Cuthbert Suares Jr. whose memory is alive

Cuthbert Suares Jr. whose memory is alive

There are some people who come into your life as a grace from AllahY. You can’t imagine what you could have done to deserve someone like that. Yet it happens. Such a person comes into your life, touches you, and leaves. But the memory remains with you forever. For me, Berty was such a one. My only regret is that he is not present to read this. It is now many years since he passed away, but I still can’t think of him without a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Many times have I heard or read that one must say to those you love, that you love them. Because a time may come when you want to say it but they are not there hear it. All I can hope for is that my friend knew how much I loved him. He was more to me than I can possibly describe. This is a tribute to him.

I first met Berty in 1984 in the Anamallais, the Hills of the Elephants. He had transferred from Munnar where he worked for Tata Tea. He was posted to Malakiparai Estate while I was on Murugalli, which has a common border across the backwaters of the Parambikulam Reservoir. We met at the Anamallai Club one evening and it was like meeting someone I had known all my life. There have been a few people in my life whom I have shared this feeling with, where there was never a ‘beginning’ to the friendship. We were old friends from the first day. He proved to me my theory that love is a product of respect. I developed the highest respect for his principles. He was truly an honorable man and he reciprocated this love in full measure. We were like brothers, with complete trust in each other and without anything that we held back from one another. He had a manager called Gopal Vyas who used to call him, ‘De Barty’. I used to do the same. He would call me Baig Dorai – ‘Dey Baig Dorai,’ and I would respond, ‘Yessah De Barty,’ and we would have a good laugh. We lived on neighboring estates and would meet almost every alternate day either at his place or mine or at the Club. We both had excellent cooks and enjoyed good food. We would talk about the wild, animals, forests, our own experience on hunts or game tracking, and end with a lovely meal before we departed for our homes.

It is difficult to describe the beauty of the place where we lived; a place that changes the scene from season to season. In the summer, when it is hot and dry, the waters of the reservoir recede towards the dam and the submerged land becomes visible. It is a surrealistic scene of a Daly like landscape. Gaunt, dry, tree trunks dead for years, look like they have been blasted with dynamite. Crumbling walls of what were once villages. Homes where people lived and from where they moved, leaving the homes to be covered by the rising waters of the dam. Earth that is black with silt and initially looks dead. Then as the ground dries out a little and the sun touches it, old seeds germinate, grass starts to grow and covers the land. Where did the seeds come from? What happens to them when the water inevitably rises and covers them??

Early in the morning, Barking Deer come to graze on the grass. They seem to find the sunny spots and warm themselves as they eat. In the evenings, the Gaur come down to drink at the water’s edge and then graze on the grass as well. Sambar also come and the big males roll in the mud which protects them from biting insects. Wild Boar come in family herds and root for worms, tubers, and whatever else they can find. All this activity is restricted to the time the sun comes out fully and the entire area is too exposed for them to feel safe.

Then comes the monsoon and the water of the reservoir reclaims its own. Slowly, the water rises and once again, all that you can see are the very tops of the tall trees, which sometimes stick out of the surface. Then you need a boat to get to the islands in the middle of the reservoir, the tops of hills that were once covered with tea bushes. Now they stick out as islands, rather bare but with some shrub growth, mostly lantana.

One of the British planters had left behind a boat which I’d had repaired and used to get to these islands. There is nothing more peaceful and enjoyable than to sit on one of these islands in the late afternoon, enjoying the silence, listening to the lapping of the small wavelets on the edge, and watching the sun extinguish itself in the waters of the dam.

The reservoir also had a lot of fish, which was an interest that Berty and I shared. On my side of the lake was a small creek that eventually ran into the reservoir. The stream meandered through the cardamom fields, which we had planted on the hillside leading to the reservoir.

In one place it made a little waterfall as it descended the slope and eventually it flattened and spread out as it entered the lake. At this point there were two very tall trees. It was on one of these tress that I’d had the machan (a tree platform for watching wildlife) built. In the summer, especially on moonlit nights, this was a wonderful place to sit up. Moonlight with its special soft quality blurs the lines and so the shapes become ghostly and ephemeral. And since the water recedes towards the dam, sometimes the animals are a long way off. However, because the intervening space of the lake bed is almost bare, they are still visible, especially if you use good quality binoculars. On moonlit nights you don’t even need special night sight binoculars. Ordinary lenses catch enough light to show the dark shapes, especially of Gaur clearly.

Berty and I shared interests, values, a commitment to quality and results. We competed against each other in the friendliest manner, sharing information about planting techniques. I had modified the plucking shears to prevent them from taking the smaller buds as the plucker sheared the fields. I got my workshop to make a few samples for him and we both had the highest plucking productivity in the Anamallais district.

Berty’s estate, being in Kerala, was an exciting place as far as labor was concerned. They had a CITU (Communist Party of India, Trade Union) union which was very militant. So we would share strategies and techniques of handling them. Both of us spoke Malayalam and Tamil fluently and most of our conversation used to be in three languages; English, Tamil, and Malayalam. Anyone listening to us would have wondered at the way we switched languages but then they did the same. This is a wonderful thing with most Indians, all of whom are multilingual. We have this ability of thinking in several different languages simultaneously and then we are not constrained by any one language to convey the meaning of what we want to say.

Those days passed all too soon. Berty and I were bachelors. Then in 1985 I got married. Samina also took to Berty and they became great friends.

Berty was the perfect gentleman with impeccable manners and great social skills, warm and caring and a person worthy of the highest respect. He was one of those to whom words like honor, friendship, loyalty, faithfulness and courage were the stuff of life – not merely words. His word was worth more than the oaths of most people.  He was someone we trusted with all our hearts and a he upheld that trust till the end.

Then there was talk of Berty getting married. He went to Chennai to meet his bride to be.  He came back looking like an inebriated sheep. He had fallen in love like a ton of bricks which afforded me much amusement at his expense. After he returned he asked Samina and I to meet Jenny and we went to meet her in Chennai. Jenny used to work at Malaysian Airlines and we formed an opinion that has never changed – that she was the ideal wife for Berty. A wonderful woman for a wonderful man.

Shortly thereafter, I crashed my bike. In May, less than three months after I got married, I had gone to visit Taher who was the Manager in Sheikalmudi and on my way back, riding down the road on a cold and wet day, my bike skidded and I flew over the handlebars and landed on the road with my right leg buckled under me. There was a very sharp excruciating pain and I had almost blacked out. It was raining and it was a Sunday, so there was nobody nearby. I had also hit my head on the road and my helmet had cracked, indicating the severity of the impact. So I was a little concussed as well. As I lay there wondering what to do, I saw two Sheikalmudi workers came running down the hillside. I was amazed at how they happened to be there. When I asked them they said that they had seen me going around one bend and when I did not come past the next bend they suspected that something was wrong, so despite the rain, they came to investigate. Tea estate workers and managers form a bond that is hard to describe. We have our differences, but living together in the same place and taking part in each other’s lives creates a sharing and friendship that transcends the strong boundaries of social hierarchy. We would take care of one another even during disagreements.

I was taken to the hospital where I was examined by a doctor who must have studied medicine at some point in his life, but he had forgotten it all by the time I met him. So what was the rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament was diagnosed as a sprain and I was advised rest for three days. At that time, I was an assistant manager and my boss was a man who was both corrupt and heartless. He resented everything about me. He resented the fact that socially I was his superior many times over, that I was better educated and connected, and that I refused to aid and abet him in his womanizing with the poor hapless plucker women who he preyed on. Womanizing and corruption are ancient traditions of the plantations, established by the British and supported by the Indian contractors and fathers of pretty girls who have no honor or shame. To this day, these things continue. Why he was hired despite his reputation and why he continued in his job to the day he retired is a study in organizational double talk and its results that I shall write about later. But first, let me complete this story.

So on the third day, my manager wanted me back in the field, walking ten to twelve kilometers in the field and riding my bike. I was too proud and adamant to ask any quarter and so I went to work. Naturally, walking up and down hillsides was just about the worst thing that could have been done and two days later, as I got off my bike in the new Mayura factory, I collapsed. Once again, I was carted off to the estate hospital to the same doctor who had a vested interest in sticking to his original diagnosis. This time though, I was having none of it and I called Mr. Rawlley, the General Manager to seek his guidance in the matter. He immediately sent his car for me to go down to Coimbatore to see a proper orthopedic surgeon, a very eminent man called Dr. David Rajan.

By the time I reached him, my knee was swollen to the size of a small football. He immediately aspirated it and drew out a huge amount of black blood which had created the swelling. He then did an arthroscopy and told me that the anterior cruciate ligament had completely ruptured. He said that if I had come to him the day of the injury he would have been able to repair the ligament as it was still attached to the bone. But the three days of walking, enforced by my manager and supported by the wrong diagnosis of the doctor who refused to acknowledge his own incompetence, did the trick and the ligament had completely ruptured. I was advised complete rest and then an operation to put a Dacron fiber ligament in the place of the original one. This took time and finally in October 1985, I was operated in Chennai by Dr. Mohan Das in Vijaya Hospital.

Coincidentally, Berty had had the same injury as I did, while playing football a couple of years before this incident. He also ruptured the same ligament in his right knee as I did. He was also operated in the same hospital by the same doctor. And in the case of my operation and subsequent recuperation, he played a great role in giving me the emotional support that I needed.

The only thing that I remember about my operation was the pain. The operation is very complex with drilling a figure of eight shaped canal through which a Dacron fiber cord is threaded and anchored to either side by steel pins driven into the bone. When I came to it a few hours later, I was moaning with agony. They gave me several injections of Fortwin (a very powerful pain killer), but when even the fourth one for the day did not suppress the pain fully the doctor told me, “This is the trouble with you planters. You drink too much and are resistant to sedation.” I told him that I don’t drink at all as I am a Muslim. He was very surprised and said, “Then why are you so resistant to sedation?” I can still remember the five days that passed before the pain got under control. Samina, my wife of six months, had a rocky introduction to our marriage. Samina and our butler at that time, Mahmoud, stayed with me day and night and did all they could to keep me as comfortable as possible. But there was only so much they could do. The pain was beyond them and that is the most vivid of my memories.

Some good memories of that time were that Mrs. Alagappan, the wife of my Managing Director, came to visit me and then insisted on sending me fresh Idlis daily from her home as she insisted that hospital food was not any good. My aunt Jahanara who lived in Chennai was a great source of support and strength for Samina and I and so were so many of my colleagues from Chennai Head Office who came to visit. Jahanara Aunty was my mother’s cousin and the most wonderful human being that I could ever have known. She was one of those who believed in me when others didn’t and supported me every inch of the way. She opened doors for me in Chennai society and introduced me to her circle. She treated me with more respect than was my due as her nephew and her presence in my life was always a great source of pleasure and strength for me. Tragically, Janahara Aunty passed away from Pancreatic Cancer, smiling and cheerful to the end. Her loss is something that my wife and I feel very keenly, especially when we go to Chennai – but no longer to our home in Chennai, her house.

Once I was discharged from hospital, I had a thigh to ankle plaster on my right leg and had to walk using crutches. This was to remain for two months, so I went home to Hyderabad. Mercifully, it was winter and so the plaster was not too bad, though when the skin scratches inside the plaster it is the most sublime torture. After spending a week in Hyderabad, we decided to go to Jagtial, a small town where my father in law had spent twenty-five years as a doctor and where they still had their house, though they had moved to Hyderabad after retirement. Their good friend, a Hindu landlord from the same place, a wonderful man, unique in that he had three wives all of whom lived very peacefully and happily with him in the same apartment, offered to drive us there. A journey of one-hundred-and-fifty kilometers which took all of five hours. He was a very careful driver indeed.

The enforced inactivity was a very big burden on me initially. I have always been a very high energy person and to be put into plaster and to be on crutches was something that I was certainly not prepared for mentally. An old friend, Ronnie Lynton, sent me a book about a man who had been hit by a bull and had badly fractured his leg. I have forgotten the name of the book, but the story was a powerful motivator. As it happened, I almost mirrored what happened with the man in the book.

The most difficult thing to get used to was the thought  that what I was used to doing all the time, walk, run, jump, ride horses, and bikes, I may not be able to do any more. I was not only a very outdoors person, but I also took a lot of pride in doing outdoor things well. Horse riding was a childhood passion and I was an expert in dressage. I enjoyed hiking and climbing and especially trekking in the Western Ghats where you could walk in the wildlife sanctuaries and see wild animals as you walked along. Suddenly to think that all this was perhaps gone forever, took a lot of getting used to.

After having been in plaster for two months the time came to remove it. I went to Chennai (called Madras in those days) to Vijaya Hospital to get it removed. When they cut away the plaster, imagine my shock at seeing what was left of my leg. My leg was completely black in color, scaled as if the skin was that of a fish and wasted away to the bone. I was almost beside myself with despair. I thought I had lost my leg forever and would have to live the rest of my life on crutches. The leg had no strength at all and would not bear the weight of my body. Psychologically, I rejected my leg and could not bear the thought of what had happened to it. But the resilience of youth and the power of faith came to my assistance and I broke out of my despair.

During this whole period, Berty was an anchor for my spirits. He was a living example that I could also come out of this accident without losing the use of my leg. He was a constant source of hope, someone who kept pushing me to do physiotherapy regularly and never let me brood about some dark future. In a place where there was no physiotherapist, Berty was my coach and guide. He would come every evening and spend the evening with me making me exercise, cheering me up with plantation gossip and planning all kinds of hunting expeditions once I was up and about again. He rigged up a frame with a pulley on the top. Over this went a rope to which he hung a weight. On the other end was a loop through which I had to hook my foot and pull the weight up and down till I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. Then he made me do it some more. This was to strengthen the hamstrings. To strengthen the quadriceps he made a bag filled with sand with a loop on the top which I used to slide my foot through and lift up repeatedly. We used to measure the girth of the thigh and calf muscles every day and gradually we could see a change. Very slow and painful, but the improvement came. Gradually, my leg became stronger though I still needed crutches I was not so totally dependent on them.

This went on for four months more but I was still on crutches. The leg became stronger and gained flesh and started to build muscle. The exercise continued. When I was not exercising, I would read a lot. I was not permitted to go to work in the field and so spent a lot of time reading. That is when the idea of a book on tea plantation management came into my mind. I started writing the notes for it and eventually published it three years later. Given that writing literally meant writing in those days, that is not too long a span. I also pursued my reading and study of Applied Behavioral Science as well. I had started my internship with the Indian Institute of Applied Behavioral Science in 1983 and I still had two years to go to complete it.

Meanwhile, the days grew shorter as winter set in and the time came for Berty’s wedding on January 4, 1986.  The wedding was in Chennai. Samina and I went down for it. This was the first time that I had actually attended a church wedding and there were many new things to see. After the ceremony everyone lined up for the Grand March. Samina and I stood to one side as I still had my crutches. As we stood watching the crowd milling around and people congratulating the bride and groom and their families, suddenly Berty left everyone and came to me and said in his usual way, “Dey Baig dorai, throw away the bloody crutches man!! I want to see you walking.” And as it happened, he did. I threw away the crutches and I walked.

Berty was a wonderful friend, the like of which I don’t think I will get ever again in my life. We shared each other’s happiness and sadness. He was one person who was genuinely happy for me if something good happened. He was one person who I believe did not have a single bad quality that I can think of. I wonder if anyone can say that about me. Certainly I can’t. And if anyone does then all I can say is that they don’t know me well enough. But I knew Berty better than any of his other friends and I can vouch that the man was pure and good. He was an honorable man whose word could be trusted implicitly. He was caring and full of concern. He was a friend whose absence I miss painfully to this day. He left behind a void in my heart that will never be filled.

There are so many memories of Berty that I wonder which to share with you.

Berty was very fond of hunting. So was I. But for both of us it was the whole environment of the jungle, the excitement of tracking game, of getting up to a quarry in conditions where it had more than a fair chance to get clear, which were all more important than killing some animal or the other. I stopped hunting many years ago and now spend all my time with a camera and enjoy myself far more than I did when I carried a gun. But the memories of those days are also very pleasant and exciting to remember.

One day Berty and I went hunting geese in the area behind Krishnarajsagar Reservoir. These were Bar-Headed Geese which are migratory birds and come south from the Arctic Circle for the winter.  We reached there late at night and spread our sleeping bags on the ground in the dry fields and slept. I should clarify – we tried to sleep while trying to hang on to the ground to prevent the mosquitoes from flying away with us. Never have I seen such strong and powerful mosquitoes. Must have been something in the air or water. It is a good thing that the passing of time has nothing to do with whether you sleep or not and so the night passed. The sky started lightening and then the sun peeked over the horizon to see if all was well and if it was okay to come out. Having assured itself it started its upward journey.

How can I describe how the light of the dawn first peeks over the horizon and how it then becomes a little darker before the real dawn breaks? How the sky becomes first a deep shade of blue in which the wispy white clouds look almost transparent. Then it takes on an orange hue that gradually strengthens as the fire of the sun lights all it touches. Then it changes to gold and then the brightness of the full morning blazes forth.

How can I describe how it felt to sit on the ground with my friend, both of us huddled against the cold in our sleeping bags, watching the first flights of geese? The V-formations, with the leaders breaking the force of the wind and the followers coasting in the easier flying they create; their conversations with each other as they fly, constantly in touch with one another by voice. Geese are highly social birds and talk to each other all the time. When they are feeding in a field, which they do in large numbers, you can hear them chattering a long way off. But in the middle of all that, there is always the sentinel who does not eat nor does he take part in the conversation, but keeps a very alert eye open for any predators. After a while, one of the others takes over and he feeds.

How can I describe the sight of a flight of geese flying into the sun from one end, disappearing in the glory of the light for a few instants and then emerging from the other side flying strongly in formation? We sat in silence and I praised the One who created the geese and the sun and who created me and my friend.

I remember the time Berty had a Labrador Retriever called Rocky which he had trained as a gun dog. It was a fantastic animal, true to its type with a nose that made you wonder if it was real or some kind of magic. He could smell at distances which we could not even dare to imagine. A mouth so soft that it would sometimes catch and bring the watchman’s rooster home and present it to Jenny, held firmly in its mouth, but not a tooth would touch it. Rocky had another neat trick when he felt he was not getting enough attention. He would go into the store room and pick one egg out of the egg tray and go to Jenny and sit before her, and stare at her with the egg in his mouth. When she put her hand out, he would drop the egg neatly in her hand. One day the egg trick misfired as the egg fell and broke so the egg tray found a new home higher up where Rocky could not get to it.

One day we went hunting Imperial Pigeons. These are rather large birds which are migratory and pass through the Western Ghats on their way north. They have a deep booming call and usually sit on the topmost branch of the tallest tree they can find. They have good eyesight and are very wary of people creeping up on them. Consequently they are very difficult to shoot.

On this day we walked up a jungle path along a hillside with Rocky in tow. The excitement of the dog was palpable. He knew that he was going to do the thing for which he had been bred and trained and which he could do better than anyone else. The joy of living to the edge of your potential is something that energizes all those about you, even if you are only a dog.

We walked along listening for the tell-tale cooing of the Imperial Pigeons. And then we heard it. The deep booming sound amplified by the hills. I looked up and there he was. A big bird sitting on the topmost branch of a Eucalyptus tree about seventy meters away. The tree was on the edge of the ravine we were walking along and below it the ground dropped away, covered by a thick blanket of Lantana and thorn bush. Through it were the usual pathways made by wild boar and expanded by gaur, but not something that you looked forward to using yourself. Lantana is ideal habitat for wild boar, jungle fowl, and small predators like jackals, jungle cats, and the occasional panther. The thick growth hides the birds from the air and the fruit of the Lantana is relished by jungle fowl. Wild boar use the Lantana as a place to lie up in the heat of the day. The shade under the Lantana is so thick as to be almost dark. Water is retained in the soil and so it is also several degrees cooler under the growth.  Gaur use the wild boar paths on occasion to get to water and such paths are consequently wider.

Berty, always the gentleman, asked me to shoot first. I stalked the bird, and very slowly crept up under a clump of Lantana that grew near the Eucalyptus in which the bird was perched. Using a .22 rifle, I aimed and shot and the bird dropped. As it fell, it flapped a little and so did not drop directly under the tree but into a large thicket of Lantana and thorn bush that grew all the way to the bottom of the ravine. “Good shot Dorai,” Berty called to me with that wonderful smile that put deep dimples in both cheeks. “Now let’s see how good this dog is”. Saying that he sent Rocky into the Lantana. We followed.

 It is a joy to see a well-trained dog and its master working. There is a bond between the man and the animal that is almost supernatural. The dog senses every mood and reacts to movements that are impossible for an observer to notice. Being a dog trainer and handler myself, I especially appreciated the nuances of great training. Rocky took off and was soon lost to sight. But every now and again he would run back to tell us to hurry up. The ground was treacherous as it was wet and very steep. I was always wary of my game leg and Berty, ever considerate, would never tell me to move faster than I felt comfortable doing. As we walked along suddenly Rocky started barking. Now a Labrador works silently. It will bark only very rarely when it is in a situation where it needs help. As we rounded a bend we saw him looking up into the thick Lantana overgrowth and he continued to bark. His tone was the high pitched excited bark of the dog which is on its prey. Yet when we reached him we could see nothing; no sign of the pigeon.

Berty sent him to search again but the dog refused and continued to bark and kept looking up at the roof of Lantana bush. When this had happened a few times, we decided to follow Rocky’s lead and started to search in the thick roof of Lantana branches and leaves overhead. Lantana is thorny with small thorns and so the search was not painless. But eventually we saw what Rocky’s nose had already told him.

The bird had fallen from the tree but could not break through the Lantana foliage and so was stuck overhead in the thicket. Some inspired climbing and we had the bird. For Rocky of course this was heaven itself.

Many years later Berty and I were in Ooty on a game drive for Wild Boar. These boar are considered a pest as they destroy the potato fields and you are permitted to shoot them. The work of a herd of boar overnight on a potato field is awesome, to put it politely and so it is easy to understand why the farmers hate them so much. Boar can and do destroy all his hard work and threaten his living in a couple of hours. The farmers liked the idea of me shooting boar also because I don’t eat pork and so they didn’t have to share anything with me. So on this cold, bright morning over the Christmas weekend, Berty and I were standing, wearing Army camouflage jackets, our body outlines broken up by some scrub bushes listening to the farmer’s dogs barking in the distance as they started the drive. Suddenly the tone of the dogs’ barking changed to a high pitched excited yelping as they sighted the boar herd and they were off. We expected the boar to break out into a short open glade before us before they would be gone into the forest on the other side. We would have less than 2 seconds of shooting time because a galloping boar with dogs on his tail is anything but slow on his feet.

