Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Is your trial tangible or not?

A kind friend of mine who visited me at my home about a month ago gave me a book entitled "Bila Allah Menduga Kita" (When Allah Tests Us) by Syed Alwi Alatas, a very eye-opening book about trials and tribulations in life.

A highly recommended book for all.

Having read the book, I sat down, pondered, and found out yet another blessing in disguise in my encounter with cancer. A blessing I find very exemplary of Allah's mercy to His creation.

In the Quran, Allah mentions in many verses about testing the Believers with deficiencies, such as being afflicted with illness and poverty.

We will surely put you to trial by involving you in fear and hunger and by causing loss of property, life and earnings. [Al-Baqarah:155]

These deficiencies in health and poverty are not meant to burden His servants, rather they serve as a mean to differentiate between those who sincerely are Believers and those who are merely liars.

Do the people think that they will be left alone after they have once said, "We have believed," and they will not be tested? [Al-Ankabut:2]

The fact is that we have put to test all those who have gone before them. Surely, Allah has to see who are the truthful and who the liars. [Al-Ankabut:3]

*When one becomes ill, he seeks for Allah's help. When one becomes poor, she strives to be closer to Allah.

*If previously one prays only his 5 obligatory prayers in a day, he now adds on the rawatib prayers and qiamullail.

*If previously one only recites a page of the Quran in a day, the pages recited now doubles and she adds the recitation of al-Mathurat on top of her daily Quranic readings.

*If previously one supplicates to Allah without even understanding the words muttered, he now makes the effort to know the mafhum (meaning) of the du'a recited.

These are how trials via the form of loss of health and wealth can turn people into. Allah gives them illness and poverty, somehow as a catalyst to turn them into more pious and thankful servants of Him.

In simple terms, illness, poverty, loss of lives are what I see as so-called 'tangible trials' by Allah. I believe that every human being is actually being put by Allah into their respective trials. Only that some people's trials are 'intangible'.

If I'm being honest, I am more afraid of these 'intangible trials'. What do I mean by 'intangible trials'?

Wealth. Good health. Fame.

These are the sort of things I see as the so-called 'intangible trials'. They are still trials by Allah, only that we can't feel the 'hardship' nature of the test.

**How many people out there who were once very pious, yet when they become rich, they turn their backs against Allah and claims that all their wealth are due to their own makings?!

**Or those who are never bothered to take care of their obligatory prayers just because they are never ill and therefore don't feel the need to ask from Allah?!

Man is such that when a little affliction touches him, he calls upon Us, and when We bestow Our favor on him, he says, "I have been given this because of my knowledge!" Nay, it is a trial, but most of them do not know. [Az-Zumar:49]

I remind myself firstly, and others. Let us not emulate the Pharaoh and Qarun. Arrogant and mindless of their God's presence when Allah puts them into the intangible trials of wealth and good health.

That is why I sometimes thank Allah again and again for putting me in such trial, a tangible trial, a trial that I hope should lead me towards becoming a better servant of Him.

And that, is the blessing in disguise.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Reasonable VS False Hope

I was given a thirty-days-to-live prognosis. It was lung cancer. I'd previously had one lung removed. Now, four months later, the cancer was back. This time it was in my ribs and lymph system. The surgeon put his hand on my shoulder and said,

"The tiger is out of the cage. Your cancer has come roaring back. I would give you about thirty days to live."

Part of the reason that the surgeon was mistaken is that no healthcare provider can predict a person's response to illness. After several days of believing I would die, I made a profound decision.

I decided to live.

Please understand clearly what I am saying. By deciding to live I made a decision to do all I could to triumph over the cancer. I was determined to live each day I was given to the very best of my ability. I chose not to focus on the despair communicated in the surgeon's words. I would instead adopt a stance of hopefulness. These decisions dramatically changed my experience of illness. They resulted not only in better days but many more days as well. I believe such decision by you may result in a similar outcome.

"Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them..."

This message has its vocal critics. It's controversial. More than once, esteemed members of the health-care community have publicly accused me of spreading false hope. My answer is simple and direct.

I believe there is no such thing as false hope. There is only REASONABLE hope. Reasonable hope is a medicine worthy of consumption in large doses.

What is clearly false is a doctor's pronouncement that sets a limit on the amount of time a patient may have left to live. That's "false hopelessness". It is false because no human being knows how long anyone has left to live.

My response to the surgeon was strong. I said,

"Thank you doctor. You've given me thirty days to live. Wow! That's wonderful because God only gives me one day at a time!"

Healers instill hope. They do not schedule death.

There is no such thing as hopeless. Decide to live - today! Embrace hope deep within your spirit. It heals. It is a decision that always lead to greater quality in our days. I also believe it leads to a greater quantity of our days.

