Someone shared with me this story yesterday that moved me deeply; I wish to record it here for posterity. It was originally told to me within an Islamic context but the gist of it, I think, applies to a wider audience. The story goes like this:

A renowned, well-respected, religious scholar died one day and was making his way towards Heaven. Just as he was about to enter Heaven, he was stopped by one of the Guardians, who said:

Guardian: Where are you going?
Scholar: Into Heaven of course!

Guardian: What makes you think you will enter Heaven?
Scholar: I’ve performed many acts of worship throughout my life.
Guardian: Those were performed so that your superiors would notice your piety and elevate you within their ranks. God has no use for them.

Scholar: I’ve written numerous books on religion.
Guardian: Those were done to show how intelligent you were to the public. God has no use for them.

Scholar: I’ve taught countless students in the ways of the religion!
Guardian: Yes, but you only did so because you wanted them to look up to you. These acts won’t be counted amongst your good deeds.

At that point, the scholar had become absolutely terrified, having realised that he was in real danger of being thrown into Hell.

Guardian: But wait, there’s one thing here that may be of use to you.
Scholar: What is it?
Guardian: One day you were walking in the market. You saw a beggar, a little girl dressed in dirty rags, crying out of hunger. You felt some pity in your heart so you gave her an apple. For this act alone, God has forgiven you all your sins because it was done purely out of good intentions, for the sake of God.

The importance of good intentions

One of the most famous hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him) is the first hadith in Imam Nawawi’s collection:

It is narrated on the authority of Amir al-Mu’minin (Leader of the Believers), Abu Hafs ‘Umar bin al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), say

“Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.”

Related by Bukhari & Muslim

For me, this is a timely reminder to reflect upon my intentions as I go through life. Today’s world has elevated narcissism and made it seem normal, acceptable, even desirable.

Watch how every good, pleasurable, act is recorded and shared on social media, in order to show the world what you have done. Gone are the large cheques and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Those are so quaint! Instead, we have moment-by-moment commentary as the donor is about to hand some money to the recipient, together with a shot of the recipient’s grateful look, all done for the sake of garnering likes and comments on social media.

Today also marks the start of a new year in the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar. As we leave the past year behind and venture forth into the 1st of Muharram 1443, I pray that Allah will keep our hearts pure and sincere. May He forgive us all our sins, increase our faith, and accept all our good deeds.


Months to live

One of the most profound articles I’ve read lately is this one by Jack Thomas at the Boston Globe, sharing his thoughts after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

As the saying goes, fate has dealt me one from the bottom of the deck, and I am now condemned to confront the question that has plagued me for years: How does a person spend what he knows are his final months of life?

Whenever I find myself in yet another social media rabbit hole, chasing endless details about the latest political development, I try to pause, take a breath, and remind myself that many of these things don’t even matter in the long run. I suspect I’m not the only person feeling like this these days.

For me, the most poignant line in the article is this one:

All of us who, like me, are blessed with a pause before death, spend some time reliving the better moments.

I feel like we don’t do enough of this. We, as in, myself included. Too often we rage at our screens, or spends hours absorbed with the details of other people’s lives, while around us our loved ones hover expectantly, waiting for us to tear our gaze from our shiny screens and look instead at the beautiful world around us.

So if you’re reading this, I hope you will join me in setting aside a bit of time to reflect on the better moments in our lives.

Take care.

All Souls College

The most exclusive of Oxford colleges, All Souls College is unique by virtue of having no undergraduates. Instead, entry is only granted to past winners of the Triwizard Tournament the select few people known as Examination Fellows (or Prize Fellows).

In order to become an Examination Fellow, one has to sit for a written examination, consisting of four papers lasting three hours each. Unfortunately for clinician-scientists like me, these papers normally cover specialist subjects like Classical Studies, Law, History, English Literature, Economics, Politics, or Philosophy i.e. subjects which I now very little about!

In the past, there also used to be a fifth paper consisting of only a single word. Candidates then had to write an essay in response to the chosen word. Crazy, huh?

Do you have Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Chances are you don’t.

But if you were unlucky enough to have gone through this quiz from Biogen & Eisai, chances are you will be left wondering: perhaps I DO have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) after all!

MCI is a nebulous diagnosis because it hinges on the definition of ‘mild’. What is mild for someone may be significant for others. Nevertheless, that has not stopped these companies from trying to plant the idea in your head that you may have MCI.

I tried taking the quiz myself. There are 6 questions on topics like forgetting important appointments and social events, trouble navigating around familiar places etc. Being curious, I answered ‘Never‘ to 5 of them, and ‘Almost Never‘ to the statement ‘Losing train of thought or the thread of conversations, books, or movies’.

I mean, come on man, who doesn’t occasionally lose their train of thought when faced with a really boring situation?

Nevertheless, I was told:

Here are your responses to the Know Your Symptoms Quiz. Even if you answered “Never” or “Almost Never” to all questions, it’s important to stay on top of your cognitive health. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have and ask if cognitive screening is right for you.

Okaaayyy, I need to talk to my doctor about possible cognitive impairment. Oh wait, I’M THE DOCTOR looking after people with cognitive impairment! Damnnn…

In reality, most of these concerns are so general that they’re practically useless for diagnosing MCI. Of course, the quiz itself comes with the following caveat:

This quiz is not intended for use in the diagnosis of disease or other condition, or in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. Answers to this quiz may help you identify some symptoms that you are experiencing so you can talk with your doctor. Remember to talk to your doctor about any concerns you have about your cognitive health and ask if cognitive screening is right for you.

As someone quipped in the comments section for this Ars Technica article ‘Maker of dubious $56K Alzheimer’s drug offers cognitive test no one can pass‘:

Well shit, I’ve apparently had Alzheimer’s since I was eight years old.

You really have to ask the question: why even bother with the quiz then? I wonder if it has anything to do with a certain $56,000/year drug that has NOT been shown to work in Alzheimer’s disease? Go figure.

Dandelion Seed Head

I am in the process of writing a post on Blenheim Palace but it is not quite ready yet, so in the meantime, enjoy this picture of a dandelion seed head I took while jogging in Cutteslowe Park yesterday.