Conversations on the Ark

Once upon an Ark
Towards a Meaningful Life

Once upon a time there lived in the vibrant city of Singapore a small community comprising members from many diverse ethnic, cultural and professional backgrounds. But they were bound together by one common factor – their love for the Prophet s.a.w. and Ahlulbayt a.s.  It was for this reason perhaps that around 40 of them had boarded a virtual Ark on a sunny Friday morning in the month of January 2019.

They were keen to interact with each other in a way that not only satisfies the human urge to socialise but that also helps their self-improvement efforts in terms of leading a meaningful life – a life that pleases their Creator.

They understood the benefits of a forum that enabled like minded members to learn from and be motivated by each other and create synergy (two heads are better than one). They knew that each of us has to carry out our own jehad e nafs through continuous learning, self-building and good deeds. Doing alone at home is one way but together one can achieve much more.

Our Goals
Embracing the Straight Path

ULTIMATE GOAL: To become close to Allah swt 

ACTION STEPS: Promote brotherhood and help each other in the group as well as all other fellow human beings:
1. To worship Allah swt with understanding (ma’refat) and sincerity in order to become deserving of His guidance.
2. To acquire Quranic and other relevant knowledge and skills and act on it with humility in order to become deserving of His gift of wisdom.
3. To love, learn from, and follow our Prophet saw and Ahlulbayt as and attract others to them by reflecting in ourselves their good character and morals (akhlaaq). And to prepare actively for reappearance of Imam Mehdi ajfs
4. To strengthen our belief (emaan), do good deeds and enjoin truth and patience in order to escape from the loss mentioned in Surah Asr.

How it came About?

Four of us had formed a whatsapp group to handle logistics of an outing with our respected Maulana AH during his visit to recite in Singapore. Some time later, Maulana made an offer we could not refuse. He asked if we wanted to be his reading partners. Surely this was an opportunity not to be missed – an opportunity to benefit from his cutting edge Islamic studies.

This enticing offer came at a time when some of us were feeling the absence of an actively managed group in our community that is focused on spiritual self-improvement of members. A group that works for unity among all shia in Singapore, encourages attendance at our madressah, at AECC and other centres, motivates more of us to volunteer. A group which generates creative ideas to attract youth to come together, learn, form friendships and be able to swim against the tides of these dangerous times – tides that mislead young minds through tempting offers and manipulation through internet and ungodly media.

And so, we expanded the group. It has members of both genders who belong to various shia organisations in Singapore as well as a few from outside Singapore.

Membership has grown from a handful to 69 (as of Oct 2021). We built a virtual Ark to take us on our life’s journey. After all, man is  just a  traveller on this earth. Sent here for a short stay to strive hard and pass the tests of life and return, in sha Allah, to a heavenly eternal abode at the end of the journey.

An Ark provides a sense of journeying as well as a feeling of coziness, bonding, peace and tranquility amidst the blue ocean and cool breezes. Imagine the blessings one can look forward to from the great company on board – from insightful discussions and sublime duas to virtual congregation prayers on its deck to the ability to sail to other countries. (arkians have already visited Marawi as guests of our arkian Sheikh CD and look forward to being hosted in other countries).

And so, the Ark of Ahlulbayt Lovers, dedicated to our beloved Prophet s.a.w. and his Pure Household (collectively referred to as Ahlulbayt a.s. in this book) and dedicated especially to Imam of our time, Imam Mahdi Atfs, set sail on a Friday in January 2019. 

