By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
I was humbled by this photo essay on the BBC News online, depicting the danger-fraught journey that an eight year-old Tanzanian girl must take to get to school.
Eight-year-old Sylvia, in rural Tanzania, is determined to get an education and each school day makes a long and often risky one-and-a-half hour journey by foot – on her own – to school. Her family is poor and cannot afford to provide her with basic shoes for the walk or a good uniform. But she is considered lucky as it is estimated that 29 million primary school-aged children, more than half of them girls, are out of school in Africa.
There is so much we take for granted, and I ask God to forgive me for anytime I have been wasteful, or have failed to appreciate the blessings in my life. I’m awed and inspired by Sylvia’s determination and vision. I have no doubt that she will succeed and build a bright future for herself, Insha’Allah.
Sylvia and her mother outside their family home in rural Tanzania.
The house where the family of Tanzanian schoolgirl Sylvia lives. Sylvia’s mother remarried when she was young after her father died. The family lives more than 300km (nearly 200 miles) from the main city of Dar es Salaam. Their house is in the centre of the farming land – about half a kilometre from the nearest road. UN figures show that between 1999 and 2008 girls’ enrolment in Africa has increased from 54% to 74%, but about 16 million are out of school. Free primary education was introduced in Tanzania in 2001.
Tanzanian schoolgirl Sylvia walking through the bush. The school Sylvia attends is in a village 7km away. As she walks through the fields to get to the road, the terrain becomes more dense and turns into shrubland that cuts and scratches her legs and feet. She has to find a safe route avoiding snakes and other hidden dangers.
Tanzanian schoolgirl Sylvia walking through a field of scrub by her home to the road.
Her journey then continues along a main road. In the searing heat of the dry season, choking clouds of dust from passing heavy vehicles and cattle engulf her. In the wet season, the road becomes almost impassable and the traffic showers her in mud. She sometimes has to wade through deep water that collects in the road because of the lack of drainage and the rising water table.
If she wants to avoid dangerous traffic on the roads, Sylvia can walk along the railway line towards her school, but this has its own dangers as trains often travel down the line and she is far more secluded on the railway. In more secluded areas, children are often approached by people offering lifts to school and are in danger of being kidnapped.
Her other option is to walk the old paths off the main road. As she gets older, these areas will become more dangerous as girls can be targeted for sexual abuse. Travelling in public areas or in groups is much safer. This path passes by prisoners from one of the biggest jails in the area, set to work in the fields near the school when they are three months from release.
Once she has passed these dangers, she eventually turns off and heads down a tree-lined road to her school. She must then make the journey again at the end of the school day to get home. “Even though I don’t enjoy the journey, and sometimes find it very scary, I am willing to do whatever it takes for me to get a good education,” she told the aid agency Plan International, which supports the school she attends.
Sylvia sometimes walks to school with her 11-year-old Muslim friend Radhia – and this makes her feel safer. But this is only when her friend is not at school, as she attends a school around 7km in the opposite direction. Schools in Tanzania often have two shifts – morning and afternoon, or rotating days – so children sometimes go to school at different times or days. “We understand the need for a better education so that when we grow up, we will be able to support ourselves and our families and not face a life of poverty and hardship that we are currently used to,” Radhia says.
Tanzanian schoolgirl Sylvia arriving at her school. According to Unesco, the transition rate from primary to secondary education across sub-Saharan Africa is 62% for girls, but as low as 32% in Tanzania, where secondary schooling is not free. Plan provides assistance to help girls like Sylvia make the transition. In her village parents are hoping to one day build a primary school so that children will not have to make such long journeys to school – and they have just agreed to establish a day-care centre for nursery-aged pupils.
Sylvia with her family. Her stepfather may view her as a financial burden for pursuing her education, but Sylvia feels it will benefit the whole family in the long term. “I want to be a teacher as I respect the people that teach me in school and believe that it will give me a better life than the one I currently have to look forward to," she says. (Gallery from Plan International and photographer James Stone. Both schoolgirls' names have been changed for their protection.
