Friday, November 23, 2012

White dots

Every few years or so, Malaysians are called again to participate in a nationwide boycott of those brands we perceive to be linked to the cause of Zionism. I, for one, have never been a supporter of this favorite pastime of some. Not because I don’t have enough willpower to stay a hundred feet away from a Starbucks or a McDonald’s, but because I don’t see how it helps in fighting a cause that I have, and continues to, study in my young adult life.

Let me start with the most basic reason I have never succumb to the call of boycotting even years ago: the person you are hurting are not the militant Israelis, but the part-time student working behind the counter or the full-time manager that has three kids to support at home. Do you dare hurt these people's only income when they are not doing anything haram? Unfortunately, some people believe that by boycotting these American brands, they are indirectly hurting the American economy, and thus the funding for Zionist movements in the United States. But it is not as simple as that—nothing is. Your neighbors that own the franchise are the people that would have to bear the brunt because once they have paid royalty for the trademark and reimbursement in training to the franchiser, net income—or lack thereof—would go directly to the franchisee, your local friend who is in it for the simple reason of doing business. Sure, if our boycott succeeds in failing their business, they wouldn't renew their contract, and by some calculation, it would create a tiny little dent on the American franchiser; so tiny that they would probably even miss it anyway, and therefore not affecting the larger Palestinian cause. Instead, there will be one extra young mother who suddenly finds herself without a job. I personally don’t have the heart to do that to someone.

Another person would argue that it is not their finance we are attacking, but the solidarity we are showing through these boycotts that is more important. I’m no Palestinian, but I’m sure, us not doing something does not elevate their spirit that much. Solidarity is all good and fine, but there has to be a channel to showcase this commitment of ours as fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to the outside world, and not just through Facebook. Social media does work—though few in between—to mobilize the masses, but to get a message across, we need a credible third party: the somewhat impartial media. Research has shown that the only way boycotts have been effective so far is if the reputation of said brands are tarnished through the useful use of the media. But in our country, boycotting won’t work because our media dares not publicize these boycotts across our borders in fear of economic repercussions. For me that is not a wussy move but pragmatic. So if this effort to show our solidarity does not attract international attention, how does this help the Palestinian cause?

My answer is simpler and it doesn't hurt anybody (after all, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”—Gandhi), and hopefully, it could be effective. Let’s organize a mass hajat prayer, preferably organized by respectable institutions such as the government, and call local and international media to witness the scene. Why I think this is effective? Because every year, Muslims’ pilgrimage during the Hajj period is covered by news networks such as Al Jazeera and CNN with awe. People are inspired and intrigued by our unity to perform such rites out of our faith in one God. And if we are able to demonstrate our solidarity by participating in a mass prayer, we would also be killing two birds with one stone: first, as I've mentioned, is the plausible power of the media, and second, the most effective outcome I believe, is God’s answer to our sincerest prayers for those affected by the whole crisis. Ultimately, what or who is more powerful than the Almighty?


Friday, October 19, 2012

Structuring liquid

About a century and a half ago, the study of Orientalism flourished in the West following Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Orientalism is a field of discipline that not only tries to dissect the Middle East, but also one that writes a representation of it to be consumed by the rest of the world. What I find funny is the paradox of letting someone else represents us, Muslims, and people of the East. If they have never lived within the society, communicated with the people, and grown up with a certain worldview, how are they suddenly able to represent us, unless wrongly?

This idea of misrepresentation did not end decades ago, neither did it stop with them misrepresenting us. What I see today, sadly, are us, Muslims, with our proud proclamation of one ummah, one brotherhood, yet we reflect unto other nationalities our own (false) ideas of who they ought to be. Worse, this inclination of ours leads to an imagined hierarchy of nations based solely upon the color of our passports.

If I wrote a while ago that I have to stop myself from throwing a punch towards someone who discriminates others based on race, I now realize that the same bodily reactions happened when someone says something to the effect of, “Ew, I’m not Indonesian!” Why must there be an 'ew' in that sentence? Why is it such an insult if we Malaysians are mistaken as Indonesians? Once, I asked a fellow tourist, quite innocently, if she’s Indonesian. I was later warned by another that my honest mistake might be seriously taken as an insult. I was very taken aback! How could mistaking one’s nationality be an insult? I wouldn’t mind at all being mistaken as an Indonesian—matter of fact, I wouldn’t mind being mistaken as a Kenyan, Pakistani, or Kazakh!

The only reason why someone would be offended by my question is if they look down on another and think less of them, which is something I could never understand, ever! What makes Malaysians superior over Indonesians? Just because they have to travel the sea to find employment in our country does not make them less than us. In fact, to the contrary, their actions are actually laudable! They had to go through hardships after hardships in order to provide for their family. To me that’s admirable.