The dogs had serious respect for the boars because they knew from personal experience what an angry boar or sow can do in seconds to a dog. The result is not pretty and in many cases there is nothing more to be done than to use a bullet to put the dog out of his pain. Not a pleasant thing to do at all. For us the complication was to make sure that we hit the boar and not an over enthusiastic dog which could also break out right behind. This takes much longer to say than it took to do that day. As I stood there with my .12 bore shotgun loaded with rifle shot, I suddenly saw bushes violently shaking as the boar galloped through and suddenly a boar and a sow broke through at full gallop. I lifted the stock to my shoulder and took the boar in the head and without moving the gun from my shoulder, panned it a little to the left before firing the second shot and both animals summersaulted to a halt. I can still see the huge smile on Berty’s face and his shout of, ‘Brilliant shooting Baig Dorai.’ And he came across and hugged me hard. He is the only person I know who would be more happy when I succeeded than he would be for his own success. What a friend I had! And how much I miss him today!

February 1, 1989, I was still in the Anamallais when one night I got a phone call from Val, Berty’s sister from Coonoor informing us that their father, Lt. Col. Cuthbert Suares Sr. had passed away. He was a wonderful man. A thorough gentleman, an artist and painter of no mean standard and a dear friend to all of us. He called me “The Nawab,” thanks to my Hyderabad connection. He once told me with a big smile on his face, “I am living on borrowed time. Our Lord Jesus said that the lifetime of a man is three score and ten and mine is over. So all this is borrowed time.” And that day it ended.

Val called to inform us as we were all very close friends and she said to me, “Junior is here but he is in a very peculiar state. He is not crying at all and we are all very worried about him.” Samina and I left at first light and drove down from the Anamallais to Coimbatore and then up the Ooty Ghat to Coonoor. By the time we reached Wellington all was ready for the funeral. Berty was somewhere inside the house and I could see him through the window talking to someone. Then someone told him that I had come. He came straight out, shook my hand, hugged me and started crying. All the tears that he was holding back came out. I silently held him till he was at peace and then he gave me another hug and we parted. He did not say anything to me. I did not say anything to him. No words were necessary. In the words of another dear friend of both Berty and myself, Sandeep Singh (Sandy), “True friendship is when silence is comfortable between individuals.” I will add to that the fact that with real friends words are often not necessary. Each knows without being told what the other feels. It is uncanny but it is real and feels very natural.

Several years passed. I went to Ambadi Estate. That was a period when I was away from Berty for the longest period. Berty and Jenny never did manage to visit us in Ambadi though we would speak on the phone. Berty had left Tata Tea in Munnar and had joined the Spencer’s Group in Burnside in August 1995. We had spoken at great length about developments at Tata Tea and agreed that it was time for him to change. At Burnside he turned around the property and greatly improved its manufacture. He put Burnside tea on the quality map. He was instrumental in helping start an export business of these teas which was very profitable for the company. During this time, I turned around Ambadi Estates. I confronted the unions on long pending issues, resolved them to the company’s satisfaction, and established productivity, price, and labor agreement records that remain as standards to this day. We were both very passionate about our work, enjoyed it immensely, and took a lot of pride in doing it well.

In 1992 I left planting. Berty was in Munnar.

I spent a year in Delhi as the head of a national travel company and learnt the travel trade and got some hands-on experience in marketing. I traveled internationally in this job and saw the world. I went to South Africa in 1994, the year of its independence from apartheid. I saw for the first time African wildlife, which had been a lifelong dream. I made a very good friend, Logan Govender of Durban whom I had lost touch with for several years and then one day, thanks to the internet, we met again. A wonderfully polished man who gave me deep insights into South African society during the apartheid regime as well as into the transition. This was very useful as the government at whose invitation I had gone to South Africa, which was still very ‘white,’ made every effort to make me see their good side. While there was some truth to that, Logan’s instruction was very welcome and informative. South African independence is a classic case of the triumph of the spirit over the material. A triumph of courage, fortitude, and belief in a goal that transcended all difficulties that life could throw at them. About Logan, I remember most vividly his smile. 

During all this time, I was in relatively less contact with Berty. We did not meet at all for about three years as I was away from the Nilgiris where he was and then I went to Delhi. Eventually in 1994, I decided to take the risk of living my dream, to be on my own. So we packed our bags and came to Bangalore and I launched my company, Yawar Baig & Associates.

The sum total of all my savings after working for 10 years was Rs. 25,000.00 (US$ 400), which was the gratuity that I got from the company. I had some additional savings in the form of shares and some money in the bank, all of which came to the princely sum of Rs. 500,000.00 (US$ 10,000). This was the sum total of by then sixteen years of working. I was very glad that I had joined the ranks of the educated unemployed. We took an apartment in Bangalore in a very nice, quiet area called Jayamahal Extension for a rent of Rs. 7500.00 per month. To hedge against the risk of starting a new business I invested all our savings with another friend who had just started a business manufacturing leather garments. Then I hit the road, trying to establish myself as a leadership development trainer and a management consultant. I have written in detail about the trials and travails of entrepreneurship elsewhere so will skip the detail here and go directly to the part of this story where Berty touched my life once again.

We had been in Bangalore for about a year. It had been the most difficult year of my life till then. I was completely new to the consulting environment. I had no established network as I had never been in the HR area myself and had spent all my working life in the plantations away from the real world. Plantation experience was not very respected because most people did not understand what we did in the plantations, what challenges we faced, what constraints we worked under and for what little monetary gain. They had a romantic idea of plantation life that revolved around golf courses, tennis courts, billiards tables, and the plantation club bar with people doing a little work now and again between these more serious pursuits. Nothing was further from the truth, but nobody wanted to believe it. So I had to translate my work experience into language that people in the IT and business world could understand. Meanwhile, there was no money coming in. Things were so difficult in some months that I was not sure where the money for that month’s rent would come from. But we had a small income from the investment in the leather business and we managed with that.

Then came a day when my partner in the leather business said to me that he was going to increase his investment and if I wanted to maintain my share of the business I needed to bring in another Rs. 500,000.00. I was in a fix. I did not have the money. I had no way of getting it. And if I did not get it in time, I would become a minor shareholder with its attendant problems. And all this at a time when I was already in financial difficulties trying to establish my consulting business. That weekend Berty came to Bangalore for the weekend. As was our custom, we met for lunch. 

He took one look at me and said, “Dey, Baig Dorai, what’s bothering you?”

“Nothing Da. I’m fine,” I replied.

“Don’t tell lies you bugger. I know you better than you know yourself. Tell me, what is it?”

When he kept asking me, eventually I told him what the issue was. He became silent for a while and then he said to me, “I am going back on Monday, you come with me.” I asked him why he wanted me to go with him. He would not tell me. I finally agreed to go also because I thought a break would be a good thing for me at that stage.

We reached his home in Wellington late that evening and had dinner and slept. Early the next morning after breakfast, Berty drove us to Ooty and went to the office of a lawyer friend of his. Only then did I realize what he was up to. He pulled out a file of documents and said to his friend, “Here are the papers for my house. Please pledge them to the bank and get a loan of Rs. 500,000.00 for Yawar.” I grabbed the file from his hand and refused to be a part of this. I said to him, “Bert, your house is worth more than 3 times that value. You worked very hard to pay for that house. What if my business goes bad and I can’t return the loan? The bank will take away your house.”

What he said to me will remain with me to the day I die. He said to me, “Yawar, what is the use of me having a house if I can’t help you when you need the help?” I wept. I could not believe I was hearing this. What had I done to deserve a friend who would sacrifice his own home to help me?

I said to him, “Bert, you are not alone in this. What about Jenny? What will she say?” He said, “I already spoke to Jen. She agreed with me and she also wants you to take this.” I had no words. I simply took the file and went back to the car and sat in it and said to Berty, “Let me think about this. I will come back to you. But just now, let us go home.” The thing about him was that he respected me enough to accede to my wishes and so we went home. I never did take the money from him. Eventually another dear friend, Thambi (Kurien Abraham) lent me the money which I returned to him a few months later because I decided to get out of the leather garments business altogether. That turned out to be a good decision as a few months later, thanks to some new rules implemented by the EU, the leather garments industry in India went through some very rough times and my partner had to shut down his business instead of expanding as he was hoping to do. As I had drawn out my own investment, I did not lose anything in the deal.

Berty and Jenny’s children, Shonali and Jason are like our own. Shonali was always the little lady, very affectionate but kept her distance. She has grown into a lovely young woman who her father would have been proud of. Jason was still very young and not yet in school, when we lived in Bangalore and used to visit Berty and Jenny on Burnside Estate in Kotagiri. Visiting Berty and Jenny was like coming home. There is something about old friends with whom you have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, nothing to pretend. So you are free to be yourself and know that you are accepted as you are. So we would go to Burnside whenever the ‘city got to me’…which it did regularly every few months. Of all the things that I miss about my life in the plantations, it is the greenery, the peace and quiet, and the bird calls. All of them missing in our Indian cities.

Once we got to Berty’s place, Jason would take me over. He would grab my hand and say, “Yawar, come I’ll show you the wild boar I shot.” His mom would say, “Jason, say Uncle Yawar. Not Yawar.” Jason would go, “Yes. Yawar, come!!!” And then he would take me into the morning room where his father’s hunting trophies were displayed and say, “See, I shot the bugger!” Jason and I would sometimes climb the hill behind the bungalow and sit on top looking at the view. We would just sit together in companionable silence – the age gap of over forty years, no bar to friendship. I would lend him my binoculars which at age four he knew how to handle perfectly thanks to his Dad’s training. He would look through them and then I would hear this excited, “Yawar, look!!!” And I would sit up and look. Why?? Well, try ignoring a four year old and you will know why.

Jason was an early bird like me. So on weekends both of us would get this warning from Berty just as we were about to go to bed, “Dey Baig Dorai, if you and Jason walk around all over the house at some unearthly hour I’ll shoot both of you.” So of course promptly at 6am, Jason would be in our room talking to me in a loud whisper which he thought was being quiet. Then we would both sneak out of the house into the cold morning and go looking for bird’s nests, grazing bison or whatever it was that the morning wanted us to see. We made sure we did not walk in the house as it had a wooden floor that amplified the sound of footsteps and would have attracted Berty’s wrath.

Once we had been out for a while, he would run back into the house, go straight to our room and say, “Thamina, thamina, move, move. I want to thleep on your thtomach.” And that is what he would do. He used to speak with a lisp which sounded very cute indeed, especially combined with bright sparkling eyes and one huge dimple.

Berty would take me around the estate and ask for advice. Predictably, there was nothing to say except to praise his wonderful work. I had much to learn especially in manufacturing in which he was a master. And I enjoyed the sessions very much.

My last meeting with Berty was the time I went to visit him with my friend Taqi from Hyderabad. Berty arranged for Taqi and I to stay one night at a hideaway cottage of another friend of his inside the wildlife sanctuary near the Pykara Dam. This was a fantastic little place in the middle of the wilderness very much like the Grass Hills cottage used to be when I first went to the Anamallais. We walked all over the surrounding hills and then sat by the fire in the night which was very cold. The next morning we drove back to Kotagiri and saw several Sambar enroute. Back at Burnside we lazed around all day. Then in the night, Berty took us out with a spotlight to see the resident herd of bison on the estate. This was a small herd with animals much smaller than the huge monsters that we had on the Anamallais. These animals had become so used to people that I filmed a full grown calf nursing from his mother for more than ten minutes. We eventually moved away leaving them to their own devices. Little did we know that a few months later, Berty was to be knocked down by one of the animals from this very herd.

The story as I heard it is as follows: Berty and Jenny were supposed to go for a dinner party that night. The date was 13th March, 2002. He called Jenny from the office to ask her to finish her shower and get ready and to put on the water heater for him so that he could shower and get ready quickly. They were due to pick up the Bosen’s (some other friends) as well.  Jenny had just finished her shower when he called back to say that he was just leaving the office. Five minutes later, he called to say that as he was walking out the Forest Department guys came over to request his help with a problem.  A bison had fallen into an irrigation pit and could not get out (the pit was quite small and deep – the bison fit in exactly and could not turn around nor get out.  This had happened that morning and the bison was still stuck in the pit. So Berty being Berty, he immediately took some workers from the estate and went down to the spot. 

To complicate the issue, a TV crew which happened to be in the area got to hear about the bison that was stuck and they arrived on the scene, complete with lights and cameras.  Berty’s plan was to fill the pit with wood so that its floor level could be raised and the bison would be able to get a foothold and get out. They had barely started doing this when the bison managed to find some foothold to get out. Maybe it was the lights from the TV camera that must have triggered this off and scared the animal. The pit was adjoining the forest and there was a small path leading down from it. Berty was standing in the path along with a few other men. Berty was facing away from the pit where the bison was, trying to get two children who were on the path to get out of the way so he missed seeing the animal jump out and charge down the track.  It was basically running to save itself and Berty was in the way. As it ran past, it threw Berty up and he fell way below (it was a sloping area with some tea bushes and irrigation pipes). Berty fell on one of the irrigation pipes which was his undoing. He passed out immediately and the Forest Department men took him to a nearby hut, revived him, carried him to their jeep, and took him immediately to the hospital. He had an external wound on his head but the much more serious injuries were all internal.  They had to operate immediately as he was bleeding internally and they had no idea what the extent of the damage was.  His boss and friend Prem Wallia and his family made heroic efforts to get him the best possible medical attention. He was moved to a bigger and more sophisticated hospital in Coimbatore the same night accompanied by one of the best surgeons of Coimbatore who Prem personally brought with him. Berty’s constitution was very strong and he started to recover.

I immediately flew to Coimbatore. Jaikant, another dear friend, picked me up from the airport and we went to his hospital where I spent a day praying for his recovery outside the ICU where he was recuperating. Much to my grief, I was not able to meet or talk to him. But I did manage to peek into the room and see him. That evening, after being assured by the doctors that he was recovering well, I returned to Hyderabad.

A few days later, a friend of mine who lives in Chennai and did not know Berty or that he’d had this accident, mentioned to another common friend that she’d seen me in a dream. She saw that I was standing in a hospital corridor and a stretcher came past with a body on it, completely covered in a white cloth. The stretcher was moving very fast and I started running behind it trying to catch it. I did not have a good feeling after listening to this dream. That evening, 29thMarch which was also good Friday, at about 9 PM the phone rang and a common friend, Don Henderson said to me, “Yawar, he’s gone.”

I will never forget those words. My dearest friend was gone. I would never see him again. The finality of death hit me once again with a severity that took all my faith in my own religion to deal with. And despite that, to date, I can hardly believe that Berty is no more. The hole he left in my heart will go to my grave with me.

Friendship is a strange thing. It is an investment where the pain of parting is directly proportional to the investment. The better and closer the relationship, the more painful the parting. And parting is inevitable. There is no escaping that particular reality. Our choice is between superficial relationships that have no meaning while they exist and leave no pain when they end, and deep friendships which add meaning to life in the sharing of joy and hardship and are forged at the anvil of adversity. And when they end, a part of you dies with them and the parting leaves a vacuum that can never be filled. My relationship with Berty was such. His space is in my heart his space. Nobody can ever fill it. I am very glad that I had a friend like him. Even as I am desolated that he had to go as early as he did. I am reminded of the Urdu couplet where the poet says:

Tu bacha bach ke na rakh ise; Tera aaina hai wo aaina
Jo shikasta ho tho azeez tar hai;  Niga-he aaina saaz mein
In translation the beauty and music of the poetry is lost but here it is…
(Don’t try to protect your mirror from breaking; your mirror is such a mirror (the heart); that only when it is broken, is it considered the most valuable in the eyes of its Creator.)

Return to the Past – Trip to Anamallais after 20 years

I went back to the Anamallais in early December (8-13, 2007), twenty years after I had left the place. We had some friends visiting from South Africa and we decided to take them to see the tea gardens. What better place to visit than to go to where we had lived and worked? So we landed in Lower Sheikalmudi in our old bungalow which had then been converted into a guest house of sorts. Very run down, poorly maintained, and barely livable. We were both happy and horrified to see that the curtains and upholstery that we had put in and used twenty years ago was still there – in understandable conditions. The caretaker assured us that people came to stay there which was surprising to say the least. If it hadn’t been for the power of nostalgia and memories we would have turned around and left. But as it was, we stayed for three days, ate the cooking of a man who was clearly experimenting on us, but we enjoyed the experience of being in our old home and lived to tell the tale.

It was a visit that was amazing to say the least. It taught me the meaning of loyalty; of honoring friendship which has no relation to the time that may have passed. The day we reached it was late afternoon and I decided to go for a walk. I walked down from the bungalow and took the footpath going down into the big swamp at the bottom of that hill. A very familiar path that I used to walk down almost every day when I was in LSM from 1985-1990 in two separate stints. Having descended into the swamp (lots of trace of wild boar digging) I climbed the other side up to the main road going into what used to be the LSM Coffee Area; one of my favorite haunts to watch wildlife. As I walked up that road, I saw a man come running down the hillside. I waited for him. It turned out to be Bhaskaran the supervisor (the man who built the pipeline to bring water to the hilltop). 

He looked totally delighted at seeing me. I extended my hand to shake his hand but he took it respectfully in both his hands and touched it to his forehead. “We heard you were coming, Dorai. We were waiting for you. Where are you going?”

“I thought I would go into the coffee area and sit on the rock that I used to sit on and see if the bison (Gaur) still come down in the evening,” I said.

“Dorai, please don’t go there now,” he said. “I saw you going in that direction and had a suspicion that you were going to the coffee area and came to warn you. There is a lone elephant in musth in that area and it is not safe for you to be walking like this. You have not changed. You are still afraid of nothing,” he said with a big grin on his face. “People are waiting for you in the muster. Why don’t you come there and meet them?” 

I agreed and we walked up the road to the muster. Musth is the name for a condition of high sexual passion bordering on insanity that male elephants go into periodically. The sign is a discharge from the temporal glands near the eye which looks like the elephant is weeping. 

Wikipedia has this to say: “Musth is a periodic condition in bull (male) elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times. However, whether this hormonal surge is the sole cause of musth, or merely a contributing factor, is unknown; scientific investigation of musth is problematic because even the most placid elephants become highly violent toward humans and other elephants during musth, requiring segregation and isolation until they recover. Female elephants do not undergo musth.”

This muster is where I used to go every single day for more than five years. I noticed that it had been extended with an additional room and was as neat and clean as I remember it. In the muster were some of my other old friends, LSM-UD workers, supervisors, and some old and new staff. The new staff had been told all about me, in good plantation style and I can be assured that all my shortcomings would have been conveniently forgotten in the story telling, if the reverence that they showed me was any indicator. In the muster, my old trekking companions, the Raman brothers also came. One (the elder) is a supervisor and the other (the younger) is a worker.

We had some tea, made plans to climb up to Manjaparai the next day, and then Raman (the younger) insisted on accompanying me back to the bungalow. We talked about his family along the way. The children have all grown, married, and have their own children. He is a proud grandfather. Hesitantly, he asked me if I’d had any children. I told him, “Your children are my children, no?”

“Dorai, we are all your children. May God bless you and keep you well, Dorai. Tomorrow I will show you the tea that you planted. Hundreds of people have a livelihood because of that tea. It is the rule in the estate that the pluckers take your name first before they start plucking that tea. It is called Baig Dorai Thotam (garden). Your name will never be forgotten as long as that tea remains, Dorai.”

The next day we took a picnic lunch (flat masala omlettes, rolled in rotis with some pickle on the side) and walked up the hill to Manjaparai. My nephew Aly Basith, and our two friends from South Africa (Maulana Bilal Kathrada and his wife Fathima Salejee) were with us. Once we climbed down the hill from the bungalow, the climb is about four to five kilometers; never very steep but always rising. So as you continue upwards, it can get quite taxing on a body used to sitting in chairs more than anything else. As you climb up out of the tea, you enter first the scrub jungle, very thick with all kinds of shrubbery including some very potent stinging nettles called Anai-marti. All my old memories came flooding back. Raman & Raman were thrilled that I could still recognize the plants. Raman the younger cut a stout stick for me which is something that I used to like to keep as a climbing aid. Today I needed it more than simply wanting it. We walked through a path that Raman cut in the undergrowth with his pruning knife. As I walked, I remembered that this was the habitat of the Hamadryad (King Cobra) which is an endangered species. This snake preys on other snakes, is extremely fast and aggressively territorial. I remembered Bhaskaran’s sister who was bitten by one of them when I was an Assistant Manager on this estate. She died almost instantly.

It was late in the afternoon when this happened. The girl had been plucking tea and had moved away from the gang towards the jungle border. The snake must have attacked almost in silence. The sight of a King Cobra coming at you with the front of its body raised above the ground (in the case of a big snake this can be as much as four feet high) and hood fully extended is a fearsome sight indeed. She screamed in terror and tried to run. But the snake travels at more than fifty miles per hour and she did not stand a chance of escaping. The other pluckers who heard her ran to her aid. But it was too late. She collapsed as they reached her and died a few minutes later. The venom of the King Cobra is both neuro-toxic and haemo-toxic in nature and so is lethal. I remembered her as I walked up the hill. Tragic though this incident was, it was the only one in living memory and has never happened again since then.

We came out of the brush eventually, having been bitten liberally by elephant ticks (the price to pay for climbing to Manjaparai) on to the base of the rock called Manjaparai (rough translation – Yellow Rock) because of the color of a lichen that grows on this rock. There is a small stream that flows through a slight depression in it and at one point forms a shallow pool. This is the drinking pool that Sāmbhar and Gaur come to drink in. When we reached there that afternoon, we also found some old elephant dung strewn around the pool, but no fresh sign of any elephant. Walking up the hill, we surprised a basking cobra (normal variety – Naga Naga) and then startled a Sambar doe that was resting in a thicket. She exploded out of the bush and galloped down a slope that I would have hesitated to walk down too fast. It was in the tree (still there, much bigger now) that grew out of the rock near the pool, on which I’d had a platform constructed and used to sit up on to watch animals. As I have written earlier, nights on this platform were very cold but the sight of the sun rising next morning was worth far more than the discomfort of the cold.

I remembered the sounds of the forest I would hear as I sat on the platform and watched the sun go down. These sounds are somewhat different from those in the Aravallies that I have described earlier. The Western Ghats have evergreen rainforest and not the semi deciduous forests of the Aravallies. I would get up into the tree early so as not to disturb any game. One of the Ramans would sit up with me. The other one would see us to the place and leave and return early the following morning to collect us. It was not safe to stay on the ground during the night unless you had a fire. But the fire would drive all the game away and so we had this arrangement. The first calls as the sun went down was always the jungle fowl going up to roost. First the cocks would crow – kak kaak, kaa kak?? – with a question mark at the end. Then the hens would sometimes cackle as they flew up to their roosts. Once they settled in, the nightjars would start flitting on silent wings, catching the night insects in flight as they came out of their hiding places. It is a fascinating sight to watch the nightjars as they took their interceptor flights. The nightjars sit in an open place (on a small rock or in the middle of the path) and make their characteristic call chut-chut-chut-churrrrrrrrrrrr. They repeat this call endlessly, sitting absolutely still but watching the world very closely. As soon as it sees a poor unsuspecting insect going about its business, the nightjar simply erupts into the air and the world insect population is reduced by one. 100% kill rate. Amazing birds.