Machu Picchu, Peru
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Here’s a true story about the power of persistence:
Once, many years ago, I arrived in San Francisco on a warm July day with no friends, no contacts and only a little money in my pocket. I needed work. What I did have was confidence. I had been through some very hard times, and had learned to fight for what I wanted, and not to accept “no” for an answer.
I met a fellow who was a courier and he suggested that I try it. He gave me the names of some courier companies. I visited several and filled out applications, but there was one company in particular that I liked. It seemed well outfitted and professionally run. I spoke to the human resources manager and he told me that they did not need anyone but that I should check back in several months. “Summertime is slow here,” he said. “Try us in fall.”
I came back early the next morning. I couldn’t wait until autumn, and I wasn’t interested in sitting around and hoping for someone to look at my application and call me. I knew they had stacks of applications in filing drawers. I had decided where I wanted to work, and all that remained was for them to accept my reality.
The HR manager said, “Weren’t you here yesterday and I told you we don’t need anyone?” I said yes, but I thought maybe someone might call in sick and they could use me just for the day. The HR manager gave me an appraising look and said, “No, nothing like that. Why don’t you come back in a month?”
I came back the next day. This time the HR man smiled and said, “I’ll tell you what, come back in one week.”
I came back the next day. It was a Thursday. The HR man rolled his eyes in exasperation and said, “Listen. Come back on Monday and I’ll see what I can do.”
I came back the next day, Friday. He gave me a job starting that day. I worked for that company for five years and got promoted twice.
That’s a true story.
I know it’s harder nowadays with the economy in shambles. I’m not guaranteeing that you can get a job by following these tips. But it will certainly help your chances, Insha’Allah. And if you take that same persistence and apply it to every endeavor in your life, I believe you will find that even mountains will crumble before you.
And Allah knows best.
I’m really not a fan of Madison Avenue’s ubiquitous ad messages, but there was a Nike ad that I saw once that really resonated for me. In fact I tore it out of the magazine and pasted it up on the wall, right beside my bed. It said:
All your life you are told the things you cannot do. All your life they will say you’re not good enough or strong enough or talented enough; they will say you’re the wrong height or the wrong weight or the wrong type to play this or be this or achieve this. THEY WILL TELL YOU NO, a thousand times no, until all the no’s become meaningless. All your life they will tell you no, quite firmly and very quickly.
AND YOU WILL TELL THEM YES.
May Allah help all of you and provide for you and your families.
(O Allah), Guide us to the straight path; The path of those whom you have favored; Not those with whom you are angry; Nor those who go astray.
Hanalei River Valley in Kauai, Hawaii... God created the earth and everything in it, and laid it at your feet
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
“Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Arabic proverb
If you want something, work for it and do not stop. That’s how you create your own luck. Whether you were born into a rich family or a poor one, whether you are innately talented or not, whether you have charisma and charm or you are a tongue-tied nerd, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be nice to be rich, talented, and charismatic, but you can succeed without them, and you’ll appreciate it all the more. All you have to do is hang on even after others have let go.
Don’t bemoan your fate. No one is born into a perfect family. Don’t complain about lack of resources. Allah created this world and everything in it, and laid it at your feet. If you’re facing the right direction, you can reach anywhere in the world if you keep on walking.
Find a Way
In 1997 I started a small web development consulting service. I really wanted to work with Muslims and help to create Islamic websites. As a small adjunct to my service, I started a Muslim matrimonial service. I thought of it as a hobby. That was the first incarnation of Zawaj.com Muslim Matrimonials. It was one of the first three such services on the internet. The problem was that I was not really a programmer (I was more of a graphic designer), and in the beginning I was hand-creating every page for every ad. The traffic climbed, until I was getting many new ads every day. It quickly became impossible.
I contacted some large web development firms to get a price quote for building a proper, automated matchmaking service. Their quotes were too high for me. I contacted some firms in India, and found one that would build the website first, and let me pay in monthly installments of $500. The bill was many thousands of dollars, and that was at a time when I could barely pay the bills. I agreed to the deal, not knowing where the money would come from. Every month I had to come up with $500 somehow. I eliminated all unnecessary expenses, I borrowed from my parents and my wife, and somehow I made it, and paid it all off.
