Saturday, November 18, 2017

Story Time: The Spirit of Freedom

Flag, Banner, Nation, Emblem, Country, National

Baber was playing cricket with his friends in the street. His family had recently moved into this neighbourhood. Every evening, the children would come out to play cricket, ride bicycles or just get together for a chat. Babar was a very well-mannered boy and a good cricketer. He soon made many friends.

As they played, a small boy ran up to them carrying the ball which Babar had hit for a six. The boy was small and dressed in old, stained clothes. His plastic slippers were too big for him and his hands were dusty. Baber smiled at him and stretched his hand forward to accept the ball.

“Hey you! How dare you touch my ball?” Umar said in a furious tone.

“Here, give it to me. You have made it dirty,” Umer snatched the ball from the young boy’s hand and pushed him away aggressively. The boy ran away with a frightened look in his eyes.

Babar was stunned for a minute. He could not understand Umer’s anger.

“Why were you so rude to him Umer?” Babar asked. “He was only returning the ball.”

“You are new here, Babar. You don’t know these dirty children,” Umer said with contempt. “Our parents have told us not to go near them. They might have lice and they are always dirty and smelly. Don’t encourage them or they will want to play with us. And we won’t allow that.”

Just then Babar’s mother called him inside and their conversation ended. But Baber could not get the image of the young boy holding out the ball out of his mind.

The next day, he asked his own maid about the kids.

“Those are poor maid Kalsoom’s kids,” replied Sakina. “Her husband died of kidney failure a few months ago. She has four children and no one else to take care of them. She is working in many homes to make ends meet.”

“Do the children go to school? Baber asked sympathetically.

“I think the older one used to but since their father died, he works as a gardener’s help in a house. Others are too young to work so they stay at home.” Sakina said clearing away the breakfast table.

The next week, it was August 14. All the children were excited. They had been planning for Independence Day celebrations with great fervour. Umer had bought yards and yards of paper flags to decorate their house. Kamran was putting up a huge green and white flag. Some children were planning to decorate their home with candles. Some had been collecting money to buy firecrackers, balloons and badges.

“What are you going to do on 14th August, Baber?” Umer asked. “We are planning to have dinner in a five star hotel. It would be so much fun.”

“Dad says I can buy as many firecrackers as I want,” boasted Noman.

“Last year he did not get any money and he threw such a tantrum that my father has promised to give him lots of money this year,” his brother Junaid chimed in.

“You are very quiet, Baber? Aren’t you going to celebrate Independence Day?” Junaid asked.

“I am planning to light three candles this year,” said Baber mysteriously.

“Just three candles! How can you be so stingy? If you wish, I can share my flags with you,” added Kamran generously.

“No thank you. I have enough for my needs.”

The next day, the children saw something very strange. First Baber came out with a long plastic table. Then he dragged some chairs around it. He arranged a stack of books and some stationery. From the other end of the street, the children saw maid Kalsoom’s children make their way hesitantly. Baber smiled at them and told them to sit down.

Baber gave a colouring book and some colour pencils to the youngest boy. He then turned his attention towards the other two. “You will come here every day at this time to get your lessons. I will teach you to read and write.”

Tears glistened in Hassan’s eyes as he opened his copy. With great difficulty he wrote the words “Pakistan”. By this time, Baber’s friends had gathered there to see what was going on. They looked confused.

“Baber, have you gone mad? You are going to teach them?” Umer asked.

“Why not? Our country cannot be truly free while it suffers from poverty, illiteracy and inequality. We must remember what the Quaid said to the youth, ‘I look forward to you as the real makers of Pakistan. Create amongst yourselves complete unity and solidarity. Set an example of what the youth can do. Your main occupation should be to devote your attention to your studies. With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve.’

“I am going to light my share of candles today. This is what our country needs more than firecrackers and parties.” The children stood silently, then Junaid said, “I will help you too. There is no better cause and no better way to celebrate the Independence Day.”