Then there would be silence for a while as the jungle settled for the night. As the first light of the moon started to strengthen, the owls would come out of their roosting places, where they had been hiding both from the sun as well as from the crows who harass them mercilessly if they see them in the open. They hunt in pairs. They fly out onto the flat branch, one followed by the other, that was their take off perch. They would sit there for a while and talk to each other, perhaps discussing strategy. Then he would glide away in one direction and she in another. You have to see an owl in flight to understand the meaning of grace. Suddenly you hear the dhank-dhank of the Sambar. This is the alarm call telling the other tenants of the jungle that one of the two big cats that live in this forest, the tiger and the leopard, is around. The Sambarr is the most reliable of the sentinels which call out when they see these predators. During the day it is the Nilgiri Langur with the black faces, beautiful shiny grey fur and impossibly long tails who have one of their number as a permanent lookout.

But at night, the Langur are among the first to go to the treetops where they spend the night, safely out of harm’s way. Langur are at the top of the leopard’s dietary preference and so no wonder they have a difference of opinion and prefer to be where the leopard is not subjected to any temptation. The Sāmbhar has fallen silent. This means that he can no longer see the tiger or leopard. As long as he can see them, he calls continuously. Then as you look at the deep shadows, one of them moves and comes out into the open which is illuminated by the moon, now strongly present. You can see the shine of the black coat and the white socks. You hear the snort as the bull clears his nose. The Gaur are here. As he gives the all-clear the cows and calves come out and all of them move to the shallow pool to drink. There is not enough water for all of them to drink together so they will remain there for as long as it takes for the pool to keep filling as they keep emptying it.

The presence of one herbivore is a sign to the others that the situation is safe. It is essential of course for us to keep our silence, breathing softly and staying completely still. It is amazing how highly developed are the senses of animals whose life literally depends on this. Even the slightest movement or sound and they vanish as if they had never been there. Raman seems carved in stone. I recall all my early childhood training in jungle craft and thank Uncle Rama silently for teaching me to take care of myself and to reconstruct the story of the forest from the signs. So we both sit in complete silence and watch the animals which are less than twenty meters from us.

I had put out blocks of rock salt (salt licks) and so some of the animals move away towards the salt lick and eventually even sit down to chew the cud around the salt lick. I have seen Sambar pick their way between resting gaur to get to the salt, all in perfect harmony with each other. As the night passes, we can hear elephants feeding in the forest bordering Manjaparai but that night they decide not to come out into the open. The night is now almost completely silent. All the grazing and hunting has been done. Now the whole world is resting. The time is 3 AM according to the glow of my watch dial. The night is very, very cold. A breeze has started which blows unhindered up the slope of Manjaparai. The bison (gaur) herd has moved off back into the forest. There is nothing in sight. Raman and I are both feeling very cold. So we silently decide to descend onto the rock and light a fire. The firewood has already been collected the previous evening and is at the foot of the tree. We get down to the rock and Raman sets about creating a very nice and bright bonfire. To enjoy a fire truly one must first be at freezing point. Then you light the fire and sit in front of it and toast yourself. That is bliss. Of course it destroys your night vision and if you have to suddenly turn and look into the darkness you are completely blind, but then in our case there is nothing to see in the darkness and so we both sit before the fire, wrapped in our blankets and talk of various matters grave enough to be spoken of at 3 AM. It is amazing how people who we may dismiss as illiterate and uneducated (not that I ever did that), make observations, reflect upon them, and form educated opinions. A favorite topic like with most Indians was politics and the antics of politicians. We are a very politically savvy people. We understand our politicians like nobody else. So what beats me is how we always manage to elect such puerile ones. 

Like the joke goes, ‘What happens when a politicians drowns in the river?’
‘It is called pollution.’
‘What happens when they all drown?’
‘It is called a solution.’

So we would discuss the reasons for corruption in our system. What came across to me was the good, simple, and sincere hearts of our poor. And at the same time the learned helplessness. Every conversation would end with the same refrain, ‘Ah! But what can we do?’ The reality that if anything can be done, it is only we who can do it, remains an elusive concept. Having put that to rest, we would watch the fire and simply sit in companionable silence, waiting for dawn.

Raman proves that he is made of gold by pulling out a flask with piping hot tea and he and I share the tea and wait for the night to pass.

Gradually our talk runs out and we doze in spells. The fire starts to go down and every once in a while either Raman or I put another log into it. Time passes. We see the owls that had left the previous evening, return to their perch and they have a long conversation recounting tales of the hunt. I have no idea whose story was more impressive but both seem to have a lot to talk about. The sky is now starting to lighten. There is a strange blue light and I feel as if I am looking at the world from the bottom of the ocean. Then an orange tinge starts at the very bottom of the horizon and gradually grows upwards as if a fire has been started and is strengthening. And indeed it has.

The final payoff of our trip is at hand. The sun is starting to rise. The sky catches fire. The flames rise higher. And then the top curve of the ball of fire appears on the horizon and rises rapidly upwards. The light is now strong. A new day has been born and I am fortunate enough to witness it. What price can I place on this privilege? All it took is a little discomfort, sitting half the night on the top of a tree. I thank Allah for showing me His creation.

That afternoon it was as if I was watching a flashback movie. As I sat on the rock, eating my egg roll I remembered all these things as vividly as if I were watching IT happen all over again. Twenty years had passed. The gaur I saw are all gone. So are the Langur. Their off-spring have taken their place. Raman is there with me but his hair is now jet black with hair dye. My beard is a salt-pepper shade with more salt. There is change, but the rock is timeless. So is the forest. Ever changing of course, but strangely, still the same. Not often is one privileged to go back in time. I finished my meal and lay down on the rock close to the stream to sleep for a while. Raman & Raman moved away to either ends of the open space to take up watch positions. We are old friends and companions. Nothing needs to be said. Each knows what he should do. I can hear the small stream gurgling as I drift off into the best sleep that I have had in a very long time.

I woke up as the sun started its final journey to America. Only if it set here could the Americans have another day. So we can’t delay it, can we? We gathered our things and started off back home, this time on a new track past the tea that I had planted 20 years ago. I have told the story of this tea, the taking over of the illegal vegetable gardens and then planting them with tea, when I was the manager of this estate. Today I was very eager to see what had become of it. Once again we descended into the dark thickness of the undergrowth at the bottom of Manjaparai, now a little apprehensive as we can see fresh sign of elephant. We walk in single file with Raman in the lead and myself at the rear with our friends who are new to this environment in the middle. We walk silently. Everyone has been given instructions about what to do if we come across elephants. But nothing as exciting as that happens and we emerge into what has become known as Baig Dorai Thotam (Baig Dorai’s Garden – the name that the pluckers gave it). I looked at it with tears in my eyes. It was the most beautiful sight that I had seen in a long time.

The tea has been extremely well looked after. They had done a height reduction prune to it and it is now back in plucking. Flat as a table, deep green maintenance foliage with light green plucking shoots standing proud and tall. Someone obviously has done an extremely fine job here. I was delighted that I had decided to come here and visit after so long.

We climbed up on another rock on the border of the tea overlooking the thick evergreen rain forest that the Anamallais are famous for. There is a single Spathodia in full bloom in the middle of the sea of green, the flame red color of the flowers standing out like a bonfire. I can see why it is called the Flame of the Forest. We sit in silence and watch the sun rise somewhere else. As the night descends, I thank AllahY once again for giving me this opportunity to come back and see the result of my work and meet my old friends. I feel privileged and honored.

The next day was simply a day of reunions. Selvaraj and Karpusamy Supervisor from Candura. This Karpusamy is the guy in my close encounter with the elephant story that I narrated earlier. Now they have one more year to retirement. Raman Supervisor (there is certainly no shortage of Ramans in this place) of Murugalli called his mother, the famous union leader Aghilandum that I was visiting. So the next day she came up from Trichy where she is now retired and living with her brother. That is a distance of more than five-hundred kilometers and she is eighty-four years old. What could I say? She hugged and kissed me and insisted on feeding me with her own hand. She also passed away last year. Thangavelu came to visit, cleaned up for the occasion and not looking as if he had just climbed out of an oil barrel, which was otherwise his usual appearance. Since he is an automobile mechanic (without a day’s education to boot) of legendary fame, it is only appropriate that he looks freshly dipped in lube oil. He is also an old friend with whom I share many memories.

One memory that constantly stayed with me during the entire trip was that of my dearest friend Berty. We first met when I was an Assistant Manager in Lower Sheikalmudi. Both of us were bachelors. We used to hunt the migratory Imperial Pegions and the resident jungle fowl and wild boar together. We would spend almost every weekend in the Sholayar River that flows at the bottom of what used to be the cardamom plantation on my estate. Some weekends we would go to Manamboly which I did not manage to do on this trip as I fell very sick on the day we intended to go. Berty and I would sit by the river in Murugalli fishing, on the other bank of which was his estate, Malakiparai and watch the feral buffalo sloshing in water. We would stand in rapidly flowing water in Manamboli below the sluice gates and cast for Mahseer while drinking in the atmosphere of the jungle. Not a sound except from the river or from a bird celebrating its life.

One day we were in Manamboli fishing and one of the fish we had caught disappeared. “Dai Baig Dorai, you can’t tie a bloody fish properly man!!” yelled my dear friend. What wouldn’t I give to hear him curse me out for doing nothing once again!!!! I had no answer. We had each caught a good sized mahseer. His was still there. Mine had disappeared. What gave the game away was that the line looked like it had been bitten through. Just then I heard the whistles….two otters talking to one another, no doubt with evil intentions on Berty’s fish. I called out to him in a low voice, “Yedo, noke awaday” and I pointed to the otters. Berty laughed so much that he almost fell down into the water. “What the bloody hell, so this is the bugger who stole our fish!!! Man, what do you expect? We go into their home and steal their fish, so they decide to freeload on our effort.” What memories!! But my friend is gone. So would have the otters. Nothing lives that long in the forest. Only I am alive to tell the tale and to remember my friend and to live once again that one magical day, this time on behalf of both of us.
ISIS – Isn’t Isn’t

ISIS – Isn’t Isn’t

The faulty logic of the ISIS
Preface: Religion is the last resort of the scoundrel…as the saying goes…refers to the tendency of some unscrupulous people to twist religion to justify their own nefarious activity. Genghis Khan famously gave a “sermon” in Bukhara after sacking the city saying that Allah had sent him as a punishment for the people because of their evil deeds. Self serving religious leaders of all hues have used religion to fire up their mentally and morally challenged followers to commit mayhem in the name of their God.

But the One and only God, Allah says different:

Surah An-Nisa, Ayah 135:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

O you who believe! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness for Allah’s sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.

And He said:

Surah Al-Maeda, Ayah 32:

مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَٰلِكَ كَتَبْنَا عَلَىٰ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَلَقَدْ جَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِي الْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ

For this reason did We prescribe to the children of Israel that whoever slays a soul, unless it be for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, it is as though he slew all men; and whoever keeps it alive, it is as though he kept alive all men; and certainly Our Messengers came to them with clear arguments, but even after that many of them certainly act extravagantly in the land.

And His Messenger Muhammad (S) said: On the authority of Abu Sa’eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]

He (S) also said: At-Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, as he put his foot in the stirrup, “What is the most virtuous struggle (jihad)?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.”
(Musnad Ahmad)

That’s what this book is: Truth before the tyrant. The tyrants who sell weapons of mass destruction to other tyrants and facilitate murder of innocents. And those tyrants who murder innocents especially in the name of Islam and claim that Islam authorizes them to do so. This is evidence that Islam doesn’t authorize them,  rejects their actions, condemns them and warns them of the punishment of Allah in this world and the next. 

This book is also a plea to good, decent people everywhere of all nationalities and faiths to stand together against evil, shoulder to shoulder and not to succumb to the propaganda of both kinds of tyrants and join ranks to fight them. 

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr:

 “On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ And Vanity comes along and asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But Conscience asks the question ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because it is right.”


I believe this is such a position.

Why this blog? Because…

In the End we won’t remember the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.


I will not be silent because my conscience does not allow me to be.

I defend Islam. Not those who call themselves Muslim but go against Islam.

I want to state that this is not a rant against the ‘West’ or ‘Europeans’ or ‘Americans’ or any such grouping. I am more than aware that we, the ordinary people of every country today, are each equally helpless in the context of influencing our governments to be accountable to us and not to take actions which benefit a few at the expense of the many who voted them to power. This is the raising of a voice in the hope that I will be joined by other voices – not only Muslim voices – but Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Atheist, Anyone voices – of people who believe in compassion, morality, ethical behavior, justice and accountability. People who live by principles that reflect integrity and honesty and a sense of responsibility for our lives and actions. People who are not racist and who don’t put a differential value on the lives of other people; who consider murder to be equally heinous no matter who is killed. People who genuinely believe in human rights; not those who like to talk about them while killing innocent people and calling that a ‘bug splat’. People who are not hypocrites and who have the courage to take a stand for justice; no matter who that stand offends. People of courage, especially when they stand alone. People who don’t do it because they think it will change the world. But who do it because they don’t want the world to change them. People who one day will then discover that the world did change. Change for the better to leave behind a legacy of honor. It is to such people that I speak. And it is they who I wish will respond – not to me but by raising their own voices for justice, moral, integrity and compassion. This paper is a bridge. Let us hold hands and cross it. All of us because the issues affect us all as human beings, irrespective of belief.
I live by the motto: I will not allow what is not in my control to prevent me from doing what is in my control. I invite you to do the same. Do what you can. For you will not be asked, “What happened?” You will be asked, “What did you do?” Do something worthwhile. For to live, is not merely to draw breath.
With respect to the piece by Graeme Wood entitled “What ISIS Really Wants,” being the eternal positivist and optimist that I am, I choose to see it as another attempt to make sense of the senseless world we live in. 
I didn’t respond to it as I didn’t think my response was necessary. This piece is more for those who have since asked me personally for my thoughts. It is not a Fatwa, edict, ruling or judgment. It is a sharing of thought and reflections based on my study of Islam, the Seerah (biography) of Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba and the Code of Conduct of the Muslims, especially when it comes to dealing with non-Muslims living in countries ruled by Muslims. In today’s increasingly linked and paranoid world, it is essential that we continue to put before anyone who wants to take the trouble to get to the real facts, what those facts are. It is our job to convey. Not to convince. Whether to believe or not is up to the reader.
Before we go into this discussion I want to share some thoughts on why such a discussion is critical today. To quote Pressenza International Press Agency,We can check our bank balances every second on our phones. We can navigate through the streets with real time traffic information. We can look up the market value of every corporation in the world. We can take a photo and send it to a million friends in one second. We can buy and sell everything 24/7, yet none of this gives us any power, none of these advances has directly empowered the population at large. We as human beings have not gained any political power with the advance of technology. Democratic processes, for example, have been almost untouched during the past 50 years, a period of great technological development and astronomical economic expansion. Voting is still one of the most complicated administrative processes, for no logical reason. A secretly-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement is being negotiated right now — in secret, even from! the US Congress — between representatives of governments and giant multinational corporations. Most societies in the world have done very little to develop more direct participation in decision-making for the majority of their constituents, in comparison to the business community who can now buy and sell everything all over the planet.
The notion of voting in general has lost its charge, and the process of selection it represents is old-fashioned and barbaric. These so-called electoral campaigns are now entertainment contests for starlets. They are marketing campaigns, more about selling a specific product than addressing the issues faced by the majority of people: employment, access to health, poverty, education, immigration, internet access, etc.
Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, spoke in New York on February 17, 2015 about the link between independent media and democracy. “Why is it important to speak about independent media? We need to open up the public space to have a discussion about the critical issues of the day: war and peace, life and death. Less than that is a disservice to the service men and women of this country, who can’t have these debates in military bases. They rely on us in civilian society to have these discussions about whether they should live or die, or rather whether they are sent to kill or be killed. Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society. And these are the issues that are at stake today, war and peace, the environment, the growing inequality between rich and poor.  We have a majority silenced by big corporate media.  These media will not bring the discussion about climate change but will spend all day talking about dramatic weather condition. Today we are sitting with Pablo Iglesias of Podemos from a Party-Movement PODEMOS that didn’t exist a year ago and count four elected at the European Parliament with over 1.2 million votes and possibly the next Premier Minister of Spain and if you say that is not possible look at Greece. This grassroots media, the Internet are the oxygen of Democracy. We don’t achieve democracy but have to fight for it every single day.”
I echo, ‘We don’t achieve democracy but have to fight for it every single day.’ The same goes for human dignity, justice, morality and global peace. We have to fight for peace by establishing justice. Peace is the effect of justice. Those who like to talk about peace must ensure that justice is established. Until that is done, any apparent peace is only a recess between wars. We. All of us. White or black. Christian, Jew, Hindu or Muslim or of any faith. We who believe in goodness and are against exploitation of all kinds. We the people of the world. We need to take it back from the hands of those who want to exploit it and us for their own ends. We have to stand together.
Political processes and structures change over time. So has the idea of Khilafa which changed from being a selective (vote by leaders) process to monarchy. Then it ended. So there is no history of Khilafa as a democratic process. I mean a real democracy where the opinion of every citizen counts. How this is to be achieved logistically is another matter and so one must question the viability of the very model of one global Khalifa. A modern model needs to be evolved perhaps with regional/country leaders coming together in a federation of mutual cooperation like the European Union – for want of a better example. Independent locally and cooperating globally. In today’s context it is not enough simply to quote the model of the Khilaafa Raashida and say that it must be applied.
The Khilaafa Raashida can be relived in terms of its principles but not in terms of its processes both because the scope and complexity of the situation has changed to such an extent that it doesn’t resemble Madinah and the Islamic world in the 6th century in anything but name. This is not surprising if you read history especially of the Islamic world and reflect that we are today in the 21st century in a world which is more alien to the world of the 6th century than perhaps would be a planet with life, if and when we find one. Madinah and the Islamic world of the Khilaafa Raashida was quite literally a different world. But it still presents a beautiful example to learn from and to draw on the principles it represented of integrity, morality, Taqwa, accountability of the rulers to the public, justice for one and all, nobody above the law, simplicity of the lifestyle of the ruler, compassion and concern for the other (non-Muslim). These are timeless principles which must be adhered to. But the way they are to be applied today has to change with the times if they are to be applied at all.
The long and short of it is that as we speak we don’t have a viable model of the Khilafa. I am saying this because to understand what is going on and to think of alternatives (that is not in the scope of this paper) we need to keep things in perspective.
The key points in this whole discussion about the ISIS appear to be:
1.     Legitimacy of the Khalifa – what does it take for a Khalifa to be accepted as legal (so to speak)?
2.     Actions of the ISIS in the name of Islam, especially the horrific killings of innocent civilians including Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – what is the Islamic position on these actions?
3.     The origin and very existence of this group – how did they come to be and frankly why do they still continue to exist and thrive?
4.     What must the ordinary Muslim man and woman do when faced with the ISIS’s claims to legitimacy of the Khilaafa and the ‘duty’ of the Muslims to it?
I have taken the liberty to add a fifth passage addressing our non-Muslim brothers and sisters because they are also participants in the game whether they like it or not and if we are to win this game then we have to stand together and not against each other as the Great Manipulators want us to do. We must open our eyes to our realities and work together to defeat the Manipulators and create a world that is worth leaving behind for our children. I hope I have covered all the points and will proceed to address them below.
Opening
Let me try to address each of these points to the best of my knowledge and ability. I ask Allah for His help to say what is correct and true and to save me and you from mistakes in understanding or interpretation that I may make.
1.    Legitimacy of the Khalifa – what does it take for a Khalifa to be accepted and legal (so to speak)?
In one line, simply declaring oneself as the Khalifatul Muslimeen and Ameerul Mu’mineen (Leader of the Believers) is not sufficient for one to be accepted and recognized as the Khalifa. So that declaration means nothing. Let us look at some evidence from our history.
If we evaluate how the four Khulafa Ar-Raashida came to power, we see the following:
1.     Abu Bakr Siddiq (R) was selected by the leaders of the Muhajiroon and Ansar. The next day the entire community swore allegiance to him, but there wasn’t an election as such. They merely affirmed the choice of their own leaders.
2.     Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) was nominated by Abu Bakr (R) after consultation with the leaders of the Sahaba, especially the Asharaum Mubashshara and Badriyeen (The ten who were promised Jannah and those who participated in the Battle of Badr) who all accepted him as did the people.
3.     Othman ibn Affan (R) was elected by the leaders of the Muhajiroon and Ansar by Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (R) going to each of them to ask for their opinion. When he had been stabbed and was on his deathbed Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) nominated a group of Sahaba (those of the Ten who were alive) to elect a Khalifa from amongst themselves. Abdur Rahman ibn Awf (R) voted himself out of the leadership but accepted the role of mediator. He then asked each of them and the other leaders of the Muhajiroon and Ansar and finally when he had the name of Othman ibn Affan (R) as the consensus candidate, he went to Sayyida Ayesha(RA) and borrowed Rasoolullah (S)’s turban and wearing it, ascended the Minbar and announced the result.
4.     When Othman ibn Affan (R) was assassinated his assassins tried to force Ali bin Abi Talib (R) to accept the role of Khalifa. He refused but was eventually persuaded by many of the other Sahaba who were afraid of more bloodshed if a leader was not appointed forthwith.
The nature of the Khilaafa changed from the time of Muawiyya ibn Abi Sufyan (R), who selected his son Yazeed to rule after himself, thereby establishing the first hereditary kingship in Islam. One must note that the appointment of Yazeed was accepted by most of the Sahaba who were alive at the time. So though Yazeed ibn Muawiyya was a poor choice and went on to prove exactly how poor by his actions – the most heinous of which was the killing of the grandson of Rasoolullah (S), Husain ibn Ali (R) – the fact remains that kingship was accepted as a legitimate form of Khilaafa. Right up to the end of the Othmani (Ottoman) Khilaafa the ruler who was almost always a hereditary monarch, was called (and called themselves) Khalifa and Ameerul Mu’mineen and was accepted as such – meaning both temporal and religious head for all the Muslims of the world.
The temporal leadership was symbolic and had no real authority outside the immediate borders of their personal territories (for example the Khalifa had no authority over the Muslim Kings in India) but he was still acknowledged as the head of the Ummah. Similarly, the religious authority never became a Papal type of authority but dua for the Khalifa was done in the Juma Khutba, which is a symbolic recognition of his authority.
What this goes to show is two things:
  • There are many ways in which a Khalifa may come to power.
  • But all those are subject to the universal approval of the Muslim Ummah.
Universal approval doesn’t necessarily mean a formal referendum but a general acceptance by the people, even if tacit. Going by that Standard I need hardly point out that even if one were to accept the unilateral declaration of the leader of the ISIS that he is the new Khalifa, he has the approval of perhaps less than 30,000 out of 1.5 billion Muslims. That is not a majority by any stretch of the imagination. So his Khilaafa is an illusion that he and his followers are laboring under and has no meaning for anyone else.
2.    Actions of the ISIS in the name of Islam, especially the horrific killings of innocent civilians including Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others – what is the Islamic position on these actions?
I want to make three points before I go any further and submit that the reader keeps them in mind when reading what I have written as they are its basis.
  • The Standard must define and justify the action of the one who claims to follow it. Not vice versa. If someone claims to follow Islam then his or her actions must be judged against the Standard of Islam rather than attempting to define Islam by the actions of the individual who claims to be doing them in the name of Islam.
  • The Standard of Islam has always been the actions of Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba (Companions); especially the Khulafa Ar-Raashida (Rightly Guided Khulafa). All the scholars of Islam have always used this Standard, even in something like understanding the meaning of words and Ayaat of the Qur’an. Whenever a doubt arose about what the specific meaning of a word was, the scholars always asked, “How did the Sahaba understand that word?” That definition is taken as the correct way to understand that word or Ayah.
  •  Any action carried out in the name of Islam but which is not in accordance with the Standard of Islam must be seen as the isolated action of that individual which is against Islam and his claim that it is Islamic must be dismissed.
 It is important to define the Standard because today there is an attempt by some people to say that the actions of ISIS are actually representative of Islam simply because they say so. When you ask them that since the ISIS are 30,000 out of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, how can their actions be taken as representative of Islam instead of the goodness of the other 1.4999 billion; they have no answer except to keep repeating their lie. That logic doesn’t seem to be interesting enough and raucous cawing takes the place of reasoned argument. Haykal’s statement that ‘there’s no such thing as Islam’ is certainly surprising, to put it politely.

