Monday, December 12, 2011

Drowning in Sweats of Love

3 months, 15 weeks, 92 days, and 2208 hours. That was how long it took me to finally get back on this site. I wasn’t going to quit blogging, mind you; blogging has been a part of me for more than eight years. The reason I was away for so is long is because of the hectic semester I had.

Last semester (wow, can’t believe I’m actually done with my second-to-last semester), I took the capstone seminar class in political science. Basically, we were supposed to produce a worthy research on political science. Sounds simple enough, but do not be fooled. Every week we had to write at least three different papers, each not as short as I would have preferred. This on top of three more classes. When I showed my syllabus to a friend, who is a graduate student, he said he would not ever want to be in such class. The class was every Monday, and every Sunday I feel like dropping it, all the way till the final week. Heck, over the semester, I had considered dropping each of my class at different times, all because I thought I could not be able to carry all these classes simultaneously. When I finally submitted my final paper today, it was definitely a celebration…until I realize I have to do it all over again next semester for my other major. Oh well, next semester is three weeks away, so I am not going to think about it till then! Right now I just want to dig into the pint of ice cream in the freezer!

This semester was also the first time ever in my life I actually worked for pay. I am a bit behind when compared to those who have worked since their first semester in the United States. Regardless, it was a first personally, and I have enjoyed every second (and every penny) of it. It is the first time in my life that I can say I earned what I bought. When I was younger, my parents would reward my good grades, and I used to say I earned it. That was a different situation. This time I put hours and efforts, making new friends along the way! I pride myself for not depending on my parents since coming to the States, and this semester, I took it a step further. All while enrolled in that tortuous class!

Finally, this semester I had the chance to put hours into an internship that I am passionate about. It was not a lot of office work; nonetheless, I had the freedom to do something I truly enjoyed—reading—while getting credit! Given how I have just spent a whole day writing about my experience in a paper yesterday, I am not going to lunge into it right now. All I want to say is that I am grateful to be able to work with such an amazingly knowledgeable supervisor who opened my eyes about the plight of Muslims in the United States and worldwide. It was an honor to discuss and to debate with him.

While doing all these, I also had to do some other personal stuff on the side. I am so grateful for my rock, my husband, who was by me all the while, supporting me and pulling me out of my dark days. He’s definitely my number one supporter, even when I doubt myself (which is often).

This is just an ‘update’ post. In order to keep in tone with the direction of this blog, I will post more of my perspective on global events—and everything else in between—that matter to me. Given the many changes we witnessed last spring and summer, believe me, I have a lot to say on the rise of the democratically elected Islamist parties in the Middle East. Yet, I am not going to go into it right now. Let me enjoy reliving the moment I handed in that final paper earlier today.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Paradise

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I would like to share a video that I fell in love with the first time I saw it. It is four years old, nevertheless it is as relevant today as it ever will. Because of where I am currently, physically and spiritually, I could relate to the video (especially the Victoria's Secret portion). Enjoy!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Faith in faith

In my previous post, I tried to make it clear that not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims. Now I am asking permission to tweak that statement to take it a little bit further: Not all Muslims in Malaysia are Malays, and not all Malays should be Muslims. This is going to be one of my more controversial post, so click here if you don’t feel like being sapped into my thoughts.

Once, I was scolded for bringing up my discontentment with our constitution, but it is not going to deter me today. I do not agree that all Malays in Malaysia must be Muslims. My reason is simple. In sports, you only want to keep those who are committed to your team or you would trade them off for someone else who does, no? Yes, religion is more complicated than a baseball league. We should not want to trade our fellow Muslims away, but if they so wish to not be part of the Muslim community, why force them? What good will it bring? From the outside, people would get confused by these Muslims who do not defer to the teachings of Islam; from our own perspective, there is a proclivity by these people to disparage Islam and its adherents for forcing them to believe in something they do not. Ultimately, no one wins as the ummah would be weakened by these dissembled munafiks.

Where I am today, on average 3 to 4 people take the shahadah over the phone every week, and to think there is no such thing as a National Department of Islamic Development breathing down our neck. This may be an amateur observation, but what I could conclude is that people in the west, especially in the United States, are attracted to Islam because the Muslims that they encounter in their everyday life are genuinely sincere in their submission to Allah. We are Muslims, and we act as one, because we want to, not because the law tells us to do so. And when others see this, the true beauty of Islam shines through, and people are attracted to it. Instead of trying to emulate so-called Muslim nations in the Middle East where the black market for alcohol has never disappeared, why not we study how Islam has become the fastest growing religion in the United States, a Christian nation that promotes freedom of religion? Opponents to my argument would contend that this is a false analogy. Muslims in the United States are mostly professionals and rich immigrants, thus they are capable on their own, whereas Muslims in Malaysia range from high school dropouts to our highest intellects, and so some of them need guidance from a religious department. If this is so, it makes my argument easier. It seems that the best way to keep Muslims from turning their backs away is not to compel them to believe in something they do not, but to educate them so that they could think on their own regarding matters most crucial to a person's spiritual health.

One of my first conversations with Sofiya four years ago was regarding this topic. Then I asked her what her father’s opinion is, since he is a professor of philosophy and Islam. Her answer intrigues me. Apparently her father said that if people want to convert away from Islam, let them be, because eventually they will realize the light they have abandoned. For me, that statement is empowering. It is simple yet powerful. If you truly believe in Islam and its truth, why fear? Why do you feel like Muslims would leave this beautiful religion of ours in masses if they are allowed to? Do you lack confidence in this religion you call your own? Or are you calling your own brothers and sisters fatuous, not capable to distinguish right from wrong? I read in a forum somewhere where non-Muslim Malaysians believe that a majority of Malays would not be Muslims if not for our constitution. My response would be, "Let's prove them wrong and allow these people to make their own decision."

Me, for example, is handed out pamphlets upon pamphlets on Christianity and Jesus almost every other day on my way to school. But do you see my faith dither? I hope not. Because I know the truth, I politely decline them. There is no need for a department of religion to take these fine men and women away in handcuffs because they are trying to proselytize me. That is what they believe in, and I respect that. After all, I believe in Jesus, son of Mary too. Just because they want to sway me away does not mean I am swayed. Simple. In fact, the best way to counter their actions is to increase your own. Be gentle, provide amenities to the weak and poor, and pray for them. God listens to prayers by those who believe. Essentially, hidayah is not ours to force on people in the first place as it belongs solely to God. We may guide, but guidance has to be handled with care, and more importantly, with respect.

As to those who reject Faith, it is the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them; they will not believe. Allah has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a veil; great is the penalty they incur.” (Al-Baqarah: 6-7)


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fool me twice

Only three out of forty five Muslim-majority nations are considered politically free according to the fastidious analysis of Freedom House, an international institution supporting and advocating global freedom. How do we explain such inconsistency with what Islam stands for with this grievous ground level phenomenon?