But it’s not just the Indonesians who are victims of this cruel mentality some Malaysians possess. I have heard people say things like, “Ew why are there so many Indians and Pakistanis!” What’s wrong with having these people around? If they go to the same school as you do, that means they are as qualified as you are. If they are in the same place as you are, that means they have an almost identical goal as you do. Rather than looking down on them, why not embrace them as your fellow comrades in an alien place?

Maybe I’m reading way too much into things, but maybe I’m not. What I’m trying to say is, if you truly want to call yourself good Muslims, good persons, then belittling others is definitely not the right place to start. If you have this tendency to think lowly of random strangers based upon their nationality, only God knows what you think of those who actually do something you disapprove of, when we know only God almighty shall judge, as only He is all fair.

Currently I’m reading a book by Benedict Anderson called Imagined Communities. We always take for granted that we belong to certain nations and not others. But do we realize that the concept of a nation is a new term in human history? If Israel is a human creation, so are Malaysia, Spain, Chile, and the United Kingdom. We imagined ourselves as belonging to one of the nations. But Islam is beautiful; Islam reminds us that we are all equal in the eyes of God. Our mosques are open to everyone of every race and every nationality. We are brothers in faith. If we deem one of our own as being spoiled, then so are we. So are we.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Call to Work

Since I started my internship, even months prior, I have been back and forth on the matter of capitalism versus socialism, especially when having discussions with my husband. For years, I believed not in the superiority of a welfare state, but in its importance to nurture a healthy society. I remember being stupefied three years ago when a classmate in the States declared his detestation over high taxation; my understanding about taxation back then is limited to its similarity to the concept of zakat—to help. So how can high taxation possibly be bad? 

But after doing my own research, through reading and understanding, I am proud to call myself a capitalist today. I now support a liberal market economy not because I support the accumulation of wealth primarily through capital, but through labor, which should be at the heart of a strong economy, and not welfare.

A hadith of the Prophet of God reads, “Nine-tenths of all rizq is derived from commerce.” And I believe most Muslims know of the story of how the Prophet instructed a beggar to sell his only belonging in order to use the capital gained for trade. Plus, have we forgotten that the Prophet himself was a trader and that Mecca was the center of caravan trade? Free trade is encouraged back in the day! In fact, during the early days of Islam, the government’s role was limited to combating fraud in business and to uphold justice, which is something every Muslim could agree is the cornerstone of our faith.

“And in no wise covet those things in which God hath bestowed his gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn and to women what they earn: but ask God of His bounty: for God hath full knowledge of all things” (4:32).

The difference between capitalism in Islam and western capitalism is the importance of a safety net to protect those who are less well-off through zakat. Unlike taxation, zakat is a voluntary act of charity. It is not in the interest of the government to coerce citizens to part with their earnings so that wealth is spread equally. Instead, zakat acts as a trampoline only to launch a person into the right direction.

The practice of zakat is no different to what Germany practices. Germany, being the strongest economy in Europe, has a social market economy. A social market economy is also called a Christian democracy, because it seeks to apply Christian values of justice and fairness in economy—isn’t this similar to what Islam calls for? In Germany, free market is practiced throughout, but the government intervenes in such matter as pension, healthcare, and unemployment insurance, to name a few, through a combination of contributions and subsidies. In Islam, another word for that contribution is zakat.

I am not, however, promoting absolute capitalism as that found in the United States (before President Obama, that is). Absolute capitalism is about caring for oneself, and none other, which goes against the teachings of Islam. But to quote the Quran’s warning on riba as a testament to Islam’s support for socialism is also erroneous. Islam does not allow monopoly, but that is as far as it goes regarding government intervention. To ask for the government to go beyond by demanding a total welfare state is not only economically suicidal, but also un-Islamic.



Thursday, August 23, 2012

Light in a jar

As Muslims, we believe that during the holy month of Ramadhan, God locks away the devil in hell. Therefore, it becomes the only month of the year when we are to be introduced to a person's true character, because whatever he or she does in that one month, it is not by any means under the influence of evil spirit.

Ultimately however, we are not supposed to judge the actions of others'. Yet, years back, I used to ponder over this seemingly simple statement of one shall not judge. In the opinion of my younger self, if a person is better than his neighbor spiritually and morally, why couldn’t he exert a holier-than-thou attitude? How does he become the bad person for thinking the obvious?

But then maturity caught up. Now, I understand that if one is truly as good as one thinks, one should not judge another by the sparse fa├žade he or she puts up. After all, what is a mere second in the life of a human being? To be truly good, we need to understand that God created all of us equally, with some being better at something and not at nothing. To be truly good, we need to leave the act of judging to God because only He sees and hears everything at all times; we don’t.