How a religion which has a complete theology based on Divine Revelation, recording of the teachings of the Prophet (S) preserved in a feat of historical accuracy that has no parallel and a comprehensive legal system can be called, ‘no such thing’ is beyond me. How the fact that despite the many different sects of Muslims, all agree on the basic fundamentals bearing testimony both to the coherence of the message as well as the diversity of understanding and interpretation that there is room for can be called, ‘no such thing’, is something that I fail to understand.

Haykal apparently wants us to trash 1400 years of scholarship simply on the basis of his statement that there’s no such thing as Islam. However perhaps he means the position of Sunni Islam that as long as someone accepts the Declaration of Faith (There is nobody worthy of worship other than Allah and Muhammad (S) is His Prophet) then he is considered to be a Muslim no matter what else he believes in or does. Not to say that everything that is done is accepted as correct but it is accepted that it doesn’t negate his Islam and his actions don’t constitute apostasy. This is and has always been the position of the major scholars of Islam based on which people with some very questionable practices are permitted to come for Haj and are not turned away claiming that they have left Islam by their actions. This remains the situation to this day even with the much maligned hardline Saudi regime, which doesn’t stop anyone from making Haj, though many of their scholars have some hard things to say about the Shia and others.

That is why I am saying that one must first decide whose actions constitute a definition of Islam and then use that definition to examine the actions of the ISIS to see if they represent or contradict Islam. Some call the actions of the ISIS a ‘literal interpretation’ of the Qur’an. We will also examine this claim to see if it is indeed true in the same light i.e. the actions of the Prophet (S) who is the only one whose interpretation of the Qur’an is a Standard to judge every other. Nobody can claim to understand the Qur’an or to interpret it more accurately than the one to whom it was revealed. So let us see how he interpreted it and acted upon it and see if the actions of the ISIS match that Standard or not. ISIS may be a state but is it an Islamic State? Is it a Khilafa Islamiya – Islamic Khilafa? Is it something that represents what the Islamic State under Rasoolullah (S) and his Khulafa Raashida was? Or is it a distortion of it; a parody of the real thing; a bad joke? We can decide that only by looking at the standard that Rasoolullah (S) set. A Gold Standard that’s good for all time.

What does Islam offer to the world today? Islam is not the name of only a theory or a theology or a philosophy. Islam is the name of a practice. A practice that has withstood the test of time and has seen circumstances far worse than what we are seeing today and emerged stronger and more resilient. Islam is the name of a practice that works and produces measurable results for those who use it – but like all practices, it only produces results when and if they use it.
Islam gives two essential things to the world – both of which are critically absent today and which the world is crying out for. Allah said about these in the famous Ayah that you hear in every Juma Khutba and on which I have done a series of four to five lectures.
Nahl 16: 90.                      Verily, Allah enjoins Al-Adl (justice) and Al-Ihsan [perfection – more than justice] and giving (help) to kith and kin and forbids Al-Fahsha (shameful acts), and Al-Munkar (sins), and Al-Baghy (oppression), He admonishes you, that you may take heed.
The Ayah mentions five things: Justice, Ihsaan (mercy), helping your family, forbidding all sins and oppression. But out of these five the first two are the key out of which the others are derived. So the gift of Islam to the world is Justice and Mercy.
Allah told us categorically about these two; He said about justice:
Nisa 4: 135.      O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it is against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector of both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts) so that you may not be unjust and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.
Harvard Law School, thought highly enough of this Ayah and posted it at the entrance of its faculty library, describing it as ‘one of the greatest expressions of justice in history.’
Not only that, but Harvard quotes the Qur’an as one of the greatest expressions of justice in the world. https://www.cair.com/press-center/american-muslim-news/12359-harvard-recognizes-quranic-verse-as-one-of-the-greatest-expressions-of-justice.html
Stand out for justice even if it is against yourself? What can be stronger than that? So let us see what those who understood this, did. Then compare the actions of ISIS against this Standard and see if they are the same. The actions of Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba, especially the Khulafa Raashida are the Standard which represents Islam. Not the actions of anyone who comes after them. So no matter how much people with a vested interest in creating an imaginary ‘Global Enemy’ by demonizing Islam and Muslims may wish to do – we can’t accept that the actions of ISIS or anyone else are representative of Islam unless Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba also did such things. So let us see what they did, especially in the context of treatment of non-Muslims who lived under their governance.
The first and most famous evidence of Islam’s position with respect to the treatment of non-Muslims living under Muslim rule is the famous ‘Constitution of Madinah’ which Rasoolullah (S) promulgated when he became the Ruler of the city state of Yathrib which was renamed Madinatun Nabawi ( City of the Prophet). The Constitution reads:
The Treaty between Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs and Jews of Madinah was put in writing and ratified by all parties. The document referred Muhammad (S) as the Prophet and Messenger of God but it was understood that the Jews did not have to recognize him as such for their own religious reasons.

Ibn Ishaaq: Contract between the Muhajiroon and Al Ansar

In the name of Allah the Beneficent and Merciful. This is a document from Muhammad the Unlettered Prophet between the Believers and Muslims of Quraysh and Yathrib and their followers, allies and supporters establishing that they are one nation apart from all others.

The immigrants from Quraysh will maintain their current practice and will honor blood money contracts between themselves and will treat their weaker members with kindness and justice. The Banu Awf shall maintain their current practice and honor their former blood money contracts each party treating their weaker members with kindness and justice among all believers. (He mentioned all the clans of the Ansar and all the families from them).

The believers shall not leave anyone among them burdened by debts without giving to him in kindness and paying for him any ransom money or blood money he owes.

A believer shall not ally with any freed man of a second believer against that man. Pious believers act against any of their own who practice evil, or seek to bring harm, sin, aggression or corruption among believers. Believers will unite against anyone doing this even if he be one of their own sons.

No believer shall kill any believer for any non-believer nor shall he help any non-believer against a believer. Allah’s protection is all one, the least of them can offer protection to others. Believers are allies to one another excluding others.

Whoever from among the Jews follows us shall receive help and equality. They shall not be maltreated nor shall help be afforded to others against them. No peace shall be accepted for any one believer to the exclusion of others when the battle is for Allah’s cause. Among them equality and justice must prevail. In any expedition we engage in, riders will take turns on their mounts. Believers shall avenge one another for blood, shed in Allah’s cause. Believers who are pious are well guided on the straightest of paths.

No polytheist shall be allowed to offer protection for the property or persons of Quraysh. Nor try to interfere with any believer. Anyone who has clearly aggressed and caused the death of any believer shall be subject to retaliation unless the dead person’s executor can be satisfied. Believers as a whole shall take action against him and no excuse for their not doing so shall be acceptable. It shall not be permissible for any believer who accepts what is in this document and who believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment to give help or shelter to any wrong doer. Any believer who does so will be the object of Allah’s curse and anger on Judgment Day and neither compensation nor excuse will be accepted from him. Any matter in which you disagree must be referred to Allah and to Muhammad (S).

The Jews shall pay expenses along with the Muslims so long as they are allied in warfare. The Jews of Bani Awf are one nation with the Believers. The Jews shall have their religion, the Muslims their own. This applies to their freedmen and to themselves except to those who commit sins and are unjust. Such people only harm themselves and their families.

What applies to Bani Awf shall also apply to the Jews of Banu Najjar, Banu Harith, Banu Sa’ada, Banu Jushan, Banu Aws, Banu Thalaba, Jufna and Banu Shutaiba. The close associates of the Jews shall be viewed as themselves. None of them shall go to war without Muhammad (S)’s permission. However he is not thereby constrained from taking revenge for injury.

Whoever attacks another shall do so to protect himself and his family and act not unjustly. For Allah condemns such acts. The Jews shall bear their own expenses, the Muslims theirs. Each must help one another against those who fight those who adopt this document. They must give one another advice and consultation and do good and avoid evil. A man is not held blameworthy on behalf of his ally. Help must be given to those wronged.

The center of Yathrib shall be a sanctuary for those who agree to this document. One’s neighbor shall be treated as oneself without being harmed on sinned against.

No property shall be entered upon without the permission of its owner. In the case of any dispute or incident occurring between those agreeing to this document and involving consequences likely to be harmful, the matter must be referred to Allah and to Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah (S). Allah acknowledges what is very good and very pious in this document.

Quraysh and those who help them shall receive no protection. Those accepting this document must help one another against anyone attacking Yathrib. If they are called upon to make peace and do so and keep to it, they will be making peace. If they make a similar demand it is up to the Muslims to agree except if the warfare is over faith.

Each participant shall receive whatever portion is due to him from his own side’s war booty.

This document will not provide protection for anyone sinful or unjust. Whoever goes to war will be safe and whoever stays in the town will be safe except those who have sinned or been unjust. Allah provides protection for those who are good and pious.

This is the first written constitution of a State ever promulgated by a sovereign in human history and it emanated from the Prophet of Islam. It was enacted from the first year of Hijra (622 CE). The treaty stipulated a city state in Madinah, allowing wide autonomy to communities. Private justice (revenge) was to be banished. The head of the State had the prerogative to decide who should participate in any military expedition. Social insurance was to be instituted. It is perfectly clear that non-Muslims (Jews in this case) were not forced to convert but were treated as equal citizens, given the same rights and promised justice. The Jewish and Muslim citizens of Madinah specifically covenanted to support one another against enemies. It is a sad fact that the Jews reneged on this covenant and committed treason and consequently were punished for that reason. They were not punished for being Jewish but for committing treason. More on this later.

Let us see how those who learnt Islam from the Prophet (S) behaved. A famous story is that of a Coptic Christian man and Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas (R) the Governor of Egypt. The Governor’s son got into an argument with the Coptic Christian and being arrogant about his parentage hit the Copt with a whip. The Copt complained to the Khalifa Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (R) who then summoned Amr Ibn Al-‘Aas (R) and his son to Madinahh. Umar (R) gave a whip to the Copt and said, “Now whip this son of noble parents.” After he had done so, Umar (R) said, “Now whip the bald head of Amr, because his son beat you on account of his father’s authority.” The Copt replied, “I have already whipped the person who whipped me.” Then Umar ibn Al-Khattab (R) turned to Amr (R) and said his famous words, “O Amr, since when do you treat as slaves those who were born as free men?” This is how the Sahaba treated non-Muslims. Justice came first and justice meant equal treatment for everyone.

Umar Ibn El-Khattab (R) was stabbed by a Christian called Abu Lulua and was on his death bed. Even there he admonished people around him with respect to the rights of non-Muslims in the following words: “Admonish whoever becomes Khalifa after me concerning the fair treatment of non-Muslims. He must fulfill his pledge of protection towards them, and should fight for their rights and should not take work from them beyond their capacity.” History is witness that not a single Christian was killed in retaliation for the man who killed the Ruler of the Muslims.

Allah said about killing innocent people:
Ma’idah 5: 32.                 Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. 
Please notice that Allah didn’t say – if a person kills a Muslim. He said, ‘If a person kills another person it is as if he killed all of humanity.’ There isn’t another religious book in the world which defines the murder of one innocent person as the murder of all humanity. This is Islam’s official position on the murder of anyone, Muslim or not. Official position as defined by Allah Himself. Islam doesn’t distinguish in sanctity of life between Muslim and non-Muslim. All life is sacred. Death sentences can be handed down only by a court of law after due process and carried out by the state. Islam doesn’t give any individual the right to kill another person except in self-defense. Murder is murder no matter who does it and who is killed. It is Haraam and punishable in Islamic law and in the court of Allah. That is the whole meaning of Rule of Law which is to be contrasted against Rule of the Individual, the essence of feudalism. In Rule of Law nobody is above the law. Rasoolullah (S) demonstrated that in his own life though he was the Law Giver – who brought the law from the Law Maker, Allah. In many cases Allah also gave him complete authority to make the law. Allah ordered:
Hashr 59:7     And whatsoever the Messenger (Muhammad) gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain (from it) and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.
Yet he never misused that privilege nor did he take advantages for himself or his family. There are several other Ayaat with similar injunctions. Yet there is no record of Rasoolullah (S) ever abrogatingto himself and his family, special privileges over his followers. On the contrary he gave others more than he gave his own family. There is the famous story of Sayyida Fatima (RA) who came to him to ask for a servant from the prisoners of war to help her in her household duties. Rasoolullah (S) said to her, ‘How can I give you when the people of Suffah are hungry and I need to ransom these prisoners to feed them?’ Then he taught her the Tasbeeh which we know as Tasbeeh Al Fatimi which is the Sunnah to read after every Fardh Salah and at night before going to bed, as the means of relieving hardship. Rasoolullah (S) never murdered anyone nor did he order the murder of any innocent person. Today ISIS does it in the name of Islam and ignorant self-proclaimed ‘scholars on Islam’ claim that this is indeed Islam. Truly none as blind as those who refuse to see.
Allah said about killing of Muslims:
Nisa 4: 93.           And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein, and the Wrath and the Curse of Allah are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him.

What do you say about someone who is cursed by Allah and is promised the Hellfire forever – is he a Muslim or not? For a Muslim to kill another Muslim is to leave Islam and enter the Hellfire. Ask what the religion of humanitarian worker Abdur Rahman Peter Kassig was? Ask what the religion of Iraqi cameraman Raad Al-Azzawi was? Why were they killed? They were not soldiers. They were not fighting anybody. Yet they were publicly beheaded. Islam doesn’t even allow prisoners of war – soldiers – to be treated like this. But they did it to non-combatants in the name of Islam. Also with them was another German who had reverted to Islam who was also murdered. Their Islam didn’t save their lives but gave them Shahada and sent their killers to Jahannam. Once again an example of gross injustice which is inexcusable and Haraam. Yet thanks to the reactions that such actions instigate, Islam and Muslims are maligned and innocent Muslims pay the price.

When Hajjaj bin Yusuf hanged Abdullah bin Zubair (R) for raising a rebellion against his oppression, he was not content with his evil deed. He called for the mother of Abdullah bin Zubair , Asma bint Abi Bakr (RA) who was in her nineties and almost blind. He showed her the body of her son hanging from the Ka’aba and said, ‘See what I did to your son.’ The daughter of Abu Bakr (R) was no softie. She didn’t shed a single tear and replied, ‘You sent him to Jannah and he sent you to Jahannam.’ There have been people like ISIS in our history and our Salaf showed us how to deal with them. All these are actions of the Prophet (S) and those who learnt Islam from him. These are our Standard. Anyone who compares with integrity, the actions of ISIS with the actions of the Prophet and his Companions the Sahaba, will see that there is no resemblance. ISIS is not Islamic at all.
During the reign of Sayyidina Ali Ibn Abi Talib (R) he lost his shield in a battle and was told that a Jewish man had taken it. Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R) called the man and asked him to return his shield. The Jew refused and insisted that the shield belonged to him and not to Ali (R). Ali (R) was the Khalifa (ruler) and could have simply taken the shield if he wanted to but he didn’t. Instead he took the case to court.
As the Jew and Ali (R)  stood before Qadhy Shuraih ibn al-Hârith ibn Qays one of the most famous judges in Islamic history; the judge said, “Please state your case Ya Abal-Hassan (the Kunya of Sayyidina Ali – it’s a mark of respect and friendship to be called by it)”. Ali (R) said to him, ‘Don’t call me by my Kunya; just call me by my name because I am an ordinary man before you seeking justice. My position and personal friendship with you has no relevance here.’
After each one finished stating his case, the judge asked for evidence. Since Ali (R) was the accuser the burden of proof was on him. He produced his son Al-Hasan ibn Ali (R) and his servant as his witnesses. The judge refused to take their testimony as he said that one was related to him and the other was in his pay. Ali (R) had no other proof to show that he owned the shield so the judge ruled in favor of the Jew.
The Jewish man couldn’t believe what he was hearing – that he had won the case against the Khalifa on the Muslims in a Muslim court with a Muslim judge who ruled against the Ruler of the State. He stood up and declared, ‘Wallahi this is the character of the Prophets and Messengers. I declare that there is nobody worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad (S) is his Messenger.’ He then said to Sayyidina Ali bin Abi Talib (R), ‘Here is your shield Ya Ameerul Mu’mineen. I picked it up when it fell off your camel.’
Ali (R) returned the shield to him and said, ‘This is my gift to you as you are now my Muslim brother.’ The man became Muslim and always stayed close to Sayyidina Ali (R) and was martyred in the Battle of Siffeen. He accepted Islam not because of anything that Sayyidina Ali (R) had said to him. He became Muslim because he saw the justice of Islam and that nobody was above it – not even the Ruler himself. People don’t care what you say until they see what you do. Compare the actions of ISIS to this.
Another example is Imam Al-Awzai’s attitude toward an Abbasid ruler who had exiled one of the non-Muslim tribes from Mount Lebanon after some of them had refused to cooperate with the agricultural tax collector. The ruler, Salih ibn Ali ibn Abdullah ibn Abbas, was a relative of the caliph. Al-Awza’i wrote him a detailed letter in which he stated, “How can all of these people be punished and driven from their lands and properties because of some individual transgressors when Allah states:
Najm 53: 38.  That no burdened person (with sins) shall bear the burden (sins) of another 
This is the true ordinance to be followed. There’s no collective punishment in Islam. (Al-Awza’i further stated) …They (that is, the dhimmis – non-Muslims living under an Islamic government) are not slaves to be transferred from place to place, but they are free men and ahl adh-dhimma.”  

There is no killing or hurting innocent civilians for whatever their rulers may have done. There is no punishing one for the crimes of another. This is justice in Islam.

I can cite many other instances of justice and the treatment of non-Muslims in Islam under the rule of Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba but let this suffice for the present. Anyone researching objectively using authentic sources can find all the proof he needs about the justice and mercy of Islam and see for himself how far removed ISIS is from that Standard. And how much at fault are those who claim that the actions of ISIS represent Islam. Propaganda is not fact. We must recognize those who seek to malign Islam for their own reasons and expose their falsehood and lies clearly so that innocent people are not misled. We must read and inform ourselves for only knowledge can set us free.

Rasoolullah (S) gave the following advice, which is well worth remembering: If any man oppresses a non-Muslim or tries him beyond his strength, I will be the advocate for the oppressed before Allah.  
So how do these people (ISIS) who are a curse upon this Ummah justify not just killing innocent people but publicly beheading them on camera? Barbarism unparalleled. The actions of the ISIS are not a ‘literal interpretation’ of the Qur’an but its gross misinterpretation. The ISIS has caused more damage to Muslims and the image of Islam worldwide than anyone else in our modern times. So one must question if they are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, created by those whose agenda is to cast Islam in the role of ‘Global Enemy’ so that their war machine can continue to be funded. Rasoolullah (S) warned of the coming of a people like ISIS and described their rigidity, rudeness and lack of mercy as signs of their distance from Islam and its true teaching and understanding.
There’s no ‘expert opinion’ that can supersede the opinion of the Prophet (S) himself, who said:

Jabir b. Abdullah reported that a person came to Rasoolullah (S) atJa’rana when the Prophet (S) was on his way back from Hunain, and there was some silver with Bilal. Rasoolullah (S) tooka handful out of that and bestowed it upon the people. A man said to him, “Ya Muhammad, do justice.” He (Rasoolullah) said, “Woe to you, who would do justice if I do not do justice and you would be very unfortunate and a loser if I do not do justice.” Upon this Umar b. Khattab (R) said, “Permit me to kill this hypocrite.”

Upon this he (Rasoolullah) said,” May Allah protect us! People would say that I kill my companions. This man and his companions would recite the Qur’an but it would not go beyond their throat, and they swerve from it (Islam) just as the arrow goes through the prey. [Sahih Muslim: Book 005, Number 2316]

That man then returned to his people. Khalid b. Walid (R) then said, “Ya Rasoolullah (S) should I not strike his neck? Upon this he (Rasoolullah) said, “Perhaps he prays.” Khalid said, “How many of those who pray profess with their tongue what is not in their heart?” Upon this Rasoolullah (S) said, “I have not been commanded to pierce through the hearts of people, or to split their bellies (insides) (Meaning that he had not been commanded to ascertain a man’s sincerity if he was praying). He looked at the man as he was going back to his people. And then he (Rasoolullah) said, “There would arise a people from the progeny of this (man) who would recite the Qur’an glibly, but it would not go below their throats; they would (hurriedly) pass through (the teachings of their) Deen just as the arrow passes through the prey.” [Sahih Muslim: Book 005, Number 2319]

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Yasar (R): That they visited Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (R) and asked him about Al-Harauriyya, a special unorthodox religious sect, “Did you hear the Prophet (S) saying anything about them?” Abu Sa`id (R) said, “I do not know what Al-Harauriyya is, but I heard the Prophet (S) saying, “There will appear in this nation —- he did not say: from this nation —- a group of people so pious apparently that you will consider your prayers inferior to their prayers, but they will recite the Qur’an, the teachings of which will not go below their throats and will go out of their religion as an arrow darts through the game, whereupon the archer may look at his arrow, its Nasl at its Risaf and its Fuqa to see whether it is blood-stained or not (i.e. they will have not even a trace of Islam in them) [Sahih al-Bukhari 6931]

Ali bin Abi Talib (R) said, “I heard Rasoolullah (S) saying: There would arise at the end of the age a people who would be young in age and immature in thought, but they would talk (in such a manner) as if their words are the best among the creatures. They would recite the Qur’an, but it would not go below their throats, and they would pass through the Deen as an arrow goes through the prey. [Sahih Muslim: Book 005, Number 2328]

One of the signs of such people that Rasoolullah (S) described is that their hearts will be (as if) made of iron; without any mercy. The ISIS has amply demonstrated its lack of mercy. There is nothing in Islam which permits what they do. Their actions are an abomination against Islam.

