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Thought for the week

Starting in December 2011, I have intermittently presented a two-minute "Thought for the week" on the Mike Shaft programme on Sunday mornings on BBC Radio Manchester.

The BBC require something light for a Sunday morning audience, but with real content. I cannot avoid composing my "Thought for the week" from a Muslim perspective, since my religion is an integral part of my personality. However I emphasise the commmonality of the Abrahamic faiths, rather than their divergences.

The texts below are listed with the newest at the top.

The importance of being selfish, to some degree
Many young people are so unselfish that their career aspirations focus entirely upon helping others. They should focus on taking care of themselves. As well as avoiding becoming a burden on others, becoming richer will enable them to help others more.
Fatalism is religious belief gone astray
Most Jews, Christians and Muslims believe, as I do, that our lives are in the hands of God. Unfortunately, some believe that the true statement “You will not die before your time comes” justifies mistreating their body, neglecting their health, and ignoring basic safety precautions. They misunderstand what religion teaches.
Why do we attend other faiths religious events?
Shared religious beliefs is only a small part of the answer. I believe the main reason is that attendance demonstrates your respect and love for other believers as fellow human beings.
Christians and Muslims should celebrate Passover
Passover reminds all believers in God of His power and His concern for all who worship Him. The Quran give the Passover story in detail. The precise way anyone chooses to remember Passover is up to them.
Having a religious belief helps you to succeed in life
Survey evidence shows that richer white Americans are far more likely to practice a religion than are poorer white Americans. Does being richer make you more religious, or does being religious make you more successful? I explain why I think religion helps you to succeed in life.
Making your New Year resolutions stick
To make a resolution work, it must really matter to you, and you must take action. Action that you can sustain permanently.
Seeing what you want to see in major events
What people say about 9/11 and its implications tells you much about how they see the world.
What Ramadan means to me
Muslims fast because God commands us to. However each of us has their own personal perspective on Ramadan. I used my 90 second "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester to explain that for me Ramadan is primarily an opportunity to reduce my external activities to spend more time on reading and reflection.
What makes us a nation?
Having a "Prayer for the Nation" presupposes that we know what a nation is. There are some simple requirements for becoming one nation. I used this as my "Thought for the Week" on BBC Radio Manchester. Very briefly, we become a nation from our sense of shared history, from thinking of all citizens as part of our extended family, and from only using the word "Us" to refer to all Britons.
The world is getting better, not worse
Worldwide, on average people are richer, better educated, and live longer and healthier lives. So why do so many people think that things are getting worse?
Political activity builds social capital
Social capital is built when people join organisations and take part in group activities. A particularly important such activity is joining a political party and voting to elect our government.
The paradox behind a happy marriage
Your choice of marriage partner should be made for entirely selfish reasons. However once you are married, you will only be happy if you behave very unselfishly. That paradox underlies having a happy marriage.
Helping others rewards you
The purpose of helping others is the unselfish one of helping them. However as well as spiritual benefits, there are usually tangible benefits for yourself. You will often learn something, or even just get some useful exercise. It can also be enjoyable.
What being a Muslim means to me
Religions are often reduced to lists of beliefs and practices. While valid, this approach misses something fundamental. The most important thing about a religion is how it affects your view of the world and the meaning of life. For me the most important aspect of Islam is personal accountability to God.
Why it is vital to learn history
An individual's memories give him his identity. Similarly a nation is held together by its collective memories of the past. That makes history a vital subject to study at school, and afterwards. If a people forget their history, or never learn it, they stop being one nation and become just a random collection of individuals who happen to live in the same country.
Achieving political change takes both vision and patience
Achieving major changes in society is possible but often take a long time. Many fail to realise this, causing them to become apathetic when they fail to achieve the desired changes immediately.
Stand for righteousness, not tribalism
Most of us are brought up to identify strongly with our family group, ethnic group and religious group. However God requires us to be just, even if we have to testify against ourselves or our kin. When there is conflict, we come under enormous pressure to "stand up for our side." That should be resisted.
Make yourself who you want to be
"Give me a child until seven and I will give you the man" say the Jesuits. It is partially true. However neither our genetic endowment nor past have to determine our future. We can change ourselves by deciding who we want to be and then taking action.
Control your life's direction