More than ten years later, Zawaj.com is still my bread and butter. I don’t know what I would have done without it. I feel that Allah guided me to make that choice, and I was smart enough and determined enough to seize the opportunity. For once in my life, ha ha!
Make your own luck. Make something happen. Find a way.
Diligence, diligence. Focus on your goal, work hard, don’t give up… be as persistent as the sun. Sometimes the sun is hidden behind clouds, but it’s there every day. It’s okay to have days when you’re tired, when it seems hopeless, when you wish life would give you a break, but just keep showing up every day and doing the work, and your break will come.
Whoever said that opportunity knocks once must not have been paying attention, because opportunities come along all the time. It’s just that you have to listen for them, and you must lay the groundwork so that you are ready when the knock comes.
Faith and Diligence
I’ll finish with a story from the life of the Prophet Muhammad (sws):
Narrated Khabbab bin Al-Arat:
We complained to Allah’s Apostle (of the persecution inflicted on us by the disbelievers) while he was sitting in the shade of the Ka’ba, leaning over his Burd (i.e. covering sheet). We said to him, “Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?” He said, “Among the nations before you a (believing) man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that (torture) would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion (i.e. Islam) will prevail till a traveler from Sana (in Yemen) to Hadrarmaut will fear none but Allah, or a wolf as regards his sheep, but you (people) are hasty.”
What type of persecution was Khabbab referring to? Was it simple name calling, or Muslim businesses being boycotted? No, it was torture and murder. Bilal was laid in the desert with a huge stone on his chest. Others were place in chains, burned, stabbed by spears… all because they had adopted the religion of Allah. So it was no small thing they were complaining of. And yet all the Prophet had to say to them was that they were hasty, and that a time would come when all of Arabia would be united and safe. Someone standing beside him at the moment, looking around at the weak circumstances in which the Muslims found themselves, might have found such a statement hard to believe. But the Messenger of Allah (sws) had faith, and he had diligence, and those together can achieve anything.
By Wael Abdelgawad | IslamicSunrays.com
Aaisha stated that Prophet Muhammad (Shallallahu ‘Alaihi wa Sallam) said, “The deeds which Allah loves the most are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari & Muslim).
You can achieve tremendous things if you just take one step at a time and keep on going, letting nothing stop you. You can get a doctorate, or a black belt in martial arts, memorize the Quran, write a book, start a successful business, or any other great achievement, if you are consistent, as steady as the sun. It’s not about the big push. It’s the light but steady touch that does it.
1. Begin in the name of Allah (Almighty God, the Eternal and Omnipotent, the Creator of all). Always remember to call upon Him and ask His help. With Allah, all things are possible. And in seeking more, always be grateful for what you have. “And remember when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will give you more.'” (Quran, Surat Ibrahim, 14:7). The number of blessings in your life is limitless.
2. Make a plan. Put your plan on paper, and follow it. Don’t limit yourself. Enlarge your thoughts and hold an image in your mind of what you want to achieve. Visualize yourself succeeding, and see the steps necessary to make this happen.
Be as specific as possible when writing your plan. Don’t only write, “I will memorize the Quran in my lifetime.” Write down the first step: “I will memorize three surahs from Juz Amma this month.” Instead of writing, “I will get fit,” write, “I will work out Mon-Wed-Fri from 5pm to 6pm and will lose 5 pounds this month.” Instead of writing, “I will go back to school one day,” write, “I will enroll at City College for the next fall semester.” You get the idea.
3. Know yourself. Work on your project during the time of day when you are most productive. I personally work on these articles first thing in the morning while my mind is fresh. I wake up, say a dua’ of thanks, do a couple of yoga stretches, then sit in front of the computer and write.
Work on your goal every day, no matter what mood you’re in, whether you are tired, sick, depressed or discouraged. Just do it. If you need help, seek someone who knows.
4. Believe in yourself. Condition your mind that you can and you will. Be around people who believe in you and support your goals. During my first Hapkido martial arts grading, three senior instructors sat at the judging table. I did very well, and after my test one of the instructors said, “I expect to see you on this side of the table one day.” I never forgot that and it helped to propel me forward.
