Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It feels good to finally be able to breathe

It feels good to finally be able to breathe.

In the midst of going through life’s routine, I have failed my voice and myself. Only in the past few days was I reminded of the reason I have written religiously in an online journal since ten years ago—this is the only place where I am afforded my own space without being cut mid-sentence and ridiculed for having a personal opinion.

All my life I have been stifled. They make me think as if I’ve been allowed to speak up when I wasn’t. Should I dare to have a slightly non-conformist idea, it would be made known loud and clear that my opinion doesn’t count because it is simply wrong. Maybe when I was younger I ate up their lies because it was the only reality I am made aware of, but now I know better. I’ve seen the world. I’ve experienced different dynamics. There are people out there who value differences of opinion; more importantly, there are people out there who value my opinion. I’ve realized that the reason I seek a life in academic is because my thoughts—however juvenile or misguided—are always respected and taken into consideration in an academic setting. How do I know this? I have just graduated from one of the world’s best universities, and even if I don’t make sense in class sometimes, never once was I put in the awkward position of questioning my own worth, or worse, my ability to express myself.  For those who find it difficult to accept another person's point of view, maybe consider doing what all my teachers in the US and the UK used to do, and start your reply with, "You have a good point, but maybe also consider..." Being in class was my safe haven. School and this blog are the only recourse I have when it comes to articulating my ideas.

Sometimes it feels surreal that I seldom say anything to those around me regarding matters that are close to my heart. For example, I have massive passion for the Middle East, politics in Islamic countries, Shariah law, racial politics, religious issues affecting Muslims, etc. But when they discuss these subjects, I choose to stay silent. Sometimes I feel stupid, because I obviously have an opinion on each of these topics, but I know if I say anything I will be opening a can of worms. It would be too much to expect a civilized discussion from these people. They would raise their voice and that’s it. I’m not a fan of heated discussion. If you can’t converse in a civilized manner, you’re not worth conversing with. When someone is angry for being challenged, you know they don’t have enough meat to back their ideas. I am not trying  to convert people to my way of thinking, but making things worse, never once did they ask for my opinion when ironically, there are people halfway across the world who would tweet me asking for my reaction to current world events. So when I sense these people are not ready for an open discussion, I withdraw and keep silent. Because a wise man once said, "Sometimes silence is the best response." In my case, silence—and the aid of food in front of me—is the best response every time. It is not worth my energy to debate with people who have not master the method as taught by the people before us.

It also boggles my mind when these are the same people who claim to be better Muslims than others. One becomes a Muslim when one takes the shahadah, or the proclamation that “There is no other god but God, and Muhammad is a messenger of God.” They can repeat the shahadah multiple times a day, but if they do not internalize it, it makes it difficult for me to respect the things that come out of their mouths. When you say, “There is no other god but God,” this should be enough to put you in your place in the grander scheme of things. We are nothing but one of the many, many, creation of the Creator. Saying—no, internalizing—the shahadah should make one humble, including in forming an opinion. If only you realize that you are but a blip in God’s bigger plan, you would realize that there are many things out there that are out of your grasp and understanding. Thus, there is a chance that you might be wrong. It does not matter how many books you’ve read or own; you would not be able to even sniff the scent of Truth, because it is far beyond the capability of any human being. I’m not just talking about religion. Even when you’re talking about science, was it not the brightest of minds who once thought that the earth is flat? Nobody knows the Truth, and that is the truth. So, your arrogance to not allow your opinion challenged goes against the shahadah that you proclaim every day and night.

Internalization of the second part of the shahadah, “And Muhammad is the messenger of God,” should also make one humble, and patient, because that was how the Messenger of God led his life. If you believe in Muhammad, then you would want to lead a life as taught by him. It is easy to say “I heart Rasullullah”, but to practice his sunnah? I’m not talking about keeping beards and eating with two fingers—those are easy because it involves our exhibition of faith to others. When we feel others are judging us, it is easier to keep the Prophet’s sunnah. But I’m talking of those which you cannot externalize to your friends and neighbours, such as being patient and grateful. It is not about saying Alhamdulillah, but it is about showing your gratitude by not complaining over the tiniest little thing. Remember that there are others worse off than us. So the waiter mistakenly takes the wrong order, so the doctor is ten minutes late, so there's a traffic jam right before your exit—why can’t we take a more positive approach and think that it might be a blessing in disguise? Why can’t we show a little gratitude by saying/thinking, “Better late than never.” I have been ridiculed by some acquaintances over my discipline to follow these rules of men, but the way I see it is, if you can’t even abide by man-made regulations, how do you want me to believe that you are able to abide by GOD’s rules and regulations? Everything that God asks of us requires not just faith, but also discipline. How can you be disciplined in your prayers but not when it comes to traffic rules? It’s a contradiction that you cannot see but is an embarrassment to other Muslims. After all, “The best dawah is your manners, and the best naseeha is your example.” (Imam Osama [not bin Laden])