Success in life requires a balance between inner direction and responding to outside events. Taking up opportunities is normally a good thing to do. However you need periodically stop and take stock, to ensure that what you are doing supports your own strategic priorities.
Reduce the effect of "Confirmation bias"
Humans are good at finding evidence to confirm their existing views. We all suffer from it, and psychologists call it "Confirmation bias." However there are ways of reducing its impact so that we can think better and see the world more objectively.
Take care of yourself
It is easy to forget that you can achieve little without your health or if you are not around. That means it is essential to take care of your health and personal safety. Furthermore your life matters not just to you, but also matters to everyone you can help.
Avoid false modesty - it can lead you astray
To succeed, you need to accurately assess how good you are. False modesty is dangerous because you can end up believing it. That will lead you to under estimate your strengths.
Accept responsibility for your decisions
Our decisions lead to outcomes which are sometimes good and sometimes bad. Successful people accept that when they get bad outcomes, they made bad decisions, and they try to make better decisions in the future. However unsuccessful people tend to put the blame for bad outcomes elsewhere. Consequently they never learn to make better decisions.
To help others, make a success of your own life
Young people are often idealistic and want to help other people. They need to remember that your ability to help other people is much greater if you are successful and rich yourself. Nobody should feel guilty about concentrating on their own personal success and wellbeing.
Technology means that our writings will long outlive us
Historically most people left few written records. However the use of electronic media today generates vast amounts of writing that will be preserved indefinitely. This repository will be of immense value to future historians.
Be true to yourself
Many people adopt a false personality for interviews and other purposes. However being authentic and true to yourself is less effort than trying to adopt a fake persona. That reduces your stress levels with health benefits and extra ability to concentrate on work. Also being found to be deceitful seriously reduces your chances to succeed in life.
Religious rituals help us through life
All religions have rituals for specific occasions. While rituals are easily mocked, in reality they help people to share joy and to cope with tragedy. I was moved to write this piece after hearing a bereaved mother explaining on the radio how her friends avoided meeting her in the street. They didn't know how to talk to her about her terrible loss, and did not realise how their avoidance was hurting her. All she wanted from her friends was a hug and an affirmation that they cared.
Doing what is right instead of following the crowd
God giving the Law to Moses at Mount Sinai is a key event for Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While is easy to mock those Israelites who lost faith in Moses and began worshipping the golden calf, in reality many people find it easier to follow others instead of doing what is right.
Learn to say "No"
People like to hear the word "Yes." It means that turning down requests is often difficult. Success in life requires learning how to say "No" politely but clearly, instead of saying "Yes" and making yourself unhappy.
Choose words that unite people
Every day, we influence others when we speak with them. The words we choose to use can divide us from other people, or bring us together. I give some specific examples.
Living by principles and rules makes you happier
Unhappiness is sometimes due to personal tragedy, ill health or extreme poverty. However many people who should be happy are not. Often this comes from inability to decide what they really want. Strong personal principles and rules for living stop you making bad decisions and lead to you being happier. It does not matter whether these principles come from a religion or from elsewhere.
God's infinite love
Humans are used to things being limited. That makes infinity hard to think about. However God has unlimited love, and can give an unlimited amount of love and attention to each of us. I share a numerical analogy which has helped me to think about this.
Eid is for sharing
Some religious festivals are solemn and serious. Others are fun occasions. Solemn festivals will only appeal to believers of that faith. Fun festivals, like Eid ul Fitr, can be shared by everyone.
Humans are all one family
This "Thought for the week" broadcast was based upon a discussion that took place when I was speaking at the annual conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews on "Muslim Jewish relations in an increasingly secular Europe". As well as the text of my radio broadcast, the page includes the abstract for the conference workshop and the slides used for the presentation which focused on how Muslims and Jews can co-operate on issues that affect both communities.
Voting unites the country
Politics often creates strong emotions and is seen as disuniting people. However voting is a great national communal act and we need to remember that all politicians are loyal to their country.
To save one life is like saving all mankind
This quotation appears in the Quran and in the Talmud.Two years ago meet a kindertransport child made this quotation vividly real for me. Accordingly I based my second "Thought for the week" radio broadcast around it.
Reflections on the death of Svetlana Alliluyeva
Svetlana always bore the burden of being Stalin's daughter. While we are commonly judgemental about the children of "bad" parents, God never judges us except by our own actions and inactions.

 

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