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.