to be. But is all worry bad? What if we were to never experience worry? I know a few people who seem to never worry. While they do seem happier and more spontaneous than most other people, yet sometimes they are driving others crazy with their carelessness and lack of concern. Concern can be another name for worry. If we brush away all doubts, all fears, we may end up not being concerned about anything.  Is that how we want to be?

Allah tells us in the Quran to be concerned about how we are spending our lives, to think about the consequences of our actions, to care for others and to consider how we will answer for our life and reap its results in the next life. To me, this means that I shall spend much of my time thinking about these matters, for if I don't think about them, if they do not bother me in the least, how can I change my behavior for the better? Does this mean we should worry? I think that, to a certain extent, we should. Our goal in life should not be a worry free existence, nor should we always be preoccupied with concerns about the past or the future. As in most cases, a happy medium is to be found. Often when we worry, we pray, so worry leads us to acknowledge our helplessness and need for Divine guidance. Once we have engaged in heart lfelt prayer, we should be able to hand that concern over to Allah, and not agonize over it so much.

For years I was worried about driving on the freeway and deathly afraid of thunderstorms. These two worries would bring me closer to Allah for I would then pray for Allah to help me, to make these matters easier for me. Now that both thunderstorms and freeways do not bother me, I find I can pass through both without even reciting the name of Alla! I have to remind myself that they both can be dangerous, that a little worry would be wise, especially in the form of prayer.

What do you worry about? Is is something that requires some prayer and action. Good worrying will produce that action. Bad worrying will create fear that prevents one from moving forward.

May we never be overwhelmed by fear and anxiety, yet I would never wish anyone worry-free. Being worried is being human. It means we care about ourselves, about others, about the world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A clean slate

It has happened to me so many times. I pray my salat while preoccupied with other matters. I am not just distracted, I am actually absent, missing from my own prayer rug, from the reality of the present. It is one of the tricks of our mind to stick to a matter beyond its urgency, to analyze and compare, when we should lay it to rest. I wish there was a way for me to clean the slate of my brain and my heart before standing before Allah in prayer.

When I thought about it, cleaning the slate meant surrender. To give up my control over a problem, a debate, a situation and to submit. I read about this analogy somewhere and it inspired me. Just as little kids come to their parents and hand them their little treasures: a candy, toy car, shiny stone etc., and trust the parent to keep it safe, so too can we trust our issues, big and small, to Allah. As we stand to pray we can take a deep breathe and let go of our control over matters. We can out put burdens down, relax our weary shoulders and surrender ourselves to Allah with a clean heart and mind so we can truly receive the help we need and see the solutions that might be staring us in the face.

I was moved by the simple reminder a second-grade teacher had posted for herself in a classroom:
Breathe, breathe, breathe.

We cannot control or solve it all. Often we cannot control or solve anything. But there is Someone who can. Hand it over.