The answer lies not in the historical root of Islamic Empires of the Caliphates, but further back to the quotidian culture of Arab tribes whose loyalty by blood paves the way for the kinds of human relationship established since.

Fourteen hundred years later, some still experience the numbing distortion and inability to discriminate between Islam and Arab culture. Not all Muslims are Arabs, and not all Arabs are Muslims. Thankfully, the spinning arrow of Illusion has finally come to a halt last January and the fog has cleared to those who dare to dream of upholding the truth on Islamic democracy.

Unequivocally, Islam taught its adherents to respect all leaders as we do elders for their contributions in comparison to ours, mere citizens, are inimitable in grandiose. However, an aspect of this equation that many fail to take into account is that a leader’s contract is functional to his or her services to the state. No where in Islam were we taught to be pathetically complacent when a leader fails to uphold the rights we have as Muslims, and more importantly as humans. In one simple phrase, if they do not provide, we do not abide.

Anarchy has been a term thrown from corner to another to justify the subjugation of a disparate group that threatens to destabilize power and harmony. Human rights violation is condoned in the name of special rights. Dare we still call ourselves Muslims by this low standard we hold? The Gaza flotilla incident on May 31st 2010 was castigated severely by the Muslim world as inhumane while it was rationalized by paranoia of the state in keeping peace and harmony within their boundary. One is supported while the other, the one happening in your own land, is condemned. Ironic or munafik?

Education and sophistication does not come hand in hand as one might predict by the incongruity of both in interpreting analogous events. The trade one has to make in choosing to put social benefits or religion on the back seat is discernible by the words and actions taken as he or she continuously be mentally blinded by earthly Illusions.

In commerce there needs to be an exchange of payment in order to receive better goods or services. Indulgence has to be renounced for a future all can be proud of. If an Illusion is all that one has in going on with reality, doomed shall the person be for Illusion is just a fancy code name for Trickery.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Once Upon A TIME...

In honor of my father, Mohamad Shukri Ahmad's, 53rd birthday today on June 27th, I want to share this essay I wrote two years ago that I think reflects the unique inspiration he had on me as a photographer, and more importantly as a person. Thank you for everything, and may you have a blessed day, year, and life ahead of you. I love you, Papa.


Six years old. “Use both hands to hold the camera!” Click!

Eight years old. “You need to hold your breath when you’re pressing the shutter button; you don’t want the picture to turn out blurred, do you?” Click!

Twelve years old. “Look at this picture here you took during our vacation. Why cut me off at the knees? And this one here. Why isn’t your brother at the center?” Click!

Photography has always been a part of my life. Always. My dad, an ardent fan of anything artsy, was the main reason for it. He is a photographer, a painter, a musician, and an architect. As a father of two, he encourages his only pair of kids to pursue the same path…well, not exactly. Neither my brother nor I am an architect. But we are both taught to appreciate arts since a very young age. My brother chooses drawing and animation, I choose photography and music. Art is beautiful. Art is the best way to put one’s self out there into the world. Photography, a form of realist art, is the best way to capture one’s self.

Unlike Roland Barthes, I do see myself as an amateur photographer. He does not for he is “…too impatient for that: [he] must see right away what [he has] produced” (Camera Lucida, pg. 9). Since he is not a photographer, Barthes recognizes the need for one in order for him to even begin scrutinizing a photograph. Thus, for a photograph to be produced, two important entities are required: the Operator and the Spectator. The experience of both the photographer (the former) and the one glancing at the photograph (the latter) is too different to be talked about together. Barthes, a Spectator, is more interested in explaining the feeling one experiences when looking at a photograph whereas I, an Operator, definitely lean more towards “…the emotion [that] had some relation to the “little hole” through which [I] look, limit, frame, and perspectivize when [I] want to ‘take’” (Camera Lucida, pg. 10). For acknowledging this distinct feature of photography in his effort to dissect its true meaning in relation to one’s self, Camera Lucida certainly fits its own title as a book on the ‘Reflections on Photography’.

Photography is an amazing way for one to capture an emotion and also for one to materialize a feeling that has been building up. In simpler terms, photography is a perfect means for people to express the identity without having to put it into words. But then again, photography is not the only way to do so. After music, painting is the next best thing to be considered a universal language. And of all the paintings I have encountered in my life, this is one of my least favorite:

Tarian ©

This painting is basically of three unknown figures dancing happily together. It is a painting called Tarian (dance) by an unknown artist to most. Even though it is not a photograph, I do see it somewhat in a way that most view photography. For starters, there are distinguished objects in the painting which include the three dancers in red, the tall grass, and the clear, cloudless sky. To think about it, one could even consider those as the studium* of the painting. A studium to me is whatever one can see in an artwork that represents the setting, whereas a punctum** is the something that stirs up an emotional response from a viewer. The punctum of this painting is obviously there, but I won’t point it out, yet. Although painting and photography, together with sculpture and cinematic art, are the same in that all of them are visual arts, a painting differs from a photograph where the studium and punctum are there on purpose. The background and the details are all created by the artist. Even if a photographer intentionally chooses his subject, the subject in itself is real. In contrast, whatever is in a painting has to be thought of first before it could be produced on a canvas.

The main thing, however, that needed to be stressed about Tarian are the three figures in a dancing pose that viewers are instantly drawn to. In the chapter He Who Is Photographed in Camera Lucida, Barthes talked about this unique process of posing. In a sense, for him, it is quite hopeless for one to try to appear natural in a photograph for that is a definite unattainable feature of photography. This is because, in Barthes own words, “…I derive my existence from the photographer… I experience it with the anguish of an uncertain filiation: an image – my image – will be generated” (Camera Lucida, pg. 11). In other words, people unconsciously pose because they are conscious of a photograph that will be developed which will contain his or her image, thus their identity too.

An image of a person is not only about the face and the body, but also of the way his or her personality is expressed. When someone chooses to smile, it is because he wants to be associated with happiness. That is why fashion models are asked to have different expressions for different catwalks; not all fashion shows are about feelings of contentment. Even when a person is supposedly not posing for a picture, that is the identity he wishes to portray – one of impatience. Similarly, when an artist paints, especially that of human beings, he is indirectly putting them in poses since no such thing as a natural form exists in the first place to painted figures. In Tarian, although one cannot make out the facial expressions, the fact that these figures are in a dancing posture helps viewers form a mental image of the self that is being portrayed. Every artwork in this world has a purpose, and the purpose of this painting is for the artist to express his feeling of ecstasy to the world hence the dancing postures.

