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Self-Revelations: Discovering Your Limits in India | The Motherland: Part II

(Updated)

Prelude | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

The “The Motherland” series will go over the benefits and challenges of studying Islam overseas in India, institutions of learning there in, and Nihal Khan’s journey of studying at Nadwatul ‘Ulama in the 2014-2015 academic calendar year. The subsequent articles in this series will detail his experiences and reflections from his travels and studies in India.

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. . .

Knowing Your Limits

As soon as I situated myself in Lucknow, I began discovering my physical, emotional, and psychological limits. Experiencing the bitter cold winters of Lucknow and her brutal summers really showed me how my body adjusted without a heater or air conditioner in each season respectively. I also unfortunately encountered the Indian health care system much sooner than I had expected.

Rae Baraily (not to be confused with Baraily): The hometown and resting place of Shaykh Abul Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi, the great writer and last rector of Nadwatul ‘Ulama.

rae

Physical

In my first three months in Lucknow, I lost between twenty-five to thirty pounds (11-13 kg) from just adjusting to the food, water, and weather. Americans are bound to lose weight simply by the nature of how people eat in India. Portions are smaller, organic food is more abundant. Oh, and not to mention the water. As soon as I settled into Nadwa (the shorter name for Nadwatul ‘Ulama), I started to drink the tap water of India. I had the typical daily (okay, twice) diarrhea for about three weeks, until one morning I woke up and threw up like I have never thrown up in my life. I felt my stomach was going to come out of my throat.

After that I was in bed for a week or so. But finally after recovering, drinking water from the tap became very easy for me–as did eating street food. As one of my friends said, “You now have a stomach of steel.” I knew I was going to be in India for a long time and decided that it would be most convenient to start getting used to living as others do over there. Getting bottled water was just too complicated after seeing ‘cold taps’ available for drinking right next to your hostel.

The food situation was also quite tricky. After several failed attempts at having food delivered to me from outside tiffin services, I gave up and starting eating out for almost every meal. That became taxing as temperatures were increasing and the cost of meals was adding up. I successfully started eating food from the madrasa cafeteria which happened to taste quite pleasant. I received rice, bread, and lentils twice a day with a different curry dish each time. I still go out, usually once a day, to a local cafe just to unwind and get some comfort food. I spend a decent amount of time studying and eating at the Tramp Tree Café in Hazratganj (the Times Square of Lucknow) which is owned by India’s first MasterChef Pankaj Bhadouria.

Mazahir al-Uloom in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The school where India’s most senior teacher of hadith resides, Shaykh Yunus Saharanpuri.

saharanpur

Emotional/Psychological

When you think things cannot get any more ridiculous, leave it to the interactions of an American student with his Indian environment to prove him wrong. The biggest arena where this was tested was in my interactions with administration,and  students and teachers alike at Nadwa. The most powerful incident which challenged my status quo was when I needed to get a measly managerial task completed, and instead of someone doing their job and getting done what needed to get done, I was introduced to the rather accepted and overbearing culture of purposeful procrastination. It was one of those things which would make me angry, while also upsetting me to the extent of wanting to shed tears, but I would stop myself as there was absolutely no functional premise for me to do so. Crying would not get me anywhere. This was a big deal as many of these tasks need to be completed in succession to be able to either sit in classes, complete registration, get permission to travel during the school year, etc. When this situation would unfold repeatedly, those intense feelings would not come back as strongly as they did the first time. I realized that my level of patience had gone up at that point. I had collected myself emotionally, and was now able to cognitively begin to analyze the environment that I was living in and its effect upon me. I will end up speaking more about this aspect in regards to interactions with students and teachers in the section below.

The Phrase “It’s Really Hot Today” Redefined

Getting used to the climate in Lucknow was not as easy as I had imagined it to be. From May to August the heat is unbearable. The average temperature just in May was 110 degrees Fahrenheit with a 125 degree real feel. It only gets worse in June through August when the humidity sets in. Though the monsoon season also starts around this time sending cool rains to moisten and cool the air, this year the storms arrived very late.weather

Things cool down between September to mid-December where it’s between 80-90 degrees usually. Then from mid-December to January the temperature drops to 40 to below freezing for many days.  Now though that does not sound too cold, you need to remember that there is no system of heating in most households and motor vehicles–so staying warm can be quite a challenge! Finally, from February to April the temperature is once again mild in the mid 80s during the day.

A goat climbing a car in New Delhi.

goat on car

What Will You See in the Rest of this Series?

