Monthly Archives: June 2013

Living Below YOUR Line!

This post introduces an campaign template for promoting spirituality and poverty alleviation through controlled consumption. There is quite a number of Muslim jargon so a Muslim is more likely to understand the side comments, but all are likely to get the gist.

Shortcomings of Ramadan

Ramadan is auspicious in holy texts, books and even the media does not shy from romanticizing about Ramadan. But the Ramadan we know is the limping, stern, strict, rule-ridden, inspirer of mechanistic and unsustainable “good deeds”. This is the Ramadan we create and cultivate for posterity. This Ramadan is severely deficient of spirituality.

A typical fast day is simply a day where a Muslim perhaps wakes up early for Suhur, perhaps prays Fajr prayer on time unlike most days, does not eat during the day, nor have sex, and FORCES themselves to read a few pages of the Qur’an, or goes to a mosque to listen to Tafseer, perhaps prepares a lot of food to be given out at a nearby mosque for Sadaqah during Iftar… and at night eats food with a vengeance, which is regretted during Taraweeh or Tahajjud prayers. The “smart” Muslims who do Taraweeh prayers eat light before Taraweeh, then more after Taraweeh. This is the typical fasting day, where being “smart” puts you ahead in the race for Ajar (heavenly rewards).

It could be argued that a pet can be made to fast. How? Simply follow the “basic” rules of fasting; no food during the day, no sex etc. after all animals don’t need to do Salat to worship God (Muslims know animals praise God). The stumbling block to this argument is that Niyyah is necessary. Good. Finally, spirituality! But you have to “make” the Niyyah before going to bed, or is it before waking up for Sahur, or is it before Fajr prayer? Niyyah is surrounded by so many rules it is difficult to see it as anything but another rule.

Ramadan is approaching, by the corner, but have you seen Spirituality?!

Spirituality

Spirituality in the Muslim sense is basically Taqwa; God Consciousness. Taqwa is keeping God in the foreground of your thoughts, not in the background. One does not need Sufi training to be spiritual. Spirituality is quite simple: staying in tune with your conscience; having a conscience for that matter; seeing the interconnectedness of all (selfless); thinking of God before performing an act, perhaps even invoking a prayer; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to your community; feeling and taking responsibility on issues relevant to other communities; upholding of basic Muslim ideals like justice and equity etc.

At the core of Muslim Spirituality (Taqwa) is an inner dialogue that goes on in a person. It is that voice that asks you to examine if what you are about to do is just. It is about having that voice. It is about remembering to say basmalah before eating. It is about reciting a prayer before going into the toilet. It is about saying a prayer going-in and coming-out of the Mosque. It is about taking an obstacle off the road, and understanding that neither the obstacles nor the roads have to be physical.

The hope is that the campaign Living Below Your Line may get us to be spiritual; by having an accompanying voice in our heads to sustain the dialogue, without making us cuckoo.

Living Below THE Line

Living Below the Line is a campaign pioneered by two anti-poverty organizations; Global Poverty Project and Oaktree Foundation. The campaign typically runs for five consecutive days annually. The aim of Living Below the Line is basically three goals: Empathy, Awareness and Poverty Alleviation. The “Line” refers to the global poverty line which is usually determined by the World Bank. Regardless of what that amount translates to in your local currency, it is still little by any standard. Over 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and it is likely that less than 5% of the population control 70% of the wealth.

Living Below the Line basically encourages people, like you and I, who live above the poverty line, to live their days without spending more than what the statistical poor person lives on. In essence, it is putting oneself in the shoes of the poor.  However, all that is not spent during this period, which would have been spent, is saved. Now back to the goals of Living Below the Line. Empathy is achieved by putting yourself in the shoes of the statistical “poor man”, Awareness is achieved by sharing the idea with others just as you have come to hear about it, Poverty Alleviation is achieved on a micro scale by putting together the saved funds towards a program that would empower real poor people economically.

However, given our situation in Nigeria, and the crowd that are likely to hear about this, Living Below the Line is not very convenient, because it is typically applied to food expenses. One reason is that accounting for food spending may be difficult in Nigeria. Many buy food in bulk, including grocery which makes accounting for daily food spending daunting. Many also live with their parents, and can hardly account for purchase of food. However my people spend money in the other ways; Food and Snacks, Transport, Telecoms Recharge Cards, Entertainment. These discrepancies with the assumptions of the original idea of Living Below THE Line has lead to formulation of something more friendly for Nigeria which is dubbed Living Below YOUR Line.