Two paths are before you. One is marked by the road signs of passivity and despair;the other by the guideposts of ENGAGEMENT and HOPE. You have a choice.

Please, choose hope.

If you have been told that your time is limited, believe that life can still be a fulfilling adventure. Choose to live life to the very fullest. Focus on the possibilities, not the problem. Affirm that each day is a good and perfect gift in spite of the circumstances of illness.

Keep you thoughts on hope and healing. In that intentional choice are the seeds of your cancer recovery. Water those seeds, not the weeds.

Without question, you can improve your potential for survival. What you do makes a significant difference. Believe it: there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.

*Taken from "Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do" by Greg Anderson.


I have been given a similar so-called 'death sentence'. 3 months has passed, and by the will of Allah, here I am, still standing, still given the chance to strive. And I believe, it is a sign from my Creator that He wants me to not lose hope just yet.

Even when the world says "Give up Mas!", hope whispers "Try it one more time."

And I, will therefore keep on battling.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A blessing we often overlook

I was just about to arrive at the masjid nearby my house to perform my Maghrib prayers when I saw from the side mirror of my car an elderly gentleman, probably in his late 60s, walking slowly towards the masjid. He noticeably looks quite frail, yet that doesn't seem to hinder him from coming to the masjid for his obligatory prayers.

Witnessing such sight reminds me of a Somalian man in his late 70s/early 80s, living in Sheffield, who is the bilal (the person who calls to prayer) of the masjid that I and many Sheffield Muslim community would go to for our obligatory prayers.

Muslim Welfare House Sheffield - a house that is converted into a masjid

The bilal lives in Broomhall, a place populated by many Malaysian students in Sheffield. He usually goes to the masjid by car, driven by his son. However, his son occasionally could not make it to the masjid and therefore you would think that the bilal might miss the prayer at the masjid too.

Ohh, was I so wrong.

I remembered one particular day, as I was walking to the masjid for the Subuh prayer on a very windy morning in Sheffield, when I saw the bilal walking with his stick heading towards the masjid. Not only did we have to bear the gutsy wind, but those coming from Broomhall would need to walk all the way up the hill to reach our destination. Even for a fit, young adult, it can certainly make you gasp for breath by the end of it.

What more for a gentleman of his age, I wonder.

The bilal certainly epitomizes the famous hadith we hear ever so often, when the Prophet said:

“If they knew the merits of Salat after nightfall (`Isha’) and the morning (Fajr) Salat, they would come to them even if they had to crawl to do so.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

I remembered, whenever I had a chemotherapy treatment, I would be so weak, bed bound, and could only muster enough energy to perform my prayers on a sitting position. I'd not be able make the walk to the masjid for at least a whole week as my body would not permit me to. It was during those moments when I often talked to myself,

"O Allah, grant me good health so that I can walk again to the masjid for my obligatory prayers!"

But being a mere servant of Him, I, like any other human being, am bound to forget to appreciate the blessings of good health when I still have it. When good health deserts me, there I am praying earnestly to Allah. But when I regain my good health, I sometimes forget the promise that I made to myself about being consistent in doing my prayers at the masjid whenever I'm able to. Ya Allah..

He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everything...

I guess that is typical of a human being. You will only appreciate the things that you possess when you lose them. And appreciating good health in the context of a Muslim, is when you use it to bring yourself closer to your Creator, Rabbul Jalil.

I was moved when I read about the story below. Be it a true story or not, let us all take lessons from it.

It is a story of a person from Bahrain named Ibrahim Nasser. He has been paralyzed completely since birth and can only move his head and fingers. Even his breathing is done with the help of instruments.

It was the wish of this young man to meet Sheikh Nabeel Al-Awdi. So Ibrahim's father spoke to the sheikh on the phone in order to arrange a visit to Ibrahim.

This is Sheikh Nabeel at the airport.

Ibrahim was very happy to see Sheikh Nabeel open the door to his room. We can only see his happiness from his expression as he is unable to speak.

The moment Sheikh Nabeel entered Ibrahim's room.

And this is Ibrahim's expression on meeting Sheikh Nabeel. Notice the breathing instrument around Ibrahim's neck. He is unable to even breath normally.

And a kiss on the forehead for Ibrahim.

Ibrahim with his father, uncle and Sheikh Nabeel.

Thus Sheikh Nabeel and Ibrahim started talking about da'wah on the internet and the striving it requires. They also exchanged some stories. And during their conversation Sheikh Nabeel asked Ibrahim a question. A question that made Ibrahim weep... and tears rolled down Ibrahim's cheek.

Ibrahim couldn't help but weep when he remembered some painful memories.

Here Sheikh Nabeel wipes the tears from Ibrahim's face.

Do you know what question it was that made Ibrahim weep?

The sheikh asked: Oh Ibrahim, if Allah had given you health, what would you have done?