Another famous example of the Islamic tradition of dealing with non-Muslims is the letter of Rasoolullah (S)’s Charter of Privileges in 628 C.E to the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai.

 “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far; We are with them. Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants violated. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
English translation from ‘Muslim History: 570 – 1950 C.E.’ by Dr. A. Zahoor and Dr. Z. Haq, ZMD Corporation. P.O. Box 8231 – Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8231 – Copyright Akram Zahoor 2000. P. 167.
The original letter was taken away in 1517 by the Turkish Sultan Selim I and is now in the Topkapi Museum in Instanbul, but the sultan gave the monks a copy of it and sanctioned its terms.
 An image of the original letter on the official website of the monastery
The official website of St. Katherine Monastery is below: 

I quote from one of the most important books on the subject of Muslim history: Lost Islamic History by Firas al-Khateeb an Islamic History teacher at Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois. http://lostislamichistory.com/jerusalem-and-umar-ibn-al-khattab/

By 637, Muslim armies began to appear in the vicinity of Jerusalem. In charge of Jerusalem was Patriarch Sophronius, a representative of the Byzantine government, as well as a leader in the Christian Church. Although numerous Muslim armies under the command of Khalid ibn al-Walid (R) and Amr ibn al-‘As (R) began to surround the city, Sophronius refused to surrender the city unless Umar (R) came to accept the surrender himself.
Having heard of such a condition, Umar ibn al-Khattab (R) left Madinah, travelling alone with one mount and one servant. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he was greeted by Sophronius, who undoubtedly must have been amazed that the caliph of the Muslims, one of the most powerful people in the world at that time, was dressed in no more than simple robes and was indistinguishable from his servant.

Umar (R) was given a tour of the city, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When the time for prayer came, Sophronius invited Umar (R) to pray inside the Church, but Umar (R) refused. He told Patriarch Sophronius that if he prayed there, later Muslims may use it as an excuse to convert it into a mosque – thereby depriving Christendom of one of its holiest sites. Instead, Umar (R) prayed outside the Church, where a mosque (called Masjid Umar – the Mosque of Umar) was later built.

 

The Treaty of Umar

As they did with all other cities they conquered, the Muslims wrote a treaty detailing the rights and privileges regarding the conquered people and the Muslims in Jerusalem. This treaty was signed by Umar and Patriarch Sophronius, along with some of the generals of the Muslim armies. The text of the treaty read:
“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves, for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. 
The people of Jerusalem must pay the taxes like the people of other cities and must expel the Byzantines and the robbers. Those of the people of Jerusalem who want to leave with the Byzantines, take their property and abandon their churches and crosses will be safe until they reach their place of refuge. The villagers may remain in the city if they wish but must pay taxes like the citizens. Those who wish may go with the Byzantines and those who wish may return to their families. Nothing is to be taken from them before their harvest is reaped.
If they pay their taxes according to their obligations, then the conditions laid out in this letter are under the covenant of God, are the responsibility of His Prophet, of the caliphs and of the faithful. ~ Quoted in The Great Arab Conquests, from Tarikh Tabari
This is by far one of the most progressive treaties in history. For comparison, just 23 years earlier when Jerusalem was conquered by the Persians from the Byzantines, a general massacre was ordered. Another massacre ensued when Jerusalem was conquered by the Crusaders from the Muslims in 1099 and every non-Christian was put to the sword, including women and children.
The Treaty of Umar allowed the Christians of Jerusalem religious freedom, as is dictated in the Quran and the sayings of Muhammad (S). This was one of the most significant guarantees of religious freedom in history. Umar (R) further allowed Jews to worship on the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, while the Byzantines (Catholic Church) had banned these activities.  The treaty became the Standard for Muslim-Christian relations throughout the former Byzantine Empire, with rights of conquered people being protected in all situations, and forced conversions never being a sanctioned act. In the conquest of Jerusalem no Christian or Jew was killed, enslaved or oppressed. In the entire history of Rasoolullah (S) and the Khulafa Ar-Raashida, there is not a single incident of a non-Muslim being killed, beaten, tortured or imprisoned because of his faith. To do so is not Islam.
Criminal Law and the Criminal Code
Beheadings or amputations of the hand or stoning to death of adulterers are all punishments for different crimes according to the Criminal Code of Islamic Law. There is death penalty for murder one way of implementing which is beheading. Punishing criminals including the death penalty continue to be the law in many countries including Western countries to this day. The reason why Islamic punishments are more severe is because Islam places more importance on the rights of the victim which have been violated than on the rights of the criminal who violated the rights of an innocent person. Ask a woman who has been gang raped what she thinks about the death penalty for rapists. The purpose of harsh punishment is also to be a deterrent for aspiring criminals. See what’s happened to violent crime in South Africa after the abolishing of death penalty post-independence. Today civil society which is paying the price in blood is clamoring for it to be restored.
Certainly crime in South Africa is not only the result of the abolition of the death penalty and there are many economic and other issues that contribute to it and must be dealt with. But it can’t be denied that the fact that lack of exemplary punishment appears to have taken away the fear of the consequences of violence from the hearts of criminals. India is another ‘good’ example, where in 2013 alone, 18000 men were charged and arrested for rape and let off. Then we are surprised at the number of rapes happening in our society. Islamic punishments can only be decreed by a court of law after due process and can be forgiven by the victim or his/her dependents. This promotes not only justice but also more importantly, compassion.
The point I want to make is that we must differentiate between punishing criminals and killing non-Muslims because they are not Muslim. Islam doesn’t permit killing non-Muslims and treats any such killing as murder with the murderer liable for the death penalty. To say that beheading and amputation is in the Qur’an and claim that therefore the actions of ISIS criminals are actually Islamic is nonsense. Beheading and amputations are specific punishments for specific crimes and not blanket permission to visit them upon the heads of all and sundry. ISIS actions are criminal and attract punishment according to the Shari’ah. They are not Islamic but against Islamic Law. How can a literal interpretation be the opposite of what the Qur’an orders? Anyone who claims that the actions of ISIS represent a literal interpretation of the Qur’an, either doesn’t understand the Qur’an at all or is deliberately lying to create mischief.
I have narrated for you incidents from the life of Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba who lived and acted according to the Qur’an. People whose lives are the Standard by which we will be judged when we stand before Allah. People whose lives we use as the Standard to judge for ourselves how well or poorly we conform to the Gold Standard of Islam. Compared to this Standard of justice and mercy; when we see the injustice, cruelty and barbarism of ISIS, who but a complete ignoramus or someone whose aim is to deliberately malign Islam would call their actions representative of Islam?
A word about the so-called Ayaat of violence (as critics of Islam like to call them). I am not going into a detailed explanation of each of them because that is not in the scope of this article but will state the basic principle behind these Ayaat that has been recognized and accepted throughout history. That principle is that these are Battle Orders for soldiers in a state of war and relate to what is permissible – harass and kill the enemy – when you are at war. Their jurisdiction is not restricted to the time but is restricted to the situation – any time you are at war it is permissible to harass and kill the enemy without committing excesses.
Find me one Battle Order of any country that tells the soldiers the opposite – when you meet the enemy, don’t harass them and don’t kill them. (Maybe kiss them to death?) We need to get real. If you take battle orders and claim that they apply to all people all the time then you have to support that claim with the actions of those who received those Divine Orders first and see what they did. Since there is not a single instance of Rasoolullah (S) or any of the Khulafa Raashida and even other Sahaba killing any non-Muslim just because he was not a Muslim, then are we to conclude that the Prophet (S) himself didn’t follow the Qur’an?
There’s a famous instance in the Seerah (biography of the Prophet) where Khalid bin Waleed (R) accidentally ordered the killing of some prisoners of war. When Rasoolullah (S) was informed he raised his hands to the heavens and said, ‘O Allah! I am innocent of Khalid’s action. O Allah! Do not be angry for this reason.’ Khalid bin Waleed (R) was mortified at this. Rasoolullah (S) then ordered that all the prisoners should be freed and blood money of one hundred camels was to be paid for every person who had been killed. Compare ISIS actions with this and see if they match.
Take the Ayah where Allah ordered:
Tawba 9:73.       O Prophet (Muhammad)! Fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be harsh against them, their abode is Hell and worst indeed is that destination.
Here the Prophet (S) is being ordered to fight not only non-Muslims but also those Muslims in Madinah who worked clandestinely against the Prophet (S) who came to be known as the Munafiqoon (Hypocrites). Yet we have no case at all of the Prophet (S) ever having fought the Hypocrites. Instead we see him leading the funeral prayer of Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Salool who was known to be the leader of the Munafiqoon and giving his own robe for him to be buried in and praying for his forgiveness. You can’t put this down to political posturing because every action of the Prophet (S) is guided by Allah and is an example of the Law in practice and so worthy of emulation and the Standard against which we have to judge the actions of everyone else. So going by that are we to say that the Prophet (S) didn’t obey Allah? Or must we understand these Ayaat as the scholars of Islam have always understood them as guidance and permission if there is a need for it.  Not an order to immediately execute or to be executed by all Muslims for all time. This is the literal interpretation of the Qur’an done by the one to whom it was revealed and as taught by him to those who learnt directly from him. What ISIS is doing is not literal interpretation but literal misinterpretation and literal distortion.
Take just one other set of Ayaat in Sura Al Baqara as an example of the general principles:
Baqara 2: 190.                And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors. 191. And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing. And fight not with them at Al-Masjid-al-Haram (the sanctuary at Makkah), unless they (first) fight you there. But if they attack you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. 192. But if they cease, then Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.  
Clearly these words talk about retaliation for aggression and defending yourself against someone trying to kill you. And even in that situation they mention the benefit of forgiveness. If anyone takes these Ayaat to mean that Islam promotes killing non-Muslims indiscriminately in all places then that is their own deliberate misunderstanding. And if that were to be the case then you have to ask why Rasoolullah (S) and his Sahaba didn’t obey that edict and not only did they not kill any non-Muslims but they actively protected all civilian populations under their control. So did centuries of Muslim rulers across the world to such an extent that countries which were under Muslim rule for centuries have minority Muslim populations to this day.
There are two cases that are cited by critics of Islam – the banishment of Banu Nadhir and the execution of Banu Quraydha men and enslavement of women and children – as being examples of cruelty against non-Muslims. The fact is that these were both cases of treason against the state with attempts to overthrow the government and kill the head of state – Muhammad the Prophet (S). One only needs to reflect on what the punishment for treason and attempting to overthrow the government and kill the head of state is in our countries today, to realize that in the case of Banu Nadhir Rasoolullah (S) was particularly lenient in that he permitted them to leave with all their belongings and go safely to Khaybar. It is reported that Banu Nadhir even dismantled the door frames and panels of their houses and took them with all their wealth in a huge caravan. But they were allowed to go unhindered and unmolested. This was completely out of character with the times as well as even today where as I mentioned earlier, treason is a capital crime in all countries.
In the case of Banu Quraydha who were caught red handed aiding the enemy during the Battle of Ahzab (Khandaq – Trench) Rasoolullah (S) gave them the liberty to choose their own judge to decide their case. He was prepared to allow them also to go away to Khaybar. But the judge they chose – Saad bin Muadh (R) the head of Banu Aws – sentenced them according to their own Hebrew Law (which they lived under even during the rule of Muhammad) to death for the men and enslavement for women and children and this sentence was carried out.
In both these cases, they were punished for the crime of treason against the state of which they were citizens and in the case of Banu Nadhir it was a very lenient punishment. In our world today people are arrested, imprisoned and tortured and in many cases even executed purely on suspicion, without any proof. So we can hardly criticize the Prophet (S) for punishing his subjects for treason.
The second gift of Islam to mankind and all creatures is Mercy – Rahma – which is the finest demonstration of Al-Ihsaan. Ihsaan is perfection. To do more than what is required. To do more than what is just. To do it out of love of Allah and to please only Him. Allah has infinite beautiful names and attributes. Of these countless names, He chose two, both associated with mercy and compassion, to be the beginning of every Sura – Ar-Rahman & Ar-Raheem. He used the same to introduce Himself in the opening of the Qur’an – Sura Al-Fatiha. And He chose Mercy to introduce Himself and that is the name of one of the most beautiful Suras in the Qur’an, Sura Ar-Rahman.
So important is Mercy in Islam that the name of the most sacred mountain, the mount of Arafat, was changed to ‘the mount of Mercy’ (Jabal ur Rahma); the auspicious month, the month of Ramadan is known as ‘the month of Mercy’; the most notable door to the Haram is known as ‘the door of Mercy’ (Baab ur Rahma), Allah is known as ‘the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate’, the Prophet of Islam is known as ‘Mercy to the Worlds’ and the religion itself is known as the ‘Religion of Mercy’.  Even in war and when slaughtering animals, Muslims are ordered to be merciful and compassionate.  Our greeting is a greeting of mercy and it is responded to with even more mercy.
As the maxim goes: ‘Mercy must be the basis of law! For mere cold justice, may become a source of injustice and evil, if unaccompanied by mercy, tolerance and compassion!’ 
So what is Mercy? Allah said about His Mercy:
Zumar 39: 53.  Say: “O Ibadi (My slaves) who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Narrated Abu Hurairah (R) that Rasoolullah (S) said, “When Allah created the Creation, He wrote in His Book about Himself and it is placed with Him on the Throne; ‘Verily My Mercy overcomes My Anger.’ Sahih Bukhari:Volume 9, Book 93, Number 501

An’am 6: 12      Say (O Muhammad) “To whom belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth?” Say: “To Allah. He has prescribed Mercy for HimselfIndeed He will gather you together on the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no doubt. Those who destroy themselves will not believe [in Islam].”
Rasoolullah (S) also said, “Those who show mercy to their fellow beings will be shown mercy by the Merciful Rabb. So, show mercy to those on the earth and He Who is in the heavens will show mercy to you.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Rasoolullah (S) also said, ‘The one who doesn’t show mercy to the people, Allah will not show mercy to him.’ (Tirmidhi)
Allah said about His Messenger (S)
Anbiya 21: 107.              And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy for the A’alameen (worlds)
Mercy is what you show even though you have every justification not to show it. Mercy is not return for good behavior. It is good behavior despite bad behavior. It is to show kindness where punishment would be justified. It is not to extract revenge and retribution even though you would have the right to do so but instead, not even to sit quietly or ignore what happened but to retaliate with goodness. It is tough but its effect is miraculous. The one who benefits most from mercy is the one who shows it.
Allah said:

Fussilat 41: 34.           The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered believers to be patient when angry, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.35. But none is granted it (the above quality) except those who are patient, and none is granted it except the owner of the great portion (Jannah in the Aakhira and high moral character and respect in this life).
Allah said that His Mercy overcomes His Anger. The Anger of Allah is just. It is deserved in full measure by those who deliberately disobey Him and rebel against Him using the strength that they derive from Him and after enjoying His bounty. Yet He says that His Mercy overcomes His Anger. Rasoolullah (S) advised us to do the same and demonstrated this in his own life.
Let me share with you some well-known examples from his Seerah of how he treated his worst enemies. It is essential to study the Seerah because this is the way we learn to love Rasoolullah (S) and to emulate him which is the key to success in this life and Jannah in the Aakhira. Love for Rasoolullah (S) is a part of our Imaan without which we are not Muslim. The Seerah is the Tafsir (explanation) of the Qur’an in action. So let us see what he did.
The finest and most visible example of Rasoolullah (S)’s treatment of enemies is in Fatah (conquest or opening) of Makkah. He and his had companions spent thirteen years suffering all kinds of torture, physical and mental in Makkah before being driven out altogether and their wealth confiscated. Some of them had been killed. His own daughter who was pregnant at the time was injured and lost her baby and died soon after from that injury. Then Allah granted him victory over his enemies and persecutors who had left no stone unturned in their efforts to harm him physically and mentally and tried to kill him and destroy his reputation and credibility. But when he entered Makkah, he didn’t enter it like an avenging nemesis; he entered with humility reciting Sura Al Fath, his head bowed so far down that his beard was almost touching the saddle of the camel.  
He made Tawaf of Al Ka’aba and then called on Othman bin Talha (R) to bring the key of the Ka’aba. Othman bin Talha’s family Banu Abdid Da’ar were the keepers of the key to the Ka’aba and are, to this day. He brought it to Rasoolullah (S) who opened the Ka’aba and had it cleaned. Then he came out and stood in the doorway which is high up and called the people. This time they all came respectfully to listen to him – a far cry from their arrogance when he’d called them the first time from As-Safa after receiving Wahi.
Rasoolullah (S) spoke to the people and said: ‘Alhamdulillah, Sadaqa W’ada, Nasara Abdah, Wahazamal Ahzaaba wahdah (All praise and thanks be to Allah. Who was true to His promise. He helped His slave and defeated the confederates alone – without anyone’s help). Families of anyone killed accidentally will be paid blood money of hundred camels each. All privilege of ancestry and pride that existed in Jahiliyya are finished. All these privileges are beneath my feet.’ He recited the Ayah of Sura Al Hujuraat:
Hujuraat 49: 13.            O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
Rasoolullah (S) was establishing a New World Order based on compassion, virtue and piety. That is why he ruled that compensation would be paid to anyone who had been killed in the conquest. Where have you heard of a conqueror paying compensation for the deaths of his enemies? He was changing the definition of High Net Worth from money to Taqwa (fear of displeasing Allah). The definition of High Net Worth Individual (HNI) from Abu Lahb to Abu Bakr (R).
The world is witness that as long as this order remained, the world knew justice, peace and harmony. When this order was overthrown and the Old World Order of oppression and rule of money was resumed once again, the world descended into the pit of living hell where the background music to the story telling is the weeping of bereaved mothers and the groaning of heartbroken fathers. A world without pity, without mercy. A world inhabited by human beings whose existence is a burden on the earth. It is the role of Islam and the Muslims to reverse this and to bring back the rule of justice, compassion, peace and harmony. Of mutual respect and concern for the weak. That is why Allah sent us. That is what we came to give. That is what the world is waiting for; something it needs the most – justice and mercy. And that is what we will be held accountable for.
Rasoolullah (S) had the key of the Ka’aba in his hand. Ali bin Abi Talib (R) said, ‘Ya Rasoolullah (S) combine for us the honors of feeding the Hujjaj and the key of the Ka’aba.’ Rasoolullah (S) called Othman bin Talha (R) and said, ‘Take it and keep it forever and nobody will take it from you except a tyrant.’  Think about this. Who was more entitled to keep the key of the Ka’aba – the Messenger of Allah (S) and his family or a family who were the traditional keepers of the key but which at the time were mostly non-Muslim. Yet Rasoolullah (S) treated them justly and didn’t take the honor for his own family even though he was entitled and had the power to do so.
Then he asked the Quraysh, ‘What do you think I will do with you?’ They said, ‘You are our honored brother; son of our honored brother.’ So he said, ‘Idh-habu fa antum-ut tulaqaa.’ (Go for you are the Released Ones.) They were the captives of Rasoolullah (S) who thoughhe could have executed them all, released them without taking any ransom. So the people who became Muslim after the conquest of Makkah are called At-Tulaqa (freed slaves). The only exceptions were seven who were sentenced to death for their crimes but some of them also were later pardoned.
Abdullah bin Abi Sarh was one of those who had been given the death sentence. He took refuge with Othman ibn Affan (R) who was his brother because of breast feeding. Othman (R) secretly took him to Rasoolullah (S). Abdullah bin Abi Sarh said, ‘I came to give you Bayah (swear allegiance and accept Islam).’ Rasoolullah (S) did not respond. Abdullah bin Abi Sarh repeated this twice. Rasoolullah (S) still remained silent. Then when he said this for the third time Rasoolullah (S) accepted his Bayah and he became Muslim with all his previous sins automatically forgiven.  
Sayeed bin Musayyib (R) said, ‘The night of the conquest was not a night of celebration in the normal sense. The Sahaba were making Tawaf around the Ka’aba, and making Takbeer and Tahleel all night. Abu Sufyan went to his wife Hind and asked her, ‘Do you think this is from Allah?’ She replied, ‘Yes, this is from Allah.’ Later Abu Sufyan met Rasoolullah (S) who  said to him, ‘You asked Hind if this was from Allah and she told you that it was.’ Abu Sufyan (R) said, ‘Ash haduallaailaha illAllahu wa Ash hadunna Muhammadar Rasoolullah.’ (I bear witness that there’s nobody worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah).
People were shocked, astonished, astounded. They could not believe their eyes and ears. They hid in their homes at first, fully expecting victorious Muslim soldiers to break into their homes to loot and rampage as victorious forces are wont to do. But nothing happened. Eventually, Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, a woman who was a bitter enemy of Rasoolullah (S) and who was responsible for the mutilation of the body of his uncle, Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib (R) in the battle of Uhud, an incident that caused untold suffering to Rasoolullah (S), left her home to see what was happening. And what did she see? She saw Mohammadur Rasoolullah (S) and his companions praying in the Haram and asking for Allah’s mercy and help.
It is true that as a victor Rasoolullah (S) could have taken revenge. But that would have opened new wounds which would have set off a new series of conflicts all resulting in delay or defeat of his real mission, the spreading of his Message. By forgiving those who had wronged him, he sent a powerful message that the mission was above all personal considerations and put those who had wronged him in his debt. Instead of fighting or hating him they were now grateful to him and wanted to please him. At one stroke, he laid to rest all future potential conflicts and vendettas among his followers without which his mission would have failed.
The key thing to understand is that to end violence we have to break the cycle. And the only one who can do that is the one who is suffering. No matter how difficult it may seem – and Allah knows, it is very tough – the one suffering has to forgive. Only then does the help of Allah come and the heart of the oppressor changes. Rasoolullah (S) didn’t forgive the Quraysh because he was afraid of them. He forgave them when he was in a position of power even though he could have legally and justifiably taken revenge. But he didn’t. He forgave them and took the wind out of their sails.
He defeated his enemies not by killing enemies. But by killing enmity.
This was and is the message of Muhammad (S) – a message of mercy even for enemies.
Those who learned from him, learned this message very well.
Ata ibn Yasar (R) reported that Ibn Abbas (R) said: “It happened that Ali ibn Abi Talib (R) hired himself one night to water some date palm trees in exchange for some barley. The following morning, he collected his barley and ground a third of it out of which they made something to eat, called al-Khazirah. When it was cooked, a poor man came begging and they gave him the food they had prepared. They then prepared a second portion of the remaining barley and when it was cooked, an orphan came begging and they gave him the food. They then prepared what was left of that barley, but when the food was cooked, a prisoner from among the non-Muslims came to them and asked for food and they fed him and spent the day without eating anything.
But their Rabb (Allah) knew what they had done and revealed:
Insaan 76: 8.               And they give food, despite their love for it, to Miskeen (poor), the orphan, and the captive, 9. (Saying): “We feed you seeking Allah’s Countenance (pleasure) only. We wish for no reward, nor thanks from you.
William Muir was an Orientalist and a high official in the Government of British India. He was well known as a scholar of Islam (not a Muslim Scholar) and was a critic of Muhammad (S) and Islam. I mention him only because the testimony of the critic is most credible. His book ‘Life of Mahomet’ is criticized as being Christian propaganda. But he wrote about this period:
“In pursuance of Mahomet’s commands the citizens of Medina and such of the refugees as possessed houses received the prisoners and treated them with much consideration.’ Blessings be on the men of Medina’, said one of these prisoners in later days, ‘they made us ride while they themselves walked; they gave us wheaten bread to eat when there was little of it, contenting themselves with dates.”
During his rule, Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) made it illegal to separate related prisoners of war from each other, after a captive complained to him about being separated from her daughter.
These principles were also honored during the Crusades, as exemplified by sultans such as SalahuddinAyyubi and his nephew Al-Kamil (Al-Malik Al-Kamil Naser ad-Din Abu al-Ma’ali Muhammad) the fourth Ayyubi Ruler of Egypt who during his tenure as sultan, defeated two crusades.After al-Kamil defeated the Franks during the Crusades, Oliverus Scholasticus praised the Islamic laws of war, commenting on how al-Kamil supplied the defeated Frankish army with food.
“Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power.”  ~ Oliverus Scholasticus
What is more credible than the testimony of the enemy? Those who want to accuse Muslims of cruelty need to answer this testimony of history. Lies can’t hide the truth.

