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HomeWorks Excerpts

Fitness - Do you have it on your agenda?

Did you see him walk out around five p.m.?” Chairman Sahib asked me.

Chairman Sahib has founded 23 companies. As he is the chairman of them all, he is known as “Chairman Sahib”. With exports exceeding well over a billion rupees, his companies produce a wide range of products, all made in Pakistan.

That day he called me to find out about a potential candidate for the post of Chief Operating Officer (COO) at one of his companies. “I noticed on his CV that Maqsood* worked for Zelawn Corporation*. I remember that you have provided consultancy to the same organisation in the past, so I thought maybe you know him.” (* Names have been changed.)

When Chairman Sahib asks you a question, you answer accurately and later think about the reason behind the question.

So, very carefully, I replied, “Yes, I do.”

Immediately, he asked, “Did you see him walk out towards the end of the day? Was he still walking with his back straight?”

A few weeks later, I met him to ask the million dollar question, “What does “back straight” have to do with the post of a COO?”

Here’s what he told me:

“The daily productivity of a plant is calculated over a span of eight hours. For years, we were observing a decline in productivity. Our experts divided productivity per hour and found that a major drop took place after 3 p.m. We investigated further and found the cause.

It all starts from the top. The COO is the highest post we have at a plant. We noticed that around 2 p.m. the COO lost his stamina. He confined himself to his chair. The productivity of the whole plant came down exactly one hour later. So, in a way, the plant was more productive than the COO for one whole hour. We sat with the Human Resource Department and realised that our hiring criteria for a COO were flawed. We preferred candidates who had degrees from prestigious institutions with high GPA (Grade Point Average), and ignored the physical fitness of these individuals altogether. Since then, we conduct an investigation to find out how much vigour a candidate has towards the end of the day. We want a COO who is physically fit.”

I had one last question for him, “What are the chances of finding a qualified person with good physical fitness in this country?”

He replied, “One in a hundred. It’s terrible!”


Every day, I observe a lack of physical fitness wreaking havoc at corporate as well as individual levels. Hypertension and diabetes, top killer diseases, are direct results of lack of physical fitness. Relationship issues, aggression, depression and fears are intensified by poor physical condition. Almost half of all learning disorders and behavioural issues of children are caused due to a lack of physical fitness programs.

What really compounds the problem is not lack of awareness, rather the denial. I see people actually deny the fact that the problem (or disease) they have encountered is due to poor physical conditioning. A fitness program is not considered a part of treatment at all.

The problem is becoming worse. Now, we have young children suffering from diabetes, depression and ulcers. Just a decade back, these diseases were usually associated with people over the age of fifty. Children are getting asthma, itching and flu attacks more often. Physical aggression among children has doubled. Diarrhoea or constipation (or the two alternating), now disturb children’s daily routine more than ever.

So, what needs to be done?

The first step is to realise that fitness is important and exercising is good. The human body can function properly only when, besides proper diet and nutrition, it gets two kilometres of walk every day. Workout is as important as food, water and sleep, and much more important than messaging, attending parties and working for the top five positions in the class. We must remember that Rasulullah saw said, “A strong believer is better and is more lovable to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone; covet (i.e. be eager) for that which gives you benefit (in the Hereafter) and seek help from Allah and don’t lose heart,…” (Sahih Muslim). Thus, physical strength is an important aspect of being a strong believer, besides faith, knowledge, character, etc. The Prophet saw was a runner, an excellent swimmer, a skilled horse rider, a marksman, and a master wrestler. Walking long distances was routine for him. He even encouraged the Sahaba to partake in physical contests.

Unfortunately, our schools are merely grade-crunching machines. The whole body and mind development is not part of the “syllabus”. Physical fitness is not a “commercially attractive” proposition. However, annual sports days, which are held with a lot of pomp, are good business. Parents attending these sports events don’t realise that this is pretty much the only time their child is getting a workout in one whole year. Sports periods are generally just once a week, and even those are not organised. Recess, instead of providing physical fitness, is the worst time for children’s health – they rush to the canteen, buy junk, sit in a corner and eat.

When it comes to physical fitness, children who are homeschooled are at an advantage. They can get the daily dose of fitness regime, given the parents realise its importance and make it a must for their children. The opportunity to provide children with time for physical fitness is one of the prime advantages of homeschooling, and it must not be overlooked.