And thus Ibrahim wept bitterly and he made the sheikh, his father, his uncle and everyone in the room weep..even the camera man wept.

And his answer was: By Allah I would have performed my salaah (prayer) in the masjid (mosque) with joy.. I would have used the favor of health in everything that would please Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Do You Have These Symptoms?

Just a few days before I left the UK for good back in January, a few representatives from the United Kingdom Lymphoma Association came to my house in Sheffield. I was one of the few people who had volunteered to be interviewed by the Lymphoma Association for the production of their latest video clip. The video is aimed at raising the awareness of the general public on the signs and symptoms of Lymphoma, a disease that seems to be on the rise lately.

I rang the Lymphoma Association about a month before the actual interview regarding my intention to volunteer and be part of the cast of the video. The criteria was quite specific; they were looking for people between the age of 15-30 years old who have had the experience of suffering from lymphoma. I knew then, that they needed people like me to volunteer. And so I did.

Lymphoma Association UK

A few days prior to the recording of the video, I was in two minds on whether I should proceed with the interview or not. This was due to the latest news I received from my doctor regarding my condition. Disappointed and gutted I was with this latest news, I was concerned that I might not be in the right frame of mind for the interview.

But I knew that being part of this video is important for me. Raising awareness on the disease, so that other people wouldn't have to thread on the same path as mine.

And thus I decided, that the show must go on.

Do You have These Symptoms?

All the other participants in this video are currently in remission from their disease. Some have been in remission for almost 10 years, another has been in remission quite recently. They are all cancer survivors, and they shared their experience after having successfully battled against their disease.

So when the team members of Lymphoma Association found out just a few minutes before the interview started that my cancer has relapsed, they were in silence. One of the crew member, politely asked;

"Mas, you don't have to do this interview if you don't feel like it. We perfectly understand it."

Even at that moment, I was still in two minds. But I know there can be only one answer. I told myself,

"These people came from a 4-hours travel to Sheffield just to do my interview. Without their effort and initiative, there will be a lot of people out there who will remain in the unknown about lymphoma. The time, money and energy that they spent might just save a lot of people's lives."

Ohh, silly me. Why should I let my emotions get over me? Come on Afzal, you are not going to let your disease take over you, are you?

"Don't worry Dave, I'm fine. I've been looking forward to do this interview." I smiled, and they reciprocated, saying

"You are one tough man, Mas."

I smiled again. "I hope I am Dave. I really hope so."

And today, having seen this video, I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked Allah. I hope a lot of people out there, will benefit from it. Although it may just be a short video, I'm sure the effect will be massive. Insha Allah.

Prevention is always better than cure!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Making decisions in life...

In life, it is inevitable that you need to make decisions. Even children have to make decisions. I remembered when I was at a tender age of 8 years old, I made a decision I will always remember and cherish in my life. I was at school, in my class, and it was 2 o'clock in the afternoon. My tummy suddenly felt really uncomfortable and I had this sudden urge to open my bowels.

That was when I had to make a decision; should I try using the school toilet, famous among each and everyone of us for all the wrong reasons, or make the trip back home? It didn't take me long to decide though, for I knew I will not be able to bear the sight and smell of my school toilet. It was then that I decided that I'm going to skip school today, and make the walk back home.

Yes, WALK. I actually walked back home, which was at least 10 kilometers away. The journey took me a few hours, and funnily, when I reached home, I was so tired that I wasn't bothered to visit the toilet but rather went straight to bed for a nap!

But obviously, as you grow older and carry more responsibility in life, you are bound to make more decisions. And they are not just decision on tiny matters, but sometimes things that are really important and can have significant effects on your life. As one used to say, "We have no simple problems or easy decisions after kindergarten".

Making decision about your career path. Or whether she is the right person to be your partner in life. Or deciding on what treatment is best for your condition.

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”

I personally have my fair share of decision-making in life. Some of which I felt were the right decisions, but there were also some of which I knew were wrong. But more importantly, none of which I regretted making, as it was these decisions I made in the past that have shaped me into who I am now.

When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma Stage 3 in my final year as a medical student, I decided against taking time off from my studies. Alhamdulillah, today, after more than a year from when I made that decision, I am proudly the first doctor in my family.

When my cancer relapsed for the first time back in July 2009, my family and I decided that it was best to continue treatment in the UK rather than returning home to Malaysia. We felt that the treatment in the UK was better, and there was nothing to be worried of cost-wise, as all expenses were covered by the NHS. However, we plan, but Allah also has His plannings. The treatment failed and my cancer relapsed for the second time back in January 2010.

Now, as I am safely back home in Malaysia, I again had to make an important decision in my life. Shall I continue with the suggested chemotherapy / radiotherapy treatments offered by the hospitals, or seek for alternative remedies?

