Media and its Adverse Effects

The glitter and brightness of the dynamics of society has hidden darkness, that today’s generation is not aware of.

A few days ago, while going through my old journals and diaries, I came across a poem written by Javed Akhtar. I have always liked this poem of his and still do. It highlights a very significant concept of life in an extremely beautiful manner. The title of the poem is “Kall aur Aaaj”, translated as “yesterday and today”. In essence, the poem highlights the relationships and conflicts of Heart and Mind or Heart verses Mind. It also conveys us the shift of humanity from “Heart centered” towards Mind or Brain; and its effects on social fabric of society. The first and the last couplets of the poem in “Urdu” are translated as:

How wonderful was the life of people of yester years, who could walk in any direction of life without any fears of harm (from people or society). And it goes on to the last couplet as; Today, the glitter and brightness of the dynamics of society has hidden darkness that today’s generation is not aware of.

Talking about the importance of hand written diaries and journals; I think the young generation of today is unable to completely comprehend what significance hand-written journals and diaries had in our times and how lovingly, we used to pen down all the pieces of poetry and prose that were close to our heart. Today, the vast amount of information available on internet, has apparently, made this process of collecting and preserving data easier but has depleted it of the beautiful spirit that was attached to it. While mentioning about the significance that a piece of paper achieves when it contains a note written from the hand of a person you love, let me share something. During the early years of my job, I was employed in different cities away from home. My mother (May God gives her a place in the highest of Heavens, Ameen) used to say to me, “I know you are very busy and do not have time. But just post me a blank piece of paper “your letter”, with nothing written on it. I will keep it safe and be pleased that I have my son’s letter.” Today’s generation is not able to understand the depth and value attached to such feeling. Mobile phones have entirely mitigated the distances but alongside, have also eliminated the deep love that connected those distances. It is impossible to knead in that spiritual endearment in messages sent through social media, that was there in the letters written by the very hands of your loved ones.

Where it has provided ease and comfort, electronic media has snatched away the subtle beauties of our life from us. People of my era, who have seen the world of yesterday and are also completely aware of today’s world of innumerable TV channels, internet and electronic media and their pros and cons, can very well understand how precious it was that we lost in order to gain what we have today. But alas, a state of helplessness prevails and we have to go through it.

Media has our lives firmly clenched. To be honest, this situation is haunting the lives of sensitive people. I am a member of a couple of WhatsApp groups. Whenever (and its quite often ), people debate over world politics and similar topics, I and other like-minded people, feel uncomfortable and anxious, resulting in some of them leaving the group. They are, then, called back in by friends; and for the sake of friends, they do join again and once again become a victim of such debates. This whole exercise, I believe, has made us very negatively obstinate. Things that mattered a lot before, do not matter as much now, we are not as sensitive as we used to be. We are helplessly waiting as to where this apathy and indifference take us.

Take some time out and consciously go through the channels that your television provides and observe. Observe and you will feel that almost all the content being shown on TV tends to be very superficial and almost negative. Although, there is some content that relates to literary nature, pertains to character building and contains positivity, but it is not practically related to our day to day lives. There are very few news on routine basis that reflect the positivity and humanity of people. Gradually, and unconsciously Media has brought about so many social and cultural changes in our lives and in our minds, and in such a process that we could not even feel it happening. Such sensitive topics telecast on television that were not suitable for the whole family to sit and watch together, are now being debated upon by immediate blood relations; father and daughter for an example. One is seriously confused as to whether we actually moving forwards or backwards in human development; it is hard to comprehend. We, as a human race, the vicegerent on earth, are actually degrading our levels of faith, and the worst part is that we do not even feel it. That sense of responsibility that is imposed upon us by the Creator, we have forgotten it. Now I almost feel that man was indeed naive that he became responsible for being God’s messenger and the best of creations on Earth. Alas, only if he knew the problems he would have to face in this world.

Today, we are surrounded by a large number of diverse problems. Difficulties and issues related to a person’s individual life, family life, social and community problems to name a few. Then, being believers (I being Muslims), the dreams of hell and heavens and the demands of righteousness to be met. And a lot more materialistic distractions that have our lives in their grip. The reference of the poem by Javed Akhtar given above truly reflects the situations we face today.

All these complications, problems and anxieties have blended into our everyday lives so deeply that it is almost impossible to run away from them. If you observe, one of the main causes of these disturbances in our lives is the overflow of superficial information of this temporary, superficial world. Most of the information we receive on everyday basis is neither a complete lie nor a solid truth, this incomplete information tends to increase depression in our lives. This race among different information providing entities of media and internet to be ahead of others has left man completely befuddled and confused. Jaun Aelia, a famous poet of Urdu says;

ہے یہ بازار جھوٹ کا بازار ۔ پھِر یہی جِنس کیوں نہ تولیں ہم

کر کے اِک دوسرے سے عہدِ وفا ۔ آؤ کُچھ دیر جھوٹ بولیں ہم

Translation:
Lies are the commodities of this world’s market. Let us also trade in this. Let us, by false promises of love in life be deceitful to each other.

