Art of dealing with exam agony

Originally published in Gulf News “Off the Cuff” on 26th August 2013. Late upload… sorry guys

Gladly, my exam papers wren't quite so blank !

Gladly, my exam papers wren’t quite so blank ! 🙂

There are some moments in life when you feel an overwhelming sense of relief. In particular, the relief felt after you finish your last exam is something special.

As I exited the examination hall after being done with my finals at last (smirking as I walked past the invigilators who had looked so intimidating only hours earlier) all I could think was: “I am a free human being again! It’s over!”

I relate the experience to the culmination of a long and demanding pregnancy, at the end of which the baby, which had hitherto been a happy and active resident of your ever-increasing belly, finally decides to make a move. It’s another matter that raising the child itself is another, even tougher exam, but I suppose you get the gist.

The weeks after the exam — when one is waiting for the results — are pure agony. Sometimes, the results are more distressing than the waiting period, whilst sometimes the grades one gets are a big relief.

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For me, Maths was consistently a leading cause of pain (calculus, my teacher and the thick textbook were all beyond my comprehension), whilst subjects such as English language, literature and Urdu made my school life look somewhat respectable.

I was in awe of my more able peers who were completely disappointed with their results: “Can you believe I got 91 per cent in Maths? There’s no way I lost 9 per cent! There has to be a problem with this!”

Statements such as this would come from those scholarly souls who would have, in a most frenzied air, claimed right before the Economics exam that “I studied the Macro chapters only twice! I read all the others three times, hopefully we won’t get a question on macro!”

This statement, said to someone like myself, who had barely gone through the book not too long ago, over strong, black coffee, was hardly comforting.

I’m recounting all this because I recently went back to school after a long break, and took my teacher training exams, and attempted to do a Bachelors as well.

Weeks before the exams I was filled with a strange anxiety. The stress was so great that after every 30 minutes of studying I would require roughly 25 minutes of entertainment to compose myself and stave off a nervous breakdown. That Sigmund Freud’s notorious stages of infantile sexuality were punctuated with an episode of Friends was not merely coincidence, but a careful plan, which I am sad to admit, did not work particularly well.

I suppose I should pass, (hopefully!), but I am sure I could have done a better job if Chandler, Ross and Co hadn’t eaten into my limited time available for studying. I told my father about my unique studying plan after the papers and I found him chuckling with delight because apparently, I had carried on the family tradition. Pray what, Dad, is this family tradition? I asked.

It turns out that dad was to appear for his Chartered Accountancy finals. The past four years had been enjoyed thoroughly by a young man with an insatiable appetite for fun, who was busy discovering the vibrant city of London and beyond. Studying, predictably enough, was rather low in his list of priorities.

Right before the finals he enrolled for an exclusive crammer course during which students were directed to take classes for the subjects they were weak in. Looking into his syllabi, he realised he needed to revise every single subject.

To give himself some peace of mind at such a nerve-wracking juncture in life, he indulged himself by smoking heavily, reading a multitude of Agatha Christie mysteries and taking whatever classes he could. And finally when the crammer course was done, he decided he needed to “let the dust settle down” (Dad, was it the lessons or was it Agatha Christie?) and for three days straight, he watched movies!

Then he took his exams and surprising managed to clear the finals in his first attempt. He wasn’t the only one wide-eyed. On the day after the results, he received a letter from one of his professors. It read:

“Dear Mr Rehman,

In the list of candidates that have successfully passed the examination there appears to be a name very similar to yours. Could it possibly be you?”

Dad wrote back with a response that was characteristically tongue-in-cheek and somewhat audacious.

I’ll sign off with a little prayer that I will clear my exams too, content in the knowledge that my study habits are but a genetic hand-me-down, that will, hopefully not pass on to my girls!


Which night? Can’t really be sure! Let’s redouble our efforts!

As Ramadan creeps away, I know just one thing… we can’t really ever be sure about things like Laylatul Qadr…. Different for different time zones, very ambiguous, can’t really say whether we have rays or not! Which means only one thing — lets redouble our efforts for the last moments of Ramadan!

You never really know about stuff like Al Qadr do you? What if 27th Ramadan is a rayless sunrise in some parts of the world? What if the 25th looked this way because of the clouds? Then if God Forbid, I haven’t spent the real Laylatul Qadr night in the right way, I know I’m going to feel like the biggest loser EVER! May Allah guide us, Ameen.

Guys, its Ramadan slipping away. Make the most of it. It could be the change your life (and mine!) needs. And for now, at least, I am removing the sunrise pictures from my blog. Hope you understand.


Scroll below for some pearls of wisdom on this whole sunrise thing… thanks to the Shaykh

Dua for Laylatul Qadr

Dua for Laylatul Qadr: Allahumma Innaka Afuun, Tuhibbul Afwa, Fa’fu Anni

Let’s not worry about the sun… and worry about our sins!

By Shaykh Abu Eesa

Just a quick note but signs or ‘alamaat or their amaarah are signs. That’s all. It doesn’t necessitate the kind of sun-spotting culture that we’ve seen develop recently. We have nothing from the Salaf to suggest such actions and it amazes me that people would think that our Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) who locked himself in the Masjid for these ten nights was busying himself outside trying to justify to himself what just happened when his actions showed everything to the contrary. The Night is *sought* not by looking at the signs but by increasing in ‘ibadah throughout the nights. ALL the nights, as I explained in my lecture previously.

Also people really don’t have a clue what they’re looking for. In cities, with light pollution, never looked at the Sun before until that night and suddenly becoming an expert on its rays, using a plethora of different cameras which all have various lenses and filters which affect the picture you see etc etc. This is not how our Deen works. It works on effort. Follow. The. Sunnah. We don’t have a single report of our forefathers getting publicly excited by what might have happened the night before. Instead we saw them more and more determined to keep at it.