According to Barthes, the pose which one puts up when in front of a camera is not to be mistaken for one’s true “self”. A person’s self is too complicated and too dispersed to be caught in a moment. Instead, the character that is developed on paper is “…heavy, motionless, [and] stubborn…” (Camera Lucida, pg. 12) since it could not progress with time the way that the self does in real life. As in the case of Tarian, the artist painted those figures in that particular manner because he wants those characters to vibrate the joy and merriment of being in one another’s presence; it has nothing to do with the painter’s self except that of what he felt during that specific moment. A single moment of delight in his life could never do justice to the artist as a person since there are more angles to his personality than just what is obvious in a painting.

Likewise, in the real world, it is impossible for a person to put his entire self out in the open when confronted by unfamiliar faces in an unknown environment. Nobody can depict an entire self to those he had just met except, of course, if he decides to scream his likes and dislikes for others to take note of. Because of that, one needs to pose differently for different occasions. Therefore, it should be understood that this idea of posing is not exclusive to artworks as every person on earth is known to have posed, especially when in the presence of the mass public. Some call it a facade. Nevertheless, the concept is still the same. As how Barthes wants his picture “…to ‘come out’ on paper…endowed with a noble expression…” (Camera Lucida, pg. 11), so does a person wishing to make a solid good first impression with his fellow human beings. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Posing, or wearing a mask, does not imply an absence of identity but simply portrays the side of a person that he wants to be associated with. For that reason, the Spectator should not take for granted and conclude a person’s identity based on a single pose, but at the same time it is important to recognize a pose as part of a person’s wider identity.

Yet, as a photographer myself, I hate it when people start to strike a pose whenever they see me holding a camera. True, I understand their concern of wanting the photograph to look ‘good’ but honestly, an ‘ugly’ picture could even turn out more beautiful if they just give it a chance. As mentioned, what excites the Operator is the vision framed by the keyhole. Therefore, a thought-of pose could never be exciting to the photographer. I am not interested in the product so much as what is in front of my eyes. If a friend is twirling in happiness, that will be my target object regardless of how her hair would look like in the picture or how distorted her body would appear. In Photography as Adventure, Barthes talks about how a photograph is only considered a photograph if it stirs a feeling of adventure in him. My sense of adventure, however, comes not from looking at a photograph but from the real life experiences that I try to capture on camera – objects in motion. For me, that is beauty. That is truth.

But since I have no control over a painting that is not done by me, I cannot talk about Tarian the same way I would a photograph I personally took. Yet, Tarian is a painting that has always caught my attention. I do not like it, but honestly, I have always found it interesting. Although the motion is not one of extreme movements (the kind that I usually love to capture on camera), it is in the simplicity that I found the adventure. Borrowing Barthes’ term, that painting advenes. It attracts my attention. How so? Although Tarian is one of my least favorite paintings, I find it fascinating not because of its punctum, but of the fact that three faceless figures could exert such strong emotions to its viewers. As individuals living in a society, we have always been taught by our culture that the face – especially the eyes – is the window to human emotions. Facial expression is important as part of our everyday non-verbal communication. But as we see here, that is not the case. Colors and lines constituted the human figures that are interpreted as dancing, hence joy. No eyes or mouth, just lines. And just like Barthes, I do not believe in lifelike photographs but if “…it animates me [then] this is what creates every adventure” (Camera Lucida, pg. 20). This best explains why this simple and lifeless painting brings about such a strong reaction from me for it brings out a consciousness within.

Alongside advene, Barthes is interested in Photography for sentimental reasons. He puts it best when he said, “I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think” (Camera Lucida, pg. 21). Since I have evaded announcing the punctum to Tarian for a while now, I feel it is time for me to do so. Back when I was a young Spectator, years ago, the punctum to the painting had been, and in fact still is, the signature at the bottom right corner. That is the signature of my dear father. Yes, Tarian is painted by my father. For being the daughter to the artist, I have a firsthand knowledge about the story behind the painting: the figure on the left is him, my dad; the one on the right is my mother; the smaller figure in the middle is my brother. Me? I am not in the painting. This artwork was done way back before I was born. Actually, it was started even before my brother was born. But right after he came into the world, he was quickly added as the third figure. The question now is, why wasn’t the same done for me? When asked, this was his answer: “After you were born, your mum asked me to stop painting so that I could focus more on the family.” Noble indeed, but what about my sense of belonging? I do not like Tarian for the sake that I was not included in it. Narcissistic, maybe, but hey, I am part of the family, aren’t I? This is the sentimental reason behind Tarian being my least favorite painting by him. This punctum of his signature is the “…something [that] has triggered me, has provoked a tiny shock, a satori, the passage of a void” (Camera Lucida, pg. 49). This painting reminds me that there was actually a time when I was not yet born but the History of the world does not stop to exist in my knowledge.

Barthes wrote about History being the time when his mother was alive before him in History as Separation: “Thus the life of someone whose existence has somewhat preceded our own encloses in its particularity the very tension of History, its division” (Camera Lucida, pg. 65). This division in History is noted in the photograph of his mother wearing clothes no longer worn in his period. Obviously Barthes was not talking about History in the sense of human being’s gradual transformation from past to present – History is seen in this context as a personal transformation. As History is seen to be divided between two existences, the moment one passes a second, that last second becomes History as it ceases to exist. This is described further by Barthes when he points out that the living soul is the only thing contrary to History. And so, in relation to time, a person’s identity is not easily defined as it could already be ‘History’ when it is talked about. A person may have a certain interest when he was in his 20s but what about twenty years later? Or thirty years later? Who is going to say that the person will not evolve? This, however, is the beauty of one’s identity. Nobody can pinpoint it. Nobody can really say, “I am this, you are that.” People change and a photograph is just a document that holds evidence to a person’s self at a particular point in his life.

Pekan ©

Given my opinion on the painting Tarian, it is understandable for one to assume that my favorite painting by my father would be one done after 1989, the year I was born. However, Pekan (town) is actually one of those paintings which I used to stare at a lot when I was younger. For some reason, my father is not too proud of this one. In our old house, this canvas was nailed at a corner where no one except family members would usually passed by. In other words, this painting is almost invincible, even to me after a while. But once in a blue moon, I would sit upside down on the couch where this painting was hung above, and stared at my father’s recollection of his past. Those small figures are supposed to be him and his friends (including his then-girlfriend, my mother) and the scene, or studium, is of them having cendol – a Malaysian dessert – under a tree where the hawker has his stall. But unlike the first painting, the punctum of Pekan is not my father’s signature at the bottom left corner. Even though this painting was finished in 1986, I love it anyway because the overall scene of those young architecture students reminds me that my parents were once young too, and I am certainly not the first person in the family to have such strong patriotic feelings over my fellow countrymen.

