Equity vs Equality in Islam

Assalamualaikoum wa Rahmatullaah wa Barakaatuh,

[NOTE: I haven’t been as active as I would like to be due to other commitments. Insha’Allah everyone is well 🙂 I would usually update many blog posts simultaneously when I’m free but publish them at later dates, so I do apologize if it seems like I’m active in the blogsphere but did not reply to your comments :)]

Has anyone heard of this – equity vs equality – in Islam? I’m sure most of us would have heard the misconception that Islam is a ‘gender-biased’ religion which favours the males over the female counterparts. But, we hardly hear about why Islam is for equity and not always equality. That’s not to say that Islam isn’t a fair religion – it is in fact very fair with regards to its treatment to both genders but our perceptions has been shaped by the media so much so that ‘equality always means fairness’.

You may ask, what is the difference between equity and equality? To answer the question, I would give an example of two person: a 30 year old man and a 3 year old child. Equality would mean giving both of them equal amount of food but in our minds, we would think that it would be too much for the child to consume that amount of food. Equity on the other hand, means giving both of them according to their needs depending on their ages.

During class yesterday, my professor- masha’Allah a very wise man – shared with us an interesting case which depicts this equity vs equality in Islam. I was trying to find the case but it seems that either it’s not available in English (the case was in Arabic) or that it had happened more than half a century ago thus perhaps you can only find them in books but not online. Allahu Alam. Insha’Allah, I’ll narrate it the best that I can.

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The incident took place at an American hospital in the 1950s. Two babies were born at the same time – a boy and a girl – and both of them were taken together by the nurse to be weighed. When she returned the babies to the mothers, both claimed that their child was a boy. This immediately became a problem because in those days, DNA testing was not yet available so doctors needed to find another way to solve this dilemma. They tried to compare the blood types of the babies with the mothers but they had similar blood types. Since science had failed them, they turned to the Church for help. The priest said that it was beyond his ability to solve something like this and he was not able to help them too. An Egyptian doctor who heard about the case told the American doctors that he might know of someone who is able to solve this conundrum but he is in Egypt. This person the doctor was referring to is a well known Sheikh of his time.

Both American doctors travelled to Egypt to meet this Sheikh and using a translator, they described to him the situation and asked him for advice. The Sheikh replied saying that yes, the solution is in the Qur’an and he then quoted from the Suraah which mentions about the law of inheritance .

“Allah instructs you concerning your children: for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” [4:11]

The American doctors were confused with the Sheikh’s reply and told him that they were not asking about the Islamic law of inheritance. The Sheikh then told them that this too can be applied to the babies. His advice was to measure the concentration of breast milk of both mothers. If the mother had given birth to a boy, the concentration in her milk would be twice of the mother who had given birth to a girl.

Both doctors became Muslims afterwards because to them, it was puzzling that how Prophet sallallahu alayhi salam would be able to have such knowledge when he was only a dessert Arab and unlettered. The knowledge would have to come from God.

(I need to re-check the name of the Sheikh thus explains why I didn’t mention his name. According to my professor, whenever he passes through Egpyt, he would stop at the masjid to listen to his lectures. The whole masjid would be filled up with people before noon subhan’Allah. The Sheikh has already passed away – may Allah have mercy on him)

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Subhan’Allah! Allahu Akbar! I couldn’t help but teared up in class yesterday. There is so much wisdom in the Qur’an that have yet to unravel but still, there are ignorant people who would just pick an ayaat and then make an assumption about Islam without studying it in depth. And even more unfortunate is when you have Muslims questioning on the ‘fairness’ of Islam.

My Professor mentioned that a few years ago, a French Islamic scholar by the name of Garodi (not sure if I spelt his name correctly), came to my university to give a lecture. He quoted this ayaat about the law of inheritance and said that he would turn the laws around (instead of females receiving one share, he proposed that they receive two) in cases whereby she has many children under her care. The scholar said that it is only fair she receives more because of the burden of raising children compared to a man. During the Q&A, someone asked him whether by doing so, he was changing the laws of Allah.