To put matters in perspective, I find it funny when fellow Muslims feel superior by performing the five daily prayers. In fact, even if one stays up all night praying and crying to God, it does not make much difference if one has no respect for the law, no sympathy toward other beings, no love for the environment, lacks patience, and is wasteful. Being a good person is a work-in-progress and it involves a holistic approach. Not even a person at his or her deathbed can say they have come full-circle.

One of the better radio shows I heard in the past months since being back is about our attitude toward those we deem of a ‘lower’ rank. The easiest manner to catch a glimpse of a person’s real personality is to observe him or her at an eatery. Most of us, especially Malaysians, think of waiters (in fact any other blue-collar and pink-collar workers) as our slaves. We demand service harshly, thinking that we are better by our position around the table. To differentiate the better person from the good, all we have to do is to wait until the end of our meal; a good person would pay and leave, but a better person would stack their plates aside to make it easier for the waitress to clean up. In other words, a better Muslim—or just a better person—would not feel above another that he refuses to do menial work. This is proof of a person who truly refrains from judging.

Now Ramadhan has passed and the devil is let loose again. Both figuratively and literally. Now that we are no longer fasting, nothing is holding us back from those acts we tried so hard to avoid in the last month. My only tiny little suggestion is that if we cannot confidently say we are free from faults, stop judging those who do not wear headscarves, do not pray, do drugs, or commit any other sins we deem incomprehensible for Muslims to do; after all, the same people might be in your circle of family too.

Even if your relationship with God is good, how certain are you that you can say the same about your relationship with others?


Monday, July 2, 2012

Beyond thoughts

My batch of peers who are returning home from our three years venture in the United States is currently active seeking employment. Thus with it came the quandary of finding a job that not only fits one’s personality, but also one’s educational background. Unfortunately, the right fit seldom comes by.

For me, I believe in two things: rizq and happiness. I don’t easily go for the job that pays the most at the expense of my happiness. If that had been my line of thinking all this while, I would have immersed myself in the study of medicine five years ago—but the thought of becoming a doctor does not make me happy.

Neither does the idea of doing something I am not passionate for in the name of stability.

I believe that rizq comes in many shapes and sizes, and material wealth is just one of them. Just because I would probably spend the rest of my life fighting for a cause that does not pay well does not mean my life is utterly doomed.

Yet, it still breaks my heart when the following question is asked regarding my impending internship: “How much does it pay?” They didn’t try to understand what an amazing opportunity it would be for me to intern with one of Asia’s top think tanks; they didn’t try to understand that this is what I signed up for when I chose political science as a career path; they didn’t try to understand how happy the thought of working with the best brains make me feel. There will always be costs and benefits to everything, but the benefits don't always have to be in greens.

Sure, you can either do what you love or learn to love what you do. Both equally excellent advices, but I would rather let my heart be the leader than be led because I believe that if you find happiness in doing what you love, it will be difficult to find yourself feeling empty once everything has come to pass.

Maybe I’m not being realistic, or maybe others are simply too pessimistic.

As a result, I find it baffling when others are baffled by my lifelong dream which is to be a stay-at-home mom. For as long as I can remember, I have always talked about being married and becoming a mom—not just any mom, but a suri rumah. I find it to be the most rewarding job to be able to raise your own children and to watch them grow up. It may not be the most financially ambitious dream; nonetheless, just the thought of it gives my heart such pleasure. It is not a great compromise at all.

In summation, as Muslims, we believe in the concept of rizq. We’ve heard stories of the rich man who goes to bed feeling lonely and the pauper who enjoys the warmth of a family in his small hut. Happiness is subjective and there are many winding roads to choose from to reach that feeling of contentment we all crave.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to one word: priority. My priority in life has always been to lead a life that I am proud and happy of, even if it may seem unconventional to most.

It may be a mistake to have spoken mightily soon about the future, but it is not a mistake to dream of one where wealth is just a commodity that could keep you sheltered from an increasingly soulless existence.


Friday, June 15, 2012

To the finish line

What does race matter? The color of our skin is only but the result of millennia of evolution from our origin out of Africa. Without contact with one another, this idea of racial differences is reinforced until it reached its zenith in the nineteenth century when the idea of a ‘Master Race’ was presented to the trepidation of non-whites. Why then does Malaysia continue stressing this concept that could never be scientifically proven in the first place?

We talk about globalization, about being a country that is ‘Truly Asia’, and of a 1Malaysia, yet there is a deeper division that if never solved, will forever be a hindrance to what we could only aspire to be as a nation.