Within this series on MuslimMatters, readers will be shown how life in India is for an American, experiences with health care, law enforcement, locals, Islamic institutions, what students of knowledge should consider before thinking about studying overseas, and lastly reflections and recommendations on the institutions I have visited.

. . .

Check out Part III of this series –> Health Care in India: Scooters, Breaking Bones, and Surgery | The Motherland

 

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Nihal Ahmad Khan is currently a student of Islamic Law and Theology at Nadwatul 'Ulama in Lucknow, India. He was born and raised in New Jersey and holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a minor in Business from Montclair State University and a diploma in Arabic from Bayyinah Institute's Dream Program. He began memorizing the Qur’an at Darul Uloom New York and finished at the age of seventeen at the Saut al-Furqan Academy in Teaneck, New Jersey. He went on to lead taraweeh every year since then. Along with his education, Nihal has worked in various capacities in the Muslim community as an assistant Imam, youth director, and a Muslim Chaplain at correctional facilities and social service organizations. Nihal is also an MA candidate in Islamic Studies from the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India

    • Avatar

      Imran

      October 10, 2015 at 2:28 PM

      How can i be notified of new posts say part three?

  2. Avatar

    Anees

    October 12, 2015 at 12:16 AM

    Nihal – I must say, even though you are planning to be there for awhile, that was brave to just dive right into the tap water. When I went on my first trip to visit my Abba’s family back in 1989 (age 8), my mother tells me I lost a lot of weight. Guess it is unavoidable to an extent. Even for a stomach of steel, not sure I would make that sacrifice! :p Additionally, growing up with a family of physicians and being a young one myself, not sure if I could let my guard down to that extent.

    And judging by the title of Part III, looks like there is a lot more physiological/anatomical drama ahead…;)

    Great post of course :)

  3. Pingback: » The Motherland: Experiences of Islam, Politics, and Culture In India III

  4. Pingback: » Studying Islam Overseas: Nadwatul ‘Ulama in India | The Motherland – Prelude

  5. Pingback: » Dealing with Indian Law Enforcement: The Motherland – Part IV

  6. Pingback: » Islamic Studies and India: Is This the Right Place for You? | The Motherland – VI

  7. Avatar

    Shahin

    December 30, 2015 at 3:09 AM

    The most interesting thing for me in this part of the series is the fact that you ate in MasterChef Pankaj’s cafe!

  8. Avatar

    Asma

    January 6, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    Why is he the last rector?

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#Life

What Repentance Can Teach You About Success

When losing weight, one piece of advice you’ll hear often is the following – if you fall off your eating plan one day, pick yourself back up and think of the next day as a fresh start.

Annoying, isn’t it?

You’ll hear this advice from people who have “made it” – they’ve lost a lot of weight, their lives have changed, and they’ll tell you to stick through it, and you’ll be like, yeah, I have, I tried, and I keep failing. I keep trying, I can’t sustain the motivation, I have life factors, I have stuff going on that makes this difficult.

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And you’re right.

You don’t have millions of dollars, a dedicated personal trainer and chef, the free time and lack of commitments others do, the lack of sleep, the injuries, or personal life circumstances that advantage others, nor do they have those that disadvantage you.

That’s not the point.

When you make a mistake, if you run through the process of regret, repentance, and retrying to do the right thing, Allah (swt) is pleased with you. And if you keep failing, repenting, and trying again, and again, and again, until you die, Allah keeps forgiving you.

The process of both recognizing your weakness, of getting out of denial, and humbling yourself and not thinking yourself so high and mighty has its own sobering effect. Not only does it help you in dealing with that atom’s weight of arrogance you don’t want to meet Allah (swt) with on the Day of Judgment, it helps make you a better human being, a more compassionate one, a more empathetic one, when calling others away from mistakes.

I’m not perfect, and you’re not perfect. Perfection is only for Allah (swt). But we’re trying. And the process of recognizing your weakness and at least attempting to rectify it means that maybe you’ll sin a little less, maybe you’ll still not invent excuses for mistakes and you’ll teach others, “Hey man, I know this is a sin, I know this is wrong, I hope you can do better than me.” And maybe they do change, and you’re both better for it.

Maybe in trying and failing again and again, what you end up doing is coming a little bit closer to success, and that process of trying and failing is the teacher you needed to get you out of your weakness and to then help others do likewise. Maybe that learning process serves you in succeeding elsewhere down the road in other treacherous turns and trials of life.