Regular exhibition of pictures of the brutalities being carried out and tolerated throughout the world, people running insanely, not to help, but to capture the moments of helplessness and pain of others by their mobile phones, and then sharing those on social media with out hesitation or shame, rather even triumphantly has become a permanent and indefinite part of our lives. Whenever we share a video on WhatsApp, that portrays a person’s humiliation and insults, we do not stop to think that that person also has a family and a social circle, how will they feel when they see their loved one being mocked at. Not even that, we do not even realize what the person receiving the post would think about our mental level of understanding.

In spite of all the dissatisfaction, anxiety and to some extent, character degradation mentioned above, we do not even have time to give some direction to our broken understanding. Schools, colleges and universities do arrange seminars and workshops to help students understand these concepts but it has been seen that very little number of people are interested to join. I, specifically, urge the young generation of today to please give your life a direction, orient it in such a way that success of both the worlds is targeted. Because we know very well that without spiritual aspects included, the success of this world is completely pointless, neither it has a purpose, nor it has permanency.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik

Swarm Intelligence

There is a need to educate masses from the grass root level, to bring the people back to basics!

A few days back, I was driving my car and was crossing a bridge which had three narrow lanes. I was in the middle lane. It was a jam packed, bumper to bumper traffic. Suddenly the ambulance siren was heard which had just entered the bridge and was about seven eight vehicles behind me, but on the lane which was on my right. I got worried as to how the ambulance would get a fast and free passage. I started slowing down, creating a gap between me and the car in front of me (of course, at the cost of listening to the honking of horn by the car driver following me). The cars from my right lane started shifting in front of me, one car at a time and the ambulance was moving a little faster. I felt quite relieved when finally ambulance got free passage.

I thought over this incidence and further contemplated on the density of vehicles traffic on multilane roads. I compared the flow of this traffic with that of birds, bees and fish while they move in large numbers. I am sure all of us have seen very large groups of birds, bees and fish and even animals moving as one unit, in the form of waves, if not physically may be on wildlife videos. There seems to be no problem at all of any collisions or disturbance in the smooth flight of hundreds of birds, bees or fishes. The group intelligence needed for such maneuvers is generally known as swarm intelligence. In case of birds, bees and fishes etc., apart from the miracle of fast instinctive communication, the scene of such flights offers a beautiful sight. For example watch, for bird called starling, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOGCSBh3kmM and of fish, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIgHEhziUxU ( (Thanks to people who have posted these videos on youtube/ internet).

One can find many more videos on the net about fishes, birds, bees and very large group of running animals in forests of Africa. Even in our own villages such scenes are specifically observed in the wheat harvesting seasons when hundreds of sparrows and other small birds fly in the form of waves in and around wheat fields. These birds do not collide even while moving with tremendous speeds.

Many projects have been done by robotics students where they use artificial intelligence in applying swarm intelligence in micro robots. Dozens of micro robots are put on the move on a large board or in a room. These move with high speeds avoiding collisions.

We now have two examples, first; the natural flight of birds, bees, fishes etc., with instinctive swarm intelligence, and second; the random motion of a group of micro robots programmed, applying swarm intelligence. No collisions are faced in both the cases.

But when it comes to human beings moving in very large groups, like when performing Hajj by Muslims, and many other such examples, there have been many cases of stampede. Also, while considering road traffic on multilane roads, the traffic blocks are an everyday phenomenon (of course primarily due to breaking of traffic rules by individuals or due to less courtesy).

The point to be highlighted here is not the application of externally applied traffic laws, but trying to give a thought on the concept of swarm intelligence. Karen Armstrong in one of her books says, “telepathy; communication by the transfer of thoughts should have been the primary mode of communication of human beings”. But probably it was of higher science which human brains did not accept. However, considering the Ambulance example mentioned above if all the drivers of the vehicles, while moving in large group of cars, intelligently think of the requirements and intentions of other drivers while following fundamental human attributes, I guess all kinds of blockade and problems in the traffic can be solved. Problem is encountered only, when the humanity based rules are broken, when drivers are rude, arrogant, angry, not selfless, not caring etc., thus resulting into traffic blocks. Otherwise the swarm intelligence in human beings is also possible like that of birds and bees etc. Even in micro-robots case when some bug in the programming code is faced, the movement of the robots cannot be collision free and thus the code is to be debugged. Same is true for human beings. When the society seems to be derailed and polluted from fundamental social norms the reading of minds of people (which can only be done on the platform of honesty and morality) while working or moving in a group is IMPOSSIBLE. There is thus the requirement of carrying out thorough debugging. This can only be achieved through excessive efforts of educating the masses from the grass root level. Bringing the people back to basics. When we will repeatedly and consciously do these acts of reading (guessing) others minds and reacting (proactively) accordingly for a better collective outcome, It will become our habit and go into our unconscious. We will then act or move unconsciously like the birds of the video clip. In case of human beings, this will then not stop here but will (can) stretch further to knowing and reacting (pro-actively) to the needs of other people among society, that is; our relatives, neighbors, friends or even passing by strangers without them asking from us; that is what was one of the purposes of creation of human beings. Please give it a thought.