Truthfully, I am annoyed by the fact that Malaysians are divided by race. We are classified and pigeonholed the second we were born into this world—in fact, it more than often happened before we were even conceived. Unfortunately, the problem arises for those who are the result of a biracial marriage. How disheartening it must be for them having to put a check next to lain-lain just because they are considered neither one nor the other.

On the other hand, a newborn of at least one Malay parent would automatically be considered a Malay for it is inane to do otherwise considering all the benefits that come with being a Malay in Malaysia. But that’s not fair. Those children are of mixed heritage, so why aren’t they officially acknowledged as so?

According to the constitution, a Malay is a person who practices Islam, practices Malay customs, and speaks Bahasa Melayu. Therefore, I guess, if a person fulfills all three criteria, and associates with being Malay, then he or she should not be denied the right to be called one.

My vexation however is with those who are obviously of mixed parentage, but are more conservative in their views regarding race relation. To put it bluntly, I have a problem with those who have at least one non-Malay parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent yet talk lowly of other races; basically, I find it ironic for them to speak about protecting Malay privileges when they themselves are not 100% Malay!

Nonetheless, I am not insinuating that a person with two Malay parents can raise a keris and call the rest as pendatangs, but it is more sickening when the former group of people I discussed fail to realize that being Malay for them is a choice, not a fact. Thus show some respect to the people of your own ancestors’.

When talking about race, Muslims love to quote this from the Quran: 

Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that ye might come to know each other. The noblest among you in God’s sight is that one of you who best performs his duty. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware (49:13).

Today, I would like to add another quote from the Quran which I find fitting and inspiring: 

O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah for Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do (5:8)

My blood truly boils every time someone uttered things to the effect of alienating another race just because they are not Malays. For example, when people say, “Don’t go to that store because it is owned by a Chinese,” I have to physically restrain myself from throwing a punch. So what if it is owned by a Chinese? If they sell basically the same things as the next store, but offer them at a better price, why deny them their rezeki? Or just because it is by a Chinese manufacturer, that doesn’t necessarily make the product haram (unless stated in the ingredient). Allah says be fair; so how is it fair that you make your choices based on the person behind the counter? How is it fair that the Malay grocer who provides horrible service keeps getting customers just by the color of his skin? That is not fair to  you who have to bear with his impudence; that is not fair to the Indian grocer next store who greets you with a smile and better options; most importantly, that is not fair to the Malay grocer for he will never learn to improve himself.

If race becomes obsolete, we would all be judged by our actions, our merits, and our virtues. How is that a bad thing?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A smile in a pocket

If institutions of higher education are mushrooming all over Malaysia, many a person wonders the rationale of sending thousands of Malaysian students oversea, together with millions of taxpayers' Ringgit. As a Malaysian student who recently graduated from the United States, I am unable to speak for the wider group as I do not possess that much of an experience; but speaking for myself, I am happy at the end result that stretches over and beyond my diploma.

Everybody grows, changes, and eventually matures. The difference is the rate of change.

As I went through editing my blog posts starting with the oldest, I was shocked at how different I sounded back then compared to how I do now, and I am thoroughly glad! Distance—both time and space—do give you a sense of perspective that is in dire need to this generation that are too attached to their online profile, unable to judge their own actions from afar. When I see and read the way my peers—sometimes those older too—communicate to one another, I wonder, doesn’t clarity come with age?

The old mantra goes, “nobody’s perfect.” Yet, if I can grow in three years, why can’t others? I’m still learning, of course, to become a better person, but as John Mayer sings, "Did you know that you could be wrong, and swear you're right? Some people been known to do it all their lives." It shocked me when I hear those in their twenties declaring they need no correction. Being true to oneself does not equal to being rude.

It may be an exaggeration to say Malaysians (in our entirety) are rude, but they are not polite either. Malaysians, especially Malays, talk highly of our Asian culture. Personally, the only Asian culture that I am proud of is our respect for elders, and even that is slowly eroding into oblivion. We don’t start our conversations with a simple “Hello”; we don’t even say thank you enough. We don’t say “excuse me”; we would rather squeeze ourselves through discomfort. And please don’t let me start on our drivers who have no regards for others.

I am lucky in that I got plunged into a first world country: a country with a first class mentality. Sure, not all Americans are as nice as I may be portraying them to be, and so are there nice Malaysians out there. Subtracting the exceptions, however, the difference becomes glaringly bright. There is this idea we learned at school called “groupthink”. At the end of the day you are molded as the people around you, and after being back in Malaysia for only a week, I pray to God to not let that happen to me.

So to answer those who are unconvinced of the benefits of sending Malaysian youths oversea just to get a degree that they could obtain right here at home, I can assure you the benefits are too manifold for the skeptics to comprehend. 