What is the point of all this rambling? As much as it is my own form of PSA, it is also a gentle reminder to myself. I am about to be a mother. In six months, I will no longer just be responsible to my husband and my parents, but there will be this little person whose views of this world will very much depend on how my husband and I raise him or her. When my baby is big enough to talk and to question everything around him or her, I hope that I will remember this post. I hope that I will teach my child to have faith in others, and especially in God. Sometimes—most of the times, actually—neither my husband nor I will have all the answers, but I think that the most courageous thing a parent can do is to say, “I honestly don’t know, baby, but mummy will try to find out about it and we can learn together.” There is no harm and humiliation in admitting that despite the age gap, there are things that my child may have more knowledge on, because he or she may have thought of something that never crosses my mind. Rather than berating my child for a different opinion, I will try my best to be a parent who will embrace his or her unique ideas about the world, because their future will be different from when I was a little kid—it would be immature for me to expect him or her to agree with everything I believe in. I pray with all my heart to Almighty God that I will be a force of positivity in my child’s life so that he or she won’t be as timid as I am, afraid to speak up in fear of being mocked. I pray that the home that we’re making for ourselves—the one we are moving to in a week—will be a safe space for my children to express themselves, because if their home is not safe, I dare not think of the world outside.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Approach to Shia-Sunni Dialogue

Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Approach to Shia-Sunni Dialogue

Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s Approach to Shia-Sunni Dialogue

The Qatar-based Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is considered to be one of the world’s leading Islamic scholars. Author of numerous books, he is known for his open-minded attitude and for his willingness to address of vital contemporary concern in a spirit of genuine dialogue. One issue on which the Shaikh has written extensively relates to relations between different Islamic groups, sects and movements. He decries extremist interpretations of the faith that readily brand all other Muslims as infidels and outside the pale of Islam. Instead, he pleads for moderation and dialogue among Muslims, seeing this as mandated by the Quran and the Prophetic example.

Relations between Shias and Sunnis have been strained for much of Muslim history. Many Shias and Sunnis see each other as apostates or even as ‘enemies’ of Islam. In some countries, such as in parts of Pakistan today, Shia-Sunni conflict has taken seriously violent forms. Although in many cases there are crucial political and economic factors that fuel this conflict, the sectarian dimension acts as a powerful factor in further exacerbating Shia-Sunni differences. Halting efforts have been made in the past, and continue to be made today, to promote Shia-Sunni dialogue. However, on the whole, it can be safely said, most conservative and ‘traditional’ ulema have been reluctant, if not openly hostile, to any suggestion of genuine Shia-Sunni dialogue. Literature branding the sectarian ‘other’ as inveterate foes of Islam continues to be produced and distributed, mostly, although not entirely, penned by conservative ulema. Although such literature has been in existence for centuries, in recent years it appears to have been given a major boost through active sponsoring by certain states in order to promote their own interests. This, for instance, is the case with the vast amount of anti-Shia literature produced in or funded by Saudi Arabia in order to counter anti-monarchical and anti-imperialist interpretations of Islam emerging from out of Iran following the Islamic Revolution in that country.

Given the vehement opposition to the Shias among many, if not most, Sunni ‘ulema, Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s attitude towards Shias is particularly remarkable. Two fatwas recently issued by him relating to the Shias (accessible on the website www.islam-online.net ) suggest his serious willingness to engage in genuine dialogue with Shias and to tolerate differences, within broad limits, among Muslims. The first of these fatwas deals with the issue of intermarriage between Shias and Sunnis. The Shaikh responds to the question by explaining the conditions for an ideal marriage. ‘Matrimonial life’, he says, ‘should be based on mutual understanding between the spouses’. ‘[H]eated arguments and continuous debates’, he says, would threaten to ruin the marriage, leading to ‘battle between the spouses’. One possible cause of serious conflict between spouses could be, the Shaikh says, if one of the partners, being a Sunni (here the Shaikh does not identify the person as such) ‘supports Abu Bakr’ and the other (presumably a Shia) ‘defends Ali’. The Shaikh clearly says that he does not regard such a marriage as forbidden (haram) but, yet, he states, ‘I don’t prefer it’. This is because it would inevitably lead to conflict and eventual martial breakdown. He says that just a Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, he could also marry a Shia woman. Yet, although he considers it legally permissible for a Sunni man to marry a Shia woman, he argues that such a marriage is ‘not the ideal one’. However, he further qualifies his statement by stressing that if the Shia woman is a ‘moderate Shi’ite’, prays in the mosque along with Sunnis and ‘does not support conflict with the Sunnis’, a Sunni man can marry her if he ‘really wants to’. Interestingly, he adds in conclusion, ‘It goes without saying that the above fatwa is also applicable in case the man is a Shi’ite and the woman is a Sunni’.

The Shaikh’s second fatwa deals in greater detail with Shia-Sunni relations, particularly addressing the question of dialogue between the two groups. The fatwa, issued in March 2004 in reply to a question put to the Shaikh by a certain Husain from Iraq, bears the revealing title, ‘Overlooking Differences Between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims’. In reply to the question, the Shaikh begins by highlighting the importance that Islam places on Muslim brotherhood. This, he suggests, points to the urgent need for Shia-Sunni dialogue. He then lays down certain broad rules for Sunnis to follow in dialoguing with Shias. The most important rule, he says, is to ‘concentrate on the points of agreement’, not on areas of difference. Of the former, the most salient are those that deal with ‘the fundamental issues of religion’. On the other hand, he suggests, most of the points of difference between Shias and Sunni have to do with ‘minor’ issues, and hence must not be allowed to become an obstacle in the process of dialogue.