My Prof did not mention what his reply was, but said that the laws of Allah is based on justice and equity although in the ‘dunya terms’, we deem it as unfair. We need to place our trust in Allah that whatever laws that was commanded was for our own good – and that He knows what is best for us. We tend to come across a lot of issues that have sprung up over the last decade, i.e. the difference in covering for men and women, Muslim man allowed to have 4 wives etc. but we should not be embarrassed when it comes to explaining to others about these issues. The Qur’an came as a guide book to mankind thus, it is without a doubt that its instructions are for us to live and function well in this Dunya. Without proper guidance, our lives become meaningless  and without direction.

It is  always a boost to my eemaan whenever I hear stories like this. I think there are so many things we can reflect on the Greatness of Allah and we can simply do so by observing our surroundings. It is only those who think are able to appreciate this. As mentioned several times in Suraah Ar-Rahman, “So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?”

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The power of Dua

Assalamualaikoum wa Rahmatullaah wa Barakaatuh,

A friend asked me this question couple of days ago: How did you convince your mom to allow you to wear niqaab?

I replied her saying that it’s a good question because I don’t know. I didn’t sit my parents down and explained to them why I want to wear niqaab or gave them the daleels from Qur’an and Sunnah. I have done neither of that but there’s one thing I realized which proved effective al-Hamdulillah and that is: lots of patience and dua.

When I had the intention to wear niqaab, I was thinking to myself that it’ll only be possible after I got married because at that time, my parents were against wearing big hijaab and abaya. Each time before leaving my room, I would actually make dua that my parents would not tell me ‘go back to my room to change out of my old woman’s clothes’. And if I wasn’t verbally poked fun at by my family for dressing that way, my relatives would do a good job at that. Everyday felt like a battle just to properly cover my aurah.

Subhan’Allah over a period of five years, there was a transition from my former tight clothes to much looser ones along with bigger hijaab. Al-Hamdulillah, it was all by His will. I was starting to wear baggy pants with longer tops, followed by skirts and then dresses and finally abaya. My mom changed her wardrobe as well. One day she told me that she wanted to get rid of clothes that revealed her figure because she didn’t feel comfortable in them and it was replaced by bigger and longer tops as well.

The last bit I want to share is about something which took me by surprise. A couple of months ago, my mom came over to visit me for a few days. We were walking back to my dormitory and the there were a few sisters walking ahead of us. I’m not sure if I have mentioned this before but I’m currently studying at an Islamic university thus the types of clothing we usually see is sisters with baggy abaya and khimar. I was telling my mom that the colour of the sister’s khimar is beautiful but left the part where ‘the khimar is beautiful too‘ out of the conversation because I know how she feels about it.

But then she said it. “The khimar is beautiful too. Do you want me to get it for you tomorrow?”. I was squealing in delight inside, completely taken aback by those words and thinking did my mom actually say that? I controlled my excitement and tried to reply calmly like it was no biggie, “Yeah sure, but just one will do”. The next day when she went out, she bought three different coloured khimars and told me, “Make sure you wear it to class”.

My intention for sharing these is not about my ‘journey to wearing niqaab’ or anything of that sort. The point I actually want to make is that dua changes the impossible to possible if Allah wills it. Several times when we make dua, myself included, we might not have that 100% trust in Allah SWT that it’ll change any of our situations. To those who do not believe, the thought of raising our hands and asking from a Higher being for help may sound incredulous but we Muslims, sometimes fall into that category too. We think, “how is it possible to get out of this problem. No one can help me and you want me to make dua?”; “How can I do this when there is no one supporting me?”.

The truth is, we lack trust in Allah SWT. We know He is there to help when we are in need, but we may think that it is only through our efforts and hard work will things get done. We only give credit to ourselves when we manage to achieve something or solve a problem. But it is only when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, then He comes to the picture as a last resort for help.