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sun in storm

As a Muslim student at the University of Pittsburgh, I am proud to be sitting in my History seminar class earlier. I was glowing inside, not in a conceited way, but with pride of the people of my religion. In our last class, we were to present orally the research paper that all of us had done in the last four or so months, and two of my classmates did topics that I would have not been particularly interested in if not for the comparative method they employed, contrasting experiences by different groups of people.

One of them did on social stratification. He was saying that because of centralization, wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few. There had always been “the poor” and “the rich” since the agriculture revolution 10 000 years ago when we humans became a settled species. He compared the Chinese civilization, the Islamic Caliphate, modern society, and the colonial period. Upon his research, he decided that the Islamic Caliphate was the best at reducing the gap between the less and the more well-to-do. This is based on his observation that Muslims have a responsibility over the welfare of their neighbors. He did not mention this, but that is essentially what zakat is all about. I do feel that charity should not be forced on the people by the government, but if we are able to educate Muslims on the spirit of charity that was taught by the Prophet, I believe that as a civilized people, we could definitely find our way back to the Golden Age. This of course depends on the leaders that we bring into office—those who sincerely care about others even when the cameras are away.

My other classmate talked about the 14th century Black Death. Since the plague spread from the east to Europe, she decided to compare the reaction that different religious groups had, and its impact on the plague’s aftermath. Even though she did not specifically spell out her preference for the Muslims' response, she did call theirs' better than the Europeans'. When the Black Death hit the Middle East, Muslim leaders and clerics call it a test of patience and mercy. God, as we believe in Him, is merciful. Unlike the view of European Christians at the time, Middle Eastern Muslims believed that God does not go about punishing humans; in fact, the plague was a blessing in disguise if they were able to pull through it. Furthermore, she mentioned that with Muslims not being afraid of death, they were able to stop short of going into full panic mode, as did the Europeans. As a result, the plague was contained much quicker in the Middle East than in Europe.

So, I came to my conclusion, that this is the kind of education we should support our students and scholars to undertake. This proves the point that I have been making for so long: if you truly believe in Islam and its truth, let it be questioned, researched, and pulled apart. If Islam is the best religion, it should be self-evident, with no one, no institution, and no government having to force people to believe in something that they don’t. The study of humanism should not be considered a worthless education. At the end of the day, that is what any employers are looking for—an employee that understands human nature, having values that are sought after. The catch is, this type of education should be truly liberal in the sense that universities should liberate the mind of our youths to think without barriers. That is called an education. I am truly grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Hail to PITT!


Monday, April 9, 2012

The power of routine

Added on 4/13/2012: To those who think this is nothing, and that we are over-reacting, they have obviously never had to evacuate from a class, or a test, or worse, at 5 in the morning while they were sleeping; all of these with the alarm screeching into a panic mode in the background. Moreover, we became pawns to this prankster, while having to study for finals in two weeks. Once you've experienced that, then you can call this a joke.

I am reading all the news I can find on the recent bomb threats on my campus, and without realizing, a tear falls down my cheek. I am extremely sad, and I am definitely scared at this point.

Not unlike other students, when it first started in mid-February, we all joked that the perpetrator(s) were trying to get class cancelled because of the beautiful spring weather. Some even joked that they wish the police would find a bomb so that the school would close indefinitely. Oh, how I do not wish that to happen.

After the shooting at the Western Psychiatric Institute in March that resulted in two deaths, anxiety rose. Violence and terror on campus is real—we were fortunate that the incident happened on Spring Break. However, Rassyid and I were around when it happened; in fact, we were having lunch at a restaurant nearby when suddenly three or four police cars rushed by. Thank God for Pitt’s Emergency Notification System (ENS): we found out what happened immediately.

Since then, there have been FIFTY SEVEN bomb threats on campus. The person who is doing this is not only cruel, but he or she also lacks total empathy. People have been asked to evacuate buildings during classes, exams, even at night time when the Litchfield Tower dormitories received threats at 2 am. It is distressing.

My fear, and the fear of many, is that all these false alarms are going to culminate into something real. Personally, I am worried of our impending commencement ceremony on April 29th. Some colleagues of mine at the library have decided to not attend their own graduation ceremony because of these threats. After all, THOUSANDS of people will be at the Peterson Events Center, and God forbids, if tragedy strikes…

I am scared, I truly am… At first it was frustration, but now it is fear, especially when people kept talking about the anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre coming up on April 16th. A lot of people, including myself, are worried that a gun might make its presence on campus.

Throughout all these, professors have been asked to be flexible and accommodate students. Students have moved to off-campus housing. Many have even left campus for good this semester. Even though I understand their anxiety, I am worried that this is precisely what the terrorist(s) want. Yes, I call them terrorists because they have successfully terrorized our beautiful community into hiding.