The punctum to me in this painting is the name of the store furthest left: Syarikat Chan (Chan Company). Chan is a Chinese surname, and in this painting, it is the only legible element of it. My father has no problem acknowledging in this artwork that Chinese are advancing much better in business at a time when Malays were fighting for economic equality. This is the kind of History that I am proud of. Even if I am not part of the painting, these college students in the 80s are proofs that regardless of skin color, everyone can live side by side without beliefs, cultures, or personalities getting in the way. A person’s self may change given time, but the course it chooses to take depends on its History. In the same way, although the Malaysia of now is different from the Malaysia back then, History could be the remedy all of us have been waiting for. As mentioned, a person’s old behavior that is captured in a photograph – or painting – may not dictate him any longer, nonetheless it is still considered part of his self. History may be why I hate Tarian, but History is also why I love Pekan.

Photography, in definition, is the art of creating still pictures. It is an art – a way for the artist to appeal to the senses and emotions. Nothing more. Spectators do have the opportunity to make their own interpretations of a photograph but the real photograph lies in the view of the Operator, the photographer. The identity which the photographer chooses to capture is no more than a tiny fraction of a person’s self at a certain period in his own History. By studying a photograph one may be able to form a rough idea of that person, perhaps, but Identity, with a capital I, will never ever be successfully captured by both the amateur and professional photographers even if they try, for it is not there to be caught on camera in the first place.

*According to Barthes, studium is an application to a thing, taste for someone, a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment…without special acuity (Camera Lucida, pg. 26).

**Punctum, however, disturbs the studium as it stings, specks, and cuts (Camera Lucida, pg. 27).

Syaza Farhana Mohamad Shukri
Fall 2009

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Assumption of a rejection

In this prime state of ours as fully dependent beings, the 21st century does not make life easier even with the vast amount of information at our fingertips. Reality is no longer the brick-and-mortar it used to be as we move pass the death of indifference. As we are ruled by what is merely perceived of the current world, inevitably, it is going to have a detrimental effect on the maintenance of a salubrious consciousness.

However, perception is, most of the time, a simple guess or assumption that one holds - an idea that shall carve the way for a mass of followers to end up falling short of, eventually. Yet, the masses are willing to be blinded by a bucket of tears for a loss that never was in the first place. How can we mourn over what never came to be?

A simple example is witnessed by society’s obsession to fulfill a destiny that is written for those other than themselves. Although commendable, there is no certainty a hoary formula that works for one is going to guarantee similar success for all. So, is it fair to clump together adversaries with the wicked when all they did was making use of opportunities? In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho wrote about learning to listen to a universal language; I call it the ability to accept one’s fate and not be an ingrate about the path uniquely laid out for us.

With the massive influence of social networking, there is a high increase of diffidence in not only our youths, but also in the adults who are feeling the heat of not appearing presentable enough on their online profile. But as the pressure mounts for the neighbor’s son to claim success a la Justin Bieber, there is this lack of effort among us to warn him of the possibility of becoming an unlikely sensation following that of Rebecca Black.

Is it thus worth comparing acceptance by the number of views received when the rejection perceived is no more than a soft nudge by the universe toward a direction more analogous to the individuality of a person?

To assume that a better life lies in parallel to current reality is akin to questioning the worthiness of taking another breath. The grass will always be greener on whichever side the sun is shining upon as long as there is effort and care, without any sentiment of regret or longing for a perceived idealism that hangs in limbo. Shortcuts are the shortcomings of a failure. Nothing is as exceptionally beautiful as witnessing triumph at the end of a long winding road.

Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because of supposed ‘lack of imagination’; Albert Einstein was expelled from school; Vincent Van Gogh was only able to sell one painting during his lifetime; Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California three times; J. K. Rowling was living on welfare before her talent was acknowledged, etc.

Never mourn a dream assumed to be the key.

If the future seems out of reach, try facing where the wind is whistling in your heart.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Proverb gone right

On the first day before leaving the United States some time a couple of weeks ago, my mum sent me a message saying, “Jauh perjalanan, luas pemandangan,” (roughly translated to “Travel far, wider view.”) I smiled thinking how cute my mum is but gave no further thought on the topic. Over the years, I never had a solid record on Bahasa Malaysia – I seldom got an A for BM; SPM was a total surprise. So, I did not truly understand what kind of “pemandangan” (view) that I’m supposed to have a better understanding of with travels. View of buildings, mountains, or cats? It turned out that my recent travel helps broaden my view on human nature.

It was our fourth day in Turkey. We hadn’t had a shower for two nights. No proper sleep too. And so when we arrived in beautiful Cappadocia, all I wanted to do was to take a shower, rest, and then figure out what to do for the rest of the day. By the time we had decided to rent a bicycle, Zaim was already on a tour bus heading to his first destination. At noon, with our rented bikes, we decided to take it easy and follow the guide of a “walking path” map. If it is walk-able, it sure has to be cycle-able, I thought. Two hours later we were lost. With no compass, I had no idea where exactly we were heading. Then, of all place and time, we saw a car parked between the “Fairy Chimneys” and we were relieved! A man appeared, smiling, calling us over. I was instantly scared and nervous. Why does this man look eager to see us? But we were lost, and we had no other choices. We went over and figured that we will ask for directions and immediately leave. But this man insisted that we parked our bicycles and joined him for the traditional Turkish tea we’ve come to love. He couldn’t speak much English, but he tried. And we tried. With a smile he told us he owns the area. With our map, he showed us how to reach the nearest asphalt road. I was relieved. He is a nice man. After talking about his family, his farm, and Turkish (and European) politics, we thought it was time to go. But we thought wrong. He pulled us over to show us his cute little winery and peanut farm. He showed us, and taught us, about the volcanic remains creating the “chimneys”. By then I have a suspicion he is going to ask for money later. Why else would he do such nice things for free? After about 20 minutes, he stopped at a table full with souvenir necklaces and chose two, one for each of us. He said, “Gift from me. I love Malaysian people. People always ask for a tour of my farm but I always say no. Except for brothers and sisters from Malaysia.” I was touched. Mr. Bekir was a true example of why we should always try our best to have faith in people – sometimes even with strangers.

About a week later, we found ourselves in Milan. We had no plan to stay the night, only 18 hours before our next scheduled train leave for Venice. It was a busy day in Milan because of some bicycle race in support of something in Pink. I couldn’t read Italian. We were walking, enjoying the beautiful summer day, until we arrived at a fountain in front of an old palace. We stopped to take some pictures. Moments later, a man approached us with a Salam. We replied. He told us that he is a Muslim and wanted to give us a string wristlet. We declined, fearing a total scam. He told us, “No problem.” Zaim repeated over and over and over that  we are not going to give him a single Euro for something a 5-year-old could make in nursery class. He said, “For Muslim, free.” We relented, thinking if Mr. Bekir could be so nice in the presence of no one, this man might just be an honest Muslim too at this spot of many tourists. While he tied those wristlets around our wrists, he talked about reciting the Quran. But once he was done, his persona turned 180 degrees and he asked us for money. I wasn’t too shocked, but I was frustrated. We gave him 3 Euros just to make him go. When we said, “No!” loud and clear, he used religion to win us over. When we were suspicious of him, he talked to us in friendly Arabic. How low can a person be to use the sanctity of religion for a few Euros? He saw I wore the headscarf and took advantage of that. Our prayer to him is for God to judge him fairly.