First Published in Dawn, Young World August 12th, 2017

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book review: The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl

“The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me” is a delightful book about a young boy named Billy who meets three amazing animals, a giraffe, a monkey and a pelican and together they get up to some thrilling adventures.
Billy often stood outside a queer, old building and wondered about its past and the shops it used to hold. One day strange things begin to happen inside the building. Billy then meets the Giraffe, Pelly and the Monkey who were the new owners. They were no ordinary animals and had started the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company. They wanted a job and some food. The Duke of Hampshire sends his chauffeur to hire them as he needed someone to clean 677 windows of his sprawling Hampshire House
The crew of the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company does a sterling job in cleaning windows that had not been cleaned for forty years. While working on the top floors, Pelly captures a notorious cat burglar Cobra who was stealing the diamonds which belonged to the Duchess of Hampshire.

The Duke was extremely pleased. He invites the giraffe, the pelican and the monkey to live on his estate for the rest of their lives. They also get a lifetime supply of walnuts for the monkey, fresh salmon for the pelican and rare tinkle tinkle flowers for the giraffe. As for Billy, the Duke buys the building for him and turns into a marvellous sweet shop
I enjoyed this book because it is funny with adorable characters. It also teaches children about power of team work. Young readers would love it because it shows that dreams can come true.
Illustrated by Quentin Blake, it is a great addition to any library for young readers. 
Short and entertaining!
• Age Range: 8 – 12 years
• Grade Level: 3 – 7
• Paperback: 80 pages
• Publisher: Puffin Books;
• Language: English

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Unwelcome Guest

“Fahd, have you brushed your teeth?” “Yes mom.” Fahd yelled back from his bedroom.

“Okay, son, then good night.” “Good night mom,” Fahd replied slipping into bed, grinning.

He had fooled his mom again. He hadn't brushed his teeth. In fact, he hadn't brushed them in the morning either. He had got up rather late and instead of bothering to clean his teeth properly with toothbrush and toothpaste , he had just rinsed his mouth and rushed out of the bathroom. Not bothering to brush his teeth had become a habit now and while his toothbrush looked new and shiny in the blue ceramic mug on the bathroom shelf, his teeth looked yellow and slightly stained.

Sometime around midnight, Fahd woke up with a start. What had just happened?? He saw a small impish creature looming in front of his eyes. It was holding a spear like thing in his hand. The tiny creature pointed his spear towards Fahd, and the frightened boy felt a sharp jabbing pain on the side of his head and cheek.

“Ow, Ow!! Stop that!” The creature laughed mercilessly and danced about in the air.

“Hello, Fahd. How are you feeling?” It cackled. “Who are you and what you doing in my bedroom?” Fahd asked straining to see clearly in the dark.

“I am your guest and you invited me to come here,” replied the creature. “What? That’s impossible. I don’t know you and I would never invite a…a terrible, ugly and cruel monster like you into my bedroom, “Fahd spluttered.

“But you did, dear boy,” replied the cheeky little creature still dancing in front of Fahd’s eyes. “Are you calling me a liar?|”
“I am telling you. I DID NOT invite you, “Fahd replied furiously.

“Well, you are a little liar, aren’t you?”Said the creature slyly. “You lie everyday whenever your parents ask you if you have brushed your teeth or not. You trade your sandwiches and chicken nuggets for lollipops and candies in school and let your mom think that you eat a healthy lunch.”

Fahd felt very ashamed as well as scared. This creature seemed to know his habits quite well.

“How did I invite you? I mean, did I send an email or a letter or call you by phone?” Fahd asked timidly.

“Oh no, you invite me every time you don’t brush your teeth. Whenever you eat sticky toffees, gummy sweets and lollipops and don’t bother to even rinse your mouth, you send out an invitation to me,” it replied smugly.

Just then, the creature lifted his spear and Fahd again felt a horrible pain on the side of his face again. “Ouch!! Stop that,” he yelled.

“Sorry I can’t. You see you have invited me into your life and now you will have to face the consequences. I am not a pleasant guest to have around and it is quite difficult to get rid of me once I come to stay,” the little monster replied.