I salute Chancellor Nordenberg for his decision to keep the school running, albeit increased security measures. As a community, Pitt students, faculty members, and employees, should continue putting up a strong front. We will not allow these sick person(s) to ruin our semester, our education, our life. If there is one thing I learned from my excellent political science education at Pitt is that we should never negotiate with terrorists or succumb to their games. We do not want to empower them to create more havoc while having a white flag flying over our heads. No, we will not allow them to take over our campus.

I may be crying now, and I may be scared to go to work in an hour, but I will rise from my couch and do it. If anything happens, at least I want to be known as someone who does not cower to fear.

May the Secret Service, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, state police, Allegheny County police, sheriff's departments and Pittsburgh Police get their hands on this culprit soon so that Pitt can resume its title as one of the safest campuses in the nation.

Hail to Pitt!


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Three legged hairy creature

In thirst we search for truth,
Through pain we find credence,
But gliding without a muse
worths touching, worths a glance.
The fear of felicity
is so serene,
Even ruins of dirt passed a wall
can decay even the most able queen.
Sights to wonder, oh, a-wandering,
Sweats to break, no silence called
for. In tarmac of blood grows a ring,
A bond was born; in years we shall
unearth clogged gold. Yet craters shine
with tears so severe,
Only a vestige can bind
a handshake and a laughter.
Flee! You unworthy enemy,
Drag your ego marred by marbles,
Our sequins continue to be
a separate reverie of marvels.


Monday, March 19, 2012


In three days, thousands of Malaysian students would gather at their respective schools to await their most important fate so far: their SPM result. Following that would be the annual media-public-government circus known as the Public Service Department overseas scholarship, or better known as the JPA scholarship debate. I am going to take a leap here and be among the first to put forth my opinion on the matter.

Somewhere between my conservative and liberal views on life lies my belief that there are two rights that should be afforded to all regardless of gender, creed, race, nationality, or class (wealth), and they are health care and education.

Some would read my statement above and construed it as a call for more aid to Bumiputras in order for them to be able to fairly compete with the Chinese, while others would read into my statement a call for equal access to university placements and scholarship recipients. The latter is true.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit that I have family members, friends, family members of friends, and acquaintances that have spoken of Malay rights in education over the non-Bumiputras as if Malaysia belongs only to the Malays. No, education is a right to all; quota in universities and scholarships is a Malay privilege. A right is an unassailable freedom that is allowed to ALL. Rights to a particular group of people are therefore a paradox.

In regards to the JPA scholarship, I have heard of, and am familiar with the argument in support of limiting them to the non-Bumiputras. I grew up listening to them, unfortunately. To these Malays, their children are supposedly too far behind in their education that it is unrealistic to juxtapose them alongside their non-Bumiputra peers. To my ears, all I hear is a defeatist argument, blaming others for their own shortcomings. If in fact the Chinese are more superior in their education, it is not because they are richer (which they are), but more importantly it is because of their desire to get out of the semi-oppressed situation they found themselves in Malaysia. When your whole life depends on it, there is no entertaining a plan B, unlike us Malays who can go begging to MARA or the many other financial aids accessible to us.

The bottom line comes down to this: start learning to trust your own children. These people who are fighting for Malay rights are the same people defending Islam but are afraid to let Islam fight it out to prove its truth—irony is cheap in Malaysia, apparently. I am confident in saying all of these because I have had a conversation with someone inside PSD, and was informed that even without the current quotas, the number of Malays who would receive JPA's overseas scholarship would be relatively the same because we are more qualified than we give ourselves credit for.

To my earlier statement, yes, I firmly believe that tertiary education should be for all. Nonetheless, that does not mean we have to send all our students overseas. In my opinion, a highly coveted scholarship such as the one offered by JPA should be considered a gift by the government to outstanding students, not a right to all. Personally, I would rather see distinguished Malaysians--of any race--represent our country than send students who struggle to keep up and eventually return home without a degree. What the government should provide are similar scholarships and loans to all students who are accepted into local universities. That is fair. If we send all our brains outside, how do we expect to bring universities such as UM back into the world's top 100?


Friday, February 17, 2012

2nd 23

In the past year, there is one song that I kept on replay every time I am happy, and especially when I am sad (also when I am angry). It is my go-to song when swirls of emotion take hostage of me. The song is called “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. I am not suicidal, but the lyrics are too beautiful to not be poignant to a sensitive soul.

As I turn a year older, it cannot be helped for me to think of the fact that death is near. Sure, we hear older folks verbalize their anxiety over death, but how many people of my generation have death at the back of their mind? More importantly, how many of us entertain the idea of a young friend or family member passing? How would we feel if someone close to us dies an untimely death? How many regrets would we have?