At the end of our trip, while Zaim was standing in line with us at the Venice bus stop, waiting to send us off, we came to the conclusion that people could not, and should not, be trusted. Especially a certain “type” of people. We were so angry at how our day in Milan was ruined by a crook. How unashamedly deceptive a person could be, even when we were no less persistent. Humans are cruel. Survival is more important than honesty. It came as no surprise that these people are still at the bottom end of the feeding chain because they lack integrity in their dealings. I, a person who prides herself for trying her best from uttering racist comments, am so disgusted that unconsciously I began to make general assumptions about people of a certain kind. This is the new wider view I am supposed to have, perhaps.

And then we landed in New York. After a four hour flight delay, and wasted cheap Megabus seats to Pittsburgh, we headed to Port Authority to find the next bus out of New York. While there, still fatigued by our more-than-30-hour journey from Venice, we decided to grab a bite. We came upon a relatively huge cafeteria and figured there must be at least something we could eat there that has no meat. While making payment, the man behind the counter gave me a look and then asked, “Are you Muslim?” I replied, “Yes.” He gave praise to God and smiled. Since we still have our bottled water from the flight earlier, I did not order any drink. With a surprise look, this man said to me, “You can have any of the soda, it’s on me.” After having experienced what I experienced, my head was telling me to not accept anything from him, even if he is a Muslim. But the man insisted, and knowing myself, my instant gut instinct to trust people, I smiled and accepted his offer. He did not ask us to pay extra.

After nearly 16 days, my journey did not end when I landed in JFK, but continued until I finally arrived home in Pittsburgh. God is teaching me a lesson: Do not come down so harshly on others. Each individual is different and unique in their behavior and back stories. Just because one (or two) person did something wrong, we should still try to refrain from making generalizations. I know this sounds straightforward, but honestly, how many of us make wide generalizations day in and day out? I was ashamed, embarrassed of my behavior in Milan. If I was prepared to have prejudices because of a silly wristlet, I should not be mad when half of the world population hates us Muslims. Nineteen Muslims caused 2000+ deaths 10 years ago, and we are still screaming for the public to acknowledge the presence of moderate Muslims.

Yes, my view on humanity is definitely broader now compared to when we left. I learned so much that it humbled me now whenever someone is nice to me. They should not be. My fellow Muslims are murderers. But if these kind-hearted neighbors are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt, I should always, always, remember to hold myself from making judgments about others too. I may not have a good record on Bahasa Malaysia, but I know that I am ready to fight against the mentality of “Sebab nila setitik, rosak susu sebelanga” (Because of a drop of indigo, a pot of milk is ruined.)


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Can hair equal heart?

No bride or groom ever entered into a marriage contract without experiencing some sort of cold feet beforehand. Mine was a case of cold feet by the entire family. Trying to look pass the embroidered veil, I asked a few important people in my life if my decision was a good one – not right, but good, for right is subjective. One such response that I’ll never forget was someone telling me maybe I should wait a while because knowing the person that I am, I supposedly have much more to achieve, and by tying the knot, I might be tying myself down too soon with the possibility of wasting future opportunities. As much as I disagree, I understood the sentiment came from love. Needless to say, that was not the last I heard of the “reach for the stars before settling down” argument.

One of the things I find troubling in our society is that we want our kids to go as far as they could, yet looked down upon people who choose to settle down at a young age. A Bachelor’s Degree is not enough anymore, as most would agree. But to go far means marriage would have to take a backseat while we grow older and older. What bothers me is that people do realize that today is a different world – sex and romance are everywhere on every corner. Thus, do we really expect our youths to be infallible while they reach for this ever-afar, ever-unreachable state of contentment? Yes, I am a conservative…or am I realistic? Regardless of your preferred ideological label, how naïve are we to expect people who are getting older to not yearn for love and comfort at the same time?

A couple of years back, someone mistakenly called me a feminist. The question is what truly makes a woman a feminist? The conventional definition of a feminist is a person who does not need a man behind her back while she makes her own wealth, buys her own material comforts, and most importantly, depends on no one for love and security. In order to achieve all these, a woman has to gain expertise as fiercely as the male version of them. Those women who choose to stay at home and cook for their husbands are regarded as incompetent, trapped in the image of their late ancestors. But is this fair?

In Mona Lisa Smile, a movie set in the 50s featuring Julia Roberts (Katherine), Kirsten Dunst, and Julia Stiles (Joan), there is a scene that I feel is so powerful relating to women empowerment. Joan is a very bright student at a prestigious college where Katherine was accepted to teach art history. As they approach graduation, Katherine encourages Joan to apply for Law School at Yale, where she was accepted. However, when her teacher visits her at home, Joan informs her that she has decided to move to Philadelphia instead to support her new husband at the University of Pennsylvania. Obviously, her very modern teacher was upset. And that’s when Joan spoke these words of wisdom we seldom hear:

“Do you think one day I’ll wake up and regret not being a lawyer? . . . Not as much as I’ll regret not having a family. Not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. . . You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image but you don’t. For you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a centre-hall colonial; she has no depth, no intellect, no interest. You’re the one who said I can do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Feminism is about choice. Women empowerment has nothing to do with the right to drive, to be naked, or to climb the corporate ladder. Women empowerment is about the right, as a woman, to choose your own path. Joan was right, since when is it a crime for a woman who has a higher education to stay at home and raise her children – in my case, to get married? John Stuart Mill, a liberal thinker in the 19th century, wrote in On The Subjection of Women that liberty and education to the female gender is important, if not most, for an educated woman is a happy woman that will have more to offer her future children, the future generation. I am not saying that all women should be a stay-at-home mom; but for those who do decide to do so, there is no reason for the general public to think so low of them because you never know what credentials such women may hold – they may even be smarter than you.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The doom of light

Something that a lot of people do not know about me is how young I was when I was exposed to the world of Malaysian politics. Since I was nine, politics was one of the major discussions at dinner. Some may have had passionate interest in this field since their UPSR years, but I’ve had to swallow, and deal with, the reality of this power game at an age when all I really cared about was if the Spice Girls will make a new album.

I’m not saying that it could have been better otherwise, but I’m saying it could have been better otherwise. Yes, it was good to learn about how the country is managed from different perspectives; yet, because of the high exposure, there was a point when I automatically switched on a Britney Spears’ song in my head whenever politics is mentioned, the same way my friends used to turn away everytime I started to preach the P word. Rather than die of an overdose, let me be blissed by ignorance, I thought. It is such a dirty field that I have no respect for NEITHER side. In retrospect, I admit that I was biased, simply because I was brainwashed. At nine, even by reading both Harakah and Utusan Malaysia, my mind was not sophisticated enough to make the distinction between fanaticism and truth. Plus, I felt like I could not voice my opinion because apparently, I was too young. Everything I said was shot down, without a second acknowledgement of my effort to make sense of reality. Thus, I lost interest.