Dr. Akhtar Nawaz Malik


The Flow

The flow is significant… Stagnant waters stale!

During a random internet surfing session about science and engineering projects, I came across Panama Canal and Lake Gatun. Lake Gatun is 85 feet above the sea level, and with a simple but beautifully designed gated segments, connects North and South America seas. It works on the principle of difference of water levels. The video link of crossing of ships from one side to the other is attached below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FLK7Xhythvg

It is the principle of potential difference which is applied in this engineering design. Considering general scientific principle, it is not only water that flows from higher to lower heights; winds blow from higher pressure regions to lower pressures; heat flows from higher to lower temperatures by conduction and convection phenomena. Considering only the flow part, we see that the time is continuously on the flow with a uniform physical speed; though intensity with which every moment affects us depends upon our mental and emotional states both internal and external at personal, family and community level.

All the natural flow processes are based on scientific theories gradually discovered and developed into solid mathematical models. These are then applied in many man-made scientific and engineering systems. In almost all the chemical process industries the principles and operations of smooth, unobstructed flow of fluids is desired to get the expected results. We all know that in our conventional car engines fluid flow is needed in engine cooling system, the lubrications system, and brake systems. I remember carrying out bleeding of the brake fluid to purge air out of the system so that desired transfer of fluid force towards the mechanical braking system of the car could be achieved. The blockage or entrapping of air in the brake fluid lining incapacitates the braking system.

Even in the working of human body, the uninterrupted internal flows are extremely essential. We all know how important is the smooth flow of blood with desired pressures from arteries to all systems, and how fatal it can become when there is blockage. In the exploration of archaeological sites the researchers discovered human skulls with more than one holes in them, probably belonging to kings and other nobles of the society. The physicians and other medical experts later established that the holes in the skulls were surgically induced to relieve internal gas pressures, a medical practice in medieval times.

This is almost an everyday phenomenon that we develop sneezing when we expose our self to sudden changes of temperatures, e.g., going to colder outside from a warm room. This is an automatic reaction of the body systems to compensate for sudden changes of temperatures or pressures. A quick intake of cold drinks also causes sudden choking and encapsulation of gases, and one is relieved from it through burps. All this and the sneezing etc., is needed to purge the entrapped air from the human system.

The same analogy of the flow of entities both tangible and intangible can be applied to all kind of systems; even to our social, political and financial systems. When we maintain a desired smooth flow in these, harmony is acquired and maintained in the society. When these flows are blocked or interrupted irrationally, the systems collapse.

The most important flow in the man-made systems is the flow of wealth which is to be maintained for many understandable economic and social reasons. Hoarding of money, goods and products cripples the economies and social systems.

The free flow of knowledge, from all sources including individuals, teachers, religious scholars and institutions of learning, to those who need it, is to be maintained for the regular and continuous human progress. Whenever the free flow of knowledge is blocked, the societies degenerate. Stagnant waters stale. These days many good universities of the world, as a social responsibility, have given free access to their research and knowledge archives to everyone through their websites.

Even the movement of people from one region to another, though for multiple other reasons, plays a role in the healthy transfer of cultures and traditions, which is the human social, cultural and religious requirement. Thus, the unblocked smooth flows of all kinds are healthy signs for the maintenance of life and world activities.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik

The Cyclic World

How beautifully a circle gives
the idea of completeness
of each segment
of human-life!

You must have realized that almost all events in our lives keep repeating themselves in a cyclic fashion. The concept of time was probably conceived by the cyclic nature of rising and setting of sun. The primitive people in medieval times observed that a big light source (the sun) appeared from one side of the earth and passing over them slowly went down and disappeared on the other side, putting the world in darkness; and surprisingly appearing again from the opposite side and disappearing again. (It was simply observed then that sun revolved around the earth). The cyclic nature of this phenomenon, of darkness and light, created Day and Night times. A Day was thus defined. As the time passed, and the human minds and thinking grew mature, it was observed and discovered that day, night, months, year, and all weathers repeat themselves exactly in a similar fashion in fixed intervals. It was later discovered that these cyclic appearances of all the above was due to the motions of the heavenly bodies floating in the vast space. After exhaustive space explorations it was further established that these move in their fixed elliptic orbits, following standard Kepler’s Laws of planetary motion. And these move in such a way that there exists a balance or an equilibrium in the universe, a dynamic equilibrium, and their getting out of their orbits (by the will of God) will probably be end of this world.