Poor Fahd was feeling awful by now. His cheek and neck were throbbing and it hurt even to turn his head. “You still haven’t told me who you are, “he cried desperately, holding a hand to his cheek. “Tch, tch. Haven’t you recognized me as yet? I am Tooth-Ache. Children who don’t brush their teeth regularly and do not practice good oral hygiene habits get to know me very well. I am a great friend to bacteria and plaque that live in your mouth. I like to live in cavities in the teeth and today I have come to stay in the home that you have provided for me,” the creature answered and loomed towards Fahd.

Fahd yelled and tumbled out of his bed and rushed to his parents’ room. His parents were very worried to see Fahd’s face which had swollen due to the massive tooth-ache. They all passed a terrible night.

Next day his mom took him to the dentist who gave Fahd a long lecture about taking care of his teeth and dangers of not brushing them properly. He had to have the cavities filled and it was not a happy experience.

“Now remember Fahd. You must brush your teeth twice a day, especially before going to bed. Also brush them after eating sweets, chocolates and toffees etc. or at least rinse your mouth thoroughly with water. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and avoid snacking on sugary food stuffs and fizzy drinks that are harmful for the teeth.”

Fahd listened to the dentist’s advice carefully. After all he didn't want any more unwelcome visitors at night. I am sure neither would you!

First published in Dawn, Young World, March 19th, 2015

The essence of patriotism

We all love to celebrate August 14 with great enthusiasm, on individual as well as national levels. We decorate our homes, streets and cars with green and white Pakistan flags. All day long, there are television shows celebrating Independence Day, and TV and radio channels air patriotic songs.

Everyone’s on a holiday and there are many cultural activities as well as picnics in the park.

Many daredevils take to the streets on their motorbikes and indulge in dangerous one-wheeling and create a nuisance for everyone. There are splendid fireworks, and feasts and banquets in our favourite restaurants as many eateries offer special Independence Day deals and discounts.

The next day, however, everything is back to normal and the only sign of our patriotic fervour is seen in the thousands of torn and ragged paper flags that are left carelessly on roads and streets.

Do you ever wonder if this is enough to show our gratitude to our forefathers and our cognisance of the fact that we live in a free country that was achieved after immense sacrifices? Waving flags, painting our faces green and white, releasing green and white balloons in the air … these are the activities that have replaced true patriotism.

So the question is, what is true patriotism? Patriotism means to love your country, serve it to the best of your ability, defend its honour and care deeply for its citizens, natural resources and infrastructure and be proud your nationality.

Waving flags, painting our faces green and white, releasing green and white balloons in the air … these are the activities that have replaced true patriotism
With great privileges, come great responsibilities. If we wish to prove ourselves truly patriotic, we will have to move beyond token celebrations and prove that we are indeed proud to citizens of Pakistan.

Minar-e-Pakistan Lahore

Know your history

You might think history is a boring subject taught by strict teachers in school but to be a true patriotic, you must go beyond memorising textbook dates, names and events to appreciate the story of how we became a nation.

History tells us where we came from and where we are today. We also need to find out the great things people have done in the past and events that shaped our destiny.

Badshahi Mosque, Lahore

Understand the present

Our country faces numerous problems on social, economic, political and even cultural levels. Unless we understand the root causes of these issues, we will not be able to tackle them or resolve them.

Do you ever think about the scarcity of clean drinking water, pollution, deforestation, child labour, crime and other evils that plague our beloved county today? While you are too young to fight these problems, knowledge about them will motivate you to change things for the better in future.


Educate yourself

Probably the best thing you can do for Pakistan is to focus on your education. Education does not only mean going to school with a heavy bag and preparing for tests and exams. It also entails gaining knowledge about latest research in fields of arts, science and technology.

Instead of wasting time on internet, try to learn new skills. You can easily enrol in free online courses that open up new horizons for you. Value your time, your youth and health, and channel these blessings to improve the state of your country.

Faisal Mosque, Islamabad

 Be a good citizen

Do you think you are too young and too insignificant to change the world around you? Just try these small things and see the change you can bring about. Be polite and considerate to your immediate family, neighbours, the elderly and the handicapped.

Be ready to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs help. Be conscientious about saving energy. Teach someone to read and write. You can easily feed a hungry person without starving yourself. Obey traffic rules, make a queue and stop littering.