Our Values

CORE VALUES:
1. Treat others as you would like others to treat you.
2. Do not judge others. Allah swt is the Judge. He has not delegated this duty to us.
3. Do not make promises you cannot keep. Avoid excuses once a promise is made.
4. Look for ways to bond as a close family-like group, help each other (unity in diversity)
5. Frank and candid communication. Positive strokes (no taunts, personal attacks, egoistic behaviour)
6. Quality in all we do (compliance with requirements, doing right the first time, zero defects)
7. Share useful experiences and knowledge. Silence is good but not in all circumstances. (hadith about sharing being the zakat of knowledge we are blessed with)
8. Enjoy the learning and sharing and the ups and downs … journey is often more exciting than the destination
9.Time flies. Do not waste this precious gift (if the group is not adding value to our self-improvement we should actively help in restructuring and rectifying the deficiencies in the group)
10. Strive for Continuous Improvement (hadith about man being in loss if two days are the same)
11. Become street-wise, gain access to tactics of the enemy to find ways to defend our faith.
12. Change is inevitable. Become the leaders of change that elevates us as the best of creation. Do not become followers of change presented by evil forces that leads to eternal damnation in hell.

Our Main Priority/Concern:
Protecting ourselves and especially our children and youth from attacks of the enemy. These are intensifying by the day, sometimes invisible, using sophisticated technology, psychology, fake news, temptations and brainwashing by the ungodly media. An indication of the severity of this issue is that the talk we used to hear about islam growing fast and converting others is heard less these days. More and more we hear and worry about questions like: will my children be affected by the LGBT movement, will they even be muslims when they grow up or will they join the ex-muslim groups sprouting up.

FIRST THREE MONTHS

We finalised Goals, Action Steps and Core Values and had serious discussions on the priorities like youth issues and low attendances at AECC events. We read and exchanged views on 5 books including 3 led by Maulana. Learnt about priming and more in Blink, about inevitability of change and coping mechanisms in Who Moved the Cheese, about aiming for spiritual perfection and helping others and much more in Jonathan Livingston, about existence of God, parenting and youth issues in Journey to Fact and about spirituality in a book on Irfan. .

During the first 3 months, activities also included a daily segment to help us get into the habit of starting each day in the most beautiful and productive way. Is there is a better way to feel spiritual joy than during salat at the serene and soulful time of fajr. And that too amidst the blue sea, the soothing sound of water as it touches the Ark, the sweet tweets of the birds, the morning breeze kissing the cheeks as we bow down together in sajda to our Rabb, the Merciful Lord?

During those initial months, the first post of the day by admin appeared early every morning. Following is an example:

“DAY 27 Wednesday on the Ark of Ahlulbayt Lovers
Salaam to all Arkians
We start the day in the name of Allah swt, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.
And what better way to start the day than by doing fajr salat in time and with presence of heart, dua and actions to hasten the reappearance of our Imam ajfs and praying for all oppressed in the world. Then collecting some gems from the best book and hadith and duas. Today’s gifts we just received with a click on Daily Dose of Islam in our website…

This is followed by study of two pages of the Quran by admin and a post highlighting important verses

Rest of the day is for posts from everyone, book discussions etc.

Arkians were urged to come up with themes and posts that suited their interests and expertise. Ideally these can best be described as ones that will help each other in our self improvement (our own jihad e nafs) and hence related to achieving our goals, action steps and in particular the internalising of our core values such as good aklaaq, effective communications skills, unity, bringing sincerity, quality and ma’refat into our worship. Anything that makes us better muslims to an extent that we can become deserving of guidance from Allah swt.

 
Swimming Against the Tide 
Firm Resolve Pays Off  

An arkian brother related this true story which has lessons for all.

A group of 20 year olds who had recently graduated were chatting in the canteen of the college in an asian city. It was one of their last gatherings as they made plans to go their different ways in life after B.Com. Some said they want to start their own business. Others said this would involve lot of unethical practices including having to bribe all and sundry to get anything done. The former replied that if you join a company, the bosses there will make you do the same dirty practices. Why benefit the bosses instead of your own business. The youngest of them, a naive youth (ny), not at all street-smart, with “unemlpoyable” written all over him, piped up and said: “ If in this country there is no way to make an honest living I will leave and find a job in another country where I am not asked to bribe ” There was silence and some giggles and the conversation moved on to other things.

Ny came from a very very poor family. Was surprised at himself for saying what he said but felt as if he had always wanted to earn that way. So he decided to own it. Made a firm intention to pursue honest livelihood like his father and uncles and do whatever it takes to get there.