The huge aura and influence of the heavenly bodies, like sun, moon and the stars in earlier life times was so great that the early humans, probably being scared, worshiped them as heavenly gods. They also associated the movements of these heavenly bodies, not only to affect the physical world activities but also personal lives of people. The effects of the positioning of these heavenly bodies in space and their timings triggered the fortune tellers to try to look into the future of individuals, communities and nations. The rise and fall of nations, war victories and defeats were attributed to the motion of these heavenly bodies. The history says that when the faith of the people got deeply connected with the stars, the concerned nations, their leaders and kings got seriously worried and they put restrictions on scientific and occult study of stars and their connectivity with human lives. So much so that even death sentences were given to people practicing these. Augustus Caesar strongly prohibited the citizens of Rome from acquiring any kind of knowledge of stars, though he would himself ask the future tellers for guidance in his personal life and that of the Roman Empire through the location and motion of stars.

With the passage of time the occult and spiritual sciences were overtaken by more logical and scientifically proven theories. However; those practicing these sciences of heavenly bodies and the astrologists and astronomers in certain regions of the world still believe that the movement of the stars in the vast heavenly space has deep influences on the activities of human life on earth. It must also be known that on molecular and atomic levels a similar orbital system of movements of Micro and Nano-particles (electrons) exists in elements and compounds. Generally speaking nothing in the universe seems to be static; everything is in motion.

All physical world activities around us, whether natural, or man-made mostly occur in cyclic fashion. The water vapours rise from the water streams, rivers, and sea, in the form of clouds. Winds, created by the change in temperatures and pressures, move these clouds to desired places as controlled by the Creator of the worlds. Obeying further scientific principles, rain showers are poured. The rain water, after fulfilling the needs of the human beings and other creations, flowing on the surface of the land and underground water channels falls into the sea again; thus completing a cycle. Coming to the man-made systems, people in science and engineering fields would agree that all control systems follow similar loops. The inputs of the physical world are obtained by sensors. After processing these inputs by computing devices to required form the control algorithms initiate signals for the actuators to send outputs and bring requisite changes in the physical system thus affecting the physical environment. This is how a cycle or a control loop is completed.

Even the human life cycle repeats itself as a child grows into a young man and then enters into old age; and as he leaves this world, a new born takes his place. The new person again passes through the cycle of life, full of hard work, with a chain of unlimited aims and accomplishments, desires, accumulations of all sorts and then leaving the world with nothing in hands. And the life goes on . . . .

In everyday social life many metaphors are used giving concept of loops. Phrases like, circle of friends, and circle of influence, as if there is circle whose centre is the person himself and around him is a circle with a circumference, overlapping the circles of the other people’ lives.

Human life and its mutual relations can be visualized as consisting of many concentric circles around an individual with varying radii. The circle of a newborn or an infant only possesses himself and his mother. As the person grows, this circle widens and his concerns and responsibilities for others also grow on similar lines and more circles are generated. The area in the inner most circle is occupied by the individual himself and his Creator, The God Almighty; next circle generally belongs to him, his parents and his immediate family; further wider circle occupied by him and his extended family. Even bigger circles are occupied by the friends and other professional colleagues. Farther to that is the circle where strangers come in. In the last circle of all reside all the other creations of Allah, besides human beings. This sequence may vary depending upon the closeness of relations. Lives of people in our relatively inner circles are our major responsibilities and the outward you go in circles, lesser are the responsibilities. BUT on the contrary the CONCERN about the people in the farther most circles are more virtuous than that of the inner circles. The amount of overlapping of your circles with others depends upon the closeness of one’s relations with others. These circles of human being change with time, they keep enlarging and reducing and when the person leaves this world this circle is rubbed off.

On moral, ethical, social and religious grounds there are metaphoric circles bounding the humanity by ethics, morality and religion etc., crossing the limits of which is attributed to committing a crime. Referring to great revered poet Dr Allama Iqbal;

صنوبر باغ میں آزاد بھی ہے پا بہ گِل بھی ہے

انہی پابندیوں میں حاصِل، آزادی کو تُو کر لے

(Translation: The oak tree planted in an orchard is free to move in air but its roots are buried and grounded. We need to find and acquire freedom while remaining within in the {moral and ethical} boundaries).

