By the grace of the Almighty I have turned 50 on June 4, 2008. I bow my head in gratitude to my creator for numerous reasons.
I know that there are millions of people who are born and even after surviving for the first few years of their lives, they die before they turn fifty. I know so many people who were close to me who couldn’t survive for fifty years. The list includes my real brother, my real uncles, my cousins, my grandmother, my class fellows, my colleagues, and my students. I should therefore be thankful to my God for enabling me to survive for so long despite the fact that I was extremely vulnerable.
My progress has been unbelievable. I was a tiny creature only a few decades ago unable to do anything except to constantly disturb my mother; today I am a grown up man trying to convert my ideas into realities. As a young child, I vividly remember, I was good for nothing. I used to envy many of my young contemporaries for what they were. Not that I am on top of the world today, but what I have achieved thus far has no comparison with what my initial potential was. When I look back, I can only see God doing all the good things that happened to me. My potential and achievements simply don’t match. It’s only God who caused me to be what I am now from what I was when I was young.
I need to be thankful to God also for the kind of people he gave me to live with. My parents, my wife and children, my brothers, my friends, and my students have all been such wonderful people that it couldn’t have been without God’s design.
I am thankful to them all, but I am thankful to you — my dear God — more than anyone else.
On the completion of my fifty years’ stay in this world, I admit that I haven’t performed according to my creator’s expectations. It is not a ceremonial statement but a plain truth. I try to express my regrets for not being up to His standards every now and then in my prayers. And I am so blessed that I get a feeling, each time I do so, that He has forgiven me and overlooked my failings.
O God, I want that your mercy should continue to embrace me the way it always has. I know that I will continue to falter; and I somehow know that you will continue to forgive.
The prophet, God’s mercy be on him, had a unique concept of birthday and of celebrating it. He used to fast every Monday, of course, without making it publicly known. When he was asked, he clarified that he fasted on Mondays because he was born on a Monday. In other words, he had a very private way of thanking God, which, instead of doing annually, he used to do every week. No doubt he was the closest to God. What I learn from his great example is the fact that thanking God for giving us life is a natural, desirable thing; that it should be privately done, ideally without letting people know about it; and that the more one is close to God, the more one will do it.
I don’t want to make a strong statement for I cannot afford to annoy anyone on my ‘birthday’, but I have to say this to all my dear ones: I really don’t understand the idea of celebrating an individual’s annual birthdays. I am not calling it to question because it is a Western idea. Many ideas coming from the West are good; but not this one. A mood of celebration is in essence very different from a mood of thanksgiving. While one has the notion of entertainment intrinsically attached to it, the other calls for basically a very personal expression of gratitude to the creator. Praying, fasting, feeding the poor, expressing one’s feelings, or a combination of all these seem to be more appropriate acts for the occasion. Somehow, being what I am, when I am greeted by the expressions “happy birthday”, I find myself completely at a loss to know the true meanings of it.
I will end my ‘birthday statement’ by saying this: O God, thank you for giving me a wonderful life. Please continue to be as kind as you have always been. My expressions of gratitude cannot match your blessings. What you have given me is so huge that it cannot be measured and what I have done in return is so small that it cannot be seen. Despite that you have continued to shower your blessings on me. That has been the pattern in the past, and I pray to you that it should continue the same way.