Satpara Lake

Have a mission

One of the biggest problems our youth faces today is that we lack a mission or a goal in life. We all wait for something to happen or someone to change Pakistan for the better.

Wouldn’t it be better if we are like Easton LaChappelle who made his first robotic hand at the age of 14, using LEGO and fishing wire after meeting a young girl with prosthetic hand?

Or maybe 13-year-old Yash Gupta who started an organisation called Sight Learning which collects used glasses and donates them to children who need them.

Ever heard of Ryan Hreljac who was just six-year-old when he started collecting money for water and sanitation projects in Africa? With the help of few family members, friends and a little dedication, these projects are easy to start and implement. All you need is a goal and the desire to do something for your country.

Other things to do 

Place a small Pakistan flag in your room, especially near your study desk. It will inspire you to work harder and achieve great things.

Learn the national anthem. Although our national anthem is sung in school assemblies every day, many of us cannot recall some words it individually. Know the words of “Pak Sar Zameen”.

Learn patriotic songs. There are some amazing soul-stirring patriotic songs that have been sung by singing maestros such as “Aye Watan, Pyare Watan,” “Hum Zinda Quam Hain”, “Is Parcham Kay Saye Talay Hum Aik Hain”, “Mera Paigham Pakistan”, “Watan ki Mitti”, etc.

Be conscientious about your behaviour, whether you are travelling to another country or are online. Each one of you is an ambassador of Pakistan and your bad attitude, presents a negative image of your country.

Do you know about various cities and towns of Pakistan? How many of them can you actually name or locate on a map? Do you know what they are famous for? Learn about your country and promote its best features through articles, photographs and videos on the internet.

We are all, no doubt, ready to lay down our life for Pakistan but we also need to live for Pakistan, to think and work hard for its development and its progress. When patriotism is sincere and based on true love for the country, it becomes possible for the nation to overcome great problems.

Pakistan zindabad!

First Published in Dawn, Young World, August 13th, 2016

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ramadan 2017

Ramadan is the blessed month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims all over the world observe fasting from dawn to dusk. During this time, Muslims do not eat or drink anything, nor do they indulge in physical relationship. 

This year, Ramadan is expected to start on 26th May depending on the sighting of the moon.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith, the five daily prayers, giving charity to the poor and the needy, and performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

The day starts with a pre-dawn meal called suhoor or sehri and ends with the evening meal called iftar. It is very hard to describe this month. People who read about it or hear about it on media might think it is very hard but even children have no trouble fasting as long as they have a good sehri.

Dates are eaten in abundance in Ramadan. People go to mosques to pray in congregation, give food to the poor, have community meals, read the holy book Quran and try to spend as much time as possible in prayer and worship.

Fasting is compulsory for all adult Muslim men and women but those who are too old or too young, travelling, too ill or women who are pregnant, breastfeeding etc are exempt from fasting.

The end of Ramadan is marked by intense worship. Some devout Muslims go into reclusion in the last ten days of Ramadan, spending all of their time in the mosque in prayers and recitation of the Quran..The end of Ramadan is celebrated by a three-day holiday called Eid al-Fitr.

Are there any Muslims around you who are fasting?

Monday, April 24, 2017

25 Tips for a Great Childhood

You might think it is boring to be a child with endless schoolwork, tests, exams, home chores and every grownup. bossing you around but remember that childhood is a short season. These beautiful, carefree days will pass and how you turn out as an adult depends on the things you learn and experience in your early childhood. 

During your childhood, you will probably form many habits, many of which you will find harder to change later in life. Therefore it is very important that you choose a lifestyle that will help you to become a happy, healthy and responsible adult. 

Let us look at some key areas which affect you physically, emotionally and socially and learn which pitfalls to avoid and which values help you become a better person.


1. Be polite. Good manners help you get along with other children as well as with adults. Remember to say Thank you, Sorry, Please and You’re welcome whenever an occasion arises requiring these magic words. 

2. Be true to your word. Take time to think before you make a promise or a commitment. Don’t make fun of other people nor use foul language. It makes a person look unrefined and inelegant. 