Allah swt made it possible for him to study further in London by granting his poor but honest father an overseas assignment. Ny worked there for about 7 years as a trainee and qualified professional without having to adopt any unethical practices. Was able to get a transfer to his firm’s affiliate when he wanted to return to his home town. He knew that even in this corruption ridden city, this largest public accountant’s firm, owned entirely by muslim professionals, did not indulge in corrupt practices. Ethically oriented companies – some of the largest local and many MNCs tended to be clients of this firm in those days.

Implementing policies like no bribes to be paid was not easy for the firm but it was doable. Example: Most Income tax officers demand bribes under threat of disallowing genuine expenses and increasing tax liability by millions. Knowing that his firm does not bribe, our NY had to face difficulties. When they summoned him to be there at 10am to discuss the client company’s tax returns, they made him sit till noon on wooden benches outside their room while the bribe payors were ushered in as soon as they arrived. They were served tea, and there would be sound of laughter and chit chat from the room. Ny would sit outside sweating from heat and feeling angry. The client’s tax return would be called fake, heavy fake tax liability would be imposed. The firm would then file appeal at several levels to get the tax reduced with varying degrees of success.

Having reached the partner level and desiring a change to less stressful living, ny agreed to get head hunted into a company that he knew to be ethical. He used to be in charge of auditing and tax for this company and was very impressed with their Business Ethics Policy and he loved these two sentences in it: “We do not want liars as managers. Even if the law is permissive, we will choose the course of highest integrity” (e.g. even if law allowed the company to pay a supplier within 90 days and he could not sue before that, the company would pay him within 30 days if it finds that an employee had inadvertently promised to pay within 30 days). Ny was personally involved in demoting and firing many competent employees for non compliances of Ethics Policy such as paying bribes. He was transferred to another country after 4 years where he worked another 15 years in a corrupt free setting until his retirement.

Lesson for the youth: Aim high. Do not give in to unislamic practices even if most are doing it. With determination and hard work and duas and trust in Allah swt, nothing is impossible.

White Paper on Effective Shia Youth Programs
Self Improvement - for Adults
Sharing by arkians

God will always try to wake one up during a person’s mid-life, which is between the ages of 35 and 45.
This call comes in different forms. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes when you hear a good sermon, sometimes a crisis, sometimes a tragedy.
All these ways are to pull you back so that you can prepare yourself for your return to God.
Some people are able to catch these messages but others fail to see it.
The obstacles that stop us from concentrating in meditation are as follows:

1. Attachment to material things. The more things we have the more we need to take care of it.
Our time and energy is wasted in maintaining these things. The possessions take us over. We become slaves to our possessions. So the trick is to draw a line between our needs and our desires.
We can make our lives very simple by only having what we absolutely need.

2. Attachment to our relationships. Learn to keep a little detached from your relationships.
The children that are born through you are not your possessions. You give them love and guidance but they are Gods souls.
If you were to lose anybody in your life – you should be prepared to accept it.
Enjoy and be peaceful with your relationships but when it ends – let it go.

3. Attachment to your body. We spend so much time and energy to make ourselves look different than how we are.
We should be comfortable with ourselves.
If we are possessed with how we look – that becomes a hindrance (difficulty).

4. Attachment to Wealth. Accumulation of wealth for the purpose of hoarding it is not part of any religion.
Use what you need and share what is excess.
When we are busy just making money so that we can accumulate, we have no time for anything else. There is no satisfaction and that ties us down.

5. Attachment to the past. When people have hurt us in the past, we can’t seem to shake it off.
We carry the anger with us in the present.
That anger takes us over. When we forgive we do ourselves a justice. We free ourselves.
Therefore, don’t waste time and energy into things that have happened in the past.
In fact, when someone hurts you – feel it for few minutes and then let go.
Do you keep garbage in your house or you take it out?
Similarly, remove all anger and throw it out.
Finally, “When you run after the world, the world never comes into your hands”.
The day you learn to detach (separate) yourself from this world and concentrate on your spiritual enlightenment that’s when the world will come after you.
But you will have no need for that world because you have found peace and tranquility (calm).

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