Also you are opening a door which shouldn’t be opened in front of the basic masses. Your Sun looks great, but what about mine? It’s thunder there and I’m sunning it here. I feel terrible and restless (was that a lack of sleep?) and you’re feeling so chilled and relaxed in your city (you would if you slept all day!). So it was Laylat’l-Qadr for you, and not for me? Have you seen when folks started asking such questions to those who spread this new culture, there’s silence. Why? Because they don’t have an answer. This is not the Sunnah and anything which is not the Sunnah will always cause more confusion and depression than actually following the Sunnah. Some things are just meant to be read, believed in and move on. We know that Allah jalla wa ‘ala descends from above His throne every last part of the night. My night or your night? 24 hr descending? The Sun makes Sajdah every day, that’s why we don’t see it. Making Sajdah all the time then, because it is always absent somewhere in the world? And when we see it, is it not making Sajdah? Laylat’l-Qadr signs are there for you and not for me. Does it change? There are different days the Qadr is decreed even though the emphasis is clearly on one moment?

This is what happens when you don’t follow the Sunnah. We believe in all of the above. We hear and we obey. We read, listen, believe and then act upon them like the Prophet did. And just to finish, ask yourself have any of the Ahl’l-‘Ilm (the People of Knowledge, the major scholars) promote such actions or a culture. Of course not.

Anyway, like I said above. This is not the action of the Sunnah. I didn’t say it was haram. Folks wanna chill, let them chill. I’m just saying this sort of culture does not befit practising Muslims or students of knowledge. And they all know deep down exactly why. That’s all. No biggie. Kinda.

Allahu a’lam.

Do some soul-searching during Ramadan


This image is one I took and designed last year for Ramadan.

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff”

It’s one of those things about life; it takes us to the lowest possible ebb, and just when we’re ready to throw in the towel, it gets us to rise again. I remember last Ramadan with a mixture of sadness and fondness. It had been a tough year for me, perhaps one of the most turbulent phases of my life.

About a year ago, I wrote about how Ramadan was important to me because it wasn’t just about abstaining from food and drink, it was about clearing my heart and letting go of every malicious thought, every grudge and ill-feeling that I harboured against anyone.

I wanted to truly forgive and forget and I wanted a clean slate. Those days turned out to be, in many ways, a turning point in life for me.

I could have either given up on everything and everyone or I could have moved on into the light, brushing aside the cynicism and the negativity.

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I was tired. I was tired of the way things had been, I was tired of myself and I was very conscious of the fact that I might never see another Ramadan again.

When the Ramadan moon was sighted, it brought with it a hope as faint as the moon itself, and as I searched the heavens for a sign, I saw a hazy sliver of silver suspended in the faraway sky and I wondered if that little bit of light would somehow, miraculously brighten up my world too. I had known all along: it was time for change.

The change that had always made a case for itself but I had ignored the fact that it was even, in any way, needed. I decided that I would let this month be a sort of new beginning.

That meant only one thing: a fresh perspective, some serious soul searching and hoping, praying and trying desperately for the changes I so badly, urgently needed to make within my own self.

Ego issues

The ego of a human being is the single greatest thing that stands between a person and total happiness and peace. I wanted to conquer my ego, I wanted the realisation of my own errors that would help me break down and cry, and start again from scratch, without a ton of unnecessary baggage weighing me down. I wanted to humble myself, and I knew I had to take responsibility for everything that had gone wrong.

Holding myself, and just my own actions accountable for everything that had happened was where it all began. When I finally came to terms with the fact that our present is a direct result of our decisions and behaviour in the past, it looked as though the grime was finally shifting.

When the mosques were full and people beseeched Allah in the blessed nights, I too prayed for a miracle. And then just as quickly as it had come, with so much hype and hope, stealthily, the month of Ramadan passed me by.

I wondered if the changes I so desperately wanted would occur and if they would manifest themselves. It is said that if you take a step towards Allah, He in all His might and glory takes ten towards you, and if you walk to Him, He runs to you.


Feel free to share this pictorial, click for a larger image. This one was designed a long time ago by me.

About a year later, I say this with moist eyes — change did happen. It happened from within. Perhaps that’s why I could I see the world clearly, because my own vision was no longer altered with an omnipresent layer of dirt.

I don’t know how, I don’t even know when, and I certainly don’t know why — but all I know is that sincere remorse, no matter how lost you are, and being honest with yourself is the best way to pick yourself up again, and to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

As I wait again for another Ramadan, I am filled with joy, gratitude and a sense of wonder and a warm feeling of hope and positivity. The blessed nights are truly special.

PS: What does Ramadan mean to you? How was your best Ramadan, do you remember it? What are your favourite tips for a great Ramadan?


At the moment, anywhere you look you find flame trees in full bloom. It’s a beautiful sight. Below are some pics of the same. 🙂


Bursting into a riot of colour!

New beginnings

New beginnings


When bloom and bud live peacefully together.

Patch of blue sky

Patch of blue sky

A wall of orange.

A wall of orange.


Dubai: the lesser known side

I’m sure you’ve heard about the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building, and seen the pics in the Burj Series on my blog.

And you saw the architecture at Souk Madinat Jumeirah as well.

Heck, I even brought you the beaches!

It’s now time to see some greenery! Enjoy! 🙂



17.05.13.pic3 17.05.13.pic4

Yes, some of these are edited and stuff, but a photographer is an artist. It’s a mixture of composition, perspective and feeling. Hope you liked the photos. Do let me know what you think.