Before I give some tips, please remember a simple rule of physical fitness: There is NO rule. There’s no fixed time for a workout, you can do it anytime. You can do it in shalwar kameez; a track suit is not required for workouts. And more than anything, you don’t need special equipment for this purpose; a five-by-three feet space and a desire to workout are the only two things needed.

Here are some physical fitness ideas I have tried with my kids over the years and found to be fruitful.

• An early start to the day is important, more so for homeschoolers who are not required to run for a school van at a fixed time. Keeping pets help little children to get up early in the morning. Pets need exercise, so children have an exercise partner in the morning. This is very important for our culture, where adults consider exercising as a “kid’s stuff” and don’t accompany children for such activities. Running after a rabbit or a chick provides children with a good 20-minute workout. (Ed. Note: As the child grows, his bond with Allah swt in the form of Fajr prayer becomes the prime drive for early rising.)

• Aerobics is excellent. The space needed for this purpose is no bigger than a large sized prayer rug. Two steps forward to the right and one step backward to the left, then two steps forward to the left and one step backward to right is all one needs to do for ten to fifteen minutes a day to get in good shape. You can invent your own aerobics steps as well, for example, going sideways or in circles.

• Kicking a football against a wall over a hundred times is effective. Don’t have a ball, no problem, use a tennis ball. Don’t have that? Make a ball out of newspaper, wrap it with scotch tape or common thread and you are ready to “play” against the wall. If you live in an apartment and think jumping might annoy the neighbour downstairs, get a badminton racket and use that paper ball to play “ballminton”. Don’t have a racket? No problem, use the cover of an old register or try a flat, rice serving spoon.

A twenty to forty minutes workout per day is sufficient to maintain good physical fitness. Make this a part of your daily life. And remember, when it comes to exercising, children do it when they see you doing it. So instead of advising, get up and do it; the kids will follow shortly, in sha Allah.

The suggestions I have made are for small living spaces with little opportunity to go out. I have done so in the light of the circumstances in which most of us are living today. However, if you have access to a pool, Karate training, badminton court or a park, then make the best use of those facilities. Such facilities are blessings of Allah swt; take advantage of them, if not for your then for the sake of your children’s health and fitness.

Rayed Afzal, Managing Director, EAST (Educational Assessment Systems and Training) is an educational psychologist, counsellor, trainer and author.


School Curriculum: An Educational Psychologist's Perspective

"Pole Post" is a term commonly used in the Pakistan Army. Like other terms coined by commoners, its origin is an interesting tale.

It was some time in 1970 during the monsoon season when electric current began running through a pole in one of Pakistan's cantonment areas. It killed two soldiers and injured others. The electricity department was unable to fix the problem till the rain subsided and requested the Commanding Officer to post a soldier in front of the pole till it dried. The CO immediately issued an order and created a post – later known as the Pole Post – to ensure that a soldier would guard the pole 24 hours a day "until further notice".

The rain stopped three days later and the pole dried, allowing the concerned workers to climb it and fix the problem.

You might think that that was the end of the story, but it was not. The said CO received his transfer order at that time and forgot to remove the post before leaving. The new CO took over a week later and continued with the “tradition” of stationing a solider next to the pole.

30 Years – Unquestioned

This went on not for one, nor two, but some thirty years. You read it right: THIRTY! The purpose of the post was not questioned. Imagine, three eight-hour shifts every 24 hours. One solider replacing the other, in front of the pole, his M16 hanging on his shoulder. Come rain or snow, war or peace, a soldier would be there, efficiently, diligently guarding. Guarding what? No one knew, not the soldier on duty, not the Subedar who sent him, not the Commanding Officer, not even the Army General!

As the story goes, thirty years later, an army officer “dared” to investigate the purpose of this post. After ploughing through records, he tracked down the long-retired CO who created the post. When the obsolete purpose was finally recalled, the higher authorities were informed that the post was no longer needed.

But wait… the story was still not over. The thirty-year-old tradition was not to be eliminated in a jiffy. A board of enquiry had to be established to authorise the post’s end. A letter from the highest command informed the local unit to end the post. Then and only then did the “tradition” of the pole post cease to exist.

A Tragic Analogy
If you find the pole post story amusing, you’ll love the next blunder – it involves many more years and people!