Nine years later, I had to decide between Political Science and International Relations (because being the person that I am, when JPA wrote on their website that only three options are available for a scholarship in the social sciences, it meant to me that ONLY THREE OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE). Immediately, I was brought back to the memories of my love-hate relationship with politicians and their biased supporters, so I chose IR. However, a few months later, after being reacquainted with world politics, I saw that there are still a few rare, but genuinely caring, politicians who do want more than a quick buck (not in Malaysia, obviously). My faith in world leaders was restored. Yet, I deliberately choose to avoid Malaysian politics because of the cheap and dirty strategy both sides pursue. How I was made to believe one was better than the other is a miracle when I think of it now.

Some may say, “Tough it up! THIS is politics!” My response is, “No, that’s YOUR pessimist version of what could have been an amazing scientific field.” I would like to think that the idealist in me is still on fire, and it is not going to burn out anytime soon. I try to be as positive a person as I can be in any way possible – no storm or heat can make me grunt; in fact, I hate nay-sayers. Life is so wonderful if only more people would put on their rainbow glasses. I may be weak and live in an alternate reality that does not exist, but let me be, because your reality is fit only to those who had not taken off their biased glasses to take a walk outside. To really take a step outside.


Monday, March 14, 2011

The Rainbow Association: our version.

Since arriving at Pitt, I have taken courses focusing on the Middle East and Islam almost every semester: Islamic Civilization, Mediterranean World, and Islamism and Terrorism. Given, my History major concentration is in the Middle East, thus I am quite well acquainted with these topics. I have learned so much more about Islam in two years than I ever did for twenty years in Malaysia because back home, everything is treated as a propaganda, even (or especially?) our education system. So, it is impossible to be objective and learn beyond practice of those outside our own comfort zone.

It was over a year ago, nevertheless, I still remember clearly the thought that struck me when Professor Pinar talked about the four Islamic schools of thought. After introducing the Imams and their legacies that had lasted over centuries till present, she said something that goes roughly like this: “Even though the Muslim world follows different madhabs, each one of them is respected and regarded as equals to one another.” It was at that moment that I scoffed under my breath. Respected? Maybe they are acknowledged in Malaysia, but I have heard strict adherents to the Shafi school of thought simply dismissing all the rest. Why is that? All four of them were great Islamic scholars in their own right that just happened to have different interpretations of the Quran and Hadith. My point being they are humans, not prophets; just people who were very blessed with the ability to memorize, understand, and analyze the contexts of the Quran and Hadith in order to come up with rulings on fiqh that are highly agreed upon.

Another embarrassing moment was when we were discussing Wahhabism in class. Confidently, I raised my hand and gave my incorrect two cents and said that I did not think it was another sub-branch of Islam, just another set of beliefs some choose to follow. How ignorant was I. But the point is, did we even learn about Wahhabism in our eleven years at school (public everyday school, that is)? Even if we did, I bet it is to de-Islamize them. Why can't we introduce all the sects of Islam without condemning any one?

And that is what I’m getting at. Islam is a universal religion that could withstand the test of time and place. Precisely for that, Allah gave us the greatest gift of all – our mind (akal). He provides us with guidelines, but we are told to reason in order to implement them. God told us in the Quran, “Do you order righteousness of the people and forget yourselves while you recite the Scripture? Then will you not reason?” [2:44]. Although the practice of ijtihad is no longer allowed after scholars had come to a consensus centuries ago, who are we, mere humans who have sinned in the eyes of God, to call others heretics just because we hold certain biases? For example, I do not understand why is it that in Malaysia we acknowledge other religions (which is good and should be continued), but we do not allow Muslims who practice Shi'ism to be part of our community? Understandably, some are afraid those with few knowledge and weak understanding could easily be led astray. But who are we to call Shi'ites heretics? Aren’t they Muslims too? Don’t they believe in the same God and prophets? They may do certain things differently, and believe in a different history, but they are our brothers and sisters too.

Before coming to the States, I had a really good conversation about Islam with an aunt who I respect a lot because of her enthusiasm in reading and discovering Islam, which I find endearing as I love to do the same thing too. As laymen, we are not supposed to make ijtihads, except based on qiyas. Thus, there is no wrong in looking at a variety of sources to make judgments based on analogies. Anyway, as we were talking about a couple of hadiths that are less popular among those widely circulated in Malaysia, she reminded me to be sensitive of our elders, and I agree. Most of them are not well-read and tend to follow blindly the teachings of their ustaz and ustazah (which is not wrong, and is in fact encouraged to non-scholars). Then, about a month after coming to the States, I had another conversation with a person I highly respect over here. She told me how a cleric in the United States once mentioned that some things are better left unsaid because most elders – especially those in the Nusantara region – are incapable of handling different opinions. And I agree, again. This is just history repeating itself. Remember Kaum Tua of the early 20th century?

The conclusion I can make is that Muslims in Malaysia are lucky; sadly, because of that, they are ignorant of the existence of other Muslim communities around the world. I have heard a lot of sarcasm from Malaysians targeting other Muslims including, but not limited to, the other non-Shafi madhabs, Wahhabis, Sufis, Salafis, and Shi'ites, and I was never able to get it around my head. Before these people even begin considering criticizing the West for being insensitive to the plight of Muslims worldwide, why don’t they look into the mirror first. I am very glad that I have the opportunity to be where Muslims in an abaya, sari, with hands on their hearts, and some by their sides, can pray next to each other in harmony everyday. Islam is not rigid, but because Malaysia is a big upside-down tempurung, a lot fail to recognize its beauty.

Prophet Muhammad (saw) said that the Mujtahid will get two rewards if he is correct and one reward if he commits a mistake (Abu Dawood). Therefore, shouldn't we strife to use our reason in making deductions because it is, well, risk-free?


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Concerts are my kryptonite. None is perfect, but we can strive to be, can’t we? Through my arrogance, I try to find the time to tweak my weaknesses. Pride is definitely further from the truth. Excuses shall not be sufficient, yet they are all I can offer in this state of shame. In my lowest form, I am humbled by the acknowledgment that I’ve wronged a lot of people. Everyone has their flaw, and the best I can do is to refrain from judging; for only speaking of it now, I apologize. If God is willing, then it shall be.