The Shaikh then discusses in detail the areas of broad agreement between Shias and Sunnis, which he suggests must form the basis of meaningful dialogue and efforts to build unity between the two. He argues that both Shias as well as Sunnis share many fundamental beliefs, such as faith in one God, in Muhammad as the ‘Seal of the Prophets’, in all the heavenly scriptures and prophets, and in the Quran as God’s word. Shias as well as Sunnis agree in the matter of the ‘five pillars’ of Islam-the testimony to the oneness of God’s and to the Prophet Muhammad as being God’s messenger, the specified prayers, zakat, haj and fasting in the month of Ramadan. The Shaikh admits that Shias and Sunnis differ with regard to some rulings related to these ‘pillars’, but then adds that such difference of opinion is ‘something that is quite normal’. In contrast to several other Sunni scholars, he refrains from magnifying real or imaginary differences between the Shias and Sunnis. Instead, he goes so far as to argue that the differences between Shias and Sunnis in the ways in which the ‘five pillars’ are understood are ‘like the scholarly difference in opinion among the Sunni schools themselves, such as the Hanbali, Hanafi and Maliki schools’.

In his effort to bring Shias and Sunnis closer the Shaikh approvingly refers to the well-known Sunni scholar Imam Ash-Shawakani, who, he writes, ‘referred to eminent scholars of jurisprudence among the Sunnis and Shi’ites on equal footing’. The Shaikh maintains that in matters of jurisprudence, on issues concerning both ‘worship’ and ‘transactions’,
there is probably no ‘crucial difference’ between Shias and Sunnis. He admits that Shias do not recognize the Sunni books of Hadith or traditions attributed to the Prophet. Yet, he also claims that most of the ‘authentic’ traditions contained in these books are, in fact, considered as authentic by Shias, either as reports narrated by sources they consider trustworthy or else as points of view of their Imams, whom they regard as infallible. On the whole, then, he concludes, ‘there is a great deal of agreement’ between Shia and Sunni jurisprudence, and this he considers as ‘the most important point’ to be kept in mind when approaching the question of Shia-Sunni dialogue and unity. Both forms of jurisprudence, he says, depend on the same sources, the Quran and the practice (sunnah) of the Prophet, and both are said to share the common aim of ‘establishing Allah’s justice and mercy among people’.

The Shaikh is not unmindful of the differences, on certain issues, between the Sunnis and most Shias, although he considers them relatively insignificant, at least compared to what they share in common. In highlighting the commonalities between the two he also argues against a widely held view in some Sunni circles of all Shias as believing in certain doctrines that are not accepted by the Sunnis. Thus, he writes, ‘some Shi’ite views that seem eccentric to use have been also adopted by some Sunni scholars’. For instance, he says, while most Shias approve of ‘temporary marriage’ (mu’tah), Sunni scholars in general forbid it. Nevertheless, he notes, a companion of the Prophet, Hazrat ibn Abbas regarded this form of marriage as ‘lawful’ and that ‘although he changed his mind later’ on the issue, some of his followers in Mecca and Yemen, such as Said ibn Jubair and Tawus continued ‘holding such marriage lawful’.

Overall, then, the Shaikh’s relatively open-minded approach to the vexed issue of Shia-Sunni relations is in sharp contrast to that of many conservative Sunni ‘ulama, particularly the so-called ‘Wahhabi’ scholars, who insist that the Shias are heretics and are outside the fold of Islam. The Shaikh appears to vehemently disagree with this position, and, instead, explicitly recognizes most Shias as fellow Muslims. In one of his statements he clearly announces, ‘Let it be known to all that the Shi’a are Muslims who believe in the Oneness of Allah and the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)’. The term ‘Shia’, he explains, refers to ‘a group of people who are the followers of Imam Ali’. They also ‘show full fidelity’ to the Ahl-i Bayt, the family of the Prophet. This is not a wrongful or un-Islamic innovation, and nor are those who are commonly referred to as Shias the only one who do so. In fact, the Shaikh argues, ‘such fidelity is required of all Muslims’, and proceeds to provide Quranic evidence for this. He admits that the Shias ‘have their own dogmas’, which Sunnis ‘condemn as heresy’, but argues that ‘this doesn’t make them into non-Muslims’. However, he makes a careful distinction between those Shia groups who he considers may legitimately be regarded as Muslims, and those whose beliefs and practices are for him clearly aberrant, even to the majority of the Shias themselves. The latter include groups who deify Ali or claim that he was meant to have been the last prophet, in place of the Prophet Muhammad.

As the Shaikh sees it, intra-Muslim rivalry, particularly between Shias and Sunnis, only plays into the hands of forces that are inimical to Muslims. All Muslims should be alert’, he warns, ‘against the schemes and plots planned by the enemies of Islam’. ‘They.want us to disagree and fight each other in the name of belief’, he says, and appeals to Shias and Sunnis ‘not to give them this chance’.
Given the nature of the institution of the fatwa, the Shaikh does not deal at length with the theological (as opposed to simply jurisprudential) differences between Shias and Sunnis, but instead, simply provides an opinion in response to specific questions put to him. Naturally, for a meaningful dialogue between Shias and Sunnis, issues of theology as well as history cannot be ignored. Yet, the Shaikh’s fatwas make clear, dialogue can only take off when both partners are willing to recognize what they share in common. As the Shaikh points out, there is much that Sunnis and most Shia share, and this must form the basis for developing a genuine Islamic ecumenism.