It was the late 19th century. The British owned the goose that laid the golden eggs and dreamt of owning it for the next 1,000 years. While you need an army to control the “present” of a nation, you need education to grip its future. The British knew their target, so to reach the 1,000 year mark, they focused on two things: schools and syllabus.

Enroll the indigenous in your schools, provide them education through your syllabi and Eureka! You have the chemistry to rule an entire nation.

How? Engage young minds in a syllabus that sucks the ability to think critically or creatively – and you have people who know only one thing: serving their masters. Once mental control and cultural domination are in place, and their conscience and creativity are killed, rest assured, you may continue to oppress a people for an infinite number of years.

For the British, unfortunately, the rest was not assured. In came the Germans and Japanese, looking for a piece of the pie. After the Second World War, the British had to free their colonies, resulting in the emergence of Pakistan.

With independence, came the “Pole Post” of education. From 1947 to this day, the Pakistani people have not dared to question the quality and purpose of the syllabus that the British introduced. Most school-going children still do little more than memorise irrelevant facts and figures. The system is not intended to develop the core skills of social studies or science, the life skills that make us better people, or the writing crafts that could make us more creative and expressive.

An Exercise in Futility
Our syllabus is severely flawed – it does not enable a student to compose even a hundred words of inspired writing. After twelve years of language studies, our students cannot write a letter they have not rote memorized, a story they have not read, nor an essay they have not copied from the blackboard.

For many years now, we have debated about the negative aspects of our curriculum. Yet we have missed a simple question: Why is our syllabus deprived of competencies?

Without clearly-targeted competencies, the process of teaching and learning becomes an exercise in futility. If competency means "the sufficiency to satisfy the wants of life", then a student’s development should be gauged by the competencies – the knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviours – he has acquired, rather than the amount of text he has memorised and then reproduced in an annual exam.

Unfortunately, most school books were never written with that intention. Since there isn’t a set of identified competencies, no pilot-testing is performed by the authors. Once in the teacher’s hands, the book merely becomes a collection of text that has to be memorised.
For over 60 years now, every morning Pakistani children dress up to go to school. Under the strict supervision of school management, their teachers instruct them for no less than six hours. The children are then loaded with homework which they attempt to complete at home, independently or under the supervision of a tutor.
The school management, teachers and tutors have a purpose: to make a living.

As for the students and their families: their situation remains a largely unquestioned post, much like the pole post…

Rayed Afzal, Managing Director, EAST (Educational Assessment Systems and Training) is an educational psychologist, counselor, trainer and author. His publications include stories for children, text books and more than 30 teacher training and parental guidance programmes. He specialises in remedial reading programmes, career counseling and basic education. More about EAST on http://www.eastonline.com.pk/

Home is where the Deen is!

An interview with a unique family which lived in five different countries while searching for a conducive land to raise their children on strong Islamic grounds. Umm Danyaal and Abu Danyaal speak to HomeWorks about various critical aspects of learning and parenting in the following interview.

Umm Danyaal, you have 4 children, aged between 7 and 18. What put you onto the homeschooling path?
When my eldest, Danyaal, was a few years old, he was very clever ma sha Allah and picked things up really quickly. We would teach him the numbers, alphabet, colours, shapes etc. and small Surahs. I really enjoyed seeing him learn and decided to try my best to homeschool him. Zeinab, two years his junior, picked up a lot just watching and listening. It was easier to homeschool her as I was able to use the same methods and was somewhat experienced by then.

We made a routine like a typical school day in England (where we lived then). They would wake up early, tidy their rooms, have breakfast, and be ready at9 amsharp. They would cover some subjects, take a 15-minute break, then continue until lunchtime when I made sure they played in the garden. This would give them a chance to be refreshed for further lessons. After lunch, they would resume their studies until about3 pm.

Teaching them one-to-one was so beneficial – they were both well ahead of their peers. Homeschooling continued until we moved to Yemen in 2005. Maryam, the third one, was 5 months old then. Abdullah was born the following year and I had my hands full. Maryam was quite demanding and had a few health issues. I was studying whilst in Yemen, so I sent the younger two to kindergarten. This gave me time to study and gave them some play time.

