Exam Time, Dropping Time?!

This time let us start by stating the solution before looking into the problems.

So long as a Muslim recognizes that he does not know, one of the first few verses revealed to our Prophet (asws) can do him good: “And He taught man what he did not know.” With this recognition (that he does not know), he is better placed to realize that this Allah’s own teaching comes through the pen: “He, who taught through the pen.” Another realization that dawns upon him is that without Allah’s own teaching, which necessarily comes through the use of the pen, he is not worthier than a clot of blood: “He who created man from a clot (of blood).” Pondering further, the conclusion he draws is that the use of pen comes only after one has done enough reading: “Read, in the name of your Lord.” If he cannot write, it means he has not done enough reading. Consequently, it is easy for him to realize that he cannot boast of God-given knowledge, unless he is able to put to the pen what he thinks he knows: more or less, at least sketchily, or in points.

He also recognizes that somehow, in some way, Allah’s mercy is tied up with knowledge: “And your Lord is the Most Kind.” A person, who is – to some degree or the other – “knowing,” is closer to Allah’s mercy. No, the Qur’an is not speaking of scholars. It is speaking of the humans in general. Note the sequence in the following verses:

“Read, in the name of your Lord. He, who created man from a clot (of blood). Read! And your Lord is the Most Kind. He, who taught by the pen: taught man what he knew not” (The Qur’an, 96: 1-5).

The social, economic, religious and political crisis that is looming large on the Ummah arises from the failure to recognize the above. Most of its uneducated individuals believe that “they know.” Any advice offered to anyone heading in the wrong direction, elicits an indignant response, “I know.”  The belief that one knows shuts the doors to knowledge and opens the doors not to ignorance, but to “jahalah” – which is a state of human heart, mind and soul, and not simply the lack of bits and pieces of information. A man might have bits and pieces of information, but not knowing how to connect them, his mind is but a ball of wool that cannot be uncoiled, as against a chip which is wired following a certain logic.

This is the state of the Muslim youth today in many parts of India. They do not know that they do not know. All advice therefore, yields no fruit because the information – as it is received by the mind – gets connected to wrong ends. They drop out from school and colleges like withered leaves of autumn, not knowing that the Spring season is not for the fallen leaves. A reason often given is: “It is no use studying.” If you try to encourage him he cites those educated who are unemployed. He cannot see that the educated unemployed of today becomes the employed the next year, in next country, while the uneducated remains unemployed lifelong (unless as a janitor, an office-boy, a counter salesman and so forth). He cites you the case of one or two uneducated who became millionaires, but does not realize that for every “one” who climbed up to become a millionaire, there are a “million” who slid down into the slums. He has two pieces of information: (1) uneducated and (2) poor forever. But he cannot connect the two.

A few others drop out because they believe they have the talent that assures them they can earn their livelihood, whenever they become serious about it. At the moment they are not. What’s the hurry? After all, marriage is at a distance, (and that indeed is one of the solutions for him). So, if one of them can earn his pocket-money doing odd jobs and buy a motorcycle on installments, he thinks he is doing fine. When the bell rings, you can meet him at the door with consumer products stuffed in his bag. You can also meet him at the corner of a busy street selling watches, mobiles, lottery tickets, and so on. Twenty years later you can meet him driving an auto or worse, pushing a cart. Another twenty years, and he would have slid into the slum. Does he now see the connection between dropping out of school, and ordering his little son to push the cart this day because he is not well? No, he does not. He attributes his being in the slum to bad luck. His son will never leave the slum except if he is a lucky ‘one’ out of an unlucky thousand. But the drop-out of yesterday cannot still see why his son has almost zero chance of ever leaving the slum. He cites example of one (out of a thousand) who left the slum. He enjoys fuzzy logic.

Some others have no reason for dropping out. When one of them is asked, he evades with various answers, but if you persist he admits, “I just cannot study.” He is actually influenced by his pals who dropped out. They had their own reasons. This young man does not have his own reason. He borrowed it from them. Since he has no reason of his own, (because his mind is so completely jumbled), he cannot see why he cannot do a shorter technical course, and then go on to a higher one with that developed mind. He thinks the world is round. Therefore, he keeps going down and down, not realizing that at the level of the individual the earth is flat with ups and downs, mountains and valley, and the only sure indication of one going up is that he is sweating.