Originally published on Yoginder Sikand’s website at http://www.islaminterfaith.org/archives.html and reprinted with permission of the author.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I Am Muslim

Before you read any further, I would like to firstly apologize if anyone is to be offended by this post. But I feel very passionately about this topic and so I need to write what is in my heart. More importantly, this is an issue that has caused so much sorrow in me.

As some may know, I recently went back to Malaysia for Ramadhan, and among the many issues that are being ‘discussed’ (a nice term to describe what is actually going on), is that of Shiism. I would again like to acknowledge that I am not the right person to come to regarding the different beliefs and practices between Sunnis and Shiites, but I can say that compared to most Malaysians I have met, I can confidently say that I know more (because of my general interest in Islam that is not limited to any sect), and especially on the (unbiased) history of Islamic sectarianism as learned at college. Words could not describe the heavy feeling in my chest every time I hear someone spread ignorance about Shiism because I feel as if I am witnessing the real-time unravelling of the Muslim ummah right in front of my eyes. From family members, to friends, to the salesperson at a department store, I have heard the same conversation, but I know better than to interject. I held my tongue because I believe it is not worth it to argue with people who are unwilling to admit that there is a small probability that they might be wrong.

I am not going to write a whole entry on the many similarities between Sunnis and Shiites; instead I would like to stress my frustration over how people are handling this issue. They say that it is in the name of Islam that they are trying to stop Shiites from spreading their beliefs in Malaysia, but as a Muslim, I just could not find justification in the Quran or Hadith for people to pass judgment on whose Islam is right or wrong. Don’t we all agree that only God knows eternal truth? Don’t we all agree that only God can judge whether one is righteous? Isn’t God the only person who can decide if a person is a believer or not? We are all humans similar in every way to the person we are judging. We are on the same hierarchical level. Does that not seem funny that we still somehow feel the right to call others kuffars?

The history of Islamic sectarianism started after the death of our beloved Prophet over the issue of his successor. Sunnis agree that Abu Bakr was the rightful successor whereas Shiites believe that Ali and his descendants were the rightful successor. Why is it important to point this out? It is to show that the Sunni-Shia split started as a political conflict. I would rather not go into detail, but surely it evolved into differences in religious jurisprudence. But may I friendly remind that even among Sunnis we have different madhabs, and our differences lie in religious practices, not in theology. Some may point to the concept of the imamate as curious. But not all Shiites believe in the infallibility of the imams. The bottom line is, all of us believe in the oneness of God (which is the cornerstone of our religion), the prophethood of Muhammad, the Quran, and Qiyamah. A relative of mine pointed out that Shiites have a different Quran than ours. I admitted that I had no knowledge of such thing, so I went to do my research and found out that the difference lies in the tafseer. Do you know that there are many tafseers of the Quran out there? But the Quran, in its Arabic form, has never changed since it was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

As a political science student, when I approach this subject people like to ask me to elaborate on the sectarian violence going on in the Middle East. I don’t care for the tone of their voice, which while seemingly condemns sectarianism also has a layer of prejudice that is feeding the violence. Nobody in my family knows that on Eid, my heart broke into hundreds of tiny pieces when I saw the number of people that had died in bomb attacks targeting mosques in Iraq. This is what we, Muslims, have come to. It is not the Christians, the Jews, or the Hindus who are killing Muslims, but Muslims are killing their own brothers over sectarian differences. Is it worth it? That’s a stupid question; of course it is not. We are killing people who profess in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad.

Sure, Malaysians have not fall to sectarian violence...yet. But it would not surprise me if we do in the near future based on what I saw and heard during my month-long stay in Malaysia. It always starts as harmless finger-pointing, but soon the fingers would turn into guns. People might argue that we are preventing the outbreak of destructive sectarianism by banning Shiism in Malaysia. These are the same people who cry foul over the military coup in Egypt. Believe me, it is all the same. When you suppress people based on ideology, you are only pushing them toward the brink of violent rebellion. Yes, I said ideology, because this is not an issue of religion. We are all Muslims.

“All believers are but brethren. Hence, [whenever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.” (Quran 49: 10)

"The differences of opinion among the learned within my community are [a sign of] God's grace" (The Prophet's Hadith as quoted by Imam Suyuti in Al-Jami as-Saghir)

May God have mercy on my arrogance in this post.



Friday, July 5, 2013

A difference of opinion does not spell the doom of us

I have studied the Middle East for the good part of the last four years. This far from makes me an expert, but I believe I have an advanced understanding of the region at an introductory level. Unfortunately, I feel like my opinion is less appreciated in Malaysia because of my refusal to engage in dramatic accounts on the present unfolding of events. In simpler terms, I refuse to fall prey to conspiracy theories and the pointing of fingers toward those with a different ideology. It is funny that at the LSE, I am known by my classmates as the defender of Islamists (Ikhwan, AKP, even of Iran’s theocracy), but back home nobody wants to listen to me because they feel I am a ‘liberal’ (which I don’t deny, but only because my conception of liberalism is different and not antithetical to Islam). The point is that I believe I have succeeded at being impartial precisely because of this.