Abdullah (now 7) and Maryam weren't homeschooled until recently. Abdullah has some lessons at the Islamic Centre here in Malaysia, but his home studies are done with me. Maryam is homeschooling. Danyaal and Zeinab help in teaching other families Quran and Arabic and are learning new things themselves.

What were you striving for when you embarked upon homeschooling?
To raise my children upon that which is pleasing to Allah swt. To us, this meant giving our children all that was required for their Dunya and Aakhirah. I wanted them to grow up learning their Deen and implementing it totally in their lives.

You must have been a pioneer of sorts, a Muslim homeschooler 18 years ago in the UK. Was that a daunting undertaking?
At that time, our family and friends thought it was illegal but we knew exactly what we were doing, having enquired about all the 'ins and outs'. People were not supportive initially and we never had any ‘like-minded’ company – sadly, this remains so even today in the UK.

What were your early years of homeschooling like?
Quite challenging! Resources were limited unlike today, and I didn't know any homeschoolers.

One of the most important things in homeschooling is to make a routine and stick to it. My children were very young at that time. Danyaal, then 3½, attended a Muslim kindergarten briefly, but I was unhappy with it. I decided that I could do the teacher’s job, probably better too. I would teach my children in a comfortable environment and was in a better position to decide what they should learn and what to keep out.

Apart from academics, they learnt Quran reading and memorising, basic Arabic, art and craft and baking. Danyaal learnt swimming and martial arts. They had a keen interest in birds, so we had set times for bird-watching. We would take them on a weekly field-trip to nature reserves, animal parks or reservoirs and they would do a project on what they had learnt.

What sort of resources did you rely upon then?
I followed the schools' curriculum – we purchased all the books and aids. I printed off extra worksheets in areas that needed support and assigned them as homework during their free time. We visited the local library regularly as well. The Local Education Authority made regular visits to our house to check on the children’s progress. They would chat to the children and, from their responses, ascertained that along with receiving a good all-round education, they were more than happy studying at home.

So, you were raised in the UK and raised your children there for a time. You made the bold move to migrate to Yemen. Why?
Before our first child was born, we both became more interested in Islam. We would attend Islamic lectures / classes and started to practice our Deen properly. Living in the land of the Kuffar, we would often be mocked and verbally abused because of the way we dressed. When our children arrived, we wanted to give them the correct tarbiyah. We kept them away from many things to protect them but outside they would see obscene billboards, people drinking alcohol publicly and so much more. It was not a place we wanted to live in. We went for Umrah a few times and the children would see all the Muslims around them and hear the Adhan – we all loved it so much. We knew we had to look for a better place and so, our search began.

We visited a few Muslim countries and we all liked Yemen. It is a very nice, simple place with very courteous and humble people. The society in Sana'a felt perfect – no fitnah to be seen or heard. The Masjid was our focal point and the other foreigners were all there for the same reasons. It was also easy to obtain a yearly residence visa then.

What was homeschooling like in Yemen?
It was minimal as the children had full-time programmes in the Masjid learning many Islamic subjects. They were memorising texts related to the sciences of Quran, as well as Hadith and much more. We intended to keep up with academics, but they so enjoyed their Islamic studies that academics took a far back seat.

We had to leave Yemen after 4 years due to visa issues.

It must have been difficult...
We all felt Yemen was our home because we had lived there for so long. We were benefitting greatly from the classes and had made many good friends – people who had embarked on the same journey, who had left the lands of disbelievers to live in the Muslim land.

Leaving Yemen was sad and difficult, but we had to be patient because it is what Allah swt decreed for us and He tells us in the Quran that after every hardship there are two eases. We would love to return there one day if Allah swt wills.

You then moved to Egypt briefly. What was it like?
We didn't want to return to England, so we went to Egypt. Alhamdulillah it was okay. It was so different from Yemen and difficult to get used to. After some discussion, we left for Pakistan (our homeland) and later moved to Malaysia.

You lived in Pakistan for 2 years before leaving for Malaysia earlier this year. What kept the children busy in Pakistan? What took you to Malaysia?
Danyaal took computer courses at private institutes in Islamabad. Zeinab continued her studies at home and attended sewing classes. I sent the younger two to school but, on hindsight, regret it. Maryam has learning difficulties and we had thought that school and children’s company would help her. We enrolled her in various schools only to be let down completely. We could not get the support we needed and this left us feeling very frustrated and disappointed. Here in Malaysia, Maryam is homeschooled. It is not easy, but we don’t think any school will give her the time, effort or support that she needs or deserves.