Living Below YOUR Line

“Line” here means your standard of living. Living Below YOUR Line is more holistic than the Living Below THE Line, and goes beyond simply food. The import of this is in the spirit of Ramadan, which is a holistic discipline, and perhaps to help correct that misconception about Ramadan through this awareness.

Funds raised through Living Below YOUR Line could be targeted at raising the Line of someone else i.e. it could be harnessed as capital to a worthy “poor man”. The worthy “poor man” is the entrepreneurial who is able to invest that capital and perhaps improve their economic potentials; hence their Line.

Our daily expenses can be broadly categorized into the following groups:

1.       Food and Snacks

For some of us that are not living with their parents (or are responsible for purchasing food for our parents), this does not involve the bulk purchases of food. It involves the breakfast, lunch or dinner that is purchased as a meal outside of home. As for those who live with their parents and get free food, this mostly entails all snacks that are purchased (Suya, Ice Cream and Shawarma comes to mind).

2.       Transport

This includes all money spent on taxis and other commercial transport, with the exception of that spent to-and-fro work or school. For those who own cars and fuel it, it involves fueling expenses.

3.       Telecoms Recharge Cards

This does not involve monthly subscriptions to telecom services (BB Service, weekly or Monthly Data Plans). It involves purchases of phone credits for voice calls and SMS. We shall review the part on data plans if there is a creative suggestion.

4.       Entertainment

This involves expenses on purchasing DVDs, on going to the cinema, on parks and rides. Perhaps on sewing new clothes (which are not meant for work or school) and on contributions to celebrations (weddings and naming ceremonies).

First do the following exercise in getting prepared, in three steps: (Assuming it runs for 5-7 days)

1.       First, decide on what percentage will you be living at. E.g. if you decide to live at 40%, then you will only spend 40% of your normal expenses and 60% will be saved for the cause.

2.       Second, write yourself a letter of undertaking on a sheet of paper (or type and print) saying: God willing, you shall live at the percentage you have chosen for the week. If this sounds cheesy to you, I get it… then simply make a commitment (Niyya) to self.

3.       Third, get and envelop, or purse, or plastic bag… or any container where you will remit the saved funds, DAILY before going to bed. Alternatively, have a notepad to keep record, such that sums are calculated daily. What is important is DAILY.

Two major approaches:

1.       If you are the type that plans their entire week, and how much would be spent (approximately) before hand, then it is simply a matter of taking out that percentage that would be saved and managing within the remaining percentage.

2.       If however, you don’t plan your weekly expenses before hand, then First you take a (serious) Niyyah: that you will cut down your expenses according to your committed percentage. For example, you might feel like getting yourself a Shawarma which costs N1000. Then you remember that you have committed to live at 50% of your normal expenses. At this point you have two options: Go buy two meat pies (at N250 each); or save yourself N500 for another day when you would crave Shawarma again. In any case, remember to remit that 50% to the cause/campaign.

Back to Spirituality

How does Living Below Your Line get one spiritual? It is through the constant reminder that one is not simply to fulfill their whims to full extent (100%) but to deliberately reduce it (by a certain percent). It is important that Living Below Your Line touches on several aspects (Food, Transport, Communication and Entertainment) because it means decisions to “regulate” spending will be at the fore of one’s thoughts.

Therefore the primary focus of Living Below Your Line is having a feel of the spirituality that comes with it; raising funds is a secondary benefit. There is also the effect of caring how that fund is spent. The fund could be used to raise another person’s Line, as earlier suggested, or whatever way seems proper. In a country where citizens have been systematically dismembered from ownership of government spending, the feeling of having a stake in how some fund is spent is hopefully the start of an attitude that may have nation-wide and global effect from the grass-root.

Living Below YOUR Line could be an ongoing event running say four times a year, each for a duration of a week. It could be a preparation for Ramadan. It could be a panacea to the overwhelming consumer culture we live in. Its simply a template for a tool, use it how you see fit.

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Has Jesus Returned?

Typically, this is one of those questions I don’t entertain. Not simply because I don’t believe Jesus (Isa AS) will come back, but I fail to see how anticipating his return is relevant to my spiritual life. Although I am very conscious of the social implications for the anticipation of his return. For instance, in recent history we have seen how groups of people, sometimes representing a country, have justified deliberate oppression with the “bigger” aim of “realizing” a prophecy from their religions. An obvious example is ongoing oppression by the state of Israel.