Firstly, I am studying democracy, and my focus is on Islamists (or Political Islam). If nothing else, these two facts about me already show that I am a staunch believer that Islam and democracy are complementary. It is sad that I feel the need to put this out first in order to avoid being called an anti-Islamist.

This is my opinion on Egypt:

Max Weber wrote in the Protestant Ethic that “The appeal to national character is generally a mere confession of ignorance.” I believe the same applies to the current view on Egypt held by certain quarters of the Muslim population. The simple compartmentalization of the belligerents as Islamists (pro-Mursi) and secularists (anti-Mursi) only proves one’s misunderstanding of the situation. It shows that one does not recognize the unique history, demography, expectations, and leadership in Egypt. It is far more complicated than what the media is making it out to be. If Western media is accused of being the mouthpiece of the anti-Mursi, the same can be said of Islamist media. Now, I am not going to debate on the role of the media; instead, what I wish to put out there is the recognition that it is difficult to be objective by depending on the media because they have their own agendas.

So what exactly is my take on the army’s takeover of power?

Personally, I believe that since Mursi was elected in a free and fair election, he should be able to finish his presidential mandate. It is unfair to expect him to turn the country around in just over a year. Democracy is about having a long time perspective on politics. Nevertheless, with democracy being in its infancy, it is not irrational for Egyptians to want immediate changes after years of inflation and unemployment. On the other hand, protest movements are rarely sustained by bread and butter issues alone. What was expected was for the men and women in Egypt to be a part of the wider nation-building process, which Mursi failed to acknowledge in Egypt’s exclusive constitution-writing process.

Of course I find it unfortunate that the army is currently holding leaders of Ikhwan in custody. I truly hope the Algerian Civil War would be enough of a reminder to the effects of brutal suppression on a party that legitimately won a free and fair election. Deep in my heart, however, I have faith in Ikhwan. The party has not advocated violence since the middle of last century, and I doubt they will start now. They have been suppressed and persecuted under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, and yet they have not called for an armed insurrection. This time, it would not be different. Moreover, since the army quickly handed power over to an interim president and government, I believe Egypt is on the right track toward democracy and away from violence. If time is what the anti-Mursi was demanding, this is their opportunity to prove they could, if ever, build a coalition stronger than the Ikhwan.

(Disclaimer: I am neither an Egyptian nor do I live in Egypt. This is only the personal opinion of a budding academic observer.)


Monday, May 27, 2013

The act of reacting

I like Ryan Gosling. That is not a secret for me to bring to my grave. People would, somehow, assume that I like Ryan Gosling because butter could melt the second it makes contact with him. Even though that is half the truth, that is only half the truth. The other reason I like Ryan Gosling is because of his undeniable talent as an actor. He would not be an Academy Award nominee otherwise. I would also assume that it shocks people to find out that, although I can watch Crazy, Stupid, Love on repeat until his next movie comes out, my favourite Ryan Gosling movie is actually The Believer. After thinking long and hard about it, it finally hit me that the reason behind my admiration for The Believer is because I can relate to his character as a Jew (Ryan Gosling) who is part of the Neo-Nazi movement. I am not as extreme as his character is in the movie, hopefully, but I can relate partially with the frustration he feels with fellow brothers and sisters in faith.

When I entered college, and even before then, it baffles me that not a lot of Muslims in my immediate circle really care about the goings-on in the world. In fact, some even find it cool to proclaim, “I don’t care about politics!” I simply could not get my head around it. How can you not care about the actions of individuals and/or groups that have a trickling down effect to the everyday living of each and every one of us? But then I took a long deep breath to compose myself and understand that even my fascination with international politics stem from my very own personal experiences, and unless my shadow starts to have a life of its own, no one else in the world have the exact same experiences as me, nor the exact same passion.

As I wrote in all my graduate school application essays, the reason I decided to study the Middle East and Islam is rooted in my shock over the September 11 terrorist attacks. I grew up reading fictions set in America, listening to American music, and watching American television shows. Even though I have yet to set foot in the United States back then, I already felt like I understood it. I remember thinking, by hook or by crook, I am going to spend my early adult life studying in the land of the free. And then it happened. The image is still vivid in my mind. It was night in Malaysia, and I was in the car with my father and brother, when my father received a call from his friend telling him about the twin tower. We went home, turned on CNN, and I saw my dreams turned into rubble that night. At twelve years old, my father said to me, “I don’t think you’re going to America.”

Sure, to those who knew me back then, they would say, “But didn’t you want to be a psychologist?” Yes, that’s true, but the impetus behind my wanting to learn psychology is the same as my motivation to do what I am currently doing: I want to understand how my fellow Muslims could do such atrocious acts toward innocent victims, something that obviously goes against the teaching of our faith. I do not like to think of myself as a self-hating Muslim, because I believe that we should not look at the problem with the current state of our ummah through the lens of Islamic essentialism. Instead, the problem lies in the fact that nobody wants to take responsibility. Everybody wants to escape blame. How are we, as an ummah, then going to progress if only insults are hurled back and forth?

Last week, a British soldier was killed in broad daylight on the streets of London by two Muslim men. As much as I am infuriated by their actions, I am also reminded of the reason I am here in the first place. This is the kind of disease in our community that I hope could one day be eradicated with at least a small contribution on my part. My wish is that in the future no other young girl would have her hopes and dreams dashed by the actions of cruel and heartless terrorists, Muslim or otherwise.