When we talk of circles we need to consider the centre of the circle about which it is drawn. Many of the major religious obligations like Hajj, Umra (The pilgrimage of Muslims) and others’, require from us to move around the Holy Kaaba and around other shrines of other religions and complete some fixed circular motion counts and fulfill our religious obligations. Referring the ideological world of religions, the centre carries huge importance. The spiritual centre of the life activities of Muslims is based on the instruction from Almighty Allah (through the Holy Quran) and the life practices of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Other religious communities and mythologies do have their own centres on which their spiritual life depends.

From the points and concepts mentioned above on the subject it can be appreciated that how beautifully the CIRCLE gives the idea of completeness and compactness of different segments of our life.

Successful Failures

Failure is significant.. sometimes even more than success.

We all want to be successful, whatever the definition of success be. That is human nature. We as parents, want our kids to excel in their academic and professional pursuits. All parents want the same for their kids. We want to succeed in all our competitive exams, in our businesses, as an individual, and as a family. But so is the desire of all others. No one wants to fail. Failure, of whatever kind is considered to be a social stigma, and of course, no one wants to attach that with him. Most of the activities of human life are a sort of zero-sum games. Winning of some is always connected with the defeat of others; it has always been like this, but the realization of it these days is more pronounced because of the fast social media networks. This, less human realization of those who fail and by the actions of those who succeed, is the root cause of many evils; especially in the societies where people are more closely connected. This leads to a perpetual flawed understanding of successes and failures. What is the solution? Solution to all the problems of human life is education; educating the people about the true understanding of life and its purpose. It reminds me of a small act of one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sitting in his shop during business hours at the later part of the day. His business of the day had been great. In the afternoon when a customer came, he asked him to purchase his needed item from the next shop who had fewer customers that day. This is the only solution; having compassion for others.

مَناؤ جشنِ بہاراں اِس احتیاط کے ساتھ

کسی چَراغ کی لَو سےکسی کا گھر نہ جلے

(Translation – Celebrate the springs of your life in such a way that your lighted candles do not burn the houses of others.)

Stephen Covey very rightly identifies five Cs as cancers of the society, these are; Competing, Comparing, Contending, Complaining, and Criticizing. We, the believers, need to straighten and refine our understanding of life which has gone very defective by our excessive involvement in the race towards materialism. In their true perspective, Successes and Failures are to be taken as activities of human life and both these segments of life are equally important for complete human development and understanding of life. We need to strongly develop our spiritual and compassionate part and mix it appropriately in all our social interactions. That will then guide us that at times, failures play a stronger role in our lives than successes. When rightly understood and deployed we raise ourselves to real and superior levels of human life. One of the most revered poet Dr. Allama Iqbal says;

تو بچا بچا کہ نہ رکھ اسے تیرا آئینہ ہے وہ آئینہ

کہ شِکَستہ ہو تو عزیز تر ہے نگاہِ آئینہ ساز میں 

(Translation – Do not save and protect your heart from the hardships and pains of life, as the more shattered this mirror is, more precious it becomes in the eyes of its Creator)  

It is true, not only from spiritual aspects, but even from the totally intellectual and cognitive perspective, failing is an important activity in human development. Considering this importance, some of the universities in the USA have instituted specific subjects about it. For example, probably Penn State University offers a course for engineering students, named Failure 101. In this course the students have to experiment, taking risks. They are supposed to work in the stretch zones of their capacities and not be afraid of making errors. Rather consider these errors as opportunities to learn, create and innovate. Their likely-hood of getting better grades probably depends upon the number of errors they make.

Michael Shawn Malone (born 1954 – an American author, columnist, editor, investor, businessman, television producer) says about Silicon Valley: “Outsiders think of Silicon Valley as a success, but it is, in truth, a graveyard of failures. Failure is Silicon Valley’s greatest strength. Every failed product is stored as a lesson in the collective memory. We don’t stigmatize failure; we admire it. Venture capitalists like to see a little failure in the resumes of entrepreneurs”. Silicon Valley is known as a center of significant success, but also significant failure.

Having defined and understood success and failures let us now combine success and failures in a unique way.

A phrase in which two words of opposite meaning are brought together is known as an oxymoron. Some common examples of oxymoronic expressions are: act naturally, random order, original copy, found missing, definite possibility, small crowd, exact estimate, pretty ugly, only choice, clearly misunderstood and on a lighter note maybe Happily Married. The phrase SUCCESSFUL-FAILURE may also fall into this category. However, it requires a little deep thinking, a small philosophy. The term Successful Failure has been used at various locations in human history and published literature. The classical example that can be quoted here is the failure of Apollo 13 lunar-landing mission. A brief of its history: The launch phase of the mission with crew Jim Lovell, Fred Haize, and Jack Swigert, on April 11, 1970 was successful. On 13th April during its flight, it developed some electronics fault. By the combined efforts of the ground station in Houston (USA) and the onboard crew, it splashed safely in the South Pacific on April 17. The mission was termed as a “Successful Failure”, because it failed in its initial mission, nothing had really been accomplished.  But, Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, after around four decades declared the mission in an exclusive interview to Reuters Television (in 2010) as “a great success because people involved have saved a catastrophe with a successful recovery.”