“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I’ve been singing
Funny, when you’re dead how people start listening,”

Growing up, I have a lot of self-doubt. Not a lot of people believe me when I say so. Where do you think my courage to tread the unknown comes from? But that is where the problem lies; I was brave enough to take a small step, never gallant enough to fully plunge into the abyss. Part of that equation is the faceless figure sitting on my shoulder that keeps whispering, “You’re not good enough. You’re a child! How can a young person have an idea worthy of the world?” My drive to prove them wrong is strong, yet the grip of this figure is stronger, pulling me back every time. So I kept telling myself, “One day . . . one day when I’m gone maybe then they’ll start listening.”

Today, a day after my 23rd birthday, something amazing happened—something that I can only call a miracle by its magnitude. Today, after 23 years of living my life on earth, I finally find out that I AM WORTH IT. Indeed, it is pathetic for me to feel this way after all I have accomplished, but this time it is different. I put my entire life, passion, love, intellect, and honor code into the universe, whilst praying a meteor would not hit me back in the face. Today I found out that I do not need to wait till the day I die to know that there are people out there willing to listen.

Thank You, God, for the greatest birthday present yet.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Blue, green, or red?

I am not going to claim absolute knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am neither a scholar nor an activist. What I am is a person who thirsts for the truth. More than that, I am someone who longs for peace, in accordance with the definition of my faith, my religion. Thus, I am here not to defend or to accuse, but simply to ask.

As I have always stated, I am not a scholar of Islam. But I do have ample knowledge on the history of the region and of the conflict. So if I am in the wrong, please someone do correct me: the third holiest site to Sunni Muslims after the cities of Mecca and Medina is Jerusalem, and not the region called Palestine, correct?

Jerusalem has tremendous religious significance to Muslims no less for its role in the Prophet (pbuh)’s ascendancy to heaven and for the fact that it was the first Qibla and the second house of prayer built, but also because we share historical importance of Haram ash-Sharif (or the Temple Mount) with the Jews. The kings and the prophets that lived before—Daud, Sulaiman, and Isa among others—centered their message of revelation in palaces and courts in Jerusalem, not Palestine.  Simply put, other parts of what is today the State of Israel, from Haifa to Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva, are not religiously important to Muslims.

Nonetheless, there are understandably tangible grievances held by Palestinians—Christians and Muslims alike—for they were literally thrown out of their homes when Ashkenazi Jews bought lands in the territory. For that, we should certainly continue to seek restitution.

A two-state solution that addresses these issues, where Palestinians have the right to either govern their own country and/or have the right to return and live harmoniously under Israeli laws if they choose to do so, should be supported as long as the city of Jerusalem remains free and open to Muslims all over to visit and worship especially at Masjid al-Aqsa.

Jerusalem is holy, but Islam is peace.

If the Prophet (pbuh) can return insults with tolerance, why do we, sinful beings, resort to violence?


p/s: Do correct me if my understanding of history and Islam is marred by ignorance in this post.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whose Peace?

Should religion be a strictly personal experience, or a community-based faith? Should state interfere, or can beliefs and practices be interpreted 7 billion different ways? "People should be guided to the path of truth"; isn’t that statement an irony, for if it is the truth, shouldn’t it be self-evident?

These are questions that are worth asking given the paradox we find ourselves living in. What recently ignites my ingrained curiosity with Islam and the Western world is a book called The Butterfly Mosque, by G. Willow Wilson. Expecting to read a story about a Muslim convert trying to live a normal life in the United States post 9/11, it was a nice surprise reading about her feeling of attachment in an Islamic country that to me resembles home.

Rather than writing my opinion on the book, let the book speak for itself through pages that spoke to me.

...the street where we were harassed on a daily basis. Cairo was crawling with unemployed, furious, infantilized men who were still sleeping in their childhood beds and taking order from their mothers. Parents of girls were demanding more and more in bridal settlements and real estate, putting marriage—and therefore adulthood—out of reach for many in this poverty-stricken generations. As the middle class shrank, marital expectations rose; by marrying well, a working-class girl could help her family climb back into a “respectable” social stratum. There was no higher goal than being an ibn i’nas or binti i’nas, the son or daughter of genteel people. The stress this put on working-class men was almost unfathomable. These were the men who hunted us and hated us. In their eyes, they had been betrayed by female social mercenaries and denied their dignity by a class-obsessed society. I was marrying into a country on the verge of a meltdown.” (page 59)

Doesn’t the paragraph above hit a bit too close to Malaysian society?