3. Be considerate of others. Your grandparents might be old and may want some peace and quiet while resting in the afternoon. Do not watch TV or listen to music at an ear splitting volume. 

4. Respect each other’s privacy. Try to understand that others might not want to join in your activities because they may want to rest, study or do something else. It is not a reason to throw a tantrum or start a fight.

5. Everyday there are so many things that demand your attention that it becomes very easy to focus on only your own needs and requirements. Express your interest and concern for your parents, grandparents, siblings and friends by asking simple questions such as “How was your day?” Do you need any help?” “Can I do something for you?”

Self Care:

1) Keep yourself clean and tidy all the time. Take baths often especially in summer season, brush your teeth regularly, trim your nails and wear clean clothes. 

2) Be physically active. Whether you play team sports like cricket, tennis or football or exercise by yourself by riding a  bike, swimming or skipping a rope, find an activity that keeps you fit and healthy. 

3) Learn the importance of eating a balanced diet. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables everyday and limit your intake of junk food. Consuming too many salty and fried foods can cause pimples, make you look unhealthy and low in energy.

4) Be sure to get the right amount of sleep at night. While we are sleeping, our body rejuvenates, restores and repairs any wear and tear we might have suffered. It also promotes muscle growth and allows our brain to rest so that we face each new day with a bright smile and a fresh mind. 

5) Sometimes we want to be happy but our hair, skin, teeth and eyes decide to give us a tough time. Weight problems, dandruff, lice, pimples, weak eyesight and misaligned teeth can make us feel very dejected and target for ridicule. 

Remember you are not alone and millions of children go through these problems while they are growing up. Talk to your parents and discuss what can be done. Your family doctor can help you or you can seek help from experts such as a nutritionist, dermatologist, dentist or an optician who have plenty of ways to help you out of your troubles.  

Home and School Activities:

1. Read at least 3-5 books a month. Books open up new worlds of imagination, information and creativity.

2. Choose television programmes wisely. Limit your TV viewing to 1-2 hours daily. 

3. Take pride in your school work and always do your best. Remember that millions of children do not have the opportunity to go to school, read a book or write with a pencil. Be conscientious about school tests, assignments and homework and help your siblings in their school work too.

4. Try new activities at school or after school. Childhood is a great time to explore your talents and acquire new skills and interests. Do not be afraid of doing badly or failing. 

5. Help around the house. Keep your room clean and learn to put away your clothes, shoes, books and other belongings away every night before going to bed. This is a very important habit to cultivate as a cluttered room gives rise to stress and makes you look slovenly. 

Handling Emotions:

1. It is alright to feel negative emotions like fear, anger, stress and sadness but do not use tantrums, tears and threats as a means of getting your way.

2. Learn to stand up for yourself. Confide in your parents if something or someone is troubling you but do not expect your parents to solve all your problems for you. 

3. Learn to share and have a generous heart. It might be tempting to eat the whole chocolate bar but it is definitely better to break it in smaller pieces and share it with your siblings. Share your toys, books and food with your brothers and sisters or donate things that you do not need any longer. 

4. Learn to value money. Try to learn about budgeting and how to save money, or how you can help. Help adults in the house save money by switching off lights and fans 

5. Listen to what others have to say. You need not agree with everything that others around you say or feel but lend an ear to other people’s opinion. Treat them with same courtesy and respect as you would want for yourself.

Danger alert

1. Being adept at using the Internet is an integral part of today’s lifestyle. However it is very important to remember to practice Internet safety at all times. Never give your name, phone number, school name and address to strangers without consulting an adult first. 

2. Do not upload personal photos or information on social websites. Alert your parents if you are getting unsolicited messages from anyone or if there is anything that makes you uncomfortable.

3. Be very careful when interacting with strangers online. Remember that people online do not always tell the truth and might use number of ways to befriend you or win your trust. 

4. If you want to sign up for a website, give fictitious name and information. Similarly, do not buy products online unless you consult an adult first. Never agree to meet someone you have met online on your own.

5. Remember your parents are your best friends. If you have done something naughty, confide in them. Even if they scold you a bit, they will protect you from all sorts of troubles. 