Keep positive and constructive thoughts flowing through your mind. When you find negative thoughts creeping in, send them away and replace them with positive images of yourself succeeding. Which brings me to…
5. Abolish negativity. Give up “I can’t” and all such negative phrases. Separate yourself from negative people who only find fault and express doubt. Such people cannot change their own lives, let alone helping you with yours. Negative people can destroy you if you let them. So don’t let them.
Never deprecate yourself. Don’t call yourself names, or tell yourself that you are stupid, clumsy, or hopeless. Other people will do enough of that for you. No need to aid them.
Also try to let go of anger, resentment, bitterness and suspicion. Those emotions consume a lot of energy and hold you back spiritually and even physically. You might feel like those emotions protect you in some way, but I have lived on that dark side of the street and I can tell that negativity can only destroy. It cannot build. You don’t need those dark emotions. Experience them, then let them go. Use that energy to move forward instead.
6. Take responsibility. If you fail, be honest about the reasons why, and look for a way to solve the problem. See failure as a chance to improve. Don’t try to blame others, as that only sends your energy in the wrong direction. If you trip and fall you don’t stand in one place looking for a tree root or a crack in the sidewalk to blame. You get up and move on, and maybe you watch your step a little more carefully, or pick your feet up higher.
Also do not blame your life circumstances, lack of funds, lack of qualifications, or whatever. No one is born into a perfect life. Take what you have and build on it.
It’s your dream, your plan, your life. Take responsibility and make it happen.
7. Be consistent. Take action. Do. Work toward your plan every day, no matter what else is happening in your life, but don’t burn yourself out. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) already gave us the formula in the hadith above. Persistence, determination, small steps, one after another, every day.
That’s how you change yourself, and change the world. I am giving away the formula, free of charge.
That’s how you conquer a mountain. That’s how the most majestic redwood tree grows. That’s how the Prophets (peace be upon them) did what they did. One step at a time, and keep on going, and you will do great things, Insha’Allah. I am writing down my plan today. Will you do the same?
Passion and stamina are among the essential qualities of great innovators
This is an extremely interesting and inspiring essay that appeared in the BBC’s online news magazine. And since changing ourselves, and thereby changing the world, is a frequent focus of my articles here at IslamicSunrays.com, I felt this piece was a good fit. Maybe later I’ll use it as a springboard for a similar piece with a specifically orientation, Insha’Allah:
The secrets of changing the world
Transforming society is a feat that only a select few of us will ever accomplish. In the second of a series of articles about innovation, Stephen Sackur looks for common qualities that unite the genuine revolutionaries he has encountered.
I paid a brief visit to my teenage son’s school the other day. The sun was out and the air was thick with restless, hormonal energy.
If only we could tap into these kids’ hopes, dreams and creative urges, I mused, we could reinvigorate our jaundiced adult world.
It’s a tempting proposition, is it not? That all of us, in our youth, have the capacity to be innovators, free-thinkers, resolute refuseniks when it comes to accepting the status quo.
Tempting, but alas, illusory. Most of us figure out from a very early age that it’s safer to conform than rebel. We tend to go with the flow, rather than ask why it has to be so.
That’s why so many young people today tell pollsters their ambition in life is to be a celebrity, a sports star or a glamorous model. Yes, they want to be rich and famous, but they want success simply to fall into their laps. Change the world? Sounds too much like hard work.
But without innovators we’re stuck. Every new generation needs people determined to find a better way. Of thinking, doing, and living.
So I’ve set myself a task. I’m going to try to distil what I’ve learned from years of encounters on my TV interview programme, HARDtalk, with some of our planet’s great contemporary innovators.
Is it possible to find a common thread which runs through these diverse and daring minds whether it be in business, science or art?
Well, it’s worth a try. Here are the qualities that seem to separate us sheep from the innovative goats.
1. An indestructible will
True innovators know how to take a punch. When they get knocked down they come back stronger.
"True innovators know how to take a punch” Stephen Sackur
No-one better epitomises this thick-skinned obstinacy than James Dyson, one of Britain’s most innovative entrepreneurs.
For years he tried to persuade the world’s biggest manufacturers of household appliances that he’d invented a better, bagless vacuum cleaner. They didn’t want to know.