The problem remains throughout life. It is in saying: “I know.” Whether the dropping is at the school level, pre-university level, or undergraduate level (a worthless degree in commerce or human sciences, obtained with just passing marks, from a third-rate college), the opinion remains, “I know.” The doors to knowledge, which accounts for the difference between man and animal, remain closed. If you try to probe his mind and discover his philosophy, you will discover that he is completely wired for a different, smoggy, plan of life. He is devoid of logic. His decisions are all wrong. His moves are faulty, and his progress either halted, or irregular, haphazard, unmethodical, and the results random. He goes for the quick results, abhors hard work, lacks consistency, and is without any vision. In his work-plan he is a gambler – every time trying to attempt something new, hoping to be one in a million who became millionaires in short time. He has tried his hand at several businesses, with borrowed money, and has lost. He tells his lenders that money is due to him from several sources and so will pay off (one day or the other), but not too soon, yet soon enough. He says he has learnt a lot from his ventures. He has also become a believer. He believes there is something called qismat (“karma” among others) which plays its strong role in every man’s life. He also believes that it is not unlikely that he is the target of magic (otherwise he cannot explain why he failed in his projects). Alternatively, he thinks someone might have cast an evil eye on him and, if that is correct, then the most likely person to have done it is his own aunt who always gives him such a stern look of disapproval.

This our dropout is a self-made man. Therefore, his qualities match his self-indulgent attitudes. His knowledge comes from his friends’ gossip, auto driver’s wisdom-words, tidbits from newspapers, and, of course, the profound dialogues uttered in grand style by film stars. He cannot repair an electrical switch or a door handle, he cannot make tea, he cannot walk three km, he cannot speak one full sentence in any language, including his mother tongue, without committing grammatical errors, he does not know the name of any scholar of his father’s generation. (He might not know the name of his grandfather). He has never soiled his hands planting a sampling, and does not wash his own undergarments. He does not know that Shelley is not a country, Rousseau was not an American President, Alfred Hitchcock not a scientist and flushing the toilet after use is his duty. He is a perfect antithesis of the Prophet he says he believes in. He is a hundred percent believer in him and so, a hundred percent opposed to him in everything that he does.

Since he rightly estimates himself and knows his worth, at marriage he demands that his person be valued justly, and dowry granted in accordance with his self-measured weight. He should get a sizable sum in cash and a four-wheeler. (When told this is as unlawful as pork, he says his parents are making these demands). He thinks he is talented (only the world does not recognize his talents) and so he will preferably marry a doctor, a software engineer, a lecturer in college, or the daughter of a rich merchant. The earning qualities of the girl should match with her personal qualities: she should be good-looking (even if he is not), well-behaved (meaning obey him since Islam commands that women prostrate to husbands), never answer back (since he knows all), keep the house clean and neat (since he dirties it), take care of the kitchen and the children after she is back from work (since a Mawlana told him that this is the duty of a wife), should not compare her family with his (because once his family was also rich),  should not say he hasn’t bought her, (since the day they left the marriage hall in a hired, garlanded taxi), anything worth showing to her friends (since he believes in “simple living, high thinking”), her parents and others of her family should respect him (because he is the prized son-in-law who solved their problem by marrying their daughter), and should constantly show financial favor to his wife (because, they should never forget she is their daughter).

Now, since, out of a hundred young men, only a small percentage of Muslim boys get into a professional course (medicine or engineering, which alone promise a goodly job these days), ten parents are after every one or two that made it, to marry off their daughters. Those parents who did not succeed (such successful young men raise their price), have no option but to look for the next best among the rejected rest: the dropouts. They must make big compromises and their daughter should be ready for lifelong sacrifices. And so, the marriage, despite the unreasonable conditions illustrated above, has to be concluded. They (the girl and her parents) do it in fear and apprehension, and all but hate what they are forced to go through. (Decorating the man, decorating his taxi, are not such exciting activities).

It should be obvious that since marriage is more than sex, the partnership starts showing cracks as soon as the need arises to fill the pots and pans extracted from the girl’s parents. Irritation turns to anger, that to arguments and shouting. If the girl demonstrates high restraint, accepts the situation as one without choice, and lives a life of satisfaction within the dissatisfactory situation, it lingers on. She undergoes not merely physical discomforts, but mental torture which is the worst part of the whole affair. Day in and day out, she has to live with a man who is not her match in any sense – he is in fact a perfect boor. He is a lamb in the outside world and a lion inside the home. A thorough-bred undisciplined man, now wishes to control his wife (Another Mawlana told him that according to Islam, she cannot go even to her parents’ house without his permission. Such are the powers of the husbands). But, if she is to assert her personality (taught her throughout her courses in the universities and something to this effect said in Islam), she suffers abuses of indescribable language without the recourse to mention it to anyone for the shame it involves. If her eyes are wet while she cooks, it is not from the rising smoke. But, if she manages to keep cooking (if there is enough in the store room to cook) and remains sober all along, as against the outbursts of the partner (at breaking point because of his financial crisis), the marriage continues – though the charm is gone. Otherwise they part: she with regrets, he with no regrets. For her everything went wrong, for him everything went right. He had already squeezed out of her enough, and bargains out a good price for freeing her of the torture. She comes back home weeping, he goes his way whistling.