Having discussed with my doctors in Pusat Perubatan UKM (PPUKM) about the pros and cons of further chemotherapy / radiotherapy in my case, weighing other options that are available for me, as well as doing plenty of istikharah, I then made my decision. I decided to put any further chemotherapy / radiotherapy on hold, and started on alternative medications.

It's obviously not easy to make a decision, what more when you know it relates to you own life. Have I made the right choice, will I regret my decision? Whatever the outcome is, I believe I have made the decision I feel is right and probably best for me. And that, is sufficient enough. Remember what they say about making a decision?

"You don't make decisions because they are easy; you don't make them because they are cheap; you don't make them because they're popular; you make them because they're right.

And as Muslims, never ever forget, that with every effort and decision making, put our trust to Allah. Tawakkal. In the end, it is Him that grants cure to every disease, and it is Him that gives life, and it is Him that takes it away.

فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ

Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

certainly, Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him). [Ali-'Imran:159]

I don't intend to list down the alternative medications I'm taking as I feel it is improper to reveal them when they are not yet proven to cure my disease. However, let's just say that alhamdulillah, by the will of Allah, there have been some positive improvements in myself. Although the itchiness seems to still be my main problem, the numbness and weakness on my left hand has certainly improved tremendously. The pain on the back of my neck has certainly ease off, and my energy levels are definitely improving.

But obviously, the journey is still far. Insya Allah, with the prayers of friends and families, I will keep on threading this rough path, with the hope that I will reap its benefits by the end of it.

Insha Allah, we'll find the way.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Will You hear me?

Do you sometimes ask yourself; I've been praying that Allah gives me excellent results in my examination, but why did I still fail all my subjects?

Or that you and your partner have been asking from Allah day and night to be blessed with your own child, but yet years gone by and you are still waiting for it to happen?

Or that you have never failed to make invocations after each of your obligatory prayer, that Allah grants you cure from your disease, but yet the pain and suffering you endure remains???

That you've been praying so much, but all the effort seems fruitless? And deep in your heart, you ask yourself, frustratingly;

"O Allah, my Creator, what have I done that you are not granting my invocations?"

Thee alone we worship, and to Thee alone we pray for help...

When I was in the hospital back in November 2009 for my high dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, these thoughts kept creeping inside my head. They were worse when I was all by myself in the room, in pain and feeling tired. I remembered vividly,

When I had to resort to performing my prayers on my bed as I was too weak to get up, shaytan whispered,

"What is the point of troubling yourself to pray to Allah, you are in such a state but yet Allah is not listening to your prayers!"

When I got up early in the morning to pray my Tahajjud, there shaytan came and whispered,

"Look at you Afzal, tired and weak. You've not improved one single bit from your illness. Is it really worth waking up this early to pray to Allah?"

When I stood by the side of my room's window, looking down at the city of Sheffield from the hospital, shaytan came and whispered,

"Afzal, it's been a year now and here you are still stucked in the hospital. Allah has forgotten you and your prayers."

Ya Allah, I seek refuge from You from the evils of shaytan!


It is during these difficult moments, that I seek strength from our beloved Prophet's saying in regards to making invocations:

مَا مِنْ مُسْلِمٍ يَدْعُو اللهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ بِدَعْوَةٍ لَيْسَ فِيها إِثْمٌ ولَا قَطِيعَةُ رَحِمٍ

No Muslim supplicates to Allah with a Du`a that does not involve sin or cutting the relations of the womb,

إلَّا أَعْطَاهُ اللهُ بِهَا إِحْدَى ثَلَاثِ خِصَالٍ

but Allah will grant him one of the three things.

إِمَّا أَنْ يُعَجِّل لَهُ دَعْوَتَهُ

1. He will either hasten the response to his supplication,

وَإِمَّا أَنْ يَدَّخِرَهَا لَهُ فِي الأُخْرَى

2. save it for him until the Hereafter,

وَإِمَّا أَنْ يَصْرِفَ عَنْهُ مِنَ السُّوءِ مِثْلَهَا

3. or would turn an equivalent amount of evil away from him.

O Allah, how Merciful are You! I promise myself to always supplicate to You, for only You can grant cure to my ailments and none other.

Ad-du'a silaahul mukmin. [Du'a is the weapon of the Believers]

I'd like to remind myself, and to those reading my humble writings, that should such evil thoughts sprung to mind when we supplicate to Allah, remember Prophet Muhammad's warning:

"...the supplication of the servant will be accepted as long as he does not become hasty." The Prophet was then asked,

"How does one become hasty?" The Prophet then said,

"He says, `I supplicated and supplicated, but I do not see that my supplication is being accepted from me.' He thus looses interest and abandons supplicating (to Allah)."

Never abandon asking from Allah. If it is not Him, then NO ONE else can help us in this world, and in the Hereafter.