I was surprised by how often Islam, in its purely textual form, took my side. There is no religious limit on the public spaces that women can inhabit; nothing prevents them from running businesses or driving cars, there is no reason they must walk behind men or cover their faces. A woman’s role is not defined by the kitchen and the nursery.

…The Prophet’s first wife, Khadijah, one of the most beloved women in Islamic history, ran her own successful business. Muhammad spent much of his early life working as her employee; they were married after she proposed to him. She was almost fifteen years his senior. Her death plunged the Prophet into mourning so intense that it is known even today as the Year of Sorrow. The Virgin Mary, known to Muslims as Maryam, is mentioned more times in the Quran than she is in the Bible, and raises her miraculous son entirely on her own; Joseph is not present in Islamic version of her story. Asia, the wife of the Pharaoh, is revered by Muslims for having disobeyed her husband in defense of Moses. A powerful entrepreneur, a single mother, and a rebellious wife: all three women are revered as the embodiment of perfect faith.” (page 80)

The women’s car was a moveable, segregated hothouse—a determined peace prevailed there, and produced a miniature society. I began to write an essay in homage to the women’s car, picking out narrative threads that I thought might help a western reader understand its subtler implications. I sent the essay to the New York Times Magazine.

…When several furious responses were published a week later, full of blistering language about gender apartheid, I was totally unprepared.

…Japanese officials announced that a women’s car would be added to the Tokyo subway to protect female commuters from inappropriate male attention; precisely the reason the women’s car had been implemented in Cairo. The Tokyo car was hailed as a step forward for women’s right.” (page 260-263)

If that is not blatant discrimination against a religion with more than one billion adherents, I don’t know what is.

Time to re-write the narrative, perhaps?


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1st 23

It is always fun when people find out we are married, regardless if it’s a friend, a teacher, or just the owner of our favorite restaurant. The shock on their faces is priceless. The next question to follow would always be, How old are you? And then they start to do the math. When, then, did we get married if we’re so young?

We got married when we were 20. Too young, to most. A fellow Intian, who barely spoke two words to me in a year, sent a message on Facebook after our wedding asking, How do you know he’s the one? I remember saying I just know.

Now, two and a half years later—and after four years of being together—I can finally answer that question. I know that he is the one because I could not imagine a person better than him. A lot of people thought he was too good for me, and maybe they are right. But maybe he is God’s gift to me for doing something right, who knows? With no disrespect to the men I know, I simply couldn’t think of a person better than my husband. He is kind, gracious, patient, smart, loving, independent…and have I mention patient? It is not easy being with me, or any woman, for that matter. But I’ve never met a person whose love really does conquer the demon in me. On top of all that, he helps me with house chores—now that’s a real man.

Today is his 23rd birthday, and as I said to him yesterday, I can’t believe that we’ve been together for four years now. But since I have the time to ponder on it, I realized that being with him has actually been the easiest thing I have ever done in my life.

Happy 23rd Birthday,



Friday, January 6, 2012

Sphere on shoulder

Culture shock is a dead term in our Malaysian dictionary. As my wise husband aptly puts is, “culture shock” went out the window years ago when we fervently brought Astro into our living rooms. May I add, the term further perishes into obsolescence with the ubiquity that we now call the Internet. Malaysia is no longer a “third world country”—whatever that means—but a developed country (albeit being behind Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand). Thus, I’m going to be frank here: there is no more escaping from the reality of sex, drugs, and booze, unless you live somewhere deep in our rainforest with no immediate means to access the outside world.

I am tired of people making assumptions that the recent news of our students going “astray” abroad was caused by culture shock. My guess is that who they are, and who they have become, is merely the result of western infiltration into our living rooms since the early 1990s, mixed with their eastern upbringing. I am not saying it is either right or wrong, but it has nothing to do with supposed “shock”. Perhaps by being away from home, away from the shackles of miscommunication, this new-found freedom finally provides these young adults with the opportunity to experiment with the alternatives that they have known of all along. They are not shocked by western culture; if anything, they are shocked by how similar their friends and classmates are compared to the people back home.

To the parents and teachers that talk about westerners like they know them from the back of their hands, I have a few questions: Do you know what your locally-studying Muslim children were up to last weekend? Can you for certain tell me that they have not once tasted a drop of alcohol? Or that they don’t have drugs hidden behind their headboard in their dorm rooms? What do they do at their so-called innocent birthday parties? To further prove my point that culture shock no longer exists in our Malaysian vernacular, I dare you to take a stroll through KLCC, or MidValley, or One Utama, or Pavillion, and tell me that the girls you see are not dressing exactly like the western idols they look up to. Again, I’m not judging, but simply sending a friendly reminder to stop using culture shock as an excuse.

Don’t treat the symptom, treat the disease.