First Published in Dawn, Young World, July 9th, 2016

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book review: Goodbye Mr. Chips, by James Hilton

Once in a while you come across a book which you read with tears in your eyes and a smile upon your lips. Among its pages, you meet characters so memorable and warm that their memories stay with you long after the last pages have been turned and the book placed back upon the shelf.

One such book that I have read is "Goodbye Mr Chips" by James Hilton.

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a short novella about a school teacher affectionately called Mr Chips and chronicles his life. Mr Chips is not just a teacher but an institute and an era in his personality. 

As the teacher of classics at Brookfield School since 1870, he sees many changes in the British society, the Franco-Prussian War, the First World War and survives many headmasters at the school. 

His wife Katherine appears in just a couple of chapters but her vivacious character is as unforgettable as her memories are poignant. She had a great deal of influence on him and changes him into a mellow, gentler creature well-liked and respected by everyone at school. 

Such is the love, fondness and respect for the elderly teacher that in spite of his tattered robe, his peculiarities and his old fashioned ways that when one headmaster tries to make him resign the students, their fathers and the board of governors comprising his old students stand behind him to a man. 

It's a very lovely book that will make you cry a little and smile a lot and give you a warm feeling of having known someone precious.

Highly recommended!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Series review: Guided Through the Qur'an

“Guided through the Quran” (Bil Quran ihtadayt in Arabic) is a very inspirational series that shows brief interviews of people who have accepted Islam as their religion and their way of life.

The host, Shaykh Fahad AlKandari, has travelled to many countries like Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, UK, USA and Spain to interview people about their journey to Islam.

The videos are brief, about 20-25 minutes long. They are in Arabic and English with English subtitles and usually the following questions have been asked:

  • The life of the person before accepting Islam
  • What prompted his or her journey towards Islam
  • The time and place of Shahada (testimony of faith declaring belief in the oneness of God (monotheism) and the acceptance of Muhammad ﷺ as Allah’s Messenger) and what the person felt at that time.
  • The reaction from family, friends etc and problems faced after accepting Islam
  • And last, the verses of the Quran or the surah that affected the person most.

Guided Through the Qur'an

As a person who is born a Muslim, this show had a very profound effect on me. Watching almost 90 episodes spread over three seasons, I felt emotions like gratitude and admiration as I listened to these beautiful and courageous people.

Gratitude, because I was born in a Muslim family and never have had to face the problems that these reverts had to face such as ostracization by family, loss of job, Islamophobia and even brutal physical attacks on women who chose to wear hijab in non Muslim European countries.

And I also felt great admiration because these are the people who struggled to search for siraat-e-mustaqim or the Right Path and remained steadfast in face of all the trials.

One of the amazing thing for me was how much they endeavoured to improve their knowledge of the Arabic language and tajweed to read the Quran and be able to pray because they felt that unless they learn the language, they would forever remain dependant on other people to translate the Quran for them and their own knowledge would remain inadequate.

On a personal level I felt that stories from France were most inspirational. One was most amazing stories was of Arnoud van Doorn, a Dutch politician whose party had sponsored the anti Muslim movie Fitna. However once he read the Quran, his feelings towards Islam and Muslims changed completely and he decided to become a Muslim.

For some people just one verse of the Holy Quran was enough to change their life forever. For some, the story of Jesus in the Quran proved to a catalyst while others were impressed by the scientific facts and miracles mentioned in the Quran. Some searched for peace and some felt lost in a dark world. Whatever the reason, each person had a beautiful story to tell.

If you have never met a Muslim in your life and all you know about Islam comes via news channels, I would request you to watch a few episodes of this show on YouTube.

From Rahim Jung in UK to Yasmeen Rolland in USA, to Alessandro in Brazil to Nicola in France, you will meet some amazing new Muslims who are following their deen with humbleness and piety and are beautiful examples of Muslims which you will never see on mainstream media.

Say MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa Billah

After Alhamdulillah, the second phrase which I feel we should all start using frequently is MaShaAllah Laa Quwata Illa billah (Surah Kah...