A number of other examples from history and many from our daily lives can be given to explain this concept. Explorer Christopher Columbus failed when he sailed to find India – and found America instead. It was a Successful Failure. When Abraham Lincoln asked the teacher of his son through his letter, “Teach my son that it is more honorable to fail than to cheat in exams”, he was talking of Successful Failure.

There are quite a number of superior human acts that demonstrated true human behaviors at testing times. One; on August 4, 1936, Jesse Owens won the gold medal in long jump in Berlin Olympics with a leap of (26 ft 5 in). He credited this achievement to the technical advice that he received from Luz Long, the German competitor whom he defeated. Similarly, we will be remembering an incidence when a West Indies bowler did not stump the Pakistani batsman who had left the crease and he let him come back in. There may be many such instances in our lives where human beings came up to their true definition. There is and there has to be a unique higher pleasure in such acts. We must long for having at least some feel of it.

بساطِ دِل پہ عجب ہے شِکَستِ ذات کا لُطف

جہاں پہ جیت اٹل ہو  وہ چال ہار کہ دیکھ

(Translation – There is a strange pleasure and a higher feeling connected to heart by the surrender of self, try losing a move where your success is certain.)

We can have logically four combinations of the words Success and Failure. These are: Successful-Success, Successful-Failure, Failed-Failure and Failed-Success. Let us see what they mean? 

The Islamic history tells that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), directed the victorious Muslims to enter the gates of the city of Makkah with their heads bowed down, less their gaze offend the human dignity of the defeated nation. This was a beautiful example of Successful-Success. Further details of this victory are also graceful and maintain human dignity both of the conquerors and those defeated. On the contrary there are a number of apparent victories of oppressive nations, atrocities committed by strong on weak (when the opponent is very weak and is not worthy of a conflict), or when the task in hand is too inferior compared with the capacities of those undertaking it; in all these cases the apparent successes may be termed as Failed-Successes. The fourth combination is the Failed-Failure. When we do not learn from our failures, these are real failures and can be termed as Failed-Failures; otherwise, there are NO failures at all. Thomas A. Edison said about his failed attempts; “I have not failed. I’ve just found thousands of ways that won’t work.

We are most likely to make mistakes when we work outside our Comfort Zones, and that is the genuine approach to learning new things. If everything we do succeeds, then we are failing, because it means we are not taking risks. Anyone who is afraid of failures cannot learn. It is all about taking risks. As someone very rightly said, “‘If your life is free of failures, you’re not taking enough risks”. “Success and Failure are simply the two sides of the same coin”. Failure is nothing, but success turned inside out. We don’t need to feel dejected when we fall short of an objective. Normally we only remember our successes and do not realize that 1 percent of our successful work is based on our 99 percent failed struggles. When the stone breaks with the last blow of the hammer it is only because of the earlier strikes.

To confront failure without fear we need to visualize ourselves in the center of a circle, which is a small band of a failure circle, surrounded by another circle of larger radius, which is the success area. In this configuration, we have no other option but to go through the failure circle. This will completely remove the fear of failure from within us.  

In the end, having said all that, sometimes, every logic is favoring our success and still we fail, that shows the presence of an ultimate Power, who is controlling all world activities, The Creator of the universe. Our achievements have to fit in His mega plans. The great scholar, fourth caliph and the immediate successor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Hazrat Ali (Razi Allah-0-Anho) beautifully captured it saying,

  ’میں نے خدا کو اپنے ارادوں کے ٹوٹنے سے پہچانا‘

(I was convinced about the existence of the Creator of this universe through my failures)

Past – Present – Future

” Live in the present “,
but what exactly is the Present?