Malaysia has allowed us to return to homeschooling as well as the Islamic cultivation of our whole family. Malaysia is very disciplined. It has aspects we don't like but it has many which suit us. We live in a beautiful, quiet place compared to the rest of Malaysia. This was a main reason for choosing to come here.

Your two older children completed Hifz during this time. How would you compare learning Quran and Arabic in the different countries that you lived in?
A lot of patience and perseverance is required in everyday dealings with people in different countries. My older two had started their Quran reading and Hifz at home with me. Danyaal and Zeinab continued with excellent teachers in Yemen, who both have Ijazahs. Danyaal almost completed his Hifz in Yemen and Zeinab did a lot there, completing it in a Quran school in Egypt.

Classical Arabic was spoken widely in Yemen and this is what we learnt. When we moved to Egypt, they spoke a different dialect and also pronounced some letters totally differently which was strange. In Pakistan, many people speak Arabic with an Urdu pronunciation. Yemen was the best place for learning – everything was done totally for Allah’s swt sake. No fees were taken and so there was barakah in it.

Abu Danyaal, homeschooling is, more often than not, executed by the mothers. What should fathers keep in mind when preparing for homeschooling? What is your role?

Don't be distracting. Give input and take the time to involve yourself where required. Show appreciation.

My role is to encourage both mother and children. Where the mother does not have the means to do something, it is essential for the father to make sure he does. I feel it is just an extension of the father’s duties.

How did you find male company for your eldest throughout the years and how did you groom him for his eventual responsibilities outside the home?
I would take Danyaal out with me whenever I went to meet brothers. He has grown up around brothers much older than himself. I wanted him to see and experience how people other than his immediate family live. He gained many benefits from this. He would also meet boys of his age and other ages at the Masjid. This was where he mixed with other children.

Umm Danyaal, tell us about learning opportunities in Malaysia. Are you in touch with homeschoolers there?
No, we are not. Learning here is done mainly via a ‘Markaz’ in which we all participate. We are amid like-mined people from amongst the locals and a few foreign families.

What is your advice for families considering Hijrah for Allah's swt sake. Any other tips regarding homeschooling and parenting?
(a) We advise everyone, especially those who have the ability and means, to make Hijrah. Firstly, it is wajib. The Prophet (saw) said that hedisowns every Muslim who settles among the Mushrikeen. (Abu Dawood)Secondly, when you do something for Allah’s swt, He will make it easy for you.
(b) Advice to parents: Take control of what your child is going to learn. Make the Quran a priority and in sha Allah you will find that Allah swt makes everything easy. When you memorise the book of Allah swt sincerely for His sake, you will find the affairs of the Dunya become so easy. We personally saw and still see this with our older children.

Other tips:
· Make a good plan and stick to it.
· Don't knock yourself in regards to your ability.
· Use the tonnes of resources so readily available over the net and in stores.
· Lastly – actually, firstly! – place your trust in Allah swt and go forward. With Allah swt is all success!

Danyaal and Zeinab, you're old hands at moving now. How did you cope with these changes and continue to manage your studies and Hifz?
The first time we moved, we looked forward to it as it was going to be a new experience and a big change. We were happy in Yemen and preferred it to England. We studied many different topics and made many friends. When we moved again, we had to change our study and Hifz programme. In some countries, the Hifz and revision improved and gradually became easier, whilst in others, it became weaker as there were fewer opportunities to learn and not much encouragement. In the end, we always had our parents' encouragement and support. May Allah swt reward them for their efforts and hard work.

What are your interests and your plans for the future?
We like memorising and studying new topics, and discussing them with others. We want to continue seeking knowledge so it brings us closer to Allah swt, and be successful in this world and the Hereafter. We want to benefit others with what we have learnt.

Having a piece of paper to show a qualification is not important to us. We have learnt so many things Alhamdulillah, but don't feel the need to prove this to anyone. Many people ask us what qualifications we have, or if we did this exam or that. The book of Allah swt is the most important thing to learn and we don't need a certificate to show others when we have memorised it, so why should we need one for academic subjects.

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