“They simply couldn’t see that what I had was different and better”, he reflects.
The pin-striped execs at the top of industry and finance told him his idea would never work, but he simply refused to believe them.
As a youth Dyson excelled as a long distance runner, and it was his “stamina and obtuseness”, in the face of repeated rejection which, he says, turned him into an inventor with a billion in the bank.
2. Passion beyond reason
Innovators have to have passion. Something more than greed, or a lust for power; they need to believe heart and soul in the value of the change they’re seeking.
Fazle Hasan Abed's passion has given hope to millions of disaster-hit Bangladeshis
Fazle Hasan Abed is perhaps not a household name across the globe, but he should be.
A Bangladeshi from a well-to-do family, he was a young executive in the oil industry when conflict and natural disaster left his country in ruins in the early 1970s.
His response? To leave his comfortable life to create a new kind of aid organisation.
He called it BRAC. It began making small loans to individuals desperate to launch a small business or give a child a chance of school.
“Microfinance” has since given hope to millions and allowed BRAC to become one of the world’s biggest development agencies.
Abed, a soft-spoken, unassuming man, acquired a knighthood and significant influence in his native Bangladesh.
Is that why he created BRAC? “Of course not”, he says. “It was just something I felt I had to do.”
3. Outrageous optimism
Innovators have to be optimists. And not just about their own ability to triumph over adversity.
Consciously or not, they have to have faith in the human race.
Otherwise, why bother?
Jimmy Wales built Wikipedia on the notion that human beings could be persuaded to share knowledge, not for material reward, but for the collective good.
When this open source encyclopaedia of the web was launched in 2001, it was dismissed as nothing more than a platform for fanatics and loons. Now it’s in the top 10 most visited websites in the world, and the only one which has steadfastly remained not-for-profit.
Wales’s belief that he could “create and distribute a free encyclopaedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language” no longer sounds so far-fetched.
As for the notion that the human collective would find a way of distilling wisdom without distortion, manipulation and downright deceit… well, it sort of works.
There are errors and falsehoods in the Wikipedia, but not enough to make it useless, nor to make it vastly less reliable than the encyclopaedias put together by highly-paid experts.
4. A super-sized ego
Innovators do not suffer from low self-esteem. You want living proof? Spend an hour in the company of controversial bio-scientist Craig Venter.
Ego-nomics: Craig Venter's self-belief has done him no harm
He has the bulk and the macho presence of an ageing military veteran. Which he is.
He has an ego powerful enough to penetrate an underground nuclear bunker.
“A doctor can save a few hundred lives in a lifetime”, he once explained, “a researcher can save the whole world.”
Venter was a key player in the effort to map the human genome, but he fell out with fellow scientists, not least over his desire to patent and profit from man’s genetic blueprint.
Some scientists agonise about the ethical issues raised by genetic engineering; Venter appears to relish the prospect of “playing God”.
Already his team of researchers has “created life” by inserting a computer-generated genome into a pre-existing cell.
His determination to make money out of his cutting edge biology and his impatience with the scientific establishment have made him plenty of enemies, but this is a man whose steely gaze delivers a simple truth: He doesn’t care.
After all, he’s already created a life form that carries his name, and there’s no bigger ego trip than that.
5. The rebel yell
"I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system” Vivienne Westwood
At its crudest innovation delivers a loud **** you” to the status quo.
In the mid-1970s the clothes designer Vivienne Westwood came up with one of the most innovative middle finger salutes ever delivered to the fashion establishment with her punk chic.
This working class girl from Derbyshire drew inspiration from, bikers, fetishists and prostitutes as she introduced the Sex Pistols and their hordes of followers to a world of chains, pins and bondage trousers.
“I was messianic about punk, it was a way to put a spoke in the system”, she says.
Westwood, who has turned her deeply idiosyncratic designs into a thriving worldwide business does what pleases her, rather than what is expected.
Famously, she wore a revealing dress with no knickers when picking up an honour from the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
And that’s an image that has somehow stuck with me. Innovators across cultures and continents share that rebel spirit – metaphorically, if not literally, they’re ready to go knickerless in front of the Queen.