Funny how this train of thought occurred while I was at the Lady Gaga concert last weekend. She is the person who is my generation’s Michael Jackson, the Freak of all freaks, whom I was not supposed to pay a single dollar to see do none but prance around on stage – so the wisdom goes. But I’m weak. I’m a slave to good music, especially when it is put to life on stage. I do not go to parties. I do not go to clubs. I understand the profanity of a tudung-clad girl being in a dark and small room. But an arena is huge, and most of the people who paid the 20, 50, 100, 200, or 350 dollars to be there, I believe, are more concerned with enjoying the music than with anything else. Again, I apologize for the excuses, but this is it – this is me.

Lady Gaga is a true artist. Her passion is reflected in her art. Traces of her fingerprint are everywhere from her costume, to the props, to her script, and especially in her music. Her sincerity is proven in her humility when talking about the rough waves she had to paddle against to get to where she currently is. Unlike my father, I only see splashes of colors on a painting; unlike my mother, I only see columns and roofs on a monument; unlike my brother, I only see talking animals in an animation. Music is the only art I truly understand. Music, literature, and performance art.

So when Lady Gaga swore she had never lip-synched and never will, it resonates with me because I get it. The effort she must have put in to pin her performances is amazing. Thus, when some time in the middle of the show she stopped to scream, “If you’ve ever had someone ever tell you you’re not good enough, you can’t write well enough, you can’t sing well enough, you’ll never win a Grammy – this is for them!” I had none but pure respect for her, because I believe that all of us could relate as we have had at least one person doubting our abilities.

Lady Gaga is a main advocate of the LGBT movement, but does that mean I cannot appreciate her music? Before she ended the show she said something along the line of “If you support equality raise your hands!” True, she’s talking about sexual equality. But on the other hand, I felt like she was talking to me, too. No, I’m not that liberal – I’m talking about social and economic equality. My mind never wanders too far from my homework, I guess. Furthermore, being a minority in a foreign land really opens your eyes to the massive effect of openness and acceptance. For that, I feel that there is some good for Malays in Malaysia to listen to a little bit of Gaga in order to appreciate your legal status better. After all, she did sang "Believe capital H-I-M"...and I do.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rolling in mudd of gold

It has been the trend nowadays to congratulate someone on his birthday by saying, “You’re so-and-so YOUNG!” Never been a fan of current trends, I prefer not to be wished this specific way. I’m not turning twenty-two years young, I’m now twenty-two years OLD, and beyond doubt proud of it. With age comes wisdom, no matter how many times one hears the saying “age is just a number”. That is why we are supposed to respect the old, for they are wiser, even if you are ‘smarter’. Having realized all these, I paused to think of the people who have helped keep me grounded whilst growing up, and I can’t think of any better people to be surrounded with than my five wonderful best friends. Instead of talking about myself, I want to dedicate my birthday post to the five most amazing people I’ve met: Adilah, Syafiqa, Zaida, Asilah, and Fayyadhah. I’m truly blessed. Growing up is such a difficult phase, and God kept me in the company of the best people out there.

Where do I even begin talking about our friendship? From mere classmates, we grew inseparable during our last years of high school, and I’m grateful for that. You are such a brave person, and though I’ve said that many times, I’m not sure I’ve said it enough for you to believe me. You’re brave. You’re a brave young girl, even when we joked of you being the most naïve among us. God knows your strength, the kind that I don’t think the rest of us possessed at such young age. You’re beautiful in all you awkwardness, then. Now of course it’s obvious to all that crossed your path how you’ve blossomed into the confident woman you are, ready to take on the world head-on. For teaching me to be patient and nice, I owe you a big one Mrs. Ballack-Adams-Skywalker, the should-be princess of Wales.

My first hubby, the coolest girl I’ve ever met! Oh we had our fun, didn’t we? The most laid-back, yet principled person I know. From torturing me up the hill of Melawati by cycling our way, to holding me while I cried and trusted you with my darkest secret that until now only you know of. It is your gift to have that balance of grace and openness. Plus, your wisdom and maturity are comforting when we were surrounded by whiny fifteen and sixteen year olds. You and I, we both get that life does not always go the way we hope for, and still there is no need to complain of the tiniest distress when there are ninety-nine other things to be grateful for. Both passionate and realistic, you taught me to be real. Thank you, hubby.

My sweet, quirky, humble Adilah. My friend of friends that I pray each day will not change a bit, except to be more awesome than she already is. When I think of you, the first think that comes to mind is how close to earth you are – something that your height simply does not do justice to! Heck, I can’t even believe I have a friend who owns her own Mini Cooper! Yet, if it’s up to her, she would have preferred to keep that a secret because she is not lame and knows that she is more than her wealth. Bigger things define who she is, such as perseverance and determination. Seeing you in all your struggle trying to reach your dream is a beautiful reminder that just because something seems out of reach, it is not unreachable; that is the best gift any friend could give me.

Eighteen years. That should pretty much sum it up. If our friendship is a lesson on life, we would have graduated! I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I’ve always felt like a sister to you. We play together, we go home together, but we don’t go to school together. Someone who has truly watched me grow up, you could take one look at me and know not only what I’m feeling, but also what I’m thinking. We laughed, we joked, and when it’s time to be honest, we don’t cry our eyes out – we cry our hearts out. How you trusted me with so much, I cannot be more flattered to have someone loving me as much as you do. You came to all three of my weddings; I’ll try to go to all your anniversaries if I could! Aku sayang kau.

Two posts I’ve written about this young woman, yet they are not enough. How to end describing this incredible future doctor when she has more to offer? One look at us and it is apparent we are total opposites of each other. But God works in mysterious ways and the one person that is the least likely to understand me turns out to be the one person who understands me most. The only person that is smart enough to know when to tell me off, and when to wait it out. The person that has such emotional depth that it is unlucky not many seem to be able to recognize and appreciate that. The person that has to fight against all the odds only to win every battle she faces. She is definitely the best friend every one wish they had.

But then, when I take a step further to see all that’s in front of me from a different perspective, I try to connect the dots to find the common denominator among all of us, and that is when it hits me: we were brought up by equally, if not more, superbly remarkable parents. Our parents were part of the Baby Boom Generation, those who were born in a world once so entrenched in tradition, they had to find their own way through a progressive time. Our parents grew up having experienced the best of both worlds. Enveloped by a spirit of innovation and independence, they cease to lose their way because they had the backbone of a local fighter, not disenchanted by the shadow of the imperialist West mentality. With this foundation, my friends and I found ourselves in such households where we were taught to put our sights on the highest mountain, but our heads close to the earth we were created from. Though the world may seem like it is everything to the young mind, there is actually much more than these mortal pleasures. Pure happiness and contentment does not come from owning the best or being the best – it is from acting the best. And the best imaginable way to lead our life is through respect, wisdom, humility, consideration, dignity, courage, faith, and basically by being nice to one another – something all five of my friends are masters of. For teaching us how to stay grounded and cultured when faced with an adverse environment, I dedicate this post to our mothers and fathers, those still living and those already returned to God.