Monday, April 29, 2013

The price of a community

Last year, when meeting a Malaysian senator in London, I was asked, as a political science enthusiast, who is my favorite political theorists. It did not turn out to be a shining moment for me. In two sentences, I blurted about my being a comparative politics student as a reason for never having given more thought on political theory than I should have. When I reached home that afternoon, I immediately racked my brain (and notes) on which political theorists who I find most agreeable with. I came up with Schumpeter.

When thinking of the days I spent reading Schumpeter, I would like to imagine that I may have strained my neck by all the nodding I did, agreeing with his understanding of democracy. Schumpeter’s democracy seems to me as the most realistic—and therefore the best—description of the system most countries aspire to these days. Democracy is not about rule by the people, it is about people choosing the best leaders to rule over them. My agreement with Schumpeter may have been the result of a previous teacher’s fervor in discussing Plato’s concept of the philosopher kings. In short, my view of democracy was an elitist one: I do not believe that every person who walks this earth is capable of making the best decision for the good of the community, less so to actually lead a country.

That was before I decided to mentally shift away my devotion from western precept of philosophy, ethics, and politics. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to make the full intellectual transition to alternative views, but from what little knowledge I have acquired so far, I have come to question my own elitist beliefs. Mostly, it has to do with the same Quranic verse I cited previously (Quran 49:11). I am just one person among a sea of humans, with limited understanding of the challenges faced by others, thus I am not in a position to judge whose view of the world should take precedence over another’s. I am not better by my education or even ibadah. A different experience is just that: different. Forever, while on this earth and beyond, sovereignty belongs only to God, and all we can do as His slaves is to consult one another before promulgating laws that are to affect our neighbors alike. Democracy, as famously proclaimed by Churchill as the worst form of government except for the rest, should not be an institution that risks manipulation under a few elites.

Yesterday I did my part in the democratic process of my beloved country. After years of learning and reading about participating in an institution only imagined about in years past, I finally understand why democracy should not be left achievable through the stewardship of enlightened elite, because the idea that one could make a difference is an empowering experience that is to be shared. Maturity in a society is too valuable to be held at arm’s length.

As in any competition, there will be winners and losers; let’s all be good sports over the outcome.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Haqq (truth) over nafs (ego)

A learned Muslim once told us that a person’s true self will only be magnified as a musaffir (traveler). Meaning that if someone is nice when in a familiar environment, he or she will be nicer when away from home, and vice versa. When I heard this, I immediately thought of the post I wrote a while back where I disagree with those accusing the ‘bad West’ for the straying of young Muslim Malaysians when they go off to study in a western country. Even then I believe (which turns out to be true) that being away only brings out a person’s true character not because of influence, but because of new-found freedom.

Personally, I love the freedom that I have had for the past four years, not because I can go crazy and do whatever I want away from the watchful eyes of a judgmental society, but because I can grow at my own pace, in my own space. I love being in America, and now in the UK, because I can fill whatever void I have by learning about Islam the way that is best for me. That may be a sacrilegious statement because according to people back home, you cannot cherry-pick Islam to best fit you; but I have recently learned that Islam is in fact discretion. That is the marvelous beauty of the Quran. Islam is not solely about a set of practices that is set in stone, but it is a rational and logical religion that is applicable to multiple people in different scenarios. I have always reiterate that I do not really favor our celebrity ustaz in Malaysia because they tend to discuss what to do and what not to do, which is important, I definitely agree, but I feel like they don’t truly educate. They don’t rationalize the rules that they preach when Islam is nothing less than rational.

I love being away from Malaysia because I can feel that I am a better person over here, I am calmer in this environment, and my relationship with God grows every day as a result. I am more at peace with who I am and how I interact with others and with God. Last year, when I told people I dread going back to Malaysia, they uttered about “Hujan emas di negeri orang…” But it is not even about that. I don’t dread going back to Malaysia because of low purchasing power; I dread going back because I do not like who I was in the twenty years that I was there. I was angry, resentful, spiteful, judgmental,  easily frustrated, disappointed, and many other negative traits that I wish to erase from my memory. Mostly it was my own fault, but I won’t deny that the environment I was in was also highly toxic.

On that note, I recently learned that who I am in a country where intellectual discourse is highly regarded does not represent my true self—my true Islam—because it is easy for me. It is being in Malaysia which is difficult. So, if I want to practice being a good Muslim, I need to learn to control my nafs (ego) when I am in a trying situation. It is not fair for me to be content with myself right now, because—paradoxically—at the moment I do not face the challenges that I do in Malaysia. If I wish to be a good Muslim, it should start with my interactions with those I find to be most difficult. After all, being angry means I refuse to let haqq (truth) wins over my nafs, and that will spoil the faith that I have worked so hard to build while being in two Muslim-minority countries. After all, wasn’t it Muhammad Abduh who said, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”

The question then is, why must I be angry? Just because I am annoyed does not mean I am correct.

“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent—then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” (Quran 49: 11)

Sorry for the much rambling recently in this blog. I just feel like it helps in my understanding of Islam to voice out what I am feeling rather than to have a one-sided debate in my head.