Whether it’s in losing weight, fixing broken relationships, pulling away from a heavy nafs addiction (eg pornography), don’t ever put yourself mentally in a position where “you’ve lost” and “you may as well give up” because “there’s no hope for me”. Don’t identify yourself by your failures.

So then, what is the point?

The point isn’t that you hit your goal perfectly. The point is that give your best, even with the little that you have, and that is good enough for you and for all of us. Ask Allah (swt) to help you better yourself, and in these 10 Days of Dhul-Hijjah, increase in your du’a, cry to Him for help, in whatever area of life it is you’re trying to improve.

And whatever you fail at, don’t fall off for weeks on end. Acknowledge your mistake, own it completely and take full responsibility. Try to figure out where you went wrong in your process, get help from others if you need to. Forgive yourself, and don’t resign yourself to an identity based on your mistakes.

Never get tired of failing, getting knocked down, and picking yourself back up and trying to do and be better again.

It’s always a brand new day tomorrow.

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 19: My Mercy Encompasses All Things

Now that we have learnt about when the angels surround us, let’s now talk about how Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy encompasses all things.

We say بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  (bismillah Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem) a lot, right? It means ‘in the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.’ 

We say it when we pray, before we eat, and we’re encouraged to say it before we begin any new task. But do we really understand what rahma (mercy) means? 

Question: What do you think rahma means?

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Do you know that the word rahma comes from the root word, رحم (rahim), which means womb? 

Question: Who can tell me what a womb is?

That’s right. A baby is usually in their mommy’s womb for 40 weeks. The baby gets all the nourishment it requires; the temperature in the womb is perfect, the nutrients are always administered, it is safe and warm. All the baby has to do is grow, and alhamdulillah all its needs are being met. 

Question: How do you think the womb relates to Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy?

Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy is constantly surrounding us like a safety net. That doesn’t mean that we’ll never experience any pain, but Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is constantly showing us mercy with every breath we take. Even blinking is a mercy from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that we don’t even have to think about. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even has more mercy for us than a mother has for her own child! 

One day the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was walking with a group of his companions, and they passed by a woman who was frantically looking for her child. She would take any child to her breast and try to feed him/her. Then the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said to the companions: “Do you think that this lady can throw her son in the fire?” We replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw it (in the fire).” The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) then said, “Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is more merciful to His slaves than this lady to her son.”

And guess what? There’s even more mercy in the hereafter than we’re experiencing right now. 

Salman al-Farisi reported: The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “Verily, on the day Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) created the heavens and earth, He created one hundred parts of mercy. Each part can fill what is between heaven and earth. He made one part of mercy for the earth, from it a mother has compassion for her child, animals and birds have compassion for each other. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect this mercy.” [Sahih Muslim]

99 parts of mercy on the Day of Judgment! That is one reason why it’s so important to have a good opinion of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)! Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) even tells us in Surat Al-A’raaf:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ

“My mercy encompasses all things” (Surat Al-A’raaf; 156]

And you all, my dears, are all encompassed by Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mercy, alhamdulillah. 

 

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30 Khawaatir in 30 Days- A Parent’s Guide | Day 18: When the Angels Surround Us

Now that we have learnt about Hajar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) and her sa’i, let’s now talk about when the angels surround us.

Do you know that every time we sit together and remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), we are not alone in our meeting? We have very special visitors, and these visitors love to hear us praising Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)and thanking Him. 

Question: Who can tell me who these visitors are?

Yes! They are angels! Can anyone name some angels for me?

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We have Angel Jibril 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) who has delivered every message to every Prophet since the beginning of time. We also have our angels on our left and right who write down our deeds.

Question: Does anyone know the name of the angel that is in control of the weather? 

His name is Angel Mikai’l. 

There are so many gifts that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) grants us when we gather together and remember him. Four things happen every single time! I want you to pay close attention to this hadith, because I’m going to ask you what those four things are after I read it. 

Are you ready?

‏لا يقعد قوم يذكرون الله عز وجل إلا حفتهم الملائكة، وغشيتهم الرحمة ونزلت عليهم السكينة، وذكرهم الله فيمن عنده‏

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.”

Question: Can you believe that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) makes mention of your name when you make mention of His? What do you think it means when “tranquility descends upon us?” Do you feel how calm your heart is? 

That is a gift from Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and He tells us that our hearts find rest in His remembrance:

أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ

“…Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured” [Surah Ar-Ra’d; 28] 

 

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