Thank you, Ibu and Papa for showing me the way, I do love you.


p/s: A shout-out to Sofiya, another great person I've met. Though we've only been friends for four years (4 years already?!), I know I want my kids to grow up just like you. I've always said to Rassyid, and to anyone willing to hear, when it's my time, I want to raise my kids the way your parents raised you and your three sisters. All four of you possessed the kind of mental, emotional - and most importantly - spiritual intelligence that I can only pray my kids shall have one day. Even in college, God kept a good friend nearby.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A game of catch-up

USA Today reported last week that a research on American college students showed little improvements in their critical thinking, analytical reasoning, and writing skill, especially during their first two years of college. When I saw the headline I was shocked, and a bit reluctant to read the article further. Not that I fanatically idolize the American education system (which is currently seeing the rise of Asian students mastering it), but what I was mostly afraid of was to find my worst fear imprinted between the lines – that I am wasting my time here. Yet, somewhere at the back of my mind I know that could not be possible, for seven out of the top 10 universities in the world are in the United States. Some argue that that is based on the number and quality of post-graduate research these universities produced. So, if the professors are producing fine research, shouldn’t their undergraduate students highly benefit from encounters with these great academicians too?

Then, somewhere at the bottom of the page they discussed the research methodology which led to their conclusion. Apparently, sophomores do not learn much based on the fact that almost half of the students in the research reported enrolling in courses where they read less than 40 pages a week, and wrote less than 20 pages per semester. And my focused immediately shifted to beautiful Malaysia.

When I was INTI, I remember most lecturers giving out handouts and notes that we are supposed to study for exams. With these notes, according to them, we need not bother buying or reading the 500+ pages of a textbook – these teachers slaved for us to gather the most important information in order to help us ‘score’. With these notes, we are expected to answer 3-hour-long midterm and final exams. Essays are to be written in the exam hall (which is ridiculous, because how can you do anything BUT regurgitate in such short period?). Thus, if students in the US are learning so little, how much are Malaysian undergraduates learning each year? See, people back home like to complain that our exams are designed only for students to regurgitate information, which I do not disapprove of altogether. But if students are made to memorize something they won’t remember the next day, the least a teacher could do is to help them improve other skills that would be beneficial not only in the workplace, but also in their day-to-day life.

Maybe it’s just INTI, I’m not sure, I've only been to one higher learning institution in Malaysia. Probably other universities do make their students read a minimum of 40 pages per week, per subject - like we do here - and if so, that is awesome. But I honestly doubt it because of the many things I read concerning our graduates weak communication – English and Malay – skills. I’m not talking about a weak grasp on grammar and tatabahasa; I’m talking about the ability to structure their thoughts coherently, and be able to critically examine the work of others. If we were to take mini-steps to a better higher-education system, I say we work on that first.

I love Malaysia, and I have none but love and respect for my fellow students. I just feel that we've heard enough arguments from both sides that it is time we finally take some actions. You game?


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shine Bright

Time magazine reported on January 13th that the positions of the stars as conventionally accepted are actually incorrect, according to the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

Being one who has always been fascinated by this field of 'science', I can't help but to search for a compatibility measure based on this new finding.

I was, and still is an Aquarius, which is good news because I don't want to be any other but. Rassyid, however, was a Capricorn, but is now a Sagittarius! When he was a Capricorn, we are incompatible, according to 'the stars'. As a Sagittarius, it is a different story, and a much better description of our relationship.

"An easy, detached outlook brings these two together as romantic friends. There's so much to learn about and experience, and their life gets off to an adventurous start. A shared love of travel, exotic cuisines, and cutting edge culture keeps them on the go. Both get swept up in ideas and visions, and there's always more out there to ponder and discuss. They're free to venture out of bounds in conversation, because neither will judge. The sparks for this romance often begin in the mind, and from the mental rapport they create.

As a couple, they're social and throw great parties. They meld together two networks of people, enlarging their own sphere ever wider. Their compassion and sense of justice might lead them to fight for movements or causes. To be sure, they're up on the latest trends, often on a global scale. Their home decor could be an eclectic, but colorful collection of souvenirs from their travels. Both have eyes fixed on the horizon, and generally share an optimistic outlook. If they break up, there's a chance of remaining friends. And if they stay together, it'll no doubt be one exciting, soul-enriching tandem journey. "


Check out your new stars:

Capricorn: Jan. 20-Feb. 16.
Feb. 16-March 11.
March 11-April 18.
April 18-May 13.
May 13-June 21.
June 21-July 20.
July 20-Aug. 10.
Aug. 10-Sept. 16.
Virgo: Sept. 16-Oct. 30.
Oct. 30-Nov. 23.
Scorpio: Nov. 23-29.
Nov. 29-Dec. 17.  (This is new — read all about the Ophiuchus way of life here)
Sagittarius: Dec. 17-Jan. 20.


A pillow and a soft place

I’ve wanted to write on this topic for a while now, but haven’t had the chance to properly form the words in my head. Though not further ahead in the department of sufficient material for me to work on, I’ll try my best to ultimately convey the message.

Raihan made popular the sentence “Iman tak dapat diwarisi dari seorang ayah yang bertaqwa (piety can’t be inherited from a God-fearing father).” But my concern is precisely not that; it is the nature of the opposite: how come we seldom hear people stress about wickedness and ignorance not being laid on the table for inheritance either? Putting fear into someone is a method of conditioning, and so is motivation.

We see, and we hear, a lot of stories about pious parents that are tested by God with daughters and sons that are hard to be disciplined, much less respecting of elders. Although there are some religious arguments of kids being the mirror of their parents’ past, I’m not going to dwell into that. The truth holds that parents can mold their children only so much, and the rest is left in prayers to our Lord.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Robert Frost

But then, stories of children from ignorant parents are not as popularly – or ever – read in a forwarded email. Why? Are their stories less important? There are those out there who have ignorant parents, either by circumstances or choice, yet were led by the light of hidayah in their hearts in due course. How did that happen? The same entity that is feared by most parents to have a bad influence on their child could be at work here – friends. There is no telling how, and when, a person might diverge from his or her early experiences, but when it happens, there is no telling the direction in which the wind will blow.

Not a parent myself, I could not possibly comprehend the matter to make a personal comment. But what I have are cases that point to one so many directions that the only conclusion I can make is that piety at the end of the day is worthless if the underlying values of human relationships are not taught from an early age. Parents that only teach of the Day of Resurrection should not be too shocked to find their kids astray if at the same time they are taught to measure success by the number of zeros in their bank accounts. At the same time, non-observing parents that teach humility can unknowingly lead their child to the right people, thus the right path. Isn't life wonderful in all its unpredictability, as nobody is perfect except for Him.

To a specific friend who has an inkling as to where this post comes from, yes, I am so proud of you. In all your hardship and frustration, you find yourself among the lucky few who had God by their sides. I know you are scared, but don’t be, because I believe in you.