From the Muslim perspective, when typically confronted with narrations of the Prophet (Hadiths/Ahadith) concerning the end of times, these accounts have almost no relevance to Islamic Jurisprudence (Legal System), and are mostly tolerated by scholars of Jurisprudence because they ultimately tend to promote good and discourage evil. But today I am interested in this issue of the return of Jesus or Isa (AS). This issue provides us with insight into ourselves as believers in the Abrahamic religions.

Four days ago, I saw a headline that there is a man claiming to be Jesus in Australia. The first thought to my come to my mind was; “who is this mad man this time”? I swayed pass the headline… I was even surprised that I remembered to mention it to a friend during a conversation. My friend, like me, dismissed it and we shared a little joke about it. Then I told two other friends who also happen to be Muslims, and they dismissed the event too.

Majority of Muslims believe Jesus will return. I think the same applies to Christians. Being a sensitive issue, I went online to see comments by Christians. It seemed the many Christian comments were no different from the small sample of Muslims I encountered. We have a problem here.

For someone to claim he is Jesus, must have a certain expectations of the world. He expects to be fulfilling a prophesy, or at least have a certain amount of followership. But who would follow him? Muslims and Christians of course! After all most followers of the two religions believe Jesus will return. If in fact they believe so, shouldn’t they take it more seriously that someone is claiming to be Jesus? The least I would expect from them is to read the article. That way, if they have more info from their religious texts on some of Jesus’ characteristics, then they can dismiss/follow this man. For example, if they can find that their text says Jesus will not advertise his identity publicly  then they have a good reason to dismiss this man. If these Muslims and Christians believe in the return of Jesus, should they not try to understand this “Mad Man”?

It appears Judaism and Christianity both expect a Messiah in the future (after Moses and Jesus). There isn’t a consensus on the roles this Messiah would be playing; a king, a priest or a prophet? Some may even expect more than one Messiah to share the three roles. Shi’a Islam is almost unanimous of the coming a of Messiah, and there is a basis given the Shi’i framework. Sunni Islam on the other hand doesn’t have a strong basis for the coming of a Messiah even though there is a large followership of the idea; because relevant texts that were interpreted as proofs, have alternative interpretations (which I find more convincing). The Jews and Shi’i Muslims are not really expecting Jesus as the Messiah, whereas the Christians and Sunni Muslims are expecting Jesus; Christians expecting the son of God and Muslims expecting a follower of Prophet Muhammad. If in fact, there would be such a Messiah, he would have to fulfill a lot of roles if seeks followership. Unless the roles are contradictory, in which case it will be even more interesting.

Nonetheless the reality is that many Muslims and Christians believe in the return of Jesus. Then why so easily dismiss the headline that Jesus has returned? Even the way media reports the story has a mocking undertone to it: “Former IT Specialist Claims To Be Jesus Reborn” and “Australian claims to be Jesus“. If the return of Jesus is a major event in one’s religion, I would expect further research, not summary dismissals. Since I do not know much about the Christian signs for the return of Jesus, I shall explore the Muslim source, based on the most authentic reports of the Prophet (Bukhari AND Muslim).

Keep in mind the Qur’an verses that support Jesus’ return, are not clear and definite enough to warrant the conviction attributed to it. The aim here is to identify signs of Jesus, according to the most authentic narrations of the Prophet. The signs are; he will be a just ruler, break the cross, kill the pig and abolish the jizya. Without having to understand the meaning of “break”, “kill” or “jizya” in the last sentence, it can be concluded that the most authentic Muslim sources provide signs that could be used to identify Jesus after he has gained some reasonable authority/power.

So I would expect a Muslim believer of Jesus’ return, who hears about a claimed “Jesus” to keep an eye on this person, perhaps he will exhibit all the signs. Muslims don’t even bother to check if this claimant is a Muslim, they simply assume he must be a Christian since he is claiming to be Jesus, not Isa (AS). But did he, or did the reporting newspapers call him “Jesus”?

Similarly, majority of responses by Christians on the internet to this startling news of Jesus’ Return has been dismissive, with little or no investigation. I would not know what criteria those Christians used to dismiss this claimant, but I gathered they are simply being weary of “false prophets” and “cult leaders”. Well, if you believe in the return of Jesus, regardless of religion, and living in a world permeated by “false prophets” and “cult leaders”, then I think you have a big problem on your hands that needs a systematic approach to solving. If, in addition, you are like most “believers” I know who dismissed the claimant without investigating further, then you have a bigger problem.

Because if, and when, the real Jesus returns, you will likely dismiss him.

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