Rays of Splendour


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Occupational hazard

As a Geographer and a Geography educator, one of the areas that I work closely with is the knowledge of Plate Tectonics. To be specific, a lot of the knowledge I deal with pertains to case studies on the impacts of tectonic hazards on a nation and society.

For instance in the years proceeding the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, a lot of the case studies and discussions we have would center around the tectonic processes that led up to the underwater earthquake and thereafter, the aftermath of the ensuing tsunami that resulted from it. The plethora of photos, videos and articles available in the world wide web have been useful for people like me as we sought to better understand the disaster and yet it can’t be denied that these same sources portray grim scenes of the disaster itself which does affect us more deeply than we wanted.

I never knew that this part of my work had affected me until last year when I visited places which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. The two places I visited – Yogyakarta and Bali – lie in a region that is at the boundary of destructive plate movements commonly associated to phenomenon like the formation of mountains and volcanoes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

I still remembered that increasing feeling of fear emerging inside me as my feet gradually took me closer to the coastline of Tanah Lot, Bali, and my senses picked up the deep sounds of waves rushing to the shore and thereafter breaking on the coast with an energy you knew would engulf you in an instant should it morph into a tsunami.

A glimpse of the waves as I approached the coast.

A glimpse of the waves as I approached the coast. One could even make out the wave height even from this distance which shows that those waves are not small!

Then as my eyes chanced upon the countless signboards detailing warnings that the area is a high risk zone in the event of a tsunami, I started to grow more worried. Things I’ve been studying, researching and teaching about seem to get too real. It’s not that they were not real before this it is just that there is a difference between reading about them in depth from the comforts of your home or office and to actually be physically there yourself right in the midst the hotspot. Experiential learning can really be such a powerful experience!

Thus on the one hand, I’m blown away by the natural landscape and features of the area and would like to spend more time exploring that place and taking in the sights. On the other, my mind kept on flashing images of the photos, videos and information about the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis and all I wanted to do was to get out of the place as soon as possible.

Part of the beauty that is Tanah Lot, Bali.

Part of the beauty that is Tanah Lot, Bali.

A signage indicating the route to take in times of evacuation. It is essentially redirecting people towards a place further inland and on higher grounds.

A signage indicating the route to take in times of evacuation. It is essentially redirecting people towards a place further inland and on higher grounds.

A map showing the areas most vulnerable to tsunamis. The zones that are most at risk are those shaded red and pink.

A map showing the areas most vulnerable to tsunamis. The zones that are most at risk are those shaded red and pink.

In fact in retrospect, I also realized that the knowledge regarding tectonic hazards had played a big role in the decision I made on where to stay while in Bali! Avid travellers to the place would usually recommend staying in one of the many villas or a location near to the beach. However I realized that the accommodation I finally chose was one that was many kilometers inland! Even then, I still worried every night right before I go to sleep whether I could wake up on time to escape in case an earthquake were to strike in the middle of the night. I mean, I have also worked with a lot of case studies in which an earthquake hits a place in the middle of the night and how those can be more disastrous as the people were unprepared….

And so, as that time of year for me to review those materials I have on Plate Tectonics arrives yet again, I’m reminded of the occupational hazards it brings. I used to disregard this term as I had immaturely presumed it would be something that would never happen to me. Alas, I guess I spoke too soon. Like they say, never say never.


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If you left Earth to meet God, would you come back?

This afternoon, I received an email with the subject line that says ‘If you left Earth to meet God, would you come back?‘. That header left me stumped for a while as it offered me a new perspective that I hadn’t considered before.

To put things into context, that email was actually an advertisement for an upcoming public lecture by Shaykh Ahmad Saad on the phenomenon of the Prophet’s pbuh night journey and ascent to Heaven. That journey, commonly known as the Isra’ Mi’raj, is observed on 27 Rejab (27th day of the seventh month in the Islamic calendar) and it marks an event where Allah swt takes the Prophet pbuh on a journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and eventually, Heaven.

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I’ve been related the story and the circumstances that led to this miraculous journey for quite a fair bit and each time I hear it being told again, I’m still as awed as I was the previous time I heard it. For now, I’m not going to go into the whole varying opinions of scholars on whether it is a physical journey or a spiritual experience. I feel that the technicalities aside, one should focus on the core messages and learning behind the journey which are far more important and enduring than debates on the nature of the journey.

For instance, one of the most moving lessons I derived from this journey is how loving and merciful the Lord is. The journey occurred at a time when the Prophet pbuh faced extreme adversity and hardship. During that year, the Prophet’s pbuh saw the passing of his beloved wife, Khadijah, as well as uncle, Abu Talib. It was also the year when the Muslim community in Makkah faced increasing harassment and oppression. Thereafter while seeking asylum at a nearby city, the Prophet pbuh received mockery for preaching the Message and was even driven out of that place.

Thus in light of these events, one of the most profound effects that the miraculous night journey had on the Prophet pbuh was to comfort and lift his heart. I don’t know about you but when I try to envision the situation from the Prophet’s perspective where I’m in a position where I faced the personal loss of people whom I love and concurrently, having to also deal with the oppression, resentment and negativities for preaching the Message, I would definitely feel very lousy inside. Then if in that moment when I’m feeling truly down, God Himself – the one whose Message I’m conveying to the people – lets me see the true beauty of the Message and all it entails as well as having the previous Prophets before me giving me advice, I’ll be motivated and uplifted. Hence in this aspect, the loving and merciful nature of God is one I gleaned from the journey. Of course I can never begin to even feel 1% of the emotions the Prophet pbuh must be feeling but the point I’m trying to make here is that the Lord comforts.

This journey is also a reminder of how we should place our reliance only on Allah swt alone. In moments when we are down or weak, we should have faith that He will come to rescue us from that condition; that with God, there is always a way out. Like how the Prophet pbuh exercised great patience and unfailing belief in Allah swt in the face of adversity, that too should be something we emulate in our lives.

Very often in the throes of our sadness or disappointment or when we face one challenge after another, we forget that the only One who can lift us again like none other could is Him. Sometimes, we get so lost in our emotions and the situation that we have difficulties getting back up again. However the reality is that not only is He able to lift us again, He also knows the exact thing to do to comfort and help us.

There are many other messages and learning as well however I realized that the one aspect which I’d neglected to consider out of this whole journey is this: After being taken to Heaven, how did the Prophet pbuh feel at the prospect of having to come back to Earth?

I wondered about myself too: If I left Earth to meet God, would I come back? This question speaks to me on two levels.

1) What is the degree of my attachment to this world?
2) How prepared am I for the eventual meeting with Him – that is, death?

It is at these moments that I start to realize just how inadequate I am in terms of obedience and submission to Him. It’s humbling, really, to reflect and realize these inadequacies.

Regardless, it’s better to realize this now then later, right? Realizing it now also means we can then take immediate steps to correct and improve ourselves in our journey to Him.

I pray that Allah keeps us in the shade of His faith, love and mercy always. Amin.

P.S. If you are keen to attend the public lecture mentioned earlier, below is more information about it:

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