Please show me where it is permitted under Islamic Law to execute prisoners by slaughtering them like sheep and beheading them in public. Please show me where it is permitted to burn prisoners of war (or anyone for that matter) alive. Please show me one Ayah of the Qur’an or one Hadith where the Muslim has been ordered to kill a non-Muslim because he is not Muslim. Show me one order of Allah or His Messenger (S) where Muslims have been permitted to torture prisoners.

The scholars of Islam are united upon the opinion that there is no permission to execute a prisoner of war irrespective of his religion and that he must be housed and fed with dignity and must not be put to hardship or tortured. Today those who claim to be the bastions of civilization need to explain their progressive laws which permit torture where the laws of Islam banned it 14 centuries earlier. There is no law as just and merciful as the law of Allah and that is what Islamic Law is.
3.    The origin and very existence of this group – ISIS – how did they come to be and frankly why do they still continue to exist and thrive?
This is a point on which I really don’t think there is any need to speak because all that anyone with a modicum of intelligence needs to derive correct conclusions is clearly before us. All we need to do is to read a little bit of recent history and connect the dots. But since I have taken on this job of writing this piece let me share my understanding.
There are two forces at work in the world. The force of Imperialism and the force of reaction which uses the rich resources that Imperialism creates to recruit people to their reactionary movement. The goal of both is the same – global domination. Imperialism takes on a new garb from time to time but has the same objective of global domination through military force. Sometimes it wears the garb of ‘Civilizing the world’, or ‘Saving heathens from the fire by bringing Christianity to them’, or ‘The White man’s burden (as Rudyard Kipling called what the British did in India and elsewhere) or ‘Winning land for the King’ (the most honest of all of them to date) and most recently, ‘Democracy’. Inside each of these is the same monster – Imperialism. If we go back in history as far back as recorded Western history is concerned we have those we honor today by calling them conquerors – Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, the Spanish Conquistadors – we have one story in common. Rape, plunder, burning and destruction of countries, decimation and wiping out of civilizations and enslavement of populations.  All in the name of conquest. And since history is written by the victors, they are applauded and deified while the vanquished die; and dead men tell no tales. If you want to know the real meaning of all the garbs of Imperialism ask the Aztecs, Incas, Native Americans, Hottentots and Bushmen of Africa and the Aboriginal people of Australia. If they could talk, they would tell a very different tale from what we read in history books. However one which is very similar to the tale that the mothers in Gaza or the families obliterated by adolescents playing computer games with drones will tell you today. Imperialism by another name. The name doesn’t cover the smell of burning bodies or the screams of dying men, women and children. It also doesn’t put salve on the wounds in the hearts of the living. Wounds that will fester, generate hatred and light the fire of revenge to fuel the never ending cycle of violence. But since this cycle doesn’t affect directly those who benefit from it, they don’t care and it continues. It is the poor of one country that kill the poor of another for the benefit of the billionaires who run those countries. As long as there is oppression there will be those who will rise up to fight it. Nobody can wipe the earth clean of opposition to oppression. Only justice can bring peace because peace is a result of justice. Until justice is established, all apparent peace is only a recess between wars.
Muslims were also imperialists. The conquests of the Banu Umayyah didn’t happen only to spread goodness in the land. So also other Muslim conquests. However, what distinguished them from those I mentioned earlier and modern Imperialism is the way they went about it. It is true they invaded other countries. In those times that was more the norm than the exception. But what was exceptional was the dignity that conquered populations were treated with and the freedom that they were given. Compare the historical records of the conquest of Jerusalem by the Franks (Crusaders) and later by the Muslims and you will see the marked difference.  
The Siege of Jerusalem took place from June 7 to July 15, 1099 during the First Crusade. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_%281099%29
Many Muslims sought shelter in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the Temple Mount area generally. According to the Gesta Francorum, speaking only of the Temple Mount area, “…[our men] were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles…”
Contrast this with the account of Salahuddin Ayyubi’s conduct when he conquered Jerusalem.
Capture of Jerusalem
Saladin had captured almost every Crusader city. Jerusalem capitulated to his forces on Friday, 2 October 1187, after a siege. When the siege had started, Saladin was unwilling to promise terms of quarter to the Frankish inhabitants of Jerusalem. Balian of Ibelin threatened to kill every Muslim hostage, estimated at 5,000, and to destroy Islam’s holy shrines of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque if such quarter were not provided. Saladin consulted his council and the terms were accepted. The agreement was read out through the streets of Jerusalem so that everyone might within forty days provide for himself and pay to Saladin the agreed tribute for his freedom.  An unusually low ransom for the times (around $50 today) was to be paid for each Frank in the city, whether man, woman, or child, but Saladin, against the wishes of his treasurers, allowed many families who could not afford the ransom to leave.  Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem organised and contributed to a collection that paid the ransoms for about 18,000 of the poorer citizens, leaving another 15,000 to be enslaved. Saladin’s brother al-Adil, “asked Saladin for a thousand of them for his own use and then released them on the spot.” Most of the foot soldiers were sold into slavery. Upon the capture of Jerusalem, Saladin summoned the Jews and permitted them to resettle in the city. In particular, the residents of Ashkelon, a large Jewish settlement, responded to his request.
 Then we have the conduct of Richard, King of England also called Richard the Lion Hearted. Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem prompted the Third Crusade (1189–1192), financed in England by a special “Saladin tithe“. Richard the Lion Heart, King of England led Guy’s siege of Acre, conquered the city and executed 3,000 Muslim prisoners, including women and children. Bahā’ ad-Dīn wrote: ‘The motives of this massacre are differently told; according to some, the captives were slain by way of reprisal for the death of those Christians whom the Musulmans had slain. Others again say that the king of England, on deciding to attempt the conquest of Ascalon, thought it unwise to leave so many prisoners in the town after his departure. God alone knows what the real reason was.’
Eventually Richard lost to Salahuddin who let him go with dignity. A writer of the time has this to say about Salahuddin Ayyubi:
It is equally true that his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in Frankish Syria than in the lands of Islam. ~ René Grousset
As I have said earlier, nothing is more credible than the testimony of the enemy.
 Muslim conquests were characterized by pragmatic mercy. I say pragmatic because for the one conquering the land to add to his wealth disruption is detrimental. He wants the country to go back to normalcy and for normal economic activity to start as soon as possible so that taxes may be collected. The same logic is for low taxation – which is proven in modern day India for instance where when the rate of income tax was reduced from 66% to 33% the actual revenue collection hugely increased. That is because it was no longer worth the trouble to hide income and much more beneficial to pay tax and enjoy your wealth openly. That is what happened in Muslim lands.
Existing leadership was replaced by Muslim government but nothing else was disturbed. Religious freedom was particularly given, the biggest proof of which is that countries that were ruled by Muslims for centuries have Muslims as a very small minority. Contrast this with what Christian armies did in North and South America and Australia. They completely wiped out local populations and those countries became Christian and remain Christian with the Europeans who colonized them calling themselves nationals. The surviving real nationals are relegated to the fringes of society without any role in the running of their country even today despite all the fluff about democracy and sanctity of human rights.
The Muslim way made sense in terms of Islamic theology and the laws of warfare – treat people justly, don’t harm non-combatants, priests, places of worship, people’s homes, women and children, standing crops, places of learning. No torturing or execution of prisoners of war. Where slaves are taken from soldiers they must be treated on par with the owners, not abused or debased and if they are released then there is huge reward with Allah. As mentioned earlier all this also makes eminent sense in economic terms where when you conquer a country you don’t want to lay waste to a land that you hope to benefit from later or to leave open sores of resistance to deal with constantly. On the contrary you want to have as little disruption of law and order to normal economic activity – agriculture, industry and markets – so that taxes can now flow into your coffers as easily and early as possible. That is the reason why there were no rebellions against Muslim rule in all the lands that Muslims ruled for centuries. Pragmatism or Islam – call it what you want but the fact remains that Muslim rulers didn’t decimate populations, rape and plunder or kill non-Muslim non-combatants or enslave them. There were no slave markets selling Hindu slaves for the pleasure of Muslim buyers in 600+ years of Muslim rule in India. Or slave markets selling Christian or Jewish slaves in 700 years of Muslim rule in Spain.
Egypt and Central Asia were among the first lands to come under Muslim rule. Egypt was Coptic Christian with the Eastern Orthodox Church in power. When it was conquered in the Khilaafa of Omar ibn Al Khattab (R) there was no destruction of churches. No disruption of church hierarchy. No looting of church wealth. Churches and synagogues continued to exist unharmed and do to this day. The temples of Luxor stood undamaged through the centuries and provide considerable tourism income today. So did the Bamian Buddhas until the Taliban decided that they were more pious than everyone else. Thinking like the ISIS. The thousands of temples of India many of them with grants from the treasury of Muslim kings are testimony to the way Muslims treated their non-Muslim subjects.
It is true that kings like Mahmood Ghazni, Nadir Shah, Alauddin Khilji and Qutubuddin Aibak destroyed temples – but that was to loot the riches of offerings of gold in specific temples like Somnath of Gujarat. I don’t condone their actions but would like to point out that their actions were the exception rather than the rule. Also these actions contradict Islam and are not representative of Islam. One of the most heinous actions of Muslim rulers is the assassination of the grandson of Rasoolullah (S), Husain ibn Ali bin Abi Talib (R) who was killed with all his male relatives except one because he refused to accept Yazid bin Muawiyya as the Khalifa. What can be more horrific than the murder without cause not only of a righteous person but the grandson of the Prophet (S) himself? But nobody in his right senses will say that this represents Islam. There is not a Muslim worth the name who doesn’t condemn this action of Yazid. So how can we take the actions of ISIS and say that they represent Islam?
Rulers like the Great Mughals, Nizams of Hyderabad and the Sultans of Bijapur and Sultan Tipu of Mysore had Hindu Prime Ministers and Ministers and gave grants to temples which exist to this day. Even the much maligned Aurangzeb had the largest number of Hindu Mansabdars in his army and his Commander in Chief was a Kachawa Rajput Hindu, the ruler of Jaipur. Rulers were pragmatic. Not religious. Their concern was their kingdom. Not Islam. So also the actions of the ISIS. Their actions represent them as individuals. Not Islam. They are not the spokespeople of Islam and the Muslims of the world don’t accept them as their representatives.
The long and short of this entire section is to underline four main points.
1.     ISIS barbarism is not Islam and has nothing to do with Islam.
2.     ISIS’s genesis is not an isolated incident without a cause. It is the result of Imperialistic policies of the West (read America and its allies) and the deliberate creation of the ‘Other’ the ‘Global Enemy’, named the ‘Axis of Evil’ (by implication the West is supposed to be the Axis of Good) and so the struggle is reduced to a primeval struggle between Good and Evil; between the forces of God and the forces of Satan. No surprise that this is exactly the imagery of the ISISs of the world with a simple juxtaposition of names. President George W. Bus in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 said, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”   Interestingly the head of ISIS would agree entirely with him.
People have conveniently forgotten how Colin Powel stood before the United Nations and lied through his teeth about alleged WMD’s that Iraq was supposed to have. How he sleeps today I don’t know. Or the looting of Iraq’s national treasures from its museums, libraries and treasure houses that took place, all in the name of establishing democracy and liberating the Iraqis from Saddam’s tyranny. The Iraqis were liberated no doubt, but not from tyranny. In the resultant bloodbath over a million Iraqis lost their lives and the seeds for the establishment of ISIS were planted. Why then is the world surprised when what they planted has stared bearing fruit?
3.     Imperialism needs an enemy because without an enemy perpetual war makes no sense and people can’t be forced to accept more and more totalitarian regimes nor can Senates/Parliaments be compelled to sanction huge funds for military purposes. The Soviet Union played the role of Global Enemy for many decades but since it was a member of the UN Security Council and a state with a clear definition and presence it was difficult to deal with. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union the search for a new ‘Global Enemy’ produced Islam and Muslims. Erstwhile allies against the Soviet Union, the Taliban, were the first casualty. They were the US catspaw in the war against Russia being waged in Afghanistan. They were supplied and trained by the US and fought and died achieving American aims without American casualties. ‘No boots on the ground’ has long been a successful policy which creates the need for proxy fighters. That is what created the Taliban. When they broke up, the ISIS was created, once again with the same aim and the same disastrous results. I don’t believe this is because foreign policy makers are stupid. I will leave you to come to your own conclusions about why it still continues despite mountains of evidence to show that when you support injustice, it begets more injustice. That when you support killers, you force people to hate you. If anyone thinks that killing of women and children in Iraq or the shooting of babies by the IDF is going to win friends then they need their heads examined. It is not only white lives which are valuable. Every life is valuable and the taking of every life is murder even if it is done by a man in a uniform. After all the ISIS barbarians beheading people are also in uniform.
4.     Which brings us to the final line of the litany: there is huge anger against Western policies of discrimination, racism and injustice. Irrespective of what Westerners may like to think, there are millions of people who think that Western leaders and those who support them are unjust, oppressive and corrupt. These people are living under brutal dictators and know that their rulers exist only because of and with the full cooperation of Western powers that trumpet freedom and democracy but find nothing contradictory about giving billions of dollars, arms and ammunition to dictators who are the antithesis of both freedom and democracy. Actions speak far more loudly than words. The real price of Israeli policies in Palestine, support for dictators like Abdul Fattah Sisi of Egypt (ISIS written backwards), so-called cartoons insulting the Prophet (S) and other such completely insane actions is paid in hatred, death and entirely avoidable bloodshed. Subsequent failure of Western leadership to stop or condemn these things but instead Western support for them in the name of this or that ‘freedom’ adds insult to injury. Muslims have nothing against anyone else’s freedom. But they want the same freedoms for themselves. Muslims have nothing against people laughing and having fun but like anyone else, they are not amused when insulting their holiest icons is done in the name of laughing, fun and freedom of expression. To them, it is not funny and freedom to insult is not freedom of expression. Movies like American Sniper and similar themes will beget their own miserable results. All this adds fuel to the fire. All fire burns and the result is always ash.
I would like to say that though I have used terms like ‘European’ and ‘Westerner’ it is not to club all into one basket. I have enough dear friends who are European, American, Australian and British, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Atheist to know that there are good people everywhere. Many of these friends of mine and many of the people in their countries are people who are more ethical, moral and principled that people in many Muslim societies. I don’t feel happy saying this but the truth must be stated. I am also more than aware that despite the many thousands who marched for Gaza, Iraq and so on and despite all that they do to try to influence their governments to be fair and just, they are as powerless as their counterparts in the dictatorships and monarchies which their governments support in Muslim lands. This underlines for me the farce of ‘democracy’ that exists. To paraphrase Gandhiji, if someone were to ask me what I thought of European/American democracy, I would say, ‘That would be a very good idea.’ Sadly what we have in the West are oligarchies – rule of billionaires for the benefit of billionaires. Not of the people, for the people, by the people.
What is clear is that the road ahead is long, hard and dark. But we have to stand together – Muslim and non-Muslim but people who are dedicated to justice and who still have compassion in their hearts. Stand together against all forces of evil of which ISIS is only one. We must condemn injustice wherever it happens and stand for justice. We must condemn exploitation whoever does it and fight for the removal of the exploiters instead of giving them awards. We all – the vast majority of human beings – need to take charge of our world and ensure that we do whatever it takes to hand over to our children a world that will be a credit to our role as its trustees.
4.    What must the ordinary Muslim man and woman do when faced with the ISIS’s claims to legitimacy of the Khilaafa and the ‘duty’ of the Muslims to it?
Ali ibn Abi Talib (R) narrated from Rasoolullah (S): When you see the black flags, remain where you are and do not move your hands or your feet. Thereafter there shall appear a feeble insignificant folk. Their hearts will be like fragments of iron (no mercy). They will have the state. They will fulfil neither covenant nor agreement. They will call to the truth, but they will not be people of the truth. Their names will be parental attributions, and their aliases will be derived from towns. Their hair will be free-flowing like that of women. This situation will remain until they differ among themselves. Thereafter, Allah will bring forth the Truth through whomever He wills.
A word of advice to the rulers of the world – Justice is the biggest enemy of the ISIS’s of the world. Injustice gives them recruits. Give justice to the people and take the wind out of their sails. The lives of innocents are not of differing value. Murder is murder no matter who kills or is killed. Drone killings are murder. Israeli killings are murder. Justice will not be established until those in power decide to establish it.
See the statistics:
And another one which shows the complete disregard and contempt of human life by those who like to claim that their society champions the cause of human rights.

When you create a society where you not only allow killing of innocent people but dismiss it contemptuously as a ‘bug splat’, then wait for the day when the killers turn on you. 


Reading this I am tempted to ask them to define the word ‘human’. Bug splat? I thought humans were not insects. But maybe I am wrong. Some humans are insects and others have the right to splat them. Let me state loudly and clearly that until we accept that murder is wrong and stop glorifying psychopathic killers, innocent people will continue to die and we will all pay the price. Make no mistake. Every action has a reaction which is equal and opposite. Allah made the law. Newton discovered it. It is a law of physics, not theology. It is a fundamental law that we can ignore only at our peril.
We much speak out against all oppression no matter who is involved. Because oppression of one is oppression of all. Journalists must stick to the truth. Not sensational reporting only to sell papers and get TRP ratings. Be fair and just. Don’t involve innocent people by association. Don’t cast aspersions. Don’t use innuendo. Be truthful. That will defeat the recruiters more successfully than any material means. This is a war of ideology and ideology can’t be killed with guns. Guns strengthen ideology of the defeated. Don’t give ISIS recruiters proof to show that the West hates Islam and is out to destroy it. Political speeches have no value. People listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say until they see what you do. Don’t drive people into the arms of the ISIS by your own injustice. Insulting the Prophet (S) is injustice. Killing innocents calling them ‘suspects’ is injustice. Racism is injustice.
Above is the link to an article on a blog which gives a list of global protests by Muslims against the ISIS. Muslims protest but nobody listens or registers. Please read it and spread the word. Tell journalists to publish this news. Pay to have it published if you need to. Let us spread good news.
Muslims:
1.     Stay out of it. Understand that the ISIS is an agent of the enemies of Islam and humanity. ISIS actions damage Islam and help to boost the myth of the ‘Global Enemy’ which helps the Imperialists. If you join them you are also committing to harm the name of Islam. ISIS is not about Islam.
2.     The Khalifa is an imposter. ISIS is a bunch of psychopaths, criminals and deluded innocents who don’t represent Islam and who have found a convenient way to live their corrupt fantasies.
3.     Speak out against them. Don’t support them in any way and make dua against them and their corruption in the land. Ask Allah to relieve us all from their oppression and the oppression of all those who support them knowingly.
4.     Ask the right questions:
a.     Ask how it is that in a world where you can’t transfer $5000 without being questioned, billions of dollars are floating around to finance the ISIS?
b.     Ask who is buying the stolen crude oil that they are selling?
c.     Ask where are they getting a ready supply of arms and ammunition from to continue to fight when the whole world says that it is against them?
d.     Ask why it is that there’s not a single instance of a drone killing an ISIS beheading party but daily instances of obliterating entire families calling them ‘suspects’ ?
e.     Ask why this self-proclaimed Khalifa is silent about Israel and Israeli war crimes and human rights violations in Palestine?

I am sure you will come to the same conclusions that I came to based on which I say that the ISIS has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with those who are trying to malign Islam. Read history and current events. Analyze what you read. Ask, ‘Who benefits?’ Don’t act thoughtlessly purely from passion. That is a good way to die a pointless death and give Islam a bad name.

Non-Muslims:

1.     Don’t become the PR wing of the ISIS inadvertently.
2.     Don’t become unpaid recruiters for the ISIS.
3.     Don’t drive people into their arms by your own injustice; done by your governments in your name. Speak out against it. Pressure your so-called democratic governments to change their policies of perpetual war. Remember those who terrorize others are condemned to live in fear.
4.     Don’t indulge in random violence against innocent Muslims because you are angry with what the ISIS is doing. Remember that your Muslim neighbors are even angrier because what the ISIS is doing is being done in the name of Islam.
5.     An incident like the murder of three good innocent people in Chapel Hill does more good for the ISIS recruiters than a million dollars’ worth of funding.
6.     A movie like American Sniper is worth a billion dollars to the ISIS because it only ‘proves’ their recruiting spiel – that the West and all Westerners are the enemies of Islam and Muslims.
7.     Help those who are trying to convince Muslim youth not to join ISIS. You can’t do their job. Muslims believe their own more than they believe you. So support good Muslims who are sincere about this. Those puppets you do support actually harm your cause because they have no credibility with Muslims. Remember it is their hearts you have to reach and your puppets can’t do it. Be sincere and you’ll see results.
8.     Don’t imagine however that such people who speak out against ISIS support Western oppression. They don’t. But at the same time they don’t think that ISIS is the answer to it. They see the danger of divisive, regressive ideologies like the ISIS and know that it has nothing to do with Islam. They know how to address their audience in a way that will convince them. So take their help because you have the same goal.
9.     Don’t let anyone convince you that Islam and the Muslims are the ‘Global Enemy’ which you must fight. Muslims are your neighbors, friends and for many of you, family. Love them, support them and be kind to them and they will do the same for you. We all, ordinary people, must support one another against the global manipulators who are the real enemy who think nothing of helping us to lose our lives for their benefit.
10.  Finally ask all the questions that I have suggested that Muslims should ask. You also ask the same questions so that you can see who your real enemy is.
11.  Understand that justice is when right and wrong are decided on the basis of principles; not on the basis of who does what. See Tom Engelhardt’s Letter to the American Patriot. He makes some very valid points: Read, for only knowledge can set you free. Read, because those who use you don’t want you to. Your ignorance helps them to create policies which oppress you first. http://www.countercurrents.org/engelhardt020315.htm
In conclusion I would like to say that I hope this thought-share will help to put things in perspective and enable us to do what it takes to hold those in power accountable for their actions which affect us all. The success of a democracy is not dependent on the integrity of its leaders but on the activism of the public. It is the public which needs to remind leaders that they hold their positions at the pleasure of their electorate. It is when the electorate forgets its power and becomes subservient to leaders that democracies metamorphose into dictatorships in all but name. The alternative to justice is injustice, pain and suffering. In our interconnected world, the much touted Global Village, nobody is safe from its effects. If you light a fire inside your home, it will burn you. The world is our home.