In big cities, a mere 25% Muslim marriages are ending in separation these days.Not all marriage failures account for reasons given above, but many do. (This percentage in any case, matches with 25% increase in Muslim population of the slums every five years). Parents are so convinced of the mismatch that when they hear of differences between the husband and wife, they blindly support their daughters. Modern educational system and the norms now prevalent in the society, also encourage women to live out alone rather than with a proven wretch. But the children suffer. During the daily fights between father and mother, they could see who was wrong: both. But they could also see who was in greater wrong: the father. (Our dropout says, “Their mother has spoiled them”). The children have biological love for their father, but they hate him at the intellectual level. (When a class teacher gave “home atmosphere” as assignment to Muslim girl students, more than half wrote bitterly against their fathers: “he is selfish, shouts all the time, fights my mother, threatens he will divorce, and is unloving”). After separation too, they suffer most. If the mother finds another husband, they are completely lost. The will never know how to burst out into an uncontrollable peal of laughter, will carry a hole in their heart, and push the cart of life dispiritedly.

But not all girls are as unlucky as one of the case-study illustrated above. Some are unluckier. She is the one who has not been taught to face the realities of life, look into the eye of the Devil and ask him to check out. She spurns all such offers as are below her family’s status and below her dignity. Why should I compromise? She asks. Is this all that the education and life-long struggle are for, that she should tie up with someone she might not even be able to hold an intelligent conversation with?

This is a dream girl too, but in her own right, in her own sight. She too thinks she knows. She goes out to work and surveys the alternatives. And there are several, but no Muslim immediately around to compare with. She is surrounded by non-Muslim colleagues. She discovers that they are disciplined, punctual, hardworking, honest, well-behaved, consistent, less showy, and, most importantly, much better qualified and proficient in their jobs. She compares them with the Muslim youth of her family, neighborhood, and those that came with proposals (and a list of hardware required for the assembly), and concludes that the alternative is better suggestive of many advantages (mostly material). She is a complete antithesis of the Western woman who embraces Islam, drops a veil on her face, with every prospect of living alone the rest of her life, with every prospect of meeting her Lord with a heart throbbing with His love. Our dream-girl – in her own right, in her own sight – falls into the trap, falls into the pit.

She thought that the intellectual pleasure in discussing (with the non-Muslim beau) women’s role in the developing world, talking about modern art, possibility of Arundhati Roy ending up as the Nirad Chaudhary of her time, or how and why democracy fails, etc., might be intellectually well rewarding, but living with a man who does not hesitate in drinking at parties (even if he does not drink at home), who believes there is nothing wrong in lottery machines (although he does not gamble), who views weekend exchange of car-keys with office colleagues as “must be quite amusing” (although he doesn’t do it) and whose car, site for future home, furniture and appliances are all because of the credit card bestowed by the bank (which takes away a good chunk of his earning), then, she begins to wonder, “Where will this end and when?”

Then, one of those days he vomits in the bed after a company-hosted party. She is stunned and lying awake after changing the linen, staring at the ceiling, broods a long while – over the past, over the present. Living on together, with daily demands of compromise (over values, cultural norms, moral principles, and so on), proves as intellectually tortuous as living with one of those dropouts would have been. The children are no less torn: are they Muslim or Hindu? The crisis of identity will haunt them throughout life. She is asked questions but she has no satisfactory answers to give her loved ones. But the most painful moment comes when her children feel that perhaps she is not fully honest with them. A wall goes up, a shutter is brought down. Now it is that she begins to understand why a disturbing anxiety had occupied her heart from the day she had married the man bestowed with such fine materialistic qualities.

But she is wrong. She does not know the nature of this feeling of anxiety. She does not realize that the real reason is the accommodation of shirk with tawheed in her heart and mind. Deep in heart she knows she abandoned her God at the time of her full intellectual maturity. Yes, there is good ground for her children to have drawn shutters against her. Yes, they are right in suspecting that she is not fully honest with them. She is now lonely and will remain so until she is burned on the pier. True, jogging in shorts with her non-Muslim husband in a park is some pleasure; but the pleasure of Taraweeh Prayers in the mosque after the day’s fast, was another thing. Spiritually, she is now a ball of wool. If she has a wet eye, it is not from smoke. It is from the realization that she might miss the appointment with Muhammad at the Spring.

Exam time, dropping time?

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