There are many quotations, phrases, and concepts that guide us towards the concept of time with reference to Past, Present, and Future. Mentioning a few here; “One should not have worries of the Past, or anxiety of the Future and must try to live in Present instead”. Or another one that says, “Past always seems better than what it actually was, Present feels worse than what it actually is, and the Future seems less resolved than what it actually will be”. The book “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, also, wonderfully talks about the similar concepts of living in the “Present moment”. Great poet Fani Badayuni, born as Shaukat Ali Khan (1879 – 27 August 1961), created a beautiful ghazel; quoting one couplet of it on the present subject;

ہر نفَس عمرِ گزشتہ کی ہے میّت فانی

زندگی نام ہے مر مر کے جیے جانے کا

(Translation – All living beings are the dead bodies for their past, past that includes the last breath just taken. Life is, thus, a continuous process of dying and living)

It seems quite difficult (at least to me) to get clarity on the significance of the time frame, called “present”. What is the “present” moment? The “present” seems an illusion and we unconsciously think that we are living and working in “present”; it gives us a comfortable feeling that we have time at our disposal. The more one thinks about it, the more confusions are born. Through this text a clarity on the subject is sought. An entity or a domain called “time” is continuously on the move backwards; converting Future to Past, through a very thin line called the “present” moment. The Present Moment in accountable units, is thus an infinitesimal span of time which seems very insignificant. Since we give importance to our “present” time, like the one discussed in the book “Power of Now” and in many religious or social philosophies, there is a dire need to understand how should we define the “Present” time period?

The second line of the above Urdu couplet explains that any living being is the dead body for his past, the past that also includes the moment just passed. The future is the immediate coming “breath”, which converts to Past after it is gone followed by the next.

The question arises as to how should we define our “present” time? This will range from the “smallest time duration” on one extreme to the “biggest time lapse” on the other (that is what needs to be defined). This will vary when we consider the life of an individual, a family or a nation (or any specific group of people or any other creation). An interesting concept given by Alvin Toffler in his book “Future Shock”, where right in the opening pages he divides the life span of human beings into “800 Life Times” is worth contemplating. Another important variable to consider is that the understanding of the time frame varies depending on the physical state of the individual or a family etc., which dictates the mental conditions. For example, the “state” of an individual, family or that of any bigger group may include the financial conditions, the family/social relations, the physical and social environment etc. Any big or “significant change” in any of these and the time span of its “emotional effects” keeps it in the “present”. As soon as the mental or emotional effects get stabilized to normal we can consider that event as the event of the past. Recalling any emotional state by thinking about it and bringing the feelings back still keeps it as the event of the past.

کیا ستم ہے کہ اب تیری صورت

غورکرنے پہ یاد آتی ہے ۔ ۔ ۔ جون ایلیا

(Translation – How painful and cruel it is that it takes quite an effort to recall your face features)

When we are defining the time span called “The Present” for ourselves, we must also consider an important aspect; It should not be that small a duration which keeps us in tension or frustration (because we have to do our life activities in the present time) and also not that long a duration which makes us lethargic (to make us think that there is still enough time). We need to define a comfortable time span (which will be different for different individuals) so as to always “stay” in the present as per all the above-mentioned concepts of giving importance to the “Present”. By this we can manage time and plan our events considering the Past, Present and Future that we are comfortable with.

Dr Akhtar Nawaz Malik

Freedom

Even the thoughts of individuals are being controlled and regulated..where is freedom?

Freedom is an innate desire of any living being. If you put a bird in a big cage, it madly flies and strikes the walls of the cage and on finding any opening, frees itself and flies out. Similarly, if you put any wandering dog or a cat in a room it reaches for the door and scratches to open it. Freedom, Liberty, Independence refer to an absence of undue restrictions and an opportunity to exercise one’s rights, powers, and legitimate desires, or the like. Without a doubt, everyone supports the concept of freedom.

The word “Freedom” can be viewed from different perspectives. Broadly speaking, freedom can be divided into three major segments, which are, National Freedom, Political Freedom, and Individual Freedom. These three can further be expanded and divided into different parts.
National Freedom is at the highest in hierarchy, which simply means independence of a nation from foreign rule. Almost all nations want independence and are willing to fight for it, even if their own people are corrupt or the leaders are evil. Political Freedom has further divisions, though it literally means the right of citizens to choose their government; but it further goes on to freedom of speech or conscience, freedom of press, etc. Individual Freedom is the most sensitive and most sought for among all other forms; This is further divided into many shades including; individual rights and liberties given in constitutions, religious freedom, freedom to acquire education, children and women rights, rights of minorities etc. It is all about owning one’s life. Sometimes different forms of freedom are combined to name these as collective freedom or social freedom or public freedom. It is because freedom of one individual is always linked with the community.

Since the beginning of time, stronger animals and then stronger men and nations have been in charge of the world activities and had subjugated the weaker nations. Recorded human history is full of stories of human slavery and captivities on individual and collective scales. Human beings were sold like other commodities. These human slaves were forcefully deployed on manual labor to build palaces of kings, pyramids for Pharos, colloseums of Rome or driven to row big ships for transatlantic and pacific voyages.

As the capacities of human thought expanded and developed, societies were formed and human fears reduced through enforcement of human or divine laws. But tragically, the desire to control other human beings and weaker nations did not vanish but it changed shapes.