In the words of Alan Hart in his article How, Really, To Contain And Defeat Perverted And Violent Islamic Fundamentalism: If perverted and violent Islamic fundamentalism (PVIF) in all of its manifestations is to be contained and defeated there’s one thing above all others that must happen – Western leaders, starting with President Obama, must open their minds to the fact that consequences have causes and then address the causes.”  http://www.countercurrents.org/hart210215.htm
I have great hope in the world – both the Western world which exemplifies many of the principles that we Muslims hold dear – and in the Muslim world where people who are struggling under burdens that most Westerners can’t even imagine in their worst nightmares, still have the resilience to wake up each morning and face each day with hope.
I know that when all is said and done and when we stand before our Creator – all of us without exception – we will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ We will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ At that time I want to be able to say, ‘I didn’t let what I couldn’t do prevent me from doing what I could.’
I wish the same for you all.
I want to end with an excerpt from an excellent article that I read a couple of days ago.
This last paragraph beautifully sums up the issue: “All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us. Muslims are presented with a brutal logic in which the only way to truly disassociate from ISIS and escape suspicion is to renounce Islam altogether.”

Allah said: Qur’an 2:120           And the Jews will not be pleased with you, or the Christians until you follow their religion. Say: Surely Allah’s guidance is the (true) guidance. And if you follow their desires after the knowledge that has come to you, you shall have no guardian from Allah, nor any helper.

Interesting that’s exactly what seems to be the demand today.

Well, the short answer to that is that it’s not going to happen.

Glossary of Terms
1.     Rasoolullah (S)
2.     Khulafa Ar-Raashida
3.     Khalifa
4.     Khilaafa
5.     Ameerul Mu’mineen
6.     Muhajiroon
7.     Ansar
8.     Badriyeen
9.     Ayah
10.  Ayaat
11.  Juma
12.  Khutba
13.  Ihsaan
14.  Madinatun Nabawi
15.  Qadhy
16.  Kunya
17.  Wallahi
18.  Seerah
19.  Jannah
20.  Aakhira
21.  Tafsir
22.  Imaan
23.  Fatah
24.  Ka’aba
25.  Taqwa
26.  Hujjaj
27.  Takbeer
28.  Tahleel
29.  Sahaba
30.  Tawaf
31.  Haram
32.  Haraam
33.  Halaal
34.  al-Khazirah
Messenger of Allah (S = Peace be on him – Arabic)
Rightly Guided Khulafa – First 5 in history
Vicegerent – Title of the Islamic ruler
Vicegerency – Title of Islamic rule
Commander of the Believers (Title of the Khalifa)
Immigrants – migrated from Makkah to Madinah
Helpers – Madinans who supported the migrants
Those who fought in the Battle of Badr
Sign – so-called ‘verse’ of the Qur’an
Plural of Ayah
Friday – also the Friday prayer
Lecture
Excellence
City of the Prophet – Name of Madinah
Judge
Nickname of respect
By Allah
Biography of the Prophet
Heaven
Hereafter – eternal life after death
Explanation
Faith
Open – refers to conquest
The black square building in the Haram
Concern not to displease Allah
Plural of Haaji – pilgrim who goes for Hajj
Glorifying Allah
Thanking Allah
Companions of the Prophet
Circumambulation of the Ka’aba
Masjid Al Haraam – The Sacred Sanctuary
Prohibited – anything that is prohibited
Permitted – anything that is permitted
A food made from barley

Udai Pareek, my mentor and friend

Udai Pareek – the most powerful thing I learnt from him was to give without asking for a return. And I have followed that principle all my life. Who else in this world writes a book full of tried and tested psychometric tests and gives it away?
I first met Udai in 1983 when I attended my first ISABS (what used to be called then) PGL (Personal Growth Lab) and he was my mentor until he died. He was the director of the course and had the most warm and friendly smile I have ever known. It was a two week program and we were secluded in the Clarkes Amer hotel and didn’t know what was happening in the world outside. So I was very surprised when I saw Udai in the dining room one morning looking distinctly disturbed without his smile for once. I sat beside him and asked, ‘Kya hua Sir. Aap itnay pareshan kyon lag rahay hain?’(What happened Sir. Why are you looking so worried?) I always called him ‘Sir’ out of respect and he always objected and would say, ‘Udai, not Sir.’ But that was his only command I didn’t obey. Respect for elders and teachers is too hard wired in my system to break.
He said to me, ‘For the first time a Hindu-Muslim communal conflict has broken out in Jaipur and my mother is caught in it. She lives at the edge of the old city on the border of a Muslim dominated area and I am very concerned for her. Can’t get her on the phone either. I am trying to see if I can get a curfew pass to go and get her out.’ These were the days before we had cell phones and a curfew had been clamped down with shoot-at-sight orders. So one couldn’t go into that area without a special pass from the police and only with a police escort. I was at a loss to say anything, so just sat with him for a while and then had to go to class.
When I came down in the mid-morning break, I went looking for Udai and found him again the dining room with a cup of tea and his smile was back. I was relieved but wanted to know the reason. ‘Good to see you looking like your normal self Udai, ‘I said. ‘Did you manage to get your mother out of there?’
‘No’, he said. ‘But I got a call from her to say, ‘Don’t worry about me. I am safe. Our neighbor (he told me a Muslim name) came here just now with his two sons and stationed them in my hallway and said, ‘Maaji, yeh donon marnay kay baad hi app tak koi pahunch sakta hai. Aap chinta na karen.’ (My Mother, only after these two are dead will anyone be able to reach you. So don’t worry.) So you need not come for me. I am safe here and don’t want to leave my home.
It was a measure of Udai as a man and of the happier times that we lived in that he didn’t say, ‘All that is very well but let’s not take any chances. I am coming to get you.’ He told me, ‘Abhi Dunya mein achchay log hain.’ (There are still good people in the world)
I hope there will never be a time when we have to say, ‘Udai Pareek was wrong.’
At the end of that session of the ISABS Event Udai invited us all to his home for a Chaat Party where he got a Pani Puri Wala to come and make pani puris with bottled water. That was a heaven sent for me as I love pani puris but don’t eat them from the vendors because I am paranoid about the source of their pani (water). But in Udai’s place all my paranoia could be laid to rest and I gorged on pani puris.
I was in constant touch with Udai on the phone mostly and by letter. I would talk to him about career issues. Moral and ethical dilemmas. And sometimes just to hear his voice. Then in 1985 I went to the IIM-A and was able to spend a lot of time with him as he was on the staff as a professor in the OB area. It is a rare privilege to say that you knew personally the man whose book you were studying in a post graduate program. I had that privilege with Udai. We would sometimes walk in the IIM-A gardens and he would talk and I would listen. His thoughts especially about what he called (did he coin this term also?) Extension Motivation have helped shape my own attitudes and beliefs about my role in life and society. To extend oneself for others and to recognize this to be the most powerful motivator in one’s life. Once again, Udai was right.
The next time I met Udai was when I was in Jaipur for a travel conference (In 1992 I was heading DHL’s travel division in Delhi) and my wife and I went to visit him. He took us to Chowki Dani, the Rajanthani village restaurant – one of my favorite eating places in Jaipur which incidentally is my favorite Indian city. After we had eaten the three of us sat on a jhoola and swung gently mostly in silence – happy for the companionship. Udai was very supportive of my writing and asked what I was writing then. It was a book of short stories and I told him some of them and he enjoyed both the stories and their teaching potential.
My final meeting with Udai was in Hyderabad where to my great surprise I was told that he had come to attend a session by a well-known so-called motivational speaker and Indian aping Americans. I went not only to meet Udai but to ask him what he had come to learn from this showman. To my not great surprise I saw him sitting outside the hall with a cup of tea and a look of disgust on his face. He was very happy to see me and asked me, ‘Tum bhi is kay liye aaye ho?’ (Have you also come for this) I said, ‘Main aap kay liye aya hoon aur yeh poochnay kay liye aaya hoon ki aap kis liye aye ho?’ (I have come for you and to ask you what you came for?) He laughed and said, ‘I wanted to see what he does and it is disgusting. Log iskay liye paisa bhi detay hain?’ (People pay money for this?) And we both had a good laugh.
Naturally for a man dealing in reality based on research and self-discovery, fantasy, showmanship, gimmickry and hyperbole in the name of teaching doesn’t sit too well. I agreed with him and we sat together for a long time talking about old times, old friends and the changing world. I must say that it was not all nostalgia and ‘how bad things have become’. It was a very hopeful and encouraging session and that is my final takeaway from Udai for I never saw him again – that it is not the cloud but the silver lining which is real. The cloud only tries to hide it. But it always shows.
It was a privilege to be Udai’s student and like all true teachers, his teaching continues in my life and through me in the lives of countless others, long after he has gone. I salute my mentor – Prof. Udai Pareek.

Living Thoughtfully – Maximize your ROI

Opening

As I grow older I am aware of an ever increasing sense of urgency; a feeling that I have progressively less time left to leave behind a legacy that can be a credit to me. This sense of urgency has nothing to do with the fact that the reality of time running out is one that we all face. It has more to do with the desire to do something to maximize the benefit of the time that I have left. Naturally like all of us, I have no idea how much exactly is left, so all the more reason to act fast.

In this process, I developed a theory based on my own life experience which I call ‘Living Thoughtfully’. I believe that before we act, if we think about what we are about to do; the reasons for it, the possible effects of it and other alternatives that we may have and then ask ourselves, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ then we will be able to vastly improve our effectiveness.

I am Muslim and use the Qur’an and Sunnah as my basis for decision making. That is what I have used here as well. You, the reader, however will I hope, find these reflections both interesting and usable even if you are not Muslim, because integrity, morals, ethics and concern for others are universal values. I take them from the Word of Allah and the teachings of His Messenger because I believe that one day I will be held accountable before Allah for what I did.

In ‘Living Thoughtfully’ the most important matter is to check our intention. That is why one of the most important sayings of Muhammad (SAS), the Messenger of Allah is: ‘The reward of a deed is based on its intention.’ A bribe is after all a ‘gift’. The difference which makes one right and the other wrong is the intention. Imaam Nawawi, one of the most eminent scholars of Hadith, writing about the importance of intention, in his book – Ar Riyadhus Saleheen – said, ‘(Live with) the awareness of the intention in all that we say, in all that we do and in every situation that we find ourselves; whether visible or hidden.’

Imagine living with such a heightened sense of purpose that before a person says anything he asks himself why he is planning to say it, thinks of the effect his words are likely to have and takes responsibility for that. He does the same with every action of his and reflects on his contribution to any situation he is faced with.

If we behaved with such a tremendous sense of responsibility no matter what our position in life, what a wonderful world we would be able to create around us? Our problems of inequity, poverty, environmental degradation and moral bankruptcy can all be traced to one source – a lack of responsibility for our speech and actions. We lack concern. We must change this.

I contrast ‘Living Thoughtfully’ with the opposite, ‘living thoughtlessly’… just remaining alive, like a cow or a goat. Not that I have anything against cows or goats but would like to believe that I am different. I have called it ‘Maximizing ROI (Return on Investment) because our time, energy, money, emotions, thoughts, aspirations, desires and the choices we make are all investments into our lives, albeit sometimes (or for some of us, most of the time)unconscious.

It is important therefore that we stop to assess what the return on our investment is, especially as much of that investment is impossible to retrieve once it is made. Yet it will have consequences whether we like them or not. When we look around us we see that some people seem to accomplish far more than others, though all of us have the same amount of time. The others complain that they have ‘no time’ but if you ask them, ‘Can you tell me what you did yesterday and why was it important?’ they are not able for the most part even to recall what they did, let alone be able to say why it was important. The same thing is true of other resources which we have at our disposal, be it money, or network of people or access to education or anything else. It is my contention therefore that the secret of accomplishment lies not in the amount of time or resources that we have but in what we do with them. How we use them, leverage them, conserve them and spend them. The secret is in ‘Living Thoughtfully’.

Living Thoughtfully is not only about being goal focused but also about being aware and concerned about the effect of our actions. Of being conscious about the fact that while we need to accomplish our goals, we need to find ways of doing that without damaging, harming or oppressing others. Our problems today with global issues, be those related to wars, global warming, rapacious grasping of resources by those who have the power to do so and consequently more expenditure on military and weapons than on health, education and eradication of poverty; all relate to living thoughtlessly.

Living as if the consequences of our actions will not come home to roost on our own rafters. Just as they say, ‘When a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, a tsunami is born in Indonesia’, whether we live thoughtfully or thoughtlessly, it has a profound, powerful and visible effect in all aspects of our lives. It is not possible to pollute the water of the lake we swim in without that pollution affecting us. That is the reason I believe that the most important thing for us to do and to teach our children to do, is to Live Thoughtfully.

With this in mind, I have delineated the elements of Living Thoughtfully and have suggested some attitudes that we should work on developing as well as some tools which I believe will be helpful in achieving our ends. I have used these tools personally and taught them for many years and know they work.In our modern commercial society we have reduced everything to its dollar value even where the matter has no monetary value as such but is critical to success in life. For example what is the monetary value of integrity? But we are all aware that the present financial crisis that the whole world is affected by is rooted in a lack of integrity at the highest levels of the economy and government. If the decision makers sitting in their ivory towers had been people of integrity we would not have been in this mess. Yet almost nobody speaks of the core reason for this situation.

Similarly we have reduced education, health care, food production and distribution, the care of the elderly and many such matters to businesses. I say ‘reduced’ because to me education is for life, not to make a living. Health care is about concern for the sick and a desire to alleviate their suffering as effectively and cheaply as possible; not about showing a decent ROI on the hospital’s balance sheet. Food production and distribution is about feeding those who are starving no matter where they may be and not about throwing wheat into the sea because otherwise it would depress global prices on commodity stock exchanges. Many organizations that spend in the name of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) are more concerned about the tax breaks they get for their spend; the fact that they spent nothing for social welfare prior to the tax breaks bearing mute testimony to the fact. What are we saying about ourselves as human beings when the death of people due to starvation has less value for us than the price of wheat and therefore the return on our futures trade? Do we
stop to reflect? Do we care? Yet we call ourselves civilized.

That is why I believe in and operate from the Islamic principle of accountability before Allah from whom nothing is hidden and to whom we will have to answer for all that we did or chose not to do. That is Islam. I am sharing this with you because this is my foundation when I speak about ‘Living Thoughtfully’; to live constantly with the awareness of accountability in my mind and so always strive to please Allah.

The 6 – Critical Elements

There are 6 critical elements to ‘Living Thoughtfully’:

1. Goals
Long term
Short term

2. Criteria
Measurement
Implementation

3. Reflection
What happened?
What do I learn?

4. Choices
In direct control
Through others

5. Risk
Long term
Immediate

6. The Legacy
What do I want to be remembered for?

Let’s look at them individually.

1. Goals

As they say, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step’; but that step must be on the right path and going in the right direction. What is the right path? The path that leads to the goal which you want to achieve. So before all else, comes the goal. We call it by many names, vision is one. But goal is what it is. Where are you headed? Where do you want to reach? The greater our clarity about this, the higher will be our energy and motivation to work towards it.

? Long term
? What is the vision?
? What is the result you want to achieve?
? Why does it excite you?
? Who else does it excite?
? What does the achieved state look like?

In order to get this clarity a good way is to imagine and draw what the achieved state will be like.

How different will it be from the current state? How beneficial will that difference be? Interestingly the bigger the difference, the more the benefit, the higher its power to pull us in that direction. I call this ‘Positive Stress’. It is like the head of water in a hydro-electric dam. The higher the head, the more its power to generate electricity. That is why it is in the very nature of extraordinary goals to inspire extraordinary effort.

Another benefit of clearly visualizing the achieved state, the goal, is that it gives us perspective. Perspective is the ability to hold two pictures in our mind simultaneously; where we are and where we want to go. The differential fuels growth.

Imagine being lost in a featureless desert or in a dense forest. If you want to find a way out, you will seek a high place, climb to the top of it and try to look for a way to get out. When you are standing on top of that hill and have now seen the lights of a village far in the distance, you will be able to chart a course to reach there. That is perspective.

At that time, you are able to see the two pictures; where you are now and where you want to go. This is essential in life because without perspective we will not be able to appreciate the magnitude of the goal and what needs to be done to achieve it.

This brings us to a challenge; ‘How can I make others dream my dream?’ The big reason is that almost anything worth dedicating our life to will require at least some others to also dedicate their lives to the achievement of that goal. That means two things: our goal must help them achieve their own personal goals and we need to be able to show them how this will happen. Inspiring others is therefore about allowing others into our mind and letting them see the pictures we are seeing and into our hearts and letting them feel what we are feeling. It’s all about connecting at various levels and that needs building trust.

It is when people love you and trust you that they are willing to be inspired by you and to dedicate their lives to enable you to make your dream come true.

As they say, ‘People don’t work for organizations. They work for other people.’ Read about the life of any great leader and you will find that his followers loved him more than anyone else. It is this love that binds. It is this love that enables the person to wake up in the morning eager to meet you and to stay up late in the night to complete an unfinished task.

What people will do for love, they will not do for any other reason. Not duty, not money, not even for their own careers. Emotion is the basis of all action.

All mediocre results are the consequence of a lack of passion. What we ourselves don’t believe in, we can’t inspire others to do. We can only give what we have and so our own passion must never diminish.

Passion is not simply irrational feeling. Passion is the result of an absolute conviction that the achievement of our goal will change our world and to believe that is worth doing and the willingness to dedicate the time, energy and resources to make it happen. This creates a higher sense of purpose of being among those entrusted with directing the path of destiny. Passion results in a sense of pride in our work because our work defines us. People who are passionate about their tasks need no supervision, no monitoring.

They set their own targets and routinely overachieve. They drive their own supervisors and team members to be the best they can. They inspire everyone. That is why passion is in my opinion, critical to success.

All long term goals must be broken down into shorter term results.

? Short term
? What is the immediate gain?
? How important is it to get it?
? How will it change the situation if you get it?

It is essential to answer these questions because in the pursuit of long term goals it is easy to lose steam along the way and diminish your efforts or even to lose direction. Immediate gains not only motivate but they make the all too important point of proving to people that your way works – that the goal is actually achievable.

Achievement of short term goals is helped by having those goals clearly articulated and announced with a reward on the achievement of each. This encourages the spirit and gives people a sense of achievement and gives them hope in eventual success no matter how tough the going currently may be. Celebrating small successes encourages the heart especially in the cold dark stretches of the night when self doubt raises its head and you wonder if you can really win.

Finally in many cases, short term success pre-qualifies and in some cases is essential if the long term goal is to be achieved. A good example is Gandhiji’s Salt Satyagrah; the march to the beach in Dandi to make salt to defy the law under British India. It was a small step but it was in the right direction and shook the foundations of the Colonial Government. The Salt Satyagrah in itself did not rid India of British colonialism but it was an immediate goal which gave people a sense of achievement and success and proved to them that Gandhiji’s highly unconventional way of protest, through non-violent means could actually succeed. It was such steps that Gandhiji took very successfully that gradually built support for his ideas of Ahimsa and people started to believe that the behemoth of British Colonial Government which had governed India for more than a century could actually be unseated and expelled without a bloody and violent revolution. Small successes are very important and can often spell the difference between success and failure of the long term goal.

2. Criteria

Once we have clearly articulated the goal, the next step is to determine our criteria of success and how we are going to measure it. I believe that measurement is essential because it is the only way we have of knowing clearly what we achieved. Without measurement it is possible to have a false feeling of success, especially if we worked hard and long at something. The fact however is that unless we can measure it, it does not exist.

There are two aspects to measurement: ongoing measurement of progress and periodic assessment against the standard to determine whether our progress is adequate or not. Measurement is the reality check in all situations. What we can measure, we can control. What we can control, we can guarantee. That is why measurement is the soul of any product or service quality enhancement effort.

? Measurement
? Quantum & Time?
? What is a fair way to measure progress?
? What would be a stretch goal?

So what must we measure? Measurement parameters must take into account both ‘quantum’ and ‘time’ – how much must be achieved by when? It is a good idea to set parameters collaboratively because people’s participation helps us to understand their susceptibilities, difficulties, fears and aspirations. It is essential to understand all these things because ultimately their efforts will be affected by all of them. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘Don’t address their brains, address their hearts.’ Inspiration belongs to the heart.

Inviting people to participate in setting measurement parameters is also a very powerful step to build trust. It is the best way to demonstrate respect for them as team members and to show that they are seen as equal partners and stake holders in the results. People respond to this by owning responsibility and interestingly set parameters which are often more ambitious than you would have set for them yourself. With the big difference that since these measurement parameters were set by themselves, they are more willing to abide by them and don’t see them as being ‘thrust down their throats from above’.

Finally a word on ‘stretch goals’. It is a very good idea to set both a normal and a stretch parameter for each step and to have different rewards for them.

This encourages people to aspire to excel and to set records and stretch their own beliefs about what they had hitherto thought themselves capable of. Doing this collaboratively once again helps to create ownership for the stretch goal which otherwise can become a ‘stretch’ itself. All these are also wonderful exercises in building communication between team members and the team leader and help to iron out any areas of potential conflict.

Once the parameters are agreed on we need to institutionalize implementation.

? Implementation
? Pass or fail?
? Mitigating circumstances?
? Does the standard need to be changed?

The most critical matter is to apply the standard without fear or favor. Nothing sabotages morale like varying standards – different strokes for different folks – is not the preferred method. After taking the trouble to set parameters collaboratively it is essential to apply them impartially. The best way to ensure impartiality is to do the assessment also collaboratively. This creates an atmosphere of high transparency and reinforces trust.Naturally it is possible that there may be some mitigating circumstances in a particular case which prevented someone from achieving his target. Once again collaborative assessment of the situation and deciding on that basis removes all possibility of bias. The rule is that mitigating circumstances are always exceptions and not the rule.