Thank you for reading.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Whose current

About a month ago, I had a conversation with my flatmate on how our respective childhood quite unsurprisingly determined the person we were to become. While she was raised mostly at home, I had more freedom in terms of my activities beyond the gates of our previous home. Unlike most kids today, I rode my bicycle to the farthest corner of our residential area, climbed most of the trees surrounding the nearby playground, played on the rusty slide and bled as I scratched my legs and arms, fished tadpoles in the drain, and played happily with my friends until dusk. That had always been the rule: be back by 7. No matter where we went, what we did, I never failed to be home by 7 pm.

When I think of all those fond memories, I blurted how great my parents were to have so much trust in me at such a young age (a trust I believe that carried into my young adult life as they allowed me to get married so young). I believe I started hanging outside with my best friend, and neighbor four houses down, when we were probably five or six; that was how young we were! We had no adult supervision as we fell into drains, or hit a parked car trying to ride our bicycles with our hands off the handle. And we survived. I cannot say how much I admire our parents for allowing us to simply be kids as I cannot imagine young parents today do the same based on the increasing number of helicopter parents I see.

Along that line, I have argued for some time my firm determination to send my kids to a day care center as opposed to having my parents take care of them. I have my reasons. Yet, there is one argument that is thrown at my face over and over again, and that is other people may not care as much for your children as your family will. As much as I agree with that statement, sometimes a little scratch here and there can leave an invaluable scar toward a child’s future independence. But that is not even the point that I want to make today. Instead, I am saddened by such view because it is a pessimistic and sorry way to lead our lives.

Of course, we should always have common sense in our dealings with society, but I see so much distrust encircling us these days. Why don’t we trust our neighborhood nursery when their livelihood depends on our confidence? As an optimist, and someone with tremendous trust for the market and my fellow humans, I believe that these people will do their utmost best to keep your child safe, healthy, and satisfied because as a parent, you could easily use your feet in protest by finding another more competent day care center. But just like any modern society, we are easily spooked by the news, which being what it is, will always report on tragic events including those occurring at day care centers that were unfortunate to have employed careless workers. But what about the thousand other unreported children who grew up healthy and happy surrounded by their little peers?

I have always been a strong believer that the world is what you make of it. If you distrust your neighbor,  or even your live-in helper, that you need to constantly check on you children during the day, it will become a cycle that you will eventually regret. Do you know how annoying it is when people do not trust you? One day they will give up altogether and be the person you feared most.

Nevertheless, I have recently learned that I should not be arrogant and judge the people who have a different worldview since they do not have the opportunity to experience as I do the amazing feeling when one lets go and learns to put one's entire trust in God and the people around. But I was also taught to never stop building that bridge of knowledge between myself and others so that we can all live in a better world, thus the decision to write this entry.

When people ask me, or indirectly say to me, that it is not save to be in America, or to live in a city like London, I am always baffled by their dim view. I am trying not to sound arrogant here, because as I said, common sense is very important, and we should always take precautions against risks. However, regardless of where I am or what I do, I always remind myself that the earth I am walking on and the air I am breathing belong to the same Master, even if the politicians are different. If I fear what other people might do to me, I am giving strangers more power than they deserved when the power to hurt me belongs only to God. It needs reminding that whatever happens, good or bad, will not happen if He does not will it to happen. Based on this logic, I should fear no one but God. Out of this fear, I recite the first nine verses of Surah Yasin every time I walk out the door, and praise the Lord in gratitude every time I arrive home safely. It is He, not mere mortal, who decides my fate.

In regards to the safety of your child, my favorite story is of how the mother of Prophet Musa A.S. (Moses) puts her entire trust in God when she sets her son adrift on the mighty Nile River. That is the purest form of a person whose depth of trust in the promise of God is bottomless. So, do not ever tell me the world today is different, because every generation has its own problems—even millennia ago. Plus, what today can even come close to being as scary as the thought of your child being killed by the most powerful man simply for being a Jewish boy?

Have more trust in your life. More importantly, have more trust in God, and you will see how safe this world really is to you and your family. Thankfully, my parents taught me that early.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Don't wreck it

I’m a sentimental person. I am not embarrassed to admit that I can cry at the sight of a skinny dog sleeping by the road in the cold night. So it was only expected when I get all teary-eyed while watching Wreck-it Ralph this past weekend. This whole idea of an intrinsically bad person—which Ralph was trying to prove he was not—has always been a nuisance not just in the mind where my body isn't,  but it has also haunted much of my adolescent life.

When I was younger, a person in authority (an influential adult in my life), used to say to me, directly to my face, repeatedly, that I will be a naughty child. Is this pronouncement based on some sort of scientifically proven psychological test did on me? Nope. Instead it was based on some old wives’ tale that people with two hair whorls, which apparently include me, have some kind of genetically determined naughty streak. Maybe they are right, maybe they are not, but as a Muslim who believes in the bountiful mercy of God, I find it hard to believe that He purposely creates a batch of evil human beings.

Maybe I like my drink with more than a tad of rationality, but if I did exert some not-so-nice traits whilst growing up, I believe it has to do with the fact that I was told, repeatedly, that I am far from a submissive child. At such a young age, of course I was impressionable—back then I even believed that if I practice hard enough I could do the Kamehameha! When an adult tells you something, you tend to believe them, thus reinforcing an idea that was planted into your subconscious. It then becomes a devilish cycle that was not intended in the first place!