A large number of writers gave different concepts towards controlling people. Generally, all of them were of the opinion, that while forming a government people enter into a contract with the society or the government by which they have to abide by the laws and in return they are provided different life protections, like a child is protected in home by parents. But these concepts were stretched beyond acceptance and a number of philosophies of control emerged turning it to a war of state with the people and vice verse. Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” defined citizens and crafted rules to help rulers. The book “The Plato’s Republic”, explaining how to steer man by the governments, Or “Propaganda” written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, provided strategies to shape and manipulate public opinion by systematically enslaving them. The book “Tragedy & Hope”, by Carroll Quigley written in 1966 explained how one system can fund so many and spread its own collectivism and bring new world order that is completely biased to specific goals. Or the book “Open Conspiracy” written in 1928 by British Psychological warfare expert H. G. Wells gives similar concepts. George Orwell’s book written in 1948 titled “1984”; in which a Big Brother totalitarian state maintains the control of society by a massive surveillance system incorporated through a panopticon, presents a society where even the thoughts of individuals are being controlled and regulated through an illusory police force.

The long term effect of all above types of control concepts is too devastating. The self reliance and independent capacities of individuals and nations are completely diminished and paralyzed. Like German Philosopher Hagel said “We can engineer the individual’s choices by manipulating his needs”. Men and nations then become fearful of losing the life they are living and thus are enslaved. Very rightly said by (probably) Mohsin Naqvi:
جنہیں سونے کے پنجرے میں غذا مل جاۓ چاندی کی – انہیں پھر عمر بھر آزادیاں اچھی نہیں لگتیں

Even the most modern education systems of the world are designed to discipline the children and students so as to make them subservient workers. The award-winning educationist and author of a number of books, John Taylor Gatto, through his books like “The Underground History of American Education”, and “Weapons of Mass Instruction”, etc frighteningly discovered the enslaving approach of the school curricula. The problem is; there is no escape. Education has always been used to control human beings and human behavior.

Considering Spiritual domain of Freedom, Men of God have always sought freedom from bodily desires. Willful self-enslavement is sometimes a source of inner peace and satisfaction. We, the Muslims, voluntarily fast in the month of Ramadan or even in other days and refrain from eating or drinking to attain spiritual enlightenment and freedom. In other religions, people enslave themselves to become nuns, monks, hermits; this is a way of restricting the freedom of their physical needs. Even sometimes, Love is defined as surrendering one’s will for others. Spiritual Freedom is those beliefs and thoughts which exist in the hearts, minds and souls of each individual. Such beliefs are deep-seeded and can never be taken away by anyone. However, history is full of stories of a ruler trying to control Spiritual Freedom. The Spanish Inquistion and Hitler’s death camps are the examples.
Maulana Jalaal ud Din Rumi, the greatest of teachers, narrates a story for true understanding of the concept of freedom. The story goes like this: There was a merchant who while going to China asked his family as to what they wanted him to bring from China. Everyone gave his demand. He asked his parrot, Mithhu, what he wanted from China. The parrot sadly said “Tell the parrots of China that you are enjoying a free life and I am confined to a cage”. The merchant, after the round trip, brought back the gifts for everyone. To the parrot “Mithhu”, he said; there was a bad news. When the merchant gave Mithhu’s message to the parrots in China, one of the parrots fell from the tree and died. On listening that, Mithhu fell in the cage and died. The merchant sadly took its body out of the cage and placed it on the side. Mithhu flew and sat on the wall. Merchant got upset and said; Mithhu! It was not fair; “you tricked me”. Mithhu said; Not at all, “I did not trick you”. There was a message in it for him. Merchant asked what was that? Mithhu replied, “If you want to be free in life, Play Dead”.

We are so strongly attached to our material possessions that we hardly share or give away even the most unwanted of our THINGS. But then a time comes when we have to leave this world; leaving the most sacredly loved belongings, for others. For a true freedom we need to disconnect ourselves from material possessions during our life, by Playing Dead.

The concept of freedom never goes alone; it is always connected with the words like Equality, Empathy, Compassion; more specifically in Islam Freedom and Equality always go together. Last khutbah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) gives the details of freedom and responsibility.
We must understand that being free always means being responsible: A type of freedom that respects the other. It is a type of “public” freedom, not the selfish individualistic freedom. We need to be empathetic while being free. Abusing and showing off one’s wealth, one’s family status, or the self, or other powers, is not the real freedom. Freedom is based on the principle of – No harm to others.
مناؤ جشن ِ بہاراں اس احتیاط کے ساتھ – کسی چراغ کی لَو سے کسی کا گھر نہ جلے

Dr. Akhtar Nawaz Malik