If you ask me five years ago, whether there will come a day where my parents will let me wear niqaab, I will tell you that that’s not possible. But I look back now and thought that I must have forgotten that Allah SWT is the controller of our hearts and situations. We think that we have everything within our grasp but the One with ultimate control over everything is Him. I don’t believe I put 100% trust in Him when I made dua seeing how my situation seemed bleak at that time but I knew I had no one to turn to for help except Him.

Whatever situation any of you are in right now, and you feel like there is no way out and no one to listen to you, make dua and be patient of a better outcome. Pray two rakaah for relief if something is distressing you and open the Qur’an when you are in need for answers. Our dependence and reliance is on Him to provide ease for our hardship, not on people and especially not thinking that only we can help ourselves.

Allahu Alam.

Final words from a dying man

Assalamualaikoum wa Rahmatullaah wa Barakaatuh,

Below is the transcript of the talk of Dr. Richard Teo, who was a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon but came to find out he had stage-4 lung cancer. He selflessly came to share his life experience. If you wish to watch the video instead of reading, the link is available below (you will see a big difference in how he looked in the video and how he did when healthy, in the picture below)

“Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I’ll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I’m a medical doctor. And I thought I’ll just share some thoughts of my life. It’s my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how…as you pursue this…embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.

Since young, I am a typical product of today’s society. Relatively successful product that society requires. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media… and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I’ve always be extremely competitive, since I was young.

Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colours award, national colours award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well. I was given a traineeship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.

So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there’s lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you’re aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it’s time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic… in town, together with a day surgery centre.

You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don’t. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it’s a no brainer isn’t? Why do you want to be a GP? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I’ll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we’re already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn’t blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.

So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I’ll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We’ll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We’ll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn’t out, it’s just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.

So what do I do after getting a car? It’s time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.

So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That’s me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.

Well, I was wrong. I didn’t have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it’s not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn’t accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans -positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like “Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I’ve reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.

This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I’ll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn’t? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.

See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of… You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no… No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn’t. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn’t, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..

You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.

Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn’t bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.

Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we’re still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it’s just a snail. If you can’t get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn’t it? What an irony isn’t it?

There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn’t. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department. When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren’t real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can’t wait to get home, I do my own stuff.

Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.

Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.

Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it’s fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn’t handle it.

Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.

A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me “hope”. We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.

Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that’s what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don’t ever have to do it.

Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we started to practise. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can’t wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can’t wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that’s a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don’t. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don’t, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.

We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don’t know how exactly they feel. I’m not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don’t think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don’t lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient’s shoes.

Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it’s not real to you, it’s real to them. So don’t lose it and you know, right now I’m in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don’t wish even your enemies to go through because it’s just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don’t even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it’s kind of little, too late.

You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don’t want to know that they exist.

So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I’m now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that’s why I am still able to talk to you today.

I’ll just end of with this quote here, it’s from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it’s the truth, this is what I’m going through.

Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you’re supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else’s life. Because true happiness doesn’t come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn’t turn out that way.

Also most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I’ve learnt.

So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I’ve had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn’t have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptised it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.

Few things I’d learnt though: 1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important. 2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, because God has blessed so many people with good wealth, but the trouble is, I think, a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I’ve gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshipping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.

We are all professionals, and when we go into private practise, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.

Anyway I think that I’ve gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.”

Dr Richard Teo said these words on Jan, 19, 2012. Just recently a few days ago on October, 18, 2012 he passed away.
Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umLkfADe17s

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Something for us to reflect on. ‘Live life to the fullest’ – We say this often but what do we actually understand from it? Does ‘living our life to the fullest’ consists of pursuing wealth, status and material objects but yet devoid of spirituality in it? Dr Richard is not a Muslim but his words serve as a reminder to us that chasing after this Dunya only bring temporary happiness but our relationship with God also play an important part of ‘living life to its fullest’.