Finally there may be a situation where the goal itself needs to be revised upwards or downwards. It is a good idea to periodically examine the goal in the light of changing global situations and see if it needs to be changed. In this process sometimes new understanding emerges about the means of achieving the goal and so this process must be documented.

3. Reflection

We have embarked on our journey; we face situations; what do we learn? How will this learning help us in going forward? How will it make the rest of the journey easier, safer, cheaper and more productive? All this and more can be achieved by taking time out to reflect. ‘Still time’, is what I call it. Time to simply sit still, in active contemplation of events with the intention to learn from them. To the external world you may appear to be doing nothing. But you are actually engaged in one of the most important activities of mankind; learning. One of the ‘diseases’ of our modern times is what I call ‘busyness’. The big value that we place on activity by itself. We rush around telling ourselves and everyone else that we are ‘very busy’, we ‘have no time’ and so on. Then we collapse on the sofa before the TV in the evening feeling very satisfied that we had a very busy day. But if someone were to present us with a pad and pen and say to us, ‘Please write down what you achieved today by being so busy,’ most of us would not be able to write anything at all.

We have created a culture where it is almost a crime to be inactive, to simply be, to breathe, watch the world go by, to contemplate. The result is that we seem to have lost the skill to do this beneficially and end up with a feeling of having wasted our time and rush back into the apparent ‘safety’ of frenetic activity to which we have become accustomed. This is very detrimental to learning, improving our methods, enhancing our productivity and enjoying our lives.

Reflection is not a waste of time. Structured reflection is the best use of time that we could possibly make because it gives us the possibility of changing our methods to make them more useful. Reflection helps us to create concepts and theories which we can apply and eventually pass on to others. Unless we reflect we can’t learn. And unless we take time out to be ‘still’ we can’t reflect.

There are two stages to reflection: What happened and what did I learn?

? What happened?
? Who did what?
? What did I do?
? What were the alternatives?
? What were the circumstances?

I call this ‘Dreaming Deliberately’. Deliberately playing the scenes in my mind; recalling as vividly and graphically as I can, all that happened. Not putting a rosy color on it. Keeping it as emotion free as possible. Just being the spectator and watching it happen again. Doing this not simply to relive, lament, bemoan or torture myself but rather, as an interested spectator, critically watch what happened in order to learn.

This reflective observation is the first step in learning from life using our own experience as the teacher. The higher our integrity when doing this, the more valuable the learning. There is great temptation to make ourselves look good but it must be resisted. I don’t mean to imply that we are always the ones who are wrong. I only mean that we must be honest about what actually happened and not try to avoid the pain. The two biggest blocks to learning are the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. We must beware of both lest they render our life useless and we make the same mistakes again and again. That is the real loss; to do wrong a second time.

While Dreaming Deliberately we need to keep the circumstances surrounding the incident in mind. Once again being absolutely honest with ourselves because if
we don’t, then the only kind of deception that would be happening would be self deception and that prevents all learning. So we watch it happen, see our own role in it, reflect on the circumstances leading to the incident, ask ourselves, ‘What else could I have done? What were my alternatives? What actions happened because I was not thinking? What did I actually choose to do? If I had chosen another course of action what new scenarios would have come into play?

Life is like a series of parallel worlds. Depending on what we choose to do, a new vista opens before us and we walk that path. Sometimes it is not possible to change anything until we come to the next crossroad or fork. At other times we can actually trace our steps back to the last fork and go down the path we did not choose the last time and new scenery unfolds for us. What we call ‘destiny’ is this scenery. We can’t change it. It comes with the path. The forks or crossroads are the choices, the paths that we can choose to walk. If we want different scenery we need to walk a different path; the path which has that kind of scenery. Want to walk in the fields, go to the countryside. Want to window shop, walk down Main Street. It is really that simple.

We get to choose our destiny, albeit without knowing exactly what the details will be. However we have enough indicators to tell us if it will be good or bad, even if we don’t know the details. Our values are the guides which help us to make the right choices and that is the reason they are so important.

Confusion about choices is often the first indicator that we are about to compromise our values. If we are true to our values, there is no confusion. We know why we are choosing a particular path. We know what is likely to happen and we make that choice deliberately. But when we are about to succumb to temptation and compromise our values, our conscience starts to beep and we feel fear.

This fear is different from the fear we call excitement which we feel when we are about to embark on a high risk – high return venture but one that does not entail compromising values. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending. It energizes, enhances awareness and enables us to live the moment fully. I used to hunt big game in my youth and even today, more than 30 years later I can vividly recall the excitement of walking down a game trail, my gun ready at port, watching every leaf, twig and shadow identifying it for what it really was and not what it might appear to be until too late. The shadow could well be the dappled coat of the tigress as she lay crouched in the grass, waiting for her prey to get within striking distance when one short charge, preceded by a roar that turns knees to water, would signal the end of the career of any hunter. This fear would enhance my level of awareness of my surroundings to such an extent that even today I can actually smell the scent of the hot soil baking in the heat of a May sun. Excitement is a healthy
fear that adds value to life.

The fear that arises as a result of our conscience beeping is debilitating, energy sapping and slows us down. Wisdom lies in listening to this inner voice and changing the choice and choosing a different path. Deliberate Dreaming if done well enables us to live those moments again so that through the pain and embarrassment of it all, we are able to see where we went wrong and learn.

? What did I learn?
? What could I have done differently?
? What else could I have done?
? What could I have controlled?

Once we have done enough of reflection in terms of what happened and have gathered enough material to work with we must move to the next stage and that is to ask ourselves, ‘What did I learn?’ Conceptualization is the extract of experience which determines its value. What we don’t conceptualize remains raw experience. Not particularly useful because it is unable to guide us to reach any useful conclusion. At best it may be an interesting story. At worst not even that. The biggest loss is that what we don’t conceptualize we can’t teach anyone, so our experience remains useless to ourselves and others.

A very important part of conceptualization is to actively try to see what we could have controlled and what was really out of our control. Later we shall see how this is an important element to remember while making choices but for now, reflecting on our past, it is important to look for the signs of control. Ask, ‘Who was in control? Why? What gave them that power? What made me powerless at that time? What could I have done to change that situation and regain some of my power which I had given away?

The Learning Journal

A very valuable tool to use for reflection and conceptualization is the Learning Journal. I have used this tool for several decades and have taught it to several thousand students over 25 years of teaching. The Learning Journal is a tool to encourage Living Thoughtfully. Its format is very simple as you can see below:

What happened? Why’s it important? What did I learn?

Every evening you fill out this format. You first record all significant incidents of the day. Then you reflect on and record why you believe they were significant. Then you conceptualize your reflections and record the lessons you learnt. Some days you may come out blank in any one of the columns. You may not remember what happened that day. It is a lesson to prove that you completely wasted 8 -10 hours of your waking time which will never return. It is often a very powerful wake-up call for most people to stare blankly at their Learning Journal trying to remember what they did.

The second and third columns often need more time and so it is alright to record the significant events and then do the reflection and conceptualizing over the next few days and fill them in when you are done. The recording is essential because no matter what we like to believe about our memories, they are transient and even the most important lessons are lost if they are not recorded. So recording is essential. I also find that writing helps me to think in a structured way which frankly is the only way to think efficiently and effectively. Random thoughts simply float around in the mind but get nowhere and no lessons emerge. But if you can structure your thoughts you will find that you can accomplish much in a very short time. As you gain experience and develop your conceptualizing skills you can do it faster and more sharply each time. Takes practice, needless to say, and the Learning Journal is the tool.

4. Choices

Once we have completed our learning, we come to the next stage and that is to ask, ‘So what can I do now to change my destiny?’ We need to make a choice.

This is the most difficult of all stages; to actively choose to change our lifestyle. For one, this may mean choosing to give up doing things that we enjoyed doing but which we realize were harmful. But just because we realize their harmfulness it does not mean that giving them up would be easy. All sorts of addictions will fall into this category. Another difficult choice, even more than the first, is to re-choose our friends.

It is amazing how friends can either facilitate or inhibit change. Depending on the kind of circle we move around in, the new lifestyle changes we planned on become easy or difficult. Our friends will support us or criticize us. That is why it is necessary to choose our friends and give up those who are destructive. The best way to do this is to invite your friends to your new way. If they agree it is good for them.

If not, they will leave you on their own as you have ‘changed’. There are two elements in making a choice: Things which are in our direct control and things which we don’t control but can either influence or prepare for when they happen.

? In direct control
? What are the choices that I can personally exercise?
? What is the ‘cost’ of the choice? My investment?
? What is the benefit? My return?

I believe that it is essential to classify choices on the basis of what we control because then courses of action become clearly visible. There are two aspects of the choices that we directly control which we need to take into account: The ‘cost’ of the choice and its ‘benefit’.

A cost-benefit analysis of any choice is essential because many a time we fail to choose wisely because we have a vague fear in our mind about the consequences of doing so. When however we analyze the cost of taking an action and the benefit (both long and short term) of doing so, we realize that the benefit far outweighs the cost. I have even had the experience of realizing that the so-called cost was something in my mind and not real at all, when I carried out a formal analysis and went looking for hard data to support my ‘feelings’.

It is good to remember and remind ourselves that the benefit of a choice may not always be material (standing up for the minority opinion or for justice and truth or to support the oppressed) and the cost may appear to be too high. But one must weigh this against the real cost of the death of your soul and against the real benefit of perhaps even losing your life but remaining alive for posterity as a beacon of guidance for all others who tread that path. So also is the cost of choosing to follow the orders of Allah in return for the promised reward in the Hereafter when we will be rewarded far more than we imagined. The Messenger said to the effect that there will be people who will enter Jannah purely on the basis of their character, manners and the way they treated others.

I remind myself of this because the conditioning in today’s environment of measuring everything only by its material worth has undermined all values and reduced us to becoming bean counters who can’t see beyond monetary benefit. We have all been impoverished as a result and are suffering collectively from the disease of commercialism and which demotes us from being citizens to being mere consumers. It is at the altar of this god that we are all sacrificed. We must change this urgently.

After we have determined what choices are in our control it is a good idea also to look at choices that we may not control directly but which we can influence through our network, speech or writing.

? Through others
? What can I influence in my favor?
? Whose support do I need and what does that entail?
? What is beyond my control totally but what can I do to prepare to face it?

As you can see from the questions above we can influence choices that are made and that have the potential to affect us both through our own network as well as through the network of those we know. Choices can also be influenced in the public space through writing, activism, public speaking and various other means all dependent on the degree to which we are creative in using all the elements at our disposal. In his book Invictus, John Carlin documents the many choices that Mr. Mandela influenced to win over a hostile population to his policy of reconciliation. A feat that is unmatched in modern political history.

Finally there will be situations which are likely to be totally out of our control, like the current economic slump that we are going through globally, which we as individuals couldn’t have influenced. But even in this case it is possible to prepare for it so that its effects can be controlled and ameliorated in our own lives. While this may do nothing to reverse the negative change, it can at least cushion us from the worst of the impact. I call this whole approach, choosing to be a ‘Master’ and not a ‘Victim’. I believe that this is a choice that is ours to make. Circumstances will not change as a result but their effect will.

Master or Victim?

In the life of every man and woman comes a time and a window opens when they have a unique opportunity to make an impact and influence others. To succeed we need to anticipate, prepare and act with courage when it opens. Living life is about making choices- the choice to be a ‘victim’ of circumstances or the choice to do something about circumstances and be their ‘master’. We are free to make this choice – to be a ‘victim’ or to be a ‘master’ – but the choices; each has a different payoff in terms of its consequences. Both stances are subject to the same givens of society, environment, organization etc. But have very different implications in terms of your development and happiness. It is one of the fallacies that people assume: that when we say we have freedom of choice, the choice is free of consequences. This is a myth and like all myths, it is a fantasy and a lie. We have freedom to choose but every choice has a price tag – every choice that we make is the same in this context. Each has a price tag. Foolish people make choices without first ascertaining the price tag and are then surprised, shocked, disappointed and so on, when the time comes to pay for the choice. Then they blame others for the result which they could have avoided.

To return to our discussion, ‘victims’ are people who complain about adversity, think of excuses, blame others, lose hope and perish. ‘Victims’ can be individuals, groups, communities or nations. The ‘victim stance’ is the same – complain and blame.

‘Masters’ on the other hand are people who when faced with difficulty and adversity, first look at themselves to see how and why they came to be in that situation, own their responsibility and then they look for solutions to resolve that situation. They have the courage to try new ways and win even if they fail. “Masters’ recognize that whatever happens to us is at least in part, if not wholly, a result of the choices that we made, consciously or unconsciously.

The result of what we chose to do or chose not to do. Consequently if we recognize that we created the situation, then it follows logically that we can also create its solution. The characteristic of ‘Masters’ is that even when they may temporarily be in a ‘Victim’ situation, they quickly ask themselves the key question: ‘Okay so what can I do about this situation?’ This question is the key to taking a ‘Masterful’ stance in life.

This is in itself a tremendously empowering mindset which frees a person from the shackles of self limiting barriers to his or her development. A ‘master’ never says, “I can’t”; s/he says, “I don’t know if I can!” – And in that is a world of difference. The key question to ask therefore is – In terms of the challenges that I face today, what do I need to do if I want to be a ‘Master’ and not a ‘Victim’? What is the investment that I need to make in order to succeed? This investment may be in terms of changing our attitudes, beliefs, behavior or lifestyle. It is often difficult to do and even more to sustain, but it is tremendously beneficial in all ways.

5. Risk

Once we have identified our choices and decided on a course of action the next step is to assess the risks involved. These would be of two kinds: Immediate and long term.

? Immediate
? What is the nature of the risk?
? What is the Worst Case Scenario?
? Contingency plans: What must be done to mitigate the risk?

In my view the most important thing in risk assessment is to insist on real data about the projected risks. Without that we may be running away from ghosts and fearing things that don’t exist. This kind of fear is debilitating and worthless.

For example one of the reasons why many people don’t take the step to become independent entrepreneurs is because of their risk perception. Asking questions to get some real hard data about the factors involved helps them to realize the true magnitude of the risk and many then take the plunge because they feel capable of handling the risk. Risks may be of different kinds depending on the decisions that you are planning to take; financial, PR, safety, potential lost opportunity, political and so on. Each must be analyzed and assessed in terms of its projected impact.

The next thing to do is to assess the cost of doing nothing, i.e. cost of living in the present state. This is often a very critical question because it has the potential to motivate people to take the big steps that they really need to take to change their destiny.

But the fact is that they will not take them unless they see the need clearly. Burning the boats figuratively is a powerful motivator because it introduces desperation into the equation and desperation overcomes all sorts of reluctance. Once there is complete agreement on the need for change we look at risk itself by doing a ‘Worst Case Scenario Analysis’.

We ask, ‘What is the worst that can happen if all systems fail?’ This is a reality check exercise which is also a big motivator. Once you have been through the barrier of fear and realize that the so-called ‘worst’ is not so bad after all and that you have contingency plans and that there is much that you can do, firstly to ensure that the worst does not happen at all and secondly to mitigate its effects if it does happen; it energizes you to take the plunge.

With long term risk it is essentially the same process in principle:

? Long term
? What is the nature of the risk?
? What is the Worst Case Scenario?
? Contingency plans

The difference is that sometimes we tend to put long term risks on the back burner for too long and are suddenly surprised when they come true. Another common fault is that we don’t think about the long term risk in the excitement of getting started and take short term risks that impact the long term.

However since the effect is not immediately visible we imagine it isn’t there. However some time later the chickens come home to roost to our embarrassment or cost.

Analyzing long term risks is therefore equally important. We follow the same process as I mentioned earlier. We analyze the different kinds of risk involved and cost them and work out the ‘Worst Case Scenario’ and make contingency plans. In the case of long term risk, there may well be things that you can do today which will help to either reduce or completely eliminate the risk. These are well worth considering and spending the time and resources to initiate as they can save a lot of time and tears later.

Cost of finance is a typical case in point where the nature of your sourcing can decide success or failure in the long term. Another is the commitment to quality where insisting on excellence in everything right from the first day may seem to be tedious but in the long run it is usually the lynch pin factor that attracts the best talent you need to succeed.

Short term gains are important and we must try to get as many as we can, but never at the cost of the long term. It can spell disaster.

6. The Legacy

In the end, the worth of a life is measured by its contribution. We are remembered by what we contributed. Not by what we consumed. Contribution is measured by the difference we made to other people’s lives. Was that positive? Then we will be remembered with honor. If not, our passing will be an occasion of breathing a sigh of relief at being rid of a nuisance. It is our choice which of these we want our legacy to be. That’s why we must live thoughtfully.

Because our life is worthy of that attention. Do you agree? Time is a resource that is not renewable. That is why it is essential we learn to leverage it to get maximum benefit.

My Contribution

? What was it?
? Who did it help?
? What difference did it make?

In a world that is obsessively focused on consumption, it is difficult to define yourself in terms of contribution but I believe most passionately that in the end it is contribution and contribution alone that matters. What difference did it make to the world and those who live in it that I was among them? What would have been lost if I had never been born? And that is a question that must be answered not by me but by those whose lives I touched. Was that touch something that they are happy and satisfied about? Or is it something that they would rather forget?

I remember something that one of my mentors told me several decades ago but which remained with me and on which I have tried to model my life.

He once asked me, ‘What do you need to do if you want a plant to grow well?’

I replied, ‘We need to manure it.’

He said, ‘That means that even manure has a positive effect. So what do you say about the person who lives and dies and there is no effect?’

And that is what I ask myself, ‘What difference did I make?’ To this thought I try to hold myself accountable and for this I would like to be remembered.

Over the decades this has proved its value when someone calls me or meets me and tells me how something that I did many years ago, helped them. There’s nothing more satisfying in life than this.

Attitudes for Living Thoughtfully

Finally something on the attitudes that I believe are necessary if one is to live thoughtfully and leave a legacy of honor. There are 5 that are essential.

1. Seeking accountability

Notice that I am using the word, ‘seeking’ and not merely accepting. To seek accountability is a critical leadership skill that is visible in those who want to leave a mark of their passing. It is only when we seek accountability that we indicate that we are willing to take responsibility not only for our own work but for its effect on others. To seek accountability is to stand up and say, ‘I did it and I am responsible for the good and the bad of it.’ To seek accountability is not to export blame, nor to find fault, nor to make excuses and not to run away from the consequences.

People who hide from accountability are clearly stating that they are not ready to lead. That is why in the end it is only those who seek accountability that count. Living Thoughtfully is to live a life that counts.

2. Discipline

All systems are only as good as their implementation. The best ideas in the world have no effect as long as they remain in the realm of ideas. It is only when they emerge into the world of action that the glory of thought manifests itself and becomes visible in concrete results. The secret behind this is discipline. The ability to make a plan and stick to it. Discipline also has to do with two other things: Structuring time and the ability to say, ‘No!’ We all have the same amount of time but the better we can schedule it the more productive we become. Scheduling has to do with prioritizing.

I have written a note on my tools for managing time in the appendix and so will not go into the details here but will suffice to say that the more efficiently we can prioritize our activities, the more productive will our day be.

Saying ‘No’ is a matter of developing assertiveness. Assertiveness is the ability to stand up for your rights without violating the rights of others. Without
assertiveness you become the proverbial doormat and your life becomes the property of others to dispose of as they please. We often labor under mistaken ideas about hurting others; believing that it is necessary to succumb to every demand because we should not hurt others. Becoming assertive is to accept that you are entitled to your own time and to making the best use of it as you think fit. That to tell someone that they have to wait to see you or talk to you because you are engaged in something that is important to you personally is not a sign of selfishness but of self respect. To demand that people be punctual is a sign that you respect the other person by being there on time. To expect that the other person reciprocates by being on time himself is your right.

There is nothing for them to be hurt by this and if they are hurt that is not your problem or responsibility. It is a development area for them.

3. Seeking feedback

There is only one way to improve and that is to know the effect of our current behavior. And there is only one way to know the effect of our behavior and that is to seek feedback. For feedback to be useful it must be data based. It must tell you specifically what you did well or what you did badly. If feedback is merely opinion in another form, be it positive or negative, it is of no use. For example if you just made a speech and someone came up to you and said, ‘That is the best speech that I’ve ever heard in my life.’ That statement is as useless as if someone comes up and says, ‘Excuse me, I am sorry to say, that is the worst speech I ever heard.’ It is true that the first statement will make you happy and you will walk around in a warm golden glow for a couple of hours afterwards and the second statement will make you either sad or mad, but for the purpose of learning, both are equally useless because they don’t give any data. They are merely subjective opinions which leave you equally clueless about the reasons why you were appreciated or deprecated. So you must always ask for the reasons. ‘Thank you very much for saying that. Would you please tell me what exactly you liked/disliked?’ Then make notes, thank the person once again for taking the trouble to talk to you and then later consider the data that you have. It is not necessary to always accept anything that comes your way. But it is always necessary to consider it. Then accept what you believe is valuable remembering of course that not all that is valuable is always pleasant in taste.

4. Willingness to change

If we are serious about our development, which is the purpose of Living Thoughtfully we need to be willing to change when there is a need to do so. Without this openness change will not occur even though we may have all the information needed to change. Willingness to change in my view indicates two critical attitudes of the winner which underlie it and that is humility and the pursuit of excellence. It is only when someone is confident but realizes that there is always room for improvement that he/she will be willing to change. Without that humility feedback falls on deaf ears or worse, causes offence. As for the pursuit of excellence; only when someone wants to constantly improve that he/she will be willing to change and will not become rigid in their ways. The person will seek feedback not merely as a formality but with the active intention of using it constructively. They will monitor their effectiveness and measure it against high standards and seek to excel.

This is not a one time or one-stage-of-life activity but something that the person who is focused on excellence does constantly all through their life to the very end. And that is what distinguishes them and makes them stand out and differentiate from the rest. I have had the good fortune to know some people who even in their later years would learn from their juniors with such childlike enthusiasm that it made me wonder at what a wonderful work environment they must have created around them all through their lives. This shows a genuine commitment to self improvement that supersedes all.

5. Unflinching honesty with yourself

One final attitude in order to live thoughtfully, unflinching honesty with yourself. I left this to the last because it is in a manner of speaking the ‘platform on which everything else runs.’ Without honesty none of the other attitudes will function. I use the term ‘unflinching’ because sometimes honest self assessment is painful. But unless we can look at ourselves squarely in the eye, own up to our actions and then say, ‘Okay so what do I need to do now going forward?’ without flinching, we will not be able to improve.

Running away from facts never helped anyone and won’t help us either. Facts must be faced and dealt with as they exist. Facts can be changed but they can’t be wished away. So being absolutely honest with yourself is the foundation of all attitudes of success and that is why I mention it here, at the end.

Conclusion

Living Thoughtfully is all about leaving behind a legacy of honor. You may well ask, ‘Why should I necessarily leave a legacy?’ I ask, ‘Why not indeed.’ We only live once. Why not live so that we leave behind something worthwhile?