Why am I telling you my life story after all my hard work to focus on social issues on this blog? Because I feel that this is a social issue.

Especially as Muslims, we tend to see things in black and white. Good or bad. Pahala or dosa. We refused to accept the possibility of a grey area that God intended, not because He is imperfect in His creation, but because there is a lesson in us all. I recently read a quote that fits perfectly: “Nothing is evil in and of itself”. I love it. Think about it, most Muslims in Malaysia are so afraid of a few things, namely dogs, pigs, and alcohol. But these things are not bad in and of itself. Dogs are not evil, pigs are not evil, and alcohol is certainly not, especially with all the medical benefits it possesses. For example, I don’t understand the hysteria of finding alcohol in a cosmetic product. It is haram to consume alcohol because it makes you drunk. Touching alcohol? Not so much of a problem.

The same argument goes with any human being, singular or plural, a thief or the Jews. Nobody is bad in and of itself, but their careless actions, a reflection of their bad judgement, is usually the result of experiences that cumulated to a point of no return.

While I was doing research for this post, I was nudged by a friend of mine to a blog that I have been engrossed in for the past weeks. And just like any of God’s wishes, He wishes for me to find and read a khutbah on the blog on the nature of the relationship between Moses and Pharaoh. Not only did the khutbah mirrored my current flow of thoughts, but it also contains some other issues that I could not articulate more eloquently. Nevertheless, the basic argument of that sermon is to avoid thinking of Pharaoh, or any evil person you can think of, as the natural aberrant. More importantly, do not think you could never turn the same way, because even Pharaoh, the worst person who ever walks this earth, was not born evil; he consciously made the choices that he made.

Then the sermon went on to concisely express the problem with Facebook that I have so long had trouble discussing. I have wanted to dedicate an entire blog post on Facebook, but I realize that maybe I can convey my message in less words after all. To me, Facebook is the ordinary people’s reality TV. Say what you may, but do not deny that you are intrigued by at least one reality TV show. Why? Because it is entertaining to judge people living in a fish tank, and I believe on some level, we aspire that life because of the fame and fortune that follows them. But those celebrities who started off as genuinely likeable people with real issues soon discovered that they have to up the ante in order to keep people glued to their television set, thus creating these ridiculously over-the-top persona. We may mock them, but without realizing it, we are doing the same thing on Facebook. Suddenly our dinner becomes a topic of discussion; yet the real person behind the screen, who stalks the pages of their friends in hopes of finding a scandal, is not found online. I can cite countless research on the detriments of Facebook on our self-esteem, but I don’t need to because the numbers are out there if you care enough to look for it.

Back to my earlier discussion, we tend to do things subconsciously, either out of habit or out of reinforcement from an adult we trust. But that does not determine our essence, for beneath all that, there is a grey area within us all that becomes black or white depending on our choices. So stop declaring war and start supporting one another to where God awaits.


Friday, January 11, 2013


In all my imperfections--as evidenced by this--I'm still reminded of our dedication...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Transparent living

Recently I read an article about ways to be debt-free, and not surprisingly, at the bottom of the page is a reference to my generation’s dependence on credit rather than on their own savings to invest in an asset. This short paragraph is of great interest to me because it has been troubling me for a long time too. Maybe relying less on credit is not the best financial advice out there (after all I am not a financier), but all I have ever cared about is to not be steeped in debt before my children even take their first steps.

The main problem I have with my generation, specifically with young Malaysians, is our feeling of entitlement to most things, including to owning a house by taking an extravagant loan. As a liberal, I am a staunch believer in the right of every human being to have a roof over their head; that does not, nevertheless, mean that every person in their twenties should suddenly own a house. A house is an asset, an investment that you make once you have the means. If you cannot own a home, you rent. A lot of families never own a home until their children are well in their teens, and I have nothing but respect for these people because their purchase is based on their hard-earn cash. Naturally, I am not suggesting that one should have a quarter of a million dollars before starting the process of buying a home, but at least make sure you could keep up with your monthly payment without burning a hole in your pocket.

If I start talking about race, people would say that I am not color blind as everything I write about seems to have a racial framework. But honestly, I am tired of listening to people from a certain racial group complaining about how the government should keep prices of homes low so that young adults could close their eyes, do an eenie-meenie, and point to a house they are going to buy. What most people do not realize is that their call for the government to help them—again—actually increases the price of houses without increasing their real value. At the end of the day, someone has to pick up the tab for the difference. As more people are able to buy a house, its price increases superficially while quality stays at the same decades-old level. It is basic supply and demand. But if we were to take the government out of the equation, prices of home would stabilize at market price, reducing the cost for a better home.

The reason I am passionate about this topic is because I have always held firm to my plan of renting a home as I raise my family until we are able to afford a house without having to sacrifice much else. A lot of people have tried to talk me out of it. They say it would be a waste to pay every month to a landlord on something that I do not own. But a monthly rent on a modest home is much cheaper than the cost of keeping a dream home while receiving a modest pay check. While paying my rent I could save up enough to make a home purchase that would fit my future lifestyle. At the end of the day, what differentiates me is that I do not feel entitled to own a house for I believe in reaping the benefits of my hard work—the same way I feel about education.

I am entitled to a home, not a house. I just wish more people would realize that taking credit to their grave is just not worth it.